Today's Fair Shots - July 13th, 2017

1-Insurance Industry to Cruz: Don't Do Us Any Favors on Health Care

2-Are Reports of the Death of E-Mail Greatly Exaggerated?

3-Trumka Asks Senate to Delve Deeply Into Trump's NLRB Nominees

4-Texas AFT Notes Pre-Filed Education Bills for Special Session

5-Save Date for Texas AFL-CIO Golf Tourney


1) The insurance industry blasted U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's amendment to the TrumpCare proposal that would let them write cheap policies for the healthy, thereby forcing up the price of policies to those who need broader coverage, Forbes reports.

  Meanwhile, U.S. Senate Republican leaders continued to fit a new tuxedo on the pig that is TrumpCare, and that is an insult to pigs everywhere. The latest attempt to unveil the porcine masterpiece that will fly and deliver untold tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans is set for Thursday.

  Some senators on the GOP side are already signaling that the new proposal offers nothing but cosmetic changes. With TrumpCare scoring near Davy Jones Locker numbers in the polls, with a coalition of opposition so broad that it finds the AFL-CIO and the insurance industry on the same side, with lawmakers having jumped ship on both the right and the middle of the GOP, and with a White House that has been Putinized by scandal in record time, what bizarre development on the health care debate comes next?:

  The nation's largest health insurance companies blasted a health reform proposal by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to exempt health policies from consumer protections and allow for the sale of cheaper policies with skimpier benefits.

  Insurers through their lobbies released a multi-pronged attack on an amendment by Cruz to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would roll back the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion and increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million. Cruz's amendment to the BCRA, also known as Trumpcare, would strip protections from Americans who currently buy subsidized individual policies under the ACA in hopes of lowering prices.

  Cruz's amendment, these insurers say, would allow health plans to "sell non-compliant plans if the health insurer offered at least one plan" on a state's public exchange, or marketplace.

  But insurers say such  "non-compliant policies would be exempt from consumer protections" like guaranteed access to coverage, community rating, "the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions and the requirement to offer comprehensive benefits with appropriate limits on patient cost-sharing," America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) said in a memo released Wednesday. AHIP represents the nation's largest health insurance companies including Anthem ANTM +0.83%, Centene CNC +0.66%, Oscar Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that offer individual coverage on the ACA's public exchanges.

  The worry of insurers is that Cruz wants to create a separate system for only sick patients that would buy Obamacare  policies in one risk pool with another pool that would offer cheaper plans only purchased by healthy Americans. That, insurers say, would be a disaster and destabilize insurance markets.

  "Stable and well-functioning insurance markets require broad-based enrollment and a stable regulatory environment that facilitates fair competition and a level playing field," America's Health Insurance Plans said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, this proposal would fracture and segment insurance markets into separate risk pools and create an un-level playing field that would lead to widespread adverse selection and unstable health insurance markets."

  Another health insurance lobby, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, described the "Consumer Freedom Option" pushed by Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah as "unworkable," creating "two sets of rules." The Cruz amendment would "undermine preexisting condition protections, increase premiums and destabilize the market," Blue Cross Blue Shield Association CEO Scott Serota wrote in a Wednesday letter to Cruz and Lee.

  The Blue Cross association represents some of the nation's largest health plans, including Health Care Service Corp., which sells Obamacare policies in five states including Cruz's home state of Texas.

  "If plans entering the market are not subject to guaranteed issue requirements and could engage in denials for preexisting conditions, offer limited benefit designs and narrow networks, they would attract only healthy people from the existing market," Serota wrote. "This would make coverage unaffordable for those that remain and who may need more robust coverage because of their preexisting medical conditions. The result would be higher premiums, increased federal tax credit costs for coverage available on exchanges, and insurers exiting the market or pricing coverage out of reach of consumers."

  Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2017/07/12/insurers-rip-ted-cruzs-trumpcare-amendment/#5a1ac9282825

2) The unfolding evidence, courtesy of Donald Trump Jr., that there absolutely, really, truly is a Russia election scandal provides an opportunity for meta-discussion of the role of e-mail in communications. Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times reports today that the Trump Jr.'s decision to simply hand over the smoking gun that investigative reporters have been digging for over many months may mark the beginning of the end for e-mail as an official source of communication.

  For what it's worth, some Texas politicians realized early that an e-mail is for all intents and purposes a public statement. George W. Bush's White House claimed to have lost five million e-mails in 2007, but it was rare for him to provide much of anything on electronic media that hadn't been vetted. Gov. Rick Perry and others established protocols for deleting e-mails on a regular basis. Perry's office erased his e-mails every seven days, though that practice was occasionally altered when the temperature rose because of media coverage. 

  This daily e-mail has operated, with pauses only for time off, since late 1998, when it occurred to us that the medium could potentially reach a decent number of plugged-in union activists, with virtually no marginal cost for each person added. It began after I did a communications workshop in Dallas overseen by Brother Gene Lantz. Someone asked about the hurdles to getting a decent visual format for publication and my response was that staying in regular touch with reliable information that people can use was more important than what the newsletter looks like. If someone wanted to get started, I suggested, they could simply send a numbered list of items with no formatting and leave it at that.

  I took my own advice, but didn't realize at the time that a lack of formatting was paradoxically a kind of formatting in and of itself. As for incriminating ourselves, so long as we are putting out a newsletter that advocates for working families, we don't care who sees it.

  By the way, I love the discussion of "asynchronicity" in this column, as if it were an innovation of e-mail. The coin of historians for centuries has been written letters. They still work (and provide jobs for our union Brothers and Sisters in the U.S. Postal Service). The state labor federation still sends out quite a few letters, often of the thank-you variety, but sometimes for the purpose of advocating our positions to officeholders. Letters remain the gold standard for "asynchronicity." They give the sender and receiver the sole authority to govern privacy. Unlike e-mail, they are interception-proof while in the hands of USPS.

  Can it really be that e-mail is dying? Maybe. Is the medium the message (or the massage), as suggested in my childhood by Marshall McLuhan? At least to some extent, I suppose. This e-mail appears in a slightly revised form on our Facebook page each day and is adaptable to other media. Whatever the format, labor's message has fit in its package long before the ballpoint pen and will continue to do as the form of the conversation changes:

  Precisely because it's inescapable, insecure and irresistibly convenient, email provides an almost uncomfortably intimate view into the historical record. It preserves time, location and state of mind, the what-when-where-and-who of every story we might want to dig up. The last two decades, email's high-water era, have thus been a bounty for anyone wishing to understand exactly what was happening in the inner circles of powerful organizations - for journalists, historians and prosecutors of white-collar crime, among others.

  If common sense prevails, Mr. Trump's email thread may serve as the final nail in the coffin of email as the universal office communicator. People in business and politics are already moving on to other methods, from cloud-based business tools like Slack to apps like Signal, which promise the discretion of a spymaster. These tools allow for auto-deletion and encryption; they're not perfectly secret (nothing is), but they're a fortress compared with email.

  Yet we should mourn email's death as much as we celebrate it; every organization's gain in privacy is bound to result in a loss of public transparency.

  The Trump emails show exactly why. Both Mr. Trump and Rob Goldstone, an entertainment publicist who had a relationship with the Trump Organization, understood the sensitivity of their conversation. Mr. Goldstone actually noted the sensitivity a couple of times in the email thread.

  One of email's best tricks is asynchronicity - you can send an email even if your recipient is away, unlike a phone call. But in this instance both parties appeared available to talk in real time; several of the missives were sent within minutes of each other. And not only that, they often both used iPhones. (Brace yourself: Mr. Goldstone's mobile email signature, "This iPhone speaks many languages," is destined to become an unbearable meme.)

  Read more: http://nyti.ms/2ufLafD

3) AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka today called on the U.S. Senate to delve deeply into the records of two of President Trump's nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. Trumka said the backgrounds of the nominees suggest they will slant the rules against working people's attempt to speak up together for a better deal on the job:

  President Trump has chosen two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board whose track records raise serious concerns about their commitment to the rights and protections guaranteed by our labor laws and enforced by the NLRB. Marvin Kaplan has never practiced labor law, and his experience comes from crafting legislation for politicians to rig the rules against working people. William Emanuel has a long record of practicing labor law on behalf of employers, most recently at one of the most infamous union-busting law firms in the country. On their face, the résumés of both nominees appear to be in direct conflict with the mission of the NLRB.

  The decisions and actions of the NLRB have real consequences for working people. A fair and functioning NLRB can protect the freedom of working people to negotiate a fair return on our work so we can provide for our families. A partisan, ideologically driven NLRB can further empower corporations and CEOs to take away our freedoms at work. For these reasons, it is critical that senators closely scrutinize both nominees and ask the tough questions that will root out possible conflicts of interest and show whether they have the experience, temperament and fairness required of nominees to these important jobs. The stakes for working families are too high for them not to.

4) Texas AFT posted an analysis of education bills filed so far. Several of them appear to be free of poison pills:

  Bills Pre-Filed for July 18 Special Session:  Good, Bad, Ugly

  State lawmakers have been quick to take Gov. Greg Abbott up on his invitation yesterday to start filing bills for the special session he has called for July 18. Only a couple of the pre-filed bills relate to the one must-pass item formally placed on the Legislature's agenda by Abbott thus far:  extension of the "sunset" expiration date for the Texas Medical Board and a handful of other professional licensing boards. Many of the other bills pre-filed so far relate to the rest of Abbott's wish list, which he only tentatively announced on Monday in what he called a "draft" of a "supplemental call." Here are some of the good, bad, and ugly pre-filed bills we will be keeping an eye on:

  Good bills on pay and benefits:  While the governor's "supplemental call" speaks of increasing "average salary and benefits of Texas teachers" and a "more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers," we have yet to see any pre-filed bill reflecting the governor's approach. Abbott has announced that Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) will introduce the promised legislation. Meanwhile several legislators already have filed bills that would go further than the governor apparently wishes, actually providing across-the-board increases in teacher pay and health and pension benefits.

  Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) filed HB 64 and HB 65 to increase every teacher's pay $1,000 using either the Rainy Day Fund or state general revenue. Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) filed HB 79, another $1,000 pay-raise bill that would ensure the state-funded raise is in addition to, not instead of, what districts already have committed themselves to pay under their local salary schedules. Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) takes the same approach as Rep. Darby in his SB 30 and SB 32.

  Darby also has filed two other worthwhile bills that respond to a groundswell of concern that recent legislative action to cut health benefits-and ongoing inaction on pension benefits-have hit retired school employees hard.   Darby's HB 76 would put another $50 million a year in state funding into retiree health benefits under the TRS-Care program, reducing the increased costs facing many retirees next January. Darby's HB 80 would provide further help by giving retirees a one-time, 3-percent cost-of-living increase in their pensions (capped at $100 a month).

  Good bill on school finance: HJR 18 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) would establish a requirement in the state constitution for the state to pay at least 50 percent of the cost of maintaining and operating the public schools. Putting that target in the constitution, with voter approval, would compel the state to reverse a shift in recent years toward ever-greater reliance on local property taxes to fund the schools. Current estimates are that the state's share has fallen to 37 percent or thereabouts, putting intense pressure on property-tax payers at the local level to make up for the state's dereliction.

  Bad bills on vouchers: Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) has filed two bills to carry out the governor's desire for private-school vouchers that would send scarce taxpayer dollars to private schools for students with disabilities-with no public accountability. Simmons' voucher bills are HB 52 and HB 58. Similar proposals were repeatedly voted down by supermajorities in the Texas House in the regular session that ended May 29.

  Ugly bills to promote discrimination:  Rep. Simmons also is carrying Gov. Abbott's proposal to override local anti-discrimination policies as they relate to the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals. Transgender schoolchildren would be affected especially by Simmons' HB 50, overriding local school districts' decision-making on this sensitive topic. Students also would be affected by a broader version of the proposal, affecting all political subdivisions, embodied in Simmons' HB 46.        

5) Save the date: The 14th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Walter Umphrey Golf Tournament will take place Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, at the Crystal Falls Golf Course in Leander.

  Register at www.texasaflcio.org/golf

  The tournament has proven to be a fine occasion for union Brothers and Sisters and allies to play golf, enjoy the weather (except for that year it was 114 degrees on the golf course) and build relationships in a casual atmosphere. In one case, the tournament even proved to be a money-maker for a golfer who nailed a hole-in-one for $10,000. 

  You don't have to be a golfer to participate. You can play, you can sponsor or you can volunteer. If you have questions, call (512-477-6195) or e-mail Joe Arabie (joe@texasaflcio.org) or Vivian Willis (vivian@texasaflcio.org). If you want the brochure, send me a reply.