Sorting out Obamacare Problems Now

obamacare-premium-mapAmersfoort   To the degree that the final version of the Affordable Care Act was neither fish nor fowl and represented a compromise between those that hated the entire concept and those that were trying to make the best of whatever slices of the original loaf were left, we all knew that problems were inevitable. Over the last five years we have been treated to regular and confusing reports from the battlefront, but nothing that ever fixes any problems, some of which are normal and predictable in a huge, new program. Without progress many fall out of love with Obamacare, even as more than ten million have enrolled with huge positive health impacts. Now consensus is building that any new president will have to fix the plan in the coming year, though no one seems sure about the fix or how to come to agreement on a cure.

What to do?

Some notions are almost simple-minded. One I saw said the quick fix was essentially a minor tune-up. Raise the amount of the subsidies for lower income families so that they can absorb the higher premium costs, and raise the level of the penalties to force more of the young and able into the program.

I’m all for raising the level of subsidies, if there can be agreement on that from whoever emerges as the new Congress, but raising the level of penalties is not a real solution to anything. The quick fix folks think that the fact that 260 million Americans or covered by healthcare on their jobs means no problems there, but that’s wrong too. Or, at least it isn’t the whole story.

Many penalty payers are not necessarily just the young and healthy, but also lower waged workers caught in so-called company coverage that ostensibly is offered, but because of the combination of premium cost and exorbitant, almost no-limit deductible charges, means that almost whatever the penalty level might be, it will still be cheaper than paying a premium of 9% of your pay and then having to pay many thousands of dollars in deductibles before you get any real benefit from the so-called insurance. This is really not medical insurance but catastrophe insurance, meaning if you know you need a major operation, maybe you pay. If not, you take your chances and pay the piper. Luckily, it’s taken out of your IRS tax refund, so you can pretend it hurts you less.

A lower waged worker caught in the service industry by these kinds of premium plus high deductible policies would need to be making more than $20 per hour for full-time 40-hour per week work to make it worth taking the insurance rather than paying the penalty. In some healthcare companies where we have contracts, like the service contractor giant ResCare for example, there are literally no takers out of more than 400 workers. I know people who are literally saving up for a CT scan because they don’t have insurance and are paying the penalty, making their health care “cash-on-the-barrel.” The quick, simple fix does nothing for any of these people and pretends that the United States is not dominated now by the service economy and its workforce.

The argument for a public option, a government-funded insurance of last resort, for these workers and others that can offer real competition and leverage to the private insurers makes sense, as Jacob Hacker, the political scientist and health care experts has argued. That’s still not single-payer or any kind of a system that takes private insurers out of the market, but the last years have already established that there’s no free enterprise in this marketplace. There are private insurances still waiting for subsides — $2 billion from the government – and there are regular folks getting subsidies and more that need them who are caught in the bind. Either the government needs to let workers and families caught by corporate insurance gimmicks that technically qualify under the Act, but are worthless in reality, come into the marketplace and get subsidies if qualified, or set up a public option that offers real coverage for this huge segment of the population.

The justice of raising penalties to catch the scofflaws doesn’t work when we still need a lot more mercy or stiff requirements on corporations to provide real insurance coverage.


Good Political Parties are Good Community Organizations



volunteers making calls at night for the health care campaign

Amersfoort   Being embedded in the offices of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands for several days to help on the field programs involving their campaign to reform the private insurance-based health care system in their country, I have been able to sit in on a number of meetings with local chapter activists, leaders, and volunteers. After all of these days a lesson emerges that is surprising, but should not be: good political parties are good community organizations, and good community organizations create strong local parties. It seems simple to say that, but the task of getting it right is very difficult and complex.

There are forty different political parties in the Holland of all shapes and sizes. The Liberals are not liberal, but conservative. Labor is not all of labor. There is a Green Left Party which is building itself around social media. There is an Animal Party which is largely environmental. You get the picture. Interestingly, the health care reform effort initiated by the Socialists as a nonpartisan, national campaign has the support of many of these parties, even if not total agreement on each plank of the reform platform, along with a number of labor unions as well. 200,000 people have responded to the campaign at this point, and 75000 have asked for toolkits allowing them to take action and recruit more supporters. Just like any good, national organization, this is good, solid basic organizing where they have constructed a campaign around an issue with deep, broad-based support in order to win reform certainly, but also assuredly to build their party organization. That turns out to not be a simple task because of various privacy and database sharing restrictions in the Netherlands, but increasingly the glow from a popular and aggressive campaign is lighting the path to building a stronger party as well.

As interestingly to me have been the stories that lie at the infrastructure of strong local party chapters, because they are almost invariably stories of strong local campaigns. Chapter leaders from Utrecht, one of the largest Dutch cities, met the field and educational team for several hours. They told of having identified a particular neighborhood where they had little organization historically, but usually a solid vote. They wanted to build an organizing committee and door knock the area to build support. They even created a rudimentary application for smartphones with or without internet as a tool to use on the doors with pre-loaded addresses and a way to upload in the field or on a home computer the results of the visits as well as a ranking system from “a to e” to classify interest and support of their organization. The committee and the door knocking process turned up an issue around housing improvements that was compelling for many people. All of this is good, solid, basic community organizing. They had built a pool of 30 people who were willing to door knock and could reliably pull out 15 or so to do the work. This committee was largely from outside of the community and they did not ask people to join, so there were differences, but when they told of winning a housing issue that delivered a victory for about 240 families, it wasn’t so different from the best stories ACORN community groups would tell. When they did get around to asking for support in the form of selling a local newspaper, 90% of the folks were glad to pitch in a euro to do so.

They weren’t alone. Another chapter in a smaller city in the south won a local, neighborhood issue in a area with many elderly families. In a small suburb of Amsterdam, attendance at a local meeting soared to 200 on a national program where even the largest chapters were only pulling 80 to 120. The secret was no secret to any community organizer. They had knocked on the doors.

Historically, political parties were built like grassroots, community organizations. Where party members who are volunteers are still willing and motivated to do the work, that’s how strong local organizations are still built. The result is infectious and leads to things like a national healthcare reform campaign. It’s nice to be reminded that this is how politics can still work from the bottom up, since we witness too many campaigns, like the current one in the United States where everything is from the top down and local organization is mostly rumor and rarely fact.



Say So Long to Megyn Kelly, James O’Keefe, Fox News and the Gang

faux_news_logoNew Orleans   What a political season! We’re counting down the days now, but some things are increasingly clear at the margins.

The sell-by-date may finally be here for New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Mr. Grouch, Rudy Guiliani, the former Mayor of New York City. It takes a crew like that hovering over the green rooms of Trump defenders to make Christie look good, even if he’s still in high water over the political vendetta bridge closing now in trial. With friends like these, no wonder Donald Trump is in constant trouble! If they are defending his honor, how can it be a surprise that he is obsessed with public humiliation according to even more recently released tapes of interview with him by a former biographer.

If this gang of three is finally around the corner and perhaps gone for good once the votes are counted, it looks like James O’Keefe, the video scammer, is breathing his last milliseconds of fame as well. Yes, he caught a heartbeat in some corners by tricking another couple of loose lips talking about Democratic dirty tricks, and a close friend of my said that viewing the video was pretty horrific in truth, but it had short legs and minimal traction in the klieg lights of this campaign. It wasn’t really about either Trump or Clinton, and that’s the story now in capital letters from Fifth Avenue to Wilshire Boulevard. I noticed a brief squib in a Milwaukee paper where O’Keefe was trying to file a Federal Elections Commission complaint based on something in Wisconsin accusing the Clinton campaign of colluding with PACS. The campaign spokesperson for Clinton virtually chortled in glee, saying that, first what they were doing was legal, and implying that how did the O’Keefers not know that, and then harping on why Trump hadn’t field his tax returns, so getting his licks in. The reporter ended the story reminding readers that O’Keefe had selectively edited the ACORN tapes, had paid $100,000 to one of the ACORN workers, and went through O’Keefe’s arrest for trying to bug ex-Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans. You just can’t clean all of that kind of stuff off your shoes.

These folks are left with only one megaphone and that’s Fox News, and of course they are loud and clear over there, but that’s not enough for the real conversation anymore, and they have their own chaos and trouble. Who knows what to make of Megyn Kelly anymore? I’m not a fan of Kelly’s, not because she interviewed me years ago, but because she didn’t keep up her end of the agreement her producers made, but that’s business. She did humiliate Karl Rove in 2012 when he tried to spin away the Obama victory election night, and she did stand up to Trump at least a little bit and took his best shots, and seems to have done the right thing on the fall of Roger Ailes at Fox, and now she’s recommending anger management courses for Newt Gingrich, so let’s agree that she’s not all bad, even if she’s raw ambition on steroids. She may just be a product of her bad Fox environment. I’ll make a safe bet that she’s totally out of there when her contract runs out for darned sure.

Without all of these folks sucking up airtime and attention, future campaigns just aren’t going to seem the same anymore. Thankfully!


Organizing Props Matter in a Campaign

organizers for Netherlands national health care reform campaign against "own risk" admire their crowd magnet

organizers for Netherlands national health care reform campaign against “own risk” admire their crowd magnet

Amersfoort, Netherlands   We were meeting with the organizing team for the national healthcare campaign in Holland. The campaign has hit a deep nerve in trying to push private insurers back out of the market place and arguing that there is not a national healthcare system when huge numbers are not participating because of an “own risk” system requiring significant additional payments that are preventing people from using health insurance. Suddenly, someone opened the door of the conference room, and announced that the truck was here. In no time, any other business was deferred, as we all went down to the driveway behind the building to see the truck.

Being old school, I assumed we were all being dragooned down to help unload boxes of some sort or another from a delivery truck, but not this time. Instead we were greeted by a giant campaign prop. This was something else!

one of the organizers takes a punch at "own risk"

one of the organizers takes a punch at “own risk”

The truck was painted in the rainbow colors of the campaign with the cross signifying the health care fight. There were huge metallic letters fabricated over the bed of the old truck, an Opal Blitz, with theater lights spelling out Eigen Risico or Own Risk. When the designers started pulling stuff off the truck, I quickly realized that we hadn’t seen the half of it yet. Two more pieces were manhandled off of the truck. Once it was placed upright, it became clear it was a punching bag like one you would find at a state fair. But this one was rigged to a computer which made it much different. The operator would type your name into a computer. An IPad would spell out that “Nils is Hitting Own Risk.” When Nils took his swing, the lights began flashing on the truck spelling out the words Own Risk again, very dramatically. Meanwhile there was a camera mount aligned to the overhand bag, so that when Nils or anyone else laid a roundhouse on the bag it also took a picture. There was router and wireless connections behind the IPad structure which caught the picture matched it with the address and sent an attachment of the picture to the swinger’s email. Within minutes, Nils had an email that was a short video of him hitting the punching bag and an explosion of colors coming out.

the truck is something else

the truck is something else

What an intricate campaign prop. One of the designers told me it only took two weeks to build the contraption, as it was a lot more than that just “thinking it through.” Talk about bells and whistles. Old school carney act comes to the digital world!

If you want to win a campaign, it helps to have props for actions and rallies, and here’s one that it is easy to imagine is going to be a hit when members are working marketplaces trying to get the word out to friends and neighbors.

This was pretty much one that it is safe to say most of us “couldn’t do this at home,” but as something advancing a campaign and creating a happening in town after town, this bad boy is going to be hard to beat.

campaigners debate campaign colors and clothing

campaigners debate campaign colors and clothing


Counting Down, But All Over But the Shouting – and Hard Work!

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

New Orleans   Donald Trump’s campaign manager is a political professional. She has now admitted that they are behind without any hanky-panky accusations or artifice. She argues that there is still a possible path to a Trump victory but it is minuscule. Aggregates of all polls and predictions are rating Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning at 90%. Clinton is now putting money and time into states where Senate races are in play on the chance that with her victory and four seats swinging to the Democrats with the VP as the deciding vote on a party line division, control would shift. Few see a flip of thirty seats in the House, but most seem to believe that the margins will tighten and it could fall. President Obama is putting muscle and work behind more than 150 state legislators to see if control of some statehouses and chambers can be jilted to achieve more balance in the states. Obama has also committed to supporting former Attorney General Eric Holder’s project to try and impact redistricting in 2020 and reduce gerrymandering.

All good, but here’s the big but….

Turnout predictions are way down. Early voting is happening in Florida and North Carolina, and Clinton is pushing for more turnout, but numbers coming from Ohio so far are considerably down compared to the two Obama elections. This is even true among African-Americans where Clinton’s strength is huge.

In fact, television interviews and newspaper reports with black millennials are depressing. I read one wondering “why would I waste my time?” I saw a television piece interviewing a half-dozen very bright black millennial activists, and no matter how many times the interviewer posed the threats of a Trump candidacy, they were immovable on voting for Clinton, and perhaps voting at all. The third party candidates, god love them, don’t seem to have picked up the Sanders movement, so that seems less of a monkey wrench in this election, but voter antipathy to the candidates and a feeling that it’s over before it begins could spell trouble.

Here’s where the hard, usually invisible work of a field program comes to the fore. The AFL-CIO says it’s putting 100,000 volunteers on the streets of battleground states over the coming weeks. The Clinton campaign has invested deeply in offices and staffing in many battleground states in order to maximize the get out the vote effort, while Trump’s ground game still seems to consist of multiple rallies of the faithful. This is also where having a financial advantage helps the Clinton campaign by allowing them the resources to fuel the field. I even heard about a unique effort by some techies to encourage vote trading from blue to red states, but I doubt if that’s a movement. The additional incentive that Trump has offered the opposition is the need to pile up the score in order to de-legitimize any allegations of election rigging by administering an electoral beat down.

Nonetheless, it all boils down to getting yourself in gear and down to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th. Don’t go alone. Do your piece to make democracy work a bit better. Pressure your relatives, call your friends, post on your Facebook, Twitter, whatever, and let your small voice roar one way or another.


Is This Really the End of Email?

password-creator-for-androidNew Orleans   In the wake of massive and disruptive hacking of emails in the corporate and political world, there was a piece in the paper the other day essentially announcing the end of email. The author was making a case that it was time to return to direct and telephonic communication on any matters pretty much more important than a grocery list. We might wonder about all of that even if it is abundantly clear that soon email systems should come with a caution or a cigarette pack warning that pops up before you hit the “send” button. In fact, is there already an app for that? If so, we should all get it!

We think of email as ubiquitous now with a gazillion messages sent daily, but is it? There’s every indication that texting, Facebook messaging, Snapchat, and even Instagram are more common communications tools for many of the under-30’s in the developed world than email. No small part of that may be the ability to utilize a more informal language and briefer protocols than even common in emails. On the other side of the divide, there are the old dogs, and there are some of them still barking in union halls, corporate corridors, and even political offices who have their assistants print out their emails and often handle their replies.

Some of these dogs know how to bury their bones or at least keep others from uncovering them. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina was quoted during the first of the Democratic National Committee released by WikiLeaks that he had never used email yet, and had no plans to ever use email in the future. I’ve often told the story of Mayor Marc Morial of New Orleans, now the longtime head of the National Urban League, based in New York City, telling me he looked forward to leaving office so he could see what a Blackberry was like and use email. Politics is almost the ultimate transactional business, so at the best some were huge fans of the Animals and were always humming, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and at the worst, well, as Hillary Clinton’s email program has demonstrated, let’s just not go there. On the other hand we had John Podesta a former White House Chief of Staff and ultimate political professional using a Gmail address, when he must have known even if never hacked, Google never destroys emails leaving a permanent record just out there waiting.

Can we keep email and use encryption? I’d like to think so, but then there’s the federal lawsuit trying to break Moxie Marlinspike’s best-in-class system. Can messaging encryption like WhatsApp be better? Maybe, but then I read a long article in The New Yorker about the coup in Turkey and how the Gulenists were in deep trouble once the Turkish intelligence got into their homemade app called ByLock that had 200,000 users forcing them to “go underground” with something else called Eagle. We’ve all read about the FBI having to pay big bucks to “unlock” an IPhone. You have to wonder whether or not there’s anything that cannot be hacked?

Should we worry about this at all? Most of us not only have nothing to hide, but pretty low key, boring correspondence and lives for that matter in the eyes of the outside world, even if vital to ourselves, our work, and families. Nonetheless, we’re somebody, too! Do we just sigh and accept the tradeoff between privacy and convenience? Do we exchange paranoia for openness?

Where is this all going? My companera and I watched an episode of a widely touted, and supposedly “most relevant” show on television the other night on Netflix. The episode featured an implant behind the ear and a small thumb drive size device everyone carried around constantly that filmed and recorded every part of everyone’s lives, allowing someone to search back in old experiences from their past, unless they had deleted it. Is that where we’re going? If so, I guess we should enjoy email while we have it, and start calling these days, the good old days!