Drowning out the hate with the hope.

Some residents of Miami Beach awoke Sunday to swastikas engraved into their vandalized cars. Recently, Jewish Community Centers in South Florida, including the Miami Beach JCC, received anonymous bomb threats forcing evacuations. A troubling pattern is emerging – and it needs to be responded to because leaving hate speak and conduct unrebutted only enables it.

This obviously isn’t the first time Miami Beach has had to address this conduct. In the 1990s, a group of American neo-Nazi’s held a rally outside the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial. Directly across the street from where the self-described Nazi’s spouted their hate filled rhetoric, thousands of Beach residents assembled, peacefully singing Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem – drowning out “the hate” with a song that literally means “the hope.”

I remember thinking as we stood there arm in arm, people of all faiths and ethnicities, what an awesome display of unity and power. I was so proud of the children and young people in attendance – who learned why standing up in the face of hate is not an option – but a necessity.

Today, we should respond similarly and rally to demonstrate who we are as a community. We should make it clear to the anonymous cowards – and anyone else who might feel empowered by unrebutted hate – that our community is united, proud and unafraid. As the late Elie Wiesel explained, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Dan Gelber
Miami Beach

He should have simply said “no comment.”

When I was a federal prosecutor in South Florida, one of my roles was to field inquiries from the media about potential investigations pending in our office. My response was always some version of “no comment.” It got to the point where most reporters would simply call and ask “can I go ahead and put you down for ‘no comment,'” before I even had a chance to speak.

That is because when it comes to pending investigations federal prosecutors and agents almost always have only two good options: indict or be quiet. Talking publicly about a matter is not an option because doing so offends basic notions of fairness and due process. It creates incredible potential for misimpressions and gives the impacted parties no ability to meaningfully address allegations.

Internal rules of the Department of Justice and long standing practice reflect these concerns. The U.S. Attorney’s Manual (Rule 1-7-530), the handbook that guides nearly every decision of a federal investigation, provides that personnel “shall not respond to questions about the existence of an ongoing investigation or comment on its nature or progress.”

This rule is especially true when it comes to political investigations that could impact elections. For instance, in the handbook produced by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section on Election Offenses there is an entire section titled “Noninterference with Elections,” in which the authors, high ranking Justice Department officials, explain that in election investigations “federal law enforcement personnel should carefully evaluate whether an investigative step under consideration has the potential to affect the election itself.”

The authors explain the concern that making public investigative issues “runs the obvious risk of chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities…and also runs the significant risk of interjecting the investigation itself as an issue…”

Sound familiar?

Director Comey’s recent letter is, regrettably, a case study of why it’s such a bad idea to talk about investigations publicly. After the FBI had reviewed tens of thousands of Clinton emails, Director Comey announced the FBI found no basis for further criminal review because “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue the matter.

His recent letter does not change that conclusion in any way, and he says so. He acknowledges the Bureau has not even reviewed the emails; have no idea if they are even Hillary Clinton’s; and can’t explain if they have anything to do with the issues they were previously reviewing. He even expresses his concern that his statement may create a “misleading impression” and will run the “significant risk of being misunderstood.”

So why say anything?

Because Comey felt compelled to make a statement on the eve and in the vortex of a hotly contested national election, it has become a dominant campaign issue. Trump and the Republicans are arguing that this otherwise mundane statement is grounds to convict and charge (apparently in that order) Hillary Clinton for high crimes. Democrats are responding by demanding all the investigative materials be released so the public can see that there is no there there.

Of course, no additional information will be forthcoming from the FBI because that would, well, violate FBI rules against commenting on investigations.

See the problem?

Director Comey’s announcement was a clear mistake and contrary to Justice Department precedent and, more importantly, good judgment. I suspect Comey, who is not a partisan hack, made the decision more out of concern for himself than for anyone else. While it may throw the election into chaos, it serves as a CYA memo that he can point to when the Republican Congress continues their partisan hearings next year. He will be able to blithely claim all he did was release information, and how people reacted was not his responsibility.

But for Americans hoping for an election about issues and not distractions, Director Comey did a real disservice.

Invoking the old new world order.

Donald Trump recently declared, “the shackles are gone.” Most folks wondered what possibly could that mean given the version of Trump we have already seen.

Well, after his recent speech in West Palm Beach we now know. Trump is no longer flirting with the neo-Nazi conspiracy wing of our nation. While months ago he played coy when asked if he would reject the support of white nationalists, now that the shackles are gone, he has replaced his dog whistle with a bullhorn through which he bellows their language and world-view.

He went from channeling Archie Bunker to embracing David Duke.

In his West Palm Beach speech – which was not off the cuff but rather written and delivered via a teleprompter – Trump accused his rival Hillary Clinton of being a conspirator in the “global power structure” that “threatens our existence.” Of “meeting in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty to enrich these global financial powers.” To having a “political agenda” that is “controlled by a small handful of global special interests.” He pointed to the “massive international corruption” and “the financial and media corporations that fund it.”

These are not phrases that are new or accidental. They are, in fact, very old and precise. They are nearly identical to the words and themes used to stoke nationalism in Germany prior to WW II, and they are used today very commonly on the alt-right web sites that provide a forum and echo chamber for the most hardened, anti-Semites and bigots in our nation.

Trump never used the word Jew, but he didn’t need to.

In other campaigns, the voice of the alt-right has been relegated to the shadows and remote parts of the Internet where decent people never venture. But Trump has made a calculated decision to speak directly to them in a language they understand.

I don’t suspect it is even because Trump actually holds anti-Semitic views. For him, it’s just a calculated and callous decision to find new votes no matter how hate-filled the voter may be. Many of my Republican friends have rejected Trump for precisely these reasons. They are voting for Hillary because no matter their quarrels with her, they view Trump’s deficiencies as something of a vastly different and perilous order.

It is vital that all Americans reject Donald Trump and the hate he seeks to harness.

Show me your papers

“I was able to get him to produce it, he should have produced it a long time before”

If there is a single thing you heard from Donald Trump last night that disqualifies him in every way to be an American leader in this century, it is his utterly unapologetic belief that there was nothing wrong with his crusade to force an American president to show us his papers. For African-Americans, for Japanese Americans, for Jewish, Italian and Irish Americans, for Hispanic Americans and for so many others that proudly call our nation their home, the compulsion to show us your papers harkens to the worst and most despicable moments in American and world history. It is a vile command intended to weed out the people who don’t belong from those that do; to segregate those that cannot be trusted or are unwelcomed simply because of their skin color or ethnic origin. To remind people that they are inferior because of their religion or hue. Trump’s twisted notion that “I did a great job and a great service in getting him to produce his birth certificate,” betrays his core belief that people who don’t look like him need to prove they belong. It is entirely vile and disgusting. It is racist.

I was disheartened when our President capitulated and produced his “papers.” I wish he hadn’t because I believe that racism and bigotry are never appeased. Even after President Obama produced his birth certificate, Trump continued his racist rant for years because there is always someone willing to appeal to the very worst in people.

I have to believe our nation is better than that. Better than Trump.

July 4. America the Beautiful.

America the Beautiful became my favorite song when Smokey Robinson included it in a stirring and soulful mash-up with the National Anthem at Fenway Park during Game 5 of the 1986 World Series. It was flat out inspiring.

When the song was written in 1893 by Katharine Bates as she hiked Pikes Peak in Colorado, she penned it as a poem. The line in her first verse — “God shed his grace on thee” – almost suggests that America was divinely chosen. That it is great as a matter of God’s will. Of course, at the time, women didn’t have the right to vote, and African-Americans were still
largely treated as chattel.

To understand the point Bates was actually making you have to read her poem in its entirety. It’s not about the greatness of America; it is about the promise of an America that can be great. While she marvels at the physical and topography of the “fruited plains” and “alabaster cities’” she also recognizes that our country is not without its blemishes.

My favorite verse:

America, America,
God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in law

Bates doesn’t view America as intrinsically great – great is something you have to work at because nations, like people, will sometimes surrender to lesser instincts. Nations sometimes take a route that is less than exceptional.

The America Bates celebrates, is a nation that resists its lesser instincts and seeks higher ground. An America that leans toward virtue because no matter how we celebrate affluence, power and celebrity, we should revere character. It is not the strength of our military that makes us great, but that we seek to deploy it righteously. Our wealth isn’t extraordinary, but our charity is. And our intellect isn’t unique, but that we use it to improve the human condition that is so distinguishing.

Or as Bates herself once commented, “our greatness must be crowned with goodness.”

This election cycle seems to be running contrary to Bates’ America. Donald Trump isn’t asking America to resist its lesser instincts – he is making the case to succumb to them.

I appreciate that in our media saturated country, celebrity often equates with success. And there is nothing that inherently disqualifies a reality show star from being a politician. But somehow we didn’t even get the good guy character on the show – we got the villain. How have so many people lost sight of virtue amidst the swirl of celebrity? What does it say about us as a nation that such a self-interested, narcissistic and terribly flawed man can be honored with the trust and privilege of our highest office?

Bates had it right. She was celebrating leaders who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life. Who believed success should be noble and gains divine.

That is the America I celebrate today. Happy Fourth of July.

Intolerant of gay rights and tolerant of gun violence

Intolerant of gay rights and tolerant of gun violence has been the way of the Florida Legislature. Advancements in human rights have been, at best, barely incremental and only after courts forced the issue. With guns, it’s the opposite. No matter the parade of horrors the legislature has done not a single thing to reduce gun violence, abdicating its leadership role entirely to the NRA.

But there is an election upcoming. Maybe this tragedy will force those who seek to serve in elected office to answer questions about what they will do differently. Whether the 49 souls lost to senseless hate-filled violence means something to them.

We have a right to know whether they will they continue to dehumanize an entire class of our neighbors, friends and loved ones knowing that it only emboldens homophobic hate?

Will they recognize that the Second Amendment and commonsense gun control are not incompatible? That just because you can’t stop all gun violence doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to prevent some of it.

Our State will never heal from this tragedy. It’s not the type of loss that you can, or should, forget.

And I don’t believe any death becomes less painful by making it a teachable moment. But I do believe in action. If you want to do something, ask those running for office where they stand and what they believe, but more importantly what they will do.

Please, let’s leave this spotlight to Indiana!

Updated: The Florida House passed a measure that would allow private adoption agencies to assert their “religious and moral” objections into their adoption decisions. The measure is unapologetically intended to allow private adoption agencies to discriminate against same sex married couples who seek to adopt. Supporters of the wrong-headed legislation argue private agency adoption decisions need to be protected.

It’s almost like the Florida House became jealous that Indiana was getting too much national attention for its intolerance.
First, the law of the land in Florida today is that gay couples can marry and that they can adopt. Allowing adoption agencies to decide same sex couples are unfit simply because they are gay, is contrary to Florida law.

But even more offensive is the notion — as promoted by those supporting the bill — that this measure is justified because somehow the government is interfering with private agencies’ decision making. Or that we shouldn’t discriminate against adoption agencies with religious views.

The problem with these justifications is that the children who are being adopted don’t “belong” to private adoption agencies. They are not chattel or property. They are children — minors — who didn’t choose who controls their adoption decisions.
So the state is obliged to make sure that these children we are responsible for are adopted by loving parents – not just parents that some agency believes comport with their intolerant views.

The Florida Senate will now consider the bill. Let’s hope they provide the lucid interval so lacking in Tallahassee. This type of
narrow-mindedness is not who we are. Please, let’s leave this spotlight to
Indiana.

Dad turns 95!

We celebrated my Dad’s 95th birthday today. Friends and family gathered at our home to let Seymour know we love and appreciate him.

His story is a great story.

My Dad grew up in the Great Depression as a first generation American. Like many, he always had boarders in the small apartment he was raised in as my grandparents struggled to get by. He went into the Army Air Corps in 1941 (for $1 a day) and after the war returned to the state he trained in because he liked sunshine, and opportunity seemed to abound here. After the GI bill helped him through law school, he began a near uninterrupted path of public service for 65 years: as a legislative aide in the Florida state senate where he saw the ugliest parts of segregation; a Chief Assistant state attorney in a wild Miami; an Assistant Attorney General in Tallahassee; a Chief Judge in the juvenile court; a mayor (of Miami Beach); and even a professor (he earned his PhD in the 1960’s at FSU).

He and my Mom, a career school teacher who was his opposite in so many ways, were a great pair. If I had to describe his politics it would be conservative about law enforcement, progressive about social issues, but overwhelmingly pragmatic to the extent pragmatism can be a political philosophy.

He has been given so many accolades in life including just this year having the new Miami-Dade children’s courthouse named for him. But I think he is most proud that he and my mom made our family close, loving and supportive.

My old man is a step slower than he was when he played basketball at City College night school (perhaps more than a step since he just started using a walker). But he is fortunate that unlike many others his mind remains quick and his memory is intact.

I am proud of him because he was a devoted husband, a great dad, and sweet grandfather. In his public life, he always looked out for the little guy and was never afraid to pick a fight with a more powerful adversary over a principle in which he believed.

I count my blessings that he is my father. I don’t know that I could have been any luckier.

Happy Birthday Pops.

Bron, don’t go. But if you go, thanks!

I mean it. Not being sarcastic. Thanks for giving me and mine so many wonderful memories. Miami has had some sport successes over the last few decades. Shula’s Dolphins were amazing and for decades the Hurricanes have been something to be so proud of. The Marlins have a couple banners too.

But you brought us something extra special. I will always cherish watching your games with my Dad who is 95 this year and was the player-coach of the Army Air Corp All-Guadalcanal team in WW II. And with my daughters and 10-year-old son, Max, who has your picture hanging over his bed.  And with my wife, who gets so anxious in the fourth quarter that she usually records the game and will only watch if I tell her “it will be fine.”

So thanks, but don’t go.

We loved the backstories with Wade and Bosh, hometown hero Haslem, the Birdman and even Super Mario who seems to be everybody’s kid brother. Bringing Jesus Shuttlesworth and Miller here was such a gift. Four championship runs in a row with two titles. The games were so exciting and your play so splendid. My children will all grow up with such vivid memories to pass on to their kids.

So thanks, but don’t go.

Thanks for reminding my son that passing is as important as shooting; and for showing my Dad that old school basketball is still alive. Thanks for allowing my wife the confidence to watch the end of your games (at least most of them) without getting incredibly nervous about the outcome.

But most of all, thanks for the way you comported yourself.  You’re a young man and crazy popularity can be intoxicating and often self-destructive in anyone. It tends to reveal your virtues or your flaws.

So thank you for being a good citizen in our community; for signing that extra autograph; for not cursing in front of our children; for being a good sport and teammate; for not returning a cheap shot when one is given. For remembering that class is not about jewelry or clothes, but about how you treat others.

For being the kind of example our City can be proud of forever.

Bron, it would be nice if you stay, but if you go…thanks!

One million Floridians.

My friend Ryan is a great example of the Republican voter who is fiscally conservative but socially moderate. He is a smart, former federal prosecutor who loves the Wall Street Journal and believes the “market” has an inviolate wisdom that should be respected and even revered.

But while he sometimes pokes fun at liberals, he has a pronounced libertarian streak that supports keeping government a good distance from private conduct.

Ryan called me the other day.

“Just wanted you to know, I’m in the club.”

He then explained to me that prior to the Affordable Care Act being enacted, because of the hype he had heard, he bought his young family a high deductible insurance policy so he would not be subject to any Affordable Care Act penalties. The policy did little to help him avoid high health care costs.

But when he checked the plans available during the enrolment period he immediately enrolled in an ACA plan that he described as “the smartest and best purchase he ever made.” (other than a pair of mallards he discovered at a local yard sale)

“Man, was I wrong about Obamacare” he confessed.

The Republican hate machine has been demonizing the Affordable Care Act since it was conceived even though the notion that people ought to be responsible for themselves is utterly consistent with purportedly bedrock Republican principles.

They tried to scare folks with talk of death panels. Or tell seniors they would lose their health care. Or that jobs would be lost as larger companies were asked to provide affordable health care plans.

None of that happened and as of today, one million Floridians have signed up.

People like my office aide, who is a 21 year old who was uninsured until the ACA allowed her to be included in her parent’s health care policy.

Or Maria, the mother of our office manager. A perceived lump in her breast years earlier had made her nearly impossible to insure unless she paid over $800 a month. Her new plan is less than half that price and has better copays and deductibles.

Yes, one million Floridians now have insurance. Thousands of children won’t have to wait until they are so sick they qualify for E.R. visits. 530,000 women will feel more secure having regular screenings to detect and prevent serious diseases.

In a state like Florida where nearly one out of four residents lacked health insurance, the ACA has been a boon.

And for everyone else who had insurance it’s pretty good too. One million Floridians will be paying for their own health care costs without shifting that financial burden to homeowners whose tax dollars usually pay for caring for the uninsured.

Still, Florida Governor Rick Scott is reportedly spending $100 million to tether his opponent, Charlie Crist, to the Affordable Care Act. After all it was Scott who rode the Tea Party wave into office, demonizing the ACA and repeating the tired old lies that on a daily basis are discredited. He’s already spent $20 million, much of it repeating those lies.

Crist, to his great credit, however, embraces the plan because it provides so many Floridians access to something as vital as health care.

But now that there is zero evidence that Florida is losing jobs due to the ACA and with one million Floridians signed up and enjoying its benefits, I wonder what Rick Scott is going to say?

What is Rick Scott going to tell one million Floridians?