Leonard Bernstein Exhibit Inspires at NMAJH

At the press preview for the “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music” exhibit at NMAJH. From left to right: Ivy Weingram, Alexander Bernstein, Nina Bernstein, and CEO and Gwen Goodman Director of NMAJH Ivy Barsky. Photo credit: Bonnie Squires

Maybe you thought you knew a lot about Leonard Bernstein — or maybe just the Broadway show or film “West Side Story.”

But you will learn a lot more about the legendary Jewish-American composer’s history and accomplishments after a visit to “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music,” the  latest exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH).

Ivy Weingram, is the curator — or more appropriately, conductor — of the impressive exhibit, which is in tribute to Bernstein’s hundredth anniversary. Worldwide, countless events have taken place, and will continue to occur throughout 2018, to celebrate the deceased music icon. Philadelphia has already had its fair share of events honoring Bernstein, including “Lenny’s Revolution,” a concert conducted by Bernstein’s protégée, David Charles Abell, and the Philly POPS orchestra.

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Obama Discusses Gun Violence With Law Enforcement Leaders

President Barack Obama met this morning with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and a dozen of his fellow police chiefs and sheriffs:

  • Police Chief Daniel Oates, Aurora, CO (scene of 2012 movie theatre shooting) seated two to Obama’s right,  
  • Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Newtown, CT (scene of 2012 Elementary School shooting) seated next to Biden,
  • Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, Montgomery County, MD (scene of many of the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks),
  • Police Chief Robert Villaseñor, Tucson, AZ (scene of 2011 attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords),
  • Police Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City, UT (scene of the 2007 Trolley Square shooting),
  • Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Minneapolis, MN (scene of the 2012 Accent Signage Systems shooting),
  • Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, Las Vegas, NV (scene of the 2010 Federal Courthouse shooting),
  • Police Chief John Edwards, Oak Creek, WI (scene of the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting),
  • Sheriff Richard Stanek, Hennepin County, MN (scene of the 2003 Court Tower shooting),
  • Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Chicago, IL,
  • Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald from Story County, IA, and
  • Sheriff Larry Amerson from Calhoun County, AL

They discussed gun violence prevention in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Biden’s chief of staff Bruce Reed.

Obama spoke for roughly three minutes about the importance of hearing from law enforcement leaders on the issue of gun violence and what communities across the country need from the federal government in order to curb the number of mass shootings throughout the the country.

Mr. Obama thanked the police chiefs and sheriffs for coming to the White House today and recalled the executive actions he took earlier this month, as well as his legislative goals, and called on Congress to work with the administration to pass them.

Transcript follows the jump.

Vice President Biden and I just want to thank the police chiefs and sheriffs who are here today representing law enforcement officials all across the country who obviously share our deep concern about issues of gun safety and how we can protect our communities and keep our kids safe.

A couple of weeks ago, I appeared along with Joe to present the administration’s ideas in terms of steps that we have to take. And I issued a number of executive actions that should be taken unilaterally in order to improve our collection of data to make sure that we’re coordinating more effectively with state and local governments, and to do everything that we could to improve the issue of gun safety and to make our communities safer.

But, as we’ve indicated before, the only way that we’re going to be able to do everything that needs to be done is with the cooperation of Congress. And that means passing serious laws that restrict the access and availability of assault weapons and magazine clips that aren’t necessary for hunters and sportsmen and those responsible gun owners who are out there. It means that we are serious about universal background checks. It means that we take seriously issues mental health and school safety.

We recognize that this is an issue that elicits a lot of passion all across the country. And Joe and my Cabinet members who have been involved in this have been on a listening session over the last several months. No group is more important for us to listen to than our law enforcement officials. They are where the rubber hits the road.

And so I welcome this opportunity to work with them; to hear their views in terms of what will make the biggest difference to prevent something like Newtown or Oak Creek from happening again. But many of them also recognize that it’s not only the high-profile mass shootings that are of concern here, it’s also what happens on a day-in-day-out basis in places like Chicago or Philadelphia, where young people are victims of gun violence every single day. That’s why part of the conversation that we’re going to be having today relates not only to the issue of new laws or better enforcement of our gun laws, it also means what are we doing to make sure that we’ve got the strongest possible law enforcement teams on the ground? What are we doing to hire more cops? What are we doing to make sure that they’re getting the training that they need? What are we doing to make sure our sheriff’s offices in rural counties have access to some of the resources that some of the big cities do in order to deal with some of these emergencies?

So I’m looking forward to a robust conversation. I know that this is not a shy group, mainly because they’re dealing with life-and-death situations every single day. But I’m very grateful to them for their participation. This is a representative group. It comes from a wide cross-section of communities across the country. And hopefully, if law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take, Congress is going to be paying attention to them and we’ll be able to make progress.

The Pledge

— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Howdy!

Beginning when we are children, we all take pledges. The earliest pledge for most of us is when we pledge allegiance to the flag. Most of us earnestly do this before we know what “pledge” or “allegiance” mean. All I knew was that it involved “the Republic for which it stands” which I assumed was all one word (“Forwhichistan”) and was probably near some of the smaller, similarly named countries in Soviet Siberia.

As I grew older I learned there are other pledges people take, almost all of which are bad ideas. For example, some people take a “Pledge of Chastity,” which, if the statistics are any indication, is tantamount to a pledge to get pregnant, immediately.

Then there are the loyalty pledges we made people sign during our dark, McCarthy period (I refer to Senator Joseph McCarthy, not Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist’s dummy, whose view of anti-communist purges is more ambiguous). Turns out, that people who are disloyal, have absolutely no problem signing loyalty pledges. Go Figure.

I remember taking the Boy Scout pledge. I don’t remember all of it, but part of it was me swearing to be “brave, clean and reverent.” But as a 15 year old, I was a scrungy, blasphemous coward, so clearly that pledge needed some tweaking.

Then there was the “Pledge Pin” where a young man would insert his fraternity pin directly into the pectoral muscles of his best gal. At least that’s what I did. Maybe that’s why I never got second dates. And then some pledge their “troth,” and who the hell knows what a “troth” is?

The point is that most pledges are a bad idea. They usually involve promises to do things that you know won’t feel right or won’t be right in days to come. That’s why you take the pledge now. You are saying:

“No matter what happens in the future, no matter what facts change, or what circumstances change, or how I change, I am pledging to this bone-headed thing, no matter what. So help me God.”

Let me give you an example. suppose I take the “No Right Turn Pledge,” which says as follows:

I __________, am of reasonable intelligence. This means I am not as dumb as a ________, nor is my name _____W. ___. I hereby pledge, when driving on the streets of Pennsylvania, that I verily, and with utmost rectitude, will never, under any circumstances, make a “right turn,” or “right hand turn” as people who need extra help call it.

I shall refrain from turning right even if I am driving straight and my destination is on the right. Or, if I am heading towards a brick wall and my breaks fail, and there’s a huge cliff on the left. Or, lets say I see a big sign that says “Lots of Money ahead, on right!!!”  Nope not even then.
By my Hand  _________________

Seems kind of silly, huh? Well, our governor has signed a pledge which makes the “No Right Turn” thing seem like pure genius. I refer to the “The Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

This is a pledge written by a man named Grover Norquist, who has, to my knowledge, never even been to Pennsylvania (he may have taken a pledge not to), but who nonetheless appears to be running the state.

Mr. Norquist’s pledge requires the signer to never, ever vote to create a new tax or increase an existing one. It does not matter how low the existing tax rate is, what kind of tax would be raised, what it would go for, how dire the state’s fiscal situation is or how tiny the increase would be.

So even if the rapture did happen on May 21 (and I’m quite sure the guy is right about the new date) and we needed a small tax on… say… cigars to help deal with all of the unexpected rivers of molten lava and swarms of locusts, that would be unacceptable to Grover.

This pledge applies under absolutely all circumstances. If it only applied when it made sense, you wouldn’t need a pledge. That would be a no-brainer and not require the services of Mr. Norquist.

Recently, some in the legislature suggested that we charge the Marcellus Shale drilling industry a “local impact fee” to help defray the costs of the damage they do to the communities where they drill. The supporters of this proposal made it very clear that this was not a “tax.” It was a “fee.” You can tell because “tax” and “fee” aren’t even spelled the same. Plus, the money raised would not go to educating kids or giving medicine to sick people, or any other part of the radical, Kenyan Socialist agenda. Surely, Grover Norquist would smile on this.

But alas unicorns, it was not to be. Grover, communing with the Spirit of Jack Kemp, as well as the spirits of the Koch Brothers, who while not actually dead, are too rich to require physical bodies, issued his edict. This fee was really a tax, and would be a violation of The Pledge.

So apparently, because the Governor signed this ridiculous pledge to ignore all facts forever, our hands are tied. Grover Norquist rules the day, despite the fact that this does great damage to our state, despite the fact that he was never elected to anything in Pennsylvania, and despite the fact that his name is Grover.

I have an idea for a pledge. It goes something like this…

“I, ______ hereby pledge that I will address every public policy question with an open mind, and that I will consider all the facts and do my best to do what’s right for the people of Pennsylvania, without regard to rigid ideologies, or bone-headed pledges written by dudes I’ve never met named “Grover.”

In the name of Zeus ____________

Done. Now I’m off to put my troth on EBay.

Daylin

Stealing PA’s Electoral Votes: Have you no sense of decency?


— by State Senator Daylin Leach      

In America, we don’t elect our presidents directly. Each state elects representatives to the “electoral college”, which technically “elects” our president. For the past 224 years, since the first time we elected George Washington President, Pennsylvania has joined virtually every other state in casting all of its electoral votes for the presidential candidate who won the state’s popular vote. This has always made Pennsylvania a critical state in national elections because of the number of electoral votes we deliver.

On September 12, Governor Corbett endorsed changing our system and instead awarding one electoral vote to a presidential candidate for each congressional district they win. It is important to be clear. This is an obscene, transparent, blatantly partisan change in the rules, designed for one purpose only; to help Republican Presidential candidates. Republican leaders are distressed that their candidates have lost Pennsylvania in the past five elections, and they wish to correct this problem, not by fielding better candidates or making more compelling arguments, but by stacking the deck to ensure their nominees receive the majority of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, regardless of how the people of our state actually vote.    

We should be extremely suspicious anytime one political party unilaterally tries to directly affect the outcome of future elections. In this case, the Republicans in Harrisburg want to award electoral votes according to congressional districts. And who is drawing those congressional districts? Harrisburg Republicans! They control the congressional redistricting process completely. So they will essentially be deciding ahead of time just how many votes to guarantee future Republican presidential candidates. In fact, the congressional redistricting now occurring is likely to create 12 solidly Republican districts and 6 Democratic ones. This assures any Republican presidential candidate a clear majority of the state’s electoral votes. This means that your vote in the presidential election will be meaningless.

Not only will our votes as individuals be rendered useless, this plan will also end Pennsylvania’s status as a battleground state and will make us completely irrelevant to presidential campaigns. Why should candidates come here when we will know in advance what the final electoral vote count will be? Presidential candidates will spend far more of their time in states where electoral votes will actually be in play. It is extremely strange and distressing that our governor is pushing a plan that would make Pennsylvania matter less in national politics.

Notice that Republicans who control states that Republican presidential candidates usually win show absolutely no interest in changing their rules. We won’t be seeing this proposal moving in Texas or Mississippi. It is only states that Republicans currently control, but which tend to vote Democratic in national elections which will see the rules of their elections altered. Any change to our electoral college should be adopted uniformly across the nation, with buy-in from both red and blue states so there is no effort to rig future elections.

The Governor gives lip service to improving our electoral system. However, this bill has nothing to do with good government. It is simply a partisan power-grab. If Governor Corbett was really interested in improving Pennsylvania’s electoral structure, he would support bi-partisan proposals such as early voting, no-excuse absentee voting or a national popular vote. But he opposes all of these. Instead, the governor supports this bill, as well as additional legislation which will make it harder for people who disproportionately do not vote Republican to vote at all, such as requiring photo ID every time someone goes to the polls. This will disenfranchise millions of the poor, the elderly, and those who live in cities. In the past, there were times when Democrats have controlled the whole process. They could have passed anything they wished, and when it comes to substantive policy, they often did. But nobody ever attempted to abuse their temporary control to fix future elections. As the prime sponsor of redistricting reform, I find it particularly disheartening that this proposal will make gerrymandering an even more entrenched part of the system. This is extremely disappointing coming from a governor who ran on a promise to reform our political system.

Elections in a democracy are sacred. Permanently changing the rules which were created by our founders and which we’ve all lived by for centuries, in order to benefit your political party is profoundly wrong. It desecrates our history and is a repugnant attack on the very core of our nationhood. The governor’s endorsement of this profanity brings to mind the famous words of Joseph Welch spoken to Senator Joe McCarthy during another attack on the basic structure of our democracy. “Have you no sense of decency?”