From 2008-2010 Verizon did not pay any federal corporate income taxes, despite billions in profits. According to Citizens for Tax Justice’s new report, Facebook is raking in many extra millions because of tax loopholes that let them pay nothing. Share this graphic on Facebook if you agree that this is outrageous.
— by Rabbi Avi Shafran
When I recounted seeing a small group of unusually dressed men in shul last Sunday in Staten Island and realizing that they were trying to catch a minyan before participating in the New York Marathon (which begins in that borough), my daughter asked me if any of them had a chance of winning the race.
“Nah,” I said. “It’ll be a Kenyan.” Four of the New York race’s past ten men’s race winners, after all, hailed from that African country. Actually, make that five now. (Congratulations, Geoffery Mutai.) A fellow Kenyan came in second.
My daughter’s face, I thought, evidenced some surprise, as if I had espoused some rank racism. So I explained that Kenyans seem particularly physically endowed for long-distance running. Kenyans, that is, and Ethiopians (another citizenry with disproportionate wins in marathons) who belong to the lithe and limber Kalenjin tribe.
More after the jump.
If believing that different populations have different abilities constitutes racism, I guess I am a racist. But the word’s pejorative meaning is more properly reserved for assigning negative human character traits-like dishonesty, laziness, drunkenness, or untrustworthiness-to particular racial or ethnic groups. People have free will, of course, and every individual should be judged on his own merits.
Recognizing that there are differences in aptitudes among different peoples, however, should be no more objectionable than noting physical differences, like the fact that Hutu tribesmen are stocky and relatively short while their Tutsi neighbors are lanky and taller. Or that one doesn’t come across many Ashkenazi (or for that matter Sephardi) fullbacks.
Even excellence in mental attributes, like the commonly perceived abilities of Asians in mathematics, or of Jews in business or science, should not be seen as insulting others. Even if the perceptions are accurate, they are of limited import.
The Torah refers to the Jewish people as “a wise nation” but that doesn’t mean we’re all intellectually gifted. Even Jews who aren’t the brightest candles in the menorah have a Divine mission on earth no less precious than the Rogachover down the block. And Chazal’s honorifics customarily run not to words like “genius” or “brilliant” but to ones like “righteous” and “G-d-fearing.” That’s what counts.
It’s plausible, of course, that Chinese or Jewish intellectual accomplishments-or Kalenjin dominance of marathon running-are due to something other than genes; cultural and environmental factors certainly play important roles. What’s more, even fact-supported stereotypes are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as gene pools become more jumbled with each generation.
Still, some population-associated abilities remain, and some people seem to have a hard time with that. They waste precious time feeling bad for themselves and resentful of others, losing sight of a grand life-truth: It doesn’t matter what abilities we possess; what matters is what we do with them.
Similarly, some people of modest means resent the more affluent. They may suspect (as do some affluent people themselves) that prosperity is the result of superior intelligence. (This, despite the ample and readily available evidence to the contrary.) As believing Jews, though, we should know that economic fortunes are determined wholly by Divine will; they ultimately remain beyond logic and inscrutable to us mortals.
Which thought leads, inevitably, to the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Some among the crowds in lower Manhattan and their counterparts in other cities may well have worthy complaints and clear goals. But what one hears most loudly and most commonly (as even a few minutes at Zuccotti Park were more than enough to demonstrate to me) is simple resentment of the fact that wealthy people… are wealthy. Why, many protesters seem to be saying, and angrily, them and not us?
What a sad way to waste life. Instead of identifying one’s own blessings and setting oneself to the task-the privilege-of utilizing them as fully as possible for as long as possible, those demonstrators self-immolate in the heat of their anger over not being someone else.
But they are a good spur for the rest of us to remember that what matters in this world is not what we have, physically or monetarily, but what we choose.
Most of us wouldn’t waste a millisecond envying a Kenyan’s speed or stamina. None of us should waste even half that time resenting what someone else has.
© 2011 AMI MAGAZINE
[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami Magazine]
Then why isn’t peaceful protest by actual people protected by the first amendment?
Cartoon by Zach Weiner of smbc-comics.com.
| Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction:
Hensarling (TX) co-chair, Toomey (PA), Upton (MI),
Kyl (AZ), Camp (TX), Sen. Portman (OH),
Murray (WA) co-chair, Kerry (MA), Baucus (MT),
Clyburn (SC), Becerra (CA), Van Hollen (MD)
The after-tax income of the top 1% of US Households has almost quadrupled since 1979. Meanwhile those at the bottom experienced an 18% increased according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Accordingly 68% of Americans are asking the richest to do their fair share and pay an extra couple of percent on their marginal tax rate for their income beyond $1,000,000. Nevertheless, the Republicans on the “Supercommittee” charged with reducing the deficit are intransigent. They have signed Grover Norquist pledge to never increase taxes and want to balance the budget by cutting expenses. This puts onus largely on the backs of the working poor who will suffer the most from reductions in social security and other entitlements.
However, the Republicans did offer a token compromise. Yesterday, they offered to eliminate certain deductions. Millionaires would no longer be able to write off interest paid for their yacht or summer home.
However, in exchange they want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and expand them, slashing one-fifth of the income tax for millionaires by reducing the top rate from 35% to 28%.
That’s not tax reform.
JSPAN Board Member Nathan Kleinman has participated in Occupy Philadelphia, the experiment in pure democracy happening on Dilworth Square alongside the Philadelphia City Hall, since its earliest days. Newsletter Editor Ken Myers visited OP and interviewed Kleinman on October 22. Ed.
Ken Myers: We are together to discuss Occupy Philadelphia which is happening right here. Is this a political event with a capital P, or is it something else?
Nate Kleinman: I would say at this stage it is the beginning of a social and possibly political movement. It is impossible to predict where it is going to go. Nobody has the power to decide where it is going to go on their own. The group makes decisions through, as much as possible, consensus. When we vote on things if we cannot come to consensus we decide with a supermajority. And so it really requires a long process of consensus building.
Myers: You mentioned that in the evening, typically at seven 0′ clock you have what you call the General Assembly. So everybody gets out and shares ideas?
More after the jump.
Kleinman: Everybody who lives here and people from elsewhere all come together. We make announcements about things that are coming up. Various working groups, of which at this point there are probably 20 or 25, report back to the full Assembly. They talk about what they are doing, what ideas they are having, what they are planning, they say when they meet and reiterate that everyone is invited. Every working group is open to all, and anyone can start one.
The General Assembly and that whole process was started on Occupied Wall Street and this is modeled after it. There are General Assemblies happening all over the country. There is one meeting today in York, Pennsylvania. There is going to be one in Stroudsburg, there is one in Norristown today, not to mention of course the bigger cities in every state across the country.
Myers: Do you see a tendency within this group to try to create a fourth political party (I say that because I give the Tea Party credit for being one)?
Kleinman: I am not sure. I think how this movement exercises its power in the political arena is still very much up in the air. But I have heard a lot of ideas, there was a lot of talk about it, and I think eventually we will come to consensus on a way forward . It seems likely to me that it will attempt to influence the political process. Some people want to run candidates for Congress next year in every single district in the country. That would certainly be something I would support because I think it’s not just Republicans that need to be asked, there are plenty of Democrats who could use a good challenge.
Myers: The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a comment today, talked about the potential for anti- Semitism in this movement. Do you see that as a serious problem?
Kleinman: No. No, I have not seen that at all. There is a huge number of Jews participating in this, and, to the extent that there may be anti-Israel or anti-Semitic comments they are from individuals. I have not seen it and it is not representative of the whole group if it does exist.
Myers: You are chairing a human rights program in a few minutes. What is your hope for this effort?
Kleinman: This is just another working group that we announced yesterday to talk about human rights, broadly defined to encompass poverty, racism, discrimination, oppression, violence, and hopefully come to some statement of principles that we in the working group can agree upon and bring to the General Assembly for their agreement. If it passes then maybe it can be sent to other General Assemblies around the country and around the world for their consideration, debate, discussion and possibly agreement. That is the only way we can come to consensus on a national and international level and be united moving forward together
Myers: A few days ago the Philadelphia Inquirer, writing up Occupy Philadelphia, seemed to summarize this movement under the flag “99 and one”. Is that a good solid summarization of the movement?
Kleinman: It is a characterization that came from some individuals in New York, and a lot of people like it because they think it dramatizes well what we are up to, that we do stand for: that we are representative of the 99% of the people who do not have 40% of the wealth
Myers: One more question. For our readers and members, if they want to follow what is happening, what is the best way for them to do that?
Kleinman: There are a lot of different places they can look. They should get on Facebook and check out our Facebook page. There is a page called Occupied Together that is bringing a lot of information from all the movements around here. But here in Philly I would say our Facebook page is the best one, with over 20,000 people following it. Look under Occupied Philly. Our media task force is doing a great job 24-7 to get the message out, and to make sure that we tell our story and the media do not have a monopoly on that.
Myers: Thanks very much for your comments.
Reprinted courtesy of JSPAN.
Nathan Kleinman is a graduate of Abington Friends School and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is a human rights activist, a community organizer, and a veteran of several political campaigns in Pennsylvania.
We are publicly engaged American Jews who support both Israel and the ideas behind Occupy Wall Street and who also strongly oppose right-wing attempts to smear that movement with false charges of anti-Semitism.
It’s an old, discredited tactic: find a couple of unrepresentative people in a large movement and then conflate the oddity with the cause. One black swan means that all swans are black.
One particularly vile example was a television ad during Sunday talk shows paid for by something called the Emergency Committee for Israel that is organized by William Kristol and Gary Bauer.
It is disingenuous to raise the canard about Jews and Wall Street in order to denounce it.
Occupy Wall Street is a mass protest against rising inequality in America, a fact documented last week by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Anyone who visits Zuccotti Park understands that it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do “with liberty and justice for all.”
All of us irrespective of party or position should expose and denounce anti-Semitism where ever it occurs, but not tar hundreds of thousands of protestors nationwide because a handful of hateful people show up with offensive signs that can’t be taken down in a public park open to all.
We are pleased that the Anti-Defamation League agrees that some random signs “are not representative of the larger views of the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
List of co-signers follows after the jump.
- Stuart Appelbaum, President, RWDSU*
- Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and President, J Street
- Richard Brodsky, former Assemblyman, New York
- Richard Cohen, Washington Post
- Danny Goldberg, President, Goldve Entertainment
- Mark Green, former Public Advocate for New York City
- Elizabeth Holtzman, former Congresswoman and District Attorney (Brooklyn)
- Rabbi Steven Jacobs, founder, Progressive Faith Foundation
- Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
- Madeleine Kunin, former Governor, Vermont
- Jo-ann Mort, CEO, ChangeCommunicaitons
- Eliot Spitzer, former Governor, New York State
- Andy Stern, President Emeritus, Service Employees International Union
- Hadar Susskind, Vice President, Tides Foundation
- Margery Tabankin, President, Margery Tabankin Assoc.
- Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
*Institutions for identification purposes only.
— by Kenneth Bob
“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Yogi Berra’s overused aphorism, fits this moment perfectly.
Mid-week before Yom Kippur, Daniel Seiradski, a new media activist, asked on Facebook whether people would attend a Kol Nidre service at the site of the Occupy Wall Street. First there were a hundred people who responded in the affirmative, then two hundred and by the time the service was held a few days later, press reports estimated that there were 1000-1500 people in attendance.
In addition to the impressive numbers, the press quotes and online comments from the mostly young attendees, whether they skipped their regular synagogue observance or would not have attended services otherwise, were uniform in their appreciation of the organizers and in their sense of meaning they felt from their participation. All in all, an inspiring story of organization and communal engagement.
Mathew Ackerman, writing for Commentary, was not pleased. He admitted that
“it must be said there is, of course, justification to be found for specifically economic protests of a leftist variety in the prophets, perhaps most especially Isaiah. But it stretches truth far beyond the breaking point to claim such texts based on conditions in ancient Israel offer much guidance for the policy questions of our day, or impel a religious believer to a particular side of the political aisle.”
His tone became harsher, suggesting that “the organizers’ attempts to combine Judaism and today’s fashionable politics are simply incoherent.”
Seeing this critique of young, Jewish progressives by a Commentary writer took me back 40 years. In the February, 1971 issue of the magazine, four articles were dedicated to the Jewish role in the brewing “revolution” in America. In particular, writers took aim at Arthur Waskow‘s recently published The Freedom Seder and the entire radical Zionist movement that emerged on campuses at that time in response to the anti-Israel New Left.
More after the jump.
Norman Podhoretz, the magazine’s editor, wrote that the The Freedom Seder should be considered “a contribution to the literature of Jewish anti-Semitism” and suggested that Waskow and his ilk “belong to the tribe of the wicked son.”
Walter Laqueur, the noted historian, wrote that “the hope that young radicals of this generation will become “good Jews’ is a slender one, comparable perhaps with the hope of a psychoanalyst for the recovery of a patient with a weak ego structure or a serious intellectual deficiency.”
With the benefit of time, we now know that these “young radicals” have become Jewish Federation directors, Rabbis, not-for-profit executives, Jewish Studies professors, Jewish journalists, and active lay leaders in a wide range of Jewish life. Laqueur also challenged the sincerity of the movement’s “strong identification with Israel,” but that prediction was terribly off the mark as well when considering the number of kibbutzniks, social activists and others the movement produced for Israel.
As satisfying as it may be to settle old scores, what is truly important is that the Jewish community ignore >Commentary’s hope regarding the organizers: “Let their successes be few, and the passage of their movement from the American Jewish scene swift.” On the contrary, efforts like those on Kol Nidre should be encouraged and supported by the community.
Why? Regardless of your view of Occupy Wall Street (I am supportive) the related Jewish effort inspires creativity, develops leadership and results in community. Are these not all values that the Jewish community strives for?
I, for one, would expect that “graduates” of 2011 Wall Street Kol Nidre service and other such events will be activists in our community for years to come.
And one footnote, for historical purposes, linking this span of 40 years that I have described. Arthur Waskow, the author of the The Freedom Seder, is now a Rabbi and contributed the inspiration that became the New York Kol Nidre service this year.
Kenneth Bob is the National President of Ameinu.