Ukrainian Government Must Ensure Rights, Safety of Minorities


Protests in Kiev, last week.

— by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center

Like millions of concerned people around the world, we hope that the emerging leadership in Ukraine will steer a course based on democratic values and inclusion, including guaranteeing rights and safety for its large Jewish communities and their communal institutions.

As the late Simon Wiesenthal said, “Where democracy is strong, it is good for Jews and where it is weak, it is bad for Jews.” Nothing will better guarantee a future for Ukrainian Jewry than the end of violent confrontations and the restoration of true democratic rule.

World Jewry’s concerns have been heightened with word of a firebomb attack on a synagogue southeast of the capital of Kiev Sunday night.

Rethinking Plans to Close Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia

Among the wonderful aspects of our Jewish community in Philadelphia is the close relationship we have with the State of Israel. We do not take that relationship for granted. It comes as the product of hard work, constant communication and, perhaps most importantly, personal contact. The close personal contact we have with Israel in Philadelphia comes from the warm relationship which we have with the Israel Consulate and, specifically, the Consul General.

I was saddened to receive the news that the government in Israel is considering closing our Consulate. Understanding the financial burdens which weigh on the State of Israel, I am sympathetic to the need to cut costs in many programs.  At the same time, the work of the Consul General and the Consulate creates the close and warm bond which we feel toward Israel, ultimately impacting positively on Israel’s economy through our support. We benefit from the Consul and his office through his personal presence at so many of our synagogues and Jewish Institutions. He provides a friendly and knowledgeable voice for the State when he speaks, contributing strong support for Israel when she is attacked, a voice of reason, warmth and encouragement for those of us who work to support Israel. [Read more…]

Boston Bombing: We are All Targets

As I reflect on the events of the past 24 hours, my thoughts and prayers are with the 130 people who have been injured, to greater or lesser degrees, by the bombs that exploded in Boston. May they be granted speedy and complete recoveries. May G-d strengthen the hands of those who tend to their injuries and wounds. May those in need be granted healing, both physical and spiritual. I know that you join me in extending heartfelt sympathy and prayers for comfort to the families of the three victims who died from their wounds. I pray that those whose job it is to find and apprehend those responsible are successful in their work. May those who are guilty be brought to justice and be held accountable for these heinous crimes. [Read more…]

Presbyterian Church General Assembly Votes Against Divestment

— by Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International commends the commissioners at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for again resisting a formidable campaign for punitive, one-sided action on the Middle East. They chose positive investment instead of divestment, voting against a resolution supporting divestment from three American companies engaged in business with Israel. They also rejected the slurring of Israeli policy with the label of “apartheid.” However, the church did separately encourage countries to prohibit products made by Israelis in disputed territories.

More after the jump.
From June 30 through July 7, the PC(USA) is convening in Pittsburgh for its General Assembly, the primary policymaking body of the 2 million-member mainline Protestant denomination.

By a vote of 333-331-2, delegates opted on July 5 to replace a church overture for divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard with one on constructive investment. This motion was later adopted by a vote of 369-290-8.

Although deliberations at the assembly continue, and some resolutions-including the one on goods made by Ahava and other companies producing in Palestinian-claimed territories-signal areas of important disagreement with our organization on Israel’s record and circumstances, a significant number of Presbyterians have continued to show their desire to avoid many of the most immoderate and harmful proposals.

They have done so in the face of assertions by some speakers that Israel is guilty of “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and “the worst form of terrorism,” responsible for inspiring 9/11. One speaker, hinting at Presbyterian-Jewish relations, said that Jesus didn’t worry about relations with the Pharisees when he cleansed the Temple and challenged tax-collectors and priests.

Presbyterians working to enhance understanding of the complex conditions in the Middle East deserve appreciation for their efforts.

Several mainline Protestant denominations have debated and declined proposals to single out companies doing business with Israel for economic sanctions. Today, July 6, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, although not scheduled to consider divestment, will discuss resolutions on the Middle East, including several on investment issues and on adopting for study “Kairos Palestine,” an inflammatory 2009 Palestinian Christian document that called for indiscriminate boycotts of the Jewish state.  

Israel Under Attack: The Presbyterian Church USA

Israel is, once again, under attack.  This time I refer not to the rockets which have been fired at Israel from Gaza and from the Sinai Peninsula.  These new attacks are coming from our neighbors here, the national organizations of the Methodists and the Presbyterians (PCUSA), the liberal Protestant denominations in this country.  Each organization is considering resolutions comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the treatment of South African Blacks during Apartheid. Each has called upon its constituents to boycott Israel until Israel admits to adhering to racist policies. Only after such admissions, according to these resolutions, can Israel and the Palestinians work toward peace. [Read more…]

What Do Romney And The New York Times Have In Common?

They both take liberties with their “quotes.”

President Obama’s AIPAC speech last week was well received on both sides of aisle, but perhaps the New York Times found it message standing up to the Iranian nuclear program a little too clear, and sought to muddy the waters. Helen Cooper wrote

CAMERA: Mr. Obama, who has often lamented the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, made reference to European and American intelligence assessments that have found no evidence that Iran has decided to pursue a nuclear weapon.

A March 6 page-one story by Mark Landler in the International Herald Tribune made the same claim (in virtually the same words). And, yet, you can watch or read the speech until Ahmadinejad is a Zionist and still you will not find a single reference to European or American intelligence assessments that have found no evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon.

Similarly, Gov. Mitt Romney has earned a reputation for playing fast and lose with his “quotes” when the actual source does not quite fit his narrative.

The Romney campaigns very first television  ad earned a Pants on Fire rating from Polifact. According to Think Progress, Romney

Romney Campaign TV Ad

Thinkprogress Parody Ad

dishonestly presents a 2008 McCain campaign quote as the words of President Obama. The ad features a voice-over of Obama saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” Then-candidate Obama indeed said those words, perhaps dozens of times during the closing month of the 2008 campaign. The only problem? Obama was actually quoting the words of a strategist from Sen. John McCain’s campaign.

Another eyebrow-raising moment in the ad comes when it attacks “record foreclosures,” despite the fact that Romney’s stated housing policy is “don’t try and stop the foreclosure process.”

Politico reports that the Romney campaign is asserting that its ad was intentionally deceptive and dishonest. “We used that quote intentionally,” Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstorm said.

ThinkProgress has produced a parody ad, using Romney’s own standards for accuracy.

Here is the actual October 2008 Obama quote in context. The portion used by Romney is in bold:

Even as we face the most serious economic crisis of our time, even as you are worried about keeping your jobs or paying your bills or staying in your homes, my opponent’s campaign announced earlier this month that they want to ‘turn the page’ on the discussion about our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead. Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.'”

Well, New Hampshire, last night we had a debate. I think you saw a bit of the McCain attack strategy in action. But here’s what Senator McCain doesn’t seem to understand. With the economy in turmoil and the American Dream at risk, the American people don’t want to hear politicians attack each other – you want to hear about how we’re going to attack the challenges facing middle class families each and every day. You want to hear about the issues that matter in your lives. You want to hear about how we’re going to bring about the change that we desperately need for our country. That’s what the American people want to hear.

Even when Romney is being endorsed by newspapers, he is very selective in editing the endorsement to remove any sign of hesitation by the newspaper emailing that endorsement to the voters. According to Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker, the Romney campaign “has no better friend than the ellipsis”.

Examples of some of the fine redaction by the eager staff at the Romney Campaign follow the jump.

  1. “Mr. Romney may not be the debater that Mr. Gingrich is (although he’s getting better). And he doesn’t have the same social conservative credentials as Mr. Santorum.”
    Savannah Morning News, March 1, 2012
  2. “He is the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, attending the prestigious Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills before receiving his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University in 1971. He also is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, both in 1975. Following his graduations he worked for Bain & Co. before starting the highly successful Bain Capital, a venture capital and investment firm, in 1984.”
    Midland Daily News, Michigan, February 26, 2012
  3. “Perhaps that is why he sometimes appears so awkward in public, especially when talking about himself and, in particular, his personal wealth.”
    Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 3, 2012
  4. “Yes, out-of-context declarations like ‘I enjoy firing people’ and ‘I don’t care about the poor’ contribute to the caricature of a rich swell, akin to that of Donald Trump. Really? Where are the trophy wives? The ostentatious lifestyle? The garish displays of life among the rich and famous? You will have to look hard.”
    Arizona Republic, February 24, 2012
  5. “We have our issues with Romney, to be sure. His opposition to the Dream Act for illegal-immigrant children raised in the U.S. is not one we support. And his effort to position himself as the ‘toughest’ GOP candidate on immigration issues is a concern.”
    Arizona Republic, February 24, 2012
  6. “In fact, this newspaper does not embrace many of his ideas on taxation, which give too great a reward to the wealthy and not enough help for the poor and middle class.”
    -Times Daily of Florence, Alabama, March 9, 2012
  7. “His stance against government interaction to revive the domestic automobile industry is disappointing. Also disappointing are inconsistencies in his message…”
    Grand Rapids Press, February 22, 2012
  8. “Consistency is certainly a problem for Romney. The one-time moderate has adjusted his positions on so many issues-including abortion and gay rights-that his core beliefs are a mystery. In this campaign, he has tried so hard to prove his conservative bona fides that he has undercut one of his greatest selling points: the pragmatism that enabled him to get things done as a Republican governor in one of the nation’s most Democratic and liberal states.”
    Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 3, 2012
  9. “That has been just one example of some of the shape-shifting Romney has done to appeal to conservative primary voters who believe he is too moderate. So, it’s not unfair to wonder who the real Romney is.”
    Birmingham News, March 7, 2012

The Anti-Israel Movement: BDS On Campus

This weekend, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a conference will be held. The gathering, which the University is hosting, has been arranged by a group which is identified by the acronym BDS. BDS refers to the movement dedicated to punishing, vilifying and delegitimizing the State of Israel in three ways.

  • First, this group encourages “B”, boycotting Israeli products.
  • Second, the group advocates “D”, divesting from companies which do business in and with Israel.
  • And third is “S”, the efforts to convince governments around the world to impose sanctions against Israel.

[Read more…]

Where You Stand and What You Hear

Thoughts Regarding Israel AdvocacyI have just returned from the Policy Conference of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). This year’s convention was particularly exciting and provocative. Beyond the speakers of notoriety and prominence, however, I left the conference with a clearer and deeper sense of what it means to support and advocate for Israel. Indeed, that is the explicit mission of AIPAC.  Simply put, AIPAC is about knowing where you stand.

[Read more…]

Home Baked Challah For Shabbat

Ronit Treatman

Olive oil lamps and tabun-baked flatbreads were the centerpieces of the first Shabbat tables.  As Jews dispersed around the world, candles replaced oil lamps, and the loaves used for the blessing over the bread sometimes changed as well.  In the fifteenth century, Jews settled along the Rhine River, and were inspired by the local braided egg breads to bake challah.  At that time, every challah was artisanal!  The woman of the house mixed her own dough, shaped it by hand, and baked it fresh for Shabbat. With the arrival of commercial baking, for many families the art of preparing a homemade challah was lost.  Now, many people are reclaiming the skill of baking their own challah for Shabbat.  They are rediscovering the serenity that comes from feeling the flour on their hands, kneading the dough, and filling their home with the sweet smell of fresh challah being baked.

More after the jump.
Currently, there are 216,000 recipes for challah online, 219 challah-baking demonstrations on You Tube, and 14,700 challah related facebook pages. There are spaces in message boards dedicated to discussing the challenges of getting the challah to turn out just the way the baker wants it. Men, women, amateur and professional bakers, and foodies from everywhere are happy to share their experiences.  This interactive world of the Internet has become our new shtetl marketplace.  We can just casually complain that our dough failed to rise, and anyone who hears us can pitch in with a suggestion.

Some of the best challah recipes have been compiled in a book called The Secret of Challah, by Shira Wiener and Ayelet Yifrach.  

In The Secret of Challah, we learn how to perform the mitzvah of Hafrashat challah, or “separating challah.”  This custom takes us back to the 10th century BCE, to the First Temple in Jerusalem.  We separate the prescribed amount of dough before we start braiding our challah.  The blessing which we say over this piece of dough is

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu l’hafrish challah.

Praised are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to separate challah (from the dough).

We then hold the piece of dough and say

Harei zoh challah.

This is the challah.

This piece of dough is burned, to remind us of the portion of grain every family gave to the Kohanim serving in the temple (Numbers 15:17-21).    This is what is meant by “challah is taken” on packages of kosher bread or matzah.  

This book has beautiful photography, and can handily guide most people through the process of braiding six strands of dough into a splendid, golden challah for Shabbat.  There is a wonderful chapter about decorative traditions for the challah in different communities.

My family baked Chani’s Shabbat Challah from The Secret of Challah.  Here is an adaptation.


Chani’s Shabbat Challah

  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1-tablespoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 9 cups flour

Combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place.  After about ten minutes, the mixture should be foaming.  Add the eggs, flour, salt, and oil.  Knead the ingredients into dough and cover the bowl with the towel.  Let the dough rise for one hour.  

Remove the dough from the bowl.  Separate it into three pieces.  Roll each piece into a long rope.  Braid the challah and place in a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Allow the challah to rise for another forty minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beat the yolk of two eggs, and brush the challah.

Sprinkle sesame seeds and poppy seeds over it.

Bake the challah for 30 to 40 minutes.

For some people, mixing the dough from scratch is too time consuming and messy.  This is no reason to miss out on all the fun!  For those who don’t want to knead their own dough, it is possible to order frozen Kosher challah dough online.  Wenner Bread Products is a family owned industrial bakery, which operates under the supervision of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.  If you order their kosher challah dough, you can go straight to braiding and baking.  Challah has already been taken at their facility.

For those who yearn for interpersonal interactions, Chabad hosts weekly challah baking workshops, charging only a nominal fee for materials.  About fifty years ago, the Rabbis’ wives started to invite women from their respective communities to bake challah for Shabbat and learn about Judaism.  These rebetzins preserved challah recipes from their grandmothers that otherwise would have been lost in the ashes of the Holocaust.  Chabad is not famous for its gourmet food, yet when it comes to challah baking no one can compete with them!  There is no one “Chabad challah recipe” that is used in all the Chabad centers around the world.  Their instructors are very adventurous!  Chabad collects recipes from everywhere and everyone.  Every challah baking session tries one or more different recipes.  Chabad wants as many people as possible to learn how to bake challah.  As a result, they have created a challah baking class for the deaf, taught in American Sign Language.

Chabad’s success has not gone unnoticed.  Many Jewish Federations and synagogues in the United States have added challah baking as fun hands-on way to build community.  It is one of the most popular activities created for Birthright alumni.  Hillels in colleges across the country are coordinating Challah for Hunger baking sessions.  These challahs are sold, and the money goes to charity.  In my community, my dear friend Rabbi Fredi Cooper has started a group named Kesher.  Kesher volunteers meet in the kitchen of our synagogue and bake fresh challahs.  These challahs are delivered to welcome every new baby in the community, to homebound seniors, and people in hospitals.  

Are you too busy or antisocial to participate in a challah-baking workshop?  That is no excuse not to bake your own challah!  You can follow step-by-step instructions in this video.  

I love baking challah with my children.  This activity is a way of turning Friday after school time into a special occasion leading up to Shabbat dinner.  My philosophy is that it is the process that matters, not the product.  Our challah would never win any sort of award for presentation or taste!  I love to play beautiful music for Shabbat on You Tube while we measure the ingredients and knead the dough.  One example is this video.  I set the Shabbat table while we let the dough rise.  We only have time to let it rise once, but we don’t let that stop us from enjoying ourselves!  The kids form their challahs.  It is possible to be so creative!  A challah doesn’t have to be in the form of a braid.  It can be shaped like a bunch of grapes, a key, and even a hamsa (hand shaped amulet).  Then, my magnum opi paint the challah with egg yolk, to give it a golden sheen.  The challas are sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  We put the challahs in the oven one hour before dinner is scheduled to begin.  This gives them enough time to bake, and then cool off a little before they are served.

What I love the most about baking my own challah is that it is part of the process of turning my home into a cocoon for Shabbat.  No matter what else has happened during the week, this is a time to minimize all the bad things, and accentuate the special.  I focus on creating a festive environment, with the sounds of Shabbat music, the tactile pleasure of kneading the dough, the smells of yeast and baking bread, the sight of beautiful golden loaves emerging from the oven, and the taste of fresh, warm, sweet challah.  To me, the smell of a baking challah is the smell of love.      

Trivedi and Gerlach Speak On Wide Range of Issues

Publisher Dan Loeb speaks with Congressman Jim GerlachDr. Daniel Loeb

Every election year since 2006, Temple Beth Hillel Beth El’s Israel Advocacy Committee, Men’s Club and Sisterhood invite the Congressional Candidates for Pennsylvania’s 6th district  to speak to the community, and this year was no exception. Incumbant Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach was followed by his Democratic challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi as they both addressed the crowd and took questions on a wide range of issues.

As was the case in the first debate between Gerlach and Trivedi, there was a small incident before the beginning of the event as the Gerlach campaign asked that the event not be filmed, and all recording equipment was removed. The second debate was televised and can be seen on the PCN website. This forum was not a debate format as the candidates appeared sequentially.

Israel


Both candidates spoke passionately of their support for the Jewish State. As a decorated veteran Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, Trivedi said

“I was ready to die for Israel because that is what allies do for each other.”

Both candidates were pessimistic about the current peace negotiations. Gerlach said he “saw no signs of a breakthrough there”. Trivedi blamed the Palestinian leadership “We need someone who can come to the negotiating table without preconditions.” Gerlach cited “Gaza’s extreme poverty and lack of educational opportunities which fosters hatred of Israel.” He added that the neighboring Arab countries could do something about the situation in Gaza but they are not interested.

More after the jump.
Trivedi cautioned that we should let Israel take the lead in the peace process. The United States he said “can facilitate, but should not take over” or “draw borderlines”, adding that he was “still waiting for a Palestinian Authority which can deliver on its promises.”  

Trivedi spoke of his Indian heritage which gives him reason to be vigilant yet optimistic. His family and friends who were affected by the terrorist attack last year in Mumbai remind him of the danger posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Hamas who Trivedi insisted we “cannot negotiate with”. Yet he also recalled lessons from his parents’ hometown in India.  Ahmedabad was a city plagued by rioting between its Hindi and Muslim communities following the independence and partition of India in 1947, but the Indian government seeded economic development, and once everyone was more secure financially, suddenly they were less concerned with religious differences with their neighbors.

Gerlach responded to a hypothetical situation proposed by Steve Feldman (Director of the ZOA in Philadelphia) in which the administration were to impose a particular peace proposal by a fixed deadline. “Israel needs to make its own determination of what is a good agreement that it can sign on to. If Obama moves beyond that we can use the appropriations process – the power of the purse.”

Gerlach concluded

“There is strong bipartisan support for the State of Israel, and I imagine this will continue.”

Iran

Both candidates praised the recently passed Iran sanctions. Gerlach was disappointed that Obama has not yet employed the full range of sanctions available. Trivedi concurred. He saw the Iranian sanctions were having a real effect, but he said we need to implement all of the available the sanctions as quickly as possible since “centrifuges do not wait for negotiations.” A questioner asked how he would respond to military action by Israel and Iran. Trivedi said all options have to be on the table including the military option, adding that

“The only thing worse than the military option is a nuclear Iran.”

Afghanistan

The former Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev recently warned that winning a war in Afghanistan is impossible. Gerlach was asked how he would vote on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Gerlach said “I would have to vote ‘no’ because I want to hear from General [David] Petraeus” who is reviewing the United States’ strategy in the region. Gerlach doubted whether Hamid Karzai’s government could stand long without our support.

Trivedi disagreed with Obama’s “surge” of 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan. “I do not think they will cure the ills of Afghanistan.” Trivedi added that he does not trust the Karzai government, and he lamented Obama’s failure to address the opium problem in his “surge speech” since the opium drug trade is endemic to many of the problems in Afghanistan and has corrupted the Karzai administration. Trivedi observed from his experience in Iraq:

“The Military has smart power: nurses, engineers, …

“We can facilitate nation building but we can not impose democracy. It has to well up from within.”

Party Loyalty and Extremism

Both candidates tried to distance themselves from the leadership of their parties.

Manan Trivedi said he did not support Obama’s support of Human Rights initiatives in Israel, applying the Nuclear Non-proliferation ban to Israel or Biden’s insistence of a housing freeze in Jerusalem. Trivedi criticized the implementation of the stimulus bill, disagreed with the surge in Afghanistan and felt that the health reform bill did not address costs.

Trivedi concluded

I will take a good idea whether it comes from a tea party supporter or a left-winger or anything in between. We need a new breed of leaders who have no political chips to cash in.


Matt Hirsch asked Gerlach if there were any issues on which he disagreed with Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner. He cited several votes where he opposed the Bush administration: Overriding Bush’s veto of S-CHIP and supporting stem cell research. In fact, during Gerlach’s first three terms he built a moderate record by voting strategically: voting with his party when his vote was needed and voting with his moderate district when it was not. In this Congress, the Republicans have insisted of party discipline in order to avoid giving a hint of bipartisanship to legislation passed by the Democrats. Accordingly, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice followed up and asked for a more recent example where Gerlach opposed his leadership in the last two years. Gerlach said he supported his leadership on all of the major pieces of legislation: namely in opposing the stimulus package, health-insurance reform and cap-and-trade energy policy. Indeed Gerlach has been much more consistent lately in voting with his leadership though he did vote last July to extend unemployment benefits opposed by the Republican leadership.

Gerlach was also asked to comment on the impact of the tea party movement. Gerlach cited several local tea party groups who he said were “very engaged”. He praised them for “stepping up as citizens” and said “this is a good thing”.

Neither candidate eluded to alleged excesses in the tea party such as racism, rejection of principals such as civil rights or the Separation of Church and State, violence against Lauren Valle in Tennessee and the “citizens arrest” of a reporter in Alaska.

Tax Cuts

The 2001 and 2003 Bush taxes cuts expire at the end of this year. Unless Congress takes action during the lame-duck session or takes retroactive action next year, tax rates will revert to the levels they were at during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. For the richest Americans this would raise their marginal tax rate from 35.0% to 39.6%.

Jim Gerlach said that he along with the entire Republican caucus and “about 50 moderate Democrats” in the House of Representatives favor making the Bush tax cuts permanent. He doubted whether Pelosi would have the political strength to address this issue during the lame-duck session following the upcoming mid-term election. Gerlach also wanted to address the Alternative Minimum Tax which was never indexed and is catching more and more middle-class Americans.

Gerlach’s campaign was distributing “fact sheets” at the synagogue claiming that “Manan Trivedi opposes extending tax relief which will result in the largest tax increase in American history, roughly $2,000 per Pennsylvania family,” but in reality Trivedi  “supports extending tax cuts for all but the über-wealthy.” Trevedi said we needed to return to the old rates only for the portion of taxable income exceeding $250,000 per year. Keeping those tax breaks would cost Americans 700 billion dollars which Trivedi said “we cannot afford.” Economists have observed that tax breaks focused on the richest 2% of Americans “will not stimulate the economy” since “we have a demand side problem not a supply side problem.”

Spending

The Federal Budget for the new fiscal year has not yet been passed so the government is acting under a Continuing Resolution until December 3. Gerlach doubted the new budget would be passed in the lame-duck session but was confident that another Continuing Resolution would be passed to avoid a government shutdown before the new Congress could act on the budget in January.


Gerlach said “the current deficit spending is 20% of gross domestic production whereas historical it has been around 18 to 19%.” In reality, the deficit was 9.91% at the end of last year and it will grow to 10.64% based on the proposed budget which is less than the figure Jim Gerlach cited but still well above deficits seen since the end of World War II.

To solve this problem, Gerlach intends to draw on his experience as a State legislator where the budget had to be balanced. “Only the Federal government does not have a balanced budget requirement”. Calling the current situation “unsustainable”, Gerlach called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the United States Constitution with exception in times of war or other national emergency similar to that proposed in during the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration. Similar amendments failed to pass the House by the required two-thirds majority in 1982, 1997 and 2005. Once the amendment passes Congress, it would then have to be ratified by 38 states before going into effect.

Gerlach was asked specifically what he would cut in order to balance the budget since entitlements, the military and interest make up 84% of the budget. Gerlach said that all areas of spending have to be under consideration including Medicare and Social Security. Gerlach also pledged to look at defense spending as well.

Manan Trivedi countered that “we need to cut spending, but we need to do it with a surgical knife, not a sledgehammer.”

From Trivedi’s experience in the military, he agrees with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that we need to be more efficient and eliminate unneeded weapon systems. In Iraq, Trivedi saw contractors paid five times more to do half of the work of an enlisted serviceman.

Trivedi called Washington DC an “evidence-free zone” suggesting that by observation we can fund best-practices and drive costs down for a wide range of government programs.

Trivedi sees getting the economy back on track as critical to reestablishing fiscal discipline. Trivedi’s jobs plan will eliminate the 260 billion dollar loophole for companies that ship job oversees.  His jobs plan features tax incentives for small businesses which he called “the motor of our economy.”

Trivedi emphasized stimulating sectors of the economy which have a ripple effect and will provide long-term benefits for the economy. One example was the clean energy economy. Trivedi said we should work on smart grid, wind turbine and solar power technologies. “We are not doing the things the Chinese are doing, and they are going to be the leaders” in green technology and not us if we do not step up to the plate. Similarly, Trivedi wants to invest in infrastructure such as tunnels, roads and light rail here in the Sixth Congressional District and around the country in order to provide jobs right now and continue to create jobs in the future.

Health Care

Gerlach was asked if he would defund the Health-Insurance Reform which he voted against. He said he favored repealing the bill and replacing it with a new one without the “onerous new taxes.” (Gerlach did not explain how he would overcome the anticipated Presidential veto in order to repeal the bill.) Gerlach emphasized buying insurance across state-lines and working on tort reform as a way to drive down costs. He would also work to slow down and delay implementation of certain provision of the Health-Insurance Reform Bill. He did not expect an immediate solution, and expects this to remain an issue for next several administrations.

Trivedi looked at ease on the subject of Health Care and spoke with expertise not only as a battalion surgeon and as a primary care physician, but also as an expert on Health Policy. He received a Masters degree from UCLA in Health Policy and went on to serve as health policy advisor to the Navy Surgeon General and was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

Gerlach’s handout claimed Trivedi supported a “socialized single-payer medicine scheme.” However, Trivedi denied the allegation.

Trivedi said the Health-Insurance Reform bill was not perfect: it did not address costs and it was too long, but he would have voted for it because it was a step in the right direction. He compared it to other pieces of landmark legislation (such as civil rights legislation which still left many people unable to vote). These bills aspire to historic change but need to be improved over time.

Trivedi rejected repealing the bill as a step in the wrong direction.

“It would cost millions of dollars when we need to balance the budget. This would reintroduce insurance companies into the doctor-patient relationship. This would eliminate guaranteed coverage for those with preexisting conditions.”

Trivedi gave one of his own patients as an example who was unable to obtain coverage even though she was cancer-free because her medical files mentioned the word “cancer”.

To contain costs, Trivedi said we need evidence-based health policy to help drive down costs since “30% of medical treatment makes no difference in outcomes.”

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s Rabbi Neil Cooper asked Manan Trivedi about coverage for mental health. Trivedi answered that “mental health is part and parcel of health care.” He lamented that mental health care has been unfairly stigmatized for generations and as a result post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had not been treated as pro-actively as it should. During his work with the Navy’s Surgeon General, Trivedi drew on his own experience with combat medicine to become one of the early researchers to investigate the unique mental health issues affecting our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Israel Action Committee chairman Lee Bender concluded the event by urging everyone to get out and vote next Tuesday.