Our National Shame

Today I watched the chilling dash cam video of the Philando Castile shooting.   I will be haunted for a long time by the image of his girlfriend’s young daughter slowly emerging from that car after seeing Philando shot 7 times.  He was shot as he reached into his pocket to retrieve his driver’s license, per the police officer’s request.  While he was en route to the hospital, where he would die of his injuries; his girlfriend was (unbelievably) put into handcuffs and held in the back of a squad car.

Last week the jury acquitted the police officer, just as juries have acquitted a long sequence of police officers for killing black men and women.  But, this happened in Minnesota, not Missouri or Alabama. Minnesota for god’s sake.  It makes me ashamed.

Black. Lives. Matter.  As a white woman, I hesitate to co-opt that phrase; but I do so respectfully, to make the point that we are all diminished when men like Philando Castile are executed for what appears to be ‘the crime’ of being black in America.  The history of race in America is incredibly complex–but there can be no doubt that implicit bias is alive and well in every state of the union, not ‘just’ the south.

Black and brown mothers and fathers all over America face the challenge of sitting their children down to have THE talk (a talk I didn’t need to have with MY children). THE talk about being deferential to the police at all times, how to speak (politely) and how to move (slowly), knowing the likelihood of a brown or black child being stopped and questioned is much higher than that of their white friends. And knowing that sometimes, even if their child does nothing wrong, the result can still be tragic.

Racism in America is one of our greatest national shames, manifesting itself in large and small ways in the pattern of our lives.  I see it at work, with a striking imbalance between the demographics of our technical teams and the all-white faces at the leadership level.  My home state of Wisconsin has one of the biggest (if not the biggest) gaps in high school graduation between black and white students.

In her excellent book, The New Jim Crow,  Michelle Alexander demonstrates that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. This effectively strips the right to vote from a large percentage of African Americans, who have been convicted of even minor drug charges.

I had hoped that having a black president for 8 years would have made a difference, but I was naive. Our current administration is a backlash from those who felt threatened and disenfranchised by that very hope.  Make America Great Again is a thinly veiled slogan for white supremacy, contributing to a culture of white entitlement and acceptance of violence against minorities.

America cannot be truly great unless and until we address the blight of racism.


Featured Image by Tony Webster, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Walker’s Big Gamble

UPDATE: On June 15th the budget committee unanimously rejected this portion of Walker’s Budget described below!

Governor Scott Walker has released his two-year budget for review and has been touring the state touting his per-pupil increase in education included in this budget. Walker claims this budget is a “significant investment into K-12 education,” but his speeches never address what the budget is really about: shifting the burden of goods and services to the state’s working classYes, the per-pupil spending is receiving a $648.9 million increase, but this increase relies, in part, on the assumed millions in savings when changing the 250,000 state public workers insurance to self-insurance – which is a big gamble.

Wisconsin currently has one of the most competitive health markets in the country, which has resulted in the state’s ability to keep the premium increases below the national average. Currently, the state provides 17 health plans by paying for the state workers’ premiums. The state would like to change to self-insurance, which has the individualism rhetoric loved by Republicans, but it means the state will pay for medical procedures and costs directly instead of paying for premiums. There will still be four middle-man insurers because some providers will be merging, and some will not be able to compete with larger entities.

North Carolina shifted to self-insurance in 2014 and expected to save millions, but instead, the state found itself with a $200 million deficit. But we don’t have to look as far as North Carolina. Wisconsin’s first experiment with the self-insurance model resulted in dramatic cost increases of 22% and 30% in 1981 and 1983, respectively.  And industry analyst Deloitte Consulting found that if the switch to self-insurance were to happen today, it would cost the state of Wisconsin $100 million per year

Governor Walker’s decision to switch to self-insurance is not supported by the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans. Under his plan, the state will be reorganized into just four different regions with a local insurance provider, potentially stripping public workers’ freedom to keep their current physicians. So why is Walker aggressively pushing this self-insurance model? The switch to self-insurance will procure short-term benefits that he is hoping will boost his reelection bid in 2018. It will save money through skirting taxes and fees from the ACA, which will keep costs down temporarily while insurance claims build up and the state pays them out. Costs will be kicked down the road to gain political capital now.

Manitowoc Country is the only county in Wisconsin that has already made the shift to self-insurance for its public workers. The jury is still out on this policy because it was only instituted on January 1 of this year. Enjoy a reading of the liabilities the insurance does not cover. Some of the interesting ones include liabilities against pollution, acid rain, asbestos, mold, fungi, or lead.

Now that we have debunked the supposed savings the self-insurance model will create, let’s move onto the nuances of the actual education budget. The $60 million savings Walker is assuming will be garnered from this self-insurance model will then be funneled to an increase in per-pupil funding, but there are more strings attached. The increase in funding will only be made available to those districts that meet pension and healthcare savings requirements from Act 10, and whose teachers pay at least 12% of their healthcare costs out-of-pocket.  This greatly impacts Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), as they do not require employees to contribute towards their healthcare premium.  In order to receive the increase in per-pupil funding, MMSD would have to change this policy.

Not only is the budget bad for the public education system in Wisconsin, but Walker increases the per-pupil funding for voucher-school students more than public-school students. Walker is increasing public K-12 school per-pupil aid by $6,703, private K-8 voucher school per-pupil aid by $7,757, and private 9-12 voucher school per-pupil aid by $8,403. Voucher schools do not have the same accountability requirements that public schools have.

This budget does not seem in line with the most recent election in Wisconsin. This past Spring Election, Wisconsin voters, resoundingly, chose to keep incumbent Tony Evers as the State Superintendent over Holtz – the candidate known for favoring voucher schools. The Spring Election also showed that Wisconsinites DO prioritize public education:  all 12 school referendums passed, and the public approved increases in property taxes to fund public schools. This is something we have seen repeatedly during Walker’s tenure as governor. More school districts are forced to use referendums to raise the necessary funds to keep their schools running. In fact, there was a 10-year high of 150 school funding referendums in 2016. This budget is another example of Walker shifting the costs of public education onto the teachers, public state workers, and working middle class of Wisconsin.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Revolution is Already Digital

The digital revolution has given citizens and politicians powerful new tools. While both ends of the political spectrum have made good use of these tools at the grassroots level, the 2016 presidential election revealed that, when it comes to electoral politics, the Trump campaign used these tools much more effectively than the the Democratic Party. In the fight to reverse the political tide progressives will have to embrace 21st century tools including digital advertising, data analysis, and message targeting.

Few would dispute that the digital revolution of the past 20 years has had a profound impact on politics and political action. The internet has empowered citizens by giving them access to information unfiltered by traditional media companies, while the rise of social media has enabled people with common concerns to find one another, connect, and organize more easily than ever before.

Activists across the political spectrum and around the world have made good use of these tools – from organizing flash protests to using cell phone cameras and live feeds to challenge the “official story” to Anonymous’ efforts to punish corporate/government conduct they find unacceptable through hacktivism. Political parties and candidates have also succeeded to varying degrees in using digital platforms and the wealth of data now available on potential voters to get their message out where it will have the greatest impact. Unfortunately, Republicans have a substantial lead on Democrats in the race to win digital hearts and minds.

In the 2016 election, the Trump campaign spent more heavily on digital marketing than the Clinton campaign while spending far less on TV and radio ads. The chart below shows figures reported by Fortune for each campaign’s ad spending in the final weeks of the election (the week starting Oct. 20). A similar spending gap on traditional broadcast channels existed throughout the campaign, with Clinton spending roughly three times as much as Trump on TV and radio spots prior to Oct. 20.

Why does it matter whether a candidate emphasizes online advertising or traditional broadcast media? Because broadcast advertising requires messages targeted at a broad audience. In practice this can mean bland, “safe” messaging to avoid offending one group of voters while trying to appeal to another.

Digital advertising is a very different game. A campaign ad touting the candidate’s position on immigration, for example, can be displayed only to people who do a Google search on “immigration reform” or who “like” the Facebook page of the pro-immigrant Immigrant Defense Project. Similarly, digital advertising can target people whose online behavior suggests an interest in reproductive rights with messages pertinent to those concerns.

The Trump campaign notoriously used these techniques to target attack ads and fake news to groups most susceptible to their influence. But, targeted online communication is simply a tool that, like all tools, can be used for good or ill. Nothing prevents an honest candidate from using this same tool to target positive, accurate information to the places and people where it will have the greatest impact.

Moreover, digital advertising is much cheaper than broadcast advertising. This makes it more practical for third-party candidates and other less well-funded campaigns. The relatively low cost of online advertising might also provide the Democratic Party with a way to shed its reliance on corporate money and allow it to take more progressive positions. Some candidates are reluctant to go against the interests of major corporate donors because they believe that they need the kind of money only those donors can supply to win. And they believe this in large part because they are clinging to an outdated campaign model that relies almost entirely on expensive and increasingly ineffective broadcast advertising.

RTT Update 06-13-2017

This week we met with Zach Madden from Rep. Lisa Subeck’s office to discuss the “Housing First” package and the Constitutional Convention.

Question: Is there any benefit to being in the gallery tomorrow when they vote on joining the Constitutional Convention?

Zach: There is not a legislative benefit. However, it does show the press and public that people are opposed to this idea. Showing up would demonstrate that people don’t believe this is the right way to do this.

Question: The Republicans have also recently created bills related to homelessness – how are the ones introduced by Subeck in the “Housing First” package different?

Zach: Subeck is concerned that the bills in the Assembly (AB 234,235, 236, 237) are a ‘rearranging the deck chairs’, so to speak, instead of a solid solution. It’s good to prioritize the chronically homeless and addressing homelessness is always good. However, we need to put resources towards training and long-term housing.

Question: What can we do to support these bills?

Zach: Push the chairs of the committees to have a public hearing. These bills will be in the Committee on Housing and Real Estate and Committee on Public Benefit Reform.

Question: What is the current status of the Wisconsin gerrymandering case?

Zach: We might know the Supreme Court’s decision as early as next week. If they uphold the lower court’s decision, I’m not sure what will happen. Republicans could have new maps drawn already – not much is known. Any new maps would go through the legislature and then get a signature from the governor. Rep. Subeck did cosponsor and help author Assembly Bill 44 (AB44) that would help end gerrymandering in Wisconsin by putting the redistricting process in the hands of a non-partisan board.

Question: Where is the best place to visit to know what Rep. Subeck is working on?

Zach: We have a weekly newsletter that you can sign up for. We also have a website with up to date newsletters and press releases. If you want to have a more in-depth view, you can use the legislative notification service. It’s free to sign up and you can receive relevant emails regarding a specific issue or committee.

Question: Is Rep. Subeck in favor of the Health Care Protection Package introduced by Sen. Erpenbach and others?

Zach: She has signed onto the Health Care Protection Package.

Question: What is Rep. Subeck currently working on?

Zach: She introduced a package of bills on June 2nd which is gun violence prevention day. Gun safety is an important issue for her and this package includes common sense bills related to gun safety. For example, one bill would require you to file a report if your gun is lost or stolen. Another bill states that a trigger lock or a safe must be part of the sale or transfer of a gun. This can be seen as an addition to an existing bipartisan bill where people would receive a tax credit for a gun safe. The last two bills would require gun owners to keep their guns locked up when not in use if they lived with a felon or a minor.

Legislative Notification Service:

Housing First package:

Republican Homelessness Package:

Safe Storage for Gun Safety Package:

Lordy, I Hope there are Tapes

We are living in surreal times, where truth is treated as a variable and negotiable commodity. The D is unable to distinguish between what he believes (and wishes) to be true, and what is factually and historically accurate.  Unfortunately, his version of the truth is given credence by the gravitas of his position and by sheer hubris.  Our communication landscape is shifting:  He that dominates the conversation tends to be most effective, regardless of logic or facts.

I recently read an excellent  VOX Post that posits that the problem is NOT that Trump is lying (although he is), but that he is crowding out the truth by dominating and driving the conversation.   The article explains that liars try to replace the truth, which is hard; whereas bullshitters have the easier task of drawing so much attention to themselves that the truth becomes a backstory.  The media is forced to focus on the bullshit, and the truth is drowned out.  

This rings true and is dismaying for those of us that grew up with a certain sense of fairness and justice; that working hard, doing your homework, and being ‘right’ matters.  Today, the bullies are in control, and we seem to have shifted to a new level of intellectual laziness from which we may never recover.  We hear and heed the loudest and most belligerent voices – voices that drown out those of the more well-informed nerds, scientists, and rule-followers – who have done their homework and anchor their arguments to facts.

This shift of attention from facts to belligerent bullshit is particularly detrimental and disenfranchising to women.  It is virtually impossible for a woman to be assertive, let alone dominate a conversation, without being shut down and/or tagged with any one of the many derogatory labels we have for strong women (relatively kind examples are ‘bossy’, ‘nasty’ or ‘unlikable’).   Nevertheless, we persist.

Most schools have a no-tolerance approach to bullying, but those policies aren’t effective if the principal is the biggest bully on campus.  It begs the question: How do we wrestle the microphone away from the bully-in-chief?

Even if the White House DOES turn over tapes of The D’s conversations in the Oval Office, and even if those tapes paint him as a huge liar, will it matter?  Lordy, I hope so.


Courtesy of http://paula-ponders.com. Paula is a local member and contributor to Indivisible Madison.

Featured image by Joe Haupt is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

RTT Update 06-06-2017

This week we met with Dane Varese and Melanie Conklin from Rep. Mark Pocan’s office to discuss healthcare.

Question: What is the timeline of the AHCA(Trumpcare) now that it has moved out of the House?

Dane: In the Senate, they are held to the congressional calendar, so it could drag out. Especially as the election season approaches in 2018 and more senators are out running for reelection. Typically, less legislative action happens as they campaign. Unfortunately, once the bill leaves the House we tend to lose focus on it a little. But, we have heard that they are hoping to have a framework done within the week.

Question: If the Senate passes this new healthcare bill, will it have to go back through the House?

Dane: Yes. It is anticipated that there will be enough significant changes that it will need the House’s re-approval. Most likely this will include the full house, not just a committee, but we can’t know for sure this far out. But the House version of this bill is likely dead in the water.

Melanie: What would make it work in the Senate will likely kill it in the House and vise-versa. There may be some movement of the bill back and forth.

Dane: The current presidency creates a lot of headlines, but not a lot of movement. Nothing is likely to happen in the next week or so. The future is uncertain with the investigation into Russian interference in the election – this has been a huge weight on the legislature.

Question: What happens to the marketplace if the AHCA is not passed and nothing is done with the ACA?

Dane: If they can’t get something through, they might just find a way to make the ACA not work just enough so that it fails. Nobody is saying that the ACA is perfect; but, if your car has a flat tire you don’t go out and get a new car.

Question: Is there anything Republicans and Democrats agree on in Wisconsin? Is there an issue or issues that we could push where there is common ground?

Melanie: Broadband.
Dane: There is also some consensus on support of Pell Grants and Perkins loans.

Question: We are from Dane county. How can we be effective? When I call in to certain politician’s offices, I feel like I am written off when they hear that I am from Madison since this is a liberal area.

Dane: Ron Johnson is still your senator, so calling him is always a good idea. There are other ways to be visible and still respectful too. The Speaker of the House is near us, so you could try to be respectful but visible regarding an issue he is connected to. If you do something visible, be sure to take pictures or have the news there or it basically didn’t happen. But the Speaker does represent more than just his district since he is the Speaker. Calling the Washington office would be better though since you do not live in his district.

Melanie: Also, keep calling. It doesn’t matter if we agree with you or not, we do tally what you say or record your stories. A big part of the reason the first draft of the AHCA failed was due to people calling with their stories – positive and negative. The tallies and the stories that we record are very effective messaging. So please keep calling.

Melanie also shared the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s statement on the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Representative Pocan was recently named the co-chair of this caucus. The links to the document she provided is included below. We also dropped off a letter written by Derek at Governor Walker’s office urging him to continue supporting the Paris Agreement at a state level.

The Healthcare Cost Equation

A lot of the debate about healthcare reform is coming from the consumer side: who’s going to lose coverage, who’s paying more than they can afford, who’s going to be paying more than they can afford?

Consumer-side reforms are all destined to be trade-offs because consumers themselves don’t have enough capitalist leverage to drive down healthcare costs. Partly, because the demand for healthcare isn’t optional, and partly because insurance insulates consumers from the actual costs as much as possible.

To figure out how to stop rising premiums, we need to look at the full equation:

supplies + services + overhead

= patient payments + government payments + hospital losses


To oversimplify, you could view healthcare costs as these things:


This would include prescriptions, which is one area where costs continue to rise, even relative to the production cost of the drugs. There are also issues of drug waste and over-prescribing.


Medical treatment also requires personal attention and expertise. There are guidelines for how something like a physician visit should be billed to the insurance company based on how long the doctor spent with you, how many conditions you’re being treated for, and what preventative evaluations the doctor performed.

But there’s some wiggle room when it comes to self-reporting how thoroughly the doctor examined you, and what the doctor charges for their visits. It might depend on how valuable their expertise is, or what magnitude of debt they’re struggling to pay off.


Lastly, there is a portion of the money paid into the system that insurance companies simply pocket. In part to stay afloat and keep their cash reserves large enough to weather a storm (like a threatened marketplace), and in part because they can.

Funding Sources


That’s you! You pay into the system via premiums, deductibles, copays, and any other out-of-pocket expenses. Wages on average have not been growing very rapidly in recent years, at least not keeping pace with the average premium increases. So this source of funding is becoming less sustainable, and both parties seem to recognize that.


Medicare and Medicaid are the big ones, followed by the VA, but there are a ton of state and federal programs that fill particular niches. Plus there are the marketplace subsidies available nationwide under the ACA.

This funding also ultimately comes from you, but there are two important differences between government funding and direct patient funding.

  1. It doesn’t disproportionately hit the very people who are struggling with chronic conditions.
  2. These costs are growing at a consistent rate nationwide, not disproportionately affecting certain states and counties.

Hospitals Themselves

In the case of HMOs, this is hospitals paying themselves and investing in the success of their patient population. Hospitals also frequently foot the bill when the patient cannot — something that happened far more often when there were more people uninsured and lifetime caps on coverage.

Hospitals afford to add funding to the system via charitable foundations, or by increasing the prices of their services and supplies.

Stepping on the seesaw


The Affordable Care Act rebalanced this equation in a number of ways. For many people, it reduced the patient’s share by supplementing it with government funds. It also reduced hospitals’ net losses and reduced insurers’ potential take-home profits.

It also included reforms aimed at healthcare providers’ service costs. These reforms started by requiring doctors to report what they do for their patients more granularly. The ultimate goal was that once doctors across the country were in the practice of doing this, this reporting could be tied to payment and decrease costs. If the ACA is repealed at this point, it would be too soon to realize the savings of this reform.

AHCA (House Version)

This would rebalance a lot of the burden back to patients, both by increasing premiums, and by forcing millions of people off insurance entirely. Insurers would be free to take home a larger portion of the pie. The government would contribute less.

Dealing with a larger uninsured population, hospitals would end up footing more catastrophic hospital bills. Hospitals would have to raise prices to stay afloat. The AHCA would do nothing to curb the rising costs of prescriptions or physician services.

AHCA (Senate Version)

At the time of writing, there is no consistent information on what the Senate version of the bill will include, no bill text, or CBO score. But members of the group writing it have said that it will include about 80% of the bad ideas from the House version of the bill, which only 21% of the public approved of.


Bernie Sanders has a Medicare For All plan. That type of program would shift healthcare further towards reimbursement via the government. His plan includes restructuring of the tax code to ensure that no one is burdened disproportionately to their means. But as far as I can tell, there isn’t a submitted bill number or a CBO score, so we don’t have a full picture of this plan’s expected impact.

Claire McCaskill has a plan to allow people in areas underserved by the insurance market to buy from the DC exchange where federal employees buy their coverage. This wouldn’t radically rebalance the system, but it would alleviate a current problem under the ACA.

Lastly, Tammy Baldwin has cosponsored Al Franken’s bill S771, which aims to reduce prescription costs. Click through for Senator Baldwin’s summary of its provisions. Addressing the supply-side costs of the healthcare system is an important, necessary step to curb the rising costs of healthcare overall, including the burden that falls on American consumers.


Courtesy of https://medium.com/@IndivisibleMad.  Nicholas Davies is a local member of, and regular contributor to, Indivisible Madison.