Richard Nixon: The Social Liberal Of His Time

Published: mic (August 25, 2013)

Holy Overreaction, Batman! Why Ben Affleck Deserves a Chance

Published: mic (August 24, 2013)

The nerd community is in a fit over the recent announcement that Ben Affleck will be donning the legendary cowl in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie. Here are 10 reasons why they should give the man a chance.

1. He’s a talented actor.

Not only did he do an excellent job in the Oscar-winner Argo (although he was snubbed for his acting as well as his directing in that flick), he also impressed in movies like Shakespeare in Love, Dogma, Boiler Room, and To The Wonder. Before anyone tries to dredge up Daredevil as a means of rebutting this assertion, bear in mind that most of the problems with that movie had absolutely nothing to do with Affleck’s performance. Indeed, if anything, the main criticism that can be made about Affleck is his penchant for picking bad scripts (Armageddon, Reindeer Games, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas, to name only a few). No matter how skilled a thespian might be, a shoddy script and sub-par directing will always tank their film, a fact that anyone who has seen George Clooney in Batman & Robin knows perfectly well. Speaking of which…

2. He is a fitting entry on the litany of celluloid Caped Crusaders.

Ignoring the Batman movies of the 1940s, which I’ve never seen, the current roster of silver screen dark knights includes Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale. When you slide Affleck’s name onto that list, it’s pretty hard to argue that he is unworthy of being there. Certainly no one wants the kind of camp-fest you’d get with a West movie (and given that Zack Snyder is helming this project, the odds are you won’t get one), and Affleck’s chops are certainly on par with those of Keaton and Kilmer any day. While I’d agree that he hasn’t proven himself to the same degree as Bale, the same is certainly true of Clooney, who has turned in much richer and more complicated performances than anything we’ve seen from Affleck (Three Kings, Solaris, Syriana, The Men Who Stare At Goats)… and yet headlined the abysmal aforementioned Batman & Robin. Of course, his performance wasn’t the issue in that movie, which reinforces what should be our takeaway lesson here — i.e., as long as the star is competent, which is certainly true of Affleck, the writing and directing will be far more important in determining the quality of this movie. This brings me to…

3. Ben Affleck is a critically acclaimed writer and director.

Don’t believe me? Just check out the Rotten Tomatoes scores for Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote with Matt Damon, or Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, which he both wrote and directed. Given the writing issues that many felt plagued Man of Steel (which have been brilliantly broken down by Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman in their online review), fans should not only be more worried that the sequel will contain more of the same (especially since director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer are slated to reprise their respective roles), they should actually hope that Affleck has some measure of creative input. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether that will actually happen, but it seems far more valid to worry about the spotty writing of the people pounding out a script than the demonstrably decent acting of one of the new stars.

4. Remember Michael Keaton.

As the creators of the classic 1989 Batman recalled in Shadows of the Batthe fan backlash when Michael Keaton was announced was enormous, with over 50,000 letters of protest being sent to Warner Brothers at the time. As Tim Burton later explained, “I think they thought we were going to make it like the 1960s TV series, and make it campy, because they thought of Michael Keaton from Mr. Mom and Night Shift and stuff like that.” Instead Keaton’s subtle and introspective performance utterly transformed the franchise’s image in the popular imagination (Frank Miller had already revived the darker Batman ethos with his early graphic novels in the 1980s, but the popular conception of the character remained that of the campy 1960s TV series), so much so that the Nostalgia Critic has convincingly argued that Keaton was superior even to Christian Bale himself. In short, history has shown us that we shouldn’t jump the gun in reacting to potentially controversial casting choices. If Keaton deserved the benefit of the doubt, Affleck undeniably warrants the same treatment.

Is this my way of saying that Affleck will do a great job? Absolutely not — it is entirely possible that, two years hence, I will look back on this article with chagrin shortly after I wander dazed out of the theater playing Batman vs. Superman. That said, the hyperbolic reactions are premature at best. Indeed, we should apply the sage words of the Bale Batman to the upcoming Affleck incarnation:

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

Arkansas Passes a Bill That Cracks Down On People With Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Art

Published: mic (August 21, 2013)

Last March, the Arkansas State Senate voted 26 to 4 in favor of SB 387, a bill limiting tattoos, piercings, and other forms of body art that it deemed “untraditional.”

After making several modifications, the State’s House of Representatives has started to coalesce behind a compromise measure (which can be seen here) that could, plausibly, be sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. Because of its vague wording, it’s difficult to construe exactly which procedures would be “limited” or outright banned. While the bill only specifically proscribes dermal implants, its language regarding tattoos is ambiguous enough that some pundits have expressed concern it could be interpreted more broadly.

Where does one even begin?

Let’s start with the obvious: This measure is flagrantly unconstitutional. Not only does our founding document say nothing about allowing the state to control what its citizens do with its bodies, but the First Amendment clearly prohibits government efforts at “abridging the freedom of speech,” which our courts have repeatedly found includes forms of artistic expression like corporal modification. Indeed, the two main arguments used to support this ban — i.e., that it’s immoral and/or unhealthy — can be neatly rebutted with a particularly fitting observation from Thomas Jefferson:

“The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.”

Beneath these fundamental questions involving the protection of our basic freedoms, however, there is another great issue at play — namely, the social stigma that continues to be associated to non-traditional lifestyles.

A good chunk of the culture war that rages in this country today traces back to the odium attached to the unorthodox, be it chosen (such as body modification) or innate (such as sexual preferences). The most apparent front in this war, the political one, tends to manifest itself in either (a) conservative efforts to limit the rights and increase the ostracization of those who are unorthodox and/or (b) liberal and libertarian efforts to protect those rights that already exist and acquire them for groups that currently lack them (e.g., homosexuals). Given the attitudes of Jefferson and our other Founding Fathers on these issues, as demonstrated above, it is easy enough to conceive of a path to victory here.

Winning the other front of the culture war, however — the one involving prevailing social attitudes — is a good deal trickier. While the arm of the law can do its job by preventing discrimination and resisting efforts by intolerant groups to impose their moral values on others, it cannot force society to accept what it has grown accustomed to scorn, even if its rejection is born of prejudice. No statute can protect people with tattoos and piercings from facing snap judgments about their character when applying for jobs, dealing with authority figures, or even just interacting with ordinary strangers in their day-to-day lives. For those changes to be made, a broader and deeper recognition needs to occur throughout our society, one that would effect not only fans of body art but everyone whose lifestyles, by choice or otherwise, deviate from normative bounds.

It would involve the adoption of a consequentialist philosophical ethic to our day-to-day social habits, of the idea that if one person’s non-traditional actions or choices aren’t forcing harm on others, they should not perceived as grounds for disparaging their character. Not only would such an attitude make bills like SB 387 impossible, but it would strengthen the free character of our society. While fair and just laws provide the skeleton for a free nation, the lifeblood of liberty consists of the millions upon millions of interactions we carry on every day in our own individual lives. If we allow ourselves to harbor assumptions that curtail the freedom of others – whether by actively wanting them to be oppressed or perpetuating inaccurate beliefs that cumulatively and ultimately result in hardships being imposed on them – then all of the liberty ostensibly protected by the framework of the state will be soured down its very marrow. When that happens, outbreaks of civic anemia like the proposed Arkansas law become not only possible, but inevitable.

There are two steps involved in solving this problem. The first is already being undertaken in the various campaigns to stop local and national governments from punishing non-traditional lifestyles, from campaigns to legalize marijuana and end anti-gay discrimination to the movement afoot against Arkansas’s anti-body art bill. The second, however, consists of changing the attitudes we carry with us every day. It can’t be mandated by a law or brought about through a sweeping social movement, but it is equally crucial all the same. If nothing else, SB 387 affords us the opportunity to not only preserve our liberties as citizens of a theoretically free state, but to closely evaluate whether we create a free society in how we treat each other.

This is the Most Important U.S. President That You’ve Never Heard About

Published: mic (August 20, 2013)

As liberals prepare to celebrate President Benjamin Harrison’s birthday today ….

I’m sorry? Most people don’t know that August 20 is Harrison’s birthday, much less care?

Well, that certainly is a pity. After all, if it wasn’t for Harrison, many of the policies liberals consider so important today might have never been enacted. Indeed, it was the Harrison administration that was responsible for such bills as:

1. The Dependent Pension Act of 1890. To fully appreciate the importance of this bill, one must first understand the origins of the modern welfare state in America. As policy historian Theda Skocpol has pointed out, the first comprehensive social insurance system established in this country was the veteran pension program enacted after the Civil War. Although its original function was to support Union veterans and veteran dependents who could trace their financial difficulties to injuries and/or deaths caused by the war, many began to call for it to provide benefits for anyone connected to the Union cause (as a veteran or veteran dependent) who was suffering from economic hardship that was perceived as being beyond their control, regardless of whether their difficulties were causally linked to the war itself. Because virtually everyone outside the South fell under this aegis, this constituted a de facto welfare program for all of the poor and struggling within the Civil War generation … one that Harrison’s immediate predecessor, Grover Cleveland, opposed in a number of ways (which I discuss in more detail in Chapter One of my master’s thesis here). Upon taking office, Harrison rejected Cleveland’s position and immediately began pushing for the enactment of the most ambitious economic relief measure in our nation’s history up to that point, one that provided general relief for those considered unable to find sustainable employment for themselves and nearly doubled both the pension budget and the number of pensioners by the end of Harrison’s term. For better or worse, the dam for social insurance in this country had been broken, with 20th century presidents from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Barack Obama building on the logic and precedent established by Harrison.

2. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Before the Sherman Antitrust Act, the federal government had never seriously attempted to regulate the large private corporations that had already become a dominant feature of America’s socioeconomic life (Andrew Jackson’s war on the Second National Bank being an arguable exception). This bill forever changed that, explicitly prohibiting anticompetitive business practices by outlawing cartels and monopolies as well as authorizing the government to investigate trusts and companies believed to be in violation of its tenets. Although Harrison has been criticized for not aggressively enforcing the law after its passage, the very fact that he expended so much political capital putting it into place works to his credit. What’s more, without this bill, it is impossible to imagine any of the big business regulations from Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama ever being passed.

3. The Forest Reserve Act and Land Reserve Act of 1891. What the Dependent Pension Act did for social insurance and the Sherman Antitrust Act did for big business regulation, the Forest Reserve Act and Land Reserve Act did for modern environmental legislation. Although Theodore Roosevelt is often credited as America’s first great conservationist president, these Harrison era bills were the first ones to nationally designate land for the specific purpose of ecological protection. Setting aside millions of acres of wilderness, they not only made the nature preservation efforts of later presidents possible, but marked the first time in which the federal government implemented any kind of major program with primarily naturalist objectives in mind, be they protecting the public interest from deforestation, pollution, and the loss of recreational space (for hunting, camping, etc.) or simply recognizing environmental preservation as a justifiable end in its own right.

4. The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1890 and the Federal Elections Bill of 1890. Of all the issues in which Harrison established himself as ahead of his time, none stand out as more heroic than his efforts on behalf of civil rights. With the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1890, Harrison built on a bill passed by Abraham Lincoln that used federal money to establish land-grant colleges the forebears of modern state universities by requiring states to either admit all qualified students regardless of race or create separate institutions for non-white applicants. Bolder still, Harrison threw his political weight behind the Federal Elections Bill of 1890, which would have authorized the government to send federal troops into the South to protect African American voters from violence and intimidation. Unfortunately, neither of these measures were entirely successful; although the Morrill Land-Grant Act did lead to the creation of several historic black school, its provisions guaranteeing equal education opportunities for minority students were usually ignored by the states, while the Federal Elections Bill failed to pass due to a last-minute in which Republicans who wanted to monetize silver sabotaged the measure to obtain Southern Democratic support for the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 (another Harrison measure). As much as Harrison should be commended for being the last president to passionately strive for meaningful pro-civil rights legislation before the mid-20th Century, it is sobering that these were his least successful domestic policy efforts.

This isn’t to say that all of Harrison’s policies adhere to liberal values. Like most other politicians of his era, Harrison staunchly believed that America should pursue an imperialist destiny, which drove him to push for increasingly bellicose measures from expanding our navy to attempting to annex weaker nations in our hemisphere (most infamously involving his support for a Hawaiian coup d’etat that Grover Cleveland, his successor, laudably staved off). When confronted with a pair of labor strikes in 1892, Harrison followed the example of previous presidents in throwing his weight behind big business and against the unions. Similarly, instead of trying to tame the plutocratic forces in his own party that insisted on exorbitant tariff rates so as to “protect” American businesses, Harrison became their willing captive, passing a tariff bill so steep (the McKinley Tariff Act) that it collected far more revenue than necessary to pay for the government and wound up branding the legislature with the epithet “The Billion Dollar Congress.” Finally, like his predecessors, Harrison had little sympathy for the plight of Native Americans, ordering the military campaign that ultimately resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Lakota Sioux at the Battle of Wounded Knee (as well as generally favoring assimilation and the suppression of indigenous cultures).

While none of these shortcomings should be downplayed, they don’t diminish what was otherwise a great legacy. So why isn’t Harrison better remembered today?

There are a number of reasons for this. In general, the 36 years separating Abraham Lincoln’s administration from that of Theodore Roosevelt is shrouded in obscurity, with most Americans preferring the gravitas of the former and charisma of the latter for the relative blandness of the eight men who came between them (even Ulysses S. Grant, who served as president during this period, is best remembered as a Civil War general). Not helping matters was Harrison’s notoriously icy personality, one that Roosevelt himself unflatteringly described as that of a “a coldblooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.” Finally, the controversy surrounding the “Billion Dollar Congress” combined with Cleveland’s personal popularity and the dubious circumstances of Harrison’s victory in 1888 to cost him reelection in 1892, rendering him one of only 10 incumbent presidents to be denied an additional term of office in a general election (with the others being John Adams, John Q. Adams, Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, William Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush).

As we celebrate the 180th anniversary of Harrison’s birth, however, it is time for us to reevaluate his current obscurity. Even the detached historical scholar can’t disagree that he was a remarkably transformative and important president and, as such, deserving of greater scrutiny. If you are a liberal who supports policies that provide social insurance for the working class and poor, generously supports our veterans, regulates big business to safeguard the public interest, protects our natural environment, and fights against the scourge of racial discrimination, it is hard to think of a president more deserving of image rehabilitation than Benjamin Harrison.

The Chris Christie vs. Rand Paul Civil War is the Best Thing the GOP Could Ask For

Published: mic (August 12, 2013)

While Sarah Palin rarely provokes anything more than justified contempt among the left, her recent announcement that she is on “Team Rand” is as good a cause as any for liberals to remind themselves of why the ongoing feud between the libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the center-right New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) — two of the top contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — is a cause for celebration. Here’s why:

1. It could end the era of the Republican Party serving as an ideological monolith.

Believe it or not, there once was a time when Republicanism was not automatically associated with the neoconservatism of George W. Bush and the rightist libertarianism of Tea Partyers. From its inception in 1854 as a vehicle for opposing the westward expansion of slavery through the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the GOP used to be renowned for its ability to shelter a wide range of political philosophies under a single partisan umbrella. More often than not, these disparate groups would be able to unify behind a single national candidate who could fairly represent all (or at least many) of their interests. When that failed, and the soul of the party became a hotly contested property, and the struggles between ideological champions became the stuff of political legend: See the 1912 crusade of the party’s intellectual wing against the more business-oriented establishment, the 1952 showdown between New Deal-era centrism and pre-FDR libertarianism, the 1964 battle between the progressivism of the Eastern states and the conservatism of the Southern and Western regions, and the 1976 rehash of the 1964 conflict, to name only a few. While ideological flare-ups have not been unknown since 1980, each of the aforementioned clashes were distinguished by the genuine uncertainty pertaining to the outcome. Since the Reagan Revolution, however, no faction dissenting from the programmatic consensus of the post-Reagan conservative coalition has had a realistic chance of seizing control of the party, regardless of whether it attacks the establishment from the left or right.

2. It would reintroduce a liberal perspective into Republican foreign policy.

Although progressive and conservative factions could be found grappling for control of the GOP as “recently” as 1976, the last non-interventionist presidential prospect to come within striking distance of the Republican nomination was Robert Taft in 1952 . This is a particularly tragic development, given that presidents all the way back to George Washington have expressed grave concerns about the dangers of America overextending its influence abroad. Even if one believes that the practical realities of the modern world necessitate our current global presence (as Christie has repeatedly claimed), it is hard to convincingly claim that the alternate perspective should not at least have a prominent place in our foreign policy discourse. Just as there is a need for Christie’s belief that an expansive security state and active world presence is vital to America’s safety and ideals, so too do we benefit from Paul’s voice challenging the constitutionality of the NSA spying program and pointing out the dangers of “a foreign policy that borrows from China to pay people who burn our flag in Egypt.” Indeed, as we mark the 115th anniversary of the end of the Spanish-American War today — the conflict that began America’s transformation into an imperialist power beyond our own hemisphere — the need for a contrary view is more crucial than ever. As progressive Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob Bob” La Follette of (R-Wis.) prophetically warned, “Every nation has its war party … It is commercial, imperialistic, ruthless. It tolerates no opposition.”

3. Similarly, it would reintroduce a liberal perspective into Republican economic policy.

Although Christie is hardly an economic progressive, his defense of federal assistance to the needy — from his support of moderate (and reduced) welfare programs in his state to his push for reconstruction funds after Hurricane Sandy — is in stark contrast to Paul’s dogmatic libertarianism on that same front. This is essential considering that, since 1980, the thrust of Republican politics has focused more and more on dismantling social insurance programs of all kinds (or at the very least offering temporary accommodations with the eventual hope of eliminating them). Before that year, however, some of America’s most important federal economic projects were born from Republican presidents: Abraham Lincoln created the first income tax, the first progressive income tax , the land-grant college system that eventually led to state colleges, and America’s first transcontinental railroad. Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to pass meaningful legislation pertaining to food and drug regulation, railroad regulation, conservation , as well as was the first to aggressively fight against business trusts and defend the rights of labor. Dwight Eisenhower, along with keeping top marginal income tax rates at 91% (compared to under 40% today), signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956 into law, which created the modern Interstate Highway System. Once again, the key question here is not whether one agrees with these and comparable left-wing economic ideas, but rather whether they should have defenders in the Republican as well as Democratic circles. If one truly believes in unfettered debate, it is hard to argue that only one party should have advocates of the progressive perspective on these questions.

It is tempting to include a fourth argument here — i.e., the notion that a feud within the Republican Party would strengthen the Democrats’ chances of winning in 2016. While a case can certainly be made to that effect, I would argue that a meaningful debate in the GOP would be more likely to strengthen than weaken that organization. If nothing else, it would provide an important makeover to the party’s public image. In the 2012 election, it became obvious that the dust of years of forced ideological consensus had accumulated to such an extent that voters could not help but take notice. If that dust is shaken off, the party will not only increase its chances of winning, but also will offer liberal-minded and other independent voters a means of identifying with a party that once seemed entirely alien to them. Even if that identification only comes with a handful of issues, and is only achieved piecemeal and over the years, it would still be a legitimate cause for rejoicing on the left.

Eric Holder May Have Just Made One Of the Biggest Decisions in U.S. History

Published: mic (August 12, 2013)

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will stop imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences on a number of non-violent drug offenders.

As he explained in a prepared statement:

“I have mandated a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels, will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.”

Given that the United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other large country, and that most of these incarcerations are the product of the harsh anti-drug laws passed by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, the Obama administration’s new policy makes a great deal of practical and moral sense. Indeed, with Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational cannibis use last November and popular health pundit like Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently reversing his stance on medical marijuana, Holder’s order seems less like a bold advance in favor of drug liberalization than it does a recognition of our society’s shifting sensibilities on drug policy.

This is unfortunate, because if ever there was a potential political lightning rod just waiting to receive its first electric jolt, it’s this one.

By way of historical analogy, let us look at Prohibition. For decades a diverse coalition of special interests could be found demanding the abolition of alcohol in America, from evangelical Protestant organizations that focused on the moral aspects of the issue to women’s groups which viewed it as a matter of protecting our domestic life. After being advocated for nearly a century, the so-called temperance movement triumphed in 1919, first with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and then with the passage of the Volstead Act for its enforcement. To some observers, it seemed that America had used the letter of the law to forever stamp liquor out of our national life.

A little more than a decade later, however, that law was repealed.

It is easy enough to understand why by looking at the havoc wreaked by Prohibition itself. Instead of reducing crime, it caused a spike in criminality, as perhaps most prominently embodied by the career of notorious gangland leader Al Capone. Similarly, instead of eliminating alcoholism from our public life, it simply forced it underground, with even avowed Prohibitionists like President Warren Harding sneaking liquor whenever the opportunity presented itself. By any reasonable measure, Prohibition was an abysmal failure, one that cost taxpayers millions while falling far short of its own professed goals.

At the same time, even a failed law can remain in place if the body politic lacks the will to remove it. The persistence of marijuana prohibition, and the continuation of what Holder rightly described as “draconian” mandatory minimum sentences for other illicit substances, is proof of that. While the obvious shortcomings of Prohibition were instrumental in its eventual overturning, the process was further facilitated by the fact that national political leaders heard and heeded the call of larger social movements devoted to legalizing alcohol again. From Alfred Smith, the progressive New York governor who served as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 1928 (as well as the first Catholic to ever be nominated by a major party for the presidency), to Franklin Roosevelt himself, it took the support of people at the top to lend legitimacy to the clamoring of the grassroots movements supporting civil liberty … and, ultimately, to effect their will.

While the Obama administration’s recent actions are no doubt a step in the right direction, it is unfortunate that he has yet to seize the opportunity to position himself in a Rooseveltian position on the issue of the drug wars. No doubt this is because of obvious differences between Prohibition and our current drug policies, from the financial stakes involved (with the prison-industrial complex today being far more powerful than its Prohibition era antecedent) to the respective political movements advocating repeal (with the anti-Prohibitionists being far better organized and coordinated than their Drug War-era counterparts today). At the same time, a true leader isn’t someone who waits for fortuitous conditions before planting the seeds of progress, but is bold enough to take whatever cultivation measures he can in order to create and ultimately reap a meaningful harvest. That’s why, as I heard Holder’s statement, I found myself wishing for something closer to what Franklin Roosevelt said when explaining his opposition to Prohibition during the 1932 presidential election. After describing the “complete and tragic failure” of Prohibition as consisting of “encouragement of lawlessness … corruption, hypocrisy, crime and disorder” and “the spread of intemperance,” he went on to point out that the failure “came of very good reason,” to whit:

“We have depended too largely upon the power of governmental action instead of recognizing that the authority of the home and that of the churches in these matters is the fundamental force on which we must build. The recent recognition of this fact by the present Administration is an amazing piece of hindsight. There are others who have had foresight. A friend showed me recently an unpublished letter of Henry Clay, written a hundred years ago. In this letter Clay said that the movement for temperance ‘has done great good and will continue to do more’ but ‘it will destroy itself whenever it resorts to coercion or mixes in the politics of the country.’

“Another statesman, given to the Nation by this State of New Jersey, pointed out this necessary course when Federal Prohibition first became a great issue. President Wilson foresaw the economic and social results of such an attempt. It was not necessary for him to live through the disastrous experience in order to come to the conclusion now confessed by our present President. In statesmanship an ounce of foresight is better than a pound of hindsight.”

One can only hope that Obama will further utilize the foresight that revealed itself, albeit in its most nascent form, in Attorney General Holder’s actions today. If so, there is indeed a chance that he will elevate himself to the level of statesmanship on this issue.

Immigration Reform 2013: Why Did the Media Ignore Yesterday’s Rallies?

Published: mic (August 6, 2013)

When Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) visited Harrisburg, Pa., Monday to headline a political event for Congressman Scott Perry (R), he was greeted by more than the usual crowd of GOP well-wishers. As a crowd of protesters supporting Obama’s immigration reform policy assembled outside Metro Bank Park, they could be heard chanting “Serve the needy, not the greedy” and “Move Boehner, get out of the way. You’re not welcome in PA.”

This event, though spontaneous, did not occur in isolation. Hundreds of events took place throughout the nation Monday to rally support for Obama’s immigration reform legislation, including 10 in Pennsylvania alone. As a resident of the Keystone State myself, I made a point of participating in one such activity, a small phone banking effort to try to persuade residents of the 15th congressional district to contact our representative, moderate Republican Charlie Dent, and solicit his support for the bill.

There are two reasons why this story deserves attention. The first, and most obvious, is that the measures put forward by Obama and the Senate “Gang of Eight,” though differing in important particulars, are both built upon the same fundamental (and integral) policy foundations. Operating as they do on the premise that there are four pillars to meaningful immigration reform (strengthening border security, modernizing our legal system, demanding employer accountability, and providing a pathway to citizenship for residing illegal immigrants) any bill comparable to those proposed would mark a historic shift in our nation’s immigration policy, akin to the Immigration Act of 1924 (which applied quotas to immigration from nations whose inhabitants were considered undesirable for racial reasons), the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 (which removed the 1924 quotas while restricting Mexican immigration), or the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (which granted a pathway to citizenship to some illegal immigrants while making it a crime to hire them).

Just as important, however, is that a nationwide effort took place to promote these reforms … and the media paid scant attention.

The mind wanders back a few years, when the Koch brothers were funding Tea Party movements throughout the nation to undermine various aspects of Obama’s policy agenda and the press corps lapped it up. Now it’s an Obama group, Organize for Action (OFA), that is orchestrating the grassroots movement (and to its credit, it is open about its involvement, unlike the Brothers Koch), but while its participants are just authentic as the Tea Partiers of yesteryear, the so-called “liberal media” barely noticed.

There are several reasons why this may be the case. For one thing, politics isn’t the hot topic now that it was a few years ago; for any multitude of reasons, immigration reform and climate change aren’t grabbing the public attention as did health care reform back in 2009 and 2010. What’s more, anti-incumbent movements always have more cache than those which support a given presidential administration, regardless of whether the “oppositional” cause is any more authentic in its genesis than those supporting the ostensible establishment. Finally, there is the unfortunate reality that news organizations prefer stories with spice: Because the OFA events did not involve over-the-top emotions or veiled threats of violence, they were simply not as marketable.

Regardless of the reason, though, the fact that this day of action occurred at all deserves greater public attention. If one is going to argue that the Tea Party provided a voice for one side in our current political debate (the origin of that voice notwithstanding), then it is hard to dispute that the activities of OFA on immigration reform provide an equally compelling platform for a point-of-view that should receive real attention. The people who are volunteering their time and energy to help Obama fulfill the promises that got him reelected last year are acting because they care just as passionately as their conservative counterparts. As long as the media continues to neglect them, they are going to be depriving our nation of the full story about the political debate that continues to rage on — and, for progressives, of an important outlet that is available to them to exercise their political agency.


Top 10 Signs You’re In Israel

Published: mic (August 1, 2013)
co-author Tillie Adelson

Before we were columnists at PolicyMic, Tillie Adelson and I were just ordinary Jewish twenty-somethings visiting Israel for the first time through Yael Adventures. Yael, or Birthright as it is better known, is a program that offers a free trip to the Jewish State for young Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 who have never been there before. It was an experience that both of us found deeply rewarding and would highly recommend to others … and, like all things we love, prompted us to muse about some of its more comic aspects.

You know you’ve been on Birthright when:

1. You feel inadequate because Israelis somehow are all in ridiculously good shape.

I’m not sure how they pull it off but Israelis tend to be able to keep a very in shape physique. Maybe it’s their involvement in the army or the ridiculous amounts of hummus and veggies they eat: either way they it always seems to amaze us Americans!

2. Your breath smells like hummus because you’ve eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Hummus, for breakfast, hummus for lunch, and hummus for dinner: there is no shortage of hummus in Israel! Every hotel you stay in has a lovely buffet breakfast and dinner and you can bet that hummus will surely be included in that menu!

3. You are overwhelmed with musical nostalgia.

It seems like the American songs which make their way to Israel are about ten years out of date. When we arrived in 2010, the night clubs were playing Hanson, Backstreet Boys, and Spice Girls. We can’t wait to hear the return of Lady Gaga when we visit Israel in the 2020s.

4. You realize that Big Macs can actually taste like real cheeseburgers.

When our tour guide told us that we might be able to visit the world’s first kosher McDonald’s at Mevaseret Zion, those of us with somewhat less refined palates naturally wanted to see how an Israeli Big Mac would taste. The answer was … like an actual cheeseburger! A real, bona fide, thick, juicy, flavorful cheeseburger!

5. You realize that bedouins actually know how to make coffee.

One of the best parts of any trip to Israel is getting to spend the night at a bedouin camp. Similarly, one of the best parts of crashing at a bedouin community is trying bedouin coffee, which we quickly learned is absolutely nothing like its American analogue. It’s served in shot glasses and exists not to taste good, but to wake you up. And it works!

6. You have to be careful around the camels.

To be fair, neither of us intended to violate the bedouin’s advice about the camels, THOUGH they were kind enough to let us ride. Just as we would trust a prize-winning equestrian on all matters involving the welfare and upkeep of horses, so too did we realize almost immediately that our bedouin guides knew everything one could possibly need to know about how to interact with camels. Even so, mistakes can be made, such as when one of us accidentally left an apple in our jacket pocket and found ourselves stalked by a hungry camel during our several-mile hike through the Negev desert. The results can be found here.

7. You learn the world does not revolve around America.

Americans are notorious for assuming that other countries are constantly thinking and talking about it, a phenomenon that is especially true about Israel. Yet when the average Israeli was asked about American politics, they usually responded with the same bored half-attention that an American would offer when asked about Israeli politics. The same goes for pop culture news; in fact, both of us remember leaving America thinking Jay Leno was just another comedian and returning to find out that his feud with Conan O’Brien had made his name mud throughout the comedy world! When you’re in Israel, it’s like being in a foreign country … which, of course, is exactly what one should expect.

8. You mistook the tour guide for the super peppy overly excited kid that introduced themselves at the airport.

There is always that one overly-excited participant: you know the one I’m talking about!  The one you spot at the airport who has the brochure in their hand and immediately greets you as if they’re the leader of the trip and you later find out they are simply a participant. Oy Vey! Once off the plane, they are already chirping in everyone’s ear about the adventures we’re all about to embark on. Although this person can be a bit of an annoyance, they are an important element to the group: you’ve always got to have someone to roll your eyes at!

9. You’ve stumbled upon the wholesale textile street in Tel Aviv.

Israeli fashion has certainly come into its own. I found quite a few beautiful boutiques housed by independent designers. There certainly is a booming fashion industry there, and even more so, a booming textile industry.

10. You stayed at a Kibbutz and enjoyed the joys of the camping-esque communal living (Israeli style).

What’s Israel without a Kibbutz or Birthright without a Kibbutz visit?  We certainly enjoyed our stay on one where we sang by the campfire, ate in the communal kitchen, and stayed in the camp-like rooms.  It was actually a very welcoming and fun experience.

If you’re Jewish, than you have probably been approached by a friend who has gone on Birthright in order to see if you would want to go.  If you have not gone yet, our advice is surely to go, mainly for the reasons we have stated above … but also to enjoy another country for free!  This trip is literally a free lunch, and that really doesn’t happen anymore.  There is so much fun to be had on these trips, from the culture, to the friendships and to the adventures.