Golf as refuge—my favorite subject. Now the challenge isn’t a pandemic, but politics. As we return to our courses this spring, I’m concerned that the divisiveness in the country might spill over into golf. Do we simply check our politics at the clubhouse door and avoid all conversation about the news, or does the civility among golfing friends make us more open to seeing the good in those who hold an opposing point of view?
My ulterior motive is to find the best priest and rabbi joke that makes the point. So I went to Marc Gellman, the Long Island rabbi who—like most old golfers I know—retired to Florida, where there are no income taxes but plenty of tee times.
“Politics is ridiculous,” he says to me. “Friendships are more precious than family because you get to choose your friends, but be realistic: Not everybody at the club is your friend.”
Channeling “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” politics comes from the Greek word politiká, meaning affairs of the cities. Don’t we play golf to escape those affairs? The nature of a golf club might be to associate with kindred spirits, but the kindredness is golf—not money or religion or political philosophy. Years ago I joined a place where the club president congratulated me by saying, “You’re lucky you got in. You’re the kind of guy who might invite Bill Clinton to the member-guest.” I don’t even know Bill Clinton, except I heard he put out feelers to join another club I belong to and, well, he never got in. The closest I’ve ever gotten to being political on the golf course was not letting George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle and Nick Brady play through, but there was a group right in front of us.
How do you keep politics from ruining the golf? The rabbi says there are two answers, and the first is from a Muslim. He calls it the Lesson of Muhammad Ali—you slip the punch.
“Ali was not the hardest hitter, but he had the fastest twitch muscles of any heavyweight fighter,” Gellman says. “Slipping” is a technique in which the boxer moves his head to either side so that the opponent’s punch slips past. It was the basis of Ali’s genius. (Only later in his career when he lost his speed did Ali resort to rope-a-doping—not a good technique at the golf club.) “When a golfer starts talking about politics, you slip the punch,” says Gellman. “You say, ‘How about those Mets?’ Or, ‘You should see this new wedge I got.’ They’ll get the message.”
The second approach can be summed up in a single word: Lie. Gellman says it comes from the rabbinical teaching: “You must always say the bride is beautiful.” Feel free to revise as “the groom is handsome.” Lying is the only morally good thing to do in many instances. The Ten Commandments say nothing about lying. Bearing false witness is in there, but that’s meant to address perjury in court. Lying is OK.
Gellman gives an example. A rabbi who shall remain nameless wants to join a club in, say, Boca Raton. His sponsor is a close friend of 40 years and a Trump hater. After a round they have a drink back at the house, and the sponsor announces, “I cannot keep as a friend anybody who voted for Trump.” The rabbi takes a moment pondering his choices and replies, “I don’t ever share my politics, conservative as I am, but even I could not vote for Trump.” The moment passes and the lying rabbi becomes a member of the club.
Back to the priest and rabbi joke. Here it is: Pat and Maury have played golf together every Friday for 25 years. One week Maury says to Pat, “You and I talk B.S., golf, sports all the time, but we avoid our religions. Let me ask you seriously, Father, do you believe that Jesus did all those miracles, like the loaves and fishes?” Pat says, “Rabbi, I’m glad you brought it up. I’ve been meaning to ask if you really believe Moses parted the Red Sea?”
After a pause, Maury replies: “Pat, that was Moses.”
Can golf be part of the solution? Meh, I don’t think so.
Parliamentary election unlikely to change Russia's politics – CTV News
After a few weeks of desultory campaigning but months of relentless official moves to shut down significant opposition, Russia is holding three days of voting this weekend in a parliamentary election that is unlikely to change the country’s political complexion.
There’s no expectation that United Russia, the party devoted to President Vladimir Putin, will lose its dominance of the State Duma, the elected lower house of parliament. The main questions to be answered are whether the party will retain its current two-thirds majority that allows it to amend the constitution; whether anemic turnout will dull the party’s prestige; and whether imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Smart Voting initiative proves to be a viable strategy against it.
“There is very little intrigue in these elections … and in fact they will not leave a special trace in political history,” Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told The Associated Press.
Putin, however, on Thursday urged Russians to vote, saying in a video message that “election of (the Duma’s) new composition is undoubtedly the most important event in the life of our society and country.”
With 14 parties fielding candidates for half of the Duma’s 450 seats that are chosen by party list, the election has a veneer of being genuinely competitive. But the three parties aside from United Russia that are expected to clear the 5% support necessary to get a seat rarely challenge the Kremlin.
The Kremlin wants control over the new parliament, which will still be in place in 2024, when Putin’s current term expires and he must decide on running for reelection or choosing some other strategy to stay in power.
The other half of the seats are chosen in individual constituencies, where independent candidates or those from small parties such as the liberal Yabloko may have stronger chances. These seats are also where the Navalny team’s Smart Voting strategy could make inroads.
The program sidesteps ideology in order to undermine United Russia, simply advising voters which candidate other than the ruling party’s is the strongest in a single-mandate race.
It’s essentially a defensive strategy.
“Voting to harm United Russia is not a meaningful goal, not a goal to choose another candidate whom you ideologically support,” Kolesnikov said. But it showed potency in its inaugural use in 2018 when opposition candidates won 20 of 45 seats in the Moscow city council, and a year later when United Russia lost its majorities in the councils of three large cities.
However, it’s unclear how widely it will be used this year after authorities blocked access to its website. The service remains available through apps, but Russia has threatened fines against Apple and Google to remove the apps from their online stores. The Foreign Ministry last week summoned U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan to protest election interference by American “digital giants.”
Blocking the website was the latest move to neutralize the Navalny operation, which was Russia’s most visible and determined opposition organization, capable of calling sizable protests throughout the country.
Navalny himself was jailed in January upon returning to Russia from Germany where he had been recuperating from nerve-agent poisoning; he was subsequently sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. A court later outlawed Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of his regional offices as extremist organizations, a verdict that barred people associated with the groups from seeking public office and exposed them to lengthy prison terms.
Russian authorities also blocked some 50 websites run by his team or supporters for allegedly disseminating extremist propaganda.
In August, Russia added the independent vote-monitoring group Golos to its list of foreign agents, a move that does not block its work but strongly suggests it should be regarded with suspicion.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose election-monitoring missions are widely regarded as authoritative, will not send observers for the parliament vote, saying that Russia imposed excessive restrictions.
In addition to the Duma election, nine Russian regions will be choosing governors, 39 regions will be choosing legislatures and voters in 11 cities will be choosing city councils.
The Elections Commission ordered voting expanded to three days, concluding on Sunday, to reduce crowding at the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic. Critics say the decision raises the chance of ballot manipulation. Commission head Ella Pamfilova rejects the accusation, saying there will be “total video surveillance” of polling places and that ballots will be in secure containers.
Other ethical concerns also hover over the election. According to the state-funded pollster VTsIOM, more than one in 10 workers say they have been given directives by their bosses to vote. In St. Petersburg, a candidate from the Yabloko party named Boris Vishnevsky, who is running simultaneously for the Duma and a regional legislature, discovered that there are two other men using that name opposing him in each race — one of whom is a member of United Russia, according to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Although polls indicate that general approval for United Russia is low, the party is expected to ride to an overwhelming first place in the new parliament. The independent Center for Current Politics predicts it will score 299-306 seats — down from the 343 it currently holds but within the range of the 303 seats needed to change the constitution.
The center’s prognosis suggests that most of the seats lost by United Russia would be picked up by the Communist Party, the second-largest parliamentary faction. But the party largely conforms to the Kremlin line, as do the two other parties likely to get double-digit seats.
“The Communists themselves are not very dangerous,” said commentator Sergei Parkhomenko on Ekho Moskvy radio. The party is “a tool for imitating an opposition movement.”
Allegations of widespread voting fraud sparked large protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg after the 2011 Duma elections. But with opposition groups neutered, the prospect of unrest this time appears remote.
“Protests will not take place where we expect them, not at the time when we expect them and not from those from whom we expect them,” Parkhomenko said.
Olga Tregubova in Moscow contributed.
What Newsom’s Landslide Victory Says About National Politics – New York Magazine
Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The California recall is over, and it did not provide much suspense. But while voters’ verdict was clear, the significance of Gavin Newsom’s win for the national landscape is less obvious. I spoke with national political correspondent Gabriel Debenedetti about how to interpret what went down in the Golden State.
Ben: In the end, it wasn’t close: Governor Gavin Newsom romped to victory in Tuesday’s California recall over his closest rival, Larry Elder, and a motley assortment of other Republicans. He’s up by 28 points as of this writing, so it’s very far from the close call Democrats were worried about a few weeks ago. Do you think this was ever actually a contest, or more a case of one poll leading people astray? (Or was that one scary poll the central reason this turned into such a landslide, since Democrats started paying attention?)
Gabriel: There were several distinct stages to this race. When I first wrote about it a few months ago, the prevailing feeling — even among Republicans — was, more or less, “This is ridiculous; Newsom will win easily.” All polling suggested that was the case, and there was no single dynamic on the ground hinting otherwise, even if people weren’t happy that COVID was stilllll around. No one actually thought that was Newsom’s fault!
But this summer, there was a definite concern in Dem circles, even in the White House. There’s been a bit of revisionist history already that one single poll showing the recall succeeding caused this epochal freakout that led to a surge in Dem votes. That’s not totally true; it is true that warning signs started flashing for Newsom a few months ago. That SurveyUSA poll was one thing. But there were plenty of other surveys, public and private, showing Republicans faaaar more engaged and showing Newsom failing to fully connect with Latino voters, for example, or with many base liberals in the LA area. All the coverage of those polls absolutely helped get people engaged — no one in Newsom World denies that.
But they also usually hasten to say that this is an oversimplification, and I suspect they’re right: In some ways, this pattern is only natural for a weirdly timed special election driven by right-wing partisans in a blue state. Newsom’s team started putting out organizers and ads, and things turned around. Duh.
Ben: Sorry to contribute to the revisionist history. I am not a revisionist by nature.
Gabriel: If on-the-ground reporting is the first draft of history, Slack chats for publication are the first-and-a-half draft.
Ben: Naturally, political observers are trying to figure out whether and how this result will have national implications, particularly for next year’s midterms. Some people seem to be shoehorning in a previously baked take that the recall itself is a bad sign for Democrats; others view the landslide as a warning sign for a Republican Party that has gotten used to rallying around, for lack of a better word, kooks. But is there really much to extrapolate here, or is this a local story that only seems like a national one?
Gabriel: All of the above, of course! It’s not, though, a local story. I think Newsom’s ex-campaign manager Addisu Demissie was right when he said on Twitter last night, “Before anyone starts with the California isn’t America but tonight let me preempt with the fact that 1 in 8 Americans lives here.” Which, yeah, good point, Addisu.
I’m not sure what this portends for the midterms, except that Newsom executed a pretty obvious playbook pretty effectively: If you’re in a fairly Democratic-leaning area and your opponent is willing to paint him/herself as Trump 2.0, you lean into that. Seems obvious, and Newsom did it to great effect.
I’m really struggling with all the takes that this is a warning sign for Democrats. Sorry, but the Democratic governor of California steamrolls a right-wing provocateur and we read it as “Dems in disarray?” Come on. That’s national media at its eye-rolliest.
That said, there are probably a decent number of lessons to be learned from how Californians think about COVID and Newsom’s masking and vaccination policies. This was the first real supposedly competitive state-level race where someone who was in charge of a COVID response faced an up-or-down vote since the pandemic started. And it turns out this mass backlash just … isn’t happening. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of discontent in California — over lockdowns but also over the housing crisis, homelessness, wildfires, and on and on. Just that when it comes to the undisputed most important issue of the day, Newsom won largely by saying, again and again, I’m taking this seriously.
Ben: Right. We should say that this whole recall was really made possible by Newsom’s big unforced error on COVID — dining at the French Laundry in contravention of his pandemic safety measures. But it seems a bit of personal hypocrisy wasn’t the silver bullet Republicans were hoping for. I also think this points to the difficulty in forecasting what this means for next year. Beyond the long time lag, who knows whether the pandemic will finally have receded, or whether it will still be issue No. 1?
Gabriel: Right, yes, absolutely. I’m old enough to remember when the midterms were going to be all about Dr. Seuss, or something. That said, COVID completely changed the way we live and think and consume around the world, so even if the midterm question isn’t “Did Politician X handle lockdown and mask policy the right way?,” it’s hard to conceive of a world where the experience of the past two years isn’t fairly central to voters’ decision-making.
Then again, how many voters in 2014 made their decision based on the Ebola scare? In 2018, how many were terrified by the “migrant caravan”? Which is all a way of saying: We’re still building the fundamental landscape of the midterms, not the final marginal issues.
It can be frustrating, though, to look at this purely through that lens. We can also take more direct lessons from this for governance’s sake. Turns out voters like it when you address the pandemic head-on and don’t when you pretend it’s over. Newsom’s personal hypocrisy hurt him, obviously, but he got past it by making the race about policy and warning that if Elder were to win, California’s COVID policy would start to look like Texas’s or Florida’s, which are hands-off and scary.
Ben: What does it say about the current state of the Republican party that there were all these qualified-on-paper candidates, like former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer (as well as an international celebrity in Caitlyn Jenner), and voters rallied around a conservative talk-radio host?
Gabriel: Elder’s rise isn’t that shocking to me, after spending some time on the ground in California. He was decently well known in the southern part of the state, got a lot of play on Fox News, and enjoyed throwing Trump fans the kind of red meat they wanted. That’s enough to get ahead of the other Republicans, but clearly not enough to win over any moderates.
The Jenner story, I suspect, will be told soon. It has to be: What happened? She may not have ever been an acceptable candidate to California’s modern GOP, but there was money and buzz behind her Brad Parscale–fueled campaign and then it fizzled so quickly and embarrassingly that, clearly, there’s a bigger behind-the-scenes tale to be told.
Faulconer’s fall, though, is clearly the one that says the most. Here was a guy who was semi-openly preparing for a statewide run as a “sensible, moderate Republican” for years. He had run a huge city, and was decently well known. And then … he decided he had to go Trumpy and promptly lost all credibility. He was probably right that to win over Republicans in California, he had to take that turn, but it completely ended his chances with the moderates among whom he’d built his reputation in the first place. His attempt to turn back to some form of “I have something for everyone!” in the final weeks just came across as limp. Lots of people think he’ll now challenge Newsom in 2022. But why? And which version of Faulconer are we gonna get?
Ben: Could this cause other moderate Republicans around the country to reevaluate whether they need to go full Trump? For many, as it was for Faulconer, it’s sort of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, electorally speaking.
Gabriel: Can I answer this after J.D. Vance loses his primary by 30?
Pope: No place for politics in Biden Communion flap – Alaska Highway News
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic bishops must minister with “compassion and tenderness,” not condemnation, to politicians who support abortion rights and warned that clerics shouldn’t let politics enter into questions about receiving Communion.
Francis was asked en route home from Slovakia about the debate in the U.S. church about whether President Joe Biden and other politicians should be denied Communion because of their stances on abortion. U.S. bishops have agreed to draft a “teaching document” that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including Biden, for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.
Francis declined to give a “yes” or “no” answer, saying he didn’t know the U.S. case well enough. He repeated that abortion was “homicide,” and that Catholic priests cannot give the Eucharist to someone who is not in communion with the church. He cited the case of a Jew, or someone who isn’t baptized or who has fallen away from the church.
Most importantly, he said, was that priests and bishops must respond pastorally and not politically to any problem that comes before them. He said they must use “the style of God” to accompany the faithful with “closeness, compassion and tenderness.”
“And what should pastors do? Be pastors, and not go condemning, condemning,” Francis said.
Francis recalled cases when the church had held fast to a principle on political grounds and it ended badly, citing the Inquisition-era condemnation of Giordano Bruno for alleged heresy. He was burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori.
“Whenever the church, in order to defend a principle, didn’t do it pastorally, it has taken political sides,” Francis said. “If a pastor leaves the pastorality of the church, he immediately becomes a politician.”
Francis said he had never denied Communion to anyone, though he said he never knowingly had a pro-abortion politician before him, either. And he admitted he once gave Communion to an elderly woman who, after the fact, confessed that she was Jewish.
Francis repeated his belief that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect” but rather “a gift of the presence of Jesus in the church.” But he was unequivocal that it cannot be given to anyone who is not “in communion” with the church, though he declined to say if a pro-abortion politician was out of communion.
He was similarly unequivocal that abortion is murder, and that even a weeks-old embryo is a human life that must be protected.
“If you have an abortion, you kill,” Francis said. “That’s why the church is so tough on this issue, because if you accept this, you accept homicide daily.”
U.S. bishops agreed in June that the conference doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that will be submitted for consideration, probably an in-person gathering in November. To be formally adopted, the document would need support of two-thirds of the bishops.
Despite the short flight back from Bratislava, the Slovak capital, Francis fielded an unusually wide array of questions. Among other things he said:
—That he couldn’t understand why some people refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines, saying “humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines” and that serene discussion was necessary to help them.
—That states can and should pass civil laws to allow homosexual couples to have inheritance rights and health care coverage, but that the church couldn’t accept gay marriage because marriage is a sacrament between a man and woman. “Marriage is marriage. This doesn’t mean condemning people who are like this. No, please! They are our brothers and sisters and we have to accompany them.”
—That his surgery to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon in July wasn’t easy, despite those who have marveled at how well he had recovered. “It wasn’t cosmetic surgery,” he quipped.
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
Canada inflation hits 18-year-high with election just days away – Reuters
Parliamentary election unlikely to change Russia's politics – CTV News
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