Live Blog: The Democratic National Convention Begins

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is on site this week at the Democratic National Convention. Publisher Dan Loeb, President Bonnie Squires, Vice President Ken Myers and writer Jessica Weingarten will be providing reports, photos and updates. Follow below from most recent to earliest.

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SCOTUS 101: Tie Vote Brings Open Seat Into Focus

Spanish sign reads "Listen SCOTUS!"

Spanish sign reads “Listen SCOTUS!”

Though technically not a decision at all, the ruling in United States v. Texas is one of the most important in the Supreme Court’s recent cases — and it will have reverberations on the November election.

Often opinions are abstract legal documents full of arcane language spanning dozens or hundreds of pages. Accordingly, many Americans do not feel directly connected to the workings of our land’s highest court.

In contrast, although the ruling in United States v. Texas is only nine words long, its impact will be keenly felt by millions in our country. Here is the ruling in full:

The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.

This case concerned President Obama’s policy of deferring deportation and allowing employment for four million undocumented immigrants. These include immigrants with American children and the so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the United States as children and attended school here.

Since Antonin Scalia passed away in February, the Supreme Court has been left with only eight justices on the bench. While the ruling in United States v. Texas is unsigned, it can be assumed that the four liberal justices (Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) wanted to overrule the lower court, while the four conservative justices (Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito) wanted to affirm its ruling that Obama’s deferred action policy constituted an unconstitutional expansion of presidential authority.

Today, the Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision. This is part of the consequence of the Republican failure so far to give a fair hearing to Mr. Merrick Garland, my nominee to the Supreme Court. It means that the expanded set of common-sense deferred action policies — the ones that I announced two years ago — can’t go forward at this stage, until there is a ninth justice on the Court to break the tie.

Republicans refuse to even consider any possible replacement for Scalia until January when the next president takes office.

While many Americans seemed unconcerned that our country’s highest court will be short-handed for an unprecedented length of time, while this split decision sets no legal precedent, and while (according to the United States Circuit Court for the Fifth Circuit’s earlier ruling) the secretary of Homeland Security’s ability to marshal and deploy department resources is not enjoined or impaired, it is painfully obvious that the ruling in this case will have enormous consequences: Millions of families are now in an uncertain legal situation; they may fear deportation if picked up on an unrelated matter; and they will have difficulty obtaining legal employment.

"[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court..."

“[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court…”

One does not have to be a legal scholar or a political pundit to intuit how this 4-4 split would have been avoided had the Senate filled its constitutional duty to provide its “advice and consent” and consider the president’s judicial nominees.

This election provides a stark contrast that will be easily understood by voters, especially those with friends or family at risk of being deported or forcefully separated from a loved one.

On one side, we have a party whose senators refuse to meet Obama’s nominee, Justice Merrick Garland; whose representatives refused to consider “Dreamer” legislation; and whose presidential nominee wants to build a wall on our borders, doubts the qualifications of Hispanic judges and advocates banning immigrants of certain faiths.

While on the other side, we have a presidential candidate who stands up for “Dreamers.”

I’m going to do everything I can so you don’t have to be scared. And you don’t have to worry about what happens to your mom or your dad or anyone else. I feel really, really strongly, but you’re being very brave and you have to be brave for them too. Because they want you to be happy. Let me do the worrying. I’ll do all the worrying. Is that a deal? I’ll do everything I can to help, OK?

As president, who would these candidates appoint to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court? And how would their judicial nominees break this deadlock when this issue is inevitably re-litigated before the Supreme Court?

If anyone doubted that the fate of the Supreme Court would weigh heavily on the presidential and congressional elections this November, I think this 4-4 non-decision puts the case to rest.

Win One State and Become President

tckThe 2016 presidential election has been unprecedented already in so many ways, but it may be holding its biggest surprise for last, and by “last,” I mean January 2017.

Political analysts are focused on the Republican nominating contest. Some believe that Donald Trump may amass 1,237 delegates and win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Others believe that no one will win a majority on the first ballot and in subsequent ballots the “Trump” delegates (who in many cases are not chosen by the Trump campaign) would coalesce in support of a Republican more palatable to the establishment.

Riot-control gear being acquired by Cleveland in preparation for the RNC.

Riot-control gear being acquired by Cleveland in preparation for the RNC.

I think either outcome is fairly likely. In any case there are likely to be a large number of unhappy campers at the Republican National Convention.
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While Taking Out Bin Laden, Did We Create A New Enemy of America?

oA5zKuHiy7vlOn April 30, 2011, as Navy Seals were en route to take out Osama Bin Laden, the President helped ensure operational security by keeping to his pre-announced schedule and giving his speech at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Donald Trump was in the audience as a guest of the Washington Post and was ridiculed mercilessly by President Barack Obama and comedian Seth Meyers. Obama joked about Trump’s responsibilities on Celebrity Apprentice:

Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. (Laughter.) You fired Gary Busey. (Laughter.) And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. (Laughter and applause.) Well handled, sir. (Laughter.) Well handled.

Quite a contrast with the decisions which Obama would be faced with that very night in the Situation Room.

Donald Trump tried to be stoic, but from his expression it seems he was internally seething. Was this the moment that Trump decided that he would get the ultimate revenge against the political establishment and the mainstream media?

Presidential Campaigns: Is 2016 the New 1964?

1964 Presidential Election Results

1964 Presidential Election Results

If you are looking for clues about what this Fall’s campaign will look like, consider the 1964 Presidential campaign. The Republican National Convention in Daly City, California was contested as the establishment viewed Governors Nelson Rockefeller (NY) and William Scranton (NJ) as their best candidates to challenge Democratic incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson. After much infighting, the radical Senator Barry Goldwater (AZ) was nominated. The belligerent Goldwater ran a campaign of fear while Johnson reached across the aisle winning the support of moderate conservatives with his “Confessions of a Republican” commercial.

Confessions of a Republican

EITC: A Tax Scam in Sheep’s Clothing

greedypersonIn 2001, the Pennsylvania legislature created the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) in order to encourage companies to donate money to private schools. This program – little known and even less understood – expanded over the years to the point where it has distorted an act of charitable generosity into a accounting trick stealing money from the public treasury and actually paying schools only a fraction of the money lost.

While Pennsylvania’s legislature is unable to agree on a budget, EITC has grown into a bonanza for those willing to game the tax system. Here is how it works: A profitable company or a group of high-income tax payers have a total annual income of $22 million. Normally, Pennsylvania would tax this income at a rate of 3.07%, yielding $675,000 per year to help fund all the needs of our commonwealth including the most underfunded public schools.

However, under this law, the company could commit itself (over the next two years) to “generously” donate $750,000 per year to their favorite education school or scholarship fund. They are then able to use 90% of the value of their donation (i.e. $675,000) as a credit against their obligations to support the needs of our tax. This completely offsets their state obligation!

If we stopped our calculations at this point it would be bad enough. The group or company would be taking $675,000 from the coffers of the state at a net cost of only $75,000 to themselves. This money wouldn’t necessarily go to meet the state’s educational priorities with a public school system plagued with crumbling infrastructure. Instead it would go to whatever elite private institution was lucky enough to have benefactors with such large tax bills which they need to offset, and the tax/legal-savvy to form the fictive corporations necessary to exploit this fiscal loophole.

Yes, we should give more money to schools, but money should go to schools according to their need, not according to the luck of the draw and the whims of the elite. This credit is only available to the wealthiest citizens and corporations. Accordingly, low-income Pennsylvanians pay the full 3.08% state income tax while their high-income counterparts can offset all or most of their tax obligation.

The government should strive to make the best use of its revenue. Call your State Representative and State Senator and tell them to end this insane system of Orwellian accounting which rewards self-interested manipulation in the name of so-called charity.

Full disclosure: I personally benefit from EITC with my donations to Jewish schools. While I oppose the concept, it is currently legal though capped at $75 million. I rationalize my participation in this program arguing that the money will go to an elite school to the benefit of some high-income taxpayer whether I participate or not, so why not me and the schools I support. Meanwhile, I am calling for an end to EITC in Pennsylvania.

Fair Districts PA Coalition Making Our Vote Count

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, the League of Women Voters and other organizations across the state announced the formation of a new coalition called Fair Districts PA. The coalition’s purpose is to advocate for reform of Pennsylvania’s redistricting rules to make the process of drawing electoral districts impartial, transparent, and accountable.

Pennsylvania's current redistricting plan is on the left. A hypothetical plan with compact districts is above on the right.

Pennsylvania’s current redistricting plan is on the left. A hypothetical plan with compact districts is above on the right.

Congressional and state legislative electoral maps are redrawn every ten years following the national census. In Pennsylvania, the process of drawing those maps is controlled almost entirely by state legislators, a conflict of interest that puts politicians in charge and takes away the rights of voters.

Some states, most notably Arizona and California, have reformed the process by establishing impartial citizen commissions and clear standards for how districts are to be drawn. The results have shown increased voter engagement and more competitive elections.

Fair District PA’s priorities include:

  • Assigning the redistricting power to an independent commission, of which neither the commissioners, nor members of their immediate families, may be government or political party officials.
  • Ensuring the transparency of the process and meaningful opportunities for public participation.
  • Establishing verifiable statistical standards for a fair election process.

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Cosby May Regret “Spanish Fly” Episode

December 30, 2015 mug shot of Bill Cosby following an arraignment for felony sexual assault of Andrea Constand.

December 30, 2015 mug shot of Bill Cosby following an arraignment for felony sexual assault of Andrea Constand.

The incident of the “Spanish Fly” which Bill Cosby jokes about in Chapter 10 of his biographical comedy Childhood strikes a bit too close to home now that Cosby has been charged with aggravated indecent assault for having engaged in similar behavior.

Andrea Constand alleges that in January 2004, she was surreptitiously drugged by her employer after she visited him at his home for career advice and that he used this opportunity to fondle her.

Cornstand raised these allegations first in 2005, but Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to pursue charges saying there was not enough evidence. Instead Cornstand decided to pursue civil charges against Cosby and they settled out of court. Excerpts of Cosby’s disposition in the civil suit have now been released in which Cosby admits having obtained opiates to give to women in order to have sex with them. [Read more…]