2012-04-20 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

By Peter Stubben

When that phone call comes at 7:30 – you know, just after dinner – and the guy offers you free health care ‘for life!!!,‘ aren’t you just a little bit skeptical? Of course he’ll point out that his firm is a 5-star, triple-A, S&P-certified firm with a 230-year history of happy customers. All he asks is for your social security number. Are you gonna give it to him?

That healthy skepticism on your part dates back some 2,500 years to the Greeks. In Homer’s awesome epic he recounts that the Greek expeditionary forces could not defeat the Trojans; and so after nine long years of battle they abandoned the siege but left the Trojans a commemorative piece, a horse. The triumphant Trojans wheeled the horse into town and celebrated the great victory. Most unfortunately, Greek warriors were hidden inside the horse and opened the gates for the massslaughter and annihilation of the city of Troy. In fact, through the centuries many considered Troy not a real city but just a narrative motif by Homer until 1870 when it was rediscovered ... so brutal was the annihilation.

Hence, the 2,500-year-old adage, ‘Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts.‘

Gifts today from the US Congress and the Office of the President include free health care for life, free contraception for all, and no additional cost to insure the youth up to the age of 26. All for nothing ... well almost nothing anyway ... just don’t forget to send ‘em your social security number (your taxpayer ID, that is). The Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 that provisions all this, has also provisioned an additional Billion Dollars for the IRS to hire new tax assessors to handle the overload. Beware Feds Bearing Entitlements ... Be Not Befuddled by the Undulating, Mellifluous Tones of Presidential Oratory!

Two recent examples ring out here on the Rockaway Peninsula: one terribly prescient for this Health Care Act; the other a great tribute to Tom Jefferson and the 10th amendment. As the coal mine’s twittering canary foretells impending death from poisonous gases, Rockaway’s recent Peninsula-Hospital bankruptcy foretells impending doom from ‘Affordable’ health care throughout America. A 104-year-old facility catering to Rockaway’s elderly, middle class and the poor files for bankruptcy because city, state and federal agencies squeezed her dry. Government – at the request of President Obama and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi – is reducing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to local hospitals to pay for Affordable Health Care. This bankruptcy here at a Rockaway hospital is less a case of inadequate or insubstantial care and more a political and financial situation.

Rockaway’s bell tolls for all: as implementation continues, hospitals across the country catering to our demographics will teeter too ... regardless of who tweets to whom! Not only is Affordable Health Care expensive, it’s getting more expensive by the year. Unknowable is the ultimate cost, but we do know that the President’s initial cost projections have already been doubled to $1.7 TRILLION by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Coast to coast, count on it, hospitals will go broke paying for affordable care. Tom Jefferson feared too much power being held in the central government and was a big proponent of ‘states rights’ and the 10th amendment. Supreme Court Justice Brandeis popularized the notion that “it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Rockaway perilously foretells impending doom for health care but also fabulously personifies that laboratory.

That recent Rockaway experiment is called participatory budgeting. Budgeting and Spending here in New York are an interesting process. On the one hand, State and City politicians are ‘given’ certain funds – Member Items or Slush Funds – to finance local projects; and all-too-often those funds finance local non-profit organizations run by these same politicians’ immediate family-members, their big donors, their campaign counselors, etc., etc. On the other hand, most of the city budget is handled at City Hall by planners who decide who gets the money and for what. Last fall and this spring, a Justice Brandeis experiment in city budgeting and spending took place here in Rockaway through the offices of Councilman Eric Ulrich. The people proposed last fall, and then the people decided this spring. Groups were formed and committees tasked ... all locals. The results: $230,000 to upgrade teaching technologies at PS 47, PS 317 and PS 114; $60,000 to purchase oxygen refill systems for Rockaway’s volunteer fire departments; $39,000 to buy water pumps to alleviate flooding; $48,000 for pagers for the volunteer firefighters; $45,000 to upgrade a bathroom for the handicapped in Rockaway’s Knights of Columbus Hall (where many civics meet monthly); $150,000 for an outdoor gazebo to host summer concerts; $200,000 to furnish Breezy with a library vending machine; $100,000 for six security cameras for the 100 Precinct; and, finally, $500,000 to modernize Peninsula Library. All this by locals in six months!

Athenian Democracy is not Dead, nor Dying ... at least not here in Rockaway ... but Beware Feds Bearing Gifts!

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