Archive for the ‘POLITICS & THE ECONOMY’ Category

SUPREME COMMON SENSE

Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court. Republicans exulted. Democrats vowed a bitter fight against the nomination. Odds are, Judge Kavanaugh, who appears to embrace strict interpretation of the Constitution, will be seated. I hope he’ll bear in mind a 2010 Supreme Court decision and the common sense of two Torah portions.

Ten years ago, Citizens United, a non-profit corporation founded for the purpose of“restoring our government to citizens’ control” utilizing “a combination of education, advocacy, and grass roots organization,” sought to advertise a documentary film it produced critical of Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton was running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold) restricted corporate-sponsored advocacy communications from naming a federal candidate 30 days before a primary election and 60 before a general election. Citizens United sued the Federal Election Commission, declaring a violation of its free-speech rights under the First Amendment. Citizens United insisted that it was merely presenting information about a candidate, not endorsing or opposing one.

The issue went to the Supreme Court where liberal justices would have upheld McCain-Feingold. During initial oral arguments, soon-to-retire Justice David Souter read aloud some of the film’s narrative: “She’ll lie about anything. She’s deceitful. She’s ruthless. Cunning. Dishonest.” He concluded, “That sounds to me like campaign advocacy.”

Chief Justice John Roberts asked for additional arguments addressing broader grounds. These were made three months following Souter’s retirement. The court voted 5-4 in favor of Citizens United. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion referenced a lower court’s decision upholding banning books published or distributed by corporations or labor unions if they promoted or opposed a specific candidate. Banning books was un-American. Under the rubric of free speech, enormous sums of money from super PACs—political action committees—began flowing into election campaigns, though not to political parties.

There’s a strong difference between speechand reach. I point to Justice Souter’s post-retirement comments in 2012: “If I exercise my liberty to the greatest possible extent, I can suppress the rights of a lot of people.” Corporations and the wealthy can spend millions of dollars promoting their views. They enjoy reach—distribution—average Americans cannot match.

The court’s decision seems based on Originalism—interpreting the Constitution exactly as written. That’s difficult. The Constitution’s writers knew of newspapers and soap boxes but not television, the internet and social media. Lack of context and adaptability can make a travesty of justice.

Here I cite Torah (Bamidbar—Numbers). In the portion Pinchas(Phineas), the five daughters of Zelophechad, who died without a son make their case to Moses that they should inherit their father’s portion of land in Canaan. God assures Moses this is just. The laws of inheritance are amended. In Mattot(Tribes), the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask Moses permission to settle in the cattle country east of the Jordan River rather than in Canaan. This alters God’s plan, but Moses says they may do so after participating in Canaan’s conquest.

During this November’s mid-term Congressional elections, voters will be bombarded by messages spread via huge sums of corporate and individual money. Such communications will give their sponsors—usually unidentified—unequaled power to sway elections. Common sense tells me that free speech will not be served.

Many thanks to Ron Laupheimer, a retired lawyer, for clarifying some issues. I am not a lawyer or legal scholar but am exercising my right to free speech—even if my reach is limited—based on, well, common sense.

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“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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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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IL DUCE LIVES

In 1900, Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, wrote in a letter what became his presidential philosophy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” If only Donald Trump had the judgment to heed TR.

Trump wants to hold a grand military parade in Washington. The U.S. last held one in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I suggest that the parade under the auspices of President George H.W. Bush sought not only to honor our troops victorious in a 100-hour war but also make amends for the terrible treatment of American military personnel during and after the Vietnam War.

Why a parade now? Trump was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last summer. But France long has been a secondary military power. In 1914, Germany overran much of France. In May 1940, Germany outflanked the heralded Maginot Line. France fell in six weeks. In 1954, the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. France bid adieu to its Indo-Chinese colonies. French forces have fought well in Afghanistan, Iraq and its former African colonies. But French military parades honor ancient glories.

What other countries hold military parades? Dictatorships and autocracies. Vladimir Putin loves seeing soldiers, tanks and rockets roll through Moscow’s Red Square. Kim Jong Un shows off the same in Pyongyang. China also gets in on the act. And Iran, under supreme leader Ali Khamenei, showcases rockets and missiles to menace America and Israel.

All draw on precedent. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler loved military parades and being worshiped at enormous theatrical rallies. So, too, Josef Stalin. Dictators believe in speaking loudly and brandishing their big sticks. This enables them, they believe, to both cow other nations and intimidate internal opposition.

All of which paints Donald Trump as something of a junior Mussolini. Like Il Duce, Trump struts, glowers and preens. Hurls insults with abandon. And equates dissent with treason. Duce Jr. demands personal loyalty at home while disdaining America’s allies and eschewing diplomacy. This provokes hostile nations and troubles our friends, all of whom understand that America’s stick is very big indeed.

Still, even the biggest (read nuclear) stick can be challenged. Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq taught us how critical it is to know when to hold back. And that small nations and non-state actors can vex us with asymmetric warfare and terrorism.

But Duce Jr.’s bloated ego demands showing off his big stick—a sign not only of U.S. military might but of his own manliness. When the troops pass the reviewing stand, Trump will applaud not them but himself. He will believe that the troops are saluting him personally. And he will, again, be wrong. They will salute his office. That’s how the Constitution rolls.

A lover of our military, Trump never served (military school doesn’t count) unlike Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom he publicly disparaged as a prisoner of war. During Vietnam, Trump received five deferments—four for college and one medical deferment after graduation.

Last Saturday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) referred to Trump as “Cadet Bone Spurs.” She earned the right, having lost both legs flying combat helicopter missions in Iraq. I might rephrase that, “Cadet Bone Spurious.” This all would be funny if it wasn’t so frightening.

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THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION

Delivering his first State of the Union address, Donald Trump stuck to his script. Although often wandering from the truth, he saluted an improved economy and painted a rosy picture of his presidency and the future. Beware! The real state of the union is far gloomier.

Trump’s speech featured heavy doses of self-congratulation. It also engaged in shameless pandering with guests sobbing on camera as Trump told stories of violent crimes committed against their families. Still, seventy-five percent of people who heard the address approved. But Trump did no more than present a Potemkin Village.

A more accurate portrait of this presidency emerges from the ongoing lies, attacks on American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and inability to deal straightforwardly with Congressional leaders—of both parties.

In terms of breaking news, Trump continues trying to thwart the Mueller commission’s investigation into his connections to Russia. This morning, Devin Nunes (R-Cal.), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a memo written by his staff casting a negative light on the FBI. Bureau director Christopher Wray—chosen by Trump to replace the fired James Comey—had condemned releasing the memo, as did leading members of Congress, intelligence experts and journalists. They believe the memo to be out of context and distorted. They fear it will reveal Bureau sources and methods, putting American intelligence operatives at risk. Trump permitted its release.

Back to the State of the Union and something you may have missed. Trump concluded by calling for Americans to maintain “trust in our God.” Our God? Do all Americans believe in the same God? If they believe in God at all?

Given Trump’s support by ecumenical Christians, I assume he referred to Jesus. I’m a Jew. Jesus isn’t my God—or the God of American Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others. “Our God” is not the God of Israel, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan. Vladimir Putin promotes Russia, despite its large Muslim population, as a Christian (Orthodox) nation, but referencing “our God” can only heighten tensions with China, Iran and North Korea. Will our God battle their Gods?

The comment served to send a clear message to the Trump base: that America remains a white, Christian nation. That, re Charlottesville, Virginia, “good people” can march alongside white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That immigrants from Haiti and Africa really do come from “shithole” countries.

For Trump, the State of the Union was all about money—with no acknowledgment of Barack Obama’s role in moving the economy forward. Economic growth is good. Mammon is not.

This week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Jethro), presents the Ten Commandments. The commentary Etz Chayim examines the (Jewish) First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God who brought out of the land of Egypt.” Egypt, a nation of great wealth, was the house of culture, science and mathematics. All good. But for Israel, it was the house of bondage. The scholar Benno Jacob (1862–1945) comments, “If freedom and culture cannot coexist, we should bid farewell to culture for the sake of freedom.” Money cannot be “our God”.

Trump continues to widen American divisions. No matter how strong the economy, bigotry and hatred—espoused and supported by the president of the United States—can only turn America into Pharaoh’s Egypt. And we know how that story turned out.

As I publish, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average has plummeted over 800 points since last Friday. Will Mr. Trump, as the force behind the American economy, accept responsibility for this?

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GAS PUMPS AND IMMIGRATION

Gridlock in Washington reflects Republicans and Democrats—and many Americans—refusing to listen to each other. It takes active listening to bridge gaps. Many years ago, an old friend revealed a great example.

Sam Smidt was a brilliant graphic designer in Palo Alto with whom I worked early in my freelance career. He told me a story that always stuck with me and should be the subject of a mandatory class for anyone holding political office.

Sam once was designing the gas pumps for Chevron. A major oil company’s gas pumps represent a corporation’s brand. The client, not satisfied, asked Sam to make the logo bigger. Sam complied. The client wanted the logo even bigger. Sam did that. The client remained unhappy. Then the answer occurred to Sam. “You want the logo to be more prominent,” he said. “Yes!” the client answered, realizing that size and prominence don’t necessarily equate. Sam shifted some design elements without supersizing the logo, and the client was delighted.

Often, people get bogged down in specifics without communicating what they really want. This leads to wasted time and energy, and often to antagonism. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a New York Times interview on Wednesday, columnist Frank Bruni interviewed two Democrats—former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and strategist Joe Trippi. Both agreed that Democrats’ chances in the 2018 Congressional elections hinge on standing for something rather than Trump bashing. Patrick hit it on the nose: “What matters most is that we agree on and fight for the ends, not so much the means. For example, we want every man, woman and child to have access to quality, affordable health care. There’s more than one way to skin that cat, and we should be open to debating all those ways.”

I imagine that Gov. Patrick is willing to listen to Republicans. Would they return the favor?

As with all major issues, politicians—and many voters—too often demand specific solutions rather than define outcomes. This parallels the Chevron executive, who ultimately realized that increasing the size of his logo wasn’t the key to meeting his objective.

Immigration poses this same challenge. Donald Trump wants a wall. It’s “wall or nothing.” But does a wall represent a “bigger logo?” Ultimately, several key questions concern the nation. Should we take in immigrants? Most people would say yes. Should we control immigration? Again, most people would say yes; the numbers and sources appropriate to a separate discussion. What are our immigration needs? What do we expect immigrants to contribute to the nation? And if we make new laws, are we willing to uphold them while finding humane solutions to tricky problems?

Start there, and Americans could find a measure of common ground.

There’s lots to discuss, and no black-and-white approach—pun intended—will serve us well. But rather than demanding the means—a wall or blanket amnesty—let’s discuss the ends. How can immigration strengthen the United States in the next quarter-century and beyond?

If Americans start expressing their vision and listening to each other, we may find our views far closer than we imagined. Then we can forego pumping up the volume and discuss, rather than argue, the practical means to achieve our objectives.

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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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