A Lesson In Compassion (From Within A “Family Values” State)

Nothing says the dignity of humanity; nothing says kindness; nothing says how a high level of public religiosity makes for a better society than literally ripping  food out of hungry kids hands, and, in front of them, throwing it away:

Up to 40 kids at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City picked up their lunches Tuesday, then watched as the meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their accounts — a move that shocked and angered parents.


“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter had her cafeteria lunch taken from her as she stood in line Tuesday at Uintah Elementary School, 1571 E. 1300 South.

Eleven years old!

I’m a dad, as y’all probably know.  My kid is 13 now.  He’s a total pain in the ass about food right now — won’t touch most stuff, including his school’s cafeteria fare.  He takes food from home and we top him up when he gets home.  But he used to get some stuff there.  I remember topping up his account once or twice when I dropped him off — we’d either crossed over into the red or come too close to it.  No one at his school would have dreamed of grabbing his bagel; we’d get a note asking for another five bucks for the system.  That’s how you do it.

If anyone had stopped my son in the middle of the cafeteria line, grabbed his tray and dumped his lunch?

I can’t imagine what I’d have done and said.  I can imagine what that experience would do to my child — to any kid.  Public poor-shaming –turning some little kid, with no power, no agency, no ability to defend or deflect or do anything, into nothing more than your prop in some twisted morality play about the undeserving proles.  I’m sorry about the run-on there. The rage and refracted sorrow/sympathy for the chidren some asshole(s) decided it was OK to hurt just overwhelms my ability to calm down my syntax.  But you get the point:  this  is no way to teach an 11 year old anything.  Or rather it’s just the right way to learn both that child and all her or his peers how to be the worst we can be.

One more thing:  I’m slamming on Utah in the headline, because I’m sick of sitting here in godless Massachusetts listening to folks from the religiousist corners of our country tell us how we all need to emulate the values in which such places are alledgedly rich.

But I take this personally too.  This isn’t just Utah.  An action like this is the logical endpoint of a culture that frames all things as the battle of the individual against society.  I like living in a social setting.  I think the genius of American democracy in the abstract is that it provides a once-novel way of mediating between levels of association from village on up and the individual.  So when  I hear the words “American exceptionalism,  I’d like them to have some other meaning than that we are exceptional in our capacity to be cruel to hungry children.

Image: Max Liebermann, Kindervolksküche, 1915

Health outcomes over health outlays

The Hill reports on a proposal that is floating in Congress to change Medicare payment methodologies that has an unusual and perhaps effective set of sponsors behind it:

New legislation from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) would attempt to improve care for chronically ill seniors by revamping how their providers are paid.

Under the bill, voluntary “Better Care” plans and practices would specialize in treating patients with multiple chronic conditions. In return, they would receive specially tailored payments that reward good outcomes.

AARP backed the legislation in a statement, noting that 75 percent of healthcare dollars are spent on chronic disease.

“It is important to better coordinate and improve the quality of care for these individuals … rather than to just ask individuals to continue to pay more for their healthcare,” said AARP Legislative Policy Director David Certner in a statement.

The proposal seems to be a low strings attached capitation model with risk adjustments based on member age and pre-exisiting health conditions.  The AP has some more details: Read more

Moral Mondays and now Truth and Justice Tuesdays

A reader sent me this:

The Moral Monday movement to protest changes in North Carolina public policy that organizers believe are extreme and hurt the state won’t abate in 2014 and will spread to other states, its leader said. Activists from a dozen states attended a meeting in Raleigh earlier this month to learn how to hold similar protests in their states.

“There is no stopping this deep, moral, constitutional critique of public policy,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, which began the protests. “It is a must.”

Among those attending the meeting in Raleigh was Democratic state Sen. Hank Sanders of Alabama, where groups were already holding Truth and Justice Tuesdays based on Moral Mondays. Georgia also plans to demonstrate against laws there.

More than 930 people, including Barber, were arrested during the 2013 legislative session as part of the protests as they moved weekly from the outdoors into the Legislative Building. After the session ended, the NAACP held events across the state, including Asheville, where an estimated 10,000 people showed up. Barber, who was convicted of two counts related to the protest earlier this month, is appealing the District Court judge’s decision.

The protests will continue next year starting with a planned march in downtown Raleigh on Feb. 8 and continuing when the North Carolina General Assembly goes back into session next May 14, Barber said.

The Moral Mondays protests will spread to Atlanta when the legislative session opens in Georgia on Jan. 13, said Tim Franzen, Atlanta economic justice program director for the American Friends Service Committee. “A lot of us are looking at it as a Southern strategy, the kind of Southern strategy that hasn’t existed in many decades,” said Franzen, who also attended the December session in North Carolina.

Art Pope is a conservative activist and wealthy donor who was appointed to a state position in North Carolina. Here’s a great piece from 2011 by Jane Mayer titled “State For Sale”. The state that was sold in 2012 is North Carolina. Art Pope bought it.

Since so many of the Moral Monday citizens were arrested there were public records of the arrests and (one of) Pope’s conservative lobbying groups used those records to create a site to smear the protesters. You can look through that site here. Mr. Pope’s employees had a lot of fun posting the mugshots of their fellow citizens on the smear site.

I’m grateful to the protestors but I’m also grateful to Art Pope for creating and funding such a handy site where these brave folks are all listed in one place.

Jumping thru hoops to vote shows grit and determination

Republicans must be feeling some pre-election jitters because they’re rolling out the zany rule changes:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) chief election official issued new rules Monday night that could hamper absentee voting, just months before Floridians in the state’s 13th Congressional district take part in a special election to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R). The seat was held by Republicans for decades, but is now considered a tossup.
Under the new rule, Floridians will be prohibited from dropping off their absentee ballots at “libraries, tax collectors’ branch offices and other places” and will only be allowed to mail-in their selections or deposit them at local election offices.
Detzner claims that the rule change clarifies established statutory language and establishes “uniformity,” but some supervisors fear that it could have the effect of suppressing voter turnout.
“I was surprised, to say the least,” Ann McFall, Volusia’s Supervisor of Elections told ThinkProgress. “I just have one office and no ‘drop boxes.” Under the new rules, “people who like to save postage and drop it off at an early voting site” could no longer do so. “Why create a problem when none currently exists?” she asked.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark had a similar reaction. She told The Tampa Bay Times, “I’m very worried about this. I’m just stunned.” Pinellas county “has used dropoff sites since 2008 and used 14 in the 2012 general election,” when 42 percent of the county’s absentee ballot total were left at dropoff sites.

Now one of the county election administrators says she’s defying the order and she plans to retain her drop-off sites and a lot of her fellow county election chiefs are backing her up. Florida Senator Bill Nelson has also weighed in:

Nelson said he’s concerned that the new rule is an attempt at voter suppression.
“This is so obvious that it’s making it harder to vote for the average folks, whether Republican or Democrat,” he said.
Some elections supervisors agree.
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said he has 15 sites where voters can drop off their ballots prior to election day. If he were to follow the new directive, 13 of them would be closed.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Latimer said. “I was flabbergasted when this memo came out.”

Conservatives have been pulling the last minute election rule change trick for a long time, and this isn’t the first time that local Florida election administrators have rebelled:

Detzner has a history of limiting voters’ access, however. In 2012, the state created a voter purge list full of suspected non-citizens, which was mainly comprised of Latino, African and Asian Americans. The list was full of mistakes, targeting U.S. citizens because of a misspelled name or outdated address. County election supervisors refused to go along with the purge, and the Justice Department sued over possible racial discrimination. Detzner eventually apologized for the effort.

It’s good to remember that free and fair elections can be subverted in a lot of ways. Small rule changes that make it more difficult for certain people to vote can do a lot of damage. It’s just completely unnecessary to make this process so difficult and confusing. Competent, consistent election administration is really important and local officials can be the last line of defense for voters. Of course, local officials are also the people who will hear all the complaints if ballot drop-off locations are closed, just as local officials took all the heat when Florida conservatives recklessly purged thousands of legit voters prior to the 2012 election.

Now come the young ones

In August, the League of Women Voters sued North Carolina on that state’s new voter suppression law:

On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed the most suppressive voting law in decades. The League of Women Voters of North Carolina (LWVNC) went straight to action, filing a federal lawsuit to challenge the voting restrictions as racially discriminatory and request that the state be placed back into preclearance under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
North Carolina’s new voting law is likely a bellwether of anti-voter legislation to come in other states following the Supreme Court’s decision this past June striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. While much focus has been given to the law’s voter photo ID requirements, its voter restrictions unfortunately go much deeper.
In addition to requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote, the law:
• Shortens weekday early voting periods;
• Eliminates early voting on Sundays;
• Eliminates pre-registration for high school students;
• Eliminates same day registration during early voting.
LWVNC’s lawsuit, which was filed by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the ACLU on behalf of LWVNC, Common Cause and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, argues that the state’s new voting law will restrict voter registration and voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, particularly minorities.

“North Carolina has a long and sad history of official discrimination against African Americans, including official discrimination in voting that has touched upon the right of African Americans and other people of color to register, vote, or otherwise participate in the democratic process,” LWVNC’s lawsuit argues.

Over 70 percent of African-Americans used early voting in the 2008 and 2012 general elections, compared to 52 percent of white voters. The lawsuit is just one part of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina’s vow to do everything in its power “to see that this legislation gets swept into the dustbin of history where it belongs.

This is a motion to intervene in that original League of Women Voters lawsuit, brought by young voters, yesterday (pdf). “VIVA” is the Voter Information Verification Act which is the title of the North Carolina law. Louis M. Duke is one of the young plaintiffs, which is why they are called the “Duke Plaintiffs” in the motion:

The Duke Plaintiffs, all young voters residing in and registered to vote in North Carolina, seek to intervene in this action to protect their voting rights and interests that are guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Like the current plaintiffs, the Duke Plaintiffs assert that the law violates their right to equal protection as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. But as young voters, the Duke Plaintiffs bring the unique perspective of a group, not currently represented by any party to the litigation, whose voting rights are significantly impacted by VIVA…

VIVA infringes upon or outright denies the rights of young North Carolinians to vote through restrictive voter identification requirements; the curtailment of early or “one stop” voting; the elimination of same day registration; the elimination of out-of-precinct voting; the removal of the discretion of boards of election to keep polling locations open for an extra hour on Election Day; and the elimination of pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds. These drastic changes in North Carolina’s voting laws disproportionality affect young voters as compared to the general population.

Accordingly, in addition to claiming a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Duke Plaintiffs allege injury under the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits states intentionally infringing or denying “the right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote on account of age”

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.