SCOTUS 101: Tie Vote Brings Open Seat Into Focus

Spanish sign reads "Listen SCOTUS!"

Spanish sign reads “Listen SCOTUS!”

Though technically not a decision at all, the ruling in United States v. Texas is one of the most important in the Supreme Court’s recent cases — and it will have reverberations on the November election.

Often opinions are abstract legal documents full of arcane language spanning dozens or hundreds of pages. Accordingly, many Americans do not feel directly connected to the workings of our land’s highest court.

In contrast, although the ruling in United States v. Texas is only nine words long, its impact will be keenly felt by millions in our country. Here is the ruling in full:

The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.

This case concerned President Obama’s policy of deferring deportation and allowing employment for four million undocumented immigrants. These include immigrants with American children and the so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the United States as children and attended school here.

Since Antonin Scalia passed away in February, the Supreme Court has been left with only eight justices on the bench. While the ruling in United States v. Texas is unsigned, it can be assumed that the four liberal justices (Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) wanted to overrule the lower court, while the four conservative justices (Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito) wanted to affirm its ruling that Obama’s deferred action policy constituted an unconstitutional expansion of presidential authority.

Today, the Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision. This is part of the consequence of the Republican failure so far to give a fair hearing to Mr. Merrick Garland, my nominee to the Supreme Court. It means that the expanded set of common-sense deferred action policies — the ones that I announced two years ago — can’t go forward at this stage, until there is a ninth justice on the Court to break the tie.

Republicans refuse to even consider any possible replacement for Scalia until January when the next president takes office.

While many Americans seemed unconcerned that our country’s highest court will be short-handed for an unprecedented length of time, while this split decision sets no legal precedent, and while (according to the United States Circuit Court for the Fifth Circuit’s earlier ruling) the secretary of Homeland Security’s ability to marshal and deploy department resources is not enjoined or impaired, it is painfully obvious that the ruling in this case will have enormous consequences: Millions of families are now in an uncertain legal situation; they may fear deportation if picked up on an unrelated matter; and they will have difficulty obtaining legal employment.

"[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court..."

“[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court…”

One does not have to be a legal scholar or a political pundit to intuit how this 4-4 split would have been avoided had the Senate filled its constitutional duty to provide its “advice and consent” and consider the president’s judicial nominees.

This election provides a stark contrast that will be easily understood by voters, especially those with friends or family at risk of being deported or forcefully separated from a loved one.

On one side, we have a party whose senators refuse to meet Obama’s nominee, Justice Merrick Garland; whose representatives refused to consider “Dreamer” legislation; and whose presidential nominee wants to build a wall on our borders, doubts the qualifications of Hispanic judges and advocates banning immigrants of certain faiths.

While on the other side, we have a presidential candidate who stands up for “Dreamers.”

I’m going to do everything I can so you don’t have to be scared. And you don’t have to worry about what happens to your mom or your dad or anyone else. I feel really, really strongly, but you’re being very brave and you have to be brave for them too. Because they want you to be happy. Let me do the worrying. I’ll do all the worrying. Is that a deal? I’ll do everything I can to help, OK?

As president, who would these candidates appoint to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court? And how would their judicial nominees break this deadlock when this issue is inevitably re-litigated before the Supreme Court?

If anyone doubted that the fate of the Supreme Court would weigh heavily on the presidential and congressional elections this November, I think this 4-4 non-decision puts the case to rest.

Invocation for Texas Democratic State Convention

The dimming of America’s liberty, justice and mitzvah-centered, rather-than self-centered approach to existence is sad and frightening. Here are words of inspiration given by my colleague,
Rabbi Dan Gordon, June 9, 2012 at the Texas Democratic State Convention. As the daughter of a veteran, of blessed memory, I appreciate his words all the more.

Invocation follows the jump.
Dear Heavenly Parent,

Source of all Life and all Being. Our G-d of all of our ancestors, we, Your children, worship and revere You in many languages, from many churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, households, meeting houses and fellowships.

We come to You today as a united country and peoplehood, praying for the guidance to make wise decisions and to empower a leadership in their wisdom.

By beginning this day with prayer, I invite each person here, every Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Quaker, Baha’i, Jane, Sikh, Unitarian, Deist, Atheist and others, to connect with your own spirit of unity for humanity.  

Today, we are Americans. Today we are Texans.  Praying that choices we make today will better the lives of all Texans, all Americans and all humankind.

For our prayer to be valid and heartfelt, we must put aside selfish concerns and be aware the needs of all.  We must share the goal of improving the lives of others. We must show appreciation for the courageous men and women, past and present, who have bravely defended our freedom; and we must work every day toward the goal of re-creating a country and world that honors that spirited military service.  

In the Bible’s description of the beginning of the world, we are taught that every day, at the end of the day, G-d gave His sacred work a grade:  He called it “good.”  At the end of six days, He called it “very good.”  But the seventh day, was blessed — not called “good” or “very good,” but “holy.”  

Today, my friends, is the Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day that tradition teaches, “G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”  We pray, dear G-d, that today, the seventh day of the week, the work we do will be better than good, better than very good, as we strive to reach the level of holiness.  

For what could be more holy, than working toward the goal that our Founding Fathers established on July 4, 1776 – allowing for all people the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Within those unalienable rights, I pray our Founding Fathers and our present day leaders always include the rights to pursue, health, education and employment.  

Our work today is holy — because as we know, what happens in Texas does not stay in Texas!  

As we look for guidance from Scripture, we recall one of Your most sacred teachings from Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 that states “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.”  This teaching begins with the word “Hear” and ends with the word “One.”  We need to hear each other to become one Nation under G-d.  

My prayer is not about defeating an opponent or denigrating someone’s character.  My prayer is for those who have chosen public service to truly serve the public.  My prayer is for our leaders, delegates and citizens to listen to each other, to hear the needs of our people, and to unite into one unified, spirited and holy nation.
As we embark on this sacred journey, our task is to make certain that the United States of America will always be a light unto the nations, the unquestioned example of goodness, righteousness, fairness and justice.  

I am honored and humbled to be the messenger to bless this delegation.  I can think of no better blessing than the one found in Numbers, Chapter 6, when the leadership of the time, Moses and Aaron, bless those who journey toward a Promised Land.  I offer the same blessing to you on your journey, to do the sacred work of leading us.

May GD bless you and watch over you.
May G-d’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May G-d’s presence shine upon you and grant you peace.

And we all say, Amen.

G-d Bless you and G-d bless America.

Texas Republican Party Platform Opposes Critical Thinking

The Republican Party of Texas’ recently adopted 2012 platform contains a plank that opposes the teaching of “critical thinking skills” in schools.

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The “American Dream” video on the right from George Carlin might explain why…

DOJ Rejects Texas Voting Law. What Does That Mean For Pennsylvania?

Daylin Leach, Al Sharpton speak about Voter ID

Crossposted from the Brennan Center of Justice’s Redistricting Blog

— by Erik Opsal

The Department of Justice objected to Texas’ voter ID law Monday, determining the law would discriminate against minority voters, particularly Hispanics.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a letter to the Texas director of elections.

The same day, the Brennan Center and other legal groups moved to intervene to stop the restrictive photo ID law, which will also be reviewed in federal court. The motion, on behalf of the Texas NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, argues the law erects unnecessary barriers to voting and disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of minority voters.

“Decades ago, our nation passed the Voting Rights Act to combat this kind of discrimination,” said Brennan Center Senior Counsel Myrna Pérez. “We urge the federal court to stand up for voters by blocking this law.”

This news comes just days after a Houston Chronicle analysis found that Texas’ voter ID law “could affect as many as 2.3 million registered voters.”

Court Rejects Voter Suppression Efforts

As November approaches, voter intimidation looms as a next battleground. A federal court in Philadelphia last week made clear the limits to what is allowed.

The judge upheld a long-standing consent decree prohibiting the Republican National Committee from using improper election tactics. The consent decree specifically bars the organization from using voter challengers, poll watchers, and a practice known as “vote caging” to target and intimidate voters of color.

“Under the agreement, the Republican National Committee must obtain court approval before implementing certain poll-monitoring activities in minority precincts,” Reuters reports.

The court’s opinion described how poll watchers and poll challengers have the potential to disenfranchise lawful voters by causing delays, crowding, and confusion inside the polling place and creating a charged partisan atmosphere that can intimidate many new voters. Here’s an analysis of these past problems.

With the 2012 election fast approaching, it is important for state officials to ensure other political groups — not just the RNC — follow the law and refrain from using poll watchers to intimidate or discriminate against voters, writes the Brennan Center’s Nic Riley.

Pennsylvania Update

The state Senate passed a voter ID bill, which the House is expected to vote on today. Opponents of the bill are still fighting, saying it limits a basic right. Read more here and here. Read an op-ed opposing the law from Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center.

You Can Play Ball… And Keep Shabbat Too

Yesterday Annette Powers wrote about the Robert M. Beren Academy’s basketball team which had qualified for the semifinals but could not participate because the  Texas Asscociation of Private and Parochial Schools refused to accomodate their observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

This story has a happy ending. Not only did it serve to unify the Jewish people as the Union for Reform Judaism petitioned the TAPPS to reschedule the game, but this petition along with a chorus of other voices prevailed upon the TAPPS who reversed course and will start the semi-final early to allow the Orthodox Jewish Beren Stars to compete.

A statement from the Beren Academy follows the jump.
Robert M. Beren Academy (RMBA) is pleased to announce that the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) has informed us that they will reschedule the Class 2A basketball schedule to permit the RMBA team to play this Friday without violating our Sabbath.

We are thankful to the TAPPS for ultimately making the right decision. The school administration and board was not involved in any legal action and we regret that it took a law suit filed parents to bring about this decision.

We greatly appreciate the strong outpouring of support from so many. We thank Mayor Anise Parker, Senator John Cornyn and others from throughout the city of Houston, the great state of Texas, the United States, and around the world. We particularly want to acknowledge the many member schools in TAPPS who supported efforts to change the schedule to enable our boys to play. Special thanks to Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School, for allowing us to reschedule the start time of the regional finals round game on Friday, February 24th.

We are very proud of our basketball team, the Beren Stars.  Not only have the boys demonstrated considerable skill on the court this season, they have handled the stress of the past week with extraordinary maturity and composure.  We also thank Coach Cole, the RMBA Athletic Director, for his outstanding leadership.

The Beren Stars look forward to competing in the state semi-final round tomorrow afternoon.

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.

___________________________________________________

“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.    

___________________________________________________

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.    

Obama’s Right Wing Critics Should Be Dizzy from All their Spinning

— by Marc R. Stanley

Ever since President Barack Obama’s inauguration, his right wing critics have devoted countless hours and millions of keystrokes to spinning the President’s record of support for Israel so far from reality that it threatens the historical bipartisan foundation of American support for Israel. The vortex of right wing spin was fully on display last week as Republican partisans and right wing pundits pounced on selectively-chosen quotes and inaccurate media reports to continue their baseless attacks on Obama’s stellar record of support for Israel.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered-in front of a pro-Israel crowd gathered to substantively and civilly discuss Israel-an entire address that discussed the actual steps taken by the Obama Administration to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Right wingers took five words from the question and answer section, removed their context, and ran wild with them as if they nullified every pro-Israel action described in Panetta’s speech.

More after the jump.
Despite what you may have heard or read, Panetta-who is widely regarded as being pro-Israel by many involved with the issue-made two things crystal clear. First, “Israel will always have the unshakeable backing of the United States,” and second, that the President is considering a “wide range of military options” as part of his approach to stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

As usual though, Republicans overlooked Panetta’s positive statements and continued their effort to make Israel a partisan wedge issue. The spin on Panetta’s speech was so far removed from reality that the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee weighed in and criticized the inaccurate reports of Panetta’s speech, in addition to setting the record straight on his strongly pro-Israel statements.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton-also a stalwart supporter of Israel-received similar treatment following an off-the-record session during the same Israel forum that Panetta spoke at. Clinton reportedly expressed concern over certain recent Knesset bills and incidents regarding women and Israel’s Orthodox community. Predictably, Obama’s right wing critics spun Clinton’s reported comments past the point of reality, and largely ignored the mainstream American Jewish leaders and organizations that vocally expressed similar concerns about similar issues.

These two recent incidents highlight the lengths that Obama’s right wing detractors will go to malign his Administration’s stellar record of support for Israel. After vocally opposing the Palestinians’ unilateral state declaration, increasing security cooperation with Israel to unprecedented levels-including supplemental funding for the Iron Dome missile system that protects Israelis from Hamas’ rockets, consistently defending Israel’s legitimacy at the United Nations, personally intervening to save Israel’s diplomats in Cairo, and personally authorizing the delivery of any equipment Israel needed to fight the Carmel fire, Obama’s naysayers simply have little substance to criticize.

As a result, those seeking to make Israel a partisan wedge issue create bogus stories based on inaccurate media reports and remarks taken out of context. Most seriously though, right wing partisans politicize the occasional tactical disagreements that have zero act on the fundamental core principles of the U.S.-Israel relationship. When Israeli and American leaders state publically that the U.S.-Israel relationship is as strong as it has ever been-as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren have all loudly and repeatedly stressed-right wing partisans tune out and keep pushing their spin and smears. Their hope is that their efforts will bring the mass exodus of Jews from Democratic Party to the Republican Party that they’ve been wishing for since at least the 1980’s.

Recent polls of American and Israeli Jews indicate that the right wing spin of Obama’s Israel record is not causing the massive Israel-based shift that Republicans want to see. Given the wide distance separating the Republican presidential field from the majority of American Jews, right wing partisans should be dizzy to the point of sickness by now. But since the GOP-from Party leaders to presidential candidates to rank-and-file members of Congress-has demonstrated its intent to politicize the U.S.-Israel relationship without regard to Obama’s actual record, those who support a strong bipartisan consensus of support for Israel must speak out loudly to refute the spin before the relationship suffers collateral damage from their partisan attacks.

Originally published in the Texas Jewish Post. Marc R. Stanley is the Chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Democratic Party is Improving Their Messaging

 

Here, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks frankly about our the cause of our national debt and leads with her values.

Next, the DNC releases a hard hitting video highlighting the inappropriate cheering during the Republican presidential debates and notes none of the candidates said anything.  

Latinos, Jews in Landmark Conference in Texas

— Elie Bennett

Ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich in Surprise Visit to Event

Over 100 Jewish and Latino leaders from across the US conducted a milestone dialogue conference today in San Antonio. The event was chaired by ex-HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and veteran Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, both from San Antonio.

More after the jump.
 
The gathering’s honorary chair was San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. It was organized by Cisneros’ and Scheinberg’s group, Bridges & Pathways (www.bridgesandpathways.org), and was co-hosted by The Netanya Academic College’s S. Daniel Abraham Strategic Dialogue Center and The World Jewish Congress. Other partners included the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, B’nai B’rith International and the Anti Defamation League.

Cisneros outlined three key subjects for discussion: education, immigration and national security, especially as it relates to US foreign policy regarding Israel.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a likely Republican Presidential contender, accepted a late invitation to address both electorally influential groups, the Jewish and Hispanic voters. Gingrich walked a tight line between his immigration-friendly audience and many of his conservative supporters who favor tighter immigration regulations.

“Someone who illegally entered America last Tuesday should not have the right to stay,” he said, but acknowledged that “very few expect the U.S. to deport 11 or 12 million people who have lived here for years, work hard and pay their taxes. Our approach must deal with reality on the ground while enforcing rule by law.”

Cisneros said that “one of the most important things to be done is to encourage Latino influentials to visit and see for themselves the miracle that is Israel.” Mayor Castro accepted this challenge and announced his own plans for a first visit to Israel in July 2011, heading a delegation of business and civic leaders from San Antonio.

Rabbi Scheinberg urged the leaders present to “replicate this important forum all over America, in tens of cities.”

Although consensus prevailed amongst the participants, evenly drawn from both groups, a new poll initiated by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, headed by Rabbi Marc Schneier, did underscore some important differences.

Where 56% of the Jews surveyed instinctively supported Israel and found US policies not sufficiently favorable to Israel, far fewer Latinos shared these views. Jews and Latinos alike believe that anti-Semitism exists within the Latino community in America, whereas neither group senses significant anti-Latino feelings within the communities.

Calling on Republican Leaders to Condemn Antisemitism in Texas GOP


Texas Speaker of the House, Joe Strauss (R) is a member of Reform Synagogue Temple Beth-El in San Antonio.

— Marc. R Stanley and David A. Harris

It is appalling and shocking that in this day and age, leaders of Texas’ Republican Party have injected charged religious rhetoric into the race for Speaker of the House. Just a few weeks ago, emails appeared calling for current Speaker Joe Strauss, a Jewish Republican from San Antonio, to be ousted in favor of ‘conservative Christian leadership.’ Now another email chain has surfaced, this time between two members of the State Republican Executive Committee, Rebecca Williamson and John Cook, echoing that sentiment. Adding insult to injury, we now have a member of the State Republican Executive Committee insisting that Christians ‘do the best jobs over all,’ and invoking the dreaded ‘some of my best friends are Jews’ line.

“When I got involved in politics, I told people I wanted to put Christian conservatives in leadership positions,” he [John Cook] told me [Abby Rapoport of the Texas Observer], explaining that he only supports Christian conservative candidates in Republican primary races.

“I want to make sure that a person I’m supporting is going to have my values. It’s not anything about Jews and whether I think their religion is right or Muslims and whether I think their religion is right. … I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. They’re the people that do the best jobs over all.” …

Cook said his opposition was not about Straus’ religion, although he prefers Christian candidates.

“They’re some of my best friends,” he said of Jews, naming two friends of his. “I’m not bigoted at all; I’m not racist” … Cook was absolute that his position was not bigoted.

“My favorite person that’s ever been on this earth is a Jew,” he said. “How can they possibly think that if Jesus Christ is a Jew, and he’s my favorite person that’s ever been on this earth.

This invocation of religion and dialogue asserting that ‘Jews and other non-Christians need not apply for GOP leadership positions in Texas’ is completely unacceptable and has no place in our public discourse. It is detrimental to our political process and, among so many other things, erodes community and interfaith relations. Unfortunately, this type of extremist rhetoric is nothing new; we have seen certain leaders and members of the Republican Party bring religion into the conversation repeatedly in previous election cycles. It’s repugnant, and it has to stop.

Republican leaders cannot continue to sit idly by while the extremist factions of their Party continue to grow and grow. National Republican leaders, including incoming House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, must immediately condemn the actions of their fellow Party leaders and members and call on them to apologize for this well-documented, egregious behavior.

This is yet another example of how the agenda of the increasingly extremist and growing right wing simply does not reflect the values of the American Jewish community. The GOP claims to be engaging in a significant outreach effort to the American Jewish community, but given that this is how Republican leaders continue to go about it, it is not surprising that the dramatic majority of American Jews continue to support the Democratic Party.”

Marc R. Stanley of Dallas, Texas is the Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, and David A. Harris is the President and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council.