Obama, Congresspersons Call for Justice System Reform at Local NAACP Convention

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

The thousands of NAACP delegates, alternates and supporters who descended on the Philadelphia Convention Center for the 106th national convention of the NAACP were rewarded for their travels and loyalty. Many members of Congress spoke at the plenary sessions and themed workshops.

President Barack Obama, just on the heels of the successful negotiation with Iran, flew from Washington to Philadelphia to address the NAACP convention. His speech focused on domestic priorities, with no mention of the Iran deal, but the news spread and no one needed to be reminded that the President has had a couple of really good weeks.

Speakers like Congressman James Clyburn (SC-6) and U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, spoke passionately about the need to reform the criminal justice system, to root out discrimination and profiling and unequal sentencing for African Americans.

President Obama, in his speech, explained why he commuted sentences for dozens of prisoners who, if they had been charged and sentenced today, would have received far less severe prison terms for non-violent drug offenses or possession of drugs like marijuana. He gave examples of ex-offenders he had just met, who had served their sentences and then redeemed their lives. They are now tax-paying citizens.

Right before I came out here, I met with four former prisoners, four ex-offenders. Two of them were African American, one of them was Latino, one of them was white. All of them had amazing stories. One of them dropped out of school when he was a young kid. Now he’s making film about his experience in the prison system.

One of them served 10 years in prison, then got a job at Five Guys — which is a tasty burger — and they gave him an opportunity, and he rose up and became a general manager there, and now is doing anti-violence work here in the community.

It was a treat to watch the NAACP session on resolutions, the debates from the floor, the challenges to the chair, the re-counts, the urging of the NAACP member from Georgia to pass a resolution requiring the removal of ALL Confederate flags from every single state’s public grounds. This amended resolution, or “game-changer,” as the NAACP calls them, passed overwhelmingly.

And it was heartening on the day of the first plenary session to hear Cornell Brooks, the national president of the NAACP, tell a story about a baby born down south who weighed only three pounds and was not expected to survive until night-time. But the doctor who delivered the baby told the mother to pray, if she believed in God. Brooks said the woman called for a chaplain in the hospital, but no preacher or minister was available. But here was a rabbi serving as chaplain, and he came and prayed with the mother.

Senator Bob Casey was featured at the NAACP Convention opening plenary session.  He urged the 8000 attendees from around the country to contact their members of Congress and push for Casey's funding bill for universal early education.

At the NAACP Convention opening plenary session, Senator Bob Casey urged the 8000 attendees to contact their members of Congress around the country and push for his universal early education funding bill.

Then Brooks delivered the punch-line: “And that is why I am standing here today!”

Although I did not hear a mention of the three martyred civil rights workers, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, I thought about them often as I traveled the halls of the Philadelphia Convention Center from plenary session to workshops. Listening to heroes like Congressman Jim Clyburn, Senator Bob Casey (PA), Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Senator Corey Booker (NJ), was inspirational.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Wasserman Schultz, from Florida, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, focused on voting rights reform in her address to the entire corps of NAACP members. She told me about the unfairness of the voter ID laws in many states and of her intention to increase registration and voting patterns of African Americans.

I bumped into Joyce Kravitz, the president of Tikvah/AJMI, the Philadelphia region’s nonprofit agency for families with members dealing with mental illness. Kravitz, a social work professor, has been an NAACP member for many years, and she attended this year’s convention with her former student, an African American social worker.

Pennsylvania state Representative Jim Roebuck, who has been advocating for Governor Tom Wolf’s budget which restores funding for pre-K and public education, was in attendance. Congressmen Chaka Fattah (PA-2) and Brendan Boyle (PA-13) accompanied President Obama on Air Force One from D.C. to the convention.

NAACP has made national news every day of the convention, and President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made the closing day of the convention memorable.

Photo credit: Bonnie Squires

Senator Casey to Speak at Gratz College Commencement

Gratz College’s 114th commencement ceremony on May 18 will honor a particularly high-profile degree recipient: Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

In addition to receiving an honorary degree from Gratz, Senator Casey will be presenting the commencement address during the graduation ceremony.

The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. Members of the public interested in attending should contact Dodi Klimoff in email or at 215-635-7300 x 133 regarding seat availability.

More after the jump.
Casey is among the cosponsors of the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, which is on the Senate’s legislative calendar. Among its many provisions, the act includes a bill introduced by Casey to address the serious and prevalent problem of school bullying.

Casey is also a member of the National Security Working Group and a co-chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Caucus.

Pennsylvania Senators Join Forces to Stop LGBT Discrimination


Brian Sims.

— by State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Phila.)

I have long believed that civil rights cannot be a one party issue.

Senator Casey (D-PA) has supported LGBT civil rights from nondiscrimination to marriage equality, and I was proud to see him continue to demonstrate that support last night.

I am especially proud of Senator Toomey (R-PA), who last night confirmed to Americans across the nation that civil rights is not an issue of right and left, but an issue of right and wrong. Senator Toomey’s vote in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) shows that a conservative ideology and support for LGBT equality are not mutually exclusive.

While I am heartened and invigorated by last night’s vote, we still have a long way to go in fulfilling our national creed, that we are all created equal and endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

More after the jump.
In 29 states including Pennsylvania, American citizens can still be fired from their jobs, kicked out of their homes, or denied services at businesses all because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. We must continue our efforts to pass nondiscrimination laws at the state level, such as HB300 here in Pennsylvania, to ensure that we eliminate the last vestiges of discrimination from our laws.  

But last night, we have made great progress. And I wholeheartedly thank Senators Casey and Toomey for voting on the right side of history.

PA Senator Casey: I Can No Longer Deny Same-Sex Couples Equality


Graph by Dylan Matthews, The Washington Post

— Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

When the Respect for Marriage Act (the legislation that repeals the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]) was first introduced and debated in the Senate in 2011, I began to focus on the issue of same-sex marriage much more intensely than I had before. As a candidate for the Senate in 2006 and 2012, and as a Senator, I have supported civil unions. I also supported strongly the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), was a leading co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and had stated publicly that I opposed efforts to enact constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage. In the six years I have been in the Senate, there have not been any floor votes to repeal DOMA or to legalize same-sex marriage. Both questions have now been argued before the Supreme Court and are being debated across our country. After much deliberation and after reviewing the legal, public policy, and civil rights questions presented, I support marriage equality for same-sex couples and believe that DOMA should be repealed.

Continued after the jump.
As part of my consideration of these issues, I read letters written to me by LGBT Pennsylvanians and their families. These letters included deeply personal statements from people across our Commonwealth and the questions they posed challenged me directly. These stories had a substantial impact on my position on this issue. If two people of the same sex fall in love and want to marry, why would our government stand in their way? At a time when many Americans lament a lack of commitment in our society between married men and women, why would we want less commitment and fewer strong marriages? If two people of the same sex want to raise children, why would our government prevent them from doing so, especially when so many children have only one parent, or none at all? A letter I received from a woman in Southeastern Pennsylvania was particularly compelling:

My partner and I are both college educated. I am a stay-at-home mom and part-time kindergarten assistant teacher. I left a full-time position […] when my partner gave birth to our twins to be a stay-at-home mom. We went through the process of second parent adoption and are both legal parents to our kids. My partner and I have been in a committed relationship for 18 years. We attend church every Sunday and we own a house, cars, and are truly blessed by our [two children]. As I do a rough calculation and add up the additional money we have paid in taxes compared to a financially similar heterosexual married couple over the last ten years, that amount approaches $100,000! $100,000 dollars would go a long way towards future retirement or in the college education of my kids. More important than the financial inequality to me is the message I send to my kids. My kids have two proud and loving parents who are honest [and] work hard. I want my kids to know they are equal and our family is equal […] I just want my family to be treated equally and with respect by my state and federal government.

As a Senator and as a citizen, I can no longer in good conscience take a position that denies her and her family the full measure of equality and respect.

I understand that many Americans of good will have strong feelings on both sides of this issue. I believe elected public officials have an abiding obligation to refrain from demonizing and dividing people for partisan or political gain. Rather, Democrats and Republicans should come together and find areas of agreement to do what’s best for the country, including lesbian and gay Americans.

Sen. Arlen Specter’s funeral a tribute to his life of service


Arlen Specter and his wife, former City Councilwoman Joan Specter, enjoyed the Barnes Foundation opening gala this past May a few months before Specter learned his cancer had returned for the third and final bout. Photo: Bonnie Squires


Barack Obama and Joe Biden attend a press conference welcoming Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party at the White House April 29, 2009. Photo: Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.


Sen. Arlen Specter and Gov. Ed Rendell during Specter campaign rally in Philadelphia, May 15, 2010. Photo: AP.


Sen. Arlen Specter was carried in a flag-bedecked limousine from Temple Har Zion to his eternal resting place at his family’s plot in Shalom Memorial Park. Photo: Daniel Loeb.

— by Bonnie Squires

Har Zion Temple was the site of the funeral for Senator Arlen Specter, and the thousands of people who poured into the main sanctuary, which had to be opened up to include the ballroom behind it, represented a cross-section of America.

Judges and lawyers and U.S.  Attorneys and academics and heads of charities and former Specter staffers by the score populated the seats at Specter’s funeral.  Candidates and former candidates from both sides of the aisle came to pay tribute to a mover and shaker who according to every speaker, did the right thing, the fair thing, even when voting for President Obama’s stimulus package would cost him his seat in the Senate.

Specter’s influence crossed political boundaries, racial differences, and economic backgrounds, as evidenced by the huge diversity of those in attendance to pay their respects to Joan Specter and her family.

Federal officials, past and present, like Senator Bob Casey, former Senators Ted Kauffman and Harris Wofford, and former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies; state officers, including Governor Tom Corbett; federal and state judges; leaders of academia; and hundreds and hundreds of other notables, like Gwen Goodman, former executive director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Lee Ducat, founder of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.  Ducat nodded as each speaker mentioned Specter’s passionate defense of funding for cancer research and stem cell research, even when various Presidents decided to cut funidng of the National Institutes of Health.

Chief among the notables, however, was Vice President Joe Biden, who teared up as he spoke about Arlen Specter, his dear friend, who always was there for him, especially in times of personal crisis.

Biden and Specter seved in the U.S. Senate, and Biden said in his remarks that he knew he had spent more time with Specter than anyone else in the sanctuary, sitting with him in the Senate and especially in the Judiciary Committee meetings and hearings.

Biden also let people know that he had foregone campaign stops in two critical swing states, Colorado and Nevada, to pay tribute to his dear friend at Har Zion Temple.

President Obama that very morning had ordered all American flags to be flown at half-staff on all government properties, military bases, embassies, etc., in the nation and around the world, to salute Senator Arlen Specter on the day of his funeral.

But the people asked to speak by Joan Specter were close personal friends, like Biden.  Like Ed Rendell.  Like Flora Becker, widow of Judge Ed Becker.  Like Judge Jan DuBois.  Like Steve Harmelin, Esq.  Like Shanin Specter’s long-time law partner, Tom Kline.  Like Shanin Specter, the Senator’s son, and two of Arlen’s four grand-daughters.

Perhaps most remarkable, in all of their praise of Specter’s fairness and acumen, was the telling of how, less than two weeks before his demise, Specter insisted on teaching his class on the Constitution at Penn Law School.   I guess that was why Penn President Amy Gutmann was also in attendance.

Probably half the people in the throng owed their careers to Arlen Specter, either through having been hired by him when he was either District Attorney, or having been appointed by him when he chaired the Judiciary committee.

Although each of the speakers, including life-long friends Flora Becker, Judge Jan DuBois, attorney Steve Harmelin, Governor Ed Rendell, Specter’s son Shanin, and Vice President Biden shared wonderful anecdotes and memories of Specter, going back to Penn undergraduate and Yale Law School days, it was two of Specter’s granddaughters who made the greatest impact.  Sylvie Specter, by the way, is a friend and classmate at Penn of Biden’s own granddaughter.

Sylvie and Perri Specter told us that their grandfather had spent two weeks before his passing, working on yet another book – one that was a memoir with photographs from his amazing collection.  They announced that the family plans to complete the book and have it published, joining the array of Senator Specter’s other remarkable books.

Rabbi Kieffer, Rabbi Knopf and Cantor Vogel of Har Zion contributed to the testimonials, making this a remarkable send-off for a remarkable man.

Stu Bykofsky Candidates’ Comedy Night, 2012

The 22nd  annual Stu Bykofsky Candidates’ Comedy Night, a benefit for Variety, the children’s charity, was held this evening at Finnegan’s Wake.   Since this is primarily a political blog I didn’t take notes on the speakers who aren’t running for office.  As always, this is not intended to be an exact transcript, just rough notes I took at the event.  It would be impossible to capture every joke, especially the longer, more involved story jokes, but I made an effort to provide some idea of each candidate’s routine.  

Photo: Steven M. Falk, Philly.com

Details after the jump.

Text implies a direct joke, notes in brackets are condensations or gists.  Actions or extraneous activities are in italics, as are candidates’ names.  Read your local newspapers for more exact accounts of the event.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Tom Smith (R), candidate for Senate
Running against incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D).

[Tom Smith was brave enough to go first as a stand-up comedian.  He had a clever slide show which featured a head-shot of Smith added to all the slides of stock or iconic photos.]

I am new to politics and most people in Philadelphia aren’t familiar with me.  My father died when I was 20 and I had to look after the family so I couldn’t go to college but I sent my daughters.  [shows a slide of what he would have looked like if he had gone – his face superimposed on someone wearing a college tshirt holding a beer mug].  

My wife is with me, as you can see I let her get a new dress for the event [American Gothic painting with Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s photos in it].  

I worked in a coal mine [Smith’s face on the front of Thomas the Tank Engine, pulling a load of coal].  

I had big dreams [his face added to a picture of the Beverly Hillbillies].  My wife and I adopted four children so a family could stay together.  

People say I am a Tea Party candidate but there are a lot of things about me you don’t know [his face added to an Occupy Pittsburgh group photo].


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Rep. Bob Brady (D), PA 1st Congressional District

[Congressman Bob Brady told a couple of jokes which we can’t repeat here. He made Stu Bykofsky the butt (pardon the pun) of one a “pee and poop joke.”  Another jokee was about an attorney going to a brothel.]

Incumbents do comedy every day, make fools of ourselves every day.  This is for the kids.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)

[Senator Bob Casey appeared in shirt-sleeves!  He made fun of himself for being dull, quoting verbatim a front page New York Times article which talked about Casey’s galloping eyebrows as the way in which he registers excitement.]

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D), PA 13th Congressional District, sent a surrogate, Neil Deegan.

Top reasons Allyson can’t be here tonight:

  • Still at PennDOT waiting for her voter id card
  • Getting new copy of the Congressional ladies’ room key made for Kathy Boockvar
  • Prepping Mayfair office to hand over to Bob Brady
  • Painting bike lane in front of Stu’s house
  • Getting mani pedi with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi
  • Measuring drapes for Corbett’s office
  • Looking at Pat Toomey’s office
  • Needed a haircut for the DNC.

Photo: Bonnie Squires

Kathleen Kane (D), candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney-General
Running against David Freed (R)

[jokes about her Irish heritage and her hometown of Scranton]
[joke about thinking Finnegan’s Wake was an actual funeral wake]
[joke about doctors]

In Scranton the obituaries are the Irish social pages.  People clip them out and put then on the refrigerator.   They often have headlines, like “101 Year Old Woman Dies Unexpectedly.”

I took my son to an Eagles game.  We saw empty seats up front and moved up to them.  They were next to an older man.  He told us he and his wife had season tickets for years but she died a few days ago.  I asked if a family member didn’t want to come with him.  “Oh, no,” he said, “they’re at the funeral.”


Photo: Bonnie Squires

George Badey, Democratic candidate for 7th Congressional District

[George Badey, who was raised in South Philadelphia and is an avowed Mummer, had a very funny routine.  Badey is the Democrat running against Republican incumbent  Congressman Pat Meehan.]

[told “the neighborhood I grew up in was so tough” jokes – it is now in Brady’s district]

I went to high school in South Philly.  Pat Meehan went to the Chestnut Academy.

Chris Christie is in the hospital.  He has that flesh eating bacteria.  He only has 13 years to live.

Fidel Castro’s successor will be his idiot son, Fidel W. Castro.

Bill Clinton and the Pope died but there was a mix up and Clinton went up and the Pope went down.  When the mix up was fixed and the Pope was going up and Clinton down they passed and the Pope told Clinton he was looking forward to meeting the Blessed Virgin.  Clinton said “You just missed her.”


Photo: Bonnie Squires

David Freed (R), candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney-General
Running against Kathleen Kane (D).

Thanks to Kathleen Kane for picking up the tab.
I went to college with Cecily Tynan.
Fan of Philly sports teams [joke about the 1996 Phillies being bad team].

People say I am too close to Gov. Corbett – he wrote my jokes.  [fakes a phone call from Corbett].  

Hello, Governor?  
Yes, Risa Vetri Ferman’s here — she’s sitting right next to me.  
No, she still won’t run for Attorney General.

[joke about Ed Rendell telling people the statue of Billy Penn is of him]

[calls Daily News columnist John Baer a gossip columnist]

[Photo: Dave Freed seated with Montgomery County D.A. Risa Furman.]


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Kathy Boockvar (D), candidate for PA 8th Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R).

I want to show that I can be funny on purpose and not just by accident.

I wanted to find a job more popular than being in Congress but the TSA didn’t have any opening and Elliott Spitzer already has a co-host.  

Things more popular than Congress right now:

  • Lawyers
  • Chick Fil A’s new branch at the Sea of
  • Gaililee
  • Paris Hilton
  • Porn
  • The IRS
  • Polygamy
  • The idea of being abducted by aliens
  • The oil industry
  • Bank of America
  • BP Oil during the Gulf oil spill

Photo: Bonnie Squires

John Featherman (R), candidate for PA 1st Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Bob Brady (D).

[John Featherman was very funny with jokes about being Jewish and his “mixed marriage” to an Asian woman].  

Two Chinese people had a white baby but everyone knows two Wongs don’t make a white.

A union friend wanted to find a whorehouse where the prostitutes got to keep more of the money than the madam.  They finally found one and the union friend asked for a pretty young blonde but the proprietor said he had to take 62 year old Ethel, because of seniority rules.

Comedian Joe Conklin

Intermission with comedian Joe Conklin who told some good jokes and did impressions of political figures.  He also gave a shout out to the girls from Club Risque and said they were the only ones there with bigger [breasts] than Bob Brady.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Rep. Pat Meehan (R), PA 7th Congressional District

[Congressman Pat Meehan, the Republican incumbent being challenged by Badey, also had a very funny routine.]

Stu thought the Variety Club was a dating service.

My opponent George Badey is a mummer.  He wants to go to Washington, wear satin pants, a feather boa and lipstick.  J. Edgar Hoover already did that.

Anthony Wiener got in trouble for sexting.  He was trying to decide whether or not to resign.  He was in, he was out, he was in, he was out, now he’s holding his own.  Bill Clinton oversaw Wiener’s wedding.  
When the scandal broke he called Clinton to apologize — for what, copyright infringement?

Three political figures were driving through Kansas and ended up in Oz.  [missed the name, possibly George W. Bush?] went looking for a heart, Joe Biden for a brain, and Bill Clinton said “Where’s Dorothy?”

There is an auction for a restaurant gift card which Emerald Capital bids more than the card is worth, then ups that bid when Stu includes a gift basket.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Dr. Manan Trivedi (PA), candidate in PA 6th Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Jim Gerlach (R).

When I ran in 2010 I spoke at this event and told a lot of jokes about being an Indian-American.  I won’t do that this year.  [fakes a telephone call and answers in stereotypic Indian accent] “Dell Technical Support.  This is … Mike …. In …. Kansas City.”  

My wife is from a very traditional family.  When they heard I wouldn’t be a full-time doctor while I am running for office they asked for three chickens back.

Jim Gerlach and Paul Ryan work out together — they practice their Atlas Shrugged poses.

[spelling bee joke]

Unlike Todd Akin, I know when my time is up.

Special guest, comedian Steve Young tells jokes

Congressman Jim Gerlach, Republican, 6th Congressional District, sent surrogate Kori Walter, district director.

Mitt Romney bet me $10,000 that I wouldn’t do this.

[He told several jokes that fell flat and asked if the audience was drinking enough.  As he left the stage Stu told him you never blame the audience if your jokes don’t get a laugh, always use self-deprecating humor.]

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, Republican, 8th Congressional District

[Fitzpatrick was taking two of his daughters to college this weekend and so wasn’t sure he would be able to attend; a surrogate, Andre [did not catch last name], was there just in case, but Fitzpatrick told his own jokes]

One night in Washington a robber held me up and said “give me all your money.”  I told him I was a Congressman and he said  “In that case give me all my money.”

Is Mitt Romney here tonight?  Coming in I thought I saw a car with a dog carrier on top.”

[discusses his Irish heritage, family from county next to Limerick.  Says Limerick known for a particular kind of poem.  Tells three.  One about Paul Ryan has a line “grandma just must go.”  One about Romney being robotic but “I saw him cry when he sold his 3rd yacht.”  The last one is about Obama and says he will be a judge on American Idol next year.]

Jim Foster, Independent candidate in 2nd Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) and Robert Allen Mansfield, Jr. (R).

[Mostly talks about himself, jokes about Chaka Fattah, and says West Mt. Airy is Stepford on the Wissahickon]

Robert Mansfield, Republican candidate for 2nd Congressional District, sends surrogate Ned Green.
Running against incumbent Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) and Jim Foster.

[says he met Mansfield in the 1990’s on another political campaign, Mansfield was homeless then].  Says Mansfield isn’t there because he has a lot of injuries from being in Iraq and is seeing a brain specialist today.

Personal notes:
Smith, Casey, Schwartz/Deegan, Kane, Trivedi, and Boockvar did well.   I was surprised by the Republican candidates telling Romney/Paul jokes.  That seems unusual.

There were a lot of jokes/comments at Congressman Chaka Fattah’s expense.  That is because two years ago he was a presenter and gave an awful, mean-spirited rant.  He wasn’t there tonight.  This would have been an opportunity for him to do something self-deprecating and make a comeback but he didn’t.  (Hint:  There’s always the Star Trek, evil twin/goatee trick that Community has picked up on.)

It was nice to see two women on the stage.  Maybe one of these years Congresswoman Schwartz will join us in person?  Kathleen Kane’s routine had a homespun, Lake Woebegone feel to it.  Boockvar was a little edgier.

The girls from Club Risque paraded from one side of the room to the other about three times, which is the standard from the other years I’ve attended, but this year they were wearing clunky shoes and the sound was disruptive.  

Cross-posted from Above Average Jane. Photo Credit: Bonnie Squires.

Pennsylvania Senate Candidate Praises Holocaust Rhetoric

(NJDC) Once again, a Republican candidate for office has condoned — and even applauded — the use of offensive Holocaust rhetoric. Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith took the stage at the Blair County Tea Party FreedomFest 2012 where he praised a Tea Party speaker who he said spoke “eloquently”-despite the fact that he had just finished comparing President Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler.

The Huffington Post’s John Celock reported:

‘As the gentleman that was speaking before me was so eloquently saying about so many things,’ Smith said prior to giving a speech regarding Obama’s energy policies.

Smith is challenging Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and has been backed by several national Tea Party groups including the Tea Party Express.

[Preceding spekaer Phil] Waite started by discussing what he called the history of various economic and governmental policies, including those that he deemed socialist. He said the Obama administration is employing socialist policies, similar to those employed by the Communists in the Soviet Union and Fascists in Germany.

‘I will not allow a group of Marxist, Socialist law professors, left-wing extremists to annihilate my country without a fight,’ Waite said.

Waite launched into a diatribe about the Nazi Party and Hitler, saying that Obama and Hitler both wanted to centralize power and strip local governments’ authority.

‘All other parties were outlawed, all free elections were outlawed, 45 million dead people later, we ended that regime,’ Waite said. ‘Why? Because you had a slick, quick talker and someone who said ‘you don’t need to worry about responsibility, we’ll take good care of you. Just walk the party line and smile.’ And you know how that ended up.’…

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party was quick to condemn Smith and Waite.

‘The speaker’s comments were shocking, but it’s not surprising that … Tom Smith applauded the extremism of his fellow Tea Partier,’ party spokesman Mark Nicastre said in an email. ‘After all Smith is a self-proclaimed ‘Tea Party guy’, who founded his own local Tea Party. Throughout his campaign, Smith has embraced all of the extreme policies and extreme rhetoric of the Tea Party, and this is just the latest example of how out-of-touch Tom Smith is with middle-class Pennsylvanians.’

As we have said repeatedly, invoking the Holocaust to make a political point is never acceptable and the use of this type of language should be condemned by all. Period.  

Why Does the Farm Bill Matter to Us?

— by Hannah Lee

Most Americans are protected from the travails and vagaries of our food sources.  The five-year cycle of Congressional debates on agricultural subsidies may underwhelm you, but it is relevant to your family’s well-being in hidden ways.  On Thursday, the Senate approved a new farm bill that would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

More after the jump.
Sugar subsidies were left in place.  Crop insurance was reduced for the wealthiest farmers, those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000.  This was through the efforts of Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), saving $1 billion over 10 years. Recipients would now have to take steps to reduce erosion and protect wetlands, according to a last-minute amendment by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia).  The bill eliminated about $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers and farmland owners, whether or not they grew crops.

The limited good news is new funding for the next generation of farmers through an amendment by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).  The bill will also expand block grants to states for research and promotion of fruits and vegetables.  It will encourage the expansion of farmers’ markets.  It will consolidate several conservation programs to make them more efficient.

Despite the efforts of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), the biggest cuts were to the food stamp program, now known as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

The House will begin discussion of the bill after the July 4th recess.  The House Republican budget presented by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) would reduce food stamp spending by about $134 billion over the next decade and turn the program into block grants for the states.

Among the 64 Senators approving the Farm Bill was our own Robert Casey (D), while among the 35 Senators rejecting the Farm Bill was Patrick Toomey (R).   Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) was the sole abstention.  

Blunt Amendment on Purim Eve: Guests in a Christian Nation

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought light to many dark places in American society. It was most famous for opening businesses and institutions which operated in public to members of all races. Less well known were its provisions which prevented discrimination on the basis of sex, creed, national origin, and religion. In the matter of discrimination in the workplace, the act clearly places responsibility for establishing a work environment free of harassment on the operator of the business. Court decisions later established that employers needed to make themselves aware of harassment of minorities in the workplace, that their toleration of such harassment made them liable to penalties and prosecution under the law, that their encouragement of such harassment would lose them federal business.

More after the jump.
The far-reaching consequences of the Civil Rights Act can be seen most clearly in the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency. Unlike Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Obama’s appreciation for the role that the Civil Rights Act played in providing him with opportunities — for his education, for his advancement, for political career, for his being taken seriously as a human being — has always been open and straightforward. Obama’s recent interpretation of the Affordable Care Act — to guarantee that employees of religious institutions who were not themselves members of management’s religious faith were able to practice the tenets of the employees’ own faith, without the intimidation, coercion, and harassment of the employer’s religious restrictions on those employees — is something that Jews in particular should be grateful to their friend in the White House, who stuck up for our rights.

The Catholic Church has taken the mission of the Civil Rights Act, and stood it on its head. It is not the big bad government imposing free practice of religion on the helpless Catholic institutions — who employ followers of Judaism, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, Unitarianism, Muslims, Buddhists, Farsis, Hindus and others whose religious beliefs may differ from the Church — not just in matters of contraception, or about when life begins and ends, or about the relative importance of the lives of a woman and her fetus before childbirth. It is in fact the big bad government which has allowed such Catholic institutions to flourish and prosper, tax free, as they compete with for-profit hospitals, even as the Church provides right-to-life demonstrators at secular institutions to increase their costs of doing business. It is rather these powerful institutions who now influence the votes of our Senators Toomey and Casey — who both voted for the Blunt Amendment this past week. It is these powerful institutions, who demand exception from having to provide a harassment-free workplace for their employees, on the grounds that their employees’ free practice of religion offends management’s religious moral sensibility.

I have had to remind some friends, who were not alive at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, that some white churches in the South justified their practice of segregation on religious grounds. Such churches encouraged “Knights” to act in their defense. As government contemplated the Civil Rights Act, these churches too claimed that the government would intrude on their members’ freedom of religion. Many South African white members of the Dutch Reformed Church also justified their apartheid regime, by appealing to their interpretation of scripture, and to the teachings of their church. The coercive use of religious doctrine is not of course confined just to racial segregation and racist governments.

At this time of Purim, where we celebrate the resourcefulness of Mordechai and Esther in proclaiming their Judaism, and attempt to drown out with groggers the name of he who tried to exterminate our people for attempting to practice our basic Covenant, I would urge my compatriots to support their own civil rights, and to support the Obama position on the universal support for women’s health care services — to be exercised as the employee and not the employer sees fit, and to prevent religious harassment in the workplace from being justified, by a sense of freedom which treats the religious freedom of neighbors as if some of us were only “guests” in a Christian Nation.

Academy of Music 155th Anniversary Concert and Ball


Major movers and shakers in Philadelphia’s economy were among the 1500 supporters at Saturday night’s 155th Anniversary Academy of Music Concert and Ball, including (left to right) Ron and Rachelle Kaiserman, Robert and Caroline Zuritsky, and Renee and Joe Zuritsky.

— by Bonnie Squires

Philadelphia’s premier white-tie event took place at the historic Academy of Music, preceded by receptions and dinner at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 155th Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball featured the debut on the Academy of Music stage of. Music Director Designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin , with special guests multiple Grammy Award®-winners singer/pianist Diana Krall and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Tipping its hat once again to the first Academy concert, the program was a mix of popular and classical music, just as the 1857 opening concert was.

Jazz performer Krall surprised the audience by calling back on stage her friend and collaborator, Yo-Yo Ma, to the delight of everyone.

More after the jump.


Terese Casey, wife of Senator Bob Casey, and Felice Wiener

Yannick also had the Philadanco dancers, reflecting the rainbow of colores which lit the stage and columns of the Academy, perform to the strains of the orchestra.  A surprise finish was the appearance of the Society Hill Dancers, dressed in formal attire of the 1850s, doing a waltz.

The Jewish community was among 1500 supporters of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Academy of Music, an historic monument to music, opera and dance. The Gala evening began with a pre-concert dinner. Guests could choose from two exciting offerings this year: the President’s Cocktail Party and Dinner at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, or a Dine Around option, which allows patrons to dine at selected restaurants along the Avenue of the Arts, or on their own. In a nod to the Academy’s early years, and in a unique departure from recent history, both the Anniversary Concert and the Academy Ball were held entirely within the Academy of Music. A “symphony in three movements,” this unique evening gave attendees the chance to celebrate the “Grand Old Lady of Locust Street” within her very walls.

Public officials attending the evening included Governor and Mrs. Tom Corbett, Senator and Mrs. Bob Casey, a number of city and state officials, and corporate, cultural, arts organizations and philanthropic foundation leaders.


Christina and John Saler

The gala was co-chaired by Joanna McNeil Lewis, president and CEO of the Academy of Music,  and John R. Saler, chairman of Stradley and Ronon’s Government Affairs Practice Group, who also serves on the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra.


Corbetts greet Richard Worley, chairman of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Joanna McNeil Lewis and John Saler, co-chairs of the Academy of Music Concert and Ball, in the background.

In the receiving line with the co-chairs and the Corbetts were Richard Worley, chairman of the Philadelphia Orchestra board of trustees, and Allison Vulgamore, CEO of the Orchestra.

The energy of Yannick, the Orchestra, the guest artists and the dancers enthralled the audience.  And the impressive program journal, reflecting the support of various segments of the community, was the parting gift as people finally left the Academy balls, held in various sections of the Grand Old Lady of Broad Street.

Photos credit: Bonnie Squires.


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Sandy and David Marshall, with Dianne and Jeff Rotwitt Scott and Lynne Mason with friends Pat and Rob Schaffer Harmelin Group