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 Why not take those in an outdated field and push them toward technology and programming jobs, pushing for a more modern future and success for our nation?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.

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.

 

February 24th: Deregulation as Offset Regulation

Donald Trump took up the pen yesterday and removed a provision set in place by Barack Obama which allowed students to choose the bathroom at school that best matches their gender identity. Trump put the regulation in the hands of the state, rather than Federal mandate.

It may come as a shock to anyone who has read my blog before, but I don’t have an issue with this from the perspective of political ideology. A true Republican believes that legal decisions such as this belong in the hands of the states, not the federal government. It makes sense that a man representing the Republican party would deregulate nationally and put the power in the hands of the state legislators. This seems to match his general tone of deregulation. Trump has made it clear that for every new regulation he puts into place, he intends to eliminate two existing ones.

Two issues jump out at me. The first is that Trump needs to remain consistent in his goal to state authority. He can’t go back and forth, saying that some issues are more important than others for federal jurisdiction. If you’re going to tell me it’s a state issue to determine gendered bathrooms, don’t turn around and nationally declare religious freedom to allow refusal to gay customers. While I may not agree with the notion of a small government, I can respect a consistent application of it, which isn’t something we’ve seen very much in the past decade of Conservative governing.

The other, more concerning idea is a lack of faith in the morality of the state legislators. If it is up to them to protect the rights of citizens, I don’t have a lot of hope that all 50 states will look out for all citizens equally or create protections for even the marginalized members of American society.

The track record isn’t good. Indiana and North Carolina have both put forward laws in the last two years that have demonstrated a willingness to restrict the rights of many, rather than protecting them. Not all Americans will receive equal rights in this system, which may work to even further divide and sectionalize the country which is already struggling to unify and bond.

As a result of the power being given to the states, advocacy styles will have to change. Petitioning and lobbying the White House will be far less effective (not that it was entirely effective before). Instead, we will have to mobilize to 50 states, in hopes of creating the uniformly accepting society one state at a time. If we want to ensure that all Americans are able to live with the rights and protections they deserve, we will have to be able to convince each state separately, making the task far more difficult, yet no less important.

With a Republican president in place, the activist community is going to have to adjust the mode of attack. Conceptually, there is nothing wrong with putting the power in the hands of the states, but it puts the onus on the public to ensure that the states regulate according to our notion of what is right, and to ensure that huge sections of the country don’t fall prey to states that legislate in contradiction to the values of the nation as a whole.

January 17th: Speak Up or Say Nothing

2017 has not started off kindly for Jewish Americans. A menorah in Phoenix was vandalized, a rabbinical school was defaced, and a march was scheduled to antagonize and harass a Jewish community in Montana. Yet, one event on the horizon may or may not change the way the American public views the Jewish community, and it may or may not even be a good idea.

rabbi-hier
Rabbi Marvin Hier

Rabbi Marvin Hier is scheduled to deliver the benediction at the inauguration for Donald Trump on January 20th. Hier is the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization that describes itself as an international Jewish Rights institution. He is also the founder of the Museum of Tolerance.

For a rabbi to have an opportunity to stand in front of the country and offer words of inspiration and Torah would be an incredible honor, and serve the American Jewish community well. For several years in the early 1900s, a rabbi speaking at the swearing-in was a mainstay. Since 1985, though, no rabbi has been involved in delivering a benediction. In a vacuum, this would be an ideal situation for Hier to make a statement, both verbally and visually, of the strength and vitality of the Jewish community in this country.

With an inauguration as volatile and contentious as this one, though, Hier finds himself in a troubling situation. Donald Trump has just finished a presidential campaign rife with conflict, and left huge populations of Americans feeling disenfranchised, marginalized, or threatened. The future is a scary one for those seeking religious tolerance, and a man in the business of working to create tolerance could be in a very difficult spot.

Rabbi Hier must serve the American Jewish people by demonstrating what it looks like to be a soldier of peace, and a creator of tolerance. That could come in one of two ways.

On the one hand, Rabbi Hier could deliver opening words that bring the country together. He could speak about the importance of healing, of looking out for one another. He could demand that the incoming administration take seriously the call for all Americans to be treated with respect and given a chance to be successful. And he could insist that Donald Trump use his new position to make great the lives of all Americans, not simply the ones who match his worldview.

On the other hand, Rabbi Hier is in a position to use his selection to make an even greater statement: he could step back and refuse to speak at all. By refusing to speak, he would be telling the world that the man taking over as Commander-In-Chief has failed to live up to Jewish values, and isn’t worthy of the words of a man who uses Torah to make the world a better place. In an act of public commitment to what is right, he has the opportunity to demonstrate the American Jews will not stand for the kinds of injustices that have been suggested over the past two years.

Regardless of what Rabbi Hier chooses to do, he cannot duck the responsibility. He cannot deliver toothless words that do not demand that the world do better. He cannot afford to offer pleasantries and sweet nothings when the world is looking to him to speak out for those without a voice.

A benediction is an opportunity to take a moment and reflect upon the holiness of a moment, to connect with one another and with God. On Friday, Rabbi Hier must use the microphone to either make a very important statement in the name of Tolerance, or not say anything at all.