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News Briefs 6.25.03 

Your health in question

The typical health care "consumer" has no lack of concerns about the future --- how high health insurance premiums will climb, how much employers will contribute (and whether one's job will exist), how many hospitals will survive, how many people will have to fend for themselves. So a new publication from the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency (FLHSA), a multi-county planning organization based in the city of Rochester, is especially timely.

            The booklet, The Potential Effects of Hospital Consolidation on Access to Care: Questions for the Rochester Community, is matter-of-fact. But a sense of urgency comes through the flat prose. That's because the issues have already mobilized the community, or at least frightened a good many people.

            What issues? The booklet lays them out in question form: real and actual hospital closures, forced by things like intense market competition; the rise of more expensive health technologies, and more demand for them; health-care worker shortages, helped along by increasing workloads and stagnant pay; cutbacks and structural adjustments in employer-provided health benefits; and "declining reimbursements from public payers," as the booklet describes government's retreat from social responsibility.

            In an appendix, "History of Rochester Hospital Consolidation," you can read some interesting things between the lines. For example: A generation ago, "health care services [here] were well distributed across the community in concentrated service areas, contributing to only minimal competition among hospitals." Later, "major forces," including insurers and "the largest employers" put stress on the system. And by the late 1990s, the Rochester area no longer had much unity of purpose and coordination of services, but four health systems that sometimes were at odds with each other.

            Copies of the booklet are available from FLHSA, 1150 University Avenue, Rochester 14607, 461-3520, e-mail

Tax-cutters strike again

Two weeks ago the US House of Representatives, under the ineffable sway of Tom DeLay (R-Texas), passed an $82 billion tax cut bill that was to be a repair-job extending the newly-increased child tax credit to the working poor. The vote was 224-201, with 10 not voting.

            The increased child credit accounted for only $3.5 billion of the bill, however. As news reports put it, the remainder of the $82 billion went to "middle and higher income families." That is, in the view of critics, more goodies for those who need them less or least, under the guise of "economic stimulus."

            How did our local House delegation stack up? Democrat Louise Slaughter voted against the bill. Republican Tom Reynolds, the bill's sponsor, cast an enthusiastic yes. The LA Times quoted him: "This bill will achieve even greater parity and fairness in the tax code." The other local Republicans, Amo Houghton and Jim Walsh, also voted yes.

Seeking blessed community

Led by California-based Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Tikkun Community held a four day "teach-in on Middle East peace" early this month in Washington, DC. Like several other new peace-and-justice groups grounded in the American Jewish tradition, Tikkun offers a rational yet spiritual program to oppose organizational and state terror, end the massive human-rights violations against a people under occupation, and dispel the hopelessness that attends an inadequate "road map" (already widely known as the cul-de-sac).

            Longtime peace activist Jim Berger, a native Brightonian who lives in Wayne County, was one Upstater who attended the conference. The centerpiece of the event, he says, was a "Resolution for Middle East Peace" that the Tikkun Community wrote for presentation to members of Congress.

            Among other things, the resolution calls for the "return of Israel to its pre-1967 borders, with minor border modifications mutually agreed upon," "a politically viable Palestinian state in all of the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza including East Jerusalem," "an international Truth and Reconciliation Commission" modeled on the one in post-apartheid South Africa, and "an international fund to provide reparations for Palestinians and to resettle Palestinian refugees in the new Palestinian state, and to provide reparations for Israelis who fled from persecution in Arab lands, and to resettle Israeli settlers within the pre-1967 borders of Israel."

            Underlying this political agenda is the Tikkun philosophy, grounded in expansive spirituality, ecology, and non-violence. (For the nuances, see "Tikkun: repairing worlds, transforming spirits, making waves," City Newspaper, March 13-19, 2002; or visit

            Berger says he and others spent one day visiting Congressional offices to drop off materials and make personal contact. Senators Schumer and Clinton, he says, didn't appear in person, but their staffers listened to the message. A few members of Congress did respond more directly and favorably, though. Chief among them, says Berger, was Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who gave a lengthy interview to Tikkun magazine last year. Kucinich, says Berger, "got us in the door [and] spoke a couple of times to us."

            The conferees, says Berger, also heard talks by leading public intellectuals and activists like Harvard's Cornel West, author Jonathan Schell, and Global Exchange director Medea Benjamin.

            Next comes the home front. Berger says some local people who've formed a Tikkun group will meet Sunday, June 22, 5:30 p.m., in a Corn Hill home. For details, contact Berger at 244-2415 or by e-mail:

Flag this vote

On June 3, the US House of Representatives voted 300-125 (with eight not voting) in favor of a bill "proposing an amendment to the Constitution... authorizing the Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the [US] flag."

            Known popularly as the "flag-burning" law, the measure could result in a weakened First Amendment. Symbolic speech could be criminalized and restricted in a strange and frightening way.

            So how did the local delegation line up? Along party as well as ideological lines. Representatives Amo Houghton, Tom Reynolds, and Jim Walsh, all Republicans, voted yes. Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat, voted no.

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