120 Health Law and Policy Professors Write Letter Opposing the House and Senate Health Bills!

Dear Commons Community,

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, more than 120 health law and health policy professors across the United States believe that the House and Senate health bills will cause “severe, lasting harm to all of us, especially our society’s most vulnerable and the middle class.” Below is the letter as published in today’s paper.



To the Editor:

We and more than 120 health law and health policy professors across the United States believe that the House and Senate health bills will cause severe, lasting harm to all of us, especially our society’s most vulnerable and the middle class.

At a time when we are seeing significant declines in the number of uninsured and inadequately insured in our country, the bills represent a giant step backward. By cutting Medicaid funding, eliminating federal assistance for families securing private coverage, and encouraging individuals to either not purchase insurance or to buy bare-bones coverage, these proposals will result in a less equitable, less accessible system of health care.

We are deeply concerned about what these bills portend for women and children. Currently, the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality during childbirth of any developed country. Despite the urgency to strive for better outcomes, lawmakers have specifically targeted maternal health coverage for cuts. And by shifting more families off Medicaid, children’s access to health care services will decline.

The Affordable Care Act protects all Americans from discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, expands coverage for mental health treatment and drug addiction, and fosters preventive care. Millions of Americans have health insurance for the first time, and we are at an all-time low in the percentage of citizens who lack coverage. The reform legislation proposes to wipe away these essential gains.

In 1966, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said to a group of health providers, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane.” We agree.




Mr. Singer is director of the Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy. Mr. Hutchinson is executive director of the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics. A longer version of the letter with all the signatures is at http://aslme.org/pdfs/we-stand-for-access.pdf

Donald Trump Does Not Want Poor People in His Cabinet!

Dear Commons Community,

Two days ago during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Donald Trump commented that he does not want poor people in key cabinet positions.  Instead he wants “brilliant business minds.”  His disdain for poor people has been his trademark for years.  Yesterday the New York Daily News reviewed several of his choicer comments regarding the poor. 

“President Trump does not want poor people in his cabinet. Or running for office. Or playing golf. But he does want their votes. In fact, he expects poor people to vote for him because they are poor.

This is the worldview we know from Trump’s public statements about America’s struggling class — the same group that helped propel his populist campaign into an unprecedented presidential victory.

Despite riding to office in large part thanks to blue collar anger at elites, the self-proclaimed billionaire businessman who used to live in a golden Manhattan penthouse has rarely even attempted to hide his disdain for people who aren’t rich like him.

America, here are some choice words from your people’s candidate:

 “These are people that are great, brilliant business minds, and that’s what we need, that’s what we have to have so the world doesn’t take advantage of us. We can’t have the world taking advantage of us anymore. And I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense? Does that make sense? If you insist, I’ll do it, but I like it better this way.” (Cedar Rapids, Iowa presidential rally remarks about his cabinet, June 21, 2017)

“What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?” (Dimondale, Mich. campaign rally remarks focused on black voters, Aug. 19, 2016)

“Let golf be elitist … Let people work hard and aspire to someday be able to play golf. To afford to play it. They’re trying to teach golf to people who will never be able to really play it. They’re trying too hard. Because of the expense of playing, and the land needed, golf is never going to be basketball, where all you need is a court.” (Fortune magazine interview, July 1, 2015)

“My entire life, I’ve watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn’t the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They’re morons. There’s a perception that voters like poverty. I don’t like poverty. Usually, there’s a reason for poverty. Do you want someone who gets to be president and that’s literally the highest paying job he’s ever had?” (New York Times interview, Nov. 28, 1999)

Trump’s comments in Cedar Rapids were met with applause!



Betsy DeVos Proposes Scrapping Higher Education Act:  Lamar Alexander Says Not So Fast!

Dear Commons Community,

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos suggested that it’s time to scrap the legislation that governs federal higher-education policy and to start anew. During a speech earlier this week to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Ms. DeVos said the Higher Education Act of 1965 may have outlived its usefulness.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“We are advancing and growing as a people at an unbelievable rate. But the public policy that guides education has only inched along,” Ms. DeVos told the audience of university leaders. “Consider the Higher Education Act, or HEA. This 50-year-old law still governs and defines much of what you can — and cannot — do to educate the students you serve.”

“For me, and I suspect for most Americans, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to simply amend a 50-year-old law,” she continued. “Adding to a half-century patchwork will not lead to meaningful reform. Real change is needed.”

Her remarks echoed what she said last month during an appearance at the ASU+GSV conference, in Salt Lake City. “Why would we reauthorize an act that is like 50 or 60 years old and has continued to be amended?” she said. “Why wouldn’t we start fresh and talk about what we need in this century and beyond for educating and helping our young people?”

The legislation has been reauthorized several times since it was first passed. Its most recent iteration was set to expire in 2013, but was extended to allow legislators more time to work on a new version.”

On the other hand, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate education committee, told The Chronicle that reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is his top education priority during this Congress.

Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst at New America, a think tank in Washington, said Ms. DeVos’s continued suggestion of a replacement for the landmark law shows how the Trump administration misunderstands higher education.

“There’s a lot of room in higher education for significant improvement, that needs overhaul, but the basics of the Higher Education Act are not likely going to change — and I’m not sure that they should,” Ms. McCann said. “We can reimagine higher ed without starting from scratch on the entire concept of it.”

I would put my money on Senator Alexander winning on this issue.


Joe Bruni Analyzes the Democrats Loss in the Georgia 6th District Special Election!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday’s loss of Democrat Jon Ossoff to Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District Special Election will dominate the political news for days to come.  The Democrats tried to make it a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.  It was a mistake and they will pay dearly for it in the media and in Washington, D.C. New York Times columnist Joe Bruni analyzes the election’s results.  Here is an excerpt:

“Make no mistake: Democrats were swimming against the current in Georgia. The House seat that their sights were on had been safely in Republican hands for nearly four decades. Georgia’s Sixth District is purple only if you scrunch your eyes just so. If you un-scrunch them and look at it honestly, it’s red.

So the question isn’t what happened on Tuesday, when Karen Handel, the Republican candidate, prevailed over Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, in a special election with stakes and resonance well beyond the district’s parameters.

The question is what happens next. How do Democrats buoy their spirits, maintain their ardor and press on?

They ached for this seat. They fought for it fiercely. They reasoned that Ossoff had a real chance: Donald Trump, after all, won this district by just 1.5 percentage points. Donations for Ossoff flooded in, helping to make this the most expensive House race in history by far.

Democrats came up empty-handed nonetheless. So a party sorely demoralized in November is demoralized yet again — and left to wonder if the intense anti-Trump passion visible in protests, marches, money and new volunteers isn’t just some theatrical, symbolic, abstract thing.

When will it yield fruit? Where will it translate into results? And at what point will Trump be held accountable for a presidency that, so far, has been clumsier and more chaotic than even many of his detractors warned that it would be?

With Handel’s victory, Trump caught an enormous break and got fresh hope for his stalled legislative agenda. As he tries to persuade moderate Republicans to support a deeply flawed, broadly unpopular and ridiculously secrecy-shrouded health care bill, he can and will point to the outcome of the Georgia race, in which Handel sided with him and Ossoff pilloried her for it.”

The Democrats will recover but no one can say when!


New York State Legislature Does its Annual Dance on the Issue of NYC Mayoral Control of Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York State Legislature is doing its annual dance between the Democratic-controlled Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate on the issue of mayoral control of the New York City public schools.  The Democrats want to extend control while the Republicans use it to goad NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. There is little consideration of the public school students.  The New York Times reviews this sad state of affairs in its editorial this morning (see below).



Tired of the Suspense on Mayoral Control of Schools

By the Editorial Board

June 21, 2017

Here we are with yet another remake of a movie that wasn’t particularly watchable the first time around: What price will New York State Senate Republicans exact to extend the mayor’s control over New York City’s public schools — and for how long a stretch? With the Legislature hoping to close shop on Wednesday, and the mayor’s present authority expiring June 30, the question is loaded with urgency and anxiety.

Little about this remake is new, including the delight that Senate Republicans derive from making Mayor Bill de Blasio squirm, especially on the matter of mayoral control. This is their payback for his “sin” of having tried in 2014, newly in office, to win Democratic control of a chamber that has been in Republican hands for nearly all of the last four decades. That a Democrat would like to see other Democrats triumph hardly comes as a shock, but Mr. de Blasio has paid dearly for the effort. Where his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, obtained control over education policy in 2002 with a seven-year mandate, followed by one of six years, this mayor has had to scrape by on one-year extensions. It means an annual replay of a familiar — dare we say tiresome — scenario.

This time around, the price for an extension set by the Senate Republican leader, John Flanagan, is an agreement by Mr. de Blasio to increase the number of charter schools the city will allow. The mayor shows little appetite for such a deal. Neither do Democrats in control of the State Assembly, who have already voted to give him a two-year extension.

This is not a standard left-vs.-right issue. Even conservative critics of Mr. de Blasio say that he, or any mayor, must have control for the sake of stability and efficacy. The merits of tying this to charter schools are hard to discern. Mr. Flanagan could just as readily demand more vegetables in school cafeterias.

A real deadline looms: Wednesday night. That’s when lawmakers hope to head home for the rest of the year. Of course, last-minute bargains are hard-wired into Albany’s DNA. The governor, while rarely saddened to see Mr. de Blasio in a tight spot, may yet ride to the rescue with a compromise (the sort of cinematic flourish that appeals to him) before the existing school-governance law expires. The last thing sensible lawmakers should want is to revert to the old system, with policies set by 32 community school districts whose earlier incarnations were distinguished by cronyism and corruption more than by pedagogical excellence.

This brinkmanship does no one any good. As the central players roll toward the edge, they risk tumbling over. Just as in a movie that wasn’t watchable in the first place.


Diversifying Large City Public Schools:  Dallas Trying Harder!

Dear Commons Community,

Large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have had great difficulty diversifying their public schools.  The New York Times today has a featured story on the issue that focuses mainly on Dallas’ attempt to integrate its public school system.   Here is an excerpt:

“Dallas has produced a marketing campaign to promote its integration efforts,  

The effort is small for now, involving fewer than one in 10 city schools, and has not been a total success. One strategy, called “innovation schools,” tries to make neighborhood schools more attractive by installing programs like the International Baccalaureate curriculum, similar to Advanced Placement. It has improved test scores, but has not yet significantly changed the demographics of the schools, many of which are in middle-class areas but serve few middle-class children.

Another, more expensive strategy, called “transformation schools,” is getting faster results.

Rather than admit students by grades, test scores or auditions, which tends to turn schools into enclaves of affluence, these schools admit them by lottery, with no admissions standards. They are organized around popular themes like single-sex education, science, the arts, bilingual classes and professional internships.

Most strikingly for a district where 90 percent of students are low-income, the district is setting aside seats in several of the new schools for students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, even if they live in suburbs outside the district. Those coming from other districts do not have to pay tuition, and though Dallas will not receive school property taxes from their families, it will get funding from the state for each traveling student.

By relying on income instead of race, Dallas is following guidelines from the Supreme Court, which in 2007 declared it unconstitutional to consider race as a factor when assigning students to schools.

“What’s exciting about what Dallas is doing is you have a district that’s 90 percent low-income,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, an expert on school segregation at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank. “So many people look at that and say, ‘Therefore, we can’t integrate.’

“That’s not right,” he continued. “You can begin with a small subset of schools and try over time to build the reputation of the school district among middle-class people.”

Dallas has plenty of white and college-educated parents to draw from. The region is the nation’s second-fastest-growing, with an economic boom driven by the financial services and health sectors. On weekday evenings, throngs of well-heeled, mostly white urbanites take to the Katy Trail, an elevated, tree-lined path north of downtown. They walk their dogs, stroll with their babies and jog while wearing university T-shirts and expensive sneakers.

But these people have not enrolled their children in public schools, with the exception of a few coveted neighborhood schools and selective magnet programs. The district’s student population is 93 percent Hispanic and black. In the 1960s, before court-ordered desegregation, more than half the students were white.

The Rev. Andrew C. Stoker, senior minister of First United Methodist Church of Dallas, sends his two sons, who are white, to Hispanic-majority public schools. But he estimates that three-quarters of his congregants send their children to private schools.

Mr. Stoker said he heard a variety of concerns from church members about the Dallas schools, first among them, “Is my child safe?” (According to the most recent state data, Dallas experienced major disciplinary incidents, like fights and drug and weapons offenses, at about the same rate as the state average.)

The idea of catering to parents like these was, at first, controversial. Past desegregation efforts, based on involuntary busing and selective schools, offered little to poor, nonwhite children. The transformation program is also costly; the district renovated several school buildings and is busing students — voluntarily — across the city.

Joyce Foreman, a school board member who represents working-class southwest Dallas, said she supported the integration push and believed the new schools gave her constituents more options. But she said the cost of expanding these programs must be weighed against the needs of older schools that serve largely poor families.

“I am looking at the numbers of students per nurse or counselor” in traditional schools, Ms. Foreman said. “We want to make sure we don’t oversaturate ourselves with choices.”

Michael Hinojosa, who is on his second stint as superintendent, began his education career in 1979 as a Dallas middle school history teacher and basketball coach. He sent all three of his sons to Dallas public schools.

He inherited the desegregation plan from the previous superintendent, Mike Miles. Several staff members working on integration have recently left the district, but Mr. Hinojosa said he was nevertheless expanding the effort.

This spring, 1,705 students applied for 613 spots in the five existing transformation schools. More than a quarter of applicants are currently enrolled in private or charter schools or live outside the district, and 15 percent are white, a demographic profile very much outside the district’s norm.”

This story provides lots of insight into one of the most difficult issues facing our cities.  Good luck to Dallas and its efforts!



Senator Al Franken:  If Trump was Impeached – Vice President Mike Pence “a Zealot” Could be Worse!

Dear Commons Community,

As talk of impeachment grows among Democrats, Senator Al Franken in an interview with the International Business Times, issued a warning that Vice President Mike Pence might be worse than Donald Trump.  Franken characterized Pence as a “zealot” who would be especially harmful to domestic policies.  Here are excerpts from the interview:

“If Donald Trump were impeached, as some Democrats would like, Mike Pence “would be worse” for domestic policy than the current president, U.S. Sen. Al Franken told International Business Times…

One of his party’s highest-profile lawmakers, Franken has pressed law enforcement officials to step up their scrutiny of Trump’s finances and has said “everything points to” collusion between Trump’s team and the Russian government. But he warned that the outcome of impeachment would not be the answer to Democratic dreams.

“Pence ran the transition and some of the very worst nominees, I felt — [EPA chief Scott] Pruitt, [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos, [HHS Secretary Tom] Price, [Budget director Mick] Mulvaney — were Pence selections, clearly, I think,” Franken told IBT. “He’s ideological, I consider him a zealot, and I think that in terms of a lot of domestic policy certainly would be worse than Trump.”

Franken added that he believes Pence would be better able to manage foreign policy matters.

“If you’re talking about how we handle North Korea or something like that, I’d probably be more comfortable with Pence ultimately making those decisions than Trump, because of Trump’s personality and character,” he said. “I think that [Trump] is so outside the norm in his behavior that that actually does concern me, and it concerns me that I don’t know what he will do if he looks like he’s going to be impeached and he wants to deflect. I don’t know what he’s capable of, and that really does concern me.”

I tend to agree with Franken.  Pence’s record while governor of Indiana was highly dogmatic and ideological.  He also is very close to the religious right and has boasted that he would not have dinner alone with any woman than his wife. There is nothing disrespectful about a committed person having a meal with a friend or colleague who is not the same gender as they are ― unless one is to assume that any interaction not under the watchful eye of a spouse would inevitably lead to infidelity. Is it that men have no self-control in the presence of a woman?  In sum, I think Pence would move this country in a direction that I would rather not go.

We might be between a rock and a hard place.



Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s Purchase of Whole Foods: A Sign of Things to Come!

Dear Commons Community, 

On Friday, Amazon announced that it would buy the upscale grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.4 billion.  This deal will expand Amazon from a mostly online shopping giant into a merchant with physical outposts in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country. Since the announcement, the media including yesterday’s Sunday morning talk shows have been on a frenzy predicting what Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, intends to do with Whole Foods.

Some observers see the acquisition as simply an escalation in the Amazon’s  long-running battle with Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the United States, which has been struggling to play catch-up in Internet shopping. On Friday, Walmart announced a $310 million deal to acquire the Internet apparel retailer Bonobos, and last year it agreed to pay $3.3 billion for Jet.com and put Jet’s chief executive, Marc Lore, in charge of Walmart’s overall e-commerce business. 

But others see it as Bezos’ attempt to experiment with grocery buying in a way that few companies have ever considered.  For example, here is one scenario courtesy of the New York Times Upshot:

“You walk into a store and are greeted by name, by a computer with facial recognition that directs you to the items you need. You peruse a small area — no chance of getting lost or wasting time searching for things — because the store stocks only sample items. You wave your phone in front of anything you want to buy, then walk out. In the back, robots retrieve your items from a warehouse and deliver them to your home via driverless car or drone.”

A little futuristic but not out of the realm of the possible.  The Upshot piece goes on to present the potential for large-scale automation in retail businesses and concludes with a quote from Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the M.I.T. Initiative on the Digital Economy:

“Amazon’s plans could be much bigger than simply automating stores.

“The bigger and more profound way that technology affects jobs is by completely reinventing the business model,” he said. “Amazon didn’t go put a robot into the bookstores and help you check out books faster. It completely reinvented bookstores. The idea of a cashier won’t be so much automated as just made irrelevant — you’ll just tell your Echo what you need, or perhaps it will anticipate what you need, and stuff will get delivered to you.”

It will be interesting to watch how Amazon re-imagines the retail grocery business.  It may portend of a whole new way of shopping for anything.