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Monday, November 10, 2014
729 Days Until Election Day 2016
It's Monday, Novemebr 10, 2014, I'm Gabe Fleisher for Wake Up To Politics, and reporting from WUTP world HQ in my bedroom - Good morning: THIS IS YOUR WAKE UP CALL!!!
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From the Editor's Desk
- Hello and welcome to another great week of waking up to politics! As many of you know, Saturday was my Bar Mitzvah and 13th birthday, the day I became a man in the eyes of the Jewish tradition – so I guess I can no longer call myself a kid journalist. My Bar Mitzvah was very fun, and thank you to all who attended the ceremony (which incorporated a lot of politics). Many of you who weren’t able to attend have asked me to print my D’var Torah, the commentary I wrote on my Torah portion, in the Wake Up…and here it is:
- The section of the Torah portion Vayera I just read took place in the two wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The story details the plan by God to destroy the cities, and Abraham’s clash with God in defense of them – to my political brain, an event similar to a presidential debate between the day’s two political titans, as portrayed in the display I created for my Siddur cover. In the Torah, we are simply told, “the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah was great, and their crime was serious.” No word on what that crime actually was.
- The rabbis who wrote interpretations of the Torah say Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their greed and inhospitality. OK, now we’re getting somewhere. They also say the people of Sodom were very rich, all with comfortable homes stocked with food, but they refused to share it with anybody.
- But the real problem with Sodom was that it wasn’t just a few people who were greedy. As we find out from the rabbis, it was most of the town. And this greed and selfishness was codified into public policy. In Sodom, all immigrants and strangers were banished. Feeding, caring, and helping the poor and sick – Jewish values all – were illegal. The punishment for feeding the hungry was death. The punishment for housing strangers was death. And the retribution for healing the sick – you guessed it – death.
- As we see, not only were a lot of Sodomites selfish and greedy, but the government and the courts – places we are supposed to be able to count on for justice – were corrupt as well. The leaders and judges of Sodom openly practiced and enforced dishonesty, punishing the stranger for no reason and letting citizens go free even when their crimes were large.
- Naturally, God was a tiny bit angry at Sodom and Gomorrah for all of this, so just like that, God decided to destroy them. And then Abraham got involved. Abraham said “Whoa there, God! You can’t destroy everyone in Sodom – that’s just as an unjust act as everything they do. You can’t wipe away the innocent with the wicked!” As Abraham challenges in the Torah I just chanted, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
- Basically, the issue at hand here is “collective punishment”. God is mad at Sodom and Gomorrah for what most of its citizens – but not necessarily all of them – are doing. Abraham is highlighting the fact that we don’t know that everyone is in the wrong, and therefore God cannot destroy the innocent for what the wicked do.
- Collective punishment happens all the time, often without our even noticing it. For example, at school, we are often punished as a class or grade, simply because of the misdeeds of one or few of our peers. In elementary school, our teachers would assign us seats at lunch, for stretches of months at a time, sometime placing me away from my friends. Now, did it matter that neither I nor my friends contributed to the chaos that was the cafeteria? No, because without any thought to who was doing what, everyone was punished together. Albeit on a bit of a lesser scale (although it was a very big deal at the time), that is a similar idea to what God planned for Sodom.
- Well, as some of you may know, I happen to have a small interest in American history. So when I read my portion, my thoughts went to Executive Order 9066, an oft-ignored act of a hero of mine, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On February 19, 1942, Commander-in-Chief Roosevelt signed the executive order, relocating over 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps all over the West Coast. This order came right in the heat of World War II, just two months after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. The act enforced the imprisonment of all American citizens of Japanese descent, meaning to keep any Japanese government spies in America locked away for the duration of the war. However, this meant that all Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps, even though the vast majority of them had no connection to the government of their ancestors’ homeland. Or in other words, punishing the innocent with the wicked.
- In my research of the Japanese internment camps, I was surprised by the low knowledge of their existence, and the low level of opposition they received even then in the 1940’s. As it turned out, the internment camps appreciated bipartisan support, with just one elected official in the country speaking out against it. Out of all the congressman, senators, governors, members of all branches of government, at all levels and all parties – just one of our elected officials at the time spoke out and stood against what America was doing, even as all other politicians were silent and sat down. That one man was Ralph Lawrence Carr, then in his first term as governor of Colorado, who like Abraham, fought for justice in his own time by going against the norm and resisting collective punishment.
- “The Japanese are protected by the same Constitution that protects us,” Governor Carr said, condemning President Roosevelt’s executive order. “They have the same rights as we have…If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.”
- Throughout World War II, as we fought Germany for holding Jews in concentration camps, Carr remained an outspoken critic of the internment camps holding Japanese-Americans right here in the U.S.A. Governor Carr encouraged Coloradans to welcome evacuees into their homes, a stance that is believed to have lost him his political career. Carr’s beliefs, obvious to us now but ahead of his time, were rooted in both Jewish and American values, whether it may be “all men are created equal” or “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof” – “justice, justice, you shall pursue”. Because of his courageous public support of racial tolerance, civil rights, and simple issues of fairness and justice, Ralph Lawrence Carr lost a race for the U.S. Senate, ending his career, which is ill-remembered today. He was a true “Profile in Courage”.
- There are a lot of similarities in the stories of Sodom and the internment camps, with common themes running through both events. One big one, as I said before, is that both examples of collective punishment found their way into public policy. Why? Because the critical mass of people were fine with the policies and went along with it. Apart from key leaders (like Governor Carr and Abraham), we see time and again, when the critical mass is lazy and does not take action, we often end up with unjust laws. Rabbi Susan pointed me to another example of this: the Civil Rights Movement. In the 19th century, the critical mass laid low, and we ended up with Jim Crow laws and segregation. It took another century for the critical mass to be mobilized, and when enough people joined it, the Civil Rights movement began, and we were able to do some significant fixes to our country’s policies.
- Going back to the Torah, in my chanting, you heard the bargaining between God and Abraham – with the latter trying to find the lowest number of innocent people that God will save the cities for. 50 innocent? 45? 40? 30? 20? What was the minimum number of people that could make up the critical mass, and change the ways of Sodom? That is what Abraham was hoping for.
- Abraham finally relented at 10. That was the bare minimum: if 10 couldn’t be found, Abraham would stand down as God destroyed the cities. I think that is because if there were at least 10, that would have been enough to help reform the others in the town, and potentially change the nature of Sodom. 10 is also the amount required for a minyan, the group of Jews needed to perform certain rituals. There are many explanations for why the quorum in a minyan is 10. One cites the story of Noah, where Noah, his wife, their three sons, as well as each of their wives – eight in total – were the only righteous people on Earth, yet they were not enough to save the world. It is the same reason why a quorum is required in most legislative bodies – it is important to have partners in our work, for without them, substantive change cannot always be made. I believe Abraham knew that if there were less than 10 innocent in Sodom, the city was truly in pretty bad shape, with little chance of being salvaged, because there wasn’t enough people left to reform it – and that’s why Abraham stopped.
- A similar message runs through a much more recent event: the protests right next door in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer. Here, in this racially divided city and state, there are many different ways we can respond to this horrible tragedy in Ferguson. We can choose to regard Brown’s death as just another months-old event, or we can continue to be the critical mass, while the whole world is watching. Do we, as the city of St. Louis, want to become the city of Sodom, punishing the innocent with the wicked, or as we would call it now, profiling? In the coming weeks and months, we each must be part of tipping the scales toward justice, and not toward injustice – as we saw in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Civil Rights Movement is being reborn right in our backyard, and it will die without the critical mass on its side – if we avoid becoming the minyan, for positive change. There must be more than 10 in Ferguson, and in support of other issues, in the long march to growing the critical mass beyond that 10, to ten thousand.
- We need to seek out friends and allies to advance causes of justice and help with the work of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. In the Jewish tradition, we are taught time and again to advocate for strangers and the vulnerable, values that were forgotten in Sodom and Gomorrah, which eventually led to their demise. Abraham and Governor Carr both embodied these values as they fought for justice in their separate places and times, trying to galvanize allies to join their righteous causes.
- The Sodomites had Abraham, and the Japanese-Americans had Carr. Every single day, some place in this world, people are punished unjustly. As Jews, Americans, and citizens of the world, it is our duty to stand for all who are treated unjustly, but we know we cannot do it alone. We must continue to “grab an ally or two” and continue the fight, turning collective punishment into collective blessing.
White House Watch
- The President’s Schedule President Obama arrives in Beijing today, beginning a week-long Asia trip. This trip, President Obama’s 38th foreign excursion and 6th one to Asia, will take him to China, Burma, and Australia – his 2nd time visiting each country. Here is today’s schedule (at the time each of his events for today happened in U.S. Eastern Time – 13 hours behind of China time):
- Sunday (U.S. Eastern Time)
- The President arrived in Beijing at 8:25 PM.
- At 10:30 PM, President Obama met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
- Monday (U.S. Eastern Time)
- At 12 AM (Midnight), Obama met with leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, before meeting with embassy personnel at 1:05 AM.
- At 1:30 AM, the President met with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country Obama will be visiting in five days, at the U.S. embassy.
- At 3:45 AM, President Obama spoke at the APEC CEO Summit at the Chinese National Convention Center in Beijing, before attending an APEC Welcome Banquet at the Beijing National Aquatics Center at 5:30 AM.
- Obama Nominates Loretta Lynch for AG President Barack Obama nominated a new Attorney General to succeed Eric Holder at a White House ceremony Saturday: U.S. Attorney from New York, Loretta Lynch.
- Lynch is “tough” and “fair,” according to Obama, who also said she “looks to make a difference. She’s not about splash, she is about substance.” If confirmed, she will be the second woman in the nation’s top law enforcement post, the second African-American, and first African-American woman.
- As U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, a post she held from 1999-2001 (appointed by Bill Clinton), and again since her appointment by President Obama in 2010, Lynch oversees Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island federal prosecutions.
- At the ceremony, the nominee said to Obama, “Thank you for your faith in me. I will wake up every morning with the protection of the American people [as] my first thought. I will work every day to safeguard our citizens, our liberties, our rights in this great nation, which has given so much to me and my family.” It would be an honor, she said, to “lead the department I love.”
- The President also said Saturday she should be confirmed “without delay,” but “White House aides say he’ll defer to Senate leaders on whether to press ahead with a vote during the coming lame duck session, or to wait until next year, when the Republicans will officially be in the majority,” according to Politico.
- 1989 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty, was opened for signature.
- To celebrate the treaty’s 25th anniversary, the UN General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting today recapping the progress made since 1989, and identifying challenges that lay ahead in child rights and planning action for the future.