Death of a Fairy Tale

JSPAN Newsletter - May 4, 2012
Jewish Social Policy Action Network

In this Issue:
Newsletter: May 4, 2012
Death of a Fairy Tale
New York Times
April 26, 2012

This was the month the confidence fairy died.

For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should - by spending more to offset falling private demand - but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.

Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the "austerians" insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! "Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery," declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank - a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.

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Settlement Clears Way for Cross in Mojave Desert
A cross was erected by the VFW almost eighty years ago in federal parkland to honor American soldiers who died in World War I. As a result of a citizen suit arguing that the cross is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, in 2002 a federal district court granted an injunction calling for removal of the cross. Congress then passed a law authorizing a land swap to put the immediate site of the cross into non-governmental hands and avoid having to remove the cross. But the district court found that the land swap was a sham that did not cure the constitutional problem, and held to its decision for removal of the cross.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari. JSPAN filed a brief amicus curiae urging that the Court affirm the ruling outlawing the land swap and requiring removal of the cross.

In a decision in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the land swap law had not been shown to be clearly unconstitutional, and even if that was shown, other remedies needed to be considered short of enjoining the swap and removing the cross. The case was reversed and sent back to the district court for a further hearing. To this date, there is no reported decision from the district court.

This week, news media report that the government is going forward with the land swap, and planning by doing so to preserve the cross. - Ed.
By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press
April 25, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A veterans group can restore a memorial cross in the Mojave Desert under a court settlement that ends a decade-old legal battle, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

A federal judge approved the lawsuit settlement on Monday, permitting the park service to turn over a remote hilltop area known as Sunrise Rock to a Veteran of Foreign Wars post in Barstow and the Veterans Home of California-Barstow.

The park will give up the acre of land in exchange for five acres of donated property elsewhere in the 1.6 million acre preserve in Southern California. The swap, which could be completed by the end of the year, will permit veterans to restore a cross to the site and end a controversy that became tangled in the thorny issues of patriotism and religion and made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

The last cross was ordered removed by the park service in 2010 because of a court order.

The donated land is owned by Henry and Wanda Sandoz of Yucca Valley.

Henry Sandoz, 72, cared for and replaced several crosses at the hilltop site over the years that were later defaced or stolen. He has a replacement 7-foot steel cross ready to go, said his wife, Wanda, 68.

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Between Voting Rights and Voting Wrongs
The New York Times
By Michael Waldman
May 1, 2012

Since the beginning of 2011, lawmakers around the country abruptly enacted laws to curb voting rights and tighten registration rules. These measures are fiercely controversial. But lately the debate has taken a surprising turn. Suppressive voting laws have met resistance at the polls and in the courts. This surprisingly emphatic twist is good for our democracy. If the restriction of voting rights can be blocked or blunted, it will give us an opportunity to move forward with bipartisan reforms to our ramshackle registration system.

Consider the recent backlash.

In Maine, voters reversed a new law, passed in June 2011, that ended same-day registration. Now voters will be able to register on Election Day in 2012.

In Ohio, more than 300,000 citizens signed petitions, enough to temporarily suspend the state's new law that curbed early voting and force a statewide referendum in November. Now nervous Republicans are close to a deal with Democrats that would repeal the law and restore early voting for the three days before the election.

Florida, meanwhile, imposed onerous penalties and paperwork burdens on volunteers who sign up voters. Helping your neighbors participate in our democracy is not something we should restrict, which is why the Brennan Center is leading the fight to challenge this law. We represent the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, and other civic groups that have shut down registration drives. The league has won similar lawsuits twice before and now awaits a judge's ruling, which is expected soon.

Even on the contentious issue of requiring government-issued photo identification to vote, the strictest new laws have slammed into legal barriers.

In March a state judge struck down Wisconsin's new law, which required showing a government-issued photo ID with a current address to vote, on the grounds that it violated the state's Constitution. In Missouri, a judge blocked a ballot measure to pass a similar law.

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Little Connecticut's Big Message on the Death Penalty
The Washington Post
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
April 29, 2012

Since the 2010 elections, newly empowered conservative and Republican state legislatures have gained national attention with their wars on public employee unions, additional restrictions on abortion and new barriers to voting.

Against this backdrop, the little state of Connecticut has loomed as a large progressive exception. Last year, it became the first state to require employers to grant paid sick leave. It also enacted a law granting in-state tuition to students whose parents brought them to the United States illegally as young children. And last week, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy signed a law repealing the state's death penalty. There are now 17 states without capital punishment, Illinois having joined the ranks last year. What happened in Connecticut brings home the flaw in seeing everything that has happened in the states since the midterm vote as embodying a steady shift rightward.

Where they hold power, progressives have also been using their states as laboratories, and Malloy is part of an impressive group of mostly smaller-state Democratic governors who have combined a moderate, business-friendly style with progressive policymaking. Their ranks include, among others, Govs. Jack Markell in Delaware, Martin O'Malley in Maryland, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and outgoing Gov. John Lynch in New Hampshire.

After the 2012 election, a key front in the battle for America's political future will involve how the various left and right experiments in the states are judged. Aggressive conservatives such as Govs. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio are in the headlines now, and the recall Walker faces will keep him there for a while. But there will be a quieter and more comprehensive reckoning down the road.

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John Boehner: Student Loan Fight Raises 'No Women's Health Issue'
The Huffington Post
By Mike Sacks
April 29, 2012

WASHINGTON -- Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Sunday defended the House of Representatives' advancing a bill that pays for lower student loan interest rates by reducing funds for a preventative health care fund -- a move that the White House, in a veto threat, had said would particularly impact women.

Before the House vote on Friday, the White House issued a statement saying, "Women, in particular, will benefit from this Prevention Fund, which would provide for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer. This is a politically-motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America's college students deserves. If the President is presented with H.R. 4628, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley," Boehner dismissed the White House's characterization as the president's trying to "politicize this for his own reelection" and "picking a fight where one doesn't exist."

"This is just nonsense. There's no women's health issue here," said Boehner. "And I'll guarantee you that they've not spent a dime out of this fund dealing with anything to do with women's health."

The House passed the bill by a largely party-line vote of 215 to 195. The interest rate for federally subsidized student loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent by July 1 if Congress does not act first.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, support keeping the interest rate at its current level. But while Republicans favor cutting the preventative health fund -- something Boehner has previously called a "slush fund" -- to offset the cost of the lower interest rate, Democrats would end a tax break they've dubbed the "Gingrich/Edwards Loophole," which allows certain millionaires to avoid paying Medicare taxes.


Trayvon and the Rodef
This article, from earlier in the month before George Zimmerman was charged with murdering Trayvon Martin, reflects on Jewish law and self defense - Ed.

The Forward
May 4, 2012

As federal and state authorities investigate the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and pundits debate the value of the Florida law that, so far, is protecting George Zimmerman from being charged with murder, we would do well to consult the "din rodef."

Jewish law has much to say about a lot of things, and the fraught question of when, if ever, it is legal and justified to kill in self-defense has kept scholars debating for centuries. As the Forward's language columnist, Philologos, wrote back in 2004:

"Din rodef means, literally, 'the case of the pursuer,' although it might be more idiomatically translated into English as 'the right of self-defense.' It refers to the rabbinic precept that, as articulated by Maimonides, says: 'Every Jew is obligated to save a pursued person from his pursuer, even if this means killing the pursuer.' A 'pursuer,' in the rabbinic context, is someone who is a threat to someone's life. If you see a mugger with a knife running after someone in the street, for example, he is a rodef and it is your duty, if you can carry it out without risk to your own life, to stop him in any way you can - even by shooting him with the gun you are carrying."

Police and prosecutors have decried this law, a version of which is on the books in 24 states, for much the same reason that the elasticity of the din rodef has troubled Jewish authorities for centuries. For that reason, Maimonides said that killing a rodef who could have been stopped by lesser means constitutes murder. The din rodef is to be applied in only the rarest of circumstances, and only when every other alternative has been attempted. Judgment, discipline and sensitivity are required here, which is why moral societies carefully train the police officers and soldiers who pick up deadly weapons on the public's behalf. As lawmakers work to repeal the dangerous, unnecessary Stand Your Ground laws, they would do well to refer to this ancient standard.

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A Senator Fights Back
The New York Times
April 28, 2012

It is dangerous to challenge the funnel cloud of corporate and right-wing political advertising this year, but Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, has decided to fight back. She is running commercials that talk directly about the ads trying to prevent her re-election.

"They're not from around here, spending millions to attack and attack," said one of her recent commercials, showing clips from the opposing ads that have become ubiquitous in her state. "But what they're doing to Claire McCaskill is nothing compared to what their special-interest agenda will do to you."

It will be an uphill fight. Republican interest groups are outspending Ms. McCaskill and other Missouri Democrats by a 7-to-1 ratio; Ms. McCaskill herself is being outspent by 3 to 1. Though she has raised nearly $10 million, the amount could be dwarfed by the unlimited money at the disposal of Republican-oriented groups. Once again, as in 2010, Congressional races will be the elections most affected by unregulated slush-fund money. Though "super PACs" and secretive independent groups will be spending hundreds of millions on the presidential race, it is at the Congressional level where big money can have the most impact. Many candidates, particularly in smaller states, cannot compete with independent groups, allowing individual wealthy donors to have an oversized influence on the future of the House or the Senate.

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Not Just Jews Eat Kosher Food in Prison
Millions Spent on Special Meals for Non-Jewish Inmates

The Forward
By Jane Eisner
April 4, 2012

The tiny population of religious Jews in prison has plenty of company when it comes to keeping kosher behind bars. A number of secular Jews, messianic Jews, Black Hebrew Israelites and, in many cases, people with no Jewish background at all eat a traditional Jewish diet.

Jews, according to one estimate, make up just one-sixth - or about 4,000 - of the 24,000 inmates who eat kosher food in American prisons. And since kosher food can cost more than twice as much as regular fare, it's costing taxpayers millions to feed all those who want to avoid treyf.

"We want them to be very careful about who they give kosher food to," said Menachem Katz, director of prison and military outreach at the Aleph Institute, a Chabad- affiliated social services group. "We don't want them to give kosher food to every Tom, Dick and Harry if they say they are Jewish."

"It is a major problem, and it creates so much animosity" from prison officials, said Gary Friedman, founder of Jewish Prisoner Services International. Friedman provided estimates based on visits to prisons around the country.

The popularity of kosher food among non-Jewish inmates is one reason that many prisons around the country are seeking to curtail or change their Jewish dietary programs. But advocates for Jewish inmates say that prisons could easily solve this problem by limiting kosher food to Jews.

"They want to throw the baby out with the bath water," Katz said. "Rather than get into the nitty-gritty, they say, 'Let's just destroy the whole thing.'"

[read more]


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