When National Healthcare is Not Mean, but Vindictive, Not Policy, but Politics

New Orleans  Healthcare is a huge part of the overall US economy and, arguably, of critical importance to every American. Regardless of the cliché, it is in fact a question of life and death. Yet we are watching a horror show spectacle of a White House that is clueless about anything but whether or not it can claim a “win,” and a Congress that is cunning and calculating without any field of vision that can see past 2018 and the midterm elections.

Meanwhile the public is treated to media coverage that, rather than focusing on the complexity of the bill and its evisceration of any semblance of public policy, treats the whole affair as if this were an extra innings baseball game and the only real issue was whether or not Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can get enough votes to pass the Senate version before the totally arbitrary deadline of July 4th. Well, perhaps not totally arbitrary, since McConnell is worried that when his caucus goes home for the recess their constituents will kick their asses so badly his whole secret legislative architecture will collapse.

Remember Kellyanne Conway, so discredited as a Trump aide that we’ve been spared her doublespeak recently. Well, she was back on this bill with the outrageous claim that no one can support, that, oh, no, there are no cuts to Medicaid in the Senate bill, which everyone knows is wrong. Good try, Kellyanne, now go hide out again, because this time there weren’t even any headlines following such an outrageous claim.

How about we look at how the Senate went from mean to downright vindictive? Their bill restored funding for what is known as “disproportionate share” money to hospitals. Pay attention in class now, friends, this is important. In places like Louisiana where I live we know a bit about “disproportionate share” payments because in their heyday they figured so prominently in statewide political scandals. Ever popular, former multi-term Governor Edwin Edwards did court and prison time on the issue of having unduly helped some friends get such money to build hospitals in poorly served and lower income areas of the state. Indeed, disproportionate share payments were designed to subsidize health care costs in lower income and ill-served areas originally in order to assure communities that these institutions could survive, because a “disproportionate share” of their patient base was poor. Obama’s Affordable Care Act flipped the script here. By assuring that everyone would have to get insurance and providing subsidies for lower income families and Medicaid expansion, disproportionate share payments would be phased out to pay for Obamacare. In fact now is the time when $43 billion would be reduced between 2018 and 2025.

What did the Senate do in their bill? They buckled to the lobbyists and restored these disproportionate share payments, but, now get this, only to states that had not expanded Medicaid coverage. This allows them to punish those states and their people by cutting the subsidies to Medicaid in their bill and rewarding the scofflaws by restoring the disproportionate share payments.

Now it’s politics that inflicts real pain and terrible consequences. Need a vote in Alaska or Maine, then sweeten the pot on opioid money even though states throughout the country are reeling under such a crisis. Take away support for mental health coverage, but throw some dollars out here and there to get a vote. Cutback money for the elderly poor on Medicaid, but kick the can down the road past 2018 so that you can keep the votes with a wink and a nod until the oldsters figure out the con.

None of this is good policy, and, frankly, I’ll be darned if I even understand how it is good politics, when all of these repeal bills are wildly unpopular in every poll of the American people. The public wants to live, not die, at the hands of government. Why isn’t that news everyone understands?

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Local 100 Leaders Share Skills and Plot the Future

Congressman Al Green (D-Houston)

Houston   When local leaders get together in the annual leadership conferences for Local 100 the room is always buzzing with conversation when a speaker isn’t on the floor or a workshop isn’t scheduled. They are sharing stories about grievances, problems with bosses, membership concerns, and a million other issues, including the always vexing problems around fair wages and benefits. Another theme that has been recurred with added urgency at the 37th annual conference were the every accelerating threats to the very survival of labor unions.

the popular leader and steward panel with Stephanie Newtown (warren) and Robert Stahn (Arlington)

Perhaps the highlight of the conference was a brilliant workshop on leadership development, unit maintenance, and grievance handle moderated by Robert Stahn, chief steward of one of our newest units in Texas of bus drivers and attendants with the Arlington Independent School District, and Stephanie Newton, one of the team of stewards and activists at the Southeast Arkansas Human Development Center in Warren, Arkansas. There was a lot of back and forth and other key stewards weighted in on everything from how they recognized “union material” in new workers to the importance of handling grievances on the job site in the Dallas County ISD. Sister Newton, with very little warning that she was moderating the session, demonstrated why she is such a revered steward by the members in Warren and so feared by management by reeling off a list of almost a dozen “must-do” tips for handling grievances beginning with the importance of understanding the rules, procedures, and contract when members have one. Brother Stahn inspired members with the story of how Arlington drivers had won a 5% putting starting wages over $15.00 hour in the district and pulling up attendants as a priority as well.

Given that Local 100’s members are lower waged workers, there were both reports and discussions on how to move forward on “living” wage campaigns. The members voted to make a $10 per hour wage the absolute bottom line on our contracts and facilities, while hearing a report on the New Orleans fight to get cleaners the benefits of a $10.55 minimum which has thrown the union into court against the city. Plans were made for healthcare and community home workers to insert themselves into the legislative budget process in Louisiana to impact reimbursement rates and force some sharing to bring wages and benefits up. Arkansas state worker members are involved in a similar process and shared their efforts. Another workshop showcased our success since the last conference in getting lead tested in Houston and to some degree in Dallas and the need for constant followup.

workshops on lead raised a lot of questions

Congressman Al Green from Houston had opened up the session with a report on the struggles in Washington over consumer protection, healthcare and sundry other matters. Green is seeking to trigger impeachment proceeds for President Trump as well. State Representative Ron Reynolds detailed the fight to prevent a loss of payroll deductions for public employees in Texas which is part of the call for a special session there.

Texas State Representative Ron Reynolds from Houston

The union recommitted to fighting to keep affordable healthcare and protect Medicaid which is so critical in our workplaces and communities, while also discussing new initiatives and organizing models for the union that recognized the changing circumstances of workers and the service economy.

Everyone learns things at these conferences. I got instructions on how a “bus arm camera” works to photograph cars that go around school buses and ticket them for $300 in Texas, as well as device called a “zonar” that drivers are required to use in Arlington on bus maintenance, inspections, and attendance. I also asked how many members had checked the union’s website and Facebook pages in the last 30 days, and received a wake up call about our need to communicate more directly not only on worksites but also through robodialers and going old school on phonebanks between leaders, organizers, and members.

Merging the big picture and the constant details makes any leadership gathering of union leaders and stewards essential.

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Texas Passes Discriminatory Adoption Ban and California Implements Travel Ban

AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN VIA AP
Cantor Yitzhak Ben-Moshe, Pastor Brad Fuerst and supporter Kim Jones along with dozens of clergy and faith leaders rallied outside the House Chamber at the Capitol in Austin in opposition of bills they consider anti-LGBT.

Houston  Before going to the annual Local 100 Leadership Conference, I took a look at the Houston Chronicle to see if there was any local news. There was a weird front page headline, “State Fires Back at California Ban,” prompting me to ask my hosts, what the frick was this about? The answer was an OMG moment!

The Texas legislature in its peculiar wisdom had passed a bill which they called the “Freedom to Serve Children Act,” which – and I was so incredulous about this I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t imagining this – gives publicly funded adoption agencies the right of a “religious refusal” on adoptions. This isn’t just just standard garden variety gay-bashing so common among the cowboys up there. This was a hater bill discriminating broadly on just about anybody. Not only could such agencies refuse to place children in LGBT households, but they also could fence off unmarried couples, single mothers or fathers, and non-Christian prospective parents from their services, while still continuing to feed from the public trough supported by all Texas taxpayers. According to news reports, such agencies provide 25% of the adoption services in Texas at this point. All of this is unbelievable, but equally surprising, at least to me, given how blatantly discriminatory such legislation is, Texas wasn’t even the first state to pass such a bill. South Dakota seems to have done so last spring.

So, you might wonder, as I did, how California got themselves in the middle of this mess? Well, California banned all state-funded travel to Texas because of this blatant discrimination, especially against the LGBT community. Somehow I had missed this as well, but Texas is the 8thstate on the California travel ban. Of course South Dakota is on the list, but so is Kentucky and Alabama. They are joined Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee in the gang of eight. Texas legislators were quoted hoping that Governor Abbot would let them extract revenge on California in the coming days of the special legislative session, so stay tuned for more word bullets flying.

For now it’s just a spit fight. Abbot claimed that who cared, arguing that businesses are fleeing high-tax Cali for wild west Texas. Spokespeople for California put their nose in the air and noted that, oh, really, then why is California the 6th largest economy in the world, recently surpassing France in that position. No one every misses a shot at France it seems.

Don’t get distracted by the bizarre craziness of all of this. The bottom line is that this act and others like it are just plain wrong and are state-funded and supported discrimination. Doing so while hiding behind the cloak of religion seems even more shameful.

Once you stop laughing, start fighting.

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Republicans’ Healthcare Bill: Is it Loving the Rich or Hating the Old, Poor, and Disabled?

U.S. Capitol Police arrest a health care protester outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on June 22, 2017.(Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images)

New Orleans  Ok, it’s alright if you admit it. Deep down, way deep, way down, some of you hoped that the Senate would really write a healthcare bill that looked and tasted a little bit like Obama’s Affordable Care Act. When President Trump said that he thought the House Republicans’ bill was “mean,” some of you felt a glimmer of hope that maybe the Senate Republicans would get the message and come up with something less draconian. You knew that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy of doing everything behind closed doors in secret was a bad omen, but still, this is America, hope springs eternal, you thought maybe it would not be god awful, run-to-the-bathroom-sick at first sight terrible. Bad news, all hope has been dashed. The Senate version of a “mean” bill was a we-can-top-this even meaner bill.

The raw elements have emerged. The mandate for everyone to get health care is history of course. Tax increases for the rich that had funded much of Obamacare and transferred those taxes into increased coverage for poorer Americans were also eliminated. The Senate added a couple of years to the phase down, which might for a minute seem like a better deal until you realize that they shrank Medicaid even more than the House had done. The Senate believes they have compromised by allowing states to keep expanded Medicaid which benefited millions, but staying or going is up to the states, and staying also means that in the coming years they will pay a larger and larger share of the cost of Medicaid and any subsidies that are also timed out. Oh, and for good measure, so much for some of the guaranteed national benefits for those needing maternity care or mental health support.

Somehow the Senate sees this whole Obamacare as a two-fer. Not only do they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and sock it to the poor while re-feathering the nest of the rich, but they also want to cap Medicaid on the federal level, rather than allowing it to continue as an entitlement. By ending the entitlement they also want to punish seniors who exhaust their savings before they are old enough for Medicare as well as the disabled who depend on Medicaid for their health care in addition to SSI payments for their support. This isn’t a war on the poor, but a wholesale massacre on almost any group of people not standing in line with a contribution and a ticket to some Republican’s fundraiser.

And, get this, for some of the Senators, none of this is enough. Four or five of them are claiming this bloodletting didn’t go far enough so they won’t vote to carry this garbage until it smells even worse. There are also a couple of moderates who seem slightly perturbed that some of this might stick on their shoes, but it is unclear that they are willing to crawl out on the limb.

What’s really going on here? Do they really love the rich that much? Do they really hate women, the poor, the old, and the differently abled so much?

What can people do now to keep this horror from happening later?

***

Please enjoy The Deslondes – Hurricane Shakedown

Thanks to WAMF.

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Where Can Workers Live and How Will They Get to Work in Driver-less World?

New Orleans   Wow, there’s a lot of hype these days about the coming driver-less world of self-driving cars and trucks. Some say we’re not going to own cars at all. We’ll be sharing them or maybe co-owning them with neighbors or some random somebody.

I wonder who is going to be hailing such a ride, and where they are going to be living?

I guess first we should be clear that all of this must be mainly talking about urban areas, not the vast expanses of the United States. These sharing arrangements depend on having people ready and able to share, which requires density.

Does this spell the end of the suburban cul-de-sac? Is the old two-car garage out there going to be remodeled and rented out as small unit worker housing?

Soaring housing cost and rents in the urban center not just in Washington and New York City, but even in Detroit and New Orleans, mean that families living on service-worker wages are either living only a step above homelessness in crowded and dilapidated housing or are commuting long distances to work from the best available, affordable housing. Will these new forms of transportation be cheap enough to get people to work? Are we talking about robot-bus lanes and driver-less vehicle carpool lanes? Simply eliminating the wages and benefits for a frequently union driver is not going to lower the cost of bus transportation and related transportation that is already ridiculously expensive in many cities.

Are cities that can’t afford to pave streets now able to afford the transitional infrastructure costs? Will states and federal governments, dominated by more sparsely populated rural areas, be willing to finance these technical adaptations? How are two parallel systems of transportation going to work together during what could be a lengthy transition? Heck, cars and bicycles are having trouble living together without blood on the streets. What will road rage look like when a pickup delivering produce from the country gets a fender bender from a driver-less car? I already know what will happen to a robot driven vehicle is such a situation!

We have a society that can’t sort out homelessness or figure out a way to evacuate 50,000 lower income, transportation-less people when a hurricane is bearing down, but somehow our heads are spinning over a Jetsons’ style future knocking on our doors, when we are still working out the questions, much less having answers to them. So getting rid of sprawl and the suburbs sounds good, and stacking people up in cities might work, but people will still need a place to live and work with wages sufficient to make this all possible.

The techies and their promoters better sober up before they stumble in the streets, drunk from their own Kool-Aid, especially while many of us are still driving on them.

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These Behemoth Tech Monopolies are Starting to Own Everything!

New Orleans   When Amazon suddenly buys Whole Foods, and some hidden part of your psyche suddenly feels a pang of regret for Walmart, you know you’re in trouble and that something has gone awry in the world. Walmart was an easy target. They were everywhere. Amazon is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but having them around the corner at a Whole Foods, even though I don’t shop there, makes me uneasy.

Are there any limits? Where are the boundaries?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Kindle. My neighborhood pet store is so haughty and off-putting that I get my dog food from Amazon as well and save money and time while doing so. I needed a cheap phone for international calls that Google offers, but they are out of them, but Amazon will come through for me.

But, Google is also scary. European regulators are about to levy a record fine on them for privileging their own advertisers in their search algorithms. They are in a blood fight over who will control self-driving vehicles with Uber in a battle of the tech titans, although other techies and even legacy car makers are in this race, too. I use Google. We have channels on YouTube. Their maps are a godsend to the lost wayfarer. But what do they know about cars?

Not that Uber gives any comfort. Their CEO and one of the founders was forced out of the company by his big time investors, largely because he was out of control, but, hey, Uber has been out of control and past the pale in its business practices and disregard for local and national laws and regulations since it began, and they seemed unworried until there were too many headlines.

Facebook and Google are somehow going to manage the news and police internet postings. Maybe we don’t want the government doing that, but are these folks qualified since their priorities are running ad engines. Recently I read a new book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, and it’s a good one. The author made the point about the arbitrary and capricious rules of both that have endangered – and even jailed – organizers and human rights activists around the world. Their policies have both given voices and taken them away with equal impunity. All of this despite the fact that their business is communication. Did I mention the fact that the head of Amazon now also owns The Washington Post and produces TV and movies?

The disrupters become the establishment, too. AirBnb wants to be more like a hotel. Uber and Lyft want to replace car ownership, buses, and taxis. Amazon wants to automate the grocery business. Despite the branding hype and their own self promotion, all of this is not in the name of public service, but private profit. If you need any proof, look at the destructive impact these tech billionaires are having on public education, where they are clueless, yet leading the way in random directions.

Increasingly, we are finding out who is in charge, but nobody seems to be on watch and those that are seem to be sleeping at the switch.

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