(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MPP WEBSITE)
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MPP WEBSITE)
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)
If you’re a poor person in America, President Trump’s budget proposal is not for you.
Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programs that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts, including affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying home heating oil bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters.
During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed that the solution to poverty was giving poor people incentives to work. But most of the proposed cuts in his budget target programs designed to help the working poor, as well as those who are jobless, cope.
And many of them carry out their missions by disbursing money to the states, which establish their own criteria.
“This is a budget that pulled the rug out from working families and hurts the very people who President Trump promised to stand up for in rural America and in small towns,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of the poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.
The White House budget cuts will fall hardest on the rural and small town communities that Trump won, where one in three people are living paycheck to paycheck — a rate that is 24 percent higher than in urban counties, according to a new analysis by the center.
The budget proposes housing “reforms” that add up to more than $6 billion in cuts while promising to continue assisting the nation’s 4.5 million low-income households. If enacted, the proposed budget would result in the most severe cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development since the early 1980s, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
It would also eliminate the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response to homelessness across 19 federal agencies.
The administration’s reforms include eliminating funding for a $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, one of the longest continuously run HUD programs that’s been in existence since 1974.
The program provides cities with money to address a range of community development needs such as affordable housing, rehabilitating homes in neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures, and preventing or eliminating slums and community blight. It also provides funding for Meals on Wheels, a national nonprofit that delivers food to homebound seniors.
Robert Rector, a senior fellow who focuses on welfare at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, calls the community block grants a “slush fund for urban government.”
The White House touts its cuts to what the administration characterizes as “a number of lower priority programs” as a way to “promote fiscal responsibility.” In actuality, it guts federal funding for affordable housing and kicks the financial responsibility of those programs to states and local governments.
Gone would be $35 million in funding for well-known programs such as Habitat for Humanity and Youth Build USA, fair housing planning, and homeless assistance, among other housing help for needy Americans.
Other targets include funding for neighborhood development and a home-buying program through which low-income individuals help build their own homes. Trump also plans to cut the Home Investment Partnership Program, the largest federal grant to state and local governments that is designed to create affordable housing.
“There is no coordinated plan for how to fulfill the same mission. Saying states, local governments and philanthropy are going to help is just passing the buck,” said a HUD official who is not authorized to speak to the media.
The official said workers at the agency Thursday morning were feeling “demoralized” and “worried.”
“This is just a tough, tough time,” the official said. “HUD is no different from any other domestic agency in just feeling as though these cuts are all very arbitrary and unnecessary.”
Poor people need not lean on community banks for financial help, either, because Trump plans to eliminate the $210 million now dedicated toward Community Development Financial Institutions. The program, administered through the Treasury Department, invests in community banks that provide loans and financial services to people living in some of the most distressed communities of the country.
“Cutting that program would be nothing short of a disaster, and the ripple effect would be felt in urban areas and some rural areas all over America,” said Michael A. Grant, president of the National Bankers Association, a lobbying group for black-owned banks.
The administration would also eliminate the Energy Department’s weatherization assistance program, which dates back to 1976 when Gerald Ford was president. Since then, it has provided states with grants that have helped insulate the homes of about 7 million families, using low-cost techniques that have large payoffs, saving money for those families and curtailing U.S. energy consumption. It has also helped establish weatherization job training centers in states such as Utah and New York.
Also on the chopping block: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known widely by its acronym LIHEAP. This program, part of the Health and Human Services budget, helps homeowners cover monthly energy costs, or repair broken or inefficient furnaces and air conditioners. The program is usually underfunded; LIHEAP says that on average, only about 20 percent of the households that qualify for assistance receive benefits before the money runs out. Congress sometimes adds funding during emergencies or energy shortages when costs spike.
Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the Community Services Block Grant, a $715 million program within HHS that funds more than 1,000 local anti-poverty organizations around the country. The organizations provide services ranging from job training to food assistance to more than 16 million people in 3,000 counties. The grants also help communities respond quickly to natural disasters, plant closures and other economic shifts.
Without the grants, there would be little coordination between faith groups, local governments, private companies and nonprofits in addressing the needs of the poor — “just a few unconnected programs that don’t have nearly the impact they have now,” said David Bradley, who founded the National Community Action Foundation and wrote the legislation behind the grants in the early ’80s.
Bradley, though, is “absolutely confident” that Congress will reject the proposal.
“This is the work of a radical right that goes hard after anti-poverty programs,” he said.
The Trump budget would also target the Legal Services Corp., an independent agency that provided $343 million to 134 legal aid organizations for the poor who are tangled up in cases of wrongful eviction, custody disputes, child support or domestic violence.
Legal Services was launched as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty with the support of the American Bar Association led by Lewis F. Powell Jr., who later served on the Supreme Court. President Richard Nixon later created a free-standing corporation to administer legal aid funds.
“Here each day the old, the unemployed, the underprivileged, and the largely forgotten people of our Nation may seek help,” Nixon wrote in a 1971 message to Congress. “Perhaps it is an eviction, a marital conflict, repossession of a car, or misunderstanding over a welfare check — each problem may have a legal solution. These are small claims in the Nation’s eye, but they loom large in the hearts and lives of poor Americans.”
In 2015, Legal Services offices closed 755,774 cases — more than 100 for every lawyer and paralegal employed. About 70 percent of its clients are women, and the majority of its clients are white and between the ages of 36 and 59. The program provides lawyers only to people earning no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which is currently $15,075 for an individual and $30,750 for a family of four.
“We have a legal system that was created by lawyers for lawyers and assumes you have a lawyer,” said James J. Sandman, president of Legal Services Corp. “If you’re a tenant facing eviction and you’re up against a landlord who has a lawyer, if you’re the victim of domestic violence from someone who has a lawyer, you are not playing on a level field. Legal aid is about fairness in the justice system.”
Alaska’s rural poor get hit by the budget proposal, too, despite having two Republican senators. The Agriculture budget would eliminate the Denali Commission, designed to deliver services to remote, rural communities in Alaska, including Native Americans. The commission, established in 1998, contributes to the construction of health-care facilities, water and sewer systems, power generation and communication systems.
The budget would also zero out funds to help native Alaskan villages obtain access to clean drinking water and modern sewage systems.
Cuts to the Agriculture budget also eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority that encourage economic growth in distressed rural communities. And while the budget allocates $6.2 billion to “serve all projected participants” in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, that is $150 million less than USDA had budgeted.
The White House proposed shrinking Job Corps, a program administered by the Labor Department that provides education and job training to more than 60,000 young people and disadvantaged youth. The proposal called for closing centers that do a “poor job” of preparing students for the workforce, but did not elaborate on how many of the 125 centers nationwide would be targeted.
Job Corps, which was created in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s anti-poverty agenda, helps young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 earn high school diplomas and receive vocational training.
The program faced scrutiny several years ago for going over budget and has been forced to freeze enrollment multiple times since 2011 because of the monetary shortfalls. In 2013, a report from the Office of Inspector General found that the budgetary missteps were caused by inaccurate cost estimates and inconsistent monitoring of actual costs. But since then, the program has taken several steps to keep better track of costs and payments.
The Trump administration would also ax the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which aims to help low-income job seekers age 55 and up find work by pairing them with nonprofit organizations and public agencies. The loss of the program could serve as another setback for older Americans who are still struggling to find steady work after the Great Recession.
The unemployment rate for workers 55-plus was 3.4 percent in February, according to the most recent jobs report. But the rate rises to 7.1 percent if workers with part-time jobs who want to be working full-time, and those who have given up on the job search within the past year, are included, according the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School.
The goal of the senior employment program is to help participants find permanent work by providing them with training and job experience. Workers are assigned part-time jobs and paid the minimum wage, with the hope that the experience can help them find jobs that are not subsidized by the government. In its budget proposal, the Trump administration called the approach “ineffective” because up to one-third of participants do not complete the program. Of those who do finish, about half succeed in finding more permanent jobs.
Not everyone, though, believes the cuts will be a disaster for the poor.
Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, said the cuts cannot be evaluated in isolation when they represent less than 1 percent of the $1.1 trillion the government spent on more than 80 poverty programs last year.
“The basic line from the left is ‘this program alone is standing between the poor and destitution,’” Rector said. “We have a very large welfare state, and there is waste in that welfare state. It’s important to prune the waste and make these programs much more effective.”
Jonnelle Marte and Caitlin Dewey contributed to this article.
Read more on the budget:
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)
New York (CNN) A former reporter who was fired for fabricating sources was arrested Friday and accused of making some of the bomb threats against Jewish institutions that have so rattled Jews recently.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
Shapiro claimed Trump used the word “reverse,” “two or three times,” adding that Trump also called the threats “reprehensible” toward the beginning of his remarks.
Trump also said he would address the bomb threats during his speech Tuesday night before the joint session of Congress, according to Shapiro.
The White House disputed Shapiro’s description of Trump’s comments.
“This is not what he said or meant,” a White House spokesperson told the Daily News in an email.
“He means (he) was referring to protesters,” the spokesperson added.
Trump’s latest comments came one day after yet another wave of bomb threats hit Jewish community centers across America, including one in Staten Island.
Jewish centers in at least nine states faced threats throughout Monday morning and afternoon, causing closures and evacuations, but there were no actual attacks.
The targeted locations included three New York centers — in Staten Island, Tarrytown and New Rochelle, according to officials and center representatives. Bomb threats also came in for centers in Cherry Hill, N.J.; Providence, R.I.; Asheville, N.C.; Mobile, Ala.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Talleyville, Del.; and Indianapolis, Ind., according to local reports.
A spokesman for Trump, who has been criticized for not speaking out more quickly and forcefully, condemned the threats Monday afternoon.
“The President continues to condemn these, and other forms of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer. “No one in America should be afraid to follow the religion of their choosing freely.”
The latest calls, however, come amid another trend of anti-Semitic vandalism nationwide: In the past week, dozens of headstones at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis were vandalized. Residents in Miami Beach, Fla. on Sunday reported finding swastikas carved onto their cars.
Trump, for his part, has faced scathing criticism for having not responded earlier and more forcefully to the increasing threats.
And Trump’s latest comments prompted another round of backlash.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the Daily News that Trump’s remarks were “an absurd and obscene statement,” while the Anti-Defamation League said it was “astonished.”
“It is incumbent upon the White House to immediately clarify these remarks,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “In light of the ongoing attacks on the Jewish community, it is also incumbent upon the President to lay out in his speech tonight his plans for what the federal government will do to address this rash of anti-Semitic incidents.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman tweeted he was, “sadly not surprised – but certainly disturbed – by Pres.Trump’s apparent claim that threats against Jews are false flags.”
“If the reports are true, President Trump has gone over the Anti-Semitic deep end,” Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center, said in a statement.”
“Mr. President, have you no decency? To cast doubt on the authenticity of Anti-Semitic hate crimes in America constitutes Anti-Semitism in itself, and that’s something none of us ever dreamed would disgrace our nation from the White House,” Goldstein added. “If the reports are true, you owe the American Jewish community an apology.”
Members of Trump’s inner circle have also faced similar criticism.
Earlier Tuesday, a former Trump campaign adviser, Anthony Scaramucci, posted an ambiguous screed to his Twitter wall that appeared to connect the recent bomb threats to Democratic lawmakers.
“It’s not yet clear who the #JCC offenders are. Don’t forget @TheDemocrats effort to incite violence at Trump rallies,” Scaramucci tweeted, along with a link to a story from alt-new site Breitbart alleging that Democrats had hired “trained provocateurs to instigate violence at Republican events” during the 2016 campaign.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)
A little more than six years later, after they surfed that wave into power, the movement consumed both of them. Boehner was driven out of the House speaker’s office and McCarthy’s expected succession fell apart, leaving him stuck at the rank of majority leader.
Democrats are well aware of that history as they try to tap the energy of the roiling liberal activists who have staged rallies and marches in the first three weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
What if they can fuse these protesters, many of whom have never been politically active, into the liberal firmament? What if a new tea party is arising, with the energy and enthusiasm to bring out new voters and make a real difference at the polls, starting with the 2018 midterm elections?
The women’s marches that brought millions onto streets across the country the day after Trump’s inauguration — spurred organically through social media — opened Democratic leaders’ eyes to the possibilities.
With a 10-day recess beginning next weekend, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has instructed her members to hold a “day of action” in their districts, including town halls focused on saving the Affordable Care Act. The following weekend, Democratic senators and House members will hold protests across the country, hoping to link arms with local activists who have already marched against Trump.
“It was important to us to make sure that we reach out to everyone we could, to visit with them, to keep them engaged, to engage those that maybe aren’t engaged,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters at a Democratic retreat in Baltimore that ended Friday. The trick is to keep them aiming their fire at Republicans and Trump, not turning it into a circular firing squad targeting fellow Democrats.
“Now we want people to run for office, to volunteer and to vote,” Luján added.
It’s too early to tell which direction this movement will take, but there are some similarities to the early days of the conservative tea party.
Many of the protesters were newly engaged, politically conservative but not active with their local GOP and often registered as independents. Their initial fury seemed directed exclusively at Democrats, given that they controlled all the levers of power in Washington at the time; the protesters famously provoked raucous showdowns at Democratic town halls over the August 2009 recess.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s first brush with the anti-Trump liberal movement came in a similar fashion to Boehner and McCarthy’s Bakersfield foray in 2009. Originally slated to deliver a brief speech at the women’s march in New York, Schumer instead spent 4 1/2 hours on the streets there, talking to people he had never met. By his estimate, 20 percent of them did not vote in November.
That, however, is where Schumer must surely hope the similarities end.
By the spring and summer of 2010, the tea party rage shifted its direction toward Republican primary politics. One incumbent GOP senator lost his primary, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defeated the Kentucky establishment favorite, and three other insurgents knocked off other seasoned Republicans in Senate primaries (only to then lose in general elections).
One force that helped the tea party grow was a collection of Washington-based groups with some wealthy donors, notably the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity, who positioned themselves as the self-declared leaders of the movement. For the next few years, they funded challenges to Republican incumbents, sparking a civil war that ran all the way through the 2016 GOP presidential primaries.
Boehner could never match the rhetorical ferocity of the movement. He was perpetually caught in a trap of overpromising and under-delivering. Republicans never repealed Obamacare, as they derisively called the ACA, and they could not stop then-President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Boehner resigned in October 2015.
Democrats want and need parallel outside groups to inject money and organization into their grass roots. There are signs it is happening: The thousands of activists who protested at a series of raucous town halls hosted by Republican congressmen over the past week were urged to action in part by sophisticated publicity campaigns run by such professional liberal enterprises as the Indivisible Guide, a blueprint for lobbying Congress written by former congressional staffers, and Planned Parenthood Action.
What is less clear is whether such energy and resources will remain united with Democratic leaders — or will be turned on them, as happened with the tea party and the Republican establishment, if the activist base grows frustrated with the pace of progress.
There have been some signs of liberal disgruntlement toward Democratic leaders. Pelosi and Schumer (D-N.Y.) were jeered by some in a crowd of more than 1,000 that showed up at the Supreme Court two weeks ago to protest Trump’s executive order travel ban. Marchers showed up outside Schumer’s home in Brooklyn, demanding he “filibuster everything” and complaining that he supported Trump’s Cabinet members involved in national security.
But there are two key differences between the conservative and liberal movements: their funding, and their origins. Some anti-establishment liberal groups have feuded with leaders, but they are poorly funded compared with their conservative counterparts. And the tea party came of age in reaction not only to Obama but, before that, to what the movement considered a betrayal by George W. Bush’s White House and a majority of congressional Republicans when they supported the 2008 Wall Street bailout.
There is no similar original sin for Democrats, as the liberal protests have grown as a reaction to Trump, not some failing by Schumer and Pelosi.
Schumer remains unconcerned about the few protesters who are angry at Democratic leaders. “I think the energy’s terrific. Do some of them throw some brickbats and things? Sure, it doesn’t bother me,” Schumer said in a recent interview.
How the liberal activists respond to early defeats may be the next sign of which direction the movement takes. Their demand that Schumer block Trump’s Cabinet is impossible to satisfy, because a simple majority can confirm these picks. All Schumer can do is drag out the debate, which he has done to an unprecedented degree.
The stakes will be even higher for the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, whose lifetime appointment still requires a 60-vote supermajority to reach a final confirmation vote. A Trump victory on Gorsuch might deflate the liberal passion, and some think that was the main ingredient missing for Democrats in 2016.
“We just didn’t have the emotional connection,” Pelosi told reporters in Baltimore. “He had the emotional connection.”
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
New York (AP) — Yahoo says it believes hackers stole data from more than one billion user accounts in August 2013.
The Sunnyvale, California, company says it’s a different breach from the one it disclosed in September, when it said 500 million accounts were exposed. That new hack revelation raises questions about whether Verizon will try to change the terms of its $4.8 billion proposed acquisition of Yahoo.
Yahoo says the information stolen may include names, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and security questions and answers. The company says it believes bank-account information and payment-card data were not affected.
Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES NEWS PAPER)
When she outed herself to me as a Trump supporter, I realized I had finally found the “silent majority.” I looked at her, this suddenly strange girl who sleeps a few feet away from me, my college roommate. The silent majority has seen me put on my head scarf in the morning and take it off at night. The silent majority has touched my face, done my makeup, watches “Gilmore Girls” religiously. The silent majority occasionally enjoys sliced mango before bed.
We fought; I packed. This was Tuesday evening, so I headed to my friend’s dorm, where a small group of us, mainly black women, tried to find solace in one another as the country slowly fell to red. I tried and failed to speak, to write. I ignored my roommate’s lengthy texts.
Did she really expect me to respect her choice when her choice undermined my presence in this country, in this university, in my very own dorm room? Did she really expect me to shake her hand for supporting a candidate who would love to bar my relatives from this country, who has considered making people of my faith register in a specific database and carry special ID, Holocaust-style?
What with the standstill of loyalties in this election, it is no surprise that our argument proved hopeless. There was no reasoning with her, but my goal today is not to reason with her. I know perfectly well — by the nature of this very platform, by the type of person who would click on this article — that I am preaching to the choir.
My roommate’s reasoning reflected an “us versus them” mind-set that has defined this nation for as long as it has existed, that explains the very core of Donald J. Trump’s appeal. Mr. Trump’s canned last-minute appeals to “one united people” does not change the fact that the world feels very different to me today.
I’ve always found refuge and clarity in the streets of New York City. After the vote was all but called at 3 in the morning, I wandered around Times Square with two equally bewildered friends. Drifting through the empty blue streets, witnessing the ugly truth illuminated by billboards, was more surreal than I could have imagined. The emboldened silent majority speckled the streets, sporting their red “Make America Great Again” caps. I was struck by a feeling that their caps were a military uniform, that our country was at civil war, and that I was a target. The way we eyed one another warily seemed to confirm this sentiment. And in fact, this exact dynamic seems to be playing out on college campuses around the country.
During a job interview recently, I was asked about the audience that I write for. I responded instantly: people who do not look like me. People I can shock with my multifaceted existence — the fact that I am Muslim and an ardent feminist, a child of immigrants and a writer in English. People — mainly white people — whom I can persuade to see reason by sharing parts of myself through stories that make me as real to them as they are to themselves.
On the subway back from Times Square, I realized that I was seeing the election results as proof of my personal failure as a writer. A black friend who was with me saw the election results as proof of her personal failure as a Black Lives Matter activist. A white friend seemed to blame his choice to vote in New York rather than back home in Michigan. Everyone I was with seemed crippled by a collective lack of agency that was more difficult to watch than CNN’s election coverage.
But this is not our fault. We are not the silent majority.
My roommate’s main defense of Mr. Trump during our argument was that he didn’t mean the “stupid things” he said. She had the privilege to dismiss his words, just as he has the privilege to dismiss mine. But today, I have woken up with a craving to write. Today, for the first time in a long time, my audience has changed.
Now that an us-versus-them system has been voted into office, I want to write for those who feel like the latter, the “them.” National unity in this moment may be nonexistent, but the unity among us is real and crucial. To the first trans kid I ever met; to my Muslim and Hispanic and female friends; to my sister and my mother, both hijabis; to all of the individuals who helped me feel love on Tuesday night, who offered me water as I cried on their bathroom floors, who marched from Union Square to Trump Tower on Wednesday — I believe in us, in our ability to regroup and find a course of action.
Mobilization depends on all of us — everyone who has been or could be a target of Mr. Trump, everyone who has been appalled by this election, at the parody of American democracy that has unfolded. We do not need to be silent. We do need to find resilience, inspiration and hope in one another.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
After their ancestors journeyed across an ocean from the edge of the Sahara to the center of the Amazon, their current numbers have dwindled in the wake of grim economic prospects and geographic isolation. Yet the pulse keeps beating for the Jewish community of Iquitos, Peru.
“We as a community in Iquitos are trying to create a Jewish life, which is not easy, because the conditions for it do not exist,” said community leader Rebecca Abramovitz in an interview in Spanish.
Located in Loreto, Peru’s northernmost region, Iquitos is the largest city in the world unreachable by road. Visitors must either fly in or arrive by boat along the Amazon River.
Jews constitute only a fraction of a percent of the city’s population, which numbered just under 440,000 last year. The Jewish community of Iquitos consists of about 70 individuals, led by president Jorge Abramovitz, Rebecca’s husband. (There is also a smaller population of under 40 Jews in the city of Pucallpa to the south.)
The Iquitos community does not have a rabbi, and meets for worship in the Abramovitz house. Its members represent a fraction of the hundreds of people who once practiced Judaism by the banks of the Amazon.
Yet if their numbers are small, their story is compelling. They are the descendants of entrepreneurs who left Morocco for the promise of riches in the Amazon rubber boom in the late 19th century. Their Judaism has been revived by visits from rabbis elsewhere in Peru, as well as Argentina, the United States and Israel. Some have even undertaken another journey, to Israel, where they have made aliyah or are striving to do so.
Earlier this year, a media report had forecast a bleak future for the community. But those members who stay in Iquitos continue to practice Judaism together, and regularly convene for events such as High Holiday services. In so doing, they preserve their ties with their ancestors who arrived in the Peruvian Amazon almost 150 years ago.
The first Jew to immigrate to Loreto was Alfredo Coblentz, a German Jew who arrived in the city of Yurimaguas, southwest of Iquitos, in 1880. In 1885, the first year of the Amazon rubber boom, the Pinto brothers — Moses, Abraham and Jaime — immigrated to Iquitos itself. While they only lived there for five years, “they opened the road for the arrival of new immigrants,” Abramovitz said.
The rubber boom caused a mass migration of people representing different countries and religions.
“It brought businessmen and rubber workers from distinct regions of the world [to Iquitos], and among them, Jews from Morocco came,” said Rabbi Ruben Saferstein of Buenos Aires, who has been assisting the Jews of Iquitos for 15 years.
It was not an easy journey. Jews from Rabat, Tetuan, Tangier and Casablanca arrived in the Brazilian coastal city of Belen do Para and trekked along the Amazon — the second-longest river in the world, after the Nile — further inland to Manaus.
From there, Abramovitz said, “they scattered throughout the Peruvian Amazonian rainforest.”
“There was a tremendous amount of money to be made there, in the rubber industry in the Amazon, in Peru and Brazil,” said Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Jerusalem-based director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel for the Masorti Movement, who visited Iquitos last Pesach.
Luxurious mansions soon lined the streets of Iquitos, including the Casa Fierro (Iron House) designed by Gustave Eiffel, whose namesake tower in Paris earned architectural immortality. The Casa Fierro remains an Iquitos landmark.
But the rubber boom also had adverse effects. One Iquitos-based company with a British board of directors, the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC), was the subject of critical reports by Roger Casement, the British consul in Peru. Casement found that the PAC abused its indigenous workers. After public outcry, the company closed in 1913.
The Amazon rubber boom itself had collapsed by 1912, owing to several factors, including a drop in the price of rubber; the emergence of larger zones of production, such as Indonesia; and the arrival of synthetic rubber.
Many Jews in Iquitos returned to their countries of origin — but not all.
By January 1909, enough Jews had begun residing in Iquitos to establish a formal community, the Sociedad Beneficencia Israelita de Iquitos.
The Jews who stayed after the boom were in an uncertain position. The rubber industry that fueled their commerce with Europe had vanished, and their legacy as Jews was in question.
“The great majority of Jews who came [to Iquitos] were men who could not leave Jewish descendants because they could not take Jewish women as wives, and settled down with women of the region,” Abramovitz said. However, she added, “they undoubtedly tried to keep their Jewish identity and pass it on to their children.”
Each year, she said, the Jews of the region celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with religious services.
But their numbers plummeted.
Abramovitz said that emigration to the capital of Lima was “massive” in the 1950s, and by the 1960s, centers of Jewish life in almost every Peruvian province had disappeared.
“Our community stayed dormant for many years,” she recalled.
It was not until the 1980s that the community of Iquitos was able to reawaken.
When several community members traveled to Lima, Peru’s capital, for medical treatments in 1987, they made contact with Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, chief rabbi of the Asociacion Judia. Lima has the largest population of Peruvian Jews (3,000), and with about 223 families, Bronstein’s synagogue is the largest in the capital.
In a Skype conversation from Lima, Bronstein told The Times of Israel he felt “curiosity” and that he exchanged letters with the community of Iquitos before deciding to visit in 1991. Then, Bronstein found a community of people who wished to identify as Jews but were not recognized as Jews.
As Sacks described it, “there is a large percentage of people in that town who have a Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent, [and are now] practicing Catholics, who have recently connected to a Jewish community or to the Jewish world.”
When Bronstein made his first visit to Iquitos, he laid the groundwork for the community to formally confirm its Judaism — individually and collectively. Members organized themselves as a kehila, a Jewish community of partners recognized by the Republic of Peru. They achieved this status about a year and a half later, in 1994.
Bronstein then helped the kehila prepare for a formal conversion by a beit din, or rabbinical court. This process took much longer.
“It was 11 years after [my first visit],” he said. “It was very difficult. I couldn’t visit there [more than] two or three times in 11 years. I sent them materials, siddurim [prayer books]. They wrote to me with their [preparation] work.”
These were not the only challenges.
“Circumcision was the hardest of all,” Bronstein said. “The adults did not have a mohel [circumciser].” And, he added, a mohel he located in Lima “was not going to go for less than a month for 40 to 50 people.”
‘Circumcision was the hardest of all’
By August 2002, Bronstein had found a qualified mohel willing to travel to Iquitos. A beit din followed, assisted by Rabbi Claudio Kupchik of Temple Beth El of Manhattan Beach.
“If we had not had the help of Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, the community of Iquitos would not still exist,” Abramovitz said.
About a century after Jews had first arrived in Iquitos, the kehila and its members were formally recognized. Over the next few years, the congregation benefited from outreach by rabbis from other countries.
In December 2004, Bronstein presided over a second beit din with his brother Marcelo, who serves as a rabbi in New York, as well as Saferstein, of Buenos Aires. Over three days, they evaluated around 180 candidates from Iquitos and neighboring regions.
In February 2009, the kehila received a Torah scroll over 100 years old from Rabbi Fabian Zaidemberg of La Asociacion Israelita de las Pampas in Argentina. David and Nilma Igdaloff, an American Jewish couple, had donated the Torah to Zaidemberg after it had been rescued from Nazi Germany.
A third beit din was held in 2011. And, as the Jews of Iquitos continue to rediscover and reconnect with their roots, there is an increasing interest in making aliyah.
The story of the Amazonian aliyah is an unfolding one and includes community members now living in Israel as citizens, members who would like to make aliyah, and individuals in Israel who are not currently recognized as Israeli citizens.
The Interior Ministry has recognized Iquitos as a Jewish community and its members as eligible for aliyah, but it took a “long battle,” said Sacks, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.
The majority of olim from Iquitos live in Ramla.
“The mayor was happy to receive them,” Sacks said. “There were social, employment programs. They were absorbed in order to be more successful.”
However, Sacks is unhappy with the Interior Ministry and its treatment of Jews from Iquitos who wish to join their fellow Iquitenos in Israel.
“The pace of aliyah has slowed to a trickle,” Sacks said. “There have been all sorts of excuses. I found it to be a problem.”
The Legal Aid Center for Olim, a project of the Israel Reform Movement, has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving two sisters from Pucallpa who converted to Judaism in Iquitos in 2011. They have been in Israel since February 2014.
“At the moment one of the two sisters from Pucallpa has a working visa after she began a serious relationship with an Israeli and in fact has given birth to his child,” said Nicole Maor, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Center for Olim. “The other sister is here with no status at all, under the protection of a Supreme Court order preventing her deportation.”
The Interior Ministry “has argued that the community in Pucallpa was not a ‘recognized’ community at the time of the conversion and therefore although the conversion itself was performed in Iquitos, they refuse to recognize them,” Maor said.
‘The great majority of Iquitenos have gone to live in Israel’
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the petition in January 2017.
Asked how strong the current desire is to make aliyah among the Jews of Iquitos, Sacks said, “Almost all of the young ones desire to leave. The opportunity to advance professionally and socially is very limited. They seek a second chance everywhere in Latin American countries. Many have gone, and in fact would go, to Israel.”
“The jungle is not a pleasant place to live,” he said. “The opportunities are rather limited. People realize, they are the third generation of a Jewish grandfather, grandmother, and eligible to make aliyah. Many did, many converted to Judaism and ultimately made aliyah. About 150 left for Israel.”
Indeed, he noted, the current community in Iquitos is “much reduced, owing to aliyah.”
“The great majority of Iquitenos [people from Iquitos] have gone to live in Israel,” Saferstein said. “There are some other people who are waiting for their conversion process, and desire to go to Israel, as well, to live there.”
Saferstein expressed hope for another beit din to visit Iquitos in January 2017, but said that economic assistance is needed for this.
Despite gloomy predictions for the future of Iquitos’s Jews due to their shrinking population, Bronstein, who led the first beit din 14 years ago, is more hopeful.
‘They will continue with their Jewish identity. Even if three, four, five people remain, they have the structure, the community’
“They will continue with their Jewish identity,” he said. “They already have an organization. They are smaller, but I believe they will continue. Even if three, four, five people remain, they have the structure, the community.”
Last year, Sacks experienced this community firsthand.
“When I arrived at the airport, probably most of the community, around 40 people were there, with Israeli flags, singing, welcoming me,” he said.
Asked whether the community identifies as Sephardic, he said, “Many of them have a great-grandparent who was Sephardic (usually from Morocco), but the Jews are removed from many of those traditions. They have been Jewishly educated, primarily by Masorti rabbis. So, while they have some Sephardic tunes, it is very much a mix.”
On Shabbat, he said, “The davening was identical to pretty much any other synagogue.”
He joined the community for a Passover seder in the Abramovitz house, with fish and vegetarian options, “no bread on the table” and locally-flavored charoset.
“They kashered everything,” he said.
He noted a community custom. An Israeli flag is displayed atop a table “every year till the last Jew from Iquitos who wishes to make aliyah is able to do so,” he said.
More recently, the community has been busy again, this time for the High Holidays.
In an October 3 photo of the Rosh Hashanah dinner, over 30 community members are sitting down to eat at tables, welcoming the new year 5777. There are national and international symbols — Peruvian and Israeli flags — as well as religious and cultural decorations such as cutouts of shofars and a glowing Star of David.
As the Jews of Iquitos celebrated the new year, it showed that even in the isolation of the Amazon, a Jewish community can survive. Though its numbers may be diminished, inextinguishable sparks of communal life continue to be stoked on the edge of the rainforest.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST/WORLD POST)
During his campaign for presidency and afterwards, President-Elect Donald Trump has expressed his opposition to military intervention in other countries, as well as nation building such as, for example, what happened in Afghanistan. On January 20 Trump will begin his term as the president. He believes that the main threat in the Middle East is the Daesh (also known as the ISIS or ISIL), not the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and that in order to destroy Daesh, his administration will be willing to work with Russia and other nations. The Guardian recently reported that Donald Trump, Jr., recently met in Paris with Randa Kassis, a pro-Syrian government activist who believes that the war in Syria can be ended through cooperation between the U.S., Russia and the Syrian Government. Trump also met with Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D. Hawaii) who is strongly against U.S. intervention in Syria.
But, although Iran has been fighting the Daesh fiercely, both in Syria and in Iraq, Trump has taken a hard-line toward that country, with members of the national security team that he has picked so far all being strongly anti-Iran.
On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei missed a golden opportunity to resolve most, if not all, issues between Iran and the United States with the Obama administration, and to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. Thus, he now has to wait to see what policy the incoming Trump administration will take toward Iran.
Khamenei’s strong suspicion of the United States
Iran’s recent history was reset when the CIA coup of 1953 in Iran that toppled the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, and contributed to Iran’s intellectuals’ opposition to both the United States and the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This anti-American third-world discourse was born in that era, and a tall and strong wall of distrust and suspicion was built between the two countries with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981, and the Iran-Iraq of 1980-1988 during which the United States supported Iraq.
President Obama wanted to pursue diplomatic negotiations with Iran to resolve the issues between the two nations but, aside from the nuclear negotiations, Khamenei’s strong suspicion about the U.S. intentions and his claim that the U.S. is interested only in deceiving Iran prevented a diplomatic breakthrough. In a speech on 20 October Khamenei said,
“When the Americans get together with our officials, they complain about my suspicion about the U.S. Well, should I be optimistic? Can one trust you [the U.S.], given the situation that you have created [in the Middle East]?” To back up his claim he recalled that Secretary of State John Kerry had said that so long as Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, the American sanctions against Iran will not end. Khamenei also said, “In my private and public meetings with the officials I have always repeated that our problems with the U.S. will not be resolved if we retreat from our position regarding Iran’s nuclear program, because then they [the U.S.] will ask us about our long-range missiles. After that they will ask about our support for Hezbollah and Hamas. They will then pressure us to support human rights the way they do. If you back down about all of these and accept what they demand, the U.S. will ask why our religion is mixed with our government. They [may even] ask us why Iran is such a large country with a large population. The Americans will never let us alone.”
Trump “Confirms” Khamenei’s Pessimism about the U.S.
In another speech on November 3 Khamenei said,
“I want to correct two mistakes today. The Americans created two erroneous claims and then propagated them among Iranians through their organizations and those Iranians that are linked to the CIA – the same people ‘who feel the scent of the pleasures of this world; who regret their [revolutionary] past, and those who have run out of breath [and can no longer continue on the revolutionary path]’. Imam Khomeini said “scream all you can at the U.S.” The first erroneous claim by the pro-U.S. Iranians is that they say that this [what Khomeini suggested] is not rational, and is only due to fanaticism and pride. The second mistake, which is even more dangerous than the first one, is that they [the same Iranians] claim that having [diplomatic] relations with the U.S. will solve all of all problems. One can counter their argument with 10-15 reasons to show that, not only will compromise with the U.S. not solve our problems, but it will also worsen them. A good example is the nuclear agreement [with P5+1]. Through lies, bad faith, and deception U.S. has not ended its sanctions against Iran, and [in fact] it has strengthened them.”
Khamenei then said that the U.S. cannot solve its own problems and, therefore, cannot be expected to solve Iran’s problems. He then recalled the presidential debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton and said,
“Did you watch the debates? Did you see the facts they [the candidates] talked about. Did you hear them? Americans themselves made the revelations. The things that we have been saying [about the problems that the U.S. is facing], and much more, which many people did not believe, were revealed by them [Trump and Clinton]. The interesting thing is that the candidate who expressed them more bluntly [Trump] also received more attention. Because that man spoke more clearly, more bluntly, he received more attention. The other side [Clinton] said that this is populism, it is demagogic. Why is it demagogic? The [American] people listened to him [Trump] and realized that he was right; they had experienced those facts [expressed by Trump] in their own lives. Human rights and dignity have been destroyed in that country [U.S.]. There is racism. Just a few days ago the same man [Trump] said that if you are people of color, if you are black or red [American-Indian] and are walking in streets of New York, Chicago, Washington, California, or elsewhere, you cannot be sure that you will be alive even for a few more minutes. You see, this was said by someone who may go to the White House as the next President of the United States to run that country. This is American racism. He [Trump] also spoke about poverty in the United States. He said that 44 million people go hungry every day in the U.S. He declared, as have others, that less than 1 percent of the Americans owe more than 90 percent of the wealth. Human values have been destroyed there. Discrimination, deep [economic] gaps, rift among people, racism, and violation of human rights [all exist in the U.S.]….. What the two respected candidates for the Presidency of the United States, one of whom will be the next President, are saying is not baseless. They both are bad, but together they are making revelations that may destroy the United States, and they have succeeded.”
Khamenei then explained that when people shout “death to America” and “scream as much as you can at America,” they mean death to racism, discrimination and violation of human rights.
Khamenei has been warning about two issues. One is U.S. “penetrating” and gaining “influence” in the main centers of decision-making in the Islamic Republic, while the second one is what he calls the danger of senior officials becoming “infatuated” by the United States. In a speech on 17 November Khamenei claimed that some senior Iranian officials are attracted to the U.S., but he believes that the U.S. has nothing attractive to offer. “You saw that the same criticisms that I have been levelling at them [the U.S.] were brought up by Trump,” Khamenei said, adding,
“In these [American] elections several of the most prominent political figures talked about issues that we had also talked about, and said much more. The new President of the United States says that if we had spent the funds that we spent on wars here in the United Stated, we could have rebuilt the country twice over, and fixed all the roads, bridges, and cities, and we would not have had poverty in the United States. Those that are infatuated with an illusion [the U.S.], can they understand this? There is so much failure and destruction [in the U.S.] and they spend all that money on dishonorable wars. Were those wars honorable?”
Khamenei then pointed out that a defensive war against the enemy, while respecting humane laws of war, is honorable. But, he believes that “the U.S. wars of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen that have murdered tens of thousands of civilian people, particularly women and children, are dishonorable.” He then asked in the same speech, “Why does Iranian elite not have the political wisdom [to understand this] and admit them?”
Not Pre-judging Trump, but Threatening to Retaliate if He Violates the Nuclear Accord
In his speech of 17 November Khamenei said that he does not want to prejudge Trump, but “we are ready for anything.” A week later on 24 November he repeated that he does not want to prejudge Trump, because [as a Persian proverb goes] “this watermelon has not been cut yet.” But, he claimed that the Obama administration did not deliver on its promises and obligations toward the nuclear agreement, but that, “The U.S. Congress renewed the U.S. sanctions against Iran for another 10 years, which is a violation of the nuclear agreement,” adding, “If the [Congress-approved] sanctions become law, it will definitely violate the nuclear agreement, and they should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will react to it.” He then added that the U.S. has used the nuclear agreement as a tool to pressure Iran. President Hassan Rouhani had promised that the sanctions will be lifted if a nuclear agreement is reached, but, “The nuclear compromise has been used against Iran,” Khamenei said, adding, “If the Congress-approved sanctions are also approved by the Senate and become law, it will imply that the United States has violated the nuclear agreement, and the deal with P5+1 will become one with P4+1, as the United States has effectively left the agreement behind.”
Trump and Iran
Although Trump has professed his opposition to many wars multiple times, his national security team has three characteristics:
One, some of them are close to the Tea Party and the Evangelical Christians. Mike Pompeo, who is to be Director of the CIA, said in 2014, “This threat to America” is from a minority of Muslims “who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer. They abhor Christians, and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”
Two, they are strongly linked with the pro-Israel right wingers. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of States, and a strong critic of the U.S. policy toward the Middle East, said recently that if the U.S. moves its embassy to Jerusalem [as Trump has promised], a war with Iran will become more likely.
Three, they have strong connections with the military-industrial complex and many private security and intelligence firms. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, has an intelligence consulting and lobbying firm. He is strongly anti-Iranand has claimed repeatedly that Iran is more dangerous than Daesh. He has also said that Islam is like a “cancer” that “has to be excised from every Muslim.” Interestingly, since Trump electoral victory, the value of the stocks of military firms has gone up dramatically.
Given these facts, and Trump’s lack of experience, there is considerable concern about his foreign policy. But, the situation for Iran is more critical. Marine General James Mattis, who is said to be the leading candidate for running the Pentagon, has claimed that Iran uses Daesh to expand its influence. The leading candidates for Secretary of State – Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Mitt Romney, are all strongly anti-Iran, and have called for “regime change” in Iran. In 2015 Giuliani called for bombing of Iran.
If during his first few months in office Trump takes on an aggressive posture toward Iran, it will hurt the re-election chances of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the elections for which will be in early June 2017. IN that case, hardliners may defeat Rouhani in the elections. Khamenei and the military hardliners have been constantly reminding Rouhani that the nuclear agreement with P5+1 has had no fruits for Iran, other than forcing it to retreat from its positions. Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, said on 26 November that, “[Although] there is no longer any sanctions against selling oil, we still have not received the proceeds from our previous sales. Senior officials had predicted that we would receive them between February and September, but that has not happened yet.” In a speech on 27 November Khamenei criticized the Rouhani administration for the nuclear negotiations “that was done in haste,” allowing the U.S. to gain some influence. He emphasized again that the renewal of the ten-year sanctions by Congress will be a violation of the nuclear accord.
What is Trump’s policy toward Iran? Will he try to resolve the issues between the U.S. and Iran through diplomacy, or will he follow those who present a demonic image of Iran? Wil he eliminate all those who favor negotiations with Iran, and empower those who want war with that nation?
To have peace and democracy, there is no way other than negotiations. U.S. wars in the Middle East have resulted in destruction of several nations, killing of hundreds of thousands of people, and the growth of terrorist groups, not to mention its financial cost that has so far been $3 – 4 billion. It is time for diplomacy in the Middle East. Without peace and security there can never be any democracy, respect for human rights, and economic developments; they will all be marginalized. Any thinking person knows that there are deep differences between an Iran that can make a transition to democracy and respect for human rights, and an Iran that can be transformed to another Syria.
This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)
Thailand’s baht held gains and an exchange-traded fund tracking the nation’s shares rose after the Royal Household Bureau said King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch, had died.
The baht rose 0.7 percent to 35.42 per dollar as of 10:27 a.m. in New York. The local stock market had rebounded with the currency, closing higher before the king’s death was announced. Earlier in the week, Thailand’s assets had tumbled after the royal palace said Sunday that King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health was “unstable.”
“People are already pretty much factoring a lot of uncertainty right now,” said James Woods, a strategist at Rivkin Securities in Sydney, speaking before the announcement. “You may see another push lower, but really, after that it’s just going to be about how quickly the royal family comes out to stabilize the market with comments and what their succession plan is. Once that is in place and investors have certainty, then it’s back to business as usual.”
The iShares MSCI Thailand Capped ETF climbed 1.8 percent to $67.95 in New York, trimming its loss this week to 7.8 percent.
“The uncertainties and political risks have been more or less priced in,” Margaret Yang, an analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, said by phone after the news. “We may still see some panic selling but I don’t expect this to last for very long. Eventually smart money will flow in to support the market.”
Thailand’s SET Index has fallen 6.1 percent this week, with 30-day volatility on the gauge climbing on Wednesday to the highest level since January. The baht reached the lowest since January and at one stage was heading for its worst week in a decade.
The SET rose 15 percent in the first nine months of the year, the most among Southeast Asia’s major gauges after the Jakarta Composite Index. Stocks entered a bull market in July and reached the highest level in 15 months in August as economic growth accelerated and emerging-market assets rallied.
Equities had also been aided as stimulus measures to help shield the country from China’s economic slowdown made the nation’s shares a haven for overseas funds. Foreign investors have poured $3.8 billion into Thai equities this year, the biggest inflow in Southeast Asia, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Thailand’s economic fundamentals remain unaffected, which should help it to weather this storm,” Jingyi Pan, a Singapore-based strategist at IG Asia Pte, said by e-mail before the announcement. “The military government which has overseen the economy during a period of increasing GDP growth, could help to guide the country through the period.”
Global funds pulled more than $950 million from Thai bonds in four straight days of selling, heading for the largest weekly outflows since May 2013. The nation’s 10-year government yield rose 11 basis points this week to 2.32 percent, the highest since January.
The nation’s bond market had been struggling even before the king’s health spurred further declines, as higher oil prices threatened to spur inflation and prompting traders to price in chances for a Bank of Thailand interest-rate increase. Thailand’s sovereign notes have slumped 2.1 percent in the past six months, compared with gains of more than 6 percent in India and Indonesia and a 2.9 percent advance in Malaysia.
Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy may grow as much as 3.5 percent in 2016 from 3.2 percent last year on the government’s accelerating spending, according to the National Economic and Social Development Board. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who took power in a May 2014 military coup, has issued a series of economic stimulus measures valued at more than 645 billion baht since September 2015 to help shore up local demand.Soo Hai Lim, investment director at Baring Asset Management (Asia) Ltd. in Hong Kong, says there’s a potential buying opportunity.
“A lot of people are nervous about the situation,” he said. “It is something that investors cannot dismiss outright but with the military in charge, the situation in Thailand should be manageable. Quite a number of companies are still delivering quite good growth despite the challenging macro economic environment. This incident is unfortunate but it’s something we’re aware of. The king has been sick for a while.”
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