Friday, January 18, 2013

Medicaid Eligibility in Georgia


Yesterday Governor Deal came out in opposition to expansion of Medicaid here in Georgia.  

Expansion of Medicaid was a key part of the health care reform law recently passed into law.  But the Supreme Court ruled states were not obligated to expand their programs and Governor Deal's refusal leaves some of our most vulnerable citizens in this state without health care coverage.

Bill Rencher, with the consumer watchdog group Georgia Watch, noted this morning what a bad deal this is for Georgia:

Not expanding Medicaid passes up an opportunity to cover a huge proportion of uninsured Georgians with the state only picking up a small percentage of the costs and the federal government pumping $33 billion into our economy.  (A more budget-oriented commentary by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute can be found here.) Furthermore, expansion would not only improve the health of those currently without insurance, but it would lessen their chances of devastating financial hardship leading to foreclosure or bankruptcy due to high medical bills.  Georgia currently has one of the highest bankruptcy rates in the nation, with health care the leading cause, so this is a critically important goal.  The expansion also would benefit Georgia consumers who already have insurance and who indirectly support the uninsured through higher health care costs and insurance premiums.  In fact, not expanding Medicaid will represent a double cost to the state's insured consumers:  they will continue to pay higher costs to support care for the uninsured, and their federal tax dollars will go to pay for and strengthen Medicaid expansions in other states, such as California and Maryland. 

Yesterday I sat down with Amanda Ptashkin, the Outreach and Advocacy Director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, to get a more in-depth look at this issue 

[interview to be embedded here shortly come back in a few minutes!]

Friday, January 11, 2013

Everything We Know About Drone Strikes.

I had the privilege to sit down with some political activists from Yemen a few weeks back.

I asked about the impacts of Obama's drone program and in very clear terms everyone said that the drone strikes were doing nothing but empowering repressive and authoritarian elements within the country.

Cora Currier with ProPublica has a good run down of everything we know about Drone strikes.  Please take a moment to read it.

The U.S. is counting any military-aged male killed in a drone strike as a militant. This is nothing short of an effort by the Noble Peace Prize winners administration to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind as a far wiser man than I once aptly phrased such political speech.  An administration official recently told a ProPublica reporter: “If a group of fighting age males are in a home where we know they are constructing explosives or plotting an attack, it's assumed that all of them are in on that effort.”

As someone who has coworkers that live in a house with gang members (whom they usually refer to as a brother or sister) I can tell you this assumption is not only wrong but is a subtle and unintentional way of feeding into the Anti-Arab/"hatred of all brown people" that seems to run rampant during the Republican primaries here in Georgia. 

Ms. Currier wisely included a list of who to follow on Twitter so here is a good #FollowFriday list if you need one:

For reporting and commentary on the drone war on Twitter:

@drones collects op-eds and news on well, drones. (Run by members of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, which has been outspoken about privacy concerns in the use of domestic drones, but it also covers national security.)

@natlsecuritycnn has breaking news.

@Dangerroom from Wired covers national security and technology, including a lot on drones.

@lawfareblog covers the drone war’s legal dimensions.

@gregorydjohnsen is an expert on Yemen, who is closely following the war there.

@AfPakChannel from the New America Foundation and Foreign Policy tweets news and commentary on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

#FollowFriday Having conversations that matter.

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."   --Martin Luther King, Jr. 

A lot of the reading, writing, and thinking I've been doing of late has revolved around a theme that has been hard to put my finger on.  

Its a theme which has started coming to fruition online in the form of blog posts (such as rebuilding our trust in reason and civic discourse,Epictetus, Jeffery Sachs, and what you can do to protect Social Security , and the mark of a sentient human being....  ) and a recent podcast interview I did Alan Essig, the Executive Director of the Georgia Budget and Policy on the upcoming Legislative session here in Georgia.

In my real world organizing work as a union steward this theme has started to appear to me in the efforts to rebuild the union power on my shift at work.  These efforts have been long term and have often felt fruitless but have started gain steam over the past few months in a very real way.  Some of our political action committe's work has appeared on this blog of late with posts like "Obama wants to do what!?!?!?!?!?" and But it's only a sliver on a graph!--Or why liberal technocrats are wrong on Social Security which circled around the moblization efforts we took on to try to stop Obama and the Republican's from cutting social security.

I realized yesterday that this theme is really about our need as a society to start having conversations that matter. 

We face very real challenges in our society.  From the employment crisis to gun violence, from the war on workers by the 1% to things which quite frankly seem like very basic tasks which we should all agree to make happen yet can't quite solve by ourselves.  Tasks such as educating our kids, being able to go to the Doctor when we are sick, or feeling safe in our own homes; the world seems to be in disarray.  

Around me, in friends and family, coworkers and classmates I see a lot of fear and unease, a lot of anger and frustration.

A lot of politicians and talking heads are providing ease answers and quick fixes.  What I like to call: Feels good, sounds good, politics.  But this is only feeding the flames and further eroding the social fabric.

The solution is right in front of us and is going on around us all the time.  We just have to start recognizing it and nurturing it in ourselves and others.

So throughout the day today and on many Fridays to come I will be utilizing my #FollowFriday hashtag to those in this world whom I have seen participating in the very important task of having conversations that matter.

The challenges we face as a society will not solve themselves.  We have to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of reading, thinking, discussing, and debating--with both friend and so called "foe"--to come up with solutions.  

No one will do it for us and twitter gives us the perfect tool to undermine many of the barriers of bureaucracy,  time, and geography which have historically made these questions of social policy a lot harder to overcome and navigate.

I've always said I don't believe that twitter will radically change the world, but I do believe in the hopes, dreams, and human capacities of many of the people on twitter, and in their ability to harness this tool to do the seemingly impossible.  

So, by all means, lets be realistic and demand the impossible as my more radical friends often urge.  

But lets do so not in some abstract manner but via very real and thoughtful efforts in our everyday lives to engage in conversations that matter.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The mark of a sentient human being....

"It is the mark of a sentient human being to learn from experience, to pay close attention to how theories work out when put into practice."

Ravitch, Diane (2011-11-01). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Kindle Locations 199-200). Basic Books. Kindle Edition. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

More Than 200,000 have signed the petition for Paul Krugman to be the next Treasury Secretary.

Obama has plans to put in another Wall Street friendly Treasury Secretary---and its the last thing we need! 

There is still time to put the political pressure on and make your voice heard.  Lets make sure that the concerns of average Americans, not the bankers that crashed the economy, get top priority at Treasury....  

Miss Representation Extended Trailer

The Estate Tax & The Fiscal Cliff

Economic inequality is one of the fundamental challenges we face over the next few decades.  

A strong Estate Tax is an equitable way to make sure that wealth and power do not simply concentrate within a small fraction of the population to undermine the economy and corrupt democracy.

United for a Fair Economy has a recap on how The Estate Tax fared in "The Faux crisis"...err Fiscal Cliff

Here’s the good news:
  • We still have an estate tax.  
  • We got part of what we wanted in the negotiations: a 40% rate is better than 35%.
  • This is the first time the estate tax has been strengthened in 28 years. 
  • With your help, Responsible Wealth made the estate tax part of the fiscal cliff debate. Prior to our December 11 teleconference, there was almost NO discussion of the estate tax. In the past two weeks, almost EVERY story about the fiscal cliff tax debate mentioned the estate tax.
  • The GOP was forced to tip their hand and expose who they’re really concerned about. They made it clear in the 11th hour negotiations that keeping the estate tax as weak as possible for wealthy families was their top priority.
  • The estate tax was finally indexed to inflation. Some Democrats don’t like this, because it means we’re stuck (for the foreseeable future) with an overly high exemption.  But indexing in and of itself makes sense. If the original estate tax had been indexed for inflation, we likely would never have faced the past 12 years of challenges to the law.
Here’s the not-so-good news:
  • The $10 million per couple exemption is still unnecessarily high, and the 40% rate is too low. 
  • The estate tax was once again used as a bargaining chip in the negotiation (as in 2010). While the GOP is unified in their staunch opposition to the estate tax, Democrats are mixed. If you look at the socioeconomic level of Members of Congress, and who they are married to, and who gives them 95% of their financial support, it’s no surprise that there are mixed feelings.
  • The estate tax discriminates against gay and lesbian partners, since the spousal exemption only applies to married couples by the federal definition of marriage. So only the individual exemption ($5.12 million) applies.
  • The federal estate tax remains “de-linked” from state-level estate tax laws, meaning states cannot automatically get a credit on federal estate tax payments.
What’s ahead on the estate tax:
  • This is not the last word by any means. Opponents like Jon Kyl will still push to weaken or completely repeal the estate tax as they have done repeatedly since 2000. Wealthy people in particular will need to continue to speak up in favor of a strong estate tax.
  • We are continuing to gather signatures on our Responsible Estate Tax proposal. To date, over 1,200 people have joined the initial 36 signers since December 11, including 130 wealthy signers.  
  • Most of the revenue from the estate tax comes from having a higher rate (think: really large estates).  We will push for a higher base rate than 40% AND progressive rates up to 55% on the largest estates.
  • The exemption level is about fairness. A couple with $10 million in assets (among the wealthiest .15% in the country) should not be able to pass on those assets tax-free to the next generation. Anyone with that amount of wealth has benefited greatly from what our country has to offer. We’ll continue to push—with your help—for a lower exemption.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Rebuilding our trust in reason and civic discourse.

Far too often of late I feel the solutions we (read: the politicans) are coming up with to fix problems and challenges we are facing as a society miss the point all together.

When I look around I see a lot of fear, distrust of political institutions, and nihilist disregard for the importance of a healthy functioning civil society.

A lot of what ails us as a society can't be addressed with quick fixes but through deep, long term, engagement with one another.  We have to rebuild trust, we have to reengage public discourse.  Rather than wandering off to our isolated corners to only talk to those who already agree with us we have to role up our sleeves and start to rebuild our democratic process.

There is a great book I've been reading right now by the Philosopher Michael Lynch called In Praise of Reason.  He hit's on a theme about rebuilding our civil society that needs to be echo'ed throughout our nation: 

The thought that everything is arbitrary undermines a key principle of a civil society: that we owe our fellow citizens explanations for what we do. Civil societies are not necessarily polite or homogeneous; but they are societies that value reason-giving, inquiry, questioning, and hashing out one’s differences with others. In so doing, they take seriously the idea that there are better and worse ways of doing these things. If you give up on the idea that there are standards of this sort, you give up on the idea that giving reasons has any real point. Deliberation becomes a game played for the joy of manipulation and the increase of power. Skepticism about reason undermines our commitment to civil society, and that is why it is important to understand its causes and answer its arguments.

Lynch, Michael P. (2012-03-16). In Praise of Reason (pp. 2-3). MIT Press. Kindle Edition. 

We have to begin long term efforts to rebuild trust in our capacities as a civil society to address the challenges we face.  Politicians and talking heads who start talking about quick fixes and never talk about the distrust and fear that is underlying so much of the political discourse in our nation don't really understand the crux of the very real challenges we are facing in 2013.