Is Medicare-for-All a Bad Deal for Seniors?

Trump penned an op-ed for USA Today (below) blasting the Democrats’ plan to expand Medicare into a single-payer health-care system for all Americans. According to Trump, expanding Medicare would be a disaster for seniors, but critics are saying that the article was short on fact and high on fear-mongering.

Dishonestly called “Medicare for All,” the Democratic proposal would establish a government-run, single-payer health care system that eliminates all private and employer-based health care plans and would cost an astonishing $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years… The Democrats’ plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised. By eliminating Medicare as a program for seniors, and outlawing the ability of Americans to enroll in private and employer-based plans, the Democratic plan would inevitably lead to the massive rationing of health care. Doctors and hospitals would be put out of business. Seniors would lose access to their favorite doctors.

When the president says it, does that mean it’s automatically worth publishing? The question has vexed the news media for more than a year, rising to the surface yet again on Wednesday with an op-ed by Donald Trump in USA Today. Fact-checkers immediately identified a number of whoppers in the piece, while various members of the media questioned the newspaper’s decision to run it at all. Whether it’s written by the president or a writer toiling in obscurity, the critics argued, the editorial standards still apply.

There’s every reason to assume Republicans will at least attempt to frighten aging baby boomers into believing Democrats are about to sell them out, in order to provide free health care for Mexican immigrants. And I mean that literally. Taking a page from the European right, which regularly casts immigrants as a drain on the welfare state, Trump’s op-ed argues that Democrats want to end immigration enforcement, so that “millions more would cross our borders illegally and take advantage of health care paid for by American taxpayers.” In other words, the Republican fight against single payer is going to sound very familiar. It will be “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” writ large.

How Will the Khashoggi Case Affect US-Saudi Ties?

The full story of what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is still unknown, though it is widely believed that he was either murdered or kidnapped from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul because of his critiques of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. President Trump has stated that his administration will get to the bottom of the case, though it’s unclear how it will affect his warm relationship with Saudi Arabia. More at The Guardian.

Washington clearly wishes Khashoggi had not disappeared and wants to diminish any negative fallout on the kingdom while trying to triage an emerging rift between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, regional competitors with very different views of the role of political Islam… This could be a turbulent week for U.S. relations with the Middle East. We retain some hope for Khashoggi to emerge, somewhere, alive and well. But don’t count on it.

From Riyadh to Moscow, they get the message from Trump: Journalists are scum. The ones who die covering wars or merely expose conditions in mental hospitals, the ones who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome from covering one too many battles, the ones who (unlike me) put their lives on the line for truth, get treated by Trump like dirt, as mere entertainers, like the jokers at Fox News. If Khashoggi is indeed dead, if he was murdered in the consulate and then dismembered, then his killers worked for a regime that not for a second thought it would get a rebuke from Washington. Saudi Arabia was ridding itself of a critic, sending a warning to others whether there and abroad, putting into action the very sentiments uttered by the president of the United States.

If evidence emerges that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in Istanbul, US sanctions should be levied on the kingdom. The Trump administration properly put sanctions on Russia earlier this year after evidence showed that a former Russian agent and his daughter living in the United Kingdom were the targets of a Russian assassination plot using a nerve agent. Why should the Saudis be treated differently?

What Was Behind Wednesday’s Stock Market Plunge?

The Dow Jones saw a massive plunge on what is now being dubbed by some as “Black Wednesday.” The 800 point drop reflected sharp declines in tech stocks and some are saying that the historic bull market is coming to an end. More at Business Times.

With nowhere else to turn, investors and savers piled into stocks. And while people made a lot of money, they also became complacent and believed that the market always rises without chance of a major correction. Wednesday showed them that view is wrong. Further fueling Wednesday’s selloff was the fact that computer models are programmed to sell when the selling gets bad. That’s why Wednesday’s trading session ended in a near panic.

Trade tensions are adding to the uncertainties about the market transition. Specifically, it’s not yet clear how long it will take China to realize that the least bad alternative for its development is to pursue the same path that other countries (South Korea, Mexico and Canada) ultimately followed — that is, make concessions to the U.S. It also isn’t clear what concessions would satisfy the Trump administration.

The hurricane, the most powerful to hit the U.S. since 2004, certainly made investors worry that its destruction could deal a lasting blow to the economy—from insurance costs to decreased retail spending and more. But the selloff seemed to highlight broader market fears, as data security and regulatory concerns have recently threatened tech stocks’ prospects, and tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration have raised trade war concerns and already sapped profits of U.S. manufacturers such as Ford.

How Will Jews Shape the Midterms?

As voters and as candidates, Jews are going to play a big role in November’s midterm elections – but it’s unclear how Jews will vote. As the Democratic party embraces new candidates with critical views of Israel, many Jews are finding themselves in a tough position.

For decades, the great majority of American Jews have supported Israel and voted Democrat. But there are increasing indications that going forward, they may have to choose between the two. A combination of factors is at play here. There is President Trump’s emphatic support for the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a time when liberal American Jews are troubled by some of Jerusalem’s policies, including its hardline positions on the Palestinian issue and its support of the fundamentalist chief rabbinate on matters of Jewish identity and egalitarian prayer.

There are 55 candidates for Congress who identify as Jewish. Among them are 41 Democrats: five are running for the Senate — three incumbents and two challengers. Politically and geographically, they are as diverse a bunch as the more than 900 candidates for Congress (Jews, who make up less than 2 percent of the population, comprise 6 percent of the candidates). There are moderate Republicans who would rather not mention President Donald Trump’s name while campaigning, right-wing Republicans who eagerly embrace the Trump endorsement and other right-wing Republicans who peddle “alt-right” tropes. There are centrist Democrats who staunchly defend Israel, leftist Democrats among the Jewish state’s most outspoken critics and Democrats who barely register on the Israel spectrum.

Florida offers a valuable insight into how pivotal the Jewish vote can be on these midterms. In the presidential election of 2012, president Barack Obama won the state by less than 1%, while candidate Donald Trump won in 2016 with 1.3%. In the current Senate race, the latest election survey shows a difference of only 0.7% between Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent Governor Rick Scott. But, if that is only one survey, the aggregate of all polls, still places the difference between the candidates within merely 2%. The gubernatorial race is very close as well. According to the same survey, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum and Republican candidate Ron DeSantis are within a 2% margin.

Should We Be Politicizing Hurricane Michael?

The politicizing of hurricanes is nothing new, but the confluence of Hurricane Michael’s dramatic increase in intensity, the latest climate report from the UN, and the upcoming Florida Senate race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson has led to a perfect storm of hurricane politicization. But in the face of an emergency, is it fair to make it about politics? More at Politico.

Alas, denying climate change doesn’t actually prevent it. North Carolina passed a law in 2012 prohibiting the use of climate science in certain state planning, yet that didn’t intimidate Hurricane Florence last month. And banning the words “climate change” isn’t helping Florida now. Some folks will say this isn’t the moment for politics. But don’t we have a responsibility to mitigate the next disaster?

If Nelson has one advantage, though, it’s that he’s been trying to prepare Florida for big storms like Michael for years, by drawing attention to the impacts of climate change and calling for action. He’s proposed legislation to help coastal cities prepare for greater storm surge; held hearings on sea-level-rise; and advocated for strengthening building codes to withstand wind events. His opponent, on the other hand, “has done little over the years to prepare for what scientists say are the inevitable effects of climate change that will wreak havoc in the years to come,” according to The Washington Post. And Scott’s failure to prepare has had grave implications for Florida, “one of the states at greatest risk from rising sea levels, extreme weather events—including more-powerful hurricanes—and other consequences of a warming planet.”

Politics seems so trivial in times like the Florida Panhandle is about to experience with Hurricane Michael. Petty red and blue arguments are out of place when a storm like this threatens everything and everyone in its path. If you’re a Democrat and intend to vote with vigor for Bill Nelson to the U.S. Senate, you still should be rooting for his election opponent, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, to carefully and successfully manage this horrible situation in the days ahead.

Is the HimToo Movement More than a Joke?

In what has become a viral meme on the left, a mother posted a photo of her son with a caption that reads, “This is MY son… he is a gentleman who respects women. He won’t go on solo dates due to the current climate of false sexual accusations by radical feminists with an axe to grind. I VOTE. #HimToo.” The post has now become the visual representation of the “HimToo” movement – a countermovement to MeToo which posits that men are being victimized by false accusations of assault. Is the HimToo movement just a passing, reactionary fad? This opinion is held by many, even by the “son” in the post. But others think that “HimToo” has a message we need to listen to, not ridicule.

But let’s get real about this. #HimToo is the #AllLivesMatter movement of sexual assault. We roll our eyes at the hashtag and wonder how someone could fail so spectacularly at understanding such a basic concept. The narrative that the president and others in his administration are peddling these days ― men suddenly scared of angry women hell-bent on ruining their lives ― is laughable.

#HimToo could make matters worse. The hashtag is a symptom of a misconception that’s spread as part of the backlash to the #MeToo movement: the idea that false accusations are just as serious a problem as actual sexual misconduct. This false equivalency not only misrepresents the prevalence of false accusations — by presenting sexual assault as something women report and men are accused of, it could perpetuate myths that hurt male survivors.

#HimToo faces one key problem — it overemphasizes the occurrence of false accusations in its messaging. According to a 2010 study on the prevalence of false allegations, it is estimated that as little as two percent and as much as 10 percent of all rape accusations stem from crimes that neither occurred or were attempted. But #HimToo hits the nail on the head when it says that we should be treating accusers and the accused fairly with respect to their rights. There are systemic problems with the way that we handle sexual assault, especially on college campuses. Title IX famously follows the “preponderance of evidence” legal standard meaning which side is more convincing as opposed to which side has more evidence and can prove “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Roundtable Extra: Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law

Though typically translated as “Jewish law,” the term halakhah is not an easy match for what is usually thought of as law. This is because the rabbinic legal system has rarely wielded the political power to enforce its many detailed rules, nor has it ever been the law of any state. Even more idiosyncratically, the talmudic rabbis claim that the study of halakhah is a holy endeavor that brings a person closer to God—a claim no country makes of its law.

In “Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law,” author Chaim Saiman traces how generations of rabbis have used concepts forged in talmudic disputation to do the work that other societies assign not only to philosophy, political theory, theology, and ethics but also to art, drama, and literature.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The Torah places great emphasis on recognizing God as the creator of the universe who chose the Jewish people from among the nations and commanded them to live in accord with specific laws. The talmudic rabbis agreed, but held the laws of the Bible cannot be practiced until they are translated into more particular and detailed categories. Thus to observe Shabbat, one must know precisely when it begins, when it ends, and what “observing” entails. These and many other laws constitute the backbone of halakhah, a term commonly translated as Jewish law.

A nascent version of this legalism likely prompted the critiques ascribed to Jesus and Paul against the Pharisees, the forebears of the Mishnah’s authors. Jesus argued that the Pharisees’ exclusive focus on the precise details of religious practice led them to mistake the legal trees for the spiritual forest. This idea was out into sharper focus in the writings of the apostle Paul who famously noted that “while the letter [of the law] kills, the Spirit gives life.”

It might seem a bit blasphemous to open a discussion about Jewish law with Jesus, but even a quick glance at the Mishnah reveals that Jesus seems to have correctly diagnosed how the rabbinic tradition tends to refract the human experience through a legal-analytical prism.

Like all disciplines, the legal perspective illuminates some facets while crowding out others. Law is particularly useful for establishing the standards of compliance. When the Torah mandates that persons purify themselves via immersion in a pool of water (mikveh), the Mishnah offers ten chapters on what is meant by immerse, what qualifies as a pool, what defines in, and what halakhah deems water, while scarcely a word is devoted to explaining the spiritual transformation immersion is held to accomplish.

Notwithstanding all the changes over the past two millennia, the heirs of Jesus and the talmudic rabbis continue to debate the proper role of legal thought in religious life. For example, today, the motivation to do the right thing is often expressed as “values,” “morals,” or “ethical obligations.” Contemporary Christians see religious imperatives as stemming from “moral theology,” “church doctrine,” “religious teachings,” “vocations” or the “Christian calling.” Halakhic Jews by contrast, assume that religious commitments reside in a distinctly legal framework. Visiting the sick, honoring one’s parents, giving charity and returning lost objects may also be matters of morality, but they are at first halakhic-legal obligations that carry defined properties and regulations.

Over time, Jesus’s complaints have produced three types of responses. One argues that we should not conflate Judaism with the Talmud, and points to how different elements of the tradition such as the Bible, aggadah, the mystical tradition, and midrashic exegesis complement the narrow legalism of halakhah. A second approach argues that, at most, the Talmud tells us what the select Talmudic rabbis thought, but that this might be quite different from how Jews have actually believed and lived out their religious commitments.

While there is truth in these responses, they concede that insofar as the subject is halakhah, Jesus was basically right. The argument is over the relative importance of halakhah to to Judaism as a whole.

A third response also concedes Jesus’s claim but celebrates it as a point of pride. While other religions give primacy to fuzzy notions of spirituality that are based on the subjective feelings of the individual believer, halakhah is armed with precise, divinely mandated legal categories that afford a rigorous and defined religious experience.

This book assumes that halakhah is central to the identity of the rabbis and has played a significant role in creating and transmitting Jewish identity. Jesus however, missed a crucial point. Precisely because halakhah loomed so large in the rabbinic consciousness, it became the medium through which the rabbis engaged not only narrow questions of the legal Letter, but also broad matters of religious Spirit. Thus concepts forged within halakhah’s regulatory framework to do the work that other societies assign to philosophy, political theory, theology, and ethics, and even to art, drama, and literature.

Halakhah can fulfill these multiple roles on account of two distinctive features: First, since at least the Mishnah, halakhah has not been the law of any state, nor has it been fully in charge of Jewish life; in short, it has not functioned as “law” as we typically understand the term. Second, the rabbis promoted the ideal of talmud Torah, a surprising claim that studying legal details is a religiously significant act that brings humans closer to God. These factors set halakhah within a social and theological framework that sees law not only as a collection of bureaucratic commands imposed by an external agent, even if that agent is God, but as a
language of wisdom that explores values, shapes thought, and guides
behavior—through legal instruction.”

Today’s Hot Issues

Is Medicare-for-All a Bad Deal for Seniors? How Will the Khashoggi Case Affect US-Saudi Ties? What Was Behind Wednesday’s Stock Market Plunge? How Will Jews Shape the Midterms? Should We Be Politicizing Hurricane Michael? Is the HimToo Movement More than a Joke? Roundtable Extra: Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law