New America Media

Rev. William Barber: 'Voter Suppression Hacked Our Democracy'

Although alleged Kremlin connections may ultimately sink Trump's Presidency, Rev. William Barber II contends that homegrown voter suppression poses a greater threat to US democracy than Russian election tampering.

"Voter suppression hacked our democracy long before any Russian agents meddled in America's elections," said Barber, who has gained national interest through his vocal opposition to restrictive voting laws.

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Trump and the GOP's Relentless Assault on Immigrants Could Come Back to Haunt Them

Immigrant rights advocates say that despite the cloud of fear hanging over communities in the first 100 days of the Trump administration, there is also a growing and increasingly organized resistance. 

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people apprehended for removal,” Melissa Chua, immigration director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told reporters on a national press call organized by New America Media and Ready California. “It’s not just growing infrastructure [for future deportations]…we’re seeing it in reality.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 21,362 arrests from January 20 to March 13 of this year, a third more than during the same period in 2016, according to numbers requested by The Washington Post. The figures include 5,441 non-citizens with no criminal record, double the number during the same time last year.

The statistics reflect a shift in priorities from the Obama administration, which sought to prioritize certain criminals and recent arrivals for deportation. Under Trump, the deportation priorities have expanded so much that they can be used to target almost any undocumented immigrant.

Immigrant and refugee rights advocates say the effect on immigrant communities is palpable.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), described it as “one of the most horrendous periods in American history for immigrant families.”

“What we’re seeing,” explained Salas, “is just a harsher way by which DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is dealing with all matters of immigration, especially when it comes to stays of removal or requests for relief.”

Over 38 percent of the individuals detained in the Feb. 9 ICE raids in Southern California, for example, had only minor infractions, many of them from years ago, according to Salas.

“The other thing that we’re seeing,” she said, “is that they’re being harsher when it comes to individuals who had … stays of removal.

“ICE enforcement is going back and making decisions about those cases,” Salas explained. “Instead of continuing their stays of removal, they’re challenging their stays of removal, their administrative closure.”

Since taking office, Trump has signed executive orders that call for “sweeping changes on immigration,” said Chua of IRC, adding, however, that “many of these proposed changes face some real, significant hurdles.”

Some, like the construction of a border wall, can’t be implemented without funding. Others have been blocked by the courts, including the administration’s attempt to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities; and both versions of Trump’s “travel ban,” which aimed to curtail travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries and lower the number of refugees allowed admission into the United States. 

“While many of the changes proposed by the administration may threaten refugees, immigrants and their families,” said Chua, “there still exist some real barriers to implementation, offering some real avenues of hope for immigrant communities.”

Advocates say many of these signs of hope lie outside of Washington.

“The immigrant rights movement is getting more organized, more powerful,” said Salas, pointing to local and state efforts that seek to protect the rights of immigrants across the country.

“What is incredible is the many cities and schools defending immigrants,” she said.

On May 1, she noted, about 30,000 people marched in the streets of Los Angeles to defend the rights of immigrants.

“California is moving forward a different vision, a different agenda,” said Salas. The state legislature has proposed various bills that seek to defend immigrants’ rights, from Senate Bill 54 (the California Values Act), introduced by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), which would prevent state and local resources from being used to cooperate with deportations, to Senate Bill 6, by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, which would provide funding for legal services for immigrants facing deportation.

By contrast, Texas’ state legislature is moving further to the right on immigration. Texas Republicans just passed Senate Bill 4, a new law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, which threatens law enforcement with jail time if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“In the mid-90s, California looked a lot like Texas does today,” said Salas, when California voters passed Prop 187. That ballot measure helped get its supporter, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, elected. But it led to an even bigger backlash against the GOP in the state, and is largely credited with the mobilization of Latino voters who have changed the face of California politics. 

“Our community [in California] became engaged,” Salas said. 

Texas, which has the nation’s second-largest Latino population after California, could see a similar backlash. “What we’re seeing in Texas is the same kind of mobilization,” she said.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights advocates are helping their communities stay informed. 

“There are many families that are afraid,” said Adriana Guzman, immigrant outreach coordinator with Faith in Action Bay Area. “Our message to them is that there are steps they can take right now.”

Guzman said she is encouraging individuals to talk to a trusted legal services provider to see if they qualify for immigration relief, to make a family preparedness plan, including who will take care of children if something happens to their parents, and to carry the number of a trusted immigration attorney they can call in case of an emergency.

Most importantly, Guzman said, individuals should know that they have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of their immigration status. These include the right to remain silent, the right to not open the door to agents without a warrant signed by a judge, the right to speak to a lawyer and make a phone call, and to not sign anything they don’t understand or that isn’t true.

“Thousands of community outreach workers are spanning their communities, delivering Know Your Rights presentations,” said Salas of CHIRLA. From helping eligible immigrants become citizens and register to vote, to protesting in the streets and supporting legal challenges in the courts, she said, immigrant rights advocates have been able to “make a statement in these very difficult days.”

In Havana, Fear the Trump-Putin 'Bromance' Will Lead to Invasion

Cubans fear the bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin could result in a U.S. invasion of the communist island.

A day after American voters elected Donald Trump, President Raúl Castro placed the Cuban military on high alert and announced military exercises. Then, to mark the revolution’s anniversary on New Year’s Day, Cuba’s military marched through downtown Havana in a show of force.

It may appear unreasonable to most Americans that Cuba expects Trump to invade the island, yet many Cubans believe this is a possibility. 

Cubans are fearful, dreading the worse. 

“Trump’s policies are very aggressive,” Pedro Machado, a retired engineer, told Britian’s Independent. “We’ll have to see what he actually does. But it certainly looks like bad news for Latin America and for Cuba in particular.… The United States has acted as an empire, and that’s what Trump represents. Given what he has said, the future is not looking great.” 

That sentiment is widely shared. Joaquin Villanueva, who moonlights as a taxi driver in front of the Hotel Inglaterra, worries about a possible invasion: “We’ve always been told to prepare for an invasion, but with Trump it looks more likely.” 

On Monday, when Cuba commemorated the 58th anniversary of the revolution, the Cuban people were told to prepare for the worst from the incoming Trump administration. “We are braced for conflict with the USA; we always have been,” Marcial García, 70, told reporters. “But I hope Trump will instead follow the path ... towards normalization.”

It is a fear fueled both by historical precedent and paranoia.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bypassed Fidel Castro and negotiated with John F. Kennedy directly. Gilberto Bosques, the Mexican ambassador to Havana, was charged with keeping Fidel Castro in the dark while Khrushchev and Kennedy ended the crisis.

Now, Raúl Castro fears a quid pro quo will result in Trump and Putin negotiating a deal in which Cuba is sacrificed, in order to cement relations between Washington and Moscow.

The idea of invading Cuba may have a certain appeal to some of Trump’s advisers. After all, it would be a grand gesture that serves the can-do image the incoming administration is cultivating.

During the New Year’s party at Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, cocktail chatter among some guests noted that America’s military is best when it invades countries in Latin America, a person in attendance reported. Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in October 1983 was “easy,” remembered as “a lovely little war” and George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama in December 1989, named “Operation Just Cause,” is fondly remembered as a success, some guests reportedly reminisced.

Now a few advisers to Trump believe “liberating” Cuba is a “just cause” long overdue that would be a way for Trump to signal to the world that American military power is great again.

Proponents argue a military operation against Castro would truly “open up” Cuba in a way Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations has failed to do. Indeed, in the year and a half since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations, apart from U.S. airlines commencing regular service and Starwood announcing a contract to manage one hotel, nothing has been achieved. 

Cubans are exasperated. A measure of their discontent can be seen in one startling fact: the number of Cuban refugees following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. In 2014, for instance, fewer than 25,000 Cubans sought political asylum. In 2016, that number had almost doubled to more than 45,000. Critics point to this mass exodus as proof of the failure of Obama’s overtures to the island nation. And in an unthinkable act, Fidel Castro’s tomb was vandalized just over a week after El Comandante was laid to rest.

A week after Fidel Castro's funeral, his tomb was vandalized with the words, "Abajo Fidel" (Down with Fidel).

Meanwhile, the Cuban regime is lashing out at critics and opponents: more than 10,000 Cubans have been arrested by security forces since diplomatic ties were restored.

Some in Trump’s transition team see the mass exodus of Cubans, the crackdown on political dissent and the brazen acts of defiance as a signal that a swift military action can be a quick affair. There are strong domestic and foreign reasons coalescing around this idea.

Trump’s estate in Palm Beach is less than 300 miles from Havana; the White House is 860 miles away. Last week there was talk of the convergence of interests: “Liberating” Cuba would reward the Cuban exile community in South Florida whose votes put Florida in Trump’s column. It would cement Trump’s credentials among conservatives, finally delivering on a promise that has not been kept since Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion. It would ensure that the two Cuban-American senators in Washington, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, would support Trump’s agenda for years to come. And it would allow Cuban Americans, among the most educated and wealthiest Hispanic constituency in the United States, to put their capitalist skills to work in Cuba.

There are also powerful foreign policy incentives at play. Russian leader Vladimir Putin loathes Raúl Castro. Putin is still furious that Russia had to write off $32 billion in Cuban debt he inherited from Soviet Union. Trump advisers bet the Russian leader wants revenge. Why? Putin, like Trump, holds grudges and loves to dole out payback.

Putin has tolerated Raúl Castro because he had hoped to use Cuba as a listening post to spy on the United States. With Trump, an ally, in the White House, that may no longer be necessary.

More thought provoking is the hypothetical that invading Cuba could be the first Trump-Putin cooperative venture: Russia’s intimate knowledge of Cuba’s military, which it helped build over decades, could be used to expedite any invasion. Trump would get his first foreign policy win, defeating communism on America’s doorstep, opening a virgin market for American goods and rewarding those conservatives and Cuban Americans who supported him. Putin would exact revenge on a deadbeat nation he despises and he would curry Trump’s support for Russia’s own ambitions for the former Soviet republics on its borders.

Raúl Castro understands—and fears—his predicament. He is well aware of the seductive quid pro quo in the works: Putin will allow Trump’s “liberation” of Cuba and in return Trump will recognize Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

“Getting rid of Castro would be like finally swatting an annoying mosquito that has been buzzing around for far too long,” said an unnamed source close to the Trump transition team. “And if Putin wants Crimea, well, why shouldn’t he have it?”

Realpolitik comes to Washington.

Cuba: Now That Fidel is Gone What Comes Next?

New York—Fidel Castro, El Comandante of the Cuban Revolution, died Friday, November 25, three days before American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United began to resume regularly scheduled airline service between the two countries, and 17 days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in a stunning upset.

Perhaps Fidel didn’t want to live to see the changes that now threaten to undo his Revolución.

What can Cuba expect in a matter of months when Donald Trump takes office?

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” President-elect Trump tweeted on November 28, 2016.

This was more than posturing for negotiations. Before running for office, in technical violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Donald Trump, the businessman, had explored the possibility of investing in Cuba. 

Yet, there are stark realities hampering “progress” on Cuban fronts—and for both Havana and Washington.

Cuba demands the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty before anything else is negotiated—including direct foreign investment and privatization. The U.S., for its part, insists on a program to compensate American citizens and companies whose assets and properties were nationalized or seized by the revolution.

This is statement that has no resolution. And it is a stalemate further complicated by the U.S. embargo—which was amended by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 which requires that both Castro brothers be removed from office before the embargo can be lifted.

It would take an act of Congress to repeal Helms-Burton first before the embargo itself could be lifted. It would be political suicide for Raúl Castro to back away from demanding the return of Guantánamo Bay.

In March 2016, during the primaries, Donald Trump’s campaign reached out to Cuban-Americans, realizing they needed to consolidate the Cuban-American vote in South Florida in order to carry Florida in the general election.

As part of those discussions, it became clear that Trump could easily reverse Barak Obama’s opening to Cuba—which was done by executive order to circumvent a recalcitrant Congress.

What makes reversing Obama’s opening easy is the lack of progress made since July 2015, when diplomatic relations were restored. The embargo is still in place, ordinary tourism by U.S. citizens remains illegal, and there is, apart from half a dozen token deals, no progress in commercial investments.

This week, when U.S. airlines begin to fly to Cuba, they will land, refuel, and depart. The only “investment” is leasing counter space in Cuban airports. The only hotel “deal” is Starwood’s contractto manage a single hotel. Starwood neither owns the property nor has authority to hire employees; it is a minority partner with the Cuban government. The sale of American agricultural products continue under a preexisting protocol designed to unload surplus U.S. agricultural production and prevent a humanitarian crisis in Cuba.

President-elect Trump sees this lack of progress as evidence of everything that is wrong with Washington, where nothing gets done.

He promised the Cuban exile community that the status quo—where Cubans on both sides of the Straits of Florida have been waiting for Godot for six decades—will end with his “can do” administration.

The brash billionaire businessman, as part of the frustration of the “do nothing” politicians in Washington that catapulted him to victory, is determined to “put an end” to the “Washington’s incompetence in dealing with a communist regime on American’s doorstep.”

In other words, the incoming Trump administration is leaning toward confrontation and not accommodation in its dealings with Havana.

“Why can’t Spain or Mexico give Raúl Castro political asylum?” a source inside the Trump campaign asked in March 2016, a clue as to where Trump’s advisors are thinking: Cuba without the remaining Castro—and without a one-party government, the Communist Party of Cuba.

The implication is that Trump’s advisers do not rule out military intervention—and military occupation—of Cuba to achieve this “opening” and move to “democracy” on the island nation.

This attitude is emboldened by the reality that since the War on Terror was declared following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has become desensitized to wars of invasion and military occupation throughout the world.

As Trump said in a statement over the weekend, “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.” 

And, as everyone knows, Havana deserves a Trump hotel.

Fidel's Long Goodbye

I only met Fidel Castro once, in 1992, and I asked him only one question: “What will it take for Cuba to reconcile with the U.S.?”

He didn’t hesitate to answer: “When the U.S. agrees to return Guantánamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty, then that will be proof that the U.S. has overcome its imperialism.”

Decades later, when Havana and Washington were negotiating the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in Canada, the first thing the Cubans wanted was the return of Guantánamo Bay. That was the first thing the Obama administration swept off the table.

Fidel was no longer in charge, and Raúl agreed to press forward nonetheless. But it came as no surprise when Fidel refused to meet Barack Obama in March 2016 when the American president visited Cuba; Fidel Castro was not prepared to shake hands with Obama who, by refusing to return that disputed speck of land to Cuban sovereignty, had proven to be a “false friend.”

“No necesitamos que el imperio nos regale nada,” Fidel said, meaning, “We do not need the Empire to give us anything,” his final rejection of reconciliation with his enemy.

And he was right: Guantánamo Bay rightfully belongs to Cuba.

It was this adherence to his ideals that stood out, conviction without pragmatism becomes stagnation. And Cuba, under his care, stagnated. Admirers in the United States are quick to point to the public education system and national health care as achievements of his Revolution. These admirers, however, have never been to a Cuban clinic or spent a day at a Cuban high school. Cubans have to wait months for a prescription medication and years for surgery; students are taught to read and write, but are forbidden to read or write what is not sanctioned by the state.

These limitations, of course, Fidel blamed on the embargo: When Michael Moore traveled to Cuba for his documentary, Sicko, the non-Spanish speaking American leftist didn’t’ fully understand that there are two health care systems in Cuba; one for Cubans and one foreigners with hard currency. What he was shown was the health care system for foreigners, not the one for the Cuban people.

And so it goes: On every trip to Cuba, I have prescription medicines for relatives of friends who have been waiting for months, if not years. I have been approached on the streets of Havana by ordinary Cubans who ask me to enter hotels—which they are barred from entering—to purchase sundries in the lobby shops.

And the crony communism and corruption continue: Raúl Castro has maneuvered to pass Cuba’s richest assets to a company controlled by his son-in-law; drug trafficking continues to be a source of income for the Cuban state—despite the “outraged” show trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa, who was sentenced to death by firing squad in 1989.

Sixteen years after I met him, I received an invitation to travel to Cuba. No reason was given, but during the week I was there—February 20-27, 2008, it was announced that Fidel Castro was stepping down. I was one of the few journalists in Havana on February 23, 2008, his last full day in power.

Now, eight years later, Fidel Castro has died.

A feeling of ambivalence best characterizes the mood of those I know, Cubans both on and off the island. For the new generation, there is indifference; an old man, distant and aloof, is gone. For Cubans who lived—and suffered through the Revolution—there is catharsis.

It is ambivalence to experience this death, so long expected, so slow in coming; it’s been exactly one decade that Fidel Castro became too ill to continue in power. And this slow decline, demise, eclipsing also characterized the passions surrounding what he did and what he failed to do.

There is, undeniably, exhaustion, a familiar exhaustion to anyone who has seen a relative die, finally, after a prolonged illness, whether it is Alzheimer’s or a protracted, and lost, battle against cancer. Fidel, as one of the principal figures on the world stage for the second half of the twentieth century—only Queen Elizabeth has ruled as sovereign longer than Fidel Castro did— outlived his time, and his own legend.

He left many unanswerable questions.

Can Raúl Castro hold it together? Without the forceful personality of Fidel Castro to bind the Revolution to continual national sacrifice to the point of exhaustion, can the government continue to govern—and will Raúl Castro be able to ensure that the Cuban Communist Party remain in perpetual power?

What will the incoming Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba be? Will it sever diplomatic relations? Will it let them continue to wither away, the way Obama has not made much of this missed opportunity? Will an indifferent stalemate across the Straits of Florida continue? Or will his Revolution also, along with him, die?

CA Leads Way in Solar Tech but Communities of Color Left Behind

SAN FRANCISCO -- California is the leader of solar technology and one of the wealthiest states, yet its poorer communities in large part don’t have access to this expanding technology.

The Mission District, recognized for its Latino community, has for some time been battling the powerful push from the tech industry. From an environmental standpoint, the question is being raised, “What can be done to protect the very basic rights of its lower income citizens?”

The answer is complex, but increasingly it comes down to including low-income communities and communities of color in the legislation being passed regarding solar technology, and actively including them in the solar workforce.

Jeanine Cotter, president and CEO of Mission-based Luminalt Solar Energy Solutions and an advocate for solar in her community, recognizes the key importance of creating jobs in solar, not just in the field but also in the office.

“Most workforce development programs in solar focus just on the ‘boots on the roof’ and don’t focus on all of the other jobs that are required to design and build systems,” said Cotter, who believes it’s important to develop careers in all aspects of solar for diverse local communities.

Cotter works in her community to create initiatives that will allow more communities to have access to solar technology.

“We were part of a group of solar advocates and environmental advocates and workforce development advocates to start GoSolarSF,” Cotter said.

GoSolarSF is an incentive program that aims to localize solar, allowing low-income homeowners to save on the installed cost of solar electric systems.

Ensuring that everyone can benefit

The Greenlining Institute works for racial and economic justice, helping under-represented communities to be included in important legislation being passed in California.

“We’re in this period of really great transition and the question, the big picture that we all need to be tackling is, ‘Is this transition going to be just?’” said Joel Espino, who is part of the environmental equity legal counsel for Greenlining Institute. “Is it going to be equitable, is it going to be diverse?”

Espino and his colleagues are trying to ensure that communities of color have a voice in the solutions that are being produced. “We want to make sure that they have a seat at the decision making table,” he said.

Daniel Kammen, professor of energy at University of California Berkeley, explained that California is winning the war locally on the environmental front, with more jobs than ever being produced, but that environmental laws didn’t go as deep as they needed to on a social and economic level.

“One example of something which has been very important on the environmental injustice front has been to look at which policies have worked well but have not pushed hard enough into disadvantaged communities,” Kammen said, referring to an ongoing program Cool California, which uses tools to chart where the high emitting areas are.

Including communities who can’t afford their own home, however, is a challenge.

“A lot of the efforts now are [to] make programs that work well if you’re a homeowner, available to apartment dwellers and those that don’t own,” said Kammen. “And that is a direct play to how do we make this more socially and racially just.”

The Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program is another attempt at giving homeowners the chance to invest in solar, but Kammen sees inequality in that as well, because of the inherent wealth gap between those who rent and those who own.

Joshua Arce, who is running for District 9 Supervisor in San Francisco, began working with his godmother Espanola Jackson, the late longtime civil rights and community leader in Bayview-Hunters Point, on the Brightline Defense Project in 2009.

Working on issues surrounding housing discrimination, environmental issues and equal access to jobs for workers of color and women, the Brightline Defense Project serves those who would otherwise not have the voice to impact such decision-making.

“I got involved with her [Jackson] 10 years ago in an effort to stop the city from building dirty power plants in her neighborhood,” Arce said.

Jackson and Arce helped close the Hunters Point Power Plant in 2006, and worked with environmentalists, community members, and solar leaders, such as Cotter from Luminalt. Arce also worked on GoSolarSF.

Arce called GoSolarSF environmental justice, because the incentives increase progressively for communities that have “historically born a higher share of the city’s pollution than other neighborhoods.”

Many communities however, even with incentive programs still cannot afford to invest in solar.

Yet GoSolarSF, The PACE Program, The Greenlining Institute, Luminalt Solar, Brightline Defense Project and others are attempting to remind the community that without incorporating legal protection for its most vulnerable people, the movement towards clean energy—and in particular solar—cannot be just.

This story was written for the green energy fellowship for New America Media, sponsored by PG&E

Doctors Agree With Sanders on Universal Health Care

Presidential hopefuls have their own ideas on what to do with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s signature legislation, when they move into the White House.

Sen. Bernie Sanders thinks it should be replaced with a single-payer health plan of the kind Europe and Canada have. This federally administered universal health care program would eliminate copays and deductibles. There’s currently a move afoot in Colorado to have such a plan.

Secretary Hillary Clinton would like to keep the ACA, with a few fixes.

Donald Trump says he will uproot the ACA, get Congress to allow the sale of health insurance across state lines and allow individuals to take tax deductions for insurance premium payments. But that would not help low-income Americans because they do not pay much in income taxes.

This week, the American Journal of Public Health carried a proposal by a working group of more than 2,000 physicians nationwide titled: Moving Forward from the Affordable Care Act to a Single-Payer system. The physicans warn that the risks of continuing the ACA will leave millions uninsured indefinitely.

NAM health editor Viji Sundaram interviewed Dr. Adam Gaffney, a co-chair of the working group.

Viji Sundaram: Your proposal calls for a single-payer health care plan for the United States. Obamacare has helped 16.9 million people become newly insured. Would it not be less disruptive to expand the provisions in the ACA instead of repealing the law and replacing it?

Dr. Adam Gaffney: The U.S. health system is highly disruptive as things stand now. You’re liable to lose your insurance at any time—for instance, if you change your job or get divorced. Similarly, those purchasing plans on the “marketplaces” may find that they can keep down premium increases by changing plans on an annual basis. Every time your insurance plan changes, you may need to change all of your doctors and hospitals in order to stay “in network.” This is enormously disruptive to people’s health care. In contrast, in a single-payer system, everyone has free choice of doctors and hospitals. 

VS: Your proposal promises health coverage for all. Does this include undocumented U.S. residents?

AG: Yes, it would. The single-payer national health program we envision would include everyone regardless of country of origin, including undocumented residents. If we believe that health care is truly a human right, then this is the right thing to do. At the same time, it is also financially achievable. Immigrants, on average, have lower health care spending as compared to those born in the United States. One study demonstrated that immigrants actually pay more into Medicare than what they use in terms of health care. Everyone would be included in the national health program we envision.

VS: Why do you think there would be no additional government spending if the United States has a single-payer health care plan? Countries such as Canada and the England run their national health program on the backs of taxpayers. Will that happen in the United States as well? Can it be done without raising taxes?

AG: There would be additional government spending with a single-payer plan, but this would be offset by the elimination of spending by individuals and employers on premiums, co-payments, and deductibles. We can expand coverage to everyone in the country and eliminate co-payments and deductibles, and at the same time keep overall current health care spending roughly unchanged.

VS: Some providers criticize single-payer plan as one that will force them to contract with the one payer available. Currently, providers have some choice of insurers. They can even opt out of Medicare and Medicaid. 

AG: There are many benefits for practices to have to contract with only one payer: it’s much simpler and is less costly from an administrative perspective.

VS: How would you respond to the criticism of the single payer program as having the capacity to get doctors to sign in with fairly attractive reimbursement rates, but once in, those rates can come down, leaving providers helpless? 

AG: Because the vast majority of the nation’s doctors would participate in the national health program, there would be a powerful lobby fighting to ensure that reimbursements remain fair.

VS: In countries that have a single-payer health care system, there seems to be a long waiting period before a patient can see a doctor. How can we keep that from happening in this country?

AG: The problem of waiting times for care in other nations is often exaggerated. Moreover, where there are excessive waiting times for elective procedures, it is often due to underinvestment. We spend much more than other countries on health care, and have the resources to ensure that waiting times for elective procedures are reasonable. It’s also worth noting that we have waiting times in the United States also, though they are not as visible. Indeed, if you have the wrong insurance plan [currently], the waiting time for some providers may, so to speak, be infinite.

VS: The UK allows people to be in both the national health plan as well as subscribe to a private insurance plan, which they can fall back on for expedited care. But your plan calls for an end to commercial insurance.

AG: First, if providers must bill and contend with multiple different insurance plans, we lose the efficiency savings that come with a single universal system. Second, if we give the rich preferential access to superior and expedited care while relegating everyone else to an inferior tier, we make a mockery of the idea of an equal right to health care. Third, the best way to ensure that the quality of health care is superb is having everybody—whether rich or poor—in the same system together.

VS: Medicaid and Medicare depend on the cost shift from private payers. Some providers say the only way doctors are willing to get into the Medicare network is because they get higher payment from commercial insurers.

AG: Doctors would continue to do well under a Medicare-for-All system. The transition to a single-payer system would eliminate the need to bill and contend with a multiplicity of payers, producing substantial savings for practices (and hospitals). 

VS: How much could the United States save by switching to a single-payer health plan? What does it currently spend?

AG: It is estimated that upwards of $400 billion a year could be saved from reduced spending on administration and billing that would occur through the transition to a single-payer plan. Additional money could be saved when the national health program enters into direct negotiations with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices. These savings could then be used to cover everybody in the country, while at the same time eliminating copayments and deductibles. Overall health care spending, at the end of the day, would be approximately the same as it is now, but nobody would ever again have to worry about losing insurance, about paying a big deductible if they got sick, or about not having access to the doctor or hospital of their choose. 

Cavities, Cavities, in Kids' Mouths - and Not an Affordable Dentist to Be Found

Farmworker Maria Flores’s face breaks into a broad smile when she is told that soon her 14-year-old Mexico-born daughter, Ana, will be eligible for the state’s full-scope Medi-Cal program, under the Health For All Kids program set to launch May 16. 

Most importantly for Flores it will mean the teenager can soon have much-needed dental care.

“Every time we take her to the dentist we have to pay from our pocket and we really can’t afford it,” Flores, an undocumented, fruit packaging plant worker here says in her native Mixteco through an interpreter. “It’s hard to pay because we make so little.” 

Flores’ emphasis on dental care is echoed by four out of the five farmworker women—almost all undocumented—interviewed on a recent Saturday afternoon gathering at a local elementary school organized by the Oxnard-based Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP).

Farther north, in the farming community of Reedley outside of Fresno, mothers attending an ESL class for parents at the Jefferson Elementary School say the same thing. And at a day laborer center in Hayward, Calif., parents say they would be willing to set aside their fears over outing themselves as undocumented if their children would become eligible for dental care via Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal is California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

Eligibility Vs. Access

But eligibility for dental care and access to dentists are two separate issues. 

Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, who was once a Denti-Cal (the dental arm of Medi-Cal) provider, says: “Beneficiaries are often frustrated to find out that having insurance coverage does not equate to easy access to care.” 

A scathing report out recently by the Little Hoover Commission (LHC), an independent oversight state agency, blasted the Denti-Cal program as being “dysfunctional” and having too few dentists in its network. 

“In California, we have kids’ teeth rotting out of their heads,” LHC Chairman Pedro Nava is quoted in a news report as saying.

Nava said that because of its “dreadful” low reimbursement rate—35 percent of the national average of $61.96 per patient, a rate that has not been raised since 2000—California dentists want nothing to do with Denti-Cal, making it virtually impossible for the more than 13 million current Medi-Cal enrollees, including 5 million children, having few places to use their coverage. 

In 11 of California’s 58 counties, there are no Denti-Cal providers at all, or no providers willing to accept new patients, according to a 2014 state audit. In Ventura County, for example where Flores and her family live, 53,000 kids are enrolled in Denti-Cal, but only 86 dentists accept it. Alpine County does not have a single dentist and in Imperial County, there is only one dentist for every 4,166 people, according to a UCLA Center for Health Policy Research report.

The Hoover report says the blame for Denti-Cal’s shortcomings could be shared by the state Department of Health Care Services—the agency that runs the program—the legislature and the Governor’s office. Decades of neglect and strategic misdirection have caused the Denti-Cal program to deny hundreds of thousands of people the oral health care they need.

Assemblymember Wood says “the legislature has made it clear through multiple hearings that restoring Denti-Cal rates [to pre-recession rates] should be made a priority. Unfortunately, so far it has not been a priority for the administration and the Governor.”

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We're Learning the Wrong Lessons About Terror - and It's Going to Cost Us

In the wake of Brussels—at least for now—we’re back in the bad old days of the War of Civilizations narrative.

In the face of terror most foul, fury and vengeance are once more in the air. It’s not quite Christianity versus Islam, but it’s close.

Some anecdotal evidence. Two comments on a story in The Independent, worlds apart, suggest that two great swaths of humanity are once again on an unnecessary and tragic collision course.

Bobby said: “All the whole Mideast and ALL their ilk are hated by me and mine.”

Ceycey replied: “Is your humanity only for Europe?”

Both commenters were responding to a story in the British newspaper written by Yasmin Ahmed in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Belgium.

Ahmed pointed out that just before ISIL operatives set off bombs in Brussels, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks detonated a car bomb in Turkey near a transportation hub, killing 37 and injuring 70 more. A closely-timed second attack killed four more people. In fact, Turkey has been beset by a spate of bombings by Kurdish separatists and ISIL, who in 2015 alone killed 141 and injured 910 others.

In both Brussels and Ankara, innocent people were killed indiscriminately by fanatics who believe political causes sanctify murder.

But what struck Ahmed was the profound difference in the Western reaction to these atrocities. In social media there were safety check-ins on Facebook, hashtags on Twitter, and shared cartoons in response to the bombings at Zaventen Airport and Maelbeek metro station. In fact, “Brussels” garnered 17.5 million more Google news results than “Ankara.”

Global media funerals for some, mute indifference for others

While the world mourned Brussels, Ankara was treated as a mere regional event. Case in point: After this week’s Brussels bombings, European countries raised the Belgian flag above their national monuments—a fitting tribute. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the Belgian flag, as was One World Trade Center in New York (though in truth, the colours looked more like red, white and blue). So Yasmin Ahmed posed an awkward question: Why didn’t Downing Street raise the red and white Turkish flag after the atrocities in Ankara?

Ahmed’s unease was mirrored by a young woman who knows a thing or two about being victimized by terrorism. Malala Yousafzai blazed to international fame after standing up for education for girls in Afghanistan and getting shot by the Taliban for her defiance.

She too has spoken out about the dangers of dividing the victims of terrorism between East and West, providing global media funerals for some, mute indifference to others.

“Do you not see that this indifference to the non-Western lives is EXACTLY what is creating and feeding terror organizations like ISIL? … If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it, because that cannot stop terrorism,” she said.

And that raises an interesting question. Is the West mute on the subject of innocent lives lost to terrorists in Turkey because the motivations behind those attacks were different from the reasons behind the killing in Europe—or because Turkey is 98 per cent Muslim? Has the West’s accusatory finger moved from ultra-extremist groups like ISIL and al Qaida to designate the members of an entire religion—again?

In this season of presidential politics in the United States, the answer is, sadly, "Yes."

Trump and anti-terrorism: Zero experience

CNN, which fielded carpet-coverage of the Brussels bombings in a way that repeated rather than advanced the story for three gruesome days, has already come up with a poll showing that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is now the first choice of Americans on anti-terrorism matters.

That is astonishing for a few reasons. First of all, Trump has zero experience in fighting terrorism in any official capacity. He has never held public office, and his chief advisor on foreign policy is The Donald. Trump has been widely denounced by military, national security and senior police leaders for his unconstitutional, illegal and flatly dangerous approach to some of America’s deepest problems.

The list is well known. So far Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, deporting 12 million illegal aliens, building a wall on the Mexican border, bringing back torture and instituting racial profiling in Muslim communities in the U.S. Now he has added that he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIL. That’s right—nuclear weapons.

In the flash of two bombs, the world is suddenly standing back in the rubble of 9/11 with President Bush repeating his With Us or With the Terrorists ultimatum. All the old, familiar and—I might add—failed solutions are once more being put forward by a real estate mogul who is being embraced as though he were King Solomon.

Though there are many particulars to the new fundamentalism for defeating terror, it comes down to the familiar mantra of guns, gates and guards. If the police just had enough unconstitutional powers, if free citizens just gave up enough civil liberties, if the West could just exert enough hard power against Islamic terrorists, if only there could be more forced regime change, if only Muslims would begin denouncing the evil-doers in their communities, the world would never have to see the cities of Europe and the United States burning again.

Those answers have been tried for 15 blood-soaked years and all the West has to show for it is millions of deaths, trillions in squandered treasure—and ISIL.

The time has come to recognize solidarity with all the victims of terror. As James Taylor, a U.K. citizen living in Ankara, posted on Facebook, “You were Charlie, you were Paris, will you be Ankara?”

Apparently not.

Cuba: Island of Broken Hearts, Including Castro's

When U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Havana on March 20, 2016, the first visit by a sitting American president to the Caribbean island nation in 88 years, he arrived on an island of broken hearts.

The Cuban revolution is a melancholy one. Broken promises. Broken dreams. Broken hearts.

The despair is seen in the unloved buildings, apart from the ones spruced up for Obama’s benefit, which reflect decades of social and political upheaval in which multitudes of Cubans were forced to abandon their homeland against their will. It is seen in the faces of Cuba’s youth, anxious for the past to be put far behind them and for their “future” to begin. It is also seen in the long lines of Cubans at embassies throughout Havana who, not willing to let life pass them by, are desperate for a visa that will let them leave.

And as the United States and Cuba move towards normalizing relations, and Obama even declared that "the embargo is going to end," the end of the Castro regime also draws to a close. 

So it’s instructive to reflect on a little-known story of how a Mexican woman broke Fidel’s heart.

On July 7, 1955, Fidel Castro abandoned Havana, exiled to Mexico by Fulgencio Batista and landed in Mérida, in the Yucatán peninsula. He would return to Mérida, at first on reconnaissance missions, and then because he met a young woman with whom he fell in love: Lía Cámara Blum.

She was 18 years old, a young teacher. She spotted him at the bus station in Valladolid. Fidel Castro was traveling throughout the peninsula, careful to evade Batista’s spies, who were everywhere. He wanted to determine if the Yucatán was suitable for launching an attack on Cuba. Having concluded that leaving from either Cozumel or the ports of the Mexican Caribbean would be too risky, he was taking the bus to Mérida.

When he boarded that bus on a Saturday afternoon in Valladolid, Lía Cámara Blum, a passenger, stared at Fidel Castro as he walked down the aisle.

She smiled at him. He smiled back.

Then he sat next to her, introduced himself as “Alejandro González,” and, after finding out she was a teacher, asked if she minded talking about history. “Of course not,” she said. Then he began to ask her about the Mexican revolution.

They immediately liked each other.

He found her intelligent and well-spoken. She found him polite, well-educated, and inquisitive.

When the bus arrived in Mérida, she told him she lived on Calle 61 in the city’s historic center. He told her he would be staying at the Hotel Reforma. He asked if he could have her telephone number. She consented. He wrote her telephone number on a box of matches and he invited her out on a date.

She said she would be delighted and that he could come by that evening.

He arrived at her family’s home at 9 PM. She answered. Accompanied by her mother, Socorro Blum de Cámara, the young couple went out for dinner.

In 1955, the Tulipanes, a restaurant that showcased popular bands and dancing, was one of the most popular places in Mérida. Apart from the music and dancing, they enjoyed venison and she introduced him to regional appetizers that reflected Maya cuisine. In the course of the evening, he confessed he was divorced and had a son. She said she didn’t care.

Lía Cámara Blum recounted, decades later, that she knew “something big was going to happen in his life.”
The following day, Sunday, he showed up at her home after breakfast. Pedro Cámara Lara answered the door. The Cuban exile asked if he could have permission to take his daughter, with his wife as chaperone, to the port of Progreso.

Don Pedro was impressed by this polite Cuban visitor and agreed.

The young man intended the trip to be a final reconnaissance of the facilities at the port of Progreso; being accompanied by two Yucatecan women would be a great cover. He was concerned that Batista’s spies, who wanted him dead, were following him.

The Cámara Blum family did not appreciate the danger they incurred by being in his company until, years later, Batista’s secret files were opened and their names were included in secret reports.

Alejandro González would visit the family whenever he was in Mérida.

He and don Pedro became friends. Alejandro González admired Mexico and the Mexican revolution. Decades later, Fidel Castro wrote: “Mexico was a country that had carried out a great revolution in the second decade of the twentieth century, a revolution that had a lot of prestige and left behind a lot of progressive thinking and a stable government. Every other nation in the region was ruled by tyrants.”

Ridding Cuba of a tyrant, Fulgencio Batista, would be the purpose of his return to Cuba once his preparations were finalized. Don Pedro dismissed such talk as nonsense, the exuberance of a youthful dreamer, a “crazy idealist”—and advised him against wanting to change the world.

In Mérida, Alejandro fell in love with Lía. They would go out to dinner, have ice cream in the park, and see movies at the Cinema Mérida. It was in the darkened Cine Mérida movie house that he declared his love for her.

Lía told him she was in love with him as well.

They kissed.

But he also told her his love for his country was equally strong: He would have to leave Mexico, but he would send for her. When she asked why he had to leave, he quoted José Martí: “We light the oven so that everyone may bake bread in it.”

He promised again he would send for her.

Lía was stoic.

It would not be until he overthrew Fulgencio Batista, months after he returned to Cuba—and his photograph was flashed in headlines around the world—that Lía learned Alejandro González’s true name: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz.

Months of silence between the lovers followed.

Not until he consolidated power in Cuba did he send Lía a note inviting her to travel to Havana. She arrived in Cuba in 1960 for the Latin American Youth Summit. She was welcomed as a “revolutionary.”

Ernesto “Che” Guevara introduced her as the future First Lady of Cuba.

All the while, she had doubts as the revolution began to take a more sinister, authoritarian turn.

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Happy Holidays!