Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trumpcare Demise Takeaways (& Guest Cartoon: The Highwayman)

<The Highwayman: "Christmas For The People">

Trumpcare is dead, for now.  As we saw last month, on live TV, John McCain's (R-AZ) dramatic "thumbs" down gesture on the Senate floor finally scuttled his party's effort to strip millions of their dearly-won health insurance -- whether they owed it to the Affordable Care Act itself, or living in a Medicaid expansion state (like me). The bats have been forced back into the abyss, leaving Trumpcare to join the love bead, the Nehru jacket, the pet rock, and the Sears cocktail dress in the Hall of Historical Japes

Fittingly, for me, the so-called "skinny repeal" psycho circus (July 27-28) coincided with a medical procedure -- like Trump's election, when I underwent an emergency tooth extraction the morning after, as I've already written here:


The night before the skinny repeal psychodrama unfolded, I underwent a vascular procedure that had eluded me for a decade, due to my uninsured status. Basically, I needed to close a vein or two. It wasn't life-threatening, but the doctor told me that -- had I waited much longer -- I'd surely start feeling worse, since  blood had been pooling in my legs, and feet...not snaking back up to the groin, as Nature intended.

So I laid down on the table, and got the job done. I didn't feel any pain, aside from a half-dozen pokes of the doctor's needle. Naturally, my inner thigh felt a little tender afterwards, but all that's ebbed away as I sit here writing. Needless to say, I feel better than I've felt in ages. And it didn't cost me a dime (at least, I haven't seen a bill yet).

However, without my Medicaid card's surprise appearance in my mailbox a couple months ago, my surgery would never have happened. I can't even count, over the last decade, how many workarounds I investigated...from applying for charity care via the local hospital, to the GoFundMe route, and selling off everything I owned. Among other options.

That being said, the warped course that the health debate took -- from the House Republicans' equally ill-starred effort, to the various Senate alternatives cobbled together in those secret meetings, and "working" lunch breaks -- should spike any notions of the "adults in the room" restraining Trump and his ultra-right acolytes. Look no further than veteran shapeshifters like  Lindsay Graham (D=SC), who breathlessly denounced the "skinny repeal" effort for the TV cameras...only to vote for it hours later.

We heard equally tortured volleys of verbal gymnastics from so-called moderate GOPers like Shelly Moore Capito (WV), Dean Heller (NV), and Rob Portman (OH), who offered varying reservations about Trumpcare's impact on hospitals and vulnerable constituencies, like people with disabilities...only to cave in, as Graham did, and join their fellow "adults" in sending "skinny repeal" down the conveyor belt with a hearty shove. 

Heller's example is especially pathetic, as we watched him zig (first, opposing the Senate's original Better Reconciliation Act as "bad for Nevada," then agreeing to allow to debate on it), and finally, zag (with a few more scripted verbal reservations)...before his knees buckled, and he, too, joined the "adults" on their skinny repeal stampede.

Heller's attempt to play every possible end against the middle smacks of General Friedrich Fromm's actions, as portrayed in Valkyrie. For those who don't know their war history, Fromm is the guy who declined to take part in the July 20, 1944 bomb plot against Adolf Hitler, but held out the possibility of joining the conspirators later...but only after getting proof of the dictator's demise. 

Confronted with the opposite outcome, Fromm hurriedly moved to execute the ringleaders, an act that didn't fool his Nazi paymasters. He, too, wound up executed in March 1945 (having been stripped of his military status the previous -- though, out of deference to it, Hitler allowed him to be shot, rather than being slowly strangled from a loop of piano wire -- lucky guy, eh?). 

Senator Heller hasn't seen the movie, I guess.

If nothing else, the near-success of all this frenetic backroom maneuvering is testimony to the siren song of groupthink -- although, funnily enough, it didn't sway Senators Susan Collins (ME), or Lisa Murkowski (AK), who staked out their opposition from the beginning, and -- unlike their tin-eared, tone-deaf colleagues -- showed signs of actually doing their homework, and listening to their residentes' concerns.

Time will tell whether the political will exists to fix the Affordable Care Act's well-documented warts (which Collins and Murkowski repeatedly pointed out, to anyone who cared to listen).. However, the failure of Trumpcare also proves that the resistance to it -- and whatever equally ill-thought-out initiatives fly off the president's desk -- is alive and well. Without so many millions of us taking the time -- whether it involved marching, picketing, or trying to track down a fugitive Senator or Congressman, ducking their constituents -- we might already have been bemoaning our return to the Dark Ages (as in, 20 to 50 million newly uninsured Americans, depending on which estimate you believed).

I will remember both those nights -- my procedure, and the collapse of Trumpcare -- as long as I live and breathe. I couldn't help but feel emotional after the impact of McCain's gesture sunk in. I'd been working late, as usual, which meant I kept the TV on. Due to the camera angles CNN was using, however, what happened wasn't immediately clear. Of course, the meaning quickly became clear enough, especially after the networks replayed that footage --- which prompted me to tell people: "This is why we do this. This is why we fight so hard to change things."

Of course, plenty of other fights loom ahead. But, for me, the biggest takeaways come down to two points: first, the system worked, for a change. A bad idea remained a bad idea, and stayed on the cutting room floor. The second is an expression attributed to Abraham Lincoln, one that Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi liked to quote when the GOP cranked up the first of its zombie healthcare bills last spring: "Public sentiment is everything." If you want to explain why Trumpcare tanked, I couldn't think of a better epitaph.. --The Reckoner

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Yer Psuedo Employer Isn't Yer Pal (A Day Late & $80 Short)

I had an unpleasant experience recently with one of my editors at the local paper. Having enjoyed a relatively stress-free April and May, June became an uphill financial struggle, especially the last couple weeks. First, Squawker and I ran out of the decent food. Then we ran out of crap food. With 10 more excruciating days to go, finally, I said uncle, and borrowed $100 from one of my best friends to help me squeak across the finish line. You get the idea.

With invoice time looming on Friday, I called up my editor, and asked if he could make room for a couple last-minute stories, including an update on this road project I'd written about before, and our county school district's 2017-18 budget.

At $40 per story, I wasn't looking for a Pulitzer, just the difference between a $360 paycheck, and a $440 one. Guess which one I wanted?

My editor hedged. “Space is tight tomorrow. You're coming up on an invoice deadline, I take it?”

“You got it.”

“Tell you what, just get 'em to me tonight, and I'll try to find room for 'em in the local section.”

A couple hours later, the email rolls in: “Sorry, No room at the inn.”

My teeth start grinding, and my stomach starts fluttering, but I don't panic. I do what any mercenary does in these situations: adjust my fees, as best as I can, to make up the shortfall. Add $10 here, $15 there, and presto! Now, I have $400, which is still short of my target, but patches some of the holes in my budget.

Fortunately, I've found another transcription company to work for, and I just got paid $100 for some copyediting/proofreading, so all's well with my little corner of the world...at least for now. Only for now. Remember: your bills never stop shooting across your desk.

But what's this episode prove? Your pseudo-employer isn't your friend. Start with the obvious: you're not getting niceties like health insurance, retirement, sick pay, or vacation pay. Your “gig,” such as it is, could end any time, without warning.

Your pay, such as it is, doesn't go up, but your bills never stop coming. How these matters play out isn't your concern, because you have no say over any of them (except in rare instances). Somebody else calls all the shots, not you. If they get the job accomplished with you, great. If they can get by without you, they will.

And, still, you get odd propositions that don't add up. I guess that's why my editor emails the next day, asking if I can cover a competition in a town that's about 30 miles and 45 minutes away. The contest is one of those small town affairs that winds on forever, typically around three hours. So, even if I tack on $15 for gas, on top of the standard $40 rate per story – I'll be lucky to make 10 bucks an hour, maybe, once you plug the round trip in the equation.

So, not surprisingly, I say no. Not only for the economic reasons, but the sourness that's lingering in my mouth over the stories that didn't get in. I'm thinking to myself, you can't put an extra 80 bucks in my pocket, but you want me to cover an event that's barely gonna cover my costs, for which I won't even get paid till next month? I don't think so.

What's funny, though, is how few people seem to grasp how much the Piecework Industrial Complex has changed the nature of work – often, quite drastically, but not for the better. A couple months ago, Squawker and I went to a panel of local state representatives and senators, where you could air whatever was on your mind.

A good 10-15 minutes of that got chewed up over the lack of health care workers – in other words, the underpaid aides and nurses who barely make more than minimum wage, because (as one supervisor charged) “McDonald's pays more,” or they're on welfare, and afraid of losing their benefits.

To which one of our local state reps responded, “Well, we need to address that. We certainly don't want to incentivize people not to work.”

I found myself asking, “Incentivizing what, exactly?” Obviously, this particular local politico seemed unaware of how many untold millions, Yer Humble Narrator included, are patching together several different situations – “gigs,” part-time jobs, temp jobs, whatever you wish to call them – just to pay all these stupid ass bills that gobble up what little they make, till it's time to do it all again next month. Sounds like fun, right?

It's funny – I recently saw Office Space (1997) again, late one night, and wondered how many viewers long for those days when they had a cubicle to inhabit, and a crap job that paid, well, slightly better than the norm – which meant they actually had a little bit of money for a few small pleasures.

Sadly, that doesn't seem to happen for many of today's prisoners of the Piecework Industrial Complex – such as drivers for Postmates, who find that many of their customers don't tip. In return, your car takes a beating, and you're lucky if you earn back the mileage it's racking up. Having fun yet?

I didn't think so, but I'm amazed at how many people seem resigned to such one-sided arrangements as their lot. The first step in tipping the balance is to stop accepting inequity as inevitably woven into our lives. Otherwise, I find repeating a line from one of my favorite local poets that sticks in my brain: “Will somebody save us from us?”

Never forget: no matter chummy your conversations or emails may get with the moment's favored gatekeeper or decision-maker, just remember – they're usually answering to someone else, so their interests aren't the same as yours. Your pseudo-employer isn't your friend. When your latest gig ends, he won't miss you, and you probably won't miss him. Your wallet might, though. Such is life. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (...just cut 'n' paste if they don't spring right away to life)

(Get Out & Make 
Some Money, You Lucky Gigger, You):
Salon.com: Need Proof That 

The Bold Italic: How The Gig Economy
The New Yorker: The Gig Economy
Celebrates Working Yourself To Death: