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December 2014

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As a parliamentary democracy, Israel is slated to have elections every four years, but they can be held earlier if the governing coalition dissolves. Few governing coalitions last the full four years, but even so, it was a bit of a surprise when Prime Minister Netanyahu called for elections last month, less than two years after the last election. Elections will be held on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, and with such little time between now and then, it seems like every day is chock full of new developments that will shape the elections.

Earlier this month, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program was released to the public. The hope of all who oppose torture is that the report will serve to prevent the behavior described within it from ever happening again, including the key findings that prisoners held by the U.S. or our allies on our behalf were grossly mistreated and abused. After years of opacity, we are finally able to know definitively how inhumane and ineffective “enhanced interrogation” has been.

Though 40 states voted on 139 ballot measures last November, there were voters in the country who were not fully heard: those in the District of Columbia. Ironically, those who live where Congress meets lack full representation.

There is no one representing the District in the Senate, and the House of Representatives has one DC member non-voting delegate. While Americans living in the District pay federal taxes, serve on juries, and participate in the Armed Services, they do not have full representation. Further, all locally passed laws and the District’s local budget require Congressional approval. The District is subject to this oversight, yet its citizens cannot make their voices heard in the legislative body that regulates them.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Center for American Progress’ event, “We The People: Why Congress Must Pass a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Act,” where Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate, announced his intention to introduce comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation. While the speakers at the event were captivating, the part of the event that stood out to me the most was during the question and answer section when Diego Sanchez, Director of Policy at PFLAG National, spoke about the importance of trans-inclusive advocacy.

At the last L’Taken seminar, Connecticut students spoke to staff from the offices of Senator Chris Murphy, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Jim Himes to share why gun violence prevention is important to them as Jews, as Americans, and as young people. Lee Winters, who came to L’Taken along with his confirmation class at Temple B'nai Chaim in Georgetown, Connecticut, shared a personal story about the rippling effects of gun violence in his community:

Debate over the “CRomnibus” spending bill closed out the 113th Congress—and 2014—with a bang. Ultimately, Congress passed the bill to avoid another shutdown and to fund the government until September 2015, the end of the fiscal year. But, lawmakers opposed the bill for its harmful policy riders, which, as my colleague Melanie Fineman explained, are amendments attached to legislation in its last stages to alter the language or to attach a new idea on a bill on which a compromise has already been reached.

One rider of particular concern will allow wealthy political contributors to give even more money to political parties. The provision creates three distinct funds within each national party, allowing individual donors to contribute up to $97,200 to each fund, each year. That’s $324,000 per year, or $648,000 per two-year election cycle. Until now, individual contributions to national parties were limited to $32,400 per year, or $64,800 in a two-year cycle. So, individual donors are now allowed to give 10 times the previous limit to finance national party activities, opening a dangerous door for wealthy contributors to gain undue influence on our political system.

If you had to choose between going into work to earn your paycheck, or staying home to care for yourself or a loved one, what would you do? What would you risk: your wages, your ability to pay for groceries, rent and utilities – or your health or the health of your child?

This complex network of choices is one too many Americans have to face every day. How do you weight your financial needs and your personal responsibilities? At some juncture, there’s a breaking point or there’s a compromise – but paid sick days legislation is so much more than a compromise, it’s a promise that work-family balance is real and is respected.

Adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely than adults who have paid sick days at work to report going to work with a contagious illness, like the flu or a virus, which also makes them more likely to infect others. Especially now that it is flu season, it is more important now than ever before for us to ensure that individuals are getting the paid sick days that they need.

Following a recent vote by the Department of Health and Human Services panel, which recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reverse its policy banning men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, the FDA announced yesterday that it will be replacing its current indefinite deferral policy with a policy that allows MSM to give blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. While this change will allow some MSM who were ineligible to donate blood in the past to donate blood, this new policy still raises questions about judicious, equal treatment for MSM in this particular situation.

In a world fraught with tension and uncertainty, it can be easy to lose sight of some positive changes and some ongoing issues that need our attention. Across the globe, religious freedom remains a dream and not a reality for far too many people. Freedom of religion and conscience are not only critical for individuals and communities, but studies have shown that there are many reasons why religious freedom is important and has effects beyond the realm of freedom of worship. Not only has a lack of religious freedom been linked with gender inequality, but also, freedom of religion is significantly associated with global economic growth

By the Rev. Fletcher Harper and Paul Kaufman

For most of us, understanding the United Nations climate change negotiations is like trying to read an unknown foreign language in the dark.  In an effort to shed light on the process, we’ll share brief reflections on last week’s UN meetings in Lima, where Fletcher represented OurVoices, the international, multi-faith campaign for a strong climate agreement.

See 8 short videos – one for each night of Hanukkah – linking climate change to the holiday.

UN Atmosphere and Local Color