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Sick of Healthcare Lies

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By Bill Fletcher Jr.
NNPA Columnist

The on-going debate about healthcare reform hit me this week when I became quite ill. I am one of the lucky ones. I have an employer-provided healthcare plan so I was ultimately able to go to a medical facility, get diagnosed and begin treatment. My co-pay was minimal, and certainly would not have put me under water. But what if I had not been so lucky? I use the term “lucky” quite specifically since having healthcare, at least until President Obama’s reforms, has been the luck of the draw: Did you belong to a union? Did you have an employer that provided insurance? Did you have enough money to pay for it on your own? Not to mention the actual quality of your plan, if you were, like me, lucky to have one.

Obama’s healthcare reform did not go as far as it needed to, and, with all due respect, made too many compromises with private-sector interests. In that sense, the struggle is not over for universal healthcare. President Obama, both because of his connections with corporate America and his early belief in bi-partisanship, sincerely seemed to believe that reasonable people could strike a compromise. He could not accept, and perhaps still cannot completely accept, that the Republicans from Day One of his administration — have been out for blood.

We needed and still need full healthcare reform. We need, in other words, the extension of Medicare to cover us all. We have to reject the false notion that this means a loss of jobs. While I have been ill this week I have considered many of the arguments raised by the Republicans against Obama’s plan, a plan that has now been upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional. The most ironic of the arguments comes from Mitt Romney, who is in no position to criticize the plan since it is largely based upon the one that he initiated as governor of Massachusetts.

But the arguments of the Republicans actually are deeper and meaner than Romney’s flip-flopping. They go to the question of whether there are, or should be, a “deserving” population and an “undeserving” population. This may sound vaguely familiar, and so it should since it goes back to the Reagan era separation of the poor into the “deserving” and the “undeserving.” In both cases, a right-wing moral judgment has been cast against a segment of the population. In today’s situation, the notion is simple: the right-wing argues that there is a segment of the population that has done little to earn any of the so-called entitlements that they receive. Therefore, these should be cut.

Flowing from this fuzzy line of thinking is Republican opposition to Obama’s plan — Romney’s hypocrisy notwithstanding — becomes more understandable and equally unsettling. As far as they are concerned, let the so-called undeserving swing in the wind and look out for themselves. And if this means that this undeserving population cannot get access to quality healthcare, jobs, food housing, proper education, etc., as far as the right-wing is concerned, so be it. Just in case you think that the right-wing is not talking about you, let me clarify who they see as the undeserving populations: the poor (the right-wing is not making the distinction anymore between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ section); people of color; youth; immigrants of color; low-waged workers; and in many cases, anyone who makes less than $100,000/year. Do you see yourself in that picture?

This is what the November 2012 election is all about. It is not about Obama and his record. It’s really about whether you have a right to be treated for illnesses in such a way that you are not cast into the bottomless pit of debt and poverty. Sick or not, there is no way that I am staying home on Election Day.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

SB Files Bankruptcy

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Personal Agendas Aside, Council Needs to Work Together for the Betterment of San Bernardino

By Hardy L. Brown

Just prior to the San Bernardino city council meeting on Tuesday evening, two more citizens lost their lives from gunshots on 9th Street and Medical Center Drive and later that evening, a Colton police officer shot and killed another citizen in the city during a crime committed in Colton. Also reported the same day, an 18-year-old was shot by an off duty police officer because the youth had broken into the officers home while his family lay asleep in another room. The young man was not killed but was later taken into custody.

In between all of these shootings, the city council met and with a 4-2-1 vote ordered the city attorney to file chapter 9-bankruptcy in federal court. Led by council members Rikke Van Johnson, Virginia Marques, Robert Jenkins and Wendy McCammack voting in favor of the motion and Dennis Shorett and Chas Kelley voting no and John Valdivia abstaining.

This action came on the heels of an analysis that showed for the past 20 years the city revenues have lagged behind the expenditures and just a few years ago the city lost $16 million in sales tax.

City Attorney Jim Penman, said that for 13 out of the past 16 years budgets presented to the council was inaccurate and the budget documents were false. This implies that the mayor and council have been lied to or misguided by staff members. I do not know if the documents are false or not but I do know that this city knew they have been heading toward bankruptcy for some time. They have ignored the warning signs presented to them and proceeded to “rob Peter to pay Paul” or as I said before they preferred to “fiddle while Rome was burning”.

Just as guilty as those we elected are the citizens, like myself, who voted for Charter Section 186 that gave auto pilot income to public safety without intervention from the public regardless of the financial conditions of the city. Believe me that is not the total problem because our now defunct redevelopment agency has made its share of very bad deals and shabby investments. They would buy and sell property then bail out the city during those lean years of budget shortfall.

As those who profited from these actions, they took the money and moved out of the city thus draining the city from a higher property tax and lack of sales tax that was now being spent in other cities. It was shown in one report that public safety alone exported over $40 million each year out of the city and last night it was stated if the council eliminated every department but, public safety from the city including the mayor and council they would still have to cut something in public safety. And according to Penman there is nothing the council can do because we the citizens put it into the charter which is protected from bankruptcy.

The city has a $45.6 million shortfall and will not be able to meet payroll by August 15 if they do not file chapter 9-court action. One thing I noticed from the vote is it brought together voting partners. Johnson and Marques were joined by Jenkins and McCammack in supporting the motion while Kelly joined with Shorett in opposing the motion. Valdivia the newest member on the council did not know what to do by claiming he did not make this mess, so he abstained.

Regardless of who is to blame, and not one person or group is, the fact is we are all in the same sinking ship so what do we do to stop the leak? Those citizens with the life jackets moved out of the city years ago; and now standing on the shore looking back and saying I got mine while the getting was good.

Let me say the council did the right thing last night but must now do the heavy lifting by putting aside personal agendas and working together for the betterment of the city. The groundrules must be that everything is on the table and everyone is encouraged to say what they think regardless how crazy it might sound without the other ones taking it personal or feelings being hurt. It will take everyone to stop the leaks. It is like the commercial with the Aflac duck plugging the holes in the boat; we have enough holes so every hand will be needed.

Because Some Laundry Needs to Be Aired

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By Jasmyne A. Cannick

When I got the text from one of my best friends that she was being admitted into the hospital at 1:30 in the morning, I immediately called her back to find out what was wrong. It’s not unusual for me to be up all night working, especially if I have to be at the radio station by 4:30 a.m. I’d rather sleep later than risk oversleeping and missing the show. I never reached her that night and so when I was done with the show at 6 a.m., while my intentions had been to go home and go to sleep for a few hours, something inside of me wouldn’t let me. So at 6 a.m., I got on the freeway in search of my friend. I went to her house and she wasn’t there so I called her cousin in hopes she would know what hospital she was at—no help there. I often forget that while I am an early riser, most people are not.

So I went to the nearest hospital thinking that’s where she would be, call it logical deduction. She wasn’t there. Then it came to me to read the text message she had sent to me again. I did and realized she had actually said where she was at and so I got directions and headed over there.

I don’t know what I expected when I finally reached my friend’s hospital room, but I do know that what I saw when I walked into that hospital room nearly killed me and is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I practically collapsed on the spot when I walked into that hospital room and saw my friend hooked up to an IV, withered down to skin and bones. She had lost a lot of her hair, including her eyebrows and her skin color—it just wasn’t normal.

I immediately burst into tears crying and asking what’s going on. I had seen enough with family members to know that what I was looking at wasn’t normal. My friend, always the protector of everyone else but herself, immediately explains to me that it’s just stress from working two jobs and not eating. She told me that she was dehydrated and that stress had done this to her.

I wasn’t buying it. I didn’t tell her that, but inside, I didn’t buy that excuse for a minute. I know stress and what I was looking at wasn’t stress. For the sake of my friend, I pretended to go along with the story. I comforted her, I talked to her, I held her, I kissed her, I loved her. I didn’t want to leave my friend’s side not even for a minute after I got there but after a while I suggested that I should run to her house and grab her clothes and other toiletries she might need—she agreed.

After giving me a laundry list of things to bring back with me, I left the hospital to go to her house.

In the car, I called a mutual friend of ours in tears explaining what had just happened. I needed to talk to someone who knew us both. I was so scared for my friend. I was still on the phone with our mutual friend when I reached my friend’s house. I remember walking into her house looking around and surveying her refrigerator. Why the refrigerator? Because she told me about not eating and I wanted to see what food she had.

Still crying while I am talking to our friend on the phone, I began to gather her clothes. While digging around for a shirt she wanted, I came across a stash of medicine hidden in a hamper. I remember thinking, that’s weird, why is the medicine in the hamper under all of these clothes? I abruptly ended the conversation I was having on the phone and pulled out the pills and took a closer look at them. They were awfully colorful, all packaged up by day and time of day. How efficient, I thought. They weren’t opened. That can’t be good. I managed to read the names and numbers on the pills and I started punching them up on my phone’s Internet browser to find out what they were for. Orange pill. TMC. So I searched for “TMC pill.” Pill imprint 400 TMC has been identified as Prezista 400 mg. Prezista is used in the treatment of hiv infection and belongs to the drug class protease inhibitors. I thought, okay well it must treat more than that. Let me search another pill. Blue pill. Gillead 701. Pill imprint GILEAD 701 has been identified as Truvada 200 mg / 300 mg. Truvada is used in the treatment of hiv infection; nonoccupational exposure and belongs to the drug class antiviral combinations. Cue the denial. White pill. 227. Pill imprint 227 has been identified as Isentress 400 mg. Isentress is used in the treatment of hiv infection and belongs to the drugclass integrase strand transfer inhibitor. And then I scream. Looking back now, I know her neighbors were probably like what the hell is going on next door. I screamed. I cried. I ran around her apartment and then I literally collapsed right there on her living room floor into a ball. I’m not sure how long I lay there crying and screaming “why” over and over again before I called the one person in the world I could talk to about this—my grandmother. It turns out that my best friend had been living with HIV since 2007 and had kept it a secret from her family and her friends all of this time. The shame, stigma, fear, and denial were simply too much for her to bear. After being unable to deal with the side effects of the medicine she was taking while still working two jobs, she simply one day decided to quit taking them. The result of her doing that was a viral load of 1.5 million and 4 T-cells. She had just 4 white blood cells to defend her body against any new infectious diseases and the 1.5 million virus infections already in her.

It’s been a month since she was released from the hospital and she’s not out of the danger zone yet, but she’s on the way. My friend’s situation is not unique—this is happening all over Black America because of the stigma, hate, and fear we’ve placed on HIV/AIDS. Most people don’t die from HIV/AIDS in America anymore thanks to recent medical advancements and access to antiviral drugs. But when it comes to Black people, we die from the shame and fear and attached to HIV/AIDS because of our attitudes towards getting tested and then seeking treatment if we are positive coupled with the stigma we have cultivated andseemingly embraced in the Church, our homes, and among our family and friends. Our fear prohibits us from getting tested and allows us to believe that we are somehow immune and it can’t happen us. I got news for you, no one is immune—not you and not me and HIV doesn’t care how fine you are, how much money you have, how old you are, what you think your man or woman is or is not doing when you are not around, or what God you pray to and how highly favored and blessed you are. Until we break the cycle of fear and shame about HIV/AIDS, Black people are going to continue to die from the fear and shame of the same disease that others manage to live long, healthy, and productive with. Real talk. June 27 was National HIV Testing Day. It’s still not too late to take the test, take control.

Chosen as one of Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, Jasmyne A. Cannick is a campaign media and public affairs specialist. She is also a radio andtelevision politics, race, and pop culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @jasmyne and on Facebook at /jasmyne.

Maligning Federal Employees

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By Julianne Malveaux

NNPA Columnist

Congress is on fire to balance the federal budget, and they don’t care who they take as prisoners in the process. There are at least two proposals to freeze federal salaries for yet another year (they have been frozen since 2011), and to continue to demonize federal workers as do-nothing folks who don’t need raises. Meanwhile, President Obama has asked for a minimal half percent a year increase while many in the private sector are seeing wages rise. Of course, everyone is struggling with unemployment rates rising to 8.2 percent. Still, it is onerous that federal employees seem to be bearing the brunt of this budget crisis.

It is even worse when we understand that African Americans make up 17.4 percent of the federal workforce, compared to 10.1 percent of the civilian labor force. Of course, the higher the pay grade, the fewer African Americans. Whatever the pay grade, it is clear that African Americans are far more likely to get proportional pay in the federal government than in the private sector. Thus, proposals to cut federal pay disproportionately affect African Americans. Somebody could perhaps argue that cuts are race neutral, but I’m not buying. The fact is that the federal government has been most open to African American workers, and most willing to offer relatively equal pay.

Too many would like to characterize government workers as ineffective without looking at the fact that most federal government and private workers do their jobs and then some. Everybody can tell trifling somebody-done-me-wrong songs, but the real deal is most works do their best. Those members of Congress that target federal workers ought to look long at hard and the results they get form the folks who process Social Security checks, manage veterans’ benefits, move money from the federal government to state and local governments, and manage the process. These folks need kudos not the killing remarks that suggest that they don’t earn their money.

It’s a rough job market and many, including federal employees, make the choice to take pay freezes instead of looking for other work. Are we losing some of our best employees, though, when we impose a freeze for the third year in a row? It may be hard for some others to sympathize with folks who have steady and well-paid employment, but at the same time, who wants to work without appreciation or a raise? Does our Congress cut off our nose to spite our face by targeting federal employees?

As a CEO, I’ve had to preside over the difficult task of imposing pay freezes and hoping that my staff would understand that frozen pay is better than no pay or layoffs. At the same time, I shudder when I think that our federal government cannot appreciate, even in a small way, those who keep our trains running, our balls in the air, our elders compensated, our work done. Half a percent is a small amount, and it hits those at the bottom, not the top. How can Congress push to maintain Bush tax cuts, but fail to raise wages for federal employees.

There are two reasons that I am passionate about this. First, although many federal workers earn more than $150,000 a year, too many, mostly Black women, are at the GS-1 to GS-4 level, earning less than $40,000 annually. These women raise families, send children to school and overcome odds. They need a raise. They aren’t going to get it from a Congress that demonizes government workers, and that is a tragedy. Secondly, African Americans are more likely to get fair treatment from a civil service system than from the ordinary labor market, and it seems that this is a reason that some legislators seem to go after government employees.

While Congress must be prudent about our budget, they shouldn’t take it out of the hide of government workers, especially those at the very bottom. There is no fairness in freezing government salaries while other salaries rise.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Black Women Don’t Have the Luxury of Staying Home

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By Julianne Malveaux

When Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” Romney behaved as if she had just hit the lottery. She smugly made the media rounds talking about how hard it was for her to raise her five sons. And she’s right.  Stay at home moms work extremely hard to cook, clean, run a shuttle for their children and their various activities, participate in school activities like “Room Mom” and “Cookie Mom.” How do I know, having never had chick or child?  A very dear friend, a Harvard-educated lawyer, has been mostly home with her children, one of whom is my godson, for the past decade or so, and it shows.

I digress. Hilary Rosen misspoke when she said Ann Romney had never worked. What she could  have said is that Ann Romney never needed to work in the paid labor market.  Even when Mitt Romney was in graduate school, they survived by living on the returns from their investments, according to them. So it isn’t that Ann Romney never worked, it is simply that she was never forced to.

This entire conversation is a blast from the past, reminiscent of articles that I wrote in the 1980s.  Even then this was a mostly White women’s’ conversation since few Black women have or are married to the kind of wealth that would allow them to stay home.  Conservative stay home moms often say that people have to make sacrifices to stay at home, perhaps cutting out luxuries such as restaurant meals and extra clothing.  But unless food is a luxury, there are Black women who are in the labor market simply because they have no choice.

The official unemployment rate among African Americans is 14 percent.  The actual rate is more like 26 percent, and in many inner cities the Black male unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent.  This is a burden to African American women who often don’t have the economic assistance they need to raise a family. As a result of this burden, nearly 40 percent of African American children live in poverty, too often supported by a single mom (more than 40 percent of African American households are headed by women).

While there is a group of African American stay-at-home moms called Mocha Moms, and there is little data to suggest the size of the African American stay-at-home mom population, it is clear that historically, African American women had no choice but work.  I am not invoking ancient history when I reference the women who, as maids, were paid to take better care of their employer’s children than they could possibly take of their own.  And then they often paid, I part with used clothes and leftover food substituting for cash.

Patriarchal tradition kept White women home, while White men were paid a “family wage” that was, by definition, enough to support a whole family. Such patriarchal tradition was not economically present in the African American community.  Few African American men were paid a family wage, but instead something like a subsistence wage. Women needed to work to help keep the family together.

Until the late 1980s, the labor force participation of African American women exceeded that of White women, which means that proportionately more of us were working.   African American women’s earnings often make the difference between poverty and comfort for their families.  Mommy wars?  Give me a break.  Let’s talk about survival wars.

Even those African American families who have been blessed with higher education and “good jobs” are well aware that African Americans are “last hired, first fired”.  Too many so-called middle class families are a paycheck or two away from poverty.  Last time I checked, African American households had only 2 percent of our nation’s wealth, hardly a cushion to fall back on, with few investment returns to live on when no one is working.

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, which counts the extra days women have to work to earn as much as a man did last year.  This hits women of all races, but it may hit African American women harder. We can only laugh and shake our heads at Hilary Rosen’s faux pas and Ann Romney’s smugness.  We working African American women, stay at home or in the paid labor force understand that “life for us ain’t been no crystal stair”.  Educated or uneducated, middle class or working class, the labor market has never been a level playing field for us, and our salaries show it.  Mommy wars?  We fight survival wars in the workplace and in this economy.

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennet College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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