Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why there is no trauma center at University of Chicago

So there was another protest on Saturday at University of Chicago regarding the University’s decision to open a $700 million its new “Center for Care and Discovery”, but no trauma center. There is no trauma center because we have a hospital-industrial complex that, while masquerading as pillars of the community and as a “non-profit”, makes a lot of money by catering to certain segments of the population. There is no trauma center because hospitals are not designed to serve their communities but to serve themselves.
If there was any doubt at all about just how hospitals work it was put to rest in the extensive article by Steve Brill. The piece is long but it’s not exactly War and Peace, and it really needs to be read.  Short take, hospitals charge whatever they want, unless it’s Medicare, and those who have the least coverage or none at all pay the most. (Medicaid is handled more like Medicare but because is run by the states individual experiences will differ widely). Republicans typically emphasize “free markets” but for a “free” market you need a definitive price and a level playing field, and there is no more rigged market then the medical field. On its website it’s stated that U of C has patient revenues of more then one billion and is “one of the largest providers of uncompensated care in Illinois and provides millions of dollars in unreimbursed care every year.” According to its Community Report it donates $237 million of its total operating revenues to programs and services. Which sounds like a lot of money until you find out that in 2011 U of C was ranked the 39th top grossing hospital at $3.3 billion in gross revenue.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How the system works

There was a very good piece in the New York Times regarding the “revolving door” in Washington D.C. That is the standard practice of former lawmakers (regulators as well) going from government to private sector work—usually directly related to issues they dealt when they worked for the government—back to government—wash, rinse, repeat.  It is so common for nearly every lawmaker to become a lobbyist after retiring from the House or the Senate that it’s not much of a news story—move along, nothing to see here.

Thoughts on “investment”

The word investment came up for me twice this last week, once in reference to Pre-K education in the State of the Union Speech and then again in a paper regarding decarceration from an “investment” point of view. Probably the most common definition of “investment” would be what came up first in my dictionary:
The investing of money or capital in order to gain profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The school closings

Via twitter, @sethlavin, 10 questions for CPS regarding the school closings:

1) You've estimated $500K in savings per closed school. Does this mean closing 100 schools solves only 5% of the $1B CPS budget deficit?
2) What data exist that shows closing underperforming schools results in academic gains for students?
3) You say we have a “utilization crisis.” What data shows that a school’s being “underutilized” hurts student achievement?
4) U of C says in 94% of cases kids from closed Chicago schools didn’t go to “academically strong” new schools. Will this be different?
5) Will you guarantee that no students from closed Level 3 schools will go to another Level 3 school?
6) You say CPS mishandled its last round of 10 closings. Will you share your analysis of what went wrong, and how this will be different?
7) Given that you included 5 of last year’s 10 turnaround schools on the new possible closings list, do you regret those turnarounds?
8) Will you present your plan for where kids from each closed school will go before deciding whether or not each school will close?
9) Have you hired management consultants to assist you in vetting schools for inclusion on the closings list? If so, who are they?
10) How many CPS staff members are currently working on transition plans for 5,792 students with IEPs that may be impacted by closings?

Don’t hold your breath for the answers, the amount of dialogue from CPS in regards to this issue would be hysterical if the consequences were not so dire. There are thousands of kids, families, and communities whose lives will be radically changed and you cannot even come to a community outreach meeting? The savings are also a joke, it would worth asking that if in the “savings” the future use of the buildings was considered. The Philadelphia experience would suggest that it’s a little more complicated. It hard not to see this action as anything else but an attempt to destroy public education as it has been know, and replace it with a public-private model. You know where the public puts in the money and the private takes it out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sometimes there is something you can do

If there is anything anybody can agree in Chicago, it’s that the parking meter deal that is the privatization of parking meters was the worst possible thing. So much happens in this city but mess with parking and ITS ON and it was thought to have played a role in Daley not seeking another term. Even if you are of the belief of privatization to earn the city money is a positive thing, ramming through a giant complex deal at the last minute should not be possible. You would think after all the fuss it kicked up the current mayor would be  more careful about this privatization of Midway Airport, and he is, talking about appointing a blue-ribbon panel to oversee the process.  But it shouldn’t be up to him, there should be a law.  Alderman Roderick Sawyer,of the 6th has drafted such a bill, among other things requiring a cost-benefit analysis for any project over $250,000. No brainer right? Even if you believe in selling public assets for profit you’d want to make sure you got the best deal for it right? Well apparently any oversight is too much oversight for Dick Mell, who will not let it out of committee. According to the Better Government Association  32 alderman support it, which last time I checked, makes it a majority. Nobody can be against something like this, the bill does not prevent any privatization from occurring it just requires some assessment. So I would encourage anybody and everybody to give Dick Mell a call, and ask him to let it come up for a vote.
Phone: 773-478-8040

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why a third party

I had a twitter exchange with a lefty-education writer/activist type who insisted that a third party is not viable. The exchange was in regards to the CTU and the Democratic Party, and that if the CTU was to leave the Democrat party the members would instantly vote them out, conservative leadership would be voted in and they would be stuck with a crappy pension deal. I do not pretend to know all the ins and outs of the CTU leadership or the relationships between CTU and elected officials, this maybe exactly true.
I was one those people once, who insisted that a third-party was a waste of time, and the risk of voting in ______________(place the Republican of your choice here) was such a risk to humanity that I had to vote for ______________(place Democrat of choice here). On a federal level what has that got me? Some very half-assed health-care expansion, some poor financial reform, and recent budget deal that raised taxes for most of the population but made sure that Goldman Sachs could offshore money.  Immigration reform is being discussed, never mind that there have been far more people deported by Obama then Bush.
On a local level we have a city and state that is run by the same corporation the Democrats.  The current mayor is as hostile to pubic schools and the teachers that work there as any Republican. He is pushing students out of schools by claiming they are “underutilized” and pushing charter schools—transfer of public money to private corporations—to the hilt.  Like all good capitalists his donors know the real money is from the government. This mayor has imposed the most regressive kinds of taxes such as a for water tax while making sure large corporations get their share, whether it’s straight out cash or through TIFs. Supposedly there is a city council to provide some checks and balances but under this mayor and the previous mayor almost every initiative/budget has been approved with hardly any discussion or public comment let alone denied.
 On the state level there is something of a competition on who can cut pensions more—the Democratic leader of the State senate or the Governor.  In fact on pensions there has probably been greater leadership by Republicans to fight Quinn and to provide leadership on changes. Unfortunately Republican leadership is really not in favor of such things, so for political reasons and philosophy these moves have been underplayed and not really supported.
It is true that making a third-party—developing the infrastructure, supporting candidates, challenging the status quo—is hard. It is made harder by the myriad of elections laws put in place precisely for this purpose. But I would argue that the largest barrier is the mentality that says there is no alternative. What has become increasingly clear is that elected officials are elected to represent the money issues that support them. This has always been true, but in the last twenty years or so the gap between what-is-good-for-business–is-good-for-the economy has grown tremendously. This can be seen in the large amounts of capital that corporations are holding on while unemployment remains at record highs. Automation, off shoring, productivity gains have all combined to make the worker less important then ever before.  At the same time budget austerity is all the rage, to put money into people whether it is stimulus for employment or social programs—Social Security, health care—is considered wasteful.
The best way to address this would be through political organization, a party that could knit small local groups together to push for changes that would benefit everybody, at the level of the city, state, or federal government.  Another major source for organization would be through unions. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome, then union leadership in this country can be considered insane.  If union leadership insists on devotion to a party that uses it for photo-ops and meetings, and then can’t be found to push essential legislation to strengthen unions then what is the point? 
The common refrain to this is to reform the Democratic Party from within, as if the Democratic Party is any less beholden to corporate interests then the Republican Party is. The city council is as good as any example of this—the so-called reform-members elected in the past few cycles have barely registered any level of dissent. It is ironic that of the two parties it would appear that is the Republican Party that tolerates dissent more then the Democrats. The Republicans have run candidates at varying levels of defiance to national leadership; it is acceptable in the Republican Party to outright defy leadership.  True, the most radical of these candidates did not win, but they did not have to influence the power structure. If you read the national rag sheets you know that even established Republican candidates worry about getting “primaried”. Strangely, even though the Democratic leaders and the White House have pushed policies—cutting Social Security, tax breaks for large corporations, tax hikes for the middle class—that the majority of people do not support, most Democrats appear safe.
This is what makes the possibility of third-party most promising, that by and large, most elected officials have disregarded their constituents. Plenty of Republicans would like to see greater transparency all the way around, from city contracts to police abuse payouts.  Not all conservatives are anti-union, especially the classic working-class white male, who thirty years ago belonged to a union. If union leadership cannot leave the democratic party then union membership needs to consider involving itself with local movements where immediate concerns can be expressed and acted on, and be pushed through by a third-party that is directly accountable to them. The other possibility is increasing membership in areas where unions have not had a presence, i.e. service jobs. This may be the most promising area, as the movements to unionize/organize these workers are political in nature but untraditional and therefore less beholden to traditional political traditions.
“If you cannot see the bars you cannot know you are in a cage”
There are more of us, people who live in this city, state, and country who are not benefiting from the current system then are. But we have to see the bars first before we can have transformative change. 

The types of justice in Chicago

Another day, another city of Chicago payment to a police victim .  It happens so often, and does not provoke more then an article or two that I guess after awhile one does not notice anymore. But really, where is the outrage? Why is spending close to $30 million on a FEW police abuse cases—and make no mistake, these were police abuse cases cases—ok? Why is there not a demand, from victims to those demanding budget austerity that this just stop?
So if you are a cop and have killed somebody you probably will still have a job, but if you are thirteen and got into a fight at school where the police happened to break it up, you are marked for life. It is incredibly onerous to expunge juvenile records, cases where the defendant was not charged or had to go to court, in other words, no harm was done.  Thanks to Anita Alvarez, she of victim-was-raped-after she-was-dead-fame, fought legislation that would have made it easier for victims to expunge their records.  This should not be a partisan issue, as public officials in charge of safety both the police department AND the attorney’s who work with them need to held accountable .

Thursday, February 7, 2013

CPS versus the people

There have been several CPS community meetings in the last few weeks; in theory CPS is supposed to listening to parents and make decisions with the commentary in mind.  CPS is insisting that many schools are underutilized and savings must come from closing schools—all the while charter schools are being opened up with a tremendous amount of state funding. As described on twitter these meeting are full, emotions run high, and the officials who run these meetings, (frequently not from CPS) come across as the nice lady at the ________(name irritating institution of your choice) who is pleasant but completely unhelpful. 
It’s apparent CPS has an agenda, and these meeting are more for show then for anything else.  And what better place to slowly destroy the public school system then in marginalized neighborhoods that are mainly brown and black. Almost by definition these neighborhoods will have lower test scores as they have access to fewer resources—this is the stick used to beat the public school system, so of course the community needs an “alternative”. If these public schools are so failing the community why are parents fighting so hard for them? It’s ironic with all the talk about the violence in Chicago, especially among the young, that CPS is so determined to take out schools. In some of these neighborhoods a school is one of the few safe spaces, and they are integral to the community. And don’t think the CPS agenda is only on the south and west side, it’s only a matter of time before schools on the north side are targeted, starting with the least community-supported.  CPS will work its way to the north side to close public schools with the same themes, underutilization, poor scores etc.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The choices we have

Yesterday there was a stir in the D.C. press pool regarding a leaked white paper from the administration. This paper puts on record that the USA through the executive branch has the right to kill anybody they want on the grounds of national security . . . because it says so. The Jay Carney stated drone attacks are “legal, ethical, and wise”. Is this what we have come to—the shining beacon of democracy can kill whoever it wants? And make no mistake, the way the logic is trending it is only a matter of time before it moves from Pakistan and Yemen to here. It is truly amazing that the president elected as the supposed antidote to Bush—surely why he won the Nobel Prize—has in fact presided over the largest expansion of extrajudicial killings (i.e. drone attacks and the like) in US history. And who is protesting this? The vast majority of elected Democrats and Republicans are ok with this.  The most strident complaints are from the Republicans, just like under Bush the most strident complaints about the War on Terror were from the Democrats. This is not about Obama, or any one president. It is about state power, whoever has it wants more of it, whoever doesn’t have it, want to lessen it. It is a system that needs to be changed and it is very hard to see how it could come from Democrats or Republicans.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The real crisis

As the jobs report on Friday indicated things are not getting worse but they are not getting better. The acute stage of bleeding in the economy has long been stopped, the slow drip of employment that is still hard to get, hard to keep, frequently temporary and still pays poorly is ongoing.  What will it take to make the people in (theory anyway) charge to decide that employment (growth) is the issue? There are noises from D.C. that maybe the deficit is not the thing to be focused on, and the push to change i.e. cut, Social Security has appeared to pass for now. But there remains a real job crisis most significantly in local government—city, state—employment. Where is the political will to take the impending defense cuts (i.e. sequester) and put them towards local stimulus?

How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague is a terrific documentary about ACT UP (currently streaming for free on netflix). ACT UP—AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power—was arguably the most successful grassroots organization ever. LBGT rights have advanced so rapidly in the past 10 years it is hard sometimes to remember what gay life was like in the early eighties. Much of the community life was underground; LBGT people faced tremendous discrimination in places like hospitals and so when gay men became sick with odd symptoms the medical system was close to respond.
Faced with their community literally dying in front of them, with hardly any support or treatment, and discrimination, ACT UP was formed. Through direct action they protested various venues, government and non-government, but more importantly they supported each other. They formed networks among themselves to determine treatment; they tried to solve their own problems by studying the research that was available and enlisted real researchers to help them and directly engaged with drug companies. As treatments became available they pushed for affordability. Watching the movie made me think about the power what committed people can accomplish, and where battles should be fought.