Weddings are Religious Affairs

On December 5, 2017, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The court will decide whether a baker has the right as a matter of religious freedom to not create a customized wedding cake for a homosexual couple, or whether turning down such clients is a matter of discrimination against gays.

Colorado baker Jack Phillips

The case will have Americans confront an issue that it has been pressing in the wrong direction for many years: the government should have NO ROLE in weddings, even while it maintains documents on marriages. The government should limit its involvement to a single legal document as to the selection of a civil partner and no more.

Judeo-Christian Society versus Freedom of Religion

American politicians have long stated that the country’s laws were based on the ethics and morals of Judeo-Christian teachings. But while American laws were established with such inspiration, a fundamental principle of American society is the separation of church and state. Nothing can be made more clear than the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The core of this amendment is that US laws cannot infringe on a person’s practice of their religion.

Religious Limits on Marriage

There are some laws found in the Bible that limit certain relationships, including bans on incest and homosexuality. For the first two centuries of America’s existence, the law of the land followed the Judeo-Christian ban on these two marriages. However, due to American society’s more accepting attitude towards homosexual relationships, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not prohibit gay marriages in June 2015. The ban on marriages between family members still remain.

The US lawsuit that brought about the legalization of marriage was filed because of American law that prevented the plaintiff, Jim Obergefell, from putting his name on the death certificate of his late husband. He was completely correct in being outraged that US law prevented him from doing so.

But our society has been making the wrong arguments in its defense of gay marriage, in advancing a bad set of arguments forcing a baker to create a cake against his religious sensibilities.

Religious Ceremonies versus Civil Documents

The US legal system uses many civil documents, including birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates. They are simple legal notices that must be filed to keep an appropriate record of people in the United States.

Anyone should be free to fill out these documents in a manner that fits their personal beliefs without ANY intervention by the government. That means that the government cannot object to someone naming their child Mohammed any more than two women filing a marriage certificate. (The government should also be prohibited from banning a civil union between siblings or close family members, which it still does).

Put simply, it should not be up to the government to put its Judeo-Christian founding above the principle of a separation of church and state.

In a similar vein, the government should not be able to infringe on people’s practice of religion.

Just as the government should not be allowed to ban the practice of circumcision (the Jewish custom of a bris when the boy is eight days old), it cannot interfere in a wedding ceremony.

Bris/Baptism/Wedding versus Civil Documents

There are certain life events that are religious in nature, where the participants use a priest or rabbi to officiate the ceremony. They often hold the event in a church or synagogue and invoke God’s name and recite prayers. Baptisms and weddings are such occasions.

US laws do not much care about the nature of the religious ceremony. While a priest may declare the couple to be man-and-wife, the legal system still requires a civil marriage certificate to be filed. It is that legal document that falls under the government’s purview, not the wedding itself.

Similarly, a rabbi may name a child in the synagogue at a child’s bris. But the parents must still fill out paperwork in the courts declaring the child’s legal name.

Ceremony and Party Participants

Should everyone be compelled to participate at a bris? Of course not. A photographer should not be compelled to take pictures at a bris just because she takes pictures at baptisms.

Should a baker be forced to design a custom wedding cake for homosexuals or an incestuous couple which goes against his religious beliefs? Absolutely not. It is every vendor’s right to not actively engage in a religious service to which he doesn’t subscribe.

In the case of Masterpiece Cake, the baker made clear that he would sell any ready made item in the store to any person who walked in, regardless of sexual orientation. However, Colorado law compelled him to design and create a cake against his religious beliefs. While that activity does not reach the level of a priest officiating the ceremony, it stands well above the electric company’s providing power to the event. The latter is “blind” to the religious ceremony, and the activity would be identical if the event were a convention. The baker crafts his cake for the ceremony.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” The converse is just as true, that no person should be compelled to violate their religious beliefs.

To actively compel a person to engage in a religious practice – and a wedding ceremony is a religious practice – is wrong. And overturning the Masterpiece Cake Colorado ruling would have no impact on homosexual couples filing for government-approved civil unions.

It is time to clearly delineate between religious ceremonies and legal documents, and to give both gay people and those that have religious objections to gay marriage the freedoms they all deserve.


Related First.One.Through article:

The Baker and Government Doth Protest Too Much

Leading Gay Activists Hate Religious Children

Black People are Homophobic

Pride. Jewish and Gay

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Black People are Homophobic

There is a lot of back-and-forth about whether-and-why black people are more homophobic than white people.

One gay man took to HuffPo to say that black homophobia is a myth conjured by white people because of “society’s disproportional expectations of racial masculinity through pillars of class and privilege.” Quite a mouthful that there’s a false impression that rich white people are OK with homosexuality, and that poor black people aren’t because they are all about “hyper-masculine figures of sexuality, athleticism, and aggression.

But the statistics speak for themselves.

In September 2017, the FBI released its 2016 Crime Statistics which broke out hate crimes. The raw data spoke to the fact that racism – and against black people in particular – continued to be the most common form of hate crime in the United States. But breaking down the data by proportionality, revealed a great deal about the likelihood of any group to commit a hate crime.

According to the US Census information, white people accounted for 76.9% of Americans and blacks accounted for 13.3% in 2016. That meant that there were 5.78 times more white people in the United States than black people. If an average white person and average black person were just as likely to commit a hate crime, one would expect to see a similar ratio of attacks.

Hate Crimes around Religion

The FBI listed 156 and 34 attacks against Jews by whites and blacks, respectively. That meant that white people committed 4.6 times more attacks than black people, lower than the expected 5.78 times. That suggested that an average black person was 25% more likely to commit an anti-Semitic attack than an average white person.

For Muslim attacks, the statistics were more dramatic, with 135 and 49 attacks by whites and blacks, respectively. With whites attacks being only 2.8 times the number of attacks by blacks, it suggested that an average black person was more than TWICE as likely to commit an anti-Islamic attack.

Hate Crimes around Gender and Sexuality

The frequency of hate crimes by black people was even more stark in matters of gender and sexuality.

In 2016, there were 414 and 326 attacks, respectively, by whites and blacks regarding people’s sexual orientation. The nominal gap between the numbers implied that an average black person was four times more likely to attack someone in the LGBT community.

When it came to gender identity, the numbers were even more staggering, with 30 and 57 attacks by whites and blacks, respectively. The average black person was 10 TIMES more likely than a white person to commit a hate crime based on gender identity.

These statistics are dramatic, and cannot be dismissed by black anger or white privilege. Articles such as the one in Black Enterprise magazine entitled “Black Homophobia Is Rooted in the Struggle Against White Supremacy,” that call for “avoid[ing] amplifying the false narrative that black people are disproportionately or egregiously homophobic,” is patently false.

Real solutions come from looking at real facts, then attempting to understand the situation and developing a strategy. Spinning a narrative that is politically correct that denies reality will not help create solutions for a peaceful planet.


Related First.One.Through articles:

NY Times Discolors Hate Crimes

Fact Check Your Assumptions on American Racism

If a Black Muslim Cop Kills a White Woman, Does it Make a Sound?

Leading Gay Activists Hate Religious Children

I’m Offended, You’re Dead

Pride. Jewish and Gay

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Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

Enduring Peace versus Peace Now

There have been many failed attempts at forging a peace deal in the Israel-Arab Conflict. In 2017, the Trump Administration stepped into the situation with a very different approach than the Obama Administration. While there are many facets to the new methods, a clear distinction is Trump’s goal of an “Enduring Peace” versus Obama’s goal of “Peace Now.”

Team Trump’s “Enduring Peace”

Trump placed two people with seemingly little diplomatic experience – but significant deal experience – to try their hands at crafting a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians: Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. While unfamiliar with diplomatic protocol, both Kushner and Greenblatt visited the region many times over their lives. They were joined in their effort by Dina Powell, an Egyptian-American who is the US deputy national security adviser for strategy.

A White House spokesperson made its goal clear for the talks on August 11, 2017 when it stated:

“Trump has previously noted that achieving an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will be difficult but he remains optimistic that peace is possible.”

Jason Greenblatt echoed those words in November after visiting the region several times stating:

“We have spent a lot of time listening to and engaging with the Israelis, Palestinians and key regional leaders over the past few months to help reach an enduring peace deal. We are not going to put an artificial timeline on the development or presentation of any specific ideas and will also never impose a deal. Our goal is to facilitate, not dictate a lasting peace agreement.”


Jason Greenblatt and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO)

Team Trump’s stated mission is to forge a lasting peace that would endure for the future. The negotiators will take the time to work with the parties to structure an agreement that would provide lasting peace and security. This is a break from the Obama Administration.

Obama’s Progressive “Peace Now”

Obama had less international experience than Donald Trump when he assumed the office of the presidency in January 2009, and relied on his “progressive” liberal colleagues to educate him on the Israel-Arab conflict. Those left-wing parties included J Street and Americans for Peace Now. These groups advocated that the administration put “daylight” between America and Israel, as negotiations under President George W. Bush (which was viewed as very close to Israel), came up short of a deal. Obama made clear – to the delight of the far-left wing groups – that he was going to push the Israelis hard to stop building homes for Jews east of the Green Line (EGL).

The far-left groups believed that strong pressure on Israel was key to getting to a peace deal. They were ecstatic when Obama won a 10-month settlement freeze a few months after they met with Obama in July 2009 at the beginning of his term. They celebrated at the end of the Obama administration in December 2016, when Obama let United Nations Resolution 2334 pass declaring it was illegal under international law for Jews to live in EGL.

Jeremy Ben Ami, head of J Street said after the July 2009 meeting with Obama: “I left the room feeling we are at a truly historic moment of opportunity.  There may never be another American President who so clearly gets the issues strategically and has the political capital to try to pull off an agreement.”

The differences between Obama and Trump are both stark and clear.

The left-wing radicals believed that they had a moment in time, and that their anointed Messiah had a unique chance to forge peace in the Middle East. They felt both emboldened by Obama’s presidency and felt the urgency of time. They pushed the Obama Administration to get to a deal as quickly as possible by pushing a solution onto Israel.

Conversely, Team Trump has not shown such hubris. Their focus is not to get to a deal in the fastest time possible, but to establish an enduring peace. They recognize the fact that when Israel uprooted all of its settlements in Gaza and gave the land to the Palestinians it did not result in peace, but in three wars. Greenblatt and Kushner are content to take time to get to a lasting resolution, not the gratification of an immediate deal. They have stated that they are not going to let the UN impose a solution, like the Obama Administration advanced in December 2016.

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry failed to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians and watched the region descend into chaos. Their creation of “daylight” between Israel and the US; the use of international fora to attack Israel; and their rush to embrace the approach of “Peace Now” neither got to a deal nor set the parties on the path to enduring peace.

Hopefully the new approach of seasoned negotiators Greenblatt and Kushner to take their time to get to an “enduring peace” will yield much better results.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Jared Kushner’s Parents Donate $20 million to the First Hospital Likely to Win the Nobel Peace Prize

Mutual Disagreement of Mediators and Judges in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

John Kerry: The Declaration and Observations of a Failure

The Evil Architects at J Street Take a Bow

J Street is a Partisan Left-Wing Group, NOT an Alternative to AIPAC

J Street: Going Bigger and Bolder than BDS

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New York Democratic Committee Doubles Down Calling Pro-Israel Republican Candidate an Anti-Semite

Politics has always been an ugly business. It would appear that the Democratic machine in New York will stoop to new lows in broadcasting disgusting libelous lies to protect the shortcomings of their candidates.

In August 2017, the senior Democratic politician in Westchester County called County Executive Rob Astorino a “clever Nazi.” Almost no Democrats condemned the heinous remark of the staunchly pro-Israel Republican.

And no one seemed to care. So the entire Democratic machine got into the game.

Just two months later – two weeks before the election – the New York State Democratic Committee sent out a mass mailing to residents in Westchetser. The revolting text accused Astorino of placating anti-Semites.

Referring to an incident in November 2016 when a swastika and “White Power” were painted on a bike path, the Democratic committee claimed that Astorino said that the perpetrators had a point. That is a complete lie. The fact is Astorino stated that the graffiti was “vile,” “disturbing,” and would be prosecuted as a hate crime.

It is understandable that the Democratic political machine would need to lie to support George Latimer who owes over $40,000 in back taxes, who is challenging Astorino in the November 7 election. That is why one of the flier’s many lies claims that Astorino wants to raise taxes (even though he has never raised property taxes in his eight years in office, while Latimer wants to raise taxes) is not a surprise. Lying to cover the shortcomings of your own candidate while pulling down your opponent has a long history in politics. Have a problem with paying taxes and being on record for wanting to raise taxes – lie that your opponent raised taxes!

But to call your opponent a Nazi and anti-Semite? What could the Democrats be trying to conceal? Is Latimer a Nazi? Are Astorino’s pro-Israel credentials simply too much to overcome?

Did Astorino visit too many area synagogues where he stated his pride in representing such an ethnically diverse and Jewish county? Are Democrats nervous about Astorino’s trips to the Republican Jewish Coalition where he met with hundreds of like-minded pro-American and pro-Israel people?

Maybe it is because anti-Israel groups like WESPAC and Jewish Voice for Peace despise Astorino and actually like Democrat George Latimer. George Latimer visited and was welcomed at WESPAC events, while WESPAC protested against Astorino often.

Westchester is the eighth most Jewish county in the USA and voted for Rob Astorino, a pro-Israel Republican for County Executive two times in a row. So the New York State Democratic machine has opted to brand him as an anti-Semite. A Nazi. With outright and outrageous lies.

“Dear New York State Democratic Committee,

Is there no floor to vile slander? Don’t some red herrings reek even too much for you? Are your candidates that weak that you need to call pro-Israel Republicans “Nazis” and “anti-Semites?”

When I think that the Democratic party can stoop no lower, you are there to depress me again.

Sincerely – and definitely not faithfully,

A fading Democrat”


Related First.One.Through articles:

The Democrats’ Slide on Israel

The Democratic Party is Tacking to the Far Left-Wing Anti-Semitic Fringe

Politicians React to Vile and Vulgar Palestinian Hatred

Liberals’ Biggest Enemies of 2015

In The Margins

A Country Divided

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There are Standards for Unity

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is one that emphasizes unity more than any other Jewish holiday.

In addition to the commandment to stay in huts (sukkahs) over the holiday, Jews are commanded to gather four species and hold them together in commemorating the holiday. The four species are the lulav, the aravot, the hadasim and the etrog. The four different natural items are said to represent four different types of people. Just as the four species have different characteristics – smell & taste / no smell & taste / smell and no taste / no smell & no taste – similarly these items represent people with a different mix of good deeds and Torah learning. Just as it is necessary to hold all four of these species together to execute the biblical command, so it is with welcoming all kinds of people into our communal tent.

As such, the holiday of Sukkot is a demonstration of unity.

Many progressive rabbis emphasize the nature of unity during the holiday but overlook a critical component of the laws surrounding the lulav: minimum standards.

Each of the four species cannot be contaminated in any way. For example, the tip of the etrog must be intact; the hadasim cannot be dried out. If any one of the four species is damaged, the mitzvah cannot be performed.

So too there are limits to unity.

In theory, all types of people should be allowed in the communal tent. However, there are thresholds at which actions or statements render people unfit and unwelcome into the collective.

Hillary Clinton made a point of describing racists and misogynists as “deplorable,” during her presidential campaign. While she was right in stating that there are some people that are deplorable, she chose that label for 25% of the US population. That is and was an absurd libel.

Liberals have held on to Clinton’s claim post the election of Donald Trump. They continue to state that one in four Americans is a pariah. A disgrace. Unfit to wield a vote.

As such, liberals concluded that the 2016 election was flawed. Like a lulav with dried out hadasim, the process itself was compromised. They held placards that “He’s not my president,” and blamed the loss on a variety of issues like Russian meddling and late breaking revelations about her emails.

But at the core, it was really about their perception of the American deplorables.

Protesters hold signs during a protest against the election of President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Similarly, for many pro-Israel Americans, there is a divide over acceptable approaches to Israel. Some left-wing extremist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, the New Israel Fund and J Street are viewed as beyond the pale for many in the pro-Israel community due to the groups’ approaches of punishing Israel economically and politically. They are the Jewish “deplorables.”

Does one in four pro-Israel Americans really support such left-wing extremist groups? Unlikely. Just as the number of racists in America is much lower than 25%.

America and the pro-Israel community are strong enough to manage a handful of “deplorables.” But it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that our society does not reach a tipping point where one in four people have such hateful views.

The fabric of decency and unity has limits.


Related First.One.Through articles:

A Disservice to Jewish Community

The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

Selective Speech

Students for Justice in Palestine’s Dick Pics

A Deplorable Definition

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There’s No White Privilege for Prostitutes in Minnesota

The FBI recently released its crime statistics report of 2016. In contains a breakdown of Human Trafficking by state which includes “commercial sex acts” and “involuntary servitude.” One state stood out from all of the others regarding human trafficking: Minnesota.

State Population Sex Offenses, 2016 Offenses per MM
Massachusetts 6,873,018 3          0.44
Tennessee 6,705,339 55          8.20
Indiana 6,663,280 4          0.60
Missouri 6,123,362 16          2.61
Maryland 6,068,511 17          2.80
Wisconsin 5,795,147 35          6.04
Colorado 5,658,546 34          6.01
Minnesota 5,554,532 235        42.31
South Carolina 5,030,118 22          4.37
Alabama 4,884,115 NA
Louisiana 4,714,192 123        26.09
Kentucky 4,450,042 NA

Among mid-sized states of 4.5 million to 7 million, only Louisiana and Minnesota had over 100 cases of human trafficking, and Minnesota had almost twice as many as Louisiana. Minnesota had seven times the number of incidents as its neighbor (and similarly sized) Wisconsin.

Are there more women in Minnesota than other states? Greater poverty? More lenient laws about prostitution, whether on the streets or escort services? What could account for such a disparity?

The male/ female breakdown in Minnesota and Wisconsin is identical at 49.6%/50.4%, and the number of people in poverty in Minnesota is among the lowest in the country. Large metropolitan areas like Minneapolis-St. Paul have seen dramatic improvements in poverty, bringing it to the second to lowest of any major city in the United States.

So prostitution is not correlated to the number of women or poverty (terrorism is also not related to poverty, although the United Nations and the Obama administration often argued that it was).

Maybe it has to do with state laws regarding prostitution.

Every state has laws making it illegal to pay for sex (which many believe are completely illogical, including Amnesty International). However, the penalties for prostitution vary significantly by state.

Minnesota has relatively light punishments for the first offense (up to 90 days in jail and/or $1000. Afterwards it jumps to up to 1 year in jail and $3000 per offense. The penalties in Wisconsin are much steeper: up to 9 months in jail and/or fines of $10,000. That is a significant difference and would seem to suggest that penalties – not ubiquity or economic situation – correlate to human trafficking.

However, there is no broad-based correlation. Missouri has even more lenient penalties (30 days to 6 months and/or $500) with only 1/16th the number of arrests. Similarly, South Carolina (first offense 30 days and $200; second offense 6 months and $1000; thereafter 1 year and/or $3000) had 1/10th the number of arrests as Minnesota.

So a large number of prostitution-related arrests does not correlate to laws permitting the practice or the penalties associated with breaking the law.

Then what would account for the difference? How is Minnesota different than every other state that would cause such a disproportionate number of prostitutes?

A deeper look into the FBI tables may yield some clues.

In most states, the number of people arrested were disproportionately black. In Wisconsin, 77% of those arrested were black, in a state that is 80% white. Tennessee had an equal number of whites and blacks arrested (and a few Asians) in a state that is 73% white. South Carolina did not list the race of many of those arrested, but for those that it did, 83% were black in a state where 26% of the residents are black.

But in Minnesota, 69% of the arrests were of white people (in a state that is 80% white). It was the only state which had a somewhat proportionate number of white people arrested as resided in the state. Without the prosecution of white people, the statistics for Minnesota would more closely resemble the rest of the country.

These white people were not recent arrivals to American shores. While Minnesota may have a reputation of being home to Scandinavian immigrants (hence the NFL football team being called the Vikings), the state had 8.3% of the people being foreign-born with only 29.1% of those immigrants being white. That compares to Wisconsin with 44.7% of the foreign-born population being white.

So are there simply more white prostitutes and johns in Minnesota than everywhere else in the country? As the state of Minnesota uses a greater number of undercover cops to catch the buyers and sellers of sex, could they be actively selecting white people for arrests? As the MN police departments have shifted to viewing women as victims, are they more likely to arrest only men?

Quite possibly. It would appear that “white male privilege” in prostitution has hit a wall in Minnesota.


Related First.One.Through articles:

The Misogyny of Treating Women like Victims

The Gender Diamonds

Republican Scrutiny and Democratic Empowerment of Muslims in Minnesota

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For the Sins of 5777 of…

… not standing up against libel attacks (such as when left-wing radicals called Ben Shapiro a white supremacist)

… allowing anti-Israel activists to speak in my synagogue (such as members from Jewish Voice for Peace and New Israel Fund)

… being a political coward (for not condemning fellow Democrats that called Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino a “clever Nazi”)

… being a political opportunist tacking to the far left-wing extremists of the Democratic party and throwing Jews under the bus (supporting Linda Sarsour’s tirades against Israel and not backing anti-BDS legislation or the Taylor Force bill)

… subscribing to the New York Times

… saying that Obama is pro-Israel (even after he let UN Security Council Resolution 2334 pass)

… saying with a straight face that the Iranian Nuclear Deal was a “Great Deal”

… labeling those with whom I disagree a “deplorable,” a “racist” and a “misogynist”

… donating to the United Nations

collaborating with international bodies to harm the Jewish State

… being a hypocrite while donating to the most expensive US presidential in history where Clinton outspent Trump by over two times, and then complain that race was all about money

ignoring Israeli victims of Arab terror

ignoring the Jewish people’s historic connection, religious ties, human rights and security needs throughout the holy land

… suggesting that Hamas is not a terrorist organization and calling for its inclusion in the Palestinian Authority leadership

… promoting the notion that America has much more to fear from Republicans than jihadists

… never commenting when Islamic countries say that Israel is committing “ethnic cleansing,” but going ballistic when Israeli Prime Minister used the term for the Palestinian Authority after it demanded a Jew-free state

… not demonstrating for the rights of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount

… not protesting that the US should withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority until it negates its law which makes it a capital offense to sell land to a Jew

…demanding that Israel live with the security and religious compromises that I decide, to satisfy my personal sense of social justice while living thousands of miles away

… purchasing the New Israel Fund Haggadah

… condemning Jews for building homes in Area C of the West Bank, which the Palestinian Authority agreed is Israeli territory

… belittling the intelligence and integrity of Ivanka Trump, just because she’s pretty

… talking big about feminism, but doing nothing for the women in southeast Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan) where 25% of the women of the world live in barbaric conditions

… only talking about refugees when Trump became president, even though Obama did little to nothing to help them during seven years of his presidency

… calling PA acting-President Mahmoud Abbas a “moderate”

… saying that poverty causes terrorism, even when there is no study that supports such claim

… continuing to call Stateless Arabs from Palestine (SAPs) “refugees”

… not celebrating a rabbi giving the blessing at the US president’s inauguration – the first time a rabbi has done so in decades

… for supporting J Street, the organization that lobbied the Obama administration aggressively to abandon Israel at the United Nations

… living in my liberal echo chamber

… liking Jimmy Carter

… going to a Roger Waters concert

… watching Al Jazeera

… condemning Israel for installing security devices after a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount

… defending left-wing extremists that are anti-Semites

… not writing to my alma mater after anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activities occurred on campus

… for comparing a Muslim refugee from Syria to a Holocaust survivor

… for not advocating for any help in Syria throughout Obama’s presidency when 500,000 people were killed

… never understanding how much people hated Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, even while I repeated ad nauseam how much I despised Donald Trump

… the inconsistent logic of telling Trump supporters to be wary because he was supported by the KKK and the KGB, even while I supported the Iranian nuclear deal which was supported by Russia and Iran

… ending friendships with people that voted for Trump

For all these things, please pardon us.

 

We Should Not Pay for Your First Amendment Rights

This past Sunday witnessed various protests during National Football League games with players refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem. This article does not address whether the protests have merit or do not. The players actions miss a basic point: people shouldn’t have to pay for your first amendment rights.

Americans have various rights under the first amendment, including to free speech. That right enables individuals who want to stand on a street corner and yell about how much they hate America the freedom to do so.

But the football stadium is not a public street.

People pay hundreds of dollars to enter the stadium to watch a football game, not to watch players express their political opinions. Fans at home also spend lots of money for cable and satellite TV to watch their favorite teams. More specifically – to watch their teams play football.

The only way that a player should have a right to express his feelings about politics is with the approval of the team’s owner and the NFL. Should those governing bodies deem it appropriate to sanction certain behavior, then it becomes part of the game like a black bandage on a jersey in memory of a player.


NFL players take a knee during the national anthem
(photo: Michael Dwyer/AP)

If the NFL and team owners approve the actions of the players expressing their political opinions during the game, then the audience can decide whether they want to spend their time and money watching such activity. But until the league and owners approve the players’ actions, it should be banned or fined.

Thomas Jefferson once said:

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is both sinful and tyrannical.”

Even if you agree with the sentiments of the protesters, it is “both sinful and tyrannical” to be forced to pay to propagate such expressions.


Related First.One.Through articles:

New York Times Confusion on Free Speech

Selective Speech

The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

Elie Wiesel on Words

Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

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Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

 

Paying for Preference. The Fallacy of Net Neutrality

Americans have long understood the ecosystem of capitalism.

Money enables people to buy things that they desire and spending greater amounts of money gives a person the opportunity to purchase a superior product.

Consider an item like a car. A car might have a basic sticker price for a base model, and also higher prices for additional features such as leather seats or a sunroof. More money yields a better product.

Such a concept is not limited to products, but to services as well.

An expensive first class airplane seat gives a passenger a better seat on a flight (a product) and also preferential boarding (a service). Similarly, people willing to spend more money at a Disney theme park could purchase a FastPass which enables visitors to bypass the long waiting lines for rides. Those unwilling to shell out for the additional pass need to remain in the slow lane while the FastPass customers pass in front of them.

Businesses also pay premiums to provide better service to their customers.

Consider supermarkets. While a customer may not think about the reason Heinz Baked Beans are at eye level while the competing Bush’s beans are towards the floor, there is a dollars-and-cents backstory. Heinz pays the supermarket extra money – known as a slotting fee – to be at eye level so that consumers see the product right away. Heinz benefits by increased visibility and sales, while the consumer benefits by not having to bend down for the item. The supermarket uses those slotting fees to help manage the costs of running the store.

The ecosystem works. For everybody.

Net Neutrality

The Obama administration pushed forward a regulation through the FCC advancing “net neutrality.” The premise was to regulate companies that provide high-speed internet access (HSIA) to ensure that they do not favor some sites over others.

For example, if a website that offers videos (like Netflix) wants to make sure that it has a smooth viewing experience for its customers, it would spend money to build an ecosystem to have its content distributed effectively. It would have its popular content housed around the country and establish “transit” and “peering relationships” to expedite the flow of content through the web.

Advocates of net neutrality fear that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might use their position to manage the content that people see. They fear that large companies like Netflix may be able to pay for a better experience than smaller companies, thus stifling the emergence of newer and smaller companies. In particular, they note that the ISPs that own content would prioritize their own sites in a “fast lane” while relegating everyone else to a slow lane. The net neutrality promoters warn that the ISPs could even shut down competing websites completely.

To advance their “neutrality” goals, the Obama administration’s FCC declared that the Internet would be regulated like a public utility. Damn the billions of dollars spent by ISPs like Verizon and Comcast to lay fiber around the country to access the internet (and the billions of dollars more that are due to be spent), the government sought to control their infrastructure and business model, much like an electric company or public road.

There are many flaws with the net neutrality approach.

Slotting fees: As described above, businesses have always sought a way to improve their service as well as competitive position. Product companies pay slotting fees to gain better visibility and stores accept the fees to help manage their business. The behind-the-scenes relationships are hidden from customers, but it does not mean that there is an anti-competitive conspiracy.

In many supermarkets, there are additional layers of relationships. Many supermarket freezers are owned by third parties which have their own brands of ice cream. The freezer companies likely prioritize their own products on shelves by putting them at eye level. But the freezers also include competing products, as it would undermine the company’s business to have a half full freezer.

Does a supermarket only sell its own brand of iced tea or peanut butter? Of course not. Does Disney only offer rides to those people who pay for FastPass? It couldn’t afford to keep the parks open if they took such an approach.

Similarly, an ISP that owns content would likely make sure that it is delivered on its “fast lane” if it didn’t harm its overall business. But it would certainly make all content accessible.

Not a monopoly: The federal government actively seeks to regulate businesses that are monopolies. For example, there are not a dozen electric plants in a neighborhood that compete to supply a home with electricity. As such, the government regulates the return that the utility can earn for its product (the electricity) and service (delivery of the power).

But there is no monopoly on HSIA. There are many telecom companies competing for your broadband business. There are cable companies and satellite companies that would be happy to supply your content and HSIA too. And wait until 5G – everyone will be surfing the web on their mobile devices and abandon their PCs. There is choice.

If AT&T would own CNN, would it make sure that it was great viewing experience without latency? I would imagine so. Would AT&T also scramble Fox News? Of course not, as doing so would undermine its business model of getting as many customers as possible. The ISPs are not going to divide their business on ideological lines between liberals and conservatives.

Vital service: Electricity and Disney theme parks are not equivalent in terms of their necessity. Someone can live a long fruitful life without going to Magic Mountain. No electricity or gas for heat, hot water, refrigeration… not so much.

Where does broadband sit?

During the early years of broadband, the internet was used by individuals to watch silly entertainment like dancing cats (Jake Paul is the latest incarnation of a dancing cat). But there have been significant changes in the usage of broadband over the past decade:

  • OTT. Many consumers have been dropping their television service and opting to go “over the top,” using HSIA for their television content. Broadband is eating cable TV.
  • Death of newspapers. Advertising dollars have moved out of print into digital, destroying the business model of many media companies. Broadband is controlling the news.
  • IoT. The “Internet of Things” is the movement to connect devices to the internet. Refrigerators, thermostats, cars and other items will be viewable and controlled remotely. Broadband will control all electronic devices.

That is the real story. The ISPs are well on their way to taking over the access to the news and media and they will ultimately control the access to the future of things.

And the government is unwilling to let such power remain unregulated and uncontrolled.

The “net neutrality” sponsors are campaigning about a fake issue of unfair ISP “fast lanes” and that ISPs will block content. The ISPs are as likely to do that as Disney banning Universal Studios employees from its theme Parks. Paying for Preference is ubiquitous in our capitalistic economy. #FakeIssue

This campaign is about the future. On the one hand, how does one make sure that an ISP does not use the information about your driving and shopping habits in illegal or inappropriate ways? On the other, how do we make sure that the government doesn’t read Americans’ emails and review their surfing habits? We have seemingly granted Google and Facebook carte blanche to do so – will there be no end?

Broadband will be an integral part of all our lives, and the companies that provide access to the Internet will have a unique window to all of our activities. Today, net neutrality addresses an irrelevant non-issue while the government fails to focus on the critical issue: managing privacy in an always-on IoT world.

More on that to come.


Related material from First.One.Through:

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The Baker and Government Doth Protest Too Much

On September 7, 2017 the Trump administration’s Department of Justice came out with a ruling that supported a baker that refused to create a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple. The DOJ filed the motion in response to a pending Supreme Court ruling on religious liberty.

In August 2015, the state of Colorado ruled that the baker, Jack Phillips, broke Colorado law by not making a customized cake for a gay wedding, stating that his refusal to do so went against Colorado’s law that prevented discrimination based on sexual orientation. Phillips argued that baking the cake went against his religious beliefs as a devout Christian. The courts were not swayed and ruled against him.

Many people – including me – believed that the court was wrong, and in June 2017 the Supreme Court agreed to review the case.


Colorado baker Jack Phillips

In advance of a ruling, the DOJ backed up Phillips arguing that the baker’s creations involve his personal artistic talents and expression, and as such, should be protected by his rights to express his beliefs.

But such an argument also falls flat.

The crux of the issue of discrimination versus religious liberty has to do with the willingness to sell a product that is produced to any and all customers.

If the baker has cookies on the shelf for sale, he must sell it to everyone regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Similarly, if the baker makes a customized item – say a wedding cake without any couples or comments on it – he should be forced to sell such cake to any willing buyer, gay or straight.

However, neither state nor federal laws should ever be able to force someone to create a unique item. Ever.

The baker should be able to refuse to make a wedding cake with two men on top of it if he never makes such cakes, in the same manner that a vegetarian restaurant refuses to sell any meat items. The vendor need not cater to a client’s unique demands that are outside the universe of items sold.

Should a baker be forced to bake a swastika cake? Of course not. However, were he to make a cake in the shape of a swastika, he should be obligated to sell it to anyone interested in purchasing it. The baker must similarly sell a wedding cake to a gay couple if it is the same kind of cake that he sells to heterosexual couples.

The Department of Justice was right in arguing that the sate of Colorado went too far in fining the baker. However, the DOJ’s rationale for absolving the baker on the basis of his creative talents being a form of expression went in the wrong direction by inserting the baker into the end-product, rather than focusing on the end-product itself.

Whether an item is already on the shelves or is made custom, the threshold of discrimination should be on the willingness of the vendor to sell that product to anyone. However, a product need not be created or customized to a specification that falls outside the vendor’s desires – whether they be for religious reasons or any other.

Thomas Jefferson understood the possible tyranny of government when he said:

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

As part of a common community, all Americans should treat each other respectfully, but the government should never be allowed to obligate a person to create a unique, alien and distasteful product to satisfy the desires of others.


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The Gender Diamonds

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