Friday, November 30, 2018

“A piece of writing is its own small island of sense, from which the writer has been airlifted and on which no one else need live”—John Moores

“A full stop on an old-fashioned typewriter was a large black blob as wide as a letter. When computers arrived they brought in typefaces with proportional spacing and the full stop diminished to a small dot. For me, as a former typewriter user, the effect was to make the full stop matter less. The most crucial part of the sentence became a mere speck: easy to insert unthinkingly, easy to miss out altogether.

“Then along came another threat - texting and chatting online. The dialogic visual language of texting speech bubbles, pinging left and right on your phone, has little use for full stops. A single-line text needs no punctuation to show that it has ended. In lieu of a full stop, we press ‘send.’ The end of a text is now more commonly marked by a kiss, or an emoji, than a full stop. Studies have even shown that people tend to read a text that ends with a full stop as curt or passive-aggressive.
“We live in a digital age that likes to pretend that writing is speech. We tap out emails, texts and update our social media profiles in the places – busy commuter trains, cafes and streets – where we also talk. We write as if we were talking. This kind of digital writing is often done quickly in the hope of an instant response. It is a slightly interrupted way of having a conversation.
“But writing is not really conversation. One of the purposes of writing effectively is to store and spread information in a form that does not require anyone else’s bodily presence while it is being written. A piece of writing is its own small island of sense, from which the writer has been airlifted and on which no one else need live.
“So with any kind of formal or semi-formal writing we craft at work – even an email – the full stop and where we put it are crucial. A sentence should assume the reader’s existence but cannot, like a text speech bubble, keep demanding a response. With a full stop, your sentence becomes self-supporting.
“The full stop offers the reader relief, allowing them to close the circle of meaning and take a mental breath. Full stops also give writing its rhythm. They come in different places, cutting off short and long groups of words, varying the cadences – those drops in pitch at the sentence’s end which signal that the sentence, and the sentiment, are done.
“A good sentence moves smoothly and cleanly towards a stop. The best way to ensure this happens is to put the important stuff at the end. A sentence ordered like this feels more deliberate and more memorable just as, when you stop speaking, what sticks in your listener’s mind is the last thing you said. A sentence’s strongest stress falls on its last stressed syllable, just before the full stop. A sentence has a special snap if its last syllable is stressed: I binned that brainless book. A sentence with a strong end-stress says that its writer cared how its words fell on the reader’s ear.
“If you want to write well, learn to love the full stop. See it as the goal towards which the words in your sentence adamantly move. The full stop is a satisfying little click that moves your writing along so the next sentence can pick up where it left off” (The One Writing Skill You Must Master by John Moores).
Joe Moran is Professor of English at Liverpool John Moores University and author of First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Fourth National Climate Assessment, and It Is Dire

1. Communities:
“…Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth…

2. Economy:
“Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century…

3. Interconnected Impacts:
“Climate change affects the natural, built, and social systems we rely on individually and through their connections to one another. These interconnected systems are increasingly vulnerable to cascading impacts that are often difficult to predict, threatening essential services within and beyond the Nation’s borders...

4. Actions to Reduce Risks:
“Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades…

5. Water:
“The quality and quantity of water available for use by people and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation, and the environment…

6. Health:
“Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable…

7. Indigenous Peoples:
“Climate change increasingly threatens Indigenous communities’ livelihoods, economies, health, and cultural identities by disrupting interconnected social, physical, and ecological systems…

8. Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services:
“Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being altered by climate change, and these impacts are projected to continue. Without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, transformative impacts on some ecosystems will occur; some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing such transformational changes…

9. Agriculture:
“Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on range lands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability…

10. Infrastructure:
“Our Nation’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure is further stressed by increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfires, and other extreme events, as well as changes to average precipitation and temperature. Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten our economy, national security, essential services, and health and well-being…

11. Oceans & Coasts:
“Coastal communities and the ecosystems that support them are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change. Without significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions and regional adaptation measures, many coastal regions will be transformed by the latter part of this century, with impacts affecting other regions and sectors. Even in a future with lower greenhouse gas emissions, many communities are expected to suffer financial impacts as chronic high-tide flooding leads to higher costs and lower property values…

12. Tourism and Recreation:
“Outdoor recreation, tourist economies, and quality of life are reliant on benefits provided by our natural environment that will be degraded by the impacts of climate change in many ways…” (Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II: Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Why Your Health Insurer Doesn’t Care About Your Big Bills by Marshall Allen

Patients may think their insurers are fighting on their behalf for the best prices. But saving patients money is often not their top priority. Just ask Michael Frank.

This story was co-published with NPR.
Michael Frank ran his finger down his medical bill, studying the charges and pausing in disbelief. The numbers didn’t make sense. His recovery from a partial hip replacement had been difficult. He’d iced and elevated his leg for weeks. He’d pushed his 49-year-old body, limping and wincing, through more than a dozen physical therapy sessions. The last thing he needed was a botched bill.
His December 2015 surgery to replace the ball in his left hip joint at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City had been routine. One night in the hospital and no complications. He was even supposed to get a deal on the cost. His insurance company, Aetna, had negotiated an in-network “member rate” for him. That’s the discounted price insured patients get in return for paying their premiums every month.
But Frank was startled to see that Aetna had agreed to pay NYU Langone $70,000. That’s more than three times the Medicare rate for the surgery and more than double the estimate of what other insurance companies would pay for such a procedure, according to a nonprofit that tracks prices.

Fuming, Frank reached for the phone. He couldn’t see how NYU Langone could justify these fees. And what was Aetna doing? As his insurer, wasn’t its duty to represent him, its “member”? So why had it agreed to pay a grossly inflated rate, one that stuck him with a $7,088 bill for his portion?
Frank wouldn’t be the first to wonder. The United States spends more per person on health care than any other country. A lot more. As a country, by many measures, we are not getting our money’s worth. Tens of millions remain uninsured. And millions are in financial peril: About 1 in 5 is currently being pursued by a collection agency over medical debt. Health care costs repeatedly top the list of consumers’ financial concerns. 
Experts frequently blame this on the high prices charged by doctors and hospitals. But less scrutinized is the role insurance companies — the middlemen between patients and those providers — play in boosting our health care tab. Widely perceived as fierce guardians of health care dollars, insurers, in many cases, aren’t. In fact, they often agree to pay high prices, then, one way or another, pass those high prices on to patients — all while raking in healthy profits.
ProPublica and NPR are examining the bewildering, sometimes enraging ways the health insurance industry works, by taking an inside look at the games, deals and incentives that often result in higher costs, delays in care or denials of treatment. The misunderstood relationship between insurers and hospitals is a good place to start.
Today, about half of Americans get their health care benefits through their employers, who rely on insurance companies to manage the plans, restrain costs and get them fair deals. But as Frank eventually discovered, once he’d signed on for surgery, a secretive system of pre-cut deals came into play that had little to do with charging him a reasonable fee.
Michael Frank’s insurance company agreed to pay a high price to the hospital where he had his hip operation. Neither the hospital or his insurer would justify the costs to him, no matter how hard he pressed. (Annie Tritt, special to ProPublica)

After Aetna approved the in-network payment of $70,882 (not including the fees of the surgeon and anesthesiologist), Frank’s coinsurance required him to pay the hospital 10 percent of the total.
When Frank called NYU Langone to question the charges, the hospital punted him to Aetna, which told him it paid the bill according to its negotiated rates. Neither Aetna nor the hospital would answer his questions about the charges. 
Frank found himself in a standoff familiar to many patients. The hospital and insurance company had agreed on a price and he was required to help pay it. It’s a three-party transaction in which only two of the parties know how the totals are tallied.
Frank could have paid the bill and gotten on with his life. But he was outraged by what his insurance company agreed to pay. “As bad as NYU is,” Frank said, “Aetna is equally culpable because Aetna’s job was to be the checks and balances and to be my advocate.”
And he also knew that Aetna and NYU Langone hadn’t double-teamed an ordinary patient. In fact, if you imagined the perfect person to take on insurance companies and hospitals, it might be Frank. 
For three decades, Frank has worked for insurance companies like Aetna, helping to assess how much people should pay in monthly premiums. He is a former president of the Actuarial Society of Greater New York and has taught actuarial science at Columbia University. He teaches courses for insurance regulators and has even served as an expert witness for insurance companies.
The hospital and insurance company may have expected him to shut up and pay. But Frank wasn’t going away. 

Patients fund the entire health care industry through taxes, insurance premiums and cash payments. Even the portion paid by employers comes out of an employee’s compensation. Yet when the health care industry refers to “payers,” it means insurance companies or government programs like Medicare. 
Patients who want to know what they’ll be paying — let alone shop around for the best deal — usually don’t have a chance. Before Frank’s hip operation he asked NYU Langone for an estimate. It told him to call Aetna, which referred him back to the hospital. He never did get a price.
Imagine if other industries treated customers this way. The price of a flight from New York to Los Angeles would be a mystery until after the trip. Or, while digesting a burger, you’d learn it cost 50 bucks.
A decade ago, the opacity of prices was perhaps less pressing because medical expenses were more manageable. But now patients pay more and more for monthly premiums, and then, when they use services, they pay higher co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance rates.
Employers are equally captive to the rising prices. They fund benefits for more than 150 million Americans and see health care expenses eating up more and more of their budgets. 
Richard Master, the founder and CEO of MCS Industries Inc. in Easton, Pennsylvania, offered to share his numbers. By most measures MCS is doing well. Its picture frames and decorative mirrors are sold at Walmart, Target and other stores and, Master said, the company brings in more than $200 million a year. 
But the cost of health care is a growing burden for MCS and its 170 employees. A decade ago, Master said, an MCS family policy cost $1,000 a month with no deductible. Now it’s more than $2,000 a month with a $6,000 deductible. MCS covers 75 percent of the premium and the entire deductible. Those rising costs eat into every employee’s take-home pay.
Economist Priyanka Anand of George Mason University said employers nationwide are passing rising health care costs on to their workers by asking them to absorb a larger share of higher premiums. Anand studied Bureau of Labor Statistics data and found that every time health care costs rose by a dollar, an employee’s overall compensation got cut by 52 cents. 
Master said his company hops between insurance providers every few years to find the best benefits at the lowest cost. But he still can’t get a breakdown to understand what he’s actually paying for. “You pay for everything, but you can’t see what you pay for,” he said.  Master is a CEO. If he can’t get answers from the insurance industry, what chance did Frank have?  

Frank’s hospital bill and Aetna’s “explanation of benefits” arrived at his home in Port Chester, New York, about a month after his operation. Loaded with an off-putting array of jargon and numbers, the documents were a natural playing field for an actuary like Frank.
Under the words, “DETAIL BILL,” Frank saw that NYU Langone’s total charges were more than $117,000, but that was the sticker price, and those are notoriously inflated. Insurance companies negotiate an in-network rate for their members. But in Frank’s case at least, the “deal” still cost $70,882. The charges on the bill NYU Langone sent to Frank contained red flags, including services he says he never received. (Annie Tritt, special to ProPublica)
With a practiced eye, Frank scanned the billing codes hospitals use to get paid and immediately saw red flags: There were charges for physical therapy sessions that never took place, and drugs he never received. One line stood out — the cost of the implant and related supplies. Aetna said NYU Langone paid a “member rate” of $26,068 for “supply/implants.” But Frank didn’t see how that could be accurate. He called and emailed Smith & Nephew, the maker of his implant, until a representative told him the hospital would have paid about $1,500. His NYU Langone surgeon confirmed the amount, Frank said. The device company and surgeon did not respond to ProPublica’s requests for comment. 
Frank then called and wrote Aetna multiple times, sure it would want to know about the problems. “I believe that I am a victim of excessive billing,” he wrote. He asked Aetna for copies of what NYU Langone submitted so he could review it for accuracy, stressing he wanted “to understand all costs.” Aetna reviewed the charges and payments twice — both times standing by its decision to pay the bills. The payment was appropriate based on the details of the insurance plan, Aetna wrote.
Frank also repeatedly called and wrote NYU Langone to contest the bill. In its written reply, the hospital didn’t explain the charges. It simply noted that they “are consistent with the hospital’s pricing methodology.”
Increasingly frustrated, Frank drew on his decades of experience to essentially serve as an expert witness on his own case. He gathered every piece of relevant information to understand what happened, documenting what Medicare, the government’s insurance program for the disabled and people over age 65, would have paid for a partial hip replacement at NYU Langone — about $20,491 — and what FAIR Health, a New York nonprofit that publishes pricing benchmarks, estimated as the in-network price of the entire surgery, including the surgeon fees — $29,162.
He guesses he spent about 300 hours meticulously detailing his battle plan in two inches-thick binders with bills, medical records and correspondence. ProPublica sent the Medicare and FAIR Health estimates to Aetna and asked why they had paid so much more. The insurance company declined an interview and said in an emailed statement that it works with hospitals, including NYU Langone, to negotiate the “best rates” for members. The charges for Frank's procedure were correct given his coverage, the billed services and the Aetna contract with NYU Langone, the insurer wrote. 
Frank chronicled his battle with the hospital where he had his surgery and his insurance company in two large binders filled with documents and letters. (Annie Tritt, special to ProPublica) NYU Langone also declined ProPublica’s interview request. The hospital said in an emailed statement it billed Frank according to the contract Aetna had negotiated on his behalf. Aetna, it wrote, confirmed the bills were correct. After seven months, NYU Langone turned Frank’s $7,088 bill over to a debt collector, putting his credit rating at risk. “They upped the ante,” he said.
Frank sent a new flurry of letters to Aetna and to the debt collector and complained to the New York State Department of Financial Services, the insurance regulator, and to the New York State Office of the Attorney General. He even posted his story on LinkedIn.  But no one came to the rescue. A year after he got the first bills, NYU Langone sued him for the unpaid sum. He would have to argue his case before a judge.

You’d think that health insurers would make money, in part, by reducing how much they spend. Turns out, insurers don’t have to decrease spending to make money. They just have to accurately predict how much the people they insure will cost. That way they can set premiums to cover those costs — adding about 20 percent for their administration and profit. If they’re right, they make money. If they’re wrong, they lose money. But, they aren’t too worried if they guess wrong. They can usually cover losses by raising rates the following year.
Frank suspects he got dinged for costing Aetna too much with his surgery. The company raised the rates on his small group policy — the plan just includes him and his partner — by 18.75 percent the following year.
The Affordable Care Act kept profit margins in check by requiring companies to use at least 80 percent of the premiums for medical care. That’s good in theory but it actually contributes to rising health care costs. If the insurance company has accurately built high costs into the premium, it can make more money.
Here’s how: Let’s say administrative expenses eat up about 17 percent of each premium dollar and around 3 percent is profit. Making a 3 percent profit is better if the company spends more. It’s like if a mom told her son he could have 3 percent of a bowl of ice cream. A clever child would say, “Make it a bigger bowl.” Wonks call this a “perverse incentive.”
“These insurers and providers have a symbiotic relationship,” said Wendell Potter, who left a career as a public relations executive in the insurance industry to become an author and patient advocate. “There’s not a great deal of incentive on the part of any players to bring the costs down.”
Insurance companies may also accept high prices because often they aren’t always the ones footing the bill. Nowadays about 60 percent of the employer benefits are “self-funded.” That means the employer pays the bills. The insurers simply manage the benefits, processing claims and giving employers access to their provider networks. These management deals are often a large, and lucrative, part of a company’s business. Aetna, for example, insured 8 million people in 2017, but provided administrative services only to considerably more — 14 million. 
To woo the self-funded plans, insurers need a strong network of medical providers. A brand-name system like NYU Langone can demand — and get — the highest payments, said Manuel Jimenez, a longtime negotiator for insurers including Aetna. “They tend to be very aggressive in their negotiations.”
On the flip side, insurers can dictate the terms to the smaller hospitals, Jimenez said. The little guys, “get the short end of the stick,” he said. That’s why they often merge with the bigger hospital chains, he said, so they can also increase their rates. 
Other types of horse-trading can also come into play, experts say. Insurance companies may agree to pay higher prices for some services in exchange for lower rates on others. Patients, of course, don’t know how the behind-the-scenes haggling affects what they pay. By keeping costs and deals secret, hospitals and insurers dodge questions about their profits, said Dr. John Freedman, a Massachusetts health care consultant. Cases like Frank’s “happen every day in every town across America. Only a few of them come up for scrutiny.”

In response, a Tennessee company is trying to expose the prices and steer patients to the best deals. Healthcare Bluebook aims to save money for both employers who self-pay, and their workers. Bluebook used payment information from self-funded employers to build a searchable online pricing database that shows the low-, medium- and high-priced facilities for certain common procedures, like MRIs. The company, which launched in 2008, now has more than 4,500 companies paying for its services. Patients can get a $50 bonus for choosing the best deal.
Bluebook doesn’t have price information for Frank’s operation — a partial hip replacement. But its price range in the New York City area for a full hip replacement is from $28,000 to $77,000, including doctor fees. Its “fair price” for these services tops out at about two-thirds of what Aetna agreed to pay on Frank’s behalf.
Frank, who worked with mainstream insurers, didn’t know about Bluebook. If he had used its data, he would have seen that there were facilities that were both high quality and offered a fair price near his home, including Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut. NYU Langone is one of Bluebook’s highest-priced, high-quality hospitals in the area for hip replacements. Others on Bluebook’s pricey list include Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital in New Rochelle, New York, and Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.
ProPublica contacted Hospital for Special Surgery to see if it would provide a price for a partial hip replacement for a patient with an Aetna small-group plan like Frank’s. The hospital declined, citing its confidentiality agreements with insurance companies.

Frank arrived at the Manhattan courthouse on April 2 wearing a suit and fidgeted in his seat while he waited for his hearing to begin. He had never been sued for anything, he said. He and his attorney, Gabriel Nugent, made quiet conversation while they waited for the judge. In the back of the courtroom, NYU Langone’s attorney, Anton Mikofsky, agreed to talk about the lawsuit. The case is simple, he said. “The guy doesn’t understand how to read a bill.”
Frank’s hospital sued him when he refused to pay his bill. It argued that his insurance company had agreed to the amount. (Annie Tritt, special to ProPublica) The high price of the operation made sense because NYU Langone has to pay its staff, Mikofsky said. It also must battle with insurance companies who are trying to keep costs down, he said. “Hospitals all over the country are struggling,” he said. 

“Aetna reviewed it twice,” Mikofsky added. “Didn’t the operation go well? He should feel blessed.” When the hearing started, the judge gave each side about a minute to make its case, then pushed them to settle. Mikofsky told the judge Aetna found nothing wrong with the billing and had already taken care of most of the charges. The hospital’s position was clear. Frank owed $7,088.
Nugent argued that the charges had not been justified and Frank felt he owed about $1,500. The lawyers eventually agreed that Frank would pay $4,000 to settle the case. Frank said later that he felt compelled to settle because going to trial and losing carried too many risks. He could have been hit with legal fees and interest. It would have also hurt his credit at a time he needs to take out college loans for his kids. 
After the hearing, Nugent said a technicality might have doomed their case. New York defendants routinely lose in court if they have not contested a bill in writing within 30 days, he said. Frank had contested the bill over the phone with NYU Langone, and in writing within 30 days with Aetna. But he did not dispute it in writing to the hospital within 30 days.
Frank paid the $4,000, but held on to his outrage. “The system,” he said, “is stacked against the consumer.”
Have you worked in health insurance? ProPublica and NPR are investigating the industry and want to hear from you. Please complete our brief questionnaire.


Marshall Allen

Marshall Allen is a reporter at ProPublica investigating the cost and quality of our health care. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

God spared her home from the path of California wildfires because…

“Brenda Epperson, who once starred in the daytime drama The Young and The Restless, claims God spared her home from the path of California wildfires because God wants to use her story to bring ‘revival’ to California.
“In a video posted to her Facebook page Epperson reports that she prayed Psalm 91 over her home, and the fire miraculously stopped right at the border of her property: ‘I just kept praying Psalms 91 over our home: ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in his mighty shadow. I will say of the Lord he is my refuge and my God in whom I trust. Surely, he will save you from the fowler’s snare and the deadly pestilence. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand but it will not come near you.’
Commenting on her good fortune, Epperson continues, noting that horses were also saved because ‘God stopped that fire’: ‘We could only evacuate the horses that could fit in our trailer which was three horses. And then all of our neighbors had borders so all of their horses, 25, 30, horses went in that pen. And so there were 35 horses there and the fire stopped. God stopped that fire, Wendy, right at our property line. Every horse was okay. They had water, they didn’t even have ash on them.’
Epperson told CBN that the fires ravaging California are actually a good thing because they will lead to revival: ‘The good that’s going to come out of it is I believe that revival; that God is going to wake us all up. I know my life is changed and I just want to share the love of God even more with everybody. I just want to say that God’s love is there for each one of us if we would just simply say, yes’
“In other words, if all those people who lost lives and property to the California wildfires would have simply prayed like Epperson they all would have been saved. However, by that logic, the victims of the fire really had it coming, because they didn’t say the right prayers.
“Bottom line: Brenda Epperson, a callous and ignorant Hollywood actress, claims that her special prayer saved her property from the California wildfires, and that God is using the devastating fire to bring ‘revival’ to California.”

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving: Celebrating the Day Americans Fed Undocumented Aliens from Europe

“Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States, and Thanksgiving 2018 occurs on Thursday, November 22. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

“In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

“Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

“In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s ‘first Thanksgiving’—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a ‘fowling’ mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations” (History of Thanksgiving).

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

“Republican state Senator Michael Connelly conceded to Democrat Laura Ellman Tuesday in the race for the 21st District seat”

“‘While election night ended with us hopeful, we soon learned in the three days that followed that 14,000 absentee ballots arrived at the DuPage Election Commission that still needed to be counted. Unfortunately, with those votes now counted, we are going to come up short,’ Connelly wrote…
“The race had remained too close to call for the two weeks after polls closed Nov. 6 as mail-in and provisional ballots were checked and counted. Vote counts from Will and DuPage counties Tuesday put Ellman, a Naperville resident, up by 1,074 votes. Ellman tallied 49,675 votes to Connelly’s 48,601.
“Ellman said she is honored to serve in the state Senate. ‘We always knew this was going to be a tight race, though I certainly never imagined how close it would be,’ Ellman said in a statement. ‘After 10 years with only one candidate on the ballot, I think people finally got a chance to make their voices heard. I am grateful for all the supporters, volunteers and voters who helped our campaign.’
“Ellman said she knocked on almost 8,000 doors and talked to thousands of people. ‘And I am committed to working even harder in the coming years to make sure Springfield is working for those values and addressing those concerns, and to make sure we have responsive, accountable representation for our communities,’ Ellman said…
“The district encompasses a strip of the west suburbs from a portion of Carol Stream in the north, south through Wheaton, Warrenville, Lisle and Naperville and into Will County in the south” (Naperville Sun/Chicago Tribune). 

Seven Economic Terms That Are Often Used to Trick People Out of Their Money by Valerie Vande Panne

If it sounds too good to be true, take a closer look beyond the buzzwords. There are so many plans these days to “transform” an area via a “public-private partnership” that will “restore” and “fix” the local economy and lead to an economic “recovery” for the “brave” group of “stakeholders” who’ve come together to make it happen. The business leader drumming up support is often a “good friend” of the politicians in charge. To entertain another plan, the people in power warn, will “hurt” the economy.

Have you heard that story in your own backyard recently? It’s a story that might as well be contemporary Shakespeare, except it could be written by the auto-correct text on a developer’s iPhone. It is a story told repeatedly, with different players: It’s the tale of Little Caesar’s Arenain Detroit. It’s the story of the big box stores including Wal-Mart and Home Depot. And it’s the story of Amazon’s HQ2.

No matter the project, the end result is the corporation pays little to no tax, and gives little to nothing to the community—not even the promised jobs. It is guaranteed to extract everything from captured tax dollars to fire and police resources, also paid for with tax dollars. It will likely capture education dollars and even take away employment from locals as small businesses close, and then it leaves the taxpayer with the clean-up bill. Empty, toxic real estate and a growing lower class are left behind.

In other words, these “transformational” projects drive locals into worse-off conditions while lining the pockets of the already wealthy. It’s a tale as old as capitalism itself, and it’s being told over and over again with different players but using the same popular words. Here are the economic development words to watch out for, and what they really mean.

1. Public-Private Partnership
Meaning: A massive tax dollar giveaway to a private company at taxpayer expense. Taxpayers lose money on everything from schools to fire departments. Taxpayers end up footing the bill for the private company’s land, clean-up, and more. Taxpayers receive comparatively nothing in return. Instead, communities are healthier and more sustainable when they are more economically vibrant and diverse with co-ops, small businesses, and collectives.

2. Restore
Meaning: We’ve destroyed something irreplaceable—a neighborhood, wetlands, a forest—and see a way to make even more money on what’s been destroyed. This happens over and over again—it’s one of the cycles of capitalism. The truth is once the neighborhood is gone and its inhabitants displaced—once the habitat that took 1,000 years to create is destroyed—it cannot be restored. You cannot restore Detroit’s vibrant African American neighborhood of Black Bottom by putting in a B.B. King supper club any more than you can restore wetlands that took thousands of years to establish and flourish. What you’re doing is making money on destruction—not restoration. Preservation is more powerful than the destroy-restore cycle.

3. Good Friend
Meaning: A favorite phrase thrown around in the Democratic Party and political circles nationwide; when someone says they are a “good friend,” what they really mean is they are stabbing that person or group in the back. Be wary whenever someone tells you—especially in politics or development—that someone else important is a “good friend.” Be honest about who people are, and listen for honesty when someone is trying to sell your community a development.

4. Stakeholders
Meaning: The modern-day equivalent of a dog-and-pony show, “stakeholders” is regularly used as a catch-all phrase by those who want to appear inclusive and cover their own asses. The chosen “stakeholders” are often those with strong social media followings and the local LGBTQIA/POC community members likely to be the most friendly to the development plan. They are often offered a seat at the table because they are often those who are least likely to rock the boat. Pictures will be taken, Instagram posts made, tweets sent—inclusion looks like it feels so good. Such stakeholder meetings are often exclusionary of those most marginalized, disenfranchised, and impacted by development plans.

5. Brave
Meaning: This one can be used for a “stakeholder” folding for the developer, or for a developer going into a depressed community. It’s also used for a long list of virtue signaling. Brave used to be a word reserved for firemen running into burning buildings to save children and pets; self-sacrificing soldiers saving their brothers-in-arms and helpless civilians; non-violent protesters standing strong in the face of weapons, violence, and hate. Bravery is not a self-righteous action—and definitely not meant for those selling out their community to a developer, or for a developer taking tax dollars to develop a community.

6. Fix
Meaning: Something is broken beyond repair—for example, the vast majority of public school systems. But there is a new way to make money on the broken-beyond-repair things by “fixing” them: For-profit charter schools and intensive testing, done by private corporations with state or local school system contracts paid for with tax dollars—all of which tend to break the system even more. Developing new and locally tailored solutions to a broken system is possible—but it can mean leaving behind the broken system entirely.

7. Hurt
Meaning: “We can’t do that; it’ll hurt the economy,” warns almost every politician when faced with an economically sound solution to ecological crises our society and planet are facing. What they mean is, it’ll hurt their own investments, their own power, and their own bottom line. The fact is, few things hurt the economy and our environment more than the public-private partnerships, their schemes and scams, and development deals that let events like the Flint Water Crisis continue. When someone says, “We can’t do that; it’ll hurt the economy,” ask yourself whose pocketbook it will really hurt, and chances are it’s not yours—it’s the people in power.

As George Carlin used to say, “America’s leading industry is still the manufacture, distribution, packaging and marketing of bullshit. High-quality bullshit; world-class, designer bullshit, to be sure.” These words of decades ago are still used, and they are still bullshit, just like these seven phrases are today.

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

“You have absolutely no business eating at Chick-fil-A. Ever. It’s really that straightforward” by Noah Michelson

“When I was growing up, there were few things as exciting to me as a trip to the Regency Mall in Racine, Wisconsin, for lunch at Chick-fil-A. My family didn’t have much money then so eating out was a rare treat. But when the trip included waffle fries ― an ingenious food so alien to southern Wisconsin in the early ’80s that they seemed like small, salty miracles to my tiny, still-soft mind ― it was almost too much for me to take.   
“Still, as delicious as the Georgia-based company’s fried foods were, they weren’t my only weakness as a kid. When I wasn’t fantasizing about grease, I was spending my young swishy days doing a really shitty job of hiding my insatiable hunger for other boys.
“I was the kind of gay that doesn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t until I escaped to college that I finally began to accept who and what I was. Once I did, I vowed to never let anyone make me feel like I was less than them simply because I lusted after and loved other men.
“So you can imagine how upsetting it was for me when Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, proudly came out as a homophobe in 2012 by claiming, ‘We are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage, and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.’
“Even worse, the company put its money where Cathy’s vile mouth was by donating millions of dollars each year to anti-LGBTQ organizations via its Winshape nonprofit organization.
“As disappointed as I was to learn the chain I had loved as a child was working to make my life and the lives of my fellow queers a living hell, I was heartened by the swift response from the queer community and its supporters. For several years, the only time you’d catch an LGBTQ person or an ally at Chick-fil-A was for a protest. And then ... something changed.
“For some strange reason I still don’t fully understand, some queer people and their friends and families began eating at Chick-fil-A again and are still eating there. I’d venture a guess that Cathy’s somewhat conciliatory yet ridiculously inadequate non-apology and the company’s (totally bogus) promise to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ groups (while it may have ceased funding some groups, it’s certainly still bankrolling others) may have made some people feel justified in returning to the chain. People can be disturbingly indignant and defiant when faced with giving up their beloved chicken sandwiches.
“When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was called out earlier this week for tweeting about eating at Chick-fil-A during Pride Month, I was shocked to see how many queer people and their allies not only didn’t care but went out of their way to defend the fast food chain.
“Excuses I’ve heard for continuing to eat at Chick-fil-A range from a nonchalant dismissal of the issue (‘In the grand scheme of things, eating there isn’t really that big of a deal and we have bigger problems to worry about’) to an all-or-nothing paradigm (‘I can’t possibly avoid all of the problematic companies out there, so why should I worry about this one?’) to a simple admission that the siren song of the company’s kitchens has proven impossible to ignore (‘I know I shouldn’t eat there but it’s just too good not to!’).
“To all of these flimsy justifications, I say, ‘Bullshit.’ If you care about queer people ― or you yourself are queer ― you have absolutely no business eating at Chick-fil-A. Ever. It’s really that straightforward.

If you’re arguing there are other (arguably bigger) fish (or, in this case, chicken) to fry, you may not be wrong. However, I think you’re underestimating my (and probably your) ability to be angry about ― and take action against ― more than one target at once. Just because Chick-fil-A may not be as ‘bad’ (in your view) as the Trump administration (or countless other folks or corporations), that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge Chick-fil-A on its anti-queer stance while continuing to call out and work against other offensive and/or dangerous entities. 

“Any effort or energy you dedicate to not filling Chick-fil-A’s queer phobic coffers does not compromise your ability to simultaneously do the same with other opponents. Surely, like me, you have enough ― and are, sadly, constantly generating more ― outrage to spread around whenever and wherever it may be needed. 
“If you’re arguing that virtually every company doing business today is problematic in one way or another, you’re not wrong there either. (If you want to find other anti-queer culprits, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.) But when a corporation is wafting its anti-queer stance directly under your nose, as Chick-fil-A has and continues to do, not giving them more money to use against us is a no-brainer. 
“I’m not saying that in order to be a ‘good’ person or ensure you don’t support despicable businesses, you have to hermetically seal yourself inside your home and only eat food you’ve hydroponically grown and only wear clothes you’ve woven on a loom built using recycled popsicle sticks and the stickier variety of bodily fluids you have handy.
“I’m saying that when you know a company is anti-queer ― and, what’s more, when a company like Chick-fil-A goes out of its way to tell you as much ― you shouldn’t support them no matter how delicious a reason you can order up.
“Yeah, I know, I know ― it sucks that we can’t have waffle fries. But you know what sucks even more? Not having equal rights and contributing to the profits of a company that wants to ensure you never do because it believes you’re fundamentally disordered or unnatural or sinful or some delightful combination of all three.
“Am I saying Chick-fil-A and everyone who works for it is evil? Of course not. The corporation has done a lot of good and even donated food to volunteers giving blood in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre (though, ironically, most gay men weren’t allowed to participate in that charitable effort).  But none of its generosity changes the fact that the chain has taken and continues to take an anti-queer stance and still donates large sums of money to anti-queer groups.
“Ultimately, if you’re going out of your way to find a reason to continue to patronize Chick-fil-A, you might want to examine why you need to expend so much energy to do so. No one likes to hear that they’re doing something wrong ― or that they can’t have something that brings them immense pleasure ― but that’s still exactly what I’m telling you.
“It’s time to choose where your loyalties lie ― with your community or with your stomach. I’m hoping you can find another restaurant to satiate your chicken sandwich cravings. If all else fails, there’s always this recipe to make a copycat version of the Chick-fil-A favorite at home. Sure, it won’t be exactly the same but it’s pretty damn close, and I promise it’ll go down a whole lot easier without all of that nasty queer phobia you’ve been ingesting” (If You Really Love LGBTQ People, You Just Can’t Keep Eating Chick-fil-A by Noah Michelson).