Friday, July 21, 2017

Who is my brother?

"I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor,” Pope Francis

I begin with the pontiff's prayer because today I am troubled by what I see as a society where looking out for number one is considered a positive trait.
I offer three examples.

I know a professional man who works in a union shop.  This man is friends with the CEO and believes that he can get a better deal on his own than standing with his sister and brother co-workers.
He probably can, what with his personal relationship with the boss. 
But what of his coworkers?
Where is his care for them?
Where is his responsibility for them?
This man has filed a petition to dissolve the union.
Because HE can do better.

State of Connecticut employees have voted to give the state concessions that will total in the billions over the next ten years with their overwhelming ratification of the new SEBAC agreement on pensions and healthcare.
This is the third time since 2007 that they have given concessions.
Why would they do this?
These are the people who work in our state tech schools, hospitals, prisons, courtrooms, road crews, parole offices, etc.
They care about the people of Connecticut.  They know the Connecticut budget faced a deficit.
They stepped up and did their part to help because that's who they are.

Now legislators must approve the deal, use the savings the state employees have given them (from their own pockets) and adopt a budget.
There are some in the legislature who want to reject the deal.
Why would anyone reject a giveback?
These legislators are not interested in a deal with the employees, they seek to bust the unions because state employees are not their friends. 
State employees believe in shared sacrifice.
These legislators do not.

That is why these same legislators will not even consider raising taxes on Connecticut residents lucky enough to be making a quarter or half a million dollars/year or more.
Like the guy who can get the better deal because he knows the CEO, the rich already have the better deal, and they want to keep it.
So, after givebacks from the state employees, they will look to cut social programs for the most disadvantaged among us, rather than ask the richest to do their part.

The last example is the effort in Washington to strip 23 million of the oldest, sickest, and poorest Americans of healthcare while giving the savings to the richest Americans and corporations in the form of tax cuts.
It is an effort that will just not die, despite that fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose it.

It's disgusting.
All three examples are disgusting.
We have a moral obligation to help our sister and brother.  Our society applauds those who do the opposite.

I share the pontiff's prayer.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Flip flops

Came down to the beach yesterday, renting a cottage for the week, in Galilee RI.
We stayed in this cottage a couple of years ago.
It’s small; a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a living room, and open from the living room and kitchen to the screen porch, which doubles as an eating area.
It’s a bit noisy, right on the road leading out of town, but close to the action.
Salty Brine State Beach is 200 yards from the front door and Capt. Wheeler State Beach is a quarter mile down the road in the other direction.
One can walk the beach between the two, along private beach cottages, for about a one mile round trip stroll in some of the prettiest beachfront I have found.
The fishing village of Galilee is a 2 minute walk from the cottage with several great places to eat and the best seafood and views in the world.
One of my favorite activities is to visit Champlin’s, order my seafood, grab a beer, and sit on the outside deck overlooking the harbor, watching the fishing boats heading out to sea and returning full of catch. 
Sometimes, if our timing is right, we can watch them unload lobster on the dock below us and bring it into the restaurant. 
On those days, we eat lobster!
The harbor is also home to sail and motor boats for pleasure, as well as the large ferries that run to Block Island, 13 miles off the coast and just visible from the beach on a clear day.
This mixture of fishing boat, ferry, and pleasure boats, as well as the beach and restaurants, gives Galilee the vibe of both a tourist beach town and a fishing village, and the locals and the seasonals can be seen sitting together as the local watering holes.

I will try to keep my work to a minimum this week.
We’ll see how I do.

The fact is, it’s not just “work.”
Like nursing, union work is a calling.
It’s not something you just “turn off.”

I did turn down a last minute request to fly to Washington this Wednesday for an AFT rally to protect healthcare coverage. The Senate is close to moving forward with a plan to eliminate healthcare for 22 million Americans, devastate state and municipal budgets through Medicaid cuts, and injure our poorest, oldest, and sickest citizens.
All to be able to give a tax cut to the wealthy.
I have been in the thick of this fight since January, and not being at the rally will be hard, but we have several great members from Connecticut who will attend and represent us well, and Michelle and I deserve this week.  Michelle is the most tolerant partner a guy could hope for when it comes to putting up to my late night meetings and frequent trips.  She understands this is calling and supports it and I understand that I am but one of 30,000 AFT Connecticut members, and we are strongest when we are all active.
So this week, I’ll trade dress shoes for flip flops.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why austerity budgets fail

We hear a lot these days about the need to cut taxes and cut services to make states more "business friendly" and grow the economy.
Seems like a good idea.
I know, I just paid my town taxes, it hurt to write the check.
I wouldn't mind if they were lower.
If they were lower, I would probably spend part of the savings and bank the rest of it. The part I would spend would stimulate the economy a bit.
The problem with this approach to stimulating the economy is multifold.

While I would slightly stimulate the economy with the extra spending, the rest of it would go to savings and do little towards stimulating.
If I paid less in taxes, some service would have to go.
Perhaps the roads would not get repaired or plowed as well.  Perhaps a teacher would be let go.
Besides the loss of these services, which I have said through my vote that I find beneficial, there would be a loss of income for the worker who previously provided that service which I believed in.
That loss of income would cause a loss of spending, and that decrease in spending would more than negate the economic stimulus that my slight increase in spending provided.
In addition, that worker would need assistance from me in the form of unemployment insurance, medical care, food assistance, etc.

So, in my attempt to stimulate the economy through a tax break, I would have caused a net decrease in spending and economic stimulus,
and,
increased cost to the town (and me) in the form of economic assistance to the person who used to provide the service that I wanted in the first place.

Kind of like shooting myself in the foot.

What if I took the opposite approach?

What if I took anyone in my town who was unemployed or underemployed and provided them with a job that paid a living wage and provided healthcare and other basic needs?

I would love to have an extra hand to help repair the potholes in my street or provide other needed service in my town.
At the same time, I would save money that I now spend on unemployment and other assistance.
But also, as far as stimulating the economy, the newly employed people would spend their newly earned money in local shops and stimulate the local economy. Those local shop owners would spend their increased income in other shops or investments in their own shops and the economic stimulus continues.

Perhaps ironically, by investing in people instead of giving myself a tax break, I would achieve an economic stimulus and the more "business friendly" state that I sought.

There is disagreement in what caused the Great Depression of the 1930s and what helped end it, but what is generally agreed upon, even in the difference of opinions, is that government spending played a positive role towards ending it, because it led to increased employment and the increased private spending that came with it.

This is the basis of why austerity budgets have the opposite effect that people seek.
People seek a boost to the economy and a decrease in taxes but because austerity budgets lead to higher unemployment and lower wage scales, they depress an economy and cause a loss of services and increases in taxes.
Legislators in Kansas and Illinois have recently overridden their governor's vetoes in a rejection of austerity budgets, not because they have suddenly become anti-business, but because they understand that austerity budgets harm the very goal of becoming "business friendly."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

E pluribus unum-Out of many, one

The tradition motto of our country, E pluribu unum, adorns the Great Seal of the United States.
It originates from the idea that out of 13 colonies emerged a single nation.
13 colonies with 13 different ideas of what a government should look like somehow put aside enough differences to become one nation, imperfect for sure, but agreeing to certain principles and most importantly, to work together as one people.

In the years since 1776 we have continued to evolve as a people.
The Suffragette movement, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, the Gay Rights movement, and the Union movement are examples of that evolution.
Each evolutionary step has tested our ability to hold to our motto.
At times this evolution has threatened to pull us apart, often it has led to bloody confrontation, but we have grown as a people through this.
Often, compromises have to be reached, just as they were in 1776.
Sometimes this evolution takes a step backward, at least temporally.

The idea that our strength in being able to come together as one people, as our motto says, is not universally accepted.
There are those who have there own agenda, who see our division, as a way to divide and conquer us.
Sometimes they like the status quo and do not wish change and they know that as hard as change is, it is nearly impossible if we are a divided people.

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act is an example.
Repeal of "Obamacare" has become such a rallying call that common sense seems to have left us.
Most Americans believe that there are parts of the ACA that should remain.  Most believe that kids should stay on insurance till 26, that sick, disabled, and elderly people should have healthcare, that those who work but make very low wages and receive no employer provided insurance should have access to coverage, that preexisting conditions should not limit one's ability to have coverage and that life time limits are cruel.
Ironically, the parts that people do not like, like the individual mandates and rising rates for those on the health exchanges, are a result of compromises to insurance companies and those opposed to a public option.
Those who want to divide us do not point out the parts of the ACA that we agree on. They paint the ACA as the work of a "liberal big government" gone too far.
Meanwhile, in the background while we are distracted fighting among ourselves, they plan tax cuts for themselves, rollbacks of financial institutions that led to the last great banking failure, limits to voter registration and immigration to those who tend to vote their interests, and more.

Our founding fathers were not perfect.  The fact that they were founding "fathers" is one indication. But they realized that to gain freedom from the English king, they needed to find what common ground they could.

E pluribus unum.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Healthcare is an unalienable right

There is currently a fight in our country over the future of healthcare.
At it's core is one fundamental question.

Is Healthcare a right of all our people?


I gave my opinion a few weeks ago on what I felt our ethical obligation is, in  "Healthcare is a Right." Today, let me address what I feel our founding fathers were saying when they penned these words:


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

What is the meaning of these words, words that led us to seek independence, words that summarize our reason for doing so.

What is a right, and is healthcare for all one of them?


In the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers declared that certain rights came from our Higher Power and could not be questioned or restricted by any earthly power. 


Our founding fathers declared that the right to life and the pursuit of happiness were such fundamental rights.

What could be more tied to the rights of life and happiness than quality, affordable healthcare?
Certainly, the right to life and happiness are restricted if access to quality, affordable healthcare is denied to a group of citizens, be they the poor, the elderly, or the otherwise marginalized.

Our founding fathers also declared that the right to liberty was a fundamental right.
Certainly, the right to liberty is restricted if a citizen cannot speak freely in the workplace for fear that loss of employment also means loss of quality, affordable healthcare.

You see, the right to quality, affordable healthcare, independent of employment, is closely tied to the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Quality, affordable healthcare is something that could be available to every citizen of our country. We have the science, the technology, and the infrastructure to make that happen.
Since it is possible, and since denial of such available healthcare to any one person or group of persons is intimately tied to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, then I believe it follows that denial of quality affordable healthcare is a violation of fundamental, unalienable rights.

Healthcare is a right.