Site Maintenance Very Soon

Dear BMG Folk: The site is about to undergo some maintenance and upgrades. We’ll be down for a bit. Please stay tuned to the BMG Twitter account (@bluemassgroup) for updates. Thanks for your support and see you on the other side!

The cost of giving birth to a baby

Obamacare did not dispense with the greed of the medical-industrial complex. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

A colleague with a corporate health plan told me that his family hospital bills – with a corporate health plan – for the birth of his baby was more than $3,000. The health plan only covered the birth of the baby after a hefty $3,000 deductible.

Moreover, the hospital sent an additional $2,000 charge claiming that they had to treat the newborn of some infection, and the treatment was not covered by the $3,000 deductible.

When my colleague pressed to find out more detail, the hospital explained this was not treating a real infection, but the possibility of an infection. It was a prophylactic treatment.

How did we get to this point? How can the birth of a baby, with a corporate health plan, cost $3000 out of pocket – and how can the hospital send an additional bill for $2,000 for treatment it thinks is needed (but apparently the insurance does not cover in the standard package)?

Don’t we have state rules in the state of Massachusetts mandating that (a) hospitals only charge what the insurance covers, (b) insurance is obligated to cover 99.999% of what is needed during child birth?

And, not to forget, when did we get to the point that corporate plans are even permitted to have such high deductibles? We have discussed this many times in the past when the subject of non-competes comes up. Employees have minimal bargaining position, when looking for a job, to stay and ask detailed questions about the corporate health plan. And weeks after they join, the corporate health plan can change from under them.

There is some history behind this. Corporate health plans offered much better benefits about ten years ago. Then, Obamacare happened. The way things were explained at many companies, corporate health plans had to change due to higher costs caused by Obamacare.

In effect, Obamacare did not create higher costs for the employees of these companies… Nor did Obamacare force these companies to change health plans. But health plan costs, and, possibly, taxes, did go up. And companies found it convenient to pass the health costs to the employees.

Municipal employees, probably, fare no better. If municipalities are in the GIC plan, they have similarly high deductibles.

There are some additional quirks to consider. Once the babies are born, I am told, they becomes a dependent of the plan, and immediately starts accruing costs with their own deductible, separate from the mother.

…So I have asked my friend how he paid for his baby. He said he charged it to his credit card.

Seth Moulton Fundraises with Big Business to Move the Democratic Party to the Right

Is the New Democrat Coalition serving up anything other than another round of Republican Lite? - promoted by hesterprynne

Since last November’s election, there has been a lot of discussion about the path forward for the Democratic Party. Given the loss of the presidency and countless governorships legislative offices countrywide, how does the party need to change — and does it need to change — to gain back power?

On Monday, Seth Moulton (MA-06) had friends from the New Democrat Coalition — Jim Himes (CT-04), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Ron Kind (WI-03), Ami Bera (CA-07), Annie Kuster (NH-02), and Stacey Plaskett (VI-AL) — in town here in Boston for a pair of fundraisers for the New Democrat Coalition’s affiliated PAC to talk about the future of the party.

So what is the future of the party being advocated here? The fact that Helen Milby & Company, which coordinated the events, is in the business of arranging meetings between Members of Congress and corporate lobbyists and executives can give a clue. But first to some background.

Sean Garballey is my candidate of choice in the 4th Middlesex Special Election

Another BMG'er and voter in the Fourth Middlesex Senate district weighs in. - promoted by hesterprynne

In the coming State Senate special election in the 4th Middlesex, I am with Sean Garballey. I have seen his commitment to foster children, indigent defense, the homeless, the special needs student, the deaf and hard of hearing, and so many other similar groups and individuals. I am warmed by his loyalty, and his great heart. He is true to his roots, to Arlington, and to the district. He did not need to move back into the district because he never left us behind. He was there at my husband’s wake. He was there at Marc’s funeral. And he has mourned with my family and remained a steady support over these difficult years. So many others were gone once Marc died and never checked to see how I, Sam, and Sarah were doing. Sean remained in touch, and a supportive friend in our lives. I could have no better, truer, more honest, and more modest while effective state senator than Sean Garballey. Despite my general loss of faith and confidence in party politics and concerns about the undue class consciousness that I often see among those who call themselves progressives, Sean’s hard work and kind approach to politics are #1 with me. Sean is a good and honest man and I would be glad, even grateful, to have him as my state senator. I have nothing to gain in saying these things except good governance from a true public servant. As to other candidates, it is always good to have multiple qualified candidates whomever they may be. No one owns a seat or the right to represent a district; votes must be earned and Sean has earned mine.

An Opportunity Lost: Obama Takes Large Speaking Fee

In response to the first comment, donations to BMG's technology fund cheerfully accepted! - promoted by hesterprynne

I never suspected he’d do otherwise, but it would be nice if President Obama agreed with the author of this piece.

Former President Barack Obama’s decision to accept a $400,000 fee to speak at a health care conference organized by the bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald is easily understood. That’s so much cash, for so little work, that it would be extraordinarily difficult for anyone to turn it down. And the precedent established by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to say nothing of former Federal Reserve Chairs Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan and a slew of other high-ranking former officials, is that there is nothing wrong with taking the money.

Indeed, to not take the money might be a problem for someone in Obama’s position. It would set a precedent.

Obama would be suggesting that for an economically comfortable high-ranking former government official to be out there doing paid speaking gigs would be corrupt, sleazy, or both. He’d be looking down his nose at the other corrupt, sleazy former high-ranking government officials and making enemies.

Which is exactly why he should have turned down the gig.

(Hat tip to Lawyers, Guns, and Money, via Eschaton.)

On the bright side, maybe this will motivate more people to run for office.

A Couple of Updates on the Russia Story

The worst, most corrupt stuff is just out in the open. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

I’m not trying to steal Mark’s thunder, but I googled Carter Page just to get an update.

So there was this:

A top White House aide says he never met former Donald Trump adviser Carter Page during the more than 500 days he spent on the road with the president’s campaign.

“This Carter Page is a mess,” aide Dan Scavino tweeted on Saturday.

But there was also this, from September:

Page is the founder and managing partner of an investment fund called Global Energy Capital, and that he claims to have years of experience investing in Russia and the energy sector. As for his connection to Trump, when Page was reached for comment by the New York Times the day after Trump’s big reveal, he said he had been sending policy memos to the campaign and the paper said he “will be advising Mr. Trump on energy policy and Russia.”

It gets better:

What I did find, however, is that while Page might not be helping Trump, Trump has been a significant help to Page. Since being named by Trump as an adviser, Page, who has spent his career trying to put together energy deals in Russia and the former Soviet Union, has finally begun to be noticed in the region. He is being treated in Russia as a person with potentially important ties in America. “He’s an extremely well-informed, authoritative expert on Russia,” says Mikhail Leontiev, a pro-Kremlin talking head and spokesman for Rosneft, Russia’s state oil giant. “People really respect him in this industry. He’s a very serious guy, and he has a good reputation.” According to the Yahoo report, U.S. intelligence believes Page had an audience with top Russian officials—including Rosneft head Igor Sechin—during a summer trip to Moscow. From what I could find about him, it’s hard to imagine he could have secured those meetings without that mention by Trump.

Any other updates?

Gambling vs. Marijuana: A Tale of Two "Vices"

It’s been nearly six months since the voters approved Question 4 to legalize and tax recreational marijuana. But we’re still at the starting line, because in December the Legislature pushed back by six months all the timelines that the ballot question had established. The regulatory commission that was supposed to be appointed by March won’t be appointed until September, the review of license applications that was supposed to begin in October won’t start until next April, and so on.

And now it’s possible that the finish line may be moved. There’s a brand new legislative committee that will review the 44 bills that were filed at the start of the new 2017-2018 session responding to the passage of the new law.  With only a few exceptions, the bills are far more wary than enthusiastic. They propose stricter local control over retail marijuana establishments, a reduction in the amount of marijuana that can be grown at home, restrictions on potency (the law, as approved by the voters, provided that such restrictions would be imposed by the regulatory commission), restrictions on advertising, etc., etc.

Which is at least a little odd considering that the Department of Revenue has estimated that marijuana sales could bring in $64 million in new revenue in the first year of the law’s operation, and once again this year the state is digging through the sofa cushions for loose change to fix the perennial hole in the budget.

But before we conclude that our lawmakers are skittish about any new enterprise that may strike some members of the citizenry as morally problematic even as it brings in new revenue, let’s review the launch of the casino law.

At a comparable time (six months after the law was passed), the members of the new Massachusetts Gaming Commission had been appointed and staked to a $15 million line of credit.  The buzz was all about the new jobs that were shortly to arrive and the new revenues that were shortly to replenish our recession-depleted treasury.  (The marijuana law has gotten only a measly $300,000 to cover costs to date.)

The Gaming Commission got the licensing process underway with an award to Penn National Gaming to operate a slots parlor in Plainville. They did so with the rosy understanding that it would bring in as much as $300 million in revenue annually. But whoops. After the first year of operation, the revenue number was $160 million, barely half of the original estimate. What happened?

According to the Commission’s account, which the Globe reported credulously, the initial revenue projections were “extravagant” guesses offered by casino industry consultants. Well, okay, but what about the Commission’s due diligence in investigating that guesstimate? “We thought there was a flaw in their methodology but we couldn’t find it,” Crosby said.

Indeed. The Commission could not find the flaw, even when aided by the research of their own consultants, who also predicted that Plainville’s annual revenues would yield far more than $160 million — and who were rewarded by the state for such prognostications to the tune of a million bucks.

Water under the bridge, apparently. Anyway, now all is well.  The Commission “could not be more pleased” with the Plainridge revenues, which are half of the original estimates and which is totally okay, because we now know the estimates were unrealistic to begin with. Construction has begun on two other casinos, with who knows how many more to follow, as Massachusetts duels Connecticut for supremacy in the gambling wars. Gambling is clearly the Legislature’s favored child, (as compared to marijuana), and even more cossetting may be on the way — the House of Representatives is proposing to let casinos continue to serve alcohol for hours after bars and restaurants must close. Meanwhile, marijuana legalization is in danger of being strangled in its crib.

Did the Legislature ever take note of the discrepancy between revenue expectations and revenue reality in Plainville? No evidence that they did, and if it’s brought to their attention, many seem prepared to laugh it off like Commissioner Crosby did: “we all seemed to be smoking something.”

March for Science / Earth Day

Today, appropriately on Earth Day, is the March for Science on the Boston Common, from 1pm to 4pm. It includes a star-studded cast of speakers, including MA’s own Gina McCarthy, former EPA head.

Would that this were not necessary! Science, of course, should not be partisan; it should be the basis on which political arguments are held. But scientists did not choose this fight. Science — the search for facts — is indeed under attack: Look at the attempted dismantling of the EPA by Scott Pruitt; the House Committee for Science’s attacks on climate scientists; Trump’s budget with its draconian cuts for science research (very bad for MA, incidentally); and his flirtation with anti-vaxxers. They’re going after weather satellites — because the satellites are telling them things they don’t want to hear.

That is crushing, weapons-grade stupidity, stubbornness and ignorance. These will go down in history with Lysenkoism, the Five-Year Plans, Great Leap Forward and other triumphs of inhumane ideology over observed facts.

For whatever comes of the demonstrations, I’d like to humbly suggest the following goals/agenda for the scientific community in the public/political sphere:

  • Encourage the teaching of logic and critical thinking, at every level of education — from elementary school to post-doc. People ought to know p’s and q’s of logic, and how to identify pseudo-logic, how we are bewildered into accepting false or unproven things. Nigel Warburton’s Thinking from A to Z is a good anti-derp vaccine, to recognize logical fallacies. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series was a terrific introduction not only to scientific discoveries, but the scientific process – hypothesis, testing, reproducibility, peer-review, etc. — by which such discoveries are made.
  • Define “pure” science as a search for facts and knowledge, not merely as an economic driver. We start heading into some ugly directions when science is only deemed “useful” if it makes someone money. In our rush to be practical and competitive, we teach facts —  but little about how such facts are derived.
  • Defend the federal government as a reliable, neutral source of facts and information — and fund such sources. From fish stocks to global temperatures to unemployment statistics, the government provides the public with useful data upon which momentous decisions are made. Such research must be left absolutely professional, transparent, and non-partisan. Heretofore, it largely has been. But at any given time we are neck-deep in corporate propaganda, political and regulatory capture. We must absolutely hold that government research is on behalf of the greater public good. They work for us.
  • Relatedly, support federal funding for scientific research outside the government: Grants to universities from NIH, NSF, etc. Obvs.
  • Defend scientists from politicized attacks. Particularly I have climate scientists in mind, of course; but they have been the canaries in a coal mine (as it were) in confronting vastly powerful monied interests. The plain facts came up against the fossil industry’s billions, and the industry has tried to corral the facts using politics.
  • Defend academic tenure. See above. Defense from political attacks is one reason why tenure exists; it has been severely weakened at the University of Wisconsin, once one of the jewels of higher public education in the US.

I’m sure the organizers chose Earth Day for a reason: That climate science is an urgent topic for the public; and — not coincidentally — threatened with political retribution and silencing.

It is indeed a small world, quite finite, and quite fragile, as it turns out. And CO2 concentration has passed the mark of 410 parts per million, which hasn’t happened in 3 million years. Everything that we care about, that we have ever cared about — everything! — is at grave risk.
Hadfield in space

Senator Donnelly's Chief of Staff Will Enter Race to Succeed Him

State House News is reporting that Cindy Friedman, chief of staff to the late Senator Ken Donnelly, will announce on Monday that she’s going to enter the race to succeed him, setting up a June 27 primary contest with Representative Sean Garballey, who announced last week.  The general election is July 25.

 

 

Platform

Talk vs walk - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

I just can’t get excited about attending a platform meeting.  Why?  Let me count the ways by examining the present platform: I’ll start at the preamble

  1. We want health care to be a basic human right.  (we do?  tell me then, when we had a candidate for governor who was for this, why we did not endorse him?)
  2.  We want everyone to be able to work for a living wage and have the right to organize; (NY & CA have a $15 minimum wage law on the books.  Not us. We won’t go for it)
  3. We want taxes to be reasonable and expenditures to be fairly distributed (we do?  name one Democrat in a position of power who wants to raise taxes on the rich)

I could go on and on, but what’s the point?

And what’s the point of a new Platform that will be equally ignored by those in power within the party?

Garballey to run for Donnelly's Senate seat

Statement from my Rep., Sean Garballey:

For those of us lucky enough to have called Senator Ken Donnelly a friend, this has been a sad time. Ken put everyone else first – as a fireman, a legislator, and a husband, father, and grandfather – and we in Massachusetts are forever indebted to him for his lifetime of service and sacrifice. My thoughts continually turn to Ken’s family, and I pray that they find solace and strength in the fact that his legacy lives on in the innumerable lives he touched and enriched. Senator Donnelly and I were partners throughout the last decade and I want to make sure his work continues in the State Senate.

After much reflection and a long weekend of conversations with family, loved ones, and constituents, I have decided to run in the special election for the Senate seat to represent the people of Arlington, Woburn, Billerica, Lexington, and Burlington. While no one can replace Ken, I believe that my extensive legislative experience in local and state government and in our community, makes me a strong candidate for the State Senate. In the coming weeks, I encourage residents of the district to look at my record, look for campaign announcements as I begin this endeavor, and never hesitate to reach out directly if you have any questions or wish to get involved.

I look forward to campaigning across the district, to knocking on doors to hear voters’ concerns, and to highlight the work I’ve done on behalf of people in my district and across the Commonwealth. As a State Representative, I have worked to advance policies to protect the environment, maintain an inclusive society and ensure equal rights for all, preventing MBTA service cuts in our district and leading the effort on developing a real solution to the MBTA, improving conditions for children in foster care, and reducing income inequality to enable middle class families in Massachusetts to not just make ends meet but provide a better future for the next generation. I am proud of the work I have done and, with your support, I would be honored to continue this work as our next State Senator.

The primary election has been set for Tuesday, June 27 and the general election has been set for Tuesday July 25.

Sean’s a good guy. He’s been there a long time, and is still young — 32. He returns phone calls. I remember him volunteering for the ’04 Kerry campaign. He got elected to school committee right out of high school; got the nomination for State Rep in a bit of a kooky primary, taking over for Marzilli in ’08. He’s what you’d expect from Arlington: Very progressive, part of the MBTA caucus, big on environment, single-payer, justice reform, etc. (Thanks ProgressiveMass.)

The Senate would be a friendlier place for Sean’s priorities than Bob DeLeo’s House. Of course, whoever follows Sean into the House is going to face the same problem.

If Sean wins, Arlington being what it is (along with West Medford), I suspect the Rep race will attract more than one candidate.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Rural Stats

Trump support corresponds to need for economic development. Hmmm ... - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

By Lee Harrison and Lisa Moscynski, Co-Chairs, Rural Issues Subcommittee of the Massachusetts Democratic Party

If Mark Twain were alive today, he would have been amused by Evan Horowitz’s April 7 article in the Globe, “City and Country Folk: We’re Mostly the Same in Massachusetts” because it proves his maxim that “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  And while many of us west of Rte. 495 shake our heads and chuckle in disbelief at Mr. Horowitz’s findings, articles like this can do real harm to real rural Massachusetts.

We don’t know how Mr. Horowitz defines “rural,” but in the vast majority of small towns west of Rte. 495, people definitely do not earn “approximately the same incomes” as people in Newton or Brookline.  Of course, Mr. Horowitz uses averages, which is always a red flag, for a man can easily drown in a stream with an average depth of one foot.  Besides, median values, i.e., half above and half below, are much better tools for comparison.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, the annual median household income in Berkshire County was under $50,000 – the lowest in the state – with Hampden County next lowest with just over $50,000.  Franklin and Bristol counties were under $60,000, as was Suffolk County, which includes many wealthy and poor families.  At the other end of the income spectrum are Norfolk ($88,262) and Middlesex ($85118) counties, which shows how proximity to Boston skews the numbers.  Worcester County ($65,313) is below Essex ($69,068), which is roughly the middle of the pack.

Unemployment rates show the same kind of discrepancies between Boston-centric and real rural Massachusetts.  In February, while the unemployment rate for all of Massachusetts was 4.2%, in Berkshire County the rate was 5.3%, in Hampden 5.6%.  Nantucket, Dukes, and Barnstable counties were even higher, but seasonal employment in those regions is certainly a factor.  By contrast in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Middlesex counties – Boston and its suburban ring – the rate was 3.5% or lower.  This is a critical difference, a story that averages don’t tell, and Mr. Horowitz should know that.

And despite what Mr. Horowitz would like us to believe, voting our voting patterns differ markedly, too.  As analyst Brent Benson notes:  “While western Massachusetts, the Boston Metropolitan Area and other urban areas, the tip of Cape Cod, and the Islands show strong Democratic tendencies in statewide elections, Central Massachusetts, parts of the North Shore, and Southern Massachusetts – from Tolland in the west to Dennis in the east – are much more Republican.”

In fact, WBUR reported on April 12, that, “In central Massachusetts, you can travel from New Hampshire to Connecticut or Rhode Island entirely through towns that voted for President Trump.”  The radio station also noted that, “As many as 90% of voters in the central Massachusetts towns where Donald Trump received more votes for president than Hillary Clinton still view the president ‘very positively’ and believe he will, eventually, deliver on his campaign promises.”

So, yes, contrary to what Mr. Horowitz has written, Massachusetts voters are indeed divided.  And unless our leaders see past superficial and misleading articles like this and reach out to improve education, transportation, and broadband to expand the overall economies of our real rural areas, this gap will only increase.