What Price to Pay for Peace?

— by Steve Sheffey

There is no evidence that the U.S. pressured Israel to release Palestinian prisoners in order to renew the peace talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu made this painful decision because he believes it is in Israel’s best interests to negotiate a two-state solution, even at an unfairly high price.

Virtually all of the 26 prisoners released on August 13 were directly involved in the murders of Israelis. Read about each of them here.

So why did Israel release them? Blogger Matan Lurey summed it up perfectly: The Israel/Palestinian negotiations are about “peace, not justice; pragmatism, not revenge.” The prisoner release was unfair, unjust, and — in the opinion of Prime Minister Netanyahu — in the best interests of Israel.

Perhaps Netanyahu could have brought the Palestinians back to the table with a settlement freeze (which he tried to do before, but it did not work), or an explicit agreement to negotiate based on the 1967 lines, but instead he decided to release the prisoners, which he said was “an incomparably difficult decision, it is painful for the bereaved families and it is painful for me.”

More after the jump.


Feel free to criticize the prisoner release, if you think that you understand Israel’s security needs better than the Prime Minister of Israel.

This is not about justice or fairness. Israel needs a two-state solution to remain Jewish and democratic. We can talk as much as we want about what it says about the Palestinians, that they insisted that these murderers be released as a precondition to negotiations. Israel is negotiating a two-state solution for its own sake, not the Palestinian’s sake. Prime Minister Netanyahu determined that this prisoner release was in the best interests of Israel.

Feel free to criticize the prisoner release, if you think that you understand Israel’s security needs better than the Prime Minister of Israel, but do not insult Netanyahu by suggesting that he would sacrifice Israel’s security in response to U.S. pressure. Do not insult previous Israeli governments, which have released more than 10,000 terrorists. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Obama administration pressured Israel into releasing these prisoners. Those on the extreme right and the extreme left, albeit for very different reasons, refuse to see that Netanyahu is willing and able to make difficult decisions for peace.

This is how the White House defines the American role in the negotiations:

The bottom line is these are direct and bilateral talks between the parties. They are going to have to sort these issues out themselves. They will be meeting with each other, as they did here. They met together with the Americans, they also saw each other separately. But as [Senior State Department Official] said, facilitator means to facilitate, and whatever way we can to be helpful, at whatever level, is what we’re going to do.

And that is exactly what they are doing.

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

Palestinian Minister Admits Peace Talks With Israel to Be a Ploy


“In less than two years, the Prophet returned and based on this treaty, he conquered Mecca. This is the example, this is the model.” PA Minister Mahmoud Al-Habbash.

(CAMERA) Last month, as preliminary negotiations were set to begin between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash delivered a Friday sermon. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was present and it was broadcast on official PA-TV on July 19, 2013.

Did he talk about peace? Did he preach about achieving a treaty? Well, sort of. Palestinian Media Watch posted and translated a video of the sermon, in which Al-Habbash starts off well:

We hate war. We don’t want war. We don’t want bloodshed, not for ourselves, nor for others. We want peace. We say this because our culture is founded on this, and because our religion is based on this. Yes, we want peace, but not any peace. We want a peace based on justice, therefore the Palestinian leadership and the PLO have not missed any opportunity for peace…

More after the jump.

The Palestinian leadership’s sense of responsibility towards its nation made it take political steps about 20 years ago (i.e., signing the Oslo Accords). Despite the controversy, despite much criticism and much opposition by some, it brought us to where we are today: We have a [Palestinian] Authority and the world recognizes the [Palestinian] state.

All this never would have happened through Hamas’ impulsive adventure, but only through the wisdom of the leadership, conscious action, consideration, and walking the right path, which leads to achievement, exactly like the Prophet [Muhammad] did in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, even though some opposed it…

What is the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah? After Muhammad and his followers were driven out of Mecca by the Quraish tribe, there continued to be fighting. Muhammad and his followers wanted to return to Mecca. Rather than battle, they made a ten-year peace treaty with the Quraish. Al-Habbash explains the rest:

The hearts of the Prophet’s companions burned with anger and fury. The Prophet said: “I’m the Messenger of Allah and I will not disobey Him.” This is not disobedience, it is politics. This is crisis management, situation management, conflict management…

Allah called this treaty a clear victory…

Omar ibn Al-Khattab said: “Messenger of Allah, is this a victory? Is this logical? Is this victory? We are giving up and going back, and not entering Mecca. Is that a victory?” The Prophet said: “Yes, it is a victory.”

In less than two years, the Prophet returned and based on this treaty, he conquered Mecca. This is the example, this is the model.

So, according to PA leadership, the “model” is to make a peace treaty and then come back and breach it through violence. This strategy is pretty newsworthy and yet only the Israeli and Jewish press reported it.

When the Israeli government publishes bids for the construction of apartments in Jerusalem, the mainstream press writes literally thousands of stories. Naturally, there was a New York Times editorial calling these potential apartments “a fresh cause for pessimism about the prospects for successful peace negotiations.”

Yet, when PA leaders brag about faking their way through the peace talks? Nothing.

When they boast about their insincerity and malicious intent? Zero.

Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:

Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

Toronto Crowd Cheers Young Boy’s Hate Speech

(CAMERA) The hateful incitement offered by Elias Hazineh, the former president of Palestine House in suburban Toronto, at an Al Quds rally in Toronto has attracted a lot of attention, as well it should. The man openly called for the murder of Israelis in the public square of Toronto.

At the same rally, a young boy who could not have been much older than 11 or 12 years old described the Jewish state as the enemy of humanity. No, that is not an exaggeration. He said it: “Israel is an illegal, terrorizing racist group which works for the destruction of humanity and peace in the world.” During his rant, he referred to Israel as “cancers.” This is incitement to the destruction of the Jewish state.

And the crowd cheered him on.

Same Sex Marriage in Montgomery County

Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29

Last week, Montgomery County’s Register of Wills Bruce Hanes announced that he would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In today’s Philadelphia Daily News, State Senate Daylin Leach defends Hanes’ action:

These licenses would seem to be issued in contradiction to the Pennsylvania statute that limits marriage to one man and one woman. Mr. Hanes says that he believes that law is unconstitutional and therefore not enforceable.

Some have attacked Mr. Hanes for essentially going rogue. They say that he does not have the authority to pick and choose which laws he wants to enforce and which ones he does not. They also point out that if a law is unconstitutional, it should be a judge who makes that determination, not a county row officer. While these are reasonable points to make, they miss the true issues at stake. A more comprehensive review of relevant legal issues reveals that the actions taken by Mr. Hanes were, in fact, correct.

In fact, Leach officiated over a Montgomery County same-sex marriage on Monday and PoliticsPA wrote a  piece about it entitled Leach Loves Gays So Much He Marries Them:

“I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to officiate the marriage of a wonderful, loving couple this afternoon in Montgomery County,” Leach said. “Today’s ceremony proves that little by little, we are making strides toward full equality here in Pennsylvania. Each court ruling and each supportive decision made by elected officials puts another crack in the armor of discrimination. Today’s ceremony shows that love can indeed conquer all.”

Leach has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. He introduced the first bill in the state Senate to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.

Payday Loans May Return to Pa.

A note from our friends at the Keystone Research Center:

In a closely divided 8 to 6 vote today, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved Senate Bill 975, legalizing payday loans with annual percentage rates of more than 300%. The bill moves to the Senate floor, despite the opposition of veterans, seniors, faith groups, and a majority of Pennsylvanians.

The Keystone Research Center issued the following statement on behalf of the Coalition to Stop Predatory Payday Loans in Pennsylvania:

Senate Bill 975 rolls back the state’s longstanding protections against predatory payday loans. Pennsylvania has been recognized by both the Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Defense for having among the strongest laws in the nation to keep out predatory payday lenders. A 2010 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case held that loans made in violation of existing law are illegal, even when made online.

Senate Bill 975 would undo those protections, harming working families across the state. With this bill comes a higher likelihood of bankruptcies in Pennsylvania, and payday lenders gaining direct access to borrowers’ bank accounts. These are just some of the reasons that the bill faces opposition from a majority of Pennsylvanians.

The Coalition thanks those senators who stood with Pennsylvanians to oppose this bill: Senators Michael Stack, Lisa Boscola, Larry Farnese, Anthony Williams, Patricia Vance and John Rafferty. Democratic Chairman Stack made a passionate plea for the committee to do what veterans and others have asked: to reject this bill and keep our existing, strong consumer protections in place.

We are disappointed in those senators who stood with payday lenders by voting yes on this bill: Senators Pat Browne, Don White, Mike Brubaker, Kim Ward, Jake Corman, John Eichelberger, Joseph Scarnati and Jim Brewster.

Click here for more information about SB 975.

Payday loans are bad news.  

Governor Corbett Can’t Find a Single Latino to Work for Him?

— by Igor Volsky, Think Progress

Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett brushed away a question about Latinos working in his administration during a round-table discussion at The Union League in Philadelphia, telling the moderator, “If you can find us one let me know.”

At the same event, Corbett said:

I represent every one of you. I’ve been elected by the people of Pennsylvania to make it better than I found it. We need to be able to develop a stronger relationship with all communities…. we’re in the process now of getting much more connected with everybody, that we did not have before.

More after the jump.

Open Letter to Governor Tom Corbett from Pedro Rodriguez, Lorenzo Canizares and Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress

When you told Al Día that you didn’t have any Latinos on your staff, you added, “If you can find us one, please let me know.”

There are more than than 750,000 Latinos in PA.  That’s more than 6% of the population.  Here are some ideas on how you can find some of your Latino neighbors:

  • Buy a map of Pennsylvania.  Our Latino neighbors live in every community.
  • Have a meal someplace outside of the Governor’s Mansion
  • Google “Latino organizations in PA.”  There are dozens.  Then visit a few of them.
  • Talk to someone in your neighborhood.  About one in eight of your neighbors in Harrisburg is Hispanic.

If you need more ideas, please contact me.

Last year, Corbett proclaimed September 15 to October 15 as “Hispanic Heritage month,” noting, “I commend the many social and economic contributions of Latino-Hispanics in our state and celebrate the rich and diverse culture of Pennsylvania’s fasting growing minority group.”

Corbett said and noted that Pennsylvania’s 800,000 Latino residents represent approximately 6.8% of the overall population. A 2008 survey found that the Harrisburg-Carlisle metropolitan region “is home to more than 18,000 people of Hispanic or Latino origin,” one third of whom live in the city of Harrisburg. The city is also home to the Latino Hispanic American Community Center.

Corbett has established a commission of Latino affairs, which his website describes as “the Commonwealth’s advocate agency for its Latino community:”

The GACLA makes recommendations to the Governor on policies, procedures and legislation that would affect the Latino community in Pennsylvania and serves as the Governor’s liaison to Latinos in order to ensure that state government is accessible and accountable to the Latino community.

PA Supreme Court Accepts Second Legislative Redistricting Plan


Current PA congressional districts by party

— by Kenneth Myers, Esq.

Pennsylvania has become a state with a significant majority of voters registered as Democratic. Yet, our Congressional delegation, state Senate and state House of Representatives are all at least 60% Republican. A substantial part of the explanation to this is an adroit political redistricting: “packing” (squeezing the opposition’s votes into a few districts) and “cracking” (splitting pockets of opposition voters into separate districts where they cannot form a majority) to preserve the dominant party.

More after the jump.
The federal Constitution requires legislative districts to be rebalanced at least every 10 years in order to achieve population equality (“one man, one vote”). The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that legislative districts be compact and contiguous, and avoid splitting county and municipal boundaries to the extent possible. But in actual fact, our legislative districts split hundreds of counties and municipalities. “Problem” counties, such as the recently-turned-Democratic Montgomery County, are split many times in all directions to dilute their voting power.

In 2011, during the legislative redistricting process, concerned citizen Amanda Holt prepared a redistricting plan with minimum splits on her computer and submitted it to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC). The LRC largely ignored Holt, coming up with its own highly political redistricting maps. Holt and others took the matter to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, pointing out that her plan split seven fewer counties, 81 fewer municipalities, and 184 fewer wards than the LRC plan. Although the six sitting members of the court were divided equally between Republicans and Democrats, Chief Justice Castille voted with the Democrats to reject the LRC plan.

The revised plan proposed by the LRC in June 2012 reduced the number of splits, but not to the level of the Holt plan: The LRC plan had 221 splits of municipalities in state House of Representatives districts, compared to 86 in the Holt plan. The LRC plan has 37 splits of municipalities in state Senate districts, compared to 17 in the Holt plan. Holt and a number of other citizens appealed again to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Last week, that court unanimously upheld the revised LRC plan. In a lengthy opinion, the court stated its continued support for the goals of the state constitution, that voting districts be compact, contiguous and conformal to municipal boundaries, but concluded that other considerations such as population equality, historical district lines and even political gain, could be considered by the LRC as well in reaching its conclusion.

Jeff Albert Esq., who litigated against the LRC’s 2001 redistricting plan on behalf of Upper Dublin Township, commented:

In the last four pages of its fifty-eight page decision, the court basically concluded that the constitutional requirement, of avoiding division of political subdivisions to the maximum extent possible, could be modified by political considerations, such as retaining incumbents, so long as the scheme conformed with looser standards of ‘one-man, one-vote’ than had previously been accepted in Pennsylvania, and its divisions of political subdivisions gave better heed to subdivision boundaries than schemes approved in prior years.

Mikveh Israel: “Synagogue of the Revolution”

— by Mark I. Wolfson

Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel, “The Hope of Israel,” is the oldest Jewish congregation in the city of Philadelphia, and the second oldest congregation in the United States. It dates its roots back to 1740 when Nathan Levy, upon the death of his child, applied for a grant of land at 9th and Spruce Streets from Thomas Penn, Proprietor of Pennsylvania, to consecrate as a Jewish burial ground.

More after the jump.
At the time of its founding, the only other Jewish congregation in the United States was Kahal Kadosh Shearith Israel in New York City. That congregation was formed by Dutch Sephardic Jews who were descendants of Spanish and Portuguese refugees of the Inquisition. A number of the early founding members of Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia were from prominent Sephardic families in New York, Charleston, Richmond and Savannah, and though another large number were Ashkenazi Jews, there was broad agreement to adopt the Spanish and Portuguese customs and rite that prevailed in the country at the time. The service and customs remain largely unchanged up to the present time.

Mikveh Israel is called “Synagogue of the Revolution” because the early founding members of the congregation were very involved in the activities that led up to the war, with many of them signing the Non-Importation Act of 1765. Many of the members were very active in the war effort itself, either directly fighting on the American side, supplying the army with food, ammunition, equipment, and clothing, or contributing funds that made the war itself possible and ensured an American victory. After the war, members of Mikveh Israel remained in regular contact with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and the other leaders who wrote the constitution and shaped the country in its earliest days.