Category Archives: Class

Quote of the day: Putting the Gasolinazo in context


The New Year saw a dramatic increase in gasoline prices south of the border, with the government ordering gasoline prices raised to about four dollars, or what an average Mexican minimum wage worker earns in a day.

The result, as he have reported extensively, has been a wave of massive protests, looting, and violence.

But the protests, dubbed El Gasolinazo, have their roots in a deeper agenda art work in the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the most unpopular incumbent in recent history.

From Luis Rangel and Eva María, writing in Jacobin:

What’s happening right now in México is a result of an accumulation of offenses by the regime led by Peña Nieto. For one, Ayotzinapa (one of the thousands of cases of disappeared people, as is the case of Raquel Gutiérrez, the disappeared daughter of our comrade Guillermo Gutiérrez), as well as massacres such as that of Tlatlaya or Nochixtlán, and the seven femicides per day reported in our country that, for the most part, go with impunity.

Politically, Peña Nieto’s government has killed the constitution of 1917 (which came out of the revolution) and the Mexican state’s “social pact” that was created in the twentieth century.

Additionally, with the new energy reform, oil, until now under state control, has been newly sold to the transnational companies expropriated under Cárdenas. If we add to this the surreal cases of corruption, the mining concessions (at least 20 percent of the national territory), the invitation to Trump to come to México when he was just a presidential candidate (!), among other things, what we are seeing is not only the little credibility this government has, but also the deep crisis that the regime is facing as an “oligarchic-neoliberal” state which substituted the “Bonapartist sui generis” of the twentieth century.

Thus, “el Gasolinazo” isn’t a last drop in the bucket, but part of a climate of constant crisis and mass uprisings in México.

And massive protests continue throughout Mexico

The latest from teleSUR English:

Thousands of protesters from various organizations gathered Sunday in Mexico City’s main square to reject the increase in gasoline prices, which came into effect at the beginning of 2017, while similar protests took place in other parts of the country.

Shouting “Peña Out,” in reference to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and demanding “social justice,” thousands gathered at the Plaza de la Constitucion to denounce a double-digit spike in fuel prices known as the “gasolinazo” which is also set to raise the cost of basic food staples like tortillas by up to 20 percent.

Other groups of protesters gathered in front of the National Palace as well as other government buildings in the city to protest against the measure. No official figures were available but EFE news agency reported that at least 7,500 people were at the main square.

Another large mobilization took place in Guadalajara, the capital of the western state of Jalisco, where some 10,000 people from local unions, nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups walked the main streets of the city in rejection of the government’s economic policies.

Protests also took place in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state, Morelos state capital Cuernavaca and Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacan. The large nationwide demonstrations united around the demand of calling for the resignation of the president and rolling back hikes in fuel prices.

Peña Nieto’s government hiked gasoline prices by 20 percent on the first day of 2017, insisting that the move corresponds to international prices and is not a result of his neoliberal reforms.

Image of the day: The inauguration’s billionaires’ row


From the Intercept, a dramatic look at some of the billionaires greeting Donald Trump on the platform as he walked to the podium.

Intriguingly, the one allowed closest access to Trump is fellow hotel/casino mogul and reactionary back of Israeli revanchist claims Sheldon Adelson. Another billionaire hotel mogul standing nearby is Steve Wynn, like Adelson a Las Vegas-based plutocrat:

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Quote of the day: The rush to kiss Trump’s ass


The day Littlefingers became president of the united States also brought down the curtain on the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, the gathering of 2,500 leading corporate moguls, banksters, elected officials, economists, celebrities [George Clooney attended this year], and media figures in the elite Swiss resort town of Davos.

One of those in attendance was former World Bank Chief Economist, U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, a man who played a central role in the deregulation of American banking and the unleashing of the derivatives market.

In of the other words, he bears much of the responsibility for bringing on the Crash of 2008 and the ongoing global Great Recession.

But even he abhors the rush to embrace President Pussygrabber by his fellow Davos elites, as he writes in Financial Times [subscription only]:

I am disturbed by (i) the spectacle of financiers who three months ago were telling anyone who would listen that they would never do business with a Trump company rushing to praise the new administration; (ii) the unwillingness of business leaders who rightly take pride in their corporate efforts to promote women and minorities to say anything about presidentially sanctioned intolerance; (iii) the failure of the leaders of global companies to say a critical word about US efforts to encourage the breakup of European unity and more generally to step away from underwriting an open global system; (iv) the reluctance of business leaders who have a huge stake in the current global order to criticise provocative rhetoric with regard to China, Mexico or the Middle East; (v) the willingness of too many to praise Trump nominees who advocate blatant protection merely because they have a business background.

>snip<

My objection is not to disagreements over economic policy. It is to enabling if not encouraging immoral and reckless policies in other spheres that ultimately bear on our prosperity. Burke was right. It is a lesson of human experience whether the issue is playground bullying, Enron or Europe in the 1930s that the worst outcomes occur when good people find reasons to accommodate themselves to what they know is wrong. That is what I think happened much too often in Davos this week.

Quote of the day: One thing we miss about Berkeley


One of many, in fact.

But living in Berkeley, we had the best Congressional Representative of them all, Democrat Barbara Lee.

And you just can’t have better representation.

Rep. Lee won’t be attending the TrumpAscension™,

She enumerates her reasons:

Congresswoman Barbara Lee today announced that she will not attend the inauguration of Donald J. Trump on Friday, January 20, 2017.

“Inaugurations are celebratory events, a time to welcome the peaceful transition of power and honor the new administration. On January 20th, I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House.

“Donald Trump ran one of the most divisive and prejudiced campaigns in modern history. He began his campaign by insulting Mexican immigrants, pledging to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and then spent a year and a half denigrating communities of color and normalizing bigotry. He called women ‘pigs’, stoked Islamophobia, and attacked a Gold Star family. He mocked a disabled reporter and appealed to people’s worst instincts.  I cannot in good conscience attend an inauguration that would celebrate this divisive approach to governance.

“After the election, many hoped the president-elect would turn toward unifying our country. Instead he has shown us that he will utilize the same tools of division he employed on the campaign trail as our nation’s Commander-in-Chief. We need look no further than the team he is assembling to find signals that the era of Trump will be one of chaos and devastation for our communities.

“The president-elect has named Steve Bannon,  a white nationalist as his chief strategist. He has nominated Senator Jeff Sessions to the office of Attorney General, despite his long career of opposition to civil and human rights. And in perhaps the most damning sign of the chaos to come, the president-elect has expedited the process to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make America sick again.”

“To make matters worse, after the intelligence community reported Russian interference in our election, Donald Trump frequently and forcefully defended Vladimir Putin. He insulted senior intelligence officials in order to preserve his reputation and disguise the truth. The American people will never forget that when a foreign government violated our democracy, Donald Trump chose the interests of another nation over our own.

“Donald Trump has proven that his administration will normalize the most extreme fringes of the Republican Party. On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance.”

Healthcare plan deductibles hit chronically ill


The current healthcare regime doesn’t look so grand either, when seen from the perspective of those of hit hit by lingering maladies.

We are in that number, afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis, a heart attack [maybe two], cancer surgery and its lingering health effects [multiple], and another condition or two [the list of long-term ailments on our healthcare record actually totals nine].

So we can couch for the accuracy of the new report

From the University of Michigan Medical School:

For tens of millions of Americans, the start of a new year means the counter has gone back to zero on their health insurance deductible. If they need health care, they’ll pay for some of it out of their own pockets before their insurance takes over.

As insurance plans with deductibles grow in popularity, a new study takes a national look at what those plans mean for people with common chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, joint problems and heart disease.

The short answer: Those who choose plans with a deductible and have such conditions should be prepared to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars of their own money on their care, beyond what they spend to buy the insurance plan in the first place.

The results, reported in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers from the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System, University of Michigan Medical School, and Penn State University, especially show the impact of high-deductible health plans – which now cover 40 percent of Americans who buy their own health insurance or get it through an employer.

Using data from a national survey of Americans under age 65, the researchers find that having a high-deductible plan makes it more likely that health-related costs will take up more than 10 percent of a chronically ill person’s total income. They also find huge variation between patients who have the same condition in the amount of out-of-pocket spending they had, even for those in low-deductible plans.

Despite these out-of-pocket costs, the study finds that few people with chronic illnesses said that costs or insurance coverage issues had gotten in the way of getting the care or prescriptions they needed.

“Increasingly, these plans have become woven into fabric of health insurance in America, so it’s important to look at the impact of deductibles on people who need care on an ongoing basis,” says senior author Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., a research scientist in the VA Center for Clinical Management Research of the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and an assistant professor of general medicine at the U-M Medical School. “Not only on how they spend their money on care for their day in, day out health needs, but also how that affects spending in the rest of their lives.”

Changes to the insurance market

The findings are based on data from 2011 through 2013, during a time when many more employers started offering high-deductible health plans.

It was also before individuals who needed to buy their own insurance could do so on the Healthcare.gov Marketplace. Since the launch of the Marketplace, more than 90 percent of people shopping there have chosen high-deductible plans.

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Headline of the day: Hang on to your hats, folks


From the New York Times:

18 Million May Lose Insurance After Repeal, Study Finds

  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year.
  • The number of uninsured Americans would increase to 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time.

From the study, a report on investigations by the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation [JCT]:

Estimated Changes Before the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

Following enactment but before the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated, the effects of H.R. 3762 on insurance coverage and premiums would stem primarily from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. CBO and JCT expect that the number of people without health insurance coverage would increase upon enactment of H.R. 3762 but that the increase would be limited initially, because insurers would have already set their premiums for the current year, and many people would have already made their enrollment decisions for the year. Subsequently, in the first full plan year following enactment, by CBO and JCT’s estimates, about 18 million people would become uninsured. That increase in the uninsured population would consist of about 10 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 3 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.

Most of those reductions in coverage would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. However, CBO and JCT also expect that insurers in some areas would leave the nongroup market in the first new plan year following enactment. They would be leaving in anticipation of further reductions in enrollment and higher average health care costs among enrollees who remained after the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated. As a consequence, roughly 10 percent of the population would be living in an area that had no insurer participating in the nongroup market.

Effects on Premiums. According to CBO and JCT’s analysis, premiums in the nongroup market would be roughly 20 percent to 25 percent higher than under current law once insurers incorporated the effects of H.R. 3762’s changes into their premium pricing in the first new plan year after enactment. The majority of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Doing so would both reduce the number of people purchasing health insurance and change the mix of people with insurance—tending to cause smaller reductions in coverage among older and less healthy people with high health care costs and larger reductions among younger and healthier people with low health care costs. Thus, average health care costs among the people retaining coverage would be higher, and insurers would have to raise premiums in the nongroup market to cover those higher costs. Lower participation by insurers in the nongroup market would place further upward pressure on premiums because the market would be less competitive.

Estimated Changes After the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

The bill’s effects on insurance coverage and premiums would be greater once the repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces took effect, roughly two years after enactment.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, enacting H.R. 3762 would increase the number of people without health insurance coverage by about 27 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies and by 32 million in 2026, relative to the number of uninsured people expected under current law. (The number of people without health insurance would be smaller if, in addition to the changes in H.R. 3762, the insurance market reforms mentioned above were also repealed. In that case, the increase in the number of uninsured people would be about 21 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies; that figure would rise to about 23 million in 2026.)

The estimated increase of 32 million people without coverage in 2026 is the net result of roughly 23 million fewer with coverage in the nongroup market and 19 million fewer with coverage under Medicaid, partially offset by an increase of about 11 million people covered by employment-based insurance. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, 59 million people under age 65 would be uninsured in 2026 (compared with 28 million under current law), representing 21 percent of people under age 65. By 2026, fewer than 2 million people would be enrolled in the nongroup market, CBO and JCT estimate.

According to the agencies’ analysis, eliminating the mandate penalties and the subsidies while retaining the market reforms would destabilize the nongroup market, and the effect would worsen over time. The

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Map of the day: U.S. poor hit as water bills soar


Census tracts where water rates are endangering the poor, From PLOS One.

Census tracts where water rates are endangering the poor, From PLOS One.

While lead-tainted water in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods has garnered a lot of attention in recent months, another water water is plaguing the nation’s poor: Soaring home water bills.

The problem is a direct result of the ruthless waves of government downsizing and privatization of public resources, and it’s bound to get much worse as cash-strapped cities finding themselves unable to repair aging infrastructure.

Consider this from the abstract of a sobering review in the open access scientific journal PLOS One:

If water rates rise at projected amounts over the next five years, conservative projections estimate that the percentage of U.S. households who will find water bills unaffordable could triple from 11.9% to 35.6%. This is a concern due to the cascading economic impacts associated with widespread affordability issues; these issues mean that utility providers could have fewer customers over which to spread the large fixed costs of water service. Unaffordable water bills also impact customers for whom water services are affordable via higher water rates to recover the costs of services that go unpaid by lower income households.

More on the study from Michigan State University:

If water rates continue rising at projected amounts, the number of U.S. households unable to afford water could triple in five years, to nearly 36 percent, finds new research by a Michigan State University scholar.

Elizabeth Mack said a variety of factors, ranging from aging infrastructure to climate change to population decline in urban areas, are making residents’ ability to afford water and wastewater services a burgeoning crisis.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and published online in the journal PLOS ONE, her study is one of the first nationwide investigations of water affordability.

“In cities across the United States, water affordability is becoming an increasingly critical issue,” said Mack, an assistant geography professor who analyzed water consumption, pricing and demographic and socioeconomic data for the study.

Spending on water and wastewater services combined should make up no more than 4.5 percent of household income, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends. Based on that criteria, some 13.8 million U.S. households (or 11.9 percent of all households) may find water bills unaffordable – a hardship that hits poor families particularly hard, Mack said.

Water rates have increased 41 percent since 2010, and if they continue at that pace over the next five years the number of households that cannot afford water and wastewater services could soar to an estimated 40.9 million, or 35.6 percent of all households.

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