Tu B'Shevat: New Year of the Trees

JSPAN Newsletter - January 27, 2012

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Issue
Newsletter: January 27, 2012
JSPAN Honors Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the evening of Martin Luther King Day, January 16, JSPAN joined with the Cheltenham Area Branch of the NAACP and Arcadia University in a presentation titled "A Community Discussion on the Death Penalty," held at Arcadia.

In introductory remarks, Arcadia's new President Toby Oxholm expressed the emotional reasons that citizens support the death penalty, and yet also pointed out the serious moral and ethical issues pertaining to the justice system and official government killing.

Attorney Michael Coard, who has represented defendants in capital case trials and appeals, spoke against the death penalty on several grounds, starting with the uncertainty of the criminal justice system. Blacks and whites receive different treatment in court, and in Pennsylvania public defenders are compensated so poorly that a fair trial is unlikely. Coard suggests that our present system, which requires proof of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, should impose an even higher standard of proof before allowing a death penalty to be entered.

Mark Bookman, a public defender in the past and now head of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, urged that we need to consider the defendant, not just the crime, and reserve capital punishment for the truly "worst of the worst" offenders.

Dr. John Noakes, interim Dean of Graduate Studies at Arcadia, noted that of our peer nations, the "G8" governments, only two impose capital punishment: Russia and the United States. He suggested that capital punishment cannot deter homicide. The record of capital punishment indicates that it is not equally applied to whites and blacks.

Moderator E. Steven Collins, host of Philly Speaks at Radio One, pointed out that 16 states do not have the death penalty. He added that 80% of executions occur in southern states which also have the highest murder rate.

The program was very well attended, and a lively debate with the official speakers reflected a deep division among the views of members of the audience. Brian Gralnick, President of JSPAN, and Harvey Crudup, President of the Cheltenham Area Branch of the NAACP, closed the program expressing thanks to the speakers and the audience.

The event was also reported on in the Cheltenham Citizens' Call.


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It is the position of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network to oppose the death penalty as it is currently applied in the United States and to press for the immediate abolition of capital punishment. It is the further position of JSPAN that, to the extent that capital punishment remains in effect at all, the death penalty must be applied in the most restricted manner possible, in the narrowest of circumstances, with such substantive and procedural safeguards as are adequate and sufficient to assure to the fullest extent possible that the death penalty is applied in the most accurate, fair, and equitable manner as human frailty will allow. In all matters concerning capital punishment, it is the position of JSPAN that all doubt must be resolved in favor of mercy and life and against the harsh and irreversible penalty of death. -Ed.


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JSPAN Chair Comments on Ministerial Exemption
In the most recent issue of Jurist Legal News and Research, a publication of the University of Pittsburgh Law School, JSPAN Chair Jeffrey Pasek commented on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, involving the ministerial exemption from employment discrimination legislation. -Ed.

What are we to make of the fact that all nine Supreme Court justices agreed with the decision and joined in an opinion by the chief justice in a case raising important issues touching on both the Free Exercise and Establishment Clause principles of the First Amendment? Given the Court's recent jurisprudence in the church-state area, and the inability of the majority to coalesce around doctrinal principles in some of these cases, a unanimous outcome must mean either that the case represents a breakthrough or it resolves very little. In the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, I am afraid that the ruling resolves relatively little.

For the record, the six Catholics and three Jews who sit as justices reached a happy ecumenical outcome in ruling that a Lutheran church did not have to answer claims of employment discrimination brought by Cheryl Perich, a former teacher in its school. Applying the "ministerial exemption," the Court ruled that Perich could not maintain her claim that she had been retaliated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


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Tu B’Shevat To Be Celebrated On February 8


Tu B'Shevat: New Year of the Trees
Kolel - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning

Perhaps even more than any other Jewish holiday, Tu B'Shevat has evolved over two thousand years of Jewish history. … The words Tu B'Shevat literally mean "the fifteenth [day in the month] of Shevat." Originally, in post-biblical times, Tu B'shevat was simply the yearly date for reckoning the age of trees for purposes of taxes and of orlah (the first three years during which a tree's fruit was considered strictly God's property and not to be eaten). Later, the mystics developed a Tu B'shevat Seder (see below) that represented both their connection to the land of Israel and reflected their ideas of God's relationship to the world using the imagery of a cosmic tree.

At the beginning of the Zionist movement, Tu B'Shevat again took on new meaning as planting trees became a symbol for the Jewish re-attachment to the land of Israel. The most recent transformation has re-popularized Tu B'Shevat into a holiday of Jewish environmentalism as a sort of Jewish Earth Day because of its association with trees and, by extension, with nature.


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In recognition of the holiday, the following three articles address current environmental issues. -Ed.


US Education Advocates Tackle Climate Change Skeptics
New Scientist (19 January 2012)

A NEW front has opened in the battle over US school science curricula. After decades of fighting to keep creationism out of the classroom, US science education advocates are steeling themselves to face a new foe: climate change sceptics.

Over the past few years, several US states and local school boards have introduced measures that would mean teachers must include the views of those who are sceptical of a human influence on climate change in science lessons.

Three years ago, for example, Texas revised its science teaching standards to require that students "analyse and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming". The next time Texas purchases science textbooks, this standard could be used to reject books that do not include a degree of climate change scepticism, says Steven Newton, programmes and policy director for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a non-profit organisation based in Oakland, California. Similar measures have been passed in Louisiana and South Dakota.


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Promoting Green Electronics in Government
The Partnership for Public Service, The Washington Post (January 17, 2012)

As the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "green electronics lady," Holly D. Elwood works to make sure that the computers and other electronics purchased by the federal government are as environmentally friendly as possible. In the process, Elwood uses the government's huge buying power to create a market for green products, leading to a cleaner environment and better options for consumers.

"The beauty of the project is that we've harnessed supply and demand to green the marketplace," said Elwood, project manager of the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. "This program has greened the supply chain and product offerings worldwide." Elwood not only helps agencies buy computers, but she assists with the development of standards that define what exactly a green product is - the first question suppliers tend to ask, she said.


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Climate Proposal Puts Practicality Ahead of Sacrifice
Climate Proposal Puts Practicality Ahead of Sacrifice
By JOHN TIERNEY, The New York Times (January 16, 2012)

The current issue of the journal Science contains a proposal to slow global warming that is extraordinary for a couple of reasons:

  1. In theory, it would help people living in poor countries now, instead of mainly benefiting their descendants.
  2. In practice, it might actually work.
This proposal comes from an international team of researchers - in climate modeling, atmospheric chemistry, economics, agriculture and public health - who started off with a question that borders on heresy in some green circles: Could something be done about global warming besides forcing everyone around the world to use less fossil fuel?

Ever since the Kyoto Protocol imposed restrictions in industrial countries, the first priority of environmentalists has been to further limit the emission of carbon dioxide. Burning fewer fossil fuels is the most obvious way to counteract the greenhouse effect, and the notion has always had a wonderfully virtuous political appeal - as long as it's being done by someone else..

But as soon as people are asked to do it themselves, they follow a principle identified by Roger Pielke Jr. in his book "The Climate Fix." Dr. Pielke, a political scientist at the University of Colorado, calls it iron law of climate policy: When there's a conflict between policies promoting economic growth and policies restricting carbon dioxide, economic growth wins every time.


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Feds Grant 1-year Extension on Birth Control Rule
RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, The Associated Press (January 20, 2012)

WASHINGTON - In an election-year decision certain to disappoint religious conservatives, the Obama administration announced Friday that church-affiliated institutions will get only one additional year to meet a new rule to cover birth control free of charge.

Friday's announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius does not apply to houses of worship. Churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship were already exempt from the birth control coverage rule.

But in many cases, other religious-affiliated employers such as hospitals and universities traditionally have not provided any birth control coverage for their employees. They were seeking a broader exemption that would allow them to continue that practice.

The new rule is part of a package of improved preventive services for women under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Birth control is on a list of services that most workplace health plans will have to cover free of charge to employees.


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Secretary Sebelius received over 200,000 letters in response to her initial decision, including a letter from JSPAN supporting that decision. -Ed.


Roe V. Wade, 39 Years Later
January 22d was the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. -Ed.

Women Should Guard Against Efforts To Roll Back Choice

By Nancy K. Kaufman, The Forward (January 27, 2012)

In its ruling in Roe v. Wade, issued 39 years ago on January 22, the Supreme Court affirmed a constitutional right of privacy "broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy." No constitutional right, apart from questions related to race that go back nearly 400 years, has been subject to such an extended attack, and those attacks reached a crescendo last year.

The crescendo of opposition has taken the form of an unprecedented spike in the number of anti-abortion initiatives proposed in state legislatures and, in too many instances, enacted into law. While many candidates in 2010 focused their campaigns on economic policy, once elected they turned their attention to anti-abortion legislation instead of addressing the nation's economic woes as promised.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, last year more than 1100 anti-abortion proposals were introduced in the legislatures of all 50 states, and of these, 135 were enacted in 36 states. More than two-thirds further restricted access to abortion. Among the measures adopted, five states enacted provisions to ban abortion at or beyond 20 weeks' gestation, an arbitrary ban not grounded in medicine. Four more states enacted burdensome regulations to abortion clinics that will make their operations increasingly expensive or impossible.


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JSPAN policy states that: The perilous state of a woman's right to choose is clear. It must be protected.

  • We will fight for the appointment and election of judges who recognize women's rights.
  • We will link with national and local choice organizations to multiply our voices
  • We will urge our representatives to oppose legislation that seeks to circumscribe a woman's right to choose and to create legislation to ensure the right to choose.
JSPAN will alert you to threats to women's rights and will show you how to be heard on this vital issue. -Ed.



Nationally, Redistricting Looks like a Draw Between the Parties
Neither Republicans nor Democrats are likely to see a big increase in congressional districts drawn in their favor, analysts say.
By Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Post (January 14, 2012)

After contentious elections, high-profile court battles and grand political choreography in statehouses across the country, the task of redrawing congressional boundaries appears likely to yield a surprising outcome: a draw, or close to it.

As states wind down their redistricting, experts say neither Democrats nor Republicans are on track to see a large increase of congressional districts newly drawn in their favor.

So much for the political wisdom that Republicans were poised to clean up in the once-a-decade undertaking aimed at adjusting the lines to accommodate population shifts and growth. Republicans control the mapping process in four times as many congressional districts as Democrats, thanks in part to the GOP surge in statehouses in 2010.

The score card kept by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shows the two parties are even in their quest to redraw maps to their advantage, although Democrats estimate they could gain as many as six new favorable districts. They need a 25-seat election gain to take back control of the House.


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On January 20, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded a Texas redistricting case, finding the lower court had not given sufficient deference to the state legislature's redistricting maps. To read more, click here. -Ed.


College Leaders Balance Israel and Speech
Jewish Presidents Often Find They Must Leave Loyalty Behind

By Naomi Zeveloff, The Forward (January 20, 2012)

As the debate about Israel rages on college campuses across America, there is one figure for whom the conversation takes on strikingly personal dimensions: the Jewish college president.

About 20 Jewish men and women hold the highest positions at universities across the country, including campuses that have become hotbeds of political activism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For these individuals, the role of president entails a constant balancing act between encouraging free speech on campus and honoring their personal, often supportive, views of Israel.

In a series of interviews with the Forward, 10 current and former Jewish college presidents held forth on what the University of California's Mark Yudof described as the "schizophrenia" of the Jewish college president - the moments when one's Jewish identity bumps up against the interests of the institution. For many college presidents, the movement to boycott, divest from and implement sanctions against Israel - commonly known as BDS - represented a red line: Presidents who were previously disinclined to speak out against anti-Israel activity on campus in the name of preserving open dialogue found themselves publicly opposing the movement. But going public on Israel had its limits. Several presidents voiced exasperation with the Jewish community's scrutiny of campus events, preferring to mediate the Israel-Palestine debate internally. Still others described their efforts to extinguish sparks before they flared into small fires, by coaching Jewish and Muslim students in civil dialogue.


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At its 2012 Plenum, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs will consider a draft resolution "On Countering Anti-Jewish and Anti-Israel Activity on Campus", sponsored by the Task Force on Israel, World Jewry, and International Human Rights and the Task Force on Jewish Security and the Bill of Rights. To see the text of the draft resolution, click here. -Ed.


Book Review: The Most Dangerous Woman in America
As a professional revolutionary, Emma Goldman had a career that spanned continents and a charisma that inspired thousands when she spoke publicly. But today, she may be just as well known for her advocacy of free love

By Judy Maltz, Haaretz (January 12, 2012)
Emma Goldman:
Revolution as a Way of Life, by Vivian Gornick.
Yale University Press, 151 pages, $25

Emma Goldman would surely have been schepping naches - to borrow a phrase from her mother tongue, Yiddish - had she been around this past summer to see the Occupy movement fan out across America. It was just the sort of thing she loved: Ordinary folks taking to the streets, rising up against the excesses of government and big business, and demanding their fair share of the pie.

Longtime FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover called her "the most dangerous woman in America." For others, "Red Emma" or the "Queen of Anarchism" was a modern Joan of Arc. Love her or hate her; for most of her contemporaries, there was no in-between.

Vivian Gornick, the author of "Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life," clearly has a soft spot for her subject. It's easy to see what drew Gornick, a feminist leader in her own right and a former staff writer for The Village Voice, to the likes of Goldman, a woman who was preaching free love and advocating birth control long before her counterparts even had the right to vote in the United States. But then again, as Gornick observes, Goldman didn't have much use for the vote, arguing that it was more important to overthrow governments than to work within the system for change


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