Protestors gather during a demonstration against the Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on June 21. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Jewish groups urge Senate to oppose health care bill


A coalition of Jewish organizations led by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism urged members of the U.S. Senate to oppose the bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The letter sent to all 100 senators Tuesday, signed by 14 organizations, says that the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 would undercut Medicaid, the federal program that currently pays for half of all births in the United States and about 62 percent of seniors who are living in nursing homes.

The Senate bill would lower government spending on Medicaid by capping the per capita cost of serving various groups, such as children, adults, people with disabilities or the elderly. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican-backed bill would reduce projected Medicaid spending by $772 billion in the coming decade, and 15 million fewer people would be covered by Medicaid in 2026 than under the current law.

“Among other harmful provisions, transforming Medicaid into a per-capita cap system would not only take away health care from those who have benefited from the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, but would harm populations that have been covered by Medicaid since its inception,” according to the letter. “States will face impossible choices prioritizing among people with disabilities, low-income Americans, and children and will have no option but to slash services that are essential for the daily lives of millions.”

Signers of the letter include Bend the Arc-Jewish Action, Jewish Federations of North America, National Council of Jewish Women, the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, and Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist groups.

Jewish Federations of North America estimates that the care providers affiliated with Jewish federations receive $6 billion from the Medicaid program annually.

Voters will choose prescription for health care


Surprisingly, one issue that affects most of us — the high cost of health care — has remained in the background of the presidential campaign so far, even though large numbers of Americans will soon face insurance premium increases for plans purchased from the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

One reason may be that the program is so complicated. Navigating through Obamacare makes shopping for a new car seem easy.

Still, Chris Jacobs, CEO of the Juniper Research Group and a Republican consultant in the presidential primaries, thinks the matter will emerge from the background at some point during the campaign. Jacobs wondered in The Wall Street Journal whether rate increases could become “an October” surprise, helping the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, to win. I doubt it. Health care is too complex for Trump, who seems intent on winning by using the raw emotion generated by his diatribes on crime, terror in the streets and immigrants.

Still, Trump is the candidate of discontent. Anything that makes the electorate mad is fuel for his outrage.

In a close election, every percentage point counts, especially in the 10 or so states considered battlegrounds. One of them is Iowa. There, the big insurance company Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield is telling about 30,000 of its customers buying policies on the exchanges — marketplaces available on the internet — that their premium rates will go up by 38 percent to 43 percent next year, The Des Moines Register reported. There will be smaller increases for another 90,000 people.

The same thing is happening elsewhere in the country, although not to such an extent. Avelare Health, a consulting firm, told Kaiser Health News that insurance companies are seeking rate increases for the exchanges’ popular silver plan by an average of 11 percent in 14 states. In California, Obamacare premiums will increase an average of 13.1 percent next year.  

The exchanges currently are used by 13.7 million Americans not covered by employer plans, according to the authoritative website ACASignups.net. In California, this amounts to 1.57 million. Those who are insured through their employer are not affected, nor are those who avoid the exchanges and shop for insurance on their own.

The big advantage to buying through an exchange is that policies may be cheaper than those on the open market. And those with lower incomes are eligible for federal subsidies that can greatly reduce the cost of insurance.

To help understand the system, I ran examples through the rate chart on the website of California Covered, which runs the California insurance exchange.  I created a mythical family of four — husband, wife and two children with an annual family income of $60,000. I picked the most popular of the Obamacare offerings, the silver plan, which provides a wide range of care but includes deductibles. Benefits vary according to the price of the plan.

The monthly premium for the most expensive silver plan is $1,285. But the family’s income would make it eligible for a federal subsidy, bringing the premium down to $513 a month. For the cheapest silver plan, the monthly premium would be $1,087, reduced to $316 by the subsidy.

In addition, the two children might be eligible for free care through Medi-Cal, the state program heavily subsidized by federal Obamacare funds. Medi-Cal has been a big help — in many cases, a life saver — for children like the ones in my example and to the poor and working poor.

Medi-Cal was created decades ago for the very poor. Obamacare extended it to the growing ranks of the working poor. Medi-Cal offers free or low-cost health coverage with most recipients receiving care through managed health plans or HMOs.

As a result of the Obamacare exchanges and Medi-Cal, the number of uninsured Californians has dropped from 17 percent of the population to 8.1 percent.

These numbers are evidence of a great improvement in health care accessibility.  

The Republicans, however, including Trump, don’t think so. They want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that would turn medical care for the poor over to the states, many of which are hostile to helping their impoverished residents. Federal subsidies would disappear. 

At the heart of the GOP plan is something that has been floating out of conservative think tanks for years — health savings accounts. The GOP wants most Americans to finance their own health insurance by putting aside money and depositing it in health savings accounts. These are like regular savings accounts, except that your money is not taxed when deposited. But it’s a question of whether there would be enough money in the family health savings account if cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness or any number of long-term debilitating illnesses were to strike.

Moreover, the Republican plan would make it easier for insurance companies to refuse to issue policies to people with pre-existing conditions.  Before Obamacare, such refusals were a familiar story, often driving uninsured families into bankruptcy and poverty. 

The Republicans also advocate giving parents the right to refuse immunization for their children. And, of course, as an important part of its health care agenda, the party “stands firmly” against abortion.

The Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has proposed a number of changes in Obamacare. While keeping its current structure, she would create a government-financed insurance operation in addition to private companies on the exchanges. Theoretically, this would provide competition for the insurance companies and force them to lower rates.

Another change would greatly increase federal aid for community health clinics, which provide medical care for the very poor. And she would make everyone 55 and older eligible for Medicare, which now dispenses health care to those 65 and older. 

Her opponent in the primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders, wanted to put everyone on Medicare, thereby assuring that all Americans would have the same decent medical coverage now available to the 65-plus set. But he has said he believes Clinton’s proposals would be a big step forward in providing health care to all Americans.

Both Clinton and Sanders have been addressing the complexities and challenges of improving America’s health care, a crucial step in creating a more equal society.

Trump and the Republicans offer a simpler prescription to the sick: You should have saved for a rainy day. 

BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Trump releases healthcare proposals


U.S. Republican presidential front-runner candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday unveiled proposals for reforming U.S. healthcare that included repealing Obamacare, allowing prescription drugs to be imported, and turning the Medicaid program for the poor into block grants to states.

The plan also calls for the sale of health insurance plans across state lines, full deduction of health insurance premiums from income tax and adds: “We must also make sure that no one slips through the cracks simply because they cannot afford insurance.” (here)

Trump, who is the front-runner in the race to become the Republican nominee in November's presidential election, is also proposing allowing individuals to use Health Savings Accounts (HAS) to pay for out-of-pocket expenses. Contributions to HSAs would be tax-free and could be passed on to heirs without any tax penalty.

The proposals include requiring “…price transparency from all healthcare providers, especially doctors and healthcare organizations like clinics and hospitals. Individuals should be able to shop to find the best prices for procedures, exams or any other medical-related procedure.”

On drug prices, Trump departs from standard Republican policy by calling for lowering barriers to cheaper imported pharmaceuticals.

“Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers,”

the statement says, adding that “Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America.”

The proposals also call for reforming mental health programs and institutions, but provides few details about how to do this.

Trump also called for tighter enforcement of immigration laws, a key plank in his campaign platform, as a way to bring down healthcare costs.

“Providing healthcare to illegal immigrants costs us some $11 billion annually. If we were to simply enforce the current immigration laws and restrict the unbridled granting of visas to this country, we could relieve healthcare cost pressures on state and local governments,” the proposal statement says.

Democrats were quick to criticize the plan.

“As Democrats have said all along, Donald Trump is not an outsider engaging in a hostile takeover of the GOP – in fact, he embodies the Republican Party.

“The fact that his healthcare 'plan' is clearly cribbed from worn-out and false GOP talking points proves that Trump is just another Republican politician who wants to take healthcare away from millions of Americans without offering any substantive alternative,” Democratic National Committee Communications Director Luis Miranda said in a statement.

Clinton and Sanders battle in debate over healthcare, Wall Street ties


Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled over healthcare and Wall Street in a debate on Thursday, with Clinton accusing Sanders of misleading Americans on his healthcare plan and making promises “that cannot be kept.”

In a sixth presidential debate that featured several sharp exchanges but a more sedate tone than their last meeting, Clinton said Sanders' proposal for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare plan would mean dismantling Obamacare and triggering another intense political struggle.

“Based on every analysis I can find by people who are sympathetic to the goal, the numbers don’t add up,” Clinton told Sanders. “That's a promise that cannot be kept.”

Sanders said he would not dismantle the healthcare plan known as Obamacare and was simply moving to provide what most industrialized countries have – healthcare coverage for all.

“We're not going to dismantle anything,” Sanders said. “In my view healthcare is a right of all people, not a privilege, and I will fight for that.”

Sanders repeated his accusation that Clinton is too beholden to the Wall Street interests she once represented as a U.S. senator from New York, noting her Super PAC received $15 million in donations from Wall Street.

“Let's not insult the intelligence of the American people,” he said. “Why in God's name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it, they want to throw money around.”

Clinton said the donations did not mean she was in Wall Street's pocket, and noted that President Barack Obama had taken donations from Wall Street during his campaigns.

“When it mattered, he stood up and took on Wall Street,” she said.

THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM AND RACE

With the presidential race moving into states with larger minority populations, both candidates decried the high incarceration rate of African-Americans and called for broad reforms of the criminal justice system. Sanders said black incarceration rates were “one of the great tragedies” in the United States.

“That is beyond unspeakable,” Sanders said of a disproportionately high black male prison population. He called for “fundamental police reform” that would “make it clear that any police officer who breaks the law will in fact be dealt with.”

Clinton criticized what she said was “systemic racism” in education, housing and employment. “When we talk about criminal justice reform … we also have to talk about jobs, education, housing and other ways of helping communities of color,” she said.

Clinton entered Thursday's debate under acute pressure to calm a growing sense of nervousness among her supporters after a 22-point drubbing by Sanders on Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary election and a razor-thin win last week in the Iowa caucus. Both states have nearly all-white populations.

For his part, Sanders, an independent U.S. senator of Vermont who calls himself a democratic socialist, hoped to harness the momentum and enthusiasm he gained from the first two contests and prove he can be a viable contender to lead the Democratic Party to victory in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“What our campaign is indicating is that the American people are tired of establishment politics,” Sanders said. “They want a political revolution.”

The race now moves to what should be more favorable ground for Clinton in Nevada and South Carolina, states with more black and Hispanic voters, who, polls show, have been more supportive of Clinton so far.

Clinton, a former secretary of state, on Thursday won a significant endorsement from the Congressional Black Caucus, while Sanders has launched his own effort to make inroads among African-American voters.

Sanders met with civil rights leader Al Sharpton the morning after his New Hampshire win, and has aired advertising and built up staff quickly in both Nevada and South Carolina. The debate on Thursday was the last one before those two contests.

After South Carolina on Feb. 27, the presidential race accelerates with 28 states voting in rapid succession in March, including 11 states on March 1 and big prizes such as Ohio, Florida and Illinois on March 15.

In race for Congress, how different are candidates Elan Carr and Ted Lieu?


Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu and Republican District Attorney Elan Carr may be competing to fill longtime Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman’s seat in November, but in an era in which the two parties rarely work together, the similarities between these two candidates are one of this race’s greatest distinctions.

Ted Lieu

Both men are sons of immigrants (Lieu came with his family to the United States from Taiwan when he was 3; Carr’s mother is from Iraq and his father was born in Bulgaria and moved to Israel). Both have assisted Iraqis while serving in the military: In 1996, Lieu was a JAG captain in the Air Force and, in Guam, helped process thousands of Kurds who were airlifted by the military from Iraq after facing mass murder by Saddam Hussein. In 2003, Carr was an anti-terrorism operative in Iraq, helping secure neighborhoods following Hussein’s ouster. 

Both oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act, the signature Democratic health care act widely known as ObamaCare (although Carr wants to significantly reform it). Both oppose deporting law-abiding foreigners who entered the United States illegally, and both, at least when it comes to foreign policy, sound a lot like, well, each other.

In June, when Carr was asked by the Journal how the Obama administration should respond to ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), the terrorist organization that has been closing in on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Carr cautioned against any U.S. military involvement unless the White House commits to destroying the group. In an Aug. 4 interview, Carr held that position.

Lieu’s immediate take on ISIS during a recent interview in Beverly Hills?

“I want to crush them,” he said without hesitation. “ISIS is an incredibly extreme and dangerous organization that uses violence to achieve its goals.” 

But when asked how he would go about doing that, Lieu chuckled, paused and said he supports, for now, President Barack Obama’s current tactic of providing a few hundred military advisers to the Iraqi government:

“If the U.S. is going to get involved in Iraq again, I think it needs to figure out what its objectives are” before launching a major military operation, Lieu said.

And as much as Lieu feels a connection with the Kurds of Iraq — both because of his work with them in 1996 and because of their warm feelings toward America — he still holds out hope for a unified Iraq, one that sees Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds coexisting peacefully, or at least not submerged in civil war.

“This is what Iraq could be,” Lieu said, describing the northeastern part of the country, which is heavily Kurdish and would likely comprise part of any autonomous Kurdish state. “It’s got open-air shopping centers, amusement parks, they’ve got nice hotels.”

On the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lieu struck a more conservative tone than that coming out of the White House, calling Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas “absolute” and casting a skeptical eye on international efforts to pressure Israel into a cease fire.

“I don’t see how the U.S. or the international community could impose any sort of agreement [on Israel],” Lieu said. “They should read the charter of Hamas. I don’t think many of them have. It doesn’t just talk about Israel, it talks about killing all Jews.”

Lieu also spoke skeptically of the United Nations and the “international community,” which he said “has no teeth” when it comes to keeping hostile countries or terrorist groups in line.

“Countries and organizations respond primarily to two things,” said Lieu, a graduate of Air War College and a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. “Force or economic sanctions — or the threat of those two things.”

Asked about recent data suggesting that Democratic and Republican voters may, for the first time in decades, have significantly different views on Israel, Lieu said that the gap may be due more to age than political affiliation. The data, pulled from a Pew Research Center poll released on July 28, says that 60 percent of Republicans blame Hamas for the violence, a view shared by only 29 percent of Democrats.

“I do believe that Democrats and Republicans share the same views on Israel,” said Lieu, who supported emergency funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has shot down most rockets fired by Hamas that pose threats to Israeli population centers. On Aug. 1, the House of Representatives approved a Senate bill providing $225 million in emergency funds for the Iron Dome. Obama has approved the measure.

Even on immigration, a wedge issue between Democrats and Republicans, there is little air between Lieu’s and Carr’s stated views. Lieu supports increased border security but is not confident a fence would efficiently secure the border, and he wants to reunite those living here illegally with their families, whether that means sending them to Latin America or keeping them here.

Carr, in a recent interview with the conservative publication Weekly Standard, said he opposes deporting law-abiding undocumented immigrants when it is the U.S. government that created the problem, a position that puts him at odds with more conservative factions of the Republican-led House.

“Why wouldn’t we embrace them and welcome them when we are the ones who didn’t secure our borders?” Carr asked, clarifying, though, that he does support securing the southern border to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Central and South America.

However, as much as the two might appear similar now, how either would govern in the House could evolve, depending upon which committees the winner might join, as well as the issues that either would prioritize. 

Lieu is an outspoken advocate of alternative forms of energy and views global warming as an existential threat to humanity. Much of his work in the California Legislature has reflected his overriding concern with environmental issues and his belief in the government’s role in growing the economy, creating jobs and helping workers — all core issues for the Democratic Party’s liberal wing.

Carr told the Journal in an Aug. 4 interview that his priorities would include support for Israel, education, public safety issues, and tax and regulatory policies that he said encourage companies to hire workers outside of California and the United States.

On Israel, for example, Carr contrasted what he said is providing a reliable vote on Israel — which Lieu would likely consistently provide — versus assuming a leadership role on pro-Israel legislation, much like former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. 

“What we need now is leaders,” Carr said. “Not simply votes that may be reliable votes on Israel, but leaders on the issue.”

As Lieu noted, though, in 2007 he was a co-sponsor of AB221, which called on state pension funds to divest from companies that do business in Iran's energy and nuclear sectors.

Although the two candidates have not yet held a public debate, a spokesman for the Lieu campaign said that at least one can be expected as Election Day nears. 

Hi, I’m MRSA ‘Superbug’


404: Healthcare not found


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?”

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.”

Amid conflict, Israel’s hospitals treat Gazan patients


(The Jerusalem Post) Israeli hospitals, amid the ongoing conflict, are treating dozens of patients of all ages who came to Israel from Gaza to get healthcare unavailable there, and are making provisions for accompanying persons.    

“We at Rambam Medical Center are taking care of sick children and adults, and we are not looking at their religion or where they come from. At the moment, we have four—a baby girl in the nephrology department, two children in oncology and an adult in urology,” Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar said.    

“Family members accompanied them,” he said. “It’s absurd that we are doing this at the same time Israelis are being attacked, but there is no other way. We are used to it. We are very far from politics.”   

Working in Haifa, Beyar was “extremely upset” when he learned that Arab students at the University of Haifa last week stood for a “moment of silence” when Ahmed Jabari, the terror chief of Hamas, was killed by the Israel Defense Forces.

“I just can’t accept that,” he said.    

Beyar also said that he had received no reports of any tension among Jewish and Arab personnel in his medical center. “We are used to working together to save lives.” 

The Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem said that in the past month, it has hospitalized six Gazan patients.    

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer said that it provides medical center to several dozen Palestinians each month, and even now, there is no change. Most are children who are hospitalized for long periods or youngsters who underwent treatment and return periodically for follow-up, Sheba spokesman Amir Marom told The Jerusalem Post.    

“Just two days ago, a nine-year-old girl from Gaza who was hurt in her palm was brought to Sheba. Her father is an Arab journalists who writes from Gaza for an Israeli newspaper. She was accompanied by her mother. An Israeli boy who was wounded by a Gazan rocket that fell in Kiryat Malachi last week is in the same room with a Gazan girl whose fingers were amputated due to injury,” Marom said. “We regard our hospital as a bridge to peace.”    

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said 50 patients and their accompanying relatives from Gaza are now hospitalized—both children and adults. Most of them are cancer patients. The relatives live in the hospital’s hotel, and there is a hospital employee who serves as a contact person and helps them.    

Medical treatment for Gaza residents allowed into Israel is paid for by the Palestinian Authority or by other bodies, including the Peres Center for Peace.

This story was written by The Jerusalem Post and is distributed with the permission of that newspaper.

First presidential debate spotlights economy, health care


President Obama and Mitt Romney focused on revenue and spending, with an emphasis on health care, in their first presidential debate. 

With the focus on the economy, foreign policy was mentioned only in passing as the candidates squared off Wednesday at the University of Denver.

Obama said Romney's plans to repeal his health care reform passed in 2010 would remove new protections, including mandatory coverage for those with preexisting conditions and coverage for children up until age 26 under their parents' plans.

Romney said such coverage was a matter best left to the states, and reiterated his claims that the federal plan inhibits business growth and costs jobs.

Obama criticized Romney's plan to transition Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly, to private insurers, saying it would drive up costs for seniors. Romney said the change was needed to salvage the program.

Romney also outlined his plans for energy independence, which include promoting use of domestic resources, among them coal. Romney also advocated increased drilling on public lands.

The candidates will focus on foreign policy in the third of their three debates, on Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Osteopaths changing the face of health care


If you’re like most health consumers, you probably don’t know what osteopaths are, let alone what sort of medicine they practice. However, osteopathic doctors (DOs) and schools of osteopathic medicine are playing a little known but critical role in stemming the nation’s need for primary care doctors, according to experts at Touro University of California’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in the Bay Area city of Vallejo.

“A lot of medical students are shunning away from [primary care],” said Dr. Michael Clearfield, the school’s dean, noting that osteopathic schools traditionally graduate more primary care physicians, of which the nation is facing a critical shortage.

“It’s just going to get worse as the population gets older and more and more boomers are getting to be Medicare age; there are going to unprecedented demands [for primary care],” he said. 

Since salaries are higher for specialists, Clearfield says, more than half of medical schools with MD programs have made specialty care a priority, which makes the primary care field even smaller.

Touro’s top-ranked College of Osteopathic Medicine says it is situated to help shore up the front lines of patient care with more personalized care.

Osteopathic medicine differs from traditional modern medicine in that it focuses “not only on medicinal medications but also looking at the body as a whole and the intrinsic capability of the body to heal itself,” Clearfield said. 

Osteopathic medicine was developed in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, a physician and Civil War surgeon who pioneered the concept of “wellness” and recognized the importance of treating illness within the context of the whole body, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

In addition to all of the practices available through modern medicine, including prescription medicine and surgery, osteopathic physicians incorporate a practice known as “osteopathic manipulative treatment,” which uses the hands to diagnose, treat and prevent illness or injury.

“We’re using hands along with other skills and senses, looking and listening, palpating the body to help determine the problem and, if necessary, treat them to get a better effect,” Clearfield said.

Osteopathic medical students also receive classroom training in communicating with patients, according to the American Osteopathic Association. Because of this whole-person approach to medicine, approximately 60 percent of all DOs choose to practice in the primary care disciplines of family practice, general internal medicine and pediatrics.

Clearfield believes that Touro’s strong community focus and commitment to the future of health care gets translated to the students and impacts where they choose to work. U.S. News and World Report rated Touro University of California’s College of Osteopathic Medicine as one of the top 10 osteopathic schools in the nation that produces primary care residents.

Part of the Touro College Network, the Vallejo campus also features a kosher campus, Jewish holidays observed and an on-site chaplain. Of the 1,400 students attending Touro University of California, 15 percent are from Southern California.

Although the majority of students and faculty are not Jewish, Clearfield believes that there is a clear connection through the philosophy of Touro’s founder, Bernie Lander.

“He wanted to improve the world through health care and education. He looked at areas where he could do that, by putting an organization that was based on the principles of Orthodox Judaism out in California,” he said.

Osteopaths undergo four years of medical school, complete three years of residency and are fully qualified to practice medicine and perform surgery.

The attraction of the osteopathic approach, Clearfield believes, is that “it is more personalized … a lot of people are turned off by medicine, feeling more like a widget in an assembly line than a partner in their own health care … so many people don’t ask questions to their doctor, don’t know what they’re taking and why.”

Brandon Stauber, a graduate of UCLA and Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, said he applied to osteopathic medical schools because he found the philosophy attractive. That is also what led him to his current residency at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore.

“One of the reasons I came here is that Portland is a very open city when it comes to all types of practitioners,” he said. 

A Sacramento native raised with strong Jewish values, Stauber said he was also drawn to the Jewish roots of Touro’s California location.

He currently works alongside MDs and DOs. In contrast to the MDs, he said, “the DOs get a lot of hands-on experience in our training … by the time we get into residency we’re not afraid to touch people.”

However, Clearfield says that a clear bias against osteopaths exists in many medical establishments.

“That’s been a constant barrage for this profession for 120 some years,” he said. “Our graduates have gone to the most prestigious institutions – Harvard, Stanford, you can name it … [yet] there are physicians that are still biased against our profession and are for the most part misinformed.”

Still, the field is growing rapidly, from six osteopathic schools of medicine in the 1970s to 29 today, Clearfield said. Although the nation’s 80,000 osteopathic physicians practicing in the United States represent one-tenth of the number of MDs, they take on a disproportionate amount of primary care, Clearfield said. 

“As a profession we’ve been community based since inception … which allows students to get wider experience,” he said. “Our students are out in doctor’s offices, clinics … we focus on the first encounter.”

U.S. Supreme Court upholds Obama healthcare law centerpiece


A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare overhaul law that requires that most Americans get insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s majority in the opinion.

“Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” he concluded. The vote was 5-4.

In another part of the decision and in a blow to the White House, a different majority on the court struck down the provision of the law that requires the states to dramatically expand the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

The upholding of the insurance purchase requirement, known as the “individual mandate,” was a major election-year victory for Obama, a historic ruling on the law that aimed to extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

The 2010 law constituted the $2.6 trillion U.S. healthcare system’s biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years.

Critics of the law had said it meddles too much in the lives of individuals and in the business of the states.

Twenty-six of the 50 U.S. states and a small business trade group challenged the law in court. The Supreme Court in March heard three days of historic arguments over the law’s fate.

The court’s ruling on the law could figure prominently in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election in which Obama seeks a second four-year term against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who opposed the law.

Obamacare’s heated day at Supreme Court: Kagan, Ginsburg attempt to aid defense of the law


The Supreme Court appeared closely divided along ideological lines during tense arguments over President Barack Obama’s healthcare law on Tuesday, with conservative justices vigorously questioning the Obama administration’s lawyer on whether Congress had the power to require people to buy medical insurance.

During two dramatic hours, pivotal justices on the nine-member court suggested they would uphold this so-called individual mandate – to obtain insurance or pay a penalty – only if they believed they were not giving Congress broad new powers over people’s lives.

The justices were combative with the lawyers on both sides, at times firing off hard-hitting questions about the limits of the federal government’s power and whether it could even extend to requiring eating broccoli and buying gym memberships or cars.

While conservative justices took aim at the insurance mandate, liberal justices defended it.

The session was far more intense than Monday’s opening arguments during which the justices appeared willing to overcome questions about whether tax law prevented them from considering the case for several years.

The court will hear a third and final day of arguments on Wednesday in a case in which 26 of the 50 states and a small-business trade group are challenging a law that represents Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement but is reviled but U.S. conservatives.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, two conservatives who could join the four liberal justices to uphold the law, pressed the Obama administration’s lawyer, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, to say where the limits would be on federal power if people opposed to insurance were forced to buy coverage.

Verrilli emphasized that Congress was trying to address the troubling problem of shifting costs from those who are uninsured to those who purchase coverage, arguing “the system does not work” and Congress was addressing “a grave problem.”

Roberts and Kennedy were also piercing in their questions to the two lawyers challenging the individual mandate about the government’s contention that Congress is validly regulating people who already are in the market because virtually everyone is going to need healthcare at some point.

“That’s my concern in the case,” Kennedy said, noting that young, uninsured people affect the overall market by not paying into it and ultimately receiving care over the long term.

The court’s ruling on the insurance requirement, which takes effect in 2014, could decide the fate of the massive multi-part healthcare overhaul meant to improve access to medical care and extend insurance to more than 30 million people.

COURT REFLECTS COUNTRY’S DIVISION

Views of Obama’s healthcare law that have long divided Democrats and Republicans across the country played out also in the ornate courtroom.

The four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, all indicated that they believed the mandate valid under the U.S. Constitution. Two conservatives, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, were vocal in their skepticism about the requirement.

Scalia in particular seemed concerned that Congress and the federal government would have unlimited powers if the law was upheld. “What is left? What else can it not do?”

The ninth justice, conservative Clarence Thomas who is expected to vote against the law, asked no questions. Thomas last asked a question from the bench more than six years ago.

At the end of day’s arguments, it looked to be close. After a third day of arguments on other issues, the justices would continue discussions behind closed doors as they draft their opinions, likely to be released in late June.

The ruling’s timing will come as Obama gears up his campaign for re-election on Nov. 6. The Republican candidates competing for their party’s nomination to challenge Obama in November all denounce the law.

Outside the white marble courthouse, a crowd of supporters and protesters filled the wide sidewalk, marching, chanting and carrying signs. A motorcycle shop manager from Massachusetts, Michael Wade, called the healthcare law a “power grab” by Obama. Supporters of the law marched and chanted: “We love Obamacare.”

No past rulings are completely on point and many observers have speculated about how the ideologically divided justices will decide the limits of congressional power to address society’s most intractable problems. Not since 1936 has the Supreme Court struck down a major piece of federal economic legislation as exceeding congressional power.

Kennedy, who often casts the decisive vote on the court, expressed concern about changing the relationship between government and the people governed by it “in a very fundamental way.”

“Do you not have a heavy burden of justification to show authority under the Constitution?” he asked Verrilli.

Roberts also offered some support to those who opposed the insurance requirement. He voiced worries about regulating those who opt out of a commercial transaction. Once you say Congress can regulate a market, “pretty much all bets are off,” he added.

At stake on Tuesday was Congress’ power to intervene in one of U.S. society’s most difficult problems – soaring healthcare costs and access to medical care. Annual U.S. healthcare spending totals $2.6 trillion, about 18 percent of the annual gross domestic product, or $8,402 per person.

Shares of health insurers and hospital companies were trading modestly lower at mid-day after the arguments. The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index of insurers was down 0.8 percent, while the broader stock market was little changed.

Large insurers UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint were off 0.5 percent and 1.2 percent respectively, while shares of hospital chain Community Health Systems was down 0.7 percent and those of rival Tenet Healthcare were off 1.4 percent.

TOP LAWYERS

Taking up the challenge of fighting for and against the insurance mandate were three of the country’s top appellate lawyers, including Verrilli for the administration and Paul Clement, one of his predecessors as the government’s top courtroom lawyer during the Bush administration.

Verrilli took a low-key approach in his arguments and at times the liberal justices, notably Kagan and Ginsburg, tried to bolster his points and counter a barrage of skeptical questions from the conservatives.

Coming to Verrilli’s aid at one point, Ginsburg stressed that healthcare was more about timing, that healthy people pay in now and take it out when needed. “That’s how insurance works.”

Clement, arguing on behalf of the states challenging the law, said Congress went too far and that the individual mandate “represents an unprecedented effort” that has no limiting principles.

A New York Times/CBS News poll showed that a narrow majority of Americans oppose the individual mandate, 51 percent to 45 percent, but strongly supported other provisions of the law covering pre-existing medical conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans.

On its website the Supreme Court posted the audio of the oral argument as well as a transcript: http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_audio_detail.aspx?argument=11-398-Tuesday.

The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

With additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Ian Simpson in Washington and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham

Baby’s parents looking for hope, help and a miracle


Baby Leah tenses and contorts in her crib at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. A visit to her in the room requires suiting up in a gown, gloves and mask to ensure she doesn’t become sick in her fragile state. Zev and Frani Esquenazi’s little girl, who is named for Princess Leia from the “Star Wars” films, has received multiple spinal taps, MRIs and EEGs, and is breathing through her trachea. Her movements are erratic.

After employing the expertise of more than 40 doctors and a round-the-clock nurse service, the Esquenazis are no closer to solving the mystery of Leah’s illness than they were when she was admitted to the hospital months ago.

Leah has outlasted many dark predictions.

“On Frani’s first Mother’s Day, the doctor told her that the baby was probably not going to make it,” Zev Esquenazi said. “That was the gift she got on Mother’s Day. And, of course, she outlasted the doctor’s [prediction].”

Housing Leah in one of the best hospitals in the country is essential to her survival, but it’s not cheap. Zev Esquenazi said a social worker said the medical bills are hovering around $2 million so far. In order to be with their daughter at all times, the Esquenazis have stepped away from their jobs temporarily. Friends and strangers alike have come to their aid. In this case, their love of “Star Wars” is on their side.

Zev is a member of the 501st Legion, a worldwide organization for “Star Wars” costume enthusiasts. When Leah first became sick, he told the story to his fellow Facebook friends and “Star Wars” fans. Without asking, the 501st Legion began organizing and raising money.

A Facebook group called “May the Force Be With Princess Leah” was created and now has nearly 4,000 fans. A close friend and prop builder, Jason Watson, created a donation page for the family, which Zev Esquenazi said has been invaluable. “Star Wars” stars, such as actor Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Lucasfilm marketing head Steve Sansweet and “Clone Wars” voice actor Stephen Stanton have helped get the word out. Donations of props and memorabilia from Mayhew, Stanton and other supporters have been auctioned off in support of the Esquenazis. In less than 30 days, Zev said, more than $30,000 has been raised for the family. Chai Lifeline also helped with rent and food when the family needed it the most.

“Really, if it wasn’t for them coming to our aid, we would literally be out on the street,” Zev said.

Story continues after the jump.

Donations help pay for food, gas and the large insurance deductibles that the couple has been struggling to cover since Leah became sick. What’s more difficult is the unknown nature of Leah’s illness. The Esquenazis have applied for aid from organizations such as California Children’s Services but have had little success.

“That’s the other issue that we’ve been having: that you have these organizations that help kids with cancer or help kids that have (muscular dystrophy) or Parkinson’s,” Zev said. “But because she is not officially diagnosed with anything, we can’t get the help that we need.”

One doctor at UCLA speculates that between 10 and 20 percent of such neurological illnesses go undiagnosed. Frani Esquenazi said she hopes Leah can inspire and raise awareness about situations similar to hers.

“People don’t know that so many kids go through this until you go through it with your kid,” Frani said. “You feel like the only person this is happening to, but there are so many families out there.”

George Lucas’ Princess Leia asked for help from her only hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi. But the Esquenazis’ 5-month-old Princess Leah in the pediatric intensive care unit needs the help of more than just one person. Support from around the world has poured in for Leah and the Esquenazis, but more is needed.

To read updates from the family about Leah, visit princessleahdiaries.blogspot.com. Donations through PayPal can be made directly to the family through the page. To avoid PayPal fees, donors can also send checks to the address on the blog. Supporters can also like the Facebook group “May the Force Be With Princess Leah.” Monetary donations help a lot, but Zev Esquenazi said he doesn’t want supporters to feel like they need to donate money.

“For me, hope and prayers are just as important as money,” he said.

Proposed State Cuts in Funding Pose In-Home Care Threat


Suzanne Heredia, 39, spends most of her days caring for her daughter. Born with cerebral palsy and congenital hydrocephalus, a condition that causes pressure within the brain due to excess fluids in the brain, Priscilla, 13, needs round-the-clock care. Heredia does everything from changing IVs to repositioning Priscilla’s body.

Through income provided by In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), a state-funded program that allows clients to receive ongoing medical care in their homes, Heredia manages to care for her daughter, even as a single mother with four other children.

But in the throes of the ongoing budget crisis, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently suggested eliminating IHSS altogeher. The possibility leaves Heredia and many others wondering where they would turn.

“[Priscilla] is my baby,” she said. “It would be devastating to the family if I lost the in-home care.”

With state funding of nearly $5 billion, IHSS funds 350,000 caregivers who serve 450,000 California residents. Priscilla represents the minority of clients — 37 percent are disabled, while 63 percent receive help based on their status as seniors who are over 65.

By providing funds directly to consumers, IHSS allows clients to hire a caregiver that best meets their needs. Some go through state-sponsored providers or nonproifts. Others, like Heredia, opt to stay within the family.

By receiving a paycheck, many make caring for a sick or elderly realtive their full-time job.

Depending on their needs and the funds that the state deems necessary for their care, consumers may hire a caregiver for up to seven days a week or may need to parcel out their care — planning, for instance, to buy groceries for the weekend if they will be left home alone.

Because so many IHSS consumers are low-income — 90 percent are below the poverty line — they qualify for full assistance from the state. Those who are above the poverty line split the cost of care between IHSS funds and whatever out-of-pocket income they have.

If the proposed budget cuts go through, Los Angeles County, which accounts for 40 percent of the IHSS population with 185,000 IHSS consumers, would be hit particularly hard.

“The most current proposal would pretty much wipe out the IHSS population in L.A. County,” said Hortensia Diaz, IHSS program director.

Anthony Jaimez, 42, would be among those left with few options.

Left paralyzed at 19 after a violent attack, Jaimez relies on his older brother to care for him. But without the guarantee of a paycheck, his brother would have to find another full-time job.

“I would probably have to go into a convalescent home,” said Jaimez, although he doesn’t have the insurance to cover it. “To be honest with you, I wouldn’t even begin to know how to go about it. It would just completely change everything around for me.”

Senior citizens who receive IHSS funding would also face unique difficulties.

“A family member would have to rearrange their lives, otherwise they’d go to assisted living,” said Paul Castro, executive director and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, many of whose clients are senior citizens and receive IHSS funding. “That’s if there are beds available.”

For many, the change would present more than a hassle. Because of the cost, a majority of consumers would simply not be able to afford to move out of their homes and so would stay and risk injury.

“People will be doing things they aren’t supposed to do,” Diaz said. “They will have accidents in their home and no one will find them.”

Some insiders also wonder if the proposed cuts would have the cost-saving effects promised by lawmakers.

According to Diaz, the cost to Medi-Cal — which many IHSS consumers have — of putting someone in a nursing home is $5,698 a month. The average cost to the state for IHSS care is $850 a month.

“The assumption and premise [of IHSS] is that it’s cheaper to bring services into the home than to go to nursing homes,” said Castro, adding that emergency rooms would likely also become much more crowded. “When seniors are in a position of crisis, they would have to go to the ER, and it would be a much greater expense for the state.”

Jaimez agreed, saying, “If they have a big influx of people that will have to go rushing to convalescent homes, how is it going to affect them? Are they gonna be able to handle those people? They want someone to blame [the budget crisis] on, and they’re going to go after the old and the weak first.”

Kumbaya, Not Kevorkian, Will Kill Granny


I don’t know which is more dispiriting:  the New York Times’ failure to call Betsy McCaughey a liar, or Barack Obama’s failure to call Chuck Grassley a liar.  It’s tempting to think of both failures as cowardice, a mortal fear of being branded “liberal.”  But ironically it’s liberalism itself that makes them both mistake their cowardice for fair-mindedness.

Exhibit A is how the Times covered ” target=”_blank”>“Making Sense of the Healthcare Debate” was the Times’ heading for its coverage of the encounter.  But instead of telling its readers that Stewart caught McCaughey lying about the bill, the Times reported that “they could not agree on what it actually said.”  He said her reading of the bill was “hyperbolic and in some cases dangerous”; she said “Democrats intended to intrude on the medical decisions of dying people.”  He said, she said:  that’s what the Times means by “making sense” of a debate.

What requires the Times to castrate itself?  How did excellence in journalism come to mean impotence in the face of untruth?  Fox News, which excels in promulgating untruths, purveys its propaganda under an Orwellian banner:  “We report, you decide.”  It does, of course, the opposite; Fox decides, ideologically, and it cleverly packages its partisanship as reporting.  What makes the Times worship a Fox News definition of journalism – “fair and balanced” – that not only gets violated at Fox, but that cravenly substitutes stenography for adjudication?

The answer, I suspect, is liberalism – not the muscular democratic liberalism of civil rights and social justice, but the flabby postmodern liberalism of on the one hand and on the other hand.  The right is righteous; it claims to know what God wants.  But the secular response to fundamentalism isn’t science, it’s kumbaya, a campfire that requires reason and ignorance to pay mutual respect, a moral cowardice that values pluralism more than it values values.

That’s why it’s so dispiriting to watch Obama let Grassley play him.  Grassley ” target=”_blank”>Obama says Grassley is working “constructively” on health care reform.  ” target=”_blank”>Republicans crow that destroying health care reform will destroy Obama, ” target=”_blank”>as the Montana Standard reported, raised more campaign money from “drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals” than any other member of Congress.

The people carrying loaded assault weapons to Obama’s events are not our swell fellow citizens simply exercising their rights, nor are the people carrying Obama-as-Hitler signs to town hall meetings merely a heartwarming demonstration of America’s commitment to free speech, nor are the moms and Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks saying “Nazi” just proof of the robust vitality of our democracy, nor are the Sarah Palins and Betsy McCaugheys and Chuck Grassleys only colorful players in the theater of politics.

If journalism had the courage to tell the truth, and if liberalism had the stomach to confront evil, maybe good leaders would be as willing to wield power as bad ones.

Sure – and if Granny had wheels, she’d be a bus. 

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.  Reach him at {encode=”martyk@jewishjournal.com” title=”martyk@jewishjournal.com”}.

 

 

Good to be the Chief; Get Your Challah On


Good to be the Chief

Health care veteran Tim McGlew has been named chief operating officer and vice president of operations for the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. The Jewish Home is the largest single-source provider of senior housing in Los Angeles.

“With the recent dedication of the Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center and many other exciting plans in development, the role of chief operating officer is more important than ever,” said Molly Forrest, Jewish Home CEO-president. “We’re committed to meeting the increasing demands for quality senior care, and we see Tim as a major contributor as we fulfill that mission.”

McGlew has 20 years of experience in acute hospital administration and most recently served as vice president and chief operating officer of San Gabriel Valley Medical Center for more than six years. He has extensive skills in operations, information systems, facility construction, and cost management.

“I’m extremely energized to be joining the Jewish Home at such a pivotal time in its history,” McGlew said. “Throughout the health care industry, the Jewish Home is a respected organization, and it’s easy to understand why, given its commitment to serve seniors at all stages of need. The home’s innovative combination of physical, mental and spiritual programs truly makes it a remarkable organization.”

For more information, visit ‘ target=’_blank’>www.challahforhunger.org.

Battle Against Bigotry

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reaffirmed its commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and prejudice when it recently celebrated with 600 supporters at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel and raised more than $800,000.

Ambassador Rockwell A. Schnabel, chairman of the Sage Group, LLC, and former U.S. ambassador to the European Union and Finland, was presented with the Humanitarian Award by Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles.

International lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg was presented with the jurisprudence Award by federal Judge Stephen Reinhardt. Schoenberg recently recovered Nazi-looted Klimt paintings from Austria in a case that commanded international attention and acclaim.

Keynote speaker Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, addressed the evening’s theme — the ADL vision of “One World” — a world of peaceful co-existence and harmony and the many threats facing that vision, including militant Islam, neo-Nazis, extremists and racists around the world and in our community.

Foxman confers regularly with elected officials and community leaders here and abroad. In October, he was presented the French Legion of Honor for his lifelong service in the fight against anti-Semitism and prejudice and for working to build bridges of understanding among nations and people.

Seen celebrating at the dinner were Lynn and Laurie Konheim; Los Angeles Councilwoman Wendy Gruehl and husband, Dean Schramm; Faith and Jonathan Cookler; Harriet and Steven Nichols; Anita Green; Michael and Stacey Garfinkel; George and Ruth Moss, and Don Pharaoh, ADL director of major gifts and planned Giving.

For more information visit AJ Congress wowed; Shaare Zedek gets record donation; Koufax in the house

Interest Increases as Deadline Nears


Susie Tiffany of Beverly Hills suffers from a rare blood disorder and needs monthly infusions of blood components, which her insurance company ultimately declined to cover. She hoped the government’s new prescription drug benefit would help her out because, despite her ZIP code, she’s a low-income senior.

But the possibilities, were baffling: an array of private insurance plans that covered different things, explanations on the Internet that included terms she never had to know before, additional complexities depending on a person’s income and a confusing interplay of state and federal agencies.

However, Tiffany was able to find assistance in her case from Jewish Family Service. A social worker helped get Tiffany’s treatment covered by new state funds intended to help seniors with the transition to the new federal system.

“It’s a good thing that I had a good social worker,” said Tiffany, 65, who lives in a Beverly Hills city subsidized apartment building for low-income seniors.

“There are quite a number of options, and it’s overwhelming,” said Susan Alexman, director of senior services at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles County, insurance companies have offered 47 different plans for seniors seeking to enroll in the new federally funded benefit. The plan’s May 15 deadline means seniors must sign up without delay or face increased fees for late enrollment.

For some seniors, the financial stakes are high. But while interest is picking up, for most of the past year, social service groups have had few takers when they’ve tried to help.

“It’s strange, but our office has not had any calls on that,” said Deborah Baldwin, public benefits supervisor at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, when asked in March.

At the Fairfax District office of the National Council of Jewish Women, a Democratic congressman’s field staffer set aside four hours over two days in late January to discuss the new Medicare Part D drug plan with seniors. Hardly anyone showed up.

“Just three,” the staffer told The Jewish Journal. “People are putting it off.”

Health care activists, community workers and groups, including Jewish Family Service, have been holding numerous Part D awareness meetings, especially this spring.

“This has been going on for a year and a half,” said Anita Chun, community education coordinator at the Center for Healthcare Rights in Los Angeles. “Now people are paying attention.”

A Part D meeting in March in West Hollywood, put on by Jewish Family Service, attracted about 120 seniors. Attendance also picked up for a March meeting at Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park — after a sparsely attended February session with social workers and experts.

Some seniors said they expect to come out OK under the new system.

“The health program that I belong to enrolled everybody in it beforehand,” said Encino retiree Janet Siskind. Her Blue Shield 65 Plus coverage gets her quarterly refills of the three to four pills she needs. Siskind’s combined prescription fees will increase, but only by about $10 annually.

“I’m in good hands with this,” she said. “It’s something I can afford.”

Siskind’s San Fernando Valley chapter of the Na’amat women’s group held a recent Part D meeting for 25 people.

“We figured, ‘Well, it hasn’t started yet, perhaps it’ll get easier as time goes along,'” she said. “It hasn’t really been explained too thoroughly.”

With so much Part D information online, many seniors are at a disadvantage, because of their discomfort or unfamiliarity with the Internet.

California’s Medi-Cal program, which had covered poor and low-income seniors’ prescription costs, stopped providing service on Jan. 1, when Part D took over. Yet there were startup problems, which included state and federal computers being unable to interact. Many poor seniors were suddenly being asked to pay full price for medications. The reports of hardship prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature in mid-January to push through emergency prescription drug funding for low-income seniors until May 15.

“It makes the state the payer of last resort for the prescriptions that they need,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund.

But only until May 15, which could force Tiffany, suffering from the blood disorder, to navigate the system again.

“Good old Part D, the insurance policy that was gonna change it all,” she said. “It’s gonna take some time for me to get happy about it.”

David Merritt, project director at the Center for Health Transformation think tank in Washington, D.C., said that despite such glitches, Medicare Part D transition problems nationwide have been relatively low, with Americans not upset over Part D the way they are over high gas prices.

“Anytime you have a massive policy shift from one system to another system, you’re going to run into problems,” he told The Journal. “The vast majority [of seniors] had zero problems enrolling or getting medication.”

But to Jews dependent on Medicare for affordable drugs, “it’s unfair for seniors to be expected to maneuver through this incredibly messy web,” said Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah. “Health trumps every other problem in your life.”

“They’re basically saying they’re confused, and they want someone to walk them through it,” Klein said.

 

+