Archive for January 2011

The new WASPs? Oy vey

January 18, 2011

Who would have guessed, but it seems Judaism is becoming the “in” religion among progressives and conservatives alike — not the message I’ve been used to getting all of my life.

One pundit even declared that “Jews are the new WASPs,” with three justices on the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time and some polls showing Judaism to be the best regarded among major religions in America.

You saw in our spirited discussion here last week how some on the left are speaking well of us because we don’t proselytize like the fundamentalist Christians they’re battling on a wide range of issues.

Then I came across a piece in Politics Daily about the Sarah Palin “blood libel” controversy in the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy suggesting Judaism is a hot commodity on the right, as well.

The article by David Gibson explained why some conservatives are so taken with Jewish symbolism:

The “blood libel” phrase arose in the Middle Ages when European anti-Semitism was on the rise. It refers to rumors circulated among Christians that Jews were sacrificing Christian babies and children to use their blood to make matzo bread at Passover. The charges were patently absurd but they grew out of the longstanding charge of “deicide” against the Jews, that is, that the Jews were responsible for killing Christ. And they were enough to spark brutal pogroms and create policies targeting Jews.

That model of persecution is appealing for many contemporary conservatives in that it reinforces their self-image as the underdog in America’s political wars and as the victims of an overbearing secular and liberal culture. In fact, the popular conservative blogger and professor Glenn Reynolds used the “blood libel” analogy in a Wall Street Journal article on Monday from which Palin may have drawn inspiration.

Much the same dynamic has also been at work with the rising use of Nazi metaphors by the right, notably since the 2008 campaign and the election of Barack Obama. In that view, Obama is Hitler, Democrats and liberals are “fascists,” and any disagreeable new policy or op-ed column augurs a coming “Holocaust” or pogrom.

But wait, there’s more — it’s a cultural trend as well as a political tool:

A more ambiguous trend is the enthusiastic new strain of “philo-Semitism” that many American Christians are displaying.

Conservative believers in particular have gone from rejecting all things Jewish to celebrating “Christianized” Passover seder meals or wearing tallit, the traditional Jewish prayer shawl. There are Christian bar mitzvahs, and there is even a growing trend toward appropriating Yom Kippur, the most sacred day on the Jewish calendar, for a Christian day of atonement. And Sarah Palin and other evangelical women increasingly like to compare themselves to Queen Esther, the Jewish beauty from the Book of Esther who saves her people from destruction.

It goes to show that if you live long enough, you’ll see everything.

Of course, as in much of our history, there may not be a happy ending. According to Gibson, the new conservative affinity for Judaism “is often born out of a belief that Israel’s refounding is a sign of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus in an apocalypse that will center on Jerusalem and will convert some Jews to Christianity while eliminating the rest.”

Happy MLK Jr. Day

January 17, 2011

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

— Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

City and state clam up on rail

January 14, 2011

It seems that the city and state administrations are hunkering down to push the $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail project to construction without the inconvenience of further public discussion.

Councilman Breene Harimoto thought the five new council members, including himself, should do their own due diligence on rail financing, so he scheduled a hearing to give a fair listen to a study commissioned by former Gov. Linda Lingle suggesting that funding might be $1.7 billion short.

Infrastructure Management Group Inc., which did the study, was willing to brief the council, but didn’t get permission from the new state administration to do so, leaving the council to listen to the old city spin for the umpteenth time.

Harimoto expressed frustration with the state’s decision to blow off his hearing, saying, “I believe it’s not only common courtesy, but professionalism.”

Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration, meantime, is declining to participate in a panel discussion on rail financing being sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon in the Washington Middle School auditorium.

The league said the city administration was invited to send a representative, but declined the invitation citing a time factor.

“We are sorry that the city administration has declined our invitation,” said Pearl Johnson, the league’s planning chair who organized this event.

She said the public still has many questions about the project, and the league doesn’t feel the media has adequately informed the public about the content of the IMG study.

In a meeting with reporters yesterday, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye predicted resistance in Washington to providing the full $1.5 billion federal share and said he could only try his best to secure the money.

Given these credible concerns about funding, it would seem imprudent for the city to start construction without a viable and publicly vetted Plan B for paying for rail if the money supporting the current plan doesn’t come through.

It’s worrisome that the state and city don’t even want to talk about it.

With God on our side (or not)

January 13, 2011

I didn’t intend my post the other day about the Big Island Senate appointment to focus on religion.

I truly thought the county Democrats did a good job of making their nominations in an open and accessible manner and wanted to draw attention to it. That’s why I put the rather mild comment about the interviews being held at a hongwanji at the end.

That said, I thought some of the responses proved my point, which was that many church-and-state concerns expressed lately in Hawai‘i seem targeted specifically at Christianity rather than generally at religion in public life.

Several who commented on my post tried to justify this bias by drawing distinctions between the practices of Christianity and Buddhism. I don’t recall any fine print in the Constitution to the effect that religions can be treated differently under the law according to what faiths the cool kids favor.

Religion is an intensely personal and sensitive issue to people of all faiths (or lack thereof) and we need to be rigorously even-handed in addressing it.

In the wake of the Arizona tragedy, many of us have asked those who engage in inflammatory talk about guns and violence to please think about the consequences.

Insulting a person’s religion has the same potential to inflame, and we must be equally careful to choose our words with the consequences in mind.

‘Birthers’ snipe at Boehner, Abercrombie

January 12, 2011

U.S. Rep. John Boehner is a hero of the Republican right as the new Speaker of the House, but he’s in a bit of hot water with the party’s “birther” fringe for refusing to join them in questioning President Barack Obama’s Hawai‘i  birth.

He’s said in recent interviews that he considers the issue settled, partly on the word of Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, his former colleague in Congress.

“The state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there,” the speaker told NBC. “That’s good enough for me.”

That drew the ire of the United States Justice Foundation, one of the leading birther groups, which credited Boehner for “his staunch patriotic, conservative stand,” but said he is  “TOTALLY WRONG” if he “actually believes liberal Hawaiian Governor Neil Abercrombie when he says that Mr. Obama was actually born in Hawaii.”

The group suggested it won’t believe any documentation Abercrombie produces, alleging he is “a ‘fellow traveler’ (i.e., member) of the Marxist Democratic Socialist of America.  And, of course, so was Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.”

Birther groups are pushing for congressional hearings on the circumstances of Obama’s birth, and 12 Republicans have offered legislation expressing doubts about the president’s birthplace.

Despite his personal view that the issue is settled, Boehner said he’s not inclined to smack down those in his GOP caucus who think otherwise, saying, “It’s not up to me to tell them what to think.”

Welcome openness in Big Isle Senate picks

January 11, 2011

Give Big Island Democrats credit for transparency in the process to replace Sen. Russell Kokubun, who represented Hilo, Puna and Ka‘u before resigning to join the Abercrombie administration as agriculture director.

The party released the names of eight candidates who asked to be considered: state Rep. Faye Hanohano, former County Council Chairman Gary Safarik, health food store owner Russell Ruderman, Navy intelligence administrator Anthony Marzi, Abercrombie’s East Hawai‘i  campaign coordinator Gilbert Kahele, Ka’u doctor Richard Creagan, natural foods manager Susan “Marie” Sanford and attorney Beverly Jean “Jeannie” Withington.

Then over the weekend, the candidates were questioned in a speed-dating format by more than 40 representatives from the district’s 16 Democratic precincts, who voted to send the names of Ruderman, Marzi and Kahele to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Under state law, the governor must choose a replacement from the three nominees provided by the party. He has 30 days to act, but is expected to pick sooner with the start of the Legislature looming.

Credit also goes to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald for its diligent coverage of the appointment process — not only for Kokubun, but also the earlier appointment of Malama Solomon to replace Sen. Dwight Takamine after he, too, resigned to join the Abercrombie administration. Their latest story is here.

I wish the O‘ahu Democratic Party was as open and the island media as attentive in providing information about the replacement of Sen. Colleen Hanabusa by Rep. Maile Shimabukuro and the current process to replace Shimabukuro.

Update: Abercrombie’s office announced this afternoon that he’s appointing Kahele, 68, to the Senate seat.

***

I had to chuckle at a note in the Trib story that the Democrats’ weekend selection event was held at the Puna Hongwanji Mission.

I have absolutely no personal objections; it’s so Big Island and part of the island’s political charm. But I couldn’t help but imagine how the party’s increasingly vocal separation-of-church-and-state crowd would scream bloody murder if Republicans held such an event at a Hope Chapel.

It points up again how efforts of some Democrats to obliterate religion from public life blatantly targets Christianity over other faiths — a bias that will ultimately come back to bite the Democrats.

Let’s lower our voices for Christina

January 10, 2011

Christina Taylor Green

The most heartbreaking image for me in the shooting attack that seriously wounded Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others is this photo the family circulated of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the youngest of the six who were killed.

This child who was born on 9/11 loved her country and cherished our peaceful political traditions so much that she recently got herself elected to the student council and went to Giffords’ event to meet her congresswoman and get some pointers.

Now she’s gone because of an act of political violence as senseless as the one on the day she was born.

Nobody knows at this point what motivated the suspect, but as an attack on a political target, it’s forcing a long-overdue national reflection on the increasingly hateful nature of the politics by which divergent groups of Americans relate to one another.

The question is whether it’ll be productive soul-searching that brings changes in some of the extreme things we say and do or just a continuation of the poisonous posturing on a new front.

If what happened to this beautiful little girl, a good congresswoman and the others doesn’t serve as a wake-up call that we’ve cranked up the hate way too far, it’s hard to be optimistic that anything ever will.

flASHback alert

January 8, 2011

My flASHback column in today Star-Advertiser: “The sea gets our sewage, government gets our cash.”

Tweet your views on Board of Education; ‘Olelo dispute resolved?

January 7, 2011

Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda is holding a Twitter town hall from 11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m. today on the constitutional amendment recently passed by voters to change the state Board of Education from elected to appointed.

The Legislature must enact enabling legislation before the switch can be made, and there are conflicting views on how the appointments should be done.

The intent of the amendment was to hold the governor more accountable for education and many, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, believe he should be able to appoint whomever he wishes, subject to Senate confirmation.

But some lawmakers have proposed to effectively take the appointments away from the governor — and his accountability — by limiting his choices to as few as two candidates provided by a screening committee.

To participate at twitter.com, direct questions and comments to @jilltokuda and include the hashtag #askjill in messages. You can keep up with the discussion in real time or catch up with it afterward by following #askjill.

You need a Twitter account to post questions and comments, but not to follow.

***

In a bit of old business, I’m told that Senate leaders have decided to preserve an  ‘Olelo studio on the fourth floor of the Capitol that legislators use to film communications with their constituents.

House Republicans objected after being told the space would be converted to a hearing room for the Judiciary and Labor Committee.

It seemed resolvable, and good for them if it’s been settled to everybody’s satisfaction.

Don’t count out Inouye

January 6, 2011

Many assume that Hawai‘i Sen. Daniel Inouye’s influence will wane in Washington and at home if Republicans follow through on their threat to block earmarks, or porkbarrel spending.

That’s not necessarily so. Lawmakers will find creative ways to direct federal spending to pet projects in their home states whether it’s called earmarking or not. As Senate Appropriations chairman, Inouye will be in the middle of the deal-making.

But more than that, Inouye, who was sworn in yesterday for a ninth term and could become the longest-serving U.S. senator in history, remains important because of the senatorial values he represents.

Inouye is in many ways the last of his kind, from the old school of courtly senators who believed in collegiality, bipartisanship, and most of all, the Senate’s elaborate rules that have enabled the body to provide stability in trying times.

Senators including Inouye acted in a statesmanlike and bipartisan manner to prevent a constitutional crisis after Watergate. More recently, a Republican-led Senate refused to go along with dubious attempts by House Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton.

Inouye has joined bipartisan efforts to prevent sidestepping of Senate rules for short-term political gain, and every committee he’s led has tried to move legislation that the minority as well as the majority could support.

But the Senate has become more partisan and ideological with every recent election, and this Congress will be the biggest test ever of whether the values of compromise and statesmanship represented by Inouye’s generation still rule.

Inouye made his pitch for the old values at his swearing-in yesterday, saying, “After nearly half a century of service in the Senate, I can assure you with great confidence that meaningful change is most often the product of bipartisan effort.”

The question is whether his colleagues from the younger generation will see him as a guidepost or a relic.


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