Saturday, July 22, 2017

The NSA is Spying on us!

Dear Freedom loving American,

This very minute, the NSA is scouring the internet, pouring through instant messages, video chats, personal emails, and phone calls, quite possibly including your private information. It’s mining through massive amounts of stored communications from companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple.

While the NSA often suggests it collects only the communications of alleged terrorist “targets,” in reality it’s scanning and storing the private information of millions of Americans. 

What’s worse – all of this surveillance happens without a warrant and almost always without your knowledge. And once the government has collected your information under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it can use it for many purposes, even when you’ve done nothing illegal.

Section 702 is set to expire this year, and Congress has to decide whether or not to leave it in place, reform it to protect your right to privacy, or replace it. We stand a real chance at winning important reforms to put constitutional limits back on government surveillance, but we need your help.

Take action now – tell Congress to protect our online privacy and reform Section 702.

Under Section 702, the NSA rakes in at least 250 million online communications annually, and it holds onto most of those communications for five years. This means the NSA is storing at least a billion communications in its databases at any given time. And, based on some estimates, roughly half of all files collected contain information about U.S. citizens or residents.

The NSA can’t be trusted to police itself. It’s failed the American public time and time again. This kind of warrantless surveillance is wrong, un-American, and unconstitutional. Speak out and tell Congress to reform government surveillance.

Thank you,
Anthony and all of us at the ACLU

School Funding Facts, Pt. 2: Ed spending helps students, boosts economy

By Amanda Litvinov
The vast majority of students in the United States–roughly 90 percent–attend public schools. But too many policymakers use faulty “facts” to justify underfunding the very schools that most families are counting on. Part one of this series examined just how low per-pupil funding has fallen in most states, and how vouchers leech resources from public schools.
Today we’ll look at two reasons why investing in education is one of the very best decisions a state can make. First, smart education spending helps low-income students overcome barriers to their future success. Second, it boosts state and local economic growth.

FACT: Education spending makes a difference—especially for low-income students. 

Do not allow anyone to tell you that the U.S. spends too much on education.
Yes, overall U.S. education spending is on the high side among developed nations. But our rate of child poverty far exceeds almost all other countries included in such comparisons. Our schools must spend to counter the effects of poverty while many European countries and Canada, for example, alleviate those conditions through other government spending.
The good news is that the services public schools provide are working. For poor children, a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year of their K-12 education is associated with nearly a full additional year of completed education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percent reduction in the annual incidence of poverty in adulthood (Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014 and 2016).
Also: More than 30 years of research shows that smaller class sizes are better. Class size reduction is one of only four evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement. All students benefit from individual, active attention from their teachers, which is compromised when class sizes balloon.
Bottom line: Money matters a lot in education, and it matters how it is spent.

Investing in education is one of the best ways to strengthen the economy. 

Corporate tax breaks and tax cuts are a race to the bottom— a short-sighted approach to economic development, say Noah Berger and Peter Fisher of the Economic Policy Institute. Their research shows that providing expanded access to high quality education is likely the very best thing that a state government can do to bolster its long-term prosperity.
Good public schools attract businesses and produce well-prepared workers who eventually contribute to state revenues through taxes, allowing the state to keep investing in education—a cycle of success.
That’s why educators and parents support a bold proposal in the Oregon legislature that would, among other things, implement a corporate activity tax that would lower income taxes for middle and low-income individuals while raising $1.4 billion for education.
The Oregon Education Investment Initiative would reverse severe underfunding that has resulted in some of the highest class sizes in the nation. It would also add teacher mentoring and early childhood education programs.
Research by NEA shows that the initiative would bolster multiple sectors of the state’s economy, adding 23.6 thousand more jobs than forecasted for 2018, with more than two-thirds of the new jobs for non-teacher school support staff.
More state lawmakers should pursue sustainable investments in education, says Prof. Bruce D. Baker, who heads up the Education Law Center at Rutgers University.
“Equitable and adequate funding is a prerequisite for everything else,” Baker says. “No other strategies or programs or formulas are going to improve schools without sustained and stable funding.”
Bottom line: It’s time to stop giving handouts to corporations that don’t need them and invest taxpayer dollars in our students instead.
Now check out the final post in this series: The do’s and don’ts for talking about school funding to make the case for more resources for students.

NEA School Funding Facts...

School Funding Facts, Pt. 1: Per-pupil funding diminished and diverted

By Amanda Litvinov with reporting by Brian Washington
School funding is a mix of federal, state, and local funding sources distributed through complex and ever-changing formulas, making it all too easy for elected leaders to use half-truths and lies to slash education budgets and divert taxpayer dollars from public schools. Pro-public education advocates can’t allow that to happen.
Don’t shy away from making the case for better school funding. Just stick to the facts.
Part one of this three part series tackles two common areas of dispute, the amount of funding schools have and the impact of vouchers. Each topic ends with a straightforward bottom line fact that you can use to make the case for better school funding.

FACT: America’s schools are not ‘flush with cash, though President Trump (and many others) make such claims. 

Most education funding (roughly 90 percent) comes from state and local sources. But K-12 state funding since the Great Recession has failed to keep up with rising enrollments. According to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, per pupil funding is lower today than it was in 2008 in 23 states.
Mississippi is one of those states.
“Since fiscal year 2008, state leaders have created a public education funding crisis to the tune of $1.5 billion,” says Mississippi Education Association President Joyce Helmick, who has 37 years of experience working in Mississippi classrooms.
That amount could add more than 5,000 teachers, says Helmick. “Imagine how that can help our students flourish with smaller classrooms, more reading, math, and science courses, and more arts and athletics.”
Federal education spending is stuck at pre-2007 levels. That’s bad news, because federal education programs provide states with funding to protect vulnerable populations of students—those who are from low-income families, those learning English, and those with disabilities to name only a few. Dwindling federal money puts even more pressure on state and local budgets.
The increasing reliance on local revenues exacerbates inequities, since wealthier communities can pass local levies and pay higher property taxes than communities with fewer financial resources.
Bottom line: Per-pupil funding in most states, and federal education spending, have declined to dangerously low levels. State and federal lawmakers should be held accountable.

FACT: Voucher schemes drain resources from neighborhood public schools. 

To claim otherwise is outrageous.
Voucher pushers gloss over the fact that making public education money “portable”—that is, removing the average per-pupil funding for each student who receives a voucher—quickly hacks into funds needed to sustain a public school system. The per pupil average may not reflect the resources required to educate that particular student.
Here’s why: Research shows that most vouchers go to middle-class kids who already attend private schools. These students typically require fewer resources to educate than children who are living in poverty, learning English, or have special needs.
And the costs of keeping the lights on, maintaining the building and school campus, transporting kids, and keeping appropriate class sizes are costs that barely go down if a few students leave.
History teacher Jonathan Parker believes voucher diehards know full well that their schemes drain resources from public schools. He teaches at Glendale Union High School in Arizona, where Gov. Doug Ducey has drastically expanded the state’s voucher program.
“Politicians starving public schools create a self-fulfilling prophecy—programs are cut, class sizes swell, quality teachers leave, thereby concocting an artificial demand for privatization,” says Parker.
That’s precisely what President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are doing at the federal level. They will pull taxpayer dollars out of critical programs
like Title I, which adds money to public schools that serve low-income kids, to coerce states to follow their agenda.
“Whatever remedies privatization offers is nothing that a properly funded public school would not also provide to all students,” says Jonathan Parker.
Bottom line: Taxpayer dollars cannot support two education systems. Diverting our money from public schools that serve all children to unaccountable private schools is reckless and wrong.
The next time you hear half-truths or lies about per-pupil funding, or suggestions that vouchers are not a drain on public school resources, put these facts to use.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Adilson Araújo: One day Senate rips CLT, in the other, first labor president is condemned

The sentence passed by Judge Sergio Moro, who condemns President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at 9 years of age, is a scandal, either because of the lack of evidence or because of the circus that Moro has set up to discredit the country's greatest political leadership. The precedents opened by Moro are dangerous. The blow of capital against labor follows its course, since in one day the Senate tears the CLT and in the other we see the first worker president to be condemned. This is not by chance. We have to wonder why money bags, murder threats and links are not evidence of crime, but enough "conviction" to condemn someone. What we witness today - withdrawal of rights, repression of civil society and attack of freedoms - is a total state of exception. We extend our solidarity with Comrade Lula and we will continue in the fight in defense of democracy, sovereignty and freedom. And conscious of our role in history, we stand firm in resisting the challenges posed at this stage of Brazilian life. Adilson Araújo, national president of CTB

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Patients in poor health leave Medicare Advantage plans

United States Government Accountability Office (GAO)
April 2017
Medicare Advantage
CMS Should Use Data on Disenrollment and Beneficiary Health Status to Strengthen Oversight

If MAOs (Medicare Advantage Organizations) are meeting the needs of all their beneficiaries, we would expect that the rates at which beneficiaries disenroll would not vary by their health status. However, when beneficiaries in poor health are more likely to disenroll than those in better health—which we refer to as health-biased disenrollment—it may indicate that those beneficiaries could be facing problems with access to care or the quality of services provided. From an oversight perspective, contracts with health-biased disenrollment may not warrant extra CMS scrutiny if relatively few beneficiaries choose to leave the contract. However, contracts with both high overall rates of disenrollment and health-biased disenrollment may indicate potentially problematic contracts.


CMS is responsible for ensuring that all MA contracts offer care that meets applicable standards, regardless of beneficiary health status. However, as part of its routine oversight, CMS does not examine disenrollment rates by health status. Our analysis identified 35 contracts in 2014 where MA beneficiaries in poor health were more likely to disenroll than those in better health. These contracts with health-biased disenrollment had quality scores that were consistently and substantially below the scores of contracts without health-biased disenrollment. In addition, survey data indicate that beneficiaries who left these contracts reported problems with coverage of preferred doctors and hospitals as well as problems getting access to care as leading reasons they chose to leave their contracts. This type of information on disenrollment and beneficiary health status is available to CMS; however, by not leveraging it as part of its routine oversight of MA contracts, CMS is missing an opportunity to better target its oversight activities toward MA contracts that may not be adequately meeting the health care needs of all beneficiaries, particularly those in poor health.


Comment by Don McCanne
This GAO analysis shows that individuals enrolled in the private Medicare Advantage plans who were in poor health disenrolled at higher rates than those who were in better health. Reasons given included problems with coverage of their preferred doctors and hospitals (narrow networks) and problems getting access to care.

We know that private Medicare Advantage insurers game the system by selectively marketing to healthier patients and by upcoding to obtain higher risk adjustment payments. Although not discussed in this report, the exodus of patients in poor health could well represent intentional delivery of inferior services in an effort to encourage higher cost patients to leave.

This analysis also showed that healthier patients who left plans did so because of the cost of care, frequently switching to plans with lower costs.

This is how markets work. Healthy patients shop lower prices whereas patients with health care needs leave plans because of poor service. Is that really the way we want our health care system to work? Or would we prefer a system with greater choice in our health care professionals and institutions that strive more to bring us the health care that we truly need? A well designed single payer system would bring us the latter.

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Sanders Has His Priorities Backward; We Can’t Delay Medicare for All

Sen. Bernie Sanders, left,  and House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn speak to reporters outside the Capitol on Monday. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

By Margaret Flowers / Health Over Profit

We thought that [Sen. Bernie] Sanders was on track to introduce and advocate for a national improved Medicare for All bill, but Tuesday he stated publicly at a Planned Parenthood rally that his priorities are to first defeat the Republican health plan, then to improve the Affordable Care Act with a public option or allowing people to buy-in to Medicare, and then we can work for single payer.
Sanders surprises me by calling for public option, reducing Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 55. Normally just talks about single-payer
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) June 27, 2017
This was confirmed by his deputy communications director Josh Miller-Lewis who said “[Sanders has] said many times over the last six months that we need to move toward a Medicare-for-all system, but in the short-term we should improve the ACA with a public option and by lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 55.”
This is the line being used by the Democrats to take the single payer movement off track. It’s the same line that worked so effectively in 2009-10. I wrote about that with Kevin Zeese in 2013 in “Obamacare: The Biggest Insurance Scam in History.”

We have to be smarter than that this time. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a huge bail out for the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries at a time when almost 50 million people in the US were without health insurance. It set up markets to sell insurance that everyone was mandated to buy, unless they were covered by a public insurance, hired people to sell the insurance and subsidized the purchase of health insurance with $100 billion every year. Think about it – that $100 billion is going straight into the bank accounts of the private health insurance companies who are designed to spend as little as they can on actual health care.
Neither another public insurance nor an option to buy into Medicare will solve the healthcare crisis in the United States. They won’t cover the tens of millions who are still without health insurance. They won’t get rid of the co-pays and deductibles that make people with health insurance avoid or delay seeking care due to cost. They won’t bring down the prices of health services and pharmaceuticals. They won’t end bankruptcy due to medical illness.

Only a national single payer healthcare system will achieve those goals.

We are already spending enough on health care in the US to provide comprehensive health care to everyone. We have a bill that lays out the framework for a National Improved Medicare for All healthcare system: HR 676. A majority of Democrats in the House have signed on to it as co-sponsors.

So, why are they trying to convince us to accept a public option or a Medicare buy-in? It’s because they are corrupted by money – campaign contributions that they receive from the corporations that profit from the current system. You may say, well Bernie doesn’t take corporate money, so why would he go along with this charade? It may be because he has greater allegiance to the Democratic Party than he has to the supporters of Medicare for All, his base. He may fear losing positions on committees or his new position of leadership within the party.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

What Trump's new Cuba policy means for travelers to the island

Miami Herald 6/27/2017 
Since President Donald Trump announced his new Cuba policy, Tom Popper's phone has been ringing off the hook. Callers have 
questions, lots of questions, about how they can travel to Cuba as individuals, what people-to-people tours are and how they can visit Cuba.
Others are more emphatic, said Popper, president of InsightCuba, which takes groups to Cuba on tours that range from exploration of colonial cities to itineraries centered on jazz in Havana. 
"They say they have been interested in traveling to Cuba and they want to book right now," he said.   download the whole story 

Nevada voucher defeat showcases why elections matter in resisting Trump-DeVos agenda

Posted June 18, 2017

by Brian Washington


Tell Betsy DeVos: Your voucher plan harms students. CLICK HERE›

Elections matter. Period. And more importantly, they can have a huge impact on students, educators, and public schools. This is true whether you’re interested in politics or not.

The latest powerful example proving this point comes from out West—the state of Nevada, where educators, with the help of several community partners, managed to strip the funding from a huge voucher program, essentially killing it.

“I think it’s a great win for everybody in our state, for students, public schools, and teachers,” said Susan Kaiser, a National Board Certified educator in Reno with 23 years of classroom experience. “These vouchers take money away from public education, and the fact that we beat back the effort is a huge win for us.”

But Nevada educators also owe this win to the current makeup of the state legislature, which the Kaisers say has improved dramatically over recent years.
“We had hit rock bottom in 2014, when our state legislature switched over to be controlled by anti-union and anti-public education Republicans—in both the Senate and the Assembly,” said Phil Kaiser.
During the 2015 legislative session, this new, more right-wing legislature ushered in attacks on educators’ salaries and their right to advocate for students in the workplace. It also launched the state’s voucher program, which has robbed public schools and the vast majority of students who attend them of millions of dollars. According to the Kaisers, the 2015 session was one of the worst for children, educators, and public schools.
But instead of giving up, Nevada educators decided to organize and fight back against an extreme right-wing agenda.
We identified candidates who are friends of public education and we put our resources behind them and canvassed for them” said Phil Kaiser. “And the end result was that the 2016 election gave us pro-public education majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate.
The couple says this new legislature worked with educators and their communities to reshape the education policy landscape by cutting the lifeline to Nevada’s voucher program. More specifically, legislative leaders struck a deal with Governor Brian Sandoval, a supporter of private school vouchers, that ended funding to the state’s voucher program.
“The ESA (voucher) law is still on the books, but the funding was taken away,” said Phil Kaiser. “It’s really inoperable now that the funding that went with it is gone.”
Nevada is just one of several states nationwide saying “no” to private school vouchers, a major staple of the budget being promoted by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who, on many occasions, has proven she is unqualified to hold her new post. Victories like the one in Nevada send a strong message to those who back private school vouchers and the Trump-DeVos agenda. They reinforce that the best investment for public money is a public education system that benefits all students, regardless of their zip code and income level.
“I think this gives us a moment,” said Susan Kaiser. “We have to just keep convincing people that the investment in public education is worth it. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but I think we are on the right track.”