Archives for category: Health Care

It’s been a long time coming, but today Gov. Cuomo announced that fracking will be banned in the state of New York, in large part because of the health risks involved (a study of these risks has only recently concluded, after running for years).

Don't Frack New York
At last: New York bans fracking. Photo: inhabitat.com

This isn’t the time to go into the political calculations involved in the decision, though obviously they have been considerable. Let’s take some time instead to celebrate an important move forward, regardless of what it took to get to this point (and much of what it took is a lot of hard work on the part of progressives throughout the state, including Zephyr Teachout’s strong run in this fall’s Democratic primary).

New York is the first state with significant shale deposits to ban fracking, and that’s a great holiday gift for all of us who live here.

I almost decided to ignore this election. Yes, the country is in dire straits and the stakes are indeed high. But it’s likely this election will have almost zero impact on any of our nation’s most important problems. For the first time in my life I’m tempted to skip voting altogether.

Vote Blue—Power to the People
Vote Blue 2014 POWER TO THE PEOPLE logo by Jeff Dombrowski.

And yet … there are differences. So you can argue citizens have a duty to choose, so as to minimize destructive outcomes. Chris Gibson is widely viewed as a nice guy, but that is no reason to vote for him, as this editorial makes clear. As for the rest of tomorrow’s choices, progresssive voters would do well to vote the Working Families Party line, with the exception of the choices for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. There, the vote should go for Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong, and tomorrow’s election will somehow make a difference.

The new year is nearly upon us—what to expect is anyone’s guess, but what we should strive for is increasingly clear. Broadly, we need more equality, greater justice and a more peaceful, sustainable world. Here is an excellent outline of some of the specifics, courtesy of Senator Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont.

Dear Thomas,

I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy new year. I also want to express my gratitude to you for the political support that you have given to me, and for all of your efforts in trying to move our country and the world in the direction of peace, justice and environmental sanity.

As we survey our country at the end of 2013 I don’t have to tell you that the problems facing us are monumental, that the Congress is dysfunctional and that more and more people (especially the young) are, understandably, giving up on the political process. The people are hurting. They look to Washington for help. Nothing is happening.

  • The middle class continues to decline with median family income some $5,000 less than it was in 1999.
  • More Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history. Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is not 7 percent. If one includes those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time, real unemployment is 13.2 percent — and youth unemployment is much higher than that.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.
  • Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
  • The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable.

Clearly, if we are going to save the middle class and protect our planet, we need to change the political dynamics of the nation. We can no longer allow the billionaires and their think tanks or the corporate media to set the agenda. We need to educate, organize and mobilize the working families of our country to stand up for their rights. We need to make government work for all the people, not just the 1 percent.

Before we talk about 2014, let me ask you a favor. Do you know of friends, family or co-workers who might be interested in receiving our email newsletters and updates? If you do, please forward this email and encourage them to sign-up for occasional updates. They can sign-up for our emails by clicking here.

When Congress reconvenes for the 2014 session, here are a few of the issues that I will be focusing on.

WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

JOBS: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

WAGES: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income we must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.

WALL STREET: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

WAR AND PEACE: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Let me conclude by once again wishing you a happy and healthy new year — and by asking you to share this email with friends, family and co-workers. They can sign-up for our occasional emails by clicking here.

This is a tough and historical moment in American history. Despair is not an option. Let us stand together as brothers and sisters and fight for the America our people deserve.

Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Senator Bernie Sanders

To the Senator’s worthy agenda, I would only add this:

GUN VIOLENCE: It’s time we treated gun violence as the public health menace it is. That means real legislative reform and much tougher regulation. This is one of the most, if not the most, politically difficult fights that rational Americans face today, but it is increasingly urgent.

Here’s to a better world in 2014. Happy New Year, everyone.

I recently had to renew the lease to this website, and nearly didn’t. It’s an uphill battle to carry the progressive blue flag in Greene County—lots of negative feedback, no tangible rewards. Apart from that, it is simply an increasingly difficult task to keep up with the accelerating news cycle. It’s one over-the-top event or revelation after another. The Tea Party shutdown and the threat of default, which will soon recur. The disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, still ongoing. The ever-more-sweeping revelations of American spying, courtesy of Edward Snowden. And of course the local news, or lack of same. Why bother to comment on, or try to make sense of, any of this?

The answer I arrived at, boiled down to its essence, is that not to engage with today’s events would be tantamount to giving up. Too many people have done that already. Greene County, NY amounts to a tiny sliver of this critical juncture in America’s history, but it’s important to those of us who live here. And too many of its residents stand outside the mainstream of progress.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the referendum on casinos coming up next Tuesday. A “Yes” vote is being pitched as a panacea for upstate New York’s economic ills. This is untrue. The jobs a casino in the Catskills would create would be menial, for the most part. Many of the better jobs wouldn’t even go to local residents, but to people from out of state. And the squalid social conditions associated with gambling’s downside (see: Atlantic City) would only make life upstate worse, and push genuine opportunities even further away.

Vote No on Tuesday.

Human progress is measured in inches, painfully gained over decades or longer. Any student of history can tell you that, and can also tell you that we are living in an era where progressive gains are especially difficult.

The Affordable Care Act, due to launch this Tuesday (although few would know this from its low-key promotion), remains an affront to the Republican far right. (It remains an affront to the American left as well, for different reasons.) Nonetheless, the new law is set to inch American standards of medical care forward, and move the country slightly closer to the more advanced health care standards prevalent in Europe. It will do this primarily by offering needed medical care to more Americans than presently receive it.

Eric Cantor, Enemy of Progress
Eric Cantor, Enemy of Progress. Source: NY Times

But not if the Tea Party can help it. Their impetus is to roll back progress and shrink government, and shutting down the federal government puts them in a partying mood. Listen to Representative John Culberson of Texas:

“I said, like 9/11, ‘Let’s roll!’ I can’t control what the Senate does. Ulysses S. Grant used to say, ‘Boys, quit worrying about what Bobby Lee is doing. I want to know what we are doing. And that’s what the House is doing today, thank God.”

Talk about mixed metaphors—Culberson invokes 9/11 and the Civil War in the same breath, but by citing U.S. Grant he places himself on the wrong side. He and his fellow freak-show Congresspeople are more akin to the most rabid elements of the Confederacy, united in their hatred of the U.S. Government.

Over and over this weekend, Republicans justified the coming government shutdown as necessary to give the American people what they want, i.e., the end of Obamacare. The fact that they lost the last two presidential elections is meaningless in their eyes—it’s their view that counts, and no one else’s. The majority who actually voted Obama into office don’t factor into their conception of “the American people” at all.

We can only hope that the fallout from the looming shutdown is punishing enough to the crazies that they will back away from forcing a U.S. default in October. Given the tenor of the times, though, anything could happen.

Now and then the local political scene produces a shining event, one that’s bright with the promise of better things to come. One such occurrence took place yesterday at Blue Stone Farm in Catskill, when New York State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk attended the Greene County Democratic Committee‘s annual picnic and promised to turn Greene County blue.

Even the weather joined in, with sunny blue skies and low humidity—perfect for attracting a large crowd. Well over 100 Democrats were in attendance and they applauded heartily as Tkaczyk and Greene County Committee Chair Doreen Davis outlined local Democratic priorities. The urgent need to supply local broadband service—an issue that Chris Gibson once tried to co-opt—was met with roars of approval. So too was the determination to tackle local issues that Davis recently outlined in the Daily Mail, issues like Greene’s high unemployment rate, poor health care delivery systems and lackluster economic development.

Since these are all issues this site has highlighted in the past, the afternoon generated plenty of optimism. And so did the presence of Tkaczyk and Davis, two of the brightest stars in the political firmament.

It often surprises me that Vermont, our neighbor to the east, seems so much more progressive than upstate New York. Bernie Sanders is probably the most prominent case in point—prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, Sanders served as the openly Socialist mayor of Burlington.

Sanders recently brought us news from Denmark, a consequence of touring Vermont with Danish Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen. In an article entitled “What Can We Learn from Denmark?” that appeared in the Huffington Post last week, the Senator outlined some of the ways in which the U.S. might profit from following Denmark’s lead.

You should find it thought-provoking, regardess of your political persuasion.

America dodged a disaster last night, managing to avoid what would likely have been four years of catastrophic misrule. Yet despite Mitt Romney’s shape shifting and evasions, and despite the Republicans’ desire to feed the rich at the expense of every pressing national priority, the election was close. Too close. We as a country are starkly and rigidly divided, and those of us on the blue team are breathing a sigh of relief today.

Worth a Thousand Words
A campaign victory image posted on Facebook.

The relief is likely to be short-lived, though. We face enormous challenges as a nation, and our divisions hamper our ability to face them. Still, I’m grateful that President Obama remains at the helm as we move forward.

Local election results were mixed. More on that in a future post.

Last night, the real President Obama showed up. In doing so, he handily won the second of the three presidential debates and likely stopped the momentum Mitt Romney had achieved from the first one.

Always ahead on substance—even in the first debate—Obama clearly outperformed Romney on style as well. To continue our boxing metaphor from the last post, all the major blows of the night were delivered by the president. These included a solid shot to the chin in the debate’s closing moments, hitting hard at Romney’s disdain for 47% of Americans.

That last shot, in fact, typified Romney’s miscues throughout the night. In his closing remarks, Romney had said he was for “100% of all Americans”. Up until that point, no one had discussed what percentage of the country he cared about. It was a perfect opening, and Obama took it: Bam!

There were several other Romney slipups as well. His phrase “binders full of women” became an instant Internet meme because it nicely encapsulates his patronizing, out-of-touch attitude on women’s issues and rights. His repeated insistence that Obama had not called the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi a “terrorist attack” until two weeks after the fact had to be forcefully refuted by the moderator, Candy Crowley. “Say it louder, Candy,” the president smilingly urged. Finally, when Romney suggested that Obama look at his own pension, the president replied “I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours….”

Last night was all Obama, all the time. If he repeats this performance next Monday in the final debate, he can put Romney down for the count.

"It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down."
—Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), explaining why pregnancy does not result from rape, and abortion bans should therefore have no exceptions.

With the quote above, Congressman Akin created a firestorm of criticism from within his own party, as well as from Democrats. There were many calls for him to resign from the Senate race in Missouri—calls which, late this afternoon, he decided to reject. He is staying in the race. And why not? He still has a narrow lead in the polls there. And he still shares co-authorship of the "Sanctity of Human Life Act," with VP nominee Paul Ryan. The act is a so-called personhood measure that defines life as beginning at fertilization and authorizes the federal and state governments to protect life from that point forward, with no exceptions.

Mitt Romney has said (after Akin’s impolitic remarks) that a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in cases of rape. But Ryan’s (and Akin’s) authorship of the Sanctity of Human Life Act says otherwise. And so does a plank in the official Republican Party platform, which was just approved today. The party’s anti-abortion plank makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The whole Akin episode represents one more reason (as if we needed it) to turn back the Republicans this fall.

It’s also one more reason why the Congressional election here in NY-19 is so vitally important. Please sign up to support and/or volunteer for the Julian Schreibman campaign today.

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