Thursday, July 09, 2015

Don't Worry, You've Still Got Your Religious Freedom

Following the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, religious conservatives are in full-on panic mode. "HOW COULD THIS BEEEEEE?" they cry to the heavens. "Our religious freedom is being trampled upon!"

No, it's not.

Let's lay it out on the table. Before the Supreme Court's decision, it was your religious right to believe that same-sex couples were inferior, that they were sinners. You could preach that their lifestyle would destroy the fabric of America. You could refuse to let them marry in your church.

Now? Well, you can still do all these things.

You can still put all your beliefs into practice. Same way you could before. No one's forcing you to convert. The Supreme Court decision does not mean you have to become gay. It does not mean you have to divorce your wife and marry her brother instead. All it means that gay couples enjoy the protections and benefits of the law just like straight couples.

Now, let's say you're a government worker responsible for handing out marriage licenses. Let's say you're a conservative Christian. You don't believe same-sex couples are valid. If you're forced to give marriage licenses to these couples, are you being forced to do something against your religion?


If you're getting paid to carry out duties decided by the state, you have a choice. A religious Jew will probably not take a job in a pork sausage factory. A committed Buddhist will probably not work in a slaughterhouse. If you're in a job that entails doing things you think your religion frowns upon, you're welcome to leave that job, anytime.

The government is not making you change any part of your personal lifestyle. It's merely telling you that in your role as a government agent, you can't cast your beliefs onto others. You have the liberty to live how you want. The LBGT community has the liberty to live how they want. No one can force you to be in a same-sex relationship. You can't force them not to be. TO EACH HIS OWN.

The Pilgrims, the founders of our nation, fled England because the state-sponsored church sought to control their beliefs. They came here to practice their own brand of faith. Religious freedom gives everyone the right to believe and act in accordance with their beliefs. It doesn't mean your religion trumps others.

The second you stop others from making personal choices, you're no longer practicing freedom, you're destroying it.

This is how freedom works. Freedom does not mean you have the freedom to make other people less free.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Fight For Love Is Not Over

Today marks a historic day for LGBT rights in this country. The highest court in the land just smacked down gay marriage bans throughout the U.S., and it's a cause for celebration. But all that was decided today is what the law says about who can marry. It doesn't change the beliefs of millions of Americans who still think marriage is reserved for heterosexuals.

As Roberts writes in his dissent:

"Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens—through the democratic process—to adopt their view.   That ends today.   Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law.  Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."

Roberts acknowledges the rising support for same-sex marriage, but argues that by taking the decision out of the hands of the electorate, proponents of same-sex marriage have essentially shot themselves in the foot, achieving their goals at the expense of winning over the hearts and minds of those opposed. To him, votes, not court decisions, should decide the most debated issues of the day.

Of course, if that reasoning always held sway, you'd still have states banning interracial marriage.

Still, it's an important argument to ponder. Just because the right to marry has been won, does that mean the fight is over? Or has today's decision hardened the foes of equality?

One need only look at the civil rights battle fought by African-Americans. Court decisions removed the shields racists hid behind when they segregated and disenfranchised people based on skin color. But the courts couldn't erase the hate, or oust the institutionalized racism that has remained engrained throughout society. Heck, it took until this week for people to even seriously consider removing the Confederate flag from state buildings.  We're 152 years past slavery, and it hasn't been enough time to heal all the wounds.

Today #LoveWins. But as Roberts reminds us, it wasn't won where it should have been. Gutless politicians passed the buck, on both sides of the debate. People in parts of this country can still garner enough votes to gain control over other people's bodies and love lives. Instead of this decision coming from the top, or coming from the masses, it came in sideways. Law seeks to make an immediate impact, but real societal change comes slowly.

The fight against discrimination isn't over. There are many more hearts and minds to be won.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Every Republican Announces Presidential Bid

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- In a stunning announcement, every current and former Republican elected official has decided to join Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Lindsay Graham, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, and John Kasich in a bid for the party's 2016 Presidential nomination.

"Today I officially announce my candidacy for President of the United States!" tweeted thousands of center-right politicians at around 11:01 AM Monday morning. Candidates ranged from distinguished senators on Capitol Hill like Lamar Alexander, to Duxbury, Vermont dogcatcher Jebediah Whitman.

"I didn't want to get left out," Whitman, told the Associated Press. "I figured, hey, I got as good a shot as anyone else."

Republican National Convention chairman Reince Priebus issued a statement welcoming the new field of contenders. "The people are fed up with the Democrats failed leadership. The Republican Party believes America is ready to make a different choice. We've just given them 363,201 real leaders to choose from."

So far, none of the new candidates have explained how their platform differs from the others. All would seek to overturn the Affordable Health Care Act, pursue bans on gay marriage and abortion, and cut spending on the poor in favor of tax cuts for the rich.

"We have plenty of diversity competing for the ticket," Priebus said. "We've got at least a dozen women I'm aware of. And that black guy."

Asked whether the crowded field might turn into a self-defeating bloodbath, Priebus pretended to have received a very important phone call, despite the fact that his phone didn't ring or vibrate, and left the press conference through a side door.

For now, the biggest questions appear to be logistical-- how many candidates can be included on the Republican primary ballot? How big a room would be required for the Iowa caucus or the primary debates? Who will be managing the responsibilities of all these candidates as they spend time on the campaign trail?

Whitman, for one, isn't sweating the specifics.

"I'm already counting on three votes from my wife and kids," he says. "With this many candidates, that might be enough to win."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This Ad Isn't Helping Israel, Guys

‘Killing Jews is Worship’ posters will soon appear on NYC subways and buses

So first off, I don't understand the judge's decision. Must the MTA accept all advertising? So if I want to create an ad featuring a naked woman straddling an armadillo with the message, "Time to ride the horny armadillo," the MTA can't say no? They've just got to roll with it?

I'm all for free speech, but there's nothing in the 1st Amendment that says a publisher HAS TO publish anything it receives. Otherwise, my very convincing article about how we actually evolved from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who were warped back in time (as alluded to in the classic video game, "Turtles in Time") would have been published in the New York Times.

Secondly, Washington Post reporter Michael Miller writes, "Making the case all the stranger is that the posters are not the work of an Islamist group, but rather a pro-Israel organization." But is the "American Freedom Defense Initiative" even pro-Israel? Because this ad does nothing to convince anyone to support Israel. It does the exact opposite.

The most convincing argument among liberals inclined against Israel is that "the country is not a place of freedom and justice, but a place where Arabs and Muslims are subjugated, segregated and subjected to discrimination and prejudice." All this ad does is, well, reveal that this supposedly pro-Israel group believes "all Muslims are terrorists." Which plays into the hands of Israel's critics. If critics call you a country founded on prejudice... maybe don't launch an ad campaign that highlights your prejudicial viewpoint?

If you want to place an ad convincing people to support Israel, then why not create an ad like this:

That took me all of 2 seconds, so excuse the clunky language. My ad team will refine it in our brainstorming sessions. But hell, it makes a much better point. It's easy to say Israel shouldn't exist, that Israel is an apartheid state. But what do you want instead? Gaza?

What other country in the Middle East would you hold up as an example of equal human rights? What other place could an Arab and a Jew even consider having a friendship? That's the best argument for Israel-- its government may be a right-wing nut factory, its rights record sometimes spotty, its military sometimes overzealous (sounds kinda like a country closer to home) but Israel is the only functional democracy in the Middle East that doesn't punish its people with Sharia law and allows freedom of expression (Israel is the only country in the region to have a free press, according to It's not an evil country, hanging gay people, stoning women, arresting and torturing dissenters. It's an imperfect country, but so is the United States.

And yet the American Freedom Defense Initiative's ad plays up the viewpoint of the far-right-wingers, the messianic settlers, many of whom--just like the far-right-wingers in America---are xenophobic, racist, bigots. There are some people in Israel who believe all Muslims are terrorists, just like a lot of people in Texas do. But they're not representative of Israel. As much as the American Freedom Defense Initiative's ad makes them out to be.

I looked into this group (again, something that took me 2 seconds) and I have to disagree with reporter Michael Miller's characterization of the AFDI as a "pro-Israel group." Up until recently, the organization was actually called "Stop Islamization of America," which, as the name suggests, had little to do with supporting Israel and everything to do with spreading anti-Islamic rhetoric. Knowing this, it's clear the ad isn't aimed at convincing anyone to support Israel. It's aimed at spreading anti-Islamic hatred. Something the judge in this case should have realized.

If I were the MTA, I'd defy the judge's order. But since I'm not, I can only urge this. Deface every one of these stupid ads you see. Tear them, write over them in permanent marker, cover them in stickers. Because this ad is not how to support Israel. Not if our desire is for peace and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Hate may grab attention. But love wins hearts.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu's Unsustainable Bubble

The most dangerous threat to Israel isn't the Palestinians, or Iran. The gravest threat is Benjamin Netanyahu.

I've written before about my skepticism that Netanyahu really believes in the peace process. A day away from elections that could cast him out of power, he removed all doubt. There will be no two-state solution as far as he's concerned. Ever.

The mask is off now. For all of Netanyahu's protestations that Israel lacks a true partner in the peace process, that Fatah is corrupt and powerless, that Hamas will quickly undermine any deal-- it's clear now that Netanyahu was never paying anything but lip service to the idea of a peace plan. From his public statements, it's clear he believes that there can never be a Palestinian state that doesn't jeopardize Israel's security.

What then, is the answer he proposes? It's very clear from the policies he's supported as Prime Minister.

1. Restrict Palestinians' travel and ability to organize.

2. Strengthen and expand Iron Dome to prevent rocket attacks.

3. Secure borders with walls and high-tech monitoring.

4. Expand settlements to establish buffer zones and drive Palestinians out of strategic areas.

5. Use American money and diplomatic power to keep other countries out of it.

Netanyahu's 5-points of darkness security strategy, from his perspective, and the perspective of many Israelis, has worked so far. Israel is suffering far less casualties from terrorism than it suffered in the past. It faces no real conventional military threat. It's safer to live in Israel now than at any point during its history. Basically, Netanyahu has enclosed Israel in a bubble, and he doesn't care much about what's happening outside of it.

Yet it's a remarkably cruel and short-sighted strategy. The long-term downside to living in a bubble  should be evident to anyone who bothers to think about the future-- for Israel and the Palestinians.

With no Palestinian state on the table, Israel continues its control of the Palestinian territories, expands Jewish settlements, ignores the basic needs of the Palestinians and crowds them into ever worsening conditions-- effectively confirming the beliefs of all those who accuse Israel of being an apartheid state. Meanwhile, Israel isolates itself diplomatically and ostracizes its only reliable ally, the United States. Billions of dollars are wasted on maintaining security structures. The Palestinian territory remains a thorn in Israel's side that erupts in flares of violence, followed by severe, disproportionate crackdowns that resemble, more and more, acts of ethnic cleansing (drawing international condemnation and provoking acts of antisemitism towards Jews worldwide). In this scenario, "peace" only comes when Israelis effectively subjugate the Palestinians to the point where their population numbers and passions no longer pose a threat and the territory can be officially absorbed into Israel. And that's really the best case scenario for how this all shakes out-- it's a long, violent, conflict-riddled road to even get to that horrifically xenophobic vision of the future. It's much more likely that eliminating peace as a viable option ends up further radicalizing both sides until an all-out war erupts and forces other countries to intervene.

That's what most of us Jews have sworn would never happen. We're not the Nazis. We've suffered thousands of years of persecution, we would never seek to decimate another group. "We don't want the Palestinians gone, we want them to stop attacking us." That's always been the noble refrain: Israel doesn't want to destroy the Palestinians, the way many of them want to destroy Israel.

The only justification for Israel's management of the Palestinian territories has been to assure Israel's security while working to establish permanent peace. If you ditch the second part, then you basically concede the argument to all the antisemites and Israel-haters--"You're right, we don't want the Palestinians here."

Is that the Israel that Israelis want? To drop the noble intentions of living side by side in peace, and instead declare manifest destiny--Israel, and only Israel, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan? Israel in a bubble, blowing bigger and bigger, while those standing in the way get smothered?

That may be Netanyahu's plan, but we'll soon see if the voters agree. Right now, polls have Netanyahu trailing his more moderate rivals. That gives me some hope that the noble cause is not yet lost.

After all, bubbles, as we know, have a tendency to pop.

Update 3/18: Well, Bibi appears to have enough support to form a coalition. Jonathan Chait published an article today that echoes my concerns:

"Netanyahu’s comments present a coherent and chilling vision of his long-term strategy. His intention is to maintain singular Israeli control in perpetuity over the entire territory that the early Zionists were once happy to partition into two states. This course will eventually lead to pressure for Palestinians to gain a democratic voice within the institutions that control their lives, but Netanyahu treats that as illegitimate, as well. He proposes to snuff out every peaceful outlet for Arab political aspirations."

Somehow, America survived the lunacy of George W. Bush (even though his actions gave the world ISIS and destroyed our economy). Hopefully, Israel will survive Netanyahu.

Visitor Map: