New Jewish Faces on Capitol Hill in 2013

PM Netanyahu Meets with Senator Daniel Inouye— by David A. Harris

Now that the 113th Congress has been sworn-in, we thought you would be interested in learning a little bit about the newest members from our community who are bringing their Jewish values to Capitol Hill.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presents Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) with a replica of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem
(September 2, 2012). Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO

More after the jump.

  • Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz was appointed to the U.S. Senate following the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) — a pro-Israel giant and true friend of the American Jewish community. Notably, Senator Schatz was sworn into the Senate with a Tanakh, and his entrance into the Senate brings the total of Jewish partisan Democrats to 10 — the number required for a minyan. (Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an eleventh Jewish senator who caucuses with the Democrats, is an Independent.)
  • Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL) is a former Mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida and she successfully fought a tough campaign against a formidable opponent. Frankel is very familiar with the issues that concern her constituents, including protecting the social safety net and support for Israel.
  • Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL), who was defeated following his first term in 2010, is beginning the second chapter of his congressional career in the 113th Congress. Grayson is an outspoken advocate for many of the issues of concern to American Jews, and his voice will be important in rallying the Democratic caucus.
  • Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) was a prominent voice in both the California Assembly and Senate, and believes in so many of the policies supported by the clear majority of our community.
  • Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL) is a distinguished businessman and Jewish leader from Chicago who ousted incumbent Representative Robert Dold (R-IL). Schneider is an outspoken Israel supporter and is committed to protecting America’s middle class.

Wrapping Up 2012

 

Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch.

The best year in review piece I've seen came from Dave Barry. You can read it here, and you really should. Where else could you see gems like this:

In labor news, Chicago teachers go on strike over controversial proposed contract changes that would allow the school board to terminate teachers who have passed away. Meanwhile, the NFL comes under increasing pressure to settle the referee strike following a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans in which the replacement refs call four balks and three traveling violations, and ultimately declare that the winner is the Green Bay Packers. At the end of the month the strike is settled, and the replacement refs move on to their new role as Florida elections officials.

 More after the jump.

We close the year with sad health news for two famous pols. George HW Bush is 88 years old, has Parkinson's, and breathing trouble. It doesn't look good for longevity. Hillary Clinton is at NY Presbyterian with a blood clot found after her fall-induced concussion. This is not her first blood clot. Shame on those right wing wacko pundits who claimed she was faking. We wish the best for Secretary Clinton.

The 112th Congress is ending. Tom Brokaw said it best yesterday on Meet the Press when he said that the real problem is that 75% of districts have been redistricted so that they're bulletproof. I hope that America wakes up to this, and changes the system by which we redistrict to non-partisan methods, and jungle primaries, so that we have a shot at a legitimate House. 

Aside from the House, it has been a good political year. This was the year that dark money failed, that liberals won the hearts, minds, and votes of a majority of Americans across the board. My personal goal for 2013 is to turn Pennsylvania blue at the local level, and position the state (block by block, town by town, county by county) to win back Harrisburg in 2014. Tall order for one as vertically challenged as myself, but I believe I'll have lots of help! And besides, there's this from some post on Facebook:

It's impossible, said pride.
It's risky, said experience.
It's pointless, said reason.
Give it a try, whispered the heart.

Happy coming 2013. The dream endures.

A Film Informs My Sh’ma: Powers Of Echad

— by Rabbi Avi Shafran

As a single young man in 1977, I once found myself in a science museum where I viewed a just released short film that — there’s really no other way to put it — expanded my consciousness.  It apparently did the same for many others and remains to this day, despite powerful advances in special effects, an impressive work.

More after the jump.
Produced the year I encountered it by husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten begins with a simple scene, a picnic in a Chicago park.  As predicted by the voice-over, though, the camera pulls away from the picnic, at a rate of one power of ten per 10 seconds.  The zoom-out continues straight up, so that, in a few seconds, the picnic blanket is but a dot of color against the green expanse of the park, which soon enough, with the camera continuing to soar heavenward, itself shrinks to a speck.  Then the viewer sees the outline of Lake Michigan, then North America; the earth’s cloud cover next fills the screen, and then earth itself, which itself quickly recedes into the distance.  Eventually we see an image of our solar system and then the galaxy to which it belongs, before it, too, becomes but one of many galaxies.  The camera seems to fly ever backward, until it reaches the farthest reaches of space.


The effect is visceral, or at least it was for me.  It recalled to me how, as a child, I would sometimes lie flat on my back on our lawn on a clear dark night and concentrate my vision on the starry sky until I felt an inexplicable and sudden shock.  It was as if the sheer vastness of the stars, of the universe itself, had somehow reached out and seized me; it was a frightening experience, yet one that, when feeling brave, I would occasionally seek out.  Although Powers of Ten on a screen could not quite evoke that childhood shudder, it visually captured, maybe even more compellingly, the vastness of the cosmos.

The film, which proceeds from outer space to inner space, zooming back in to the picnic and then further, into the skin of a picnicker, into one of his cells and its DNA, then into an atom and an electron, has been recently celebrated on the 35-year anniversary of its release.  (Charles Eames passed away the following year, in 1978, and his wife Ray, in an arresting irony, died precisely — to the Gregorian calendar day — ten years later.)

The short film actually plays a role in my life as an observant Jew, thrice daily when reciting the fundamental Jewish credo, the Sh’ma (at morning and evening prayers and before retiring). The Sh’ma declares G-d’s transcendence of time and space, and, as we pronounce the word echad (“one”) halacha prescribes that we try to conceptualize, to the degree we can, the immensity of the universe – “above and below and in all four directions” (Brachos 13b) — and the fact that the Creator of it all is not of it at all but “beyond” it and in control of it.

One of the ancient Hebrew euphemisms for G-d is “Makom,” which literally means “place.”  The Talmud explains that the word describes the Divine because “the universe is not His place, but rather He is the ‘Place’ of the universe.”  

Leaving — even in our imaginations — the dimensions of time and space isn’t an option for us mortals.  We are like the two-dimensional residents of Flatland, Edwin Abbott’s 1884 satirical fantasy world, trying to comprehend three-dimensional existence.  There is a reason the Hebrew word for both time and space is “olam,” rooted in “ne’elam,” which means “hidden.”

And yet, we are required all the same to concentrate, as we recite the first verse of the Sh’ma, on G-d’s transcendence of time and space.  That can be done in an entirely intellectual manner, without any sort of visualization.  I find it helpful, though, when I recite the Sh’ma, to try to capture something of the feeling I felt as a child lying on the lawn on those starry nights. Images from Powers of Ten, as they did 35 years ago, provide me a “visual” to accompany the intellectual recognition of the scope of the olam.

I doubt that the Eamses ever thought of their film as something that would come to invigorate a Jewish religious devotion.  But that’s what it did, at least for this Jew.

© 2012 Rabbi Avi Shafran

It’s All in the Angle (Torah Temimah Publications), a collection of selected essays by Rabbi Shafran, is now available from Judaica Press.

 

The State of the Home States

Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and their running mates have a fair claim to a number of "home" states. None of these are really “swing states,” but these in theory are the states that know these men best, so let's take a look at how the campaign is going in these states. Poll numbers are from Nate Silver's polling average as of Sunday, November 4.

State Claim to fame
Dem GOP Advantage
District of Columbia Obama resides in the White House (2009-present). 88.0% 8.0% Obama +80.0%
Hawaii Obama was born in Honolulu (August 4, 1961). 61.6% 33.6% Obama +27.5%
Illinois Obama moved to Chicago in 1991. He was Illinois State Senator 1997-2004 and Illinois’ US Senator 2004-2008. 56.6% 38.7% Obama +17.9%
Mass-achusetts Romney has degrees in business and law from Harvard University (1971-1975). He stayed in Boston where he worked for Bain Capital (1977-2002) and served as Bishop of the Ward for the LDS Church (1981-1986). He ran for Senate unsuccessfully (1994). He was elected Governor (2003-2007).
Obama has a degree in law from Harvard University (1988-1991).
56.8% 38.5% Obama +18.3%
Michigan Romney was born in Detroit (March 12, 1947). His father George Romney was President of the American Motors Company (1954-1962) and Governor of Michigan (1963-1969). 49.3% 44.6% Obama +4.7%
Utah Mitt and Ann Romney were married at the Salt Lake Temple (1969). Romney attended Brigham Young University. Romney ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Romney owns a home in Park City, UT. 24.3% 69.9% Romney +45.6%
California Romney owns a lavish beachfront home in La Jolla.
Obama attended Occidental College.
54.4% 38.8% Obama +15.6%
New Hampshire Romney owns a beachfront vacation home in Wolfeboro, NH. 48.7% 46.3% Obama +2.4%
Wisconsin Paul Ryan was born, raised and continues to live in Janesville, WI where he represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. 49.9% 45.7% Obama +4.2%
Pennsylvania Joe Biden was born in Scranton (Nov. 20, 1942) and lived there until 1953. 49.6% 44.8% Obama +4.8%
Delaware Biden moved to Delaware in 1953. He served as Delaware’s Senator (1973-2009). 57.1% 37.8% Obama +21.0%
Ohio Ryan attended Miami Univerity (Ohio). 48.7% 45.8% Obama +2.9%
New York Biden attended Syracuse University. 59.9% 35.0% Obama +24.9%

Agreement Among States to Elect President by National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.

The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbiaand 8 states (VT, MD, WA, IL, NJ, MA, CA, HI) shown in green on the map. They total 132 electoral votes bringing us almost halfway towards the 270 necessary to activate the National Popular Vote.

Eleven more states (shown in purple) have passed NPV bills in at least one chamber of their legislature. For example, recently the Republican-controlled New York Senate passed NPV in a 47-13 vote. Republicans supported the bill 21-11 while Democrats supported it 26-2. Across the country, NPV has been endorsed by 2,124 state legislators.

The shortcomings of the current system stem from the winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state).

The winner-take-all rule has permitted a candidate to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in 4 of our 56 elections – 1 in 14 times. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected Kerry despite Bush’s nationwide lead of 3,000,000.

Another shortcoming of the winner-take-all rule is that presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign visits and ad money in the November general election campaign in just six closely divided “battleground” states — with 98% going to 15 states. This makes two thirds of the states mere spectators. (The maps on the left show a similar situation during the final five weeks of the 2004 Bush-Kerry election. Each purple hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice-presidential candidate and each dollar sign represents $1,000,000 spent on TV advertising.)

The winner-take-all rule treats voters supporting the candidate who comes in second place in a particular state as if they supported the candidate that they voted against.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the states exclusive control over the manner of awarding their electoral votes:

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”

The winner-take-all rule is not in the Constitution. It was used by only three states in our nation’s first election in 1789. The current method of electing the President was established by state laws, and that these state laws may be changed at any time.

Under the National Popular Vote bill, all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes – that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

The bill preserves the Electoral College, while assuring that every vote is equal and that every vote will matter in every state in every presidential election.

The bill has been endorsed by New York Times, Sacramento Bee, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, Common Cause, FairVote, LWVUS, and NAACP.


As seen in this state polls are extremely favorable. Supports ranges from a “low” of 67% in Arizona to a high of 83% in Tennessee. On this map, shades of blue represent the highest support and 50/50 support would be represented in purple.

The movement for the National Popular Vote is bipartisan: The national advisory board includes former Senators Jake Garn (R-UT), Birch Bayh (D-IN), and David Durenberger (R-MN) as well as former congressmen John Anderson (R-IL, I), John Buchanan (R-AL), Tom Campbell (R-CA), and Tom Downey (D-NY). Former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Governors Bob Edgar (R-IL) and Chet Culver (D-IA) are champions.

This Spring, Pennsylvania House Bill 1270 was introduced by Rep. Tom C. Creighton (R-Lancaster County) and Senate Bill 1116 was introduced by Senators Alloway, Argall, Boscola, Erickson, Fontana, Leach, Mensch, Solobay, Vance and Waugh. These bills have not yet be acted upon action by the State Government Committees.

Additional information is available in the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.

Pennsylvania poll results follow the jump.

To support National Popular Vote efforts, donate money, contact your state legislator and get involved.
Pennsylvanians Strongly Support Popular Vote for President

Two out of three Pennsylvanians believe the President should be the candidate who “gets the most votes in all 50 states”, according to a recent poll conducted by noted Political Science Professor Dr. Terry Madonna.

The strong showing came in Madonna’s March Omnibus Poll involving a telephone survey of more than 800 Pennsylvania residents and voters. Among those interviewed, seven in ten agreed “it would be unjust to have a President who did not receive the most popular votes.”

The survey findings were released by the National Popular Vote Project even as state House and Senate sponsors are garnering additional support for enabling legislation on the matter.

Madonna said polling showed bipartisan public support for the project. “A clear majority of Republicans and Democrats favor popular voting in place of the Electoral College’s current method for choosing the President,” Madonna said. “The fundamental reasons the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College system no longer exist, and the voters of Pennsylvania understand that.”

The prime sponsor of the legislation in the House, Republican state Rep. Tom Creighton of Lancaster County, is quick to point out that his legislation (HB 1270) does not seek to supplant the Electoral College, but rather seeks to direct the electors as provided in the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution, Creighton notes, spells out in Article II, Section 1, that only the state legislatures may set rules on electors and that, in fact, the term “Electoral College” does not appear in the Constitution.

“Right now, most states allow electors to abide by a ‘winner take all’ approach which casts all of a state’s electoral college votes for the candidate who wins that state,” no matter if the candidate wins by a single vote or in a landslide. That “winner take all” practice has resulted in four elections where the candidate who received the most popular votes was not seated as President. A half dozen other elections resulted in “near misses.”

Only about one in four persons surveyed believe that electing a President by the national popular vote will favor one party over another. And of those who believe that, there is a clear split over which party would be favored.

Support was strong for the popular vote across the state although the most vigorous support was noted in Northwestern Pennsylvania, where 72% supported the concept. Philadelphia and suburban counties came next with 69% supporting a National Popular Vote. 63% supported the concept in both Southwestern(including Pittsburgh) and Northeastern Pennsylvania. A clear majority (58%) supported the idea in Central Pennsylvania.

The Madonna survey included the questions on the presidential election at the request of the National Popular Vote Project, a non-partisan, non-profit organization promoting the issue nationwide. Interviews were conducted with 807 residents, of whom 659 were registered voters, using a random digit telephone number selection system that allowed for the inclusion of cell phone users, in addition to regular landline respondents. The sample error was plus or minus 3.4%.

Results in the survey were similar to those reported in a 2008 automated survey of more than 1,000 Pennsylvania voters conducted by Public Policy Polling. In that poll about 70% favored the election of the President by the national popular vote.