The Threat of the TPP to Public Health – Part 3 (A Glimmer of Hope ??)

by Ivend Holen

photo2362With the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating process now winding down to its final stages, some optimism for opponents of this disastrous trade bill may be warranted, at last. Although the governments and over 600 corporate lobbyists negotiating this draconian trade agreement still don’t want you to know what’s in it, some of them issued cheery press releases congratulating themselves for the “progress” they made at the last round in Brunei last August. But you’ll search in vain for any information on what “progress” they made, or even what the TPP negotiators are up to.

With the end of the 19th round of negotiations in Brunei in late August, the negotiators are ending their practice of “consultation”, and are now holding secret unannounced meetings. In other words, not only is the text of the TPP to remain in secrecy, the continuing negotiations themselves are being kept secret.

[Read more…]

If we deny health care to undocumented immigrants, can we save money?


Let’s break this into specific questions.

Does the cost of immigrant health care exceed what they pay?

Immigrants subsidize care of for native-born Americans. Medicare receives more in payments from immigrants than it spends on immigrant care, an annual excess of $16 billion. For Social Security, immigrants generated an excess of $12 billion in payroll taxes for benefits they are ineligible to enjoy.

Is immigrant health care more expensive than that of native-born Americans?

The total cost of providing health care to all immigrants is estimated at $39 billion annually. This figure is less than 2% of the $2.6 trillion spent by all Americans. Of the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US, nearly 40% were covered by private insurance. The six million undocumented immigrants who were uninsured consumed $4.3 billion in health care, a mere $716 per person annually. This is less than one tenth that consumed by native born Americans.

All studies looking at this issue determined that immigrants, both documented and otherwise, consumed less health care per person per year than native born Americans.

Does providing health care to undocumented immigrants encourage illegal immigration to the US?

Immigrants come here for jobs, not health care. Undocumented Latino immigrants, for example, primarily sought out states with employment opportunities. Secondary considerations were family and housing. In contrast, readily accessible public health care played a negative role: those states with the least generous public health care benefit programs show the most rapid rise in immigrant population.

To our shame, almost no one travels to the US, legally or otherwise, seeking affordable health care. Of medical tourists around the world who leave their home country to find affordable health care, 99% of them are Americans seeking care elsewhere. In fact, all other industrialized countries provide better care to a larger proportion of their residents at much lower cost than we do.

If we exclude undocumented immigrants, will our health care spending go down?

As demonstrated above, the absolute amount potentially saved in refusing health care to those without residency documentation is small, less than 2% of total health spending.

Additionally, even this small savings disappears when we include the cost of enforcing such a policy. The Government Accounting Office found that state efforts to exclude immigrants without documentation from Medicaid were expensive – very expensive: states on average spent $100 on administration to save 14 cents in health care.

Worse, these efforts to verify residency resulted in delay or denial of Medicaid to US citizens who could not provide required documentation.

Is it legally right to reward immigrants who arrive illegally with free health care?

Some advocate the US should punish criminals (i.e., people who enter the US illegally) by denying health care unless they pay for it themselves. This position runs contrary to an interesting legal principle: The only people in the US constitutionally entitled to medical care at public expense are convicts in jail. Shockingly, we find stories of native born Americans who commit crimes specifically to get the health care they could not afford as free citizens but they would receive as convicted felons.

It would take convoluted legal maneuvering to determine that undocumented workers who pay more in taxes than they receive in public benefits should be excluded from universal health care while convicted felons who pay no taxes are included.

Are there still reasons to deny health care to undocumented immigrants?

Some object to providing any essential public services to people who look different, speak a different language, possess a different skin color, or worship a different God. Why object? Because these different people might vote Democratic.

Sorry. Can’t help you with that one.

Governor’s Budget to Lead to Greater Privatization, Corporatization, and Profiteering in Public Schools


Governor Kitzhaber says his budget is based on the premise that “all Oregonians deserve their shot at the American dream.” One could conclude differently when looking at his proposals for the institution that truly fights for every Oregonian to get their shot: public education. In a time of crisis, the government’s budget reduces resources to our schools and is based on a premise of an unconstitutional cut to contract-guaranteed worker benefits.

The Governor’s budget is based on two assumptions. The first are cuts to employee retirement. Passing a cut to a tax break for out of state Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) recipients, and cutting the cost of living increases after the first $24,000 of a retiree’s PERS. This is the most severe cut to retirees of the two. This will result in approximately $865 million in savings.

The Governor’s $6.1 billion K-12 budget “keeps current service levels.” To put that in perspective, the proposed K-12 budget for the biennium beginning in 2007 was 6.3 billion. The “current service level” has resulted in cut days for students and staff, shortened school years, the 3rd highest class size in the nation, privatization, and cuts to services and programs like Art and Music. Additionally, the current service level does not account for various increases in local costs and will actually result in further reductions in many Oregon districts under the Governor’s budget.

The Governor will then add an additional $253 million to the school budget to hire (rehire) more teachers if the PERS savings materializes. This is a big assumption, just as it was during the last PERS “reform” efforts, much of which were overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in the 2003 Strunk case. In that case, Cost of Living Increase Adjustment (COLA) restrictions for current retirees were struck down by the Oregon State Supreme Court under Article 1, Section 21 of the Oregon Constitution which states:

“No ex-post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts shall ever be passed…”

Now the governor is attempting to leverage the unions by making them choose between a paltry increase in education funding and teaching jobs or a likely unconstitutional cut to contractually agreed-upon benefits. “Retirement or (some) jobs” is the choice. There is a new proposal out of the legislature to boost the funding to 6.7 billion, but that too, is based on PERS “savings.”

A real interesting add-on to the Governor’s budget is a “reconfiguration” to the Educational Service District (ESD) funding, which will save $125 million. The total budget for ESD’s was $300 million, quite a reconfiguration. Since 92% of that money goes back to school districts in services, mainly special education, this really amounts to a $108 million cut to special education and other services in school districts. Will the cost of this reconfiguration be made up by something else, or will it be passed onto districts, which have to contend with increasing federal mandates and Maintenance of Effort (MOE).

This budget is very much in line with Governor Kitzhaber’s larger corporate vision for education. From the appointment of Chief Education Officer (CEO) Rudy Crew, to the Governor’s centralized control over all levels of education, corporatized education has come to Oregon. This follows a national trend of a systemic corporate-backed campaign to dismantle public education from Chicago to New Orleans, Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

Recently, CEO Crew has suggested that 40% of students would be best served by learning outside of schools via technology. This is the business model at work in education, in Oregon. Why hire teachers (workers) when you can have a computer teach the test to 40% of Oregon students? The model will lead to the same downward results that have occurred in the private sector for average Americans; downsizing, outsourcing, stagnant wages at best, and reduction in the quality of service.

The reality is; the Governor’s budget only exacerbates the education funding crisis in this state. It will lead only to a further corporatization and deterioration of public education, an entity that is the only institution truly fighting for every Oregonian to get a shot in this state.

Education and labor advocates should not support the insufficient school budget proposals based on cuts to earned retirement that will lead to this corporatization. Regardless of whether the school budget is closer to what the Governor or legislators propose, it will still be 2-3 billion below the state’s own Quality Education Model, the amount the state says is needed to give every child an opportunity at a quality education.

No current budget proposal addresses the fundamental problem of corporations and the wealthy not paying their fair share to achieve a budget of quality education. That is why the legislature and the Governor are asking working people to pay for an insufficient school budget through taxes, fees, and now their retirement. Workers are being asked to fund the school budget despite the fact that the group who pays the largest percentage of income to the budget is the lowest-income taxpayers. The wealthiest taxpayers pay the least percentage of their income. Nine banks that did business in Oregon paid no corporate taxes in Oregon last year. The corporate minimum tax is $150 or between 0.5% and 1% of total Oregon sales.

Instead of arguing over a few hundred million dollars, education and labor advocates should be looking at a long term solution; fixing an unfair tax system that puts the burden of funding public services on workers instead of corporations doing business in Oregon and the wealthy. The only long term solution for our education crisis is to address how it is funded and who it is funded by. Only then, can we really talk about creating an education system that allows every Oregonian their shot at the American dream.

Employers evade fines for wage theft

Even in cases where state authorities have found that employers failed to pay workers their wages and sought payment, employers end up paying only a fraction of the dollars owed. [Read more…]

May Day commemorates struggle for eight-hour workday

For generations, May Day, the International Workers Day celebrated by working people in more than 200 countries, was ignored in the United States, the country of its origin. In fact, the annual holiday is as American as cherry pie, commemorating as it does the 1886 nationwide general strike in which US trade unionists walked off the job in support of an eight-hour workday. This year’s observance marks the 125th anniversary of that campaign to humanize the workday — and of the tragedy at Chicago’s Haymarket Square that followed three days later. New Yorkers marked the day in a rally in support of labor and immigrant rights in lower Manhattan’s Foley Square. [Read more…]

Drones terrorize civilians with murder by remote control

Drone: a remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile. Also known as UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

“Welcome to the future of warfare. While Americans are debating the president’s power to order assassination by drone, powerful momentum — scientific, military and commercial — is propelling us toward the day when we cede the same lethal authority to software.” —Bill Keller, New York Times, March 16, 2013

The future we have suspected is here. Fantastic notions of robotics have materialized not only into friendly R2D2-type helpers and prosthetic hands that read your mind, but into $32 million exterminator drones that can kill with no pilot. In the worlds of civilian law enforcement and warfare, the role of machinery is expanding to the point where that final human decision to kill will be largely predetermined by machine-generated intelligence. [Read more…]

Solidarity endangered: what’s wrong with the labor movement, and how to make it strong again

Nearly five years after the economic crash of 2008, Rogue Valley residents are still hurting. Local unemployment rates remain well above state and national averages. For people who are unemployed, it’s difficult to find work. For those who have jobs, wages and benefits aren’t keeping up with the rising price of food, gas, health care, and everything else. It’s getting harder for people to make ends meet.

In times like these, a strong labor movement could do much to improve the lives of workers, their families, and society as a whole. Once a popular and effective force for social change, the United States labor movement is a shadow of what it used to be. Membership is at a 97-year low, with only one in nine workers belonging to a labor union, down from one in three sixty years ago and one in five thirty years ago. Gallup reports that public support for unions in 2012 was near its all-time low, with just over half of Americans approving, down from three-quarters during the 1950s. [Read more…]

Media consolidation threatens our democracy

All over the nation, local media outlets are losing their independence. Since relaxed regulations on media ownership opened the door for a series of corporate buyouts and mergers, a shrinking number of corporations have disproportionate influence over the stories and opinions heard by a majority of Americans. This has troubling consequences for our democratic system of governance, which works best when people have accurate information along with access to a variety of viewpoints on important issues.

[Read more…]

Independent media inspires social change

From the streets of Seattle to the revolutions in the Middle East, independent media has grown and matured to become a powerful tool for social change.

Independent media refers to all the ways individuals and communities create and share content. This includes the Internet, email, live streaming video, and wireless communications, as well as our community radio stations, independent newspapers, newsletters, pamphlets, public access television, and social networks.

[Read more…]

Organic food supporters aren’t fooled by GMO industry propaganda

The Chew on This Tour, which is part of the Drive to Feed the World, made the first appearance of its national tour at the Jackson County Fairgrounds on February 26. Featuring a pumped-up pro wrestler mascot, a media blitz ensued that was designed to discredit and marginalize the growing natural, organic, and non-GMO agricultural movement here in the Rogue Valley and across America.

[Read more…]