Time to Make a Deal for Time Served for Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a UN report as he speaks on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Friday. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a UN report as he speaks on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Friday. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

New Orleans    Remember Julian Assange, the founder and director of Wikileaks that back in the day, you know before Edward Snowden, released a Pandora’s Box of leaked information that brought down governments and exposed some of the nasty little secrets and weird dealings of so-called diplomacy? Well, the United Nation’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared that Assange has been arbitrarily detained by the actions of the British and Swedish government over sexual assault allegations back in the day as well. Assange is now better known for having been an asylum seeker holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, than he is for his Wikileaks’ work.

As organizing dictum always holds, you live by the press, you die by the press. Assange a master media mini-mogul in his own right had smartly declared the day before the UN report release that if the Working Group said he was NOT arbitrarily detained, then he would present himself to the British and be done with it. I imagine this was a cheap thrill of a headline since anyone who can mastermind releasing millions of pages of documents outlining the secret activity of governments around the world, certainly would have known ahead of time exactly what the report was going to say. Come on, man!

And, the British and Swedish governments didn’t yawn at the report, finding Assange aggrieved and wrongly restricted, as much as spit at the report and tossed it towards the garbage bin. Both stories were web-lines more than head-lines and virtually buried as footnotes to the news, rather than news itself.

The report actually was pretty clear that the Swedish prosecutors had botched the mess badly. There is still no clear allegation of a crime and in most countries even the accusation would not have necessarily been an offense given the largely consensual nature of the experience according to reports. I’m not sure there’s even a felony charge attached to this embarrassing and shameful mess. The problem, if you recall, is that the Swedes want to question Assange, and stubbornly refused to do so except on their own soil. Assange, convinced he is still on the Most Wanted List in the US, has argued that he would be extradited to the US if he went to Sweden, and round and round the merry-go-round goes. The UN group was clear that this is all past the pale, no matter what anyone’s opinion of Assange might be, and, essentially argue, let’s get on with it!

The press clearly doesn’t think this is news. The governments are just letting the clock run out on Assange until the Ecuadorians get tired of having him as a houseguest or President Rafael Correa loses power, and they can try a do-over.

In the United States it would be time for the lawyers to have a sidebar and maybe take a nolo contendere plea and call the Ecuadorian encampment “time served.” Like it or not, Assange should take the deal and get a life again and do the work. The governments have also made their point about their great power and impunity. Enough said. Let’s move on.

Uncle Sam Wants All of You and Will Freeze the Rest

mf-recruit-stationNew Orleans     As the United States attempts to adapt the military to a state of permanent war, the decision was obviously made by the top brass and the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter that the “new” armed forces needed everyone on board with this, no excuses accepted. The all-volunteer army in a state of permanent war obviously requires some concessions for recruitment, and that’s where it starts to get very interesting, and somewhat bizarre.

If the generals and admirals had to accommodate themselves to gay and lesbian recruits, that was one thing. And, now if the old school brass had to accept the fact that women, if and when willing and able, are to be deployed in combat roles, then who is surprised that one of the latest recommendations from the generals is that all women should register for the draft, just as 18-year old men are required to do. Take that, sisters! Uncle Sam wants you, too.

Secretary Carter bumped up all of the military family leave to twelve weeks recently to send the message to the troops that the new armed forces are oh so family friendly. Some branches of the service even go past twelve weeks to eighteen weeks and counting.

Now the Secretary has indicated they are going forward with a pilot program over the next two years before opening it up to everyone. In this program the US is willing to freeze your sperm and eggs and put them on the shelf for you in case you need them later. How about that? Overnight the US government will without a doubt fund the largest deep freeze operation in the world. What a deal?

I find myself stumbling over what a recruitment officer’s rap will be to new recruits though? Uncle Sam wants all of you, but will save some leftovers for later? How do they keep positive when they are explaining to a young man or woman thinking about signing up, that, oh yeah, we end up with a lot more folks surviving debilitating injuries and living with permanent disabilities because of the miracles of modern medicine, but, hey, here’s the good news, nothing may work again, but you’ll still be able to have children and soon as get your stuff unthawed. Sign up here!

Admittedly, it’s a more honest approach than telling a recruit that they’ll get career training for nonexistent jobs later or a chance to see the world, if they are interested in deserts and mountain ranges they never imagined. But, the way I always heard the rap it played on the fact that we were all young and thought we were bullet proof, despite all evidence from the body counts to the contrary. This freezing your junk option, pretty much forces everyone to come to grips with the odds that they could lose their reproduction and sex organs. Is the world so different now that an 18 or 21 year old is willing to take that deal and be satisfied with social media and a refrigerated future, rather than sex and the old do-it-yourself program?

Admittedly this is a pilot program, so we’ll see, but listening to the old men and women debate about this expenditure in the various Congressional defense and armed forces committees is going to make C-Span more popular than the Comedy channel for a while, despite the tragedy inherent in every part of the discussion.

If Rubio is a “Moderate” Republican, We’ve Got Trouble!

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a rally Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a rally Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

New Orleans   Ok, I called the Iowa caucuses for Hillary, based on the strength of her organization, and sure enough her organization pulled it out for her by a hair, though in delegates awarded it was a tie, and, maybe, we’ll see down the road, where she might end up with more in Iowa at the next levels. Sanders still looks good on my bet for New Hampshire, but after Iowa I’m scared to death. Clinton is still the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination, but the fear I’m feeling it is all about the general election. Entitlement doesn’t count in that contest and nothing crashes like a retread when it blows out. This could break very bad. Not just because of Clinton’s campaign and her posture as a candidate, which surely has to be corrected, but also because of this so-called Republican establishment and what it considers a “moderate,” especially when applied to someone like Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Nate Silver, who I still miss when his 538 blog ran in the Times, took a look at Rubio as a “moderate” almost exactly three years ago. Puzzle this, my friends, when Silver mashed up the polls on voting records and weighted the scores statistically he found Rubio had a score of 51 on the scale of conservatives, a couple of points to the right of the average in the Republican Congress. Yikes! And, more conservative than McCain, Romney, and George W. If he’s a moderate, what was Attila the Hun? Silver finds,

The last two Republican presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, had a score of 39 by comparison, meaning that they were more moderate than Mr. Rubio. Mr. Rubio is also rated as being to the right of Ronald Reagan, who had a score of 44, and George W. Bush, who had a score of 46. Among Republican presidential nominees since 1960, in fact, only the extraordinarily conservative Barry Goldwater, who had a score of 67, rates as being more conservative than Mr. Rubio.

Fast forward to today where Rubio is already legendary for reneging on immigration reform and a respected site thinkprogress.org highlights the problem on Rubio’s distinctly immoderate positions. Their short list includes these horror stories:

· He wants to permanently extend the government’s controversial spying programs.
· He has pledged to roll back marriage equality.
· He supports multiple voter suppression efforts.
· He doesn’t believe in climate change.
· He opposed federal action to help prevent violence against women.
· He believes employers should be able to deny birth control to their employees.
· He doesn’t think women who are victims of rape or incest should be allowed to get an abortion.

He’s young, he’s Cuban-American, his wife is not an ex-President, but an ex-Miami Dolphins cheerleader, and he’s from Florida, which is a must-have bellwether in a general election, and he’s Teflon with little backstory or record, and we could have big, big trouble. She can beat Trump or Cruz, but Rubio is dangerous.

Some of his Republican opponents slam him as being the “Republican Obama.” They may think that’s a slur, but I’m scared: that’s Clinton kryptonite!

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2013/02/19/us/politics/conserv-chart/conserv-chart-blog480.png

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2013/02/19/us/politics/conserv-chart/conserv-chart-blog480.png

Internet for All

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.26.18 AMNew Orleans    If we want to make a difference in income inequality, there are some easy and accessible first steps that we can take and one of them is to lower the digital divide.

ACORN Canada released a report based on a survey of 400 of our nearly 80,000 members across the country, and it was impossible to miss the point.

Looking at the facts in the report, the survey found that:

· 58 Percentage of Canadian households with annual incomes of $30,000 or less with home Internet access.
· 98 Percentage of Canadian households with annual incomes of $120,000 or more with home Internet access.
· 83.5 Percentage of ACORN survey respondents who find high-speed Internet “extremely expensive.”
· 59 Percentage of survey respondents who pay for Internet by forgoing other household necessities.
· 71 Percentage who used food money to pay for Internet services.
· 64 Percentage who used recreation money to pay for Internet services.
· 13 Percentage who used rent money to pay for Internet services.

ACORN had already prodded Rogers, one of the telecom monopolies in Canada to offer a $10 per month program but it was limited to public housing, largely in Toronto. Several other companies have come on board, but as the facts indicate, not enough has been done to reconcile the fact that access to the internet has now become a basic utility.

The ACORN report came out while the Canadian equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission or CRTC continues its review of Canada’s basic telecommunications services first begun in the spring of 2015.

The ACORN demands are straightforward:

Specifically, members are asking for:

$10/month product for high speed (15 megabits/second or equivalent to high speed in area);

Families and individuals below the Low Income Measure as eligible to qualify;

Subsidized computers for qualifying families and individuals.

The LIM or low income measure in 2013 was $20,933 for an individual and $41,866 for a family of four, after taxes. These are demands that resonant across North America.

One ACORN member told the story to the Toronto Star that might be repeated a million times,

Toronto single mother Kashima Wright had to give up her home Internet last fall when the bills began to top $100 a month. Now she and her 6-year-old daughter Nalise have to walk to the local library to go online.

“I just couldn’t afford it anymore,” said Wright, 25, a personal support worker who earns about $1,700 a month after taxes and pays more than $1,200 a month in rent.

“I don’t want my daughter to fall behind in school,” Wright said. “But it’s not always easy to get to the library to help her with her homework.”

Facebook is flying drones over Africa. Google and Alphabet are reporting record profits. Cable and telecoms are making record profits. Canada, the USA, or wherever, this is a problem that can be solved, and if the divide is not closed, then the gaps show up everywhere and inequality spreads like a disease.

Drug Makers and Drug Access are Out of Control

indexNew Orleans   In the fight against the Affordable Care Act much was made of so-called “death panels,” as many may remember. Years go by and now we have something in place a lot like that now, and there’s not much never mind. When it comes to money or life, pretty much everyone has become resigned to the realization that money will win almost every time in such a contest.

Nonetheless, recent news that there were as many as 150 different drugs in critically short supply was not sobering, but shocking. The rationales were across the board, and they included production and manufacturing problems, abandonment by companies of drugs because of puny sales, supply line problems, and probably hoarding, though I don’t remember that being on the list. Some of it also had to do with predatory pricing on some drug therapies by companies charging exorbitantly for new treatments, like Hepatitis C, where almost $90,000 per year was standard, based on the companies’ argument that the cost was cheaper than transplants. The stories of hospitals unable to get enough chemo and other cancer drugs so they were having to lower dosages, deny access, try something else, or choose between the old and young in a deadly triage based on these shortages were horrible.

Having recently interviewed James Lieber about similar issues, many of which he had researched in his book, Medical Error, I reached out for him to give me a better understanding on whether the problem was the way I was looking or what I was seeing. Lieber’s finger pointed right at the drug companies:

 

Yes, these shortages and triaging are highly conducive to medication errors. Big Pharma plays a lot of games with pricing, and shortages which are often artificial is a main one. Another, which is related, is for hospitals to get kickbacks when they order high priced drugs, especially chemo agents, which can be in short supply. The dangers are real when physicians can’t order and nurses can’t administer the right medicine. It’s unethical practice in both professions. For people to sit in hospitals compounding by hand basic medicine is a crude throwback. Modern medicine requires adequate supplies of pre-measured drugs in the correct dosages. And where is the FDA which should be guarding our safety in this space? In bed with Pharma that’s where.

Yeah, good point! Where the heck is the Federal Drug Administration, supposedly a watchdog and regulatory agency of the US Government? Shouldn’t they be watching over this and both talking and swinging a big stick? How about some executive orders on this, President Obama?

Lieber has a recommendation, though it’s in the “pay me now or pay me later” vein. He says, let’s put clinical pharmacists in the mix right at the point of care:

I’m a big fan of clinical pharmacists who should round with doctors in hospitals and long term care making sure that patients get the right meds from the start. This cuts way down on errors, but is often considered an unnecessary expense.

Lieber also pointed me in the direction of my brothers and sisters at ACORN Canada, where they don’t have this problem. As Lieber says,

Truth to tell we’ll probably always lose this battle as long as all providers have to compete for and in formularies that rarely have complete stocks, a byproduct of our dysfunctional multi-payer system.

 

Maybe that’s not much comfort to us now, but it’s worth remembering that we don’t have to live – or die – this way.

Latest Report on Union Density Finds a Finger Hold on the Cliff

16-union-difference-chart-frontNew Orleans   The top-line numbers from the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report on union membership density in the United States for 2015 indicate little change, sort of a “no news is good news” kind of story. Private sector density continued to suck at 6.7% of all private employment, but that was a slight improvement over an even worse figure in 2014. Public sector density was over one-third of all public workers at 35.2%. Membership was slightly higher in absolute terms in the private sector with both over 7 million workers, and the total union membership was almost 15 million members, which isn’t what any of us would want, but is still something to work with. Half-empty or half-full, that’s where we stand.

A closer look at the numbers continues to be disheartening. The states beating the averages are still bi-coastal with some hunkering down in the Midwest with the south east and south central states all below the median numbers with many of them at the bottom of the barrel. Five states had total union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2015: South Carolina (2.1 percent), North Carolina (3.0 percent), Utah (3.9 percent), Georgia (4.0 percent), and Texas (4.5 percent). Arkansas and Louisiana for example were both in the 6% range for total union membership density. Nationally the rate is over 11%. None of that is encouraging.

Union workers continue to make considerably more than non-union workers, but that does not seem to drive robust recruitment. The BLS figures have non-union workers making about 79% of union rates.

Adding to their list of challenges, part-time workers are still stepchildren in the labor movement. The union membership rate was 12.2 percent for full-time workers, more than twice the rate for part-time workers at 5.9 percent. Such workers are being gigged hard.

If you are looking for opportunity and challenges there are some sectors that are literally crying for unions. Low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.2 percent) of course, finance (1.3 percent) which is also hardly a surprise either, food services and drinking places (1.5 percent) despite the extensive fight for $15 effort, and professional and technical services (1.7 percent) where Silicon Valley types, doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs all get a free ride. Leisure and hospitality in general went down to 3.6% which really hurts since there are more than 12 million workers in that sector. Healthcare and social services, where there are 17 million employed, almost held its own at 8.3% which is close to 1 of every 12 private sector workers in are union members. Retail and wholesale trade where there are more than 18 million workers was even worse with barely over 5% in unions, so there’s a lot of opportunity there at least on paper.

Commentators pointed out the obvious on this year’s numbers, though that didn’t make it less painful to hear as they moaned that time – and money – were running out. Loss of union shop protections for public sector workers could drain the coffers of many unions and decimate organizing resources. As the Service Employees have demonstrated, campaigns like the McDonalds and Fight for $15 effort where they have spent millions for years without the realization of any membership gain, require huge capital being spent now hoping to find the interest later. Few unions are willing to do that, and the 2015 numbers indicate that even fewer every year may be able.

We still have a finger hold, but we’re hanging by a hair and dangling over a cliff. Don’t look down!