Legislators Leveraging Hospitals to Pressure Governors to Expand Medicaid

Mid City ERNew Orleans       In Florida, there is a well-publicized breech between the Republican Governor and the Republican-controlled legislature over their budget shortfalls and the need to bridge the gaps by expanding Medicaid.  The governor, Rick Scott, has gone to wild extremes of suing the federal government to try to force a change in the already settled matters of disproportionate share funding and blaming the federal government rather than adding Florida to the list of Affordable Care Act states.   Scott believes the hospitals, desperate for more funding and some in danger of closing, are lined up against him.

Interestingly in Louisiana much the same Republican-on-Republican division has also quietly broken out over disagreements over budget gaps and health care needs.  The legislative session is almost over, but rifts are huge.  Governor Bobby Jindal is so dedicated to his ambition to fail as a Republican presidential candidate in hopes some other Republican will win and give him a job, that he has chained himself to the hospital door to prevent the expansion on Medicaid for the 400,000 uninsured in the state.  Interestingly, the Jindal “no-tax” pledge of the state’s health to Grover Norquist has created devastating economic consequences in Louisiana especially with the cataclysmic dip in oil prices.

Public education is more popular in Louisiana than poor people or their health care, and the evisceration of the higher education funding under Jindal has also reached crisis proportions.  In a slick political move in the funding chess game, House leaders, who are obviously disproportionately Republican decided to fund higher education – against the Governor’s budget recommendations – in the next year leaving the state’s health care system at least $200 million short.   And, this starves a health care system that is invariably ranked near the worst in the country, and also threatens dubious agreements that Governor Jindal concocted with private companies to take over Louisiana’s public facilities.  Another $33 million in state is also needed to leverage federal funds to finish building the new hospital facility in downtown New Orleans that was designed to replace the Charity Hospital, shuttered after Katrina.

Tellingly the Advocate reported that “…Capitol insiders said they believe House leaders left health care alone on a limb to create pressure for the Legislature to expand Medicaid…a proposal that Jindal and the Republican controlled Legislature have rejected so far.”  The same report, referencing again unnamed “Capital insiders” added that they “…also suggested that House leaders left health care unfunded to cause hospital and other health care lobbyists to rev up their considerable sway to pressure anti-tax lawmakers to approve more tax measures.”

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides about subsidies under Obamacare and any number of other issues, it seems the only thing stopping expansion of Medicaid, even among hardcore “hospital door” politicians trying to block health care for the poor, is political stalling and logrolling as Republicans try to position their “never Obamacare” positions with the desperate needs of their own health care systems and their longtime supporters and friends in their state hospital facilities with their deep community support and large payrolls.  Last minute, Hail Mary, lawsuits and meaningless pledges to DC power players are not going to be enough to protect the ideologues from their own citizens and their needs.  It seems the clock is ticking in our favor, if people can live long enough to make it.

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This song goes out to a faithful reader who made the suggestion of posting this great video on the next blog about health care.  Thanks Mike.

Pokey LaFarge’s  Close the Door – Live 

Privatizing State Universities? Start with the Football Team!

privatizationNew Orleans       Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s quixotic quest for the Republican nomination for President has pretty much disappeared in the throes of his budget and taxes regime over two terms that has virtually bankrupted the state in general and almost decimated the public higher education facilities in Louisiana.  He is not alone, since the same playbook has been used in Wisconsin, Kansas, and other states practicing the same no-tax-and-burn strategy against the public good.  The whole mess has gotten so ridiculous that one of the State Board of Regents, theoretically the governing board for state system, though usually little more than puppets playing out their terms for their gubernatorial sponsor, has now proposed a uniquely bizarre privatization “solution,” of carving out some pieces of the public universities and making them private colleges without state support.  The headline hit the newspapers to competition with another headline that the generally well regarded private university in New Orleans, Tulane, wanted to finally deal with a problem they had of falling $20 million short annually in their budgeting.

Let’s not waste time with how crazy this latest privatization notion is other than listing some of the obvious problems.  Would the almost bankrupt state pitch in an endowment?  Who would be the big bucks that would pony up for the new outfit?  Why would students or professors migrate over to the supposedly “best” pieces of the public system and pay more tuition to do so, and what would happen to the public system when they lost their crown jewels.  My breakfast partner mentioned that they must assume they could sell real estate, but the state owns the real estate, so would that be gifted over, and if so, where would they house the new whatever you might call it.  The list of “cons” for such a notion is endless.

Let’s be honest the only thing that the state system could privatize that could stand on its own, survive, and maybe generate a profit back to the mother ship either in Louisiana or anywhere in the South Eastern Conference would be let the football team go private and be seen as the pros they already are, since it’s virtually a matter of degree without a difference.   We’ve already had to stop pretending that the myth of a student-athlete at this level is anything but that as both the players, the universities, and the multi-billion dollar NCAA virtually concede the boys should be paid somehow someway.  The infrastructure is already in place.  The stadiums have been built.  The CEOs, or coaches as they call them, are already paid in the millions every year with scores of staff, a recruiting system, and everything else.  Right now the LSU team, always highly ranked and sometimes a national championship winner, delivers millions to the bottom line at LSU.  Let’s just unleash all of the pretense and shackles so that we can get big time investors in the team and distribute the profits to LSU and the rest of the system.

The door has been opened and the same thing would work in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and maybe even South Carolina.  In Kentucky maybe they could privatize the “one-and-done” basketball team.

Clearly the Republicans don’t give a hoot about public higher education, but maybe they would still cheer and lay out the bucks for the teams.

Jindal “No Go!”

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

New Orleans    It’s not often that almost everyone agrees on something throughout the land and perhaps the globe, but Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal, formerly a Republican presidential hopeful, has truly succeeded in bringing everyone together.  He did so with his crazy, controversial remarks to a conservative group in London named after former Senator Henry Jackson from Washington State.  While there he went on at some length about the fact that there were “no go” zones in cities in Britain, France, and elsewhere that non-Muslims and even the police didn’t go that were functionally ruled by sharia law.

When he left Louisiana, he claimed he was on his way to Europe to drum up business for the state.  Hopefully when he’s talking to corporations over there he will mention that he is on the downside of his last term in office and can’t run again, so it may be safe for them to come to the Bayou State without embarrassment.  Definitely, his sudden notoriety will make it clear that they should wait until he’s gone from the governor’s mansion and the coast is clear.

Fox News jumped on the bandwagon with some of its commentators also parroting the “no go” line.  They have quickly apologized four times on the air and retracted every last line of their remarks. The Mayor of Paris has announced that she is going to sue Fox News for slander, and why not.

In Louisiana, where few agree on anything, both newspapers in New Orleans the daily Advocate and the every once in a while Times-Picayune led with editorials making it clear that Jindal’s hate speech didn’t speak for Louisiana.  They were both embarrassed and horrified by his remarks. The last time they agreed so strenuously was in their assessment that Hurricane Katrina was in fact a bad thing!

It’s easy to understand Jindal’s predicament. He thinks he should be president. Fortunately no one else does. The last poll among Republicans had him in the 2 or 3% range in terms of support and recognition. Jindal’s strategy has been to pretty much leave Louisiana alone, it being Louisiana I can’t say “high and dry,” which is somewhat a good thing, and try to carve out some notice for himself on the far right. He’s willing to go speak to right wing groups and church gatherings that no other candidate will touch.  He’s organizing a prayer thing that seems like it’s a path to perdition itself from the way folks are running away from it. The budget in Louisiana is fabricated on oil and gas revenues so any claims Jindal might have had about finances in the state are long gone and all of his tricks with the numbers are going to haunt the rest of his term and whoever is elected along with the citizens of the state for years.

Jindal’s reaction to all of this? Well, he’s doubled down by releasing a 1700 word press statement in Baton Rouge restating the so-called “evidence” of his “no go” remarks.

I think the only place there is really a “no go” rule is that Jindal is no longer welcome in Europe, especially the United Kingdom and France again.  It seems it won’t be long before Louisiana is also a “no go” spot for Jindal as well.

Solid Resolutions for the New Year

Charles Blow

Charles Blow

Ocean Springs         Sometimes it can be embarrassing to live in Louisiana.   When it’s not the governor making a fool of us in service to ego and ambition or one of the Senators currying to prostitutes and another always turning tricks for oil companies, it’s someone like Phil Robertson, the duck man, leading the hater brigade and forcing the A&E channel to admit that it’s really not about principles, but it’s all about the money.   All of which makes it refreshing for me to read the op-ed Times’ columnist and Louisiana native, Charles Blow, prove regularly that one can come out of Louisiana with both a head and a heart.

Blow at year’s end reminisced about growing up poor in rural Louisiana and celebrating New Year’s with black-eyed peas for good luck and greens for good fortune, but he also shared his resolutions which are worth all of us heeding:

1. To stop treating politicians like sports stars, political parties like teams and our national debate like sport.

Politics is not a game. There are real lives hanging in the balance of the decisions made — or not made — by those in power. Often, those with the most to lose as a result of a poor policy move are the most vulnerable and most marginalized. Those folks need a voice, and I will endeavor to be that voice.

2. To force politicians to remember, with as much force and fervor as my pen can muster, that they are servants, not rulers.

A democracy is a government by the people, for the people. Politicians too often bend in the presence of power. They believe that it is they who possess power, rather than the people who elected them. And power and money are kissing cousins; you will rarely find one not cozied up to the other. Money is corruptive, and power addictive. Together they work against the greater good. That cannot stand.

3. To remember that justice is a natural aching of human morality.

In the core of most people is an overwhelming desire to see others treated fairly and dealt with honestly. That is not a party-line impulse but a universal one. I will do my best to highlight that basic quality. For instance, I believe that there will come a time when we will all look back at the brouhaha over same-sex marriage in disbelief and disgrace, and ask: Why was that even a debate?

4. To focus more fully on the power and beauty of the human spirit.

Regardless of their politics, the vast majority of the people I meet, when they can speak and listen and act of their own accord and not in concert with a group, are good, decent and caring people. Most work hard or want to. They love their families and like their neighbors. They will give until it hurts. They fall down, but they bounce back. They are just real people, struggling to get a bit and get by, and hoping to share a laugh and a hug with an honest heart or two along the way. That is no small observation and not one of little consequence. I believe that I can write more about those traits.

Those are my resolutions, ones I will strive to keep, ones I’ll reflect on even if I fall short. What are yours?

 

Stiffing Tenants as a Landlord Business Model

New Orleans   Active ACORN campaigns in Canada, Scotland, and Italy focusing on tenant rights and landlord abuses, found me reading in detail a rare report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about tenant rights, or really the lack of them, in Louisiana and most other states in the USA.

The Uniform Landlord and Tenant Act in the United States only covers 21 states, one-third of which are surprisingly in the South, including Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, with the other clump in the Midwest in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.  Tenants don’t have a world of rights under the Act, but at least have some including minimum standards of habitability, prohibitions against leases with onerous fines or waivers of legal rights, seriously stiff penalties for welching on return of security deposits, and some limited protection against landlord retaliation for tenants making complaints.  ACORN Canada has campaigned for similar basic tenant rights in several Canadian cities with some success.

Take deposits and administrative fees, which are huge issues now for us in Scotland.  The interviews with tenants and landlords in New Orleans largely revealed this area to be typical of an abusive relationship.  In Louisiana, if a landlord illegally withholds a security deposit theoretically the fine imposed on the landlord would be $200.   The kicker is that the key word there is “illegally,” which in plain language means that a tenant would need to be willing and able to get the issue into a judge’s court, which for most tenants being screwed by their landlords is a little bit like saying they can catch the next flight to Mars. Landlord representatives interviewed were pretty blatant in figuring the odds that the vast majority of their tenants would never pay a lawyer and go to court to collect the $1000 or so that would rightfully be owed.  Similar to Scotland, coming revisions in the Uniform Landlord Tenant Act where it prevails would be that the landlord would be fined double the amount of the deposit plus the landlord would have to pay the tenant’s attorney fees.  In Scotland, the penalty is three times the deposit if the deposit is not placed with a third party and, unfortunately, no legal fee reimbursement, which is an issue in Scotland.

Fines and administrative fees that are now outlawed in Scotland seem more common in Louisiana than I had realized.  One story in the Times-Picayune detailed the eviction of some tenants who had complained about a landlord’s failures, and in retaliation he claimed she hadn’t paid a mysterious “administrative fee” of $250 and evicted them.

Is any of this fair anywhere?  Hardly!

The Southeast Louisiana Legal Services offered a multi-step procedure for how legally a tenant might force repairs through a repair-and-deduct procedure against their monthly rent.  The tenant would have to take bids, keep receipts, and still take a chance that if the landlord sued them they could prove the repairs were just or they would face eviction.  Hard to recommend someone trying that procedure by themselves at home in Louisiana or any other state without the Uniform Landlord and Tenant Act, unless they have a strong organization.  A lawyer is not likely, given the huge cutbacks now in legal services.

Tenants in Scotland, Italy, and Canada seem to understand that they have to build an organization.  Given how few rights most tenants have in the US, maybe that’s the next step here too.

Stiffing Tenants Audio Blog

A Better Trigger for Parents on Local Control of Schools

Little Rock  I’m skeptical of many of these so-called public school “reform” efforts because too many seem to really be privatization schemes in disguise or elite stalking horses for charter school operators.  Despite numerous studies finding that teachers are the key that unlocks almost all of the educational doors for children, most of these efforts are also anti-teacher and raging maniacs when it comes to how quickly they foam at the mouth about unions. 

I had some hopes for Stand for Children, but watching the role they played in Louisiana recently and their scandalous mischief in Chicago earlier, lead me to believe that they have increasingly gone over to the dark side.   Conversations with the Parent Revolution people over the last six months made me hopeful with reservations, because despite the fact that they seemed better on unions, unions were still opposing them fiercely, and too many of the wrong people were seizing on their “parent trigger” propositions in various states to subvert local control and parent participation into charter schemes and loss of public control.

Recent conversations in New Orleans a week or so ago and on-the-air at KABF  with Pat DeTemple, senior strategist for the California-based Parent Revolution, are forcing me to re-evaluate the way the parent trigger might work in the right ways to create real local power and voice for parents in forcing all parties to bring their best game to educate their children.   Much of this has to do with an interesting situation in one Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) where parents seemed to have used the trigger masterfully.  51% of the parents must sign a petition demanding that the school be reorganized for better educational performance with various options that might include changing the principal, bringing in charter, and so forth.  In this instance the parents put out a request for proposals to see who would step up to their mark.  More than a half-dozen charters applied, but so did the LA School District.  The parents negotiating committee ended up looking at the two bids outstanding, one from a charter that was already on campus in 5th grade and one that was from the District itself, which wanted to prove that it could make the school work.  The parents told both of them to come back with one joint proposal, and damned if they didn’t, and it was a great one.  The District promised that it would add an early childhood program and both parties agreed to enrich the program so that the higher 5th grade standards would be maintained and achieved by more students.   This new program goes live this coming fall, so it will be worth watching.

Another hopeful sign is a bill moving through the Louisiana legislature that would allow the parent trigger to be used to bring schools seized by the state back under democratic local control.  The bill has made it through the House and is now moving through the Senate without much opposition. 

What all this says to me is that situations like these which allow a real voice and a legitimately locally driven solution could be important and powerful instruments of community control.  When the trigger can only be pulled in one direction, usually to the charters, it is little more than part of a circular firing squad, so why wouldn’t everyone oppose this, but if the legislation can allow full and robust options, real parent power, then maybe a “parent revolution” could make public schools work around the country.

Parents Audio Blog