Friday, April 29, 2016

Might the Voters of Alabama's Fifth Congressional District be Better Served by Promoting Liberal Politics Rather than by Attempting to Drown Government in a Bathtub?

The Alabama Fifth Congressional District is served by one of the most conservative members in Congress. Are they backing the wrong horse?

The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members, each representing one Congressional district. Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. census to assure that each district continues to represent one 435th of overall U.S. population (currently about 733,000).  Alabama's Fifth Congressional district is located in the northern part of the state, extending from the Mississippi river on the west, all the way to to the Georgia border and Nickajack Lake.

Nickajack Lake, TN river
From Reconstruction until the 2010 election, the Fifth Congressional District was represented by Democrats. Since 2010, however, the District is represented by Morris Brooks, a Tea Partier.  Brooks endorsed Ted Cruz for president last November and serves as chairman of Cruz's election campaign in Alabama.

District 5 came out strong for Donald Trump on Super Tuesday (March 1, 2016). Is it all on account of a short memory?

Let's Recall: This is A Region that was Benefited by Strong Liberal Programs

Prior to the Great Depression (1933) northern Alabama counties were predominantly white, rural, and poor. The region was hit particularly hard by the Great Depression. In May 1933, Congress chartered the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development to the Tennessee Valley, a region that included Alabama's Fifth Congressional District.

The TVA slowly changed the demographics of northern Alabama to include technical and engineering employees. The federal government located space exploration and rocket programs in Huntsville, including the Redstone Arsenal where the first large U.S. ballistic missiles were produced. In the 1960's NASA built its Marshall Space Flight Center in the Huntsville-Decatur area.

Private industry, including manufacturing, followed. A joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin established United Launch Alliance to build space launch vehicles for the U.S. government.

The New York Times this week reported:
As the South industrialized in the second half of the 20th century, poor Alabamians who once toiled on farms were able to secure a toehold in the middle class. In the shadow of Tennessee Valley Authority dams that supplied cheap power, thousands of workers sewed jeans and T-shirts, and could earn upward of $20 an hour in heavily unionized factories.
But not just clothing: the region is blessed with jobs in the automotive industry, the chemicals industry, distribution and logistics, plastics, metal fabrication, food processing, packaging, wood products, and life sciences.

Today the per capita income in Northern Alabama is $40,037/year. The region is still white (77.7%), but it is no longer rural and poor. The area has benefitted greatly from the liberal federal policies that also served to stimulate and attract private industry.

....And Along came NAFTA, China's Entry to WTO, Global Trade, and the Great Recession

More recently, the federal government has promoted free trade policies that may have hurt some in the area. In 1993 the Clinton administration negotiated the North American Free Trade Association agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.  In 2001 China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). These agreements exposed U.S. private manufacturers--including those of Alabama's Fifth Congressional District--to competition from countries with an abundant supply of cheap labor.

Manufacturers of clothing, electronics, rubber and plastic goods in places like the Alabama Fifth Congressional District found it difficult to compete with similar goods manufactured at a lower cost in Mexico and China. And free trade competition came from other countries as well.

So whereas the northern Alabama counties were much assisted by U.S. government policies for the 60 years from 1933 to 1993, the free trade policies of the government in the past 20 years appears to have adversely affected some voters in the area. Memories are short.

The overall benefits of free trade for the U.S. economy are much debated and are difficult to quantify. At Working Economics Blog they point out that President Clinton argued that, although NAFTA would result in the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs in isolated areas, this would be offset by increased high value exports. Twenty-three years later it is still debated whether the promise of NAFTA has been fulfilled.

What is clear is that when China gained entry to the WTO in 2001, it's share of world manufacturing exports tripled from 4.8% to 15.1% in 2010. [See data HERE]  Many areas in the U.S. experienced disruption from this increased China trade, and in pockets (like Alabama's Fifth Congressional District) this disruption was very significant.

The NYT article (above) suggests that "humming factories" in Northern Alabama were battered by Chinese imports. They published photos of empty buildings to drive home the point:
[T]he collapse of the apparel industry here in the first decade of the 21st century, following China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, reversed that process [of manufacturing growth]. Nearly 10,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared. At 7.4 percent, the regional unemployment rate is well below its peak of 12.8 percent in 2010, but remains far above the national average of 5 percent.
[The civilian labor force for the U.S. is approximately 158,000,000 or approximately 50% of total population.  Meanwhile the labor force participation rate of this work force has ranged from a high of 67% in 2007 to 63% today.  If we look at this at the level of the Fifth Congressional District, this would suggest they have a labor force of ~350,000, with 231,000 employed (at 66% labor force participation). This means a loss of 10,000 manufacturing jobs in Alabama's Fifth Congressional District represents approximately 4.3 % of jobs lost for the area as a result of Chinese competition alone. Any way you look at this, that's a lot; it's enough to put the region under significant economic stress]

The Effect of Economic Stress on our Politics

In a new study, The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure, the authors present evidence that exposure to "trade shock" results in a more polarized politics. This means Republicans who are elected are significantly more to the right than their predecessors, and Democrats who are elected are slightly more liberal than their predecessors.  Today, there is no overlap between the parties. The most liberal Republican in Congress is more conservative than the most moderate Democrat. 

The study found that this rightward shift among elected Republicans is especially pronounced in Congressional districts with a majority white voter base, such as Alabama's Fifth Congressional District (77.7% white). Notably, the study found that most Congressional districts throughout the country continue to have a majority white voter base. 

Congressional districts with a dominant minority population have polarized to the left, although polarization was less on the left. 

Would Voters in Alabama's Fifth District be Better Served by More Liberal Policies?

Lawrence Mishel is president of the Economic Policy Institute He has co-authored all 12 editions of The State of Working America, much touted by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Mishel took note of the New York Times article and suggests that their lamenting the polarization of our politics as a result of "trade shocks" is shedding crocodile tears. "Ignoring the losers was deliberate," he says.  Supporting the areas hardest hit with good old fashioned liberal policies would have helped, a lot, but Congress didn't help: 
In 1981, our vigorous trade adjustment assistance (TAA) program was one of the first things Reagan attacked, cutting its weekly compensation payments from a 70 percent replacement rate down to 50 percent. Currently, in a dozen states, unemployment insurance—the most basic safety net for workers—is being unraveled by the elites. Only about one unemployed person in four receives unemployment compensation today. 
... Trade theory tells us that globalization’s impact is much greater on the wages of all non-college grads (... two-thirds (to) three-quarters of the workforce).... The damage is widespread, not concentrated among a few. Trade theory says the result is a permanent, not temporary, lowering of wages of all “unskilled” workers. You can’t adjust a dislocated worker to an equivalent job if good jobs are not being created and wages for the majority are being suppressed. Let’s not pretend.

The winners have never tried to fully compensate the losers, so let’s stop claiming that trade benefits us all. Globalization is one of several policy actions that has suppressed wage growth in recent decades. We would have better been able to weather its impact if we had better overall policies to support wages and workers and their families. .... If free-traders had actually cared about the working class they could have supported a full range of policies to support robust wage growth: full employment, collective bargaining, high labor standards, a robust minimum wage, and so on. They could have strengthened social insurance. And they could have done all that before administering “shocks” by expanding trade with low-wage countries. But they didn’t, and still won’t. Elites on both sides of the aisle have never even sought to restore TAA after the GOP assault. These economists do not really have a clue as to what has damaged working families, nor do they acknowledge the extent these families have been betrayed by a bipartisan elite crowd for which many economists provide intellectual cover.
All these policies for mitigating trade shocks that Mishel describes, of course, are liberal policies.

The NYT article describes how the last Democratic representative from Alabama's Fifth Congressional District, Parker Griffith, sought refuge from the storm by switching parties: he was elected as a moderate Democrat, and he switched parties to save his hide as a moderate Republican.

In 2009-2010 Griffith repeatedly voted against the extension of unemployment benefits, he voted against Obamacare, he voted against mortgage relief for homeowners, he voted against the Dodd-Frank reforms of Wall Street, he voted against increasing the debt ceiling to meet national obligations, he voted against appropriations for infrastructure and transportation programs, and he voted against the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act. In other words he voted against liberal proposals that might have helped those hardest hit by our free trade policies.

The lesson from the Electoral Consequences study, it seems, is Griffith might have better served himself by turning hard left than by becoming a moderate Republican, and by doing so he might also have better served the voters in the Fifth Congressional District.

TVA map 
h/t to Brad DeLong.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ronit Elakabetz (1964-2016)

The Israeli Actress Ronit Elkabetz has died of cancer.  She was an award-winning actress, director and scriptwriter who over the course of her career won three Ophir awards – the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar – for best actress, for her performances in the films “Sh’Chur,” “Late Marriage” and “The Band’s Visit.” Elkabetz was born in Be’er Sheva in 1964, the eldest of four children, one of whom is director and screenwriter Shlomi Elkabetz. She studied acting at the Hadar Theater.

Here is my review of her film (with brother Shlomi Elkabetz)  Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem which I discovered a year ago.

Uri Klein had a loving tribute in Haaretz:
Her death was a shock. It felt as if a great, magnificent tree had been uprooted from the Israeli film landscape. She was talented, beautiful, magnificent— a one-woman extravaganza who was able to transcend herself and embrace the art of filmmaking and the place and society in which the films were made. Even when I had reservations about her performance or direction of a film, it was never possible to ignore her. There has never been another Israeli movie actress or artist whose presence declared with such force: I am here!...
Elkabetz had a face that was impossible to look away from, a voice that sometimes erupted from the depths of her body and her soul.
Here is an anonymous tribute found on the internet:

Monday, April 25, 2016

When Might is Knowledge, Violence can not be Far Behind

Boris Schumatsky/BS photo
Boris Schumatsky was born in the Soviet Union in 1965. After the disintegration of the Soviet empire in 1989 he moved to Berlin where he works as a journalist and post-modern novelist. I don’t know what post-modern means: apparently it has something to do with narrative techniques that employ fragmentation, paradox, an unreliable narrator, and eschewing neat resolutions. They say it’s a style that mostly arose after World War II.

Foucault (1926-1984) comes into it. Foucault, a French philosopher, writer, and social critic of the mid 20th century, wrote about the relationship between power and knowledge, and how power and knowledge are used as a form of social control through societal institutions.

And when we speak of power and knowledge and control through societal institutions, we think politics, media, propaganda campaigns, and compromised public intellectuals. And stealing from Tina Turner, we might ask: “What’s truth got to do with it; what’s truth but a second hand emotion?”

Yesterday Schumatsky published an essay in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, about The Crisis of Truth [in German]. Standing in the center of the EU (Germany), he writes: we thought we were set free from the hobbles of national identity, sexual identity, and societal structures, and yet everywhere we look there are millions of people who willingly submit to collective fictions and falsehoods. We perceive social inequalities and blame sinister bankers. We fear the effects of globalization and we blame refugees and immigrants.

In Rousseau’s immortal phrase: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” In Schumatsky's sense this would mean the freedom of Truth and the chains of Untruth.

There is a war on Truth, says Schumatsky. We came to see Truth as tyrannical. We looked at claims of Truth as cloaked in the mantle of repression. We have gone further. We came to see even our conception of reality as restricting and oppressive. Think of global warming deniers. Think of Jim Imhofe throwing a snowball in Congress to prove global warming does not exist. “There are no facts, only interpretations” Friedrich Nietzche once said. But if we adopt this attitude in politics, says Schumatsky, the result is that only lies count. Lies and manipulations. Schumatsky directs us to Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, who had a knack for turning untruths into a joke. “This is Mubarak’s daughter,” he said about an underage play-companion. The secret for this working, says Schumatsky, is everyone must be in on the joke. “The great man is under attack, and look, not only did he defend himself, he did so with wit and elegance!” So said the press; and so thought significant segments of the public. 

By refusing to distinguish between facts and lies we participate in this assault on Truth, says Schumatsky. We are co-conspirators. Facts are unclear; they are inconvenient. And so we willingly submit to simple stories and lies.

Go no further than your closest Rush Limbaugh broadcast. The rabidly conservative Limbaugh has been the leading talk show broadcaster since 1991 with more than 13 million weekly listeners. He is a master at spreading lies. His listeners are not interested in Truth. By listening and repeating talking points his listeners participate in the assault on Truth. Go no further than the Israeli campaign of Hasbara. It spreads untruths, from the Six Day War, to the Peace process, to Palestinian incitement. Many simple stories; many lies. Receptive audiences lap this up.

This co-conspiratorial attitude by the electorate results in a steady watering down of political truths. It debases our politics. The inevitable upshot, according to Foucault (suggests Schumatsky), is the reduction of knowledge to might. It turns political reasoning to caricature. Might is right. We have to look no further than to Mitch McConnell's rule of the U.S. Senate. And when knowledge is reduced to might, violence cannot be far behind.

Schumatsky directs us to shallow reefs in the South China Sea which suddenly are islands sprouting Chinese airfields. The Chinese public “knows” that these Islands are Chinese islands. Just like the Russian public “knows” the Crimean peninsula to be “Russian:” might is knowledge.

And we behold Donald Trump’s “Truth” that Latin American immigrants are “rapists and murderers” and we must therefore keep them out with a wall along the Southern border; and we listen to ‘Lyin’ Ted’s’ “Truth” that 12 million undocumented workers will be rounded up and deported; and we think if such knowledge ever comes to power, violence cannot be far behind.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Zionist Passover Haggadah (Aren't they all?): With a Commitment to Justice

 H A G G A D A H

Welcome to our Passover Seder. We gather at this full moon of spring to celebrate the renewal of the seasons through stories from our past; we gather to celebrate our friendship, our families, life and good fortune.

We live and grow and are transformed by years of circumstance; yet me maintain a continuing identity. Passover is one of these continuities. A common denominator.

This week, people all over the world are gathered to observe Pesach. So they have done for more than 3000 years. The word "Seder" means "order", and the word "Haggadah" means "the telling." It is said that "Whoever enlarges upon the telling of the exodus from Egypt, those persons are praiseworthy."

(we say the Kiddush; first cup of wine)

Please join in these blessings as we light the holiday candles:


Boruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tsi-vanu l'hadlik ner shel Shab-os v’shel yom tov.

[Blessed is the spirit of freedom in whose honor we kindle the lights of this holiday.]

Bo-ruch a-toh Ado-noi E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ho-olom she-he-che-ya-nu vi-kee-yi-ma-nu vi-hi-gee-an-u liz-man ha-zeh.

[Blessed are you, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and let us reach this time.]


Let us fill our cups and toast the first of the four traditional cups of wine. At this time we also fill a cup for Elijah the prophet--the harbinger of rain. "Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising out of the sea, and in a little while the heavens grow black with clouds and wind, and there is a great rain." Elijah has an honorary place at this festival of spring and, a little later, we will formally invite him to join us for our seder meal.

We dedicate this cup of wine to Spring, a time of rebirth.


Rise up and come away...
For the winter is past 
The rain is over and gone
The flowers appear on the earth 
The time of singing has come 
The voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land 
The fig tree puts forth her green figs 
And the vines in blossom give forth their fragrance
Arise, and come with us!

                                        --Song of Songs 2:10

 Please join us in this song:


Dodi Li, Va-ani lo, ha ro-eh ba-shoshanim (2)
Mi zote olah, min ha-midbar, mi zote olah
Meh-ku-teret mor, mor u'leh-va-nah, mor u'leh-va-nah

Dodi Li... (2)

Li bav-ti-ni ah-cho-ti chalah, li bav-ti-ni chalah (2)

Dodi Li... (2)

Oo-ri, tsafon, oo-vo-ee tey-mahn (2)

[My beloved is mine and I am my beloved's, a shepherd in the wild roses. Who is this, coming up from the wilderness, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense? You have captured my heart, my sister, my bride... Awake northwind, and come, southwind...]


Boruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam
boray pree hagafen.

[We praise you, O Lord, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

(All drink the first cup of wine.)

Please join us in this song:


                            Lo yisa goy el goy cherev;
                            Lo yil-m'du od mil-cha-ma.

[And everyone 'neath their vine and fig tree Will live in peace and unafraid And into plowshares turn their sword Nations shall learn war no more!]

 (we wash our hands)

(matzah, eggs, shankbone, maror, saltwater, charoset, karpas)

MATZAH: This is matzah, the bread of affliction. Now I break the middle matzah and conceal one half as the afikoman. Later we will share it, as in days of old the Passover offering itself was shared at this service in Jerusalem. Among people everywhere, sharing of bread forms a bond of fellowship. Therefore, we say together the ancient words which join us with our own people and with all who are in need. For our greatness is bound up with the deliverance from bondage of people everywhere.


This is the bread of affliction,
the poor bread, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.
Let all who are hungry eat, let all who are in want
share the hope of Passover.

EGGS: The eggs are a symbol of springtime, fertility, and the giving of life.

(all dip egg in salt water and eat)

THE SHANKBONE: Tradition directs us to hold up a roasted lamb bone, which is symbolic of the animals sacrificed during the spring sacrifice. The story of Exodus tells that the doorposts of Jewish homes were marked with the blood of sacrificial lambs so the plague of the slaying of the first borne would "pass over" the household.

MAROR: The bitter herb (horseradish) symbolizes the bitterness of cruelty and oppression.

SALT WATER: This represents the tears of The Children of Israel in slavery.

CHAROSET: This mixture of nuts, apples and spices symbolizes the mortar that the Children of Israel used to build the pyramids. The sweet taste of the Charoset also reminds us that in the bitter times of slavery, the sweet taste of freedom calls.

KARPAS: The parsley and the salt water remind us that both the tender greens of the earth and the salt of the sea are joined together to sustain life.

Please join us in this blessing:

Boruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam boray pree ha-adamah.

[Blessed are you, O Lord, King of the Universe Who creates the fruit of the earth.]

 (everyone, dip parsley in salt water and eat)

It is said:  "eat the paschal lamb with matzah and maror together."  Numbers 9:11.  Therefore, please join us in the traditional "Hillel sandwich" of matzah and maror, sweetened by haroset.

Please join us in this song:

Zum gali gali gali, zum gali gali
chalutza le'man avoda 
avoda le'man chalutza
Zum gali gali gali, zum gali gali
hechalutz le'man chaverav
chaverav le'man hechalutz

[The pioneer is for his work, work is for the pioneer. 
The pioneer is for his friends, friends are for the pioneer.]

(the four questions, a Passover story , second cup of wine)

            Four Questions on why this night is different from other nights:
                        Ma nish-ta-na ha-lai-la hazeh  zeh mee-kol ha-lay-lot?
                        Sheh-b'chol ha-lay-lot a-nuo-ch'leen cha-maytz u- matsah,
                        ha-lai-la ha-zeh ku-lo ma-tza.

                        Sheh-b'chol ha-lay-lot a-nu o-ch'leen
                        sh'awr y'ra-kot ha-lai-la ha-zeh maror.

                        Sheb-b'chol ha-lay-lot ayn a-nu mat-bee-leen a-fee-lu pa-am e-chod, ha-lai-la ha-zeh sh'tay p'ah-meem.

                        Sheb-b'chol ha-lay-lot a-nu o-ch'leen bayn yosh-veen u-vayn m'su-been, ha-lai-la ha-zeh ku-lah-nu m'su-been.
* * *

                        Why do we eat only matzah and no bread on this night?

                        Why do we eat bitter herbs on this night?

                        Why do we dip our food in salt water two times on this night?

                        Why do we sit and relax when we eat on this night?
The sages instruct us to answer these questions according to the nature of the child:

The wise child should be taught about the details of the Seder, the nature of freedom and justice, and about the need to act to transform the world.

The isolated child we encourage: come join us tonight; Listen closely. Sing and read and dance and drink. Be with us, become a part of us. Then you will know what the Seder means to us.

The simple child should be told that we are remembering a long time ago in another land when we were forced to work for other people as slaves. We became a free people and we are celebrating our freedom.

To the child who is too young to ask we explain this wondrous evening happens in the spring of every year, so that we may remember how out of death and sorrow and slavery came life and joy and freedom. To remember the sorrow we eat bitter herbs; to remember the joy we drink sweet wine. And we sing of life because we love ourselves and each other and you.



My father was a fugitive Aramean.  He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there, and there became a great and populous nation.

The time that the children of Israel dwelled in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years and there arose a new king over Egypt.  And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of Israel, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."  Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens; and they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses.  They made the people of Israel serve with rigor and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick. 

And Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.  And we cried out in anguish.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to bring them up to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people out of Egypt."

Please sing:


When Israel was in Egypt land, 
Let my people go
Oppressed so hard they could not stand
Let my people go

Chorus: Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land

Tell old Pharaoh, "Let my people go"
We need not always weep and mourn
Let my people go
And wear these chains of slaves forlorn
Let my people go

Chorus: Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land

Tell old Pharaoh, "Let my people go"
No more shall they in Bondage toil, 
Let my people go
Let them come out from Egypt's soil,
Let my people go

Chorus: Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land

Tell old Pharaoh, "Let my people go"

Please recite:


Good morning, daddy! Ain't you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble Of a dream deferred?
Listen closely: You'll hear their feet

Beating out and beating out a--
You think It's a happy beat?

Listen to it closely: ain't you heard
Down in the bass That steady beat 

Walking walking walking
Like marching feet.

                                            --Langston Hughes

Our rabbis taught:  God is urgent about justice, for upon justice the world depends.   To remember upheaval that follows oppression, we pour ten drops for the plagues of Egypt.  


 Please sing:


I-lu ho-tzi-a-nu, ho-tzi-a-nu mi-mitz-ra-yim,
ho-tzi-a-nu mi-mitz-ra-yim da-yei-nu.

Chorus: Da-da-yei-nu, da-da-yei-nu, da-da-yei-nu
da-yei-nu, da-yei-nu, da-yei-nu
I-lu na-tan la-nu, na-tan la-nu et ha-sha-bat, 
na-tan la-nu et ha-sha-bat, dayeinu.

Chorus: Da-da-yei-nu, da-da-yei-nu, da-da-yeinu,

da-yei-nu, da-yei-nu, da-yei-nu
I-lu na-tan, na-tan la-nu, na-tan la-nu et ha-to-rah, 
na-tan la-nu et ha-to-rah, dayeinu.


            At midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle.  And on that very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

            God did not lead the people of Israel by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, "Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt."  But God led the people round by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea where they became trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, who pursued them with a great army.  Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.  And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground.  But when the Egyptians entered the sea-bed their chariot wheels became clogged and the sea came back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen, and they drowned.

Please sing:


Pharaoh had an army, his horses shook the ground
But mighty as that army was, to a man they drowned
Prob'ly the old Pharaoh, prob'ly got away
And lived to tell his story, and fight another day.

Jacob he grew children, the Pharaoh took for slaves
And used them and abused them, as one will do with slaves
But thank God our people's children, thank God got away
And lived to tell their story, and fight another day.

                                           --Jesse Winchester

            And the Lord said to Moses, "Depart, go up hence, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the land flowing with milk and honey.”


But God did not let Moses enter the land. “Ascend this mountain of the Ag’arim, Mount Nebo,” he said, “and view the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel for a possession.”

And what are the people of Israel to do with this possession?  “Justice!” said the Lord. God gave a vision to Isaiah, son of Amoz: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause,” said the Lord God to Isaiah. And to his servant Zachariah, He said: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

And these words the Lord God said to Jeremiah: “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

And we contemplate 48 years of occupation of millions of people without citizenship, without a franchise, or due process of law, and we think of Micah who spoke to all Israel and said: “Hear what the Lord says: …for the Lord has a controversy with his people… O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

“And with what shall I come before the Lord?” asked the people. And Micah answered: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

And we look at Beitar Jerusalem and some of their followers, and we ask “Do they walk humbly with their God?

And we look at Donald Trump and his 10 foot wall, and Ted Cruz and his promise to round up and deport 12 million from among us, and we ask: “Do they walk humbly with their God?

And we look at the murder of an incapacitated stabbing suspect in Hebron, and the country rallying around the murderer, and we ask “What does it mean to walk humbly with your God? What does it mean to do justice?”

And we ponder our Enlightenment heritage and we see political values of freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, equal rights and protection under the law irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, or religion; we see a commitment to harness the productive forces of society to help everyone.  And we ask, is this what the prophets were thinking?

We contemplate these Enlightenment values, which commit us, as a matter of necessity, to a clear separation of church and state and to a strong and independent judiciary, and we ask: Would Isaiah, Zachariah, Jeremiah, and Micah have approved of these values? And we say “Yes, Isaiah, Zachariah, Jeremiah, and Micah would have approved. And so would the Lord our God.”

And so we say: “Next year, justice in Jerusalem; next year justice in the land of milk and honey; next year, justice in America.”



Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; 

Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. 

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I  never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

                                           --John Keats

(Prayer for the Dead)


            Rabbi Yoseph was astounded to discover that he was dead.  Far below him, the crumbling ghetto of Zlochtov slumbered under a blanket of thick, wet snow, and a chorus of pious snores floated dreamily past him, winding their sleepy way to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

            The snores were collected in a basket by a bird he had never seen before but had dreamed of once on the night of a Holy Day he no longer recalled.  Because of this odd familiarity, Rabbi Yoseph imposed upon the bird and begged permission to look through the basket for one particular snore.  The bird grudgingly consented and tucking his bill into his wings, he was instantly asleep. 

            Rabbi Yoseph searched through the snores with particular care.  Some felt warm to the touch like tiny kittens, others tickled him so that he nearly cried out, others were so drenched with tears that they nearly slipped through his fingers like water and escaped completely, and then at last he came to the snore he was looking for, that of his wife, his Merriam, who lay sleeping beside his mortal remains in the nest of rags and shredded linen which had been their wedding bed for so many years.   In the morning she would discover him there and at night her snores would be dripping, heartbroken snores like so many the bird had collected before. 

            He held the snore cupped tightly in his hands for a very long time, afraid that it might float away the moment he opened them again, but at last contrived a way of opening just one finger enough so that he could see it clearly but not enough so that it could slip out.   As it lay in his hands like a tiny bird snuggled safely in a shell, its gentle buzzing was sometimes interrupted by snatches from the tune of a Sabbath prayer,  and once it spoke Rabbi Yoseph’s name with such a rich and boundless love that the snore nearly consumed itself in a sigh.

            How very wonderful it seemed.  How much like a miracle.  Merriam was still the most beautiful woman and now he could see little prints of her feet showing every step she had taken in the ghetto throughout her life, the faintest being the smallest steps she had taken in  childhood, the brightest being the ones she had taken that day to the market and back to their room.  All her steps, even the first, smelled vaguely of onions and fish and this brought a deep, warm smile to his face as he closed his eyes and remembered her. 

            Rabbi Yoseph was distracted by the sound of a wagon rumbling towards him with a loadful of snores on the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.  The wagonmaster was a pious frog with dark green sidelocks, a skullcap and the four fringed vest of an orthodox Jew.  Enquiring after the bird, Rabbi Yoseph learned that it had finally passed away and, since it had not appointed a successor, after much debate the task was given to the frog who rode on the wagon which stood before him.  Rabbi Yoseph realized at once that a great deal of time had passed.  Loneliness came down on him like a mountain. 

            In the years that followed,  Rabbi Yoseph wandered from star to star and from world to world and returned to earth as a minor figure in a parable uttered by the Miracle Rabbi of Lublin.   From tiny cracks in the story, Rabbi Yoseph looked out briefly into a world which reminded him of Zlochtov and he fell in love with his own daughter whose name was not Merriam but might easily have been.

            It was Rabbi Yoseph’s honor to live in a parable uttered daily by Rabbi Judah, the Lion of Minsk, who was told of Rabbi Yoseph’s presence in a dream.  Late one night, Rabbi Judah was astounded that he was dead.  Overcome with grief, he recited the parable in which Rabbi Yoseph had lived for so many years and found himself suddenly at his side.  Rabbi Yoseph explained to him the pious task of the hare who collected snores  in a barrow and how he had replaced the frog who had once collected snores in a wagon and how he had replaced the bird who had once collected snores in a basket.  He showed Rabbi Judah the proper manner of searching through the barrow of snores to find the snore of his wife whose name, oddly enough, was Merriam, and how to cup it gently in his hands and peer at it by opening just one finger so that it would not float away. 

            Thus they became fast friends and wandered together from star to star and from world to world.  Whenever they came to a difficulty, Rabbi Yoseph recited a parable which he had lived in and Rabbi Judah commented on it,   whereupon Rabbi Yoseph related another parable, and so on, often for years at a time, until at last they reached the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The details of their journey are much like a dream and have no place in this story recounting the actual events of Rabbi Yoseph’s adventures following his death.  It can be told, however, that as they approached the Kingdom of Heaven they were greeted by a smell which reminded them greatly of onions and fish.  And this can be told because it was no dream at all. 
Please sing:


Ei-li-ya-hu ha-na-vi, Ei-li-ya-hu ha-tish-bi,
Ei-li-ya-hu, Ei-li-ya-hu, Ei-li-ya-hu ha-gi-la-di.
Bim-hei-ra v'-ya-mei-nu, ya-vo ei-lei-nu
Im ma-shi-ah ben da-vid, im ma-shi-ah ben da-vid.


(Discussion, search for the afikoman)

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Cry for Humanity in the Wilderness of GOP Electioneering: Immigration Law Edition

Cruz & Trump at Tea Party Rally Sept. 9, 2015
Nicholas Kamm/ Getty images

What Newt Gingrich Believed

During the 2012 election for President, Newt Gingrich counseled that our immigration policy must be characterized by humane enforcement of the law:

I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter-century, who have children and grandchildren . . . separate them from their families and expel them . . . . [L]et's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.
Gingrich didn't last long in the GOP field that year. Yet after Obama soundly defeated Romney in 2012, GOP strategists decided they needed to show some humanity on immigration issues in order to compete for Latino votes if they wanted to regain the White House. So in 2013 four GOP Senators (John McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, and Jeff Flake) joined four Democrats to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a path towards citizenship for undocumented workers currently in the country.

But the GOP is not yet able to leave behind its anti-immigration crusade. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act ("DREAM Act") first introduced with bipartisan support in 2001, and designed to show some humanity to children living here, foundered on the rocks of GOP partisanship. And in the current election cycle Jeb Bush, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio and all discussion of comprehensive immigration reform have been muscled aside by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz trying to outdo each other about who would be more inhumane towards undocumented workers living among us.

When Bill O'Reilly of Fox News asked Ted Cruz whether we should "round up all 12 million illegal aliens here?"  Cruz answered: “Yes, we should deport them. We should build a wall, we should triple the Border Patrol. Federal law requires that anyone here illegally that’s apprehended should be deported.”

Forget Gingrich and his call for humane treatment in 2012: Cruz and his electioneering rhetoric points to carrying the decades long GOP crusade against undocumented immigrants from Latin America to its cruel, inhumane logical extreme.  A president Cruz, said Cruz, would instruct federal agents to actively seek out illegals to deport them--on a massive scale. Two holocausts in scale.

When our country is ready to follow a leader like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump down such a path, we are in trouble; it will  lead to tremendous mistakes that we would live to regret. Think of the Chinese exclusion Act; think of the Japanese internment in World War II; think of our immigration policy in light of the impending Holocaust in Europe during World War II.

Inhumanity in our immigration policy is not a new phenomenon.

Yes, We Do Take People who Have been Here a Quarter-Century, Who have Children... and Separate them from their Families and Expel Them.

Little cruelties happen on a daily basis. Take the story of Oscar Martinez and his family written up by professor Bill Ong Hing in The Scholar, St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice, Vol. 15:437  (2013)  It's the story of friends of mine. [The names in the article are fictional]

Oscar Martinez and his father-in-law crossed into the United States in 1985 looking for an opportunity to work. They did so by walking across what was an open border, past border agents who (as a matter of policy) turned a blind eye at certain times of the year when California was in need of workers. Martinez soon found work in a potato packing plant in Oakland. He returned back and forth to Mexico a couple of times. In 1987 he was able to bring his wife to live with him. He did not return to Mexico again for the next 20 years.

Oscar soon found better work in the kitchen of a Holiday Inn, working the graveyard shift. For 22 years he worked at the hotel. He was a responsible and diligent worker.

Oscar's first wife tragically became ill with heart and lung disease. She died in January 1995.

In January 1994 the GOP proposed legislation to establish a citizenship screening process in California to deny non-emergency health care, public education, and other benefits of the state to all illegal aliens. The legislation was placed on the ballot that Fall as a referendum measure, Proposition 187.  California's Republican governor Pete Wilson strongly campaigned for the initiative, which passed with 78% of Republican voters in support. [Independents were 62%in favor; Democrats were 64% opposed] [The courts immediately granted a temporary injunction and later overturned the initiative as unconstitutional]

In the meantime Oscar Martinez remarried in 1996. His new wife had lost her husband in an automobile accident. She had two young children whom Oscar adopted. She also was undocumented.

The Martinez's were a model immigrant family. Hard working, responsible, respected in their community. They were active in their Church, the parents supported their children to succeed in education, in soccer, in music. The family was able to buy a house in East Oakland. They had a third child together.

In June 2007 Republicans in Congress killed President George W. Bush's effort at comprehensive immigration reform. "The president was unable to overcome fierce opposition from fellow Republicans who said it was an amnesty that rewarded illegal immigrants," said Reuters News Service.

On August 29, 2007, out of the blue, after 22 years on the job, the U.S. Department of Customs and Immigration Enforcement("ICE") arrested Oscar Martinez at his work and initiated deportation proceedings.

A Tale of Prosecutorial Discretion

The family, community, and friends of Oscar Martinez rallied to his side. Oscar readily admitted that he was here illegally. However, the length of his stay in the U.S., children who are U.S. citizens, a clean record, and an exemplary work history made him potentially eligible for cancellation of removal and the grant of lawful resident status.  

In order for removal proceedings to be cancelled, the statute requires that the applicant have (1) ten years of continuous physical presence in the United States; (2) good moral character; (3) no prior convictions; and (4) establishes that removal would result in "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to the alien's spouse, parent, or child who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident." 8 USC 1229(b)(1) (2006). 

In 2008 Oscar's lawyers convinced an immigration law judge that he merited cancellation of his removal proceeding. The family was elated. Not only did this halt immediate deportation, but it opened the door for Oscar to potentially obtain a driver's license and permanent residency status. Potentially this opened up a path for his wife to legal status as well. 

Humane enforcement of our immigration law would dictate we end there. This is a model family. Oscar Martinez is the type of person we want here. He is not a law breaker. He is diligent and hard working. The hearing established all of these facts. 

But we didn't end there. The government decided to appeal the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals. Here is how Bill Hing puts it in his article: "Ronald LeFevre, the ICE Chief Counsel at the time, made the decision to file the appeal; LeFevre had a reputation among local immigration attorneys as being harsh, not happy with any government "loss," and willing to file unreasonable appeals on even the most sympathetic cases."

Hing entered the case at a later stage, but it's clear he feels the humane thing to do was for the government to leave this family alone, to let them continue making their valuable contributions to our society.  If we were humane in our enforcement of the law, prosecutors would have honored the trial judge's finding: it offered a way to create legality so that Oscar would not be separated from his family.

"Exceptional and Extremely Unusual Hardship"

The trial judge in entering her order of cancellation of removal was swayed by the equities of Oscar's case. The Board of Immigration Appeals found that, the equities notwithstanding, the facts were not sufficient to meet the "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" standard of the statute. Based on prior BIA decisions, this may well be correct. 

The Alien Registration Act of 1940 authorized the Attorney General to suspend deportations of certain aliens depending on enumerated equities. The categories were broadened in 1948. It enabled prosecutors and judges to administer the laws humanely. But in 1996 Republicans in Congress moved to increase the threshold requirement for a suspension of deportation proceedings to the "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" (on those left behind) standard. 

Professor Hing concludes as follows: 
Oscar Martinez was forced to leave the country after living in the United States in undocumented status for twenty-five years. He had two U.S. citizen children: one age twenty-one, the other thirteen, and a loving wife. He had no criminal history. He held two jobs. He made sure his children got to school on time. He made sure they did their homework. He drove them to soccer practice. He was active in the PTA and at church. He was a good friend and neighbor. He was an exemplary member of the community. He should not have been deported. 
Not if we're being humane.

After Oscar was deported the family was unable to make the loan payments on their house. They lost their house. The family was put under tremendous stress. They have coped....but we (as a society) are being cruel and inhumane.

The President's Attempts to be More Humane: United States v. Texas

As Hing noted in his article, ICE has been carrying out record breaking deportations under the Obama administration. In the meantime Congress has done nothing towards providing any legislative relief. In the absence of any Congressional action, on June 15, 2012 President Obama issued a memorandum that announced he would exercise prosecutorial discretion to defer taking action on deporting people who would have been covered by the DREAM act. In 2014 he expanded this to parents of DREAMERs--people like Oscar Martinez. 

But so far this has not amounted to much. Republicans have sued. A Judge in Texas issued an injunction to the administration and the 5th Circuit upheld it. The state of Texas and other states led by Republican governors have sued Obama arguing that by deferring to act on entire classes of cases the President is, in effect legislating. 

The GOP is doing its level best to make sure we continue to enforce the law by taking people who have been here a quarter-century, who have children and grandchildren . . . separate them from their families and expel them.

The case challenging President Obama's deferments policy, United States v. Texas, is being argued at the Supreme Court this morning (4/18/16). [There is a big standing argument and the court may not get to the merits]

The current GOP lead argument is described here by John Eastman. He suggests President Obama is a usurper of power and he calls executive attorneys "henchmen" for daring to support an exercise of discretion to be more humane. 

Marty Lederman has an excellent rundown of the arguments HERE. You can find the coverage on SCOTUS Blog HERE

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