Re-elect Shlump to Congress (again)

Lewis Black’s ‘Rant’ is due in Thousand Oaks

It’s been a great year for Lewis Black. There was the budget sequestration, the government shutdown and the fierce debates once again over Obamacare. Politicians left and right have been acting like nitwits, and Congress has proved its incompetence over and over again.  

The amount of comedic material that can emerge from these circumstances is endless. For Black, now 65 and best known for his appearances on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” the absurdity in politics, government and society is nothing more than sheer inspiration for his act. 

A stand-up comedian well-known for angry tirades against the government, religion and cultural crazes, Black is back with a new tour, “The Rant Is Due,” which he debuted in January. He will be making a stop at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Oct. 27, and his main targets this time are his contemporaries. 

In a phone interview, Black said, “My parents’ generation was a group of idiots. Now I’m watching my generation, and they are, too, especially the leaders. They are real idiots. I look at them and go, ‘Jesus, they are twice as dumb and should have known better. I look at John Boehner and think, ‘Wow! We were raised on the same planet,’ which is really astonishing. It’s just unbelievable.”

Black got his start as a playwright, and these days, he said, he performs on the road 150 days out of the year. He’s taped four “Comedy Central Presents specials; appeared in movies, including “Man of the Year” with Robin Williams and “Accepted”; and is the centerpiece of “Back in Black,” a long-running “Daily Show” segment. He’s also written three best-selling books, won two Grammys and performed to sold-out houses at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. 

This latest tour has taken him across the United States, including to Ohio, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. The fall leg, which he began in Sacramento, is already extending into February 2014. 

Black said he sees his generation as stuck in the past. “There is this mentality that has gone on in my entire lifetime. People don’t acknowledge that things have evolved. They want things to be exactly the way they used to be, and it’s going to stay the way it was whether people like it or not.”

He argues in his new show that while the United States is progressing in certain respects, his generation doesn’t want to transform with the times. “There’s been this slow change, while there is this whole [other generation] coming up who has already changed,” he said. “A door got opened, and this breeze came through, and these jackasses put coats on.”

Because he’s on the road a quarter of the year, his act is always a work in progress. “I’ll take one little fact, and I’ll work on it,” he said. “If a joke doesn’t work, I’ll try to make another joke. I’ll try three times, and it if doesn’t work, then I throw it out.”

Black is such a fluid writer that sometimes he pulls out jokes that wouldn’t fit into his previous special and reworks them into his new one. “I’m doing things now that weren’t in the last two specials. I spend a portion of the act on the legalization of pot. My generation needs a legacy [like pot legalization] because otherwise people are going to say, ‘What the hell were they about?’”

Although his jokes are oftentimes extremely current, he said they can also be evergreen, because “these people don’t die. If I talk about Sarah Palin, it’s because she hasn’t gone away.”

He finds his material appeals to anyone from “ages 12 to 95.” And he first started gaining younger audience members when he began playing colleges and theaters. The “Daily Show gig probably helped, too.   

Black, who doesn’t shy away from religion in his stand-up, was raised in a Jewish home in Silver Spring, Md., a mere 20 minutes from Washington, D.C. He isn’t religious, but he does take pride in his heritage. “Today I describe myself as a ‘deli Jew,’ ” he said. “I have a certain amount of faith. I believe there is something out there. I just don’t take that kind of comfort praying in a group.” 

He said he had a bar mitzvah, celebrated the High Holy Days growing up, and went to Hebrew classes every Sunday. He even published a book, “Me of Little Faith,” which is about his relationship to Judaism and religion in general. “When I graduated from school, I was kind of done. I did try to hang in. I got a lot more of the ethical and cultural than I got the spiritual end.”

Along with perpetually writing and changing his stand-up act, Black is currently working on a new play, but he said he doesn’t “know how far it will go.” He will also be back on “The Daily Show” soon, he said, and people can catch his latest special, “Old Yeller,” on inDemand until early next month. 

Although Black appears irritated, frustrated and flustered on stage, he said he wants, above all, that his audiences have fun when they see him live: “I hope they have a good time, and I can help them get away from whatever stress and nonsense they’re dealing with.”

Where’s my check, Mr. Boehner?

Oh, thank you soooooo much! Some Republican members of Congress suddenly remembered they were Americans. Whoa, guys, that one was way too close. But thank you for postponing the end of this country for a few months. That way, holiday sales won’t suffer from wary consumers, just back from the Great Recession, slamming their wallets shut.

I am so tired of this dangerous nonsense.

I was wondering how so many people (who would be considered toxic misfits if they behaved the same way outside of Congress as they have in the House) could have been elected. This group of partisan fringe “true believers” has temporarily been beaten back in their crusade to impose their loony and dangerous ideas on the rest of America.

I also wonder how these Tea Party folks were raised. Most people are given limits and are expected to learn how to respect the limits of others. They also learn to raise their hand when they have something to contribute.  In this case, we have adults who have chosen to do whatever they want to do and to delight in the consequences to all Americans, as long as the Tea Party gets its own way. They were betting that Americans were more afraid of the Tea Party’s threats than they were afraid of an economic holocaust.

“Loser” is not in their vocabulary. When they were flattened by the steamroller of the vast majority of Americans (74 per cent) who say they disapprove of the Republican actions over the past few weeks, Tea Party stalwarts like Ted Cruz of Texas simply turn the facts on their heads and declare that the  American people are against Obama. Yet the targeted Affordable Health Care Act is the law with the Supreme Court refusing to diminish or repeal the Act.

All of this petulant and childish behavior brought us to the brink of economic extinction. The closer we got to the Tea Party’s “weapon of mass destruction,” (as Warren Buffet called the possible default) the greater the glee for the Tea Party.

Instead of using these next few months to develop a compromise, the Democrats should continue on the path set out by Obama: find more ways to just shut down the Tea Party. Any organized group that intends to harm this country through its actions, could be called a terrorist group. They attack the innocent civilians and leave a wake of misery wherever they go. It is not their misery, but that of all other Americans.

I have a few suggestions. They should have the same health insurance limitations as those faced by their constituents. They should take no more than three weeks vacation each year and be forced to retire on their anemic retirement accounts. Their children should be required to attend public schools as an act of patriotism and then be expected to do their duty in the military. They should pay the same taxes, receive the same benefits as those who elected them. Bank loans should be nearly impossible to get, even for Congress. 

During a campaign, the wealthy candidates may spend as much as they choose but their opponents will then receive matching funds from the IRS. If a law exists, they must follow it the same way those who voted for them must follow it. If they attack an established law such as the right to an abortion, they should be fined the same amount that it costs to raise a child to age 18. In this case, the rights of law abiding citizens to act in a legal manner trumps the free speech rights of those who would diminish the rights of others.

With less than a five percent approval rating from the voters, all members of this Congress should pack their bags and not let the door hit them on the way out. They have proven that they enjoy playing with matches, as long it is only other people who get burned.

Finally, unless supported by legitimate polls, any member of Congress who falsely claims to be speaking for the American people should be placed immediately on the next un- air conditioned bus headed for their home.  The American people let their opinions be known with no help needed from those who would profit from manipulation of the facts.

This latest Republican-created crisis cost the American people about $24 billion. Clearly, that money should be repaid by those who caused the financial losses. So, Mr. Boehner, where’s my check?

U.S. lawmakers close to deal on debt ceiling, reopening government

The U.S. Senate appeared ready to announce a last-minute deal on Wednesday to avert a historic lapse in the government's borrowing ability and a potentially damaging debt default.

But even if the Senate and House of Representatives manage to overcome procedural hurdles to seal the deal before Thursday – when the Treasury says it will exhaust its borrowing authority — it will only be a temporary solution that sets up the prospect of another showdown early next year.

Major U.S. stock indexes rose more than 1 percent on optimism that lawmakers would finally end the weeks-long fiscal impasse, but cautious investors are still wary over the final outcome. Although the cost of insuring U.S. debt hit its highest in over two years, the dollar held its ground against other currencies.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell were close to finishing a fiscal plan that could be considered by the full Senate later on Wednesday. The leaders were expected to announce a deal when the Senate convened at noon (1600 GMT).

Weeks of bitter fighting among Democrats and Republicans over President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law led to a two-week government shutdown, sidelining hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

The initial fight over the healthcare law turned into a bigger battle over the debt ceiling, threatening a default that would have reverberations around the world.

“If we don't get a default, it would be like Y2K. People were staying up all night worried about what would happen during that deadline. Then nothing happened,” said David Keeble, global head of interest rate strategy with Credit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank in New York, referring to worries about the millennium computer bug in 2000.

Both Democrats and Republicans are confident that the U.S. House of Representatives will have enough votes on Wednesday to pass the bipartisan Senate plan, a top Democratic aide said.

Aides to House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, called senior Senate staff to say the House would vote first on the measure, the aide said, adding that it appears certain to be approved with mostly Democratic votes.

Lawmakers are racing against time. While analysts and U.S. officials say the government will still have roughly $30 billion in cash to pay many obligations for at least a few days, the financial sector may begin to seize up on Thursday if no deal is secured.

“I think folks on both sides of the aisle in the Senate are ready to get this done,” Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia told National Public Radio on Wednesday, a day after chaotic developments frayed the nerves of many members of Congress and global financial markets.

Even if a deal is reached, it must still clear the full Senate and possible procedural snags before moving to the fractious House of Representatives, which was unable to produce its own deal on Tuesday.

“Today is definitely not the day to be conducting any serious business as traders across the globe will be hypnotized by their TVs/terminals and anxiously waiting for something to hit the news wires,” Jonathan Sudaria, a trader at Capital Spreads in London, wrote in a client note.

Fitch Ratings warned it could cut the U.S. sovereign credit rating from AAA, citing the political brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling.

Obama administration warns: Gov’t shutdown undermining Iran sanctions

Is the U.S. government shutdown undermining the sanctions that helped bring Iran to Geneva this week for talks aimed at ending the standoff over its nuclear program?

Top administration officials have been emphatically making the case that it is.

Wendy Sherman, the third-ranked official at the State Department, said in Senate testimony on Oct. 3 that the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury department that monitors international trade to ensure compliance with the sanctions regime, “has been completely, virtually, utterly depleted at this time.”

“Our ability to do that, to enforce sanctions, to stop sanctions evaders is being hampered significantly by the shutdown,” Sherman said.

It’s not clear how many Foreign Assets Control staffers have been sent home because of the shutdown. A number of reports have suggested the Treasury department overall has furloughed 90 percent of its staff.

But the Foreign Assets Control office isn’t completely inoperative. Since the shutdown went into effect earlier this month, the office has issued one list of entities and individuals designated as terrorists.

The lone employee of Treasury’s communications staff still on the job did not respond to a request for comment.

Some Republicans are skeptical that the shutdown is undermining sanctions, suggesting that the Obama administration is using an initiative with rare bipartisan support to bash the Republicans who brought the government to a standstill.

One GOP staffer said that if a real threat to national security were to emerge, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew could recall furloughed workers just as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had done.

“If Secretary Lew were to get briefed that certain people are hurting national security, he has the prerogative to bring them back,” the staffer said.

Still, the warnings from the administration have prompted some concern on Capitol Hill.

Last week, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the chairman of the House subcommittee on terrorism and nonproliferation, and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat, wrote President Obama urging him to return Office of Foreign Assets Control staffers to the job.

“The administration is engaging in its first diplomatic negotiations with Iran under Hassan Rouhani’s presidency, and whether or not we agree with the outreach, we believe that furloughing nearly all of OFAC’s employees makes the U.S. negotiating position weaker,” the letter said.

Rouhani, elected this summer on a platform of reform and outreach to the West, has acknowledged that the devastation wrought by 30 years of U.S.-led sanctions — intensified over the last five years during the Obama administration — helped bring him to the negotiating table.

Wendy Sherman is leading the U.S. team in talks in Geneva this week aimed at arriving at a verifiable agreement that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon. Also participating in the talks are Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

Joel Rubin, a former Democratic congressional aide and a former U.S. diplomat, said it was unlikely that banks and oil companies adhering to sanctions would start cheating just because the monitoring mechanisms are not operating at full capacity. But the absence of staff is problematic if new issues arise, he said.

“You don’t want to be in a situation where something happens but you could have prevented it because the staff’s not in,” said Rubin, the director of policy at the Ploughshares Fund, a nonproliferation advocacy group.

Pro-Israel officials who monitor sanctions noted that the Office of Foreign Assets Control is not the only arm of the U.S. sanctions monitoring apparatus. Other relevant agencies — including intelligence agencies and the State Department — are running at almost a full complement.

“From what I’ve heard, folks that have active intelligence functions are being asked to continue to serve,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a group that has taken a lead in advising Congress and the administration on the shape of sanctions.

Colin Kahl, a deputy defense secretary in Obama’s first term who is now a senior fellow for the Center for a New American Security, said the ability of the Obama administration to implement sanctions, or to waive some of them in the event of progress in Geneva, would not take an immediate hit because of the discretion afforded Obama in existing law and his executive powers.

“At least for some period of time, the administration probably has enough discretion to do something on the sanctions front without Congress,” Kahl said in an address Monday to the annual conference of the National Iranian American Council.

Rubin said the shutdown’s bigger hit was long-term — to the U.S. reputation.

“The Iranians are not in a position to worry about whether the U.S. government is in crisis because they’re the ones under pressure, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “But it makes allies nervous and creates an opening for adversaries” such as China and Russia — countries that have only reluctantly joined the pressure on Iran.

“If the shoe were on the other foot and there was a government in turmoil every few months,” Rubin said, “how would the United States relate to that government?”

The Tea-hadist: 72 virgins for the Tea Party

Jewish Republicans caught in party shutdown crossfire

The first lawmaker to speak at a closed-door Capitol Hill confab convened by the Republican Jewish Coalition’s women’s affiliate was, naturally enough, a woman. So was the second.

Against the background of the current federal budget battle, that’s about all that united Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Ayotte has been a leading Republican voice calling on her GOP colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to stand down in their battle over President Obama’s signature health care law — a fight that led last week to a shutdown of the federal government. Bachmann has been a leader among those urging them to hold the line.

Judging from the RJC’s Twitter feed Tuesday from the Capitol Hill Club, the white linen establishment near the Capitol where the coalition’s National Women’s Committee was hosting its event that day, both women received an equally warm reception.

But the genteel veneer can barely paper over the sharp divisions among Jewish Republicans as they watch their party rend itself over an impasse that has ground government operations to a halt and could presage an unprecedented default on the national debt.

“My party has magnificently grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Fred Zeidman, a Houston-area lawyer and major donor to Republican presidential campaigns.

The current crisis stems from the refusal of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass a federal budget unless Obama agrees to delay or defund aspects of the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare. The president has refused to negotiate, arguing that the Republicans are threatening to blow up the national economy because they oppose a measure already duly passed into law.

Zeidman made it clear that he blamed both sides. Obama should agree to negotiate with his Republican counterparts, he said, and the Republicans should adopt a continuing resolution that would permit the government to keep functioning. Failing to do so, Zeidman said, would cost Republicans at the polls next year.

“Am I against Obamacare?” he asked. “Yeah. Am I going to shut down the country over it? Never.”

Zeidman, who said he had personally urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring an unconditional funding authorization to the floor, blamed a cadre of about 35 to 40 conservative Tea Party Republicans in safe House seats for holding the national party hostage.

“These are the zealots,” he said. “They love this stuff. What are they going to do when they see we lose elections?”

Jewish Republicans by and large have been reluctant to address the issue.

Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, turned down several requests for interviews, and the office of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican in Congress and the House majority leader, did not respond to two requests for interviews.

Cantor, who supports the party’s strategy, earned cheers at the Capitol Hill Club meeting for calling on Obama to negotiate with Republicans, according to tweets from conservative blogger Melissa Braunstein, who was present.

“When you have divided government, you work through things by talking,” she quoted Cantor saying. “This is about more than Obamacare or the debt. We have a real debate about the balance of power.”

More telling, perhaps, was how expansively the RJC’s own Twitter feed reported the remarks by Ayotte, who has said elsewhere that the shutdown is not a “winning strategy.”

According to the tweets, Ayotte sharply criticized the isolationist faction within the GOP that has helped drive the shutdown, arguing that it was harming the U.S. on the world stage.

The RJC tweeter followed up:

“Ayotte: ‘Withdrawing from the world is not an option.’ Predicts Reagan wing will win debate with isolationists within GOP.’ ”

A senior Jewish Republican aide in Congress said the Tea Party wing deserved praise for galvanizing Republicans following the demoralizing Obama victory last November. The shutdown, said the aide, would open up a broader philosophic conversation about the role of government.

“Soon we’ll shift the message to spending, what type of government we have, what kind of country we want to live in,” the aide said.

The aide dismissed claims that shutting down government is an illegitimate tool, a way to roll back a despised law that Republicans were unable to repeal through normal legislative tactics. He noted that Tip O’Neill, the esteemed Democratic House speaker in the 1980s, had shut down the government several times.

Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate magnate who, like Zeidman, is a major fundraiser, recalled that President Bill Clinton agreed in 1996 to negotiate an end to a government shutdown with Republicans. Democrats counter that no previous government shutdown was aimed at undoing settled law.

“Our president says he won’t negotiate,” Sembler said. “Our president is not a problem solver.”

The aide said that notwithstanding some complaints from moderates, the response from party members countrywide — including from donors like the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers — had been positive.

“They’ve been spoiling for a fight for years,” the aide said. “They’re thrilled we shut the government down.”

Obama blames government shutdown on ‘ideological crusade’

President Barack Obama on Tuesday blamed Republicans for an “ideological crusade” aimed at his healthcare program and urged lawmakers to vote to keep government operations running and to raise the nation's borrowing cap without conditions.

“They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans,” he said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

“Many Representatives have made it clear that had they been allowed by Speaker (John) Boehner to take a simple up or down vote on keeping government open with no strings attached, enough votes from both parties would have kept the American people's government open and operating,” he said.

The president also warned Republicans against using a crucial mid-October deadline to raise the government's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling as leverage to try to reverse the health care law or achieve other political objectives.

“Congress, generally, has to stop governing by crisis,” he said. “I'm not going allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands.”

A debt default that would result if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling when it is reached in less than three weeks could be devastating, Obama said. The threat of default in 2011 resulted in a painful debt rating downgrade, he added.

“If they go through with it this time, and force the United States to default for the first time in its history, it would be far more dangerous than a government shutdown, as bad as a shutdown is. It would be an economic shutdown,” he said.

Rob Eshman: The Shutdown

What the $%#@ is happening?

I’m writing this 17 minutes after the Federal government shut down — for the first time in 17 years.  I remember clearly the last time this happened.  It was stupid and superfluous and self-destructive then.  It’s stupid, superfluous and self-destructive now.

The Tea Partier Republicans set this in motion — they actually planned its implementation months ago.   You can go online and hear them at rallies back in the Spring promising to close down Washington, D.C.  “Shut it down!” their  audiences chanted back.

More mainstream Republican leaders went along with the demands of the far right.   House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker John Boehner knew it wouldn’t work, knew it was dumb, knew Cruz and his ilk will likely hurt Republicans in the next election cycle — but went along. 

If only they were the only victims. 

Prior to zero hour, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs circulated a letter on Capital Hill calling on lawmakers to support a federal budget agreement and avoid a government shutdown

“Spending cuts should not unfairly target the most vulnerable among us,” Jared Feldman, JCPA’s vice president and Washington director, wrote. “We urge you to strengthen anti-poverty efforts and restore opportunities for all Americans. It is critical that Congress come together cooperatively and civilly in this effort. Regardless of the outcome, a cantankerous and divisive process is unacceptable.”

The shutdown will hurt thousands of furloughed Federal workers.  It will disrupt numerous services, including research at the National Institute of Health, and it will likely suspend the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which provides food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, new mothers and their children.

Because, you know, those heart disease researchers and low-income children are sucking this country dry.

[David Suissa: We should shut down the hysterics]

The shut down, which Tea Partiers and their enablers are promoting as a fiscally responsible way to thwart the implementation of Obamacare, will actually end up costing a couple billion dollars, not to mention a few points on the Dow.  If it continues for too long, the nation’s entire economy could backslide.

And if that’s not bad enough, the whole debacle may actually pay off for the people who cooked it up.

In recent polls, Sen. Ted Cruz shot ahead of his potential 2016 Presidential contenders.  Because of his Seussian 23-hour speech denouncing a funding bill the President could sign, Cruz “now has more credibility with the GOP base than the folks who have been leading the party for years,” according to

This would all make sense if, at the end of this nightmare, Cruz would stare into our eyes, and say, like Walter White in “Breaking Bad” did to Skyler: “I did it for me!” At least that would be honest.  But like Walt’s alter ego, Heisenberg, Cruz has convinced himself he’s leading this charge for the greater good. Seriously, even in “Breaking Bad” the meth dealers respected the Feds.

It may sound petty, given the enormity of this debacle, to point out here that a Republican Party taken over by anti-government nihilists can kiss winning the Jewish vote goodbye.  Granted, it’s a small vote, but it comes with the added benefits of activism, donations and a couple of swing states.

Why do I say that? Because Jews, it turns out, like good government.  Stable government in democratic nations have enabled them to prosper and practice their faith freely.  Effective, accountable  government protects minority rights and property and creates the conditions for prosperity, including investment in and support of those less fortunate—which turns out to be good for all.

I’m assuming Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, knows this, which is why at press conferences he looks like a kid being dragged in front of the principal.

It’s why — little known fact — the Republican President who garnered the largest percentage of the Jewish vote in the modern era was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Yes, he was a bit dull and unconscionably complacent on civil rights, but consider his achievements, as Stephen Ambrose enumerates them in his biography:  Instead of dismantling the New Deal, as more strident Republicans wanted, the number of people receiving Social Security benefits doubled under Eisenhower’s administration. He balanced the budget, froze military spending and refused to lower taxes. He kept New Deal regulatory commissions in place. Public works expenditures exceeded those of Truman or FDR—projects that included the Interstate Highway System and the St. Lawrence Seaway.  He refused to sell off public lands or open wilderness areas to mineral development. He stopped nuclear testing in the atmosphere.  He avoided all military entanglements.

“The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground in my administration,” Eisenhower said. “We kept the peace. People asked how it happened. By God, it didn’t just happen, I’ll tell you that.”

All that investment, all that government — and Eisenhower presided over the greatest decade of American prosperity in the twentieth century.

In 1956, Eisenhower received 40 percent of the Jewish vote—a number that hasn’t been topped since.  Even more telling, he campaigned and got that vote while delivering to Israel a series of punishing measures and blistering statements in response to its collusion with Britain and France in the Suez Campaign.

Call it ancient history.  Call it a distant fantasy.   But if Republicans want to come close to that accomplishment, it’s not the government they need to shut down, but Ted Cruz.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Shutdown may affect Jewish social services

Congress’ failure to authorize discretionary spending for the new fiscal year won’t only impact about 800,000 federal workers or the Americans looking to visit national parks. It may also affect local Jewish social service organizations that rely in part on federal funding. 

That, too, though, is uncertain.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), said just hours after the shutdown began. “We spent the morning trying to communicate with our funders to find out what they know.”

The funders Castro spoke with are the state and local government entities that JFS relies upon to provide some services such as meals and transportation programs for seniors. Castro said that if these entities requested funds from the federal government before Oct. 1 — the day the shutdown took effect — some of JFS’ at-risk programs could run for a few more weeks without interruption. Ultimately, though, JFS won’t know for at least a few days exactly how this will play out if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement quickly.

JFS’ annual budget is $30 million, and $5.55 million of that comes — directly and indirectly — from the federal government.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, echoed Castro’s concerns. 

“With the shutdown, the cash flows of our most important social service agencies are at risk,” he said. “If this goes on for an extended period of time, it will definitely impact our social service agencies.”

As for Jewish Vocational Services, whose goal is to help people overcome barriers to employment, it issued a public statement that “programs and services remain fully operational with regularly scheduled hours.”

The last time Democrats and Republicans could not agree on a spending resolution to fund parts of the federal government was over the budget for the 1996 fiscal year, when President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress clashed over spending levels, largely over Medicare, shutting down parts of the government for 26 days.

This time around, the issue preventing an agreement is again a major health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation that was passed in 2010.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to tie any new spending bill to a one-year delay for parts of the bill and a requirement that Congressional members and their staffers must purchase insurance on the ACA’s new health insurance exchanges, which opened on Oct. 1

Despite the shutdown, much of the federal government will continue to operate as normal, including programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the military.

Even if Congress reaches an agreement in the coming days or weeks, Castro is concerned about a future potential conflict that could again pose funding problems for local Jewish agencies. Before Oct. 17, when the federal government is predicted to eclipse the “debt ceiling” (the level of debt Congress has authorized the government to accumulate), Democrats and Republicans will either have to raise the debt ceiling or risk many spending promises not being fulfilled.

“Even in resolution we know that is only going to be for a few weeks,” Castro said. 

Accommodating the shut-down, Jewishly

Due to road closures during the demolition of the Mulholland Bridge on “Carmageddon” weekend, the two major arts institutions located closest to the bridge — the Getty Center and the Skirball Cultural Center, both in the Sepulveda Pass — will be closed on Saturday, July 16, and Sunday, July 17. 

The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, and the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., will open for normal business hours on Friday, July 15: the Getty from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the Skirball galleries, cafe and gift shop from noon to 5 p.m. 

In addition, on Friday at 8 p.m., the Skirball will proceed with its slated L.A. Theatre Works performance of David Ives’ “New Jerusalem, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656.” The play, starring Billy Crudup and Hector Elizondo, is expected to run about 90 minutes, ending around 9:30 p.m., a theater spokesperson said. 

“People returning to the Valley will be able to drive north on Sepulveda Boulevard at that time and pick up the 405 below the 101 freeway. Those heading south will be able to access the freeway from the on-ramp.” 

Weekend matinees were rescheduled to Thursday, July 13, and Friday, July 14, both at 2:30 p.m., with reduced ticket prices offered. For more up-to-date information, call (310) 827-0889 or visit

Both the Getty Center and the Skirball, which are closed to the public on Mondays, will reopen for business as usual on Tuesday, July 19.  For more up-to-date information, visit and 

The Museum of Tolerance, located at 9786 W. Pico Blvd., will open during its normal business hours over the weekend. For up-to-date information, call (310) 553-8403.

Synagogues located near the Mulholland Bridge have likewise made changes to their schedules for the weekend. Here’s a rundown of the scheduling changes:

Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Friday night services will start as usual at 6:15 p.m., but will take place in the Plotkin Chapel instead of the Westwood Sanctuary. The synagogue’s Saturday morning services will be held at Milken Community High School’s beit midrash, located at 15800 Zeldins Way, at 10 a.m. Stephen S. Wise is located at 15550 Stephen S. Wise Drive, off Mulholland Drive. For more information, call (310) 889-2300. 

Leo Baeck Temple’s Friday night service has been canceled. The synagogue is providing congregants with a virtual Shabbat kit — containing recipes, Shabbat table songs, video of the rabbi and cantor leading blessings, educational activities for kids and families to do together and more. Leo Baeck is located at 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., parallel to the 405 freeway. For more information, call (310) 476-2861. 

University Synagogue’s Friday night service will start at 5 p.m., instead of the usual 7:30 p.m, and will be a short service. The Saturday morning Torah study and service will take place at the usual times, 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively. University Synagogue is located at 11960 W. Sunset Blvd. For more information, call (310) 472-1255. 

Ohr HaTorah’s Saturday service has been canceled. The synagogue will webcast a service, streamed live on, beginning at 9 a.m. from a private residence, led by Rabbi Mordecai Finley. The synagogue does not offer Friday night services. The synagogue is located at 11827 Venice Blvd. For more information, call (310) 915-5200. 

American Jewish University and Valley Beth Shalom have not altered their schedules for the weekend.

The ‘bridge to nowhere’ that’s behind Carmageddon

Thousands of commuters race past the Mulholland Bridge at great speeds every day. Silent and waiting for its execution date in mid-July, the bridge is rarely appreciated or remembered.

After more than 50 years of service to Los Angeles County, the Mulholland Bridge —  which most visibly links the Skirball Cultural Center and Milken Community High School, on one side, with American Jewish University and Stephen S. Wise Temple, on the other — will undergo a significant makeover to increase its lanes from four to six and ensure that it is up to date with seismic standards. But you’re probably asking yourself: Other than the shutdown of traffic on the July 15-17 weekend, why should I care?

Let’s go back to 1960. America was experiencing a prosperous growth spurt, Vietnam wasn’t on the minds or in the hearts of the country’s youth, and a man named Eisenhower sat in the Oval Office. On April 4, 1960, Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. finished construction on a 573-foot bridge over a steep canyon for $1.8 million. There was no 405 Freeway and no quick way to get to homes in the Valley from offices in Los Angeles.

Caltrans Los Angeles and Ventura (District 7) county director Michael Miles said the Mulholland Bridge was “a bridge to nowhere” when it was first constructed, because of the lack of traffic in the area.

But today, it’s hard to deny the importance of Mulholland Drive and the bridge in Southern California’s history, even if it began as an out-of-place overpass on a remote road. After all, the street and bridge get their name from the legendary Californian William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant who played a critical role in getting water to Los Angeles. Miles said even the design of the bridge was out of the ordinary.

“It was one of the longest arch bridges constructed in its day,” Miles said.

By the time filmmaker David Lynch would make his critically acclaimed film “Mulholland Dr.,” the 405 was up and running, and the bridge had as many as 300,000 cars pass under its arches every day.

The Mulholland Bridge’s lifecycle is coming full circle as the heir to Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co., Kiewit Corp.’s Southern California subsidiary Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., oversees the destruction of the bridge as well as the reconstruction.

In 2005, funds began trickling in to remodel the entire Sepulveda Pass, which included improvements to the Mulholland Bridge. Although many agencies have been involved in the widening of the 405 to accommodate new high-occupancy vehicle lanes, State Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, who represents sections of the San Fernando Valley, said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village) deserves credit for securing a large chunk of the funding in 2005 that is making the project possible.

“The big turning point in the 405 was Congressman Berman securing 130 million federal dollars that would be lost unless the state did its part,” said Blumenfield, who was working for Berman as his district director and liaison to the Jewish community at the time.

“The idea of losing that money was enough to motivate some folks,” Blumenfield said, including then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed a law in January 2006 that committed $90 million in state funding to the $1.34 billion Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project.

Story continues after the jump.

Video courtesy of Metro Los Angeles.

More money flooded in during 2006 as voters approved $662 million from the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (Proposition 1B) and again when $189 million was allocated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

The Mulholland Bridge destruction and reconstruction plays a small yet important role in a project that has Metro and Caltrans working with the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Highway Patrol and other organizations.

“A project of this magnitude really does require the collective efforts of these organizations,” Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero said.

Starting late Friday night, July 15, workers will begin chipping apart the southern half of the bridge in pumpkin-size pieces. A layer of dirt will be set on the 405 to keep the falling concrete from damaging the highway. The concrete will then be recycled, contractors will approve the demolition and, finally, the freeway will reopen early Monday, July 18. Like its quiet entrance into the world, the current Mulholland Bridge will go out without any fireworks.

“The public may be thinking this is going to be a Vegas-style demo, and it’s not,” Sotero said. “It’s not going to be that dramatic.”

After the southern half is torn down, that side of the bridge will undergo an 11-month reconstruction. The bridge will be widened and will get standard shoulders, medians and sidewalks; all told, it will widen by 10 feet.

Travelers will still be able to cross the 405 on the bridge during the 11-month construction period; one lane of traffic in each direction will be open on the northern half.

Angeleios should expect a similar 405 shutdown next summer, followed by another period of single lanes in each direction, when the northern half of the structure receives similar improvements.

“There might be intermittent closures during the night, but we don’t anticipate closures like this until we [demolish] the other side,” Miles said.

By the summer of 2013, travelers will get to test their tires on Mulholland Bridge’s new concrete. So, whether you’re going to one of the Jewish institutions, or just passing through before July 15, take a moment to look at the Mulholland Bridge. It will be your last chance to see a giant of the 20th century before it joins us in the 21st century. 

Staff writer Jonah Lowenfeld contributed to this article.