Activism Works

All those calls and emails, all that demonstrating and participating in town halls — they've paid off! Even what the New York Times is calling "Plan C" — to "repeal now and replace later" — is DOA. Three Senators — Susan Collins (ME), Shelley Moore Capito (WV) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) — "immediately declared they could not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement — enough to doom the effort before it could get any momentum." I'll have a little more to say on this subject in a bit.

But first,

Some Announcements

Grassroots North Shore moved into our new offices last week. So we're having a "housewarming" to inaugurate our new space. We're serving ice cream and beverages, weather permitting. If it rains and we have to move the party indoors, we'll provide other treats instead.

And like any new tenant, we're decorating! So if you have piles of buttons sitting around and you'd like to give them to a good cause, we will turn those piles into decorations!

Just bring those unused buttons when you come to the open house on Sunday, July 23rd. We will have lots of ribbons for you to create your display or just leave them for us to do. Either way, we will have a wall of political memories.

join us on Sunday, July 23, from 3-5:30 at 5600 W. Brown Deer Road.


And SAVE THE DATE: On Sunday, August 13, GRNS is hosting a presentation by the League of Conservation Voters: "Help Save Our Wells and Waterways." The League will fill us in on the physical and legislative status of wells and waterways, and their protection (or lack of) in Wisconsin. The event will take place at the North Shore Presbyterian Church (4048 N. Bartlett Ave, Shorewood) from 4-6:30pm. Please join us as we turn our attention to vital state issues.

HOW AND WHY WE WON THE HEALTHCARE BATTLE (for now at least)

It's not clear what Republicans will try next but it is clear that engaged citizens can and do make a difference. We can't promise it will always work. But we can see that voter resistance can force a change of course. So when Trump and McConnell and Ryan cook up their next nasty "tax cut masquerading as healthcare" stew, you'll know just what to do.

Josh Marshall has what I think is the best explanation of why the Republican plan to repeal the ACA has come such a cropper. First he acknowledges the vital role played by how unpopular the various versions of the legislation was and the equally vital played by "the huge and sustained nationwide activism against Trumpcare." The deeper driver at work, though, is this:

At the outset of Obamacare’s post-legislative history, Republicans were for repeal. Then repeal became ‘Repeal and Replace’, a tacit but highly significant concession that the 2009 status quo ante was not acceptable. Over time, Repeal and Replace got gussied up with claims that the replacement for Obamacare would be better than Obamacare. There was a good deal of vagueness and mendacity packaged into this messaging. But the critical thing was that in the process of evolving from ‘Repeal’ to ‘Repeal and Replace’, Republicans made a tacit concession that those who had gained coverage under Obamacare should in fact have coverage. It was just that Obamacare did it in a flawed way and Obamacare’s replacement would do it better.

The problem, at its core, was that Republicans could not concoct a solution that would maintain coverage for all those who had gained it while their majority wanted deep tax cuts and a sizable portion of their caucus did not understand — or didn't accept — the basic concession Marshall has exposed.

Meanwhile David Leonhardt's "A Project to Nourish Your Political Soul" provides a completely different perspective on what progressives can do to start changing the bitter and polarized climate.

[T]he Trump era is coarsening our discourse. Too often recently I have watched people I respect spiral from a political discussion into a nasty, personal argument. 

So I have a suggestion. By all means, Trump’s opponents should continue to fight — for health care, civil rights, the climate and truth itself. But there is also a quieter step that’s worth taking no matter your views, for the sake of nourishing your political soul. 

Pick an issue that you find complicated, and grapple with it. 

Choose one on which you’re legitimately torn or harbor secret doubts. Read up on it. Don’t rush to explain away inconvenient evidence. 

Then do something truly radical: Consider changing your mind, at least partially.

I'm going to give it a try.

Local Activism at Work

Engagement and activism work locally just as well. On July 10, 2017, concerned Shorewood residents turned out at a Village Board meeting in support of a "Resolution for Justice and Dignity." Chuck Carlson explains what happened and how citizens prevailed:

[T]he Shorewood, WI village board voted 7-0 to approve the Resolution for Justice and Dignity that was presented by the Shorewood Solidarity Network (SSN). This unanimous vote demonstrated a commitment by Shorewood and its residents to “promote the principle of universal respect for the dignity of all” regardless of “race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, sexual or gender identity, or disability.” The passage of this resolution was a positive victory for all who live, work, shop, visit or pass through Shorewood. 

While the 7-0 vote, would indicate a human rights statement resolution was an easy accomplishment, the actual process demonstrates the importance of strong organization and involvement by community members.

Read the rest of the story on our blog.

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Unrigging our maps / July 11, 2017

Largely because of Wisconsin's high profile case about extremely partisan electoral maps, activists have begun talking to state legislators and key leaders about a pair of bills languishing in committees in the state Senate and the Assembly. These bills — SB13 and AB44 — aim to transform the way Wisconsin establishes electoral districts for the Assembly, state Senate, and US Congress. District lines must be redrawn every ten years, following the US Census, so that they reflect the population enumerated in the count. Currently, the legislature devises electoral maps and the process is highly partisan. If SB13 and AB44 were to become law, electoral maps would be developed by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

Under the current process, the party in power can develop maps that all but guarantee that it will retain power at least until new maps are drawn after the next US Census. In November 2016, a federal court comprised of two district judges and one appellate judge ruled that the maps the Republican-controlled legislature had developed after the 2010 Census produced exactly that result. The state appealed the ruling and the case, Gill v. Whitford, is pending at the US Supreme Court where oral arguments will take place during the first week of October, 2017. If Whitford et al. (the defendants in the case) prevail, Wisconsin will presumably have to draw new maps soon, perhaps even in time for the 2018 elections.

But even if Whitford et al. win the case, the problem of partisan maps will not disappear. We will still need to ensure that Wisconsin legislates a nonpartisan process for all future rounds of redistricting.

I'm reviewing these points — while apologizing for the length of this piece — because it is important to press our legislators to support the pending bills. People who have spoken directly to Republican representatives report two standard responses, neither of which addresses the key issues. First, Republicans deflect the conversation by saying that they are awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling. Second, many argue that because partisan voters are not evenly distributed across the state but are instead "clustered" in like-minded communities, even a nonpartisan process for drawing district lines will not change the distribution of power much, if at all. They are in effect arguing that Republicans will retain most or all of their electoral advantage because of where people of various political persuasions have chosen to live.

The first response has no merit because Gill v. Whitford only addresses the outcomes of elections. It will not alter the process by which the state redraws its electoral districts every ten years. Even if Whitford et al. prevail, the party in power can continue to skew the maps just as they like. Nothing short of additional (and expensive) litigation can stop that practice. Only the passage of new laws governing the process of redistricting will ensure that our electoral maps are constructed in a fair and nonpartisan way.

The second response takes a bit more investigation. It's based on a theory called "The Big Sort" developed by Bill Bishop in 2004 and published by the same name in 2008. According to Bishop's analysis, Democrats are densely clustered in mostly urban areas while Republicans dominate in all the less densely populated areas of the country. And the trend of spatial segregation by political leaning seems to have accelerated between 1992 and 2016. (See an analysis by Richard Florida from October 2016.)

Few if any serious analyses claim that the GOP domination of state legislatures and congressional seats is due solely to self-sorting. Instead they argue that electoral maps deliberately skewed to favor the party in power (which, by the way, both parties do whenever they have enough power — see Maryland, Illinois, and Rhode Island to name just a few of the most egregious Democratic gerrymanders) don't have as much impact as some (including me) suppose. A significant imbalance arising from ideological self-sorting would remain and would continue to produce lopsided results in many areas of the country, they argue.

The idea is apparently that Democrats have packed themselves into cities, which has made it impossible for congressional and state legislative districts to be anything but Republican-leaning overall, because non-urban areas are now left to Republican dominance. [Neil Buchanan, "Is Gerrymandering a Mirage?" in Newsweek, June 25, 2017]

Recently, a number of articles examining the relationship between self-sorting, gerrymandering, and political outcomes have concluded that even though there is strong evidence of clustering, uncompetitive electoral districts are not an inevitable result. Professor Sam Wang, at the Princeton Election Consortium, writes:

It is a commonly believed that the predominant force in partisan asymmetry is population clustering: groups that tilt Democratic are clustered into cities, generating a natural packing effect. A clustering effect certainly exists. However, as of 2012-2014, this effect has become secondary to gerrymandering in a handful of states. 

Population clustering and partisan actions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, partisan gerrymandering relies on the fact that voters are not distributed perfectly uniformly. Using this fact, redistricters lasso voters into districts to suit political ends. For this reason, it is easy to mix up the two processes. [Wang, The effect of gerrymandering in four states exceeds that of population clustering in all 50 states, December 8, 2015]

A more recent analysis of the 2016 elections by the AP showed

four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts. 

Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the last Census in 2010.... 

[T]he data suggest that even if Democrats had turned out in larger numbers, their chances of substantial legislative gains were limited by gerrymandering.... 

A separate statistical analysis conducted for AP by the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project found that the extreme Republican advantages in some states were no fluke. The Republican edge in Michigan’s state House districts had only a 1-in-16,000 probability of occurring by chance; in Wisconsin’s Assembly districts, there was a mere 1-in-60,000 likelihood of it happening randomly, the analysis found [emphasis added].

The situation is certainly bleak: extremely partisan maps exacerbate the radical polarization we've been experiencing and make a return to more civil political discourse and a willingness to compromise much less likely. For me, that means we must do everything we can to address the way electoral districts are drawn.

A series of actions are currently under way to bring attention to this foundational issue and to pressure the legislature to hold hearings on SB13 and AB44. A large number of issue-oriented as well as politically-active organizations are participating in a coordinated effort to push this issue as hard as possible. At the Fair Elections Forum we are hosting on Sunday, July 16, at the North Shore Presbyterian Church (see details here), you can pick up an action packet that will guide your personal effort to make a difference. I hope you'll come.

 

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We are Making Headway

Who said "winning isn't everything; it's the ONLY thing"? It's often attributed to the late, great Vince Lombardi though a lesser known college football coach seems to have said it first. When it comes to the Trumpcare catastrophe staring us in the face, it's absolutely true. We HAVE TO WIN THIS ONE to prevent hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens from medical penury or untimely deaths. I'm sure everyone reading this newsletter is doing something to help stave off this disaster.

You know what to do, right? Call Senator Johnson's office (414-276-7282, 202-224-5323). He's saying he will not vote for the "motion to proceed," which is a necessary technical vote to bring the bill up for a vote. You probably won't think much of his reasoning, but remember that winning is the only thing. Ditto with Senator Paul (Kentucky, 202-224-4343) who is basically opposed to all government participation in the health insurance business.

Senator Collins (Maine, 207-622-8414) and Senator Heller (Nevada, 202-224-6244, Facebook) have both said they won't vote for this tax cut for millionaires masquerading as "healthcare reform." It wouldn't hurt to visit their Facebook pages or to send them some email applauding their decision and lauding their courage in the face of extraordinary pressure. A few are wavering, among them Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska, Facebook) and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia, Facebook).

It looks as if the public outcry might be turning the tide. But Mitch McConnell is wily. So keep it up.

And while we're talking about the necessity of winning, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote an important post last week arguing that Voting Rights Defeatism is Toxic. It's his response to some of the ways people and pundits reacted to John Ossoff's loss in the Georgia special election. Complaining about voter suppression may provide some emotional balm. But "the simple fact is that Democrats or anyone who believes in voting rights will need to win elections under the current restrictive system to be able to change laws to change that system. The fact that that is challenging and unfair doesn’t change the reality of it. There’s no getting around this basic fact." And that's the bottom line, friends. We are going to have to gird up our loins, sashay into less friendly territories, and figure out some ways to get to 50+1.

To me, that means pulling together rather than squabbling between factions. It means accepting some "impure positions" in our big-tent coalition. It means working with the electoral district and the voters in it starting from where they are and not where we all wish they were. Because right now, WINNING IS THE ONLY THING that will allow us to make a difference — in Wisconsin, in the country, in the world.

Don't get me wrong. Republicans have rigged electoral maps all over the US, wherever they had enough power to act alone. The AP has undertaken an analysis of all 435 congressional races and 4700 state legislative races in the 2016 cycle. Apparently the researchers used the "efficiency gap" tool that was developed for the Fair Elections Project's Wisconsin challenge (Gill v. Whitford) to be argued before the US Supreme Court in the first week of October.

According to the NBCNews account of the AP report, "The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts." A separate analysis using different statistical methods provides the same conclusion: "A separate statistical analysis conducted for AP by the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project found that the extreme Republican advantages in some states were no fluke. The Republican edge in Michigan's state House districts had only a 1-in-16,000 probability of occurring by chance; in Wisconsin's Assembly districts, there was a mere 1-in-60,000 likelihood of it happening randomly, the analysis found."

Clearly we have our work cut out for us, but we must not tire or weaken. Thus endeth the lesson. With apologies for its length and some personal ranting.

 

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Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime!

Get out your calendars! July is fast upon us and Grassroots North Shore has oodles of fun activities planned for us.

On Saturday July 8, we are teaming up with the North Shore Huddle for a picnic/barbecue as part of a statewide "Fired Up for Tammy" event at Humboldt Park. Look for more details and an RSVP page coming soon.

On Sunday July 16, we are hosting a Town Hall on Fair Elections at the North Shore Presbyterian Church (4048 N. Bartlett Ave, Shorewood). Now that the US Supreme Court has set a date for oral arguments in the case known as Gill v Whitford, our panel of experts — Sachin Chheda (director of the Fair Elections Project), Dan Theno (former Republican state senator), and Anna Dvorak (lead organizer for the Citizen Action Milwaukee Organizing Cooperative) — will help us understand the issues and the process and will provide information on how you can help reform the way Wisconsin draws its electoral maps every ten years. Citizen Action Milwaukee Co-op, Fair Elections Project, League of Women Voters, OFA of Wisconsin, Supermarket Legends, and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign are all co-sponsoring this town hall and numerous others all around Wisconsin. The case has powerful national implications. It's being covered extensively in the national press. A recent item in the Washington Post, for example, explains Why the Supreme Court’s decision to review Wisconsin’s gerrymandering is such a big deal. So you won't want to miss this opportunity. RSVP now.

Finally, on Sunday, July 23, we're having an Ice Cream Social to welcome everyone to our new office at 5600 W. Brown Deer Rd. After two years of looking, we are finally ready to move to our new home. It met all of our requirements:

  • First floor
  • Lots of parking
  • In our price range

We also got some wonderful perks we hadn’t expected:

  • Beautifully appointed vending area with great coffee
  • A new Starbucks going in across the street
  • On-site management
  • An owner who is a kindred spirit and, during campaign season, if there are open spaces in the building is willing to let us rent on a weekly basis for GOTV.
  • Exactly one mile from Larry’s Brown Deer Market! 

We look forward to showing you our new digs. More details will be announced in a couple of weeks. So, save the date because we are excited to share this with you.

 

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Staying Cool in a Hot Political Climate

Temperatures are, apparently, soaring in DC. The news out of Washington is unrelentingly unsettling. It's been pretty hot here too. The lettuce in my garden has already bolted! Time seems to have entered a bizarre fast lane: events that should take months to develop hurtle past almost too quickly for even cursory understanding. How is it possible that lettuce could complete its quiet life cycle in a matter of days! Or that a presidency could collapse almost before it began. Strange days.

I want to avert my eyes and put earplugs in my ears, but I am mesmerized by the gruesome traffic accident our national government has become. Right now, I am listening to the beginning of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing starring Jeff Sessions. And I'm trying to respond to all the urgent calls to contact senators about their secret bill to "reform" our entire healthcare system without a single public hearing or any opportunity even to read the bill. Please call Senator Johnson's office today, tomorrow and every day to register your concerns about the bill AND about the process a committee of which he is a member has been using. Here's his contact information: 
(414) 276-7282 and (202) 224-5323.

And continue doing all you do to push back against the many, many ways the Trump administration and the Walker administration continue to undermine our democracy and to damage the environment, our social safety net, and our country's general well being.

Please also save the date for the next Grassroots North Shore event, a FAIR ELECTIONS TOWN HALL on Sunday, July 16, at 4:30pm (doors open at 4) at the North Shore Presbyterian Church (4048 N Bartlett Ave, Shorewood). Sachin Chheda (Director of the Fair Elections Project), Dan Theno (former Republican State Senator), and Anna Dvorak (lead organizer for the Citizen Action Milwaukee Organizing Cooperative) will explain how Wisconsin's legislative districts became so skewed after the 2010 census, what the lawsuit Gill v Whitford entails and where it currently stands, and what Senate Bill 13 and Assembly Bill 44 (both bills currently stalled in the legislature) would do to address the problem of unfair electoral maps in the future.

We're Moving to a New Office Soon

What We Looked For in a New Location

From Eilene Stevens, Chair

I thought finding a place that met our needs would be easier. We needed a first floor location with a lot of parking. We also needed to stay within our budget. We pride ourselves on asking for money only twice a year: once for a modest membership fee (single - $20, family - $30, and student/limited income - $5 a year) and a single, annual fundraiser. We are committed to staying within our North Shore Communities and meeting our financial obligations without asking our members for more.

We looked for almost two years. We looked at storefronts, vacant restaurants, shared office spaces. Either the price was right but there was no parking or the space was wonderful but too much money. Finally, Mark Gennis found our new home. It meets our needs: on the first floor, tons of parking, and we can afford it.

Next week: Details about our July 3rd move with pictures of our new location.

 

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Change Is In the Air

So yet again I'm overwhelmed by the national news from the last 10 days, as I am sure you are too. What with dissing NATO, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, and feuding with the Mayor of London, our "president" has outdone himself. And of course the tweets about his TRAVEL BAN and belittling his own Attorney General and Justice Department as well as the federal courts in general couldn't give us any clearer picture of what is wrong with this administration. My imagination simply is not up to the task of conjuring what could possibly be next. But the last four months have shown the events to come will continue to be flabbergasting and destructive.

While we await developments on a number of critical fronts — Will the Republicans running our state ever agree on transportation funding? Will the US Senate stumble as it tries to formulate a healthcare bill that can pass both the Senate and the House? Will the Supreme Court issue a stay in Gill v Whitford? Will James Comey's testimony on Thursday offer the bombshell the national press is hoping for? — you might want to have a look at an analysis of How And Where Trump Won Wisconsin in 2016. Malia Jones at the UW Applied Population Laboratory has run the numbers and concludes that "lower voter turnout and community size defined the presidential vote." As you may already know, Trump received only about 1,000 more votes than Romney got in 2012. Hillary Clinton won about 220,000 fewer votes than Obama in 2012. Third party votes increased from just under 40,000 in 2012 to about 183,000 in 2016. But the vote totals and turnout percentages don't tell the whole story in sufficient detail. Read the whole piece. The author teases out important details. It's analyses like this one that can help us thinking clearly and critically about strategies and tactics for the 2018 elections and beyond.

Grassroots North Shore Is Moving to New Digs!

How many of you remember your first apartment? Did you learn as much from that initial step into independence as I did? I learned that treating an efficiency apartment like one, big bedroom made it hard to entertain. I learned not to soak my wood cutting board along with the dishes. I learned that evolving to the rank of grown-up was harder than it looked. Here at GRNS we have similarly evolved. Our first office taught us a lot. A fire escape to the second floor proved to be difficult for some. We had to use a clipboard if we wanted to keep a window from slamming down. It felt horribly inconsiderate for us to use more than one or two parking spaces behind the building since we shared the lot with businesses that relied on their customers also having a place to park. And just like that first apartment, I will always have nostalgic fondness 325 W Silver Spring but it is time to move to a grown-up office.

More about our move next week.

DPW Update

In case you weren't following the DPW convention that took place last Friday and Saturday, you might want to know that Martha Laning was re-elected as Chair. Our own David Bowen was re-elected as First Vice Chair. And Mandela Barnes was elected as Second Vice Chair. In addition, Khary Penebaker was elected as Wisconsin's fourth delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Grassroots North Shore had endorsed Laning and Bowen before the election. So their wins are gratifying. But we should congratulate all the candidates for a well-fought campaign. When a party can field many strong candidates, as it did in this last party election, it shows its strength.

Also noteworthy: party members formed a new caucus for Progressives. Once the adminstration committee approves the constitution its founding members passed at the convention, it will be open for business!

 

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Fighting for affordable health insurance and fair electoral maps

There's a bit of news about Gill v. Whitford to share with you. On May 8, The "appellees" — those individuals who filed the orignal suit and won the ruling from the federal district court — have filed what's called a "petition to affirm." Essentially, this petition asks the Supreme Court to simply affirm the lower court's ruling without the need for oral arguments before the Supreme Court. You can see the complete filing on the SCOTUSblog site. On May 18, the state countered with its opposition to the motion to affirm the earlier ruling.

On May 22, Attorney General Brad Schimel petitioned the US Supreme Court to issue a stay of the trial court's ruling. This move is a pretty standard practice whenever a litigant doesn't like a court's ruling and thus appeals to a higher court. Amy Howe, a reporter for SCOTUSblog, explains what the petition for a stay means:

Wisconsin officials argued that the lower court’s decision striking down the redistricting plan was so “fundamentally flawed” that the justices should consider reversing it without even asking for additional briefing or oral argument. If the court were take that route by the end of June, the state explained, there would be no need for the justices to put the lower court’s order on hold. 

But if the Supreme Court instead opts to review the case on the merits, with oral argument in the fall, the state continued, then it should spare the state from having to comply with the lower court’s deadline. Blocking the order would save the state the trouble of creating a new map until the Supreme Court can rule on the validity of the old plan, the state claims. And if the state ultimately prevails – as it believes it will – it can simply continue to use the old plan. Moreover, even if the Supreme Court were to agree with the challengers that the plan must go, the court’s eventual opinion will provide “significant guidance” for the state to use in drafting a new redistricting plan. “It would be a serious intrusion,” the state concludes, on the state’s “sovereign resources to force it to redraw a map half-blind, guided by only an indisputably-flawed district court opinion.” 
Wisconsin seeks stay as back-up plan in partisan gerrymandering case [UPDATED], SCOTUSblog (May. 24, 2017, 11:03 AM).

Conventional wisdom — often wrong, we should remember — has it that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case in the October term.

Today the New York Times editorial board argues that partisan gerrymandering needs to be reined in.

Partisan gerrymandering — the dark art of drawing legislative district lines to specifically favor Republicans or Democrats — is as old as it is corrosive to a representative democracy. Self-interested politicians have no business making maps with the sole purpose of keeping themselves and their party in power....
The bottom line is that politicians can’t be trusted to draw maps that fairly represent their constituents, and they won’t willingly give up the power once they have it. So it’s up to the courts to step in and set clear rules.

We may know after June 8 which way this case is heading. The justices have scheduled a discussion of the case for its regularly scheduled conference then. But whatever the outcome, Wisconsin will make history. Stay tuned.

 

The Problem with Insuring Health
by Virginia Gennis

Insurance is a system in which premiums are paid by subscribers into a pool of funds used to compensate losses from future events. Because insured events are usually infrequent, are not recurrent, and are of limited duration, most enrollees pay premiums but do not receive money for claims, so that the pool of premiums exceeds the cost of claims. Think of your homeowners policy or your car insurance. The surplus money becomes profit for the insurance company. Typical insured risks include car accidents, home damage and theft. Skillful estimation of risks allows premiums to be set that are both competitive and profitable. According to Warren Buffet, an important source of income for insurance companies comes from the gap between the time premiums are paid in and the time claims are reimbursed. During this gap substantial free money is available to be invested profitably.

Insurance has existed since ancient times. The Babylonians and Romans paid a ’Bottomry fee’ to receive compensation if one of their ships sank in the Mediterranean Sea. The first written insurance contract was made in Genoa in 1347. In 1777 Benjamin Franklin started a company to insure Philadelphians against fire. Today many additional risks are insured.

However, insurance for health care costs was uncommon before the 1940’s when World War II forced the United States to impose wage controls. Employers could no longer compete for scarce workers by offering more money, and stagnant income made employees unhappy. Adding health benefits attracted workers and made up for frozen wages.

After the war publicly supported health insurance was considered, but in the end a system funded by employers and administered through commercial companies was instituted. Donated care and public hospitals provided care for the poor and uninsured. In the 1960’s Medicare and Medicaid were enacted to cover medical costs for the elderly, the disabled and the indigent. But some people still remained uncovered and had to pay medical bills out of pocket or rely on charity.

Health problems are substantially different from other insured risks. Unlike ship wrecks and car accidents, medical needs are common, recurrent, and often chronic. Pre-existing conditions have nearly a 100% probability of ongoing medical expenses. Only a minority of people do not have significant health care needs at some time in their lives.

Read the rest of this excellent explanation of how health insurance works and how the US can continue to use private insurance companies but still reach universal coverage at affordable rates.

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Fighting for affordable health insurance and fair electoral maps

There's a bit of news about Gill v. Whitford to share with you. On May 8, The "appellees" — those individuals who filed the orignal suit and won the ruling from the federal district court — have filed what's called a "petition to affirm." Essentially, this petition asks the Supreme Court to simply affirm the lower court's ruling without the need for oral arguments before the Supreme Court. You can see the complete filing on the SCOTUSblog site. On May 18, the state countered with its opposition to the motion to affirm the earlier ruling.

On May 22, Attorney General Brad Schimel petitioned the US Supreme Court to issue a stay of the trial court's ruling. This move is a pretty standard practice whenever a litigant doesn't like a court's ruling and thus appeals to a higher court. Amy Howe, a reporter for SCOTUSblog, explains what the petition for a stay means:

Wisconsin officials argued that the lower court’s decision striking down the redistricting plan was so “fundamentally flawed” that the justices should consider reversing it without even asking for additional briefing or oral argument. If the court were take that route by the end of June, the state explained, there would be no need for the justices to put the lower court’s order on hold.

But if the Supreme Court instead opts to review the case on the merits, with oral argument in the fall, the state continued, then it should spare the state from having to comply with the lower court’s deadline. Blocking the order would save the state the trouble of creating a new map until the Supreme Court can rule on the validity of the old plan, the state claims. And if the state ultimately prevails – as it believes it will – it can simply continue to use the old plan. Moreover, even if the Supreme Court were to agree with the challengers that the plan must go, the court’s eventual opinion will provide “significant guidance” for the state to use in drafting a new redistricting plan. “It would be a serious intrusion,” the state concludes, on the state’s “sovereign resources to force it to redraw a map half-blind, guided by only an indisputably-flawed district court opinion.”
Wisconsin seeks stay as back-up plan in partisan gerrymandering case [UPDATED], SCOTUSblog (May. 24, 2017, 11:03 AM).

Conventional wisdom — often wrong, we should remember — has it that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case in the October term.

Today the New York Times editorial board argues that partisan gerrymandering needs to be reined in.

Partisan gerrymandering — the dark art of drawing legislative district lines to specifically favor Republicans or Democrats — is as old as it is corrosive to a representative democracy. Self-interested politicians have no business making maps with the sole purpose of keeping themselves and their party in power....
The bottom line is that politicians can’t be trusted to draw maps that fairly represent their constituents, and they won’t willingly give up the power once they have it. So it’s up to the courts to step in and set clear rules.

We may know after June 8 which way this case is heading. The justices have scheduled a discussion of the case for its regularly scheduled conference then. But whatever the outcome, Wisconsin will make history. Stay tuned.

The Problem with Insuring Health
by Virginia Gennis

Insurance is a system in which premiums are paid by subscribers into a pool of funds used to compensate losses from future events. Because insured events are usually infrequent, are not recurrent, and are of limited duration, most enrollees pay premiums but do not receive money for claims, so that the pool of premiums exceeds the cost of claims. Think of your homeowners policy or your car insurance. The surplus money becomes profit for the insurance company. Typical insured risks include car accidents, home damage and theft. Skillful estimation of risks allows premiums to be set that are both competitive and profitable. According to Warren Buffet, an important source of income for insurance companies comes from the gap between the time premiums are paid in and the time claims are reimbursed. During this gap substantial free money is available to be invested profitably.

Insurance has existed since ancient times. The Babylonians and Romans paid a ’Bottomry fee’ to receive compensation if one of their ships sank in the Mediterranean Sea. The first written insurance contract was made in Genoa in 1347. In 1777 Benjamin Franklin started a company to insure Philadelphians against fire. Today many additional risks are insured.

However, insurance for health care costs was uncommon before the 1940’s when World War II forced the United States to impose wage controls. Employers could no longer compete for scarce workers by offering more money, and stagnant income made employees unhappy. Adding health benefits attracted workers and made up for frozen wages.

After the war publicly supported health insurance was considered, but in the end a system funded by employers and administered through commercial companies was instituted. Donated care and public hospitals provided care for the poor and uninsured. In the 1960’s Medicare and Medicaid were enacted to cover medical costs for the elderly, the disabled and the indigent. But some people still remained uncovered and had to pay medical bills out of pocket or rely on charity.

Health problems are substantially different from other insured risks. Unlike ship wrecks and car accidents, medical needs are common, recurrent, and often chronic. Pre-existing conditions have nearly a 100% probability of ongoing medical expenses. Only a minority of people do not have significant health care needs at some time in their lives.

Read the rest of this excellent explanation of how health insurance works and how the US can continue to use private insurance companies but still reach universal coverage at affordable rates.

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The Budget Wars Begin

We cannot mince words: the Trump budget proposal is catastrophic. For human health, for the environment, for scientific research and technological development, for early childhood education, for pregnant women and babies, for people trying to manage disabilities, for nursing home patients. Who will be untouched by the misery that will unfold when these cuts flow through our lives? Not those whose jobs will be cut. Not those who depend on school lunches. Not those who want to leave the world less polluted in the future. Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Center for Disease Control, calls the Administration Proposal for the 2018 CDC "Unsafe at any level of enactment" (@DrFrieden). Surely that characterization is apt not just for the CDC but for every area of our daily lives.

To be sure, presidential budget plans are never actually enacted as written. So the document unveiled today is almost certainly not what Congress will pass. But it is a declaration of priorities and principles of sorts. Some even call these documents moral statements. So we can't exactly ignore it. Once the news media slow their coverage of the latest terrorist attack, there will be a tsunami of stories about nearly every aspect of the budget proposal. And all the usual exhortations apply: so pick your issues and call your representatives.

Senator Ron Johnson should certainly be at the top of your call list. At his town hall in Franklin on May 21, he began by stressing the looming disaster that our deficits pose. Ask him which parts of the budget plan he thinks he's likely to support. Ask him how the tax cuts in the Trump budget will affect that deficit ten years out. And don't let him or his staff get away with saying that the economic growth that will be unleashed by the massive tax cut for the uber-rich will take care of the additional accumulation of debts. Request an example from the past proving that tax cuts pay for themselves. (After Reagan cut taxes he found he had to raise them again because of looming deficits. After Bush cut taxes, twice, the deficit took off like a rocket!) Or ask whether he really just agrees with Dick Cheney who famously said about the Bush tax cuts that "deficits don't matter."

And ask him about the HUGE cuts to safety net programs, especially Medicaid. At the town hall he said that he did not want to "pull the rug out from under anyone." That was his recurring response to pleas from the mothers of autistic children fearing cuts to Medicaid and from citizens whose pre-existing conditions might prevent them from obtaining affordable healthcare coverage under "Trumpcare." Ask him how the Trump budget will address their needs. Ask him whether he expects states to fill the gaps and if so whether, when they have to raise taxes, the vaunted stimulus from federal tax reductions for the wealthy will be undercut by the loss of income among the merely upper- and middle-classes.

We need to fight these things in the trenches, on the beaches, or at least in the halls of Congress; on Twitter and Facebook; in letters to the editor. Yes, even in the ghastly comment sections of the Journal Sentinel. Put aside your writer's block. If you're nervous about calling up legislators, have a wee dram first! Break through whatever barriers you have; conquer your demons. The next 18 months will be the fight of our lives, maybe of the century. We must try to save as much of the progress our country has made in the last 100 years as we can. Even though we know fighting the budget battle will be frustrating, this struggle will form the groundwork for electoral success in 2018. So keep your eyes on that prize and get to work.

On a brighter note, beginning with last week's, the newsletter will now appear online a day or two after it goes out in its regular email format. You can find the last one on our website. They'll show up under the "Weekly Newsletter Archive" menu.

 

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May 16, 2017, Yet More Shock and Awe :-(

Every week is a stunner, isn't it? So much sturm und drang, so little time or energy to try to respond in a meaningful way to all of it. The key, I think, is to focus: one or two national issues/opportunities and one or two state issues/opportunities. Everyone will have her own set — I certainly have mine — so this week, instead of including a piece on a specific issue, I am offering a range of political actions individuals can take on a variety of issues.

Let's start with local issues. As the budget battles loom, there is no end of issues to address. So here are three that have been in the news lately: gas tax v. wheel tax v. bond issues; funding university scholarships with money diverted from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program; eliminating the Manufacturing and Agricultural Tax Credit and taxing investment income just like other income to free up funds for important investments.

Your job? Call your legislators, write letters to the editors, talk about these issues with family, friends, and on your social media outlets. You could also speak up at town hall and listening sessions in the area. As it happens, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is holding some "office hours" in locations that aren't too far from the North Shore! On Thursday, May 18, he'll be at the Horicon Marsh Visitors Center, N7725 St Road 28, Horicon, at 11:30 AM. On Monday, May 22, he'll be at the Johnson Creek Village Hall (Johnson Creek Village Hall, 125 Depot St, Johnson Creek) at 10:00 AM and at the Public Library in Oconomowoc (200 W South St., Oconomowoc) at 12 noon. Road trip anyone?

Even closer to home, Represenative Joe Sanfelippo will be at the New Berlin Public Library (15105 West Library Lane, New Berlin) at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, May 23, and at the West Allis City Hall (7525 West Greenfield Avenue, West Allis) on Wednesday, May 24 at 7:00 PM.

National issues take up a lot of the oxygen these days. We have a completely dysfunctional (and terrifying) executive branch coupled with a crassly self-serving Republican Congress. Just keeping up with the daily events is exhausting, so FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS. Indivisible offers help. It's promoting some top priorities for this week:

  1. Call for an independent prosecutor to investigate Trump's ties to Russia. Last week, Trump not only fired FBI Director James Comey, he then went on national television and admitted that the Russia investigation was part of his reason for doing so. The American people deserve to know just how serious this administration's ties to Russia are, but it's clear that Republican Members of Congress aren't in a hurry to find the answers. And we can't trust whoever Trump nominates as the next FBI Director to take this seriously either.
  2. Keep defending the ACA. From Virginia to California, you made the most of Payback Recess at town halls and die-ins across the country to hold the House accountable for the shameful vote to pass TrumpCare. Now it's time to start making sure your Senators know that if they pass this bill, they can expect the same constituent outrage the House saw this recess. Need a refresher on the rest of the AHCA's path to becoming law? Read up on TrumpCare Passed the House: Now What?
  3. If you want to prevent the next financial crisis, this week could be your chance. Once they are back from recess, the House is planning to vote on the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10), a bill that will deregulate Wall Street. Here's your script for making calls.

A "feature" of the American Health Care Act proposes to "help" people with pre-existing conditions by allowing states to set up so-called high-risk pools. Wisconsin had one of those before the ACA (Obamacare) made it unnecessary and Speaker Ryan is touting it as an example of the concept's success. The Journal Sentinel did a good job of explaining the issue (and hinting at its inadequacy) yesterday. So, if you applied for coverage under the high-risk program that preceded Obamacare and were denied or found the premiums to be way out of reach, write a letter to the editor or send me your story. I will use what you send me without attribution so that we can get these stories out to push back against the idea that high-risk pools are an adequate substitute for mandated coverage of people with pre-existing conditions without higher premiums. That's what Obamacare provides now and we must insist that these protections remain in any "replacement" the GOP enacts into law!

Finally, get beyond marching, calling, writing, and wringing your hands! Apply for an Organizing Fellowship with the Wisconsin Coordinated Campaign. The volunteer positions begin June 10th and run through August 25. Full-time fellows will commit to a minimum of 40 hours/week. Part-time fellows will commit to at least 20 hours per week. Deadline for application is Friday, May 26. This is a great opportunity for people who want to become a critical member of the next generation of community organizers. You will help our movement expand its outreach in neighborhoods across Wisconsin, and learn the skills and tools necessary to become a campaign operative.

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