Is Obama Already Betraying Us?

I’ve been quiet, but I’m not happy.  My finance guru Roger Ehrenberg posted this yesterday and it forced me into action.

Anybody could spend all day, every day trying to decode the stimulus plan making its way through congress.  It’s widely accepted that the country is in dire straights and could be facing double digit unemployment in the next 6-12 months.  We know urgency is critical.

But I voted for change.  I voted for the rhetoric that President Obama used in every debate: Kill poor performing government programs and use a scalpel to cut the cancer out of the federal budget.   I voted for an intellectual heavyweight who could decode the ways of Washington and use the power of the bully pulpit to get Americans to accept the dire consequences of our predicament.

This Stiumlus plan calls for large sums of money to be invested with state unemployment agencies (their coffers are dry) and extending cobra benefits.  It calls for money to flow to state education funds so that education programs that might be cut can continue.  There are various infrastructure investments around the country as the bill gets marked up to help various Congressmen and Senators.  This isn’t stimulus.  It’s an  emergency spending bill to prop up an economy teetering on the abyss.  Congress is taking out a trillion dollar credit card to buy more stuff and China is Visa.  Only this time Visa is not entirely sure they want to give us all of this credit.

What is it about this plan that radiates change?  One week into the administration, they are presenting legislation that does not call for shared sacrifice.  We’re cutting taxes and not raising them.  Shouldn’t we raise taxes on people with jobs and use the proceeds to retrain people who need jobs.

This is the Washington I grew up in — insular, myopic as inside-the-beltway as it comes.  I want to  believe in Obama’s Team of Rivals, but what if these Clintonite members of the establishment can’t bring fresh ideas and rely on the horse-trading power hungry culture that drove me out of my hometown forever.

If we are going to spend $1 trillion on stimulus and another $1 trillion on saving the financial industry then we must have new innovative strategic vision in four key areas:

1.  Education

2.  Energy

3.  Healthcare

4.  Financial Industry Regulation

These were the campaign promises.  I did not vote for the Democratic Party (I’m a lifelong registered democrat), rather I supported Barack Obama the progressive intellectual.  Supporting programs simply to keep us afloat until next year with no real overarching retooling of our governmental strategy is, and I hate to say it, better than Bush, but worse than Clinton.

I’m patient, but the sums we are investing are staggering.  We’re two weeks a way from the stimulus bill.  $350 bn in TARP 1 that has accomplished nothing is so outrageous it defies imagination.

I  always thought that the country’s dire economic condition could create the rare  political environment to push through uncommonly innovative investments in energy and education reform.  I pray (and I don’t typically  do so) that the devil is in the details of the stimulus plan and that the NYT and Politico have not uncovered the progressive agenda.

At the moment, Congresshas a bill that reminds me of  LBJ’s great society with a little Reagan tax policy thrown in for good measure.   That’s not FDR’s new deal.  That’s just the Washington that makes me want to live somewhere else.


The Gaza Conflict and Anti-semitism

A month ago, I had an interesting lunch with a man named David Greenblatt a former Net2phone executive, who wants to consolidate some Internet media companies.   We met at Abigael’s, a kosher spot, on Broadway and I spotted David who had a classically learned face.  He is clearly an observant jew, lives in an orthodox community out near long beach, and our conversation inevitably turned to jewish affairs.  I mentioned to David that I’m making a film called The Aaron Cohens and I working on creating an academy for Israeli Entrepreneurs called TechAviv.  He immediately understood I was engaged with my jewish identity and I chose not to confess that, to a large extent, this was a reengagement.

I told David I had a real interest on working what has come to be known as the Israeli PR problem.  In some Jewish circles, media and marketing professionals with ties to Israel have channeled their anxiety about Israel’s reputation in the world to create strategies to help “message” the Israeli perspective better.  I told David that TechAviv was an academy designed to celebrate the creativity, determination, and chutzpah of the Israeli entrepreneur.   The Aaron Cohens was meant to help shine a light on the richness, diversity, and comic appeal of Global Jewish culture.  Both projects, I argued, would help “message” the enormous appeal of Israeli and Jewish culture and, I argued, hopefully make the world a slightly less anti-semitic place.

David, perhaps 55 wearing the black and black of the modern orthodox,  rubbed his gray beard (you knew he had one) and said to me (I’m paraphrasing)

Aaron, I used to be like you.  I wanted to change people’s views on our conflict.  But the more I studied, the more I realized that I had to accept anti-semitism for what it was, totally irrational.  You want to believe that people are ignorant.  But the culture that became Nazi Germany was one of the most intellectually rigorous civillizations in history.  Sometimes we are detested for having too much money, sometimes for not enough.  Sometimes we are too religous, sometimes we assimilate too much.  In point of fact, there is no rhyme or reason for outbursts of anti-semitism.  Anti-Semitism just is and always will be.  I thank god every day, I’ve lived through a period in America where I have not been persecuted, but things can change.

I share this story because it’s been on my mind during the Gaza conflict.  I have been a supporter of this war from the beginning and I continue to support it.  Israel has annihilated Gaza’s infrastructure and gone a long way to destroying Hamas’s ability to kill Israelis.  Already 13 Israelis have lost their lives, but nearly a thousand Palestinians have been killed — many civilians and far too many have been children.

Hamas while unprepared for this  military conflict, does  have great messaging capability.  Israel has violently destroyed Hamas’ infrastructure, caches of explosives and rockets, and tunnel system.  Throughout the conflict Hamas has launched rocket attacks into Southern Israel and periodically destroyed homes and caused injuries.  Cease-fires have been offered but have not been observed, and as a result (or maybe it would have happened anyway) the Israeli army has continued their campaign  That’s my summary.

What I don’t understand is how so many people in the media ignore the Hamas rocket attacks when they criticize the Israeli response.  As AB Yehoshua (an Israeli novelist and Peace activist)  so intelligently pointed out in the NYT if Belgium was launching rockets onto the Champs d.Elysses and the rockets generally didn’t kill anybody but they did destroy shops and homes and create a general state of fear, wouldn’t people think France had a right to defend itself? For me, it’s that simple.  I would expect my government to defend Manhattan if we were subjected to rocket attacks.  Wouldn’t you?

Much has been made in the media about “proportionate response.”  It’s a tragedy  that so many civilians are dying because of this conflict.  Israelis would argue Hamas uses human shields, organizes command centers in schools and hospitals, and deploys a myriad of tactics designed to make the israeli solider consult his code of conduct before firing.  I have no doubt these are correct just as I am thinking long and hard about the tough report issued by Human Rights Watch today.

Here’s what I believe.  As awful as Hamas is, Jews and Israeils are a people who treat other people decently.   It’s disgraceful that the Arab countries use Palestinians to further their anti-Israel objectives and do nothing for the Palestinian people in return.  Egypt sealed its border for a reason.  Because the Arab countries have disowned the Palestinians Gaza and the West Bank are an intrinsically Jewish and an Israeli problem.  When Palestinians cannot get medical attention or clean water because the campaign has destroyed so much infrastructure and blockades are preventing the arrival of new supplies, then the Israelis must ask themselves what is the right thing to do and be sure of it.

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli attitudes will persist. David’s view may be historically correct, but I cannot sit back and just accept anti-semitism will be a constant forever.   Israelis and all Jews must remember that they should think in a humane way about the Palestinians.  This  is an incredibly difficult thing to do, but it must be done.  When you lose that compassion you have lost everything.

It is time to make sure that the right supplies enter Gaza and that the children and civilians  of  Gaza don’t suffer deaths from lack of medical attention because of Hamas’ intransigence.  If this is truly a conflict about the sancity of life, let us not forget that Palestinian lives also matter.  It’s the difference between the politics of love and hate.

Back from Dead

Hey, I’ve been locked in working on The Aaron Cohens, interviewing for the occassional job, and spending two days absolutely knocked out by this flu bug that is making its way through New York.  All in all I’ve take a month off from blogging, but it’s time to reengage.

Evangelicals Coopt Extreme Sports

totally amazing.  Is this how the Christian right plans to take back the White House?

Now you guys know why I’m making  The Aaron Cohens.

The War in Gaza

Much will be written and said on this war that is now a week old.  I’m just using this space to post a note from Ari Litov.

Ari Horowitz Citizen of Southern Israel

Ari Horowitz Citizen of Southern Israel

Ari and I have recently rediscovered each other on Facebook after 20 years of no contact.  He was a part of my social circle decades ago and we spent some time together.  He happens to live in Sderot where Hamas has successfully launched rockets.  I don’t know what Ari does professionally but over the weekend he’s been writing some dispatches from Southern Israel.  You can find them here.  I don’t know Ari’s politics.  I’m sharing with you the perspective of a guy who grew up in Baltimore, moved to Israel, and is keeping his kids inside because of a war.

Another day in South Israel

As the second day since ground forces enter the Gaza Strip, we lit a candle which will last a week. We hope and pray for the safe return of the soldiers.

It is very sad that the government in Gaza has not been supportive of it’s own people and residents. The European community has spilled countless millions of Euro’s into Gaza. So what have they spent it on? Not factories, not agriculture, not jobs, so what? Let’s start with the 600 tunnels towards Egypt. Let’s count the number of people required to carry 5000 missles, store them and organize an army in order to attack Israel.

Today was a difficult day. A missle hit a home in Sderot. The missle destroyed most of the house, except a small part on the bottom floor. Luckily that is where the elder couple were sitting. The couple are safe and alright, except for the shock. They are the in-laws of a friend of mine.

I asked my friend who was born and raised in Sderot, why don’t you leave, come north a bit. His answer of course was simple; this is my home. The same happened in the north, and they are alright.

Another moving story which happened two days ago:
A large number of organizations offer free housing and / or hosting in the north, anything to get out of missle range.
17 people, 4 families, including a single mother and 2 kids, from the south signed up and went to Haifa. After a very long day they arrived late evening at the shelter. It turned out that the shelter was in very bad shape and no place to keep the kids. They searched for another place. The hotels were either fully booked or asked for full price. The families were about to give up, being close to 10 pm when they decided to go to the local police station. An officer recommended they check the web where the city of Yokanam has a site for hosting people from the south.

By 11:30 pm they called the number, almost giving up hope and heading south again. The person on the line told them to come, no matter what, they would find them a place. By midnight the host had made some calls, visited the local bakery who donated fresh breads, and they made a hot meal for everyone. At one in the morning the families felt the warmth of Yokanam. The families were split into 3 groups according to families and they were hosted by local families.

Thousands of people from the south who have no relatives in the north have been hosted over the past few weeks. There is no better feeling than knowing that you are not alone.