Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day & Innocents

Memorial Day commemorates those that have fought and fight to protect the United States’ Freedom. Thousands of men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that many of us can continue to live absent harm. To them goes this one day, which seems hardly enough. While many soldiers have died, we must not forget the many innocent women, children, and men that have died. They are, indeed, the spoils of war.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

(Crossposted from So Educated)

So Educated Contributor Antoine Green helped to put this event together that will be held at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Richmond, VA later this evening at 7pm. Please read for details, and support by stopping by if you're in the area. 

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Local education alliance aims to engage parents

When: Tonight at 7
Where: the old Patrick Henry Elementary School, 3411 Semmes Ave., Richmond
view more 
By Jeremy Slayton
Published: May 19, 2011
A grass-roots organization is hoping to empower parents to close achievement gaps in education and boost student performance.
The Greater Richmond Education Reform Alliance formed this year to push for quality education options for Virginia's schoolchildren.
Those options can include traditional public schools, private schools, charter schools, laboratory schools and home schools to ensure that children have the opportunity to learn the best way possible for them, said Keisha Cummingsdirector of the alliance.
Through community meetings, the group is informing parents and civic leaders about achievement gaps between student groups, such as between minority and white students, and ways to address the issue.
"We're working with parents to let them know they are actually the people who can change it,"Cummings said.
Beth Warren is one such parent who wants to know more about education options for her children.
After watching the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" which examines failures in the country's education system, Warren felt a call to get involved.
"I'm trying to learn about other ways that we, as parents, can help public education become better in the state as well as the city and the counties," Warren said. "I think parents have so much more power than I think we realize."
Though the organization is based in Richmond, its members are from Chesterfield and Henricocounties, and it has partnered with groups in Petersburg and the Tidewater region.
The education advocacy group is partnering with Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts inRichmond tonight to honor the anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v.Board of Education, which declared school segregation unconstitutional.
The keynote speaker will be Lacy Ward Jr.director of the Robert Russa Moton Museum inFarmville. Sixty years ago last month, students at the all-black R.R. Moton High School walked out to protest its crowded and inferior conditions.
But the discussion also will center on the history of educational options in Virginia.
Patrick Henry's board supports the local education alliance's efforts because they will help the charter school and similar initiatives, said Kristen Larson, Patrick Henry's spokeswoman. "We're excited about the collective power of this group and its supporters in trying to promote school choice."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Health Insurers Aren't Raising Rates Due to the Affordable Care Act

Remember those stories that were proliferating pretty much everywhere about rising healthcare premiums and how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) clearly didn't help bring costs down if rates are still rising? The premise of such stories never made sense based on the fact that (1) the ACA hasn't fully gone into effect, and (2) rarely do government regulations - for better or worse, economically - directly effect costs that quickly.

Well this NY Times article blows another large hole in that silly premise. Not only are health insurers not raising rates due to the Affordable Care Act, they are still raking in hefty profits - 3 straight years and counting.
The nation’s major health insurers are barreling into a third year of record profits, enriched in recent months by a lingering recessionary mind-set among Americans who are postponing or forgoing medical care.
Tim Shaffer for The New York Times
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe, in Wilmington, Del., said that after years of resisting generic medicines, more patients were now requesting them to avoid paying hefty co-payments for brand-name drugs.

The UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest commercial insurers, told analysts that so far this year, insured hospital stays actually decreased in some instances. In reporting its earnings last week, Cigna, another insurer, talked about the “low level” of medical use.
Yet the companies continue to press for higher premiums, even though their reserve coffers are flush with profits and shareholders have been rewarded with new dividends. Many defend proposed double-digit increases in the rates they charge, citing a need for protection against any sudden uptick in demand once people have more money to spend on their health, as well as the rising price of care.
Even with a halting economic recovery, doctors and others say many people are still extremely budget-conscious, signaling the possibility of a fundamental change in Americans’ appetite for health care.
“I am noticing my patients with insurance are more interested in costs,” said Dr. Jim King, a family practice physician in rural Tennessee. “Gas prices are going up, food prices are going up. They are deciding to put some of their health care off.” A patient might decide not to drive the 50 miles necessary to see a specialist because of the cost of gas, he said.
Healthcare premiums aren't going up due to the ACA. Heck they aren't even going up due to supply and demand. They are going up due to the expectation of  more services being used at some point in the future. And if that isn't vague enough for you, at some point you'll get old and need more medical care. Reason enough? On a serious note, I understand health insurers preparing for different economic times now. I even understand them hoarding as much cash as possible while the getting is good (after all these are for-profit companies with shareholders and owners to satisfy). However I don't understand the government facilitating this largess as much as possible through either lax regulation, legislative impotence, overly generous tax subsidies. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Crime, Punishment and Budgets

By Marie Owens

Crime, Punishment and Budgets

Without a doubt, the United States is facing a fiscal crisis. The financial drain of two taxpayer-funded wars in the Middle East is a major factor. Billions in bailouts to financial institutions, banks and car companies are another. Add to that the continuing high unemployment and deep recession that have brought about increased need for state benefits, and it's a perfect storm.

Furthermore, most conservative representatives want the government to remain small, while their more liberal opponents believe the government has a role in protecting the population through essential services funded by taxpayers. Recent wrangling over the federal budget has thrown the argument into high relief. As result, Americans are more deeply divided over the role and scope of government than ever.

The 2010 midterm elections brought about a shift in the balance of power on the national and state levels. The House of Representatives swung to the right, leaving only the Senate and White House in Democratic hands. On the state level, impatience over the slow economic recovery led to many governors' seats in the Midwest turning Republican by narrow margins.

Republicans, like their Democrat predecessors, are responsible for balancing billion dollar shortfalls in state budgets. However, these newly minted governors have a very different way of approaching the problem. Yet as anyone with a criminal justice degree will tell you, their approach is one that has serious implications for crime prevention, police protection and even the level of crime itself.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is still attempting to force laws into effect that would strip public sector workers of their bargaining rights. Though police and firefighting unions were exempt in this round, the Green Bay Press Gazette reported police protested the legislation in word and deed, along with teachers, nurses and labor unions, by the thousands. Six Republican senators who voted for this law are currently under recall by the voters.

Similarly, upon taking office in Ohio, Governor John Kasich immediately gave millions in tax breaks to corporate interests, then forced the ensuing state deficits down to the municipal level by cutting funding for the cities, particularly Cleveland. The effects were immediate and devastating. In the last two months, unable to raise taxes through levies and with federal stimulus dollars running out, Cleveland has laid off 600 public school teachers and 400 city workers (which include police, firefighters and first responders). This is extremely detrimental to the city, as with fewer police patrols, crime will rise. Likewise, a decrease in teachers is likely to cause young people to lose hope in the system and resort to crime to survive. Governor Kasich also plans to privatize prisons and toll roads, further removing additional sources for jobs and tax revenue. Thus, John Kasich's budget will be balanced as another 1,000 hard-working people lose their jobs, their hopes and possibly, their homes.

In Michigan, which already suffers from skyrocketing crime in the city of Detroit, Governor Rick Snyder took an even more radical approach, enacting what has been compared to "financial martial law." Slashed funding, combined with corporate giveaways have already led to the closure of entire school districts, with many more being slated for closure in the coming months. Many municipalities also teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. Thus, Governor Snyder has given himself the power to appoint individuals to go into these cities, dismiss the locally elected government, and dictate which services will be cut, police forces among them.

What all of these governors have in common is giving huge tax breaks to companies, then demanding that taxpayers make up the resulting shortfalls. The result is simple to foresee: huge tax increases through local levies, property and city income taxes. Thus, while wealthier communities will be able to raise the money, poorer communities will not. Yet the most shocking part of all is that these men campaigned on lowering taxes.

Clearly crime, punishment and budgets are deeply interconnected. For example, consider the simplest method of crime prevention: community involvement. A policeman whose salary is cut will spend his free time in a part-time job, not on the softball field, influencing youth.

Tax breaks for companies are a good idea on the surface, when the assumption is that the companies will hire locally. Local jobs increase tax revenues, employment is high, services are funded and crime remains low. However, eight years of the Bush tax cuts have shown that rosy picture to be patently false. Flush with cash, and seeking ever-lower tax rates and lower-cost labor, companies do not hire locally, but actively outsource jobs overseas instead.

The effect is three-fold. First, local unemployment causes increased need for unemployment benefits, which are funded by taxes. Thus, without taxes, there will be no benefits.

Second, without jobs, people don't have buying power to fuel the economy. Local merchants like restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, even department stores and shopping malls end up closing their doors, causing further economic pain and even lower local tax revenues. Fewer sales taxes are paid because people can no longer buy things like major appliances, cars, new clothing and even food on impulse or out of necessity.

Third, empty storefronts combined with people that have nothing to do and no way to support themselves is a perfect recipe for crime. Without tax revenues from companies and employed labor, city governments must cut their budgets and are no longer able to hire enough police to adequately control, prevent or address crime.

Likewise, as prisons fill up, there are fewer people to staff and run them, because there are fewer funds to pay these public workers. Privatizing prisons may seem to be the answer to this problem, but it's a temporary one, at best.

While the implications of these trends are clear, voters have been slow to grasp them. Businessmen continue to be elected to high public office and continue to serve their own interests over their constituents'. Until the direct relationship between budgets, taxes and the services that control, prevent and punish crime is realized, the problem will continue to escalate.

About the Author
Marie Owens works in security logistics. In her spare time she teaches a female self-defense course and studies law in Washington state.

How the GOP Plans to Cripple Medicare and Medicaid

(Excerpt of my weekly column in The Loop)
Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff for President Obama, famously used to say, 'Never allow a crisis to go to waste,' and the GOP is surely taking that to heart. Instead of outlining plans to tackle the federal deficit with a focus on long-term viability, they are instead using rhetoric as fact to end some of the most popular social programs ever created in our country's history. Take Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, for instance. He's prepared to slash $6 trillion (with a T) out of the budget in 10 years on the backs of Medicare and Medicaid enrollees.

Sure, both Medicare (mandatory insurance program for those over 65) and Medicaid (voluntary and subsidized insurance program for the impoverished) are spiraling out of control and consuming a higher percentage of the federal budget every single year. Medicare alone accounted for 14 percent of this past year's federal budget. Many have recognized this trajectory for some time now.

But ending popular programs only makes sense when you have a successive plan that is capable of being more effective, more sustainable, and actually has a legitimate shot at becoming law. All things Ryan may wish his plan were, but wishing so does not make it so. Starting in 2022, under Ryan's plan, seniors would be liable for 61 percent of their medical coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And in 2030 it's projected to rise to 68 percent. That wouldn't be so bad if seniors were expected to get healthier the more they age, but they aren't all Benjamin Button....

 About the Author
Connect: LinkedIn Facebook Twitter
john [at] 
A proud graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, John is currently a Master's of Public Health candidate at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University  where he is studying health policy & management. He is also a weekly contributor to theloop21.comand founder of So Educated (, an education policy and reform blog focused on widening the debate surrounding education and empowering parents and teachers - frequently the least thought of. 

Areas of interest include health care reform and education reform, particularly: access to health care, health care exchanges, and Medicare and Medicaid; in addition, charter schools,  K-12 funding, and educational equality.
John is wholeheartedly determined to contribute to the rapidly changing dialogue in the health care and education communities. He has made continuous contributions by conducting research, publishing articles, interviewing practitioners and professors, and engaging students through on-campus organizations.

John's publishings have appeared in fora such as: The Orlando SentinelThe Daily VoiceFrum Forum (formerly New MajorityWiretap magazineBlack Web 2.0The Daily CalifornianClub and Policy Net. In addition, his commentary has been dissected on Countdown with Keith OlbermannCNN,Think ProgressYahoo News, and Mediaite.

Previously, he served as a legislative fellow in the offices of the Honorable David Englin (D) and  David Bulova (D) of the Virginia House of Delegates, in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions, respectively. John also interned in the office of the State Attorney General of Virginia, and completed a Governor's Fellowship in the Office of Gov. Bob McDonnell where he worked with the deputy secretary of health on projects regarding aging, HIT and disability.