Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
By Elena Mora
BRONX, N.Y. -- About 70 residents gathered here June 13 to “speak out” on the health care crisis. The event, co-sponsored by NW Bronx for Change and the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, featured health care organizer Tim Foley, from New Yorkers for Change, and heard remarks from local elected officials and testimony from members of the audience.
“Health care is happening now,” Foley said. “Your representatives need to hear from you. We know who else they’ll be hearing from -- the private insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry.
“People often say ‘my congressman is good on health care’ but you should call your representatives regardless, because there’s a great deal of pressure going on right now, and it’s happening very, very quickly.”
People in the audience signed postcards addressed to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, which read, “I strongly urge you to work for the inclusion of a public plan at a minimum.”
A string quartet of young musicians from the Bronx performed for the crowd, led by their former teacher Joe Sherman, who is the Bronx coordinator of Moveon.org. In his introduction to the group, Sherman said, “Music is related to health care. Stutterers can sing without stuttering. President Obama has a big agenda and health care is a biggie and events like this can help get it done.”
Numerous elected officials attended as well. Congressman Eliot Engel stated off the bat that he is for a single-payer plan. He went on to praise President Obama’s pledge to pass comprehensive health care legislation saying, “Health care is a right of every citizen, not a privilege. For us to have 47 million Americans without any health care whatsoever, in the year 2009, is a scandal.”
Engel cited some of New York’s bleak health care statistics: 2.5 million people or 13 percent or the population have no health coverage. Health insurance premiums have more than doubled since 2006, while wages have only gone up by 2 percent.
And Engel told his own health care crisis story. His daughter was born with a minor heart problem. When she graduated college she was dropped from the family insurance policy. When she tried to buy her own insurance from that same company she was denied because of a “pre-existing condition.”
He said, “President Obama and I want to end this kind of nonsense.”
Gustavo Rivera, representing Sen. Gillibrand, referenced his work in the Obama campaign, thanking NW Bronx for Obama for its work electing the president and for continuing to organize around the key issues at the grassroots.
State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz expressed his strong support for health care reform, and talked about a health care bill he’s co-sponsoring in the State Assembly.
City Councilmember Oliver Koppell got a round of applause when he declared, “I am 100 percent in favor of a single payer plan. It’s a disgrace that every industrial economy has single payer health care, and we don’t. I understand that we have to compromise now, but that’s what we should get, eventually.”
Moving testimony was given by lifelong Bronx resident Sasha Quinones, who said, “I had planned to tell my own story, but last week my best friend called me and said, ‘Next Thursday I’m losing my health insurance. Sasha, I’m going to go blind.’ Her medicine costs $300 a month. If she goes a month without it, she’ll go blind. Her doctor said she had to have this medicine, but she asked, ‘What am I going to do, how do I make a choice between putting food on the table, or buying the medicine?’”
Quinones who was diagnosed with MS at age 21, added “When I started my career, I couldn’t get health care because of my pre-existing condition. In the words of President Obama, yes we can, we have to change this now.”
Miriam Ford, a family nurse practitioner, said, “The first thing I have to ask patients is ‘what kind of insurance do you have?’ And that frames everything that I do.” Ford added, “Solving the health care crisis can’t be done in isolation, what about the money we’re spending every day in Iraq and Afghanistan?”
Another speaker, Sister Clair Regan, talked about the opposition to the public option. “They are using scare tactics saying a government plan will ration health care. But health care is already being rationed, controlled, limited. There are people who can’t even get on the line. We need to help our brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends understand that these are scare tactics. We all know someone that’s suffering now, someone who is not on the line. We need to be strong, loud and clear: we need something now, for everyone.”
Ariana Ami-Holback came at the issue from the other side. “I have health care because I worked for the city. I recently had a serious illness diagnosed, and I was able to get the care I needed. One of the tests I had cost $4,000, another was $3,000, and although I had to pay a part, they were covered. I didn’t have to think, ‘should I get this test, should I not get this test?’ I had to deal with the diagnosis and then worrying about what to do, but at least I had insurance.”
The event wrapped up with plans being made for delivery of the petitions and postcards to Sen. Schumer’s office and to participate in a June 25 health care demonstration in Washington.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
By Dan Margolis
Originally published in the People's Weekly World
The mess in the New York State Senate would make for a relatively enjoyable reality show—if the living standards of so many New Yorkers weren’t put at stake.
The actions of Sens. Pedro Espada, D-Bronx, and Hiram Monseratte, D-Queens, are as disgusting as their explanations are ridiculous. After New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly for a Democratic Senate, these two ethically challenged individuals have taken the state hostage at a time when there is essential work to be done.
Espada and Monseratte say that they acted because the Democratic caucus was too opaque. Both say they wanted to bring openness and more democracy to Albany. A noble concept, but the idea that this is what they’re doing would be laughable if it weren’t so infuriating. Or maybe infuriating if it weren’t so laughable; it’s hard to say.
Are we really supposed to believe this? That a Republican controlled Senate will be somehow more open? The Republicans held power for 30 years, and all they did was attack working people. The problems with Malcolm Smith’s Democratic caucus in the Senate are nothing compared with those of the Republicans. The recent tax increases on the rich would have been impossible had the Democrats not won control last fall.
What would the Democrats’ loss of the Senate mean?
Firstly, it would be a victory for the billionaires, specifically Tom Golisano, who masterminded the coup. Golisano is, of course, the businessman who campaigned against the Fair Share tax increases and then moved his legal residence to Florida after it was passed. Also, it would mean a victory for the Republicans, the party of racism, inequality and union-busting.
All of the pro-people bills currently in the State Senate could be killed.
Of particular importance are two bills on tenants’ rights: One would repeal the “Urstadt Law,” which took control of rent-control regulations away from New York City’s council and made them the domain of Albany. The other bill would mandate that any buildings leaving the Mitchell-Lama or Section 8 programs would have to be placed under rent regulations.
The loss would mean, then, a huge victory for the landlords of New York, and a loss for tenants.
In fact, some are speculating that the coup was, at least in part, pushed and coordinated by big landlords who do not want to see these bills passed. It’s likely that Espada receives a lot of money from landlords—but no one knows that for sure, because he’s never filed the legally required paperwork on campaign contributions.
It looks like Espada was bought by the landlords and sold to the Republican Party.
Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, has introduced a bill that would weaken the state’s anti-union Taylor Law, which bans public employees from striking. This bill would have been hard to pass with a 32-30 Democratic majority—but with the Republicans in charge? Forget it.
The loss would mean ending the possibility of actually bringing New York State into compliance with international labor law, under which workers are supposed to have the right to strike.
There are other bills as well, but the point is clear: Republican control is bad for working people.
Some are saying that this debacle is the result of animosities between the African American and Latino communities, and that the coup d’état will somehow help empower Latinos. This nonsense should be rejected outright. It is true that Latinos in New York’s leadership have been under-represented, and any democratic-minded person must be in favor of the empowerment of the growing and diversifying Hispanic community.
The idea that Latino advancement could or should come at the expense of the African American community is preposterous: Unity between African Americans, Latinos, and the working class is essential to the advancement of all three groups, none of which are mutually exclusive, of course.
But the idea that ceding control to the Republicans will help Latinos? Please. Let’s come back to the real world. The above mentioned bills would help to empower both the African American and Latino communities, as well as working-class white people. How is killing them a benefit to anyone who has to work for a living?
In any case, most people aren’t buying it: Editorials in much of the New York City Spanish-language press have condemned the right wing power grab, and rallies against Espada and Monseratte have been united. It seems pretty clear that there are others, behind the scenes, who would like to sow division between the two communities.
For example, one thing Mayor Bloomberg, the “independent” mayor of New York City, needs to win the 2009 municipal elections is a major split in the Latino and African American communities. Bloomberg has been specifically targeting people with Latino names to receive mailings addressed to them. There have been no major breaks among Latinos for Bloomberg.
The idea that either Espada or Monseratte is that altruistic is hard to believe. Espada has been fined thousands of dollars refusing to show from where his donations come. On top of that, though he “represents” the Bronx, he really lives in suburban Westchester County.
And Monseratte? He’s been indicted for allegedly stabbing his girlfriend with a glass bottle.
These are the great reformers?
We still don’t know how things are going to pan out. As of this writing, Monseratte is in discussions with the Democratic caucus, and seems to be on the verge—possibly—of returning to the fold. But even then, the house would be divided 31-31, and since we have no Lieutenant Governor to break a tie, that’s a bad situation. The Republicans want to see Espada as president of the chamber. And they are arguing, quite ridulously, that if Monseratte goes back and the chambers are evenly split, Espada should have two votes to break a tie: one as a state senator, and one as the chamber’s president. This, in the words of one lawmaker, is sending the state “lurching towards a constitutional crisis.”
Both Espada and Monseratte should end their betrayal of working New Yorkers and come back into the Democratic fold so that the business of working people can get done.