Quick Hits & Links

  • Who’s Ben Carson and What’s He Believe? Now that Carson’s leading the Republican pack, it’s worth knowing what he stands for. Here are a few key policy statements from his official website, in his own words, with my comments in parentheses:

I am unabashedly and entirely pro-life. Human life begins at conception and innocent life must be protected. (Carson opposes a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape and incest, which puts him way outside the 80% national consensus on this issue.)

We must ratify a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution in order to restore fiscal responsibility to the federal government’s budget. (A terrible, unnecessary and impractical idea.)

We didn’t need the monstrosity of the $1.2 trillion Affordable Care Act. Even after it is fully implemented for 10 years, 23 million people still won’t have any health insurance. More freedom and less government in our health care system will mean lower costs, more access, and continued innovation. (Utter horse sh*t, and most Americans know it. The ACA is an enormous improvement for Americans. Ultimately, we need Medicare for All to solve the healthcare problem.)

The First Amendment enshrines our freedom to practice whatever faith we choose free from any government intrusion. Our Founding Fathers never meant for the First Amendment to be used to drive prayer out of the public square. (Wrong on the history and wrong on the policy. Religion belongs in private space, not in the public arena.)

The 2nd Amendment is a central pillar of our Constitution. Our Founding Fathers added it explicitly in order to protect freedom in the United States of America. It provides our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic. (It’s been a very long time since armed civilians protected our country. Unchecked gun ownership today is one of the greatest threats to our freedom to live in safety.)

We need a fairer, simpler, and more equitable tax system. Our tax form should be able to be completed in less than 15 minutes. This will enable us to end the IRS as we know it. (Utter nonsense. Most Americans can already file their tax return in 15 minutes. Carson’s flat tax proposal only harms the poor and further fuels the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Greed is not good social policy.)

Ami’s note: This important and comprehensive report was written by Paul Jargowsky, a fellow at The Century Foundation where he writes about inequality, the geographic concentration of poverty, and residential segregation by race and class.

As Jargowsky correctly concludes in my opinion, “Concentration of poverty is a choice … the product of larger structural forces, political decisions, and institutional arrangements that are too often taken for granted. Our governance and development practices ensure that significant segments of our population live in neighborhoods where there is no work, where there are underperforming schools, and where there is little access to opportunity.”

Ami’s note: Tom Friedman digs deeper into the claim that Israel’s oppose the Iran nuclear deal en masse, and asks a more nuanced and valuable question: “How would I look at this deal if I were an Israeli grocer, an Israeli general, or the Israeli prime minister?”

Not surprisingly, Friedman lays out a convincing case about why the grocer hates the deal; why the general thinks it’s a flawed but worthwhile deal; and why the prime minister should embrace the deal, repair relations with the US and push for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I couldn’t agree more.

Ami’s note: A solid piece by Irwin Kula and Craig Hatkoff that raises interesting questions about the real significance of Donald Trump’s candidacy. “What’s … a bit unnerving is to reframe Donald’s campaign using the central question of disruptive innovation theory: what job is Donald Trump really trying to get done? Maybe Donald, being as smart as he is, knows full well the job is not to become President but rather to create a crisis for the political status quo … What if the real job is simply to highlight the absurdity of the existing system?”

Ami’s note: This is among the more compelling and articulate 1,000 words written to date on the Iran deal.

“Netanyahu threw down the gauntlet with the Obama administration a long time ago; perhaps he thinks he has nothing left to lose. But that’s almost certainly not true. If 13 Democrats heed the Israeli siren song and the nuclear deal collapses, only a fantasist can believe that Iran will come back for a new and harsher deal or that the United Nations and the European Union will hang tough on sanctions. Instead, Iranian centrifuges will start spinning once again, while Pakistani scientists carrying nuclear blueprints will make clandestine visits to Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu will then take the game one step further by calling for airstrikes against Iranian facilities. If he succeeds — which I doubt — Americans will never forgive Israel for its role in a catastrophic decision.”

Ami’s note: I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Theodore Bikel. Allow me though to share a very special memory of my encounter with Bikel early in my college years.

As a Jewish student activist in Cleveland, I was invited to serve as master of ceremonies for one of the country’s first community-wide gatherings on behalf of Soviet Jewry (I believe it was 1966 at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights). I had never spoken before such a large audience, and I was literally having an anxiety attack while waiting behind the outdoor stage for the program to begin.

As I’m pacing around and trying to calm down, a 40-something Theodore Bikel with rock-star status — who was the featured speaker and musical performer for the rally — walked over, put his hand on my shoulder and said something like this. “Son, I can see you’re nervous and doing your best not to throw up. I suggest you forget about it and go into the woods and get it over with. You’ll feel much better. Trust me…It used to happen to me all the time before I went on stage.” I took his advice, indeed felt better and stepped out in front of the large waiting audience.

I always remembered that brief encounter when I thought of Theodore Bikel, and I’m doing so again today. Y’hei zichro baruch — may his memory be a blessing.

Ami’s note: For the policy and politics wonks among us, this is a good piece on the Affordable Care Act and health care reform in the post-Supreme Court environment. Check it out.

“Those who celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling should not be complacent about the challenges ahead. Many of the state-run exchanges will face significant difficulties as they move toward financial independence and routinized operation. With regard to the twin goals of the law—coverage and cost-control—the early happy statistics will become harder and harder to replicate in the future. At some point, probably soon, we’re going to have to grapple with the law’s lack of serious measures for slowing the growth of health premiums without more and more cost-shifting or tighter and tighter restrictions on the choice of doctors and hospitals.”

Ami’s note: This is a perfect example of what I’d call regime over-reach, and it happens again and again. One side wins the contest — by force or even by election — and, rather than being magnanimous (and smart) about broadening their base by engaging the losing side, they take advantage of their new-found power to get even for past grievances.

It’s how post-Saddam Iraq wound up spawning Daesh/ISIS, as the new Shia governing power replaced Sunni repression of Shia with Shia repression of Sunnis. It’s what led to Morsi’s ouster in Egypt, as a democratically elected Islamic government sought to rewrite the constitution and secure its power base by undermining democratic processes to the extreme.

In the case of Israel, we’ll see if Netanyahu has the self-control to avoid the temptation to use his right-wing power base to pursue maximalist political aims rather than consolidating the position of his razor-thin majority to govern with moderation and intelligence. I doubt it. Any thoughts? (And before anybody gets outraged that I’m comparing Netanyahu to Morsi, the contexts are obviously vastly different. But I’d argue that the concept of regime over-reach is equally relevant.)

Ami’s note: This ruling reminds me of the 1977 neo-Nazi march through Skokie, Illinois; at the time, a community with large numbers of Holocaust survivors. In the end, the US courts upheld the right of the Nazi marchers. The ruling in the Skokie case, like this Israel high court ruling on the Jerusalem Day march, represent the agonizing price that we must occasionally pay for the privilege of living in democratic societies. It still makes me sick.

Ami’s note: A valuable new OpEd by Fareed Zakaria on our American criminal justice system, as my opening post on an issue that I intend to dive into more deeply: over-incarceration of minorities and the need for criminal justice reform in the United States. Stay tuned…

Ami’s note: Aside from the arguments made in this MoveOn.org petition, which I’ve signed without reservation, repealing the estate tax would eliminate one of the most important incentives for charitable bequest giving, and will severely harm philanthropy in America. I urge you to make your voice heard on this, and then to spread the word. The estate tax, which today only impacts the wealthiest 0.2% of US taxpayers, was created to put some limits on the inter-generational transfer of wealth, and to “pay back” the public for some of the many public benefits that allowed the super-rich to accumulate their wealth. Repealing it would be a travesty, and would further feed income inequality in the United States.

Ami’s note: This long-form piece by Max Fisher makes an uncomfortable but meticulously constructed argument, with which I fully concur, that Israel cannot maintain both its democracy and the occupation, and that day by day Israelis seem to be opting for the latter. Agree or disagree, I think this is an important Yom Haatzmaut/Israel Independence Day read for all of us who are devoted to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Ami’s note: I continue to be impressed with Ayman Odeh and with his outstanding leadership of the Joint Arab List. Many believed — myself not included — that creating the Joint List was a purely tactical act of political expediency aimed at securing continued Arab representation in the Knesset, and that the collaboration would fall apart shortly after the elections. I happen to think that there is something much more profound going on here with the potential to both reinvigorate Israeli Arab politics and to contribute significantly to the shared society vision. The List’s nuanced handling of the Arab League invitation (see article above) only supports my impression.

[Postscript comment in response to a Facebook question]: I think that the party’s point was to send a new message to the Arab voter — that their elected representatives will be paying more attention to the needs of their constituents and perhaps less on political posturing vis a vis the conflict; a message from the voter that’s been heard loud and clear by the Arab leadership. It is unrealistic though — and not even desirable or necessary from my point of view — to expect that Arab MKs will somehow be disengaged from regional geopolitics or from the welfare of their Palestinian brothers and sisters in the territories. In a vibrant democracy, minority groups are fully entitled to be concerned with both the particularistic needs of their own community and with the major issues confronting the entire country. The fine art of politics — in this case, of Arab politics — is to strike the right balance between the two, and I think that #AymanOdeh and his #JointArabList colleagues are off to a very good start.

Ami’s note: A very important reminder, especially for those who may find themselves wishing there were a more progressive (yet electable) Democratic alternative to Hillary Clinton. The message here is very simple: forget about who’ll be president and focus instead about how the next occupant of the Oval Office will likely make 4 Supreme Court appointments and shape the American future for the next several generations — on civil rights, voting rights, choice, religion-state and a plethora of other fundamental issues.

“Asking people to “check their privilege” can be an awkward part of discussions of social issues, but it’s often a necessary one; conversations about things like racism, sexism and homophobia get tense when people with differing identities have trouble understanding — and, as such, empathizing with — another’s struggles. This lack of awareness of others’ experiences is a manifestation of privilege, and while the request to check it might be hard to swallow, it shouldn’t be. Luckily, a new video starring a snail and a caterpillar by YouTube star Franchesca Ramsey and animator Kat Blaque is making “privilege” — which is really just about knowledge and respect — easier than ever to grasp.”

“Imagine life without electricity. With no lights, electric stove, or water pump, you must travel miles to fetch water and firewood, running a particular risk of attack if you are a girl or a woman. At home, you cook over a smoky stove or an open fire, raising your odds of getting lung and heart disease. If you are pregnant, you may die in the dark, giving birth at a clinic that lacks air conditioning and modern medical equipment. Without vaccines, which require refrigeration, your children remain vulnerable to deadly diseases. At night, they study by the light of a kerosene lamp, which causes burns when the fuel spills. Earning a living isn’t easy, either. No electricity means no sewing machines or rice mills, no pumps for irrigating crops, and no way to keep drinks cold or keep a store open at night. The lack of power keeps away bigger companies that might have hired you. Such is the plight of nearly half of the world’s population.”

Ami’s note: Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, died on March 9th at the age of 37. His all-too-brief life and his willingness to speak openly and un-selfconsciously about life, his terminal cancer and impending death was a gift to all of us. I strongly recommend the piece below and the 8-minute video telling his story in his own words. Rest in peace Paul Kalanithi.

“There really was hope this time. Netanyahu was weak, Likud was falling apart, and the right-wing was in a real crisis. The alternative in the Zionist Union made it truly possible to change the face of Israel, bring it back into itself, and its true self-image. But in order to do that, leadership, responsibility and good judgement are necessary. In order to do that, an enlightened public that acts maturely and seriously on Election Day was necessary. Those in Israel who wish for peace, the division of the land and the creation of a true democracy – they needed to unite and work as a single body in order to free the government from the grasp of the settlers, the zealots and the cynics.”

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