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Fighting to Make Our Votes Count

Carol Kuniholm addressing the press at the Pennsylvania Capitol, with supporters of redistricting reform behind her.

Now that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has returned from summer recess, advocacy groups, like Fair Districts PA and March on Harrisburg, are intensifying their fight for redistricting reform. Explaining the importance of their mission, Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, said at a recent press conference in Harrisburg:

For the first time in generations, many of our fellow citizens are questioning the underlying premises of democracy itself. … We feel our votes no longer count and our voices are no longer heard. When we look for causes, we see our gerrymandered districts and our lack of choice at the polls.

[Read more…]

Helping the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas as they face the epic devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.The storm that unleashed approximately 27 trillion gallons — or a record 51 inches — of rain on Texas and Louisiana left 50 people dead (a figure that is expected to increase), thousands of residents displaced and billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed.

https://www.defense.gov/Photos/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2001799185/

Rescue by Texas Army National Guardsmen. Photo: Lt. Zachary West.

While hatred and evil were on display a mere few weeks ago in Charlottesville, the best of humanity has shown itself during the response to Harvey. From the brothers who drove from Dallas to participate in multiple dangerous rescue efforts to the human chains spontaneously created for saving others to the local Pizza Hut that delivered pizzas by boat to people in need of food, selfless acts of courage have abounded during the tragedy in Texas.

For those still seeking a way to help the victims of Harvey, we have compiled the following list of Jewish organizations engaged in Harvey relief efforts: [Read more…]

Jerusalem Official Discovers Sudden Disappearance of White House Watchdog

By ILAN CHAIM

Art Buchwald’s 1973 column about excuses for President Richard Nixon. Photo courtesy: Los Angeles Times.

JERUSALEM (PJV) – A  senior government statistician in Jerusalem discovered last week that his official counterpart in Washington has apparently disappeared. The statistician, who must remain unnamed, informed the Philadelphia Jewish Voice that US President Donald Trump has apparently abandoned the US Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) guidelines, which both generate the president’s budget as well as overseeing and regulating how it is used.

Instead, the official finally saw, after a futile search throughout the US government’s considerable number of websites, a new official website appear. It announced that the administration is “updating” the regulations.

The question occurs as to why the OMB guidelines are in sudden need of updating a role it has carried out since the Nixon administration in 1970. The largest White House branch oversees and coordinates the administration’s procurement, financial management, information, and regulatory policies.

The OMB annually reviews federal agency budget requests in preparation for deciding what resource requests would be sent to Congress as part of the president’s budget. It therefore functions as the mechanism by which a president implements his policies – from the Department of Defense to NASA. Its director reports directly to the president, vice president and White House chief of staff.

These regulations also feature as an international role model on the website of the United Nations, so they will apparently be available for comparison with the Trump administration’s adulterated version that is currently under reconstruction.

The Israeli statistician had become alarmed during his search for the original site, when he suddenly found he could no longer reach his Washington counterpart. “I would search and search until I realized that the problem was more serious than an incorrect email address,” said the source.

He suggested that the “updating” apparently indicates that Trump himself or someone high in the administration wants to remove any government supervision of the White House budget. The Israeli equivalent is the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The immediate seriousness of this discovery,” the source pointed out, “is that the quality of information reaching the US public from its government is largely determined by how closely it adheres to standards of good government and reflects reality. When you remove these standards, the government is free to distort reality.”

He said further that this new phenomenon appears to be linked to another recent bureaucratic disappearance in the US capital involving the Office of the Chief Statistician of the American government. The guidelines referred to are listed on the website of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (https://fcsm.sites.usa.gov/policies/). Try reaching any of the links under Government-Wide Standards and Guidelines.

The possible missing link he referred to may be part of an ongoing controversy regarding the appointment of the current US Chief Statistician Nancy Potok. She was appointed a day before Trump was inaugurated (!) and there has been no mention of her since, though she hasn’t officially resigned or is not known to have been purged.

The Trump administration is apparently now casting its darkening shadow over OMB appointments, which are meant to be permanent, non-partisan, qualified staffers who in the past have been relied upon for their accuracy and objectivity. Another indication is that the previous chief statistician had an interactive webpage of her own that served the public’s need for facts, which has since vanished.

Local Rally Denounces Right-Wing Extremists in Wake of Charlottesville

 

Rally held at Linwood Park. Photo: Sam Haut.

Over the weekend at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, neo-Nazis and white supremacists skirmished with counter protesters. The rally left three people dead and many more injured, causing shock among people across the country.

Blessing Osazuwa, a sophomore at Drexel University, was one of the many horrified by what was happening in Virginia and felt she had to do something. Her need to act turned into a rally called Stand Up for Love that was held at Linwood Park in Ardmore on Sunday evening, with about 300 people in attendance. [Read more…]

American Health Care — Where Do We Go From Here?

-Michael Bihovsky

I wrote and recorded a lot of content in an effort to help stop the devastating repeal of Obamacare (not to mention, the time spent planning a major activism campaign that, fortunately and unfortunately, I didn’t get to use). So I want to say a few things now that the Republican Senate failed in its effort to uninsure anywhere from 22 to 32 million Americans, depending on which specific legislation the Senate was voting on at any given moment.

The most important thing I want to say is that this isn’t over. I really wish it were. But while the defeat of the Republican bill was absolutely a victory for health care rights and for basic human decency, it is not a lasting solution. Left on its own, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — Obamacare — will, in fact, implode. This is not the result of the legislation itself, but as detailed in an article by Steven Brill in The Washington Post, it is the result of early Republican sabotage against provisions of the bill that were intended to keep insurance costs down. [Read more…]

Support Our Transgender Soldiers

Dear Brave Members of the U.S. Armed Services,

I am writing to express my regret for the thoughtless edict sent out by our “Twitter-in-Chief” banning transgender service members (after expressing support for the LGBT community during the campaign). Trump’s ban is an inexcusable, un-American expression of hate. It simply does not reflect the values of our country.

I join the vast majority of Americans who are eternally indebted to you for the daily sacrifices you make to keep us safe. Transgender troops are especially brave because you not only risk enemy fire like other service members, but you also face being stigmatized because of your sexual identity.

I would like to applaud the military leadership for not confusing a morning tweet with an actual policy directive. The American people will always have your back, just as you risk your lives to protect ours. We are grateful for your continued service.

 
On the same day that Trump tweeted about banning transgender people from serving in the military, Tal Schneider, a blogger and journalist in Israel, tweeted the following about the Israeli military:

Proposed PA Bill Supports Solar Energy While Threatening Water Quality

Solar panels in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy: https://understandsolar.com/pennsylvania/

In the Pennsylvanian Congress, an administrative bill is making its way through various iterations to become law and it has some questioning the particulars as a catch-22: solar energy for quality water.

The bill, whose prime sponsor is Republican Senator Thomas McGarrigle, presents a smorgasbord of changes to various departments and administration officers.  But of the recent changes appears to both help and hurt the environment. While the bill may help solar energy by changing trade laws in Pennsylvania, it harms the environment by allowing more toxins into water supplies.

The proposed changes are to the  2004  law entitled the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act which pushed energy supplying companies to meet certain renewable energy requirements over the course of 15-years. As of now, when companies generate electricity from solar power, they receive Solar Renewable Energy Certificates or SREC. Each SREC represents one megawatt hour of electric energy generated from solar power. In Pennsylvania and nine other states, there is a market for these certificates. In order to meet solar energy generation requirements, electrical utility companies must generate a certain amount of their energy through renewable sources. In Pennsylvania, by 2020, 18 percent of the energy produced must come from renewable sources, with 0.5 percent of that coming from solar power.

[Read more…]

Happy Independence Day

We celebrate Independence Day because we are blessed to live in a land where liberty and equality are the founding principles. As a Jew, I am profoundly grateful to be a citizen of a country where I am free and safe from the hatred that has sadly been a part of Jewish history. As Americans, we need to remain vigilant, protecting and expanding the rights of all citizens. We need to understand that our greatness comes from all of our people and from our core beliefs. [Read more…]

Steve Berman Finds Silver Lining in Ossoff Defeat

In the hotly contested race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, Republican Karen Handel beat out Democrat Jon Ossoff 52 to 48 percent for the vacated seat of current Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Steve Berman

One of Ossoff’s earliest supporters was Steve Berman, co-founder of The Weber School and a leader in the Atlanta Jewish community. Berman worked with Ossoff’s campaign and helped to co-host campaign fundraisers.

Berman said that while Ossoff may have lost the election, there is still a silver lining:

Let’s keep things in perspective. Victories are better than moral victories, but we made up close to 20 points over what even Tom Price won by in November. So you have to keep your eye on progress, and this is real progress. So I would much prefer victory, but this is a teachable moment, and this is a doable moment.

He is right. Progress has been made for Democrats in trying to grab this seat, which has been held by Republicans since 1979 — and has been won with 20 percent or more of the vote over the past 20 years.

Berman was quick to notice the differing energy levels of the two campaigns:

I went to the headquarters last night for the gathering to watch the returns, and the enthusiasm was unbelievable, and it’s going to be carried on. The Republicans, if you watched their headquarters on television last night, they didn’t have a fraction of the enthusiasm.

Berman also pointed out that the Jewish community’s involvement in Ossoff’s campaign was greater than he had ever seen. He said, “There were more Jews getting involved than I know in canvasing for Ossoff and working for the campaign in ways that they have never done before.” He described people who had never been involved, who were going out and going door to door four days a week.

Jon Ossoff

According to Berman, Ossoff’s message evolved during the course of the campaign: Ossoff changed from being an anti-Trump candidate in the first round of voting to being a more well-rounded candidate in the runoffs. During the 16-person primary, Ossoff’s first tweet to the public focused on standing up to Trump, and Berman said that “Democrats coalesced around him very quickly.” But, Berman explained that Ossoff “pivoted away” from that position:

He understood that to get people from the middle or center right to consider voting for him, he had to show that as a person, he was willing to work with anybody, and he rarely, if ever, invoked Trump’s name after that.

Karen Handel

One of the perceived turning points in favor of the Democrats came during a debate between Handel and Ossoff a few weeks before the election. In a rebuttal, Handel said she does not support a living wage. Following the remark, many members of the media took this clip and ran with it, decrying how insensitive it was to those living on minimum wage. Handel later clarified her remark, saying that she meant she opposed a federally mandated wage. Berman said that the remark had no effect on the election:

Everybody realized she made a mistake, and she didn’t mean that, and that we should move on from that. That’s not something you can turn an election around on. Voters understood that she made a mistake. Cut her a break — she’s not my candidate, but I’m gonna give her a rain check on that.

For the Democrats to actually win elections in the future, Berman postulated that campaigns need to widen their demographic to include previously untapped areas:

We have to work on messaging. We have to work on identifying parts of the community that we are not getting through to and hear their concerns and respond to them, and I’m confident we will. I think that Republican voters in general think that Democrats don’t hear their concerns about taxes and government involvement with healthcare. You just have to show that your’re listening and your’re here, and that you’re responding in a thoughtful way — that’s half the battle right there.

Berman emphasized that Ossoff was very close to winning the seat, despite the high levels of gerrymandering in the 6th District. “This was a district drawn for Republicans,” argued Berman. “They can’t feel good about how close this was.”

 

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