A Good List To Be On: The NRA’s Blacklist

Do people still get blacklisted in America?  

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action has published a list of “organizations, corporations, publications, and celebrities that have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations.” It features a lot of Jews and Jewish groups:

  • American Jewish Committee
  • American Jewish Congress
  • Jewish Labor Committee
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • B’nai B’rith
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Hadassah
  • Rabbi Paul Menitaff
  • Rabbi David Saperstein
  • Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
  • Actor Ed Asner
  • Actor and Producer Mel Brooks
  • Actor Hal Linden
  • Actor Leonard Nimoy
  • Actor Jerry Seinfeld
  • Actor Henry Winkler
  • Mayor Ed Koch z’l

They have also blacklisted medical groups such as the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the National Association of Public Hospitals and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the League of Women Voters of the United States, and the National Association of Police Organizations.

Read the complete list. I think you will agree that this is the sort of “blacklist” any self-respecting organization would like to be on.

Overcooking California’s election process

That Uncle Leo from “Seinfeld” once accused a cook at Monk’s of anti-Semitism because he overcooked a hamburger. Imagine how he would characterize California’s new election system, which by chance or conspiracy has caused Jewish Angelenos unspeakable horrors.

…With apologies to the late, great actor Len Lesser who portrayed Uncle Leo and lived near Los Angeles.

Poor Jewish Angelenos.

California’s new “top-two” primary must be an anti-Semitic plot. Uncle Leo of “Seinfeld” would conclude nothing less, especially since an Austrian-born governor signed off on it. Recall that Uncle Leo once accused a cook of anti-Semitism for overcooking a hamburger.
The state’s first “top-two” primary should be its last. It produced two general election contests that must be torture for every voter who lives in the newly-drawn 30th and 33rd congressional districts – where the vast majority of Jewish Angelenos live. Many a righteous gentile is suffering along with them.

Two veteran Jewish Democratic representatives – Howard Berman and Brad Sherman – are fighting (now, almost literally) for much of the San Fermando Valley, the 30th, because their districts are being merged. Democrat Henry Waxman, by all accounts a highly respected representative, faces a Republican-turned-independent who will not give straight answers on domestic issues. Both Waxman and his rival, Bill Bloomfield, are Jewish.

More after the jump.
I swiftly came to envy Jewish Angelenos during a much-too-brief visit to L.A. last December. Loved the beaches, appreciated the courtesy of most Angelenos and enjoyed the vitality.

Now a plague has fallen over the landscape that is almost as disastrous as a….okay, so it is not quite so horrid as a 7.5-scale earthquake.

Both the Waxman and Berman-Sherman elections exemplify why the “top-two” primary was, is and will be a bad idea.
Had the designers of this plan surveyed past elections, they would have learned that fewer voters turn out in primaries than general elections. Put another way: Who doesn’t know that primary turnout is much lower than general election turnout? That means fewer people determine the line-up.

The intention of the new process is laudatory. The “top-two” primary is intended to dilute partisan influence. The system allows candidates of all stripes – Democrat, Republican, third party or independent – to run in a single open primary in congressional elections and other contests. The two candidates with the greatest number of votes will face off in the general election.

It opens the door for independent candidates, but the results of the first primary last June 5 were underwhelming. Four independents broke through, but three eked out low numbers allowing them to face incumbents who each won large majorities (two Democrats and a Republican).

The exception is Henry Waxman. He has won every election since 1975 with a minimum of 60 percent of the vote, yet he emerged from the primary with 45 percent. He faces an independent who calls Congress “hyper-partisan.”
Whether Waxman is “hyper-partisan” is open to question, but he is no doubt accomplished. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, passed major anti-pollution legislation and helped initiate early versions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Health-care reform would hardly be a personal priority for his constituents in Malibu, Beverly Hills and other ultra-wealthy communities. Redistricting removed 45 percent of his constituents, mostly on L.A.’s west side, and added expensive coastal real estate south of Los Angeles International Airport, a.k.a. LAX.

I watched Waxman chair a committee meeting in 2008 on complicated financial matters, yet after awhile it was clear that the Bush administration was vulnerable to criminal prosecution. It takes an intelligent, diligent worker bee to accomplish that much.

Bloomfield is running as an independent who previously contributed $285,000 to Republicans. His stated reason for running: “You’ve got people in Congress who basically think that their job is to politick 24/7. The hyper-partisanship is causing the gridlock.”

How does Waxman contribute to that concern? In a Jewish Journal article, Bloomfield makes no case and Waxman’s record, in fact, suggests otherwise.

The Journal piece describes Bloomfield as having “avoided picking sides on a number of issues that have divided Congress” and lamented passage of health-reform without support from any Republicans, but refused to say how he would have voted.

We need independents because Congress and other political offices need average citizens with lots of fresh ideas who are not held back by partisan influence. One would think Bloomfield is full of new attitudes and reflects the perspective of people who lack a political home.

Jews in the Valley have been compelled to endure an election contest between Berman and Sherman not once but twice. They were the main players during the primary and now they are engaged in what amounts to a rematch.
As Democrats with similar liberal voting records, these guys have as much in common politically as any pair of contestants. Incredibly, $11 million has been spent on this election, which The Los Angeles Times described as one of the nation’s most expensive.

It almost turned into a literal slugfest earlier during a debate this month when Sherman disputed Berman’s lead sponsorship of the Dream Act, an immigration reform bill, and Berman called his rival “delusional.” Berman appeared to approach Sherman, who yelled, “Don’t you dare stand up here in the west San Fernando Valley and get in my face! Get away from me!”

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, Sherman put his arm around Berman and said, “You want to get into this? You want to put your face in mine?”

Sherman is 57 and Bermain is 71. This incident occurred in Woodland Hills, which The Jewish Journal tagged as the most populous Jewish community in Los Angeles. A sheriff separated them.

The general-election line-up was determined by a minority of voters because of low turnout during primaries. General election voters could respond to their choice with anger and confusion.

It is too late to relieve the current suffering of our California brethren, but a repeat can be avoided. Revert to closed primaries and establish a ranked preference process in the general election known as Instant Runoff Voting.
On its Web site, the Center for Voting and Democracy describes how Instant Runoff Voting would work: “IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, but can vote without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their more preferred candidates.

“First choices are then tabulated, and if a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If nobody has a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs are simulated, using each voter’s preferences indicated on the ballot. The weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters’ ballots are redistributed to next choices until a candidate earns a majority of votes.”

Time for Sacramento to cease overcooking elections. Let my people (and all righteous gentiles) vote…in an election process that makes sense.

The Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City

KD Lang, Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfeld, and the Temptations

Philadelphia has a vibrant music, cultural, and arts scene and we are fortunate to have the Wilma Theatre, The Walnut, InterAct, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre and avante garde companies like the Pig Iron.  Broad Street is a culture maven’s paradise.

More after the jump.  
Labor Day marks beginnings and endings:  the end of summer, the beginning of school, the end of blueberries, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.   Only an hour drive from Philadelphia, you can still take a walk on the Atlantic City boardwalk and take in a show at the Borgata Hotel.   The fall season at the Borgata Music Box and Event Center is filled with big names like Art Garfunkel, Tony Bennett, and The Temptations.

On Friday, August 17, Canadian pop and country singer-songwriter KD Lang performed a 90 minute set at the intimate Borgata Music Box Theatre.  She transported her devoted fans with standards like “Constant Craving” and “Miss Chatelaine.”   Lang’s version of Leonard’s Cohen “Hallelujah” was by far the most moving song in a vast and varied repertoire.  Lang closed the evening by paying homage to her “mentor” and duet partner, Tony Bennett.  

Lang is not just a singer, but a grand performer.   She fills the stage with her diva presence; she dances, jokes and banters with the audience: “They’ll be no hate’in here tonight” she said, with a smile on her face. Lang, 50, is best known for her 1992 hit “Constant Craving,” which won her a Grammy for best pop vocal performance. In 1989, she shared a Grammy with Roy Orbison for their collaboration on “Crying” and won for best female country vocal performance for her album “Absolute Torch and Twang.” In 2003, she and Tony Bennett won the Grammy for best traditional pop vocal for their standards CD, “A Wonderful World.”

“The Siss Boom Bang – they bring an extra-special zest to the record, performing it live in the studio,” she said in a video interview for Australia’s Art Nation. “The collaborative energy of having six people involved is really important. Plus, the songwriting process was really, really fun and superfast, so the momentum of the record seemed to gather steam and never peter out. It all happened very fast. We went into the studio with a session booked. The second we started recording, it was obvious there was something special about the group of people. After three days, we recorded eight songs. The band was integral to the sound of the record, so I just thought in all fairness it was k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang because they were so much a part of the record.”

So even though on this rainy Labor Day we feel summer slipping away, only a hour’s ride away is the ocean, the boardwalk, and the Borgata Hotel with a fabulous line-up of cultural events this season.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
One Borgata Way
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
General Information: 1 609 317 1000
[email protected]

Mr. Costanza goes to Washington…and keeps the filibuster

Part 7 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“This is how they negotiate in the Bizarro World’
– Jerry Seinfeld to George Costanza, and perhaps to Harry Reid

Harry Reid negotiates the George Costanza way, as they do in Seinfeld’s Bizarro World.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, reached an accord with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Jan. 27, 2011, to retain the filibuster power that Republicans earlier employed to block any kind of government-run health-care system and persist with tax cuts for the wealthy.

Reid and Mitchell’s pact allows Republican senators to submit nearly all the amendments they want to a given measure, and in return Republicans will limit their use of the filibuster.

More after the jump.
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said, “There is nothing that touches the impact of the filibuster on amendments and nothing that touches the impact on bills, so we still may see the same obstruction we’ve seen before.”

Merkley’s fears were realized on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, when Democrats proposed ending tax breaks for five major oil companies accused of unfairly padding industry profits, according to The New York Times. The measure would have passed if a majority vote was sufficient, but the 52-48 vote fell short of the 60 votes required to end debate.

Even more deplorable developments swiftly came to light. Senate Republicans have blocked the confirmations of a wide range of presidential nominees, prompting two of them to withdraw their nominations. The same GOP senators also refused to reauthorize a 46-year-old economic program which they automatically supported in the past.

On the day after the oil subsidy vote, Reid issued a fundraising e-mail distributed for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in which he complained: “It’s a no-brainer: Big Oil doesn’t need taxpayer subsidies. After all, the five largest oil companies raked in profits of $32 billion in the first quarter of 2011 – while Americans are paying four bucks a gallon at the pump. And yet, they continue to collect billions in tax dollar handouts at a time when we need to cut spending.

“It’s unfair, and MUST stop. But last night, Republicans derailed a Democratic bill that would end this double-fisted cash grab and save $21 billion.”

Another “no-brainer”: Big Senate doesn’t need a filibuster. Four months ago, Reid “derailed a Democratic bill that would end this double-fisted” power grab and save us all lots of aggravation.

Merkley was joined in January by Tom Harkin of Iowa and Tom Udall of New Mexico in a bid to “to end this double-fisted” filibuster power

Any senator can filibuster, or threaten to filibuster, proposed legislation without taking to the floor to make their case, as James Stewart did in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Senate needs 60 votes to end a filibuster, not a plain majority of 51 votes. The process is called cloture.

The trio pressed for a resolution to require that all senators who invoke the filibuster must address the legislation on the floor. Most Democrats voted for the measure, but it could neither get past the 67-vote barrier nor even a majority vote.

On a typical day, you can compare just about any antics in the Senate to Jerry Seinfeld’s Bizarro World. Seinfeld fans should recall that George spoiled their talks with NBC to produce a show about “nothing” because he was aggrieved that their $13,000 offer fell way short of Ted Danson’s package.

Once the magnitude of his blunder dawned on him, George begged for reconsideration. NBC offered $8,000 this time.

Jerry explained to George that the idea of negotiations “is to get your price up, not down. This is how they negotiate in the Bizarro World.”

Or how Harry Reid negotiates in the Senate.

Reid has worked hard to press for legislation that would benefit the public, but how does it help anyone to hand the Republicans a decisive weapon like the filibuster?

Why? Reid in the past defended the filibuster when Republicans controlled the Senate, and Democratic senators feared losing this device if they return to the minority. Democrats also might have feared that they would be demonized by the Republicans if they curbed or ended the filibuster.

Democrats might have sustained some political damage in the short term, but they would have ensured themselves a level playing field if they took decisive action against the filibuster.

Reid’s negotiating style reflects the operational patterns in the Senate, which can also be known as Bizarro Washington World. You cannot pass a measure with a majority vote, but 41 votes – or 41 percent – can be allowed to obstruct legislation?

When Harkin, Merkley and Udall sought to revise the filibuster rule, three of their GOP counterparts intent on retaining the filibuster proved that Jimmy Stewart’s legacy for his classic, fictitious filibuster is safe.

The day prior to the debate, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander recited a quote from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at a Heritage Foundation function on Jan. 4, 2011, that the filibuster gives a senator “the right to talk your head off.” Alexander lied his head off when he claimed that the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through” the Senate in March 2010. Obama and congressional Democrats repeatedly reached out to Republicans and watered down the law in hopes of ending their filibuster.

Alexander contended that a 60-vote threshold to end debate allows for a “consensus” among senators so that legislation has more broad-based support. The price for this consensus is weakening laws so they provide minimal aid to average citizens and give business interests hefty concessions.

Many jobless citizens received unemployment pay for the next 13 months because Obama acceded to Republican demands in December, 2011, to continue tax cuts for the wealthy another two years.

Both Alexander and former Sen. John E. Sununu (New Hampshire) suggested that the Constitution’s framers created the filibuster. As Harkin pointed out, the Constitution authorizes each chamber to make its own rules, not establish the rules itself. Their suggestion was made during Alexander’s televised remarks and a Boston Globe commentary written by Sununu.

Also on television, Pat Roberts of Kansas rambled on for several minutes, recalling that Democrats opposed filibuster adjustments when Republicans controlled the Senate. That must mean that two wrongs make a right.

John Cornyn of Texas crowed that anyone who tries to change Senate rules is “playing with fire.”

The filibuster issue surfaced in the public consciousness as Republicans employed the filibuster to obstruct Democratic legislation, particularly the health-care plan and elimination of tax cuts for the rich.

Earlier in 2010, hearings on the filibuster rule were held before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. Had Alexander, Roberts and Cornyn followed the proceedings, they would have learned much about the history of the Senate where they have served for a combined 30 years.

Next excerpt: A Burr (as in VP Aaron Burr) in the Senate

National Museum of American Jewish History Opening

Long-time board members and supporters of NMAJH, Lyn and George Ross, have their names emblazoned on the new museum.

Bonnie Squires

One of the great mysteries surrounding the evolution of the new National Museum of American Jewish History site was solved at a press preview right before the official opening and dedication of NMAJH.  For months I had been wondering – how could Patrick Gallagher, the “interpretive designer” who worked so closely with Gwen Goodman, Executive Director Emerita, the board of trustees, and the new CEO Michael Rosenzweig, have translated the vision of Goodman and her board into the amazing new building on Inde
pendence Mall?

I mean – you don’t have to be Jewish to love bagels and lox.  But do you have to be Jewish to interpret the history of Jews in America into a museum which will speak to all ages, all ethnic groups, all different expressions of Judaism, all the immigrant groups in American society?

Some of the older artifacts in the new museum, like this pile of immigrant suitcases, look outstanding in their new home.

So I asked Gallagher, as he stood next to Goodman, after the press conference.  And he answered, “I’m Jewish!”  Now at first I thought he was joking – until Goodman confirmed that yes, indeed, Patrick was Jewish.    Gallagher had converted to Judaism in his twenties when he was getting married.

And like other people who have studied their way into Judaism, instead of simply having been born into the religion, Gallagher probably knows a lot more about Jewish history, traditions, customs and practices than many of those born Jewish.

Gwen Goodman, Executive Director Emerita of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Patrick Gallagher, the interpretive designer of the new museum.

For ten years, Goodman and her board worked with Gallagher & Associates, in creating the core exhibition. The new museum has been designed by the internationally acclaimed architectural firm Polshek Partnership Architects.

The grand opening gala will feature performances by Bette Midler and Jerry Seinfeld, along with seminars by academics and a ribbon-cutting featuring Vice President Joe Biden.  Nearly one thousand patrons and sponsors will attend the gala concert and dinner, with national figures flying in from around the country.

And as Polshek explained, the beacon atop the glass and terra cotta structure will act as a reflection of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, a call to freedom; a reminder of the Eternal LIght which shines in every synagogue around the world; as well as a reflection of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, American icons of freedom, just across the street from the new National Museum of American Jewish History.

The move to Independence Mall included the 19th century statue, now situated on the Caroline and Sidney Kimmel Plaza, which was a gift from the Jewish community of Philadelphia.

Photo credits: Bonnie Squires

Explaining the mission of the NMAJH are (left to right) architect James Polshek and NMAJH CEO Michael Rosenzweig.