Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Pro-Deathers And Why We Are Looking For Answers In The Wrong Place

August 7, 2019 – 11:05 am ET 
By Rich Weissman, San Francisco, California (

With the recent series of terrorist shootings, we should be fearful that the national dialogue is focused on the wrong discussion, one that denies us the ability to go forward and address this issue in a meaningful way. Many, including the media, are looking at the psychological underpinnings of these events. Trump and the GOP leadership, along with their followers, have already spoken about the killers’ motives, blaming mental illness, personal isolation, video games and other individual psychological factors which detach the blame and attention from the sociological issues that underly this pattern of hatred and violence in America today. The cause of these terrorist acts goes beyond the psychological profile of killers and cults. Instead, it is based on systemic racism, systemic hatred of the other, and systemic adoration of violence and death, emanating from a deep-rooted culture of intolerance, fundamentalist religion, hyper-masculinity and misogyny in which guns and brutality are viewed positively and are seated values emanating from religious, educational, and political belief systems held by many in today’s America and presented by the current Trumpian ideology. It's about a larger pattern of  “pro-deathers” (a term I developed to identify this pattern), a cultural belief system that creates and incites bullying and hatred as normative, with a disdain for civility and a belief that life is not precious. It’s not about the vulnerability of the killers themselves as casualties of personal damage, or recipients of group damage in economic or demographic terms. No, it’s a phenomenon where the LEAST vulnerable groups are the MOST likely to participate in such group terrorist behaviors. That's the point. Terrorism in the U.S. is a white, Christian, heterosexual and male phenomenon, not one stemming from those minority groups who are vulnerable or from social or political groups that are marginalized. It’s white pride, Christian pride, straight pride and male pride. It’s a belief that only the lives of those who are of the majority matter, and those who are otherwise are not worthy of life. And Trumpism has given this culture an avenue and green light for expression.

The harsh reality is that those in power are engaged in terrorism, and that reality is a hard one to internalize, where race, religion, sexual orientation and gender are weaponized by those who are in control of our nation.

We like to think of terrorism as something from the outside and something committed by those without power. But that’s not the case. As with the Nazi concentration camps in WWII Europe, as with the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia, as with the Serbian atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, and as with other such locations in which blood thirsty butchery was rampant, these came from the MAJORITY group who was not under attack from the minority, but who believed in a culture of tyranny and violence and who were given a time in history to express that culture. That’s the point. It was an opportunity for nations to turn against themselves through a culture of brutality, a “pro-deathers” culture. We can examine the individuals involved, from Hitler to the men who killed this weekend, but we won't learn anything important, because their psychology is not the driver; rather, the social forces within nations that create a Hitler and a Trump and the like are the drivers, and the killers are simply part of a larger sociological force. That's the danger, and all the chatter about the murderers' psychological profiles and histories are GOP talking points meant to divert attention away from the root cause of this violence. Nazism isn't about Hitler; Trumpism isn't about Trump; and today's American terrorism isn't about these specific home-grown white, Christian, heterosexual males. It's about something much bigger than their individual stories.

They live in a culture of hate which comes directly from their religious, educational, political and normative belief systems. It's who they are as a people, and when given the social climate to express those belief systems, they engage. Hannah Arendt's 1963 book "Eichmann in Jerusalem - The Banality of Evil" shows how otherwise "simple" and "ordinary" people like Eichmann become monsters, not because of their psychological profiles, but because of the cultural values and the social forces in which they live. Simply saying that it's "anger" or “mental illness” personalizes the phenomenon and takes away from the dangerous sociological underpinnings which are at work. It's more than a psychiatric diagnosis; it's a Trumpian culture, it’s systemic, and it’s based on the worship of war, hate, religious extremism, guns and violence. It's pernicious. If we want to understand what drives these horrific acts, look no further than Trump rallies, children in cages, bans on religious minorities, references to those who are different as “animals” and “rat infested,” admonishing those who are of color by telling them to “go back to where they came from,” insisting that schools teach the Christian Bible, spewing hate from the pulpits of many Christian churches, and all of the new normative acceptance of the vile tweets, repulsive talking points and depraved behaviors from those in power, including heterosexual male sexual predatory behaviors which are now no longer beyond the pale of acceptability. That’s the issue.

The deplorable white supremacist, right-wing Christian, anti-LGBTQ, male-dominated culture is on the rise in all forms, and it is all-consuming. It’s no accident and it’s anything but random that mass shootings and hate crimes are typically against African Americans, Latinxs, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people and women, and that these are growing exponentially since Trump took office. Our nation is divided, and that divide is along these lines. It's not economic, it's not about specific issues or platforms, and the issue-based arguments (e.g. anti-universal medical care, anti-choice, anti- same sex marriage, etc.) are smoke screens to allow those currently in power and their base to claim a legitimate political position, masking their agenda to create a culture of oppression. It's far deeper and bifurcates the nation into two very different cultures which are fundamentally at odds and which are ultimately incompatible. One treasures life and liberty, while the other treasures death and destruction, willing to step over the bloody corpses in the name of their belief systems that do not value life and reject any of those activities that support life – science, medical care, vaccines, food assistance, minimum wage requirements, housing, education, etc. Their passion is for death to those who are different. Not economic or rational self-interest, just death to those who are different. That's the wake-up call we all need to hear. We need to understand that this is war – a cultural war of opposing values with no middle ground – and until we confront that truth there will be more attacks, and we’ll never reach a point where we can deal with gun violence and civility in a meaningful way. We’re on the path of the Nazis, Khmer Rouge, Serbs and other examples where history took the wrong turn and created cultures that were rotten to the core and engendered the persecution and murder of millions who were not like them. And today, we face a similar crossroad and potential endpoint.

The implications for our 2020 election are clear. We can ignore the sociological pattern and focus on the shooters, and nothing will change, massacre after massacre. Or, we can talk about the cultural war that the GOP, NRA, right wing Christian churches, and the organizations and companies that support them have propagated, not just issues, not just legislation, but how we must eradicate this kind of culture and the belief systems that support it from our society so as to embrace a belief system based on life and liberty. And maybe, just maybe, this group of white, Christian, heterosexual males will own up to the blood on their hands and their roles in this culture of terror, but don’t hold your breath, and if nothing more we can at least silence their voices and effectuate change. With or without them, we need to focus on a new cultural proposition that eviscerates the repulsiveness of the “normal” we now witness.

Friday, April 12, 2019

What Makes For The Most Electable Democratic Presidential Nominee?

April 12, 2019 – 9:33 pm ET 
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (

We can agree that “electability” is the single most important factor for the Democratic nominee in the 2020 Presidential race to defeat Trump-Pence. But what determines electability? What are the drivers in Presidential races for the Democratic nominee? Mind you, it’s different for the Republican nominee and different for other offices and elections, including those for Vice Presidents, Governors, U.S. Senators and House Representatives, Mayors, state legislations, and other local races. For these positions, a myriad of factors come into play. But somehow the person who is deemed to be the President of the United States is different, and the determinants of who wins and who doesn’t are unique to that one office and unique to each party presenting a Presidential candidate.

Let’s look at the past 70 years of who won the Presidency, and a clear pattern emerges.  For Republicans, they simply love older – often much older – conventional, white men who are viewed as well-known and “accomplished” (however the Republicans define that – typically by family, status, longevity in upholding the GOP conservative values, wealth, etc.), and whose message clearly appeals to the right. In recent times, they elected Eisenhower, Nixon (then Ford, but he was an anomaly because of the Nixon resignation), Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush (George W), and Trump. Looking back, they had more in common with each other than with the diverse American population they were meant to represent.

But Democrats are different.

During this same era which was and continues to be heavily dominated by the Republicans noted above, the only Democrats to win the White House were Kennedy (then Johnson, but he was also an anomaly because of the Kennedy assassination), Carter, Clinton (Bill) and Obama.  Interesting group, and very different from the Eisenhower to Trump contingent. These four men who managed to win as Democrats were alike in many ways and different from the prevailing GOP fare. Indeed, they were the antithesis of the GOP “standard” (and often their primary opponents in the Democratic party) in five critical ways, where each of these factors is important by itself, but all five together are a necessary intersectionality that produced a Democratic Presidential win each time:

First, they were young at the time of their election, representing the new generation at that time. They brought with them a new generational vision of America and new generational progressive values for America. They were the up-and-coming generational cohort, and youth and vitality were an important appeal that propelled them to capture the hearts of Americans.

Second (listen to this – it’s interesting), they had never run for the office of President in a primary or in a general Presidential election before. They were new on the national scene when they entered the primary for the Democratic party nomination that led to their winning the White House. They started relatively unknown and were each viewed as a fresh face, and quickly captured the imagination of the electorate. They may have lost an election or two previously for state/local positions, but their first attempt at running for President was successful. They were not tainted with the label of “re-tread.” They were new to the national spotlight and captured attention in ways that the “known” candidates did not. Note that none of them had been prior Vice Presidents (so much for that theory!). They came with no national baggage. They may have lacked experience in foreign affairs or other matters, but they were seen as “up-and-comers” and not as “has-beens,” and that propelled them forward.

Third, each one represented some new demographic of the American population that had yet to become President and was questioned at the time. From being Catholic, Southern liberal, or African-American, they were one way or another not the typical white Anglo-Saxon Protestant candidate from the traditional regions of the U.S. at the time (I was at the 1976 Democratic Convention in NYC which nominated Carter, and part of the excitement was the notion that he represented a “new, progressive South” which was attempting to move beyond its racist past; progressives embraced this idea, although Evangelicals did not; Clinton further represented this value  16 years later). Something was different about them, and they felt that America was ready for change in accepting a new kind of Presidential candidate.

Fourth, each of the candidate’s spouses also stood out with their own agenda for change independent of the candidate, unlike the traditional and quiet GOP or other Democratic contenders’ spouses. The spouse played a role in engendering enthusiasm for the future FLOTUS position and these spouses were an integral part of the election. They added to the campaign in significant ways. Compare Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush and Melania Trump with Jackie Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. These are two very different groups of potential First Spouses during their respective elections.

Finally, each of the candidates was good-looking, calm in demeanor, and exquisitely eloquent. These candidates were charismatic, had a sense of ease about them, were most comfortable speaking publicly and taking questions in stride with a high degree of composure. They had a sense of humor and knew how to use it. They could easily defuse tension, and they didn’t express anger or sarcasm. Their demeanor was uplifting and positive. And they were physically healthy, well-toned and in-shape during their election period. They looked fit, smart, in-command and ready to take on the job as a new President.

They were winners from the get-go as they each embodied youth, freshness, difference, poise and a new national Democratic party. They were the new kids on the block who quickly gained respect and admiration. They stood next to their old and tired Democratic contenders and GOP counterparts and gave America the sense of a new beginning with a vibrant new face. That’s the formula for successful Democrats in the Presidential race.

And yet, we so often forget and allow ourselves to be sidetracked. And for 2020, here we go again with Sanders, Biden and Warren leading the pack. There are many fine qualities among this group, but fundamentally, they are the old guard. They look old, they act old, and the baggage and anger, along with high negatives in their histories that they carry is too much of a burden. If one of them were to obtain the nomination they would most likely lose the election.

Let’s be completely honest – youth and the other factors of freshness and vitality matter for progressive voters, and have for over a half century. I’m not talking about the “youth vote” which Bernie attracted; I’m talking about a youthful candidate who has appeal across all age groups. So, the message to Sanders, Biden and Warren is: please, continue to be fine political leaders and statespeople, but you won’t win in a national election. Progressives don’t vote for “been-there, seen-that” Presidential candidates. Maybe that’s not fair, but it’s true and has been tested for decades. Progressives vote for those who are novel. They want bright-eyed and brand-spanking new (it’s what allowed for the first African-American President; it wasn’t just race; it was also his youth and novelty that propelled Obama to win). It’s what makes those who vote for Democratic Presidential candidates different from Republicans. As Randi Rhodes once said, Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. And those Democratic nominees who lost the Presidential elections – Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton – were all too well known at the time (many had been Vice Presidents and Hillary had been FLOTUS), lacked the charismatic and other optics, and had been around far too long for American to fall in love. They were old family, not lovers.

And that’s why names like Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke and the like are surfacing as serious contenders, with Buttigieg and Harris at the top of this group and both gaining significantly in popularity. It’s remarkable. This is the group of candidates who can win in 2020 and beat Trump-Pence, as they are not the list of standard names of those whose time for running for POTUS has long passed. Just a short time ago, these new names were relative unknowns throughout the nation. They moved from local to national presence in a matter of months, not years.

It’s simple: Republicans want Presidents who are father-figures; Democrats don’t. And the Presidential nominee stands out in American politics as the ONE person who is meant to embody the party’s aspirations. Republicans want to go backwards and want to select a President who is the model of a previous era they admire; Democrats want progress and want to select a President who is the vision of the future they want to see. Democrats can’t win by appealing to a new set of progressive and forward-thinking ideals when their leader presents in all ways – physical, emotional and through language – an image of an old, tired, uninspiring, stiff and angry candidate. The optics are too strong and bespeak anything but a progressive agenda. But when Democrats make the right choices in the primaries, and select the candidate that does give the progressive optics, then Democrats can win; when they try to keep with the old guard, they lose. Let’s face it, the 2016 Democratic primary was about two old white people (albeit one was a woman, but Hillary did not meet the other criteria noted above – although misogyny also played a role in her defeat to Trump), and look how that turned out. Let’s wish Sanders, Biden and Warren all the best and ask them to act as support for a young, fresh face who can win the 2020 election (and thank Hillary for not running again). And let’s get on with nominating the next young, eloquent, Presidential election virgin, a nominee who is a national newbie who reeks of vitality and who can beat Trump-Pence. Mind you, I’m no ageist; I am simply noting the pattern which seems to create a scenario in which the Democratic nominee for President can win.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Why Electability Is So Important

April 9, 2019 – 4:20 pm ET 
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (

It’s 2:00 am and you are awakened to the smell of smoke. The laundry room is on fire. Do you …

“A”: Wake-up the family, get the pets, get everyone out of the house, call 911 and run to the street corner to flag down the approaching fire trucks?

Or, “B”: Wake-up the family, get the pets, and sit down at the kitchen table to continue the earlier dinner debate on whether the family should purchase an electric vs. hybrid vs. gas-efficient car?

Just to be clear, “A” is the correct answer. And, you shouldn’t make the fire people fill out a form on their past fire-fighting failures, nor on their specific strategy to fight your fire before they start their work. No, just let them do their job and put out the fire and save your house. And thank them. Then, and only then, can you attend to other issues and talk about which car to purchase.

Well, our democracy is on fire and the Constitution is burning. And we need to put it out in 2020. That’s all that matters now. We can have many debates on issues after the 2020 election, but right now, if we continue to tear each other apart, searching for the perfect Democratic candidate whom we have adored and with for whom we have fallen in love, with the perfect record and the perfect position on every issue, then the 2020 election will be as moot as 2016.

Instead, let’s quickly coalesce behind the presidential candidate who is most electable, who has the greatest appeal across-the-board, who will inspire the largest group to turn out and vote Democratic, and who has the vitality, freshness and a clean background sans scandal, animosity or intra-party divisiveness, so as to win against Trump. Period. No sour grapes, no ego, just support for the most electable nominee, based on the need to eviscerate the corruption and hatred Trumpism has engendered.

So c’mon, let’s be smart and hold off debating specific issues that divide Democrats. Let’s try something new this time: unifying as a single voice. And let’s also seriously attend to voter registration and turnout, paying critical attention to maintaining and growing the majority in the House, to turning the Senate blue, and to helping Democrats win down-ticket. Focus, focus, focus. All else is simply narcissism and self-destructiveness, engaging in highly esoteric and meaningless discussion as you watch your house burn down. That’s my fear. Democrats will behave in ways in which they have repeatedly done in the past, and the self-righteous in-fighting will destroy us, and Trump-Pence and the GOP will win again in 2020.

Let’s do it differently this time and understand that we have to be united and select a unifying nominee. Not necessarily your favorite, not one who will be your BFFL, but one who can command the stage in a way that rises above the nastiness of the primary fray, who brings a positive, likable and calming message, and who can appeal to a wide base of voters in new ways, all focused on one goal: defeating Trump-Pence. Are you on board?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Three Generations of Jewish Women Present the Essence of Vulnerability, Connection and Being Jewish in the Documentary “Wendy’s Shabbat”

April 21, 2018 – 8:00 pm ET 
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (

Imagine a $4 burger, chicken nuggets, fries and a Frosty® meal with challah, Shabbat candles (battery operated) and wine (in the form of fruit juice) at Wendy’s fast food restaurant every Friday night for Shabbat, filled with elderly Jewish people, most in their eighties and nineties. Certainly, the least likely of places for a religious gathering. Yet, every week at Wendy’s in Palm Desert, California, twenty to forty people gather to celebrate Shabbat, and have been doing so for eight years. And now, this story is presented in the inspiring short documentary film, “Wendy’s Shabbat.“ Much to the surprise of the film’s creators, the 10-minute film has captivated audiences throughout the world, received national acclaim, and was selected for the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The film’s themes of the convergence of Jewish tradition, vulnerability in aging, and the ability to connect in an unconventional way, presents an idea that confronts time-honored practices and stereotypes with novel approaches. The juxtaposition of sacred Jewish customs that span the millennia with the instant get-it-now Wendy’s fast-food environment engenders both humor as well as a serious reflection on what it means to be elderly and what it means to be Jewish today.

Rachel Myers (Director), her mother, Abby Myers (Executive Producer), and Rachel’s grandmother, Roberta Mahler (the person who provides the film’s point of view and who lives in a retirement complex in Palm Desert, regularly participating in Shabbat at Wendy’s), together created the charming and touching film. Roberta’s experience provides the narrative for the film’s story of people, some of whom do not necessarily know each other and may have no connection other than their age and Judaism, meeting at Wendy’s each week through word-of-mouth to share an important Jewish ritual.

Talking with the three women revealed their passion for tradition, coupled with an understanding of vulnerability in aging, and the need for human connection though their Judaic roots. This provided the impetus for Rachel to bring three generations of the Jewish women in her family together to make the film. Rachel assembled the team, and Abby as producer managed logistics, with Roberta as protagonist.

Roberta spoke of “tradition” and how tradition translates itself into modern times. When she initially heard of the Shabbat at Wendy’s event, she was bemused. How could a public, fast-food restaurant be an appropriate place for something so revered as the celebration of Shabbat? Yet, she came to realize that although Jewish tradition in and of itself is important, it must be adapted to remain relevant, and most importantly to provide meaning to those who celebrate the traditions. The setting is not of importance; rather, the people and their desire to engage with one another is what matters.

Rachel spoke of the sense of “vulnerability” aging engenders through isolation of the elderly, and concern for her grandmother, the film’s protagonist, as her grandmother ages. She relished the role Shabbat at Wendy’s plays for her grandmother and others who experience the weekly event, and created the film to demonstrate how simple connections build community. She noted that as American society finds itself sequestered in the anonymity of the suburbs or high rises, without a “place” to simply meet others and to share, Shabbat at Wendy’s provides an incredible albeit simple platform for inclusion. There are 40 plus million Americans over the age of 75, representing 13% of the total population, and growing in numbers and proportions each year, representing the fastest growing age demographic in the nation (U.S. Census Bureau 2010 Census). This sizable group needs ways to overcome loneliness, as aging is much more than physical – it is often the loss of emotional connection.

“Wendy’s Shabbat” is the quintessential short documentary film, as it captures the essence of its important themes in just 10 minutes: community connection in the face of the isolation of aging in America, and the use of the traditional Shabbat service as a stage for connection through inclusiveness for the Jewish elderly. The incongruence of the fast-food restaurant setting of Wendy’s with the hallowed ritual of Shabbat creates the film’s intrigue. By portraying the challenge of aging with the essence of being Jewish, the film captures these themes through presenting a meal so unassuming that it defies the notion of pretense. No pageantry, no artificiality and no affectation. It is the pure simplicity and authenticity of the gathering and the meal that demonstrate the core precept of what it means to be Jewish, and how Judaism differs from so many other religions as so beautifully expressed in the film – connecting people to each other, not to a superior being through grandeur and pomp, not to an afterlife or some other-world existence, and certainly not through fire and brimstone, but to one another in ways that make Jews feel connected as people as they share a $4 dinner at Wendy's with laughter and human engagement in their senior years. “Wendy’s Shabbat” captures that essence through this captivating and moving film.

To view the trailer, click here.

P.S. – I joined the participants at Wendy’s Shabbat dinner for a first-hand peek. It was a delightful evening and complemented the experience of talking with the three generations of women and seeing the film.

A Little Taste of Heaven - A Short Story From My Childhood

April 12, 2018 - 10:30 am ET
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (

“Mommy, can I really have anything I want and as much as I want in the candy store?”

For a three-year old boy, this was paradise. I had just been told by the couple who owned the local candy story in Queens, New York that they wanted me to pick out any candy I wanted. My mother nodded “yes.” I began to search through the shelves of candy for the perfect combination of sweets, all under the loving gaze from the store’s owners. They watched as I looked at each shelf, picking up an item and then putting it down, thinking there might be something even better if I looked further. My mother chatted with them. Although I didn’t know these people, my mother spoke with them on familiar terms, and it was clear that she knew this couple before our visit to the shop that day. I paid no attention to their conversation as I was far too engaged in the search for the perfect combination of goodies to take home.

At one point, I looked up, noticing that the couple and my mother were watching me. They all smiled in unison. “Take whatever you want, sweetheart,” the woman said. “Yes, whatever you want,” repeated the man. Their faces were glowing and could not hide the joy they felt in watching me thoughtfully make my selections. “Take your time; there’s no rush,” the woman added. The couple continued chatting with my mother as I went further down the aisle examining the contents displayed so deliciously on each shelf. Finally, I selected the perfect delicacies and brought them up to the couple. They exclaimed that I had chosen a fine assortment of treats, and they seemed genuinely delighted by my glee. They were an older couple, or at least according to my three-year old perspective. Their faces had a worn look, but their smiles were loving. These were nice people, and I found their generosity towards me comforting. Like a kid in a candy store, only this was the real thing.

They put my treats in a bag, and the woman reached out with her hand and cupped my chin. She turned to my mother. “What a sweet little boy.” She then said something in Yiddish. I was used to that. At family gatherings half of the conversations were in English and the other half in Yiddish. I could pick up some phrases and words. I understood that the woman had said “he should live and be well, such a sweet Jewish boy.” My mother thanked her. And then the man asked my mother if we would be back next week. “Of course,” my mother replied. The man looked at me and said, “Then you will have all week to think about what special candies you’ll want next time.” My eyes opened wide, amazed at the thought that this week’s trip was to be repeated.

My mother and I left the store. She spoke briefly about the couple – what lovely people they were and how I was always welcome in their shop and could have as much candy as I wanted. I could not believe my ears, and I began to survey the shop goodies in my mind, thinking about which candies I would select at the next trip. 

For the following year we would go back to the candy shop each week. My mother and the couple would chat, and I would spend my time slowly walking down the aisle, looking at the shelves, selecting the perfect set of treats for the week. Over time, they would engage more with me, asking questions about my week. They would nod their heads as I spoke and laugh at some of the things I would say. And always, I would end our time together with a bag of goodies. I can still see their faces, and most of all, their smiles as I would search the aisle for my candy prizes.

Then one day, my mother and I went to the shop, and she told them that we were moving. My parents had purchased their first house – on Long Island. The couple was so excited for my mother. “How wonderful! And your little boy will have a yard where he can play,” the woman said. My mother told her that we would get a cat and a dog. The couple was overjoyed. Although we would no longer have our weekly visits, they we so thrilled for us. They took the news well. We hugged, they kissed me, and we left with our final bag of candy.

As we walked home, I told my mother that I would miss them and the weekly visits, not to mention all the candy. They had been so generous, giving so much. I questioned why they were so kind to me all this time. My mother quietly explained. She began by asking me if I had noticed the numbers tattooed on their arms. I did notice, and I had seen those before on other people. She explained what those numbers meant.

I had heard of some of the horrors that my family and others had recently endured in Europe. At family gatherings, people would talk about “the war,” concentration camps, and other unimaginable atrocities well beyond my grasp at the time. And, of course, who survived and who didn’t. I knew that many people were killed, although the number six million was beyond comprehension at my young age. My mother explained that the couple had been in a concentration camp and that their children, along with the rest of their family, had all been murdered by the Nazis. And, the woman was no longer able to have children. I later came to understand that she had been part of the experimentations in which her reproductive system was destroyed. My mother continued. After the war, they came to America and opened the candy store. She said that nothing brought them more joy than to see little Jewish children come into the store and enjoy the experience of selecting some goodies. My mother said that I was not the only Jewish child with whom they share the sweets, and that they looked forward each week to many of the children’s visits, including mine. My mother explained that I was the one who was giving them joy, not the other way around. These visits weren’t about getting candy, they were about giving a moment of time with a happy Jewish child for this couple to savor. The gift wasn’t the bag of sweets for me; I was the gift for them – my happiness, my delight in selecting my weekly treasure, and my time with them. That was the gift. Although I was only four at that time, I had some level of understanding.

The years went by, and from time-to-time I have thought about the couple who owned the candy store. I regret that I did not ask my mother for their names, as I have long forgotten. I should have visited them. I should have told them that from the misery of their holocaust experiences and loss, that people like me carry the torch and will not allow the world to forget. I should have learned the names of their children who perished at the hands of those vile creatures called Nazis. I should have told them that I have two daughters, and that they, too will carry on for our people. But I didn’t.

I haven’t thought about the candy store for many years, but it came to consciousness last night while talking with a friend about my childhood as Jew, born shortly after “the war,” and the current evil environment of increased anti-Semitism and Nazism in America with the rise of Trumpism. I wish I believed in an afterlife – knowing that this wonderful couple is now finally, peacefully with their family and their children in some restful celestial place. But like most Jews, I don’t believe that. Instead, I know that these two human beings touched me and other Jewish children in their candy store, and that beautiful legacy lives on. The memories of the bags of weekly candy is all that remains. They live in my heart and I’m sure in the hearts of others who visited the shop each week, bringing joy to this wonderful couple who simply wanted and deserved to hear the voices and laughter, and see the excited faces, of happy children. No cosmic justice, no sacred rewards, no divine happily-ever-after. Instead, their heaven was in watching little Jewish children relish in the simple act of joyfully selecting candy.

​Gerrymandering - There Are Simple Solutions To This Problem

Published in HuffPost
September 21, 2017 - 04:40 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (

Gerrymandering is a pernicious method allowing one political party control by manipulating electoral districts, producing a body politic of heightened polarization. It has become such an insidious way of destroying voter confidence and fairness that it has recently gone before the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling. During the SCOTUS debate, Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted to Neil Gorsuch when he questioned the issue relative to the role of the Supreme Court, she replied, “Where did ‘one person, one vote’ come from?” The Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Clearly, gerrymandering is an issue that SCOTUS must address, as the practice diminishes this clause as a fundamental foundation of democracy.

I asked myself how might we envision creating electoral districts blind to political outcomes? To be sure, there isn’t one answer, but there are solutions that are better than today’s method. I challenged myself to think of ways that would improve upon our current partisan approach, and devised one that uses basic geometry and algebra, along with statistical modeling, for its solution. I devised a simple one, perhaps worthy of adding to the mix of solutions on the table. It serves as an example of how we can think about the gerrymandering menace, and provide ideas for district mapping that are population and geography concentrated, and not based on other factors.

My background is in statistical analysis and data optimization, so the idea is based on a very simple use of optimization modeling. The concept is to determine the optimal districting within each state based on the solution that minimizes the shape of each district into its most efficient and concentrated and contiguous configuration, independent of all other variables other than population counts and geography. It’s a simple two-variable model, which would eliminate bias from any other variables (e.g. voting patterns, demographics), strictly mathematically driven without an eye to voting outcomes.

For each state, the model would use the population counts at the discreet block level (the lowest level of census data – not block group nor census tract levels) as per the U.S. Census for all blocks within the entire state. By entering the number of districts needed for the state (let’s call this number “X” for any given state), it would use a simple algorithm to determine the optimal configuration of all possible combinations of contiguous blocks that form “X” districts that minimize the sum of the perimeters of all “X’ districts and that produce districts of relatively the same numbers of population (total population of the state divided by “X”). Of all possible permutations (outcomes), the one permutation which produces the lowest value for the sum of each of the perimeters combined for all “X” districts, each with about the same population counts in a continuous shape, would become the optimal districting map solution for that state. It forces the map to provide districts that are as simply and efficiently shaped as possible, based solely on population counts. The geometric area of the districts would not be the driver nor enter the equation, as some parts of each state are sparsely populated and large in area. And, gerrymandering can occur in districts where the area of the districts are small, but the perimeters are large because the districts are designed with convoluted shapes. 

However, using this idea of perimeter minimization, the issue of districts is not the area of the district, but its perimeter. Think of a square of 3 miles X 3 miles (a square is used in this example as it is an efficient 4-sided polygram – the circle or more circle-like polygrams, such as an octagon, are more efficient but not used in this example to keep the example simple). Its area is 9 square miles, and its perimeter is 12 miles long (the sum of the sides of the square). Now think of a long rectangle 1 mile by 9 miles (assuming its population count is comparable). Its area is also 9 square miles, but its perimeter is 20 miles long. The 3 miles X 3 miles square is more efficient as a district as its perimeter is less and it represents the most efficient way to cover 9 squares miles in this example. This is fundamentally how the model could work, where the perimeter of each district would be the driver. One wouldn’t wind up with perfect squares or other polygrams (or circles) necessarily, but with configurations that minimize perimeters in the most efficiently shaped districts possible, according to how the population distributes itself geographically by blocks.

This would be a relatively easy algorithm to create, program and run the data, and would eliminate gerrymandering. Of course, this, like other ideas, would need to be tested with real data, and all ideas would be compared to see how the different solutions look.

The point is that the idea noted above demonstrates that there are ways to configure electoral districts that eliminate gerrymandering and mitigate political and other bias, through the utilization of mathematical models based on data optimization. And, it’s time for our political system think in new ways, including utilizing database technologies for optimization modeling, to protect and uphold the “one person, one vote” principle.

“Care” - An Important Film About American Values on Aging and the Workforce Caring ​for a Growing Population

Published in HuffPost
August 30, 2017 – 01:57 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, San Francisco, California (


The documentary “Care,” directed by Deirdre Fishel and produced by Tony Heriza, will have its national television broadcast premiere on AMERICA REFRAMED on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. (check local listings) on WORLD Channel, right after Labor Day. The broadcast will be followed by free streaming at starting Sept. 6. The film is a touching drama of four home caregivers, who lovingly care for their clients as they approach life’s end through illness and/or old age. It’s provocative cinema verité showcasing the overworked, undertrained and underpaid home caregivers who nurture the weakest amongst us, in a society that does not recognize their work as important. It’s a brilliantly developed and produced film about the ongoing frustrations in caring for those who have lost their health, youth and independence. The source of the frustration isn’t a lack of empathy on the part of the caregivers, but due to the low value our society places on their contribution.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1900 less than 2% of the U.S. population was over 65. It grew to 4% by 1950. By 1970 it approached 10%, and this doubled to 20% by 2010. The trajectory is expected to continue through 2050, with over 80 million Americans projected to be 65+, twice the number from 2010. The trend is a result of two key factors: declining birth rates as we have fewer children, and greater longevity as we improve mortality rates. Moreover, there are increasingly large numbers of elderly people without families to support them. Although most elderly people want to stay in their homes (90% state homecare as their preference), that option is limited and many are forced to live in institutional care facilities. Add the increasing numbers of people who are ill, but surviving albeit unable to care for themselves, and the trend of needed ongoing care is exacerbated. And, the U.S. is not unique in its aging population statistics. Canada, Europe, China, Japan and others are experiencing the same phenomenon, with booming aged populations.

Yet, the cultural and economic realities presented by this burgeoning population is a topic we in the U.S. prefer to ignore, unwilling to notice the train approaching us personally and as a nation at rapid and crisis speed. “Care” exposes this topic without all the statistics. There are no demographic models presented. Instead, the film simply shows us the realities of living with illness and old age through the eyes of caregivers who provide their clients with the most basic of human needs. And through these caregivers, the story starkly captures the hypocrisy of a society that claims compassion, but is unwilling to value the work that is needed to care for us with compassion when that time arrives. In the film, we come to recognize that the wealthiest society in the history of the world has a clear message to its own citizens: don't get sick and don't get old - we won’t help you if you do.

We idolize the billionaires and the glitterati, while devaluing those who take care of our most basic physical and emotional needs each day when we need them. We spend billions on beauty products, electronics, cars, a military unlike any other, but we are only willing to pay home caregivers a median income of $13,000 annually (Medicaid pays less than $6 per hour) to attend to our parents, spouses, and someday to us personally. The film forces us to ask if the caregivers who attend to our loved ones are not worthy of decent wages? Are the roles they play not as honorable as others in the workforce? We spend more on medications and diagnostic equipment than on those who ultimately take care of the ill and elderly each and every day.

In the end, the film raises important questions. Who are we, and does the American dream and the pursuit of happiness solely apply to the young and healthy, only to be discarded when illness or old age comes upon us? The film engenders both sorrow for and anger at a nation that does not value dignity at all life stages. The film’s message is clear. We have a choice. We can foolishly convince ourselves that we and others will never need such care, or we can face the inevitable and build a society that cares for those in need. We can redefine the role of caregivers, so that they are admired and treated as critical members of the end-of-life cycle which we all will experience in our inescapable future.