July 13th: It’s Getting Coaled in Here

I don’t understand coal. Sure, I understand it is an energy source and a big provider of jobs for a large section of American workers in certain regions. I get that, as coal’s value on the global market decreases, life gets harder for those whose income is tied to it. I’m even on board with the idea that, as the industry changes, the American government has an obligation to ensuring that the people aren’t left hung out to dry.

What I don’t understand is the desire to preserve and prop up the coal industry that seems to be being left behind by the innovation of other fields. President Trump repeated promised during his campaign the support and stimulus of coal and its workers. It seems to be a common trope for Republicans. That, though, defies the logic of the conservative party’s stance on other, similar issues.

Why is it that a child born on the southside of Chicago doesn’t deserve federal funding for a better school while we’re supposed to help a coal miner keep his job in a dying field? If the answer is because one is contributing to the work force, then we have a very short-sighted view of our economic plan. What about a fast food worker who can’t make ends meet on a minimum wage? Why leave them to struggle in an industry doing fine for itself while an equally educated mine worker gets a helping hand? For the party that promotes capitalism and ignoring the plight of the “little guy” in favor of “fair” competition, this seems nonsensical.

The liberal thing to do in this situation would be to take the time and spend the money to retrain and educate coal workers for new, future proofed trades. Why not take those in an outdated field and push them toward technology and programming jobs, pushing for a more modern future and success for our nation? This is, of course, time consuming and expensive, but has the chance to solve the root of the issue, not just push it back until it can be another administration’s problem.

So the two options appear to be to either help job train for the future or to let them fight for themselves. Why is there so much noise for propping up a fading, environmentally taxing industry? Because coal miners vote, and it’s a great way to score easy points to promise job security and governmental support.

Nobody wants to hear that their work is losing value, especially when families have been in the business for generations. Nobody wants to have to learn a new craft, to start over again. And everyone wants to believe that politicians are personally concerned with their lives and the challenges they face.

Yet, at a certain point, we have to honestly grapple with the issue at hand. How do we, as a country, ensure our greatest success and stability moving forward? We have taken the coal industry and bought an extra large package of band-aids in the hopes of taking care of a case of cancer. Until we are honestly willing to look for legitimate, long-term solutions, we are going to have to continue to embrace the hypocrisy of a plan that doesn’t want to fix a problem, but rather to let it fester until we have a crisis.

July 6th: Call Your Knesset Members

Last week, the Israeli government suspended plans to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, or Western Wall, in so doing ostracizing a large portion of the non-Orthodox Jewish population in Israel and abroad. After plans were put aside, Jews around the world, most notably American Reform Jews, voiced their significant displeasure, noting their feelings that Israel is willfully hostile toward the interests of liberal Jewish communities globally. Some even went so far as to claim that Israeli Jews “hate” Jews living in the Diaspora.

The problem comes in the idea that Israeli Judaism is in any way concerned with what is happening in the rest of the Jewish world, or that it is considerate of us one way or the other. Apathy seems more appropriate than hostility. While Jews across the globe send money to our “homeland,” there has been very little that leads anyone to believe that there is any significant influence exerted by Jews outside of Israel.

As long as Israel is going to wear the mantle of being the Jewish homeland, they have an obligation to represent the interests of all jews. That is a tall order for a people that so rarely agree unilaterally on much of anything. But Israel’s representation of global Judaism only works so long as we continue to allow it to be the case.

What that means is that a certain level of knowledge and involvement is required that hasn’t been seen from Americans concerned with Israeli affairs. We can’t sit in our congregations and our homes thousands of miles away and criticize Israel while ignorant of the politics and demographics that make up the country. If we want to be truly involved and engaged, we have to go out and invest ourselves in the realities that Israelis are dealing with on a regular basis.

To do this, we have to deepen our involvement through grappling with the tough questions. Jewish educational institutions across America have done a great disservice to American Jews by over-simplifying the relationship with Israel. We need to know more than hummus and falafel. We need to know more than Israeli dancing and IDF simulations. We even need to know more than just conflict and war. We need to know what it is like to be an Israeli, right now, today, what it truly means to be a Jew living in the homeland of our people.

Birthright poses as a solution to this problem. Send people to Israel for 10 days at a point in their identity formation that they will learn to love and support Israel, and that love will endure beyond their experience. Well, the values of caring for Israel are certainly established, but Birthright does preciously little to meaningfully educate or engage students about the politics or conflicts or ideologies of the region, and certainly not enough about what a young person can do to get involved in the many organizations and nonprofits that exist in the country for exerting influence as a Jew.

Moreso than at any time that I can remember, American Jews can identify with living in a country with a conflict of ideology. We know what it’s like to experience the kind of philosophical differences that Israel politics involves. We need not shy away from really engaging with these political and ideological questions: in fact, we have an obligation to involve ourselves thoughtfully with those challenges.

There are a multitude of ways that American Jews can make their voices heard in Israel. There are organizations and institutions that all are attempting to create meaningful change that American Jews can believe in. Taking the time to familiarize ourselves with the real issues will allow us the opportunity to get involved in ways that we can’t do by donating to “Israel”. Israelis don’t care what American Jews have to say, because, for all intents and purposes, Jewish Americans aren’t saying much of substance in a consistent and powerful way.

The American Jewish population is in control of enough man-power and enough financial discretion that we could be a powerful force in telling Israel how we want the Jewish state to represent us. To this point, we have been operating under the assumption of good faith, something that was fairly loudly declared false a week ago. As long as Israel continues to call itself the homeland of the Jews, it is our obligation to get involved and make our voices heard. That is the only way that we will have a strong, meaningful Jewish state in the land of Israel.

June 30th: An Obituary for Truth

For as long as anyone can remember, humanity has been recording our version of truth. From stone tablets and cave drawing, people have attempted to understand the world around us through written and visual means, taking stock of the world and attempting to come to terms with the profundity of what it means to occupy it.

Unfortunately, truth has met its untimely demise. Fact has come to an end, flatlining with a dying breath. In its place, we have seen the rise of deceit, of opinion dressing up as the tried and true, pawning itself off as if it believed that if it could just scream loud enough, make itself heard above the noise, than maybe, just maybe, we would let it occupy the same place in our heart that honesty and knowledge has vacated.

To blame it on any single individual or group would be folly. No, you see, it is actually the cacophony of voices that has caused this downfall. Anyone with an IP address can write their own version of fact, anyone with an internet connection can publish their own views of the world. What was created as an attempt to give people access to the profound knowledge that humanity has created has instead become its very undoing, the very vehicle by which it has met its end.

Truth and justice were diagnosed with a case of “fake news” in the wake of an election that shocked the world. “Fake news” was held responsible for polling data that told us that this would never happen, COULD never happen. What we thought was a diagnosis in fact turned quickly into a weapon, a kind of bullet in the gun for those who wished to see the end to honesty and integrity. At that moment, “fake news” became the strongest tool to dismantling the foundation of truth and knowledge.

What ensued was a Press Secretary who refuses to answer questions. What followed was a President who gets to decide who gets an interview and who is left sitting in the dark. What came next were reporters who were told they could not use video recordings or written notes about briefings, for fear that they might expose a truth that was abhorrent to the values of those in power.

We tried to save it. We used our statistics and our data and our reason to attempt to ease the suffering that truth was enduring. But no facts or figures are as comforting as a baseless opinion is, nothing as easy as a deeply held belief.

The demise of fact was not reserved for press rooms and the Oval Office. No, truth has met its end in the homes of all Americans. 50% of the country believes one thing, 50% believes another, and it doesn’t matter what the data says, but only that we believe it, so it must be our own personal version of truth. We argue online and we argue in restaurants, bus stops, offices, and living rooms. We would rather surround ourselves with people who share our opinions, rather than be confronted by a notion of truth that would be displeasing to our ears and our minds.

So with that, we put truth to rest in peace. We will, of course, continue to write and draw and speak, the habitual behavior of a society mourning a loved one. But they will be only the sad musings of a people trying to grapple with our own identity and failing to see anything beyond the scope of our own blinded view.

May the memory of fact continue to live on in our hearts, and may those who have seen and loved it continue to think wistfully of a day when truth and fact’s vision for a more honest world, a world with more integrity shall come into being.

Amen.

June 1st: Losing Our Heads Over Things

Comedy only works when it is funny. This week, Kathy Griffin was not funny when she posted a photo of herself holding a prop that looked like Donald Trump’s severed head. It was over the top, it was crude, and it wasn’t the kind of thing we should be joking about in a country that has an evil streak of violence that we can’t seem to overcome.

She was swiftly fired by CNN, she apologized profusely, and she will, no doubt, go through a period of banishment from the spotlight. She is not the first person to do something stupid and wind up with a scandal, and she most certainly won’t be the last.

Kathy Griffin was wrong. She was thoughtless, she was over the top, and she did something that should have been comedy but instead was uncomfortable and offensive. The response by Donald Trump, though, was what caught my attention.

In a tweet to the public, as he likes to do, Trump said “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself. My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!”

Now, he’s absolutely right. Kathy Griffin should be, and seems to be ashamed. And he’s also right: No child should be made fearful of their father’s safety and well-being in a terrible joke. But here’s where we run into a problem. Donald Trump attempted to spur up compassion for him and his family by claiming to be a victim, a poor soul who hasn’t done anything to deserve this.

Let’s shift that thinking for a moment. How does the President think an 11 year old with a parent with a pre-existing condition feel when Trump ensures that they will not be covered by insurance? How does the President think a transgender 11 year old feels when told that they have no place to use the bathroom in their school? How does the President think an 11 year old feels when the government puts forth legislation that makes it easier for people to get guns to bring to school, rather than harder for people to get guns? How does the President think an 11 year old child of immigrants feels knowing that their president considers them to be the enemy?

The argument that we should do anything with consideration for how this may affect those around Trump is no longer on the table. It is no longer viable to ask for compassion from the general public when it has been made perfectly clear that no compassion will be returned in exchange. If anything, Trump is now getting the chance to experience the kinds of questions and nightmares that parents all across the country have to quell every day. And not all problems are as easy to explain away as a comedian with an ill-considered joke.

Kathy Griffin did something that was disrespectful and inappropriate. She is being punished for it, and things will soon return to normal. But, we need to remind the President that while he absolutely shouldn’t be experiencing these kinds of things as a human being, he cannot cry unfair play simply because he now has to explain away the actions of an ignorant person who made the world seem scary. American parents have been having to do that for months already. Welcome to the Trump America, Mr. President.

May 25th: Balancing Our Mentality With Our Budget

In a satirical column in USA Today, I learned that Kentucky is the state that most depends on Federal assistance to run their operations. I also knew, based on this election and every one that came before it, that Kentucky tends to be one of the most Republican-friendly states on voting day.

This comes as a bit of a shock. How is it that a state that depends so much on the help from the national government can so regularly support the political party that wants a small central power, with the real strength being given to the states? If that was the case, Kentucky would be dooming itself by biting the hand that feeds it, in favor of being left to its own (rather poor) devices.

This kind of political dissonance is baffling to me, and begs to question: what is it that Republican voters like about their Republican candidates that they would be willing to sacrifice themselves in that way? We know there are pet projects that the Republican party supports that are hot-button issues in places like Kentucky: guns, abortion, same-sex marriage, and others. But, on the larger scale, these are small issues when confronted by the fact that, if all goes according to the Republicans’ plan, states like Kentucky will be left out to dry.

It makes very little sense that a state so dependent on the national government for support would be willing to so consistently vote for the party that seeks to make government “small enough to drown in the bathtub.” And it should be for even greater concern when we consider what would happen if the people of Kentucky actually got what they have been asking for.

May 24th: A Pain We Must Endure

I was listening to NPR today, and heard a report discussing the aftermath of the terror attack in Manchester. While comparing the incident to other examples of mass destruction in recent European history, the reporter mentioned that he was noticing less devastating grief, and more resigned sadness, as if the people of England have become desensitized to the terrible things of the world.

In that one instant, my heart broke. In discussing the death of dozens of young people at a concert, we are no longer shocked, horrified, or surprised. These kinds of incidents have become part of what it means to be a citizen of the world, as if terror is something that is natural and normal. Simply put, it isn’t, and we need to be reminded of that.

It is actually an incredibly human thing to desensitize ourselves to the horrors of the world. We wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if we fell into devastation every time something bad happens in the world. Over time, we come to terms with the kind of things that we know are part of life. It’s why we ask “was he old?” when told of someone’s. Does it matter that he was old? Does that make it hurt less to a loved one? In a way, yes. We have programmed ourselves that the death of the old should be less sad than the death of a young person. It isn’t necessarily true; each individual gets to determine how they feel. But, in our subconscious, we insulate ourselves from losing ourselves in our grief.

Devastation and grief isn’t necessarily preferable. But the important thing we need to remind ourselves is that this isn’t how life is supposed to be. This isn’t normal, it isn’t natural, it isn’t something we need to learn to live with. A human being reached out and tore the life away from dozens of people, cutting their lives off entirely, and devastating the lives of countless others. Hate like that can never be made normal. Violence like that can never be allowed to become expected.

It is a terrible feeling to see the world falling apart and not know what to do about it. To get constant text messages and updates with acts of violence and not know how to help, how to make it better. But we need to live with that desperation, that passionate need for the world to be better than this. Because the other option is that the world continue as it is, and that simply isn’t acceptable. We have to be inspired to find a way to stop this hatred and this terror, and we aren’t going to be able to do that if we numb ourselves to the pain. The only way to make it hurt less is for us to figure out a way to happen less.

May 5th: Low Unemployment, High Expectations

This morning, the Labor Department released statistics regarding job growth and unemployment rates for the month of April. Job growth was up by 211,000 jobs last month, while unemployment dropped to 4.4 percent, the lowest it has been in nearly a decade.

While a low unemployment sounds like great news for the average American, and more jobs means more opportunities, the time is quickly upon us to begin to wonder what the ramifications are going to be for the citizens who used the November election to ensure that their voice was being heard. For many in this country, times have been hard, and a status quo wasn’t going to be acceptable for turning around the fortunes that left too many Americans struggling to make ends meet.

In an NPR report this morning, it was noted that growth in technology fields have helped to show that boost in the economy, while brick-and-mortar retail stores have been struggling to keep up with online sales. This demonstrates an opposite side to the coin, regarding average Americans. While growth is growth, and generally a positive, growth in the technology field tends to help the highly educated generally better-off in society, while retail opportunities generally tend to be the place where those in need of immediate help turn. In that regard, not all growth is considered equal, and results in a multitude of different ramifications, depending on who is being assisted in any given moment.

The public has been asking for the government to take interest in their affairs for a long time. They expect to see quick results, and an immediate impact on their own lives. While statistics like the ones released today spell an initial success for the job market and for the Department of Labor, it remains to be seen whether or not the day-to-day lives of Americans are going to be changed for the better.