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Editorials from around New York

January 2, 2019

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

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The Post-Star on failures in the long-term care system.

A story last week by Post-Star reporter Kathleen Moore made clear that, when it comes to taking care of our old parents and grandparents, we are depending on the kindness of strangers.

Those strangers are certified nursing assistants, the women and men (but mostly women), who perform the front-line jobs in nursing homes. They are the ones who answer the calls from residents, who feed them and give them their medications, bathe them and help them to the toilet.

They are the ones who can provide comfort with a soft touch and a kind word, who can treat residents with tenderness when they cannot care for themselves and who can make sure that, after they die, their bodies, too, are handled with respect.

We get all this for $12 an hour to start at one of the homes run by Centers Health Care, which owns more than 50 skilled nursing facilities in the Northeast and five in the local area.

It seems an unreasonably low wage, when you consider that, starting Dec. 31, the minimum wage upstate for most workers will be $11.10 and for fast-food workers will be $12.75.

Working in a hot kitchen, troweling french fries into paper bags, isn’t easy, but a lot of people would consider it easier than helping an adult out of bed and to the toilet. What you don’t get while tossing condiments in to-go sacks is the fulfillment of caring for another person — of knowing that your efforts are helping another human being.

Professional caregivers frequently grow attached to the people they care for, and that is what we all rely on, because without those feelings of attachment and satisfaction, few people would choose to do the exhausting job of a CNA — not when easier jobs are available for the same or better pay.

But this is no way to run a long-term care system. We should not tolerate a system so starved for resources that it must pay caregivers poorly in order to make a profit, and we should question whether the for-profit model is a good fit for nursing homes.

The U.S. offers Medicaid coverage for those who need nursing home care but lack the money to pay for it. If you have some money, you have to use it up before becoming eligible for Medicaid, which means people approaching old age will go to great lengths to transfer assets to their children and will take other steps to ensure their life savings don’t get eaten up by nursing home costs.

Also, since private-pay patients are charged a much higher rate than Medicaid pays, nursing homes will first accept patients who have money, so poorer patients may have difficulty finding a place.

Other developed countries take a more comprehensive and compassionate approach, with programs that everyone pays into (as we do with Social Security, for example), which then cover the costs of long-term care for whoever needs it.

The efficiency of market capitalism can be a great thing, except when efficiency is not what you’re looking for. Taking 15 minutes to sit with someone and hold their hand and calm their fears may not be efficient, but it is the kind of care we all want for our loved ones and the kind of thing that overworked CNAs cannot take the time to do.

One problem locally is that, because Centers owns many of the local nursing homes, it can, to some extent, control the competition and keep wages low. Yes, Fort Hudson in Hudson Falls and Wesley Health in Saratoga Springs start CNAs at wages that are appreciably higher, but even they struggle with high turnover.

Our system is an ungainly hybrid of private operation and public oversight, with nursing home companies becoming expert at passing state inspections without providing residents with the personal attention and quality of care they deserve.

It’s easy to say we should care for our elderly and infirm. But when it comes to spending money, other choices — including cuts in the taxes that pay for such programs — are often far more popular.

In the end, if we are dissatisfied we can blame only ourselves. We have not made the commitment, as a country or a state or a community, to providing quality long-term care to everyone who needs it.

As with health care, the quality of the long-term care you receive in our country often depends on how much money you have. Something about that seems wrong. But that’s how it is for now, and how it may still be on the day when each of us discovers how well this system will care for us.

Online: https://bit.ly/2R3lzDe

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The Auburn Citizen on the new version of a federal farm bill.

It was passed almost two months after its deadline, but the end result is better late than never for the latest version of the federal farm bill.

The $860 billion measure approved last week includes a stronger safety net for dairy farmers, financial support for people looking to start a farm, and continued access to nutritional food for people in need of assistance.

A key to getting the bill passed was the fact that House Republicans agreed to back down on the inclusion of some controversial provisions — the biggest of which was stricter work requirements for people using food stamps. The White House had been pushing to strip a larger number of unemployed people from being eligible for food stamps and preventing states from waiving work requirements, but the debate had been holding up a bill that also preserves and expands crop insurance, a program vital to the survival of farms.

The bill also retains regulations on pesticides that some had sought to roll back, and legalizes industrial hemp, which can be made into products that do not cause a high, as an option for farmers looking to diversify.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher called the bill “a major victory for New York’s farmers, rural communities and consumers.”

The final bipartisan version of the farm bill is a win for agriculture — and for New Yorkers who rely on food stamps to help provide nutritious food for their families. It’s one of the few bright spots to come out of Congress in recent weeks, and we’re glad to see that something of substance can still be accomplished in Washington.

Online: https://bit.ly/2BW7VYg

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Newsday on President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

A wall is a wall is a wall.

President Donald Trump has been pretty consistent about that since he began campaigning for the White House. He has vacillated on the material to be used in its construction, but the fervor of his base and the jabs of Fox News commentators keep Trump wedded to a big, beautiful, physically imposing barrier to stop immigrants from crossing our Southern border. So the federal government continues to be shut down over his insistence on many billions to fund his wall.

But it’s been apparent for a while that the wall Trump promised will not be built. Certainly, Mexico ain’t spending a dime on it. Most Americans, including many Republicans, don’t want it. Democrats will never sign off on it, and they now control the House. And the border can be better protected for less money by spending more on drones and cameras and by hiring more border agents and judges to quickly adjudicate immigration and asylum claims.

If Trump wants to make a deal, he will find that House Democrats as well as Senate Republicans share his concern for a more secure border. That can be achieved without building a wall, and Trump will have to acknowledge it. Congress and the administration must open an official investigation into the recent deaths of two Guatemalan children in U.S. custody. What we don’t need in 2019 are any more remarks of the kind delivered recently by Rep. Peter King, who tried to minimize those tragedies by comparing them with the deaths of children in New York City housing projects. That was cheap and insensitive; we expect more of him.

We also expect everyone involved in the political posturing fueling this stalemate to recognize that the border never will be as secure as it could be without truly comprehensive immigration reform to bring some sanity and fairness to a troubled and broken process. Also needed: more investments in troubled Central American nations to end the violence there and create more economic opportunity.

Trump’s back is to the wall, and he won’t move the nation forward by blaming anyone else.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2Vpk5lj

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The New York Times on whaling in Japan.

Japan, in many respects a model global citizen, has long been an outlier on whaling, an industry that most nations have abandoned as cruel, unnecessary and a danger to the survival of the great mammals of the seas, but that the Japanese claim as part of their culture. That divide has come to a head with Japan’s exit from the International Whaling Commission, a politically motivated decision Tokyo should reconsider.

Japan’s argument is that the commission was set up in 1946 to manage commercial whaling, not to ban it. After global populations of whales plummeted in the 1970s, the commission ordered a moratorium that went into effect in 1986 and looks to continue it indefinitely, despite intensive lobbying by Japan and other countries that defend commercial whaling, most notably Norway and Iceland.

In reality, Japan always flouted the moratorium, using a loophole that allowed “scientific research” to continue slaughtering thousands of minke, fin and sperm whales far from its shores and selling their meat on the domestic market.

That charade ends with Japan’s withdrawal from the whaling commission, which is good news for whales off Antarctica, since Japan said it would limit commercial whaling to its own territorial waters. This portion of Japan’s decision was welcomed by Australia, which has supported sanctuaries to protect Antarctic whale populations and which challenged Japan’s “scientific research” in the International Court of Justice in 2014. Australia won, but Japan made some cosmetic changes and kept hunting. The environmental organization Sea Shepherd, which has actively interfered with Japan’s annual hunt in the Southern Ocean, said Japan has now effectively declared itself a “pirate whaling nation” instead of pretending to abide by international rules, and so would be easier to challenge.

Just as Japan’s claim that it was conducting scientific research was a myth, so is the notion that commercial whaling is somehow central to Japanese identity. Hunting whales for food and oil does have a history in Japan, and in the years after World War II, whale meat had a major place in the diet of a conquered and impoverished nation. And not all species of whales are endangered, though the populations of some, like the blue and right whales, are at worrisome levels. Commercial whaling, moreover, is not the greatest threat faced by whales so long as the moratorium is in place — collisions with ships, getting tangled in fishing nets, pollution and other human activities are currently far greater dangers.

But as in most other former whaling regions, the Japanese taste for whale meat has sharply declined over the decades. A survey conducted in 2012 by the Nippon Research Center on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that nearly 90 percent of Japanese had not bought whale meat in the previous year, and only about a quarter of Japanese supported whaling. As of 2013, the Japanese whaling industry employed fewer than 1,000 people and required government subsidies to survive. That is hardly equivalent to the cultural importance of whale hunting in indigenous communities in Alaska or Greenland, which the whaling commission allows.

But the fact is that most of the world — and most Japanese — have moved on from the days when killing whales was deemed an acceptable pursuit. Like shooting elephants or rhinoceroses for trophies, cruelly killing animals now shown to possess a high level of intelligence on the pretense that the practice has a cultural importance is untenable. Japan, moreover, has not said how many whales it plans to catch in its waters, or what impact this might have on global whale populations.

In the end, the Japanese government’s decision to quit the commission is no more than a gambit by nationalist politicians to posture as defenders of a traditional way of life, akin to President Trump’s defense of coal mining. They know it won’t bring back an industry that has had its day, or a diet that nobody needs any longer.

Withdrawing from the whaling commission for short-term political gain is a dangerous and foolish move, especially for an advanced country like Japan that has generally supported multilateral efforts on the environment. The commission is not a Western cultural imposition, as some Japanese nationalists might portray it, but the expression of a universal obligation to manage dwindling resources and protect the planet, including the magnificent giants of the oceans.

Mr. Trump’s cavalier rejection of the Paris climate treaty and dismissive attitude to most other international treaties, alliances and trade accords have done incalculable damage to the postwar international order. That is not a model Japan should emulate.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2Qc606U

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