Giffords Receives the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

— by John Tackeff

Last weekend, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented former Representative Gabrielle Giffords with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In her remarks, Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, praised Giffords for her acts of courage and commitment to public service:

Today, we honor a woman who inspires the entire world, Gabrielle Giffords has turned a personal nightmare into a movement for political change. After an assassination attempt ended her Congressional career and left her with grave injuries, she fearlessly returned to public life as an advocate for new legislation to prevent gun violence. When others would have withdrawn from public life, she has challenged us all to reengage in the political process. When others would have given up hope, Gabby has been unwavering in her belief that politics can solve problems. When others would have looked for excuses, Gabby has inspired action. She perseveres not just for herself, but for Newtown, and Aurora, for Chicago and Tucson.

More after the jump.
Giffords released a statement thanking the Kennedy Library for the recognition of her work:

It is such an honor to receive the Profile in Courage Award from the Kennedy Library. I believe we all have courage inside us, even when it’s hard to express. I want to keep working to make the world a better place, and I am so grateful.

The Romney Returns: Taxing Conversations

Mitt Romney’s taxes are dominating the political conversation this week. To cut through the noise, here are some of the highlights.

Romney is yet to release even a single complete tax return

John Marshall wrote a piece entitled Is the FBAR FUBAR?:

Through the last week of tax return follies, Mitt Romney has repeatedly stated that he’s released two years of tax returns and he’ll release no more. In fact, he’s yet to release even a single complete tax return. He filed for an extension for his 2011 returns and says he’ll release the final returns later this year when he files them. The 2010 return was actually incomplete. And what was left out points toward a question that a lot of reporters and tax experts have been wondering about but have been surprisingly reticent to discuss publicly.

Huffington Post noted yesterday that Romney never released his so-called FBAR documents [Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts], special forms required [by the United States Treasury Department] from filers who have bank accounts in other countries. But the issue actually came up in a conference call back in January. Particularly about a Swiss bank account with UBS.

In that call, Romney blind trust advisor Brad Malt was asked whether Romney had “filed any and all required FBARs in a timely fashion.” To which he responded: “The people required to file FBARs are Mrs. Romney and myself, and we have filed all FBARs.”

The campaign has yet to release those FBARs. Why they’ve gotten pressed so little on it is a bit of a mystery to me.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Back in 2009, the IRS instituted a major tax amnesty program for folks who had previously secreted money in Swiss and other offshore banks. The amnesty stemmed from a settlement the US government had reached with UBS that year. Those who came forward voluntarily in the prescribed period of time could pay their back taxes, pay their fines but avoid any criminal penalties.

In 1994, Romney criticized Kennedy for not disclosing his taxes

It’s time the biggest-taxing senator in Washington shows the people of Massachusetts how much he pays in taxes. (Boston Globe, 4/19/1995)

*In 1968, Mitt’s father Gov. George W. Romney (R-MI) released twelve years of tax returns saying:

One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.

In 2008, Romney was being vetted as a possible running mate by Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, and Romney provides tax records going back to 1984 when he founded Bain Capital. After deliberation, McCain chose Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain denies that the tax returns had anything to do with rejecting Romney saying simply: “Sarah Palin was the better candidate.”

In the end, we don’t know what is hidden in these tax returns, but we know that Romney is taking a lot of political heat for defying the tradition his father began whereby Presidential candidates make a full and detailed disclosure of their tax returns.

Romney is politically astute. He knows the cost of not providing this information. As CEO of Bain Capital, he has experience avoiding risk, so I would assume that there must be something in those returns which he thinks would be more objectionable to the American people than simply refusing to disclose his returns.

What could that be….? Many voices around the internet have proposed various alternatives.

Perhaps:

  • No taxes at all: We already know that Romney paid a 14% tax rate in 2010. Most Americans pay far more than that even though they earn far less than Romney. Perhaps Romney was able to use capital losses and various deductions and loopholes to completely eliminate his tax obligation in 2009.
  • His magical IRA: Perhaps Bain Capital undervalued assets being deposited in Romney’s IRA account in order to avoid the $30,000 annual cap. His IRA is now worth $21 million to $102 million, so something seems amiss.
  • Bain Capital: Maybe he does want people to see how much he was paid by Bain during the period he “retroactively resigned”? The SEC Filing on the right is from Bain’s February 2001 SEC filing although Romney attempts to avoid blame for some of Bain’s outsourcing activity by claiming that he left Bain in February 1999.
  • His Address: Doc Jess notes the Romney “was able to get on the Massachusetts ballot by saying he worked for Bain, and therefore had Mass residency in 2000, 2001 and 2002. But that may not be true”.
  • Off-Shore Tax Shelters: As mentioned above, any American with over $10,000 in accounts overseas must file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. Romney has yet to release a single FBAR. Perhaps he is worried that that Americans would be appaled to learn how much money he has tucked away in Bermuda, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands? Or perhaps his take returns will reveal that he taking his money off-shore in order to evade American taxes? Did he perhaps participate in the IRS’s 2009 tax amnesty program?
  • Something else: The bottom line is that only Romney (and McCain) knows what is keeping Romney from releasing his tax returns.

Video of Ann Romney and DNC ad follows the jump.
Ann Romney: We’ve give all you people need to know

DNC Advertisement: “Mitt Dancing Around The Issues.” (Note: This ad was retracted after the DNC decided not to no longer refer to Ann Romney’s horse in their advertisements.

A Senate at risk


111th Senate

Part 5 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”
– Manhattan U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler

Whew! The American people were spared a U.S. Senate that might take command of its legislative agenda.

We do not want to jeopardize the Democratic Senate seats in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and other conservative states.

More after the jump.
Under the headline Senate Democrats’ minimalist agenda, The Washington Post reported that the Democratic majority has intentionally restrained itself to save seats in states like these.

The May 21, 2011, Post account states: “Democrats have decided to try to shield those lawmakers from the usual weeks-long debates and instead await for compromises to be reached behind closed doors. Reid’s approach is a bet that doing nothing looks better for them, so long as their arguments resonate with voters in 2012.”

Welcome to governance in the Senate half of the 112th Congress. Any wonder we have been stuck with an immovable Senate? Doing their jobs might cause some Democrats to lose their jobs in the November 2012 election. The Democratic leadership worried that they might lose their 51-47 majority if they overplayed their hand; two senators then were independents who caucus with the Democrats.

What, then, is the point of having a Senate?

Senate gridlock is rooted in the Senate’s composition that requires equal representation for all states, while leaving the House of Representatives with proportionate representation. Senate Democrats  represent all five states that opposed proportionate representation during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Rhode Island, which did not participate in the convention, is also represented by Democrats in the Senate.

Most low-population states are conservative or conservative-leaning. They are represented by Republicans in the Senate or alternate between the two parties. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was defeated for re-election in 2004. If he represented New Jersey or New York, he almost certainly would be serving in the Senate today.

Daschle’s fellow Democrats do not want others like him defeated, so they adjusted their agenda to protect their Senate seats in swing states. Three of those states, where two incumbents were retiring and a third was up for re-election, are home to 3.5 million people – Nebraska, 1.7 million; Montana, 975,00; and North Dakota, 646,000.

So, 1 percent of the nation’s citizenry – out of 308 million Americans – can propel the Senate leadership to ignore or minimize the needs and concerns of tens of millions of Americans. Democrats in the 112th Senate represented 190 million Americans after the 2010 election and 204 million in the 2008 election before Scott Brown, a Republican, was elected on Jan. 19, 2010, to fill a Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Under these overall population estimates, each senator is counted as representing half their state’s population. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party is not counted here because he was elected as a Republican.

The four Democratic senators from New York and California collectively represent one-sixth of America’s population, 36.9 million in California and 19.5 million in New York.

That leaves 56.4 million Americans, and 135 million from other moderate or liberal states, in the lurch.

If the Senate represented the populace on a more proportionate basis, then far more attention would likely be paid to issues raised by the senators from high-population states such as New York and California.


Our present form of government was launched in a building at Wall and Nassau streets in lower Manhattan that was demolished two decades later. George Washington was inaugurated on the balcony on April 30, 1789. Eight blocks northeast, 212 years and four months later, two hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center towers.

It was this very form of government that threatened funding of two programs for New York City resulting from the 9-11 tragedy. One issue prompted bickering between a Manhattan congresswoman and a senator who represents fewer people than the number who live in her district. Manhattan alone comprises triple the population of the state that sent Mike Enzi to the Senate. For those who are confused by New York’s geographic composition, Manhattan is one of five boroughs that comprise NYC, population 8 million plus.

Manhattan’s population is 1,600,000 and Rep. Carolyn Maloney represents 700,000 people. The population of Enzi’s state, Wyoming, is 544,000.

In December 2010, Enzi opposed the Zadroga bill to compensate 9/11 workers sickened during the clean-up of the World Trade Center site. He was even accused of quarterbacking a campaign against the bill with a document that Carolyn Maloney called “a pack of lies.”

The New York Daily News attributed to unidentified sources the claim that Enzi, ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee, was behind the opposition to the Zadroga bill, which would spend $7.4 billion over 10 years to provide health care and pay victims.

The revenue would be raised from closing tax revenues on foreign corporations. Because Republicans were against employing this source for revenues, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, suggested other funding alternatives.

The News reported that the Republican document ignores their offers and labels the foreign tax provision a job-killer, and blatantly fabricates the claim that 95 percent of the workers were provided for in a recent $625 million legal settlement.

Only 10,000 people who sued, not the 30,000 who received some form of treatment, are covered by the settlement, the newspaper article clarified.

Calling these claims “a pack of lies,” Maloney said, “If these were legitimate concerns, why are Senate Republican leaders only raising them now, at the last minute, instead of years ago?”

Enzi would not respond to these accusations, but a week later he penned an op-ed piece in the News where he claimed that health-care providers that received federal grants for 9/11 health programs “have failed to tell Congress where that money has gone.”

In a follow-up letter to the News, Maloney and Jerrold Nadler (Ground Zero is located in his congressional district) wrote that “Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”


Obama signs Zadroga Act

In a Dec. 3 editorial, the Daily News employed phrases such as “distort the truth” and “torture decency” to describe Republican tactics. “They should stand at the graves of all those whose lungs were fatally destroyed, starting with NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who labored 450 hours at Ground Zero, and repeat the libel.” The bill was named after Detective Zadroga.

Next excerpt – Two senators, a high road and a low road

Holiday Aloneness


By Hannah Lee

In our modern, frenetic society, people are often far from loved ones for the holidays, whether for studies, work, or national service.  As the retail establishments bring out their holiday decorations earlier than ever — Nordstroms, however, has promised not to do so until after Thanksgiving —  the atmosphere of forced cheer and gaiety can prove difficult for some of us.  So, what can be done about it?

I’ll paraphrase the late President John F. Kennedy who’d said in his inaugural speech on January, 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  The remedy for self-pity and loneliness is to take action for others.  In all the years of my marriage, my husband has had to work on Thanksgiving and certainly on the Friday afterward, so it’s not a long weekend for us to visit with family (and none choose to visit us, maybe because they do not want a turkey-less meal).  However, Thanksgiving continues to be my favorite American holiday.

One year, when my first-born child was very young and her father was to be on call for Thanksgiving, I signed up to help serve a meal the day before while she was still in daycare (I paid for extended hours that day).  I drove to a section of North Philadelphia where some of the buildings had busted windows and I found that I was the only person not of African origin.  I felt safe, though, because the organizers lead everyone in prayer at the beginning of the meal.

More after the jump.
When my daughters grew older, we have volunteered with MANNA, preparing and delivering meals to the home-bound chronically ill.  The early-morning kitchen stints, however, were hard for teens who like to sleep later than their usual 6 am wake-up call on school days.  Delivering to the various depressed neighborhoods where the clients live has been an eye-opening experience to my suburban children.  Driving with my children can be a comedy routine at times, as I am a bad driver and my elder daughter is an ill-tempered navigator.  My younger daughter, in turn, has been more patient with me.

Others have devised their own rituals.  Our cello teacher and his talented violinist wife, both émigrés far from family members, would bring their sons to perform as a string quartet for hospital patients.  A few years ago, I started a Giving Thanks notebook, where I invited my family to jot down their thoughts for the year.  My husband and younger daughter have consistently declined, but my elder daughter and I take pleasure in contributing to it and more so, in re-reading previous entries.

I do take care in serving new and favored dishes for Thanksgiving, but the meaning of the holiday is in giving thanks, acknowledging our freedom and our privilege.  That we can do even when we are far from loved ones.

Cartoon reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.

Theodore Sorenson 1928-2010


— Rabbi Avi Shafran

Most people will be forgiven for not imagining that the late Theodore Sorensen, President John F. Kennedy’s close confidant and speechwriter, born in Nebraska to a father whose first name was Christian, might be Jewish.  But in the eyes of halacha he probably was.

Mr. Sorensen, who died on October 31 at the age of 82, was born to a Russian-Jewish mother, Annis Chaiken, although he was raised as a Unitarian.  He was responsible for much of the soaring oratory associated with President Kennedy, who once called the celebrated speechwriter his “intellectual blood bank.”  Sorensen had an extensive role (some say a full-fledged ghostwriting one) in producing Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage, and the president included him in important foreign policy discussions, including those revolving around the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a truly hot point in the Cold War.

More after the jump.
Although Sorensen was not a self-promoter, his death brought focus to the considerable role he played in the Kennedy White House and, thus, in American history.  And, for those who take pleasure in (or are suspicious about, or just find curious) the influence that Jews – recognizable as such or not – have come to wield on world affairs over the ages, he was but another good example.

As he was an example of the particular prominence of Jews in progressive causes.  In his teens, Sorensen registered with the military as a conscientious objector and in his later years he relentlessly championed liberal ideas and ideals, working with Nelson Mandela on voter registration in South Africa and with President Obama’s presidential campaign.  He served, too, as a board member of the International Center for Transitional Justice, which seeks to pursue accountability for human rights abuses.

Such activities well fit the stereotype of the American liberal Jewish activist, which engenders pride or disdain depending on the observer.  What is striking, though, is how noticeable Jews are on the other side of the American political spectrum as well.  The Kristols and Podhoretzes, peres et fils, are examples that most readily come to mind.  But there are many others.  New York Times columnist David Brooks famously observed that for some people, “con” in the word “neocon,” is “short for ‘conservative,’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish’.”

So how exactly does one make sense of the fact that Jews, presumably channeling some deeply-ingrained ethnic inclination, end up moving and shaking both ends of the political seesaw?

One approach is to simply note that Jews tend to be cerebral (a generalization, to be sure; many of us don’t seem to do much thinking at all) and so there will always be a good sized pool of bright and motivated Jews from which influential political players and activists of varied stripes will emerge.

But there is something else at work here, and it has less to do with brainpower than with a sense of Jewish mission, of wanting to better society.  To effect, in the phrase fashionable these days in some Jewish circles, tikkun olam – the “perfection of the world.”

And that drive, holy at its roots if not always in its fruit, has long taken Jews in different, sometimes diametric, directions.  Wherever on the political/social spectrum they may end up, though, what drives them there – often without their realization – is sourced in a desire… to serve G-d.

Yes, G-d.  The Torah makes clear that the Jew is intended to be an instrument of the Divine, to help bring the rest of the world to recognition of His glory.  That is true tikkun olam, as the phrase is used in the Aleinu prayer. Every Jew is hard-wired to want to do the will of the Creator.

The shame lies in the obliviousness of most Jews to how, in fact, they can create a better world.  To be sure, Jewish tradition requires empathy and charity; as it does personal responsibility and morality – “liberal” and “conservative” ideals alike.  But the Torah’s bottom line is that the observance and study of its laws comprise the ultimate path to perfection – our own personal perfection and that of the entire world.

Many Jews would – and do – scoff at that contention.  G-d, if they think of Him at all, is there to be beseeched for sustenance, health and success.  But making a better world, they insist, requires political or social activism; observing often challenging or arcane laws and studying ancient texts could not possibly lead to world peace, security and human welfare.  Of course, the scoffers will happily use their computers without a thought to how this or that click here or there manages to yield this or that effect.  But to imagine that the Engineer of the universe may have programmed His creation to respond to Jews’ observance of the Torah’s laws somehow taxes their imagination.

And yet, the seed of that truth lies waiting somewhere in every Jew’s soul.  Sought out and nourished, it will grow.

The nourishment might be said to lie in a paraphrase of a thought often associated with Theodore Sorensen (although he insisted the words were those of his boss, the 35th president):  

Ask not what your Creator can do for you. Ask what you can do for your Creator.