American Democracy Challenged: Political Gridlock and What We Can Do About It

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) is pleased to host two renowned former Congressmen, Tom Davis (R -Virginia) and Martin Frost (D- Texas) for an in-depth examination of how partisanship has led to Congressional gridlock and what can be done to reverse the trend.

The program will take place on Sunday, November 8, at 2 p.m., at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Davis and Frost are the co-authors of the 2014 book, The Partisan Divided: Congress in Crisis which outlines a bipartisan approach to making Congress more responsive to the needs of the American people. Davis is the former chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Frost served as Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Joining forces in an effort “to save Congress from itself,” Frost and Davis argue that the legislative branch is incapable of reforming itself without “a good kick in the seat from the American public.” Together, the two retired lawmakers have developed a common sense, bipartisan plan for making our Congress function again.

The program comes at a time when the leadership of the House remains in doubt and the agenda for the remainder of the 114th Congress’ term is uncertain.

Two weeks later, on November 22, also at 2 p.m. at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, JSPAN will sponsor panel discussions on campaign finance and redistricting/gerrymandering, two of the issues Davis and Frost cite as contributing to the gridlock and hyper partisanship. The panelists will explore how gerrymandering affects the value of each vote cast and therefore voter turnout, and the role money plays in politics, with special attention to local elections. Journalist and professor Dick Polman and State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia) are among the panelists scheduled.
Founded in 2003, JSPAN strives to advance progressive social policies on the critical issues of our time. JSPAN focuses a range of domestic policy issues such as: voting rights and election law, economic justice, race relations, church/state separation, gun violence, reproductive rights, public education, and more—all of which are affected by access to the political process.
We invite coverage of the event as well pre-publicity. Please contact George Stern to arrange interviews with the congressmen.
Event registration is free and can be accessed on the JSPAN website, www.jspan.org.

Bipartisan Group Tackles Redistricting Reform in Harrisburg

— Charles M. Tocci

Calling it an “imperative” first step to any government reform initiative, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Pennsylvania lawmakers today announced the formation of a legislative workgroup aimed at hammering out redistricting reform legislation.

“Modern day government has deteriorated into a politically tainted, polarized and gridlocked force that is more about self-preservation than representative government,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton). “This bipartisan effort is not about whether we need to change redistricting, but how we should change it.”

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The lawmakers claim that Pennsylvania’s many oddly shaped, gerrymandered districts have created politically impenetrable fiefdoms that pressure lawmakers to toe the party line at the expense of bipartisanship and compromise. A recent Penn State study concluded that members of Congress are now nearly seven times less likely to cross-vote on issues than they were a few decades ago. In the 112th Congress (2011-2013), just 7 of the 444 members accounted for 98.3% of all cross-votes.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) noted, “We’ve heard our constituents’ ask for a more accountable government and a more open and transparent redistricting process in Pennsylvania. I hope the formation of this bipartisan redistricting reform group shows that we are listening to those concerns, and we’re ready and willing to work together to overcome current challenges. This is a significant first step toward a bipartisan solution that works for all of Pennsylvania.

Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) said, “There are some good proposals on the table. This workgroup’s job is to find common ground, draw the best from various ideas, and emerge with a strong bipartisan solution that we can all rally around.”

Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) added, “I believe that the difficulties and delays that plagued Pennsylvania’s last attempt to put together a timely map of legislative districts emphasizes the need to explore new methods of reapportionment in the Commonwealth. For that reason, I am happy to participate in the efforts of this workgroup.”

The lawmakers said it is important that the redistricting reform process take shape this legislative session to have a new system in place when district maps are redrawn again for the 2020 census. To change the redistricting process, the state legislature must pass legislation changing the state’s constitution in two consecutive sessions. Voters must then approve the reform proposal via referendum.

“Our democratic system requires that voters choose their legislators, but our politically motivated redistricting process allows legislators to choose voters instead,” said state Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry). “That must change.”

Lawmakers claim that the last Legislative Reapportionment Commission largely ignored sound redistricting tenants such as contiguity, compactness and community of interest. New legislative maps, which were supposed to be in place for the 2012 elections, were overturned by the state Supreme Court as being “contrary to law.” The decision sent the commission’s lawmakers, lawyers and staffers back to the drawing board and kept old legislative boundaries in place for the 2012 election.

Members of the group pointed out that the method we use for congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania isn’t any better. The 11th Congressional district runs from Adams County to the northern tier, while the 15th Congressional district goes from Easton to Harrisburg, and the 12th Congressional District traverses from Cambria County to the Ohio line.

The legislators said that drawing Congressional districts is more politically charged than drawing the state House and Senate districts because Congressional districts are presented in bill form and goes through the legislative process. A bipartisan reapportionment commission comprised of caucus leaders meets and deliberates on state House and Senate districts before presenting its state legislative redistricting proposal.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

(Editor: Stephen Wolf has computed non-partisan maps “that give voters a real choice and allow the majority to have its voice heard.” Here are his maps for Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin and other states.
Even more representative maps can be drawn by actively seeking proportional representation and competitive districts instead of ignoring partisanship as Stephen Wolf does.)

Other lawmakers at the news conference included Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna), along with Representatives Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Dave Parker (R-Monroe) and Steve Also on hand to express their organization’s support for redistricting reform were: Barry Kauffman, Common Cause; Susan Carty, League of Women Voters and Desiree Hung, AARP.

Can We Trust Obama on Iran?

(NJDC) In his latest op-ed in The Hill, political commentator Steve Sheffey described why Israel and the American Jewish community can trust President Obama as diplomatic negotiations with Iran continue.

Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_Iron_Dome_Intercepts_Rockets_from_the_Gaza_Strip

“After a frosty reception for Iron Dome from the George W. Bush administration, Obama fully backed Iron Dome and asked for funding above what Congress appropriated.”

Looking at the President’s record after six years in the Oval Office, Sheffey wrote, “No Republican president has been a better friend of Israel than Obama.”

It is a measure of the strength of Obama’s commitment to Israel that he has not let personal tensions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu get in the way of a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Under Obama, U.S. aid to Israel has reached record levels. After a frosty reception for Iron Dome from the George W. Bush administration, Obama fully backed Iron Dome and asked for funding above what Congress appropriated, which saved thousands of Israeli lives during the 2014 Gaza conflict. Obama also gave Israel access to the munitions it needed to replenish its supplies during that conflict.

Obama’s record clearly demonstrates that he has earned the trust of the global community in working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Sheffey criticized Congress’ recent actions against the administration’s diplomatic efforts:

Diplomacy remains our last best hope of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. We still don’t know if Iran will agree to our conditions. If they do, we’ll all have a chance to see if the deal meets the expectations the administration has set. Until then, Congress should not jeopardize the success of negotiations by legislation or back-channel communications.

The Obama administration has earned our trust and deserves a chance to succeed.

Netanyahu Warns Congress About “Very Bad” Iran Deal

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the upcoming agreement on Iran’s nuclear program between it and the P5+1 countries is “a very bad deal” in his speech to Congress. (Video and transcript below.)

Netanyahu said that the deal would not ensure that Iran will not be able to produce nuclear weapons:

According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed.

Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s breakout time would be very short – about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.

And if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that breakout time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.

True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.

Israel’s prime minister said that an even greater danger is that “virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade.”

Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.

Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount – 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.

Netanyahu: My friends, I’m deeply humbled by the opportunity to speak for a third time before the most important legislative body in the world, the U.S. Congress. I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.

I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade. I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel. The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics. It must always remain above politics. Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope. Israel is grateful for the support of America’s people and of America’s presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel. Now, some of that is widely known. Some of that is widely known, like strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing, opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.

Some of what the president has done for Israel is less well-known. I called him in 2010 when we had the Carmel forest fire, and he immediately agreed to respond to my request for urgent aid. In 2011, we had our embassy in Cairo under siege, and again, he provided vital assistance at the crucial moment. Or his support for more missile interceptors during our operation last summer when we took on Hamas terrorists. In each of those moments, I called the president, and he was there.

And some of what the president has done for Israel might never be known, because it touches on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. But I know it, and I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support.

And Israel is grateful to you, the American Congress, for your support, for supporting us in so many ways, especially in generous military assistance and missile defense, including Iron Dome. Last summer, millions of Israelis were protected from thousands of Hamas rockets because this capital dome helped build our Iron Dome.

Thank you, America. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel.

My friends, I’ve come here today because, as Prime Minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies. The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.

Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of antisemitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated – he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.

For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. He said: If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.

But Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world. To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime. The people of Iran are very talented people. They’re heirs to one of the world’s great civilizations. But in 1979, they were hijacked by religious zealots – religious zealots who imposed on them immediately a dark and brutal dictatorship.

That year, the zealots drafted a constitution, a new one for Iran. It directed the revolutionary guards not only to protect Iran’s borders, but also to fulfill the ideological mission of jihad. The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, exhorted his followers to ‘export the revolution throughout the world.’

I’m standing here in Washington, D.C. and the difference is so stark. America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad. And as states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void to do just that.

Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply. Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. That’s just last week, while they’re having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran’s attacks against the United States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too real.

Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped al-Qaeda bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.

In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.

So, at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations. We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.

Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!  Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before.

Last year, the same Zarif who charms Western diplomats laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh. Imad Mughniyeh is the terrorist mastermind who spilled more American blood than any other terrorist besides Osama bin Laden. I’d like to see someone ask him a question about that.

Iran’s regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America,” that same America that it calls the “Great Satan,” as loud as ever. Now, this shouldn’t be surprising, because the ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.

Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.

In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.

The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. We must always remember – I’ll say it one more time – the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.

But that, my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.

Let me explain why. While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You don’t need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it. Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran.

The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short breakout time to the bomb. Breakout time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed.

Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s breakout time would be very short – about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.

And if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that breakout time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.

True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.

Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn’t stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb.

Now, we’re warned that within five years North Korea could have an arsenal of 100 nuclear bombs.

Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. It’s done that on at least three separate occasions – 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras. Now, I know this is not going to come as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught – caught twice, not once, twice – operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.

Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, ‘If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.’ Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that’s why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.

But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade. Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.

Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount – 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.

My long-time friend, John Kerry, Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires.

Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.

And by the way, if Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program is not part of the deal, and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reaching corners of the Earth, including to every part of the United States. So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.

So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse?

Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would only whet Iran’s appetite for more.

Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?

Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both worlds: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?

This is a question that everyone asks in our region. Israel’s neighbors, Iran’s neighbors, know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it’s been given a clear path to the bomb. And many of these neighbors say they’ll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own. So this deal won’t change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.

This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.

If anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, we’ll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come here today to tell you we don’t have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better. We don’t have to gamble with our future and with our children’s future.

We can insist that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world. Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.

If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires. If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.

My friends,

What about the argument that there’s no alternative to this deal, that Iran’s nuclear know-how cannot be erased, that its nuclear program is so advanced that the best we can do is delay the inevitable, which is essentially what the proposed deal seeks to do?

Well, nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn’t get you very much. A racecar driver without a car can’t drive. A pilot without a plane can’t fly. Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons.

Iran’s nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.

Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table – and this often happens in a Persian bazaar – call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.

And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more. My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.

Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal: a better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short breakout time; a better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends; a better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb; a better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally. And no country has a greater stake – no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.

Ladies and gentlemen,

History has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war. The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity.

You don’t have to read Robert Frost to know. You have to live life to know that the difficult path is usually the one less traveled, but it will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace we all desire.

My friends, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, ‘Never Again.’ And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.

But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over. We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.

This is why as Prime Minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel. You stand with Israel because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.

Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the Land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today, ‘Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.’

My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.

May God bless the State of Israel and may God bless the United States of America.

Netanyahu Declines to Meet Democratic Senators Before Congressional Speech

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

DEBKA reported that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declined an invitation for a closed-door meeting with Democratic Senators next week in a letter to Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein:

Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation, I believe that accepting it at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.

DEBKA added that National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the latest U.S. administration official to attack Netanyahu, sharply called his forthcoming speech on Iran to Congress “destructive to the relationship between the two countries” in an interview with Charlie Rose Tuesday night:

What has happened over the last several weeks by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks before his elections is that on both sides there have been injected some degree of partisanship.

It is not only unfortunate but it is also destructive of the fabric of the relationship. It has always been bipartisan and we want to keep it that way. When it becomes injected with politics, that’s a problem.

Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry said in reference to the prime minister that “anybody running around right now jumping in to say, ‘Well we don’t like the deal,’ or this, or that, doesn’t know what the deal is.”

Previously, Netanyahu remarked on his upcoming speech:

This agreement, if signed, will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state – meaning that, with the powers’ consent, Iran will get a license to develop atom bombs – and this is a country which openly declares its intention to destroy the state of Israel. That is why I will go to Washington to speak before the US Congress, because the U.S. Congress may be the last defense before it is signed.

Netanyahu Demands U.S. Congress Pass Carbon Tax (Parody)

Parody courtesy of Disassociated Press

(Disassociated Press — Washington DC, March 3, 2015) Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel today startled the U.S. Congress by demanding that it pass a strong carbon tax to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions that lead to global scorching.

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

The State of Israel faces an extreme threat to its existence much more dangerous to us than Iran or the Palestinians. And only the United States can prevent this disaster.

Our best scientists have told me that if the world continues with business as usual in pouring CO2 into our air, the added heat will expand the size of the Negev Desert so that it will swallow up most of Israel. And sea levels of the Mediterranean will rise to put much of Tel Aviv under water.

I am sad to say that much of the present CO2 comes from unchecked fossil-fuel burning by American companies. Only a strong US carbon tax can end this. On behalf of the people of Israel and of the entire Jewish people, I implore you — I urge you — even I would say I demand of you — that you take this step as soon as possible.

Senators and Members of the House of Representatives were thrown into a buzzing uproar by Mr. Netanyahu’s speech. Speaker Boehner was seen to hit his hand against his head three times in what looked like frustration.

Until Mr. Netanyahu began to speak, it was widely expected he would call for Congress to impose even more draconian sanctions against Iran than now exist.

There were sharp divisions in American politics over having the speech at all.

On the one hand, the House Republican leadership had arranged it without informing the President or the Democratic Congressional leadership — an unheard-of procedure for inviting a foreign leader. The Republican leadership also invited several major supporters and donors to sit in seats of honor in the gallery.

Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson

One of these was Sheldon Adelson, multibillionaire head of a casino empire who has been one of Mr. Netanyahu’s strongest political supporters and donors in Israeli politics, and who has also been a major contributor to Republican candidates for President.

From his seat, as the speech took its unexpected turn, he began shouting, “No, No, No.” When forced to leave by the Capitol police, he came down outside the Capitol, roaring, “For this I paid the whole cost of the newspaper I invented to support him? What will I say to my friends Charles and David Koch? Did some Greenpeacer poison his coffee this morning?”

On the other hand, the White House had sharply criticized the invitation, and many critics had gathered outside the Capitol to protest what they had expected Mr. Netanyahu to say. They had argued that his policy would undermine President Obama’s diplomatic work to pull Iran away from nuclear weapons, would instead push Iran toward making them, and thus would likely lead to a disastrous war.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (front right) and other protesters.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (front right) and other protesters.

One of the protesters, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center, is also a leader in urging the American Jewish community to work against the fossil-fuel burning that brings on climate chaos. Our reporter asked Rabbi Waskow what he thought of the speech.

I am astounded. A reminder that even bellicose, short-sighted politicians can still open themselves to the deepest truth, and amaze everyone — maybe even themselves.In Jewish spiritual life we call it tshuvah — literally, turning in a new direction, toward the God Who breathes all life. We pray, “You Who are the Breath of Life, May Your sacred winds of change turn us in a new direction – and then we will turn!”

All I can say this afternoon is, Amen to that!

House Rule Change to Deny Disability Insurance Funding‏

ssalogo[1]— by Mark D. Olshan and Rachel Goldberg

Among the first acts of the 114th U.S. Congress was the adoption of a new rule that will undercut Social Security as a whole, and risks steep cuts in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (DI) by late 2016.

During the summer, the 2014 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report stated the DI trust fund is at risk of being depleted by 2016. The latest forecast is consistent with past reports, including expectations in the early 1980s, when funding allocations between retirement and disability benefits were last adjusted. [Read more…]

Should Obama Start Compromising on His Agenda?

Will the Senate prevent Obama from nominating another justice like Sonya Sotomayor?

Will the Senate prevent Obama from nominating another justice like Sonya Sotomayor?

Obama will have to deal with a Republican Senate for the first time in his presidency and some, like think tank “Third Way,” argue Obama should respond by compromising on his progressive agenda. But is that really necessary?

In important matters such as Supreme Court appointments, Obama might be more effective by standing up for his convictions.

Bill Clinton watches as Ruth Bader Ginsberg is sworn in as Supreme Court Justice in 1993.

Bill Clinton watches as Ruth Bader Ginsberg is sworn in as Supreme Court Justice in 1993.

This question is all the more important as 81 year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg underwent heart surgery after experiencing discomfort on Tuesday. Otherwise, she is in fine shape: She works out regularly, and even put in an “all-nighter” to write her dissenting opinion last month on the Texas Voter ID law, as she told Ella Magazine in September, before her heart problem started:

Jessica Weisberg: I’m not sure how to ask this, but a lot of people who admire and respect you wonder if you’ll resign while President Obama is in office.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam… I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can.

Control of the Senate makes little difference on legislation as long as Obama is willing to to dust off his veto pen. Over the last six years Obama has only vetoed two bills, fewer than any President since James Garfield who served for only half a year. However, that should change as his veto authority will be needed to keep  Republican legislation in check.

However, Obama’s veto pen is of little use to stymie the Senate’s abuse of its power to confirm or deny Presidential appointments. Even with a Democratic majority, the Republican threat of a filibuster has created a record backlog.

According to AP, “Some 150 of President Barack Obama’s nominees are still waiting their turn. They include 25 more potential ambassadors and other senior State Department appointments.” For example, we do not have a Surgeon General to spearhead our response to the Ebola crisis. Fully a quarter of the world, does not have an American ambassador. We don’t have one in Russia to clarify our position in the war with Ukraine and we do not have one in Guatemala to stave off the droves of unaccompanied minors seeking refuge in our country. The situation was even worse  until Harry Reid recently limited the ability to filibuster certain judicial appointments.

Defining a Legacy

Of all these nominations the most significative are the judicial appointments, since they are lifetime appointments. A justice appointed to the Supreme Court may end up serving decades after the President who made the appointment is long gone. In this way, judicial appointments especially to the Supreme Court define a president’s legacy far beyond his own term of office.

This is not a moot point. Given the ages of the current Justices on the Supreme Court, there is a 49.1% chance that at least one of the nine will not live to see the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. Together with the possibility that a Justice retires for health or personal reasons short of shuffling off this mortal coil, it is more likely that not that Obama will yet face one or more vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Harry Enten studies Obama’s options for a potential Supreme Court vacancy and concludes that “The Supreme Court won’t be getting another Sotomayor anytime soon” and suggests Obama placate Republicans by seeking candidates more to their liking.

The 2014 Senate elections have made it more difficult for Obama to appoint a Supreme Court Justice. If any future nominee looks like those the Pr4esident has already appointed, he’d likely have a fight on his hands. His best chance would be to go with a nominee who is a true moderate, or an impeccably qualified, mainstream Democrat.

That might work if Republicans were opposing Obama’s nominees on their merits. However, Republican opposition has often taken shape to gain leverage as a protest against extraneous issues like the Affordable Care Act or immigration. Sometimes Obama’s support for a previously conservative idea is the kiss of death as Republicans flip positions in order to not be perceived as supporting anything that Obama favors.

Making the Case Directly to the People

Instead of searching in vain for a hypothetical consensus candidate, Obama should choose the candidate who best exemplifies his vision for the Supreme Court and make his case directly to the public.

Adam Green suggests that Obama stop catering to “what the center of Washington D.C. is instead of what the center of the country is…. If Mitch McConnell wants to stand up and say ‘no’ to millions of hispanics; if Mitch McConnell wants to say ‘no’ to millions of women, then let him.”

Perhaps the Republicans will refuse to approve a progressive justice, and either deny the candidate a hearing or vote the candidate down. However, if they do, Democrats can make that the issue they bring to the American people in the 2016 election. If voters are unhappy with actions of the Senate, many Republican Senators will lose the seats they won in the Republican wave of 2010.

If the Democrats win the White House and regain control of the Senate, the next President would be able to appoint a true progressive. If necessary, it would be better to wait a little while for a nominee with vision than to settle for a flawed compromise justice of the Supreme Court.

Gerrymandering Dooms Dems’ Hopes in House

Democrats’ grief over this year’s election has focused on their losses in the Senate, but their losses in the House of Representatives are much worse. While the Senate could be regained by the Democrats in a couple of years, retaking the House may take a decade or more.

Democrats May Win Senate in 2016

In off-year elections, about 12% of voters are 18-29 years old, 23% are 30-44, and 64% are older. However, in Presidential elections about 18% are 18-29, 28% are 30-44, and 54% are older.

In off-year elections, about 12% of voters are 18-29 years old, 23% are 30-44, and 64% are older. However, in Presidential elections about 18% are 18-29, 28% are 30-44, and 54% are older.

Most of the senators in the third of Senate that was up for election this year were elected in the Democratic wave led by Barack Obama in 2008 as he inspired young voters to come to the polls and defeat John McCain.

However, young voters are not consistent voters. They tend to turn out in much larger number for presidential elections. In this year’s off-year election, the youth failed to come out in great numbers, so most of these swing seats slipped out of Democratic hands giving control of the Senate to the Republicans. Democrats are disappointed by this outcome, but at least for the Senate their setback might only be temporary.

The batch of Senators up for election in 2016 is dominated by the Republicans who benefited from the Republican wave of 2010, so if the Democrats can get their base to turn out to the polls again in a presidential election year they might be able to take back four or five seats and regain control of the Senate.

Gerrymandering Renders House Elections Nearly Irrelevant

All of the attention on the Senate has diverted many people’s attention from the House of Representatives. After the 2010 census, Republicans used their control of numerous state legislatures and governorships, and sophisticated redistricting technology to craft congressional districts to their liking for the 2012 presidential election.

As a result, even though Obama was reelected and more people voted for Democratic congressional candidates than for Republican candidates (59.6 million to 58.2 million), the Republicans actually won more seats than the Democrats (242 to 193), and Republican John Boehner (OH-8) replaced Democrat Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) as Speaker of the House.

Indeed, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s analysis of the 2012 election showed that the redistricting gave the Republicans a 7.5% head-start in the House elections. In other words, without a Democratic landslide the Republicans would be able to seize control of the House. If the Democrats need to beat the Republicans by 7.5% just to break even, then we have lost sight of the idea of majority rule.6-3-13-gerrymander[1]

This year we conducted a similar analysis of election results. If we magically sprinkled Democratic voters across the country, this year Democrats would have needed a 10% margin in order to have regained control.

In fact, the Democrats lost the popular vote by an 8% margin, but the game was rigged so efficiently by gerrymandering that even if the shoe had been on the other foot and the Democrats had won the popular vote by 8% that would not have been sufficient for them to win back control of the House.

While the Democrats have high hopes of electing Hillary Clinton or another Democrat as president and perhaps regaining a majority in the Senate, they have virtually no chance of getting control of the House of Representatives until 2022, and even that will require significant gains by the Democrats in local state politics, and popular support for reform in the arcane world of redistricting.

Cartoon courtesy of Mike Stanfill.dyzm21gxkwi4jj0imdnu[1]