Archive for the ‘AMERICAN LIFE’ Category

“THE ALIBI”—A FABLE

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Joe follows the bailiff into the courtroom for his arraignment. He sits next to a haggard public defender, who nods. Joe smiles. Sure, he committed the crime. But he knows he won’t be indicted.

Joe admits he came to the end of his rope. He’d worked a good job in a shop manufacturing auto parts. But the Great Recession and foreign competition drove sales down. They let him go. It took a while, but Joe found a new job. For lower wages, yes, but jobs were scarce. His new employer faced the same business challenges, only worse. The company folded.

Joe hated collecting unemployment, but he had a family. And he did look for work. Until he figured there wasn’t anything out there for him and stopped. His wife got a job in a bakery. Minimum wage, no bennies. But something. Joe became a househusband.

He drove the kids to school then his wife to work then picked up everyone after. They once had two vehicles, but his wife’s SUV got better mileage and cost less to insure, so he sold his truck. The money went fast. At home, he cleaned a little, did laundry then watched Fox News. Under Obama, America was in deep trouble.

Once a week, Joe shopped a specialty market with low prices on dented cans, torn packages and produce a little less than prime. He still left cooking dinner to his wife.

No slacker, he occasionally dug up odd jobs to help lower their debt. It kept rising. The economy picked up then got hot. But the way Joe figured, it still left him out in the cold. He voted for Trump.

America being made great again, he reentered the job market. Automation and the skills that went with it had passed him by. When a guy got beat down like he’d been beat down, he just couldn’t get up.

Then the lightbulb went off. One afternoon, he went to the mall. Crowds were smaller given how many people shopped online, but it still contained a nice jewelry store. He reached into his backpack, pulled out a small hammer and chisel, broke a glass case, scooped up expensive watches and diamond bracelets, and walked out. An alarm sounded. He ran. A security guard tackled him. Joe wasn’t worried.

“How do you plead?” asks the judge. Joe’s attorney is about to answer when Joe stands. “Not guilty, your honor. You can let me go.” The judge scowls. “You’ll have your day in court.” Joe smiles. “Don’t need it. If I say I’m innocent, that’s all the proof you need.” The judge tilts her head. “And that works how?”

“Trump’s getting ready to meet Putin in Finland, right? Some U.S. Senate committee just said the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. All of America’s intelligence agencies concluded that before. But Trump tweeted, ‘Putin says the Russian state had nothing to with it.’ He tweets that a lot.” “So?” asks the judge. “So, Russia gets away with it. I’m just saying, I had nothing to do with that robbery, so—”

The judge bangs her gavel. It booms like a rifle shot. Joe grins in response to the resignation on her face when she announces, “Case dismissed.”

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ONE DONALD IS ENOUGH

The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy aside, the nation remains focused on Central American children separated by the federal government from parents who have crossed our borders illegally, claiming refugee status. Democrats anticipate leveraging this issue during this fall’s midterm Congressional election campaign. But some have forgotten their goal: to beatDonald Trump, not beDonald Trump.

Congress has yet to address immigration law and policy in a coherent and comprehensive manner. Its occasional attempts at problem-solving resemble Band-Aids affixed to holes in the hull of the Titanic. Yet some Democrats seem to copy the behavior attributed to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat: he never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

Last weekend, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, was booted from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. Owner Stephanie Wilkinson related that her wait staff felt uncomfortable serving Sanders’ party. I assume her staff leans Democratic. Certainly, it’s anti-Trump. But expressing differences of political opinion in this way does a disservice to our political process. And to Democratic candidates. Ms. Sanders picked up on this.

Addressing White House reporters, Ms. Sanders explained in level-headed, straightforward, un-Trump-like terms that harassment of people who work for any administration does not represent the American way. I agree—the first time I’ve ever agreed with anything she’s said.

President Trump, not surprisingly, took the opportunity to miss an opportunity. Statesmanship? Fugeddaboudit. His response included an observation that the Red Hen needs a paint job. This was the comment of an angry ten-year-old hurling insults in the schoolyard. Countering Ms. Sanders intelligent words, it offered another smidgen of hope for Democratic victories.

Still, at least one Democrat may have dimmed the party’s hopes by also responding like a ten-year-old.

Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters, who works the far-left side of the aisle, went Trump. At a demonstration against current immigration policies, Ms. Waters told protestors, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” [Italics mine.]

Ms. Waters sent a message to independents crucial to Democratic hopes that difference of political opinion enjoys no legitimacy in America.

In his 1998 book Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, the Yale law professor Stephen Carter wrote of Leviticus 19:18, “The duty to love our neighbors is a precept of both the Christian and Jewish traditions, and the duty is not lessened because we happen to think our neighbor is wrong about a few things.” We can hold to our religious and politicalopinions while engaging in exchanges of ideas free from intimidation.

Absent such civility, Democrats will appeal to their base on the left but alienate centrists looking for reasonable answers to complex questions. Frustrated, they could cast their ballots for Republicans or, also damaging to the Democratic effort, sit the election out.

Further dragging down American public discourse as Trump has done serves no worthy purpose. Demagoguery and hatred tarnish the American Dream. They equate it with Macbeth’s poignant observation: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”

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LANDLORD

San Francisco scorns landlords. Old-time melodramas made them villains seeking to evict kindly families unless granted the favors of a nubile maiden daughter. The citizenry recently voted to provide renters facing eviction public funding for legal representation. Yes, renters can get screwed. So can landlords. Ask Greg.

A senior, Greg owns a four-unit building—he lives in one—in southeastern San Francisco. Once, he also owned a house in Bernal Heights. The two properties drained his resources, so he sold the house and retained the apartments to provide income for his old age. Rent control has depressed that income. He figures his rents are about one-third of market. They cover less than his mortgage and insurance. Upkeep comes out of his pocket.

It gets worse. One of Greg’s tenants is a drug user with mental problems. Greg calls him “barking mad.” About five years ago, he was taken in as a subtenant by another tenant. The master tenant left. Failing to reach an understanding with his own attorney, Greg accepted rent from the “new tenant.” That put the man practically out of reach.

The new master tenant trashed the apartment—carpeting ruined, the stove filthy. He also used it as a drug flop house with all kinds of people staying over. Topping that, he moved a family into the separate garage that’s part of his unit—and collected rent. That’s illegal. It also exposed Greg to legal problems if the children there were hurt.

In April, Greg started procedures to evict the people in the garage. The master tenant had thirty days to respond. He didn’t. The people in the garage went to a tenants’ help organization. That stopped the eviction. A month-and-a-half later, Greg’s attorney and the family’s pro bono lawyer reached an agreement. The family would leave in mid-July, and Greg would pay them $5,000. A jury trial would have cost Greg $15,000.

In the next weeks, the master tenant will receive notice of the date he will be physically evicted. If he refuses, he can demand a lawyers’ conference and jury trial. Over the past three months, Greg has not accepted rent. California law stipulates that if Greg takes money, he ends the eviction procedure.

Greg hopes that the process costs him “only” $15,000. It will take another $10,000 to clean up the apartment. He regrets always being a little “loose” with tenants out of kindness to the less fortunate. “From now on, I’m going to demand a squeaky-clean record and an upscale job.” He reflects with sadness that he will now be “one of those gentrifying landlords.”

Greg considers not keeping the Bernal Heights home “one of the worst financial decisions I ever made.” He cautions, “Most San Franciscans don’t realize how difficult it can be to be a small landlord. If this happened twenty years ago, I’d have gone into debt.”

He emphasizes that the situation would be more just if landlords had a right to demonstrate to a court that his rents are way under market and should rise to a fair level. He figures that his below-market rents cost him— conservatively—$36,000–$40,000 a year. “It also should be easier to remove a tenant whose behavior is unconscionable.”

No matter how reasonable those observations, Greg does not anticipate relief any time soon.

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THE MARVEL OF SMALL MUSEUMS

Back in the ’50s, American car companies introduced new models—radically different—every year. Advertisements touted that them as longer, lower, wider. Americans loved everything big. Many still do. Me? Take museums. I like small.

The best-known museums are—to use a term—yuge! In London this March, Carolyn and I again visited the British Museum. We’re members. I love lunch in the members dining room. Great soups! But the enormous crowds can make a visit a little—or a lot—less pleasurable. We’ve also seen the permanent exhibits—including the Rosetta Stone—many times.

I get worn out with the Louvres in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. We went to the Met a few weeks ago. We do every time we’re in the Big Town. My favorite part? Walking up and back through Central Park. The crowds and exhibit choices—too big.

Thankfully, we discovered the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle. The building rises nine stories but has a small footprint. The rotating exhibits feature contemporary (or relatively so) artists and are modest in size.

We had the galleries almost all to ourselves. I loved the work by Derrick Adams, presenting the challenges African Americans faced traveling the nation before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. MAD also hosts artists in-studio. We chatted with Katya Grokhovsky, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child and creates fabulous installations.

My favorite museum is small—and hardly typical. SFO Museum places exhibits—small and smaller—throughout San Francisco International Airport. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, SFOM offers fabulous opportunities to see carefully curated, constantly changing collections of art, craft and design when you fly. And even if you don’t. Many can be accessed pre-security. The airport may be crowded, but with these exhibits, you can get up close and personal.

When Carolyn and I fly overseas, we take in the pre-security exhibits in Terminal A and Terminal G. Domestically, we usually fly out of Terminal 2 where we just saw an exhibit on Maneki Neko—Japanese cat statues bringing good luck to homes and businesses.

SFOM has hosted many exhibits since the concept’s inception in 1980. My favorites include radio bars from the 1940s (we have one that belonged to my parents), women’s shoes (over the top), typewriters, cocktail glasses, gambling devices, American folk art, Chinese porcelains and evolving flight attendant (nee stewardess) uniforms.

Small museums abound. We love London’s Pollock’s Toy Museum (oldtoys) and Florence Nightingale Museum. The Morgan in New York has offered wonderful exhibits (from Babylonian jewelry to Ernest Hemingway). Who but the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco would put on display Mahjong and its impact on American Jews? (My mother played; my sister still does.)

SFOM won’t achieve the fame of the Met, the Louvres or the British. And truly, you can visit many other wonderful large museums around the nation—the Chicago Art Institute, the Smithsonian complex—and the world. We love the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

But size doesn’tmatter. A single, carefully curated exhibit in a modest space—like an informal dinner with family or friends—can deliver big rewards. That’s no small feat.

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FRIENDS

Studies show that people with friends live longer and healthier. As someone whose introversion ranges from moderate to—well, let’s say more than moderate—I attribute my own wellbeing to my friends.

I enjoy a range of friends. Each enhances my life in a different way. I’ll start with my Torah Study group. We meet on Saturday mornings and have coffee afterwards at CMPC hospital’s California Campus on Webster Street. Three of us started having coffee twenty years ago at cafés up and down Fillmore Street. All of which closed or became too small as our group grew. The hospital may not offer the best coffee, but the huge basement cafeteria remains almost empty throughout our visit. We never wait for a table or worry about privacy. (Yes, we get loud at times; friends do that.)

Our group occasionally goes to dinner and a few of us to Giants games. Five of us hover around 70. One isn’t Jewish but attends Torah Study regularly for the intellectual challenge. Two are decades younger. One just got married. She still comes by. The other found a distraction for Saturday mornings—a girlfriend he met on Jdate. We approve. All attend our evening study sessions, which we hold periodically.

There’s great joy in any bunch of guys—and a woman or women, including an ancillary woman member when she visits from Atlanta—sitting around a table talking and joking. Our conversations flow and morph freely. They cover topics from religion and politics to TV, personal anecdotes and observations. Whether a conversation reflects deep thought or inanity—I contribute both—this social interaction leaves us energized. It’s the highlight of my week.

I see other friends individually at different times and in different ways—often for weekday lunch or coffee. Carolyn and I have others to our house or go out with them to dinner and a movie. We don’t do so as often as we’d like given everyone’s busy schedules, but we look forward to each get-together.

Friendship is cheaper than therapy though there’s nothing wrong with seeing a professional. I can talk to friends about a range of issues that affect me. They can bring up issues that concern them. We discuss all topics free from judgement. In some of my more troubled moments, I get things off my chest—valuable in itself—and occasionally receive wise counsel offering me new perspective. Cheap therapy, indeed.

Not to mention that my friends buy my books and read my short stories. Some read them immediately and shower me with praise. I appreciate that. Others read my work a little later. A few just buy the books. No matter. Their support means the world to me.

Let me acknowledge my best friend: Carolyn. After nearly 49 years of marriage, Carolyn knows my emotional ins and outs. In fact, she knows me so well, it’s scary. That she not only signed on for “until death do us part” but lives up to the contract provides testament to her willingness to endure. And no one praises my writing more!

If there’s something I wish for everyone, it’s friends. And, that we consider people we encounter at random moments in random places as friends we haven’t had coffee with. Yet.

Last week’s post was mistitled, as my friend Tracy pointed out. It doesn’t concern victimlesscrime but nonviolentcrime. Its point, however, remains the same. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll find it under the title “The Hoax of Nonviolent Crime.”

The post will take a break on May 18 and return on May 25.

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THE HOAX OF NONVIOLENT CRIME

Several months ago, an East Bay detective—legit—called to say that an investigation on identity theft turned up a stolen piece of mail addressed to Carolyn in care of her manager. It contained a royalty check for one of Carolyn’s TV performances. The amount was small. The crime was big. People who would deny its seriousness are perpetrating a hoax.

Many people urge leniency for perpetrators of nonviolent crime. Bull! Every crime against property is a crime in which violence is done to a person’s sense of wellbeing. Because behind every piece of property lies a story.

Carolyn’s check didn’t come easy. TV viewers saw her as a nurse (“Chuck”—NBC), dementia patient (“Grey’s Anatomy”—ABC), a woman startled by Hugh Laurie (“Chance”—Hulu) and a homeless woman (“Bartlett”—Amazon Prime). They and the public haven’t witnessed the years Carolyn has spent attending acting and singing classes. Preparing for them. Rehearsing at home for auditions. And then auditioning in Los Angeles at her cost or videoing at our house (we’ll ignore my reading other characters’ lines to her).

An acting career makes no promise of success. But after thirty-five years as a professional storyteller, Carolyn decided to give it a shot. She studied and did plays but set her sights on TV and movies. She sweated to hone her craft, risked rejection and overcame it, and has enjoyed a few small triumphs.

That meant little to the woman recently convicted in the theft of other people’s mail to steal their identities, which can cost victims much money and considerable aggravation. I fear that the efforts of Carolyn and upstanding people in all walks of life get overlooked by those who consider nonviolent criminals the ultimate victims.

I get that many people grow up in difficult circumstances. Minority and immigrant communities often produce more than their share of criminals. That includes my own. Jews once played major roles in violent crime. From the 1900s through World War Two, killers such as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and Dutch Schultz (nee Arthur Flegenheimer) abounded. Children of poor immigrants they possessed minimal education. Their turns to crime might be sociologically understandable, but their behavior was and remains illegal, immoral and unacceptable.

The thief who stole Carolyn’s royalty check will be sentenced in San Jose at the end of this month. The court invited Carolyn and her fellow victims to attend. Carolyn won’t. That would steal more of her time.

Carolyn has no desire to demand a lengthy sentence at hard labor or solitary confinement on bread and water. As bad as it can be, the California prison system offers far better treatment than the Soviet gulag or North Korea’s prison camps. Also, the judge possesses information about the thief Carolyn doesn’t and will be empowered to determine a reasonable sentence.

In writing this, I’m not seeking vengeance against those convicted of nonviolent crimes. “Lock ’em up and throw away the key” doesn’t reflect my philosophy. But it’s time that people who seek leniency for nonviolent criminals acknowledge that every nonviolent crime impacts one or more victims. And that those victims frequently pay a price beyond—often far beyond—the monetary value of their loss.

This revised post put up on May 4 includes a revised title. I erred in calling the theft of Carolyn’s mail a victimless crime. It was, indeed, a nonviolent crime.

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MY NEW FAVORITE WORD

People become attached to certain words. They—particularly slang words—can help someone display distinctiveness or demonstrate belonging to a group. Many decades have produced cool, dig it, boss, bitchin’, yo, wassup, Bart Simpson’s partee and the now widely accepted— and often-used F-word. For some years, I’ve been partial to grace and dignity. Now, I have a new favorite word—and it isn’t English.

My new fave appears in the Torah’s story of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1ff). For it, I’m indebted to Cantor David Frommer of San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel and last week’s citing of commentary by Rabbi David Fohrman.

Our story: God becomes angry at the “stiff-necked” Israelites after they compel Aaron to make a young bull of gold to replace Moses, still meeting with God atop Mount Sinai. Knowing of the calf, God says He will destroy the children of Israel and make a great people of Moses’ descendants. Moses’ response: Why? Why be angry at Your people? Why enable Egypt to say You freed Your people only to slaughter them in the wilderness? What will that do for Your reputation?

The Hebrew word used here for why is lamah (rhymes with mama). Yet there’s another word for why in the Torah—madua (ma–doo-ah). Why (madua) lamah?

According to Rabbi Fohrman, “Madua, from the word mada, is the scientific ‘why’. … When Moses looked at the burning bush … [he asked] what is it about this bush that causes it not to burn? It is a question about the past that would explain the present.”

Lamah,” Rabbi Forhman explains, “is a contraction of ‘le mah’, to what, for what, for what purpose. It is a question about the future.”

I’m into lamah. When I get angry or down, when some disappointment induces me to react negatively, I ask myself, lamah? Not why I feel angry, down or disappointed. That’s a madua question. Rather, what purpose will be served by lashing out at someone—or myself?

Lamah constitutes more than a lesson in linguistics. We’re talking real life. Berating others might make us feel better momentarily when we feel questioned or put down. But how will we feel later if we damage or sever a relationship? How many times do we fly off the handle only to regret our words and deeds? Often, we apologize. Maybe the offended person forgives. But does that person forget?

Most of us learned the wisdom behind lamah as children: Think before you speak. If you get angry, count to ten. But in adults, the desire to get in the next word or the last—and do it immediately—often overpowers our learning and judgment.

The rabbis of the Talmud considered gossip—lashon hara—and negative statements sins akin to murder. They kill the soul. Thoughtless words, they advised, resemble arrows. Once released, they can be regretted but not recalled.

If only we, from the humblest citizens to those at the pinnacle of power, could remember daily that lamah can prevent fomenting confusion, resentment, hatred and violence. That words matter. That measuring our responses to others’ words can defuse rather than fuel challenging situations.

If only.

This post marks number 350 since I began since September 2010. It marks a good time for me to take a lengthy break and focus on some other things for a while. The post will resume on April 20.

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IN THE NAME OF GOD

The famed evangelist Billy Graham was buried today. As a kid in the ’fifties, I saw bits of his massive TV revivals. Later, more evangelical leaders spoke publicly in the name of God. Is God pleased?

Since the social upheavals of the ’sixties, many evangelicals have circled the wagons. A movement that shunned politics turned highly political. Issues ranging from abortion to gun control became emblematic of Christian identity.

The result? Many evangelical leaders will back any politician—no matter how un-Christian his speech and behavior—who supports their objectives. If the president of the United States—or any other politician—talks and acts in ways ecumenical leaders would condemn in their own families and churches, they give him a pass. Why such tolerance for sin?

David Brody, evangelical author and host of “Faith Nation” on the Christian Broadcasting Network, explained in last Sunday’s New York Times, “… the goal of evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate. For evangelicals, voting in the macro is the moral thing to do, even if the candidate is morally flawed.”

In the name of God, proponents of morality support immoral men and excuse their iniquities to control America—Brody’s word. Sadly, some politically conservative Jews do the same. If Donald Trump professes staunch support for Israel, Torah doesn’t matter. Barack Obama’s $38 billion aid package to the Jewish State? Dismissed.

I have no desire to bash evangelicals. The movement includes Christians of good faith. I understand their pain that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christians continues to fall. But many evangelicals also fear the demographic reality that whites soon will comprise less than fifty percent of the population. Women can exercise their own judgment to have an abortion. LGBTQ Americans maintain their right to live unhindered by others. And most Americans support common-sense gun control.

There’s a meaningful difference between upholding a religious mandate for yourself and forcing your views on others. Evangelicals should feel free to interpret the Christian Bible any way they like. They owe the rest of us the freedom to uphold our own views—religious or secular.

Billy Graham saw the light. Laurie Goodstein wrote in The Times last Monday that Graham admitted in his later years he had been mistaken in becoming too close to politicians. He also admitted that as a confidante of Richard Nixon, he not only listened to Nixon’s anti-Semitic remarks without protest but responded with anti-Semitic remarks of his own. It takes a big man to fess up.

These days, big men are hard to find. Franklin Graham runs the ministry his father began. In the name of God, Franklin called Islam “a very wicked and evil religion,” proclaimed Barack Obama a Muslim and loudly supports Donald Trump.

Sweeping immoral acts and offensive speech under the rug to advance causes in the name of God only undercuts religious leaders’ credibility. That’s why so many young evangelicals are turning away from their sin-blind elders.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. Toss religion under the covers, and the nation winds up with the Golden Calf—or at least, Rosemary’s Baby.

What? You don’t know Rosemary’s Baby? Check it out!

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THEY

On HBO’s Homeland, they attempted to assassinate the president of the United States. Another they—the president herself—curbed Constitutional rights. In real life, survivors of the mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School demand greater gun control. In response, some Americans believe they have created a conspiracy against gun owners.

Pioneer America accepted citizens’ possession of rifles and pistols. The closing of the frontier and growing urbanization necessitated curbs on weapons for public safety. Over recent decades, the gun lobby pushed back, exhibiting religious reverence for the Second Amendment: A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a  free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Questions abound. Must the right to bear arms be unmindful of technology? Muskets and muzzle-loading, single-shot rifles are relics. Who, boar hunters included, needs an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon—adaptable to automatic—designed for combat? Can any ad hoc group call itself a “well-regulated militia?” What is the National Guard? And are our armed forces our defenders or oppressors?

A large majority of Americans favor stricter gun control rather than abolition. Hunters and people in self-defense mode would not be affected. But a minority holds sacrosanct the position of the National Rifle Association, a political donor with major clout. The NRA, as does President Trump, points to mental illness as the cause of mass shootings. Their solution? Arm teachers.  

Per capita, the U.S. suffers no more mental-health problems than the rest of the world, which experiences far fewer per capita mass shootings. Further, as Dr. Amy Barnhorst of the University of California, Davis, wrote in Tuesday’s New York Times, “The mental health system doesn’t identify most of these people because they don’t come in to get care. And even if they do, laws designed to preserve the civil liberties of people with mental illness place limits on what treatments can be imposed against a person’s will.”

It’s our stock of weapons—about one for each of us—that’s sets America apart.

Still, the slippery slope theory underlies opposition to common-sense gun measures: They want to ban assault-style weapons first—then confiscate all guns. The NRA and its adherents support that position with a second theory.

They plot against the people. On Wednesday, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre excoriated Democrats and liberals: “Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our fire arms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

Stoneman Douglas survivors disagree. These young people, at the muzzle-end of real horror, have been eloquent in calling for banning assault-style weapons and determined in confronting politicians. So?

A Florida legislative assistant claimed that two students are actors; he was dismissed. A YouTube video singles out one student as an actor; it may still be online. Rush Limbaugh claimed that the students are being used by the Democrats; he’s still on the air. And Internet broadcaster Alex Jones—on whom Homeland based a major character—preaches that the dead children of Sandy Hook, Connecticut (2012 shooting) and their parents were actors.

Top that? Last Tuesday, as Stoneman Douglas students bused to Tallahassee, the Florida House voted 71–36 against discussing banning assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Now I’m wondering, exactly who are they?

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THE HOLER PERSPECTIVE

Soon after the president of the United States reminded us of his “stable genius” by asking why America wants immigrants from “shithole” countries (if he said “shithouse,” does that make a difference?), a friend asked if I was speechless.

My answer, even recovering from a bad flu (haven’t kicked it yet): “Hell, no!” The latest racist blather by Donald Trump offers lots to write about. Failure to do so would make me a traitor to the nation I’ve sworn to uphold and defe.

I am what The New York Times’ Bret Stephens terms a “Holer.” So is he. Our grandparents came to America in what were clearly called shithole countries over a century ago. Mine from Poland and Belorussia, parts of the Russian Empire. For that matter, my father was born in shithole Poland. Worse, we’re Jews! To many Trump supporters, we’re still Holers.

Fortunately, America at the turn of the 20th century continued welcoming—if often grudgingly—Holers from eastern and southern Europe: Jews, Greeks, Italians, Slavs. A growing nation needed more people to work on farms, and in mines and factories. But the picture wasn’t perfect. Although we Holers eventually became successes, we weren’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Grassroots anti-Semitism swept over the nation. In 1924, Congress through the Johnson-Reed Act basically banned Jews and southern Europeans from entry.

Still, we Holers retained our devotion to America and served it well. Ultimately, attitudes towards us changed. Following World War Two, some restrictions against Jews—refugees from the Holocaust—were lifted. Moreover, we could buy a house in most neighborhoods and attend almost any university.

The establishment of the State of Israel touched many American Christians, if perhaps because Christ’s second coming, according to many, depends upon the Jews being in their homeland so we can finally accept Jesus as our savior. Or perish. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War raised the Jewish state to near-mythical status and brought American Jews a great measure of respect. Better late than never.

Holers from all over the world came to the U.S. Filipinos, Nigerians, Haitians, Dominicans, Syrians, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Vietnamese—and sí amigo, Mexicans—became Americans. They worked at some of the hardest jobs available. Opened businesses. Served and died in our military. Earned college degrees. Cared for us as doctors, nurses and orderlies. Became actors, musicians and sports stars. And brought us new foods.

Now, the president seeks to return America to its white-supremacist ugliness of a century and more ago. He wonders why we don’t just take in a lot of Norwegians—16 percent of whom are Holers. Okay, white, ethnic Norwegians. I like Norwegians, and Swedes, and Danes. But the people Trump most wants coming to the U.S.—western and northern European Caucasian stock—won’t likely immigrate. Over seventy years ago, their grandparents learned the perils of racial animosity. Now, they believe that all human beings should be treated with equal rights and respect. The president of the United States doesn’t come close to sharing that value.

I’m proud to be a Holer. An added bonus: I can see and smell a pile of bullshit a long way off. For for the sake of accuracy, the distance between San Francisco and Washington, D.C. is over 2,400 miles.

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