HEJE Overview 5-19-17


“Politics have no relation to morals.”
 –Nicolo Machiavelli

“This is not serious. This is politicking.”

–Illinois state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon)

“Engaging in politics is a privilege that can be earned, or a service that can be purchased.
It is the responsibility of citizens in a democracy to determine whose services have been earned, and whose have been purchased.”


  • The U.S. has one of the worst rates of maternal death in the developed world, and 60% of such deaths are considered preventable. “While maternal mortality is significantly more common among African Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S.” This piece, a collaboration between NPR and ProPublica, uses the unexpected—and entirely preventable—death of a 33-year-old nurse due to undiagnosed pre-eclampsia as an opportunity to review the statistics on maternal mortality, the main reasons for deaths from preventable causes, and to compare the U.S. to other developed countries.
  • Update on the likely effects of the administration’s drug policies on the opioid epidemic: “Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent out a memo to federal prosecutors asking them to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” even against low-level drug offenders. That followed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price denigrating medication-assisted treatment, the gold standard in opioid addiction care. Trump’s White House is also considering slashing the budget for the office that’s in charge of coordinating the federal government’s anti-drug response by nearly 95 percent.” From the conclusion: “It’s not unusual for Trump to make a promise and do the opposite.”

So: a return to mandatory minimum sentencing even for minor drug offenses; opposition to MAT (medically-assisted treatment), which most states are now favoring, and effective elimination of the position of “White House Drug Tsar.” Cognitive disconnect writ large.

  • Attorneys General from 15 states and the District of Columbia file complaint against administration to force the federal government to continue providing cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), a feature of the ACA which involved the federal government stepping in to help with co-pays and deductibles for lower-income policy-holders. Due to uncertainty over whether this administration will continue to authorize these payments, a number of carriers have threatened to withdraw from some markets, while others have announced substantial premium increases (as high as 50%) for 2018.
  • Category of “Really?” Voxcare relays some of the ideas that appear to be going round the halls of Senate these days as the 13-member “working group” works on its version of the AHCA. Among them: (1) make waivers (i.e., “opt-out”) the default position; (2) auto-enroll everybody in some sort of insurance plan, even if only for bare-bones catastrophic coverage; (3) keep the mandate forever (the “forever” part is probably a non-starter, but it may remain in place for a transitional period); (4) retain some of the previous ACA taxes—in other words, slow down and spread out the tax breaks to the uber-wealthy. Vox seems to have good sourcing on this, but these ideas are somewhat unexpected.
  • Some good news to report on the health care front: A single-payer “Medicare for All” bill passed the NY state assembly: “The New York Health Act would afford all state residents access to comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care, primary and preventative care, prescription drugs, behavioral health services, laboratory testing, and rehabilitative care, as well as dental, vision, and hearing coverage. There would be no premiums, deductibles, or co-pays; the plan would be funded through progressively raised taxes, including a surcharge that would be split 80/20 between employers and employees.” A model for the other 49 states, perhaps?
  • Some bad news to report on the health outcomes front: the U.S. ranks 80th out of a total of 195 countries on an “amenable mortality” scale (1990-2015). While the U.S. did well on preventing diseases through the use of vaccines, it did (very) poorly on diseases linked with preventable deaths, including “lower respiratory infections, neonatal disorders, non-melanoma skin cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ischemic heart disease, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and the adverse effects of medical treatment itself.” The study was published in the Lancet.

The Environment

  • EPA requests public comments about which environmental regulations to do away with; 55,100 responses, overwhelmingly in favor of retention and even, strengthening of regulations. Excerpt from one letter written by an investments strategist from Alabama: “I implore you, as defenders of our nation’s health and security, to avoid shortsighted steps that might create prosperity for a few in the short term, at the expense of the many in the long term. The importance of clean air and water supplies, and of sustainable sources of energy and industrial raw materials, cannot be overemphasized in this day and age. These things are not, as many would claim, in conflict with mankind’s economic prosperity, quality of life, and freedom; rather, they are critically important to them, and integrally tied to them over a long enough timeline.” [Emphasis added]
  • More on the EPA’s reach-out to the public in search of support for rollbacks. A less-genteel letter, also submitted in response to the request for public comments: “You have got to be kidding. Why would any sane person want to remove regulations that have contributed to lower death rates and less disease? This nonsense about environmental regulations being job killers is, on the face of it, ludicrous. This cannot be left to the states. Rivers flow across state lines. Air doesn’t recognize state lines. “

Maybe in an alt-factual universe, rivers don’t flow and air doesn’t blow across state lines.

  • It may not be possible for POTUS to rescind national monument status from a number which have been targeted for private exploitation by oil, coal, extractive mineral and lumber companies. A panel of expert law professors and legal scholars has responded that, while there is no explicit provision for removing the “national monument” status once granted, it looks as if Congress has this right, and not POTUS. The authors anticipate that POTUS will go to court: “Ultimately, Hecht (Sean Hecht, a co-author of the analysis) expects the Trump administration will move to abolish or shrink monuments, which will inevitably lead to a battle in the courts.” The full paper will be published in the Virginia Law Review Online.


  • In justice, the states are moving in one direction and the DOJ is moving in another.

This is pretty much how it’s playing out so far in all the fields we cover—the AHCA vs. a newly-vocal call for universal health care (“Medicare for All”), the EPA’s rollbacks of environmental and energy efficiency regulations in the face of public acceptance that environmental quality affects us all, and a strong push towards privatization of the public K-12 school system just when large amounts of research are documenting the multiple failures of charter schools and vouchers.

  • Appointment of controversial Milwaukee sheriff to DHS position arouses protests in Wisconsin and Washington. More here.
  • A portrait of Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia former public defender running against six opponents in the primary for District Attorney. From the interview (upon being asked why he decided to run now): “I’m running now because I think the time is right. People are understanding something that I have understood for a while, just because I am in criminal courts four, five days a week and I have been seeing it for 30 years. What they’re seeing is that the criminal justice system systemically picks on poor people, and those people, at least in Philadelphia, are overwhelmingly black and brown people.”
  • Update: Krasner won the Democratic primary for DA with 38% of the vote (against 6 rivals). He will face Republican Beth Grossman in the general election in November, but it is expected Krasner will win.
  • Category of “no comment”: Leading candidate for FBI Director Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (who served four terms in the U.S. Senate, first as a Democrat, then as an Independent who caucused with the Republicans) is not basking in universal support among his former colleagues in the Senate.


  • The education of the President’s youngest child: FLOTUS announces that Barron Trump (age 11) will attend St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland starting in September 2017. On St. Andrew’s middle school academic program.
  • The education of practically everyone else: A 500-student one-room elementary school in Freehold Borough, N.J.
  • The education of practically everyone else, continued: A look at the administration’s full education budget for 2018: cuts to public schools, a boost to school “choice” (especially vouchers, of course).
  • Welcome to the future: reformists (= favoring charter schools) candidates win in both LA school district run-offs
  • Important development in NYC pre-K: universal education to be extended to 3-year-olds and perhaps in the future, to infants as young as six weeks.
  • Jennifer Berkshire provides a detailed and critical view of the goals of the Sec of Ed. Plenty of additional information on the home-schooling movement, including a summary bio of one of its biggest supporters.
  • In which we respond to Peter Greene’s question, “Why Can’t Every Child Have a Good School in Her Own Community?” with our own answer: “She Could,” if a whole lot of other things occurred simultaneously. We’re starting to believe that the housing-integration movement and the public-school movement would do well to unite forces.
  • Sarah Jaffe interviews Elijah Armstrong of AROS (Alliance to Reclaim our Schools): Armstrong identifies all the key factors in the effort to abolish / privatize public education. Strong interview, knowledgeable and clear interviewee.
  • The administration’s detailed education budget for 2018 is released. It doesn’t look good for public schools, of course, but there are many other cuts as well, ranging from funds for after-school programs for poor children (1.6 million affected) to abolishing the college loan forgiveness program for public servants to cutting funds for Native American education programs in Alaska and Hawaii to doing away with programs for the gifted to getting rid of educational programs for the Special Olympics. With respect to loans, the budget “…would eliminate more than $700 million in Perkins loans for disadvantaged students; nearly halve the work-study program that helps students work their way through school, cutting $490 million; take a first step toward ending subsidized loans, for which the government pays interest while the borrower is in school; and end loan forgiveness for public servants.”


  • Chicago Teachers’ Union: Let your legislators know these bills need to be passed. The CTU writes to its constituency asking they call their Springfield reps in support of a number of Chicago education-related bills, some of which involve new revenue sources.
  • Illinois Senator Richard Durbin (D) speaks out about the AHCA’s projected cuts to Medicaid for Illinois citizens and ends up getting schooled by his constituents—who are right in many respects, though they’re wrong to blame the state’s (no-)budget crisis on the Senator –that one’s all on Springfield, and they’ve got plenty to answer for.

We read Senator Durbin’s facebook comments regularly because they offer a broad cross-section of opinions and levels of knowledge-understanding of current affairs in Illinois and Washington. Many of Durbin’s constituents appear to believe the mess that is politics in his home state is his fault. Others confuse Medicare and Medicaid. Some wax eloquent about the benefits of being left to be autonomous (“free” to be “prosperous”). Abortion comes up with predictable regularity (Durbin is a pro-life Catholic). On the other hand, many commenters on his latest post did say “single-payer, please,” and seemed to mean it.

If we were Durbin, we’d find such comment threads disheartening. Fortunately, one of his interns probably skims them for the benefit of more senior staff.

  • Cairo, IL: Where public housing complexes have been condemned and orders to vacate issued, along with rent vouchers for residents to go somewhere, anywhere. Here’s an actual example of what happens with a federal housing project ages out of usefulness and is too expensive to retrofit or replace: residents are forced to move out of the place where many have lived for decades, sometimes an entire life.

In response to the plea by Cairo’s 6th-graders and school officials to the Secretary of HUD, the Secretary responded (though only to the Superintendent of Schools): “Despite our best efforts, we know that some families, your students included, may have to move outside of Cairo. My hope would be that they would never forget their Cairo roots and the inspiration you’ve provided.”

  • Ten years ago: The Times’ feature story on Cairo. The decline had already set in, and has only continued since then.
  • Related #1: Housing and Urban Development Secretary’s preference would be for marriage, not federal housing, as a way out of poverty. The actual evidence suggests otherwise: “If Secretary Carson’s goal is truly to help HUD-assisted residents escape poverty, the evidence shows that quality affordable housing is better for resident mobility, better for shared prosperity, and actually improves neighborhoods. In light of this, Secretary Carson should reverse his position on disastrous budget cuts to HUD, and instead focus on interventions that reach all who qualify. For instance, rechanneling federal housing funding away from subsidizing those who need it least (e.g., 80% of Mortgage Interest Deduction subsidies go to household making over $100,000), could go half the distance in providing housing assistance for all who need it.”
  • Related #2: Women in the Rust Belt become the sole support of their families as the opioid epidemic destroys the lives of their chronically-unemployed spouses. See what these women think of marriage these days.


  • For the technologically-inclined: the purpose and (reconstructed) operation of the world’s oldest analogue computer, the Antikythera mechanism.
  • Two approaches to housing the homeless, one private and one public. Both are in a sense laudable, but both are problematic, though for different reasons. In the first, Amazon, which is building a new campus in Seattle—presumably to be close to Microsoft, although no one would admit this, we’re sure—has also agreed to build a homeless shelter for displaced Seattle residents who have been priced out of the housing market due to inflation created by high-tech industry giants like Microsoft and now, Amazon. In the second, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio is endeavoring to open a  number of new homeless shelters in NYC and receiving push-back because many of them are in Brooklyn (ground zero: Crown Heights). On the one hand, this is where most of those who will be housed actually live; on the other, it continues the segregation of homeless housing largely to boroughs not called Manhattan.
  • Finally, our suggested Read-of-the-Week: A new Marshall Plan for the United States, from the Center for American Progress. Well-researched, well-written, fully-documented and right on all counts.

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