A Day Without Women Here is a Day About Women Everywhere

A rally at Washington Square Park in Manhattan to mark “A Day Without a Woman” on Wednesday. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Little Rock   The limits of action without organization are hard to escape, and in the United States the call for a strike and actions by women to show America how badly the country would suffer without the contribution of women and their economic power was bound to suffer from the “revolution of rising expectations” set in motion by the mammoth women’s marches earlier in the year. There were some school closings in Washington. Some businesses were impacted, and of course the impact of reduced purchases or, alternatively, purchases in women-owned businesses are impossible to measure except anecdotally. Ironically, there were many women who said they in fact couldn’t strike either because their work was vital in terms of caring for other women’s health for example or they couldn’t afford to lose the income or the job by acting alone, much of which proves even more emphatically how important women are in the workplace.

I’m reminded of one of ACORN’s less successful tactical actions 45 years ago against Arkla Gas to protest rising gas rates when we called for a Shutoff Arkla Day. Organizationally, it is impossible to prove the negative. But, no matter, the important thing is that women were standing up either physically, symbolically or sympathetically as a reminder that there will be prices to pay for the continued governmental assaults. It was also nice that American women didn’t flinch at joining in solidarity with women around the world who for years have now made March 8th their day.

The history of the day is momentous. The first Women’s Day was originally organized at the end of February 1909 by the Socialist Party of New York. Although some of this story is surrounded in myths of historic protests and strikes, none of that has been confirmed. Driving from Greenville to Little Rock yesterday, I heard the claim that the first Women’s Day was in reaction to the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that killed 146 largely young immigrant women workers in New York City, but that tragedy was actually two years later in 1911. It was likely more a matter of the Socialist Party thinking it was the right thing to do, and though that doesn’t sound as epic, perhaps its very solemnity and morality, speak even more loudly. March 8th became important – and historic – when a century ago in commemoration of Women’s Day, women went on strike in St. Petersburg, Russia demanding an end to World War I, and end to food shortages, and an end to czarism, helping trigger the Russian Revolution. In 1965 the Russians made it an official holiday. China did so even earlier offering a half-day off for women in 1949.

Finally, the United Nations in 1975 adopted March 8th as International Women’s Day encouraging all countries to celebrate the date. What goes around, comes around, and now to their credit, March 8th became a day to remember in 2017 for women – and men – in the United States as well.

Now, if we could just make every day, women’s day in what still is too much of a man’s world.


Healthcare Plan is a Killer

Little Rock   How many of us have heard from our mothers that “if we can’t say something good, then don’t say anything at all.” I wish that were the case with the Ryan and some Republicans’ healthcare bill. So far, I’m failing to find any silver lining, other than it’s not a total repeal where we have nothing, but that’s too thin a reed to grab.

There are still no Congressional Budget Office tabulations on the cost of this proposal or the number of people likely to lose healthcare. Some Republicans are even wary and unhappy about being forced to vote on this thing without even that meager level of information. Reporting by the New York Times finds Standard & Poor’s in a report has estimated that 2 to 4 million people would drop out of the individual insurance market, largely people in their 50s and 60s who are too young to qualify for Medicare because of higher costs. Why? One feature of the new proposal is that it would allow insurance companies to increase the gap for older Americans from three times the young to five times the young causing premiums to soar to unaffordable levels.

Several researchers listed the predictable outcomes of transferring these decisions to the states by citing not theories, but the facts on the ground based on what states had done where they have had discretion in the past and get caught with budget shortfalls similar to the ones faced in the 2008 Great Recession. They talked about the blood on Arizona governor Brewer’s hands when that state stopped paying for transplants and allowed people to die. They talked about how states had dealt with billions of dollars from the smoking settlements with tobacco companies and the meager percentage of the funds that had gone to cessation programs as opposed to budget shortfalls, capital expenditures, and a bit of whatever.

Unbelievably there are some Republican Senators who still bridle at any plan at all. More troubling have been some arguments that some are starting to make that we might be better with nothing at all, though that strains credibility as well.

You know it’s bad when we aren’t even getting into the weeds on things like the impact on women. The ban on Planned Parenthood funding just seems like a bizarre, mean spirited outlier which must just drip with questionable legality. Past the first mention, the fact that people would be barred from buying insurance with governmental support that paid for abortions also seems like a flashpoint that hasn’t gotten much attention. Props though to Planned Parenthood for having pushed away the offers for not only continued funding at half-a-billion bucks but an increase, if they were just willing to make a deal and stop doing abortions anywhere, regardless of the fact that no federal money funds any part of their abortion service anyway. Comforting to know that a least one major national nonprofit is unwilling to abandon its mission for money. That must have been something of a shock to the Trumpsters, though the so-called offer was likely something of a wink-and-nod, and never serious anyway.

Or how about mental health services? Will they continue to be supported? Believe me our partners in Alaska with the Mental Health Consumers Action Network (MCAN) are having emergency meetings and deep discussions about this.

The list is endless. The pain tremendous. The death count will be astronomical.

Here’s my point in a nutshell: all of this is bad, and we still don’t know the half of it.


Republicans Red-Circle and Two-Tiered Medicaid Provision Won’t Work on Obamacare 2.0

Kaiser Family Foundation

New Orleans   The Republicans in the House of Representatives introduced their whatchamacallit healthcare bill which some other Republicans are calling Obamacare 2.0, and you can bet that’s not a compliment. The rest of us might take some small measure of comfort in that, but this is more of a “hold your breath and hope for the best” moment than a relief. Before anyone jumps off a cliff or heads for Canada, it’s important to understand that this hodgepodge of a bill is kind of a rough draft. The House Committees in fact are planning to try and move this bill forward without a firm estimate on the number of people it will cover or, more importantly practically and politically, the number it will not cover. Even more surprisingly, this thing breaks a cardinal rule of all card carrying Republicans: it lacks a price tag!

So, let’s take some deep breaths and a couple of pain pills and look at some of the hidden explosives in their attempt to put their finger in the wind and see what kind of gale force comes back at them. I’m going to avoid some of the easy shots, like the fact that governmental leverage on private insurers and costs seems to be going out the window or that a 30% penalty on any break in coverage is many magnitudes worse than the Obamacare 1.0 penalties or that much of the coverage is going to be catastrophic. We’ll have plenty of time to watch all that unravel as this bill is pulled in on one gurney after another into legislative emergency rooms. We’ll pass on by the deliberate and discriminatory attack on Planned Parenthood or the fact their bill seems to allow no insurance that will cover any voluntary abortion, because we’ll have to address those issues separately and soon.

I’m just going to focus on one of the more egregious and blatantly political and deliciously chicken chirping pieces of this bill. They realize that the major advance in healthcare coverage has been to lower income people through expanded Medicaid, and they recognize that politically they can’t handle the blood on their hands of just throwing people off of insurance without any alternatives. So, their proposal is that they will continue to pay the full federal freight as promised to the states through 2019, so for almost three years. Beginning in 2020 though they would red-circle those enrollees and continue to pay full sticker price for them, but for all new enrollees after 2020 they would two-tier them to a lower level of federal financing. Those of us with experience with labor contracts are very familiar with these kinds of tactics. The goal is see the red circled group gradually diminish or in this case, die, and pay less, often much less for the newcomers. As most companies could share with the Republican legislators, this is a prescription for pretty much universal unhappiness and a political gift to organizers and progressives since it creates a huge, semi-permanent second-class constituency ready to constantly demand first-class status which is the American way.

The Republicans will then be forced to defend something that is their worst nightmare: an entitlement. No matter what lipstick they try to put on this pig, funded high or funded low, it will still be an entitlement, but to their horror it will be an entitlement where the recipients aren’t grateful, but mad as wet hens.

Furthermore, just to see the whole scenario rollout here, what will keep all of the schoolhouse door governors who have been unwilling to expand Medicaid because they weren’t sure what would happen after the first couple of years to the federal-state costs from now jumping into Obamacare 2.0 while the window is open until 2020 so that their state’s citizens aren’t the last ones left behind the door when the health insurance was being given out.

The good news for poor people in the United States is that millions more would be covered, and entitled. The sweet irony would be that the cost of Obamacare 2.0 going into the 2020 election for President would be even higher, the Republicans would have to defend it, candidates would claim they were going to get rid of the two-tiered proposal if elected, and some form of publicly funded healthcare in the United States would be set in stone.


Where are the Citizen and Patient Protests to Protect Affordable Care?

New Orleans   In the activist moment with cries for resistance, I wonder why the healthcare issue is being left behind by many, as well as the current Obamacare beneficiaries, and why we are not all massing in protest at the threats and head fake proposals to replace care?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m aware of the moving stories at some of the Congressional town hall meetings where some of the sick and infirm along with others have asked their electeds the hard, life-or-death questions, involved in eliminating healthcare insurance. I know the risks to the Affordable Care Act and the fear it has stirred has increased support for the Act past 50% in the polls. I know the Koch Brothers are trying to rekindle their grasstips base to demand repeal or else. I know the Freedom Caucus, concerned Republicans, and others are pointing out the costs and naked emperor-has-no-clothes aspects of Speaker Paul Ryan’s so-called secret plan demonstrating their divisions. I know the President has discovered that health care is complex. I know various sides, pro and con, are on the airwaves with video and sound bites.

What I don’t know is why we aren’t seeing people in motion in serious numbers?

With more than 20 million people on Obamacare and many of them on the highly threatened expanded Medicaid coverage the ACA triggered, that would seem a big and bad base ready for action. If our neighbors and friends in this group are just scared and confused, how about the many millions in schoolhouse door states that stubbornly refused to expand care, take Texas for example? Or, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin? Don’t tell me there aren’t millions in that number caught in the gap between low income qualification and not enough income to afford insurance. And, how about all of the service workers in nursing homes, home care, food service and elsewhere with company provided play pretend policies with $5000 and more deductibles who want reform so that they can finally have coverage?

Don’t tell me there are not millions mad and desperate for care?

Where is the campaign that moves people state to state in this fight, like the effort that helped win the fight in the first place? Where are the community organizations that are listening to their members and making this the issue they are moving on right now?

Is the issue too complex as Trump claims? The tactics are numerous, so are the targets the problem? Sure the distance is huge between us and DC, both physically and philosophically, but how about state legislators and governors, those are closer, and every report seems to say, governors are on their knees begging the White House not to cut and run on Obamacare, dumping the problem to them without enough money to fix it. How about hospitals? If we start hitting them hard on charity care that they are supposed to be providing, but aren’t and their tax exemptions, maybe they would get in gear. A couple of thousands of them according to IRS reports are making more than a million a year, so they might move to the feet and voices of patients’ protests and demands?

The problem with resistance is that it’s reactive. We need offense, not just defense. We need it now before our weaknesses devour our strengths.


Pope Francis Forces a Rethinking on Panhandlers and Homeless

Pope Francis with homeless Jesus statue. (Vatican Photo)

New Orleans   Living and working in urban areas around the world, whether we admit it or not, we all adopt highly individualized personal policies about how to deal with personal interactions with panhandlers and the homeless, whether we admit it or not.

Pope Francis speaking to a homeless zine in Italy sort of shamed almost all those urban survival strategies with some very simple statements that serve as a reminder that a basic moral code and compass still deserves a central place in modern life. The Pope stated plainly that it was always the right thing to do to give to the homeless. Period. When asked if that was true even if you thought it was just going for the next bottle of wine, he replied that if that was the only joy being felt in their lives, then, essentially, who are we to begrudge or judge. And, that’s not all, he argued when you loosen the grip on those small pieces of change or that crumpled loose dollar, don’t just toss it over. He counsels that we at least look the person in the eyes or, if close enough, touch their arm or hands, so that we provide some basic dignity to the exchange.

I can guarantee you that none of that has been my policy. Around the world, where poverty is epidemic, I have specialized in avoided eyes, straight back, and unbroken stride in Latin America, India, and Africa. I’ve never wanted to be stereotyped as a rich America, rather than an organizer. I’ve rationalized that I’ve given my life at the office and in the streets, so to speak, so I’ve essentially punched my own ticket for a free pass. Even at home in the US, I’ve simply nodded or dismissed direct requests with a sorry and a quick slip. On drive-by requests at stoplights, I’ve just averted my eyes and kept driving. My general policy has been never to really start, because where will it stop.

Contrary to what believers might still hold, the Pope is not perfect and neither is the Church, but that doesn’t assuage my feeling that my position has to change. Next to the Pope’s advice it seems small, cold, and, worse, inhumane. His position confronts my own view of myself. I love people and am dedicated to my work with and for them and their inalienable rights to dignity and respect, yet the Pope has called to question my position as a casual callousness that denies not only dignity and respect, but basic humanity, which would seem the least we have to offer our fellow travelers in this world.

So what’s to be done? I’m not suddenly, Mr. Moneybags or Daddy Warbucks, and I still want to believe my life’s work is still my real contribution, but my rationality for not engaging and doing my small part has been punctured. We have an often neglected family plan we picked up from a friend of saving every five dollar bill for whatever. Looks like I’ll me putting all my change into a special Pope Francis pile for the homeless and panhandlers trying to make it the best way they can, just as the rest of us are doing.

And, rather than a handout, which I hate, I can certainly give a handshake, which speaks more loudly than my little money to our universal condition, sharing not just the street but as fellow members of the teeming humanity of the world. It seems the least any of us can do.


After a Twenty Year Campaign, Aramark and Privatization Shown the Door in Houston

New Orleans  It was a “pinch me” moment when the news finally broke that after United Labor Unions Local 100’s 20-year fight to get rid of Aramark as the food service subcontractor in the giant Houston Independent School District, they were finally being shown the door. The district was close lipped about its decision to not renew the $6 million contract with Aramark, but news reports were clear that the constant complaints and criticisms from food service workers was a critical factor.

Undoubtedly, the soaring cost of this privatization fiasco in Houston was also part of the problem. As the report indicated, there were few sweet nothings being whispered in anyone’s ears about this divorce. Aramark making sure that it left the district with as bad a taste in their mouths as the children they had been feeding, threw a rock through their own glass window dredging up a story from the last century alleging mismanagement of the district of the cafeteria operation. Their parting shot, we took as a relief, because it indicates that they know they won’t be back so they saw no risk in fouling the trough where they have gorged for decades.

Our members are celebrating because they paid for this contract with overwork and underpay, as the food service workforce was decimated in order to line Aramark’s pockets. Where individual schools had previously enjoyed a modicum of oversight and quality control, Aramark lopped off hundreds of jobs in order to establish a central kitchen that would deliver tens of thousands of meals to the individual schools. It’s not hard to imagine the daily problems of such a mammoth enterprise!

Local 100 was recently successful in winning an agreement from the HISD to raise the wages for food service workers, and more recently has been campaigning to win an increase in hours for their work in order to improve service and food delivery for the children. Another factor may be the level of lead found in many of the water fountains and kitchen faucets after Local 100 forced the district to begin a comprehensive testing program.

Recent studies by researchers from Massachusetts and Sweden found that outsourcing workers through privatization imposed a wage penalty of up to 7% for janitors and up to 24% for security guards. The same has been true for food services workers, though perhaps worse, because they often have had to endure split shifts and part-time work hours, often lucky to make six hours a day during the school year. The much-loved and iconic “lunch ladies” by children and parents have been starving and impoverished by Aramark for much of their careers.

Despite the horrors of privatization for the last several decades in Houston, the ideology of privatization more than the economics will continue to be at the heart of every campaign as businesses continue to search for profit by pretending that they are always more efficient and better at delivering public services than government, when their only real skill is reducing wages, hours, and workers and in food service, cheaper, low-quality food. At least in Houston we can enjoy the victory for a minute, but there’s still no cure for the plague.


Please enjoy Pokey LaFarge’s Riot in the Streets.

Thanks to KABF.