Should Trump Declare a National Emergency?

Neither Trump nor Democrats are ready to compromise on the issue of the border wall and the government shutdown is no closer to being resolved. Will Trump declare a national emergency at the border and use military funds to build the wall? At first glance, it’s a shocking idea, but it’s becoming more likely. More at The Hill.

The left’s hyperbolic warnings about an imperial Trump Presidency haven’t borne out, and his Administration’s uses of executive power have for the most part been restrained and legally careful. A political spending fight over the wall doesn’t warrant a national-emergency raid on military funds.

There is every reason to believe that President Trump is about to declare a national emergency in the hope of building his fantasy wall by executive fiat with funding diverted from the military budget. For the good of the country, I not only expect him to do so — I welcome his decision… Both [Republicans and Democrats] have everything to gain and nothing to lose rhetorically by refusing to compromise.

Which is why I welcome the wall by fiat.

The executive branch has been garnering its power for many, many years and has been quite aggressive on a number of different fronts… I have the sense President Trump doesn’t mind accelerating that trend, and that, I think, is troubling and is what people are reacting to in this moment. It is on Congress to remember its constitutional role. If Congress doesn’t do that, I do fear over the long term it will lose those prerogatives. I don’t think that Congress can depend on, for example, the courts to resuscitate its prerogative.

Is Trump’s Syria Policy Any Different Than Obama’s?

Trump’s policy often seems like a direct rebuke of Obama-era priorities and strategies, but is Trump’s vision for Syria much different than that of his predecessor? Mike Pompeo elaborated the United States’ policy goals in Syria during a speech in Cairo. Was anything new put on the table? More at NPR.

Mr. Pompeo began by crudely vilifying the record of the Obama administration, saying, “When America retreats, chaos often follows.” But he ended by confirming that U.S. troops would be leaving Syria, and articulated a follow-up strategy for that country virtually identical to that pursued, unsuccessfully, by President Barack Obama.

Strikingly, however, observers on both ends of the U.S. foreign-policy spectrum saw parallels in Obama’s and Trump’s views on the hard limits to expending American blood and treasure in the Middle East. As Obama’s former Mideast adviser Philip Gordon told me, Trump in a sense represents not “a repudiation of Obama” but a “doubling down of Obama.” Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a supporter of the Trump administration’s hard-line Iran policies, similarly characterized Trump as “Obama 2.0” in wanting to disengage militarily from the Middle East, though he cited as an exception Trump’s views on Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday marked a fundamental turning point for U.S. foreign policy. In a stunning but essential rebuke of former President Barack Obama and his legacy of weakness and failure abroad, Pompeo declared, “The age of self-inflicted American shame is over.” If that wasn’t clear enough, Pompeo said, “Now comes the real new beginning” – a jibe at the speech Obama gave in Cairo early in 2009, in which he essentially apologized for American Middle East policy going back decades in remarks titled “A New Beginning.”

Why Is Everyone Criticizing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can’t catch a break. Most recently, she was compared to Sarah Palin for her tendency to misquote or misrepresent facts in her public statements. But is the criticism of Ocasio-Cortez really about facts? Her supporters think sexism and racism play a role.

Max Boot, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, is taking heat from “AOC” and others, for raising that comparison. But when Ocasio-Cortez was asked by Anderson Cooper about her fuzzy math, and answered, “I think there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right,” it actually made me wonder: What if Palin said something like that?

The election of the most diverse Congress in history, and the presence of outspoken women of color in a chamber that has been dominated by white men for most of its existence, was bound to provoke these responses. When people of color enter elite spaces, they make those with unearned advantages conscious of how they’ve been favored by the system. That poses a choice to those whose access to such cloistered communities is unquestioned: They can recognize that others might also succeed given the right circumstances, or they can defend the inequities of that system in an effort to preserve their self-image, attacking the new entrant as a charlatan or the group they belong to as backwards.

Ocasio-Cortez’s problem isn’t that she’s stupid, or that she’s a compulsive liar; she just got famous before she got wise. But neither is she being oppressed by the power structure — subjected to heightened scrutiny because she’s a woman, or browbeaten by ignorant slaves to neoliberalism who ought to study up on Modern Monetary Theory so they can grasp the revolutionary brilliance of her fiscal ideas… Professional women do frequently get undeserved flak because of their gender, but everything Ocasio-Cortez does, and not just her dumber utterances, gets more attention than is usually granted a freshman member of Congress. If you want to be famous, you have to take the good with the bad.

Why Don’t Israelis Care About the Peace Process?

For outside spectators, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only Israeli issue that matters. But for Israelis, it is low on the list of political priorities, a fact made more apparent by the upcoming general elections in Israel. Have Israelis given up on the peace process? If so, why?

The international obsession with the Palestinian narrative has done nothing to bring about peace. On the contrary. Every time pressure is put on Israel to reach an agreement, the Palestinians feel they can sit back and enjoy. Until it all blows up. The main reason Israelis are not focused on a so-called “peace process” is because ever since the Oslo Accords more than 25 years ago, experience has taught us that the process leads to another wave of Palestinian terrorism rather than peace.

There are many well-known reasons why Israelis have stopped believing peace is possible anytime soon. They range from the failure of every previous round of negotiations, to Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate at all for most of the last decade, to the fact that every bit of land Israel has so far turned over to the Palestinians—both in Gaza and the West Bank—has become a hotbed of anti-Israel terror. Yet the root cause of all the above receives far too little attention overseas: Israel’s ostensible peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, educates its people to an almost pathological hatred of Israel.

In late 2017, under the auspices of The Jewish People Policy Institute, I teamed up with Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, one of Israel’s leading pollsters, to study Israeli Judaism… The most significant finding in our study is that 55 percent of Israeli Jews belong to a group whose like-minded identity we call “Jewish-Israeli.” This runs counter to the conventional wisdom, which holds that Israel is divided between left and right, and secular and religious groups… This is not about religiosity; it is about culture — a culture whose pillars are ancient Judaism and modern Israelism.

This group also shares some core beliefs about politics, including a realization that peace in the Middle East won’t happen any time soon.

Are Weighted Blankets a Problematic Trend?

Weighted blankets are heavy, warm, cozy, and problematic? Some say that the sudden mainstreaming of weighted blankets, which were once used primarily as a therapeutic tool for individuals with special needs, constitutes a form of cultural appropriation.

Cozy culture seems to gleefully exist at the intersection of having your life totally together and being mere seconds from everything falling apart… Like a miracle elixir that everyone is suddenly swearing by, the weighted blanket has slipped into seemingly every conversation I’ve had recently. Maybe it’s because we’re entering that gray, cold, post-holiday season where a fun thing to do on the weekend is sit in front of your sun lamp and listen to your Calm app.

…the Gravity Blanket and many of its new contemporaries sounds more like a story of appropriation—a story about the sale of the special-needs community’s promise of life-changing comfort to the meditation-app-using, Instagram-shopping masses… Weighted blankets have been used as sleep aids and calming aids in special-needs communities for years.

There is no way to culturally appropriate from disabled people. That’s not to say there isn’t disabled culture. The Deaf community has its own language and institutions… But the physical objects disabled people use—fidget spinners and cubes, weighted blankets, shower chairs, scooters—are not a culture. In fact, nondisabled people using amenities originally designed for disabled people does nothing but improve our lives. It’s called the “curb-cut effect.” You’ve experienced it: The gentle slope from the curb to the street, usually at a crossing, was originally designed so that people in wheelchairs could cross the street. Now, they are enjoyed by people with baby carriages, small grocery carts, rolling suitcases, and bicycles, along with people in wheelchairs.

Will Bezos’ Divorce Effect Amazon?

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also happens to be the world’s richest man, will be getting divorced from his wife, MacKenzie Bezos. While the two are reportedly splitting amicably, some are wondering how this will come to bear on Amazon and Bezos’ role at the company. More at CNN.

Bezos’s reduced stake in Amazon would also have symbolic meaning: He’s been the face of the company since its founding in 1996. Amazon’s origin story is intimately tied to Bezos, who claims he was tired of the hedge fund life and risked it all to pursue a passion project out West, where he built the world’s most valuable company from his garage.

It may be difficult for the Bezoses to split up their wealth without dipping significantly into their Amazon shares, said Jordan Neyland, an assistant professor of law at George Mason University who has written on the topic of CEO divorces… Typically, CEOs could avoid splitting up their shares by leaving other assets to their spouses, such as real estate and other property. But for the Bezoses, Neyland said, “all the wealth is going to be tied up in Amazon…”

But she won’t, like, get a board seat. She won’t gain control of the company; she’ll just be a regular, large, but single-digit-percentage shareholder. And Bezos won’t lose control of the company; he is a large minority shareholder now and will be a large minority shareholder after the divorce. His control comes from being the founder and CEO, and from shareholders’ and directors’ trust in him, not from his voting rights.

Roundtable Extra: Commentary on Parashat Bo

This week at the Jewish Journal, Parashat Bo is under discussion.

Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) – features the final three plagues of Egypt, the People of Israel’s departure from Egypt, and the first Passover celebration.

At the Jewish Journal Table for Five, we analyze the passage: The Lord said to Moses, “Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens, and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt, and the darkness will become darker.” Exodus 10:21

Click here to hear the full discussion. Also be sure to check out Shmuel Rosner’s Torah Talks from previous years on Parashat Bo with Rabbi Amy Joy Small, Rabbi Adam Zeff, and Rabbi Nissan Antine.

  • Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld: The mission of the Jew coalesced in Egypt. It exhorted Jews to become beacons of light. To inspire, not impose.
  • Nina Litvak: The darkness of the ninth plague is darker, a new level of darkness, tangible. It lasts for three days, although the Egyptians lose all sense of time.
  • Professor Tova Hartman: Leaders must meet people where they are, but leaders fail if that is all they do. They also must bring a vision of transformation and the means to accomplish it. 
  • David Brandes: God does not play the game of moral equivalence, to be sure, but as we learn later at the Red Sea, God is saddened by the suffering of all. 
  • Rabbi Gabriel Botnick: When we bless over food, acknowledge the beauty of nature or marvel at the miracles of life, we are fulfilling God’s will and bringing ourselves closer to the Divine.


Today’s Hot Issues

Should Trump Declare a National Emergency? Is Trump’s Syria Policy Any Different Than Obama’s? Why Is Everyone Criticizing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Why Don’t Israelis Care About the Peace Process? Are Weighted Blankets a Problematic Trend? Will Bezos’ Divorce Effect Amazon? Roundtable Extra: Commentary on Parashat Bo