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Letters to the Editor: ‘Toxic individualism’ and other vestiges of pre-pandemic life that need to go

Travelers wear masks at Union Station on June 15.
Travelers still wear masks at Los Angeles Union Station on the first day that California fully reopened its economy on June 15.
(Los Angeles Times)

Reflecting on more than a year of reader commentary on the pandemic, I recall the first letter published by The Times — on March 15, 2020 — as our society was beginning to experience the upheaval that a threat like COVID-19 demanded. Schools were closing — for at least two weeks, my children’s district said at the time — our scarce supply of masks was still for medical professionals only, and the federal government’s unreadiness was becoming frighteningly apparent.

And yet, the letter, written by a physician, expressed hope amid all the chaos and fear. It wasn’t the kind of naive hope bordering on dangerous wishful thinking coming from the White House but, rather, a hope grounded in reality — that the pandemic will force us to recognize the weakness of our healthcare infrastructure, that it will make us appreciate and fully fund institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it will reduce carbon emissions by keeping more workers at home.

The letter proved prescient. More than a year later, as California sheds most of its pandemic restrictions and citizens grapple with what kind of “normal” they want to return to, The Times’ Editorial Board set out to reimagine post-COVID life in California in ways that would create a more sustainable, more equitable society. The series, which relied on reader input, comprised eight editorials on topics including homelessness, education and universal healthcare.

Now, it’s time for readers to weigh in again, this time on our editorial series.

— Paul Thornton, letters editor

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The pandemic and ‘toxic individualism’

To the editor: Your editorial, “COVID-19 exposed truths that America and California can no longer ignore” should be required reading for all of us, and serious discussion should follow regarding our country’s myriad challenges.

Inequality in healthcare, housing, childcare and education affects us all, regardless of income, ethnicity or housing circumstances. If we are truly one nation, we must support policies and leaders that help bring us to more equitable circumstances in all areas of life.

Alison M. Grimes, Yorba Linda

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To the editor: The Times sounds an excellent tone for our post-pandemic, post-George Floyd sense of social awareness. “We must move from toxic individualism toward collective uplift” — indeed, we must.

Accomplishing any of the long-term goals that get us there will be a complex matter, but I think it will be made easier if we first answer one basic question: Do we want to create systems — economic, healthcare, education, justice and others — that serve the needs of the vast majority of our people, or do we want systems that serve the needs of a small minority at the top?

The answer is self-evident. Once the choice is made, every new initiative should be run through the filter of that choice to be sure it passes muster.

Nations evolve over time. Our nation took a huge step forward in the 1930s. That step, clumsy and flawed though it may have been, has served us well. Let’s take another.

Bart Braverman, Indio

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To the editor: Thank you for a circumspect and well-balanced perspective on COVID-19 truths. You see these in California. I see them here in Arizona. I’m certain people are seeing them not only in the U.S. but also worldwide in varying shades.

We have a culture of both personal toxic individualism and corporate toxic individualism. So I think you nailed it with “toxic individualism” and your observations on healthcare inequality. We can generalize those observations to many other domains.

In “A Beautiful Mind,” the John Nash character says that we all win when we do what is best for both ourselves and for the group. That’s the kind of individualism we need now.

My inner libertarian protests when I say that we need to let government control corporations more, but I don’t know what alternative we have right now. I think allowing government to limit corporate influence and independence while preserving individual freedoms and protections would help mitigate several of the issues you identify.

These problems are unimaginably complicated. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to solve them. If there’s one way to describe our species, it’s that we are overcomers. We can do it as long as we do it together.

Eric Prelog, Goodyear, Ariz.

California can have single-payer healthcare right now

To the editor: The single-payer program that is Medicare was finally passed in 1965 using political capital, threats and innuendo, as was Canada’s Medicare system. Single-payer is more affordable when compared to our present relentlessly rising premiums, deductibles, copays and drug prices as coverage becomes less comprehensive and profits accrue. (“Want single-payer? California needs a public option first,” editorial, June 6)

Healthcare has been seized and exploited by corporate America and equity firms, reducing physicians to wealth sources meant to maximize reimbursement for the latest technology and procedures. This is clearly not sustainable nor can it be mitigated by a public option, which editorial writer Jon Healey prefers to single-payer.

Anything short of a public utility for healthcare will fail.

Jerome P. Helman, MD, Venice

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To the editor: I appreciate Healey’s approach to getting more Californians insured. Single-payer might very well be the best way forward, but incremental change like offering a public option on the health exchange might help move us closer to the elusive goal of universal coverage.

Nevertheless, it’s a shame we continue to have these conversations in the first place. Whatever happened to a social contract of taking care of each other?

Newsom said this recently about gun violence: “What the hell is going on in the United States of America? What the hell is wrong with us and when are we going to come to grips with this?” Sadly, the same thing can be said about the way we deliver healthcare.

William Tarran, Pacifica, Calif.

The writer, a podiatrist, is treasurer of the California Physicians Alliance.

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To the editor: In response to Healey’s opinion regarding legislators who have “wilted in the face of opposition from the hospitals, drugmakers and healthcare companies,” readers should know that Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) has introduced Assembly Bill 1400, the California Guaranteed Health Care for All Act.

The bill — which would set up a comprehensive, universal, single-payer coverage program and a healthcare cost control system — was recently withdrawn from consideration but will be reintroduced next January.

Over the next six months, Californians need to become familiar with this bold, enlightened legislation and tell legislators that they support it.

Also, Newsom campaigned on adopting a single-payer system in California, and we need to constantly remind him to keep his promise.

Carol Fodera, La Crescenta

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To the editor: This is a political dream of politicians in California and other blue states. Of course it is “doable,” just as California turning red in 2022 is “doable.”

The problem is access to money to pay for it. Until a state can print U.S. currency, this is not really doable.

David L. McDaniel, Capistrano Beach

We can have endless growth or a trash-free world

To the editor: Thank you for Mariel Garza’s informative, carefully wrought, inspiring piece, “The pandemic let us imagine a world without waste.”

What a happy thought — a world without waste.

Still, it fails to reassure me how we get to a “circular economy” without dealing with our unshakable cry for economic growth. For example, countries now address the “threat” to growth by supporting policies that advocate population increases.

The call for a circular economy that grows and demands more people on this earth is an incomplete answer to a sustainable world ecology.

William K. Solberg, Los Angeles

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To the editor: I concur with Garza’s concern regarding single-use plastic. If The Times also concurs, perhaps it could stop wrapping my morning newspaper in plastic every day. There was a time when the paper only used plastic wrapping when there was a risk of rain.

Tom Mitchell, Sherman Oaks

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To the editor: I grew up during the Great Depression and, after that, World War II. For us, the motto was, “Use it up, wear it out, do without.” My grandmother went to the motto’s extreme to the point some called my grandfather “Sam Patches.”

Today’s throwaway, consumer society, caused by human greed and capitalism run amok, has led us to this point in time. I question whether the noble goals of Garza’s editorial are possible for human beings.

But, yes, we must take the first step to preserve our civilization on our beautiful spaceship called Earth.

Charles Van Cleve, Palm Desert

In defense of going to college

To the editor: I am so saddened by what appears to be an anti-academic education trend. (“You shouldn’t need a college degree to have a decent life in America,” editorial, June 6)

Many employers may require college for employment, not just for skills knowledge. Apprentice programs may give opportunities to learn skills, but not what should be the true purpose of advanced education: having a variety of subject matter experiences that develop logical thinking and communication, among other non-"skill” aptitudes.

We should seek to raise educational levels for everyone rather than just put some people into a lifetime job slot. My education allowed me to be a secondary school teacher, after which I became an attorney, now in my 39th year as a practitioner of law.

I hope we can push up, not hold down.

Jacqueline Melvin, Sherman Oaks

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To the editor: In America, school begins at home, fostered by the resources, values and education of parents. Children may also be influenced by what they see around them, whether on the streets of an impoverished neighborhood or on international family vacations.

Even if college prep courses in school are not best for all, I suspect that few high school students aspire to be the clerks and supervisors of current difficult-to-fill jobs. I hope that education can serve a purpose beyond tracking students into the job market.

Rather than submitting to a narrow, remedial curriculum, students need to be challenged and engaged in their coursework. They should learn to think independently and develop literacy in a variety of fields to become knowledgeable citizens of an ever-changing world.

Katharine Paull, Kagel Canyon

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To the editor: Editorial writer Karin Klein claims that a decent life can be achieved without a college degree. She fails to tell us what she means by a “decent life,” and in doing so fails to make the important distinction between education and training.

A “decent life” involves much more than making a decent “living” by producing goods and services. A decent society is populated by decent people.

The problem is not “education inflation.” The problem is a failure to understand that the purpose of education should be to equip students to think critically — to distinguish the important from the trivial, to recognize the difference between truth and falsehood, to discern principle from power, and to develop a sound sense of morality.

The problem is that much of higher education today focuses on producing a reasonable number of graduates in a reasonable number of years, coping with high costs, competing to attract incoming freshmen, and the health and survivability of the institution.

Particularly in a postmodern society, critical thinking is necessary to resist the invidious impact of technology, which provides a hurricane-like downpour of information in which the difference between truth and falsity is unclear. Citizens need to be able to distinguish the politics of power from the politics of principle.

We now live in a society rife with conspiracy theorizing that caused people to invade the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to keep Donald Trump in power. Most of these people had decent jobs; they were not, however, decent people.

They have the capacity to be productive in their employment but not the capacity to discern that they are vulnerable to manipulation by the first snake oil salesman who uses them for his own selfish purpose.

Stephen Sloane, Lomita

Working from home wasn’t invented during the pandemic

To the editor: In reading Kerry Cavanaugh’s editorial on working from home, I did not get the sense that she has talked to actual employers.

She implies that companies will only allow for telecommuting with some kind of intervention. My own experience and a reading of business history will tell you that the situation is more complex. It reflects the diversity of American companies.

I’ve worked in government agencies, in nonprofits and in small and large businesses that used mixes of office work and telecommuting. The decisions on where people worked were made by the employers and employees together.

Most managers make decisions based on the situation of an individual employee and overall team satisfaction. It’s a give-and-take.

Having policies that encourage remote work is positive. Coercing employers to let workers set the terms is shortsighted and counterproductive. Especially now, employers know that employees have options for work locations.

Over time, workers and employers will come to agreements that make sense for all parties.

Laura Curran, Newport Beach

A competition to end homelessness

To the editor: Homelessness is a national and statewide issue, often relegated to cities that are disproportionately impacted. (“To solve homelessness, California should declare a right to housing,” editorial, June 11)

The work of housing experts, the Section 8 “lottery system” and other funding efforts have no doubt helped, but they have proved inadequate. Civic leaders have recognized that prototypes like “Project Roomkey” in California are the only way to do more with limited (albeit growing) funding to eliminate homelessness and the toll it takes on us all.

More funding alone isn’t the answer. I propose an international engineering and design competition to bring new, cost-effective solutions to Los Angeles and our state.

Dan Constant, Manhattan Beach


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