Sunday, October 16, 2011

Prosecutorial Indiscretion

On February 8, 2010, Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, rose to speak before a crowd of students and local residents gathered at the University of California, Irvine. But not everybody in attendance was there to hear what he had to say.

As is well known by now, a group of students from UCI's Muslim Student Union (along with some of their peers from UC Riverside) stood up one at a time to shout down Ambassador Oren, in accordance with a plan the group had prepared in advance. They were successful: Oren was unable to continue with his remarks until the last of the eleven "activists" had been led from the hall in handcuffs.

The University, having long remained silent despite numerous instances of hostile behavior on the part of the MSU, finally took action. The administration banned the MSU from campus for one year (later shortening the already minimal suspension to a single academic quarter). Faced with overwhelming outrage from the Jewish community, Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas filed charges against the eleven participants for "disrupting a public meeting" and for conspiring to do so. The students (save one who had earlier agreed to a plea bargain) were recently convicted and sentenced to 56 hours of community service, probation, and a token fine.

Victory? Maybe. But I tend to agree with noted Constitutional scholar and dean of UCI's law school Erwin Chemerinsky, who wrote:
Unless there is harm to persons or property–or a serious threat of this–district attorneys are almost always content to leave discipline to school authorities. This is exactly what Rackauckas should have done. No one was hurt, and no property was damaged. After the disruptive students were escorted away, Ambassador Oren finished his speech. The students acted wrongly, and they were punished by the campus; there was no need for anything more.
Dr. Chemerinsky goes on to conclude that the DA "failed... to do justice". Here we part ways: there is no question that justice was done. The students broke the law and were arrested, tried by a jury, and properly convicted. But in his main argument, that Rackauckas should have exercised his discretion to avoid filing charges in the first place, Chemerinsky is correct.

The dean's primary interest may be the intrusion of law enforcement into internal University matters. But I'm more concerned with the megaphone that the prosecution has put into the hands of MSU and their supporters. Thanks to the trial, the self-described "Irvine 11" have become the darlings of the far left, anti-Israel, pro-Hamas mobs. Coverage of the trial and verdict has gone global, from the Jerusalem Post to the New York Times to al Jazeera. Most of this coverage inclines favorably towards the students, who have engaged in a relentless publicity campaign, making hay while the sun shines.

It's hard to blame those who view the "Irvine 11" sympathetically. Yes, the kids are bullies, and anti-Semitic bullies at that. But my own kids will be in college very soon, and it seems to me that if they were to get arrested and tried for shouting at a lecture, I would be outraged. It would matter little what agenda they were promoting—such questions would be eclipsed by the seemingly greater injustice of the prosecutors' abuse of discretion. It shouldn't surprise us then when the MSU kids' families and community respond in the same way.

This didn't have to happen. Without a trial, there are no op-eds in national and international journals, no speaking engagements before crowded mosques, no fundraising letters hinting darkly at the justice-perverting power of "the Israel lobby". Without a trial, there are no new martyrs inspiring the enemies of Israel and America. Without a trial, the event is local, the consequences local, and the media coverage local.

We have only ourselves to blame. The Orange County Jewish community, in its appropriate but overwrought outrage at the MSU's frequent thuggish behavior, has played right into the hands of our opponents. In exchange for the dim comfort offered by the convictions, we have handed our enemies two invaluable assets: a cause célèbre and a set of attractive young icons. If this is victory, it is a Pyrrhic one at best.

When will we learn? Some anti-Israel or anti-Semitic incidents, galling though they may be, simply do not merit a sustained, pugnacious response. Nuance, too, has its place. Discretion has its place. And, frankly, simple good judgment has its place as well.

There are times when a quiet conversation will accomplish far more than a public prosecution. Irritating and offensive though it was, the UCI incident was one of those occasions.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

For Randall

I've been told that each time its web is destroyed, the spider rebuilds it with less precision, less symmetry. Eventually the web barely resembles its original design.

Randall Menter (ז"ל ( 1964-2011
My world was recently shattered by the sudden and unexpected death of my brother on his 47th birthday. Losing Randall only two weeks before the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks was especially cruel, as that event has special meaning for the two of us. I'd looked forward—no, that's not exactly right—I'd planned to spend some time with him on the anniversary, perhaps buying him a drink or two to thank him for what he had done for me a decade earlier.

Instead, I spent that day mourning him, mourning the memory of the attacks, mourning the contentment and balance my brother had helped create in my life.

I was unprepared for the devastation of this event, and its consequences for the rest of my family. And so, as has been the habit among Jews for thousands of years, I sought solace and guidance in the experiences of generations past.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204 CE), known generally as Maimonides or the Rambam, lived, worked and taught in Egypt. His family had been chased out of Spain by Moslem conquerers, and he briefly lived in Morocco and Israel before settling in the great medieval Egyptian port of Alexandria. A rabbi, community leader, and writer, the Rambam is today considered to have been one of the greatest exegetes and philosophers in all of Jewish history.

The Rambam was able to dedicate himself to his studies and writings thanks to the financial support of his younger brother David, a businessman. In that period, Jews enjoyed a considerable advantage as international merchants, as they could travel almost anywhere and find Jewish trading partners who spoke the same language and held the same traditions. It was also not unusual for one family member to support another who spent his days studying Torah (though, as a side note, it would have been rare to find somebody studying full time at the expense of the greater community, an all-too common phenomenon in the Israeli and even US Orthodox communities of today).

Tragically, when the Rambam was in his 40s—secure in his lifestyle and comfortable in the love and support of his brother—David was lost at sea. Moshe was bereft, inconsolable. Years afterward, he wrote to a friend:
The greatest misfortune that has befallen me during my entire life—worse than anything else—was the demise of [David,] the saint, may his memory be blessed, who drowned in the Indian sea, carrying much money belonging to me, him, and to others, and left with me a little daughter and a widow. On the day I received that terrible news I fell ill and remained in bed for about a year, suffering from a sore boil, fever, and depression, and was almost given up. About eight years have passed, but I am still mourning and unable to accept consolation. And how should I console myself? He grew up on my knees, he was my brother, [and] he was my student.
And yet, by the time the Rambam wrote these words, he had made significant changes to his life, changes whose effects would be felt throughout the world and across history. For, inasmuch as David's sudden death left Moshe in need of financial support, he took advantage of the medical training he had undergone earlier and became a practicing doctor. Due to his brilliance, and his incredibly hard work, the Rambam eventually rose to the position of personal physician to the Egyptian sultan and royal family. Nearly as prolific in his medical writings as in his philosophical and religious works, the Rambam influenced the philosophy and practice of medicine for centuries after his death, and is still widely studied and quoted today.

I find Rambam's experience relevant and comforting, and beyond that, instructive. I have taken to heart some important lessons from the Rambam's response to his tragedy:

  • It is permitted to mourn. This may seem obvious to a 21st century American reader, but it has not been true of all times and all cultures. Even in our society we talk of "celebrating a life", but when that life has been cut short, it seems to me to be more appropriate to mourn what has been lost than it is to "celebrate" the incomplete story, the unfulfilled potential.
  • One should let their mourning run its natural course. If even as great a figure as the Rambam spent a year in bed mourning the loss of his brother, who am I to think I might recover more quickly?
  • One may mourn not only the loss of a loved one, but the loss of a familiar and comforting lifestyle as well. David left enormous burdens for his brother to confront, including a wife and child, and business debts. Moshe's life was clearly going to become much harder in every way imaginable, at an age when he had long since settled into a comfortable routine. The Rambam found himself straining to accept and bear this additional load even as he mourned the loss of his brother whom he had loved so much.
The death of his brother signaled the irreversible loss of the Rambam's cherished way of life. The same is true for me and other members of my family. So the most important thing I have learned from the experience of the Rambam is this: if we give ourselves both the permission and the time to mourn, we can try to construct meaningful new lives even as we grieve for the loss of the old.

Like the spider's web, my rebuilt life will not be quite as perfect as its earlier incarnation. But while my younger brother's life has been cruelly and prematurely taken, my family and I remain, our previous responsibilities intact, our additional new burdens weighing heavily on us. I miss my brother; I will miss him every day of my life, a life I hope will honor him through accomplishments and good works inspired by his memory.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Looks Like Rain

You're at work. Today is Sunday, a normal work day here in Israel. But this is no normal Sunday.

Every hour, people in their cars, on the street, and at home stop what they are doing and listen intently to the radio.  They're listening for news of the expanding conflict in Gaza, and for warnings of new terror attacks in Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, even Jerusalem.  But mostly, they're listening for names, code words really, each individual waiting for the specific words that mean them, their unit.

Some rights reserved by Israel Defense Forces
In some places, it's not the voice on the radio that carries the message.  Your phone rings; the conversation is brief. Set your job aside. Take that uniform out of the closet, see if you can still get it on without popping any buttons. Kiss your children, promise them you'll be back soon. Embrace your wife, making the same promise—but she knows the subtext, b'mirtza Hashem—an unspoken acknowledgment that fate will also play a role.

In the army as a kid you were in electronic communications, something fancy. But that's a regular army billet. As a reservist, you'll be assigned the type of duty that doesn't require year-around training. Maybe you'll dig a trench around a base, or stand guard by a gate. That wouldn't be too bad—relatively safe. Or maybe they'll decide that "electronic communications" means you are just the guy to carry a radio through the mean streets of Gaza while soldiers half your age go door-to-door to search for terrorists. Some of those doors explode, having been booby-trapped by an enemy who wants to kill you so badly that he doesn't care if he's also murdering his own civilians living in that house.

You tramp a ride on a southbound Jeep to meet up with your unit. Shit, you realize, I forgot to tell Rivka to deposit that check to cover the rent.  There's too much to think about;  there's nothing to think about. The Jeep never seems to miss a bump or pothole. Time goes slowly, but you're not in a hurry. You remember a song, a classic really, by Arik Einstein:

.ואני חושב עוד מעט זה עזה, ורק שלא יעוף איזה רימון, ונלך לעזאזל. סע לאט. סע לאט
And I think just a bit longer until Gaza... I just hope there's no grenade flying our way to send us all to hell.  Go slow;  go slow.

The driver is in his 30s, religious but not not the kind who get their kids exemptions from the army.  He's got four at home, ages 2 to 10. He shrugs when you ask him how his wife is going to take care of the whole brood while he's on active duty: savta, he smiles. Grandma. Neither of you know any of the people killed in the recent terror attack, but then again, they were just like everybody you do know: the sisters headed down to Eilat for a relaxing weekend. The 22-year-old kid shot as he arrived at the scene to help rescue the survivors of the initial attack.

The world, which could not bring itself to denounce calculated attacks on women and children in Eilat, will certainly have something to say about your arrival at Gaza. Dozens of rockets rain down on the Negev—your nephew's high school gym took a direct hit, though it was, baruch Hashem, empty at the time. Mostly they fall into open fields, because nobody's aiming: if they hit a stalk of wheat or a room full of kindergartners, it's all the same to Hamas.

You suddenly comprehend a strange lyric from the same song, one you had never really understood before:
צבי אומר שגשמים כאלה מזיקים לחקלאות
Tzvi says that rain like this ruins the crops
A land flowing with milk and honey. And steel rain. You wonder if you restocked the bomb shelter after the last time. You wonder if Rivka will remember the parent-teacher conference tomorrow.

Here's the base. Finally. You thank the driver, hop down from the Jeep, and glance up at the sky. Looks like rain.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barbarians at the Gate

If you heard about the legislative efforts in Oklahoma, Tennessee and elsewhere to ban Islamic sharia law, you may have asked yourself, as I did: What. The. Fuck. Are they seriously concerned that sharia law is somehow threatening to engulf the American heartland? Did al Qaeda land some seats in the Tennessee state legislature? Have the Taliban opened a campaign office in Oklahoma? Whence, precisely, arises this imminent danger?

Tracing the history and personalities of this phenomenon, today's New York Times piece, "The Man Behind the Shariah Movement", paints a troubling picture of anti-sharia hysteria in the US. The author, investigative reporter Andrea Elliott, "has reported extensively on Islam in a post-9/11 America", according to the Times.

Elliott tracks the anti-sharia scare to the offices of one man, Brooklyn attorney and Chabad Lubavitcher David Yerushalmi. In 2006, Yerushalmi founded the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), dedicated to fighting a "war against Islam and all Muslim faithful". SANE's platform is anti-sharia, anti-immigration, and anti-Muslim, even proposing that promoting sharia law (perhaps by selling halal meat, for example? It's hard to say) should become a "felony punishable by 20 years in prison".

Common sense suggests a reasonable level of concern with the rise of Islamism around the world and its propensity for oppression, violence, and fanaticism. Furthermore, it's important to recognize the problem of mainstream Muslims in the US who preach co-existence and tolerance, yet offer political, moral, and financial support to terrorists overseas. (More on them in a moment.) But Yerushalmi and his ironically named organization have crossed the bright line from thoughtful awareness into paranoia and racism.

According to the ADL, Yerushalmi has written that "most of the fundamental differences between the races [are] genetic," and that African-Americans in particular are a "relatively murderous race killing itself". Unsurprisingly, he has also suggested that liberal Jews, such as your humble blogger, are "anti-American". Even more shocking, for an organization founded by a Jew, is SANE's recommendation that undocumented immigrants be detained in "special criminal camps" for three years before deportation.

So we've learned that Yerushalmi is a bad guy, and that SANE is anything but. But that doesn't mean we should close our eyes to the kernel of truth hidden within their giant pile of manure.

Early in the 2800-word article, for instance, the author refers to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The unstated irony is that what Yerushalmi would have us believe is true of virtually all American Muslims may in fact be true of CAIR. Painting itself as a civil rights defender, CAIR stands accused of working for the benefit of Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. For example, according to the century-old human relations organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), CAIR "undermines efforts by federal law enforcement authorities to stem the flow of funds from this country to terrorist organizations".

(By the way, kudos to Elliott for her description of CAIR as a "Muslim advocacy group", disregarding the phrase "civil rights organization" used by CAIR and too often parroted by the press. While even "Muslim advocacy group" doesn't paint nearly as dark a portrait as CAIR deserves, it is, at least, technically accurate.)

Elliott also quotes a handful of Islamic studies scholars. But an examination of the funding and organization of Islamic studies in the US suggests that a certain amount of skepticism is definitely warranted. At the University of South Florida, a former Islamic studies scholar went on to lead a Palestinian terror organization. Yale's faculty includes two of the leading American proponents of the Iranian regime. The influence of Islamists in American universities is as undeniable as it is disturbing.

At the end of the day, it appears that everybody agrees that the barbarians are at the gate. But exactly who are the barbarians? Islamic extremists, bent on dominating and, ultimately, destroying Western society? Or the xenophobic, alarmist, religious fundamentalists raising the alarm? Rational Americans are fighting a two-front war to defend our values and our way of life against these opposing threats.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jake's Vision

[Note: I wrote “Jake's Vision” for a contest.  As it did not win (I know—I was shocked, too!), I thought I'd share it here with you.  Enjoy.]

By the 18th floor, we were breathing pretty heavy.  The trucks were staged outside, but the ladders could only reach as high as the 10th floor.  So we grabbed our gear and headed up the stairwell, clearing casualties and trapped victims as we made our way to the top of the smoke-filled, 25-story apartment complex, one landing at a time.

Jesse was on point, as usual.  He wasn't the senior guy, but ever since we were kids his air of leadership had been as undeniable as his lanky build and blue eyes.  "How many cops does it take to get a cat out of a tree?"  Jesse's voice betrayed none of the effort of our ascent.

Somebody groaned.  Most of the guys knew this routine already, Jesse using humor to distract us from the heat, the stress.

"Two.  One to call the fire department and one to fetch the donuts."

Hoarse laughter crackled through the speakers as we turned and started up the next flight of stairs.  A small, crumpled form came into view through the haze as we approached the landing.  "Jake!"

"On it."  I scrambled up the remaining steps and knelt beside the tiny figure, setting my medical kit on the ground.  "She's unconscious.  Nine, ten years old."  I leaned over her, took her pulse, watched her chest rise and fall.  "She's breathing.  Thank God."

Jesse reached the landing.  "Same God trapped her in this hell-hole, little brother?"

A long-running disagreement, one that would never be settled.  "Same God that left her right here where we'd find her."  That's how I saw it, anyway.

The last casualty had suffered a broken ankle, couldn't make it down the stairs.  Didn't occur to her to remove her heels when escaping a burning building, I guess.  One of the other guys carried her down, but the kid was going to need a paramedic to stay with her, make sure she kept breathing.

"Think you can handle her alone, Jake?"  More ribbing:  the girl weighed maybe 60 pounds soaking wet.

"I'll manage."

Preparing to head back downstairs, I slung my med kit over my shoulder and picked up the limp child, oxygen mask snug on her face.  Along the way, her eyes opened.  Terrified, tears streamed down her cheeks.  I tried to soothe her, but she refused to be comforted. 

At least the kid was awake, active.  One for my side.  Despite her squirming, I managed to keep hold of her long enough to reach the windows on the tenth floor.  I handed her off to another firefighter just as a voice came over my radio:  "Jake, they're starting to pile up down here.  We need you."

"On my way, captain.  Jess, you copy that?"

"Roger.  See you in a few."

Swinging around, I grabbed the ladder and started my descent.  I was still climbing down when the explosion blasted out the windows somewhere high above me.  The concussion blew off my helmet, threw me to the ground ten feet below.  I blacked out.

Eventually my vision began to clear.  As though in a dream, the building rose up before me, its upper floors engulfed in a cloud of smoke.  Firefighters raced up and down the ladders with renewed urgency.  The cloud swallowed them up as they ascended, sometimes reappearing with one of their own slung over their shoulders. 

Well, big brother, I thought, a lump forming in my throat.  Looks like we're gonna settle that argument after all. 

I laid my head against the hard asphalt and waited.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Divide and Conquer

As I mentioned last time, my wife Jackie is currently in Israel leading a trip for Jewish twenty-somethings as part of the Taglit Birthright Israel program. So it was with some interest that I clicked over to a piece entitled Birthright’s True Aim, and Is Its Aim True? by Marc Tracy in the online journal Tablet.

Tracy briefly reviews a 4,000-word piece by Kiera Feldman entitled The Romance of Birthright Israel in the left-wing magazine, The Nation. Tracy correctly notes that “Birthright is a central aspect of Israeli-diaspora relations,” and that it therefore deserves close examination. He praises Feldman's essay in those places in which it “earnestly relays what Birthright is about, for its organizers as well as its participants.”

But Tracy also identifies some troubling aspects of Feldman's analysis. He notes that Feldman seems to have “cherrypicked her data and interviewees,” and identifies a past Birthright participant quoted in Feldman's piece who, as it turns out, had a running dispute with the Israeli government—a fact left undisclosed by Feldman.

So kudos to Marc Tracy for uncovering some of the less-than-savory techniques used by Feldman to tarnish the Birthright program. But he misses the big picture, which is not Feldman's overt attack on Birthright's agenda, but rather her covert rhetorical campaign against Israel itself: 

Israel is an “ethnocracy” built on the “forty-four-year illegal occupation of Palestinian lands”. The Green Line is an “internationally recognized border”. Seven hundred thousand Palestinians were “expelled” in 1948. These allegations require no support because, naturally, The Nation's readership already knows them to be true.
Birthright Israel indoctrinees, er, I mean, participants

I've used this forum in the past to make the liberal case for Zionism. Others, such as Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, have also done so, far more effectively than I ever could. This case needs to be made, in part, because there are those, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, who would claim the mantle of Zionism exclusively for the right. 

They are wrong to do so. As Harris and Hirsch so clearly explain, there is a compelling liberal interest in the Zionist cause. The right has its Zionist argument, and so does the left: all that remains are the anti-Zionists, who have sought to divide and conquer by clothing themselves in the rhetoric of the left, as Feldman has done, or in the politics of the right. This strategy has proven tragically effective: as Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the US, has stated, “Israel has become a partisan issue in the U.S., and this... is bad for us.”

If support for Israel does split along party lines in the years to come, it will not only be the fault of the Republican Jewish Coalition and its cynical campaign to make the GOP the home of pro-Israel American politics. No, it will also be the fault of writers like Ms. Feldman, whose casual and presumptive misrepresentations of history can be immediately transformed into fodder for the next RJC appeal.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Exceptionally Normal

Here in Southern California, we're fortunate enough to be able to watch Israel's IBA News on the local PBS affiliate, KCET. I've taken an even keener than usual interest in news from the region this week, as my gorgeous and very, very busy wife Jackie is in Israel leading a Taglit Birthright Israel trip.

As I was watching the other night, I was almost mechanically tweeting the various headlines.  Here are a few examples:
Unlike American “news” programs, the IBA (Israel Broadcast Authority) news usually spends several minutes covering one or more important topics in depth with a guest. In this instance, the interview focused on the cottage cheese boycott. Around the time the anchors turned their attention to sports and weather, it dawned on me: there had not been one single terrorism-related news item, and only brief coverage of the peace process, featuring yet another prattling EU technocrat.  

Reviewing my posts, it occurred to me what normal stories these were, the type that could easily have been featured on the local news anywhere in America. Don't get me wrong: rising food prices are a serious matter. Unfortunately, the Israeli economy is still in some ways a prisoner to its socialist past, and perhaps to an overheated rush to deregulation as well. But compared to bus bombings, missile attacks, and coerced cross-border rioters, well... all in all, I found it rather refreshing.

Israel, like any country—indeed, like any human enterprise—is imperfect. The government, the society, the leaders: they err, they are tempted into corruption, they lose their way, and we do the Zionist cause no favors by pretending otherwise. So the evening news will, no doubt, continue to be filled with stories of individuals and groups failing to live up to our millennia-old, hope-sustaining vision of Israel as a beacon to the other nations of the Earth.

So I make this offer to the universe: give me news of visiting musicians and student competitions—I'll gladly embrace them, even if they are mere sidebars to headlines filled with consumer revolt and labor unrest. Take away the terror, the baseless hatred, and the nuclear saber-rattling, and I'll accept the scandals, the crime, and the poverty as unavoidable subplots to the ongoing story of a normal country struggling to become exceptional.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


These should be heady days for Israel. The world is awakening, at long last, to the true villain in the modern history of Islamic medievalism and ignorance: the corrupt Arab ruling class. The rejectionist front dictators of the Arab world are either under siege or already fallen, and the horrifying crimes they have for decades committed against their own people have been exposed. The international community, armed with this new evidence, could in theory draw the surprising conclusion that Israel may not be the root cause of all the world's conflicts after all.

Not so fast.

In an ill-timed speech earlier this week, President Obama declared his vision for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors:
The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states... The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous... non-militarized state. 
(Emphasis mine.)

The pro-Israel community has reacted strongly, but the plain fact is that the President's remarks were neither surprising nor novel. Yes, it's true: Mr. Obama did make reference to the hated, illegitimate, and (in Prime Minister Netanyahu's words) "indefensible" 1949 armistice lines (commonly—but misleadingly—referred to in diplomatic and media circles as the "1967 lines"). But pundits seem to have overlooked the fact that he qualified his statement carefully, carving a vitally important semantic safe harbor. As my son has observed, the phrase "with mutually agreed swaps" essentially leaves every option open.

(White House Photo)
And let's be honest: the armistice lines, with modifications, have formed the basis for negotiations since there has been anything to negotiate about. Israeli governments have offered the Palestinians nearly all the territory captured in 1967, with adjustments for demographic changes and large settlements (mostly, suburbs of Jerusalem) that have appeared in the decades since. Few harbor any illusion that a final deal, if one is ever reached, will differ substantially from those on the table previously. (According to reports, the President resisted calls from within his administration to outline a tougher stance, even accepting the resignation of his hand-picked envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, barely a week prior to the address.)

Although Jewish groups had mobilized against the President's invocation of the armistice lines in the days leading up to the speech, it is difficult to ask the leader of the free world to be more conservative in his dealings with the Palestinians than the Israelis themselves have been. If this President, or any other, is seen as a hostage to Israeli policy, his effectiveness—and, ultimately, his ability to wield American leverage to Israel's advantage—will only be weakened.

So what, if anything, was new in Mr. Obama's message? To my ears, the real novelty was the use of the phrase "non-militarized" in referring to the future Palestinian state. Ultimately, if one believes, as indeed most Israelis do, in a two-state solution, one can hardly expect a better outcome than "mutually agreed" borders and a "non-militarized" Palestine.

It's also useful to review what the President did not do. He did not summon the parties to negotiations. He did not issue new peremptory demands on Israel, as he disastrously attempted to do in 2009. He did not threaten that a solution would be imposed by the United States; in fact, he said quite the opposite. And, ultimately, he did no harm to Mr. Netanyahu, who is certainly going to reap political rewards at home for his direct and immediate dismissal of the President's vision.

Mr. Obama's real mistake is not in his formulation but in his focus. This should be a time of great hope. The long-suppressed bill of grievances of the Arab everyman has finally been aired, and there is nary a word about Israel. Poverty, ignorance, and oppression have been revealed as the essential casus belli of the Middle East, not the presence a few million Jews on a narrow strip of previously neglected real estate. Now is not the time to bury the lead of Arab self-liberation within the mythology of Israeli misbehavior. In trying to make history, Mr. Obama has instead misjudged it, shining a light on Israeli/Palestinian discord just as it was becoming clear how small a role that conflict actually plays in the larger tragedy of the Arab Middle East.

Does anybody remember what the President said about Iran in his address? About Syria? Egypt? Has there been any coverage at all of any topic raised by Mr. Obama in three-quarters of an hour of continuous speaking besides the Israeli/Palestinian matter? Through his insistence on dredging up that issue, Mr. Obama gave the remaining strongmen of the Arab world the one gift they most wanted: an alternative target for the world's reprobation. You're welcome, Muammar.

The drama will continue to play out this weekend at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC.  With 10,000 supporters of the American-Israel relationship in attendance, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will each have an opportunity further to lay out his vision for peace and security for Israel and the region. Netanyahu is guaranteed a warm and welcoming reception, but, having chosen this time to refocus on Israel, the President will have to work hard to win over an audience understandably suspicious of his priorities. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sept 11, 2001

This is a nine-year-old piece I was planning on reposting on Sept 11, 2011. But in light of this week's events, I feel that now would be the right time.
It was originally published in the Jewish Journal (LA and Orange County Editions) on the occasion of the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 atrocities.

Although I was there, I can't tell you much about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that you don't already know. After all, you had CNN; I only had my two eyes and the prescription lenses I thankfully remembered to grab as I fled the apartment. Yes, I watched from a few blocks away as the towers fell, but without the benefit of a zoom lens or slow motion video (thank God for that—there was nothing that I saw I wished to see again or in greater detail).

Indeed, the overwhelming personal tragedies and the incredible acts of heroism have been recorded and retold. I cannot add to them. But I can tell you one story, a small one, about two brothers from Long Beach who found themselves that morning on opposite sides of a river.

A decade ago, my wife, Jackie, and I returned to Southern California from New York City, where we had lived for five years. I continued to make frequent business trips there. On the bright, clear morning of Sept. 11, I lazed sleepily in the apartment my company keeps in lower Manhattan.

I was alone. My brother, with whom I share the place when I come to New York, had an early plane to catch, and had left a couple of hours earlier. As I debated whether or not to get up and shower, he was sitting in the terminal at Newark Airport waiting for his Atlanta flight to be called. At the next gate, passengers lined up to board United Flight 93, bound for San Francisco. Randall casually watched them embark; he would be one of the last to see them alive.

Within minutes of the first attack, my building was evacuated. I stood in the park, 37 floors below my apartment window, with my eyes squinting against the sunlight, my heart racing, my mind recoiling, rejecting the evidence of my senses.

As the first tower fell, I was speaking with Jackie on my cell phone, reassuring her that I was alright, although she surely knew otherwise from the sound of my voice. I stood, a couple of hundred yards from the billowing smoke, trembling and terrorized. Randall watched helplessly from the airport, from which the towers were... had been... clearly visible.

Stunned, I began wandering the city, dazed and aimless. Randall, however, had the opposite reaction: he was galvanized, committed and determined to find a way back into Manhattan. His goal was to reach me and make sure I was OK.

Like me, Randall grew up in Long Beach, attended Jewish day school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom. Unlike me, though, he never left the neighborhood until the day I asked him to come work with me. Within a couple of weeks, he was setting up an apartment on Manhattan's Chambers Street, learning the subway system and discovering ways to have videos and snack food delivered on demand via the Internet. By Sept. 11, my brother had been working with me for three years, spending about one week a month in Southern California and the rest of the time in New York City.

And so it was that morning, as about 8 million people worked desperately to leave Manhattan as quickly as possible, Randall focused his considerable ingenuity and sales ability on doing just the opposite.

The obstacles to reaching this goal were fairly considerable. Of course, all of the usual routes into Manhattan—subways, ferries and bridges—were closed. River traffic was warned away from the city's many docks.

Randall, through a combination of persuasion, bribery and alert observation, finally reached Manhattan's Upper West Side. Like our great-grandparents over a century earlier, he arrived on the island without a dime in his pocket. He set out on foot for SoHo, about 3 miles away, where he found me a couple hours later.

I was shaken, but fine. He was exhausted, but fine. I was relieved to have him with me. We spent the rest of the week together before finally coming home. Our flight was on Rosh Hashana; as Randall said at the time, "It's not a problem. God is on vacation this week."

Soon it will be Rosh Hashana again. The High Holiday prayerbook, the Machzor, includes the words "These things I will remember." I carry hundreds of memories of Sept. 11, 2001, many of them terrifying that I would gladly be rid of. But I will also remember that somebody crossed a blockaded river and walked half the length of a city just to look in my eyes, to be reassured that I was OK.

Thanks, Randall.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Zionism: Left, Right and Center—A Quick Postscript

I do my best here in my little blog, but there are many others out there who can make the liberal case for Israel better than I ever could. I mentioned one such advocate, AJC's David Harris, in my earlier post.  Since then I've also discovered (thanks to friend and Jewish social networker extraordinaire William Daroff) another outstanding piece, written by Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch. Rabbi Hirsch delivered this tour de force at a meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis just a couple of weeks ago. It's a quick read: don't miss it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Zionism: Left, Right, and Center

As a Zionist, I welcome the support of my conservative friends for Israel. I can understand where they're coming from: quite apart from religious concerns, the pro-Israel position is not inconsistent with the conservative worldview. Israel is a democracy, standing for decades as a bulwark against Soviet imperialism in a Middle East largely controlled and supported by the USSR. Israeli society, though historically to the left of the American conservative ideal, is thriving and entrepreneurial, rewarding risk and innovation, governed by the rule of law.

And yet, while support for Israel is compatible with American conservatism, it is absolutely essential to American liberalism. Israel pioneered individual rights in the Middle East, built a social safety net for its citizens, and established the kibbutz, the world's only example of successful communal living.

The American Jewish Committee's David Harris recently gave an interview in which he discussed the relationship between liberal values and Zionism:
I am a liberal, in the sense that I believe in liberal values. I believe in human freedom; I believe in human rights; I believe in human dignity... I believe that supporting Israel means defending those values... In fact I believe that Israel is a liberal cause, and I believe that pro-Israel advocates who have given up on defending Israel as a liberal cause are really giving up [on those values]... Who exactly is it they are defending, and what are the values [they] espouse?
Is Harris correct? Let's look at the facts:
  • Unlike its neighbors, Israel is a robust democracy with strong, transparent democratic institutions, including labor unions, advocacy organizations, and political parties.
  • Unlike its neighbors, Israel operates a policy of full access to holy sites to all religions.
  • Unlike its neighbors, Israel guarantees equal rights to its thriving LGBT community.
  • Unlike its neighbors, Israel has accepted millions of refugees—black, white, and brown—offering them assistance, equality, and the privileges of citizenship.
  • Unlike its neighbors, Israel has an energetic free press that is openly—sometimes brutally—critical of the government.
  • Unlike its neighbors, Israel's universities offer its faculty and students unfettered academic freedom.
  • Unlike its neighbors, Israel is not afraid to investigate, and, when appropriate, convict, even its highest leaders when they have violated the law.
All these and more represent beliefs and actions not only consistent with, but absolutely essential to the liberal ideal. But if support for Israel is such a key liberal value, what then should we make of that minority of self-styled American "liberals" who express contempt for Israel, call for the boycott of Israeli goods, seek to prevent Israeli academics from working with their counterparts outside of Israel, and even voice solidarity with terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah? David Harris says these individuals have "abandoned" liberal values; if he is right, as I have suggested, then they are not true liberals—so what are they?

On the extreme end of the political spectrum lives a political philosophy unconcerned with traditional liberal values like freedom of the press and equal rights for all. To denizens of this dark corner of the left, the wealthy are always evil and the poor always worthy. Power exercised by the strong is never appropriate, no matter how carefully deployed; power exercised by the weak is never unjustified, no matter how brutal. If a terrorist bomber targets and murders teenagers at a dance club, that is because the killer had no other way to vent his justifiable rage. If a soldier fires on an armed thug who is attacking him, that soldier is no better than a Nazi.

Such a belief system is not compatible with liberalism, regardless of how its practitioners choose to identify themselves. The correct term for this worldview is Communism—yes, that Communism, the utterly discredited ideology of the last century: the movement that gave the world Stalin, Castro, and the KGB; that destroyed Russia, leaving it a broken and lawless kleptocracy; that murdered millions of its own people and brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust. There is simply no other political ideology compatible with support for oppressive totalitarian regimes whose only appeal is the poverty in which it traps its citizens.

No nation or political philosophy is without flaw, but support for Israel is as intrinsic to liberal values as it is consistent with conservative ideals. The Zionist enterprise appeals to left, right, and center—until, that is, one reaches the fringes, the extreme endpoints of the political spectrum. Fortunately for Israel, Americans of both parties, having universally shunned 20th century Communism, are also bound to disavow that movement's 21st century ideological heir, anti-Zionism.

Friday, February 18, 2011

156 Pages

This week I received my copy of The Hummingbird Review. I had awaited this particular edition—Volume 2, No. 1—with what can only be described as childish impatience. Now, at long last, the unremarkable manila envelope was waiting in my mailbox. Recognizing the return address, I tore into the pouch as though it were the only thing standing between me and a tray of freshly baked cookies. I took a deep breath and slid the eagerly anticipated journal into my palm.

It was smaller than I expected. But thicker. There are a lot of words in there, I realized. And about 1500 of them are mine.

As of this writing, the issue of THR containing my story, Dolphinarium, is #160,658 on Amazon. Of course, I am not concerned with such matters, which is why I scoured the Internet in an effort to determine exactly how many sales that figure represents. I was impressed to learn, according to one source, that I can reasonably estimate that at least ten copies of this rare and precious paperback are flying off the shelves each and every week.

Meanwhile, as literally dozens of books make their way into the hands of discerning, highly educated, and extremely attractive readers, I have begun the rich journey through the volume that ended up in my mailbox. My little story is swaddled in 156 pages of incredible prose, poetry, and journalism—and I am determined to read each entry, seriatim, from page one onward.

Did you ever eat at one of those restaurants famous for its chocolate souffle, the kind you have to order with your dinner because it takes so long to prepare? I don't care how good the dinner is—how flavorful the soup, how succulent the chicken, how crispy the fries—a little bit of your mind is just marking time until dessert.

Dolphinarium begins on page 150. In case you were wondering.

You should buy The Hummingbird Review. No, really: it's only twelve bucks. And while I'm very proud of Dolphinarium, I can assure you that you'll find that the other 151 pages are filled with memorable characters, revealing portraits, and moving verse at least as deserving of your thoughtful attention.

But if you want to start with the souffle, I'll understand.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Birthing Democracy

As I write these words, I'm sitting in a large room crammed with people called to appear for jury duty. Along with voting, jury duty is the experience that best exposes ordinary Americans to the democratic ideal envisioned by the founders. Arguably, in fact, jury duty is the purest form of democracy, in that a jury can nullify laws by refusing to enforce them, thus providing a mechanism by which the people can override the decisions of their elected representatives.

Is this what is happening in Egypt and the Arab world today? Are the people, through their demonstrations, expressing a desire for freedom and democracy that has been denied them by their (illegitimately) elected rulers?

To a certain extent, yes. Those happy young faces you see being interviewed on TV belong to young idealists, born and raised under the thumb of the present leader. They seem certain that the only thing standing between them and their liberty is Mubarak, or Hussein, or Assad. So all they need to do is get that bad guy out and poof! ...democracy will descend from heaven to rest gently on their shoulders for all time.
Draft of the Declaration of Independence
(Library of Congress)

Our Forefathers were under no such misgivings. But then, they were no schoolchildren; rather, they were, by and large, highly educated civic leaders, scholars, and property owners. They had a list of grievances, to be sure.  "The history of the present King of Great Britain," Jefferson wrote, "is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."

But Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams and the rest knew that airing grievances and fomenting revolution weren't sufficient to the cause. They also needed to communicate a vision of what they planned to build to compete in the public mind with the reality they were already experiencing. Yes, it would take them another decade and more after independence for this vision to find its ultimate expression in the Constitution. But even in the years of the Continental Congress, even before the revolution, the Founders were driven not only to divorce themselves from Great Britain, but even more importantly, to build a nation of virtue on the ideas of Locke, Montesquieu, and others.

One searches in vain for the Jefferson of the Arab street. Certainly, Egyptian revolutionary figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei does not fit the bill. Known internationally but lacking any local constituency, ElBaradei is useful as a placeholder that all sides can live with until the post-Mubarak power struggle begins. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood remains the best prepared and most likely successor to Mubarak.

In the past couple of days, the Muslim Brotherhood has become more visibly involved in the struggle to overthrow Mubarak. The group has been proclaiming its commitment to democracy, but as journalist Yossi Klein Halevi points out in the New York Times:
Israelis fear that the Brotherhood’s nonviolence has been a tactical maneuver and know that its worldview is rooted in crude anti-Semitism. The Brotherhood and its offshoots have been the main purveyors of the Muslim world’s widespread conspiracy theories about the Jews, from blaming the Israeli intelligence service for 9/11 to accusing Zionists of inventing the Holocaust to blackmail the West.
Others argue that the responsibilities of governance would moderate the Brotherhood, but [among Israelis] that is dismissed as Western naïveté: the same prediction, after all, was made about the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas. 
The incredible treasury of documents left us by our Founders testify to the great democracy they would eventually form. We can only assume that the past statements and writings of the eventual leadership of Egypt are similarly indicative, however hard we wish it were otherwise.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the wave of anti-government protests sweeping through the Arab world. As Americans, our first instinct is to view every revolution against tyranny through the lens of our own history. Reflexively, we root against the dictators, corrupt fascists who have denied freedom to their people for decades. Such an instinct is entirely appropriate: our democracy means nothing if it is used as a pillar of oppression overseas.

Unfortunately, misreading history is also an American instinct. Revolution may be common, but democracy is precious and rare. The upheaval in the Muslim world is not inspired by a philosophy of what those governments should be; they are inspired by a revulsion at what those governments have become. The common goal of the rioters in the streets is change, but once they have successfully forced the autocrats from their palaces, that goal will have been met. What will be left is a vacuum demanding to be filled. If history is a guide, it is likely to be filled by the largest, best organized, or most heavily armed aspirant to leadership.

In the Muslim Middle East, revolution has never yielded democracy. Indeed, the only Muslim democracy in that part of the globe was not the result of popular rebellion, but rather, imposed by the United States on Iraq (and, let's face it, the long-term viability of that experiment is still very much in doubt). If, as George W. Bush suggested, "liberty... is God's gift to the world", it is a gift rejected time and again, not only by Middle Eastern tyrants, but by the revolutionaries who supplant them.

The situation in Egypt is no different. Modern Egypt was born of a revolution against British rule led in part by Gamal Abdul Nasser. Assuming the premiership in 1956, Nasser, a military dictator, ruled Egypt with an iron hand, even as he maneuvered to become the leader of the Arab world. Nasser's position only deteriorated after his humiliating defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967 in a war he precipitated.

The correlation of Nasser's career with his military success—or lack thereof—against Israel is unsurprising. Egypt's leaders in the latter half of the 20th century depended on the average Egyptian's antipathy towards Israel for their popularity. One of Nasser's first acts in office was to provoke the 1956 Suez Canal crisis; the resulting failure of Israel, Britain and France to hold the Suez, and Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai, firmly established Nasser's position at the head of the Egyptian regime.
As the sun sets on Mubarak, will the peace with
Israel be plunged into darkness?

Indeed, one contributor to the current unrest—unmentioned on CNN but implied in the cheerleading coverage of al Jazeera—is dissatisfaction with Egypt's peace with Israel. Don't get me wrong: the cold peace with Israel, the status of which has remained unchanged for some time, probably didn't spark the outbreak of popular revolt. But it is and remains an irritant, a perennial entry on the list of grievances nursed by Egyptians against their leader.

So what can we expect in post-revolutionary Egypt? The main players in the revolt are the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization with ties to Middle Eastern terror groups, and Kefaya, a more secular opposition movement. Neither has asserted itself as a successor so far—it is still too early for such positioning. But perhaps we can get a clue to the outcome from the reaction of other Muslim nations.

The most important Islamic revolution in my lifetime took place in Iran in 1979. Fed up with the history of oppression under their US-backed dictator, the Iranians rose up, successfully replacing their secular autocracy with an Islamic theocracy. Most Iranians today were not yet born in 1979—the only oppression they've known has been at the hands of the Imams. Their 2009 revolt, perhaps the first such rebellion in the region with any chance of producing a native-born Islamic democracy, was ruthlessly crushed by the Ayatollah's regime.

And so, the Islamists remain in charge in Tehran. Their reaction to rioting in Egypt? They are cheering on the revolution:
[In Egypt], Muslims are more active in political agitation and, God willing, they will establish the regime that they want... Today, as a result of the gifts of the Islamic revolution in Iran, freedom-loving Islamic peoples such as the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt and nearby Arab countries are standing up to their oppressive governments.
Clearly, the Islamists are betting on the Muslim Brotherhood. American intellectuals, such as Leon Wieseltier, fear that the Iranian analysis may be on the mark:
[T]he politics of the revolt are murky. Its early stages have not been the work of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is hard to believe that the Islamist organization will not be tempted to play the Bolshevik role in this revolution: it has the ideology and the organization with which to seize control of the situation, and it is the regime’s most formidable political adversary.
  Whatever Egypt looks like in the post-Mubarak era, we can be pretty sure of a few things:
  1. The government will be hostile to Israel. While the Egypt-Israel relationship under Mubarak has hardly been a love affair, it's entirely possible that a new Egyptian regime could scuttle the peace treaty entirely. That treaty, brittle though it may be, has been the platform on which decades of relative stability between Israel and its neighbors (Lebanon being the notable exception) has rested.
  2. The government will be hostile to the United States. As an incentive for its treaty with Israel, the US has gifted Egypt with about $2 billion per year of foreign aid. The average Egyptian, not without reason, has viewed this money as a means of propping up the dictator they hate and as a reward for their sworn enemy, Israel. Make no mistake: anti-US sentiment is a significant driver behind the protests in Egypt's streets.
  3. Jordan will be next. If anything, Jordan's relatively enlightened monarch, King Hussein, is even more hated by his subjects than Mubarak. Perhaps as much as half of Jordan's population is of Palestinian extraction; in 1970, the PLO even tried (unsuccessfully) to overthrow the father of the current king. Needless to say, Jordan's peace with Israel and solid friendship with the United States are deeply unpopular with Jordanians.
When all is said and done, we can shed few tears for a dictator who is at long last deposed by those he has oppressed. At the same time, however, it's imperative to take a clear-eyed view of developments in the Islamic world, armed with a thorough understanding of the threats and opportunities presented by these events.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Unbalanced Gunman, Unbalanced Policy

Yesterday, a seriously disturbed young man shot twenty innocent people, killing a nine-year old girl, a federal judge, a 30-year old political staffer, an elderly gentleman trying to protect his wife, and two others, and wounding the rest, including Jewish Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. His precise motives remain unknown, although he clearly held some extreme political views, and there is some evidence that anti-Semitism may have played a role as well.

Many, including me, have pointed a finger at the irresponsible and violent rhetoric that has overtaken politics since the Obama election. It is so self-evident that the hateful, often racist, occasionally treasonous rhetoric coming from the Tea Party and other extremists contributed to this incident, it's hardly worth exploring here. In any event, that discussion will dominate the national debate for a while, just as it did in Israel following the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

I began to wonder, though, about the shooter. By all early accounts, he suffers from a degenerative, paranoid, and violent mental illness. While we cannot know at this point what diagnosis, if any, might be appropriate for him, it does appear that he began displaying abnormal behavior in his teens—typical of schizophrenia.

The shooter had attended Pima County Community College, where his increasingly erratic behavior did not go unnoticed. As a student in one of his classes observed, "He disrupted class frequently with nonsensical outbursts." He'd had brushes with the law as well. All in all, there were many people—his classmates, the school administration, and law enforcement—in a position to recognize the urgent need for some kind of intervention.

Unfortunately, the options for such intervention have narrowed considerably in the past decades. And so, like hundreds of thousands of others, the killer will spend his life in jail after committing a heinous, violent act, rather than spending time in a therapeutic setting that might have prevented such behavior in the first place. According to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik:
Back in 1960, when I was a young cop on the beat, we put mentally ill people who were threats into a system that incarcerated them. Today they're out on the street and we're paying a price for it.
The history is fairly well known. Ronald Reagan dismantled the federal system of mental health care. While state mental institutions deserved, by and large, to be shuttered, the Regan administration offered no safety net for the mentally ill who suddenly found themselves thrust back into society.  According to one paper on the subject:
[T]he number of beds available to the mentally ill in public and private hospitals dropped over forty percent between 1970 and 1984. Most of this decline was due to cuts in public hospitals. During the 1980s, the number of beds provided by general hospitals in psychiatric wards and in private hospitals for the mentally ill increased. In 1970, there were 150 private psychiatric centers... by 1988, there were 450 in the United States. General hospitals offering psychiatric services increased from 1,259 in 1984 to over two thousand in 1988. With such growth in the private sector, there were substantial profits to be made in mental illness, assuming that the patient had adequate health insurance. Those without medical insurance frequently did not receive adequate care.
(Emphasis added.) Mental illness isn't going away any time soon. In addition to the normal statistical occurrence of mental illness within a population of our size, we are adding thousands of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) victims, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tragically, the Reagan administration's abandonment of mental health care has left many in the mentally ill population with only two places to go: the streets or the prison system.

What does all this have to do with Tea Party and Republican policy? The Tea Party was founded on the wrong, but at least defensible, principle that federal bailouts had grown out of control. Since then, however, the platform has grown to encompass opposition to all things Obama. By last year, the Tea Party had targeted (quite literally) Gabby Giffords, not for her position on government bailouts, but rather, for her support of health care reform.

Indeed, the Republican majority in the 112th Congress, assiduously ignoring all manner of pressing issues on which they might realistically have some impact, have decided that their first order of business will be purely symbolic: the repeal of health care reform. I say "purely symbolic" because, of course, such legislation will never make it to the floor of the Senate, and even if it were to pass the Senate, it would promptly be vetoed by the president. Thus, the Republicans are simply spinning their wheels on America's dime to score political points with the minority in this country who believe that health care reform was "too liberal".

Health care reform: hope for the mentally ill
One of the innovations of the health care reform legislation was to force insurance companies to cover mental health care to the same extent they cover traditional health care. This policy, known as "parity", has been the law since 2008, but only for group policies for employers with 50 or more covered employees. This loophole not only leaves out the 49 million previously uninsured, who of course also lack mental health coverage; it also excludes the over 30 million people who work for small businesses in America.

Permit me to suggest that leaving nearly 80 million Americans—call it one in four of us—without recourse to adequate mental health care hardly qualifies as "equity". Apparently the 111th Congress agreed, including parity in the health care reform legislation that became law last year. By guaranteeing adequate mental health care for nearly all Americans, health care reform assists the mentally ill to get off the streets and stay out of the prisons. Such a policy benefits not only the mentally ill, but all of society.

This, then, is the progressive reform that Tea Partiers and Republicans consider "socialist", evil, or simply unconstitutional. In the coming days and weeks you will hear right wing apologists defensively argue that the Giffords shooting was the work of an "unbalanced" individual, and not in any way the fault of their incendiary demagoguery. Perhaps. And yet, the policies that the Republicans put into effect in the Reagan era, and which they hope to continue through the repeal of health care reform, will ensure an uninterrupted supply of such individuals—untreated, uncared for, and unnoticed, until the next preventable atrocity splatters across our TV screens.