2011-08-26 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Of Beaches, Politics and Bankruptcy
Commentary By Howard Schwach

It’s only a matter of time before the feds get around to challenging Rockaway’s no parking rules during the summer months. In a major New York Times piece two weeks ago, entitled “Along the Jersey Shore, A Struggle To Get To the Sand,” the reporter talks about private beaches and the law that says that everybody has the right to the beach up to the high water mark. What’s interesting is that the piece talks about the federal government’s move to ensure that everybody can get to the beach to enjoy the water, and that restrictive parking regulations are one way that communities keep their beaches private. It specifically mentions Rockaway. “On the Rockaway peninsula in Queens, for example, street parking is banned on summer weekends in some neighborhoods, making it nearly impossible for visitors to get to the public beach.” This, from a reporter with good ties to the feds and with insight into what they are thinking.

It is hard to believe that Israel has become an issue in the race to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Tony Weiner. Turner, who lives in a gated community where not too many Jews are welcome, wants to be the champion of the beleaguered nation. I guess it’s all right to champion Jews in the Middle East as long as you don’t have to live next door to them. Weprin is an Orthodox Jew who has relatives in Israel and visits there often. The question is not which candidate will fight for Israel, but why that question should be an issue in a district with so many problems that need addressing – jobs, crime, schools, health care and infrastructure. In that kind of environment, why are we talking about Israel and the Ground Zero mosque?

Talk about lame answers. An Iowa single mother recently asked President Obama about the recent debt ceiling controversy, telling him that she was disappointed over his complete surrender to the Republicans and the Tea Party. His answer? “Now, I know that people would like to say, ‘well, just do something to get these people under control. You don’t want to reward unreasonableness. I get that. But, sometimes you’ve got to make choices in order to do what’s best for the country at that particular moment.”

The state’s Department of Health has issued an order closing Peninsula Hospital Center. No more new patients, no more ER. Discharge all the patients to other hospitals. It sounds pretty final, but board members have been in Albany for days, fighting for a chance to keep it open. No matter what happens, however, the community should give thanks to a number of local residents who volunteer for the hospital’s board and who worked literally around the clock for more than a week to save it. Meeting mostly at the home of Attorney Joe Mure, the group included Mure, Lou Caucig, Nancy Vardakis, Steve Greenberg and George Greco. They pulled out all the stops, from contemplating bankruptcy to finding a white knight with the resources to save the hospital.

There are those on the extreme right who are looking for the City of New York to declare bankruptcy so that it can renege on all of its pension obligations to former municipal workers. Don’t laugh, because it is already being tried in a number of venues. All of those cities are much smaller than New York, of course, but the theory is the same. Declare bankruptcy and cut new deals with your former and present workers – perhaps fifty cents on the dollar or less. That’s what the Tea Party activists see as the solution to what they call “big government.” The trick is to allow unfettered business activity while cutting payments to the middle class and elderly.

Speaking of the elderly, one of the largest everyday costs for those over the age is 65 is medication. When I was younger, I vowed that I would never take more than two medications each day. Now, I am taking six or seven. The cost of those medications keep going up and, because I was in the school system, I have to buy my regular drugs from a mail order house called Express Scripts, a firm that operates with as much élan as the Department of Education. In any case, the state legislature has just passed a law that bans discounts to those who buy from mail order firms. While the law had good intentions – to help the local drug stores remain competitive, that law immediately increases the cost of drugs to all the senior citizens who worked for the public school system and must use the mail order firm. Then, it turns out, that Congress also passed a law a few years ago that forbids Medicare from negotiating prices with the drug companies. That means that anybody on Medicare pays top-of-the-line prices for their drugs when everybody else gets them discounted. In fact, even Medicaid gets deeper discounts on drugs than the elderly. That’s because Medicaid prices are set by law while Medicare prices are negotiated by private insurers and drug companies. If you are over 65 and worked for the city, the drug companies have you coming and going.

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