Hold the Date… Triangle Fire Centennial

JSPAN Newsletter - February 25, 2011

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:
Newsletter: February 25, 2011
Hold the Date… Triangle Fire Centennial
Final planning continues for a program marking the centennial of the Triangle shirt factory fire, a disaster that brought about immense reforms in the protection of the rights of workers under the law. JSPAN in coalition with the Jewish Labor Committee, the AFL-CIO and others, will present a public program observing the centennial in the early evening on Thursday, March 24. Look for a formal announcement in the next JSPAN Newsletter.

Cornell University archives document the tragedy:

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The tragedy still dwells in the collective memory of the nation and of the international labor movement. The victims of the tragedy are still celebrated as martyrs at the hands of industrial greed.

The Triangle Waist Company was in many ways a typical sweated factory in the heart of Manhattan, at 23-29 Washington Place, at the northern corner of Washington Square East. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops. …

Even today, sweatshops have not disappeared in the United States. They keep attracting workers in desperate need of employment and illegal immigrants, who may be anxious to avoid involvement with governmental agencies. Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 67% of Los Angeles garment factories and 63% of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angeles garment factories have workplace health and safety problems serious enough to lead to severe injuries or death.


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Reform Religious Action Center Opposes Revival of DC Vouchers Program
In 2003, the Opportunity Scholarship Program was put into place by Congress, as a five-year pilot program for school vouchers for the District of Columbia. Though it was set to expire in 2008, funding was provided in 2009 and 2010 to allow students already enrolled in the program to continue to receive a voucher until their high school graduation. Once all students in the program had graduated, it was scheduled to expire.

Now, members of Congress are seeking to revive and extend the DC school vouchers program. Senator Lieberman (I-CT) has introduced the Scholarship Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act of 2011 (S. 206), and Speaker Boehner (R-OH) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives (H.R. 471) that would reauthorize the DC school vouchers program for five years and increase the annual value of scholarships from $7,500 to $8,000 for elementary and middle school students and $12,000 for high school students. The legislation would allow new students to enroll in the program, halting the effort to phase out the initiative.

Vouchers, which divert public, taxpayer money to private schools, including parochial schools, are bad public policy. Instead, we should be supporting public school with public funds. Evaluations of the D.C. program conducted by the Department of Education, the most recent released in June, 2010, found that there was no significant difference in the in the overall academic achievement of students in the voucher program from “schools in need of improvement.” A 2007 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found further shortcomings in the program’s accountability, including vouchers being used at schools that did not actually charge tuition. The report also found an under representation of children with physical or learning disabilities in the pilot program, as compared to the public schools.

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Pa. Senate in Heated Debate over School Vouchers
A Pennsylvania State Senate committee is hearing testimony on a proposed school voucher program that would allow low-income families to place their children in private religious or non-sectarian schools at public expense. Voucher programs divert funds from the public school system. Let your legislators know your views on this important current issue! – Ed.

Pa. Senate in heated debate over school vouchers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 17, 2011
By Adrienne Lu

HARRISBURG -- During a day-long hearing before a state Senate committee Wednesday, school-voucher advocates argued that the issue boiled down to a matter of choice. Low-income families, voucher proponents argued, should have the same kind of choice that wealthier families have always had -- to opt out of local public schools in favor of private or parochial schools.

Opponents countered, with equal passion, that by taking money and students out of public schools, vouchers would hurt the schools that needed the most help. Wednesday was the Education Committee's first hearing on a bill that would create a program to allow low-income students to attend private and parochial schools with the aid of taxpayer-funded vouchers.


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Department of Justice Will Oppose Defense of Marriage Act in Next Challenge
The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The DOMA definition has repeatedly been challenged as an illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation. In several cases over the past two years, the Obama Administration has argued in support of the validity of DOMA. The Government reasoned that the definition of marriage adopted by Congress had a “rational basis” and therefore should be defended.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the Administration will argue against the validity of DOMA in the newest case to come up for argument and in future cases. The Government will propose that the proper test to be applied is “heightened scrutiny,” and that DOMA fails that test. The more stringent test has been developed and applied by courts in cases where a legislative classification adversely affects a minority that has suffered historic discrimination.

Click here to view the full text of the statement of the Attorney General.


JSPAN Calls for Congressional Hearings Concerning Justice Thomas and his Wife's Financial Dealings
At its February meeting, the JSPAN Board of Directors resolved to request a Congressional investigation of alleged financial affairs of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. JSPAN Chairman Jeffrey Pasek communicated the request to the appropriate leadership of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.

February 18, 2011
Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman
Rep. John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Request for Hearing regarding Clarence Thomas

Dear Representatives Smith and Conyers:

As an organization that regularly submits amicus briefs to the United States Supreme Court, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network is concerned about whether the integrity of the Court may be compromised based upon the financial dealings of Justice Thomas and his wife, Viriginia Thomas.

According to widespread press reports, Justice Thomas failed to disclose his wife’s receipt of $686.589 from the Heritage Foundation between 2003 and 2007. Indeed, Justice Thomas’s Financial Disclosure reports reflect that he regularly checked “NONE” to the question regarding his spouse’s non-investment income. This form is required to be filed under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. It has been reported that Mrs. Thomas received an undisclosed salary paid by undisclosed donors as the CEO of Liberty Central, a 501(c)(4) organization she founded that is active in lobbying against healthcare reform, an issue likely to arise before the Court.

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Spreading Anti-Union Agenda
Spreading Anti-Union Agenda
New York Times Editorial, February 22, 2011

Like a wind-whipped brush fire, the mass union protests that began in Madison, Wis., last week have spread to the capitals of Ohio and Indiana where Republican lawmakers also are trying to cripple the bargaining power of unions — and ultimately realize a cherished partisan dream of eradicating them. ...

In Wisconsin, union leaders agreed to concessions requested by Mr. Walker: to pay nearly 6 percent of their wages for pension costs, up from nearly zero, and double payments for health insurance. At that point, most governors would declare victory and move on. Instead, Mr. Walker has rejected union concessions and won’t even negotiate. His true priority is stripping workers of collective-bargaining rights and reducing their unions to a shell. The unions would no longer be able to raise money to oppose him, as they did in last year’s election, easing the way for future Republicans as well.

The game is up when unionized state workers demonstrate a sense of shared sacrifice but Republican lawmakers won’t even allow them a seat at the table. For unions and Democrats in the Midwest, this is an existential struggle, and it is one worth waging.


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Tough-on-Crime Hype has Consequences
By Brian Gralnick, JSPAN President
This letter to the editor first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The alleged atrocities of former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., a.k.a. "Mr. Zero Tolerance," highlights how parents and voters ought to think twice when politicians claim to be tough on crime or drugs ("Opening statements in 'kids-for-cash' trial," Wednesday). Our fears and their pandering have thrown out common sense, fairness, and often justice, but have created a lot of jobs for rural Pennsylvanians to warehouse our urban youth. Today, one in every 28 adults in the state is under some form of criminal-justice supervision. In 1982, it was one in 99. The fact is we can maintain public safety with fewer people in prison and have our tax cuts, too.


“The Thomashefskys” by Dick Goldberg
Say the name “Michael Tilson Thomas,” and it’s likely to provoke two questions: Do you know who his grandparents were? Answer: The Yiddish theatre greats, Boris and Bessie Thomashefskys; and “When did the name get changed?” Answer: Boris and Bessie’s son Ted— Michael’s father— took care of that piece of baggage when he began his career as a stage manager.

And therein lies the tale: in the space of three generations, a family goes from shtetl to Lower East Side to international cultural icon. The first generation arrives on our shores from the Ukraine and builds an entertainment empire: the next homogenizes itself and stays fairly much behind the scenes, and then the third rises like a phoenix to reach the zenith of artistic heights—Tilson Thomas is the music director of the San Francisco Symphony, founder and director of the New World Symphony, and principal guest conductor of the London symphony. What could be better?!

It may not be to be the story Tilson Thomas means to tell in “Thomashefskys,” a pastiche about his celebrated grandparents, presented earlier this month at the Kimmel Center, but it emerges between the lines, songs, dances, and sketches that make up this both intriguing and curious evening.

The juxtaposition of first generation schmaltz with third generation refinement is indeed writ large. First, there are the subjects of the piece themselves, the over-the-top, Vaudevillian Boris and Bessie, who from Tilson Thomas’s telling, never met an idea from which they didn’t milk the last drop—whether it was a theatrical concept (a series of audience-pleasing presentations with the word “green” (for greenhorn) in the title, a fondness for cross-dressing (Bessie never tired of starring in her “trouser plays”), and in Boris’s case, an endlessly wandering and apparently unquenchable libido.


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In Israel, the Revolution has Already Begun
Haaretz, Feb. 23, 2011

This new revolution aims not only at the end of occupation, but at the beginning of a new Israel. Not for settlers, this time, but for Israelis.
By Bradley Burston

People often ask why, at a time when revolutionary fervor has seized nation after nation here in the Middle East, no revolt has yet begun in my country. Actually, it has. Right under the government's nose.

… Yes, to the outside world, the button-down façade of stability seems assured. The country's general population supports major reforms, but has been traumatized into paralysis by years of bloodshed and a sclerotic political system dominated by corrupt, theocratic and rigidly conservative interest groups.

Outside of the established political mechanisms, however, a revolution is underway. Here, of all places. In the modern principality of the Jewish People. In Israel. Over the years, the settlement aristocracy – the plaid-flannel power behind the throne - has aged, losing political steam and internal direction, as its own youth have begun to question its ideology of divine right to land and rule.

Here, now, on this side of the recognized border, a potent opposition is emerging, young, largely unknown, social network-savvy.

This revolution, like that of the settlers decades ago, has the potential of transforming both Israel and Judaism as a whole.


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McEwan and the Jerusalem Prize
The New Yorker blog, February 23, 2011
Posted by Jon Michaud

The British novelist Ian McEwan was awarded the Jerusalem Prize at the Jerusalem International Book Fair earlier this week. The award had caused controversy in the United Kingdom, where McEwan was urged by some not to accept the prize because it would indicate support for Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and its treatment of Palestinians. McEwan responded with a letter to the Guardian last week, and further addressed the question in his acceptance speech:

“Since accepting the invitation to Jerusalem, my time has not been peaceful. Many groups and individuals, in different terms, with varying degrees of civility, have urged me not to accept this prize. One organization wrote to a national newspaper saying that whatever I believed about literature, its nobility and reach, I couldn’t escape the politics of my decision. Reluctantly, sadly, I must concede that this is the case….

“But everybody knows this simple fact: once you’ve instituted a prize for philosophers and creative writers, you have embraced freedom of thought and open discourse, and I take the continued existence of the Jerusalem Prize as a tribute to the precious tradition of a democracy of ideas in Israel.”


[read more]



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