Lacrosse Title Follows Me to Colorado

The University of Denver won its first NCAA Division I lacrosse title over the weekend, bringing the title west of the Mississippi for the first time since the tournament started in 1971.  I suspect coach Bill Tierney had more to do with the team’s success than I did.  Tierney earned my enmity and respect as coach of Princeton, where he turned that program into a national powerhouse in the 90s, winning 5 titles, a couple of them over Virginia in overtime.  Some are arguing that this win makes Tierney the greatest coach of all time, and certainly there’s a strong case to be made.

In some sense, Colorado was just waiting for a Bill Tierney to come out here and do this. The state is one of the few west of the Mississippi where lacrosse is popular, and both CU and CSU have done well in the club championships in past years.  CSU has won the club title 6 times, twice over Colorado, who also won in 2014 before losing in this year’s finals, so there’s a talent base out here.  Still, only seven of the team’s 45 players are from Colorado; Tierney’s also been able to recruit from all over the country.

This year, Tierney beat both Big 10 and ACC schools – Notre Dame and Maryland – on Championship Weekend.  Those of us over a certain age can’t quite get used to the fact that Maryland was the Big 10 school, and Notre Dame from the ACC.

In some sense, this could only have happened in a time of an expanded tournament.  Gone are the days when an 8-team tournament was dominated by Virginia, Maryland, Cornell, Carolina, Hopkins, and Syracuse (and later Princeton).  The sport has a much broader base, with Duke, Notre Dame, and Loyola having made appearances or won titles in recent years.  In some sense, that’s Tierney’s doing, too, since he broke Princeton into the top tier at a time when the ACC habitually held down three of eight tournament slots, and winning the Ivy League was his only realistic route to the Championship.

Tierney has built a serious program out here, and is likely to win more titles before he’s done.

No Comments

PERA’s Pension Obligation Bonds Are a Bad Idea

This is an extended version of the OpEd that appeared in the Greeley Tribune.

Last week, Colorado legislators considered – and rejected – a plan of dubious legality to shore up the state’s public pensions.

The result of a difficult three-way negotiation among Governor Hickenlooper, Treasurer Stapleton, and PERA, the plan would have circumvented the state Constitution’s limits against issuing general obligation debt without a vote of the people, for gains that would have been largely illusory.

Worse, the changes could have encouraged future legislatures to repeat mistakes that put teachers’ and state employees’ retirements at risk in the first place, while making real reforms more difficult.

HB15-1388 would have authorized the State Treasurer to direct the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) to issue up to $10 billion in bonds on the state’s credit. The proceeds would have been deposited into PERA’s State and School funds, and invested with the rest of PERA’s assets. The investment returns theoretically would shorten PERA’s time to full funding.

The bonds’ interest was to be funded by the supplemental payments that the state and school districts pay into PERA (the AED and SAED), with PERA paying back the principal when the bonds matured.  The AED and SAED payments are taxpayer contributions established in 2004 and 2006 to stabilize PERA’s finances.  They are escalating percentages of employee salaries.

The complex web of relationships was needed to avoid state constitutional limits on issuing debt. The bill’s language laid out the legal arguments for why the restrictions didn’t apply. Supporters claimed they were revenue bonds that would not obligate general tax dollars, and purported that CHFA is not a state agency.

Passing the buck to the courts, HB 1388 would have required a binding judicial ruling certifying the scheme’s legality before the bonds could have been issued.

Make no mistake: The debt would have been on the state’s credit, and shown up on the state’s balance sheet. These are not revenue bonds; they would have been funded only by general tax revenue.

Whether or not the game of hide-the-pea satisfied the courts, it violated the spirit and purpose of constitutional provisions designed to prevent the legislature from indebting citizens into a long-term fiscal bind. The many state bankruptcies of the 1840s were still fresh in the people’s minds in 1876, when the Constitution was drafted. Those concerns are no less valid now.

The bonds wouldn’t have shown up in PERA’s financial report, except in the footnotes. With no single, authoritative document laying out the full financial picture associated with funding the state’s public pensions, PERA would look better-funded than it was.

Risk-averse legislators could have justified avoiding the difficult decisions needed to provide real retirement security for Colorado’s teachers and state employees. Future legislatures might have been tempted to repeat the mistakes that put that security at risk in the first place. While a full legal analysis awaits, tying the AED and the SAED explicitly to a bonded debt might have complicated any attempts at more sustainable reform.

A comprehensive study by the Center for Retirement Research found that the misuse and mistiming of pension obligation bonds have punished numerous states and municipalities over the last 20 years. The Government Finance Officers Association recommends against their use.

To their credit, the bill’s architects studied past failures and tried to mitigate the risks to Colorado and its schools. The annual interest on the bonds could have been no larger than two-thirds of each year’s anticipated AED and SAED, with a minimum 2 percent spread between the bond interest rate and PERA’s anticipated rate of return. Statutory contributions to PERA – inadequate though they are – would have remained intact, and bond proceeds would have been unavailable for diversion to other spending.

Still, the deal entailed significant risk. Proponents misleadingly argued that it refinanced 7.5 percent debt at 4.5 percent. In an actual refinance, the original obligation is paid off. Here, the pension obligation would have remained, with Colorado taking on additional debt.

Even PERA’s claim that its current debt should be discounted at 7.5 percent is based on an accounting gimmick only available to US public pensions – and no other pensions in the world.  (Not coincidentally, without the discipline of correct accounting, US public pensions are also the worst-funded public pensions in the world.)

As contractual promises, they should be discounted at the same interest rate as the bonds.  PERA would just be adding 4.5 percent debt to the true 4.5 percent debt of its current contractual obligations, improving its situation only marginally.

The proposal’s safeguards would not have changed the fact that proponents were seeking to close the funding gap by taking on additional debt and risk.

While the governor and the treasurer are to be credited for taking PERA’s underfunding seriously, HB 1388 was the wrong answer to the problem.

No Comments

Yeah, But Does Free Speech Have To Be So Speechy?

Seen on a friend’s Facebook page: “Pam Geller makes is awfully hard to defend the First Amendment.”

Let’s stipulate for purposes of this post that gratuitous sexual innuendo – or outright graphic depiction – aren’t really my style, and I don’t think they do much to advance the discussion about what to do about Islamism.  I don’t think that’s what Pam Geller is about, but if it lets you keep reading, we’ll stipulate that.

Let’s also stipulate the Pam Geller is a rhetorical bomb-thrower, who tells Islamists to suck it up, cupcake, and non-Islamist Muslims to examine what they’re doing (or need to do) to get their religion’s crazies back under control.  The purpose of the “What’s your jihad?” campaign isn’t to accuse Muslims of sharing Hamas’s co-joining of politics, hatred, and religion.  It’s to challenge normal, everyday Muslims to re-examine their religion’s relationship to politics.  These are unpleasant subjects, and unpopular themes.

Even with that, my friend’s commenter has it exactly backwards.

It’s not Pam Geller who makes it hard to defend the First Amendment.

It’s newspapers like the New York Times, and publishing houses like Yale University Press, who refused to publish the Danish Mohammed Cartoons – even in articles and books discussing them – out of fear.  Even Reza Aslan, in the Times article, argues for including the cartoons not because it’s correct, but because it’s now safe.

By failing to stand up to the Islamist bullies at the time, they effectively conceded that self-censorship for self-preservation made sense.  Had they done so, Geller’s event might not have even been necessary.  Indeed, had they done so, Geller herself might be either less relevant (if as inflammatory) or less inflammatory (in order to stay relevant).

Nobody decent defends the attacks by the two ISIS fanboys from Phoenix, nobody who makes excuses for them is decent.  So a denunciation of them as a prelude to, “But…” doesn’t buy the author or speaker any credibility.  The mere act of denouncing them implies there might be some decent audience who thinks they might be acceptable.

Also troublesome is the comparison of Geller to an arsonist, either by her defenders or her detractors.  The Islamists are not a force of nature, devoid of moral agency; they are people, responsible for their actions, and for the despotic creed they promulgate.

In the end, the winning cartoon wasn’t even about Muhammad per se, it was a meta-cartoon about its own right to exist:

That the two schlubs from Phoenix couldn’t tell the difference between “Draw Muhammad” and “Draw, Muhammad” tells you all you need to know about what we’re up against.

,

No Comments

Obama Negotiates

In his joint press conference today with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, President Obama commented on the state of negotiations with Iran, specifically on the issue of sanctions.  While most of the discussion has focused on the question of being able to reimpose sanctions, or abandoning them, or being able to reimpose them after abandoning them, this line caught my ear:

I would just make a general observation. That is that how sanction are, lessened, how we snap back sanctions if there is a violation, there are a lot of different mechanisms and ways to do that. Part of John’s job and part of Iranian negotiators’ job and part of the P5+1’s job, is to sometimes find formulas that get to our main concerns while allowing the other side to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable.

Obama publicly said that, in part, the negotiations with Iran consist of an effort to get what we want, while letting the mullahs present some palatable line to their “body politic.”

In other words, he just told the Iranian people that their leaders are lying to them about the terms of the deal, in order to make the sale.

It’s no doubt true that part of a negotiation can be, under the right circumstances, when you hold the high cards and have been driving a hard bargain, to find some way of letting the other side save face.

None of those conditions obtains here. We’ve been getting rolled, and all Obama has just done with that comment is give the mullahs an excuse to pretend they’ve been backed into a corner where they have to drive a harder bargain.  He seems have mistaken conducting a seminar in foreign policy for actually conducting foreign policy.

As Mark Steyn likes to ask, “If he were on the other side, what would he be doing differently?”

, ,

No Comments

The Death of the Death Tax?

Thursday, the House will vote on HR1105, the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015.  This is one of the most unfair taxes on the books, taxing assets and cash that have already been taxed several times along the way.  The bill has 135 co-sponsors, 134 of whom are Republican; kudos to Sanford Bishop of Georgia.

The Democrats would have you believe that the tax falls primarily on the exceedingly wealthy, and so is designed to prevent the concentration of multigenerational wealth.  Perhaps the reason the tax has been such a dismal failure in preventing income inequality is that its premise is so flawed.  The very wealthy have any number of strategies available to them to avoid paying the tax.  Does anyone think Chelsea Clinton is going to go do productive work any time soon?

In the meantime, the tax absolutely crushes asset-rich/cash-poor businesses and farms, of the kind held by successful, but not opulent, families. Often, the choice is between selling assets (and usually it’s the bigger businesses that gobble these up), and taking a loan out.  Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) appeard on Fox News to discuss the bill.  Her family had to take out a 10-year loan to pay the death tax bill when her father was killed in an accident on the farm.

How long before Obama or Elizabeth Warren or Hillary!™ takes a page out of the student loan debacle and decries banks making unfair profits off of families’ misfortune, and demands that the government take over making those loans.

, ,

No Comments

Where Presidents Come From

Governors, mostly.

We go through this every four years, and I certainly was taken by surprise in 2008 when both parties nominated senators.

This year, so far, it’s all Senators and a former Senator and Secretary of State.  (More on that later.)  Rubio, Cruz, and Paul are all first-term Senators, and given our recent experience with a first-term Senator-as-President, people are understandably leery of electing another one.

If Obama were the only point of reference, I might agree with those who say the comparison is a false one, but the fact is, we don’t have a great record with first-term Senators.  Starting after the Civil War, we have Benjamin Harrison, Warren Harding, and John Kennedy.  Those were the only Presidents elected either directly from the Senate or with the Senate as their only national experience, and they were all first-termers.  (James Garfield was elected from the House, but he really didn’t get much of a chance.)  None of them left much of a record, although it’s possible that two of them, if they hadn’t died in office, might have been re-elected for all that.

Harrison was a one-termer, losing his 1892 rematch with Grover Cleveland.  Harrison had a terrible economy working against him, but then as now, Presidents got the blame or credit for that, probably too much of either.  It wasn’t even a sure thing that Harrison would be renominated, although the obvious candidate, James Blaine, was too ill to run.  True, the executive hadn’t grown to its current, gargantuan proportions, but it was growing into its own, post-Civil War, and was coming to be seen as more important than it had been, with civil service reform a major, multi-decade issue.

Harding’s tenure is mostly remembered for the Teapot Dome scandal, and indeed, his administration appears to have rivaled Grant’s for corruption, although like Grant, Harding hired poorly, rather than to have been on the take himself.  Richard Epstein, about 10 minutes in on this EconTalk podcast, tries to make the case for Harding’s administration, and certainly compared to the frenetic Wilson, he made good on his promise of a “return to normalcy.”  It’s possible a reassessment is in order.  But part of governing is hiring and management, and on that score Harding seems to have failed (with the exception of Mellon at Treasury, which is no small thing).

Kennedy has been canonized by his untimely death, but the fact is the golden haze is mostly misplaced.   He had relatively few domestic achievements, and repeatedly got rolled by Khrushchev – first at the summit, then in Berlin, and finally with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  He made up for it by getting us into Vietnam.

Obama’s been effective in getting some things past, but he’s had to make full use (and then some) of the powers granted the executive branch, and his only real legislative achievement came in large part because of a well-timed prosecution of Ted Stevens, and a variety of found ballots in Minnesota, which conspired to give him 60 votes in the Senate.  A Republican with real coattails in 2016 might pick up a couple of Senate seats, but given the map, is quite unlikely to get such a filibuster-proof majority to work with (although there’s always the chance that a Republican majority leader might follow the Democrat tradition and change the rules to suit his needs).

Of those who ended up President by succession, rather than election, two were legislators first, Truman and Lyndon Johnson.  We tend to think highly of Truman in retrospect, and much of that is based on foreign, rather than domestic policy.  Johnson, while a train wreck in foreign policy, and responsible for a vast expansion of the welfare and regulatory states (which is responsible for much of our current distress), could hardly be called ineffective.  He had spent decades in Congress, learning the ropes, and learning how to apply carrots and sticks, honey and vinegar, in proper proportion.  And of course, both were re-elected.

The last Secretary of State to be elected President was James Buchanan, a rank failure by any measure, inasmuch as the country split into two on his watch.  By that time, it was already becoming an uncommon path to the White House, although many had that ambition: Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Blaine, Seward.  Mostly, that was because the early Democratic-Republican Party established the office as the training ground for the Presidency, with Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams all moving directly from Foggy Bottom to the White House, and all directly in succession.  But Martin Van Buren would be the second-to-last one to make that move, and even then, he stopped off as Jackson’s second-term VP in-between.

He would be the last VP before George HW Bush to succeed the president he served in that role.  Nixon, Humphrey, and Gore all had close calls, but the only way most Veeps got to be chief executive was through succession, not election.

By far, the greatest number of presidents have been governors, and I confess that’s my personal preference.  Governors make decisions, senators make speeches.  Governors run offices, senators run their mouths.  There’s no place to hide as a governor, unlike Senate votes that can be calculated for effect, depending on who’s vulnerable on what issue.

Governors have to learn how to lead, how to work with legislatures, how to persuade, and what points to compromise on while advancing an overall agenda.  They have to make choices.  Effective senators do some of this, but are rarely in a position to have an overall view of where they want policy to go.

The good news is that Republicans have a deep crop of experienced governors waiting to enter the race – Perry, Walker, Bush, Jindal, Christie, Pence, Kasich.  That’s what happens when you build effective state machines, and when you focus on winning state legislative races.

While Hillary certainly has an imperial mentality, it’s unclear if she has an executive one.  And of the senators who’ve declared, only Rubio seems to have taken the time to truly educate himself on foreign policy.

As for me, I’m waiting for the governors.

No Comments

Sen. Cotton on Attacking Iran

CNN is quoting Sen. Tom Cotton as comparing a US military operation on Iran’s nuclear facilities to President Clinton’s brief 1998 Desert Fox air campaign.

I admire Cotton for the courage to write The Letter™, round up colleagues to sign it, and publish it, and I think he’s both right and wrong about the prospects of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

He’s right, in that it won’t be anything like the invasion of Iraq, the rescue of Kuwait, or the invasion of Afghanistan. It will be conducted mostly from the air, with specialized units on the ground to support the air ops. It won’t be an invasion, and people who talk of “another war in the Middle East” are trying to conjure up the wrong images, as Cotton points out.

That said, Iran isn’t just Iran. It’s Hamas, Hezbollah, Yemen, and forces in Syria and Iraq. It’s got assets in Europe, South America, and possibly Central America. It almost certainly has sneaked assets into the US, with the ability to do a little more than kidnap the Saudi ambassador.  Expect them to wreak as much mayhem and terror as they can muster, either in immediate response, or over time afterwards.

The argument for attacking them now, is that it’s better to fight a non-nuclear Iran now, before it’s consolidated its grip on the region and further developed its missile technology, than to fight a nuclear one later, with all the resources it will have at its disposal.  That may or may not be the best or only course of action, but it’s one that may well be required.

Given the nature of the regime, any effective negotiation needs to be backed by the credible use of force, and any credible use of force needs to include the enemy’s retaliatory capability.

No Comments

Robert Zubrin on Iran

Robert Zubrin, in three succinct Facebook posts, explains his objections to the Iran “deal.”  First, the problems with the deal itself:

The problem with the Obama-Teheran Pact is that no genuine deal is possible. This is so because the entire purpose of the Iranian nuclear program is to produce nuclear bombs. The proof of this is:
  1. Iran does not need nuclear power for electricity, as it is currently flaring vast quantities of natural gas.
  2. If Iran did want nuclear power for electricity, it could buy 3.7% enriched U235 (reactor grade) for power generation purposes from either France or Russia at much lower cost than it can producing it domestically.
  3. Therefore, the only reason why Iran needs its own enrichment capability is to further enrich reactor grade U235 to bomb grade material.
  4. Further proof of this is supplied by the fact that Iran is actively developing ICBMs, whose only purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads.
  5. Therefore there can be no genuine deal, because any arrangement which stops Iran from developing nuclear weapons would defeat the entire purpose of its nuclear bomb program, while any deal that does not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons would represent a complete capitulation by the West.
  6. And since Iran cares deeply about what actually results from any deal, while Obama only cares about how the deal appears, it is clear that any deal which is made will be one in which Iran is allowed to develop atomic bombs while Obama gets to pretend otherwise for a few months.
Second (in two posts), a way that Israel, or some other country, could stop the program almost immediately, and now has the incentive to do so:

The simplest way to stop the Iranian nuclear bomb program completely is to strike Iran’s oil export terminal on Kharg Island. As you can see, it is a very soft target. Two dozen JDAMs would suffice to set the whole place ablaze. Without oil exports, Iran would go bankrupt, and not only the bomb program, but the entire regime would be brought to an end, as they would be unable to meet payroll. No bucks = no bombs.

I observe that my previous posting identifying Iran’s extreme vulnerability to a strike on Kharg Island has provoked numerous responses objecting to US military action and pointing out a variety of possible negative consequences. However those authors misunderstand my point entirely. I am not calling for a US military strike on Kharg Island. That obviously is not going to happen under the Obama administration, as its current energetic efforts to make any deal with Iran, regardless of consequences, clearly shows. I was simply pointing out that if someone actually did want to stop Iran from getting atomic weapons, they readily could do it using much smaller military forces than the US has at its disposal.

Therefore, those people who find the idea of a strike on Kharg island and its potential aftermath unpleasant should do everything in their power to prevent the Obama administration from sealing a deal that would make such a strike an existential necessity for the Israelis.

It will be observed that everywhere Obama has abandoned America’s commitments, chaos and mass bloodshed has erupted. Look at Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Ukraine. Consider what will happen to Afghanistan, particularly the women and girls of Afghanistan, as soon as Obama withdraws American forces. Should Obama be allowed to proceed with his policy of ending the containment of Iran, the level of violence he has already unleashed will continue to expand without limit.

When the policeman abandons his post, it does not bring peace to the neighborhood.

 

, ,

No Comments

Planning Alaska – I

After literally – not figuratively – years of fantasizing, it looks as though this summer we’ll be taking the driving trip to Alaska.  In that rarest of coincidences, it appears that this year, we will finally have both the time and the money saved up to go.

I’ll take a week to drive up, starting our early Sunday morning and arriving in Anchorage on Friday.  Susie will fly up to meet me, and we’ll spend a little over a week in Alaska itself.  From there, we’ll take the Alaska Ferry back down to Washington, spend Shabbat in Seattle or Portland, and drive back to Denver from there.  We’re planning on backing it up to Labor Day weekend so we have two days to drive back without taking any additional vacation.

I’ve got most of the driving route there and back planned out.  Coming back is both easy and boring, since we’ll be using interstates the whole way.  Charles Kuralt said perhaps the single most memorable thing about these roads, “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.”  That’s about right, but we’ve got to cover roughly 1400 miles in two days, do and for speed, there’s just no alternative.

The way up is a lot more interesting, and I’ll be doing my best to avoid interstates.  The intent is to drive across Wyoming, and then take non-Interstates up to the border, and then to Calgary.  Then, the Icefields Parkway from Calgary, and the Yellowhead Highway across northern British Columbia.  From there, the Cassiar Highway north through the mountains to the Alcan, and the Alcan into Alaska.

Going that way, it’s about 3500 miles from Denver to Anchorage, so I’ll need to average about 600 miles a day, but anything shorter is less interesting.

My original plan had been to drive from Edmonton to the Alcan, and then take the length of the Alcan, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized that, being a wartime military highway designed for speed, it adhered to the Interstate Routing Principle: anything interesting just slows you down.  So since it’s unlikely I’ll be driving this again in this lifetime, I opted for the more scenic route.

That much driving involves a lot of gasoline, and while gas prices are low now and not expected to rise too much, I’ll probably end up hedging the price of gas through UGA, the gasoline price ETF.  The idea isn’t to speculate, in which case I’d just buy calls, but to hedge against a steep rise in gas prices between now and then.

 

No Comments

Today’s Private-Public Purim

More than history, the Jews have memory.

In his marvelous little book, Zakhor (“Memory”), Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi notes that Jewish historiography ends with the destruction of the Second Temple, revived only with the Continental Enlightenment and its reach into the communities of France and Germany.

Jewish memory, by contrast continues on, making sense of current events by analogy with Biblical ones.  It’s a method not entirely alien to American history itself.  The New England settlers saw themselves as latter-day Israelites, guided by God across a forbidding body of water, fleeing a corrupt Egypt to establish His kingdom on Earth in a new land.  Franklin proposed that the Great Seal of the United States feature the Israelite crossing the Red Sea.  Bruce Feiler’s America’s Prophet (I have not read it, so I can make no recommendation one way or the other) chronicles the role of Moses in American thought, American memory.

But if America could draw on a new founding to make Moses its central prophet, the Jews, in exile, usually turned to a different Biblical story, the Book of Esther.  Scattered, everywhere a minority, at the mercy of temporal powers who were usually not friendly, the Jews frequently found reason to compare their situation to the Jews in the Babylonian exile, rescued from extinction by Divine Providence hidden in natural events, hopeful of soon returning home.

It was not unusual for local communities, and even families, to celebrate such rescues by declaring local “Purims,” often recording the events in local chronicles by paralleling the very words of the Book of Esther.

Even though there is now a Jewish Commonwealth for the first time since 70 AD, the current Purim Parallel practically writes itself.  Genocidal theocratic Persian seeks nuclear bomb for destruction of Jewish people, twists current world power’s leader to its own ends to obtain such. The comparison was given an added push by the timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress – on Tuesday, the day before the Fast of Esther, commemorating Esther’s own fast before she approached the King to plead her case.  Most of the commentaries I’ve seen put Netanyahu in the role of Esther, braving the dangers of speaking truth to power (in the old Lefty phrase) in order to save his people.

I don’t think that’s quite right.

Netanyahu’s role here much more close parallels that of Mordecai, imploring Esther to do the right thing and risk her own position and comfort to save her people.  Netanyahu deftly explained why the approaching deal is a bad idea, why it’s a threat to Israel, but also – more importantly, given the audience – a threat to the United States.  He appealed to the common civilization and shared values between Israel and the United States.

But thought Bibi can persuade, he cannot directly influence.  He has no vote in the US, he must act through others, igniting a serious debate where there had been none, inviting others to bring to bear direct political pressure.

Which means that you and I, friends, are Esther.

It is incumbent upon us to act, to persuade Congress to oppose the agreement when it is reached, to retain or increase sanctions, to prevent the administration from giving power, legitimacy, and trade to our enemies as Americans and Jews.

It is our role to step out of our comfortable positions in a wealthy, friendly, welcoming society and use what influence and power we have to prevent any agreement that even contemplates an Iranian bomb from being anything more than a dead letter.

Given this, the actual words of Mordecai’s plea are even more ominous for an American Jewish community used to security but facing new demographic and ideological threats:

Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house from among all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father’s household will perish.  And who knows if you became Queen for such a time as this?

There is actually a dispute as to how to translate Mordecai’s last sentence.  Some translate it as, “And who knows if you will remain Queen a year from now?” meaning that Esther might lose her position as Queen.  Others translate it as, “And who knows if this isn’t the reason you became Queen?”

The two translations aren’t necessarily at odds: the calendar date for the actual massacre was a year off from Esther’s approach to the King.  Mordecai could have been arguing that if Esther didn’t fulfill her purpose in being Queen, God could easily enough arrange for her fall from power and its protections.

There is, or should be, a growing unease among Jews in the United States, this exceptional home for us with its exceptional relationship to us.  Too many Jews have traded in their Jewish identity for a Democratic Party one, replacing eternal transcendent values for temporary, political issues of the day.  A small minority, the 10% who are Orthodox, are having the great majority of the children, and with even Modern Orthodoxy teetering a little unsurely, the future of Judaism in the States looks potentially smaller, poorer, and more inward-looking.

The President, in his desire to reach a deal with Iran’s mullahs, has put Jewish Americans, but especially Jewish Democrats, in a position of having to choose between identities many had come to see as identical.  There are any number of powerful and influential Jewish Democrats, and who knows that they didn’t achieve these positions for such a time as this?

Rabbi David Fohrman points out something I hadn’t noticed before.  Two tribes – Judah and Benjamin (plus some Levites, but leave them aside, they’re not a full tribe here) – are actually in exile in Babylon.  Those are the only two tribes left in the southern Kingdom of Judah after the northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered a couple of centuries earlier.

Mordecai was from Benjamin.  Esther was from Benjamin.  But the decree was phrased as “Yehudim,” Judahites.  Haman didn’t care about tribal differences, but Mordecai would have caught the wording.  Benjamin and Judah had often had a somewhat tense relationship.  Would Esther think that the decree didn’t mean Benjamin, that she and others from her tribe could ride this out?

Mordecai’s demand means this, too: we’re all in this together, Benjamin and Judah.  Don’t think this doesn’t mean you.  It does.

Similarly Netanyahu is telling American Jews: don’t think this doesn’t mean you.  The Islamists, the anti-semites, the BDS-ers and the campus radicals have it in for all of us.  You may be secular, you may be comfortable, you may be wealthy, you may even be intermarried or atheist, it doesn’t matter.  They mean you, too.

And to non-Jewish Americans, Netanyahu is saying the same thing: the Islamists are coming for you, too.  This is a civilizational war we’re fighting, and we’re part of the same team.  Some of you may think you can buy safety by cutting a deal that puts Israel at risk, but you can’t.  And you’re putting your country and your children and your future in danger if you try.

Will the American Jews extend themselves on behalf of the Israeli Jews, or will we huddle together, trying to ride out the storm?

There are some, Alan Dershowitz, AIPAC, Larry Mizel & Norm Brownstein, who have risen to the occasion.  Since 2005, I’ve been on the email list for Jewish NOLA, and its president, Michael Weil, sent out an email this afternoon very supportive of Netanyahu’s speech and its message.

Too many, however, including our own JCRC here in Denver, the ADL, and other organizations charged specifically with advocating for Israel, have taken the safe route.  Happy to opine on just about any partisan political social or economic issue, they have fallen silent, ostensibly afraid to make Israel “partisan.”  In doing so, of course, they are acquiescing the an administration that has chosen to politicize Israel to try to isolate it, because it stands in the way of its Middle East Grand Strategy.  They have, perversely, allowed Israel to become the one topic they won’t discuss.

That’s not good enough.

There is one final parallel.  The Purim story doesn’t end with the King revoking his decree and saving the Jews.  In some interpretations, the King is prevented by Persian law from revoking a decree, in others he’s too proud to admit a mistake.  Regardless of the reason, the King instead issues another decree – a change in policy, if you will – permitting the Jews the defend themselves.  It’s a striking thing, a King risking the internal stability of his empire by permitting a subject people to take self-defense into their own hands on a national scale.  But he does it, confident that he’s not unleashing chaos, but rather encouraging justice.

Too often, we have valued stability in the Middle East above all else (indeed, stability is given as the reason for welcoming a nuclear-tipped Iran into a role a regional hegemon).  It would take a brave president indeed, or at least a confident and secure one, to welcome an Israeli effort to defend itself against an Iranian bomb.  It may mean waiting until the next president, who, while not repudiating whatever agreement this one reaches, winks and nods at such an effort.

 A sobering thought indeed, for American Jewry, ironically linked to a holiday associated with revelry and celebration.

, ,

No Comments