New Orleans Some twelve million people may have enrolled under the Affordable Care Act, but that doesn’t mean that Obamacare can catch a break. Everywhere we turn there seems to be more potholes on the road.
Of course there’s the decision due in June by the Supreme Court on whether or not subsidies can be offered to the poor to enroll in the states where the federal government runs the marketplace. Worse, dozens of current and former Congressman basically are saying that the four words that are in contention in this challenge were basically a “whoops, my bad” drafting mistake that was never part of debate or deliberation, but always assumed a “no brainer.” Unfortunately that could still be enough to eviscerate health care coverage for lower income families in many states.
Now new studies and data are also pointing out the obvious problem with tax penalties not being effective in forcing enrollment when they come many months in the spring when taxes are due and long after the enrollment window has closed to gain coverage under the Act. Interestingly, the lower income families seem more responsive to the penalties than those with more income hinting that the penalties might even be too low.
But, even past these almost technical problems, the concern we have often expressed that too much of the employer and marketplace coverage is simply too thin to cover the care is also becoming more obvious. Too many people are woefully under-insured.
New estimates from the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey for 2014 found that 23 percent of 19 to 64 year-old adults who were insured all year – some 31 million people – had such high out-of-pocket costs or deductibles compared to their incomes that they were technically almost uninsured. 11 percent of privately insured adults had deductibles of $3000 or more in 2014, making any health insurance they might have, catastrophic at best. The inability to limit deductibles is a huge crisis for lower income workers and their families with these low rider policies.
Normally, we could expect that what is broken could be fixed, but given the political season and the whooping and hollering that continues to be embedded in Congress in the far right efforts to deny healthcare to millions, there seem to be too many holes and not enough shovels.
Go Ahead And Die! (Pirates Of The Health Care-ibean) Music by Austin Lounge Lizards
New Orleans There are some things about the rise of smartphones and their ubiquitous cameras fueling social networking that seems distorting. To see a crowd shot of a demonstration by workers at the Los Angeles City Council or a stem winder of a political speech at a rally and have your eyes see scores of hands held up with smartphones strikes me initially as off putting. Somehow the passion has leaked out of the picture I’m seeing, even as the passionate are taking pictures. Is this a real experience or a photo op? What is the visceral imprint of life filtered through a camera? Is something happening important to people in these moments or are these musings knocking on the door of latent fuddy-duddy rants to come?
Sure, there’s a part of it all that’s just plain moronic and dangerous. AT&T did a study that found that not only is texting unfortunately ubiquitous while driving, but that 27% of drives between 16 and 65 admit to using Facebook behind the wheel. 14% said they use Twitter while driving too and 30% said they do this “all the time.” 10% of those surveyed said they video chat while driving, and let’s be
honest, that’s scary! 17% take selfies while driving, and let’s be honest, that’s just sad.
Either naturally or through discipline and training as an organizer, listening and looking are my learning tools, but what I find intriguing in all of this, no matter how disturbing, is the degree this urgent, almost irrational, need to share speaks to a desperate search for community. Talking recently about “desktop museums” was interesting because of the numerous reactions to the notion. Many commented that back wherever they once called home, there were similar websites and Facebook pages that were widely attended and “friended.” In the rootlessness of modern life, people are obviously still digging deeply wherever for
their roots wherever they can find loose dirt, but are also seeking shared experiences that can define their community and in so doing give definition to their own lives.
Sara Dean, a former colleague at ACORN, reached out about her experience
now as an architect and designer now working on the West Coast, who was
excited about an ACORN “desktop museum.” She commented that now she works on “… digital interface, both looking at crowd-sourced structures for storytelling and empowerment. Actually community organizing structures translate to this: how particularly are you asking the public to engage, what their incentives are, socially or community-wise, to do so, how to make it clear they own the tool and the outcome…etc. And really, how do the structures ACTUALLY be community-owned. Often crowd sourcing is another method of sourcing information from a community, not giving it to the community.”
All of her points are important, but her warning is also significant, because this desperate search for community, sharing, and crowd sourcing by individuals is also being monetized and manipulated by the Facebooks, Googles, and the like, not just NSA. As organizers how do we embrace modern tools to build real community that satisfies and competes with contemporary claims but still creates both voice and action in the public arena, raised smartphones or not? There’s no going back at this point, but making the way forward really work is a challenge. Somehow we still have to maintain the highest value for the actual experience,
rather than the virtual and shared facsimile. There is still no substitute for bottoms in the chairs, feet on the street, voices raised, and bodies on the line, whether anyone took a picture of it and shared it on Facebook or not. We can’t make change just by liking it, but our community has to be attractive, compelling, and inclusive on terms that translate as now, not as nostalgia for then.
New Orleans Whatever happened to Julian Assange of Wiki-leaks and Edward Snowden of NSA mega-leaks? Well, Assange has now done 1000 days in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he received political asylum, and Snowden remains in Russia where he has been given a 3-year visitor visa. Amazingly, though the investigations by the USA and the hard feelings from the administration continue unabated.
On the whole, Snowden seems in better shape than Assange. He has become quite the video star appearing frequently via big screen internet connections everywhere from college campuses to Austin’s South-Southwest extravaganza, as well as a starring in the Oscar winning documentary, Citizenfour. He might even be able to take comfort from the 10 ½ hour mini-filibuster that Senator Rand Paul waged on the floor to prevent renewal of the Patriot Act because of the privacy breaches proven by Snowden.
Assange is quite simply a more complicated character and harder to like on almost every count. And, then there’s that rape charge in Sweden, which right or wrong, has an undeniable “ick” favor that is hard to get by.
The endgame on Snowden will be long running and would require a plea deal under a different President and Congress along with détente with Russia. Count on the fact that he is going to know another language pretty well before he ever puts a foot on American soil again.
Assange, amazingly, may be near a break in his case. The stalemate seems to be breaking on the question of being interviewed by the Swedish prosecutor. It’s hard to remember that Assange has never actually been charged with a crime in Sweden. He’s been avoiding the domino effect that appearing in Sweden for the interview could subject him to extradition to the US on charges of espionage, which Michael Rattner, his lawyer with the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, calls the “classic political crime.”
An exchange on this issue between Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” and Rattner illuminates his situation pretty well:
AMY GOODMAN:“…the director of public prosecutions in Sweden, Marianne Ny, issued a statement. She wrote, quote, “My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial in the future. Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward.”
MICHAEL RATNER :”Yeah, well, she’s not telling the truth there. The Swedish Supreme Court just issued an order to the prosecutor saying, “Explain the investigatory delay in this case.” The lower court said to her, “This case has not preceded according to Swedish law.” So, it’s not right. She could have done this questioning a long time ago. Of course, one of the big problems with this is that, meanwhile, the U.S. has continued its intensive investigation of Julian Assange. Just a few weeks ago, they admitted that they were going forward with an espionage investigation.
As always, it’s hard to keep up with these cases once they fall from the front pages to the back pages to no-news-at-all, but these fellas are more than mere footnotes to current events, so it’s worth keeping an eye on whether or not they remain isolated in foreign lands as men without countries forever as prisoners of conscience and action.
Little Rock ACORN created the Fifteen Street Corporation to buy a building at 523 West 15th in the mid-1970’s, which housed all of the various operations of our family of organizations including not only Arkansas ACORN but also KABF/FM, Local 100, and at various times our training institute, housing corporation, and random tenants. The building’s biggest claim to fame may have been a front page picture in the Washington Post shortly after Bill Clinton’s election to his first term as President where he was bear hugging, Zach Polett, longtime head organizer in Arkansas and ACORN’s national political director. The building was the backdrop for the shot, if you looked closely. Almost 25 years later a larger, more rambling building was bought in 1998 at 2101 South Main Street that had been the law offices of the labor and civil rights firm run by Jim Youngdahl, long a friend, ally, and frequent probono lawyer for several of our operations.
Having been a commuter moving through the vast spaces of the building over the last couple of years checking in with Local 100 and managing KABF and stumbling over our vast stores of dated material and ACORN memorabilia, the Fifteenth Street Corporation has always been yawningly supportive of a notion that we should make a room an ACORN Museum and somehow show what we have to members and others interested in ACORN’s fertile and vibrant history. The designated room is workable enough between the station’s studio and the Local 100 office on the second floor with its biggest obstacle only being that it’s on the second floor. There have been two larger impediments. One is that the room had to be cleared out from its long history as a storage, dumping pile for whatever. Unfortunately as I peck away at this task on every trip to Little Rock it sometimes seems the Sisyphean task, since for every box I throw out or designate to the ACORN archives at the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s Social Change Collection, in my absence some other set of left-behinds will try to reclaim the room as storage. The other problem is the contemporary challenges of all museums, no matter how small our ambitions, which is how to imagine getting bodies through the door, second floor or no.
On Wade’s World, I interviewed a self-described historian, Paul Perdue, specializing in Pine Bluff, the smallish city some 45 miles below Little Rock on the Arkansas River. I had met Paul when he send me a random Facebook message asking if I knew of any photographs of ACORN’s first office on 5th in Pine Bluff in the 1970’s. Although we struck out on that search, I asked Paul what he was up to and he described something he called the Pine Bluff Desktop Museum. As he told me and KABF’s listeners the Desktop Museum is largely a collection of 34 or so photo albums of different situations and time period that he maintains at this point on Facebook. This may sound peculiar but this is actually part of an interesting phenomena of largely unheralded crowdsourcing of history that is more common that you might imagine. I overhear relatives, friends, and others frequently talking about the time they spend on Facebook sites memorializing old scenes and sites in Little Rock, New Orleans, and other places, so I wasn’t surprised that Perdue had hit the 5000 Facebook limit and was being inundated with photos from Pine Bluff people which he would scan and return or store in his climate controlled attic if warranted.
As do-it-yourself as this all sounds, I’ve read about great museums efforts to put large parts on their collections on the internet to increase access and viewing. I’ve been to the pocket museums in the Amsterdam airport that feature regular exhibitions from some of their great museums. Why not take this little room on Main Street and blow it up larger by collecting, identifying, and displaying photographs and artifacts on the web of ACORN’s long and continuing history?
Paul Perdue’s notion of a “desktop museum” might be just the trick.
Washington Can Protests Budget Cuts at the State Capital
Little Rock Like most people, I’m pretty sure the quality of my life is directly improved in proportion to my ability to avoid this strangely named thing called “webinars.” Surely, that’s a weapon that is used in some old Star Wars movie, not an organizing tool?
I’m not going to change my mind about webinars, I don’t think, but this one organized by the Alliance for a Just Society was playing our song about how to force hospital accountability, and all of our team wanted to learn every chorus. Listening to the presentations by Will Pittz of various hospital campaigns waged in recent years by Washington Citizen Action Network was a joyous sound. It was almost embarrassing how many questions our folks were asking, but we were hungry for this.
Washington CAN detailed campaigns that they have fought in Tacoma, Seattle, and Spokane with both nonprofit and for profit hospitals, including some in the huge Catholic and Deaconess networks that are among the largest in the country. One early insight Pittz shared that was worth the price of admission was that they had found for profits more responsive to meeting about improving charity policies than nonprofits, and not only did that resonate with our own initial experience where letters to nonprofits in Little Rock, Dallas, and Houston asking for a meeting to discuss these issues has thus far been met in silence, but was convincing that we needed to target them equally even though the Affordable Care Act handle on nonprofits is so much stronger. The nonprofits, rules and tax exemption be damned, are hunkering down hoping that they can continue to do business as usual and the patients and communities be damned.
Amazingly Washington CAN in fact had won a financial assistance policy at one for profit that set us back on our heels: 300% of poverty guideline eligibility for full charity care and at 500% of poverty 75% charity care. We had been assuming that we might be lucky to win a clear standard in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas at 200% of poverty for charity care from nonprofits, and the notion that anyone, anywhere could win this 300 to 500% standard is a game changer, and with a for profit unheard of. At one point in the webinar, and OK, I’ve used it in a sentence, so I guess I’m now saddled with this preposterous word for life, Pittz asked the listeners if anyone had won or heard of a higher standard because it would be helpful to him to know. I don’t know Pittz, but he delivered the line sincerely without seeming to brag, but, believe me, there was nothing but silence in response to his call. This will be the gold standard for holding hospitals accountable in this campaign, trust me on that!
None of the Washington campaigns seemed easy. Their efforts were significantly resourced and determined, involving hitting 2000 doors in the area of one hospital, putting up 500 yard signs, and essentially throwing the kitchen sink at them. Not quite the sink, the PowerPoint, and, yes, I’ll admit I studied one of those bad boys carefully, too, it featured a cute tactic of holding a “debtor’s carnival” under a canopy on the grounds of Swedish Hospital in Seattle.
Washington CAN’s experience has led them to distill some standard demands not only on poverty guidelines, but also on brass tack items like the length and detail of the applications, which many of the nonprofits are using to discourage and disqualify desperate people, winning a straight forward 2-pager in some cases. They also have fought for – and seem to have won in some cases – the ability for patients to back file for charity care and by doing so extricate themselves from court and debt collection procedures, which is also huge. They did a group filing for charity care, which was right up our alley as well.
We’re going to drink this Kool-Aid and share it with as many thirsty organizers as possible!
Members of Unite Here Local 11 in the Los Angeles City Council chambers on Tuesday before the Council voted to increase the city’s minimum wage from $9. Credit Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times
Little Rock Lower wage workers might not be reading the paper, but it won’t take long before the word gets to everyone that Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city, just took a giant leap forward by almost unanimously passing an ordinance to raise wages from $9 per hour where they stand now to $15 by 2020. They join Seattle, San Francisco, and Emeryville, California in the Bay Area in moving the needle forward. For some, and maybe for many, this could be a game changer.
Besides raising wages, the LA move knocks down some other barriers as well. The wage is indexed to inflation so even after 2020, it will “keep giving” and stay up with the economic times. There might just be a knife, or at least a pinprick, as well in the heart of the tip-regime for servers, which would be huge in changing the culture of the workplace for restaurants, coffeehouses, and similar locations. California is one of a minority of states, eight to be exact, that do not allow a sub-minimum or tip-credit wage, so literally all boats will rise to $15, rather than just some. The restaurants are already whining that they want to be able to add a “service charge” to help pay for the increase, and if they are successful, that will be an even deeper plunge into the heart of the servile versus service tipping culture, because the customers will get the message even more clearly that they are being asked to directly pay the wages of the restaurants’ workforce. Only the rich and Hollywood big spenders are going to willingly agree to essentially pay twice. This is almost as exciting as living wages!
Will it cost jobs? Will it raise prices? My answer would be “maybe, but….”
Most studies have established that the job loss numbers will be minimal to marginal. In places dominated by the service industry, they can’t move, so they have to stay where the customers are. In other lower wage jobs, like small manufacturing, warehousing, and the like, most of them have already moved out of Los Angeles into the Imperial Valley or Nevada where land costs are cheaper. Others need to be close to the port corridor so for them it’s location, location, location as well. The more interesting question for Los Angeles and other cities that take the plunge will be the impact on “wage compression,” as it’s called: will wages between $9 and $15 also push up towards the $6 number in coming years in order to hold onto valuable staff that are now being paid $10, $12, or $14 and told to like it and they’re lucky not to be at $9? This will be an important and interesting fight for labor in Los Angeles, so well worth watching.
That’s jobs, so how about pricing? The nice thing about an area-wide increase like this one is that everyone is in the same stew, so there is no competitive disadvantage to raising prices to reflect real costs as opposed to the problem that places like our own Fair Grinds Coffeehouse face. The fact that we are fairtrade only and therefore pay a premium for our coffee that is many multiples higher than all of our competition does not mean that we can charge the true price for a cup of coffee. In Los Angeles, prices will rise to some level, but luckily they are rising in reaction to wages, rather than this being Buenos Aires where prices are rising and wages are stagnant. We could all live with this and in fact the New York’s, Sydney’s, London’s, and elsewhere that prices seem sky high while people continue to stream in prove something as well.
The Lakers and Dodgers might not be all that anymore, but the Los Angeles City Council is a team worth watching and rooting for!