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Chaos in the Middle East

31 Jul

There is a lot going on in the world, most of which is occurring in and around the Middle East.  A plane was shot down in Ukraine and tensions have once again flared up in Israel and in Gaza.  This post will be about what is currently taking place in the Gaza strip and Israel.  I’m not going to give a detailed history on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because then this would be a never ending blog post.  I expect that this issue will bring out a lot of debate, and I have been disappointed with the content of the debate that I have seen online.  For me, this issue is a complicated one especially for me.  It should be treated as a complicated issue, but like many things it isn’t treated as such.

I have mixed feelings on this conflict.  I often find myself in the middle of this debate since I have friends on both sides of the issues.  Partly because I was raised Jewish, I strongly support Israel’s right to exist.  That doesn’t mean I support everything that Israel has done or will do.  Israel has to recognize that they have killed civilians in this conflict, whether it is unintentional or not.  Hamas can and should be blamed for some of the civilian’s deaths, but certainly not all of them.

It is important to recognize how this recent conflict began.  Three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered.  A Palestinian teen was killed in retaliation for the kidnappings.  A column in USA today points out the reactions to both of the horrendous crimes – “Reaction to teen murders matters too.”  Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping and killings of the Israeli teens, despite the objections from some Palestinians.  On their facebook page, the Palestinian authority portrayed the Israeli teens as rats.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the killings on both sides.

After the kidnappings, violence erupted on both sides.  Rockets have been firing on Israel on a daily basis and Israel has countered with airstrikes and an invasion of Gaza.  Hamas is the main agitator in this conflict but that doesn’t mean Israel has been spotless on how they have handled the conflict.  If Hamas didn’t exist, there would be peace.  They don’t care if civilians are killed on either side.  (i.e. using people as human shields)

To people who strongly support Israel, the Palestinians are not your enemies, Hamas are.  To people who support the Palestinians, be mad at Israeli government officials who haven’t been careful enough avoiding civilian casualties; be mad at Hamas for making civilians a target, but don’t be mad at the people of Israel.  People on both sides must realize this is a complicated conflict and it should be analyzed as such.  Of everyone I know on both sides, no one has been praising civilian loss on either side, but we should acknowledge that this is a war where civilians are caught in the middle of a conflict.

Most of the Israelis and most of the Palestinians want peace.  This notion has often been shouted down during the current debate.  I am tired of seeing stupid and hateful posts online from extremists.  On one side I saw someone blame all Palestinians for the actions of a few.  On the other side I saw someone comment, “Hitler didn’t go far enough.”  Such hatred is destructive and counterproductive to what everyone should hope to achieve, peace in the Middle East.  Most people will support one side over the other, but we should strive for peace above either side.

 

 

 

“Reaction to teen murders matters too…”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/07/09/israel-palestine-murders-reaction-column/12363495/

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Primary Challenges

2 Jul

Primary Challenges

In the last several months we have seen upsets and changes. Up until recently the trend among the Republican primaries was establishment candidates defeating Tea Party opponents. This was the opposite of the last two election cycles. In previous years we saw controversial candidates winning around the country. The Tea Party seemed to be losing steam until earlier this month when they claimed their first victim of the election cycle, Eric Cantor.

While I agree that his loss was a huge upset and sent shockwaves throughout the country, I disagree as to the reason he lost. Conventional Wisdom blamed Eric Cantor’s support for immigration reform, but I believe that oversimplifies why he lost (btw immigration reform had little chance of passing before his defeat). One of the things many people overlooked is that he was not focusing on his home district enough. It’s no secret that he was trying to gather support to become speaker if Boehner were to leave his post next year. If you look at recent primary trends, I think it is more likely that Cantor lost his seat because he was focusing on gathering support for speaker. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil was known for his saying, “All politics is local.” I don’t think that saying is always true, but I think it applies in Eric Cantor’s defeat.

The other surprise in the last year was the primary race between Mississippi Senator Thad Chochran and his challenger Chris McDaniel. Senator Cochran was seen as particularly vulnerable because he lives in one of the most conservative states in the U.S. While he has been reliably conservative throughout his Senate Career, his vote to end the shutdown last year caused him to have to face a primary challenger. Mississippi state senator Chris McDaniel was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party in Mississippi and is a Tea Party favorite. Senator Cochran looked vulnerable in the months leading up to the primary.

Unlike Republican senate primaries in previous years, the Tea Party candidate’s controversial comments hurt the candidate before the general election. Of all of the Republican Senators that faced a Tea Party challenger, I thought that Senator Cochran was most likely to lose to his challenger. Senator Cochran’s opponent had the upper-hand before he made a series of missteps that hurt him. Chris McDaniel spoke at an event and received money from Neo-Confederate groups (he later said he returned money from them). He also said that he would refuse to pay his taxes if any of the money went to reparations.

In addition to McDaniel making controversial decisions, the Tea Party and members of McDaniels’ campaign made one bad mistake. Supporters of McDaniel took pictures of Senator Cochran’s wife in a nursing home. Whatever they were trying to do backfired, and may have resulted in Senator Cochran forcing a runoff. In the runoff Senator Cochran won by appealing to African-Americans and Democrats to win. He focused on Chris McDaniel’s controversial comments and neo-confederate support. Senator Cochran is now a lock for another term.

We have had two different surprising primaries in the last month. One saw Eric Cantor become the first house majority leader to ever lose a primary. The other race saw a long-serving incumbent Senator from Mississippi narrowly win his primary. We shouldn’t assume that these results were only because of one factor, which people often do after elections. The Tea Party is not dead but it has been wounded around the country. We will still see some Tea Party candidates win, but not like we did the last two election cycles. Things will get interesting in the next several months as we get closer to the general election. Stay tuned.

Taking Care of Our Veterans

31 May

Memorial Day was earlier this week and there has been much to reflect on.  Unfortunately there are a lot of bad things that we need to look at.  As we have seen on the news there is an ongoing scandal at the VA.  There have been long wait times, backlogs, and even criminal behavior.  All of this is disgraceful.  General Shinseki’s resignation is a start, but it will hardly solve the long-term problems at the VA.

Our country has a long history of problems when it comes to taking care of our veterans.  President Obama doesn’t deserve all of the blame, but he hasn’t done nearly enough to solve the backlog and other problems with the VA.  He ended one war and is in the process of winding down another, but what awaits the veterans of those wars?  Many fought a war that shouldn’t have been started and have been returning to long waits and other problems.  Bernie Sanders pointed out, “If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans, then don’t go to war.”

The Republicans are right to call out the disgrace at the VA, but they should put their money where their mouths are.  A veteran’s jobs bill failed this year because of a Republican filibuster.  They said that we can’t afford it.  Oh?  What about the two wars that were unfunded?  The hypocrisy continued this week when North Carolina Senator Richard Burr said that Veterans groups, “more interested in defending the status quo within the V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle.”  Senator Burr talked down to the veterans he claims he is trying to defend.

Our veterans have been used by politicians for way too long.  They shouldn’t be used as pawns and they shouldn’t have to deal with long waits because of incompetence.  The VA system has been problematic at best.  Screwing over our veterans has been a bipartisan mistake.  It will take a bipartisan effort to fix the problem.

Election update April

30 Apr

I will keep things short and sweet this month.  Next month there will be primaries that will give us a bigger picture of the matchups in November.  North Carolina will be one of the most interesting ones to watch.  Incumbent Senator Kay Hagan is vulnerable, but has a good chance of getting re-elected if she faces a weak opponent.  Polling has suggested that tea partier Greg Bannon and Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Thom Thillis are Kay Hagan’s weakest opponents.  It looks like Ted Alexander (The mayor of Shelby, North Carolina) would be her toughest challenger.

In the Georgia U.S. Senate Race, Democratic front-runner Michelle Nunn is tied or leading in the polling against many of her opponents.  Among her potential opponents, David Purdue seems to be her toughest challenger.  (Although the polling between the Nunn and Purdue is only slightly in Purdue’s favor.)  In the governor’s race, Democratic front-runner Jason Carter is polling close but slightly behind incumbent Governor Nathan Deal.  

Most of the polling that I have looked at suggests that Mitch McConnell will survive his primary challenge from Matt Bevin, and face a close race against Democratic front-runner Allison Lundergan Grimes.  In the Arkansas senate race, incumbent senator Mark Pryor is running a tight race against Republican congressman Tom Cotton.  The Arkansas governor’s race also looks like it will be close if former congressman Mike Ross wins the Democratic nomination for governor.  I will keep the updates coming.  Stay tuned.  

 

The following primaries will be next month.

 

May 6th: Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio

May 13th: Nebraska and West Virginia

May 16th: Washington

May 20th: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oregon and Pennsylvania

Arizona SB 1062

28 Feb

Arizona once again tried to take a step backwards when the state legislature passed SB 1062.  Proponents of the bill said that it was about protecting religious liberty, but it was clearly about discrimination.  A state senator who supported the bill couldn’t come up with one example of someone who was forced to do something against their religious believe in Arizona when asked by Anderson Cooper on CNN.  A lot of outside pressure culminated with a decision by Arizona governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill.

I am glad that Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, but it disturbs me that it even got to her desk.  There are still people who believe that we are a country founded on Christianity.  That is absurd considering people came to the United States to avoid religious persecution.  We are not a nation of Christianity; we are a nation of all religions and atheists.  To ignore this is to ignore basic facts.  I am proud that we are a nation of mixed religions and ethnicities; I wish some people weren’t ashamed of it.  (i.e. reaction to the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad among other things)

Religious liberty to me does not mean one religion can legislate their beliefs towards everyone, it means that everyone can practice their religion the way they choose without discriminating.  The same people who want to make Christianity laws in the U.S. are opposed to Sharia law.  (Sharia law has no chance of becoming law of the land in the U.S. but that is another story.)  I am opposed to any religion imposing their religious beliefs on others.  Why is it that Christian Conservatives want laws based on Christianity when some of the same people are opposed to laws based on Islam?

I strongly believe that someone’s religious beliefs should end when it discriminates upon someone else.  SB 1062 was about discrimination and not religious liberty.  This was vetoed by the Arizona governor, but similar bills are being debated around the country.  I hope everyone comes to their senses and votes every one of these bills down.

Liars, Cheaters and Other Scandals

16 Aug

Last week on Monday, I went to a White Sox/Yankees game with a friend.  I also went to the game because I thought that the White Sox were honoring Mariano Rivera that day.  What ended up happening was a game that was still memorable but for very different reasons.  The Biogenesis scandal had been building up for some time and culminated in the suspension of 14 professional baseball players for use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (or PED’s).  The game I went to happened to be the night that the New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez would make his 2013 debut.

I have been to many games, but have never seen and might not see again what I saw before and during that game.  The national media was on the field and outside of the ballpark.  What I witnessed wasn’t just booing or signs making fun of Alex Rodriguez, but a long-building animosity to players who cheat to get ahead.  To be honest, I don’t feel an ounce of sympathy for A-Rod or the Yankee’s organization.  A-Rod put all of the negative attention on himself and while the Yankee’s organization is mad that they are stuck with him, they are the ones who signed him to a huge contract.

I know I mostly write about politics, but scandals aren’t confined to politicians.  It’s true that politicians do stupid things that ruin their careers, but steroids and other PED’s are a different kind of scandal.  The main things PED scandals in baseball and political scandals have in common are stupidity and arrogance.  In both cases people are doing stupid things that will get them caught, but for some reason those involved don’t seem to think that they will get caught.  This brings me to the question that pops up in my mind every time a scandal happens, “Why do they think that they won’t get caught?”

Unfortunately I don’t think I will ever completely know the answer to that.  The only thing I know for sure is that some people can’t help themselves, but cheat or do something that will essentially end their career.  For most people involved with scandals, their lives and even their careers will continue.  What does change is the way that they are perceived or looked at.  In politics, Anthony Weiner is trying to revive his political career while Mark Sanford has already done just that.  Neither of the two will be looked at the same way they were before their scandal again.

In baseball, players have been damaged by PED use but their careers will never be the same.  The mere suggestion of players using PEDs can ruin their chance of getting into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Proven use of PEDs virtually guarantees that they won’t get in.  Regardless of what happens with their chance of getting into the Hall of Fame, their name will be forever tarnished, and they will play the rest of their career with a dark cloud over their head for what they have done.

Race in This Country and the Aftermath of the Zimmerman Trial

31 Jul

There has been a lot going on these past several weeks.  I mentioned in my last entry about the Trayvon Martin case.  The case and the aftermath of it have sparked debate over race in our country.  The Jury’s verdict outraged many.  I mentioned in my previous post that I have been disappointed on how quickly this became a political issue.  Politics affect almost everything in our lives and while I thought that the case shouldn’t have been about politics, I feel that there should be a discussion about the Stand Your Ground law and this case.  I also think that it is even more important to look at how people reacted to the aftermath of this case.

As I mentioned, many people are outraged with the verdict, but I am happy that most people protested peacefully.  There were demonstrations and boycotts, but not widespread rioting as some people predicted.  Whatever your opinion on this case is, no one should be gloating or be ecstatic because George Zimmerman was found not guilty and if you are; you probably shouldn’t consider yourself pro-life.  What happened was a tragedy any way you look at it and should not be considered a victory or defeat.  Before, during and after this case there has been discussion about race in our country.  I feel that we should be able to discuss this in a civil matter. 

President Obama said after (and before this trial started) that Trayvon Martin could have been him.  He also spoke about what it is like to be an African-American in the United States.  I think it is good that he brought this up because many of us don’t know what it is like to be treated like a suspect without doing anything wrong.  I am a white male and I haven’t been accused of something without doing anything wrong.  I have, however, been picked on because of my religion.  It shouldn’t matter who we are or where we come from because we are all people.  Unfortunately there are still ignorant people who will judge people because of the color of their skin or their religion. 

Conservative radio host Sean Hannity had a racist response to President Obama’s comments (specifically to the point, “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon”). Sean Hannity’s response was, “Is that the President admitting that because he’s part of the choom gang and smoked pot and did a little blow, I’m not sure how to interpret that because we know Trayvon Martin had been smoking pot that night.”

Hannity’s response was one of the most racist comments that I have heard in the aftermath of this case.  It shows how narrow-minded he is about race and reality in general.  I think he should apologize, but I’m not that naïve as to expect it.  The election of President Obama didn’t end racism in this country, but it showed progress for tolerance.  I wish there weren’t ignorant people like Sean Hannity or others but there are, and there always will be.  I just hope there  will be fewer racist people in the future than there are at the present time.  We have evolved as a country over the years when it comes to race, I just hope we continue that trend.