Healthcare after Covid 19
The fall Democratic primary campaign was consumed by debate about healthcare, and specifically Medicare for All. With the onslaught of Covid 19, that debate has raised new questions.
The weaknesses of the American system of health insurance tied to employment are vividly exposed. Seventeen million Americans, and counting, have applied for unemployment benefit relief. How many of them will lose the health insurance offered by their employers? How many, in these circumstances, can afford the cost of Cobra, which allows them to buy into their plan for 18 months at full premium cost? How many will qualify for Medicaid, whose requirements vary widely in different states, and how many of them live in one of the 14 states that did not expand Medicaid eligibility and benefits as part of the Affordable Care Act?
The answers for millions will be: Out of luck.
Opponents of Medicare for All claim that most Americans like the health insurance they currently get from their employers. Of what use is that insurance when either financial and market collapse or catastrophic viruses wipe out jobs, industries, governments?
Maybe America, staring at the prospects of future pandemics, might use this moment to separate healthcare from employment and find a new path forward, whether through single payer or hybrid systems of public and private insurance. The bottom line will be this: how many of us, after this pandemic subsides, will demand that the country act on the proposition that healthcare for all residents is a human right?
Keeping it clean
How many people will spend their entire stimulus check on toilet paper?
The greater evil
In 2020 voters will once more be faced with the lesser of two evils, both firmly affixed to the teat of corporate America. Voters might go with Sleepy Joe, that doddering champion of elite financial interests. That pro-war, pro-incarceration, pro-financial deregulation member of the good old boys on Wall Street.
Or maybe voters will prefer a more primitive version of a corporate sellout, the reptilian current occupant of the White House. Is there a greater of two evils that even comes close to our misogynist, racist, and mendacious president?
It doesn’t matter to the billionaires. On their yachts in foreign ports, these megalomaniacs are raising their champagne glasses to toast Biden’s victories, another triumph over the vast majority of America’s working class. The country can go to hell for everyone else, while they and their immense fortunes float freely out of reach. Biden and Trump are both long-time members of that putrid swamp in Washington. They will do what they are told.
Perhaps the ultra-rich will also toast their newspapers and TV news outlets for never giving Bernie a break. Did The New York Times ever have a positive word to say about him? When he was down, there was no coverage at all. When he won, its headlines called him a threat. The billionaires know that the establishment media is their most important asset.
The oppression of the wealthy elite will only get worse. But the fight isn’t over yet.
The coronavirus pandemic is shaking our country to its core, with more and more people out of work and now seeking unemployment. The administration has passed bills to help the American public, but has anybody seen any checks yet?
And surprise, surprise. Domestic violence is way up as tensions are running high throughout our land.
So, as they say, if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. Obviously, the pandemic is the cause of the increased fear, confusion and deep frustration that so many of us are feeling at this horrific time. But we have the power to make it much worse, or make it less painful. It’s our choice.
First, we need to acknowledge how much pain we are feeling. Can you admit that you are in pain? The old negative behavior, when in pain, is to lash out at those we love — our spouses, our partners and our children. Our reality gets warped, and those we love starts looking like those who are the problem. They are not the problem. They are the people we love.
A new behavior might be to let them know that you are feeling pain about this horrible situation, and that you are worried, anxious, nervous and love them very much.
Show them your humanity. Can you do this? Trust them a little to actually be able to hear that you are struggling. Believe me, they already know it.
Another good option is to do something nice for yourself. Can you be sweet to yourself while still in pain? I know you can. But will you? Try it. I guarantee it will help. Maybe put on some soothing music you like, or take a relaxing bath, or give yourself some treat that might just put a smile on your face, if even for a moment. And try to remember that you are worth it, and your partner and family will benefit from it as well.
It’s a very scary time, and most of us have no idea how many more good folks will end up losing their lives to this virus. We also do not know how long this threat on our lives will continue. We, as a society, are clearly in the midst of deep insecurity and uncertainty. But we still have the power to decide to do the right thing. And one benefit is that you will like yourself a little more in the morning.
Celebrating Earth Day
The Cuyahoga River was ablaze in fire, in Cleveland, Ohio on June 22, 1969 for the thirteenth time since 1868. The blaze was fueled by the Second Industrial Revolution’s utilization of oils and fossil fuels.
The river was an open industrial sewer through the center of the city, choking toxic fumes and gases plumed into the atmosphere. The river’s fish community was devastated. Huge algal blooms and dead fish splattered across the water ways. The river was one big oozing slick of oil, grease and toxins travelling north into the precious headwaters of Lake Erie.
The consensus for 100 years, “That was just was the river was there for.” Then Time magazine published dramatic photos of the burning river. Thereafter, the spark set the environmental movement aflame. Six months later, on January 1, 1970, the EPA was established. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated. On July 1, 1970, the NYS DEC was established. Two years later, the Clean Water Act was passed.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Let’s all be vigilant for the “controlled” industrial dumping within the Catskill Park. Let’s be vigilant as DEC reviews permit requests for discharge from Tom Auringer’s pre-cast cement proposal within the heart of the Bluestone Wild Forest.
The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is a time to acknowledge the social consciousness of those brave individuals who stood up during the cultural revolution of the 1960s and effected change. Going forward, may both young and old develop a land ethic which serves to preserve and protect all facets of life, including your own.
Town of Ulster
Fixing absentee voting
On March 29, governor Andrew Cuomo postponed the planned April 28 presidential primary and special elections to June 23. The postponement was supported by both Republican and Democratic election commissioners throughout New York State.
This move protected poll workers and voters from exposure to Covid 19, and the combination of both elections saved local governments funds. However, this order alone is not enough. New York must allow more of its citizens to vote from the safety of their homes during this crisis. The New York State Assembly and Senate should not end the session without fixing our absentee voting procedures in the midst of the Covid 19 crisis.
In addition to calling for the postponement of the April 28 primary, the New York State Election Commissioners Association also called upon the governor and legislature to expand absentee balloting when a state of emergency exists due to pandemic disease. Currently, New York State law requires an excuse to vote by absentee. Most common excuses are temporary or permanent illness/infirmity and being absent from the county you live in on Election Day.
There is a movement to alter the constitution of New York State to remove the excuse option, but because of our arcane constitutional amendment process the earliest this can be done is in 2022. However, the legislature could act today to alter the current absentee language to address the needs of voters now.
Two bills in the New York State Senate today would meet this moment in history.
NYS Senate Bill S8015A sponsored by New York state senator Alessandra Biaggi would add threat of spreading communicable disease in a pandemic to the temporary illness section of NYS Election Law 8-400. NYS Senate Bill S8130 sponsored by senator Zellnor Myrie would allow email receipt of absentee ballot applications. It is imperative the Legislature pass these bills immediately so the measures can be in place for all elections in 2020.
While it is hoped that the Covid 19 crisis will be better in June, many experts posit that some amount of social distancing will still be needed well past November. At-risk citizens afraid of being infected by this deadly disease deserve the right to cast their vote safely without risking challenge from partisans hoping to win an election. Reducing the Election Day population by allowing a more accessible absentee process, as well as early voting measures passed last year, can help us protect workers, voters and the democratic process.
The best path forward is to quickly expand absentee balloting now. Voters should not have to choose between their health and participating in our democracy. Pass these bills now so we can be prepared for all elections in 2020 and beyond.
Ulster County election commissioner (D)
Renewal and revival
Easter is a celebration of resurrection. What does this mean when we are living in a time of death, suffering and fear? The Covid 19 pandemic reaches into every facet of our lives. Many will die. Many more will die inwardly from grief and economic ruin. Will there be a resurrection for them?
The bible reports that when Jesus heard his friend Lazarus was sick and at the point of death, he said to his disciples: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory.” Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead several days, then went to raise him back to life.
Yet, when he arrived and saw Lazarus’s family and friends weeping, Jesus wept, too. Even though he planned to raise Lazarus from death, he wept with his friends in the pain of their grief. It was not a show; they were genuine tears of grief. Pain is part of healing, part of resurrection.
It would be glib to compare Lazarus’s death to all the deaths from coronavirus today. It would be presumptuous to hope for an immediate physical resurrection miracle for each life lost. Still, it is never wrong to hope for a miracle; miracles still do happen, and God still listens to prayer. We should pray in specifics for every situation in which we long for healing, as well as in general longing for an end to suffering in the world.
Yes, there will be death. And there is much in us that needs to die: our selfishness, our vanity, our running after meaningless idols. There is much in our society and culture that should die too: drug addiction, violence, prostitution, racism, nationalism, political divisiveness, disregard to the environment, greed, materialism, war, famine, disasters, poverty, hopelessness, mental illness and despair.
Jesus’s resurrection reminds us that there can be renewal and revival already now. There can be a resurrection of hope, a resurrection of helping our neighbor. There can be a resurrection of community coming out of our isolation and quarantine. There can be a revival of all nations and cultures and religions through those who have learned that solidarity and love work better than soldiers and embargos.
Senior pastor, Bruderhof
Fact versus opinion
Fact: The Democrats passed the Social Security Act in 1935. The Democrats passed the amendments to this act, Medicare and Medicaid, in 1965. The Republicans fought like hell to not pass them, although there were some members who crossed over and voted for them. Andrew M. Saul has just been appointed as commissioner of Social Security. He has no experience with Social Security, knows nothing about it. He was a retail-clothing entrepreneur. He is answerable directly and only to his lordship, Donald Trump.
Opinion: this letter is for you Republicans, Conservatives, Democrats, Independents, those of you, some 50-plus million, which today are the beneficiaries of these benefits, not handouts, but benefits you paid into all these years.
By and large the Republicans hate rules and restrictions. They are the party of big business and money, they hate these restrictions that hinder their free-wheeling capitalistic quest for this commodity. At the top of their list of hatreds are these ‘benefits’ that Americans have paid into and are now collecting.
This appointment of Saul is a direct threat to these benefits, pushing for privatization (where your money is yours to invest or do whatever). And as a bulletin from AARP also stated, on the drawing board are 15-to-20-percent monthly cuts in all senior Social Security benefits. Now for someone drawing $1200 per month, 20 percent of this is $240 per month or $2880 a year! Think about that, you stalwart men and women of the Trump camp — Republicans and conservatives and others.
Now, of course, this has to be passed by Congress. With a chamber of Congress held by the Democratic Party there will be a solid block of votes against this. The major concern we seniors should be concerned with is that even if Trump is elected this fall and the House remains Democratic, we have this block. But if the House falls to the Republicans there will be a Republican Congress and a Republican president. And the attack will come from Andrew M. Saul. He is the point man leading this attack, under the direct supervision of Trump.
Plus, if the mid-term elections of 2022 remain Republican, there will be a push to overturn the 22nd amendment, limiting the president to two terms in office and allowing Donald for a third term!
The 22nd amendment, to be changed, has to be ratified by two-thirds of the states. You can well be assured that if the midterm elections have a Republican-controlled Congress and Trump as president again, there will be a push for this to go through. If passed, this will effect our grandchildren.
Wake up, people. Call up or write the Congress members that I listed last week. You do not have to be nice about it either — let them know point blank what your feelings are about this. Anger gets their attention — particularly if many people call in or write. And that is what you want.
Phillies Bridge Farm is here
These are certainly trying times. Many of us are longing for the sense of community and connection that we felt before the current crisis. But despite social distancing and the isolation we may feel sheltering at home, those bonds that make us a community are still there. It can be seen in the way in which people are coming together to support one another. It can also be seen in the enduring organizations through which we have always come together.
We want to assure you that one such institution is still here for you. Now in its 25th year, the Phillies Bridge Farm Project, a local nonprofit farm dedicated to sustainable agriculture, education and food justice, is up and running in preparation for the growing season. Our farmers are hard at work sprouting seeds and preparing the fields. Producing food locally is one way to protect ourselves in the face of major emergencies and to build a resilient and healthy community.
Shares in our community supported agriculture (CSA) program are available now at philliesbridge.org. We have taken measures to ensure health and safety, should social distancing measures still be in place when the season opens. This is in addition to our regular stringent hygienic practices that comply with food safety protocol.
We also recognize that many are facing hardship as a result of the current crisis. We at Phillies Bridge Farm want to do our part, so we are expanding our usual efforts to promote food justice and to offer community support. Subsidized shares in our CSA program are available to those in need, as well as the ability to pay for shares through the USDA Food and Nutrition Service EBT program.
If you are among the fortunate ones who are not severely impacted financially by the current crisis, or if you want to direct your federal subsidy check to where it can do some good for those in need locally, we invite you to support our efforts. Access to fresh, nutritious food is vital in the face of health threats and your contributions to our food justice program will ensure that local families enduring hardship can access this resource.
Times of crisis such as this are trying. But they can also draw us together as a community. Global problems can feel overwhelming and beyond our control. But there is much that we can do to help one another through this right here at home. Phillies Bridge Farm is here to help.
Brian Obach, Ariana Basco
Phillies Bridge Farm Project
Of Houdini and Christ
In an article I once read, the author wrote: “I don’t know about heaven. No one, including the great magician Harry Houdini, who made elaborate plans to send messages to his wife from heaven, has ever been heard of again after they left this world.”
While it is true that Harry failed to keep his promise to send messages to his wife from beyond the grave, perhaps it is not true that “no one has ever been heard of again after they left this world.” Imagine if the following had occurred: It is October 25, 1926. After seemingly recovering from the second operation (necessary for peritonitis resulting from his burst appendix) Harry Houdini called his wife and twelve of his most ardent fans together at his bedside. Harry thanked them for their support over the years and though the operation was successful, informed them of the elaborate plans he has made to contact his wife after his death, should he die first. He hoped that day would be a long way off but assured them, if it was possible, they would all be hearing from him after it occurred.
However on October 31, 1926 (fittingly Halloween), Harry Houdini passed away. Shocked by this sudden death, his family and friends mourned their great loss and buried Harry that day; never really expecting to hear from him again. However, on the third day after his death, Harry’s wife reported to his twelve friends that Harry, true to his word, had appeared to her “alive.”
Harry’s friends were skeptical, to say the least. For this reason, they went to his grave site at Machpelah Cemetery in Flushing, NY, and much to their surprise found that the body was gone! Could it be true?
During a period of 40 days, Harry appeared to his biggest fans offering many convincing proofs that he had, indeed, risen from the dead. After one such appearance to eleven of the twelve, the missing member, Thomas of Queens — who had not yet seen Harry — indicated he would not believe the report unless he could see and touch Harry for himself. Two days later, Harry appeared while they were all gathered together and the “doubting Thomas” saw him and touched him … and believed.
Perhaps the article should have read: “I don’t know about heaven. No one, except for the great magician Harry Houdini, has ever been heard from again after they have left this world.”
A failing grade
There is an old saying in Italian I will translate into English — “La historia e la optima insegnante” which means: “ history is the best teacher.” On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we find ourselves as failing students of history, with a capital F, as our world’s ecosystems are collapsing all around us from the terracide of the planet’s environment.
We humans have learned nothing from the great strides made back in the 1960s and 70s when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was burning, when wildlife and birds were becoming extinct (like the DDT-impacted bald eagle), and the very air full of noxious gases from automobiles and coal-fired power plants was raining acid on our lakes, rivers and streams. Our country was becoming a cesspool and a dead zone. But slowly, our air and waters cleared and wildlife was protected under progressive conservation and preservation activism.
More than 50 years later, after the creation of the EPA, NEPA, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Clean Air Act and many other environmental legislative measures, we have come full circle and failing miserably in history class. The only difference now is we have an anti-environment pro-business, foul-mouthed twitter ranting president accompanied by a cadre of nihilistic arch-conservative sycophantic toadies intent on wreaking havoc on the democratic institutions of this country and the dismantling of all the environmentalist legislation enacted. Climate change, the chief consequence of human activity, is unraveling the eco-services that our industrial ravaged society is dependent upon, endangering the survival of all life on this shredded globe. Environmental organizations ranging from Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society and Friends of the Earth are all finding themselves fighting a “rear guard action” against the foes of the earth — such as Trump and Friends.
We have also forgotten the lessons of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, warning us about DDT-damaging ecosystems and Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, who taught us the importance of an ecological conscience and a land ethic safeguarding the natural world from human abuse. The demise of the passenger pigeon in 1914 was yet another conveniently forgotten lesson about species extinction and declining biodiversity. Further, business coopted green industries, capitalizing on the profit of saving the planet and intent only on selling solar panels or wind turbines is ignoring the ecology disintegrating beneath our feet. Forest fragmentation (abetted by new trail construction), ocean acidification, OMZs (oxygen minimum zones) in oceans, PFOAs poisoning our groundwater, PCBs bio-accumulating in Hudson River fish are worsening symptoms of a sick earth/
A.E. Lovelock wrote about the Gaian hypothesis in 1975 and published in 1979 his book Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth. Lovelock explored the idea that our planet is a self-regulated bio-organism composed of homeostatic organic and inorganic parts of land, air and water creating the ultimate product-life. If we are Gaia’s children, if we are Gaians — as is all life on earth — then we have a mandated responsibility to protect her from our mistakes. It’s a lesson we must learn before it is too late and before we all go the way of the dodo.
Town of Ulster
Remembering Jimmy Rundle
Fifty years have passed since corporal James Rundle Jr. of Kingston, NY gave the ultimate sacrifice in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. On June 7, 1969, this Kingston YMCA youth leader was killed in action by hostile fire during the Vietnam conflict. Jim’s Vietnam journey began April 13, 1969 with the 101th Airborne Division of the United States Army. Jim is remembered amongst the 58,320 casualties on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, DC: Panel 23-west; Line 106-down.
I periodically think of Jimmy. He worked for me at the Springfield, Mass. YMCA Youth Department (1966-67) while attending Springfield College. It’s been 50 years since Jim died. He would be 77 years old today.
I wonder how many Kingston area seniors remember Jim? Most of the children Jim programmed at the Kingston YMCA as a teenager, as youth director (1966-67) and at Camp Shokan, are now retired. Dynamic and passionate leaders instill life-long direction on the lives of children.
When Jimmy died, I organized a fund drive of his college friends and raised money for the Kingston YMCA to erect a flagpole to fly America’s colors honoring the life and service of your local hero. For the past 37 years, since the Vietnam Wall opened in 1982, I have used Jimmy Rundle as my personification to honor those 58,320 lives who responded to the call of America, put on our uniform and went to war. I know exactly where Jimmy’s name is recorded: Panel 23-west; Line 106. With every tour group I visit Jim’s panel and polish his name. I tell Jim I remember him; he is not forgotten; I’m proud to call him friend.
I believe Jim was an only child. Therefore, he has no siblings, no nieces or nephews. His parents and grandparents passed away long ago. I want Jimmy to know his life in this world is remembered for the good man he was and the good works he did at the Kingston YMCA Youth Center.
After 55 years of hosting tours to Washington and Vietnam Wall visits I have retired. I may well have polished corporal Rundle’s name for the last time. I feel sad. I want to highlight Jimmy this one last time with this letter to his beloved Kingston community and Kingston YMCA.
Jimmy, I am sure our God of love welcomed you to his eternal kingdom and blessed you for your service in this world. Your life was short … but well lived. Be proud of your patriotic service. You are not forgotten.
Lives cost less than machines
What does it take to make a mask? Isn’t a swab just cotton at the end of a stick? When we consider building ventilators, they have to be complicated.
The United States has not made enough test kits to be effective at slowing the virus. We don’t have enough ventilators to curb the death occurring in our hospitals. Yet, we can build a Global Hawk drone at a unit cost of roughly $123 million, while an F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter costs only $89 million. Four of the top ten drones are produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems headquarters located in Poway, California.
From Predator C Avenger to TAI Anka, these machines are complicated beyond belief to construct and maintain. And yet we can’t make swabs or ventilators which are not much more advanced than a CPAP machine. Why?
When I was on the Phu Bai Vietnam Marine air base in 1969, our sergeant major called all us enlisted men to the flight line. There had been some radical dissidence among the ranks and he gathered us to address it. What his diatribe boiled down to was, “Men, everyone of these helicopters cost a million-and-a-half dollars to build. If we lose one, it will take me months to get another one. If I lose one of you, I can get someone to replace you within a few days.”
This same attitude is being taken by many in leadership today. Lives cost less than machines. Machines equal making money, men and women equal time, care and cost money. That attitude from the sergeant major tore out of me a large chunk of trust in government that has never been rebuilt.
I’m feeling that old moral injury becoming sore again. The gross lack of human understanding during and after the Vietnam War continues. For the cost of our drones we could provide enough masks for the world’s population, as well as gowns and face shields for every healthcare worker. There would be enough left for every household in the world to have a ventilator in the cupboard. We would have been paying the world’s top bio-scientists enough that they’d be well on their way to a making a vaccine.
As a result of that sergeant major, I now think of the worth of those men and women on the frontlines protecting me during this viral war. They are irreplaceable.
We will see another day
Seems like some of us are starting to wallow in self-pity because of this nature-induced coronavirus pandemic — causing us to sequester ourselves from our loved ones, work and our otherwise normal daily routines.
As we feel sorry for ourselves, it behooves us to look back less than 80 years ago to Hitler’s war and read the Diary of Anne Frank.
Two Jewish families comprising initially seven people and one cat shared small, cramped quarters from June 14, 1942 to August 1, 1944, when someone told the German and Dutch police about their hiding place. The only survivor of the concentration camps that they were sent to was Anne’s father.
They did not have wifi, smartphones or our other 21st-century tech stuff to keep them occupied. Nor did they have other normal creature accoutrements that for many of us make our current home surroundings much more comfortable and easier to live and sequester in.
For those who have all these things and are whining, suck it up, We will live to see another day, unlike Anne Frank
Wake-up Governor Cuomo!
Governor Murphy of New Jersey mandated that customers and employees alike must now wear masks or other face covering at all retail businesses that remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. His Executive Order mandated that retail stores must limit occupancy to 50% of their approved capacity, provide designated hours for at-risk shoppers and erect barriers between customers and cashiers where possible.
Why isn’t New York State requiring the same? Yesterday at CVS in Woodstock, one man without a mask passing people in a narrow aisle had a hacking cough that he decided to share with the other store patrons as well as the employees of the store putting them at risk due to his carelessness. As I waited for my wife outside Hannaford in Kingston, less than half the shoppers exiting the store were wearing masks. I’m sure that we’ve all seen evidence of this bad behavior.
We should learn from the people of South Korea and Hong Kong who routinely wear face masks due to the densely populated areas. It’s no accident that they are experiencing a lower death rate than New York State.
Governor Murphy offered, “Ensuring social distancing may require you to change the times in which you go to the store, but that’s a small price to pay to ensure the heath of your community.”
As we wait for Governor Andrew Cuomo to get smart, perhaps Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan can get an order in place now.