May: Celebrating our Jewish American Heritage

Proclamation on Jewish American Heritage Month 2014
— President of the United States of America Barack Obama

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have sustained their identity and traditions, persevering in the face of persecution. Through generations of enslavement and years of wandering, through forced segregation and the horrors of the Holocaust, they have maintained their holy covenant and lived according to the Torah. Their pursuit of freedom brought multitudes to our shores, and today our country is the proud home to millions of Jewish Americans. This month, let us honor their tremendous contributions-as scientists and artists, as activists and entrepreneurs. And let all of us find inspiration in a story that speaks to the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and all of its salvation.

Proclamation continues after the jump.
This history led many Jewish Americans to find common cause with the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans and Jewish Americans marched side-by-side in Selma and Montgomery. They boarded buses for Freedom Rides together, united in their support of liberty and human dignity. These causes remain just as urgent today. Jewish communities continue to confront Antisemitism — both around the world and, as tragic events mere weeks ago in Kansas reminded us, here in the United States. Following in the footsteps of Jewish civil rights leaders, we must come together across all faiths, reject ignorance and intolerance, and root out hatred wherever it exists.

In celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month, we also renew our unbreakable bond with the nation of Israel. It is a bond that transcends politics, a partnership built on mutual interests and shared ideals. Our two countries are enriched by diversity and faith, fueled by innovation, and ruled not only by men and women, but also by laws. As we continue working in concert to build a safer, more prosperous, more tolerant world, may our friendship only deepen in the years to come.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2014 as Jewish American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to visit JewishHeritageMonth.gov to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month, the theme of which is healing the world, with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

Jewish Organizations Push To Protect Women

— by Max Samis

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — which has been passed and reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since it’s inception in 1994 — prominent Democrats marked April 17 as “Equal Pay Day,” recognizing the importance of continuing to fight for gender equality in the workplace. Several leading Democrats issued statements and penned op-eds in order to raise awareness of the issue, as well as the larger fight for women’s rights.

Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:

President Obama and Democrats understand that equal pay is so important for women and their families that one of the first pieces of legislation Democrats passed in 2009 and the first bill the President signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensures that women can fight for equal pay for equal work, and on National Equal Pay Day we celebrate our continued fight for economic equality, regardless of gender.

The President’s commitment to women is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney and the GOP’s attitude toward equal pay for women. While Democrats and the President were making equal pay for equal work a priority, nearly every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who Mitt Romney has called a ‘hero,’ recently repealed that state’s fair pay law; and Mitt Romney refuses to say if he would have signed Lilly Ledbetter had he been president at the time. His campaign on a conference call last week couldn’t even articulate a response when asked his position on the law….

On Equal Pay Day women can rest assured that Democrats and President Obama will continue the fight for equal pay for equal work and will fight for their right to make health care choices for themselves and their families. It’s a shame that Mitt Romney and Republicans can’t say the same thing.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — the first female speaker in American history — also said:

I’m proud of the accomplishments of the Democratic-led Congress on behalf of equal pay and fairness. The Lilly Ledbetter Act-the first bill President Obama signed into law-restored the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court. Further, under the Affordable Care Act, soon women will no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same coverage and no longer will being a woman be treated as a pre-existing condition.  

On Equal Pay Day, we honor all of our nation’s women, who through their labor – at home and in the workplace – have made our country strong. And we recommit to opening the doors of opportunity for the next generation of women.

Graph of pay gap by profession, a map of pay gap by state, and op/eds by Senators Gillibrand and Boxer follow the jump.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post, discussing the importance of pay equity not just to women, but to the national economy as a whole. Gillibrand wrote:

…[T]he issue of pay equity is not merely one of fairness. Equal pay for equal work is vital for our economic growth and middle class financial security. With more and more women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle class working families-men and children included. In New York alone, women head more than 1,000,000 households. It’s estimated that because of the wage gap, New York families are deprived of $8600 a year. Nationwide, it’s been estimated that if women were paid a dollar on the dollar for equal work, the U.S. GDP could grow up to 9 percent.

Gillibrand also discussed pay equity in regards to women’s health. She wrote:

In addition to being an economic security issue, the failure to pay women a salary that’s equal to men for equal work is also a women’s health issue. The fact is that the salary women are paid directly impacts the type of health care services they are able to access for both themselves and their families. For example, if we closed the wage gap, a working woman in New York would be able to afford more than 2 years worth of additional family health insurance premiums. At a time when women’s health services are increasingly vulnerable to budget cuts, it’s more important than ever that women have financial security to maintain access to basic care for them and their families.

In Politico, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an op-ed asserting that contrary to what Republicans may have you believe, the “war on women” is very real:

Suppose it’s the championship basketball game and one player is committing foul after foul. Each time, he denies he’s committed any offense.

Eventually, he fouls out. But even as he heads to the bench, he’s protesting that he did nothing wrong.

That’s what we’re seeing today from Republicans who claim there is no ‘war on women.’ The Republican National Committee chairman likened it to a ‘war on caterpillars.’ The Senate Republican leader claims it’s all manufactured – even as female members of his caucus warn about the growing backlash against the GOP from women.

House Republicans have introduced more than 30 bills that would restrict a woman’s reproductive health care. Those same Republicans, who decry an all-too-powerful government, have no problem deciding what health care is right for our daughters, or sisters or mothers….

Here in Congress, 116 Republicans in the House and 19 Republicans in the Senate are co-sponsors of ‘personhood’ legislation, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions for the mother’s life or health. … It could even bar doctors from providing life-saving care to women with dangerous ectopic pregnancies.

It doesn’t end there. Republicans in Congress blocked an international treaty – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – even though the only other nations refusing to ratify it are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga.

They also oppose increasing the minimum wage – when women make up about two-thirds of all workers now earning minimum wage or less. Not one Republican is a cosponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which helps protect women from domestic violence, when the bill was in the Senate Judiciary Committee. They voted to repeal the health care law – including the part that says no more gender discrimination in the pricing of health insurance policies and the part that offers free preventive services like mammograms, STD screening, well-woman visits and birth control.

The facts are the facts. The Republicans have launched a war on women. Despite all the denials, women get it – and so do the men who care about them.

In addition to the fight for pay equality, Democrats have pushed for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Led by Vice President Joe Biden – who originally wrote and sponsored the bill as a Senator from Delaware in 1994 – a group of lawmakers and private citizens spoke today about the importance of passing the bill with bipartisan support. Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown wrote:

‘The idea we’re still fighting about this in Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,’ Biden said during remarks at the Eisenhower Office Building. ‘It’s not a reflection on the law. It is a reflection on our inability in this town to deal with something that by now should just be over in terms of debate about it.’

‘No one should question whether this is needed,’ Biden said at the end of his remarks. ‘It would have been bad if the law had never been passed. But imagine now, the message it sends if it is not reauthorized. Just ask what message it would send to every one of our daughters, every woman imprisoned in their home.’

Several prominent Jewish organizations have also spoken out in favor of VAWA’s reauthorization. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Hadassah have all urged their supporters to contact their local Congressional delegations and urge that they vote to pass the reauthorization of VAWA immediately. This is too important to wait.

  • Click here to read Senator Gillibrand’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read Senator Boxer’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read about how President Barack Obama’s actions have reflected Jewish values, including his accomplishments on women’s rights.

US Gender Pay Gap By State

The Final Day At AIPAC

Today is the final day of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Defense Sec. Leon Panetta and three of the four top GOP candidates addressed the conference’s 13,000 supporters. Presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (right) appeared in person while Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) appeared via satellite.

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American’s Ambassador to the United Nations made remarks to the group and addressed the current state of the Israel and Iran.

On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres and US President Barack Obama addressed the conference hall. Obama said his policy toward Iran is not one of containment but of preventing the nation from developing a nuclear weapon.  He also defended his policies toward Israel and stated the U.S. commitment to preserve Israel’s security.

In a side conversation, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu met Monday morning to discuss the status of the U.S.-Israel alliance.  The president reiterated that the U.S. did not want the possibility of nuclear weapons “falling into terrorist’s hands” and said there is a still a window that allows some negotiation. Pres. Obama also said he continues to reserve all options in dealing with Iran.

Other speakers included:

The policy conference is the largest gathering for America’s leading pro-Israel lobby, which works with both major parties to secure public policy that strengthens the U.S.-Israel relationship.

AIPAC has announced that up to 14,000 people are attending this year’s three-day conference, a crowd nearly twice the usual size.

Satirical Videos Make Important Points About PACs and Bags


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put out a video urging Americans to rise up against Stephen Colbert to pass a law to get unlimited, secret donations out of politics. In a first step to reform the money in politics, House Democrats are reintroducing the DISCLOSE Act to get unlimited, secret donations out of politics.

Beautifully filmed, with a powerful narration by Academy Award-winner Jeremy Irons, but what it’s about is not so pretty. This “mockumentary” video, hammers home the stark reality of California’s plastic bag pollution situation.

An illegitimate Congress? You betcha

Part 2 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

The Republican leadership is asking its members to make a silly vote. — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, April 1, 2011

Blame Congress.

Even more, blame the rules of the game that enable the Congress we have.

More after the jump.
Congress is hardly the only culprit responsible for bad government, but Capitol Hill is the starting point. The majority in Congress can declare war, or shift this power to the president; raise or cut taxes, especially for the rich; send troops…not to mention the National Guard…to fight Muslims in two unstable countries; and provide or deny our most vulnerable citizens housing, food, health care and quality education.

Congress can also violate the U.S. Constitution, as did 221 members of the House of Representatives via some bizarre legislation on April 1, 2011.

All 221 members ignored Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution which was recited on the House floor on Jan. 6, 2011. All supporters of the bill in question were Republicans, the very ones who insisted that the Constitution and its 27 amendments be recited when Congress opened its 2011-12 session.

All Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against H.R. 1255. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, said the bill “violates my conscience and the Constitution, and I cannot vote for it.”

Our system is not perfect, but the 221 representatives who voted for the bill cheapened our way of doing the people’s business.

H.R. 1255 required that a fiscal year 2011 spending bill, already passed by the House, would become law if the Senate would not pass a spending law by April 6.

There is a reason the bill never became law after that date – the Constitution, which requires that a bill can only become law after both houses pass a law and the president signs it, or the president refuses to sign and both houses override his veto by a two-thirds vote.

The provision reads, “Every bill which shall have passed The House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law.”

In the less than genteel debates over the April 1 budget bill, The Hill newspaper quoted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor saying,

Funding the government at the levels passed by House Republicans might be what Senator Reid wants, but surely even he would agree that it’s a better alternative than shutting down the government.

Cantor, a Republican from the Richmond, Va., area, was referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Some Democratic representatives recommended that Cantor and his flock read children’s books on the Constitution such as House Mouse, Senate Mouse, according to The Hill. Then-Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens quipped, “It’s a much thinner book and it rhymes.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco invoked the most mature comment when she declared, “What you see on the floor today is no example of democracy in action. It’s silly. The Republican leadership is asking its members to make a silly vote.”


On the surface, Congress is representative government. After all, each of us can claim representation by one member of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate, with the exception of those living in Washington and the U.S. territories.

Some Americans are represented better than others. In reality, Congress neither represents the majority of Americans nor adequately protects the rights of minorities. Congress is mainly hobbled by two inherent mechanisms and one of its own making.

First is the constitutional mandate for disproportionate representation in the Senate allowing each state equal clout – whether a senator represents 544,000 citizens or 36.9 million. Second is the stifling two-party system which thwarts meaningful participation of third parties and independent candidates in the political process. If more independents could get elected, is it possible that neither party could claim a majority in either chamber? The Senate’s composition is aggravated by the filibuster rule, which the Senate majority can revise or eliminate.

On May 30, 1787, the Virginia Plan was introduced to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia proposing a national government consisting of a legislature, executive and judiciary. The concept for a legislature subsequently materialized as two houses of Congress – each to represent American citizens on a proportionate basis. On June 9, New Jersey delegate William Paterson declared, “New Jersey will never confederate on the plan before the Committee. She would be swallowed up.”

Virginia was the most populous state at that time, followed by Pennsylvania. New Jersey was among the small states, yet now New Jersey outranks Virginia, respectively 11th and 12th in population. New Jersey was joined in opposition by delegates from Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut and New York, the latter of which is now our third most populous state. Despite Delaware’s current ranking of 45th, all five states are part of the northeastern bloc that traditionally adheres to moderate and liberal policies. Each is represented by centrist or liberal Democrats in the Senate.

On June 11, Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed “that the proportion of suffrage in the first branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch or Senate, each state should have one vote and no more…As the states would remain possessed of certain individual rights, each state ought to be able to protect itself; otherwise a few large states will rule the rest.” Sherman revised his proposal on June 20 and was joined by fellow Connecticut delegates Oliver Ellsworth and William Samuel Johnson on June 29 in proposing a comparable plan, later to become known as the Connecticut Compromise.

“Too many – both among the large- and small-state delegations – were simply not in a mood to embrace compromise,” Richard Beeman writes in “Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution.” “One by one, they rose to defend their ideas and, more importantly, the interests of their particular states.” The delegates ignored all three versions of the Connecticut plan until July 16, when they decided to split the composition of the two chambers. Members of the House of Representatives would each represent the same amount of constituents (that number now averages 720,000) and each state would be represented by the same number of senators.

Madison and four other delegates gathered the next morning, July 17, to discuss the July 16 decision. They found no takers to reconsider the Connecticut Compromise, which was formalized in Article 1 of the Constitution. Most delegates, displeased with the final product for varying reasons, signed the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, because their choice was to persist with the status quo or formalize the governing mechanism produced by the convention.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison argued for Section 3 of Article 1, which authorizes creation of a Senate with equal representation. The Constitution was ratified by 11 of the 13 states, and Congress as we know it today convened on Wall Street in lower Manhattan on March 4, 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as our first president on April 30, 1789.

Nine states were required to ratify the Constitution, made official by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788. North Carolina and Rhode Island made it unanimous soon after the government was formed.

Washington strenuously warned against the formation of political parties in his 1796 farewell address in part because “it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” Political parties indeed emerged. After the Civil War, the political process settled into a pattern dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties.

In 2006 and 2008, voters upset with Republicans mainly had Democrats as an alternative. In 2010, Republicans benefited. Independent or third-party candidates typically divert votes from the more preferred party candidate.

The filibuster was rooted in Vice President Aaron Burr’s verbal critique of Senate rules. He singled out a Senate rule requiring the majority to cut off debate, and the Senate scrapped the rule in 1806 without replacing it. More than a century later, political pressures produced the filibuster in 1917, requiring a so-called super-majority to end debate. The filibuster carried debate to the extreme in which debate could clog up Senate business indefinitely.


A tsunami warning buoy

The upshot of these events is a dysfunctional system that in 2011 produced a possibly illegitimate Congress; cuts to a tsunami-warning system; and the criminal conviction of an impeachment leader.

The swearing-in for 433 House members of the 112th Congress was held on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 5, 2011, as two other members – Michael Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, a Philadelphia suburb, and Pete Sessions of Dallas – attended a reception a few hundred yards away, in the Capitol Visitor Center, for more than 500 of Fitzpatrick’s constituents.

As Speaker of the House John A. Boehner administered the oath of office on the House floor, Sessions and Fitzpatrick watched Boehner on live television and recited the oath without leaving the reception, at 2:15 p.m. Predictably, House parliamentarians told them they must be officially sworn in, and Boehner administered the oath of office on Thursday.

Fitzpatrick said he thought that the Jan. 5 swearing-in would be held at 2:45, not 2:15. Any situation could arise that might prevent a member of Congress from attending the swearing-in.

Their failure to show up for the oath does not by itself jeopardize the operations of Congress. The act of casting votes for six legislative measures – before taking their oath of office – could be problematic.

Because two illegitimate congressmen cast votes, can these measures be legitimate?

If Sessions and Fitzpatrick paid attention when the Constitution was recited on Thursday morning, they would have been aware of Article VI, Clause 3: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”

Sessions and Fitzpatrick violated Clause 3 when they voted to establish the rules of the House and a 5 percent reduction in congressional office allowances, according to The Washington Post. Their votes were stricken from the Congressional Record on Friday, but was that sufficient?

This fact remains: The House passed six measures in which two illegal votes were cast for each. That could make the entire package of bills illegal. Any one of these bills which, if they need to be ratified by the Senate and signed by the president, could be illegitimate because illegal votes were cast in the first place.

Sessions even chaired a committee meeting on Thursday.

They should have arranged to be sworn in before casting any votes. It takes plenty of gall to cast votes without abiding by the constitutional requirement to be “bound by Oath or Affirmation.” They should have known better. Sessions spent the previous 14 years in Congress and Fitzpatrick was first elected in 2004, defeated two years later and elected again the preceding November.

Their allies might argue that these measures would have passed without their votes, so it is okay to maintain the results. However, the initial inclusion of these votes could taint the end result.

Congress disregarded our constitutional principles. The House took legislative action that was not legitimate. The only way to make it legitimate is to wipe the slate clean and hold the votes and the committee meeting again.

The House not only violated the Constitution when it took on those six votes. The House persists in violating the Constitution so long as it refuses to straighten out its self-inflicted mess.

This is not parsing. The law is the law is the law. If our own Congress cannot abide by the law that binds it, then our system is automatically violated.

Next excerpt – Profiles in absurdity

Pelosi’s House Allocates Additional $205M for Israel’s Iron Dome

— David Streeter

The Democratic-led House of Representatives allocated an additional $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield for fiscal year 2011. Haaretz reported that the newest funding is in addition to the $200 million allocated for the Arrow and David’s Sling missile defense projects. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said following the allocation, “This was a priority of Congress and President Obama, and it is the first funding of its kind for this important short-range rocket and artillery shell defense system.” Rothman also declared:

This funding sends a strong message, to both our enemies and allies, by providing more total dollars than ever before toward these rocket and missile defense programs. This is only the latest example that when it comes to defense, military, and intelligence cooperation, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel has never been stronger.