Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Note to regular readers

Most days over the next few months on the Mainsteaming Torture bookapalooza and road trip, regular posts will appear here daily. We're not rushing and will usually find internet access. But if there is nothing new here for a day or two, just figure we're momentarily off the grid and will be back.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Good news about Obamacare


The New England Journal of Medicine reports that an awful lot of us are benefitting from Obamacare:

"Taking all existing coverage expansions together, we estimate that 20 million Americans have gained coverage as of May 1 under the ACA," the authors wrote. "We do not know yet exactly how many of these people were previously uninsured, but it seems certain that many were."

They reached the 20 million total this way: 1 million adults under age 26 enrolled in their parents' plan; 8 million enrolled in private coverage through the insurance marketplaces; 5 million enrolled in private coverage directly through their insurer; 6 million enrolled in Medicaid.

That's one hell of a lot of people whose security is somewhat greater because, if they get sick, they have some chance of getting appropriate medical care without going bankrupt. Not too shabby.

Meanwhile, hospitals are hurting in states that have taken the Supreme Court's invitation to evade covering many of their poor people when the judges made expansion of Medicaid voluntary, according to Forbes.

The moves against expansion are “beginning to hurt hospitals in states that opted out,” a report last week from Fitch Ratings said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services has said Medicaid enrollment in the 26 states and the District of Columbia that agreed to go along with and implemented the expansion by the end of May “rose by 17 percent, while states that have not expanded reported only a 3 percent increase,” HHS said in an enrollment update for the Medicaid program.

“We expect providers in states that have chosen not to participate in expanded Medicaid eligibility to face increasing financial challenges in 2014 and beyond,” Fitch said in its July 16 report...

Uh oh -- will the medical establishment push Republican governors and legislators to get on with insuring their people? Time will tell.

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision allows some employers to refuse to cover their insured employees for some or all birth control methods. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has ordered that companies that want to limit their workers' coverage must inform the workers.

Employers that intend to drop coverage for some or all forms of contraception in the wake of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision must notify employees of the change, the Obama administration said Thursday.

The notice was posted on the Department of Labor website as a new "frequently asked question" about the Affordable Care Act, the health care law passed in 2010 and still being implemented.

That's only sensible: you don't want employees thinking a medical necessity they expect to have covered is excluded. But also, if a corporation wants to argue it has a religious exemption that enables it to avoid giving people the full coverage their neighbors get, it should at least have to tell the affected workers that their insurance has been limited in accord with the boss' opinions.

UPDATE: You might know that the day I would point this news out, a federal court would use highly tendentious "reasoning" about Congressional intent to try to kick the underpinnings (the subsidies) from under the system and collapse Obamacare. This isn't over -- there are many months of appeals ahead. We'll get to see whether the judicial branch is really willing to take the opportunity to access medical care away from what is estimated to be 4.5 million people.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country


A candle casts a warm glow on a restaurant table of an evening.


But the light's fluctuations seemed just a little too even to come from a real flame. That suspicion was right.

What's in it for the restaurant that encourages use of the battery operated candle? Cost of real candles? Staff time to light, extinguish and replace them? Clean up costs when customers play with dripping wax? We'll never know.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Isolationists, interventionists, liberal apostles of nationalism -- can't we do better?


On Friday, the New York Times reported:

Iran, the United States and the five other countries negotiating the future of the Iranian nuclear program have agreed to a four-month extension of the talks, giving them more time to try to bridge major differences over whether Tehran will be forced to dismantle parts of its nuclear infrastructure, according to a statement released early Saturday in Vienna by all seven nations.

The same day, I attended a session at Netroots Nation titled "Iran: Diplomacy or War?" Heather Hurlburt of Human Rights First opened the session by pointing out that much as any of us might have hoped that the Iran talks would be extended rather than have them collapse, none of us could have guessed that this potentially momentous affirmation of the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to what the powers consider Iran's nuclear threat would fall below the threshold for major news. She opined this might be a good thing, muting some resistance in both the US and Iran.

In general, the panel -- which included Ilya Sheyman from MoveOn.org, Ali Gharib from the Nation and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut in addition to Hurlburt -- applauded President Obama's combination of sanctions with diplomacy in our dealings with Iran. They take for granted that the United States must take the potential Iranian bomb as a vital threat, though they don't say just why. They were all concerned that the Democratic national security policy establishment needs to develop some approach to the rest of the world that is neither isolationist nor interventionist.

On the one hand, that sounds sensible. Certainly talking is better than shooting our adversaries. And a war-weary United States has zero appetite for military adventures.

But the discussion struck me as essentially surreal. Don't any of these people understand that the United States has next to zero legitimacy with many of the peoples of the world? In the Middle East, we are both perpetrators and enablers of horror. In Latin America, we're the cruel mega-state to the north which ratifies authoritarian coups (as in Honduras in 2009) and spreads our drug war, spawned by our appetite for narcotics, across the continent. Even in Europe, we're the arrogant superpower which affirms our right to spy on all and sundry. A United States which imprisons children fleeing violence and locks Muslims convicted of no crime up for over a decade in Guantanamo simply has no claim to be a beacon of freedom, democracy, or rule of law.

Obama has -- on his better days -- has dragged the country away from its xenophobic crusading mode. But after decades of support for "anti-communist" dictators and schools of torture, it's no surprise that in the eyes of most of the world, we're more a rogue elephant than a model nation. Democratic foreign policy wonks seem as unable to acknowledge this simple truth as are Republicans.

Fortunately, in another NN14 session, Sara Haghdoosti suggested an alternative frame within which progressives can think about national security and foreign policy. Try this on mentally:

Foreign policy is how we allow our government to treat people in other countries.

That seems a far preferable way to look at the world. Simple, democratic (small "d") and to the point. The point has to be how to live on this planet together, peacefully, for the good of all. Anything else is simply stupid.

You can learn about BERIM, Haghdoosti's project on Iran, and sign a petition supporting diplomatic solutions to conflict at this link. The graphic is from the BERIM site.

Screams from the silence: #GazaUnderAttack


Israeli memo to journalists:

As part of Hamas’ strategy of hiding behind the civilian population it has frequently exploited journalists as human shields, deliberately putting them at risk of injury or death.

Israel is not in any way responsible for injury or damage that may occur as a result of field reporting.

And this, from Gaza City:

This occupation, this massacre, is protected by a silent world. 

Dr. Mona El-Farra

Saturday, July 19, 2014

There is something about these women ...

On Friday at Netroots Nation I got a look at two women in politics about whom I can feel genuinely warm.

Elizabeth Warren spoke to a packed ballroom -- in the picture, she's that tiny figure on the left; the big screen is how most of us "see" the speakers. It is not a bad view.

If you've had any exposure to Warren, she didn't say anything new. Here's what the New York Times reported in a rather sympathetic piece.

“They cheated American families, crashed the economy, got bailed out, and now the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they got too big to fail in 2008!” Ms. Warren thundered, in one of her many applause lines. “A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested. The game is rigged!”

She went on: “Billionaires pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries. How does this happen? It happens because they all have lobbyists. Lobbyist and Republican friends in Congress. Lobbyists and Republicans to protect every loophole and every privilege. The game is rigged, and it isn’t right!”

She brought down the house by ending with the declaration that citizens such as those of us at NN14 represent "21st century democracy." I need to think about that.

Meanwhile, Ready4Warren and others had seeded the room with "run, Liz, run" paraphernalia. The Netroots Nation folk are enthusiastic.

I've scandalized some Democrats at NN by saying I'll work to elect Hillary Clinton, but don't ask me to cast my vote for her (abstention is a privilege I get for living in California.) Any number of people in this convention from places like Michigan, North Carolina and Maine who are suffering under Republican governors will tell anyone who will listen why we have to elect even bad Democrats rather than let the other guys in. And I buy it. But it sure would be nice to have someone to be for.

I don't see Warren challenging Hillary Clinton from the left, however much I'd like that. But she sure is keeping Teddy Kennedy's seat properly warm. And she'll take on anyone in service of an economic equity agenda.

The only sadness I felt over Warren's appearance is that she drew three times the crowd that had gathered to listen to Rev. Barber the previous evening. I get that, but I can't be happy about what that says about the progressive movement.
***
The other highlight of the day was hearing my favorite candidate of this cycle, Shenna Bellows who is running for the Senate in Maine give her stump speech. She's animated, intelligent, principled -- and because she is challenging an incumbent has to convince with every utterance that she can upset a three term incumbent.

A former ACLU affiliate director, she has been called the "Elizabeth Warren of civil liberties." She's out to repeal the Patriot Act, but also to bring infrastructure development to rural communities, defend Social Security and enact some tax fairness.

This candidate could (and should) be the surprise of 2014. On Sunday she sets out to walk from Houlton to Kittery to reach as many Mainers as possible. No matter where you live, this is a candidate well worth any contribution you can make.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday cat blogging


Latte prowls in small town South Dakota. There are many cats about, mostly outdoor animals, though fed by the humans.


Not surprisingly, they tend to look rather alike.

Moral fusion comes to #NN14


Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president and self-described "country preacher" who leads the "Moral Monday" movement in North Carolina, wowed the crowd at Netroots Nation 2014 last night. He easily upstaged the droning Sen. Chuck Schumer (too bad the guy is so dull; his subject, comprehensive immigration reform is essential). He even out-orated National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García and Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.

Those two women aren't easy to follow.

Rev. Barber calls for a prophetic "moral fusion" movement in every state that educates, activates and agitates for inclusive voting rights, fair taxes, labor rights, and access to good public education for all. It all seems mighty simple -- except that getting there would demand our deepest commitment, our souls and bodies.

The election of President Obama -- the glimpse his success showed of the emergent majority of youth, people of color, and single women -- has brought out the worst in too many people. Their representatives

refuse to pass anything because [they] don't like little black girls having pajama parties in the Whitehouse ...

Barber says that we are living into a Third Reconstruction, a new incarnation of one of those times when our democracy flowers in new and vital directions. After all,

it's about right versus wrong.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#1Uhistory at #NN14

That headline is Twitterese for "Labor History" as presented on a tour at the Netroots Nation 2014 conference in Detroit yesterday.


Mike Kerwin of the Michigan Labor History Society led our group around the city. He joined the United Auto Workers in the early 1950s.


AFL-CIO photo
A highlight was passing by the Woolworth's retail store where women workers took over the building on sit-down strike in 1937. They won, including half-pay for the seven days they'd held the building!


According to the dedication on this statue of Detroit mayor and later Michigan governor Hazen S. Pingree (1840-1901):

He was the first to warn the people of the great danger threatened by powerful private corporations, and the first to awake to the great inequalities in taxation and to initiate steps to reform.

Oddly, to contemporary thinking, he was a reforming Republican.


The "Labor's Legacy" monument by the river struck me as triumphal masculine machine-age art -- not my genre.


But some significant reminders are embedded around its base.




Naturally a labor history tour ended up in a bar -- the Anchor Bar, where, in the 1990s, newspaper workers brought out their alternative paper while on strike against the local Gannet paper. Barb Ingalis, a former striker, and Lou Grieco of the Newspaper Guild enthralled a friendly crowd with the story of that epic struggle. The Detroit papers, though shrunken, are still unionized!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Evidence this is a GREAT country!


Stopped in a construction delay in the Badlands.

The Bookapalouza rolls on


While we were out exploring the Indiana Sand Dunes State Park along Lake Michigan today, our bumpersticker got a rise out of someone. I'd say this response was friendly, if vigorous.

In the last few days, Rebecca has added new events in New England. She also recorded several interviews while in Minneapolis over the weekend; I'll flag those when they turn up in net space.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Afterdinner musings

Yesterday we ate dinner at a nice brew pub in Davenport, Iowa. Good beer, good food, even a good salad. Often in mid-America, the brew pub is the place to eat.

This sat on the table:
Click to enlarge
I was curious. Do children of restaurant employees in Iowa need special help?

Iowa, despite having a Republican governor and a legislature split between the parties, did accept federal money to enroll people in health insurance whose income is too high to receive Medicaid but less than 133 percent above that level. The Supreme Court did its bit to undercut Obamacare by allowing states determined to be as cruel as possible to poor people to opt out of this expansion. Twenty-four states exclude such individuals from the federally funded Medicaid coverage and offer none of their own. At the beginning of 2014, Iowa's idiosyncratic Medicaid expansion seemed to be succeeding in signing up poor people for insurance. Gallup just reported that nationally the percentage of people who are uninsured has fallen to the lowest point since before the recession as Obamacare kicks in.


But less happily for its restaurant workers, Iowa is one the states that uses the federal minimum wage to set its own; currently that means that employers can't pay less than $7.25 an hour. (The Prez and Democratic congress critters are calling for a raise to $10.10, but Republicans aren't listening.) But in reality, employers can lawfully pay less. In Iowa, it is legal to pay employees whose compensation includes tips -- like many restaurant employees -- a cash wage as low as 4.35 an hour. Tip income is expected make up the difference.

It is not hard to imagine that families of restaurant workers might need some help.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country


It's a little hard to imagine, but presumably at some time it was someone's job to travel about peddling these near life size figures to eateries. These two specimens were spotted about 2000 miles apart.

Would you believe this one is in a Chinese restaurant?
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