Supporting Grassroots Struggles over Immigration

New Orleans   In the wake of the Trump-Ryan debacle of play-pretend healthcare reform, the Republican gunfighters of the circular firing squad are now talking tax reform, debt ceilings, and other intricate problems that will confuse the living bejesus out of the American people. Oh, and of course in the current mess it is easy to forget the other mess that is still front-and-center since the inauguration, but is now framed in “bans,” “extreme vetting,” dropping foreign student applications, canceled school trips to the US from Canada and other countries for fear of border problems, reduction and stalled business investment in Mexico, and all manner of very personal trauma and uncertainty in communities all around the country, and of course the president’s “big, beautiful wall.” Yes, we’re talking about immigration. For all of us keeping score, let’s remember that the healthcare disaster is the second major domestic policy disaster of this new administration, because immigration is at heart a local, not a foreign policy issue.

Talking to Mireya Reith, the founder and executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, recently on Wade’s World, was a constant reminder, if anyone needed one, that the fight for immigration reform and the life decisions that teeter on every twitch and tweet from the White House are daily dilemmas at the grassroots level of millions and millions in the United States now. Reith is based in Walmart and Tyson country in northwestern Arkansas, but with seven support and information centers around Arkansas in places like McGeehee, DeQueen, and Fort Smith, not to mention Little Rock, it’s hard to get more grassroots than her operation.

Reith worked heroically in the interview to keep her remarks positive, but it was a medal winning effort, because the stories were rending. For every school district she mentioned that was stepping up to support children afraid to go to school, the list was obscuring the silence from many more as well as from the state, not to mention her story of some teachers telling children in their classrooms right after the election that they needed to leave the country and do so now. Whole families are retreating into the shadows now all over the country, and Reith and the United Community Coalition know their names in their communities.

That part of her job is hard, but perhaps not as thankless as her reports of having recently been in Washington talking to her local and state Congressional delegation about the continued need for immigration reform and the human faces of these issues in the community. Once again Reith was relentlessly positive about the reception she received, including from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has been touted as something of a Trump “whisperer” in the early days of the administration. Cotton, whose raw ambition and extreme conservativism has him on many short lists on the right as a comer nationally, is also the architect of one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate. Not satisfied with drumbeating about undocumented immigration, his proposal is to reduce even legal immigration more than half and more than even the Administration is proposing.

Only eight years ago the fight was to get real immigration reform on President Obama’s agenda in the first hundred days, which we lost. Now the fight is almost to keep so-called immigration reform off of the agenda for the first two hundred days of this Congress, when most believe is the only time the legislative window is open before mid-term elections make most anything impossible to pass. We have to hope that Reith’s work and that of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and other grassroots pro-immigrant groups around the country are successful in saving America’s reputation and principles as an open and welcoming country to all, and we have to support their work as much as possible in these chaotic and dark times.

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Membership Proves the Value of Strong Links

New Orleans   In this moment of social network ascendancy we are being bombarded by the presumed power of even the flimsiest connections. We are asked to click a “like,” retweet a comment, get linked to various networks, hit a button for a petition, and forward an email to someone or another.  Buy something on a site, and you’re asked to trumpet it on social media presumably so your purchase for whatever reason might act as a shiny lure attracting someone you know well or marginally in their own life stream.  Meanwhile all of these actions, large or small, are packaged and sold by sundry companies trying to chart the path of our digital footprints from all of these transactions.

Decades ago my friend and colleague, Joel Rogers, professor of almost everything at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, introduced me to the political theory that focused on the strength of weak links.  I had been marveling at the way the almost tiny central body of the AFL-CIO in the smallish Plains and Panhandle city of Amarillo, Texas, was still able to speak for the working class there while commanding some capacity and political voice despite their small membership and distance, if not estrangement, from the rest of organized labor in the state and nation.  They had weak links indeed, but as the active and legitimized voice of labor, they also had strength.

The strength of weak links has always been my touchstone in understanding the influence and perhaps the power of social networks.  In the absence and alienation of other ties, these links, no matter how fragile, perform with some level of strength.

When it comes to organization though we are now more often mobilized rather than organized.  The meaning of membership even begins to be increasingly diluted in many organizations as variable donations distort the meaning of membership dues in the eyes of some organizers and activists.

All of this came to mind as I quickly flipped through the local newspaper.  While breezing through the final pages of the first section without even reading the obituaries that now find their home there, something caught my eye, long trained in an almost Pavlovian way to see  the word, “ACORN,” whenever it crops up. I stopped and focused, and, sure enough, there it was in the obit of Lemealue Lewis Robinson, celebrating her long life and mourning her passing, her family, her many activities, her church, and then in a separate paragraph saying,

“Mrs. Robinson was also a member of Louisiana ACORN (Association of  Community Organizations for Reform Now), and a helpful neighbor, seeking to encourage and assist anyone who wanted to better their situation.”

This isn’t unusual either. It shows up on my Google alerts regularly, and a month doesn’t pass by in my hometown without such a mention.  All of this serves as a reminder of the importance of ACORN in the lives of our members and more significantly the immense value of their membership to them personally as part of the highlight reel of their lives. What few understand, or perhaps resist, is coming to grips with the unique strength that an organization forges with strong ties, rather than weak ones. Maybe some leaders and organizers are intimidated about building this level of loyalty and the accountability and stewardship it demands, when the attachment and dedicated of the members goes from shallow to substantive and profound? I don’t know? I do know it’s hard to build, but I also know once those links are welded like steel, the strength those ties create surpass pushing back to allow us all to forge forward.

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Healthcare Lives Another Day, but Does Trump Have a Way to Win?

New Orleans   The Trump Tower has now been reduced to rubble. Ryan’s House is a shambles. Obamacare is now with us “for the foreseeable future,” according to the Speaker.

Right now the Affordable Care Act is better than nothing, but it could be nothing better.

The best news of the Trumpcare debacle and the inability of all of the concessions and arm twisting producing nothing is that it may have taught the President to write off the so-called Freedom Caucus, committee of no way. After having given away the store of all of the essential guarantees of the ACA, even the inclusion of children on parents’ policies until 26, which reportedly even the President understood was past the pale, the no-birds were still flying and demanding more, more and more. They had already pulled the bill so far right that what remains of moderates in the House of Representatives were forced to run from the bill and declare they would vote no. One lesson we can hope that Trump has learned is that these folks don’t negotiate in good faith, and it is worth walking away from their demands and their skinny 30 odd votes in their secret caucus, if you have a job that you want done.

Given the obstinence of the Republicans to countenance any fixes over the last seven years – and, yes, many are needed, as we have argued continually, especially capping deductibles – there might be an opportunity to get something good done if the President, the moderate Republicans, and the Democrats in the House and the Senate finally looked at “repair,” rather than “repeal and replace.” The polling on this recent abomination of a bill, thankfully pulled off the calendar, had indicated only 17% support and 56% opposition with 26% undecided. The Republican effort was failing most miserably among the so-called Trump base where as conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote that it was 26% “underwater” among non-college educated whites and an amazing 46% “underwater” in the 50 to 64 year old age group where people are more likely to forget to take their pills that day than they are to forget to vote. Trump couldn’t threatened to punish Congressman by mobilizing his base because they were in the bathroom losing lunch at the prospect that they would lose the healthcare they had gained under the Affordable Care Act.

If Trump wants to govern and we want to live through these next couple years, the President needs to stop all of this alt-right baloney and crazy flirting with the far right wing, and get closer to the where real deals are made. Even his former Breitbart Rasputin Stephen Bannon was reportedly disgusted with the concessions and bargaining posture of the far right, and that’s saying a mouthful.

I can remember presidents in Peru getting so low in popularity that they were hardly making it to two-digits. Trump is on his way there and the slope is no longer slippery, but fully greased unless he figures out a way to put the brakes on. Experts estimate that any new Congress only has about 200 days to get anything done for good or evil until mid-term elections suck the votes out of the room. For Trump and his gang 60 of those days are already gone, and we’ll all be counting on the death watch now.

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Trump’s Broken Promise, Cavalier Giveaway of Basic Healthcare to the Rightwing

New Orleans   Incredibly after all of the promises of a better healthcare program, all the President wants now is a sale, no matter how shoddy the merchandise. This is the short con. Meeting with the so-called Freedom Caucus, he agreed to get rid of the Affordable Care Act’s “essential health benefits” guaranteed to everyone as part of the basic health plan regardless of cost. This doesn’t include the caps on senior pay, the ability to cover children under parents policies until 26, or the waivers for pre-existing benefits all of which this bill is also giving away or the fact that his concession bargaining has now lowered the supposed savings by more than half.

Regardless, let’s just review the ten essential benefits that all Americans stand to lose as a reminder of why this entire package should be dead-on-arrival to the Senate, if it ever makes it there.

The Affordable Care Act’s Ten Essential health benefits include:

  • Ambulatory patient services (Outpatient care). Care you receive without being admitted to a hospital, such as at a doctor’s office, clinic or same-day (“outpatient”) surgery center. Also included in this category are home health services and hospice care.
  • Emergency Services (Trips to the emergency room). Care you receive for conditions that could lead to serious disability or death if not immediately treated, such as accidents or sudden illness. Typically, this is a trip to the emergency room and includes transport by ambulance. You cannot be penalized for going out-of-network or for not having prior authorization.
  • Hospitalization (Treatment in the hospital for inpatient care). Care you receive as a hospital patient, including care from doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, laboratory and other tests, medications you receive during your hospital stay, and room and board. Hospitalization coverage also includes surgeries, transplants and care received in a skilled nursing facility, such as a nursing home that specializes in the care of the elderly.
  • Maternity and newborn care. Care that women receive during pregnancy (prenatal care), throughout labor, delivery, and post-delivery, and care for newborn babies.
    Mental health services and addiction treatment. Inpatient and outpatient care provided to evaluate, diagnose and treat a mental health condition or substance abuse disorder. This includes behavioral health treatment, counseling, and psychotherapy.
  • Prescription drugs. Medications that are prescribed by a doctor to treat an illness or condition. At least one prescription drug must be covered for each category and classification of federally approved drugs.
  • Rehabilitative services and devices – Rehabilitative services (help recovering skills, like speech therapy after a stroke) and habilitative services (help developing skills, like speech therapy for children) and devices to help you gain or recover mental and physical skills lost to injury, disability or a chronic condition (this also includes devices needed for “habilitative reasons”). Plans have to provide 30 visits each year for either physical or occupational therapy, or visits to the chiropractor. Plans must also cover 30 visits for speech therapy as well as 30 visits for cardiac or pulmonary rehab.
    Laboratory services. Testing provided to help a doctor diagnose an injury, illness or condition, or to monitor the effectiveness of a particular treatment. Some preventive screenings, such as breast cancer screenings and prostrate exams, are provided free of charge.
  • Preventive services, wellness services, and chronic disease treatment. This includes counseling, preventive care, such as physicals, immunizations, and screenings, like cancer screenings, designed to prevent or detect certain medical conditions. Also, care for chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes.
  • Pediatric services. Care provided to infants and children, including well-child visits and recommended vaccines and immunizations. Dental and vision care must be offered to children younger than 19. This includes two routine dental exams, an eye exam and corrective lenses each year.

Read and weep. Listen and pick up the phone and call Washington. Now!

***

Please enjoy Blondie’s Long Time.

Thanks to KABF.

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Pork Barreling and Horse Trading with Ryan’s Healthcare Disaster

New Orleans  They might have the votes, and they might not have the votes to get this mess of a healthcare abomination out of hardcore ideologue and Speaker Paul Ryan’s House, but all signs point to a squeaker that will smell like it crawled out of a dumpster by the time it gets to the Senate.

We already know that the President and his people will say virtually anything without regard to fact or fantasy, and they seem to be using that proclivity in hyper-fashion with recalcitrant House of Representative moderates, saying that the Senate will fix and modify the mess. Most folks on the used car lot that Congress has become would walk away from that lemon.

For the suicidal, largely anonymous so-called Freedom Caucus, they have bent over backwards to take something terrible and make it even more horrid. They want work mandates for Medicaid despite all evidence that establishes that not only are these ineffective, punitive, and needless, but that people need healthcare to get well, so that they can work. Ok, here you go! Some of them want funding of some programs to stop immediately rather than in 2018, so, hey, let’s accelerate the death spiral for another vote or two. Anything goes these days.

And, talk about pork barreling and horse trading for votes in this district or that, and any principles go out the window. Congressman from upstate New York want to push the share of the Medicaid bill from the county coffers to the state for a billion or more, no problem, if these couple of Congressman are Republican and the Governor of New York is a Democrat. Heck, make him pay up. Some coal miners with black lung realizing that they could be hammered by cutbacks in Medicaid that are keeping them alive, no problem, write in an exception for coal miners with black lung.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Even if something emerges, it is going to be jerry-rigged like a Rube Goldberg contraption. They are already asking the American people to pretend this will be some kind of viable health plan, and now they are going to ask us to pretend it will actually work.

No one likes this thing. Republican and Democratic governors are aghast. Doctors, hospitals and the elderly associations are up in arms.

This is clearly no longer an exercise in healthcare policy. This is all about big league politics now. They need to prove on the first bill coming out of the Trump barn that they can win. No matter what or how bad the smell.

Whatever happens in this first vote, no one can believe anymore that this is going to end well.

***

Please enjoy Big Boys  from the late great Chuck Berry.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Santiago.

Thanks to KABF.

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The “Janes,” Heather Booth, and Underground Abortions

New Orleans    I’ve known Heather Booth for a long time, probably forty years, as a respected colleague within the allied trades of our work. I first knew her as the director and one of the founders of the Midwest Academy, which was, and still is, a Chicago-based training center for organizers. Later in Washington she managed voter registration and engagement programs and was an excellent partner on our joint efforts, and continued to be a voice and advisor with considered and valued opinions. Prior to meeting her, I admired the fact that she had spent time as an organizer in the South during the civil rights movement.

In many ways I now feel I only knew the half of it as I read a snippet of the oral history of the “Janes” in the recent issue of Harper’s Magazine and Heather’s history in founding this pivotal service for women in the fraught times before the Roe decision made the right-to-choose a foundational principle of our time and legalized women’s access to abortion, which is threatened so acutely now. My admiration for her work now knows no bounds.

The story is straightforward though, despite the courage and conviction it evidenced. Heather tells of being a college student in 1965 at the University of Chicago. A friend’s sister found herself pregnant, desperate, and without options. When her friend asked her for help, she reached out for the Medical Committee for Human Rights who then in turn put her in touch with a Dr. T.RM. Howard, and her sister’s friend’s problem was solved. Next thing she knew “word must have spread.” One called and then another, and Heather realized this was a real situation crying for a solution. She arranged a system with Dr. Howard. She was living in a dormitory and all of this was illegal then, so she would tell people to “ask for Jane.” And, so it continued for another three years until 1968. Heather threw out a rope looking for help when she attended various political meetings asking if any women wanted to help provide counseling for other women, and thereby recruited a team of “new” Janes to take her place.

This went through a number of iterations with various folks handling women looking for help and forced to follow the surreptitious route necessary to receive it successfully. People would donate their homes for the procedures. Women would meet other women off-site, make them comfortable, and bring them into the homes. These were feisty sisters, more formally known as the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation or Janes, as everyone called them. Doctors would refer people to them and the Janes would call the doctor and say, hey, this is Jane, help us, but few did. Eventually, they were raided in one of the homes and seven were arrested. No one was willing to testify against them. Eventually the Supreme Court decision in 1973 made the matter moot and the Janes shut down, but by that time they had facilitated about 11,000 abortions.

I’m proud of Heather, but there may need to be many more Heathers who are willing to become Janes and fire up this underground railroad to provide this service and meet this life changing need, so this story is one worth learning and learning well.

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