CeaseFirePA Executive Director Speaks to JSPAN Board

Last September, Sami Rahamim’s father was killed in a mass shooting in Minneapolis. Now, he’s doing everything he can to reduce gun violence and keep our communities safer.

He’s hoping his story will help inspire action from Congress — and from people like you.

Shira Goodman, Executive Director of CeaseFirePA, addressed the JSPAN Board of Directors at its February monthly meeting.

JSPAN Vice President Burt Siegel, who also chairs the organization’s Gun Control Policy Center, introduced the guest speaker. JSPAN is currently working in coalition with CeaseFirePA and other organizations to press our legislators to adopt better gun controls.

Goodman, an attorney, assumed the position of CeaseFirePA Executive Director in October 2012, after serving for three years as Deputy Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. During his introduction, Siegel referred to a recent piece in The Jewish Daily Forward reporting that the National Rifle Association had compiled a list of its “enemies,” and that the list “reads like a Jewish Who’s Who” and included individuals, organizations, media outlets and corporations that have provided support to anti-gun organizations, including the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith and Hadassah.

More after the jump.
Goodman began her presentation with a brief overview of CeaseFirePA’s mission, but quickly focused on immediate policy prescriptions including what’s “doable.” She stressed the importance of contacting representatives at both state and federal levels. Goodman reported that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane had recently announced that she had successfully negotiated and signed an agreement with the state of Florida to close the “Florida loophole,” which has allowed Pennsylvania gun owners to obtain nonresident permits from Florida to carry a concealed weapon in Pennsylvania.

Goodman also told the Board how important it is that the background check system for buying guns be improved. She stated that Pennsylvania is ahead of the curve in this regard because it is now sharing the names of people with a history of mental illness with the national background-check system that would prevent them from purchasing guns. However, she also noted that the state has failed to participate fully in the national background-check system. Goodman stated that it should also be mandatory that all lost and stolen guns be reported and that CeaseFirePA had been advocating for the passage of state legislation on lost-and-stolen guns for several years.

Goodman said that several pieces of legislation intended to reduce gun violence will be introduced shortly both in Washington and Harrisburg and that she would make sure that JSPAN is kept informed about these developments. She reminded the board that the vast majority of Americans support background checks and ways to limit easy access to firearms, and that it is important that JSPAN and other organizations as well as individuals tell elected officials to take steps to reduce gun violence.  

JSPAN Supports Assault Weapons Ban

— by the staff of The Jewish Social Policy Action Network

We are deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. This horror reinforces the urgent need to ensure that common-sense gun control laws are in place to help reduce these kinds of incidents.

More after the jump.
As a first step, JSPAN supports legislation to get the weapons of war off our streets by reinstituting the ban on assault weapons that Congress wrongly allowed to expire in 2004. Congress and state legislative bodies should also immediately act to eliminate the gun show loophole and to ban the sale, transfer, transportation and possession of large clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.

Because we recognize that these immediate actions will not solve the larger issue of gun violence in our society, JSPAN is resolved to continue to work in coalition with other organizations such as CeaseFirePA and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. We demand that sensible changes in public policy take place to promote an America where everyone is safe at home, at school, at work and in our communities.

We urge you to share this resolution with your Facebook friends and colleagues. We also urge everyone to phone the White House Switchboard – 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111 and tell the comment operator that you want the President to push legislation to ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines.

JSPAN Presents 2012 Social Justice Award to Dr. Ernest Kahn

On December 4, JSPAN presented its 2012 Social Justice Award to Dr. Ernest Kahn. Dr. Kahn has served the Jewish Community in numerous capacities, including Director of Community Planning, Associate Executive Vice President and acting Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. The award was presented to Dr. Kahn by the co-chairs of the event, David Gutin and Burt Siegel. Dr. Kahn expressed his deep appreciation for the award not only on his own behalf, but as recognition of the contribution made by professionals to the wider Jewish community.

Also addressing the gathering was Professor Michael Reisch, Daniel Thursz Professor of Social Justice at the University of Maryland. Dr. Reisch spoke on “The Implications of the Election for the Future of Social Welfare in the U.S.” Professor Reisch observed a need for a change in the discourse in both Washington and in the states about funding of social services and advanced the idea that the word “entitlements” — so much a part of the controversy over budget and deficits — is really a misnomer since all employees and self employed pay into Social Security and Medicare during their working years.

Volunteers Wanted to Help Voters Meet New Photo ID Mandate

While we await a final ruling on Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law, we must assume the worse and try to mitigate the damage by minimizing the number of voters disenfranchised by the law.

(JSPAN) The Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition is continuing to canvass for residents who do not have photo identification that meets the new requirements to vote on election day. The Coalition is transporting those people to Department of Motor Vehicles license centers to apply for the necessary ID. You can volunteer to help by phone banking, joining the canvass, providing transportation, or greeting and assisting people at the license centers. – Ed.

JSPAN Joins Brief In Voter ID Case

JSPAN and nine other non-profit agencies joined in brief amicus curiae to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in the pending challenge to the “Photo ID Law” enacted in Pennsylvania earlier this year.

The case was launched by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Viviette Applewhite and other voters who will be burdened by the new law. Applewhite, a 93 year old voter who has never driven a car, cast her first vote for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There appears to be no record of her at the Motor Vehicle Bureau. Because she was born in another state, there is no birth certificate on file in Pennsylvania either. Before she can vote again, the Photo ID Law would require her to produce a birth certificate or other specific documentation to an office of the Motor Vehicle Bureau to convince that agency to issue her photo identification.

Applewhite and thousands of others like her face serious difficulty under the Photo ID Law. For many elderly people, the need to travel to a motor vehicle bureau and document their entitlement to a photo ID is a significant burden. For many others, securing the necessary voter ID before election day will prove to be impractical or even impossible.

The amicus curiae brief reflects extensive research on the disparate impact of the law on several hundred thousand elder voters who do not have the specific current photo identification called for in order to vote. The right to vote, the amicus brief argues, is a sacred right and is the foundation of democracy, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that free and equal elections, guaranteed by the state constitution, preclude registration requirements that are so difficult as to amount to a denial of the right to vote. By requiring a registered voter who has no driver’s license — or whose license has expired — to travel to a state office, provide a birth certificate or other specified documentation, and secure the specific photo ID — the law especially burdens and discriminates against the elderly.

For further perspective see The Los Angeles Times, and the amicus brief.

Abington Memorial Hospital Should Not Kneel to Church Dogma

— by Ken Myers, Esq.

On its Facebook page, the Abington Memorial Hospital identifies itself as a not for profit institution, as follows:

Abington Health is a not-for-profit, regional healthcare provider serving residents of Montgomery, Bucks & parts of Philadelphia counties, comprised of Abington Memorial Hospital, Lansdale Hospital, two outpatient campuses & Abington Health Physicians.

Mission: Abington Health is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all by fostering healing, easing suffering, and promoting wellness in a culture of safety, learning and respect.

Abington Health will be the most trusted health care partner, consistently exceeding expectations for care, comfort and communication.”

Presumably because “Abington Health” is regulated by the state as a hospital, it is not listed in the Pennsylvania Department of State charitable registration system. But it has received any number of public benefits typical of non-profits:

  • Property tax exemption — Abington and Lower Moreland, to name just two of the townships in which it operates, have allowed the hospital to remove large parcels of land from the tax base to enlarge its operations.
  • Municipal services beyond those extended to others, such as vacating streets and changing traffic patterns to accommodate the hospital.
  • Volunteer workers without pay — community people provide untold hours of volunteer services to the hospital, greeting and helping to move and handle patients.
  • Abington Day — a fund raising event supported by the community every year.

Over the ninety years that this modest local hospital transformed — with these public benefits — into a large institution, the public has bestowed its gifts on the assumption that this is a non-sectarian institution.

The strength of Abington Memorial Hospital contrasts with the smaller nearby Catholic hospital, Holy Redeemer, that it now seeks to attach to its health system. Certainly no small part of the development of Abington Memorial is attributable to its appeal as a non-sectarian institution rendering community service based on medical and ethical principles, not religious dogma.

By accepting religious dogma as a limit on its medical service, Abington Health breaks a covenant with all  those donors and public officials who have supported it and its non-sectarian mission.

By imposing its religious dogma on Abington health as a condition of a commercial transaction, the Church violates a key principle of American law and practice. Religions are free here to promote their beliefs and practices by virtually every means but not by coercion.

Governments — federal, state and local — are barred by the Constitution from coercing religious practice. Non-governmental enterprises including charities are barred by statute from coercing their employees to follow religious dogma. Non-governmental enterprises that accommodate the public — including hospitals — are barred by statute from discriminating against people on the basis of their religion. This includes refusal or unwillingness to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures, consistent with competent medical care.

In this case, the Catholic Church is coercing Abington Health to discriminate against all women who do not share the church dogma regarding their reproductive rights.

Seeking to add more “catchment area” to its substantial geographic influence, Abington Health is agreeing to impose this coercion on those who are caught!
Ken Myers is a member of the board of JSPAN.

Ezekiel Emanuel Optimistic on US Healthcare Future

— by Deborah Weinstein

The Jewish Social Action Policy Network held its 2012 Annual Meeting at the Pyramid Club in Center City Philadelphia on June 6, 2012. Guest speaker, bioethicist Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., captivated his audience with the many reasons he is “optimistic about the future of the American healthcare system” and why he believes that it will be “vastly improved” by the end of the decade.

More after the jump.
Dr. Emanuel expressed confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will find the Affordable Care Act constitutional when the Justices hand down their decision on the healthcare reform law later this month. In his view, there is “No doubt it is constitutional.” “Legally, this is an open and shut case,” he said.

The Court can and, he believes, will uphold the Act on grounds relating to the Necessary and Proper Clause, the Commerce Clause and the federal government’s taxing powers. Extolling the landmark passage of the Act by Congress (which he helped to craft), Emanuel traced what he described as “100 years of effort” by former U.S. Presidents and others to reform the country’s healthcare system.

The new chair of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania and Vice-Provost for Global Initiatives, Emanuel is also an Op-Ed contributor to The New York Times and founding chair of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institute of Health. During the Obama administration’s development of the Affordable Care Act, he served as a Special Advisor on Health Policy to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and on the National Economic Council.

Dr. Emanuel began his remarks by focusing on the magnitude of the cost of the country’s healthcare system, which he said is the largest in the world. According to Emanuel, in 2010, the country spent $2.6 trillion dollars on healthcare, up to 50 per cent more per person than the two other highest-spending countries, Norway and Switzerland. The level of U.S. healthcare spending makes it the fifth largest economy in the world. It is growing by $100 million every year.

Despite this level of spending, Emanuel dubbed the quality of healthcare in this country as “average, no matter how you measure it.” “On no metric is this a healthcare system we should be proud of,” he said. It is a system that “doesn’t cover 50 million Americans” and where there is a 20 per cent chance of re-admission to a hospital within 30 days after discharge. This, he said, is both “indefensible” and “unacceptable.”

Viewing the present time as a “transition period when there is a lot of uncertainty and change,” Dr. Emanuel believes the system will be vastly improved by 2020. He envisions a healthcare system of the future that will be more cost conscious, more focused on higher quality of care and designed to provide less unnecessary care. He predicted that the healthcare system in this country will do a better job of coordinating care and rely on improved metrics about quality of care and assessment of doctors. “Comparative effectiveness research,” he said, “will provide us with better understanding of what treatments work. We have examples of systems that work” and know “solutions exist already.” The challenges going forward as Dr. Emanuel sees it will be to “invent ways to replicate solutions.”

At the conclusion of his presentation, Dr. Emanuel took questions from the audience, including long-time JSPAN members and guests. JSPAN Board President Brian Gralnick and incoming President Lynn Zeitlin, Esquire, concluded the formal portion of the program with a brief discussion of JSPAN, what its mission is as an organization, the impact it has already had, and how it plans to expand its reach in the future. President Zeitlin also recognized outgoing Board Treasurer Stephen Applebaum and JSPAN Policy Center Chair Susan Myers for their valuable contributions and diligent work for the organization.


First Circuit Court Finds Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

Plaintiffs Nancy Gill and Marcelle Letourneau— by Adam Bonin

A unanimous three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that there is no justification for the Defense of Marriage Act to disallow recognition to a same-sex couple legally married under Massachusetts law. The court’s reasoning follows the arguments advanced in JSPAN’s amicus curiae brief. Primary credit for the content of our brief goes to Philadelphia Jewish Voice Board Member Prof. Perry Dane of Rutgers Law School, an active member of the JSPAN Church-State Policy Center. Our strongest congratulations to Perry!

The court applied “intensified scrutiny” to DOMA’s treatment of minorities that are subject to discrepant treatment generally. Finding no federal interest that adequately justifies the statute, the court ruled that DOMA denies equal protection to gays and must be struck down.


Reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network.

Join JSPAN For An Inside Look At Healthcare Reform

Don’t miss your opportunity to hear a White House insider’s view of the future of American healthcare.  A top healthcare insider is coming to The Pyramid Club on June 6 to address JSPAN and you can be there.

Who: Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, ex-White House advisor on healthcare (also brother of the Mayor of Chicago), will speak on the future of healthcare reform and American medicine.

Emanuel, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, is well known on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and in the media.  He headed healthcare at the White House Office of Management and Budget in 2009-10, during the design and Congressional passage of the Affordable Care Act.    

When: The event is at 7:30 pm on Wednesday June 6.  

Where: The Pyramid Club, 1735 Market Street, Philadelphia.  With a great dessert buffet, the cost is $10 (free to JSPAN  members with 2012 dues paid). Discount parking is available.

RSVP Required: [email protected] or phone 215-635-2554.

Exposing Political Myths of Today

— by Burt Siegel, JSPAN Board Member

Myths give comfort to people, groups and entire societies. Usually they confirm pre-existing notions and prejudices. Today an all-encompassing political debate is being waged over the belief, cherished by some, that a full economic recovery is prevented by “job killing governmental interference” of the Obama Administration, including “bail outs,” extension of unemployment benefits, the proposed return of higher taxes for the ultra wealthy, and even efforts to reign in some more egregious excesses of the financial sector.

Politicians like to quote eighteenth century economist Adam Smith regarding the benefit of the “invisible hand of the market place.” The problem is that Smith never once said or wrote that. While he did speak of the invisible hands that impact on economies, he was not an advocate of a system in which government totally absented itself from a nation’s financial health. In fact, he observed “we find the workings of the vile maxim of the masters of mankind of all for ourselves, and nothing for other people deeply troubling.” “The invisible hand,” he wrote, “destroys the possibility of a decent human existence, unless government takes pains to prevent this outcome, as must be assured in every improved and civilized society. It destroys community, the environment, and human values generally.”

Thomas Jefferson is also often quoted — actually misquoted — by those who wish to replace allegedly socialist leaning President Obama. Several have associated themselves with Jefferson’s stated belief that “the government is best that governs least.” The problem is that they are actually quoting Henry David Thoreau. Jefferson was certainly not a fan of an overreaching government. In fact, he asserted “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then.” But once Jefferson ascended to the Presidency he developed a much greater appreciation of governmental involvement. In his first inaugural he called for ”a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another” but otherwise he felt they should be left to regulate their own affairs. As president he strongly supported using federal funds to promote education, he proposed the establishment of a national university system, and he wanted government to fund scientific research as well as large transportation projects that exceeded the capacities of individuals or the states. Unfortunately international tensions prevented such expenditures.

More after the jump.
Our nation’s history indicates long standing, consistently high support for federal intervention for economic assistance, as well as to help meet social needs. In the early nineteenth century farmers lobbied our government to build roads and canals to enable them to bring their products to market. Taxpayer’s dollars were spent to assist the rural farmer and help feed the city dweller. The burgeoning industries that flourished after the civil war used their growing political clout to convince the federal government to give land to the railroad industry, and lobbied Congress to set high tariffs to protect American business from foreign competition. In 1907, in response to a major financial crisis, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt intervened to reduce the interest banks were charging. Roosevelt announced “every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate it to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” Under Republican as well as Democratic presidents, the “heavy hand of government” has inserted itself into our economy. In 1971 President Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls to combat inflation. At first this move was widely applauded by the public and supported by many business leaders. It also greatly contributed to the practice of employers giving health insurance to their workers in lieu of increased salaries.

Rather than blame the recent economic downturn on governmental intervention, we should look at governmental irresponsibility. A major contributing factor to our current financial crisis leads us to the Reagan Administration, which initiated a major rollback in government regulation of key industries including the banking and insurance sectors. Time after time we have seen that it is rare for any industry, left to its own devices, to regulate itself at the cost of maximizing profits. Most captains of industry prefer to honor responsibility to their investors (which of course includes them to a large measure). The most substantial change in the tax code in US history arose during the Reagan Administration. The top marginal individual income tax rate fell from 70.1% to 28.4% and there was a major reversal in the tax treatment of business income. The primary effect of the new tax code was a change in the composition of tax revenue, toward payroll and new investment, and away from higher earners and people with large capital gains. Payroll tax revenue rose in 1981 while the cut on the tax rate on unearned income reduced the maximum capital gains rate to just 20%–its lowest level since the Hoover Administration. Tax rates on capital gains were set at the same level as the rates on ordinary income such as salaries and wages, both capped at 28 percent. This was a double benefit to those who enjoyed both high earnings and capital gains, such as fortunate corporate officers with maturing stock options.

Today the gap between the tax liabilities of the über-wealthy and the shrinking middle class would stun many twentieth century leaders who understood the responsibilities of the very wealthy. In the 1987 film Wall Street, when the fictional Gordon Gekko uttered his “greed is good” remark, it was purposely intended to revolt audiences. But today might it be the mantra of those powerful forces that are working to shrink the government and its safety net.