Dan Loeb is a mathematician, publisher and genealogist. He is the publisher and founder of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. His genealogy website www.loebtree.com includes about 30,000 individuals with certain branches going back to biblical times. After completing his doctorate in Mathematics at MIT, Dr. Loeb moved to France in 1989 where he taught mathematics and computer science at the University of Bordeaux. He returned to the United States in 1996, where he is now working in statistical arbitrage for Susquehanna International Group.
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice's Networking Central column features different groups which make a difference in our community.
This year, I have been fortunate enough to participate in the Center for Progressive Leadership's 2011 Pennsylvania Political Leaders Fellowship program. Over the coming months, I hope to share some of the lessons that I have learned, but first I would like to give you an opportunity to learn about CPL.
The Pennsylvania Political Leaders Fellowship is a nine-month, part-time leadership development program for a select group of organizational leaders, future candidates, community organizers, and progressive activists from across the state.
The CPL Fellowship Class of 2011
Each fellow has his or her own unique experience, background, passion and vision, and I appreciate the chance to get to know them and learn from them. Some want to help protect the environment, others want to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, or mentor disadvantaged youths in their community, or strength public schools, etc. CPL does not tell people what kind of progressive change to be passionate about, but it help people get it touch with their own values, hone their message and learn the political skills necessary to bring about change.
The Center for Progressive Leadership is building local, state-based leadership institutes across the country to develop diverse progressive leaders that are the networks for progressive change. Through long-term investments in targeted recruitment, training, and mentorship, CPL is building the foundation for that change with thousands of new future candidates, political staff, and organizers taking leadership roles in their communities.
My training has taken me to Philadelphia, Reading, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. I have been forced to identify the values I stand for, relate those values to the progressive change I seek, and use effective messaging techniques to advance my values.
We are also learning fundraising skills, and I would like to pay back CPL for all I have learned by urging you to support the Center for Progressive Leadership.
Help CPL keep the program affordable to people who have a vision for change but lack the resources to make that vision a reality. CPL charges fellows a nominal $1,050 tuition for the nine-month, and even that is reduced via scholarships where appropriate. However, tuition only represents a small part of training costs, individual and group coaching, food and facilities.
CPL is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and counts on charitable contributions to make up the difference.
For our final weekend with CPL, we are organizing a fundraiser
Saturday, September 24, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Ethical Society, 1906 South Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA
Keynote speaker: Former Lt.-Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D-MD)
The best part? Every donation will be matched dollar for dollar by a national donor.
In 1999, Nevarech introduced an illustrated bencher (book with the grace after meals). Their inspiration was to highlight a passage on each page and bring its meaning to life with beautiful photography.
I ordered copies of the Nevarech Bencher to give out at my daughter's bat mitzvah and my son's bar mitzvah. My guests remarked at how beautiful and inspirational they were. As Maimonides said "Prayer without kavanah (intention) is not prayer" and this approach puts a fresh perspective on prayer which can otherwise become rote.
Accordingly I was delighted to learn that Nevarech has now released a complete siddur (prayerbook) for Shabbat entitled Nehalel BeShabbat based on the same concept.
Reading Psalm 29, I see a picture of a giant sand dune in Zambia and wonder at the varied terrain in the desert with sand shaped as if by the fingers of God.
The Siddur is not only beautiful to behold but easy to use. The Hebrew font used in Nehalel is graceful and readable. Like some modern siddurs it incorporates - for users attentive to these pronunciation issues - an easily read symbol for stressed syllable and distinguishes between the kamatz (the T-shape Hebrew vowel ָ) when it is pronounced "uh" and when it is pronounced "ah". However, Nehalel goes an additional step and distinguishes between the sh'va (the vowel represented by two vertical dots underneath a Hebrew letter ְ) when it is pronounced "eh" and when it is completed silent.
This 649 page volume contains the complete liturgy for the Sabbath in English and Hebrew with clear instructions in English and transliterations of certain key passages (such as the Kaddish).
I can't wait for the expected future volumes — Nehalel beChol for weekdays and Nehalel beRegalim for festivals — so that I can complete my collection.
The only thing more predictable than this wave of gun violence is the response from the GOP and the NRA: "Now is not the time to politicize this tragedy."
When would be a more appropriate time to consider our gun policy? After the Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007, Americans were rightly concerned about the state of our country's bridges and other infrastructure, and pushed to have their bridges inspected and make long delayed repairs.
If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation's security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.
Similarly, Americans have every right to question now how well we are protecting our children. Should we really make assault weapons available to the general public? Should guns be sold at gun shows without the usual background check? If we require a medical evaluation, written test and practical safety test before giving someone a driving permit, then why not require the same before letting someone own a gun?
As Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) wrote:
This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve leaders who have the courage to participate in a meaningful discussion about our gun laws - and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America. This can no longer wait.
Since 2006, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El's Men's Club, Sisterhood and Israel Action Committee have jointly organized candidate forums to provide the community an opportunity to discuss issues with our Congressman and his challenger during each Congressional election. Until the recent redistricting, our township Lower Merion was located in Rep. Jim Gerlach's 6th district. The 6th District was one of the most competitive districts in the country. While the Republican incumbent was always reelected it was usually by small margins and the district was carried by the Democratic Presidential candidate.
Since the redistricting, Gerlach has replaced Democratic leaning Lower Merion with Republican leaning parts of Berks county in order to give himself some breathing room. Lower Merion is now part of the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District. The 2nd District is represented by Chaka Fattah who has been elected and reelected by enormous margins.
PA 2nd Congressional District
86% Chaka Fattah,
14% Lawrence Watson (R)
88% Chaka Fattah,
12% Larry Murphy (R)
86% Chaka Fattah,
14% Anne Marie Mulligan (R)
98% Chaka Fattah,
2% Ken Krawchuk (L)
88% Chaka Fattah,
12% Tom Dougherty (R)
88% Chaka Fattah,
12% Stewart Bolno (R)
89% Chaka Fattah,
9% Michael Gessner (R)
89% Chaka Fattah,
11% Chris Kunc (R)
89% Chaka Fattah,
11% Rick Hellberg (R)
The lopsided demographics in this district lead to insurmoutable odds which discourage any serious challengers. In fact, the Republicans did not even bother fielding a candidate in 2000. (Ken Krawchuk was the Libertarian party's candidate.) I have long argued that redistricting should be nonpartisan and have the goals of eliminating such non-competitive districts and creating a state map that reflects the partisan balance of the state.
The country is best served when both parties field the best candidates they have to offer and provide the voters with a real choice. This year Rep. Fattah is facing a pair of political neophytes: the Republican Robert Mansfield and Independent candidate Jim Foster. According to the Federal Election Commission, Fattah has raised over a half-million dollars while Mansfield has raised about ten thousand, and Foster has not reported any campaign contributions.
Photo: Richard Chaitt.
Rep. Chaka Fattah
A fair crowd was on hand to get acquainted with our new Congressman. However, due to a couple of simultaneous events at the synagogue and the lack of a competitive contest the attendance fell short of the previous candidate forums organized at the synagogue. Rep. Fattah spoke first and a sizable fraction of audience excused themselves after his remarks.
Rep. Fattah described the annexation of Lower Merion by his district as "a shotgun wedding arranged by the Pennsylvania Republicans" but he was happy to meet his new constitents. His first political campaign was to represent the Overbrook neighborhood (in Philadelphia about one mile from our synagogue) in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He won that 1982 primary by a mere 58 votes out of over 10,000 votes cast, so he is well aware of the value of every vote.
AIPAC has described Chaka Fattah as one of the most reliable and stalwart pro-Israel members of Congress. His chief of staff has just returned from a mission to Israel, and the Congressmen will soon embarking on his first trip to Israel. As the ranking member of the Appropriation Committee's Science Subcommittee, he will be leading a delegation from the National Science Foundation to launch new collaborations between the US and Israel in the field of Neuroscience. Fattah has spearheaded this funding which is destined to improve our understanding of age-related degenerative diseases of the brain and traumatic brain injuries. The leadership of the local Hadassah chapter was on hand and encouraged the Congressman to visit Hadassah Hospital which is a pioneer in medical research and an example of how Arab and Jewish doctors can cooperate to improve the health of patients of all races, religions and nationalities.
Chaka Fattah is married to NBC10 anchorwoman Renee Chenault-Fattah and has four children. He is now running for his 10th term in Congress and emphasized the value to the district of having a senior member of Congress on the Appropriations Committee. The Congressman was happy to get acquainted with his new constituents and promised to return after the election and continue the conversation at greater length.
Photo: Richard Chaitt.
Sgt. Robert Mansfield
The Republican challenger Robert Mansfield is a combat veteran having served thirteen years in the US Army and National Guard. His service was ended by trauma from an I.E.D. explosion. In a spirit of true bipartisanship he thanked Rep. Fattah for his dedication to funding research on traumatic brain injuries.
Mansfield has been a champion of adversity:
At birth he had to overcome a dependance on heroin he had acquired from his mother who used drugs during her pregnancy.
He endured a tumultuous childhood in foster care.
He overcame kidney cancer.
And he suffered from the homelessness all too common to our returning veterans.
As a fervent member of the Episcopal Church, he expressed dismay at Christian groups boycotting Israel. For Sgt. Mansfield support for Israel is founded in the teachings of the Bible.
He fears that Obama is not taking the Iranian nuclear threat seriously and that Obama has agreed to negotiations with Iran. He says Iran is "four years closer" to making a bomb. He says that the US has sat idly by with ineffective sanctions. He recommended imposing "real sanctions like we had against South Africa".
During the Question & Answer session, I commented that the sanctions are having a real economic effect on Iran, with the Iranian Rial losing 80% of its value in recent months with strikes and real unrest in the streets. I added that I didn't remember the sanctions against South Africa as being so universal and so effective. (The biggest annual drop in the South African Rand was a drop of 34% in 1985.)
While Iran was said to be "months" away from a bomb when Obama took office, his administration is clearly responsible for the CIA working hand-in-hand with the Israeli Mossad to sabotage Iranian centrifuges, missiles and most recently computers. Meanwhile, Iranian physicists are dying in the streets of Tehran and this is not from the common cold. I concluded by asking specifically what additional steps would Mansfield recommend if he was in Congress? If he were Congressman or President, would he recommend an immediate tactical nuclear strike on the underground bunkers where the Iranian enrichment facilities are hidden?
Sgt. Mansfield pondered my question for fifteen seconds and then gave a one-word response: "Yes."
Some of Mansfield's other remarks ran afoul of the truth:
He repeated the discredited meme about Obama's "apology tour".
He warned that the bridge from Yemen to Somalia "to be completed by 2020" would strengthen al Qaeda. While such a bridge (The Bridge of Horns) was proposed, it is not under construction and has not been funded. The fanciful bridge would be 18 miles long and in order to avoid disrupting navigation it would have the longest suspension span in the world (3 miles long). The Saudi and Yemen government oppose the African refugees that such a bridge might bring to the region. Moreover, Yemen and Somalia are two of the poorest countries in the world, so a bridge connecting them would not be "a bridge to nowhere" but rather "a bridge from nowhere to nowhere".
Photo: Richard Chaitt.
Jim Foster is running as an independent although he had to win a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Election Commission in order to do so. He has published the Germantown Chronicle since 2009.
He spoke entirely about Philadelphia issues such as broken schools, cronyism, and pay-to-play. During the Question & Answer period several people tried to redirect the conversation towards questions of foreign policy or national domestic policy. He gave only the most general of answers, for example, "some extremists want no taxes at all, and some want a 97% tax rate for the wealthy. Whatever rate we pick, I just say I want accountability."
He also mentioned that he "saw Israel as self-supporting and honest with a legitimate government, and Iran and others without one."
He said he "would use all means to keep Iran from getting the means to make a bomb."
He would then steer back to local Philadelphia politics. I almost got the impression that Foster was running for Mayor Nutter's job, not Representative Fattah's job.
Last Shabbat I was wearing the button on the right at the kiddush after shul. Over kiddush people will be talking about sports, their children, the weather and even politics. To me, the button is an invitation to political dialog and quite a few people took me up on the implicit offer and asked me about polls, Keynesian economies, the debates, Iran and Israel.
This button was making my life easier since people interested in my opinion would approach me, and I could leave those who would rather not speak about politics alone.
All was going well until a fellow congregant yelled me out for wearing the button. He said "What are you doing?" I didn't know what he was talking about so he continued. "How dare you wear that in the synagogue." I saw he was referring to my button and said I didn't see any problem with that. He raised his volume and threatened me, "If you don't take this off right now. I am going to tell the Rabbi on you."
I'm pretty sure the Rabbi was aware that I was wearing the button since it was reasonably obvious attached to my lapel, so I had nothing to hide. I was conflicted since I believe that freedom of speech and association allows me to express my political opinions. On the other hand, I didn't want to cause a scene with a fellow congregant.
In the end, I backed down and removed the button, but after asking a number of my friends about this situation, I think he was wrong to ask me to remove the button, and I think I was wrong to comply with his request.
This congregant is actually the organizer and moderator of our synagogue's bi-annual candidate forum where our Congressmen and his opponent answer questions of interest to our community. Thus, he certainly has no problem with politics within the walls of the synagogue
Do you have a family celebration coming up with guests coming in from out of town?
If so, then perhaps you can learn from my family's experience and be one step closer to a worry-free simcha.
Our son Benjamin was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah on Saturday, June 23. As we were planning the event, one of our guests called us to say that the hotel we had recommended was full because of the Philadelphia Triathlon being held the same weekend.
My wife Helen called the Philadelphia Hilton on May 30 to see if they had room. The woman at the front desk told us that they still had space and urged us to make reservations. Helen was reluctant to give our credit card information. We had no idea how many guests yet had to make reservations nor what days they would be arriving or departing and we didn't want to get involved in our guest's finances. However, Hilton's agent was insistent. She said our guests could provide their own credit card when they check-in and she could reserve a block of 10 rooms at a special "group rate". If it turned out we didn't need all the rooms, she said we could cancel the extra rooms.
My wife asked when we needed to cancel. The agent said we should cancel by midnight. However, my wife pointed out there was no way to contact our guests all around the country and abroad in the next few hours. The agent said in that case we should just find out what we need and cancel "as soon as we can."
My wife gave the agent our Discover Card number and waited patiently as the agent dictated a series of ten confirmation numbers.
Over the next two days we contacted our out-of-town guests and were happy to learn that most of them had already made their own arrangements, and we quickly called the Hilton to cancel the reservations.
At that point, we got the run-around. The Philadelphia Hilton is a complex of two buildings acquired at different times, and each has its own reservation system so when we called one, they were unable to access the reservations of the other. They would transfer our call to the national reservation number which would then transfer our call back to the hotel. Finally, I got through to the front desk at the right hotel. The cancellations had to be done one at a time. Each time the man at the front desk had to be given the name and confirmation number and wait for the reservation to come up on his computer system. Meanwhile, the poor guy was alone at the front desk, so every so often he had to put me on hold and handle the guests who were lining up at the front desk. With these multiple delays I kept on getting disconnected and would have to call back.
Eventually as I was getting the last unneeded room cancelled the hotel manager noticed the line of guests at the front desk and the calls coming through to the front desk. The hotel manager then asked the clerk at the front desk to pass the phone to him. He was angry and claimed that four weeks advance warning is too late to cancel.
Meanwhile, the few guests we had who were staying at Philadelphia Hilton had a variety of experiences. Some guests checked the special "guest rate" and found it was not as good as rates available at the same time online, via AARP or via AAA. Other families made reservations on their own at the Philadelphia Hilton at the regular rate because the front desk could not find our "group reservation". One couple from France was told they lost their reservation.
The Philadelphia Hilton ended up charging us $195.96 for each of the eight reservations we cancelled. Once the Bar Mitzvah was over, I called the Philadelphia Hilton to see if they could refund or give us a credit for part of the $1,567.68 charge. They denied telling us that we could cancel the room "as soon as we can" and refused to issue a refund.
The current winner take all system for U.S. Presidential elections certainly encourages a two-party system. Candidate from smaller parties do run, along with independent candidates, but their vote totals are usually a small footnote in the records of history.
Might this coming election be one of the occasions where a third-party candidate or independent candidate can make a major splash, affect the election or even win? According to Politico:
The public has had it with Washington and conventional politics. It has lost trust and respect in the conventional governing class. There is mounting evidence voters don't see President Barack Obama or the current crop of GOP candidates as the clear and easy solution. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg argues, it seems likely if not inevitable an atmosphere this toxic and destabilized will produce an independent presidential candidate who could shake the political system.
Polito suggests six possible independent candidates and invites readers to nominate their own.
I see three kinds of candidates who might be motivated to run for President:
Their is a heated battle for the soul of the Republican party between establishment Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jon Hunstman which represent its corporate base, and Tea party candidates with a lot of grassroots momentum behind them.
If a tea party candidate like Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain wins the Republican Nomination and the economy continues to show weakness, many experts would see an opportunity for a third-party to seize the center. One possibility is Mayor Michael Bloomberg (NY). He was a registered Democrat until he ran for Mayor of New York City in 2001 as a Republican, and has been an independent since 2007. He has a net worth of over $18 billion, so he could easily get in late and still run a self-finance (Perot-style) campaign.
Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) has had a peculiar performance at the Republican Presidential debates often criticizing the Republican party as a whole for its backwards stands on issues from global warming, evolution and homosexuality. This does not sound like a good strategy for winning the Republican nomination, but it does lay the ground for a possible third-party bid next year.
Similarly, more "moderate" candidates like Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Mayor Rudy Giulliani (R-NY), and Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) refused to run in a race in which they would be more moderate than the majority of Republican primary and caucus goers. Similarly, Gov. Tim Pawlenty performed anemically and had to drop out. However, they may be willing to try their luck to pick up a plurality of the vote against President Obama and a tea party candidate especially if the economy continues to show weakness.
Mitt Romney is the current leader in the Republican primary. He is polling around 25%, has considerable money behind him and the prediction market inTrade gives him a 55.8% chance of getting the nomination. However, most Tea Party supporters can not tolerate moderate positions which Romney holds (or at least once held when he was Governor of Massachusetts). For example, some of them equate abortion to murder and consider Romney to be insufficiently pro-Life. They would consider opposing Romney to be a moral imperative and could jump behind a third-party candidate on the extreme right.
With all these possible candidates being discussed, how much of an impact will they make. Will they pass by unnoticed? Will they be kingmakers? Do they have any chance to win? Prediction market inTrade shows a 2.7% chance of a successful Presidential bid by a third-party or independent candidate, so I guess "the market has spoken". A win by a third-party or independent candidate is not totally out of the question.
Keep your eyes and ears open. This may be an election which will make history yet again.
If politics were sports, someone would call a delay of game penalty on the Republicans for illegally trying to run out the clock while they are ahead.
What is happening?
Every ten years, the United States takes a census of its population, and the states must then redraw their Congressional and State Legislative Districts to take into account shifts in population over the last ten years. Since politicians are drawing their own districts, this process is rife with conflicts of interest as politicians choose their constituents most likely to reelect them into office.
In Pennsylvania, the Republicans have a clear advantage in the redistricting process since they control the governorship, both chambers of the legislature and the Supreme Court. The only limits on their power is recourse to courts by groups disenfranchised via violations to the Federal Voting Rights Act. However, the GOP seeks to close this window of opportunity.
Paragraph (c) of Section 17 of Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution lays out the calendar for how redistricting is supposed to work:
No later than ninety days after either the commission has been duly certified or the population data for the Commonwealth as determined by the Federal decennial census are available, whichever is later in time, the commission shall file a preliminary reapportionment plan with such elections officer. The commission shall have thirty days after filling the preliminary plan to make corrections in the plan. Any person aggrieved by the preliminary plan shall have the same thirty-day period to file exceptions with the commission in which case the commission shall thirty days after the date the exceptions were filled to prepare and file with such elections officer a revised reapportionment plan. If no exceptions are filled within thirty days, or if filed and acted upon, the commission's plan shall be final and have the force of law.
According to a plain reading of the Pennsylvania Constitution:
the LRC then had a 90-day deadline and had to prepare a preliminary plan by July 18.
There would then be 30 days for "corrections" and hearings, leading a final plan by August 17.
Any appeals to that plan would have to be filed within 30 days or by September 16.
This schedule is designed to give plenty of time for potential candidates to plan before filing to run in next year's elections.
However, the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission have their own unique calendar. According to them, Pennsylvania does not have census data until they say that Pennsylvania has census data. Last Wednesday, August 17, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission held its first public meeting and they certified their approval of the United States Census data for Pennsylvania, and declare that this would start the 90-day clock.
By a stroke of the pen, the Republicans have bought themselves four months of time, instead of being already beyond the deadline, they can "deliberate" until November 15. They can then issue "corrections" and hold "hearings" until December 15. In theory, the citizens of Pennsylvania can then file any appeals in hopes of restoring their right to equitable representation. However, in practice the courts will have their back against the wall as candidates are already starting their campaigns including preparing the petitions (due February 14, 2012) to qualify for the April primary.
The Republican legislators hope to carve Pennsylvania in districts according to their political calculus, and run out the clock to avoid any potential challenges to their fait accompli.
My writing has been scarce recently because of a family vacation to France for my niece's Bat Mitzvah. However, an important lesson occurred to me yesterday while cruising down the Seine on a charming bateau mouche.
First, I was reminded that the Cathedral Notre Dame took nearly 200 years to construct (1163-1345 CE). Building such an enormous edifice without modern technology is a monument to the dedication and vision of the people and the church at that time. Bishop de Sully devoted most of his life and his wealth to a project whose fruition he would never witness. However, the logic of time inspired people to attain immortality by devoting themselves to works of timeless grandeur.
Today, consumers demand immediate satisfaction for their desires. CEOs look no further than the balance sheet on their next quarterly report. And politicians are concerned only with the upcoming election (as well as the quarter-to-quarter fundraising battle and the daily poll tracking numbers associated with it).
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice will be giving away a fabulous commitment ceremony/wedding package and other prizes this month! For a chance to win, simply join our free mailing list or update your registration. You can register online at http://www.pjvoice.com/subscribe.htm or sign up in person at the Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s table at the Philadelphia Pride Parade this Sunday, June 12 from noon to 6pm on Penn’s Landing.
The grand prize is transferable, so even if you are not personally planning on tying the knot, this prize is a terrific present to celebrate the union of your friends.
Grand Prize: Commitment Ceremony Package ($9,000+ value) including:
Preparation Sessions Six free hour-long planning sessions with Rabbi Milgram for the couple (and wedding planners, musicians, garment, food and invitation designers, etc. if desired), in person or phone/Skype/webcam depending on availability. Rabbi Milgram will facilitate creation of custom-designed ritual, vows and contract of spiritual commitment to complement your legal documents. These sessions will include spiritual support for your relationship which can be an open non-religion-specific spirituality or Jewish.
Consolation Prizes: All subscribers who enter their complete address will be mailing an “I read the Philadelphia Jewish Voice” bumper sticker, so that you can show your support of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.
Pay your fair share of the cost of providing for our nation's common defence and other important government services to protect and preserve the freedom's which we enjoy in our great nation. (IRS forms must be postmarked today.)
Prepare the haroset, salt water, egg and shank bone.
Set a wine cup for Elijah the prophet, and a water goblet for Miriam the prophetess.
Open up your doors and your hearts by inviting someone in need to join you at the seder table.
Wonder why companies like Exxon-Mobil, Bank of America, General Electric, Chevron, Boeing, Valero, Goldman-Sachs, Citigroup, ConocoPhillips and Carnival are not paying their fair share to keeping our nation strong.
Purim is over and we are started to prepare for Passover. Cleaning the house, preparing the seders and of course activities to keep the kids engaged.
Hazakah has just come out with a great new Passover-themed board game which the whole family will enjoy &mdash Chametz: The Search is On! I play tested the game with my children ages 4 to 19, and they kept asking to play more. This game would make a great gift or afikomen ransom.
Inspired by the classical board game Clue, but instead of trying identify a murder suspect and murder weapon, we are trying to determine which character left an item of chametz in which room. Here is the premise:
It's a month before Passover and Colonel Moti invites Rabbi Greenberg to give a Passover lecture or shiur in his home. A variety of snack are served. During the course of the evening, one of the members of the congregation inadvertently leaves an item of chametz somewhere in the house. Who left what, and where did they leave it?
Blood libels are false and sensationalized allegations that a person or group engages in human sacrifice, often accompanied by the claim that the blood of the victims is used in various rituals and/or acts of cannibalism. The alleged victims are often children.
Today the world's attention is focused on Tucson, Arizona where President Barack Obama will be speaking at a memorial in honor of the shooting victims of the shooting. (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords herself is recovering at the Tucson University Medical Center. In the photo to the left, her husband Astronaut Captain Mark Kelly is holding her hand.)
Many people, including Sarah Palin in this video, urge us to rise above politics and not look to lay blame for this attack any further than the gunman himself, using the epithet "blood libel" to describe the writings of her critics.
Again and again I have been told this.
However, I disagree.
During the summer of 2009, gun-rights activists started showing up at rallies and townhalls were Obama was speaking. One showed up in New Hampshire with a legal loaded handgun and a large sign reading "It is time to water the tree of Liberty" which is a reference to the following quote from Thomas Jefferson "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Someone else at the same town hall meeting was arrested for carrying an unlicensed pistol.
On August 18, 2009, CNN Reporter Ed Henry spotted two protesters with assault rifles at an event in Phoenix, Arizona where Obama was speaking at a pro-Healthcare rally. Why asked why he needed a rifle, the protestor responded "Because I can do it. In Arizona, I still have some freedoms."
nothing spells true freedom like the ability to blow a man down in his tracks. Or to cause the President to fear that his life may be in danger. Or the lives of peaceful demonstrators at a rally.
No, nothing says freedom like physical intimidation.
And I was told to rise above politics and respect the first and second amendment rights of these protesters.
On March 24, 2010, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Tucson, Arizona district office and Rep. Louise Slaughter's Niagara Falls, New York district office were attacked amidst death threats to a number of other Congressman involved in the passage of Health insurance reform. And I was told to rise above politics and not lay blame for these attacks.
Around the same time, Sarah Palin was hunting people figuratively. Gov. Palin created a website "Take back the 20" showing a map of the United States with cross-hairs targeting the 20 House districts won by McCain in 2008 but controlled by Democratic Representatives who voted for health insurance reform. The red cross-hair show targets already eliminated (legislators who were not seeking reelection). The exhortation "17 more to go" and the tweet "Dont' Retreat, Instead - RELOAD" certainly invoke a threat of violence if necessary to turn the other cross-hairs red as well.
On June 12, 2010, Gifford's challenger and tea-party supporter Jesse Kelly organized a fundraiser where his supporters could donate money in order to have a chance to symbolically "remove Gabrielle Giffords from office" by shooting a "fully automatic M16" at her effigy. And I was told to rise above politics and ignore these provocations.
The on June 17, Senate Candidate Sharron Angle said that the "Second Amendment in there for a good reason and ... it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.... I hope that's not where we're going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out." And I was told to rise above politics and ignore these threats.
How long must I "rise above politics" and how many people must die before I can begin attributing blame?
Benyamin Korn who runs the group "Jews for Sarah" says Palin is not to blame since the "shooter's animus [against Ref. Gabrielle Giffords] pre-dates Palin's prominence." However, I do not accuse Palin and her allies of driving Loughner insane.
Instead, I fear that there have always and will always be deranged people out there with dangerous ideas like Jared Lee Loughner had. The difference is that the rhetoric used by the right can validate the ideas already bouncing around in the head of a border-line personality like Loughner.
I do not think that Palin and her allies wanted Giffords dead. They did however want their own day in the sun, and the use of over-the-top rhetoric and images certainly accomplishes that in a way that calm and logic never can.
Moreover, these repeated tacit threats of violence create a chilling affect on our democracy, discouraging Democrats from speaking out, and limiting any real communication between politicians and their constituents.
If that is their goal, then whether Giffords survives or not, they have already won.
America is slowly coming out of a recession. That is good news.
Or is it?
Officially, the U.S. economy is in a recession when our Gross Domestic Product as measured by the U.S. Department of Commerce declines for two consecutive quarters. In other words, our economy has "failed" when we stop producing quite as much stuff as we used to. Apparantly, we Americans are not living up to our patriotic duties and through our consumption encouraging manufacturers to produce quite as much stuff.
Part of the problem with this analysis is that we are not including the depletion of our natural resources in our calculations. If we produce consumer products but deplete our national treasure of irreplaceable resources, consume natural resources at an unsustainable rate and ruin the environment for generations to come, are we really better off?
Some politicians would like a more robust recovery. However, if we keep the GDP growing at 5% per year, year after year, then the economy is growing exponentially. This growth can only be supported so long in a finite world. At some point, the growth can no longer be sustained, and with a global population of over seven billion people can that day of reckoning be that far away,.
All publically traded companies aspire to build value for their shareholders. They try to maximize the discounted present value of their future revenue.
For example, suppose I own a piece of wooded land, I could clear cut the land, sell the wood to a lumber mill and the land to a real estate developer for an immediate payment of one million dollars. Alternatively, I could harvest only the maximum sustainable yield annual tree growth and thus produce, in a sustainable manner, a permanent revenue of, say fifty thousand dollars per year.
Anne Leonard's Story of Stuff is a provocative tour of our consumer-driven culture - from resource extraction to iPod incineration - exposing the real cost of our use-it and lose-it approach to stuff.
Which is better?
If the million dollars in sales are invested at an interest rate of 7%, they produce permanent revenue of seventy thousand dollars per year, so a corporation mindful of their shareholders will cover the forest with asphalt as soon as they can.
If the country is in a recession and interest rates go down to 3%, the million dollars only return thirty thousand dollars per year, so a smart corporation will engage in sustainable development preserving the forest for future generations.
By this logic, people do not plan as carefully for the future if interest rates are high. However, should our stewardship of our resources and indeed this planet truly depend on interest rates? The stakes are quite high. This logic applies not only to timberland in the Northwest United States but to the Amazon rain forest as well.
Deficit hawks tells us that by running a deficit and running up a debt which future our children and grandchildren will have to pay, we are stealing from future generations. If so, then we can make an even stronger argument about our environment. Non-renewable resources such as petroleum are like bank accounts from which we are withdrawing assets but never make any deposits. The oil we withdraw from our proven reserves are gone forever and will not be available to future generations. Similarly, when we pollute, we are saddling future generations with an environmental debt, depreciating the value of our oceans and our atmosphere to our children and grandchildren.
The Gross Domestic Product should not the be-all and end-all of our society.
In this calculation, we fail to address the cost to the environment of removing the carbon dioxide producing forest, and burning the trees.
Reusing consumer goods by repairing them or reselling them on Ebay does not contribute to the GDP, but it does just as much to maintain our American standard of living without as heavy a toll on the environment.
If a company pollutes the environment producing a product and then spends money partially cleaning up their own mess, the GDP is increased not only by the cost of the product but also by the cost of the cleanup. Focusing on the GDP literally encourages the creation of new "Superfund" sites.
We should act as if the interest rate were truly zero. By valuing future generations - our children and our children's children - at the same level as current generations, we may slightly reduce our gross domestic product, but we ensure adequate supplies for future generations and protect the environment.
Daniel E. Loeb publishes the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He is also a mathematician working in mathematical finance.
To fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity, San Francisco recently passed a resolution forbidding toys being bundled with children's meals such McDonalds' "Happy Meal" unless they do not meet certain basic nutritional standards as an effort. This law has been criticized as denying parents the right to chose how to raise their children. Critics bring up the specter of an "overprotective nanny state."
On the contrary, this law opens up choices for parents. They can buy the toy by itself, the "happy meal" by itself, a "healthy meal" by itself, or buy a toy along with either meal and slip it inside before giving it to their child instead of being trapped into McDonalds' logic of all-or-nothing.
This a great win for parents, healthy children, freedom of choice, and capitalism.
Yesterday, Florida voters overwhelming approved two Constitutional amendments proposed by Fair District Florida to change the rules for redistricting on the state and federal level. Last April, I wrote in opposition to these "reforms".
While I am deeply concerned about the problems with the current system, I believe that the amendments do not achieve the goal of creating balance, competitive Congressional districts . I fear that passing well-intentioned but poorly-designed referendums will delay any serious attempts at meaningful redistricting reform.
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