Saturday, March 25, 2017

Thoughts on Health Care

I’ve been giving some thought to the defeat of the GOP plan to overturn the Affordable Care Act.   And it is interesting – I am most definitely happy that that effort failed in the House this week.   But I don’t really feel a sense of joy, rather relief for now.  Because the defeat really happened for an odd reason – some portions of the bill were so malicious – pulling the requirements for coverage of pre-natal care, emergency care, penalizing customers a 30% premium for switching insurance companies - among others – that certain congressional Republicans could not stomach voting for the bill.  But as widely noted, the Republican “Freedom Caucus” thought it didn’t pull enough benefits.  Think about that for a moment.   A sizable chunk of these guys didn’t think it went far enough.  Had they thought “we’ll take this and fight for more repeals on the next major bill that needs to pass” then the country would be on the path to deconstructing the ACA, which helps tens of millions of people.    So that’s still a little scary.

Oddly enough I would guess – it’s hard to know – but I would venture to agree with the speculation that Trump doesn’t want to deal with health care anymore and wants to move on.  My hope anyway is that Trump is of the mindset of “I gave you your chance and you blew it, so I’m moving onto stuff that I care about.”  In that sense to me that there’s a good shot Obamacare lasts through the midterm elections.  As it should.

Keep speaking out on what's important.  Sometimes it makes a difference.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Don't miss what's behind the all the Trump noise

I probably don't have to cite all the sturm und drang surrounding all of Trump's tweets, executive orders, disenfranchising speech, attacks on the media, and his general sucking all of the air out of the room of public debate.  But we also can't take our eye off the ball about what the current GOP controlled Congress may be doing behind the curtain of all the noise.  You may already know that The Trump administration repealed an EPA rule requiring coal mining companies to clean up water polluted by mountain top mining, or that it repealed an SEC rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.  Or that it plans to gut EPA rules regulating CO2 emissions.

What you may not yet know about is the introduction of H.R. bill 610, which would repeal a bedrock Federal educational law - the ESEA act of 1965, which among other things, establishes programs for special needs learners, AP classes, ESL classes, funding for low income schools, among other things - and replaces it in its entirety with block grants to states for voucher programs.  Additionally, the bill voids nutritional requirements for meals provided to children in schools.  

Here's the section on repeal of the 1965 ESEA act - the enitre thing is repealed in one sentence:

SEC. 102. Repeal of Elementary and Secondary Education Act and limitation on secretarial authority.
(a) Repeal.—The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.) is repealed.
(b) Limitation on secretarial authority.—The authority of the Secretary under this title is limited to evaluating State applications under section 104 and making payments to States under section 103. The Secretary shall not impose any further requirements on States with respect to elementary and secondary education beyond the requirements of this title.
Next the bill takes whatever funding was allocated under ESEA and block grants it to states for voucher programs.  Any payments not made to states from existing appropriations go to deficit reduction.  Here's the relevant section:

SEC. 103. Block grants to states.
(a) Grants to states.—From amounts appropriated to carry out this title for a fiscal year, the Secretary shall award grants (from allotments made under subsection (b)) to qualified States to enable such States to carry out an education voucher program under section 105.
[...]
(d) Deficit reduction.—Any amounts remaining after allotments are made under subsection (c) for a fiscal year shall not be available for any purpose other than deficit reduction.
Section 105 essentially sets up the authority to block grant funds to states.  You can read the text of 105 (and the rest of the bill, it's pretty short) here.

Here's the text voiding nutritional requirements - they actually have the audacity to call it the "No Hungry Kids Act":

SEC. 201. Short title.
This title may be cited as the “No Hungry Kids Act”.
SEC. 202. Repeal of rule.
The rule prescribed by the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture relating to nutrition standards in the national school lunch and school breakfast programs published on January 26, 2012 (77 Fed. Reg. 4088 et seq.), and revising parts 210 and 220 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, shall have no force or effect.
Whatever you think of the efficacy of these programs, a LOT of kids are impacted by and benefit from ESEA, and this is the kind of thing that should be debated in public.   I do have mixed feelings about educational requirments being uniformly imposed by Washington, D.C., but just blindly granting states Federal taxpayer money to do with as they wish - with no minimal requirements, no assurances for special needs children, no provisions for low income families, etc. - seems like poor policy.  Indeed, with 33 Republican governors and 32 state legislatures controlled by Republicans, it's not a stretch to think that a good amount of taxpayer funds will go to subsdize private, for-profit educational institutions, with much less accountability than public ones.

We need to keep our eye on the ball with all of the craziness hitting our public discourse. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Trump's Toxic Politics

Another personal story exemplifying the toxic atmosphere Trump’s politics have created in this country – I have received permission to identify this person relaying this story to me. Today, my friend and colleague at CBS, Joanna Fenton, boarded a crowded B train headed towards Brighton Beach, at 7:00 p.m. She sat next to a woman wearing a hijab, as well as a young man. All three have dark skin. The woman with the hijab was sitting in the seat closest to the door of the train.

At Atlantic Avenue, a white man with what seemed to be a Russian accent boarded the train which at this point, as is usual for this time, was very crowded. He elbowed his way to the space where Joanna and her seat-mates were, and shoved his elbow into the head of the woman wearing the hijab.

The woman said to the man, “Your elbow is in my temple”.

The man said “So what?”

Joanna and the young man told the Russian sounding man “Excuse me?"

The Russian sounding man said “Trump was right – you are all animals! You need to go back to where you came from!! No one wants you here!”

The young man tried to get up to confront the Russian sounding man – but Joanna and the woman wearing the hijab held him back, fearful for his safety. Seeing this, the Russian sounding man said “Trump is president, I can do what I want!!” And proceeded to continue to insult them through the train ride. Not one person – on a very crowded train – said anything.

The woman who was wearing the hijab told Joanna that she deals with this type of behavior on a daily basis, and that her sisters have given up wearing their hijabs due to their experiencing continued harassment. She told Joanna that she was born in Brooklyn and is a lifelong New Yorker. All three – Joanna, the young man and the woman are American citizens.

Joanna got off the train at Newkirk Avenue, and the young man moved to sit in-between the Russian sounding man and the woman wearing the hijab as the woman was fearful for her safety.

Joanna called me at 8:15 p.m. tonight her time – 5:15 p.m. my time, and I have never heard her so upset. She was angry, fearful, in tears and told me “I had not thought this would happen to or around me, and also thought that if it did happen, that it wouldn’t hurt as bad as it does. This is America, we are citizens, and – this is New York!! Supposedly one of the most liberal places in America!! I didn’t know it would hurt so much.”

I have relayed this story as Joanna has told it to me. She and I trust each other on a daily basis where team members have to deeply trust and rely on each other to get our jobs done. This is why I am telling you this story – the scariest part for me was not just what happened, but that no one on the train stepped up and came to their defense.

Dr. Martin Luther King said "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy".

Where do we stand at this time of challenge and controversy? Where do you stand?



Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Few Final Thoughts Before Election Day


I get if you don’t like the status quo.  Heck, I voted for Bernie Sanders.   However I still wonder how people can pull the lever for a man like Donald Trump.  The primary reasons I hear – that Hillary is corrupt, she is not trustworthy, that she will be bad for the economy – are the same things that can be said about Donald Trump.  

Trump happens to make his living by playing shell games with other people’s money and leaving small businesses and taxpayers holding the bag.  I’m unclear on why people think Trump will be “good for the economy” when he leaves a trail of bankruptcies and unpaid businesses in his wake.  And oh by the way Donald Trump has zero experience in governance.

Let’s not forget that it was a Barack Obama administration that spearheaded the rescue of the U.S. automotive industry and fended off an existential economic crisis, or that Bill Clinton’s economy ran a surplus.  Of course they’re far from perfect, but Democrats have proven they can govern.  I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton will be an equally, if not more capable chief executive than her predecessors.

And that’s before we get into Trump’s comments on anyone else who doesn’t share his worldview.  Donald Trump has overtly courted racist support, has demonized immigrants, used anti-Semitic themes and images in social media, and let’s not forget his treatment of women through his entire life.

Make no mistake - a vote for Donald Trump is a vote to legitimize all of these messages.  You can say to yourself that “well that’s not why I’M voting for him” but that doesn’t really matter because in fact a vote for Trump is a vote for this kind of leader. 

If you don’t like Hillary that much then you really need to ask yourself why that’s the case, and if that reason really overrides empowering a demagogue like Trump.  Each of us is responsible for how we exercise our vote.  And we are all collectively responsible for the governance of our country.  Our choices matter, and so do the consequences of those choices.  If you haven’t voted yet and are thinking about voting for Donald Trump, I would say think carefully about what your vote supports.  And if you choose to opt out of voting altogether, then you are opting out of our future and the direction of this country. 

For all these reasons and more, I support a vote for Hillary Clinton.  

As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.
 - Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, October 22, 2016

November 8, 2016 Election Endorsements

Greetings all.  The Valley Dude is back in the Valley.  It's great to be back in one of the greatest places in the world to chill, work, play and dine.  And of course that means it is time for the Valley Dude's ballot recommendations - a full rundown of the state ballot measures follows below after the candidate endorsements.

President of the United States:  Hillary Clinton
U.S. Senator:  Kamala Harris
U.S. Representative 30th District:  Brad Sherman
CA State Assembly 46th District:  Angela Rupert

CA statewide Propositions:  

You can look at the ballot summaries for the propositions here:

Proposition 51 - YES.  $9 billion bond for K-12 school consturction and improvement.  We have every reason to fund additional schools, improve existing ones, and help our innovative Charter schools.  This is EXACTLY the type of public investment bonds are designed to support.  A wholehearted YES endorsement for proposition 51.

Proposition 52 - YES.   13 million Californians rely on Medi-Cal for health benefits.  This is an astounding 33% - yes, 33% - of the population of California who need assistance with prevenative care visits, prescription drugs, surgery and ER visits.  Another remarkable statistic - 4 in 10, that is not a typo - 4 in 10 Californians live in or near poverty.  This proposition extends fees on hospitals that support Medi-Cal programs.

Proposition 53 - NO.  This is a ridiculous proposition.  This prohibits localities from issuing revenue bonds over $2 billion for infrastructure projects and requires statewinde voter approval for such. I really do believe in the importance of local governance, and not having to go to the voters for every single infrastructure project.  NO on 53. 

Proposition 54 - YES.  Requires legislative bills to be in print and online 72 hours before a vote.  Requires AV recordings of legislative proceedings, and access of such via the internet.  YES for transparency in governance!!

Proposition 55 - YES.  Extends current tax on income over $250,000 for single filers, $500,000 for joint filers, for funding of K-12 schools and community colleges.  Without this funding, up to $4 billion - yes, $4 billion - of cuts hit K-12 and community colleges.   If you value our children's public education, this is a must-pass measure.

Proposition 56 - YES.   $2 excise tax increase on cigarettes.  Anything that makes it harder to smoke cigarettes, including excise taxes on them, should pass.  Tobacco is a blight on our society - ravaging health effects, secondhand smoke, and pollutants, cigarette butts.  There is no reason cigs should be easy or cheap to obtain.

Proposition 57 - YES.  Authorizes parole consideration for nonviolent inmates, expands rehab and education, and gives judges, not prosecutors, the power on whether juveniles should be tried as adults.

Proposition 58 - YES.  I can't say I'm an expert in bi-lingual education.  What this measure appears to do is remove requirements that kids are taught in English only classrooms unless parents object.  Rather, it reverses that paradigm - it permits schools to offer bi-lingual classes, and provides for parental input.  This seems like a good idea.

Proposition 59 - YES.  Proposes that California's elected officials use their authority to propose and ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overterning the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.  The Citizens United decision has had a direct and negative effect on the insane amount of political money and the increased influence such dollars bring.  We should do everything in our power to overturn this decision.  Corporations are not people -- people are people.  We need to get corrosive big money out of politics.  YES on 59.

Proposition 60 - NO.  This is an odd proposition - it gives any California resident the right to sue adult film producers or those with a fiancial interest in the film for alleged workplace violations.  Huh???  This seems like a kooky measure.

Proposition 61 - NO but I don't blame you if you vote YES.  This measure says the state won't pay more for drungs than the VA pays.  This one seems like a good idea, but this is exactly the kind of thing the legislature should be overseeing.  There's a couple things that ultimately bring me to the NO position - 1) the cap doesn't apply to 75% of Medi-Cal enrollees for some reason and 2) drug companies can figure out strategies to work around these caps.  For instance, they may raise prices on the VA.    The measure also doesn't require manufacturers to offer the state VA pricing - in which case the state would not be able to purchase the drug.  This measure is just more evidence of the need for a single payor health care system, and I don't think this will fix it.

Proposition 62 - YES.  Repeals the death penalty in California.  I am a steadfast opponent of the death penalty - it is wrong, brutal, disproportionately impacts non-whites, and subject to wrongful conviction.  Vote YES on bringing California back to the Age of Enlightenment.

Proposition 63 - YES.  Requires background checks to purchase ammunition.  Prohibits large capacity ammunition magazines and requires their disposal.  Ammo sales must be made through licensed vendors.  People convicted of stealing firearms may not possess them.  Vote YES on making California a leader in sensible gun safety laws.

Proposition 64 - YES.  Legalizes marijuana under state law for adults 21 or older.  Establishes excise tax of 15% on retail sales, and additional taxes on cultivation of marijuana.  Establishes packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products.  Allows local regulation and taxation of marijuana.  Enough is enough.  It's time to stop wasting law enforcement resources, dollars and prisons on smoking pot.  Colorado and Washington are doing just fine.  Some things - such as heroin, meth, cocaine, speed - are truly public health threats.  Pot is not.  Now, let's be clear - pot, like alcohol, is not good for developing brains in children and teens.  But throwing everyone in jail for some weed is an overreaction.  If anything, pot is less corrosive than alcohol and just about every other vice.   Except maybe coffee.   Vote yes on Prop 64 and then put on some Bob Marley.  Everyone will be just fine.    

Proposition 65 - NO.    May void existing plastic bag ban.  Why mess with a good thing - vote no.

Proposition 66 - NO.  Changes existing state death penalty procedures.  I have no idea whether this will be ok or not - however, I support the total repeal of the death penalty, and strongly urge a yes vote on Proposition 62.

Proposition 67 - YES.  Affirms ban on single use plastic bags.

City of LA and LA County ballot measures - my friends at the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club have a rundown here, and I agree with those recommendations.  In fact, my recommendations generally match theirs overall but we differ a bit on Prop 61.  Link to their analysis is here

Above all else, please excercise our civic duty to participate in our great American experiment of representative democracy.  We still, with all the problems affecting the United States, have the power of the vote.  Use it.  Let's all take steps to reach the ideals that our country strives to achieve. 


Sunday, August 2, 2015

The U.S. Economy

In the category of things most of us probably already know, I'm still amazed by just how much of the U.S. economy is driven by housing, financial services, health care and something called "other services".  These categories dwarf the durable goods sector.  NPR's planet money has a good overview & breakdown of the various components of the U.S. economy here, and the graphic chart is more readable here.