Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Think Globally. Act Locally for the Common Good.

This is the 165th essay for In Atticus’ Shoes, a blog begun in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s wonderful novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  In the beginning, I also celebrated ordinary and extraordinary people doing right by each other--just as Atticus did, just as he taught his children to do.

In time, this blog also became a lament, decrying the wrongs done to ordinary and extraordinary people by one of the three branches of government and the media. Congressional action and inaction, corporate influence, injustice and downright head-scratching judicial ruling, and the media’s inability to fact-check or spend more than 22 seconds in meaningful analysis--each and all were called out, critiqued, and often condemned. I have striven in each of 165 essays to explain issues, people, and characters, and I have striven to use reason, logic, and evidence, often making the same point:

We must be aware. We must find the time to become informed. We must act by speaking up, even speaking out. We must care for the common good and so, in the future, this blog will feature those in need of our care. 

May they inspire you to think again about policies related to those among us in need. May we learn to walk the path that Nelson Mandela or Leymah Gbowee has established. May we heed the call of Pope Francis I even if we are not followers of the Catholic faith:

“There is another important point: encountering the poor. If we step outside ourselves we find poverty. Today—it sickens the heart to say so—the discovery of a tramp who has died of the cold is not news. Today what counts as news is, maybe, a scandal. A scandal: ah, that is news! Today, the thought that a great many children do not have food to eat is not news. This is serious, this is serious! We cannot put up with this! Yet that is how things are. We cannot become … those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea.”

This blog will now reveal the faces of the poor.

Meet Art. Learn Art's story next week. Say hello to the least among you--every day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Please Heed Nate Silver!

I have my moments. I bet you do, too. You know them. Those moments when you just sigh, turn off the TV, close the browser, and walk off, no longer able to dig and delve in the debris of politics.

Recently, an online post from Time: The Brief, March 24, 2014, threatened my equilibrium. I said, “Hello, Despair. Let’s take a walk into the dark future without Hope.”

Nate Silver, the man who uses simple math, surveys, and computers to predict elections and explain trends, announced that the GOP has a 60% chance of claiming the majority in the U. S. Senate. He offered the information with a post script--a footnote declaring that Democrats could change these odds against them if they try really, really hard.

Self-Portrait. Al GriffinPhotography
This dire warning about the winds sweeping the land came upon the heels of an election defeat in Florida’s special election for its 13th Congressional seat. A Republican won. Using Chicken-Little cries about the Democratic sky falling in upon us, thanks to Obamacare, a game plan clouded with lies, misinformation, and hyperbolic hate speech, Republican David Jolly won.

What Jolly’s victory means, to me, is that dark money (money for which donors remain unknown), Koch-Brother inherited money, Citizens United money, FOX’s bright, shiny objects, and topsy-turvy confusion won. FOX beats the drum of lies, misinformation, and hyperbolic hate speech while the Kochs invent think-tanks to produce research defending its self-interests and hire poorly informed folks to speak out on issues they don’t understand.

So I despair. But I will not stop trying to understand all sides of the arguments. I will not cease trying to be an informed citizen. Please, please join me. Speak up. Act now. Organize for truth and the common good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Enough Already! Let the Victims of the Lost Malaysian Flight Rest.

By the time you read this, we may know everything we can ever learn about the Malaysian airliner and its 239 passengers. Or we may have begun to contemplate the many mysteries for which there are no answers: the child who disappeared, never to be seen again; the woman who drove to the convenience store for milk and never came home; Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting place. For all we now, Hoffa and Judge Crater may rest side by side somewhere.

The media will most likely have begun chasing another bright, shiny object: Chris Christie and Bridgegate, Darrell Issa and a fill-in-the-blank-issue to grab headlines and cameras, Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton or Judy Garland . . . . MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, to her great shame, I hope, even interrupted an interview with former Congresswoman Jane Harmon to cut away for breaking news about Justin Bieber’s bond hearing.

How many minutes were spent connecting the dots that led from David Wildstein to Bridget Kelly and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? Enough to have burned their names into my memory.

How many cable channels, local news half-hours, and special broadcasts have been devoted to nothing more than conjecture and guesses about the missing plane full of people last seen in Malaysia? Enough for me to have seen a grown man hold a flight recorder aloft to reveal the actual size of the thing sending a fading ping from deep in the ocean. Enough for me to know how large a certain section of the Indian Ocean is--as large as Massachusetts by one account, West Virginia by another.

Enough already! Enough!!!

So much more has happened and is happening every hour of every day. Pakistan is a dangerous breeding ground for international terrorism. China has begun to acknowledge the real health hazards of its own pollution. Russia has claimed a stake to a rich pipeline for oil and gas. The world is on course for a cataclysmic climatological disaster.

If those global stories are just too much, consider the essays from this blog dating from January 7, 2014 through last week’s, April 8, 2014. These offer insight into an organization shaping and molding your day-to-day lives. These alert you to truths closer to home. These warn you about a group of businesses and elected officials who wish to erode the protections that exist for you. Please pay heed.

I admit that I am not Steve Kornacki or Brian Williams or Scott Pelley. I am not HBO’s Shane Smith or PBS’ David Fanning who bring ground-breaking, in-depth stories to help us comprehend the world, its suffering, its courageous residents, and its fever-pitch battles against foes as mighty as Nature and as petty as Osama bin Laden. These men and women and countless more like them go to war-torn, drought-stricken, water-laden, disease-ridden places to teach me.

I merely try to make sense of what those who have gone before report. Join me in turning from the chase after bright, shiny objects with network stars and cable pundits--please. If I do and you do, then we have a tiny chance of redirecting the attention of the media to stories that matter so much more.

The loss of 239 people is not slight. The families of those 239 human beings are frightened, sad, and angry. I wish them healing and hope, but let them and their lost kin rest. The world charges on, and we must be sure it’s on the best path.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

ALEC Seeks to Eliminate Certification and Licensure Requirements for Physicians

In the early minutes of Now You See Me, a masterful musician played by Jesse Eisenberg dares an audience member to come closer, look closely because magicians count on audiences missing the big picture while looking at the illusion right before them. By stepping back, we citizens can see the big ALEC picture so step back, Readers, for the final installment in ALEC’s 2014 prioritized pieces of model legislation. Step back and observe what ALEC hopes you’ll miss: everything in its quiver is deadly to you and your best interests.

Self-Portrait. Al Griffin Photography
Today’s topic, the Patient Access Expansion Act, available on page 4 of the linked site, sounds great, doesn’t it? The title of the model act sounds as if it has your best interest in mind: to expand a patient’s access. But to what?

Therein lies the trick. Patients will actually gain access to health care that may not have passed close scrutiny or standards. The big picture is that this act will remove physician requirements to complete training and professional development in order to call themselves a specialist or claim certification. In fact, the bill goes so far as to prohibit states from sending any physician licensure monies to the Federation of State Medical Boards, leaving patients to wonder if the plaque on the wall actually signifies that the physician treating them has completed all necessary requirements to qualify and remain current in her or his field.

The website Crooks and Liars puts it even more bluntly: “That 'Patient Access Expansion Act?' That seems great, doesn't it? More access is better! It opens the door to all sorts of quackery by forcing states to BAR board certifications. If it passed, anyone could be a specialist even if they never studied for one minute in that field!”

Much of the ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force agenda functions similarly. The proposals seek to limit regulation and therefore, restrict consumer protections. I recommend looking at the Big Picture now in place if ALEC succeeds in enacting each piece of its 2014 model legislative agenda. Beginning with the first post of this year, each item on the 2014 agenda, according to PR Watch, has been examined and positioned in the puzzle of ALEC. That picture reveals that ALEC does not serve the common good, the public welfare, or Americans in general. ALEC serves itself.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ALEC Hopes to Block the Affordable Care Act by Damming the Flow of Navigators

ACA Insurance Navigators Find Dams on the Streams of Information, Thanks to ALEC

Mother was fond of saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” when she caught herself being hypocritical. Would that ALEC and its members, in all their various committees and public incarnations, would catch themselves, or better, that the public would catch them and call them out for their hypocrisy.

Alas, it appears that ALEC is indeed hypocritical and the public has yet to catch on. ALEC continues to propose model legislation, sometimes in direct opposition to other proposals from the same parent group. These proposals are fill-in-the-blank drafts so that legislators do not have to fret over language or policy. All they need do is cut and paste.

This is exactly the case for the ALEC-designed and drafted Navigator Background Check Act. ALEC wants to be sure that Affordable Care Act (ACA) navigators are properly certified through training even though the ACA already requires training and another piece of legislation offered by ALEC tries to eliminate training requirements. The real goal, it seems, is to thwart the ACA, especially if some component of the law endangers complete Corporate control and thereby profits.

In response and as a result of Chicken-Little warnings from ALEC, health insurance lobbyists, and Conservative Think Tanks such as The Heritage Foundation, State legislatures have erected dams to slow the flow of health care to millions, especially by refusing to expand Medicaid, but also by blocking health care information through the use of navigators. Some states have and continue to impose restrictions upon navigators, the descriptive title for individuals who have completed federally mandated training in order to help citizens explore their options for health care and insurance coverage.

First, nine states completely blocked navigators, thereby making it more difficult for their citizens to learn if they were eligible for federal support, what health care policies might best suit their needs, or even what the ACA provides for citizens. As a consequence, the U. S. Health and Human Services (HHS) has found it necessary to push back against such state opposition.

The purported industry fear is that navigators will encourage applicants to enroll in one program over another, functioning more like a stockbroker who prefers and sells one stock instead of another. The intent of the ACA navigator (and in-person assister as well as certified application counselor), on the other hand, is simply to help applicants understand their health care options just as someone on the other end of the phone or electronic message at the IRS exists to help citizens navigate a complex web of policies, regulation, and language.

Second, some states have imposed additional restrictions on potential navigators. Texas, for example, has finalized regulations as follows: “The rules require navigators to receive 20 hours of state-specific training in addition to the federal requirement of 20 to 30 hours of training, to undergo background checks, and to provide proof of identity. The rules also prohibit navigators from charging consumers, selling or negotiating health insurance coverage, recommending a specific health plan, or engaging in electioneering activities or otherwise supporting a candidate running for a political office.” As is apparent, Texas increases the training component for navigators and imposes restrictions on them to remain neutral even requiring them not to let it be known for which candidate they might vote by wearing poster buttons, displaying signs, or declaring political leanings.

Georgia, well-versed in dictating who can attend its universities, has now dictated what programs its university may provide with GA HB 943, also approved by the Georgia Senate. This bill “… bar[s] any state or local governments, agencies or employees from advocating for Medicaid expansion, except under certain circumstances, or from creating a health insurance exchange. It also would bar the University of Georgia and any other state organizations from running health insurance navigator programs to help Georgia consumers buy insurance on the federally run Health Insurance Marketplace.” In other words, the GA bill strangles Georgia’s right to free speech by prohibiting what certain citizens may say and reveal.

ALEC, the GOP, and the Tea Party stand on principles, one of which is less government in the form of oversight and regulation. The Navigator Background Check Act is hypocritical to this principle because it seeks to impose redundant training and regulate the existence and work of ACA navigators.

At least two states, Texas and Georgia, have demonstrated that more oversight and regulation is in order if the party in power opposes the law of the land, in this case, the Affordable Care Act. Content researchers have noted that some of the additional hours required for training navigators duplicate federal training content instead of adding anything unique to the region or the training. Worse, blocking and restricting navigators has the net effect of granting advantages to citizens in states that chose to expand Medicaid and have not blocked or impeded assistance from navigators. In other words, blocking or restricting navigators guarantees that some will not enjoy health care options that citizens in other states will have, and this effect is antithetical to Constitutional guarantees.

Encouraging such rogue state-action with model legislation including the Navigator Background Check Act perpetuates unequal health care opportunities and delivery because some people will not be aware of their rights, the policies, or the costs of health care available to them. States simply cannot claim the authority or even the higher ground when their laws protect business interests and insurance companies at the expense and hardship of consumers. Worse, while lamenting the intrusion of BIG government, ALEC, through this bill and State reactions to it, creates BIG government oversight.

The U. S. simply does not need unnecessary, redundant checkpoints in order to provide for the common good. States and ALEC should uphold the law of the land, at least by allowing citizens to become informed about opportunities available to them.