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Responding Jewishly to Trump Withdrawing the US From the Paris Climate Pact

By Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

President Donald Trump announcing the U.S. withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Photo courtesy of CNN.

President Donald J. Trump has received well-deserved condem­nation from leaders of many nations, governors and mayors, environ­mentalists, corporate CEOs, Jewish and other religious organizations, and others, for withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris climate change pact that was agreed to by all the 195 nations that attended, including Israel and the United States. How should Jews respond to the U.S. withdrawal?

First Jews should become very familiar with the issues involved. Ten important climate-related factors that Jews should be aware of are:

  1. Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and 99.9% of peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals argue that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity. All 195 nations at the December 2015 Paris climate change conference agreed that immediate steps must be taken to combat climate change.
  2. Carbon dioxide levels from Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii

    Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and all of the 17 warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2016 is the warmest year globally since 1880, when temperature records were first kept, breaking the record held before by 2015 and previously by 2014, meaning we now have had three consecutive years of record temperatures..

  3. Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide  have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections. This has caused an increase elevation in oceans worldwide with the potential for major flooding.
  4. There has been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.
  5. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events (heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and mudslides when heavy rains occur) recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.” California serves as an example of how climate change can wreak havoc.
  6. Many climate experts believe that we are close to a tipping point due to positive feedback loops, when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur.
  7. While many climate scientists think that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world reached 400 ppm in 2015, and the amount is increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year.
  8. While climate scientists hope that temperature increases can be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), largely because that is the best that can be hoped for with current trends and momentum, the world is now on track for an average increase of 4 – 6 degrees Celsius, which would result in great human suffering and significant threats to human civilization.
  9. The Pentagon and other military groups think that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refuges fleeing from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.
  10. The conservative group ConservAmerica formerly known as “Republicans for Environmental Protection,” is very concerned about climate change threats. They are working to end the
    denial about climate threats and the urgency of working to avert them on the part of the vast majority of Republicans, but so far with very limited success.

Second, Jews should consider Judaism’s powerful teachings that can be applied to environmental sustainability. These include:

  1. “In the hour when the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the first man, he took him and let him pass before all the trees in the Garden of Eden and said to him: ‘See my works, how fine and excellent they are. Now all that I created I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt or destroy my world. For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you.’” (Midrash: Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)
  2. Genesis 2:15 indicates that the human role is to work the land but also to guard and preserve it. Jews are mandated to be shomrei ha’adama, “guardians of the earth,” co-workers with God in working for tikkun olam, healing and repairing the world.
  3. Judaism teaches: “Who is the wise person? The one who considers the future consequences of his or her actions.” (Tamid 32a)
  4. The Jewish sages extended Deuteronomy 20:19, 20, prohibiting the destruction of fruit trees in wartime to build battery rams to overcome an enemy fortification, to make a general prohibition against unnecessarily destroying anything of value.

Jews participating in 2014 climate march. Photo by Jon Leiner.

Given the above, Jews should be in the forefront of efforts to help avert a climate catastrophe. We should strive to make tikkun olam a central focus of all aspects of Jewish life today. We should try to significantly reduce our individual carbon footprints by recycling, using efficient light bulbs and other items, eating less meat, reducing our use of automobiles by walking, biking, sharing rides, and using mass transit, when appropriate, and in other ways. We should actively support efforts to increase efficiencies of automobiles and other items, shift to renewable sources of energy, and other societal steps that reduce greenhouse emissions. We should try to arrange programs on climate change at synagogues, Jewish centers, and other Jewish venues, write letters to editors, speak to family members, friends, neighbors, an co-workers, and take other steps to increase awareness of the seriousness of climate threats and how applying Jewish values can help reduce them. In summary we should do everything possible to reduce climate change and to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.

 

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus of College of Staten Island. Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Mathematics and Global Survival, and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, and over 250 articles at JewishVeg.org/schwartz
Trump’s announcement of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord:

Recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron denounces Trump’s climate skepticism and announces a website offering four-year grants of to American researchers, businessmen, teachers and students to work in France on climate change.

I have a message for you guys.

Posted by Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, February 9, 2017

 

Other Philadelphia Jewish Voice articles on climate change:

Thousands of Jews Participate in People’s Climate March

Protecting Creation: A Jewish Response to Climate Change

News Media Need to Protect Us From Fake News

Screen shot of the Constitution Center’s panel with Susan Glasser (left), Glenn Kessler (center), Brian Stelter (right).

A vigorous free press is central to our Republic. If any part of the government fails in its duty or oversteps legal bounds, we expect the news media to alert all of us to the facts, and bring judges, legislators, police, private citizens and organizations into action to remedy the problem. Without the news media, minorities and the less fortunate in our society would be the first to suffer inequality and ultimately loss of freedom.

But how does this work in an age when facts and “alternate facts” appear together, seemingly indistinguishable, in the new media that people are tuned to? The National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia took up the question under the heading, “Defining Truth in Modern Politics.”

With this very hot topic, the Constitution Center presented a very tepid discussion. Three journalists, including Susan Glasser, Politico columnist and weekly podcast host, Glenn Kessler, fact checker for the Washington Post, and Brian Stelter, host of the CNN program Reliable Sources, responded to questions from Tom Donnelly, senior fellow at the Center, in a program on May Day.

The panelists agreed that the media are under attack, notably from President Trump with his charges that they publish “fake news.” Kessler contrasted the situation today and 30 years ago and said that at the time, the New York Times, Washington Post and other respected newspapers, Newsweek and Time magazine, and a few respected broadcasters (think Walter Cronkite), laid down the facts. Battles centered on the opinions that could be drawn from those facts, but not the underlying truths.

But that is no longer the model in our internet age. Today, millions of Americans draw their news from the Internet, talk radio and similar sources. Some sources still practice traditional investigative journalism to produce real facts. But others freely run with rumors, false claims and propaganda — untested assertions, if they are surprising and eye-catching, get retweeted and repeated until they appear to be established facts.

Kessler, the fact checker, noted that the scope of his activity does not include opinions, just facts. Within that delimited area, he can handle only those claims that can be readily checked from available sources. That leaves out a great deal.

Stelter traced the current battle over “fake news.” It began with allegations by newsmen that then presidential candidate Donald Trump was spewing false information. The example given was Trump’s campaign claim that he would cut prescription medicine costs and save Medicare $300 billion per year, when in fact the total bill that Medicare pays for prescription medicines is closer to $70 billion. Stelter considered that perhaps Trump tried to recover from the blunder by accusing the news media of publishing “fake news.”Adding to the problem, the panelists noted the tendency for people to read and listen to only those news outlets that agree with their political preferences. The media play to this element by segregating themselves on the political spectrum. The panelists had no suggestion as to how to move people out of their “bubbles,” except to recommend it.

The panel’s prognosis is not optimistic: they recognize that the traditional media face a breakdown in their business plan built around people paying for information. Stelter suggested that in 10 years there might be more daily newspapers, such as a Sunday edition sold at a substantially higher price than today.

The panelists urged us to recognize the difference in quality of different information sources. But Kessler pointed out the limited independent fact checking that can happen in our system, constrained by time and the difficult economic issues facing traditional newspapers. So, although acknowledging the problem, this panel had few specifics to offer to correct it. Neither did they express any thought that it will right itself.

We can do better.

Generating fake news, including disinformation so extreme as to be unbelievable, is a technique for getting attention and coverage in the respectable press. A transparent falsehood may attract disproportionate press attention, bringing coverage and publicity to the faker.  The professional media ought to be very cautious not to give such prominent attention to fakery as to make it a successful strategy for those seeking publicity.

The most immediate remedy against fake news should be found among journalists. Responsible journalists must speak out against fake news, not just to each other but in loud unmistakable voices to the world. Even this panel on truth in publishing showed no interest in specifying which journalists and media need reformation.

From a mistaken sense of obligation to be even-handed, the media treat those who propound fake news as if they are respectable sources. In this complicated age, the journalists and news media need to step up to the task. If they are going to report faulty or unvalidated material, a disclaimer is needed. The prominence given the material must be reconsidered in light of the tendency for listeners to choose to believe too much.

Longer term, putting civics back into elementary and high school curricula could be very useful. Education to prepare students for life on a planet of the electronic media should include training in finding the indicia of authenticity and the opposite. The evils of crowdspeak also need to be emphasized and taught from actual cases.

We might also need rating agencies. In a society that ranks innumerable services, including entertainment programs, books, movies, appliances, repair services, and so many others, applying our penchant for quality of the media is a logical next step.

The government should not rate the news media, because of considerations of freedom of speech and the press under the First Amendment. Any effort in that direction would be a serious threat to the independence of the news media.

But ratings do not need to be done by government. Taking a page from the financial markets, bonds are sold in the billions of dollars to buyers who do not initiate independent evaluations of the quality of each instrument. Bond rating agencies are private entities that evaluate the quality of the issuer and the confidence that the commitment in the bond will be fulfilled.

News media could be evaluated on their careful, thorough practices applied to a story before it is published. The media have accepted standards of care to apply before releasing an article. There are also accepted forms of language, when a decision is made to publish, that disclose uncertainties or limitations that may remain in an article.

The National Constitution Center presents an ongoing program of talks on topics related to the Bill of Rights, listed at constitutioncenter.org/debate.

Watch Brian Stelter admit to accidentally spreading “fake news:”

Unanimous Resolution to End PA Gerrymandering

Map displaying the PA 7th Congressional District is a convoluted example of Gerrymandering.

Convoluted example of redistricting.

-by Kathy Haley, Founder, New Horizons Club 

The Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution calling on the State Legislature to enact redistricting reform in Pennsylvania. In a dramatic show of non-partisanship, Republican Commissioner Phil Rosenzweig managed amendments to the resolution and then moved it for a vote. Democrat Josh Grimes seconded. The 14 member Lower Merion Board of Commissioners, which is known for careful policy-making that is often emulated by other townships in the state, amended the resolution advanced by Fair Districts PA, adding the request that state legislators consider either a constitutional amendment or a legislative solution to end gerrymandering in PA. [Read more…]

Deciphering the Federal Budget

President Trump spoke about his budget plan in his wide ranging address to Congress last month. However, it is rare that Congress actually passes a budget (the last time was in 2015, and that was the first time in six years) and rarer still that the presidential framework made it through the process.

So, let’s take a look at what was proposed, where it falls apart, and then what the process actually involves. Go get a cup of coffee, you’re going to need it.

First, the good news. Appropriations come from Congress, not from the Executive branch.  Per the Origination clause in the Constitution, all appropriations bills must start in the House, although the Senate may concur and/or offer amendments. In real life, normally this leads to negotiations between the Chambers prior to anything being enacted. Thus, nothing is happening quickly. That means there is time to lobby your reps for things that matter to you.

Next, the massive increase in military spending. It’s pretty obvious from what Trump says about this being a “Nationalistic” budget and how we need to win wars, that he’s committed to getting a lot of Americans killed for no reason. To get the money through Congress would be a hard slog as we are a war-weary nation. Further, it would require 60 votes in the Senate (think: 8 Democrats) to remove the existing cap, and legislation to work around sequestration.  However, and this is the scary part, there is something called “overseas contingency operations” spending.  That’s how they fund war. And it is, de facto, a black hole of your tax dollars that don’t get accounted for in the budget. It’s a backdoor into funneling money to defense without having to deal with the caps.

But assuming that the increased defense funding would come via the budget process, there is still the need to make cuts to stay within the requirements of sequestration, and to go with the “spend a dollar, cut a dollar” logic that avoids ballooning the deficit.

So where does money go from the Federal budget? A great source for information is the National Priorities Project, which not only tracks this information, but provides a great deal of background to help people understand the process.

The budget  is divided into three parts: mandatory spending, discretionary spending, and interest on the debt. Approximately 65% is mandatory spending: While the Bannon Administration can make some cuts, today’s promise is that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will remain untouched, and assuming that Veteran’s Affairs will likewise be left alone means that only about 8% of the mandatory part of the budget can be touched, and that would encompass food, agriculture, transportation and “other.”  Likewise, it would be pure insanity to refuse to cover interest on the debt.

Source: National Priorities Project. Reprinted with permission.

So let’s take a look at discretionary spending, from whence the cuts would come. The chart on the left shows the 2015 numbers, the last year for which data is available.

The number for the military is about $54 billion.  The likeliest target is that orange “Government” pie piece in the lower part of the chart.  Cutting that pie piece will mean firing a lot of government workers. Will the administration really want to raise unemployment? Further, a lot of the money from Government, Education, Housing and Community, Energy and Environment, etc., goes to big companies with government contracts. Will they be willing to throw all those people out of work also?

You may be wondering how some things are both Mandatory and Discretionary spending. Take Social Security. The monies paid to recipients are mandatory, the employees that process those checks and do the rest of the work are considered discretionary. It will be difficult to keep the program operational if there is no one to run it.

President Trump spoke about cuts to the federal budget and criticized adding to the federal debt. Interesting factoid on that:

March 15 of 2017 will be a crucial data for all Americans on the planet. On this day, the debt ceiling “holiday” put together by Obama and Boehner expires. Moreover, the debt ceiling will freeze at US$20 trillion, which is the same number it is at today. From that point forward, no more debt can be created by the US economy. Considering the country burns through US$75bn worth of cash every month, the US may find itself out of tangible money by the Summer of 2017. Although it is unclear if this will happen, it is a rather troublesome idea. Source

Source: National Priorities Project. Reprinted with permission.

Another leg to this stool is where the money comes from that funds the Federal government. Yes, taxes is part of it, but what’s interesting is how much more money comes from individual taxpayers compared to corporations. People say that they pay too much in taxes, but most people pay a far lower rate for Federal taxes than they think they do. Honest. It’s the math. But you can see all income sources in the chart on the right.

Listen carefully when President Trump talks about the need to cut taxes: every plan I’ve seen from the GOP has included cuts for corporations (who are currently taxed at an effective rate about 10 – 15% of what they paid back in the 1950’s and 60’s when our economy was growing at a much faster rate than it is now) and the very wealthy, who also pay far less than they used to pay, viz effective rates.

One thing that Trump has mentioned is the “simplification” of the tax code, which would mean doing away with many tax breaks. One of the largest would be the home mortgage deduction. Think what that might do to the housing market. Hmm. The flat tax would, greatly extolled by failed presidential candidate Steve Forbes, mean that people would pay a flat percentage of their income. No deductions, no exemptions, but at a supposedly lower effective rate than people are paying now. Don’t believe it. The only way to keep this revenue neutral would be a VAT system, where taxes are paid at every step of a purchase from raw material to what is bought at the store.

As a final note, the speech to Congress is a Constitutional requirement. In most years, it’s called “The State of the Union” address, but when a president is in his first year, it’s called an address because normally the State of the Union looks back on the prior year, which is the previous administration. (Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.)

Hate Has no Home in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery. Photo: 6abc.

Philadelphia Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery. Photo: 6abc.

An anti-Semitic desecration of a cemetery has come to Philadelphia. The Mt. Carmel Cemetery in North East Philadelphia was vandalized with over 100 headstones were toppled. This is an empty act of cowardice, hatred, and stupidity. But more important than the acts of these thugs is the outpouring of love and support in our community. People joined at Mt. Carmel to witness the acts and begin the process of restoration. A vigil was held Sunday night in Narberth to express solidarity.

What you can do to demonstrate that “Hate Has no Home Here:”

Please donate what you can to aid in the cemetery restoration.

You can sign up to help clean up the cemetery. There will be a rally at Independence Mall on Thursday, March 2, at 12 pm.

Also, the Daarus Salaam Mosque in Tampa was burned this past Friday. Please make a donation to help the Islamic Society of New Tampa community rebuild.

hhnhh-sign-blue-original-curves-PRINTTogether we stand, a bit shaken but unbowed, committed to the values of love and unity that make our country great. No acts of domestic terrorism or hatred will dampen our commitment to each other and the country we love.

Never Again!

Never again.

Since early January, over 50 JCCs have received almost 70 anonymous bomb threats, forcing the evacuation of babies, children and staff in 26 states. Proliferating anti-Semitic acts are reported on an almost daily basis, including broken synagogue windows, as well as Swastikas defacing holy places of prayer, the New York subway and private Jewish properties. In a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, a Jewish cemetery was desecrated, with more than 100 headstones knocked over or broken.

Screenshot from an AP video of the desecrated Jewish cemetery in Missouri.

Screenshot from an AP video of the desecrated Jewish cemetery in Missouri.

What is wrong with this picture? Is this our new “normal,” and are we simply to adjust to and accept this frighteningly unacceptable reality? [Read more…]

Kellyanne Conway Struggles to Explain Handling of Flynn Scandal

by Jen Hayden of the Daily Kos

Speaking with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show,” White House deflector Kellyanne Conway struggled to get through an interview about why Donald Trump didn’t fire Michael Flynn the moment the Justice Department informed him that Michael Flynn had not been truthful about his comments to the Russian ambassador in December and was “potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.” In fact, that Flynn had been actively undermining President Obama as he levied new sanctions against Russia for their role in the U.S. elections. [Read more…]

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Responds to Ruling by Ninth Circuit

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision to uphold the suspension of President Trump’s immigration ban: [Read more…]

“You’re Fired!” Attorney General Sally Yates Removed for not Defending Immigrant Ban

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

President Trump has fired the head of the Justice Department for the second time in ten days. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for not supporting the Immigrant Ban. Earlier in the day she had sent a letter to her staff directing them not to defend in court the ban on immigrants.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had approved Trump’s immigration ban before he issued it on Friday. However Yates wrote that as head of the Justice Department she had a broader responsibility “to always seek justice and stand for what is right.” She went on to state that she is not convinced that the ban is lawful. [Read more…]