The Campaign to Ban Tear Gas

Pearl River     We’ve talked about Bjorn Skogquist before, but this time we wanted to catch up with him and the Ban Tear Gas Campaign in more detail on Wade’s World.  Bjorn was a former mayor of a small suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, who found himself forced into action at his horror at George Floyd’s death by police and then the police tactics used to confront and disperse the protestors from tear gas to pepper spray to rubber bullets.  Feeling like he had to do something, he started a Facebook page, the first step for so many outraged activists in these times.  He hit a nerve and in less than three months 24,000 people have liked the page!

It’s an active site.  Skogquist tries not to post more than a couple of times a week, but there is so much happening around the country in the fight against dispersants that sometimes there are two or three posts a day.  These are not trees falling in the forest.  Sometimes more than 500 people will like a post and almost as many share it.  I don’t know if that makes it viral, but I know that’s hot.

Skogquist is both excited and overwhelmed by the response to this “back pocket” campaign.  He now has a couple of volunteers who have offered to give him a hand.  He has plans for a website and hopes to put up a donate button soon.  Like any campaign, it’s an effort getting everything up off the ground and rolling.

Asking Skogquist about the various efforts to actually ban or restrict dispersants, his answers are more measured.  Most legislatures, including his own in Minnesota have backed away from real action.  Partially from his own experience and a sense of political realism, when asked where the campaign was going next, Skogquist was certain that the breakthroughs would come through action by municipal governments.  Pressed where he had the most hope, he answered Sacramento, California, Asheville, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, and Madison, Wisconsin, all of which he believed were preparing or already engaged in active, local, grassroots efforts.

Even in New Orleans, where there has not been much of a campaign, the reaction to the use of tear gas by police for the first time in decades against George Floyd protestors has led to an ordinance being enacted before the City Council.  The police department seems in agreement, so this is likely far from a full-on ban.  No action was taken on rubber bullets, another concern of the campaign.  As noted by the Lens, the…

…police department had deployed tear gas for the use of crowd control, and in the immediate aftermath of the incident, NOPD was heavily criticized for the decision. (What was not immediately acknowledged by the department, but later confirmed, was that some officers used projectiles as well.)

Skogquist gets almost more riled up over the harm inflicted by rubber bullets, than tear gas, but it’s all part and parcel of the militarization of police in general and their tactics in specific in dealing with even peaceful protests in recent years.

This problem is not coming to a town near you.  It is likely already in your town.  Pushing back with a campaign to ban these tactics is going to need to be a fight city by city, town by town in order to protect the right of peaceful protest in America.

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Hospitals and Drug Companies Gone Wild

Pearl River       If you run a hospital, what do you do whether it’s a pandemic or wholesale panic? Jack up the prices seems to be the answer.

A report hit the news from the Rand Corporation the other day about hospital prices.  On average they pile on the charges two-and-a-half times the level that the federal government’s Medicare program establishes as its baseline.  In nine states the Times reported they don’t double up but triple down on the prices for care.  West Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida were in that unhappy number.  Amazingly, according to the report, in Arkansas they only inflate the prices 185%, rather than double, making the state almost an outlier, meaning they were ripped off, just not as badly.

Who is getting soaked by this kind of price-gouging?  Employers and their workers are the answer to that question.  For those still lucky enough to have health insurance on the job, and in fact a job at all, this means a constant downward pressure on wages to pay for skyrocketing insurance premiums and usually deteriorating coverage and increasing co-pays and deductibles, as hospitals lard on the cost increases.  As the Times’ reporter wrote,

Employers provide health insurance coverage for more than 153 million Americans. The companies and insurers in the study paid nearly $20 billion more than Medicare would have for the same care from 2016 through 2018, according to the RAND researchers.

Trust me, employers are not simply sucking down these whooping increases.  They are passing them on down to the workforce, contributing to the inequity gap everywhere.

Employers aren’t happy about this either.  One spokesperson for an employer group described the hospitals’ price jumps as “a runaway train.”  Politically, this also argues loudly for the public option, advocated by Biden in the current campaign.  The failure of private insurance companies, backed by businesses, to negotiate fair prices compared to the federal government speaks loudly in favor of that path for the future.

President Trump in his campaign desperation went back to the bench and pulled out an executive order on drug pricing, speaking of another area where healthcare pricing is out of control.  The order said that drugs in the United States couldn’t be priced any higher than drugs in Europe.  Hey, if we can’t lead, maybe we can learn to follow.  There will be lawsuits from the industry, undoubtedly, so don’t run out and do a happy dance in the street yet.

Of course, this is Trump and his White House, so there is a backstory.  There was almost a deal struck between the pharmaceutical industry and the government.  They were going to come up with $150 billion to pay for most Medicare copays and patient out-of-pocket costs.  It fell apart when the White House insisted on them sending out $100 drug cards to seniors before the election to help boost the Trump campaign.  On the industry side, they called them “Trump cards,” given the president’s tendency to brand everything sooner or later with his name.  The industry backed off of this plan realizing it was too much of a political campaign stunt for them to get the public relations benefit during the pandemic they hoped to achieve.

Maybe that’s good news?  Maybe we’re finally coming to the point where hospital and drug companies realize there are limits to what they can get away with?  Unfortunately, hope is not a plan.  We have to find a better way and hospitals and drug companies are not going to lead us there.

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