Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 15th, 2009

Good thoughts for your garden

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Excellent post at the Ethicurean on building your own tomato cages: better than you can buy and cheaper, too.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 7:57 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Senate is very badly broken

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And seems totally owned by wealthy contributors. In The New Republic Jonathan Chait has an article that is really worth reading. I linked to it in an earlier post, but I wanted to emphasize it. A few paragraphs, just as an example:

… The tone of the Senate’s disposition toward Obama was set from the very beginning. Coming into office during a severe economic emergency, he hoped that Congress would have a bill to jump-start consumer demand ready to sign immediately upon taking office. And most Democrats supported Obama’s position, though eleven House moderates defected, while a handful of their Senate colleagues joined with Republican moderates to water down the legislation. Economic forecasters projected that the original House bill would increase employment by 3.5 million. After the Senate rewrote the bill, forecasters downgraded their estimate to just 2.5 million. Moderates regarded their contribution with deep satisfaction…

… The first sign of how the Senate would respond came on February 27, when Kent Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, gave an interview to CNBC. Conrad listed three objections to Obama’s budget. First, he opposed a provision to limit tax deductions for high-income earners. Second, he opposed a new cap on crop subsidies to farmers who take in more than $500,000 per year. And, third, he upbraided Obama for not doing more to reduce the budget deficit.

You might think a performance like this–demanding that Obama do more to reduce the deficit while simultaneously opposing his deficit-reducing measures–would have turned Conrad into a punch line. Instead, it launched him as a symbol of fiscal rectitude and encouraged fellow Democrats to follow in his hypocritical wake. Numerous Democrats have since stepped forward to join what news reports have accurately described as a "revolt" against Obama’s budget…

And this one takes the cake:

The most emblematic objection has come from [Sen. Ben] Nelson [D-Neb}, who is balking at Obama’s plan to save money on college loans. You might suppose that a fiscal conservative like Nelson would agree with Obama’s plan to save $4 billion on a social program. But he does not, for reasons that provide a useful window into the rot afflicting the congressional Democratic Party.

For many years, the federal government supported college education by guaranteeing bank loans to students. If a student defaulted on his loan, Washington would simply pay back the difference. In 1993, Clinton undertook to reform the program by cutting out the middlemen and simply having the federal government issue the loans directly. Clinton hoped to save money for the government and plow some of those savings into lower interest rates for students. Of course, private lenders who benefitted from the no-risk profit stream balked and forced a compromise whereby both kinds of loans—guaranteed private loans, and direct loans from the government—would exist side by side.

Recent years have shown beyond a doubt that the direct lending program works better. Every independent analysis—by the Congressional Budget Office, by the Office of Management and Budget under each of the last three presidents, and by the New America Foundation–has found that direct lending is cheaper. The guaranteed-loan program managed to cling to life through its congressional patrons and through simple graft. In 2007, a major student-loan scandal emerged when it turned out that private lenders paid off college administrators to drop out of the direct lending program and steer students to them.

Obama thus proposes to save the taxpayers more than $4 billion per year by ending the guaranteed loans. This is as straightforward a case as you can find of a fight between special interests and the public good. Nelson opposes it because one of the lenders that benefits from federal overpayments is based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Read the entire article, though it is very depressing. We have a thoroughly rotted group of Senators, from both parties.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 7:54 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Thousand-Hand Guan Yin

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This via Constant Reader, who notes:

There is an awesome dance, called the Thousand-Hand Kuan yin, which is making the rounds across the net. Considering the tight coordination required,their accomplishment is nothing short of amazing, even if they were not all deaf.  Yes, you read correctly.  All 21 of the dancers are complete deaf-mutes. Relying only on signals from trainers at the four corners of the stage, these extraordinary dancers deliver a visual spectacle that is at once intricate and stirring.

Its first major international debut was in Athens at the closing ceremonies for the 2004 Paralympics. But it had long been in the repertoire of the Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe and had traveled to more than 40 countries.

Its lead dancer is 29 year old Tai Lihua, who has a BA from the Hubei Fine Arts Institute.  The video was recorded in Beijing during the Spring Festival this year

From the YouTube info:

As long as you are kind and there is love in your heart
A thousand hands will naturally come to your aid
As long as you are kind and there is love in your heart
You will reach out with a thousand hands to help others

Guan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion, revered by Buddhists as the Goddess of Mercy. Her name is short for Guan Shi Yin. Guan means to observe, watch, or monitor; Shi means the world; Yin means sounds, specifically sounds of those who suffer. Thus, Guan Yin is a compassionate being who watches for, and responds to, the people in the world who cry out for help.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 7:45 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

Where your taxes go

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Via Kevin Drum, this informative piece, which includes this chart:

4-14-08tax-f1

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Taibbi rants over Newsweek’s religious issue

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Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Religion

A good Matt Taibbi post

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Good post—and good blog. The post includes:

… This is not a simple rhetorical accomplishment. It requires serious mental gymnastics to describe the Obama administration — particularly the Obama administration of recent weeks, which has given away billions to Wall Street and bent over backwards to avoid nationalization and pursue a policy that  preserves the private for-profit status of the bailed-out banks — as a militaristic dictatorship of anti-wealth, anti-private property forces. You have to somehow explain the Geithner/Paulson decisions to hand over trillions of taxpayer dollars to the rich bankers as the formal policy expression of progressive rage against the rich. Not easy. In order to pull off this argument, in fact, you have to grease the wheels with a lot of apocalyptic language and imagery, invoking as Beck did massive pictures of Stalin and Orwell and Mussolini (side by side with shots of Geithner, Obama and Bernanke), scenes of workers storming the Winter Palace interspersed with anti-AIG protests, etc. — and then maybe you have to add a crazy new twist, like switching from complaints of “socialism” to warnings of “fascism.” Rhetorically, this is the equivalent of trying to paint a picture by hurling huge handfuls of paint at the canvas. It’s desperate, last-ditch-ish behavior.

It’s been strange and kind of depressing to watch the conservative drift in this direction. In a way, actually, the Glenn Beck show has been drearily fascinating of late. It’s not often that we get to watch someone go insane on national television; trapped in an echo chamber of his own spiraling egomania, with apparently no one at his network willing to pull the plug and put him out of his misery, Beck has lately gone from being a mildly annoying media dingbat to a self-imagined messiah who looks like he’s shouldering more and more of the burdens of Christ with each passing day. And because he’s stepping into a vacuum of conservative leadership — there’s no one else out there who is offering real red meat to the winger crowd — he’s begun to attract not professional help but apostles, in the form of Chuck Norris (who believes we have to prepare for armed revolution and may prepare a run for “president of Texas”) and pinhead Midwestern congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, a woman who is looking more and more like George Foreman to Sarah Palin’s Joe Frazier in the Heavyweight Championship of Stupid. Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! …

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Interesting approach to healthcare legislation

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William Galston blogs for The New Republic:

Of all the major items on Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda, health reform has the best chance of passage during the current congress. While many battle-scarred veterans are skeptical, more stars are in alignment than in the past. Previously secure workers have lost, or are afraid of losing, their employer-provided health insurance. Employers are losing confidence that they can continue to provide insurance on terms their workers and businesses can afford. And there is more agreement on the broad outlines of reform than there was 15 years ago, when the collapse of the Clinton initiative chilled comprehensive health insurance efforts for a generation.

The strategic question now before the Congress is whether this year’s legislation will proceed on a bipartisan or Democrats-only basis. Early battles over the stimulus package and the budget have convinced many Democrats that cooperation with Republicans is impossible–or possible only on terms that amount to surrender of key hopes and core principles.

Before framing the health care debate in these terms, however, Democratic leaders should take another look at the Wyden-Bennett "Healthy Americans Act," the only truly bipartisan proposal on offer. Sponsored by six Republican and eight Democratic senators (including liberals like Dan Inouye, Debbie Stabenow, and Jeff Merkley), the HAA would create a centrally financed, publicly regulated private market in health insurance. There’s much else to recommend it: Public standards would ensure that all Americans enjoy coverage at least equal to what members of Congress now enjoy. Employers would terminate their existing coverage and pay the equivalent to their workers in increased wages. They would also be required to pay an assessment per worker of between two and 25 percent of the national average premium for the basic insurance package.Workers would be given a new health premium tax deduction so that wage gains would not increase their income taxes. And premiums for those at or below the poverty level would be fully subsidized, while individuals and families with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of poverty would receive subsidies on a sliding scale.

Would the HAA work? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 4:23 pm

Battle over gay marriage drawing to a close

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Paul Waldman in The American Prospect:

It sometimes seems as though American domestic political history is one long conflict between the guardians of tradition and the forces of progress. The controversies change, but the essence of the battle remains the same, whether the contestants are arguing over slavery, women’s suffrage, Jim Crow, or abortion rights.

But though the larger culture war continues, one by one these controversies can get settled, and we reach a consensus on which side was wrong and which side was right. Today, the hottest culture war issue is gay rights, specifically marriage equality. Although most conservatives will be loath to admit it, this battle is over, and they have lost. Not that there won’t be plenty more arguing, and fights in courts and legislatures and at the ballot box — there will be, and it will take years before there are no more skirmishes. But the outcome is no longer in doubt.

We know this not only because of the extraordinary events of the last couple of weeks, but because of how the debate has shifted so quickly to the left. The most striking change hasn’t been among prominent progressives or Democratic politicians; instead, what’s most remarkable is how far conservatives have moved.

Of course, events are galloping in the right direction: same-sex marriage is now legal in Vermont and Iowa, and the District of Columbia city council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. New York, which also recognizes such out-of-state marriages, could be next. The state assembly there has already passed a marriage equality bill, and the bill is a few votes away from winning a majority in the state Senate (Governor David Patterson supports it, and is attempting to press the issue).

The latest issue of Newsweek notes

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Geithner and the obligation to pay taxes

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Interesting LA Times article that barely touches on the anger over how Geithner, Sibelius, et al., are allowed to skip paying taxes provided only that they pay if caught. Others are not so lucky.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Waiting to Inhale

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Here’s the trailer (more info at WaitingtoInhale.org):

You can watch the whole thing on-line:

Waiting To Inhale – Part 1 (8:00)

Waiting To Inhale – Part 2 (8:00)

Waiting To Inhale – Part 3 (8:00)

Waiting To Inhale – Part 4 (8:00)

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 4:04 pm

Report card on civil liberties

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Adam Serwer looks at how the Obama Administration is doing:

During his inauguration speech, President Barack Obama declared, "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." These were words many Americans who voted for Obama longed to hear — an acknowledgement that American security could not be purchased by shredding the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

In these first few months, the Obama administration has taken a number of positions on issues relating to civil liberties and the fight against terrorism. Below, we look at how the administration has handled its commitment to reversing the policies of the previous administration.

Interrogation
On Jan. 22, 2009, two days after having taken office, Obama issued an executive order instructing all agents of the U.S. government to follow interrogation procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, which bans the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques." The executive order states plainly that individuals in U.S. custody shall "in all circumstances be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person (including murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture), nor to outrages upon personal dignity (including humiliating and degrading treatment)."

This is a marked change from the Bush administration’s guidelines, which held that the "executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack" trumped all legal and treaty obligations governing how detainees should be treated. The Bush administration’s definition of torture "was so narrow as to allow almost anything," according to Ken Gude, an expert on human rights and international law at the Center for American Progress.

"This is the one area where I think we’ve seen the most change. There will be no gray areas; we’ve got a pretty clear standard," Gude says. By instructing adherence to the Field Manual, the administration has signaled "there will be no attempt to redefine language to allow things that people would generally consider torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

Verdict: Change we can believe in.

Rendition

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 3:49 pm

A profile of Cass Sunstein

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The appointment of Cass Sunstein is something I still haven’t come to terms with. We’ll see in time the effect. In the meantime, this article by Robert Kuttner gives a good profile:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
–Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

Barack Obama is best described as a "visionary minimalist," according to Cass Sunstein, the man who will oversee all of the new president’s regulatory policies. If this phrase seems an oxymoron, that’s in character. Paradox is Sunstein’s signature. A prolific intellectual and author or co-author of some two dozen wide-ranging books, Sunstein, 54, taught law and political science at the University of Chicago for 27 years before moving to Harvard in 2008. He could easily be Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court.

Sunstein’s new job is director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a powerful post first used under Ronald Reagan mainly to block regulations. OIRA’s staff is required to apply cost-benefit tests to regulations, often overstating costs and undercounting benefits. Under Republicans, the office has been especially aggressive in thwarting environmental, safety, and health rules. Even in the Clinton era, the financial deregulators at Treasury rolled over the forces alarmed about systemic risks, and OIRA was no counterweight. Given that the economic collapse is emphatically a regulatory failure, how will Sunstein use an office that was explicitly created to stymie regulation?

His own history suggests a mixed verdict. Like Barack Obama, Sunstein is …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 3:44 pm

Female veterans and PTSD

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Interesting article in The American Prospect by Courtney Martin. It begins:

Maricela Guzman joined the military for the same reason so many young people do — she needed money for college. Raised in a working class, Mexican immigrant family in South Central Los Angeles, she dropped out of school at 16 so she could work at McDonald’s to supplement her family’s income. (The family was about to lose its home, burdened by a high-interest-rate mortgage that Guzman had negotiated herself at the age of 14 because she spoke the best English.) But Guzman was determined — she went back to school, eventually earned her high school diploma, and then went on to East Los Angeles Community College. Her mother threatened to take on a second job to help her with the tuition, so she did what many loving children would do. She signed up for the Navy.

Guzman tells me this story over a cup of coffee in a Starbucks in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. She is 32 now and has to pause often to collect her thoughts. She wears her long, dark hair pulled back in a no-nonsense bun, making the dark circles under her eyes even more pronounced. She only slept two hours the night before (a fairly average amount of sleep for her these days). For more than a year after she got out of the military, she was unable to hold a job, lying lethargic and depressed in front of the television for days on end (something she say she never would have been capable of prior to her service). Her marriage dissolved. Suicide seemed like the only option. She had almost every sign of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

And yet when Guzman applied for benefits, the military denied her claim for mental health care. In part, she suspects, this is because she never actually saw "combat" — defined as "active fighting in a war." (Women are still technically barred from combat, though some serve as military police and aboard combat ships.) She was stationed first at Diego Garcia, an island 1,000 miles off the coast of India, and then in Naples, Italy — pretty peaceful settings, you might imagine. But on the inside, Maricela Guzman was fighting the most difficult war of her life — coming to terms with the rape that she had endured in boot camp by a superior officer. She didn’t report it. It was her first sexual experience. "I felt like I died that day," she says…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 3:41 pm

Optimism on global warming

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Chris Mooney believes that we can make a big difference if we (as a nation and as a species) take action soon. His article begins:

We’ve been hearing a lot of pessimism lately about whether the administration and Congress will be able to achieve meaningful global warming legislation this year—something that’s very necessary not only because of the climate system’s vulnerability but due to the United Nations’ timeline, with the all-important Copenhagen meeting set for this December. In this context, climate policy watchers seem to have developed a kind of winter blues, even though spring is nearly here. Perhaps they should renew their sense of determination, and just keep pushing. Again and again, I come to the conclusion that if the Obama administration and its congressional allies are determined and crafty enough, there’s no reason they can’t achieve still this overwhelmingly important goal.

The pessimist argument goes like this: “economy, economy, economy.” Despite the significant economic benefits that will accrue from dealing with climate change—and the way in which new energy policies will boost the economy by creating domestic jobs and weaning us off foreign oil—regulations on greenhouse gas emissions are still too easily painted as a tax on the energy habits of ordinary Americans. Conservatives, in particular, can be expected to beat the hell out of any climate policy that they can spin as an unnecessary drag on the economy. Meanwhile, centrists are easily cowed by this same argument: After all, many Democratic Senators recently joined the GOP in voting to block the use of the budget reconciliation process to get a global warming bill through Congress without the threat of filibuster.

If matters really were so simple—and the “don’t wreck the economy” argument unbeatable—the political hurdles to passing meaningful climate legislation this year might indeed be insurmountable. Fortunately, that’s simply not the case.

Contrary to the pessimists, I prefer to view matters like this. While it will be an extremely difficult battle, there are nevertheless at least three key “knobs” that our leaders can turn, in fine tuning their climate policies, that will help them achieve legislative or policy victory. And if they get the bass, volume, and tone just right, they can still win.

The first “knob” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 3:38 pm

Why Vermont Decided Civil Unions Were Insufficient for Equality

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Interesting Findlaw article by Joanna Grossman, a professor of law at Hofstra University:

Nearly a decade after making history as the first state to provide marriage-like rights to same-sex couples, Vermont has now made history again – as the first to grant full marriage rights via legislative enactment, without so much as a nudge from the state’s judicial branch. On April 7, the state legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to enact into law An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Recognize Equality in Civil Marriage, which will authorize same-sex couples to marry in Vermont beginning on September 1, 2009. Three other states currently permit (or, in the case of Iowa, will soon permit) same-sex couples to marry, but each has done so pursuant to a judicial interpretation of the state constitution rather than as a result of legislative action. (I wrote about Iowa’s situation in a recent column.)

In this column, I’ll trace the history of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Vermont and elsewhere, focusing as well on the likely motivation for the Vermont legislature’s decision to move beyond civil unions.

The First Step: Civil Unions

In the first such victory for same-sex marriage advocates, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in 1999, in Baker v. State, that it was a violation of the Common Benefits Clause of Vermont’s Constitution to deny same-sex couples the right to marry or the right to enter into a substantially comparable, and legally-recognized, relationship. There is no exact parallel in the U.S. Constitution to Vermont’s Common Benefits Clause, but earlier court precedents had read Vermont’s clause to provide protections somewhat similar to those guaranteed by the federal Equal Protection Clause.

The court in Baker read the clause more broadly, though. Because the right being withheld was very significant and was being withheld without justification, the court found no basis for "the continued exclusion of same-sex couples from the benefits incident to a civil marriage license under Vermont law." …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

John Brennan leads fight against torture memo disclosure

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Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

Adam Serwer at TAPPED, reading reports of how White House aide John Brennan is pushing to stop declassifications of torturous CIA interrogations, observes:

Brennan may have withdrawn his name from consideration as head of the CIA, but he’s clearly winning the battle over who has more influence with the president. Civil libertarians didn’t beat Brennan. He beat them.

Just saying: who called this? Back in January? Huh? All right then.

Substantively, those who are arguing against disclosure — in response to an American Civil Liberties Union court challenge, remember — mount a weak case. As The Wall Street Journal puts it:

But top CIA officials and some in the White House argue that disclosing such secrets will undermine the agency’s credibility with foreign intelligence services. They also say revealing operational details will embroil officers in probes of activities that were cleared by Justice Department lawyers at the time.

Of course, what the ACLU wants are those Justice Department memos as well, so it’s clear that these are techniques that the Bush Justice Department ordered. As for embroiling them in probes, there’s already a congressional probe brought by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The broiler’s already on. And what credibility problem exists if the CIA, acting per President Obama’s orders, no longer tortures people? Going further on that point, the CIA is the most prestigious intelligence agency in the world. Other intelligence services, with puny budgets by comparison, want to bandwagon with it, not against it. That intractable power dynamic is the surest hedge against any “credibility” concern.

And let’s also not lose the forest for the trees. Thanks to Mark Danner at The New York Review of Books, we already have a taxonomy from the International Committee of the Red Cross of what sorts of torture detainees endured at the CIA’s hands. Al-Qaeda already has its propaganda tool. The only way it could add to that propaganda line would be if the Obama administration sowed doubt through excessive secrecy that it really was repudiating the torture policies of the Bush administration.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 1:12 pm

Obama Bagram position

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Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 12:55 pm

Spring means salads

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Two recipes that caught my eye:

Sour Cream Cucumber Salad with Mustard Seeds

Southwestern Coleslaw

Before the weekend’s out, I’ll try these.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 12:38 pm

Religious America

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The Sister in a comment mentioned the book A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, by Diane L. Eck. I’m just back from the library (and a haircut and a garlic chicken rice plate at Chef Lee’s). It looks interesting, published in 2001. A few factoids from the dust jacket:

  • The 1990s saw the U.S. Navy commission its first Muslim chaplain and open its first mosque.
  • There are presently more than three hundred temples in Los Angeles, home to the greatest variety of Buddhists in the world.
  • There are more American Muslims than there are American Episcopalians, Jews, or Presbyterians.

I look forward to reading it. It certainly garnered a lot of praise.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Books, Religion

The questioning spirit

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A very interesting article by Dana Goldstein in The American Prospect. It begins:

"Pot rabbi has higher calling."

So screamed a New York Post headline on Aug. 19, 2005. In the leafy suburbs north of New York City, Rabbi Steven Kane, the longtime spiritual leader at Congregation Sons of Israel, had been arrested for driving under the influence. Police found nearly an ounce of marijuana in the clergyman’s possession.

In Briarcliff Manor, a wealthy enclave organized almost entirely around child-rearing, Kane’s predicament became the talk of the town. In a world where cars are a frequent 16th-birthday present, many parents lived in constant fear of high school students driving while impaired. After the arrest, it was hardly unreasonable for congregants to question Kane’s fitness as a moral leader. Several community meetings were held to discuss the rabbi’s future. "People listen to what a rabbi says and does," one disgruntled former congregant told the New York Times. "When you have that position in the community and you get arrested while driving under the influence, it really throws a wrench in the standing you have in the community. Those are really poor choices you are making."

I knew Rabbi Kane. I grew up attending his synagogue, spending several hours a week there at Hebrew school, supplemental Torah study, and then, for a short time, participating in a Jewish teen youth group. Rabbi Kane blessed me at my bat mitzvah ceremony, placing his large hands on top of my head and chanting over me in Hebrew: "May she find favor before God and people everywhere. And let us say: Amen."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2009 at 10:16 am

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