American Healthcare and the Medicaid Mason-Dixon Line

This opinion piece by LeeAnn Hall and Glenn Harris was originally published in Black Star News.

There’s a new Mason-Dixon Line being drawn in our country – and it runs right through Medicaid, one of the country’s most important health insurance programs.

Historically, the Mason-Dixon Line marked the division between states that embraced slavery and states that rejected it. Today it marks states that are accepting federal funds for Medicaid expansion, and those choosing to leave millions of people without health care.

Medicaid expansion comes with almost full federal funding, which means that the decision to expand Medicaid – or not – isn’t a money decision. Really, it’s a decision about whose lives are valued and protected in the United States.

The map of the United States showing where low-income families are denied access to quality health care looks eerily like one of the old Confederacy.

Most states have accepted Medicaid expansion and they are enjoying the benefits. However, 21 states continue to reject it – and 13 of those are in the Old South.

The blatant racial implications can’t be ignored. As with other questions concerning racial equity, the decisions before state lawmakers now follow a long history of racial struggle. Health care, in particular, remains a stark and shameful example of the failure to overcome persistent racial disparities in our country.

Those left without access to quality health care are disproportionately people of color. According to the Kaiser Family Fund, 26 percent are African American and 24 percent are Latino.

In Texas, people of color account for 74 percent of those being deprived of health care in that state – that includes more than half a million Latinos and 160,000 African Americans.

By refusing as much as $100 billion over 10 years in Medicaid expansion money for Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry is sending a strong message that some lives just don’t matter.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is suing the Obama administration for “coercion tactics” that he says are forcing the state to expand Medicaid to 800,000 people who can’t afford health insurance. Florida is also giving up about 20,000 new jobs, including 10,000 good paying medical jobs, by rejecting Medicaid expansion.

By rejecting Medicaid expansion, states are leaving 3.8 million low-income adults with no health insurance and no benefits. These are workers with incomes too high for regular Medicaid programs, but too low to afford the health insurance premiums. Florida and Texas, by the way, have the highest health insurance costs in the country.

Behind all those numbers are real people whose lives depend on the health coverage that Medicaid provides. They need the routine care that encourages health and vitality, as well as critical treatment and care that could save their lives.

Without insurance, these families also face devastating financial consequences. More than half of all bankruptcies are due to insurmountable medical bills. Denying health insurance has a snowball effect impacting economic opportunity.

The Affordable Care Act – our country’s greatest health care accomplishment in fifty years – is a boon to nearly 11 million Americans who were previously shut out of the health insurance system. The cruel irony is that those who were most likely to be helped by Obamacare are still being denied access.

It’s not enough to regret the racism of the past. We have to renounce and reject policies that exacerbate it today. It’s not too late for state lawmakers to erase the Medicaid Mason-Dixon Line.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national policy and organizing network that has produced pivotal reports for 20 years on national health issues.

Glenn Harris is president of the Center for Social Inclusion. The center is dedicated to finding policy solutions that promote structural equity and an inclusive democracy.

 

 

LeeAnn Hall’s Statement on King v. Burwell (with Fred Azcarate and George Goehl)

Today is a major victory: the Supreme Court rejected King v. Burwell, an attack against the Affordable Care Act that attempted to deny quality health care to millions of people in the United States.

Together with Fred Azcarate, executive director of US Action and George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action, I would like to share this statement with you:

“Today. The Supreme Court rejected an attack on the Affordable Care Act, our country’s health care law. Now, more than 6.4 million people, many with health insurance for the first time, can rest assured that their health coverage won’t be stripped away.

Our work isn’t done. Many people – disproportionately people of color – are still shut out of health care because of cost, the language they speak, or state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid. It’s time to stop fighting over whether people have a right to health care – and time to make quality health care a reality for everyone.

We call on obstructionists in Congress to end their assault on health care once and for all. Stop trying to repeal, defund, and undermine the Affordable Care Act.”

The Alliance for a Just SocietyUSAction and National People’s Action led grassroots organizations nationwide to fight for health care for everyone in our country. The ACA was a major victory, overwhelmingly popular, and it’s here to stay.

Want to do more?

Click the Health Care for America Now petition to tell obstructionists “Hands Off ACA!”

The law is working – now it’s time to make sure everyone has access to quality health care.

Victory! King v. Burwell Guarantees Millions Will Keep Their Health Care

Today is major victory: the Supreme Court rejected King v. Burwell, an attack against the Affordable Care Act that attempted to deny quality health care to millions of people in the United States.

Here is a joint statement on the King v. Burwell decision today from:

  • LeeAnn Hall, executive director of Alliance for a Just Society
  • Fred Azcarate, executive director of US Action
  • George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action

Statement:

Today. The Supreme Court rejected an attack on the Affordable Care Act, our country’s health care law. Now, more than 6.4 million people, many with health insurance for the first time, can rest assured that their health coverage won’t be stripped away.

Our work isn’t done. Many people – disproportionately people of color – are still shut out of health care because of cost, the language they speak, or state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid. It’s time to stop fighting over whether people have a right to health care – and time to make quality health care a reality for everyone.

We call on obstructionists in Congress to end their assault on health care once and for all. Stop trying to repeal, defund, and undermine the Affordable Care Act.

The Alliance for a Just Society, USAction and National People’s Action led grassroots organizations nationwide to fight for health care for everyone in our country. The ACA was a major victory, overwhelmingly popular, and it’s here to stay.

Want to do more?

Click the Health Care for America Now petition to tell obstructionists “Hands Off ACA!”

The law is working, now it’s time to make sure everyone has access to quality health care.AJS-logoforwebsiteUSAction

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Health Reform and New Tools for Fighting Hospital Debt

Retiree Lee Johnson went in for knee surgery at a hospital in Seattle, and came out with a bill for $30,000, even after his insurance paid its share of the costs. No one at the hospital told him about the availability of charity care. So, to pay off his debt he took on a new one by refinancing his home. He believed it to be the only option in addressing the medical bill.

Soon, he found himself fighting to save his house and avoided foreclosure only after a costly legal battle.

Around the country, hospitals are hitting low-income patients with astronomical debt, demanding deposits before offering needed care, garnishing wages, sending collections agencies after patients, putting liens on property, and taking patients to court. A recent investigation by ProPublica found that “[i]n Missouri alone, hospitals and debt collection firms working for them filed more than 15,000 suits in 2013.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is designed in part to prevent this kind of abuse – and it gives community groups new tools for doing just that.

Getting people insured isn’t the only thing the 2010 law does. Although expanding coverage is certainly the ACA’s main goal, it aims to change our health care system more broadly, recognizing that health insurance, standing alone, won’t guarantee affordable care for everyone. (Lee Johnson knows this from his own unfortunate experience.) For that reason, the ACA also calls on non-profit hospitals – key health care institutions – to better meet the needs of their communities and play an active role in promoting community health.

Under new rules, non-profit hospitals must adopt written financial assistance policies and publicize those policies – and provide interpretation and translation. The new rules also introduce limits on how much hospitals can charge patients for certain services and when they can use “extraordinary” collection tactics.

That’s not all. Now non-profit hospitals also must develop community health needs assessments and implementation plans addressing those needs. With these plans, they can go beyond health care and tackle the causes of health problems, such as barriers to healthy diets.

But community organizations shouldn’t wait for hospitals to act on these rules – which leave a lot of blanks to be filled in. If we want to see the ACA implemented well, we need to let hospitals know how we expect them to meet their new obligations.

Daley Weekly: Pope, President and Pompadour

Fast Track

Reading some of the leftish blogs, you might have thought it was all over and the President had been delivered a stinging defeat. If you thought it was all over, you did not read our note on this in the last Daley Weekly with the nuanced insight that we have come to expect from our readership. Yep, they simply passed an amended version of the fast track bill and sent it to the Senate. It’s a lose-lose situation with the negotiated-in-secret, unamendable treaty able to proceed and the bill to aid displaced workers doing the Limbo. It remains to be seen whether or not the Senators will pass this latest iteration, but it’s one more step toward the TPP deal.

The Sequester

The fight over whether or not to continue the automatic cuts to federal programs called “sequester” took an interesting turn Thursday when 45 Democratic Senators voted “no” on a “motion to proceed” for the Defense Appropriations bill. A motion to proceed is the first step needed to bring a bill to the Senate Floor and it takes 60 votes to pass.

Apparently the D’s have decided not to let any of the appropriations bills get to the Floor for debate unless they “break” sequester. If they can do this on the Defense bill, they can do it on all the others.

Since the R’s are determined to implement sequester cuts (and then some), particularly for domestic programs, the procedural move by the D’s is going to mean a standoff – in a couple of months we will have no money to operate the government.

Watch for the inevitable Continuing Resolution to keep things running for a while and then they will make some kind of deal to get by another year.

Paid Sick Days

With the help of our friends at Oregon Action, the Center for Intercultural Organizing, and the Oregon Main Street Alliance, the Oregon Legislature has passed paid sick days legislation and sent it to the Governor for a signature.

Taxes

Our Board Chair, Beverly DeLeonardis, gave me a timely little poke about providing more information regarding the Inheritance Tax and the Earned income Tax Credit. Here’s a slightly redacted version of what I sent her.

The House passed a complete repeal of the Inheritance Tax, but that is going nowhere in the Senate. It is way too overboard. If they get around to some broad scale tax reform then this issue will come back into play, but that’s unlikely any time soon.

The EITC and the Child Tax Credit will be active parts of the debate that will come to a head late this summer. There is going to be a big train wreck and then there will be an effort to fashion a compromise. It is difficult to tell whether this will come in association with some kind of infrastructure plan or in association with a package to extend tax loopholes.

The President is proposing to use money stashed overseas to fund infrastructure, but he wants to do it as a mandated and required return of profits to the U.S. This is known as “deemed repatriation.” The President has proposed that this requirement be set at a 14 percent tax rate on dollars that otherwise would be taxed at a rate of 35 percent. This is too low a rate to prevent corporations from continuing to stash profits overseas and therefore should be increased. But at least it is mandatory, not voluntary, and it might actually bring in some money.

The R’s want any kind of deemed repatriation to be associated with other tax changes for the multi-national corporations. This means danger to the overall U.S. tax base. The R’s inevitably will be pushing for tax breaks that benefit the multi-nationals and for a “territorial system” that permits corporations to do worldwide gaming of the tax codes.

They will have to make a deal. Will a renewal of the EITC or the CTC be a part of the deal?

Congress will also face the debate about renewing some 55 tax loopholes that they have needed to reenact every year because they expire annually. This package is known as the “extenders.” The R’s want to make a bunch of these permanent. Progressive tax advocates want to refuse to renew many of these permanently, especially the ones that comprise loopholes that permit multi-nationals to stash profits overseas.

At some point, there will be a crisis and some package of “extenders” will pass. Will the EITC and CTC be parts of this package?

So what should advocates be doing?

Ignore the Inheritance tax for the time being and concentrate on the EITC/CTC. We need to keep the EITC/CTC constantly in the view of decision makers, particularly Senators. The “ask” should be that they work to renew these credits at the earliest possible time – no tax bills that do not include the renewal of these credits should pass.

Financial Advice

How would you feel if you rolled your hard earned 401k money into an IRA at the urging of your financial advisor and found out that you were making less that you would have made if you had left it in a 401k? Not happy. But wait, there might be one more unhappiness awaiting you – it is likely that the roll over to the IRA benefited your financial advisor’s company because it now administers your new IRA and gets the fees. Furthermore the company had instructed your trusty advisor to peddle this thing to you. Not happy.

It is exactly the problem that the Department of Labor is trying to remedy with a rule. They want the financial advisors to have a fiduciary duty to act in your interest. Whoa, you mean they are not already required to act in my interest? Nope. And they apparently do not want to be required to act in your interest because they are getting the House of Representatives to stick a rider in an appropriations bill prohibiting the DOL from implementing such a rule. And by God they are doing it in the name of those same small businesses owners who are getting screwed by this practice. If you want to learn more, you might want to check out why Ron Rhodes, a professor at Western Kentucky University, calls the industry claims “hogwash.”

Uninsured

New report out from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests that a whole lot of potential health insurance consumers are unaware that premium subsidies are available to help them purchase in Exchanges. Even if some subsidies do not survive the pending Supreme Court case King V. Burwell on subsidies, this report would suggest that a robust navigator and community outreach program is required in order to get everyone the aid they need. New enrollments start in November.

SEC Nominee

The five member Securities and Exchange Commission is supposedly evenly divided between the R’s and the D’s, with the sitting President able to tip the equilibrium by naming the Chair. Democrat Luis Aguilar’s term ran out this month and the President is considering who to nominate to succeed him. The Obama pick to be the SEC Chair, Mary Jo White, has turned into a disaster and the President’s choice should help redress a balance on behalf of consumers. That is why consumer advocates were alarmed to learn that one Keir Gumbs, a Wall Street insider who has represented the American Petroleum Institute before the SEC, had made the President’s short list for this position. How about a consumer voice instead, Mr. President?

ACA Subsidies Case

In a recent poll, 55 percent of the public indicated that the Supreme Court should not block the Affordable Care Act by ruling its subsidy system to be illegal. Thirty-eight percent thought it would be OK. There does not seem to be a cross-tab in the poll that would let us report how many of the respondents who want the Court to toast the ACA actually are getting subsidies themselves.

At last we are beginning to see the outlines of possible Republican responses to this important case. Typical among the R’s plans is legislation being proposed by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) which provides that states that might lose subsidies under an unfavorable ruling would get the subsidy money, but would have to put it into Health Savings Accounts, not into buying insurance on the market.

This program not only is meaningless for the low-income consumer, it also puts everyone back into the unfettered insurance market where the inability to share risk across broad insurance pools makes everyone vulnerable. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has done an analysis about how this would spread fewer subsidy dollars over many more people and inevitably force millions back into the ranks of the uninsured.

Ora Pro Nobis

Pope Francis issued a big deal encyclical on global warming that tells the truth (a real shocker that) and points to human activity as a major cause.

Because this just might not fit in with the right wing dogma on the subject, we have been speculating about how some of the Republican presidential hopefuls will react, especially those who are Catholics.

Well, now we know. Jeb Bush has shown real leadership here. According to the Washington Post he said: “I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics.” Bush then turned reflective about his religious beliefs: “I’m surprised that this is such an extraordinarily complicated thing … Maybe I’m not expressing myself. Am I missing something?”

Any chance Bush missed the Pope’s point completely? Is there a moral issue involved? Is it moral for us to let greed-driven polluters burn our farms into drought and flood our cities in tides and storm surges? Is there any chance that these issues are not purely economic? Are there moral problems with letting the rich, polluting nations cover the poor nations in soot and put their atolls under six inches of seawater?

“Thou shalt not choke thy neighbor with carcinogens” may not be in the Decalogue, but “Thou shalt not kill” most certainly is.

Trump Channels Thomas Hobbes

Donald Trump decided to get in the Presidential race. His main theme appears to be that we are beset with ubiquitous enemies both foreign and domestic, a sort of Hobbesian “war of each against all.” Trump described everything as combat. We need to “beat” them and he is just the person to flog the world into submission.

He gave an announcement speech with so much crap in it that it is difficult to know where to start, but the stuff about Mexico and immigration stood out as perhaps the most ridiculous:

“When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems … It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Aside for the general incoherence here, we have to ask just how are the Mexicans beating us economically? And by what process is Mexico “sending” immigrants into the U.S. This is pure race baiting.

But we have to disclose our personal view that the biggest problem with Trump is his hair. The ridiculous comb-over suggests a deep insecurity that has driven him into aggression and bombast as a cover for his flaws – a baldness-based version of the Napoleonic Complex.

The racism and the meanness and the anger show that Trump is morally and temperamentally unfit to be President. The quality of life under a Trump presidency would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But he is going to give his Republican rivals convulsions.

Schedule

The House will not be in Session on Monday next but will be back in after that and through the end of the month.

AJS Statement on Charleston, S.C. Shootings

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The Alliance for a Just Society joins the world in mourning the brutal deaths of nine people murdered in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC this week. We have in our thoughts and prayers the families and lives of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Daniel L. Simmons, Ethel Lee Lance, Myra Thompson, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. We may not have known them, but we name them, and vow never to forget the personal victims of racist violence and their stories.

We are appalled by the racist violence and terror. We are angry that more than 50 years since Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. last spoke in that same church that we are still unable to face racism in our country.

Racism dehumanizes and abuses people of color and reinforces vast inequality, while protecting those with power and privilege. Violence, terror and fear are essential pillars of racism – whether it’s the official violence at the hands of the police and military; vigilante violence by the mob, or the action of a “lone gunman.”

But there is no lone gunman. Anyone who has a hand in allowing racism to thrive in any corner of our society, in our homes, our living rooms or taught to our children, has to acknowledge that it must end now. We don’t need any more wake up calls. We have awoken.

The lost lives of the nine men and women, moms, dads, sisters, uncles, grandparents, brothers, children, friends, teachers, and all that they were and meant, cannot simply be mourned… they must be a catalyst for change – and we must be that change.

Today is the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth Day, the first celebration of the end of slavery. Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that Texas can forbid people from putting the Confederate Flag on their state license plates, and yet, many Southern states still fly confederate flags. Our country still struggles to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter.

We believe that “no one is free until we are all free.” We’re still not free.

AJS Statement on Charleston S.C. Shootings

The Alliance for a Just Society joins the world in mourning the brutal deaths of nine people murdered in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC this week. We have in our thoughts and prayers the families and lives of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Daniel L. Simmons, Ethel Lee Lance, Myra Thompson, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.

We may not have known them, but we name them, and vow never to forget the personal victims of racist violence and their stories.

We are appalled by the racist violence and terror. We are angry that more than 50 years since Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. last spoke in that same church that we are still unable to face racism in our country.

Racism dehumanizes and abuses people of color and reinforces vast inequality, while protecting those with power and privilege. Violence, terror and fear are essential pillars of racism – whether it’s the official violence at the hands of the police and military; vigilante violence by the mob, or the action of a “lone gunman.”

But there is no lone gunman. Anyone who has a hand in allowing racism to thrive in any corner of our society, in our homes, our living rooms or taught to our children, has to acknowledge that it must end now. We don’t need any more wake up calls. We have awoken.

The lost lives of the nine men and women, moms, dads, sisters, uncles, grandparents, brothers, children, friends, teachers, and all that they were and meant, cannot simply be mourned… they must be a catalyst for change – and we must be that change.

Today is the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth Day, the first celebration of the end of slavery. Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that Texas can forbid people from putting the Confederate Flag on their state license plates, and yet, many Southern states still fly confederate flags. Our country still struggles to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter.

We believe that “no one is free until we are all free.” We’re still not free.

More Low Paying Jobs Means Families Continue to Struggle

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released the Employment Situation Summary, commonly known as the “jobs report,” for May. While many news outlets had headlines lauding May’s jobs numbers, at least some are beginning to come around to a fact that we have been stating for months: too many of these new jobs are in low-wage work.

Rather than being good jobs that pay enough to meet basic needs, these jobs leave working families without the ability to make ends meet.

Nonfarm payroll, which includes all industries that are not farm-related, increased by 280,000 in May. Most of that increase comes from service-providing industries like retail. Unfortunately, a significant portion of these jobs are in traditionally low-paying industries, with three of the top four increases in service-providing industries that have average hourly earnings below $15 per hour.

This includes industries we’ve called out before like leisure and hospitality (which includes food service) and retail, as well as professional and business services. Additionally, within professional and business services, a large portion of the growth came from temporary help services – jobs that do not ensure stable employment.

The May Jobs Report showed a continuation of a trend away from high-paying jobs and toward low-paying and even temporary employment. As we reported in “Low Wage Nation,” there are not enough good-paying jobs to go around, and growth in low-wage industries only exacerbates the problem.

With seven job seekers for every job opening that pays at least $15 per hour, too many working families will continue to struggle, even with May’s job growth.

However, there is some hopeful news in the May Jobs Report, as well. The industry with the highest increase in employment was Education and Health Services, with most of that increase coming from Health Care and Social Assistance.

As mentioned in “Low Wage Nation,” occupations in this industry pay relatively high wages, and are a great investment for states as they create good jobs and help working families care for their own health, as well. While the BLS data does not specify where this job growth originated, it is likely that at least some of it is due to continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the growing number of states that have expanded Medicaid.

Moving forward, we hope that this strong increase in health care jobs continues. However, investment in even more high-paying industries also needs to be a priority, as does increasing wages across the board so that all jobs can become good jobs. Until then, as long as employment growth continues to happen largely in lower-paying industries, working families will struggle to make ends meet without enough high-paying jobs to go around.

 

 

 

Daley Weekly: TPP, Zombies and Straw Dust Make for a Mess

Fast Track

You will have seen headlines suggesting that the House of Representatives has dealt a setback to President Obama’s efforts to gain permission to negotiate the big Pacific trade deal. You will also see mention that the House voted 219 to 211 to give the President “fast track” authority. You will say, “what?” It is a procedural mess.

The trade package consists of three pieces: “fast track” to let the secret deal be negotiated; assistance to aid workers displaced because of the trade deal; and a Customs bill related to currency manipulation and enforcement issues. All of these are parts of a connected package passed by the Senate. The House divided the question and voted separately on each of these. What was defeated was the piece to provide benefits to displaced workers, not the piece to give the President “fast track” authority.

Speaker Boehner immediately moved to reconsider the worker assistance package because it is critical to getting concurrence in the Senate.

There had been heavy backroom bargaining in the U.S. House on the displaced worker legislation. At the urging of Minority Leader Pelosi, Speaker Boehner decided abandon the terrible idea to “pay for” worker benefits by nipping the payments to providers in the Medicare. The President himself went to the Hill Friday to help find enough Democratic votes for the package. In the end the package was rejected by a decisive bi-partisan vote.

If this is the policy that stands on contemporary trade policy it will be the worst of all possible worlds – a bad trade deal and no help for workers. Watch for a new deal on this next week when the House returns to try to figure out a way forward.

TPP and Drug Costs

The dangers of “fast track” were illustrated by a story published Thursday in the New York Times about how the U.S. Trade Representative has been negotiating a deal that would barter away the power of the U.S. government to rein in pharmaceutical costs. For over a year the Alliance and its allies have been lobbying Congress, the Trade Representative, and the Administration against this very possibility. The U.S. pays the highest drug prices in the world – they cost both consumers and the government a vast fortune. Many government programs are not permitted to negotiate for price breaks, even though public agencies buy drugs in huge volumes.

Our coalition, led by our friends at AFSCME and the AARP, has been assured repeatedly that we had nothing to worry about. We were being misled.

Thursday the New York Times reported information obtained through WikiLeaks that confirms that we were exactly right about what was in the U.S. bargaining position. It even confirms the argument made by your Daley Weekly reporter in repeated meetings with the Congress and the Administration – that the drug companies are out to screw not only the U.S. government, but also countries like New Zeeland where they pay the lowest drug prices in the world through the aggressive use of formularies.

We need New Zeeland like policies here but we will never get them if the drug companies’ written provisions are adopted as a part of the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Tax Reform

The U. S. corporations think they deserve a tax cut. They wrap this in the flag of “American Competitiveness” and argue that the rate of corporate taxation is too high here, even though the effective rate is about average for the industrial world. In spite of their lobbying efforts, it looks as though Congress is stuck and it’s improbable that anything more than some tax deal for infrastructure programs is likely to go anywhere.

So, just to change the debate, tax cutters have come up with a shiny new idea – let’s have a lower tax rate for “mobile income generated from intellectual property.” They are calling it an “innovation box.” Watch out for this one. I can think of a zillion bad ideas I could stick into this Pandora’s Box in the name of innovation. Let’s hope that the tarnish forms quickly on this little toy.

SEC Disclosure

For several years the Alliance for a Just Society and the Main Street Alliance have supported coalition efforts to bring attention to a power held by the Securities and Exchange Commission that could require the disclosure of political expenditures by public corporations. Our efforts with this coalition, led by Public Citizen, have helped put over a million comments on this issue before the SEC. Nothing has happened except that the present SEC Chair, Mary Jo White, withdrew rules on this issue from consideration.

Now the issue may be turning into a cause among Congressional Democrats. Last week Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pointed to this issue in a letter that included extensive criticism of Chair White. This week the R’s in the House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee began processing a bill that, among other bad things, would specifically prohibit the SEC from developing the very kind of disclosure rules that we are encouraging the Commission to adopt. Representative Jose Serrano, ranking D (NY) on the Subcommittee, cited this provision as one of the main reasons why the Democrats would be opposing this bill.

In related developments, some advocacy groups now are circulating petitions calling on the President to sack Mary Jo White.

Immigration

A group of organizations have filed a class action lawsuit against the Border Patrol down in Tucson for operating detention facilities that are so filthy, overcrowded, cold, and ill-equipped that they violate the U.S. Constitution. The case is called Doe v. Johnson.

Just in case you don’t know how your Senator or Representative has been voting on important immigration issues in the Congress, the Alliance for Citizenship has developed a handy scorecard you can use and share.

Appropriations Hypocrisy

We reported last week that the Republican budget writers had decided to go ahead with implementation of the automatic budget cuts known as sequester, in spite of the widespread opposition to this plan in both parties. You all must have been enthralled by the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of the R’s when they decided to hold sequester for domestic programs, but slip a bunch of cash into the Defense Appropriation through an “off-budget” account for the overseas wars. On Thursday the House actually passed such a bill by a vote of 278 to 149. It slips a mere $40 billion into the overseas fund. Presidential veto to follow.

Presidential Stuff

Lots of straw in the Presidential winds these days.

The Republican Party in Iowa has decided to scrap its famous straw poll. Bush, Rubio, Huckabee, and Graham all had declined to participate. Perhaps they were afraid that Michelle Bachmann was again going to win this unofficial, early and inaccurate indicator of voter support. We were hoping to see the results of a race between Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Jim Gilmore, but alas it is not to be.

Hillary Clinton won a straw poll taken at the Wisconsin Democratic Party Convention last week, but she got only 49 percent. Bernie Sanders got 41 percent. We would report the breadth of support for Lincoln Chafee but have had trouble converting zero into a meaningful amount, even when using the metric system.

Marco Rubio has begun using a series of stories in the New York Times about his personal financial troubles as a method of raising money for his presidential campaign.

Jeb Bush wants to be the presumed front runner on the R side but is locked in at around ten percent support. He shook up his campaign and brought in a new manager. The manager is not the problem here.

Hillary and Jeb plan official announcements Saturday and Monday.

The Origin of Life

A story was out last week with the remarkable title “Researchers May Have Solved ‘Missing Link’ Mystery in Origin of Life.” I had a lot of trouble figuring it out, but you might have better luck. Lots of information about how RNA interacted to link up with amino acids in the big primordial chemical soup that your earth once was. The anti-evolution folks are going to have a field day with this and you can count on the pollution industry to latch onto the idea that a big chemical soup contained the origin of life.

Public Pensions

Last week we reported about an Illinois court ruling preventing that state from solving part of its fiscal crisis by cutting retirement benefits promised to state employees. They have a pension funding problem caused by repeated failures to fund the systems.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has just won a victory in court that means that New Jersey will be able to underfund its pension systems in order to get into the same mess that they have in Illinois. Even though Christie bragged a few years ago that he had solved the pension problem when signing a bill committing the state to fund the pensions, he now wants to renege and the courts said it was OK.

Aren’t these the folks who preach about the immorality of leaving debts for future generations?

Before you buy into the argument that state employee pensions are the cause of the fiscal woes being visited on several states who have systematically underfunded their systems, you might want to peek at a study done by an outfit known as Good Jobs First that compares pension obligations with the cost of tax breaks and loophole subsidies that the states hand out to big corporations. Turns out that if the states had funded the pension systems they would be better off because the supposed business-enticing loopholes didn’t produce much, but blew a big hole in the budget.

Money in Politics

The Arkansas Attorney General has approved title language that clears the way for a proposition to be placed on the statewide ballot calling for the overturn of the Citizens United decision that has flooded our democracy with dark money. If the proposition gets to the ballot and is approved, Arkansas will be the 27th state and the first state in the South to take such a position.

Zombie Economics

Being blissfully ignorant about most things that make up our pop-culture, your trusty Weekly reporter must make a confession.

These notes have reported consistently on Zombie economics, a phenomena that occurs when lots of campaign money causes politicians to lose all control over their brains and to decide that cutting taxes is the only way to develop public policy. Bad schools, provide a tax break. No child care, a tax break. No jobs, give a tax break to the rich. No food, cut the inheritance tax. Mindlessly hacking away at government becomes the only thing that these folks can do no matter how consistently the approach fails and no matter how harmful the results are to schools, health care, infrastructure, small businesses and the investments that undergird the civilization. This is the behavior of zombies, and I thought that it was based on the insidious influence of dark money.

During recent travels my friend Margarida made me aware of something called the Zombie Apocalypse. As I understand it, persistent pollution of the environment causes viruses to mutate into a disease that turns people into zombies whose only mission is to feast on other humans – thus leading to a more rapid breakdown of civilization than even the most rabid tax-cutters will be able to achieve.

I confess that I can see just how wrong I have been about this – a Koch pollution induced virus – what a clever approach. And I stupidly thought it was just money and a blind lust for power. I just didn’t know.

Klepto Banking

British regulators have fined Lloyds Banking Group $180 million for unfairly treating customers when they complained about improper sales of something they pedaled called “payment protection insurance.” The British Financial Conduct Authority, which levied the penalty, called it the largest retail fine ever.

Schedule

The Congress plans to be in Session until the 26th of June.

Questions Fly Over $400 Million Donation. But They’re the Wrong Questions

Last week, author Malcolm Gladwell stirred up the 1% hornet’s nest by sarcastically calling out a hedge fund manager, John Paulson, for his $400 million donation to Harvard University. The billionaire’s donation to the richest university in the world will benefit the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Upon hearing the news, Gladwell, the New Yorker writer and “Tipping Point” author, took to the Twittersphere to unload a deluge of missives aimed at poking fun at the hornet’s nest. Read more