New Dem. Leadership in PA & MontCo

Marcel Groen

Marcel Groen

— by Tom Infield

Marcel L. Groen, elected in September as the State Democratic Chairman in Pennsylvania, stepped down from his position as leader of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee on Thursday evening, saying it was time for him to turn over the reins of the local party and to give his full attention to crucial statewide races in 2016.

He is a member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park where he was vice-president. Over the years Marcel has held a number of other positions of leadership in our Jewish community: He was board member of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, board member of Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, president of Bucks County Jewish National, and vice-president of Solomon Schechter Day Schools.

Montgomery County Democratic Committee Officers: (Left to right) Olivia Brady, Jason Salus, Chairman Joe Foster, Jeanne Democratic Area Leader for Abington and Rockledge, Jeanne  Sorg, Veronica Hill-Milbourne, and Michael Barbiero.

Montgomery County Democratic Committee Officers: (Left to right) Olivia Brady, Jason Salus, Chairman Joe Foster, Jeanne
Democratic Area Leader for Abington and Rockledge, Jeanne Sorg, Veronica Hill-Milbourne, and Michael Barbiero.

The party’s Executive Committee, meeting in Plymouth Meeting, voted unanimously to select Joseph Foster, who had been First Vice Chairman, as the new Chairman. Foster hailed Groen for his 21 years of leadership and pledged to continue the unity and inclusiveness that enabled Democrats to achieve a historic first on November 3 by winning every county government office.

“The Montgomery County Democratic Party is large and vibrant and growing,” said Foster, who is a professor of American history at Temple University and serves on the county’s Board of Assessment.

“I have learned over time that the most important thing we do is stay in the same boat rowing in the same direction,” Foster told the Executive Committee. “Unity is our success. As long as we stay together, we will be successful.”

Jason Salus, re-elected as Montgomery County Treasurer on November 3, was unanimously selected as the party’s first vice chairman. Michael Barbiero, an attorney and Democratic Area Leader for Abington and Rockledge, was unanimously chosen to fill the position of party
Treasurer that was held by Salus.

The party’s ongoing leadership includes Jeanne Sorg, the newly elected county Recorder of Deeds, as Second Vice Chair; Veronica Hill-Milbourne as Corresponding Secretary, and Olivia Brady as Recording Secretary.

Groen, an attorney who was first chosen as party Chairman in 1994, said he was leaving with mixed emotions.

“This is really bittersweet for me,” Groen told the Executive Committee, which filled a large meeting room at the AFSCME offices on Walton Road. “You and this party have been an important part of my life.”

Two decades ago, Groen noted, Democrats were a minority in Montgomery County. The party trailed badly in voter registration, had only one Representative in the state Legislature, and held no competitive county offices. Now, the party holds a big lead in registration, has a large and growing delegation in Harrisburg, and dominates at the county level. The county has also grown into a major power base for the statewide Democratic Party, delivering large margins on November 3 for all of the statewide Democratic court nominees.

Groen praised the work of Democratic workers and volunteers at all levels of the county party, and said it was their willingness to sacrifice for the common good that made success possible. He also praised the work of the Montgomery County Democratic Party staff, led by Executive Director Dianna DiIllio and Political Director Joe Graeff.

Joe Foster

Joe Foster, the newly elected chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee. Photo: Bonnie Squires

Foster earned his Ph.D. from Temple in 1989 and began full-time teaching in 2009. For two decades, he worked on a research and publication project sponsored by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the National Endowment for the Humanities that focused on the state’s early history.

He and his wife, Debby, are parents of four grown children. They live in Bala Cynwyd where they are members of Lower Merion Synagogue.

Penn. Voting Technology Enters 21st Century

votePennsylvanians are now able to register to vote online, thanks to the efforts of Governor Tom Wolf’s administration. This is not a misprint!

The process is relatively straightforward, as the diagram to the right shows.

*October 5 is the registration deadline for the November 3, 2015 general election.*

This crucial election will determine not only control of city councils, county commissioners and school boards, but also the all-important Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The upcoming state redistricting will largely determine the balance of control in the state’s legislature and Congressional delegation, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will surely be called upon to settle disputes regarding this redistricting just as they have done in the past.

The new online process can be used by individuals registering for the first time, or for individuals who are already registered but have moved, changed their name, or want to change their party affiliation. Pennsylvanians can still use paper forms to register or change their registration info, if they prefer.

To register to vote for the first time in Pennsylvania, a person must be a U.S. citizen and a resident of the Pennsylvania district in which they want to vote for at least one month before the next election. They also must be at least 18 years of age on or before the day of the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.

DNC national director of voter expansion, Pratt Wiley, applauded Governor Wolf’s initiative:

Every day, Americans go online to pay bills, trade stocks, and even adjust the temperature in their homes – there’s no reason why Americans shouldn’t be able to use these tools to register to vote.

Democrats believe our nation and our democracy are stronger when more people participate, not less. That’s why we advocate for commonsense solutions like online voter registration and why we remain committed to ensuring that every eligible voter is able to register, every registered voter is able to vote, and every vote is counted.

Pennsylvania now joins 27 other states currently offering or implementing online voter registration.

Please share this information with others, particularly new residents in your neighborhood and younger people who will be turning 18 this fall. More details are available online.

Eliminating Background Checks Puts Guns in Wrong Hands

handgun_sales[1](CeasefirePA) Last April, State Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46) introduced legislation that would eliminate the state background check system.

Do you know what happened with the Charleston shooter’s background check? Did he pass it? Did he fail?

This is what happened: The background check was never completed. Most background checks take just minutes for an approval or denial to register. But some take a bit longer, and under federal law, if a clear answer does not come back in three days, the seller can sell the gun.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) allows extra time for a background check to be completed. The default is to protect safety, not to let a sale go through in the absence of a completed check.

PICS and the federal system work in tandem to keep Pennsylvania safe. We are fortunate to have this system in Pennsylvania. But the gun lobby does not like it, and is pushing a bill that would eliminate it.

Moving forward with this means putting guns in the hands of people who are dangerous. As we saw with the tragedy in Charleston, allowing sales to go forward without a completed check can be a death sentence for mothers, fathers and children.

Bipartisan Group Tackles Redistricting Reform in Harrisburg

— Charles M. Tocci

Calling it an “imperative” first step to any government reform initiative, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Pennsylvania lawmakers today announced the formation of a legislative workgroup aimed at hammering out redistricting reform legislation.

“Modern day government has deteriorated into a politically tainted, polarized and gridlocked force that is more about self-preservation than representative government,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton). “This bipartisan effort is not about whether we need to change redistricting, but how we should change it.”

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The lawmakers claim that Pennsylvania’s many oddly shaped, gerrymandered districts have created politically impenetrable fiefdoms that pressure lawmakers to toe the party line at the expense of bipartisanship and compromise. A recent Penn State study concluded that members of Congress are now nearly seven times less likely to cross-vote on issues than they were a few decades ago. In the 112th Congress (2011-2013), just 7 of the 444 members accounted for 98.3% of all cross-votes.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) noted, “We’ve heard our constituents’ ask for a more accountable government and a more open and transparent redistricting process in Pennsylvania. I hope the formation of this bipartisan redistricting reform group shows that we are listening to those concerns, and we’re ready and willing to work together to overcome current challenges. This is a significant first step toward a bipartisan solution that works for all of Pennsylvania.

Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) said, “There are some good proposals on the table. This workgroup’s job is to find common ground, draw the best from various ideas, and emerge with a strong bipartisan solution that we can all rally around.”

Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) added, “I believe that the difficulties and delays that plagued Pennsylvania’s last attempt to put together a timely map of legislative districts emphasizes the need to explore new methods of reapportionment in the Commonwealth. For that reason, I am happy to participate in the efforts of this workgroup.”

The lawmakers said it is important that the redistricting reform process take shape this legislative session to have a new system in place when district maps are redrawn again for the 2020 census. To change the redistricting process, the state legislature must pass legislation changing the state’s constitution in two consecutive sessions. Voters must then approve the reform proposal via referendum.

“Our democratic system requires that voters choose their legislators, but our politically motivated redistricting process allows legislators to choose voters instead,” said state Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry). “That must change.”

Lawmakers claim that the last Legislative Reapportionment Commission largely ignored sound redistricting tenants such as contiguity, compactness and community of interest. New legislative maps, which were supposed to be in place for the 2012 elections, were overturned by the state Supreme Court as being “contrary to law.” The decision sent the commission’s lawmakers, lawyers and staffers back to the drawing board and kept old legislative boundaries in place for the 2012 election.

Members of the group pointed out that the method we use for congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania isn’t any better. The 11th Congressional district runs from Adams County to the northern tier, while the 15th Congressional district goes from Easton to Harrisburg, and the 12th Congressional District traverses from Cambria County to the Ohio line.

The legislators said that drawing Congressional districts is more politically charged than drawing the state House and Senate districts because Congressional districts are presented in bill form and goes through the legislative process. A bipartisan reapportionment commission comprised of caucus leaders meets and deliberates on state House and Senate districts before presenting its state legislative redistricting proposal.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

(Editor: Stephen Wolf has computed non-partisan maps “that give voters a real choice and allow the majority to have its voice heard.” Here are his maps for Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin and other states.
Even more representative maps can be drawn by actively seeking proportional representation and competitive districts instead of ignoring partisanship as Stephen Wolf does.)

Other lawmakers at the news conference included Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna), along with Representatives Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Dave Parker (R-Monroe) and Steve Also on hand to express their organization’s support for redistricting reform were: Barry Kauffman, Common Cause; Susan Carty, League of Women Voters and Desiree Hung, AARP.

Do We Want Our Judges Picked by the Luck of the Draw?

I recall sometimes going directly from morning services to the polling station on election day. On election day, we recite the Psalm for Tuesday (מזמור שֶׁל יוֹם שלישי) — Psalm 82, which praises G-d who “pronounces judgement over judges.”

The irony is palpable as I am then compelled to pass judgement on Pennsylvania’s judges, and vote on who will be retained as judge and who will pass on to retirement (a veritable judicial ונתנה תוקף).

Most voters are probably like me, without legal training and with no familiarity with any of these judges. In fact, as State Rep. Brian Sims mentioned, the single most determinant factor in predicting the winner of a judicial election is the ballot placement:

It’s time to remove partisan politics and campaign contributions from selecting our judiciary and implement a merit-based system for choosing Pennsylvania’s statewide judges. As you can see from the folks backing this effort, merit selection transcends party lines and geographical divides and pursues just one, clear goal: placing the most qualified and competent jurists in the courtroom.

Do we want our judges picked by the luck of the draw? And do we really want our judges pandering to special interests in order to raise campaign money and create a public name for themselves?

I would rather have judges who interpret the law fairly and protect the rights of minorities against the vagaries of whim of the majority.

Pennsylvania to Start Teaching the Holocaust Lessons

— by Deanne Scherlis Comer

No time is better than the present to truly remember the history and events of the Holocaust, with the world-wide terrorist assault on civilized values, which threaten the very fabric of humanity.

No time is better than now to add substance to the rhetoric of the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 2005 on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, set to coincide with the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, to teach our future generations about the unprecedented issues inherent in this genocide, which are universal in scope and transcend all lines of race, religion or ethnic background.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

In earlier years, within public school districts throughout Pennsylvania, the teaching of the Holocaust was just an abbreviated anecdote in lessons about World World II. As scholarly research unearthed more information, and delved more deeply into its relevance, increasing interest was spawned.

However, the formulation of concrete curricula was sporadic, as funding was often limited due to other priorities.

Some, like the school district of Philadelphia and the Catholic Archdiocese, managed to collaboratively develop a premier guide of innovative and successful curriculum, entitled “Abraham, Our Brother in Faith.”

Others took leadership 25 years ago and formed the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council, comprised of a committed group of volunteer educators who served as a broker for the Pennsylvania State Department of Education. With a limited budget, the Council initiated teacher training and provided resources, until the  funding was curtailed a few years ago due to state budgetary constraints.

Without financial assistance, many districts could not provide the resources needed to prioritize the development of Holocaust curricula, giving impetus to the urgency that teaching the history and events of the Holocaust needed to be addressed at the state level in a more comprehensive way. 

Several Pennsylvania grassroots religious, educational and communal organizations and individuals, working with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and committed legislators, led the way to the historic Holocaust and Genocide Bill signed into law by Governor Corbett in June 2014.

Pennsylvania will now require all school districts to initiate the teaching of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations for the forthcoming 2015/2016 school year.

To further this goal, the exploration of curriculum options will be discussed at a state-wide conference in March, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Assembly and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Abington Schools Set an Example

The Abington School District, since 1980 (around the time of the establishment of the National Days of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum), acted with great foresight in understanding that the lessons of the Holocaust needed more than a few brief lines in its social studies books. I served as chairperson of the Abington School District Holocaust Curriculum Committee for many years as we worked to ensure that a mandated guide be developed.

Lessons for middle-grade students explored recurrent themes of prejudice and racism, and the history of anti-Semitism, as well as connections to contemporary issues. Teacher training and developmentally appropriate materials provided support.

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Holocaust survivor lectures at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Educational Center.

Today, the Abington School District has continued its commitment of providing quality Holocaust education to its students, integrating the subject matter within new technology, adding appropriate new resources and updating its teachers’ data base of knowledge.

Recently, the district formed a partnership with the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, founded by survivor, Jacob Riz, 53 years ago in his home, and now located at the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia. Its educational outreach programs have reached 38,000 students throughout the Delaware Valley, and presently will present more than 300 programs, as well as sponsor communal educational events.

For Abington, the collaboration provides many resources such as educational materials, artifacts and speakers from the museum’s Speakers’ Bureau of Survivors, Liberators and Resistors for the district’s assembly programs. Additionally, it utilizes the museum’s teacher trainers to assure that the district maintains its high standards of teacher preparedness.

A Continuing Legacy of Action

Many still ask, “Why is the study of the Holocaust still relevant?”

The diminishing of the group of eyewitnesses, the lack of knowledge among younger generations, the rantings of deniers and the horrific terrorism events of the past weeks and years around the globe, including rampant acts of anti-Semitism, make such teaching an imperative.

As the grandmother to young adult grandchildren who now walk the stepping stones of the 21st Century with its daunting challenges, I ask myself, “Is there still reason to hope for a better future for them and all humanity?”

When that happens, I think of a young sixth-grade teacher from Abington. After teaching a lesson about hidden children during the Holocaust, she cried:

I will never forget learning about this when I was a sixth-grade student. And now, I am imparting this knowledge to my students. I am helping them to see how they can make a difference with this knowledge and their individual responses.

I cried too, overjoyed that Holocaust Remembrance is not just rhetoric, but a continuing legacy of action.

Deanne Scherlis Comer is an educational consultant at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, and the producer and writer of the documentary series, Voices of Holocaust History. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Why Gov.-Elect Wolf Is Right About the Death Penalty

imageThe widow of a police officer who was murdered criticized both Governor-elect Tom Wolf and me for our opposition to the death penalty in a piece that appeared on PennLive last week.

Maureen Faulkner specifically asked why should a person who has taken the life of another “be allowed to keep their own life.” She has a unique standing to comment on this important issue of public policy: Obviously, the horrors she has endured give her a valuable perspective on many facets of the criminal justice system. She raised important points and deserves a response.

The death penalty, which has been eliminated throughout most of the civilized world and has recently been repealed in six states, including our neighbors New Jersey and Maryland, is an inappropriate punishment for many reasons.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for rejecting capital punishment is the inevitability of executing completely innocent people. Since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to be reinstated, 149 people have been sent to death row and then released, after being fully exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted, most through DNA evidence. Some of these people came within hours of being executed.

Counting all crimes, more than 2,000 people were found to have been wrongly convicted in the past 23 years. It is clear that our criminal justice system is imperfect. Considering all of the innocent people who were convicted but then freed by DNA, it is extremely disturbing that DNA evidence is available in only about 15% of all murder cases.

Most murders are committed by guns, leaving no DNA evidence. Thus, considering the scores of death row inmates whose innocence was proven by DNA out of the 15% of cases where it is available, how many innocent people are among the 85% of cases in which DNA evidence is not available? Assuming that the proportion of innocent people is the same in both groups, we have sent to death row many hundreds of people who are innocent, but unable to prove that innocence.

Faulkner said that in no case it was “proved” that an innocent person has been executed. That is misleading.

First, in most cases, once a person is dead, people stop looking. There is generally no funding source for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to continue investigating a case after the defendant has been executed.

Even if funding was available in a given case, in no forum a person’s innocence can be “proved.” The state does not conduct posthumous retrials of dead defendants. That said, in a number of cases there is very strong evidence that an innocent person was executed.

Another compelling reason to eliminate the death penalty is that we simply cannot afford it. Recent studies in California and Maryland have shown that a death-penalty case costs between $2 million and $3 million more to process, try and carry out than a non-capital murder case.

Given that we have processed hundreds of death penalty cases since reinstatement, simple math tells us that we are spending billions of dollars just to have a death penalty. Think of what that money could be used for instead: more effective forms of crime reduction, education, or even tax cuts.

Other reasons to eliminate the death penalty relate to:

  • the unfair, arbitrary, and racially disparate way it is administered;
  • all of the ancillary costs of litigating issues related to capital punishment, such as what chemicals may be used for the execution; and
  • the significant moral problems with giving a government, that many people do not think can deliver the mail efficiently, the power to decide when to kill its own citizens.

I can certainly understand Faulkner’s rage and desire for revenge against the man who killed her husband. I am sure I would feel the same way if I were ever in similar circumstances.

One of my heroes, the former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, who opposed the death penalty in all circumstances, was frequently asked what he would do if someone he cared about was murdered. I will paraphrase his typical answer:

I would pick up a baseball bat to bash the killer’s brains in myself. But before I reached him, what I hope I would do is ask myself if this would bring my loved-one back, and if I am acting in a way consistent with my religious and moral principles, and if I would want my family to see me acting this way. And I hope that before I got to the killer, I would put the baseball bat down.

That is what we as a society must do. We must put the baseball bat down.

Originally published in PennLive.

Gubernatorial Forum at Gershman Y

— by John Oliver Mason

Candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania were asked questions as a community forum held in the Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium of the Gershman Y on Sunday, March 23, 2014. The participants were:

Governor Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Tom Wolff were invited but did not attend.

Synopsis after the jump.
Introductions

Gloria Gilman, Chair of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and Co-Coordinator of the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn, greeted the audience, saying,    

The coalition’s goal is to help educate voters (about) the upcoming primary, to be held May 20th-remember that date-and to recognize the importance of the role the Governor (of Pennsylvania) plays in our lives. We came together to look at the issues upon which the governor has influence that effect the grassroots of this city. We’re posing questions on issues that really matter to us, in which the candidates have not necessarily committed to their positions, or where we think it might be possible to differentiate their perspectives.

Tracy Gordon, Deputy City Commissioner of Philadelphia, spoke of a new effort of the City Commissioners’ office (which oversees voting in the city) for assuring voter turnout in the May primary.  Gordon read a letter from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was in Harrisburg at the time:

While many Philadelphians vote in presidential elections, many fewer vote in midterm elections. This low turnout has far-reaching consequences. One in every eight registered voters in Pennsylvania (live in) Philadelphia. But candidates for statewide office spend less than one-eighth of their time campaigning in Philadelphia. They favor the counties with higher voter turnout, and who can blame them?

The result is statewide officials, such as governors, who don’t understand us or respond to our needs as well as they would if (voters) turned out to vote in large numbers…Every vote you cast is a vote not only for a candidate, but also for your neighborhood, and for your demographic group. Every vote you cast supports the work of local leaders who represent you. Every vote you cast  makes Philadelphia strong.

Gordon displayed a new handbook from Singer’s office for voters with questions about election procedures, and she directed voters to Singer’s office’s new website for more information. The book, said Gordon, explained how to vote by absentee ballot, how to write in a vote, and deadlines for registering to vote.

The moderators for the forum were Daniel Denvir, writer for Philadelphia City Paper, and Holly Otterbein, correspondent for WHYY-FM. “The gubernatorial election is in November,” started Denvir, “and there’s a lot at stake for our schools, the environment, and the welfare of our city’s people.” Otterbein described the format of the forum, saying, “We’re going to give each candidate one minute and thirty seconds to respond to each question.” The candidates gave brief introductory statements.

On Pennsylvania’s Refusal to Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

On health insurance, Otterbein said that Pennsylvania has not expanded its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act; Governor Corbett has asked for federal funds to pay for private coverage for residents.

Katie McGinty said,

You always have to look at a person’s track record… This is a governor who, as attorney general, fought tooth and nail to stop the availability of health care coverage. He’s not changed his stripes. This is a governor who has presided over ninety-seven thousand people being dropped from our health care and medical assistance rolls.

McGinty said the Corbett plan was a “voucher-izing” of  Medicaid, which means

there would be fewer people covered, it will cost more, and coverage will be less effective…We want to expand Medicaid, we want to say yes to the forty-billion dollars that should come to Pennsylvania as five hundred thousand people get that health care.

Allyson Schwartz said that the Medicaid plan the Corbett administration submitted to the federal government

creates obstacles, reduces benefits, and it hurts people who are on Medicaid or should be…As governor, one of the first things I would do is accept that Medicaid money…and we use it for our Pennsylvania residents.

Jack Wagner said,

I oppose Governor Corbett’s proposal, and I believe we need to (enroll) the five hundred thousand Pennsylvanians that need better health care…Even the very conservative governors across the country have adopted this proposal. It is federal tax dollars, that all of you have paid to the federal government, that will finance this proposal one hundred percent for several years…We are denying our own resources coming back to serve our own people.

Rob McCord called the governor’s health care proposal

immoral and inefficient… We’re depriving five hundred thousand people of coverage that’s already been paid for, with your taxpayer dollars…Medicaid is more efficient, not less efficient, than the short-term-oriented-profit-maximalizing firms in providing care to those who are currently not covered.

On Pennsylvania’s Ban of Abortion Coverage under the Affordable Care Act

The next health question was about the Pennsylvania’s ban on abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. McCord said,

We need to make private, personal health care decisions that women and men make private. I’m as profoundly pro-choice as anybody in the country.” McCord called it “absurd that we are subsidizing the consumption of Viagra, and making it difficult for women to make their own procreative choices.

McGinty said she opposed such restrictions, adding,

I would aggressively and determinedly to overturn it.” The Corbett administration would suggest, she added, “that this is about taxpayer-funded abortions…This is about whether individuals, and women in particular, have the right to shop for and choose  the health care that is best for them. This is about private companies offering that health care that women want to choose and select.

Schwartz reminded the audience of her work in Congress

during the whole debate on the Affordable Care Act to make sure that women have access to the full range of reproductive health services that we need to use…Many of you know I am not new to this issue,

and she mentioned her work in establishing the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Philadelphia.

Wagner said,

I believe that a woman should have access to safe health care under the law…But I will be very frank with everyone, I’m a pro-life Democrat, I believe that a woman should have access to abortion for rape, incest, and (to save) the life of the mother.

On Restoring the State’s Social Safety Net

Daniel Denvir asked questions about taxes and economic issues. Denvir pointed out cuts to poor people in state cash assistance, and cuts by Congress in the Food Stamp program; he asked if elected governor, would they reinstate these programs, and what would they do to strengthen the state’s social safety net.

McGinty said this approach was “wrong headed, (and) as the leader of the Commonwealth you want to lift people up and give them the ability to prosper, and this has been the opposite direction.” She called the cuts in Food Stamps “terribly wrong, and I would have opposed them,” and the federal Food Stamp cuts came along with the governor cutting state food assistance, adding “those dollars need to be restored.” McGinty added that Pennsylvania is fourth in the country in states with a long-term unemployed population.; with “job training, apprenticeships, job assistance, I will invest in people.”

Schwartz spoke of her time in the Pennsylvania Senate when Governor Tom Ridge cut people from general assistance; “It’s been going on for a while,” she said, “and I opposed those cuts…it hurt a lot of people, and it made it harder for them to be successful.” Noting her work in the Senate to extend long-term unemployment, “To make sure people can get back on their feet,” Schwartz added, “we do need to make sure that people can support them selves and their families, and that they have support during tough times.”

Wagner said,

Food assistance is as basic and as important as any (other social) program…As Auditor-General I looked at a wide variety of programs within (the welfare system), and quite frankly fraud, waste and abuse exist. But we never found that in the food assistance program,” which he called “one in which we should strongly support. We can actually save money in certain programs if we do a good job managing it, and provide more of those resources that we save into food assistance.

McCord said, “Yes, of course, I will restore general assistance for those who need it…This is really personal for me,” and he recalled his mother attending college and graduate school, and said, “I never would have thought, looking back at that beginning, that she would ever suffer from economic insecurity, but she did, and that motivates me.” Noting that “good, hard-working people often touch the edge of poverty,” McCord said, “It’s important not to blame the victim.”  

The forum was organized by Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn.org. Several groups in coalition co-sponsored the event, including the Jewish Labor Committee, AFSCME District Council 47, the AIDS Law Project, Americans for Democratic Action, the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, Ceasefire PA, Coalition of Labor Union Women Philadelphia Chapter, Bread and Roses Community Fund, Decarcerate PA, Education Voters of PA, Friends of Farmworkers, National Lawyers Guild, Liberty City Democratic Club, Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus, Philadelphia Jobs With Justice, PhillyCAM, and others. These sponsoring organizations submitted questions for the candidates to be asked.

Book Review: Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Story

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Short books, available only by download, are a recent trend.

Sally Wiener Grotta’s Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Stories was sent to me in this form, which worked well for it. It is also available in paperback and hardcover.

This volume, about a Jewish mixed-race woman raised by her Christian grandparents in a rural area, seems to be intentionally designed as a tool for provoking discussion about race, prejudice, interfaith encounters, the Jewish mourning practice of sitting shiva and saying Kaddish, and dysfunctional families.

As an educator always looking out for high-school-level stories that reveal family diversity, the story also raises important psycho-dynamic issues: that some people do change over time, and how projecting expectations onto others can lead to devastating cruelty.

The violence of the rape and trauma scenes seems quite accurate. Shiva scenes of the Jewish week of mourning after burial reflect the unfortunate and common practice of people giving advice to the primary mourners. Our tradition teaches us to listen to feelings, and not offer fixes. Even so, Kaddish works its magic:

For a few brief moments, I no longer feel like a stranger, but part of something larger, grander than myself. We were brought together by death, but we’re held together by the demands of life. That peace and comfort stays with me even as the circle breaks up.

But I have some issues with the work as a whole:

Continued after the jump.
First, during this quick read I kept hoping that the obvious conclusion would not be the actual one, but the end of the tale is truly inevitable.

Secondly, the main character, who is also the most affected by violence, seems almost wooden compared to rape victims this reviewer has counseled in her roles as a rabbi, and a long-time activist in the field of rape prevention and counseling. Overall, the main character seem to be reporting on her life more than fully experiencing it. The book’s author has written an essay on the malleability of memory — an interesting matter in and of itself.

Third, an aphorism says that between the liberal cities of Philadelphia and Harrisburg lies Appalachia, and the book proves this point. The characters seem caricatured; many of them would readily fit into an episode of Northern Exposure, or the townies of the recent film, Nebraska.

I kept wishing for brief film clips, rather than having to “get the picture” by reading the by-the-book style of writing:

“Hello Judith, don’t suppose you recollect me.”

A woman stands over me, but not too close, as though she’s hesitant to encroach.

About 65, she’s painfully thin, with that strained scrawny appearance of one who’s fought her way through a hard life and survived. Her face is rough and deeply lined; her nose and mouth twisted and papered with small scars. Her dull dark brown hair is streaked with yellowing gray swathes, but tightly groomed, not a strand escaping the bun at her neck. Though decades out of fashion, her flowered dress is starched and spotless…

For some contexts this form of writing can work well, especially for entry-level writing classes, and high school settings, where discussion of the powerful contemporary themes will be of great benefit.