Republican Jewish Coalition Mobilizes in Philly, Boca & Cleveland

The Republican Jewish Coalition flew and bused volunteers to campaign yesterday Sunday, September 9 and today Monday, September 10 in three metropolitan areas:

  • Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
  • South-Eastern Florida, and
  • Cleveland, Ohio.

Ron Kampeas reports that this is part of a $6,500,000 microtargeting campaign funded in part by gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson (pictured right at the RJC “Friends of Israel” reception at the Republican National Convention).

Ohio (1.3% Jewish) and Florida (3.4% Jewish) are once again battleground states and are being hotly contested by the Romney and Obama campaigns. Pennsylvania (2.3% Jewish) has traditionally been a swing state, but lately it has been considered fairly safe for the Democrats, and accordingly Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers’ Super-PACs “Restore Our Future”, “Crossroads GPS” and “Americans for Prosperity” all announced last week that they were pulling out of Pennsylvania and Michigan and concentrating their ad buys on more competitive states. We asked the RJC why they were skipping Nevada which is a very competitive state with a 2.8% Jewish population the most of any swing-state other than Florida, but Stu Sandler and Bill Wanger had no comment. (See comment posted below.)

The RJC invited us to observe their outreach effort in work in our area. Local members of the RJC were joined by supporters bused in from Bethesda, Maryland and the New York area. Some volunteers flew in from as far away as California.  In all about 400 Republicans were assembled at the Radisson Valley Forge Casino Resort.

During the breakfast, RJC leaders and volunteers were all eager to share the views with us. One deplored a “certain strain of the Jewish community that cares more about the Democratic party than about Israel.” I asked if she was referring to extreme elements of the grassroots or about any particular elected officials, and she cited Rep. Alysson Schwartz as an example saying

Allyson Schwartz will be a Democrat [sic] believer until the day she dies even if they start wearing brown shirts

(a reference to the color of the uniforms of the Strumabteilung which played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power). Other members of the crowd echoed Lynne’s contempt for the Democratic Congresswomen and cited DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Former Rep. Robert Wexler, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro as “traitor to their faith.”

I discussed the Democratic and Republican party platforms with Lynne Lechter, Republican Committeewoman in Lower Merion and former candidate for the Pennsylvania Assembly (shown right at the National Women’s Committee of the RJC at the Green Valley County Club in 2009). Asked about the Republican platform which echoes Rep. Todd Akin’s support for a blanket ban on abortions without any exception for rape or incest, Ms. Lechter said that to her “platforms are not relevent. People don’t always agree with everything in the platform.” However, she felt that the original Democratic platform “underscored the hatred of Democrats for religion and Israel.”

More after the jump.

The volunteers were assembled into teams some for phone banking, literature drops and strategic sign waving.

  • Vans brought the RJC volunteers to various neighborhoods. Media from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, the Jewish Exponent, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the New Jersey Jewish News were taken to an affluent Jewish neighborhood in Gladwynne where we watched as a pair of volunteers left campaign brochures at the front door of each targeted home. They were instructed not to knock  or interact with voters, but simply to leave their literature and move on. The RJC began canvassing neighborhoods for the first time during the 2008 election. However, Stu Sandler said this outreach effort is larger and better targeted than their 2008 canvassing.
  • Other volunteers were assigned to “strategic sign waving.” For example, a pair of RJC volunteers was stationed outside the Obama for America office at 1 E. Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, PA waving signs reading “Oy vay, Obama.” (See photo below of a billboard in Southern Florida with a similar message.) OFA Field Director Jediah Grobstein asked them to not block the entrance, but other than that there was little interaction observed between the Democratic and Republican supporters.
  • A conference room at the Radisson was devoted to phone banking. The RJC used the same predictive dialing technology which Organizing for America used during the New York special elections of 2009. Volunteer phone bankers could stay on the phone as a computer connected them with one voter after another.

After the day of canvassing, the volunteers were treated to a private discussion with Congressmen Pat Meehan (R-PA7) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA8), and former Republican State Senator Bruce Mark, followed by Sunday Night Football as the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19.

Photo of Republican Jewish Coalition billboard in South Florida

Philadelphia Teachers Grill Mitt Romney on Class Sizes

When Mitt Romney went to a charter school in Philadelphia today, it’s safe to say he didn’t get the reception he hoped for.

Counter to all logic and evidence Romney claimed in his book No Apology that larger class sizes will improve education.

In The United States, then, the effort to reduce classroom size may actually hurt education more than it helps. [page 216]

However, the Philadelphia teachers in attendance today offered him a reality check, questioning how exactly he could believe that to be the truth. Media coverage of his event centered on this exchange: MSNBC,  WBOB Philadelphia, ABC, The Hill, AP, LA Times, Politico, CNN, CBS

Transcript follows the jump.
TRANSCRIPT OF EXCHANGE:

MR. MORRIS:  I would like to bring up two concerns, in terms of the way you opened your introduction. These are things that I think about as a teacher in the classroom all the time, like one is class size, and the other is testing. I think, kind of like when I was driving to school today, I heard your position on class size and testing, and apparently it’s a platform, and education is a topic right now. You know, I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, over ten years, thirteen years, who would say that they would love – more students would benefit them.

ROMNEY:  Right, right, of course.

MR. MORRIS:  I can’t think of a parent that would say, “I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.” So, I’m kind of wondering where this research comes from, it’s like, and another thing, researchers, you’re looking at the test scores. You’re saying big class sizes doesn’t affect the test scores.

[…]

It concerns me, the testing, and it concerns me, you know, the class size. I can’t think of any teacher – Mr. Bennett, would you want more kids in your classroom?

BENNETT: No, it’s large enough. It’s actually too large.

ROMNEY: How many students do you have?

BENNETT: It varies between classes, but anywhere from 23 to 28, somewhere in there. You can give more of a personalized – more personalized attention to each student if you have a smaller class size. I would have to agree with Mr. Morris, and I teach technology over here.

Jewish Heritage Night with the Philadelphia Soul


You are invited to join the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community at the Wells Fargo Center for an exciting, family-friendly evening of arena football as the Philadelphia Soul take on the Pittsburgh Power during the Soul’s Jewish Heritage Night, Sunday, June 24 at 6:05 pm. In addition to the non-stop action that arena football brings, the evening will also feature kosher food and Jewish themed entertainment.





Each ticket costs $28.

Ticket prices have been reduced to $19!

Tickets can be used for Jewish Heritage night or for any 2012 Philadelphia Soul regular season home game. A portion of the proceeds will support the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Contact [email protected] if you have any questions.

See you on June 24th!

“The Road We’ve Traveled” premiere in Philadelphia

This Thursday, you’re invited to the premiere of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about President Obama’s first three years in office and the tough calls he made to get our country back on track.

Check out the trailer (if you recognize the narrator’s voice — that’s Tom Hanks) and join a screening in Philadelphia this Thursday, March 15th. RSVP now to save your seat.

  • Where: Independent Charter School, 1600 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA
  • When: 7pm, Thursday, March 15, 2012
  • Cost: Free!

More after the jump.
Be the first to see it — and make sure others do, too.

If you know anyone who needs to know about the progress we’ve made under President Obama, this is the film that they need to see.

When President Obama took office, our economy was in crisis, with 750,000 people losing their jobs every month, the auto industry near failure, and the markets close to collapse.

The Road We’ve Traveled follows the tough decisions the President made to bring our nation back from the brink and fight for the security of the middle class, from reining in Wall Street to ending the war in Iraq, reforming health care, and getting millions of Americans back to work.

The story’s told by the people who watched it unfold — like the First Lady, Vice President Biden, President Bill Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren.

Between now and November, this film will be one of the many tools we have to bring others into this campaign and get folks out to vote for the President.

Because you’re a part of this campaign already, you should see it first, then share it with everyone you know who’s been asking questions about the President’s record or needs to get more engaged around this election.

Why not invite them to come see it with you on Thursday?

Some Pennsylvanians Need Not Wait To Nov. To Vote For President

Philadelphia area Russian citizens vote in Russian Presidential Election at Klein JCC, Saturday, March 3

Russian citizens residing within the Philadelphia area will cast their ballots in the Russian presidential election through a special voting center set up in Room 218 at the Klein JCC, located at 10100 Jamison Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, on Saturday, March 3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Candidates in this presidential election are:

  • Vladimir Putin (United Russia),
  • Gennady Zyuganov (Communist),
  • Sergey Mironov (A Just Russia aka Social Democrat),
  • Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democrat), and
  • Mikhail Prokhorov (Independent).

The special election center is being established through the Russian consulate in New York City. Voters in Russia will go to the polls on March 4.

Progressive Summit This Weekend

(JSPAN) The third Progressive Summit in Philadelphia begins Friday night with a debate between Kathleen Kane and Patrick Murphy at 6:30 pm at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad St. (just north of City Hall).

On Saturday and Sunday there will be workshops and panels about critical issues progressives are working on this year, and some of the best practices in progressive organizing. Saturday evening is a night of comedy and a variety of parties. The full agenda is here. Here is a link to register for the Summit.

The Summit is a place to build relationships and network with other progressives. Start with JSPAN Board member Marc Stier who will be on two panels, Don’t Stop Believing: Managing Activism Fatigue, and Building Coalitions That Win.

What Would YOU Do? Violence in Philadelphia

Cross-posted from Democratic Convention Watch

A friend recently signed me up for a subscription to Philadelphia Magazine (thanks Doug!) I opened the issue and on the first page was a letter from the Chairman (who knew magazines had chairs?) about an incident on a Philadelphia trolley. The basic story is that there were about 20 people riding a trolley, and a mother started hitting her 2 and 4 year old children. All but one person said nothing. One person said “If you hit that child one more time, I will call the police and follow you home and make sure they arrest you.”

I put the magazine and asked myself what I would do in that situation. Take a moment and ask yourself what you would do….

Back to the Chair's letter, which went on to talk about the aftereffects of violence on young children. About how we, as a society, tend to look the other way. 

Magazine went down again…how many things do we see every day and do nothing about? The SOPA and Komen uprisings of the past few weeks took very little for people to do: Facebook and Twitter posts, a few phone calls, some checks. One-time deals, for a lot of us, and in a lot of ways an abstraction. There was no immediate threat to our internet access, no woman with a breast lump asking us what to do since Planned Parenthood was her sole option for a mammogram. How many of us stand up and really rail at what the right is doing on their march to take America back to the 1850's? How many would say something when a parent is beating a child?

There are a few other things in the story. The original post from the person who stood up is here. Turns out that the mother, and all the other riders, were black and the author was white. You can use the links in the post to see that a lot of people thought the author did the wrong thing: that he is a racist, and that had the parent hitting the child was white, the situation would have been different.

EEWWW….Is this really a racist thing? I read the comments and wondered if people thought it was somehow okay to hit black children but not white children. I read about the “kindness cure” and wondered…had the author picked up the girl, how many people would have accused him of kidnapping, or pedophilia, or something in that vein?

The whole societal, and political, issue to me has to do with standing up. If you're a long time reader, you know that I believe it is incumbent on decent people to stand up. Both in individual direct situations, and in the overall political realm. The sole time I was in a situation where there was a child in immediate danger I saw a father punch his boy in the face and send him into the canned goods on the supermarket shelf. Without thinking, I attached the boy to my leg (he came up to my knee), covered him with my coat, and told the father (who was twice my size) that he would have to hit me before he hit the boy again. The mother, who was pushing the cart with another child in the seat, started screaming that I was trying to kidnap her son. Things got loud, people came, police came, and then they watched the films from the security cameras. They were white people, but I live in an integrated neighborhood, and we all shop in the same supermarkets. I would have done the same thing had that child been black, or purple, or anything – to me, he was just a little boy with a fist impression on his face. 

But I fear there is truth in the idea that as a society, most of us are holed up in our houses, interacting through social media, and less involved in “the neighborhood” than we were a generation ago. I heard a pundit refer to Americans as “the silenced majority” as opposed to the silent majority – the idea being that even if we do things, media has so much power that our actions are kept silent from our fellow Americans. I don't know whether we are silent or silenced, but I'm leaning toward “both of the above” and we need to start thinking about changing that. But maybe you feel differently….

The Philadelphia Tu B’Shevat Adventure


Orange Tree

— by Ronit Treatman

What do April 15th and the Shevat 15th have in common? Both are tax days! Two thousand years ago, the 15th of Shevat was when the twelve Hebrew tribes paid tithes to the Levites in Jerusalem. Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, is described in the Mishnah as the New Year for Trees. During the times of the Temple, fruit tithes would be calculated beginning on Tu B’Shevat. Fruit that grew on trees after the fifteenth day of Shevat was counted for the tithes that were due the following year. These tithes supported the Levites, helped feed the poor, and paid for Tu B’Shevat festivities in Jerusalem.

Following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, the Jews were exiled from Israel, and tithes were no longer paid. The Jews in the Diaspora preserved the memory of Tu B’Shevat by remembering their connection to the Land of Israel. In the Jewish communities of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and Kurdistan, Tu B’Shevat developed into the “day of eating the seven species.” The seven species are the seven fruits and grains that are listed in the Torah as special products of the Land of Israel. In the 16th century Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the famous mystic of Safed, and his students collaborated to create the Tu B’Shevat Seder. The observance of Tu B’Shevat has undergone many permutations
since that time.

How can you and your family enjoy this ancient holiday in present day Philadelphia?

Some hands-on ideas to bring your families the warming spirit of Tu B’Shevat this winter follow the jump.


Seven Species

The Longwood Gardens Seven Species Scavenger Hunt

This year, Tu B’Shevat begins on February 7th, at sunset, and extends through the daylight of February 8th. This holiday presents a great opportunity to visit Longwood Gardens. The outdoor gardens will probably be covered with snow, so the half mile long hothouse will be your main destination. The conservatory, built in 1919, resembles a crystal palace. As you step inside, you will be transported to a place where spring has already arrived. The warm air will envelop you. Your family will inhale the aroma of a garden in full bloom, see the beautiful colors of the plants, and hear the rustle of leaves and dripping of water as they explore the greenhouse. It will be fun to look for some of the seven species in the gardens. As is mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8, the Land of Israel is described as a “land of wheat and barley, of [grape] vines, figs and pomegranates, and a land of olives for oil and [date] honey.” Here is a guide to help you find them.


Olive Tree

Grape Vines

Olives: In Biblical times, olive oil was very important for cooking, as a fuel for lamps, and for preparing soap. There is an olive tree in the Silver Garden.

Grapes: The Estate Fruit House has grape vines. In ancient times in the Land of Israel, grapes were used to make wine and vinegar. The fruit was eaten fresh off the vine. The grape leaves were used in cooking.


Figs at the Vine

Pomegranate Tree

Figs: A fig tree grows in The Estate Fruit House. Figs were eaten fresh, and used in cooking in Biblical Israel. Fig honey and alcohol were made from them.

Pomegranates: A miniature pomegranate tree (with tiny red pomegranates!) may be found in the Bonsai Display. In ancient Israel, pomegranates were used to make wine. Pomegranate juice was used as a dye. They were also a popular snack fresh off the tree.



Dates

Wheat

Barley

Dates: The wild date palm grows in the Palm House. Dates were eaten fresh or dry during Biblical times. They were made into honey. It is thought that when the Land of Israel was described as a “land flowing with milk and honey,” it meant date honey, not bees’ honey.

Wheat and Barley: Wheat was used to bake bread in ancient Israel. It was the staple of the people’s diet. Barley was used to cook porridge and barley cakes. Poor people relied on barley more than on wheat, since it was more plentiful. It was also fed to the cows and goats. Wheat and barley do not grow in the greenhouses of Longwood Gardens! I suggest planning in advance and ordering a bundle of wheat and a bundle of barley from Curious Country Creations.

You can bring these plants with you, and your family may admire them during the visit to Longwood Gardens. Then, the wheat and barley may be part of your Tu B’Shevat Seder decorations!

You can inform yourself about the plants that these fruits of the seven species come from, and admire their beauty at Longwood Gardens. After learning about all these beautiful plants by seeing, smelling, and sometimes touching them, it is time to go home and taste some of them! The way to do that is with a Tu B’Shevat feast!


Tu b’Shvat Seder

The Tu B’Shevat Seder

The first Tu B’Shevat Haggadah was called Pri Etz Hadar” or “Fruit of the Goodly Tree” in Hebrew. It was published in 1753. This Tu B’Shevat Seder was modeled on the Passover Seder. This Seder consisted of a festive meal that celebrated the Kabalistic diagram of the Tree of Life. The original purpose of the Seder was to restore G-d’s blessing by repairing and strengthening the Tree of Life. The traditional concluding blessing of the Tu B’Shevat Seder is “May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life.” Fruits grown in Israel were served at the Seder and were related to the Four Worlds or “planes of existence” in the Kabbalah. These are Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action, which are like the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves of a tree. Four cups of wine, symbolizing the four seasons, were also served. Participants read Biblical passages that discussed trees, sang songs about trees and nature, and danced dances inspired by trees. Almonds were important to this Seder because almond trees are the first to blossom in the springtime in Israel. The Kabbalists called this Seder the “Feast of Fruits. Turkish Jews called it “Frutikas Seder,” and referred to Tu B’Shevat as “Frutikas.”  You can follow the first published Tu B’Shevat Seder in your own home.


Almond Tree Blossoms

The Tu B’Shevat Seder was first embraced by the Sephardic Jews, and then by the Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazi Jews developed the custom of eating fifteen different fruits in honor of the “Tu” (15 in Hebrew) in “Tu B’Shevat.” It became a tradition to serve carob, a hardy fruit that could travel well from Israel to Europe. Eating etrog (citron) from Sukkot that was either candied or preserved was another custom that developed. In the late 19th century the Zionist pioneers arrived to cultivate the land of Israel. Israel’s ecology had been harmed by many years of war, extirpation of trees, and desertification. In 1890, Rabbi Zeev Yavetz and his students planted trees in Zichron Yaakov in honor of Tu B’Shevat. The Jewish National Fund adopted this custom to help with the reforestation of Israel. Most recently, Tu B’Shevat has become the Jewish Earth Day. Nature, ecology, and environmentalism are celebrated.

In honor of the Tu B’Shevat Seder, your family may have fun making your home look and feel festive, with a tablecloth, some flowers, and the bunches of wheat and barley on the table. Red and white grape juice should be available. The juice should be served as indicated by the Tu B’Shevat Seder Hagaddah of your choice. Several links to free Hagaddas are provided below.


All of the Tu B’Shevat Hagaddot require the following cups of juice:

  • The First Cup: White grape juice, to symbolize winter.
  • The Second Cup: 2/3 cup white grape juice and 1/3 cup red grape juice, to symbolize a progression to spring.
  • The Third Cup: 1/3 cup white grape juice and 2/3 cup red grape juice, to symbolize spring.
  • The Fourth Cup: Red grape juice, to symbolize summer.

Fifteen types of fruit should be arranged on the table:


Almonds

Autumn Red Peaches
  • Fruit that is hard on the outside and soft on the inside:
    • Pecans
    • Almonds
    • Coconuts
    • Walnuts
       
  • Soft fruit with a pit in the middle:
    • Olives
    • Peaches
    • Cherries
    • Plums
    • Dates
       

    Ripe Carobs

    Fragaria Stawberry
  • Fruits with and inner pit and a tough skin:
    • Avocado
    • Carob
    • Pomegranate
    • Mango
    • Orange
  • Fruit is that which is soft on the inside and outside, and is entirely edible:
    • Grape
    • Fig
    • Strawberry
    • Raisin

You may display a picture of an almond tree in full bloom to learn about the first blossoms of spring in Israel. It is customary to serve a dinner which incorporates fruits and nuts in all of its courses.  Here is a sephardic recipe which includes all seven species.

Sephardic Seven Species Pilaf

  • 1 cup cooked barley
  • 1 cup cooked wheat berries
  • 1/2  cup cut up dried figs
  • 1/2 cup cut up dried dates
  • 1/2 cup sliced grapes
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Some very good recipes are available at Aish. There are many other recipes that may be found on the Internet. Following are links to some free Tu B’Shevat Seder Haggadahs that are available online. Many more may be found.

Plant A Tree

Following a visit to Longwood Gardens, and a Tu B’Shevat Seder feast, there is an opportunity to plant a seed and nurture a plant. It is too cold in January to plant a tree in Philadelphia. Your family can plant a tree in Israel with the Jewish National Fund. There is a delightful new tradition that you may adopt. You may plant parsley seeds in a pot. Then water ther seeds, give them plant food, and make sure that they are exposed to enough sunlight. If all goes well, in April, you will have a parsley plant that may be used for Karpas (green spring vegetable) in the Passover Seder.

From Seder to Seder, may it be a fruitful year of joyful celebrations!

Winter Markets

— by Hannah Lee

Do you miss the farmers’ market in winter?

If you’re like me, it’s a let-down to buy produce flown or trucked in from California, which is what are available these days in the supermarkets, even in Whole Foods, which may have the biggest selection of organic produce around. Some farmers’ markets are open on Saturdays, but if you keep Shabbat, your best option is the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. It’s open seven days a week, and it’s indoors, so you (and the vendors) do not have to freeze in the open air.  

When was the last time you’ve visited this market? You’ll be surprised and delighted by the lively changes there. Check out the Reading Terminal Market website for fun events, including the Valentine Day’s wedding of four couples in the center court at noon.

More after the jump.
Among my favorite vendors is Steve Bowes of Bowes Family Farm. Stop by for a chat and a lesson about biodynamic and organic farming. He’s at the market on Thursdays to Saturdays from 8 to 6 and Sundays from 9 to 5.

The Fair Food Farmstand, run by the Fair Food Philly, offers organic eggs, dairy, and meats as well as seasonal produce and artisanal foods. They’re open every day.

I always stop by Iovine Brothers Produce to gaze at their lovely display of fruits, vegetables, and specialty produce. It’s where I can get fresh mushrooms not found elsewhere such as King trumpets and hen of the woods as well as the gourmet favorites: chanterelles, enokis, morels, and porcinis.  

The Cookbook Stall is also fun, with a diverse selection of books that cannot be found in a general bookstore. Its hours are: Mondays to Saturdays from 10-5 and Sundays from 11-3.  If you have a particular title in mind, you may call to check on its availability at:  215-923-3170.

Every Wednesday & Saturday, you could learn the story behind cheese steaks, hoagies, pretzels and other Philly food favorites, and the 116-year history of the vibrant Reading Terminal Market where they’re sold, during a 75-minute tour led by Carolyn Wyman, food historian, author, and journalist.  

Discounted parking at 12th and Filbert is available for two hours and at least $10 in purchases.

Horror on the Hudson

Part 2 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“Children are not like roads. They will not remain static over the next few years and they will not get the chance to redo these school years when the economy gets better.”

– Debra Fuchs-Ertman, Scarborough, Maine

William Paterson’s distinguished career as New Jersey’s governor and senator, and subsequently as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, is a tad tarnished by his service as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

The framers of the Constitution are habitually hailed as visionaries. Not altogether true. Paterson balked at the Virginia Plan for proportional representation in Congress. He predicted that the most populous states would dominate the agenda in Congress. Proportional representation would leave New Jersey and the other small states on the margins of power.

Paterson ultimately accepted the Connecticut Compromise that affords each state equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House.

With 8.7 million people, New Jersey is today America’s 11th most populous state, ranking immediately above Virginia. These days it seems as if the least populous states dominate the agenda, leaving the larger states – New Jersey among them – on the margins of power. Moral of this story? New Jersey and you, congested together.

More after the jump.
As Smoky the Bear might say, only you can prevent the collapse of the George Washington Bridge. If the GW crashes into the Hudson River, can you live with the scenes of twisted metal and the screams of the victims on your conscience?

As the wealthy lap up their luxury, the rest of us are now expected to find more money we do not have to rebuild our bridges and roads and supply jobs for the building trades unions.

Such is the message conveyed by our leaders in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, if indirectly through intermediaries. They refuse to raise taxes on the rich or profitable corporations, yet they want us to pay higher tolls and fees.

“The pain of higher tolls is nothing compared with the pain we would feel if the span of the George Washington Bridge collapses,” writes Mitchell Moss in a New York Daily News op-ed.

“There are dozens of critical maintenance projects like that – basic improvements that need to be made to keep things running smoothly,” the urban policy professor continued. “Contrary to popular belief, tolls are actually the best way to pay for highways and bridges.”

In a letter to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ricke C. Foster, president of the Contractors Association of Eastern Pennsylvania, writes: “The state has suffered for decades without the needed funds to invest in our highways and public transit systems. The recent recommendations by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission offer a commonsense solution to our state’s transportation problem, in particular, raising additional funds specifically from transportation users.

“The cost for a typical motorist will be only 70 cents per week in the first year, growing to a still-modest $2.50 per week by year five – less than the cost of a gallon of gasoline,” he continues. “It’s a plan that will put Pennsylvania back on track to economic recovery and provide for our long-term prosperity.”

No argument. Our infrastructure has long been deteriorating. We know that. Likewise, repair projects to this end will create many jobs. We also know that the governors of both New York and New Jersey had until then refused to raise taxes on the wealthy; NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo changed his mind in December 2011. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has rebuffed all calls for imposing a production tax on ultra-profitable corporations that have been extracting shale gas underneath Pennsylvania land.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey antagonized motorists on both sides of the Hudson when in late August 2011 it proposed massive toll hikes on its bridges and tunnels across the Hudson and its bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island.

A commission in Pennsylvania recommended increases in taxes and fees to pay for repairs of state roads, bridges and mass-transportation systems. The increases would include annual vehicle and drivers’ fees.

As a man of vision, could William Paterson have envisioned this scenario?

The Port Authority originally proposed raising tolls for E-ZPass users from $8 to $12 and drivers who pay with cash would be charged almost double, from $8 to $15 for each trip. Fares for the PA’s subway-style service known as PATH would rise from $1.75 to $2.75.

The PA mess swiftly got ugly. Letters to the editor that were published were almost unprintable. Union workers filled some hearings to argue that the toll increases would produce jobs and upgrade the infrastructure, the NY News reported.

“This plan will be a lifeline for New York City workers, but it will also be a lifeline for our city’s infrastructure,” said Bernard Callegari, a member of Construction & General Building Laborers’ Local 79.

So poor and middle-class citizens should pay higher tolls and train fares so we can give Callegari and his friends jobs – jobs that will probably provide higher salaries than many of these people currently earn.

Also, union representative Michael McGuire said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch. We have serious infrastructure needs.”

Added Local 79 member Dennis Lee, “Haven’t we learned something from (the bridge collapse in) Minnesota when all those people died? Are we looking to be a Third World nation?”

Joe Valentine, vice president of Taxpayers of Staten Island, engaged in a shouting match with a union member after saying, “They come in here and try to intimidate me and the rest of Staten Island. You people are not even from Staten Island…I want your hands out of my pocket.”

Few people would be surprised if the unions and politicians orchestrated this spectacle. The Port Authority would get its toll and fare hikes and the unions would get their jobs. Everyone else would be squeezed even more.

The unions’ conduct is a sure way to lose sympathy. Any reasonable person would be pleased for anyone to find work, but opponents of the tolls are probably anxious to see these guys waiting in long employment lines.

If the politicians were behind it, they artfully played the divide-and-conquer game.

What the union members should have done was team up with the commuters. Instead, they apparently fell for the oldest trick in the book.

What’s more, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie balked at the PA’s toll-hike proposals – even though they appoint the members of the authority. They claimed they were caught flatfooted by the news.

Nor did anyone acclaim the governors as knights in shining armor who rescued them from the high tolls. The PA reduced the toll hikes considerably, but would raise the PATH fares 25 cents each year for the next four year instead of boosting it by $1 in one year.

Is it necessary to raise tolls to fund infrastructure repairs? Some of the wealthiest people in the world live in New York and New Jersey. They were already paying extra taxes before Christie ended it in New Jersey and Cuomo agreed to let them run out in New York. Cuomo campaigned on a no-tax pledge and must contend with a Republican-controlled state Senate.

Christie sacrificed money for schools and community services to soothe the rich. As a precursor to the toll increase, fares on New Jersey Transit trains rose nearly as much as 50 percent on May 1, 2010; a round-trip from Trenton to New York increased from $21.50 to $31.

So it’s strange to read Christie’s words in The New York Post: “What’s the cost of not paying higher tolls, if in fact we stop investing in our infrastructure to the region?…It’s about creating good-paying jobs for building tradesmen and women across our state, to put them to work on these projects.”

Rob Wonderling, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, tried to justify Pennsylvania’s fee increases in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed: “Additional proposals called for generating the revenue through an increase in the annual vehicle and drivers’ fees to inflation – by $13 and $5, respectively. The fees paid by these citizens have not been adjusted since 1987.”

So a failure to adjust said fees for 24 years obligates an increase. Maybe the state can think about adjusting the fees downward.

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“I came in full of idealism – I was going to change my city,” Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s most populous city, told a New York Times reporter. “You get involved in government because you want to do more for the people, you want to show them that government can work and local government, by and large, really does work for the people.”

Finch caved to the same forces as other mayors, laying off 160 city employees. Mayors throughout the nation, gathering in Washington during late January 2011, testified to similar nightmares of cutting services, sending city workers to the unemployment lines, raising taxes and bracing for declining tax revenues and aid reductions from their own states, according to the NY Times.

The 200 mayors pressed their federal agenda as they visited President Obama and members of Congress, urging more spending on transportation and retaining the Community Development Block Grant program.

Many of these mayors expected their state governments to withhold more funds rather than help them since most states face moderate to devastating deficits. Among our largest states, California, population 36.9 billion, at the time faced a $25.4 billion deficit; Illinois, 12.9 million, $15 billion; Texas, 24.7 million, $13.4 billion; and New Jersey, $8.7 million, $10.4 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as reported in the NY Times.

Four states – Alaska, Arkansas, North Dakota and Wyoming – were not projecting shortfalls, according to the study.

The following June, mayors gathered in Baltimore where they called upon the president and Congress to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so that the money spent on military ventures could be diverted to the needs of the cities. In the preceding decade, $1.3 trillion was spent on Baghdad and Kabul.

So, cause and effect? Rats are swarming the underground. The jobless rate rises as stocks crash. Public school students confront class warfare. More blood flows on the city streets. And riots could come to a neighborhood near you.

“We have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs,” says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who keeps contractors well sustained. “That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”

Even political rival Jumaame Williams, a city councilman, is on the same page with Bloomy: “I don’t think it’s far-fetched that there could be civil unrest if people are not able to feed their families, just as it’s not far-fetched that if young people can’t get opportunities, violence will increase.”

A taste of the fallout as our societal nightmare worsened just as the 10th anniversary of 9.11 was observed. Especially as cuts imposed by state legislatures began to take effect.

Then 11 days after the anniversary, we learned that 46.2 million Americans were officially subsisting at the poverty level…in 2010. Of those, 1.6 million were living in New York City, up 75,000 from 2009, and nearly 400,000 resided in Philadelphia, up 64,000, according to New York and Philly papers.

The Census Bureau released these and other alarming figures in its 2010 American Community Survey, which reported that the national poverty rate rose from 14.3 percent to 15.1 percent in 2010, the third consecutive annual increase. However, one in five New Yorkers lived in poverty in 2010 while the poverty rate in Philadelphia rose 1.7 percent that year, from 25 to 26.7 percent. Other hard-hit cities were Los Angeles, Miami,
Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Minneapolis.

“A 1.7 percent increase from 25 percent to 26.7 percent poverty may not sound like a lot, but that’s nearly 23,000 more children, parents, brothers and sisters struggling to get by each and every day,” noted Kathy Fisher of Public Citizens for Children and Youth in Philadelphia.

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, added, “Increasing poverty is simply a confirmation of what we see every day in ever-longer lines at food pantries and soup kitchens. It is also latest proof our city and state policies are failing in fundamental ways.”

It was a real surprise on Labor Day 2011 when a rat chomped on a woman’s foot as she sat on a bench waiting for a J train, inside the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station. Half-crazed from the attack, she rushed to a service booth and was taken to a hospital. She was treated and released.

The attack was unusual, sources told The New York Daily News, because the J train platform has a low rodent population. Now the platforms for the 4, 5 and 6 trains are “a rat fest,” said a transit worker.

In the wake of heavy layoffs, union officials and employees blamed less frequent garbage collections and failure to adequately seal trash storage rooms.

“I’ve heard of rats running over people’s feet,” the transit worker said. “But I’ve never heard of anyone actually bit.”

Trenton, N.J., laid off 105 police officers, nearly one-third of the force, on Sept. 16, 2011, to save $4 million, according to the Associated Press. Mayor Tony Mack attributed the layoffs to the loss of $28 million, from $55 million, in state funds from the past year. That follows steep police layoffs in Newark, Camden and Atlantic City.

“We’re losing the streets,” said Trenton Officer Maria Chell-Starsky, laid off after six years on the force. “We might as well just hand the city over to the gang members.”

Likewise, violence rose in the two major cities linked by the New Jersey Turnpike. Philadelphia’s homicide rate increased slightly during the 9/11 weekend with seven slayings in addition to 14 nonfatal shootings, The Philadelphia Daily News reported. The following weekend, gun use in New York prompted Cuomo to spout about gun control and related issues, The New York Daily News reported.

“It has been decades where we have been fighting Washington for sensible laws controlling guns, and we need those laws passed, and we need them passed now,” the governor said.

Basic law-enforcement services have suffered in the adjoining Midwestern states of Kansas and Missouri. A controversy among three arms of government has inflamed Topeka, Ks., after the Shawnee County District Attorney refused to prosecute suspects in misdemeanor cases of domestic abuse.

After the county commission cut his $3.5 million budget by 10 percent in 2011, District Attorney Chad Taylor said, his office would cease prosecuting misdemeanor cases of domestic violence. Topeka’s City Council, in turn, voted that October to repeal a local law categorizing domestic violence as a crime, The NY Times reported. That would compel Taylor to prosecute the cases since they would remain a crime under state law.

In addition to losing money, Taylor pointed out that violent crime has increased. “I feel like my office and public safety are a priority,” he said.

Shelly Buhler, chairperson of the Shawnee County Commission, said she did not expect Taylor to follow through with his warning that he would no longer prosecute domestic violence. “We had hoped that he would not put that group of victims at risk, that he would find some other way to absorb the cuts,” she said.

“To have public officials pointing fingers while victims of domestic violence are trying to figure out who will protect them is just stunning,” said Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In Missouri, a county public defender wondered aloud: “Is someone in prison who might have been acquitted if we had had more resources?”

Rod Hackathorn, public defender for a three-county district including Ozark County, adds, “You don’t know. I’m sure that it’s happened, and I don’t know who it has happened to. And that (is) the scariest part of this all.”

Hackathorn’s district was one of two in Missouri to announce in summer 2010 that it was turning down cases because they are overburdened and lack staff to serve all defendants, The NY Times reported. Nine other districts were taking steps to follow suit, and Public Defenders in other states have either sued over their caseloads or rejected new cases.

In one instance in Missouri, Christian County Judge John S. Waters said, “It flies in the face of our Constitution. It flies in the face of our culture. It flies in the face of the reason we came over here 300 and some-odd years ago to get out of debtors’ prison…I’m not saying the public defenders aren’t overworked. I don’t know how to move his case and how to provide what the law of the land provides.”

The public defender’s office had repeatedly begged the judge to release it from representing a defendant charged with stealing prescription pain pills and a blank check because of its workload. The Missouri Supreme Court subsequently rescinded the assignment pending further court proceedings.

“What you have is a situation where the eligible pool of  clients is increasing, crime rates are potentially increasing, while the resources often for public defenders are going down,” said Jo-Ann Wallace, president and chief executive of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Public-funded legal defense for indigent citizens charged with serious crimes was required as a result of the 1963 Supreme Court ruling, Gideon v. Wainwright.

However, Missouri’s public defenders office told the Times that $21 million more than $34 million it was slated to receive in 2010 is needed to staff it adequately. That would fund 125 more attorneys, 90 more secretaries, 109 more investigators, 130 more legal assistants and more space.

Due to school program cuts in Toledo, Ohio, boxing emerged as a popular sport by February 2011. A NY Times article chronicles how hundreds of teen-agers participated in boxing clubs after the school district terminated all athletic teams for middle school students and high school freshmen. Also cut were high school cross-country, wrestling, golf and boys’ tennis teams, along with all intramural activities that include cheerleading and dance teams.

Parents are willing to pay for boxing activities, as nurse’s assistant Tambria Dixson pays $90 monthly to a gym for her three sons. “Paying for it is a struggle,” she says. “But the kids in our neighborhood who aren’t involved in athletics are getting involved in gangs. So yes, it’s worth it.”

Because the California legislature is constrained from raising taxes, the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District and other districts filed a lawsuit against the state in late September 2011 claiming that Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature illegally manipulated the state’s voter-approved education funding formula to shortchange them by $2 billion, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Brown and the legislators circumvented a mandate to allocate 40 percent of state spending on schools in 2011 by converting more than $5 billion to local monies. The teachers union agreed to the plan, but a grouping of school boards and administrators chose to file suit. “We were really terribly underfunded before the recession began three years ago,” said Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. “There just has to be a stop to those sorts of cuts.”

No argument from the legislative majority, which is Democratic, but a two-thirds majority is required to increase taxes to offset severe cuts in school aid. Republicans occupy more than one-third of the seats and, predictably, refuse to cooperate

One victim of California’s 2011 budget cuts was the Los Angeles Unified’s elementary school library system, which laid off 227 of its 430 library aides and halved the hours of another 193 aides.

Jean Ross of the California Budget Project said in a statement quoted by LATimes columnist Steve Lopez, “Policymakers should not balance state and federal budgets at the expense of the families who have been hardest hit by the economic downturn…Policymakers should focus on proven strategies for improving the state’s competitiveness – strengthening our schools, our colleges and universities, and other public structures that are fundamental to job growth and a healthy economy.”

Lopez wrote, “Don’t we deserve a full public discussion in which we can question the wisdom of destroying an elementary school library system in a district with huge reading deficiencies?”

The school system in Scarborough, Me., was confronted with losing more than $1.1 million in state money, federal stimulus funds and other revenue sources, which translates to the equivalent of 12 full-time teaching positions and part-time jobs, according to The Portland Press-Herald.

The Board of Education spent an hour on March 17, 2011, listening to 13 residents, all of whom assailed the proposed cuts. Critics pointed to how the cuts affect class size, how programs should be upgraded and not diminished and the difficulties caused by activity fees.

“Children are not like roads,” said Debra Fuchs-Ertman. “They will not remain static over the next few years and they will not get the chance to redo these school years when the economy gets better.”

As Pittsburgh riders endured a transit crisis in March 2011, George Washington probably never imagined what would become of the triangular segment of land jutting out onto the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where they formed the once-strategic Ohio River.

A case could be made that Pittsburgh’s Point State Park – first the site of Fort Duquesne and then Fort Pitt – indirectly inspired the creation of America. In 1754, then-Lt. Col. Washington led colonial troops toward that site to ensure construction of a British fort to control those waterways.

Along the way, Washington’s troops fought French soldiers in a brief battle at a spot known as Jumanville Glen. The engagement triggered events leading to the French-Indian War, which led to England’s demands for taxation to pay for the war, which set the course toward the Revolution.

Downtown Pittsburgh is located directly behind the park. It is the center of a region populated by almost 2 million people.

Yet in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ross, Tyler Boyer told a Post-Gazette reporter that he waited 70 minutes for a bus on March 28, 2011, the first weekday when severe cuts in bus service went into effect. He said four packed buses passed him until he joined with others to carpool downtown.

For five years, Kara Griffith caught a 7:27 a.m. bus in New Kensington each day to her job as a financial consultant in Pittsburgh, but on March 28 she had to start arriving at the stop at 7:05 a.m.

“The buses are packed. It’s standing room only. Some buses will pass you up,” she said. “For what I pay each month for a bus pass, and I get this kind of service? You raise your rates but give us poor service?”

One day earlier, Allegheny County’s Port Authority eliminated 29 bus routes and reduced service on 37 other routes while laying off 180 drivers and other employees. The authority blamed a $55 million deficit on the loss of state funds.

No doubt that Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and the remainder of America’s founders would feel proud and fulfilled that a great country evolved from a task that originated with them. However, they would probably be aghast to discover that an important city like Pittsburgh would be stripped of basic services provided by its transportation system.

Not to mention all the other cities, schools and towns that have been devastated in the wake of this recession.    

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Robert Hudson may well have died so the city of New York could collect a fine from his wife for neglecting to wear her seatbelt. Maybe.

If the account presented by his widow’s attorney is true, Hudson was possibly victimized by New York’s desperate search for revenues to compensate for the money it has lost over the years. New York’s practice reflects the efforts of other cities and states to raise money.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has transformed this process into an art form, but it occurs in plenty of other places, especially in large cities and populous states. For decades, taxpayers in major cities and large states have been filling up the bulk of state and federal treasuries to the point that cities and states cannot support themselves.

To break this out, the federal government receives much more money from large states than elsewhere because that’s where the money is. Not only do we have a greater number of citizens to pay taxes in these states but a high percentage of the wealthy live in places like Beverly Hills, Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Fairfield County in Connecticut.

Not to mention suburbs like Newton in Massachusetts, Bethesda in Maryland, Lower Merion in Pennsylvania and Teaneck and Cherry Hill in New Jersey.

Likewise, these cities and wealthier communities stuff the coffers of state governments in higher proportions. The statehouses in Albany, Springfield and Sacramento stay in business largely thanks to downstate New York, Chicago and vicinity and Los Angeles County.

Of $8 billion in state sales tax revenues, Pennsylvania receives one-fourth of the total from seven counties, Philadelphia and its four suburban counties and two counties around Pittsburgh, according to state documents.

What kind of money does that leave for a city or a county, or a state? When they are in trouble, they must find ways to compensate. Often, the methods are outlandish and extreme, maybe enough to induce a fatal heart attack.

An account in The New York Daily News reported that Robert Hudson, 72, drove his wife Doris, also 72, to a Queens Village pharmacy on Jan. 14 so she could obtain medicine, and she took her seat belt off when they arrived.

Two police officers arrived, accused her of not wearing the belt and told her she would receive a summons, but she had no identification with her.

Hudson’s attorney, Bonita Zelman, told a Daily News reporter that police prohibited her husband from driving home to get the identification, so instead he spent 45 minutes walking home a half-mile back and forth.

While he was gone, Mrs. Hudson obtained her medicine and the officers wrote her a summons on the basis of her name and address from the prescription, the News reported.

The Hudsons subsequently returned to the car and drove off. After driving a block or more, Robert Hudson collapsed behind the wheel and later died at Franklin Hospital.  

“There was no reason not to let him drive home,” Zelman raged. “He wasn’t the one getting the summons. Instead, they had him walk home. He tried to walk as fast as he could, but he’s 72 years old and some of the walk is uphill.”

Mrs. Hudson disputed police claims that the officers were willing to write the summons without inconveniencing Mr. Hudson.

The News quoted an unidentified police official who said the officers “showed poor judgment.”

Reading between the lines, if Mrs. Hudson’s story is true, the officers were probably under relentless pressure to return to the police station with a stack of tickets that would generate wads of cash for the city.

Police officers elsewhere in New York have complained about being forced to make quotas, and this is typical of many local and state governments, and they do this with agencies other than police departments.

The Hudson episode would be an extreme example of how New York gropes for new money, but it is no isolated incident. A few years ago, some women were each fined $250 for wading into the ocean at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn after 7 p.m. Even if they violated the law, why were the fines so steep?

Not only members of City Council but also state legislators fumed over a plan for the fire department to charge at-fault motorists $365 and $490 for any kind of car accident with the intention of raising $1 million yearly, a tiny fraction of the department’s $60 million budget gap.

“This cracks open a door that if we don’t close now, they’ll kick open and start charging fees for 911 or garbage pickup,” state Sen. Eric Adams of Brooklyn told a Daily News reporter.

Added Councilman Peter Vallone of the Astoria section of Queens: “Firefighters are supposed to provide help, not assess damage and who is to blame. They are simply not set up to be judge and jury at the scene.”

More than 3.2 million parking tickets were contested in 2010, 15 percent higher than those contested the year before, stated the 2010 Mayor’s Management Report, according to the News. More than $600 million from parking tickets were collected by the Finance Department in 2010.

New Jersey’s school aid cuts had a strange downhill impact. Gov. Chris Christie axed state aid to the schools by $1 billion to contend with the state’s $11 billion budget gap. After losing $1.5 million from the state, Haddonfield’s school district initiated a campaign to attract tuition-paying students from outside the district for 10 students per grade between sixth and 10th grades, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The primary reason is to raise revenue because of the loss of state aid,” said Superintendent Richard Perry.

School officials in the Los Angeles United School District – second largest in America – had hoped to raise up to $18 million by seeking corporate sponsorships to make a dent in budget cuts. In November, 2010, 1,000 employees were let go in a new round of layoffs, the NY Times reported.

School board members who approved the corporate sponsorship program in December found the move distasteful. “The reality is public funding is not funding public education,” Steve Zimmer said. Smaller school districts have been permitting naming rights for their stadiums for a long time, but Los Angeles is the biggest district to take this step.

The D.C. Council in Washington considered a bill in December 2010 to force homeless families to prove they reside in Washington before they can be admitted to a shelter, according to The Washington Post. Council members argued during a meeting that the homeless shelters are frequently overwhelmed.

“We cannot be the hotel for Virginia and Maryland residents,” said bill co-sponsor Tommy Wells, a Democrat.

Mary M Cheh, also a Democrat, said, “I think in its various applications it’s going to be cruel.”

When New Yorkers suffered through a mammoth snowstorm, the city could pull in $500,000 from issuing 9,910 summonses to people who failed to move their vehicles when its alternate-side parking rules resumed on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, following the deluge of snow and ice, the Times reported.

Spoiled motorists whined that their cars were still trapped by snow and ice, and therefore they could not move them to legal spots. Talk about entrapment.