Front-runners differ in county supervisor debate


Four candidates for the 3rd District seat of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — Bobby Shriver, Sheila Kuehl, John Duran and Pamela Conley Ulich — sat on the bimah at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) on the evening of April 6, grappling with the many challenges facing the county, from how to reform the sheriff’s department to how to increase support for the arts, and more.

The event also featured the race’s front-runners, Shriver and Kuehl, squaring off on a range of issues. 

For instance, on the subject of a sheriff’s department that has been engulfed in scandals of jail guards’ treatment of inmates, Shriver emphasized a need for better and more compassionate treatment of the incarcerated mentally ill. He proposed an alternative to jail sentencing for those who commit crimes.

“The good thing about treating the mentally ill outside of the jail setting is it frees up beds for the bad guys,” the former Santa Monica city councilman and mayor said.

Kuehl, who served the region for 14 years in Sacramento in the state’s Assembly and Legislature, said Shriver was evading the question put forth by the event moderator, Jewish Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky. 

Boyarsky had asked about ways the candidates would clean up the sheriff’s department, which Boyarsky described as a “battered agency.”

“The more important question is what do you do about the culture of violence among the deputies that has been condoned,” Kuehl said.

How these candidates have financed their campaigns also served to illustrate differences among them, in particular between the two leading contenders. Some 2 million people reside in the 3rd District,  which  encompasses the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, West Hollywood and parts of the Westside. 

The primary election takes place on June 3; if a winner is not voted in, a runoff of the two top finishers will take place.

The winner of the race will succeed termed-out Zev Yaroslavsky. 

Shriver, a philanthropist and the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as the brother of Maria Shriver, said he has contributed $300,000 of his own money to his campaign. His choice to not abide by the voluntary spending limit of $1.4 million in the primary race has limited individual donations to his campaign to a maximum of $300, though he can continue to spend as much of his personal money as he wishes on his campaign. He currently has gathered about $850,000 for the campaign, which includes his own money, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kuehl, who got her start as a child actor but has spent her adult life in public service and working for nonprofits, has chosen to stick to the spending cap. 

The California Nurses Association has donated $75,000 to Kuehl’s campaign, and other unions are supporting her as well; she has raised more than $700,000 in total, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Regarding his use of personal wealth, Shriver played defense last week.

“I have my kids here, my wife here, I have a deep commitment to the county, and I felt it was important that there be a competitive race here, and that’s why I did it,” Shriver said. “I think it’s an important thing in politics that there’s competition for races.”

“Would you put in more [of your money] if needed?” Boyarsky asked him.

“If I felt I had to tell my story, sure I would — or if I were attacked, I felt, on an unfair basis,” Shriver said. 

Duran said that despite the fact he does not have the personal wealth or endorsements of the leading candidates, he is not naïve about the role money plays in races such as these.

“I think it’s just one of those necessary evils of politics,” Duran said. 

Duran, who serves on West Hollywood’s city council, and Ulich, a former Malibu city councilwoman, proposed ideas for how to bolster the arts within Los Angeles County. 

Duran said he hopes that county-run arts institutions will become more youth-friendly. 

He said there has been a “graying of the audience” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four venues that comprise the downtown Music Center, which belongs to the county.

Ulrich said she believes the county could increase revenue from merchandising, such as tote bags with new and fresh designs. “I think we need to be creative with how we raise revenue to go back into the arts,” Ulich said.

Shriver, 59, is an attorney. He co-founded, with pop singer Bono, HIV/AIDS charity organization (Product) RED. 

In addition to serving on Santa Monica’s city council — where he focused on homelessness issues and cleaning up the area’s beaches, according to his official Web site — Shriver served as the city’s mayor in 2010.

Kuehl, 73, was the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected to the California Legislature. After serving eight years in the state Senate and eight years in the state Assembly, she served as the founding director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College. She also focuses on LGBTQ issues and women’s reproductive rights, according to sheilakuehl.org.

Shriver and Kuehl both reside in Santa Monica.

Approximately 100 people turned out for the evening gathering, which its organizers said was held to increase awareness in the community about the county race.

“It’s all part of educating the community and making available to the wide community — not just ours — the political process,” TIOH executive director Bill Shpall said in an interview.

This was the third or fourth time that the Hollywood Reform congregation has sponsored debates among candidates running for local government, according to Shpall. The Jewish Journal was a co-sponsor of the evening. 

Abby Liebman, a congregant at TIOH, executive director of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and a Kuehl supporter — the two co-founded the California Women’s Law Center  — was among the attendees. Liebman echoed Shpall about the importance of shedding light on politics, saying that races for seats on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors fly “under the radar.”

“The opportunity to learn not only about the candidates, but the issues they see as critical and are in a position to influence greatly, is important to me,” Liebman said. 

Liebman, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that the discussion left out some issues, including health care. 

Is cutting Big Bird kosher?


When Governor Mitt Romney talked about ending funding for PBS – and Big Bird – during his first debate with President Obama, he was describing only one of the deep cuts in Romney-Ryan budget.

But it’s not just Big Bird. And it hits us hard, at home, in the Jewish community.

Governor Romney’s budget plan would affect us – dramatically. Calling for unprecedented budget cuts, a Romney Administration would negatively impact the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and yes, Jews who span each of these categories and more. As a community committed to tikkun olam, bettering the world, we have a responsibility to protect those in our community as well as those outside it and voting for a Romney-Ryan ticket would make that virtually impossible.

Jews across the country rely on federally funded social services every day. Just ask the thousands of the elderly living in Section 202 housing, a program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development used by both the Jewish Federation system and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to provide house assistance to low-income seniors. Or what about seniors who benefit from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), without which we would be “leaving our most vulnerable residents behind,” the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society told Congress in 2010.

Federally funded social services are not just relegated to the elderly. One program that the Jewish Federations of North America helped pioneer is the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, an extension of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a program developed to supplement the work of local social service organizations who serve those in need of emergency assistance. This program, which helps hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals across American, Jewish and non-Jewish, has been threatened ever since Republicans have taken control of the House.

And the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – a program designed to provide nutritious food and other services to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under the age of five – has slowly been chipped away at since Republicans took over the House in 2011. According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, proposed cuts to the program in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations budget would result in over 700,000 eligible low-come women and children being turned away. Cuts to programs like these are guaranteed to increase under a Romney Administration.

What’s more, those benefiting from federal funds are sometimes the last people you would suspect. What about those among us suffering from Tay-Sachs, which almost exclusively occurs among Jews, and Crohn’s Disease, which disproportionately impacts our community. In 2009, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $3.5 million four-year grant to the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium to aid in research of therapies for the disease. And according to the NIH, Crohn’s disease research received grants totaling $67 million in 2011. Think these are important? Well Congressman Ryan does not, as his budget demonstrates by cutting funding for biomedical research by NIH, which would result in fewer and fewer grants each year.

In the 2012 Jewish Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72% of respondents listed tikkun olam as important in shaping their political beliefs and actions. The Jewish community feels a responsibility to better the world and many support the use of federal funds for social services to accomplish this gain. But we forget that many in our own community not just use but desperately need these funds – funds that would most likely be cut or drastically reduced if Governor Romney were to become president.

We, as a community and as citizens of the United States, cannot afford a Romney Administration. We want to better our country, not make it worse for those who need help the most. President Obama and his administration’s policies have embodied this tenet of our religion, helping those in need and gaining my vote.

And when it comes these kinds of draconian cuts to much needed social service programs, the Romney-Ryan budget is definitely treif.


Marie Abrams, Lynn Lyss, and Andrea Weinstein are all former chairs of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the united voice of the organized Jewish community.

The space between the individual and the government


Is it the individual citizen who is more important in a free society, or is it the government? It’s easy to see this as the philosophical choice during this election season: One side seems to favor the liberty of the individual, while the other favors the primacy of the government.

But apparently it’s not so simple. 

In a provocative essay in the Weekly Standard titled “The Real Debate,” conservative writer Yuval Levin challenges the individual-versus-government cliché by explaining that “what matters most about society happens in the space between those two, and that creating, sustaining, and protecting that space is a prime purpose of government.”

He adds: “The real debate forced upon us by the Obama years — the underlying disagreement to which the two parties are drawn despite themselves — is in fact about the nature of that intermediate space, and of the mediating institutions that occupy it: the family, civil society, and the private economy.”

The problem, according to Levin, is that these mediating institutions have become a source of bitter ideological conflict. As he sees it, the bigger government becomes, the more it threatens the health of these institutions that live in the middle space.

“Progressives in America have always viewed those institutions with suspicion,” he writes, and have sought to empower the government to put in place “public programs and policies motivated by a single, cohesive understanding of the public interest.”   

Conservatives have resisted such a gross rationalization of society, Levin writes, and “insisted that local knowledge channeled by evolving social institutions — from civic and fraternal groups to traditional religious establishments, to charitable enterprises and complex markets — will make for better material outcomes and a better common life. 

“The life of a society consists of more than moving resources around, and what happens in that space between the individual and the government is vital — at least as much a matter of character formation as of material provision and wealth creation. Moral individualism mixed with economic collectivism only feels like freedom because it liberates people from responsibility in both arenas.”

But real freedom, Levin says, is “only possible with real responsibility. And real responsibility is only possible when you depend upon, and are depended upon by, people you know. It is, in other words, only possible in precisely that space between the individual and the state.”

As it turns out, I got a taste of that “intermediate space” last Sunday night in my neighborhood. 

The occasion was a community wedding at the Modern Orthodox YULA Girls High School.

Two months ago, members of the YULA community heard that one of their former students wanted to get married but couldn’t afford a wedding.

So, the head of school, Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, who always dreamed of using the school’s grounds for a simcha, and the dean of students, Brigitte Wintner, decided the school would “donate” the wedding. (I’m smelling a screenplay.)

Everyone in the community chipped in. Services like catering, flowers, rentals, bar, photographer, musicians, etc. all were either donated or offered at enormous discounts. YULA students, past and present, ran around setting everything up on the big day.

In the courtyard where my oldest daughter spent four years hanging out with her friends, there were now cocktail tables, a bar and waiters passing out appetizers.

In the parking lot where I would park when I had meetings with the head of school, there were multiple rows of folding chairs, a small chuppah and more rabbis than I could count.

On the far side of the lot was a tent covering enough tables to accommodate 250 guests.

Neighbors popped their heads out to discover there was an actual wedding happening on their street.

As I witnessed the ceremony, and saw more than a few grateful tears on the faces of family members, it struck me that maybe this is what Levin meant by the “space” between the individual and the government.

Yes, both the individual and the government are vitally important, but perhaps even more vital is the sacred space between the two.

In the Jewish world, this space is dominated by one word: community.

No matter how compassionate a government is, it could never create this community for us.

This community is created by the teaching of Jewish values and the living of those values in everyday life. One of those values is a sense of obligation toward other members of the community. This is not a theoretical or global value, it’s deeply local. 

It’s a value you see on the streets, in thrift shops, when people volunteer to clean the sidewalks, in warehouses that feed the needy on Shabbat, and, yes, even in weddings in schoolyards. 

It’s a value that is dependent not on government, but on character.

No matter who wins on Nov. 6, that truth will endure. 


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com

Obama, Romney meet for final debate as race tightens


President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney face off in front of the cameras for a final time on Monday as opinion polls show their battle for the White House has tightened to a dead heat.

With 15 days to go until the Nov. 6 election, the two candidates turn to foreign policy for their third and last debate, which starts at 6 p.m PST.

The stakes are high, as the two candidates are tied at 46 percent each in the Reuters/Ipsos online daily tracking poll.

The debate will likely be the last time either candidate will be able to directly appeal to millions of voters – especially the roughly 20 pct who have yet to make up their minds or who could still switch their support.

Obama comes to this debate with several advantages. As sitting president, he has been deeply involved with national security and foreign affairs for the past three-and-a-half years. He can point to a number of successes on his watch, from the end of the Iraq war to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

But Romney will have many chances to steer the conversation back toward the sluggish U.S. economy, a topic on which voters see him as more credible. He will also try to use unease about a nuclear Iran and turmoil in Libya to sow doubts about Obama's leadership at home and abroad.

Romney launched his candidacy with an accusation that Obama was not representing U.S. interests aggressively enough, but after a decade of war voters have little appetite for further entanglements abroad. After a clumsy overseas trip in July, Romney will have to demonstrate to voters that he could ably represent the United States on the world stage.

“What he needs to do is get through this third debate by showing a close familiarity with the issues and a demeanor in foreign policy that is not threatening,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Presidential debates have not always been consequential, but this year they have had an impact.

Romney's strong performance in the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3 helped him recover from a series of stumbles and wiped out Obama's advantage in opinion polls.

Obama fared better in their second encounter on Oct. 16, but that has not helped him regain the lead.

The Obama campaign is now playing defense as it tries to limit Romney's gains in several of the battleground states that will decide the election.

Romney could have a hard time winning the White House if he does not carry Ohio. A new Quinnipiac/CBS poll shows Obama leading by 5 percentage points in the Midwestern state, but another by Suffolk University shows the two candidates tied there.

LAST-CHANCE DEBATE

More than 60 million viewers watched each of their previous two debates, but the television audience this time could be smaller as it will air at the same time as high-profile baseball and football games.

Much of the exchange, which takes place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, will likely focus on the Middle East.

Campaigning in Canton, Ohio, on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden reminded voters of Obama's pledge to pull troops out of Afghanistan in the next two years and pointed out that Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have made no such guarantees.

“They said, quote, it depends. Ladies and gentlemen, like everything with them, it depends,” Biden said. “It depends on what day you find these guys.”

At their second debate last week, the two presidential candidates clashed bitterly over Libya, a preview of what is to come on Monday evening. They argued over Obama's handling of the attack last month on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

The Obama administration first labeled the incident a spontaneous reaction to a video made in the United States that lampooned the Prophet Mohammad. Later, it said it was a terrorist assault on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This shifting account, and the fact that Obama went on a campaign trip the day after the attack, has given Romney ammunition to use at Monday's debate.

“The statements were either misleading by intention or they were misleading by accident. Either way, though, he's got to get to the bottom of this,” Romney adviser Dan Senor said on NBC's “Today” show.

Obama and his allies charge that Romney exploited the Benghazi attack for political points while officials were still accounting for the wellbeing of U.S. diplomats.

Regarding foreign policy overall, Obama's allies accuse Romney of relying on generalities and platitudes.

“It is astonishing that Romney has run for president for six years and never once bothered to put forward a plan to end the war in Afghanistan, for example, or to formulate a policy to go after al Qaeda,” U.S. Senator John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee, wrote in a memo released by the Obama campaign on Monday.

Romney has promised to tighten the screws over Iran's nuclear program and accused Obama of “leading from behind” as Syria's civil war expands. He also has faulted Obama for setting up a politically timed exit from the unpopular Afghanistan war, and accused him of failing to support Israel, an important ally in the Middle East.

The Republican challenger is likely to bring up a New York Times report from Saturday that said the United States and Iran had agreed in principle to hold bilateral negotiations to halt what Washington and its allies say is a plan by Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.

The 90-minute debate, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS, will be divided into six segments: America's role in the world; the war in Afghanistan; Israel and Iran; the changing Middle East; terrorism; and China's rise.

First presidential debate spotlights economy, health care


President Obama and Mitt Romney focused on revenue and spending, with an emphasis on health care, in their first presidential debate. 

With the focus on the economy, foreign policy was mentioned only in passing as the candidates squared off Wednesday at the University of Denver.

Obama said Romney's plans to repeal his health care reform passed in 2010 would remove new protections, including mandatory coverage for those with preexisting conditions and coverage for children up until age 26 under their parents' plans.

Romney said such coverage was a matter best left to the states, and reiterated his claims that the federal plan inhibits business growth and costs jobs.

Obama criticized Romney's plan to transition Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly, to private insurers, saying it would drive up costs for seniors. Romney said the change was needed to salvage the program.

Romney also outlined his plans for energy independence, which include promoting use of domestic resources, among them coal. Romney also advocated increased drilling on public lands.

The candidates will focus on foreign policy in the third of their three debates, on Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

The debates won’t matter


Let me hedge my bet.

At the vice presidential debate, the talking points Sarah Palin’s handlers have been stuffing her head with will come out of her mouth so butchered that even Republican voters will say, like Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”: “The horror, the horror!”

Or, at one of the remaining presidential debates, a contemptuously smirking John McCain will finally become so enraged by having to share a stage with Barack Obama that he will pop his notorious cork right there in front of a hundred million Americans.

Or maybe Obama or Joe Biden will goof or gaffe or otherwise give such a bloody bit of chum to the media sharks that the gazillionth replay of the sound bite will drive every swing voter in the country away from them. But I don’t think so.

Sure, cable yakkers will declare after each debate who won on points, and who on body language; who played Nixon, and who played Kennedy; who won their focus groups of undecideds, and who flatlined with them.

But my guess is that the prestige press headlines will continue to play it safe, as they did after the first debate — “candidates clash” (New York Times), “differ sharply” (Los Angeles Times), “quarrel” (Washington Post) — and that on television, it will be concluded that no one delivered a knockout blow, which will require audiences to remain in suspense, and therefore to keep tuning in, until the photo-finish end.

This election won’t be won or lost at the debates. Nor will it be determined by the two campaigns’ “ground games” — their get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor, unfortunately, will its outcome even depend on how many Americans wake up on Election Day intending to vote for one candidate or the other.

Instead, my fear is that the Electoral College results will hang on the swing state voting systems’ vulnerability to sabotage.

It’s already happening.

In El Paso County, Colo., the county clerk — a delegate to the Republican National Convention — told out-of-state undergraduates at Colorado College, falsely, that they couldn’t vote in Colorado if their parents claim them as dependents on their taxes.

In the towns of Mount Pleasant and Middleton, Wisc., Democratic voters received a mailing containing tear-out requests for absentee ballots pre-addressed to the wrong addresses. Both mailers were sent by the McCain campaign.

Florida, Michigan and Ohio have some of the country’s highest foreclosure rates. “Because many homeowners in foreclosure are black or poor,” The New York Times says, “and are considered probable Democratic voters in many areas, the issue has begun to have political ramifications.”

If you’re one of the million Americans who lost a home through foreclosure, and if you didn’t file a change of address with your election board, you’re a sitting duck for an Election Day challenge by a partisan poll watcher holding a public list of foreclosed homes. In states like New Mexico and Iowa, the number of foreclosures is greater than the number of votes by which George W. Bush carried the state in 2004.

In the 2006 election, according to the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network, black voters in Virginia got computer-generated phone calls from a bogus “Virginia Election Commission” telling them that they could be arrested if they went to the wrong polling place; in Maryland, out-of-state leafleters gave phony Democratic sample ballots to black voters with the names of Republican candidates checked in red; in New Mexico, Democratic voters got personal phone calls from out of state that directed them to the wrong polling place.

Does anyone think this won’t be tried again in 2008?

The reason behind Alberto Gonzales’ attempted purge of U.S. Attorneys was that some of them wouldn’t knuckle under to Karl Rove’s plan to concoct an “election fraud” hoax that would put Republicans in control of the nation’s voting lists.

“We have, as you know, an enormous and growing problem with elections in certain parts of America today,” Rove falsely told the Republican National Lawyers Association, an evidence-less problem crying out for a draconian solution. Does anyone think that Rove’s move from the White House to Fox has dampened Republican ardor for this ruse?

And if all of that doesn’t alarm you, consider the new report on electronic voting systems from the Computer Security Group at the UCSB, which concluded that “all voting systems recently analyzed by independent security testers have been found to contain fatal security flaws that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the voting process….

Unless electronic voting systems are held up to standards that are commensurate with the criticality of the tasks they have to perform, the very core of our democracy is in danger.”

And did I mention that on Election Day, some polling places in minority precincts in battleground states will be shocked, simply shocked, to discover that so many people want to vote that it will take hours of standing in line to vote? That is, of course, unless they run out of ballots.

So while the presidential and vice presidential debates will make for swell political theater, the likelihood is that victory will be determined not by how the debates move a small percentage of undecided Americans off the fence, but by the voting experiences of a few thousand voters in a few swing states on Nov. 4.

Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”

I think he had it half right.

Those who decide who cast the votes also decide everything.

Bipartisan Victory in Proposition Wins


While Republicans may have won the presidential election, the popular vote and new seats in both the Senate and the House, here in California it was a different story.

The 16 proposition measures were not won handily by either conservative or progressive factions. Both parties carved out various victories among the ballot measures. The overall results will change the way the state works and, in the case of Proposition 71, possibly attract worldwide attention to California.

Proposition 71 was indeed one of the few bright moments for Democrats last Tuesday (although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also a supporter), as California repudiated President Bush’s federal limitations on embryonic stem cell research. The state will be spending $300 million per year for 10 years to make California the world’s premier government-funded embryonic stem cell research hub.

“If a cure helps one disease like diabetes, it will be a burden off our health-care system. Even if one treatment comes out of this, then we will have made a difference,” said Temple Beth Am member Carol Eisner, whose 13-year-old daughter Emma Klatman has type-one diabetes.

Eisner explained that stem cells can be used to create the insulin-producing islet cells that diabetics lack.

“For all my efforts, a cure might not be found for Emma,” Eisner told The Journal, “But I can’t think for one minute that a cure won’t be possible. Over 20 Nobel laureates have said that this is important research to pursue.”

Proposition 71 is expected to draw top biomedical talent to California from across the world.

On the law-and-order front, voters retained California’s “three strikes” law unchanged, a sentencing provision that imposes a 20-year to life sentence for a third felony. The effort to reform three strikes would have required that the third strike be violent, even working retroactively for individuals who are already in prison.

The No on 66 campaign seemed set for defeat until a last-minute influx of cash and support arrived from a private donor, Henry Nicholas III of Orange County, which funded Schwarzenegger’s TV commericals. Proposition 66’s lead promptly vanished and it was defeated 53 to 47 percent.

Opponents of Proposition 66 repeatedly announced that the reform would release violent criminals from prison, often naming specific rapists and murderers in California prisons in TV commercials. Proponents pointed out the ways in which nonviolent offenders could fall through the cracks of the system and end up in jail indefinitely.

“We lump these criminals together,” said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which supported Proposition 66. “It’s much less satisfying to recognize that the felony of stealing three videotapes is totally different from a violent crime for which people quite rightly should be put away.”

The Yes on 66 campaign has promised to continue its efforts in the state legislature and to better inform the public about existing California laws that it says would keep violent offenders from ever benefiting from three-strikes reform.

Businesspeople and attorneys should pay close attention to the passage of Proposition 64, a measure that makes it impossible for private individuals to bring cases under the Unfair Business Competition Law unless they can demonstrate harm and monetary loss. The attorney general or other public attorneys would have to bring those cases instead.

For example, polluting corporations in breach of California’s environmental protection laws once had to fear private attorneys who could bring public safety lawsuits on behalf of the people of the state. Proposition 64 changed that. Now attorneys must find a person who has already been harmed by the pollution to bring suit, which can be tough so soon after the polluting begins. The same logic applies to tobacco companies, banks and other corporations.

The Yes on 64 campaign says the measure protects small businesses from frivolous lawsuits. They claim that these businesses will often simply settle to end the litigation, encouraging more suits.

But Senior Assistant Attorney General Herschel Elkins told the Los Angles Times, “The attorney general’s office and the district attorney do not have enough staff — and never will — to solve all the problems of deceptions in business practices.”

As a result, corporate interests are going to be held less accountable for misconduct, said Tom Dresslar, spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Dresslar then put it more bluntly: “When you have pollution surrounding your neighborhood, threatening your family, you can’t do anything about it until your family actually gets sick.”

In the field of health care, California might have chosen the most mixed bag of all. Voters rejected a mandate requiring employers to pay greater health-care costs for their employees (Proposition 72) and a telephone tax to bail out emergency rooms (Proposition 67). But they approved a measure to fund mental health services (Proposition 63) and another designed specifically to aid children’s hospitals (Proposition 61).

In terms of the emergency rooms, California hospitals provide $5 billion in uncompensated care every year, mostly to uninsured and poor patients. Dozens of hospitals have closed their doors across the state for that reason over the past 10 years. But Proposition 67’s new phone tax simply proved too unpalatable for voters.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger ran on a platform of no new taxes, and voters have embraced him and that notion,” said Jan Emerson, vice president for external affairs at the of the California Healthcare Association. “They also did not like the fact that the tax had no cap on businesses and cell phones.”

On the bright side for hospitals, they will receive Proposition 63 funds if they spend money caring for mental health patients. Thirteen children’s hospitals will receive Proposition 61 funds for capital improvements.

Some critics of the initiative process claim that the average citizen doesn’t know enough about law to make informed decisions about the propositions. Although that assertion is open to debate, there’s no question that the 16 propositions this year made the election more interesting for Californians left on the sidelines of the national race.

Continental Divide


With just a few minutes to go before we are to take the stage Stan Kritzer, the elder statesman of the Temple Ner Tamid brotherhood, gathers

us speakers into a small side room off the main sanctuary for a last minute talking to.

“Now look,” Kritzer says, “we heard what happened at Sinai and we don’t want that happening here.”

At Sinai Temple in Westwood the week before, Republicans audience members shouted down Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) as he praised John Kerry’s record on Israel and defense. It was great theater, one participant told me, but lousy debate.

Stan wanted a civil, informative evening. Attorney David Nahai was to speak for Kerry. Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California (RJC) Executive Director Larry Greenfield for President Bush, and I was moderating.

“If people are warned and they still won’t listen,” Kritzer said, “they can deal with me.”

I looked Kritzer over: a pleasant, gray-haired man in his 70s, but in his prime I’m sure he kicked butt.

It seems that over the past few weeks, that’s what things have come to. This election season, our political divisions have gone from normal to nasty. The bright side to this is that activism and involvement are up. For Hollywood Democrats, the scut work of electioneering has become glamorous. A television producer told me he’s never seen so many friends lend their hands to everything from voter registration efforts in local malls to precinct walking in south Florida.

I’ve been moderating debates and forums, a lot of them over the past weeks. Just when you’d think there’s not one Jew left who couldn’t recite the Kerry or Bush talking points, the seats fill and the sparks fly.

On Oct. 11 some 500 young professionals jammed into Sinai Temple for a debate between talk show host Dennis Prager and Forward editor J.J. Goldberg. The debate, sponsored by The Forward, The Jewish Journal and Sinai’s ATID program, followed a pattern that stuck. I polled the audience and found it was 50/50 Bush-Kerry, with a few undecideds. At the end of 90 minutes of passionate debate, I asked if anybody had changed his or her mind. Nope.

The other fact that became clear was that Israel, Iraq and terror are the gut issues for the people who show up for such events. This is an existential vote, and the speakers could not have framed their sense of the choice more starkly. Our guy will save us, their guy will destroy us.

Same debate, different people, Oct. 17 at the University of Judaism. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) vs. the RJC’s Greenfield. Greenfield has been as ubiquitous as CNN tracking polls lately. The crowd of 100 is again 50/50 — despite surveys that show Bush taking no more than 24 percent of the Jewish vote. But the Republicans came out in force to cheer, and Greenfield doesn’t disappoint.

Berman is, without question, one of Israel’s most important supporters in Congress, and he tells the audience he wouldn’t support Kerry if he thought for a moment doing so would compromise Israel’s security. I think I hear some low boos, although I’m not sure exactly what for.

Actually, I know what for. In a political season everything is politicized. The Journal runs ads, paid ads, earning us good clean cash, from the RJC — and our answering machines fill with nasty accusations of favoritism, as if we wouldn’t cash a Democratic check as well (we would).

A man at one debate accuses me of “showing my bias” as if I’d stripped to my boxers, or briefs.

I say, “For Kerry?”

“Yeah, right,” he sneers.

At Ner Tamid another man accuses me of favoritism.

“For Bush?” I ask.

“You wish,” he shoots back.

All week I replay a long, vicious voice message accusing The Journal of selling out to the right because we ran a few more pro-Bush letters than pro-Kerry ones, and because we reported that immigrants are voting Republican — which they are.

The bright spot of the week comes at Temple Beth Am, when I moderate a discussion, “The Jewish Perspective on Stem Cell Research.” The Orthodox, Reform and Conservative rabbis all agree that such research is vital. That’s right: three Jews, one opinion. For a moment, I wonder if the messiah will waltz in.

But that, of course, is the exception. As a moderator I struggle to get speakers to move beyond the standard campaign rhetoric, which only comforts the convinced. It’s clear this election is about security — that’s true for Jews as it is for most Americans — and there’s nothing quite so secure and warm as a mind closed to doubt.

The media doesn’t help, and the Internet has become one big I-told-you-so, where messages and articles that only reaffirm our beliefs zing about like electrons from one true believer to another.

So it’s not surprising that when we finally come face to face with those who disagree with us, we’re offended when we should be curious, we shout instead of listen, we lecture instead of ask.

In the end, Kritzer’s worse fears came to naught. The 300 or so people who attended the Ner Tamid debate were spirited and involved, but civilized.

I didn’t ask how many people had changed their votes or their minds or a single opinion — I’d learned by then that’s not the point of the exercise. The question is, what is the point? Although the Jewish vote in this election isn’t evenly split, it is deeply divided. Come Nov. 3, those divisions can deepen or heal. I know who I’m voting for Nov. 2, and I know what I’m hoping for Nov. 3.

Why Bush: Kerry Could Harm Israel


Debates are a chance for the candidates to speak without scripts and show what they truly believe. And in the first presidential debate, Sen. John

Kerry (D-Mass.) made a revealing comment. While making a point about the war in Iraq, Kerry said that as president, he would make sure America could pass a “global test” before defending its interests.

Kerry’s threshold for action is being able to “prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.”

Subjecting foreign policy and national security decisions to Kerry’s “global test” would have a critical effect not just on America’s ability to defend itself, it would dramatically affect the security of one of our most loyal allies, Israel.

A troubling proportion of the global community considers Israel a racist, illegitimate state. Some of the leading diplomats of the European community, who publicly tolerate Israel’s existence, in their parlors and their cafes dismiss Israel with scatological terminology.

When international bodies have the opportunity, they ban the presence of Israelis wherever possible — Israeli athletes, Israeli academics, Israeli scientists, Israeli businessmen and Israeli diplomats can all attest to this.

And this is the community to which Kerry would kowtow on matters of national security and foreign policy?

Kerry predictably has sent his Jewish political allies to vouchsafe for his pro-Israel bona fides. They say his fealty to Israel is nonnegotiable.

But does Kerry have the ability to tell the European community, as President Bush has done repeatedly, that anti-Zionism is a modern and savage form of the ancient evil of anti-Semitism?

Does Kerry have the gumption to personally confront soft allies over anti-Israel, anti-Semitic epithets, as President Bush did to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed? Would Kerry tell his secretary of state, as President Bush did, to abruptly leave an international conference that had become a public lynching of Israel?

Does Kerry have the willingness to tell Arab states that American support for Israel is not a bargaining chip as we seek to win their cooperation in Iraq?

President Bush faced that very same quandary in spring 2002, when Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank. Arab nations blamed Israel’s actions for their inability to join the coalition then forming to confront Saddam Hussein.

But President Bush didn’t budge. The United States has vetoed eight anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Security Council. With that support, Israel effectively destroyed many of the terrorist cells that had plotted slaughters in buses, cafes and Passover seders in Israel.

By comparison, Kerry, his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), and their foreign policy advisers have shown that they would rather focus on detente and diplomacy than on protecting their friends. But we know from experience that sometimes saying “no deal” to one’s enemies is more effective than saying “I’ll compromise.”

President Bush understands this, and John Kerry does not.

Jews who are Democrats may not yet grasp this, but clearly, Israel’s enemies do. The Jerusalem Post reported last month that the Palestinians likely will wait until after the election to present a U.N. resolution calling for sanctions over Israel’s West Bank security barrier “in the hope that if John Kerry wins, the U.S. may not cast a veto.”

A telling point: The world knows what it’s getting with Bush. But it has different expectations for Kerry.

Fundamentally, John Kerry’s foreign policy instinct is to negotiate, to deal and to bargain away strengths. Thus Kerry’s 1980s fantasy that unilateral disarmament would defeat the Soviets; the opposite was true. Thus his mistaken belief that the Sandinistas represented the democratic will of the Nicaraguan people; the Nicaraguan people demonstrated the exact opposite.

Thus Kerry’s 1990s fantasy that Yasser Arafat was a “model statesman”; he was a master terrorist. Thus his theory that the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 wasn’t worth fighting and the second Gulf War wasn’t worth funding. Wrong again on both counts.

Ask Israelis whether they believe the removal of Saddam was a mistake — or that this war, as both Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean say, was “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

But Kerry is most egregiously wrong when he says American foreign policy must meet a “global test.” America’s support for Israel should never be contingent on a permission slip from France, Germany or the United Nations.

Any president who subjects America’s alliance with Israel to a “global test” knows exactly what he will get: total failure.

Norm Coleman is a Republican senator from Minnesota.

Voting With an Open Mind


With a couple of weeks left before we choose our next president, I’ve been reflecting on how the process has affected me, both as a Jew and as an American.

The biggest thing I have learned is that certain emotions have the power to close my mind and make me intolerant. Because I’m crazy in love for Israel, I’m a blind supporter of President Bush. His evangelical, visceral connection to Israel is what I’ve been yearning for for as long as I can remember. No matter how hard other presidents tried, it just wasn’t the same.

Thus, it was not a great leap to convince myself that Iraq was the right war at the right place at the right time. If anything contradicted my view on this subject, I would easily dismiss it. Whatever confirmed my view, I just lapped up. Supporting Bush just felt good.

So when I was invited last week by the American Jewish Committee to speak on the U.S. election in the context of Jewish and Israeli interests, I figured it would be a no-brainer. I was introduced as the right-wing speaker who would “balance out” the left-wing speaker who came next. All I had to do was just give my spiel on why they should vote the way I would.

There was only one problem: I wasn’t so sure anymore. A day earlier, I got ambushed by a story in the Oct. 10 New York Times Sunday Magazine. Call me crazy, but I read something diametrically opposed to my beliefs, and it made sense. Too much sense. The possibility that I might have missed the boat on Iraq gave me this odd mixture of sick-to-my-stomach and utter fascination.

So there I was in front of a big crowd, all expecting a pro-Bush rant. What’s a shaken-up right-winger to do? I decided to jump and put myself at the mercy of my true feelings.

I shared my story. I told them that there was something more important on my mind than simply who to vote for on Nov. 2. I explained how my beliefs were shaken by a magazine article. My talk became not about the value of a vote but the Jewish value of keeping an open mind.

In a nutshell, the article, “Kerry’s Undeclared War,” which profiled Sen. John Kerry, made a compelling case that a loud, dramatic war on terrorism is more likely to backfire than a more subtle yet lethal approach. I was intrigued by the idea that high drama might feed the neurosis of a suicidal, pathological enemy. It didn’t necessarily change my mind — it still might — but it did something more important: it opened it. In a potent way, the challenge to my strong view made me feel more alive, more Jewish.

It also made me realize how I let my emotional connection to Israel and to Bush sucker me into the vortex of easy, simplified partisan battles; how I’ve let it close my mind.

Sometimes I think that our first goal in life is to look for things that make us feel good. With life and the world around us so often chaotic and dangerous, we prefer to look for whatever will assuage our insecurities, rather than anything that might challenge our views and force us to confront our inner doubts.

There is a theory in organizational behavior that says when you interview someone for a job, most people make their decision in the first few minutes and spend the rest of the time trying to confirm it. This is what seems to have happened to America in this election season.

The large majority of people quickly made up their minds and now look for confirmation that will make them feel good about being right. The national pastime has become to dig in our heels.

Keeping an open mind while still having strong views is uncomfortable. It’s not sexy or dramatic. It requires us to live with paradox, to accept being challenged, to push ourselves.

I was challenged by a magazine article and forced to dig deep and deal with my discomfort. But as a committed Jew, that was the point: What is the Jewish way if not to go deep?

Did our ancestors not dig deep when they debated for 600 years to interpret God’s message and give us the Talmud? Did they not show us that we can have a point of view without being dogmatic? That there is divinity itself in the difficult acts of engaging, exploring, challenging and, ultimately, connecting with each other?

The sages of the Talmud did not write to make us feel good. The arguments and counterarguments and counter-counterarguments that crowd its 40 volumes is what has kept Judaism alive until today. And if we follow its paradoxical example of principled open-mindedness, we will always feel alive as individuals and as one community.

The problem is that our need for easy comforts has trumped our deeper need to grow by gaining knowledge. The right-winger who only watches Fox TV is only getting her daily fix. The liberal who only reads Tikkun magazine is feasting on candy that will nourish his self-righteousness. We consume comforting opinions and then repitch them to each other like walking commercials.

We are left with a strident, superficial national debate that more closely resembles a boxing match. What matters most is not whether I gain new knowledge, but: Who won the debate? Who landed a knockout punch? Will my side win?

The most startling fact in the New York Times article was that Kerry could not go too public with his real view on fighting terror, because it might be unpopular and hurt his chances. Never mind that it would deepen the debate and show sincerity; the point is only to win.

Some of my ideological friends say that when the stakes are so high, we cannot afford to be too open-minded. For the Israeli settlers who adamantly oppose the evacuation of settlements, open-mindedness is not an option. For the Bush supporters who are adamant that his way is the best way to fight terrorism, being open to alternate views is simply showing weakness.

My view is the opposite: The higher the stakes, the deeper the debate must go. Ultimately, the danger of a dogmatic, simplified debate is that it leads to dogmatic, simplified solutions.

By digging in our heels and closing our minds, we only encourage our leaders to feed us lollipops. The more undecided, open-minded and probing voters are, the deeper the candidates will go; the deeper the solutions will be.

In the Jewish tradition, deep debate is integral to our survival. It leads not only to better ideas but also to a more vibrant religion and a healthier nation.

But the heart is a powerful drug. I’ve seen in the past year how my emotional connection to the Holy Land has turned me into someone I always try not to be: close-minded and intolerant of dissenting views.

There are certainly some things I will always feel strongly about, but I will not let those feelings turn off my mind.

I still don’t know who I’ll vote for, but I know now that I won’t let my heart do it alone. And I confess, that feels pretty good.

David Suissa is the founder and editor-in-chief of OLAM magazine and the founder of meals4israel.com. You can e-mail him at editor@olam.org.

 

Are Jews Becoming Republican?


The debate over whether American Jews are turning to the Republican Party is not likely to be settled when the votes are counted on Nov. 5.

With midterm congressional elections just days away, Republicans cite a variety of reasons why this year’s polls may not show the political shift they have been predicting for the past year. But Democrats say the election will be the best sign yet of where Jews stand on the political spectrum.

It’s hardly a new debate. For years, Republican Jewish leaders have touted increasing support from the Jewish community, while exit polls continue to show that most Jews vote Democratic. Still, with a Republican president who is strongly pro-Israel and Republican voices in Congress taking the lead in support of Israel and the U.S. war on terrorism, the issue has garnered notice in mainstream media. While several indicators hint at a trend, little information exists to make a definitive assessment. That makes Election Day an important test for both sides of the argument. Any Jewish movement toward the GOP would strike at one of the Democrats’ strongest voting blocs at a time when Congress is almost evenly divided.

Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, but they are valuable in elections because of their high voter turnout and their geographical disbursement, said Norman Ornstein, an election analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

“You have a lot of Jewish votes in a number of pivotal states and ones that are contentious,” Ornstein said. Plus, Jews often are political leaders and key fundraisers.

The habits of Jewish voters have been a curiosity for years.

“It’s a puzzle,” said Ken Goldstein, assistant professor of political science and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin. “Given their education levels, income levels and color of skin, Jews should look like Republican voters” — but, historically, they haven’t. During the 1990s, for example, Democrats won at least 73 percent of the Jewish vote in House races. Within the last two decades, Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates peaked at 82 percent in 1982, according to The New York Times. The high point for the GOP was the 32 percent of the Jewish vote in House races in 1988.

But Matthew Brooks, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) executive director, points to an RJC survey, showing that 48 percent of Jews surveyed said they would consider voting for President Bush for reelection in 2004. The poll also found that Bush’s performance moved 27 percent to say they were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices.

Despite such figures and articles describing a GOP tilt among Jews, Jewish Democratic leaders say the perception is wrong.

In the past, Jewish voters have feared that voting Republican would mean embracing a conservative domestic agenda, such as opposition to abortion and support for school prayer. Now, some say, closer ties between the Jewish community and right-wing Christian supporters of Israel has opened some doors.

Ira Forman, National Jewish Democratic Council executive director, says that especially during times of Mideast crisis, Jewish voting patterns reflect concern for Israel more than domestic agendas.

Given strong Israel support by Bush and congressional Republicans, it has created a perception of a Jewish-GOP embrace.

But, Forman contends, Jewish voters most often don’t have to make that choice. More often, he says, they’re deciding between pro-Israel Democrats and pro-Israel or neutral Republicans. When both candidates are either pro-Israel or neutral, Jews lean toward the Democrats because of domestic issues.

Forman also says that Jewish votes for GOP candidates don’t necessarily reflect a shift rightward.

A Gallup Organization study found that the partisan slant of the Jewish vote has remained stable over the past decade.

No poll has enough Jewish respondents to mark a trend. But, extrapolating from its polls in the past 18 months, Gallup found that some 50 percent of Jewish voters are Democrats, 32 percent are independent and 18 percent are Republicans. That mirrors Gallup polls taken between 1992 and 2001.

Frank Newport of Gallup said patterns of party identification are very stable.

Goldstein says this Election Day may not resolve the question of Jewish voting habits, since many of key races are in states with small Jewish populations. He believes the presidential race in 2004 will be a more important indicator.

But Democrats counter that even that won’t be a fair judge, because Bush’s Mideast policy and his handling of the war against terrorism have made him popular with Jewish voters. Jews may vote for other Republicans because they support Bush, not because they’ve had a real change of heart, Forman says.

All of which means that the debate is likely to go on after November, come what may at the polls.