Friday, March 15, 2013

New pope, Jorge Mario Bergogli of Argentina, has Jewish connections

It seems clear that the new Pontifex Maximus is a man of genuine humility and real holiness.  I am delighted.  Although Argentinian by nationality he is of course of Italian descent and speaks Italian.  He will fit right in at the Vatican.  I wish him good health -- JR

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentinian cardinal who was elected pope late Wednesday and will take the name Francis I, is said to have a good relationship with Argentinian Jews.

Bergoglio, 76, a Jesuit, was the choice of the College of Cardinals following two days of voting in Vatican City. He is the first pope to come from outside Europe in more than a millennium; reflecting the changing demographics of Catholics, he comes from Latin America.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio attended Rosh Hashanah services at the Benei Tikva Slijot synagogue in September 2007.

Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told JTA that the new pope is a "warm and sweet and modest man" known in Buenos Aires for doing his own cooking and personally answering his phone.

After the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, he "showed solidarity with the Jewish community," Rosen said.

In 2005, Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He also was one of the signatories on a document called "85 victims, 85 signatures" as part of the bombing's 11th anniversary. In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.

"Those who said Benedict was the last pope who would be a pope that lived through the Shoah, or that said there would not be another pope who had a personal connection to the Jewish people, they were wrong," Rosen said.

Soon after the chimney of the Sistine Chapel sent up a puff of white smoke signifying that the cardinals had selected a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, Francis addressed thousands of faithful from the balcony of St. Peter’s Baslica.

“Buonasera,” he told them, saying "Good evening" in Italian, and thanked his fellow cardinals for going “almost to the ends of the earth” to find him.

Benedict was the first pontiff to step down since 1415.

Israel Singer, the former head of the World Jewish Congress, said he spent time working with Bergoglio when the two were distributing aid to the poor in Buenos Aires in the early 2000s, part of a joint Jewish-Catholic program called Tzedaka.

“We went out to the barrios where Jews and Catholics were suffering togeher,” Singer told JTA. “If everyone sat in chairs with handles, he would sit in the one without. He was always looking to be more modest. He's going to find it hard to wear all these uniforms.”

Bergoglio also wrote the foreward of a book by Rabbi Sergio Bergman and referred to him as “one of my teachers.”

Last November, Bergoglio hosted a Kristallnacht memorial event at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral with Rabbi Alejandro Avruj from the NCI-Emanuel World Masorti congregation.

He also has worked with the Latin American Jewish Congress and held meetings with Jewish youth who participate in its New Generations program.

“The Latin American Jewish Congress has had a close relationship with Jorge Bergoglio for several years," Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, told JTA. "We know his values and strengths. We have no doubt he will do a great job leading the Catholic Church."

In his visit to the Buenos Aires synagogue, according to the Catholic Zenit news agency, Bergoglio told the congregation that he was there to examine his heart "like a pilgrim, together with you, my elder brothers."

"Today, here in this synagogue, we are made newly aware of the fact that we are a people on a journey and we place ourselves in God’s presence," Zenit quoted the then-archbishop as saying. "We must look at him and let him look at us, to examine our heart in his presence and to ask ourselves if we are walking blamelessly."

Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, offered Italian Jewry's congratualations to the new pope with the “most fervent wishes” that his pontificate could bring “peace and brotherhood to all humanity.”

In particular, Gattegna voiced the hope that there would be a continuation “with reciprocal satisfaction” of “the intense course of dialogue that the Jews have always hoped for and that has been also realized through the work of the popes who have led the church in the recent past."



Obama and his advisers plan his trip to the Middle East

Some satire from Israel


Maine's Battle to Save America from EMP

Your life may depend upon what happens in Augusta, Maine on March 21.  Please bear with me patiently a little, as some background is needed to explain why.  But first and foremost, no surprise, it has to do with the ineptitude of Washington.

Yet another symptom that Washington is broken, perhaps beyond repair, is that the federal government is now failing in its most basic function--"to provide for the common defense" of the American People.  Exhibit Number One proving the incompetence and dereliction of Washington is its failure to protect the people from the genocidal consequences of a natural or nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

The EMP Threat--and Solutions

For nearly a decade, the Congressional EMP Commission and other responsible expert bodies of the U.S. Government have been warning that terrorists or rogue states--armed with a single crude nuclear weapon--could use a missile or balloon or other delivery system to loft a warhead to high-altitude, 30 kilometers or more anywhere over the United States, to inflict an EMP catastrophe.  Any nuclear weapon detonated at high-altitude will generate a powerful electromagnetic pulse that will fry electronics and cause cascading failures that would collapse the electric power grid and other critical infrastructures--communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water--that make possible modern civilization.

The Sun can cause an even worse EMP catastrophe.  Roughly every century, the Sun causes a geomagnetic super-storm on Earth, so powerful that it would collapse electric grids and life-sustaining critical infrastructures everywhere, plunging the entire world into a protracted blackout--perhaps permanently.  The last such geomagnetic super-storm happened in 1859, called the Carrington Event.  The Carrington Event made telegraph wires burst into flame causing forest fires, burned down telegraph stations, and fried the newly laid intercontinental telegraph cable, miles down at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  Fortunately, in those horse and buggy days, electricity was still a novelty, and not the foundation of civilization, as it is today.

The Congressional EMP Commission estimated, given the nation's current utter unpreparedness, within a year of a natural or nuclear EMP catastrophe, about two of every three Americans would perish.  EMP by destroying the high-tech foundations of civilization, kills millions of people the old fashioned way--through starvation, disease, and societal collapse.  In the aftermath of an EMP, America's over 300 million people would find themselves, virtually overnight, confronted with exactly the same structural deficiencies that in underdeveloped nations cause mass famines--too many mouths, not enough resources.

Yet there is no excuse for the United States to be vulnerable to EMP.  The Department of Defense has known for 50 years how to protect military forces from EMP.  Technologies currently exist to protect the national electric grid--the most important of the critical infrastructures.  The Congressional EMP Commission concluded that, if the electric grid is protected from EMP, the other critical infrastructures can also be quickly recovered--but the electric grid must be protected if there is to be any hope for recovery.

Nor would it be costly to protect the national electric grid from EMP.  Estimates range from a high of $2 billion to less than $100 million, depending upon the technology used and the hardness level desired,  to protect the entire contiguous United States.  $2 billion is what the United States spends on foreign aid to Pakistan every year.  The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that protecting the national electric grid from EMP can be accomplished at a cost to the average rate payer of merely 20 cents annually.

EMP protection of the grid would also mitigate all other threats--including cyber attack, sabotage, and natural disasters like hurricanes.  

Washington Fails to Act

So is Washington crashing on a program to protect the national electric grid, and the American people, from an EMP catastrophe?  The short answer is--no.  "Sequestration" and the endless politics of the federal budget and--above all--the 2014 congressional elections, are the only "crises" visible to most in Washington.

However, there are a valiant few in Washington who have tried to protect the nation from a looming EMP catastrophe.  Rep. Trent Franks (R) has formed the bipartisan Congressional EMP Caucus, co-chaired with Rep. Yvette Clarke (D).  Franks and Clarke for two years have tried to pass the SHIELD Act, which would grant the federal government the necessary legal authorities to require the electric power industry to protect the national grid from EMP.  It is the absence of these authorities that has been the chief obstacle to achieving national EMP preparedness.

Earlier, when Democrats controlled the House, Rep. Edward Markey and Rep. Henry Waxman succeeded in passing the GRID Act--a bill virtually identical to the SHIELD Act--with unanimous bipartisan support, only to have the bill blocked from a vote by a single Senator.  Strangely, in a Congress bitterly polarized on almost everything, the media have shown no interest in the strong bipartisan virtual unanimity on the singular issue of national EMP preparedness.  If the GRID or SHIELD Acts are allowed to come to the floor, one of them would pass overwhelmingly.

But the electric power industry has very deep pockets, and an army of K Street lobbyists, and so far has always been able to buy just the right member of Congress to keep GRID or SHIELD locked-up in committee.  Consequently, after nearly a half decade of trying, the Congress has been unable to implement the most important recommendation of the EMP Commission--protection of the electric grid.

Maine to the Rescue?

Enter Maine State Rep. Andrea Boland (D).  Boland learned about EMP from the struggle over the SHIELD Act, and visited Washington to urge the Maine delegation to support SHIELD.  Frustrated with the lack of progress in Washington, Boland introduced a bill in the Maine legislature--LD-131 "An Act To Secure the Safety of Electrical Power Transmission Lines" that would have the practical effect of protecting the Maine electric grid from EMP.

Boland reasons, correctly, that if Washington will not protect the American people from an EMP catastrophe, then it is the obligation of state governments to step into the leadership breach and protect at least the citizens of their state.  Although states tend to be part of a larger regional electric grid, it is technically possible, at low cost, to "island" that portion of the electric grid within a state, so that it is protected from EMP.  Not only would this spare the citizens of that state from the probably fatal consequences of a protracted blackout from a natural or nuclear EMP event--but it would very significantly increase the energy security of neighboring states.

If Maine is protected from EMP, it would greatly facilitate the repair and restoration of neighboring states belonging to the New England grid.  Nothing is harder, it may not even be possible, to "black start" a national or regional electric grid that has collapsed into complete blackout.  If the lights stay on in Maine, it will be much easier to bring them back on in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Maine and New England have special reasons to be concerned about becoming the victims of an EMP catastrophe.  All of these states are at relatively high northern latitudes, and most of them have granitic soil geology, which makes them more susceptible to geomagnetic storms.  New England is in a neighborhood known to be dangerous for geomagnetic storms.  In 1989, the Hydro-Quebec geomagnetic storm damaged and blacked out the electric grid of eastern Canada, causing billions of dollars in economic losses.

The 1989 Hydro-Quebec Storm also destroyed an extra high voltage transformer at the Salem nuclear power reactor in New Jersey.  One of the more worrisome consequences of a natural or nuclear EMP is the protracted blackout resulting in meltdown of nuclear reactors or of their fuel rods in cooling ponds, as happened at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan.  A Carrington Event would probably be one hundred times more powerful than the Hydro-Quebec Storm.

Moreover, Maine and New England are in a dangerous neighborhood for nuclear EMP attack because of their proximity to New York City.  Terrorists have a demonstrated preference for attacking New York.  A nuclear EMP attack centered on New York City would encompass all of New England too.          

Finally, there are non-nuclear EMP devices, more commonly known as Radio Frequency Weapons, that are becoming increasingly available and common in the activities of terrorists, criminals, and even disgruntled individuals.  Indeed, it is possible to build a Radio Frequency Weapon using design information available on the internet and parts purchased from Radio Shack or any electronics store.  A Radio Frequency Weapon does not have the range or power to threaten the entire nation.  But we have arrived at a place where, for the first time in history, a lunatic armed with an RFW could topple the technological pillars of an entire metropolis, and blackout a major city.

Underdog Rep. Andrea Boland is in a showdown against the entire electric power industry in Maine over her bill for protecting the electric grid.  Beginning virtually alone, Boland is garnering significant support among her colleagues.

Maine's Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology deserves high praise for learning quickly and showing grave concern about the EMP threat, that has been dropped in their laps because of paralysis in Washington.  The Joint Committee has displayed professionalism and competence worthy of such a grave issue, asking excellent and exhaustive questions of both EMP experts and the electric power industry.    

Boland's bill has survived intense scrutiny before the Maine legislature, where her bill LD-131 has been under debate since February.  Boland has brought in scientific and strategic experts from Washington and around the nation to testify in support of her bill in Augusta, the Maine state capitol.

The Boland bill merely asks the electric power industry to protect the Maine grid from EMP, and trusts that they will do so.  Yet ISO New England opposes even this modest bill.  This strongly suggests that the electric power industry cannot be trusted to do anything for EMP protection.                  

As Rep. Andrea Boland's bill to protect Maine from an EMP catastrophe draws closer to a vote, the electric power lobby is growing more frantic in its opposition, hoping to duplicate in Maine the success they had in Washington blocking the bipartisan GRID and SHIELD Acts.  They are on the hunt for that one politician or influential official in Maine who can save their day by derailing or defeating LD-131.

Other states are looking to Maine to see if it is politically possible to bypass Washington and launch their own initiatives to protect their electric grids and their people from EMP.  Alaska, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah all have groups interested in "islanding" their state grids to protect their families and communities from an EMP catastrophe.

If Andrea Boland succeeds in Maine, other states will follow, and the bureaucratic logjam that has for so long impeded national EMP preparedness in Washington will at last be broken.




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