This Red State Almost Expanded Health Insurance to 280,000 Poor People — Then This Red State Almost Expanded Health Insurance to 280,000 Poor People — Then Koch Group Got Involved Got Involved

The health care plan was killed, revived last week, and killed again.

Tracy Foster calmly explains that when she goes to doctors, all they can do is “poke” — she makes a poking motion with her hand — her bladder back into place, because it is falling out of her body. She has bladder cancer. She needs to have surgery immediately, the doctors all agree, but she doesn’t have insurance and can’t get the operation unless she hands over eight thousand dollars up front (two thousand for the doctor, six thousand for the hospital). She doesn’t have that kind of money or a health plan to cover it.

Foster had one surgery for her cancer when she was covered by TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid, state-run health care for the poor. But she was dropped, she says, because her daughter turned 18 and as an adult with no dependent children she’s no longer eligible for coverage. She’s spent most of her life working in the health industry, tending to Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes, working in a hospital lab, administering EKGs. So she has no illusions about her situation. “They found the lymph nodes near my bladder enlarged,” she sighs.

She’s tired and very sick, but she dragged herself down to Nashville from her home three hours away to take part in a Moral Monday demonstration for Insure Tennessee, a health care proposal that would bring insurance to an estimated 280,000 low-income people in the state. The plan, pushed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, aims to expand Medicaid coverage to Tennesseans who live on less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,000 for an individual and $27,000 for a family of three). It also aims, desperately, to differentiate itself from Medicaid expansion that’s associated with the Affordable Care Act (Tennessee is one of 22 states that refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA).

To that end, the plan contains potentially onerous premiums and copays as well as punitive measures like locking people out when they fail to make their payments. In another concession to anti-Obamacare conservatives, when the federal subsidy to the state drops from 100 percent to 90 percent, Tennessee’s hospitals have promised to pick up the slack.

On Monday afternoon, Tracy Foster joined clergy and secular activists (clerical white collars for days, nurses in white coats and many students)  in a statehouse demonstration to support Insure Tennessee, organized by the community group Moral Movement Tennessee. They massed in the bright, expansive Capitol lobby outside of the Senate chamber. They waved palm fronds and crosses, singing songs like “This Little Light of Mine.” Some suggested that if Jesus were around today he probably wouldn’t be in favor of letting the poor die just to spite the President, and pleaded with legislators to “not do the politically expedient thing, but to do the right thing,” as activist Brian Merritt put it in a fiery speech.

As that night’s Senate session beamed through a flat large screen in the hallway, Foster leaned back against a wall by the TV, looking small. She said she didn’t think anyone who knew how hard her life is could oppose a plan that would give her, and thousands like her, health coverage.

“I would hate for them to go through the pain I go through, but if they would feel one ounce of the pain that I go through everyday they would be for it. They would,” she insisted.

They didn’t. The next day, the plan died in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, dashing the hopes of activists and sympathetic lawmakers who’d been energized by last week’s resurrection of the proposal, after it had been voted down at a special emergency session in February.  And devastating people like Foster. The Governor has previously suggested that he would continue trying for some version of the legislation, but there does not seem to be a likely legislative route to reviving it this year, advocates say.

It should not be surprising that anti-government conservatives backed by the Koch brothers gave torpedoing the plan their all. The day of the Moral Monday protest, Tennessee’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group (David Koch heads AFP’s Foundation), had relaunched its radio campaign against Insure Tennessee.

AFP-Tenn has relentlessly hammered the proposal’s parallels to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, making things exceedingly awkward for its Republican backers. “Obamacare has been a disaster. Expanding Obamacare in Tennessee will be the same,” the latest ad said.

In February, when the plan was first introduced and defeated, AFP-Tenn had pulled out all the stops. They ran ads urging Tennesseans to call their representatives and bussed in members in red shirts to the statehouse. (Pro-health care advocates claim some were shipped in from out of state, but that has not been independently confirmed).

As NBC and local media outlets reported at the time, AFP members jammed into the Capitol, intent on spooking legislators who had not yet made their stance on the plan public. A handful of unlucky Republican lawmakers found themselves sharing poster space with a picture of President Obama, in grey, sinister ads accusing them of “betraying” Tennessee. The fear campaign worked. The plan failed in the emergency session, despite a poll — eagerly distributed by the Governor’s supporters to GOP legislators — that although 85 percent of Republican voters oppose Obamacare, only 16 percent opposed Insure Tennessee, reported NBC.

“Radio ads, social media and grassroots activism led by AFP-TN was a significant factor in the defeat of the Insure Tennessee plan,” the group boasted in a press release.

NBC noted at the time that the effort reflects a larger AFP strategy of impacting politics at the state level, especially in states in the South and West with Republican-controlled legislatures, where “policy debates are between more moderate Republicans and the party’s conservative wing.”

“The vote was one of the clearest illustrations of the increasing power of AFP and other conservative groups funded in part by the Koch brothers,” NBC pointed out.

Andrew Ogles, the young director of AFP-Tenn, laughed off intimations of Koch-conspiracy, saying “Obviously David Koch is our chairman and we appreciate everything he does for us, but we’re grassroots.” Ogles says that the group’s opposition to Insure Tennessee is rooted in the ACA. “From the onset we’ve opposed Obamacare. Insure Tennessee is funded by the Affordable Care Act and it’s an extension of Obamacare.” Toppling the ACA is a priority and their opposition to insuring low-income Tennesseans is part of that plan.

He says there are huge problems with the state’s health care system, but believes that there are better solutions, citing two that AFP is working on: one is opening up treatments that have passed phase 1 to terminal patients, and the other is telemedicine. “You can speak to your doctor via the phone, or FaceTime,” he says brightly.

On Tuesday, the day of the Senate Commerce and Labor committee vote, hundreds of Insure Tennessee supporters poured into the legislative plaza, in a demonstration organized by the Tennessee Justice Center. They came in purple t-shirts with “Insure Tennessee Now!” scripted on the front and the back, and many carried signs with their vocations printed above their support for the plan.

There were nurses for Insure Tennessee, grandmas for Insure Tennessee, veterans for Insure Tennessee, among many others.

A “grandma for Insure Tennessee,” Suzanne Lanier, said she doesn’t see the downside of a plan that gives people insurance without adding taxes. “It will insure veterans, and people who are working, but who can’t afford insurance,” she said. “Reality isn’t reality until it happens to you,” she says wisely, pointing out that the legislators who might scuttle the plan are among the lucky Tennesseans who have state-backed health insurance.

77-year-old vet Ronald Huddleston made a sharp point about Christian values. “The people who run this building consider themselves to be conservative Christian. I always thought the definition of a conservative Christian was one who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ, such as help the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick … I thought that was what Jesus said, over and over and over again.”

Morgan Wills, a tall, straight-backed doctor, identifies as politically independent and has never participated in a political rally before, he says. But he’s here now, because the proposal just seems reasonable and also because of the horrors he encounters at work as head of a Nashville clinic for the uninsured. 

“I had a patient who had a gun shot wound and was scared to go to the emergency room,” he says. “He showed up in our clinic two days later.”

He also describes how his own son had had an appendectomy last week, and he’s doing just fine, in contrast to a child of one of his clinic’s patients. “He had the same exact situation, and they were scared to go to the emergency room. They waited, and [his appendix] burst. He was gravely ill,” he says. “Examples like that remind me that though the proposal is not perfect, it is better for people to have some insurance.”

As the session approached, purple-shirted advocates lined the hallway the legislators passed through, singing and clapping to We Shall Not be Moved. “We’re fighting for Tennessee … and we shall not be moved,” they sang.

When the session got underway, hundreds of Insure Tennessee supporters packed the room; it got so full that an irate lobbyist sitting close to one of the doors kept leaning over and hissing “It’s too crowded!” whenever more activists tried to make their way in.

Two Republican Senators who backed the plan, Doug Overbey (a sponsor) and Richard Briggs, made their case to a committee composed of eight Republicans and a lone Democrat; their case largely being that this was not Obamacare, which they said over and over again.

“Now we have to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Is Insure Tennessee Obamacare? I can assure you, it is not.” Sen. Briggs declared.

Their sell was predictably pro-business Republican. They made market-friendly arguments, such as that a healthy workforce is essential to economic prosperity. They pointed out that many rural hospitals were at risk for closure due to the economic hit of treating the uninsured and noted that businesses might think twice about relocating to an area where their employees would not have access to a hospital.

“This is no free ride for the insurance-less,” stressed Sen. Briggs, noting that participants in the program would have to pay premiums and failure to do so would make them ineligible.

They assured their colleagues the plan would not cost Tennessee taxpayers, since it would be paid for by the federal government and hospitals — a major concession from that industry.

Sen. Overbey explained that despite initial reservations, he’d come around and was convinced it was good policy for the state; that it would make Tennesseans healthier and grow the economy. His concerns were also assuaged by assurances by the Governor and the Medicaid office that if either the federal government or the hospitals cut their funding, the state could opt out.

“We may not trust the federal government, but we trust our Governor,” Sen. Briggs said.

In his final appeal, Sen. Overbey described the plan as a “home run” that would help Tennesseans without raising taxes and ended with a plea. “Vote yes. If you vote no, it kills the conversation this year.”

The string of nays rang out swiftly. The committee voted 6 to 2, with one abstention, to kill the plan rather than allow it to go to the next committee for discussion. The activists started a round of “This little heart of mine, I’m going to let it shine” and filed out of the room.

Outside, as depressed activists milled around, Michele Johnson, co-founder and executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, managed to come up with a hopeful message. “What happens now is, we take this democratic movement to every part of the state. We’ll keep telling the truth. Just keep telling the truth.”

Here’s a link to the Gofundme campaign raising money for Tracy Foster’s operation. 

How the Wealthy Rob Our Most Productive People

Lives are being trashed by klepto-remuneration: theft through excess rewards to rapacious bosses.

There is an inverse relationship between utility and reward. The most lucrative, prestigious jobs tend to cause the greatest harm. The most useful workers tend to be paid least and treated worst.

I was reminded of this while listening last week to a care worker describing her job. Carole’s company gives her a rota of, er, three half-hour visits an hour. It takes no account of the time required to travel between jobs, and doesn’t pay her for it either, which means she makes less than the minimum wage. During the few minutes she spends with a client, she may have to get them out of bed, help them on the toilet, wash them, dress them, make breakfast and give them their medicines. If she ever gets a break, she told the BBC radio programme You and Yours, she spends it with her clients. For some, she is the only person they see all day.

Is there more difficult or worthwhile employment? Yet she is paid in criticism and insults as well as pennies. She is shouted at by family members for being late and not spending enough time with each client, then upbraided by the company because of the complaints it receives. Her profession is assailed in the media as the problems created by the corporate model are blamed on the workers. “I love going to people; I love helping them, but the constant criticism is depressing,” she says. “It’s like always being in the wrong.”

Her experience is unexceptional. A report by the Resolution Foundationreveals that two-thirds of frontline care workers receive less than the living wage. Ten percent, like Carole, are illegally paid less than the minimum wage. This abuse is not confined to the UK: in the US, 27% of care workers who make home visits are paid less than the legal minimum.

Let’s imagine the lives of those who own or run the company. We have to imagine it because, for good reasons, neither the care worker’s real name nor the company she works for were revealed. The more costs and corners they cut, the more profitable their business will be. In other words, the less they care, the better they will do. The perfect chief executive, from the point of view of shareholders, is a fully fledged sociopath.

Such people will soon become very rich. They will be praised by the government as wealth creators. If they donate enough money to party funds,they have a high chance of becoming peers of the realm. Gushing profiles in the press will commend their entrepreneurial chutzpah and flair.

They’ll acquire a wide investment portfolio, perhaps including a few properties, so that – even if they cease to do anything resembling work – they can continue living off the labour of people such as Carole as she struggles to pay extortionate rents. Their descendants, perhaps for many generations, need never take a job of the kind she does.

Care workers function as a human loom, shuttling from one home to another, stitching the social fabric back together while many of their employers and shareholders, and government ministers, slash blindly at the cloth, downsizing, outsourcing and deregulating in the cause of profit.

It doesn’t matter how many times the myth of meritocracy is debunked. It keeps re-emerging, as you can see in the current election campaign. How else, after all, can the government justify stupendous inequality?

One of the most painful lessons a young adult learns is that the wrong traits are rewarded. We celebrate originality and courage, but those who rise to the top are often conformists and sycophants. We are taught that cheats never prosper, yet the country is run by spivs. A study testing British senior managers and chief executives found that on certain indicators of psychopathy their scores exceeded those of patients diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders in the Broadmoor special hospital.

If you possess the one indispensable skill – battering and blustering your way to the top – incompetence in other areas is no impediment. The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina features prominently on lists of the worst US bosses: quite an achievement when you consider the competition. She fired 30,000 workers in the name of efficiency yet oversaw a halving of the company’s stock price. Morale and communication became so bad that she was booed at company meetings. She was forced out, with a $42m severance package. Where is she now? About to launch her campaign as presidential candidate for the Republican party, where, apparently, she is considered a serious contender. It’s the Mitt Romney story all over again.

At university I watched in horror as the grand plans of my ambitious friends dissolved. It took them about a minute, on walking into the corporate recruitment fair, to see that the careers they had pictured – working for Oxfam, becoming a photographer, defending the living world – paid about one fiftieth of what they might earn in the City. They all swore they would leave to follow their dreams after two or three years of making money; none did. They soon adjusted their morality to their circumstances. One, a firebrand who wanted to nationalise the banks and overthrow capitalism, plunged first into banking, then into politics. Claire Perry now sits on the frontbench of the Conservative party.Flinch once, at the beginning of your career, and they will have you for life. The world is wrecked by clever young people making apparently sensible choices.

The inverse relationship doesn’t always hold. There are plenty of useless, badly paid jobs, and a few useful, well-paid jobs. But surgeons and film directors are greatly outnumbered by corporate lawyers, lobbyists, advertisers, management consultants, financiers and parasitic bosses consuming the utility their workers provide. As the pay gap widens – chief executives in the UK took 60 times as much as the average worker in the 1990s and 180 times as much today – the uselessness ratio is going through the roof I propose a name for this phenomenon: klepto-remuneration.

There is no end to this theft except robust government intervention: a redistribution of wages through maximum ratios and enhanced taxation. But this won’t happen until we challenge the infrastructure of justification, built so carefully by politicians and the press. Our lives are damaged not by the undeserving poor but by the undeserving rich.

American Police Killed More People in March (111) Than the Entire UK Police Have Killed Since 1900

A total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police.

Yeah. Those numbers are real.A total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police.

Don’t bother adjusting for population differences, or poverty, or mental illness, or anything else. The sheer fact that American police kill TWICE as many people per month as police have killed in the modern history of the United Kingdom is sick, preposterous, and alarming.

In March:

Police beat Phillip White to death in New Jersey. He was unarmed.

Police shot and killed Meagan Hockaday, a 26-year-old mother of three.

Police shot and killed Nicholas Thomas, an unarmed man on his job at Goodyear in metro Atlanta.

Police shot and killed Anthony Hill, an unarmed war veteran fighting through mental illness, in metro Atlanta.

I could tell 107 more of those stories.

This has to end.

Are GMOs Doomed on the Global Market?

Farmers in the U.S. are beginning to wake-up to the fact that genetically modified crops are poor business indeed. With countries around the world taking a firm stand against GM imports, not only are farmers who grow GMOs suffering from dwindling export opportunities, but also those whose crops have been cross-contaminated with genetically modified pollen.

A striking example is when China took a tough stance in November 2013 and declared an import ban on U.S. corn following the detection of genetically modified Bt protein (MIR162). According to industry economic studies, this little mishap cost upwards of $4 billion in revenue losses for U.S. corn and soybean industries. As of August 2014, the Biosafety Committee also revoked the permits for GM rice and corn that were being developed in China. This last part is largely attributed to mounting public outcry about the safety of GMOs.

And Russia has taken their anti-GMO position to the next level with legislation that would make the illegal introduction of genetically modified crops into the country a crime that is treated in a similar manner as terrorism. As geopolitical analyst William Engdahl told RT.com:

“The direction of this is anything that stops, and puts the genie back in the bottle called genetic manipulation of plants and organisms is to the good for the future of the mankind. The comment about 20 percent of harvest increase in some GMOs is absolute rubbish. There is no long-term harvest gain that has been proven for GMO crops anywhere in the world because they are not modified to get harvest increases. So this is just soap bubbles that Monsanto, Syngenta and GMO giants are putting out to loll the public into thinking it is something good.”

Increased profit linked with non-GMO crops

At the Beijing food conference held earlier this year, the focus was on protecting human survival. Not surprisingly, genetically modified food was looked upon with a wary eye by both the public and Chinese agricultural officials.

Bob Streit, an Iowa crop consultant, presented an agronomic overview of GMO corn and soybean production issues in the Midwest — including early die down, resistant weeds and disease vulnerability.

“Streit expects that the number of nations willing to import GMO grains, or grow them at home, will continue shrinking as more facts about GMO-linked human and animal health pathologies are documented. About 50 nations curb growth or imports of GMOs. The remaining big overseas market for the U.S. is China — precisely the location of this conference,” reports RenewableFarming.com.

Streit also believes that, as more nations resist GMO imports, the price of genetically modified corn and soybeans will fall, while the price of conventional, non-GMO crops will rise. He predicts the price per bushel for non-GMO corn will increase to $1.50, with soybeans climbing to $3.50. The lower seed cost for conventional corn and soybeans, compared to their GMO counterparts, will widen profit margins as well.

Future hope

Renewable Farming also notes:

“The intensity and unity of the 350 participants in the Beijing conference presents a strong signal that leading scientists, human health experts and a wide range of global consumers will soon overpower U.S. corporate and government defense of genetically engineered crops. That happened in Europe — and BASF discontinued its GMO research and marketing efforts there.”

You can read the full text of the “Beijing Declaration” here.