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Posted by David Suissa
“It’s as dangerous as the break-up of the Union before the Civil War!”
That hysterical response to the government “shutdown” is not from a rabble-rousing blogger overdosing on Red Bull, it’s from Democratic Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa).
He’s not alone. I’ve rarely seen such a feeding frenzy of hysterical commentators jumping on Republicans for “shutting the government down.”
Look, if Republicans were immature and irresponsible for igniting this “shutdown” in the first place, then their hysterical critics are no less immature and irresponsible.
You can call this latest episode of governmental shrinkage stupid, idiotic or simply partisan politics, but if you respect the English language, you won’t call it a “shutdown.”
I’m not saying I’m happy that so many governmental workers will have their salaries be “furloughed,” although that is certainly better than having their salaries be terminated-- as has happened to millions of employees in the private sector.
What I’m saying is that we would improve the national conversation if, before jumping to hysterical conclusions, we would calm down and look at the facts of this “shutdown.”
[Rob Eshman: The Shutdown]
Let me quote at length from a report by former Justice Department lawyer Hans A. Spakovsky in National Review Online (NRO):
“The truth from the experience of prior shutdowns, applicable federal laws, Justice Department legal opinions, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directives, is that crucial government services and benefits would continue without interruption even if Congress fails to agree on a continuing resolution (CR) or President Obama vetoes it.
“That includes all services essential for national security and public safety — such as the military and law enforcement — as well as mandatory government payments such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits.
“In fact, as the Justice Department said in a legal opinion in 1995, ‘the federal government will not be truly shut down . . . because Congress has itself provided that some activities of Government should continue.’ Any claim that not passing a CR would result in a ‘shutting down’ of the government ‘is an entirely inaccurate description,’ according to the Justice Department.
“Such a lapse in funding would be neither catastrophic nor unprecedented. There have been 17 funding gaps just since 1977, ranging in duration from one to 21 days. Under applicable federal law, operations and services would continue for those essential for ‘the safety of human life or the protection of property’ as well as those programs funded through multiyear or permanent appropriations such as Social Security.
“A 1981 memorandum by David Stockman during the Reagan administration that is still relied on by the OMB laid out the services that continue without interruption during any government ‘shutdown’:
• “National security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property;
• Benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year appropriations or other funds remaining available for those purposes;
• Medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care and activities essential for the safe use of food, drugs, and hazardous materials;
• Air-traffic control and other transportation safety functions;
• Border and coastal protection and surveillance;
• Protection of federal lands, buildings, waterways, and other property of the U.S.;
• Care of prisoners and others in federal custody;
• Law enforcement and criminal investigations;
• Emergency and disaster assistance;
• Activities essential to the preservation of the money and banking system of the U.S., including borrowing and tax collection;
• Production of power and maintenance of the power-distribution system; and protection of research property.
“So planes, trains, and automobiles will keep running and TSA will keep patting you down…Social Security and Medicaid benefits will keep going out. The Border Patrol will keep patrolling our borders to prevent illegal crossings…
“The FDA and the Department of Agriculture will continue their safety testing and inspection of food and drugs, and medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care will keep right on going.
“The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department will keep printing and borrowing money and protecting the banking system. Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service will continue collecting taxes.
“It is certainly true that ‘nonessential’ federal employees will be furloughed. But so many federal employees are considered ‘essential’ that when President Bill Clinton vetoed a CR in November 1995 in a dispute with Newt Gingrich over a balanced budget and welfare reform, only about 800,000 out of a total of almost 4.5 million federal employees were furloughed.
“In a second funding gap from December 1995 to January 1996, only about 300,000 employees were furloughed. So the vast majority of federal workers will keep right on working.”
Also, as Andrew Stiles reports in NRO, “even the implementation of Obamacare would proceed apace, provided the president does not unilaterally decide to delay it further. State- and federally run health-care exchanges — at least those whose implementation is going ahead on time — will still open on Tuesday, and other core aspects of the law will continue to receive funding, via mandatory appropriations.”
This “shutdown” won’t even reduce spending.
As Stiles reports, “because so many government operations would continue under a government shutdown, and because Congress has typically voted to reimburse the missed paychecks of furloughed workers, a government shutdown probably wouldn’t cut spending. By some estimates, in fact, the shutdowns of the mid 1990s actually cost the government more than $1 billion.”
Bottom line? Call it idiotic if you like, but don’t call it a shutdown.
There is enough fear and chaos already implied in the word “shutdown” that the last thing we need right now is to pour more oil on the fire.
What we should shut down are the hysterics, especially those coming from U.S. Senators who should know better.
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July 14, 2013 | 10:37 pm
Posted by David Suissa
While the nation's eyes are on the growing demonstrations around the country over the George Zimmerman verdict—a case that had an abundance of reasonable doubt-- an enormous injustice has slipped through the national radar.
This is the impossible story of an African-American woman, Marissa Alexander, a 32-year-old mother of three, who is now serving a 20-year sentence in a Florida jail for the “crime” of firing a warning shot to scare off her threatening and abusive husband.
Yeah, you read that right.
The Alexander case reads like a nightmare of circumstances that you are sure you will soon wake up from. Only you never wake up, because the nightmare is real.
Alexander was convicted a little over a year ago by a Florida jury that ultimately sided with prosecutors in deciding Alexander’s actions were not in self-defense-- even though she didn't hurt a soul.
As reported on the MSNBC Web site, her sentencing fell under the technical guidelines of what’s known in Florida as the “10-20-Life” law, which requires that any crime committed with a gun earns the perpetrator a minimum ten-year sentence.
If the firearm is discharged, the convicted receives a 20-year minimum sentence, and if shots fired from the gun injure or kill anyone, the minimum sentence is 25-years to life.
Here’s what allegedly happened, according to a report on the CNN news site:
“Alexander said she was attempting to flee her husband, Rico Gray, on August 1, 2010, when she picked up a handgun and fired a shot into a wall.
“She said her husband had read cell phone text messages that she had written to her ex-husband, got angry and tried to strangle her.
“She said she escaped and ran to the garage, intending to drive away. But, she said, she forgot her keys, so she picked up her gun and went back into the house. She said her husband threatened to kill her, so she fired one shot.
“’I believe when he threatened to kill me, that's what he was absolutely going to do,’" she said. "’That's what he intended to do. Had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here.’"
“Alexander's attorneys tried to use the state law that allows people to use potentially deadly force anywhere they feel reasonably threatened with serious harm or death.
“But a previous judge in the case rejected the request, saying Alexander's decision to go back into the house was not consistent with someone in fear for her safety, according to the Florida Times Union newspaper.
“A jury convicted Alexander in March and Judge James Daniel denied her request for a new trial in April.”
She hurt nobody, and got 20 years.
Like I said, a nightmare.
If the Governor of Florida decides to commute Alexander's sentence or at least help her get a new trial, I have no doubt that the country-- blacks and whites-- would back him up.
Now, where are the demonstrations for Marissa Alexander?
July 5, 2013 | 4:21 pm
Posted by David Suissa
If you look at the brouhaha ignited at Sinai Temple in the wake of Rabbi David Wolpe’s announcement that he would officiate at same-sex marriages, you won’t get a good idea of what this “debate” is really about.
That’s because incendiary language has clouded the picture.
In an open letter that has spread throughout our community and was covered in the Jewish Journal and The New York Times, an opponent of gay marriage harshly condemned Wolpe’s decision, using heated language such as this:
“Homosexuality is explicitly condemned in Scripture and has been categorically and passionately rejected by all classical Jewish legal and ethical thinkers as a cardinal vice in the same category as incest, murder and idolatry.”
This wording is, to say the least, insensitive, especially since the writer surely knows that the very same Scripture calls for the killing of Jewish boys who desecrate the Sabbath (something that has never happened, of course), and that gay rights in modern nations like America and Israel have gone decidedly mainstream.
[Related: The Conservative gay marriage debate]
Furthermore, the letter’s coarse language glosses over the complexities of the issue and does a disservice to those whose support for traditional marriage has nothing to do with demeaning homosexuality.
Gay marriage is a highly sensitive subject, perhaps the most sensitive I’ve encountered in our community. It follows that it must be handled with kid gloves, not with a hammer.
Rabbi Wolpe, when he gave classes on this subject to explain his decision, tried to demonstrate that sensitivity. He wanted everyone to see that there is another side to the debate and he urged his community to respect that other side.
That alone was a major concession, because for most proponents of same-sex marriage, there is no other side to the debate. They see the right to marry someone of the same sex in the same way that they see the right of a black person to marry a white person. When one looks at it that way, what “other side” could there be?
That other side, the one that honors marriage as between a man and a woman, doesn’t need to be — and ought not be — about demeaning gays, biblically or otherwise. It’s a well-known fact today that homosexuality is not a choice, and to show insensitivity to that reality is shortsighted and heartless.
Where there is potential for an honest debate is on the implications for society and to religious freedom of blurring gender differences.
For many people who have serious reservations about same-sex marriage, the issue is not about gay rights versus other civil rights, such as racial equality. The issue is more about the freedom to respect and honor gender differences.
As Jonah Goldberg wrote in National Review Online, “The whole point of the civil-rights movement is that skin color is superficial,” as opposed to gender difference, which is “deep and biological.”
Consequently, many believe that it’s important that we ask this question: What are the possible repercussions of reversing a 2,500-year-old tradition for a new one that would fundamentally blur gender differences? As Rabbi Wolpe acknowledged during one of his classes, “No one really knows where this is going.”
[Related: We have no homosexuals here]
For example, can a gay person take legal action against his or her rabbi if that rabbi refuses, on religious grounds, to perform a same-sex marriage? After all, if one sees gay marriage as a civil right, then why wouldn’t the rabbi be legally vulnerable?
Will people have the right to respectfully express their religious preference for traditional heterosexual marriage without being labeled homophobes or being exposed to legal action? Can a photographer, for example, be sued if he or she refuses, on religious grounds, to work at a same-sex wedding?
If people express a religious preference for Jews marrying Jews — without offending non-Jews — is it OK, or even possible, to express a preference for a man marrying a woman — without offending gays?
Will public schools be legally mandated to teach kids that a same-sex marriage is perfectly equivalent to a traditional marriage — and will that infringe on the religious rights of parents who wish to teach a preference for heterosexual marriage?
These are sensitive questions — and I’m sure there are a few more. The point is to recognize that these questions do exist and represent honest concerns that ought to be discussed and sorted out as we go forward.
Sadly and ironically, in his vitriol condemning Rabbi Wolpe’s decision, the letter writer never brought up these concerns. In the process, he suffocated civil debate and undermined his own cause.
On a human level, there’s little question that this cause can melt any compassionate heart. It’s hard not to be moved by the joy that marriage brings to two souls in love. Love is love. A human union is precious and priceless. One doesn’t have to agree with a rabbi to have empathy for his or her decision to embrace the union of two loving souls, regardless of their gender.
Maybe that explains why this subject is so delicate. We’re dealing not only with complex societal and religious issues and potentially clashing rights, but also with real human beings in the throes of the most compelling emotion: love.
Whichever side of the debate you’re on, don’t fall into the trap of getting coarse and angry and blocking out other views.
Putting ourselves in the shoes of others is a godly act that keeps us human and humble. There are deep emotions and ideas on both sides of this issue. It would be worth our time to open our eyes and hearts and try to understand both of them.