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Some ins and outs of the American health debate

January 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–A month with family and friends across the United States found health a lively a topic of conversation. Almost all are sufficiently correct politically to concede that it is time to improve service delivery, but virtually none are happy with the work of the White House and Congress.

No surprise that in two thousand pages there is much to oppose. People fear losing some of what they currently enjoy. Many blanch at the overall expense, and argue against one or another detail for financing the proposals or controlling costs.

My contacts as well as media commentators are also quarreling with the lack of clarity. There have been deals to win a key member, or any member of the House and Senate. And where is the transparency that the president so foolishly promised?

The last point gets again to the naivete of Barack Obama. It should remind a history buff of another president who blundered at a crucial moment. Woodrow Wilson insisted on open agreements openly arrived at when he went to Versailles to end World War I. His weaker but more experienced European and adversaries cringed at the thought. The disasters that began there, in part due to him, contributed to the more destructive war two decades later.

Signs are that Obama is more flexible than Wilson, and quicker to learn that politicians cannot surrender prized aspirations in public, but will do so for the sake of a decent bargain in private.

It is tempting to conclude that much of the detailed opposition is a cover for the conventional American unwillingness to join the democratic consensus that basic health care is a right that ought to be available to all citizens, and maybe even to those who slip into a country illegally.

The concept of rights is flexible, and expands. Massachusetts was an outlier in 1647 when its colonial legislature required compulsory education. The federal government provided for the public support of education in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, concerned with what became the states of Ohio to Wisconsin. The family now in the White House would not have been permitted to sit on park benches or drink at public water fountains in much of the United States as late as the 1960s. More recently, American authorities have recognized the rights of people to be free of secondary smoke, and the rights of the handicapped to access public facilities. American advocates who view health as a right have more trouble persuading fellow citizens to do what the other democracies have been doing for years.

Patriotism and denial are also prominent. Opponents of socialized medicine have their stories of the indigent and the illegal receiving care in emergency rooms and perpetual dialysis. One of my contacts emphasized 600 pound American behemoths to demonstrate that poor health is the choice of the ignorant. Government and private organizations have analyzed statistics to counter the findings that America’s indicators are worse than those of all other western societies.  None of the calculations indicate that America’s delivery of medicine is among the world leaders. Some show that its record is not quite as bad as shown by a simple reading of the data.

Rights to health care are nowhere total. Scientists create medicines, machines, and technologies more expensive than governments are willing to support. Public programs do not cover everything. The best avoid the Canadian experiment of denying patients opportunities to buy privately, or with private insurance, services or medications not covered by public programs.

All struggle with what to cover and how to pay for it, usually in the context of campaigns by drug companies and other providers to include their products and services. They arrange demonstrations demanding the inclusion of what sufferers say will “save their lives,” when the most to be hoped is prolonged life at great expense.

Coverage of tourists from overseas, as well as illegal migrants, payments for cosmetic surgery , fertility treatments, sex changes, mental health, and abortion are other issues with no obvious solution.

The political problems associated with the campaigns of those who suffer, those who aspire to profit, and those who ascribe to one ideology or another are not essentially different than deciding what to do about local education or public universities.

Some of the deals seen to date are not fair, or even conscionable, but they are the way a complex and contentious society does its politics. Only those living in paradise ought to complain. If enough legislators and the president will hold their noses while smiling and voting or signing, the United States will move closer to the civilized norm.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

The Jews Down Under … Roundup of Australian Jewish News

January 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Zentai gets Yuletide reprieve

PERTH 29 December – A grant of bail from the Federal Court has allowed accused war criminal  Charles Zentai to spend Christmas with his family.

The Federal Court in Perth earlier in December  ordered the 88-year-old to be released from prison, as he awaits the final decision on whether he will be extradited to Hungary to face charges over a 1944 murder.

Justice Neil McKerracher said Zentai was a low flight risk and granted bail for him, after the Commonwealth did not oppose a bail application from his lawyers.

Zentai’s legal team has successfully petitioned the Federal Court to review a decision by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor in October, which approved a submission from the Hungarian government to extradite him to face court in Budapest.

The Perth resident is charged with involvement in the murder of Peter Balazs, a Budapest teenager, who he allegedly arrested for not wearing the mandatory yellow star.

Zentai is accused of bringing Balazs back to a military barracks where he was allegedly involved in beating the Jewish teen to death, before dumping his body in the Danube River.

Two Hungarian army officers were convicted shortly after World War II for their parts in the murder.

Zentai has denied the charges since they were laid in 2005, and claimed he was not in Budapest on the date of the murder.

He was located as part of Operation Last Chance, an initiative of the Israel-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre to bring aging war criminals to justice.

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A climate change focus for rabbi’s

MELBOURNE 29 Decemner – Climate change issues became a hot talking point in shuls around Australia last Shabbat as rabbis raised the issue to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

The 12-day gathering of global leaders concluded at the weekend without a binding resolution on a new worldwide climate treaty.

Following a call by Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Lord Jonathan Sacks to speak about the environment in sermons, Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria  (RCV), sent a request to all member rabbis to
dedicate at least part of their sermons to highlight the importance of preserving the environment in accordance with the Torah and halachah.

Rabbi Glasman, who is the rabbi at the North Eastern Jewish Centre, said he was pleased that the rabbinate was taking a leading role in this area.

“The Jewish community is aware of the importance of the environment,” he said.

“In my sermon I noted that there are many opinions about climate change, but it is better to err on the side of caution. We don’t lose anything by adhering to the warnings about climate change.

“It is a basic mandate of the Torah to preserve the environment. We are the custodians of the earth for the sake of God and future generations.”

Rabbi Glasman said that on a personal note he felt the result of the Copenhagen conference was “disappointing”, but should also be seen positively as a step in the right direction.

Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black of the Leo Baeck Centre, Kew, gave one of his first sermons about the environment in 1988 and returned to the topic last Shabbat.

“Reaching an agreement at the Copenhagen conference was always going to be a hugely challenging task,” he said.

Rabbi Keren-Black, who founded the Jewish Ecological Coalition in 2003 and more recently the interfaith environmental group GreenFaith, said it was imperative that the nations of the world develop an action plan on climate change.

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Change of scene for soccer star

SYDNEY 30 December – Six months ago, Steve Solomon was the lightning-quick skipper of Australia’s junior Maccabiah football side, who did a bit of sprinting on the side at school.

Now, after blitzing all before him in the state and national school athletic championships, the 16-year-old has been scouted by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

He will train in Canberra during his school break, before spending the year in Athletics Australia’s under-19 talent squad in Sydney.

Having been hand-picked by the sport’s roof body, Solomon now has his eyes firmly on the track, and aims “to represent my country, hopefully at the Rio Olympics”.

The meteoric shift from soccer enthusiast to Olympic sprint aspirant comes on the back of a phenomenal athletics season.

Representing the Cranbrook School, Solomon won the long jump and broke the Combined Associated Schools’ (CAS) longstanding 200-metre record,
while also setting a new best in the 400-metre event.

He began turning heads when he went to the NSW State Championships and broke the 400-metre hurdles record in his first attempt at the race, while also winning the 400-metre flat race.

He collected another booty of gold representing NSW at the Australian All Schools in Hobart, winning his pet 400-metre event in the under-17
division, while also collecting a win in the 4×400-metre relay. In just his third hurdles race, he was pipped on the line to claim silver.

Solomon will now enjoy the benefit of the AIS’ resources -­ an exciting proposition given that he has hardly trained beyond his school’s seasonal athletics program and runs a personal best of 48.32 over 400 metres, and 53.70 in the 400-metre hurdles event.

“I’m completely open-minded to it and willing to give everything a go to see how far I can take it,” Solomon enthused.

“I’ve always been running, but this year everything has fallen into place . I was quietly confident, only because I knew I’d beaten the other competitors before, but was very surprised at the same time ­- particularly with the hurdles. It was only my third hurdles race.”
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Lifeline for Masada College

ADELAIDE’–This city’s  only Jewish school, Massada College, will continue operating this year after members of the Australian Jewish community have rallied to donate to the beleaguered school.

Primary among donors was Melbourne-based philanthropist Joseph Gutnick who has given the college $100,000.

Calls by Australian rabbis from their pulpits have also paid off, with members of one Melbourne synagogue reportedly pledging thousands of dollars to assist the school.

The primary school faced immediate closure if it could not raise the required funds and quickly. The South Australian Government offered an undisclosed amount of assistance to Massada if it could match it with community money.

School president Yuval Yarom said they were grateful for all the assistance, which will help Adelaide’s families provide their children with a Jewish education.

Gutnick told The AJN he is please to be in a position to help the school, just as he has helped numerous communal organisations across Australia in the past.

“No community can exist without a Jewish school,” he said. “I hope everyone will help to keep this school going.”

He also urged others to chip in for Adelaide’s Jewish community.

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Gold Coast shule’s Rabbi in jeopardy

BRISBANE, 7 January – It may be the high season in Surfers Paradise, just a few kms from Brisbane,  but the Gold Coast Hebrew Congregation has been forced to send out an urgent appeal for support.

The synagogue relies on a small handful of benefactors for much of its revenue, but donations are dwindling, and the fundraising fall means the shul is seriously considering slashing the rabbi’s salary.

“One of our benefactors, for personal reasons, cannot afford to support us financially as much as he used to,” Gold Coast shul president David Rebibou explained.

The AJN also understands that another of the congregation’s major donors passed away in recent years and the next generation of his family has reduced its annual donation.

The loss of support, which has left the shul with a $90,000 shortfall, means the synagogue may be required to cut Rabbi Nir Gurevitch’s salary.

“We don’t know if the rabbi will accept it, or look for another position,” Rebibou said of the congregation’s full-time spiritual leader.

Rabbi Gurevitch’s contract expires on February 12 and the president said the shul must raise the required money before that date.

“I am a big supporter of the rabbi . we would like to keep him.”

A crisis meeting was held recently and the decision was taken to contact community members — not just in Queensland, but also interstate — for assistance.

“We sent something like 400 pledges,” he said. “When people from Sydney and Melbourne come to the Gold Coast, there is a shul to service their needs, in terms of the synagogue, kosher food, services, Shabbat.”

Surfers Paradise has had its own Orthodox congregation for 52 years, serving both the local community and interstate visitors to the popular holiday destination. As well as regular minyans and Shabbat services, the synagogue also has a mikvah and community hall.

Rebibou said the congregation is strong, it is just in need of financial assistance.

“We’ve increased our membership, but a big drop in income like this is difficult.”
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Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World