Saugerties Times letters (11/9-15)

A joyous month

Shout Out Saugerties ended its month-long run Sunday, Oct. 29 at a public forum at the Reformed Church of Saugerties. Hosting 35 events and featuring over 60 artists ranging from age 14 to 91, the festival brought a dizzying array of talent to the village.

Our gratitude to the mayor’s office, Chamber of Commerce, and multitude of volunteers, businesses, merchants and individual donors who supported Shout Out; Indivisible Saugerties, who encouraged the idea; and the audiences who attended workshops, music concerts, standup comedy, wrote on the Community Board, and viewed the many arts exhibits around the village. It was a joyous month for the arts in Saugerties. Thanks!

Suzanne Bennett, Chair
Shout Out Saugerties 

On being religious

Probably more than ever, people are denouncing religion in general, condemning it for its fanaticism or for its lukewarm efforts to make life better, lacking zeal. However, instead, let’s re-define “Religion” — what it is, not why it’s deficient.

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The man who recently rented a pickup truck and drove down a bicycle path next to the Hudson River, killing eight people and wounding many others, was reported to be “religious” because he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (Arabic for “God is greatest”) after he jumped out of his vehicle and ran.

No, chanting a religious slogan does not mean a person is religious. No, attending religious services or praying daily does not mean a person is religious. At best, these practices indicate that one is trying — making an attempt for righteousness, for holiness.

But studying scriptures or wearing a cross does not make a person righteous or holy. No, affirming belief in God or placing flowers before a picture of Moses or Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha does not mean a person is religious. No, eating food prescribed by one’s religion does not mean a person is religious.

Jesus said it right: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11) In other words, it’s hateful speech that is condemned; your performance of traditional religious practices is irrelevant.

What makes a person religious are deeds and dreams and speeches and yearnings whose essences are kind and warm-hearted and filled with passion for justice and equality. Such a man or woman can love God or be indifferent about God. Such a man or woman can pray five times daily or never pray at all — we respect both of them, if they are truly religious.

Jesus again: “You teachers of the law are hypocrites! You tithe, but you neglect the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23)

Let’s be careful who we call “religious” and look instead for the heart of religion in a person — a concern for “liberty and justice for all,” as our Pledge of Allegiance says.

The Rev. Finley Schaef
Saugerties

Tax plan boon for rich

The Republican tax plan presented in the House of Representatives provides an enormous tax break for corporations and the wealthy. These tax cuts will particularly benefit Donald Trump, his family, his wealthy cabinet members and their deep pocketed donor cohort.

To pay for these tax cuts, the tax plan calls for eliminating deductions for state and local taxes, mortgage interest, medical expenses and student loan interest. When it is politically expedient, the Republicans will use the growing deficit created by their tax plan as proof that drastic cuts are needed in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

While the wealthy continue to game the system, accumulate outrageous wealth, shirk their taxpaying responsibilities and lie about the alleged benefits of trickledown economics (and how good could anything called “trickle down” possibly be, anyway), hardworking middle-class families will suffer. Our elderly and poor will suffer. Our children will suffer.

A recent poll indicates that 60 percent of Americans recognize the Republican tax plan favors the wealthy at the expense of middle-class Americans. Nonetheless, the Republicans, eager to enrich themselves and the special interest groups to whom they are beholden, willingly sacrifice the financial well-being of the Americans they are supposed to serve.

I am unclear how this makes America great.

Deidre J. Byrne
Saugerties

Build the trail!

On Tuesday, Nov. 14, the Ulster County Legislature will be ​voting to approve final steps needed to begin construction of the long-awaited Ashokan Rail Trail (ART)​,​ along 11.6 miles of​ ​the long un​-​utilized and deteriorating ​Ulster & Delaware ​railroad corridor​​ that ​travels along the entire north shore of New York City’s precious and protected ​drinking water ​supply and watershed ​lands.

The ART is a vital opportunity to ​provide inclusive, high-quality recreational​ opportunities at this end of the county, where most activities involve going up and down steep​ and at times difficult and technical terrain. This trail will provide a ​beautiful, ​safe​ place — without permits or fees — for all ages and abilities to exercise and enjoy. It will serve as an alternative to the ​risky, ​officially ​designate​d​​ ​“NYS​ ​Bike Route” along busy highway State Route 28. Three trailheads will provide convenient access points​ for the public​, ​while​ ​preserving​ designated parking for licensed hunters and anglers. Major environmental restoration work included with trail construction will benefit water quality and fish habitat​,​​ including the removal of 35,000 rotten creosote ties and “daylighting” of Butternut Creek.​ The ART is also a significant step towards regional connectivity as envisioned by Ulster County’s Greenway Compact, Ulster County’s Open Space Plan and the newly launched​ state-wide ​trail​​, the Empire State Trail​.​

Getting to this point is the result of years of stakeholder input, legal negotiations, planning, environmental and engineering evaluations, and successful accumulation of funding from outside sources. Anyone dealing with New York City’s Watershed Regulations knows how complicated projects under their jurisdiction are, let alone one planned ​on​ ​New York City Department of Environmental Protection​ lands​,​ and adjacent to a​ terminal ​reservoir​​ of the water supply. The ART project will be a proud accomplishment for our county, but only if the legislature approves all four related resolutions, without amendments​ or delay.​

​Please c​all or email your County Legislator today​. Thank them for their work​ ​and request they approve the project without amendment or delay​​. It is an exemplary project that maximizes public benefits with minimized costs. C’mon Ulster County, let’s build the trail!

Hilary Smith
Shandaken

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