Rural Lament: Wet and Waiting for Chicken

It’s early February. An old farmer adage cautions that, “Half your wood and half your hay, you should have on Candlemas Day.” (That’s Groundhog Day for the dazzling urbanites out there.) We still find it to be a pretty good rule-of-thumb, and we’ve only used about half the wood in the shed so far. Media reports indicate that Punxsutawny Phil, the “Seer of (Rodent )Seers” glimpsed his shadow on February 2nd, so we’re in for 6 more weeks of winter. But on the fuel supply front anyway, we’re  cautiously optimistic.

Being cautiously optimistic (despite available evidence) is what’s required in the “dirt farmer community.” We take our money and bury it in the ground every spring in a seasonal gamble that the planting will lead to a harvest.

Yes, dear reader, it’s a wild ride here in the Clod-Hopper Casino. The odds are pretty long some years. And in the best of seasons it’s unlikely to impossible that there’ll be enough income to buy luxury amenities like health insurance. Thus, we went for decades without any. Having attained official geezer status however, we now qualify for social insurance: Medicare.

In this beleaguered and backward nation a “right” to healthcare famously does not exist. Alone in the so-called developed world the USA belligerently endorses Markets and competing profit-based private oligarchies as the only portal through which the sick and the suffering may receive modern medical care. Tens of thousands of Americans die for want of healthcare each year. The statisticians label those departed as “excess deaths.” Back in 2009, the annual (excess) death toll attributed to being uninsured in the U.S. was 49,000, according to a Harvard University study. Of course the body count is far higher today thanks to the pandemic. Look it up.

As I write this (2/11/21) the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet has just published the report of its Commission on Public Health in the Trump Era. Lest the title be misunderstood, the authors are quick to point out that the current  hot mess is based on the “damaging neoliberal policies” of the many creepy office holders that preceded Mr. Mar-a-Lago.

The 49 page study is built on years of research by a panel of 33 experts from the US, the UK, and Canada. Unsurprisingly, they report, “Although Trump’s actions were singularly damaging, many of them represent an aggressive acceleration of neoliberal policies that date back 40 years. These policies reversed New Deal and civil-rights-era advances in economic and racial equality. Subsequently, inequality widened, with many people in the USA being denied the benefits of economic growth.”

Co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, and co-chair of the Lancet commission Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, observes, “While the wealthy have thrived, most Americans have lost ground, both economically and medically…… This unprecedented decoupling of health from national wealth signals that our society is sick.”

Continuing the linkage between our economic and societal sickness, the report notes, “For much of US history, income and wealth were distributed more equally than in most of Europe. However, since the 1980s, the disparity between social and economic classes has widened as high-paid manufacturing jobs disappeared after trade liberalization, trade unions were stifled, and tax and social policies increasingly favored the wealthy….. This widening income inequality has widened inequalities in health.”

As if we needed more evidence of the routine “health industry” vampirism and class warfare; witness Maine Medical Center’s reported hiring of an out-of-state firm to beat back (only the most recent) organizing drive by its nursing staff aimed at unionization. MMC’s “consultants” have announced the usual forced attendance at “captive audience meetings” where the uppity nurses will be threatened and propagandized as to the supposed evils of union representation and its historical benefits.

This alone is pretty dark, but MMC felt it insufficiently haughty, so it prioritized Covid vaccinations for these anti-union mercenaries even as the rest of Maine’s residents compete vainly for scarce jabs. Long-time director of the York County Homeless Shelter, Don Gean 77, is quoted in the local paper today: “Everybody I know seems to spend most of their life looking for any place to get vaccinated, like a pool of piranha waiting for a bucket of chicken.”

Like I said….. a beleaguered and backward nation. But hey, there’s wood in the shed and most of the seeds are ordered.

What could go wrong?

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: