Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fiscal responsibility

This may surprise people, but I am a fiscal conservative.
In my family budget, in my decisions in regards to my position as vice president of a 30,000 member labor union, and in my thoughts about how town, state, and national government should be run.

I understand most of my views would be seen as “progressive” or “liberal,” and I do not deny this to be true, but when it comes to money, I am conservative. (Just ask my wife, she might call me cheep)

I try to live by a few fundamental fiscal principles.
I believe I should not spend more than I earn.
I believe in looking for and negotiating better deals.
I know that sometimes it makes sense to borrow money, but that I should have a workable plan to pay it down. (Examples would be a home mortgage or car loan)
I believe that I should expect to contribute according to my means. (If I earn more than my spouse, I should contribute more to the family expenses)

I think most of us try to live by there principles.

I feel the same way about my union, my town, my state and my nations finances.

I feel all union members should contribute dues to help pay for the needed expenses of the members, and that this money should be spent in a fiscally responsible manner, directed by membership, and reviewed by a yearly independent audit. (Our audit was this week)
I feel that all residents should pay taxes enough to fund town, state, and federal government and that these funds should be collected according to an individual’s income and ability to pay, and that they should be spent wisely with resident’s oversight.
I oppose deficit producing budgets, much as I oppose an unbalanced family budget, expect in rare circumstances. 

This does not mean I don't believe in spending money on those things we value as people and a society.

The state of Connecticut recently passed a budget after a 4 month delay.
That budget is now running at a deficit, and seniors are being hurt by a rollback in eligibility standards of the Medicare Savings Program. Legislators will likely return for a special session to address these concerns.
State employees voluntarily gave back $1.6 million in the current budget.  
Teachers are contributing an additional 1% of their pay. 
Working families are facing possible increased town taxes as a result of state cutbacks to towns.
Seniors and the disabled are being harmed.
And still we have a deficit!

There is one group that have not been asked to contribute their fair share.
The Rich.
It’s past time for legislators to ask them to do so, to balance the budget, and to stop kicking the can down the road as they have done for far to long. 

Last night the US Senate passed a major tax reform bill.
It will cut healthcare to 13 million Americans, increase the deficit $1.4 trillion, cut taxes for the Rich and Corporations, and even eliminate the estate tax for the Super Rich.
(Let me ask you, do you feel the Rich and Corporations are suffering and need a break?)
From the party that is supposed to be the “fiscally Conservative party” we have the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation in recent memory.
Imagine running your family budget on their principles.
Spend money you don’t have, borrow without a plan for repayment, cut services that are most needed.

It’s shameful.
Elections have consequences. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The person who has two coats must share

Yesterday I took part in a coat giveaway in Windham County, run by the local K of C councils.
I know most people outside of Connecticut think of the state as the land of the rich, but in reality, it would be better to describe it as the land of the haves and the have nots.
Yes, Fairfield County in southwest Connecticut has some of the richest people in the country (the town of New Cannon has a per cap income of nearly $106.000), but Windham County in northeast Connecticut has some of the poorest (the town of Windham has a per cap income of $20,000.)
In one part of the state, sailboats line up at the marinas while in another, people line up for the bus.

We gave away nearly 800 coats, hundreds of blankets, baby clothing, hats and gloves.  Most had been donated at area churches. As the coordinator said, “A coat on someone’s back is better than a coat in someone’s closet.”
A few hundred were new coats, purchased by the Knights, so that there would be a variety of sizes.
People came from as far as 30 miles, and these are people often without their own transportation.  Many happy people left the building. Some disappointed left too, because they could not find the size to fit themselves or their child.
One young lady was almost in tears.  She had come all the way from Norwich, hoping to find warm clothing for her 18 month old.  By the time she got into the building, our limited supply of that size was gone.
As she picked through the small pile of clothing that might fit, in search of a coat, another lady entered the building, 2 small coats in hand.  She had heard of the drive and wanted to drop off a few coats that no longer fit in her home.  They were in great shape and the first lady left with one to keep her baby warm.

It was good to do something that benefitted so many people, it was sad that there is such a need to do it.
Lukes writes, “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius.......a message from God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.....
The crowds kept asking him, “What, then, should we do?”
He answered them, “The person who has two coats must share with the one who doesn’t have any, and the person who has food must do the same.”

We live in a country that is divided on so many issues, and along racial, political, economic and religious lines.  “Hate talk” is prevalent, especially on social media. 
Yesterday was a reminder of that.
There are so many in need while so many live such a comfortable life.  
But yesterday was also a reminder of the good in people, at least some people.

Perhaps it is not too late for us to remember what John said about sharing our coats.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Standing together is the cure

Earlier this week in Japan, the corporation that runs the trains apologize because one of the trains left the station 20 seconds to early. They were afraid they may have inconvenienced their customers.
The same day in Connecticut, Hartford Healthcare Corporation refused to agree to arbitration in a dispute with anthem insurance, a dispute that affected patients cross the state.
(Late yesterday, HHC and Anthem FINALLY came to an agreement with had left patients in limbo for 7 weeks)

“I had heart surgery. My electrophysiologist cardiologist is part of Hartford Health Care. When I contacted BC/BS I was told the doctor was still in network. When I arrived for my appointment, having taken a sick day to do so, I was informed by the nurse that the doctor was not accepting BC/BS patients and that BC/BS had mistakenly told several patients the same information.
I am now overdue for a check up of my heart and am very distressed. This situation must be resolved.”

This was just one of the many stories we received at AFT Connecticut from our members in response to an email we sent them detailing our involvement in the ongoing dispute between Anthem Insurance and Hartford Healthcare Corporation.
Jan, our president, personally answered the emails.
When I pushed back that that was too much for her to do, she would have none of it.
“John,” she said, “I understand, this is my story too.”
Jan recently ended up in the ER and received a bill from Hartford Healthcare stating she owed them nearly $4,000 and that because of the ongoing dispute with Anthem, she was responsible for all of it.
I made a few phone calls.
Turns out, it was a scare tactic designed to get patients to call Anthem in a panic and beg them to settle with Hartford.
In reality, even if the dispute had not been settled, she was responsible for the "out of network" copayment, not the entire bill.
She, and many other patients affected, are but pawns in a cruel chess game between Anthem and Hartford.
It makes me sick.

As Insurance companies and healthcare corporations get larger and larger, and there becomes fewer and fewer of them, we can expect more of these disputes that use patients as the pawns, because there is insufficient regulation in the industry to protect patients.

But hey, we want our state and our country to be “pro business” right?
If we cut regulations and cut corporate tax rates, businesses will be able to expand, become more efficient, and create great jobs and we will all be better, right?
The truth of the matter is that “business ethics” is too often a class taught in university, not a thing in real life.

We allow healthcare corporations and insurance companies to merge unchecked because it is creating a  “pro business” state. Meanwhile, the executives of Anthem and Hartford Healthcare are making millions of dollars a year, while patients suffer as the pawns in their high stake chess game.
It’s sickening!

We push a tax bill through congress that cuts corporate taxes because we are creating a pro business country.
Meanwhile, top campaign donors get “payback”, while the rest of us face higher taxes (and higher insurance premiums if they repeal the individual mandate.)
It’s sickening!

Until workers wake up and realize that we are all in this together and need to stand together in order to have the power to push back, this will continue.

Don’t talk to me about being “pro business."
Tell me you’re “pro patient.”
Tell me you’re “pro student.”
Tell me you’re “pro worker.”

Chemo makes a cancer patient nauseous because its a poison. 
This "pro business" ethics makes me sick for the same reason...
Its a poison.
Workers standing together is the cure.

Connecticut Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney has promised to reintroduce legislation creating a binding arbitration process to settle contract disputes between insurers and hospitals that the parties cannot solve on their own.
I support this.
If healthcare executives and Congress won’t act ethically on behalf of their patients and the electorate, then we need to act for them.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Elections matter

Sometimes things have to get bad, before they can get better.

One year a go, Donald Trump was elected president and the Congress came under Republican control.
This year, in Connecticut, with a very small Democratic majority in the state house and a tie in the senate, we saw unprecedented attacks on working families, unions, and an austerity budget.

In Connecticut, the legislature refused to close tax loopholes that favor the rich.
In Washington, the administration and congress has tried repeatedly to take away healthcare from millions of Americans, and now they are trying to give the rich a tax break!

Last winter, in a special election, AFT Connecticut member and Hartford teacher Josh Hall was elected as a Working Families Party candidate to the state legislature.
We have defeated Obamacare repeal over, and over, and over.
And this past Tuesday, progressives won elections across this country and the state of Maine voted in a referendum to expand Medicaid.
AFT Connecticut endorsed over 100 candidates for municipal office, including over 30 of our own members. Over 70% of our endowed candidates won.
Our members teamed with their communities and door knocked for pro-worker candidates. We passed our literature and had one on one conversations about our endorsed candidates. 
We became active.
We became engaged.

There is much work left for us to do.
But for those of us who believe that America can still be a country of equal opportunity, regardless of race, skin color, religion, etc.....
I see hope.

Those of us who are not of the top 1% must stand together.  
We must believe that a society “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” is possible if we are engaged and active.

Tuesday showed that.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Why bother?

Tuesday is election day.
I know, why bother, for most of us it's just a municipal election.
Nothing important.

Most of us must feel this way.
I read that only about 15% of eligible voters turn out for a municipal election.

Let me remind you.

Many have fought, been injured or even died, for you to have the right to vote.
You owe them to exercise that right.
If only those who criticized others for "not being patriotic, or honoring the flag, or honoring the troops" would vote.....we'd be above 15%
So do it for our troops.

"All politics are local,"
Decisions on how to spend much of your tax money, when to repair the roads and street lights, how to run your school, are made on the local level.
So do it for yourself.

If you work for the town or city, you can elect your boss.
So if you are a teacher, you can vote for the board of education.
If your otherwise work for the city, you can elect the mayor and the board.
So do it for your work.

"Up and coming" political newcomers have to come from somewhere.
Often, they come from having held local office.
Political parties call this "building the bench."
If we don't elect those who hold our values at the local level, they will not be "on the bench" for higher office.
So do it for the future.

Only 15% of eligible voters vote in municipal elections.
This apathy can work to your advantage.
Entire political tides can be turned with only a small number of votes because of apathy if one side or the other mobilizes those who believe in their values.
So do it because of apathy.

It can send a message.
If you are tired of how things are in Hartford (or your state capital) or in Washington, you don't have to wait till 2018 to change things.
You can send a message this week.
You can affect the direction of our country.
So do it for your values.

Elections matter.