Am I My Country’s Keeper?

By Montecito Journal   |   November 15, 2022

Bible teaching on citizenship begins with five words that historians will write on the head stone of the United States when it dies. Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The downfall of decency and democracy in our time is the failure of institutions and ordinary people to answer that question in the affirmative.

Let’s start with the wealthy class. They refuse to budge in the matter of any further taxation of income, corporations, or estates. They refuse to think of others as their wealth grows.

The government and its political leaders refuse to compromise policy by working with the other party. They prefer to ride the black and white wave of wild popularity among their bases instead. They want power, not peace.

The education folks, from elementary to university, refuse to continue learning, thinking they know it all. They don’t. Others have plenty to teach them if they will listen.  

Industry, business, and finance all want monopoly, not small and medium-sized business successes.

Ordinary folks don’t know their neighbors, don’t care about their neighbors, won’t meet their neighbors, and won’t lift a finger to help their neighbors unless in an obvious catastrophe.

In America, we are not our brother’s keeper, and that is how we will die.

Kimball Shinkoskey

‘Repairing the World’ is a Must See

Thank you for your promotion of The Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival in the November 3 issue of the Montecito Journal. It was because of that I learned about and attended the documentary film, Repairing the World: Stories From the Tree of Life, at the New Vic Theatre. 

It is a most timely and so very important movie. I liked your crisp and personal introduction. Rabbi Myers comes across as a hero, leader, and mensch in the truest Yiddish sense of the word. I was also impressed by the panel after the movie, particularly Oren Segal’s very clear and poignant remarks as well as those by the brother of a victim of the Tree of Life massacre. Repairing the World offers hope and a way forward for ordinary people. It connects the dots of the horrible massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue with all aspects of its context as well as dangers ahead. The documentary shows people of good will in Pittsburgh coming together in community and committing to identifying the steps and taking on the tasks with their children, in schools, and in the workplace to reduce the climate of prejudice, hate, fear, and intolerance giving rise to violence. I think it would be wonderful to see it offered on Prime Video or Netflix and reach a much
larger audience.

I may have told you about my living in Pittsburgh in the early ‘70s where I went to graduate school (Public and International Affairs) at the University of Pittsburgh, followed by my first professional job with the Pittsburgh Public Schools as a School Community Agent working on voluntary desegregation. A lot has changed since then in matters of race relations and education, some good and some bad. But who could have foreseen what today are rapidly increasing acts of domestic violence and terror against not just people of color or non-Christian faiths, but anyone who advocates for their inclusion, equal opportunity, and protection under the law? Or the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018? Or the unthinkable January 6, 2021, mob attack at the Capitol targeting members of Congress? 

As a history guy, I view this new normal of domestic violence and terror as a consequence of a once latent anti-civil rights movement that started in the 1960s, now having found its legs under Donald Trump, especially after Obama’s election. Barack Obama scared the heck out of people threatened by his progressive ideas and the boost his election gave to Blacks and minorities and people called liberals, including the well-educated. At its core I see the not-so-cleverly disguised belief that we should become a so-called Christian nation run by Caucasian males.

I also see a disturbing resemblance of what’s happening politically today in real time in our country to the 1930s progression of a democratic Germany to a dictatorship by a white racist male Nazi Party engaging in terror and violence led by Adolf Hitler. That may (hopefully) be a stretch, but today’s November 6 edition of The New York Times includes the first of a series by The Editorial Board “urging readers to understand the danger of extremist violence and possible solutions.” The article identifies “four interrelated trends that the country needs to address: the impunity of organized paramilitary groups, the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military, the global spread of extremist ideas, and the growing number of G.O.P. politicians who are using the threat of political violence not just to intimidate their opponents on the left but also to wrest control of the party from those Republicans who are committed to democratic norms.”

I hope, even as The New York Times editorial maintains that “the American public is gradually and alarmingly becoming inured to the presence of this violence,” we are not so far along in this downward Trump-G.O.P. led spiral that we can’t block and parry and avoid a loss of our democracy. The very last sentence of the November 6 editorial concludes that our already elected lawmakers “must take this threat seriously” and “use the tools they have to stop it.” Indeed they must, but there’s also the problem that too many Americans seem to have little to no idea of what’s happening, and too many who do but don’t care because they don’t feel threatened. On top of that too many Americans are not even registered to vote. We have an uphill climb. The tasks before us to save our democracy will take time.

I may have told you about this, but on May 16, 2018, when I spoke briefly to 500 Black students, their families, and friends at the Urban League of Flint’s 36th Black Scholars Tribute, minutes before Mayor Karen Weaver gave a riveting address about the lead-poisoned water crisis in Flint, I closed with this:

“To all you Black scholars this evening, in this conflicted and dangerous world you already know too well about, may you continue with the courage and tenacity of your forefathers and foremothers to become all that you can and exhibit the best of humanity. Study hard.”

Thanks again for your timely promotion of the Tree of Life Synagogue documentary. Perhaps you will have a review of the actual documentary in the next issue of the Montecito Journal.

Charles Bullwinkle Hamilton

Response to Rinaldo S. Brutoco: Edge of the Cliff Ahead

Sometimes, I think analysts give way too much thought and express multiple opinions to a fairly straightforward issue to push their personal political agenda. There are two key issues that have put the U.S. into this current mess, one of which has impacted Europe as well.

Biden’s policies which eliminated our oil independence has had as many devastating consequences as an octopus has legs. Russia would not be in a position to ransom Ukraine’s freedom, threaten European oil supplies and there would have been no requirement for an inflationary stimulus program, plus the global price of oil would have continued to be stable. Oil derivative prices have been one major source of inflation. Printing money is the other. Blaming anything else is politicizing the obvious.

The other factor, one overlooked by Mr. Brutoco, which has substantially fueled the fire of an overheated economy, is the huge transfer of wealth from the over one million senior citizens who died as a result of COVID. Almost every recent real estate purchase that I have observed has been the result of a decedent’s transfer of wealth, not to mention the additional impact of the enhanced purchasing power of new goods and services from unexpected inheritance. 

Applauding Biden’s inflationary moves to reverse the disastrous impact of his original poor decision is akin to George Washington watering the cherry tree after he cut it down.

On another note: Am I mistaken, as my memory sometimes takes a field trip on its own; but didn’t California voters approve a referendum (or other entitled government document) to keep Daylight Saving Time year-round? Why hasn’t this happened? Is there some kind of special interest group that benefits from the maddening necessity to electronically enter the never, never land of choosing the proper buttons on many of our clocks? 

Is this what government without representation truly means? If so, I want my money back, or whatever reverse compensation I can get from being forced to endure such political arrogance. 

How many thousands of missed appointments, late or early arrival times and Aaargh! moments occur every six months? To what benefit and for whom? My protesting, early morning, stubbed toes just want to know.

Probably in another five years or so, every modern time-keeping device will automatically make the adjustment, while impatiently waiting for my sleep rhythm to catch up, or not. Unfortunately, my favorite time piece is an antique, wind-up, timecard register-grandfather clock with the most beautiful, resonating tick (or maybe it is the tock that is so mellow) that requires substantial machinations to adjust. I could ignore the change of course; but I just can’t bear to see such a beautiful, practical work of art reflecting an incorrect hour for months, or then, even worse, to sit idle, never echoing its mellow call to peaceful repose.

I believe this lack of action in Sacramento qualifies as some sort of reverse election denial. Surely, I must be mistaken that my thoughtful vote doesn’t count for anything, or maybe not?

Ronald Hays

Not All Landlords

Santa Barbara Tenants Union and CAUSE rallied together recently to propagate self-serving narratives about how all landlords are bad, gouge tenants, don’t maintain their properties, and don’t want tenants to know their rights. That couldn’t be further from the truth! It’s becoming more difficult to remain silent in the face of such lies.

They proclaimed, “The rents are too damn high!” But so are insurance, utilities, labor costs, construction materials, and taxes that property owners pay. Most landlords respond to tenants’ maintenance requests; they follow the tenant-protection laws. In fact, a group of mom-and-pop landlords wanted to attend S.B. Housing Day to inform tenants of their rights, but we couldn’t because we are not a nonprofit. Fortunately, the S.B. Rental Housing Mediation Program did a tenant’s rights presentation. 

At the rally, a 20-year advocate for CAUSE retold a story of a mother living in a studio with her three daughters who was being evicted and did not get their full security deposit back. How could CAUSE not know four people living in a studio could potentially be illegal overcrowding? In a multi-unit building, a landlord must pay tenant relocation expenses at 3x’s the rent for no-cause tenancy termination within S.B. city. Did they get that? California law states a tenant is entitled to 100 percent of their deposit if the tenant complied with the law. Did CAUSE help them file a claim to get 2x’s the security deposit, should they be on the right side of the law?

CAUSE is a well-funded, multimillion dollar nonprofit. Are they using these funds to help tenants? They pay themselves over a million dollars per year in salaries, compensation, and employee benefits, according to their 2020 tax filing. CAUSE shares incomplete, one-sided information while keeping these communities in the dark of their actual legal rights and remedies. The stories propagated by these supposed tenant-protection groups are the rare, extreme examples designed to elicit sympathy for their cause. 

We’d love to know why CAUSE and the SBTU focus on telling horror stories instead of holding free community workshops with well-sourced information to get the legal help tenants need and take steps against the very few bad actors. Why are they always demonizing all landlords? All of us are not terrible, worthy of a horror story!

Loy and John Beardsmore


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