Unwelcome to the US, Canada is Safe Haven

this opinion piece I wrote appeared in the Sunday Albany Times Union

Mike Burgess

One of the most upsetting news stories in upstate New York which the Times Union reported this year was the trek of Haitian families and other refugees – over 5000 in August alone – making their way by taxi or private car in a steady stream to a remote northern New York border crossing at Champlain,  New York leading to Quebec. They were leaving the United States in the hope of finding a more welcoming government in Canada. Many Americans like me grew up during the Cold War knowing that people from other countries always wanted to come to America not flee it in fear. The plight of the Haitians and other refugees is a sad shock to this very image of America. Recently, President Trump confirmed that his administration will cut the number of refugees to be admitted this year to its lowest level in decades and they will aggressively seek to deport illegal immigrants.

Canada has been a safe haven that some Americans have had to flee to before. During the Civil War and the Vietnam War, some Americans sought safety in Canada. In upstate and northern New York, many of us are very familiar with the nineteenth century history of the Underground Railroad in our communities, that passionate effort of abolitionists to move African American slaves quietly through our towns across the border to freedom in Canada.

Over a century later in the early 1970s when I was in college during the Vietnam War many young men of my Baby Boomer generation were heading to Toronto and other places in Canada as conscientious objectors or draft resisters opposed to the war. Those were the days before the all-volunteer military. By the time I turned 18 and registered with the Selective Service in 1971, the war and the draft were winding down and I never got the draft call.

Canada is not a perfect country either and is undergoing its own soul searching and debates regarding the past treatment of native populations and even of the French speaking minority in Quebec. Today though, not only is Canada welcoming many refugees and immigrants including those leaving the United States, it is also opening its arms to accept gays from Chechnya who have been persecuted and tortured for who they are.

Regarding immigration, this is not the first time that Canada has been a destination for foreigners who wanted to come to America. In the early part of the 20th century, a resentment of a large number of immigrants, especially Italians and southern Europeans resulted in Congress passing the Immigration Act of 1924. It limited new immigrants from Italy and other countries to 2% of those in the country at the time of the 1890 census. 3 million Italians came in the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1921, 222,260 Italians came but by 1925 after the law, the number of Italians who entered the country dropped to 6203. There were actually more Italians who left the United States than entered.

I grew up hearing the lovely sound of the Italian language from my grandparents and other relatives. My maternal grandparents and their siblings left the poverty and lack of economic opportunity in the southern Italian province of Calabria and came to America in the early part of the 20th century, settling in Massena, New York. After the 1924 law, many members of the extended family who may have wanted to come to America later settled instead across the border in Cornwall, Ottawa and Toronto.

My father’s parents, made their way earlier from southern Italy to Rochester. His extended family did not go to Canada but my father and his brothers feared the discrimination against Italians. They feared that the family name Bonacci would be a roadblock to their careers. So, they changed their last names. Despite the hostility of the time, America gave my grandparents and their generation a better life.

The freedom and opportunity America gave my grandparents and the generations which have followed is why I am in solidarity with those seeking to come here today. I look forward to the day the President of the United States and the majority of our Congressional representatives again value the economic skills, diversity, and dynamism that immigrants bring to our country. I also look forward to a time when people in the rest of the world see America again as a safe haven and a place of refuge for many still seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

NYS Releases Forms to Apply for Paid Family Leave; Updates on Drug Patents, Social Security

There has been a flurry of news in recent days on health and benefit issues.   The State of New York has released on its paid family leave website the official forms that employees use to request paid family leave as well as a form for health providers to complete about the health status of a person being cared for.

The forms are to be found at  https://www.ny.gov/new-york-state-paid-family-leave/paid-family-leave-employer-and-employee-forms

The New York State Paid Family Leave program begins on January 1, 2018 for employees in private companies.   Workers can receive up to 8 weeks of paid family leave starting at 50% of their salary though it is capped at the average state weekly wage.   Full benefits of 12 paid weeks at 2/3 of salary will be gradually phased through 2021.

This is a new state benefit program and employees who have been with an employer for six months working at least 20 hours per week will be eligible immediately to apply.  A small deduction is being taken out of each employee’s paycheck and the employer’s personnel or human resources department should have already communicated with workers about the benefit and payroll deduction.


A federal judge has invalidated Allergan’s patents for Restates which we reported on a few weeks ago.  The company had sold the patents to the  St. Regis Mohawk Indian Nation on the New York – Quebec border near Massena, New York since the tribe is a sovereign entity.  Many members of Congress were alarmed about this loophole or end around maneuver by a drug company to maintain its patent profits and shield them from lower price competition.   US Circuit Judge William Bryson rejected that maneuver also writing, “Sovereign immunity should not be treated as a monetizable commodity that can be purchased by private entities as part of a scheme to evade their legal responsibilities.”

Allergan is planning to appeal and no cheaper generic drugs have yet been approved to compete with Restatis.


Social Security benefits will rise by 2% in 2018 it was announced last week for the more than 70 million current beneficiaries.  An average $25 monthly increase in the cost of living adjustment will be negated in part by the expected increase in Medicare Part B premiums which are deducted from the Social Security check.   Senior organizations say that the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers formula understates inflation and costs for older persons.

This is the largest COLA raise since 2011 when the COLA increase was 3.6%.    Increases in the past two years were 0% in 2016 and 0.3% this year.   The Social Security Administration also announced that the income subject to the Social Security tax of 6.2% will rise to $128,700 from $127,200 this year.  No Social Security taxes are paid on annual income above the earnings cap so  persons at salaries higher than the earnings cap see a sizable “tax cut” in their paychecks after they have exceeded the annual earnings cap.

US Life Expectancy Lowered Slightly for the First Time Since 1993 Because of Drug Overdose Deaths

you can read all my blog posts at http://www.generationsofnewyork.com

For the first time since 1993, life expectancy in the United States has declined instead of increased because of the opioid and drug overdose epidemic taking the lives of 100 younger and middle age persons every day.  This fact has dropped overall life expectancy to 78.8, a drop of .1%.    One estimate says the drug overdose deaths are responsible for a loss of 2 1/2 months in life expectancy.   Of course, this is a statistic and not applicable to every person but it indicates that the overall success in health care in this country which has been extending the lifespan has been stopped by the drug deaths.   This is primarily a problem of White Americans because similar decreases in life expectancy for Hispanics and African Americans did not occur.   There is a difference of 5-10 years in the lifespan of people in urban and coastal communities versus those in rural areas in Appalachia and rural southern states.

I have continually touted the great public health successes in battling cancer and heart disease.   The results are stunning in those areas.   For men 65-74, the death rate dropped by an astounding 41.6% from 1990 – 2007.   For men 75-84, it decreased by 29.5%.     The number of people reaching 100 has more than doubled since 1980.

There is more good news for men who now make up 44% of all older Americans.  At one time this number was in the 30% -35% range.  With dramatic improvements in care for cancer and heart disease and fewer dying from industrial related illnesses, many men are in the unaccustomed position of becoming either caregivers for their wives or outliving them.

So, most of the news on lifespan is good for older Americans as death rates from most diseases decline.  The major  exception of course is Alzheimers disease which has increased as a direct result of more people living longer.

Trends among younger persons offer storm clouds for life expectancy for certain segments of the population.   Obviously the same reasons causing the drug overdose epidemic are causing serious health problems and earlier deaths for many.  Obesity among some younger groups also is major threat a longer lifespan though some progress is being made as  public health initiatives are focusing on avoiding sugar sweetened beverages and other sources of added sugar and beverage and food makers are reducing sugar content.