Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The endorsement game: or how to keep the game well-rigged

As a candidate you get sent (or not sent as we shall see) various questionnaires and offers for interviews from different organizations looking to endorse (or at least "out" somebody) during the election.

Some of these organizations actually have some political clout, and others just want to appear to have it.

But the whole game is strangely devoid of any relationship to the stances of the candidates themselves, and as you play it, you discover that on many levels nobody actually cares what your position on issues is, because it is only your party identifier that matters.

Three cases in point:

1.  The Delaware AFL-CIO sent me a questionnaire and invited me to an interview.  I went.  I'm the only person running in my district who actually has had any union experience, and in fact I was a union president for six years.  Nobody else running in my district even bothered to fill out the questionnaire.  Many of my answers (as people who know me well will know) were far more pro-labor than my Libertarian party-identifier would suggest.  In my "interview," the one guy sitting there had (a) not read my questionnaire; (b) took ten minutes to find my questionnaire on his iPad; and (c) actually fell asleep twice in the middle of the interview (I know I talk too much sometimes, but really).  Then he told me that the AFL-CIO would hold its endorsement convention in two weeks and the he would contact me pro or con the Monday after.  That was a month ago; he never wrote, never communicated, and--naturally--the AFL-CIO did not endorse me.  The most truthful statement he made during the process was, "We don't discriminate by party, only position, but we'd probably never endorse a Libertarian."  (Oh, and despite rhetoric to the contrary, the Delaware AFL-CIO endorsed two candidates who never filled out a questionnaire.)

2.  The Delaware Campaign for Liberty represents itself as non-partisan, and explained that it hadn't sent me a questionnaire because third parties don't have primaries, and therefore they don't send out questionnaires to candidates who don't have primaries until closer to the general election.  Of course they DID send a questionnaire to my Democratic opponent, who (surprise, surprise) doesn't have a primary, either.  When I asked about this, I was told that on the day that Libertarians get more than "0.5%" of the vote they'd send me a survey.  The reality is that C4L in Delaware is only interested in electing "Liberty" Republicans, and its director sees the Libertarian Party as competition in that regard, so he really doesn't want my answers running alongside those of the GOP candidates.  Oh well.

3.  The Delaware State Education Association [DSEA] is a "big dog" in electoral politics.  This is not because DSEA actually impacts legislation [unfortunately, it rarely does], but because DSEA spends a lot of money trying to elect legislators who will vote their way, and keeps spending that money on them no matter how many times they vote against the interests of Delaware teachers.  Three examples:

(a) Bryan Townsend did not even get an interview in 2012 because Tony DeLucca was considered a "friendly incumbent" and got the nod; this year, after having championed DSEA's causes for two years, Senator Townsend was informed that both he and his primary opponent would be interviewed because he couldn't be declared a "friendly incumbent" based on his performance in the General Assembly; [he finally got the nod this week when white smoke was seen emerging Frederika Jenner's chimney, because apparently experience does matter ... if only a little];

(b) in the Sean Matthews-Dennis Williams primary, DSEA refused to interview and endorse anybody, even though Matthews is a dues-paying, politically active member of (you guessed it!) the DSEA;

and (c) in my own case, with four candidates running, at some point before cave men figured out how to round the edges off wheels to make them roll better, DSEA declared Joe Miro a "friendly incumbent," and they are sticking to that (with no interviews and no questionnaires for the other three candidates) despite the fact that at least two of the three have expressed views far more in keeping with those of the DSEA member teachers than the incumbent.  I've endorsed and campaigned for all the resolutions that the teachers passed at the last DSEA membership convention (and I'm the only one in the race who has done so), but I don't get a shot at the endorsement because, well, apparently your actual position on education simply does not matter to Frederika Jenner and her State leadership collective.

Upshot of all this?

Most of these organizations (at least at the State leadership level) are so tightly tied to maintaining the status quo that they don't actually provide more than lip service to the idea that the policy positions of the candidates matters.

It's the Delaware Way.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Editorial about Highmark that you can't quite read at Delaware Online

This was printed in today's paper, but somehow (I'm NOT speculating) it is not available in the online edition.

So find out what a Libertarian thinks about State-enforced corporate monopolies:

It isn’t news that Delawareans pay higher health insurance premiums than most Americans, or that many families can’t access A. I. DuPont Children’s Hospital because of a feud between the doctors and insurance bureaucrats.

Some reformers dream of a single-payer health-care system, where taxes cover the costs, patients pay no premiums or co-pays, and the cost of medical care goes magically down.  A bill to enact stand-alone single-payer for Delaware is introduced—and ignored—in the General Assembly every year.

The reformers don’t understand that we already have a two-payer health insurance system in Delaware, and that second payer has no intention of losing its monopoly to the government.

Just over 50% of Delaware’s citizens receive health insurance via the government, through Medicaid, Medicare, Chips, or various military programs.  The remainder sits in the “private insurance market.”

Over 90% of this “market” dominated by a single entity:  Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware.

A 90% market share usually characterized as a monopoly, which generally means fewer choices, poorer service, and higher prices for consumer.

Pennsylvania Judge Patricia McInerny recently characterized Highmark of Delaware’s parent company as a “supposedly ‘non-profit’ corporation,” while ruling that Pennsylvania law was so vague Highmark could legally claim a $432 million profit as “incidental.”

Highmark’s empire includes major (if not monopoly) insurers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia; the nation’s second-largest optometry chain; multiple dental plans; lucrative Medicare processing contracts and supplemental insurance policies; and investment in or ownership of urgent care centers and hospital chains.

Executive Vice President David O’Brien says that Highmark intends “to expand our footprint in the provider world,” meaning that the company plans to purchase hospitals, clinics, and medical practices.

Thus the insurance company paying your doctors could also be their employer.

In West Virginia, Highmark is the only company listed on the health insurance marketplace.  In Delaware it might as well be:  Highmark has acquired roughly 93% of all sign-ups.

In Pennsylvania Highmark purchased a hospital chain and fought a trade war with the University of Pennsylvania Medical Centers.  Among the casualties were thousands of Highmark customers who either lost coverage or had claims denied for visiting a competing hospital.

In Philadelphia, independent optometry shops allege that Highmark gives its subsidiaries preferential treatment in dealing with customers who have Highmark vision plans.

In a 2012 case heard by US District Court Judge Roy Flowers, Highmark admitted having paid varying rates to different providers for exactly the same services.

On entering Delaware, Highmark received $175 million in corporate welfare from our General Assembly.  Our State Insurance Commissioner wanted a gigantic company atop the Delaware market because “small health insurers have struggled to compete with large national insurers who have billions of dollars of capital and resources.”

MedExpress, a chain of urgent care centers in which the Highmark parent company has a $52 million (about 10%) investment stake, followed Highmark into Delaware.  Within months, locally owned competitors were informed that they had sixty days to meet new standards of operating and credentialing (designed by Highmark, and, coincidentally those of MedExpress) or they would cease being reimbursed for services at the standard rate.

One local doctor/owner who attempted to resist these changes alleges that his family’s insurance claims were denied in blanket fashion; thousands of dollars in payments to his clinic were unreasonably delayed, and his employees’ policies were abruptly audited—all in six months. Highmark and the State Insurance Commissioner contend that these acts were coincidence and routine.

The doctor has since sold his business to a national chain that does not accept Medicaid (as he did).

The strangest part of this story is that it doesn’t appear to be news in Delaware.  A recent inquiry to the Insurance Commissioner’s into Highmark’s status by a local citizen required almost two years to generate a one-paragraph dismissal.  None of our legislators or government leaders appear willing to talk about the Highmark monopoly on private health insurance, or the company’s reach into Medicare, vision plans, or dental insurance.

Nobody seems willing to draw the logical conclusion that Highmark’s premiums (already among the highest in the nation) are scheduled to go up another 5% in 2015, despite the parent company’s $4.4 Billion cash surplus, because monopolies foster profit taking, not competition.

One of the reasons I am running for State Representative is to bring this issue out into the open, and force our government to confront the question:  Is what’s good for Highmark really good for Delaware?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Delaware, corporations, and the lie that is "Economic Patriotism"

Before you start reading this article, here's a teaser:  the man who just argued for a large dose of "economic patriotism" is US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who (ironically?) has made a career out of moving between government posts and ... representing Citigroup interests in the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, and Hong Kong tax sanctuaries.

The News Journal gets it wrong ... again.

Editorializing about the issue of "corporate inversion," that is, corporations like Walgreens ceasing to be American companies and moving their operations overseas for tax benefits, the WNJ says,
Corporations consider this action because of what they see as problems in the U.S. tax structure. The U.S. corporate rate can be as high as 35 percent, the highest among industrial nations.
OK, this is the standard party line for corporations, government, media, and both major political parties in Delaware, and it is oh-so-predictably followed by the rest of the corporate party line:
The most obvious solution would be to lower the tax rate. Congress should not come up with temporary fixes, such as tax holidays for repatriated profits. Instead, it should bring the rate into line with other countries.
First, let's be clear:  corporate tax rates (despite the nominal tax rate of 35%) are nowhere near that, because of all the tax breaks that corporations have purchased themselves.  Quoth the NYT on a General Accounting Office study:
Profitable corporations based in the United States had an effective federal tax rate of 13 percent on their worldwide income, 17 percent including state and local taxes.
Moreover, effective corporate tax rates have declined by about 30% over the past three decades:
According to the Internal Revenue Service, corporations had gross profits of $1.8 trillion in 2007 and taxable income of $1.2 trillion. Since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, new corporate tax preferences have widened the gap between gross income and taxable income. In 1987, gross corporate profits reported on tax returns were $328 billion and taxable income was $312 billion. Thus since 1987, taxable income has fallen to 68 percent from 95 percent of gross income. 
Dozens of the largest US corporations pay no taxes whatsoever when their tax liabilities are offset by the tax breaks, credits, and subsidies they receive:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Welcome to the campaign!

If you're just finding this page via the State Board of Elections website, welcome.

A lot more material has recently been up and running on my Facebook page, Steve Newton for 22nd State Representative, and I encourage you to go there and "like" the page for continuous updates.

I also encourage you to sign up down the right side of this page to join our email list, and (even!) to visit the little red, white, and blue porcupine to make a donation.

My formal stands on major issues like Education, Corporate Welfare, Health Care, the Environment, Government Transparency, Law Enforcement, and Your Rights will be up here very soon.

In the meantime, the Facebook page is the best place to be.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It's time to end high-stakes testing in Delaware

Since nearly everybody running for office is getting editorial columns in the WNJ, I thought I should join the fun.

Here's what I sent them:

            Nearly two decades of high-stakes testing have left Delaware’s public schools with a legacy of failure.
            I co-chaired the Governor’s Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks Commission from 1992-95.  Our commission included teachers, parents, students, administrators, academics, and business partners.  All commissions held public meetings, engaging in deliberations to create “world class standards” in English, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  We did our job well enough that many of those standards remain in place today.
            Those standards were designed to be tested via “performance assessment,” but the General Assembly thought individualized testing cost too much.  Instead, they approved the DSTP, which lacked reliability and validity; failed to assess all the standards; and was compromised by backroom politics from day one.  DSTP was high-stakes:  students who failed could not be promoted to the next grade without summer school and retaking the test.
            As the first legislators’ and donors’ kids failed, student accountability evaporated.
            Under No Child Left Behind, consequences migrated to the schools, rated via a complex system of “cells” that often left Annual Yearly Progress for each building determined by test scores of a handful of students.  One elementary school repeatedly failed AYP due to the scores of profoundly handicapped children who never entered the building, but lived in that feeder pattern.  School districts employed full-time managers to challenge attendance patterns and force failing scores to be credited to other districts.
            When the US Department of Education announced waivers to exit this insane system, Delaware got in line.
            Meanwhile, DCAS replaced DSTP, and SBA is now replacing DCAS.  If you don’t comprehend the acronyms, don’t worry: they’ll change again.
            Race to the Top brought Delaware $119 million for data analysis, teacher learning communities, Common Core, and testing computers.  (Simultaneously, the General Assembly cut reimbursements for transporting homeless children to school.)
            Accountability in high-stakes testing now descended on teachers.
            State bureaucrats generated strict, test-based teacher accountability regimes, while legislators enacted unprecedented regulations for teacher preparation programs in our universities.
            None of this actually improved public education, which Governor Jack Markell tacitly admitted in his State of the State Address: “Only 20% of our kids graduate from high school ready for college or a career.”
            Content standards and standardized tests have their place in education, but high-stakes testing has proven not merely ineffective, but also potentially harmful.
            Pursuing the idea that moving the consequence to this group, or changing to that test will abruptly erase the socio-economic disparities dogging public education has wasted critical resources.  In Delaware alone, hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and tens of thousands of teacher preparation hours have not been spent placing great programs at inner-city schools, providing full funding for special needs students, or turning lose the individual creativity of classroom teachers. Resources devoted to music, the arts, the humanities, physical education, and special needs have declined.
            Here’s a modest plan for returning to sanity:
            First, exempt special needs students on IEPs from standardized testing that often traumatizes them and rarely returns valuable data.
            Second, accept the unanimous recommendation from teacher representatives in the Delaware State Education Association and legislate a parental “opt-out” from standardized testing.
            Third, revisit the adoption of Common Core.  Research indicates that content standards should not be so extensive that they become a de facto curriculum.  The breadth of Common Core—all arguments about quality placed to the side—is too wide to leave room for instructional depth or teacher creativity.  We need a Delaware process, driven by your child’s teachers and not political/corporate reformers, to re-examine our academic standards.
            Finally, cap testing costs to direct resources back into the classroom.  When our poorest schools have access to the high-quality programs like Gifted & Talented or Odyssey of the Mind that our suburban schools boast, we can consider new testing expenditures, not before.
            The money already invested in the high-stakes testing mania is irrevocably lost.  Parents, teachers, and voters must now unite to insure that more good money does not follow the bad.
            Send resources into our classrooms, not new testing computers.
Steve Newton is Professor of History and Political Science at Delaware State University and the Libertarian candidate for State Representative in the 22nd District.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who knew Karen Weldin Stewart was a States' Rights advocate!

Delaware Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart is taking on the Feds over a States' Rights issue?

Wow.  Or maybe not "Wow."

Here's the deal:  the Obama administration has semi-covertly but legally announced that it is selectively not enforcing the individual mandate under the ACA and not collecting the tax penalty, as well as extending the exemptions for those with non-conforming policies . . .

. . . but KWS has now said (h/t Nancy Willing) that Delaware will not recognize that:
“Delaware law, as currently written, does not allow for the extension of non-compliant health plans after January 1, 2014. Furthermore, allowing the two-year extension of previously cancelled and non-compliant plans has the potential to raise premiums for everyone and could disrupt the market in Delaware.”<snip>“I would like to take this opportunity to remind consumers who do not have health insurance coverage that the open-enrollment period to sign up for a new plan will close on March 31, 2014. Individuals who do not have health insurance after this date may be subject to a tax by the IRS next year."
So I guess KWS--who doesn't care at all that Delaware's private insurance sector has become a monopoly for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, or that United Health Care is unilaterally cutting off Medicaid patients from the premiere children's hospital in the region, has suddenly discovered the 10th Amendment, and the ability of the State of Delaware to nullify Federal law.

Unless, of course, she's figured out (and KWS figuring out anything on her own is quite a stretch) that President Obama and HSS don't actually have the legal authority simply to change the terms of Obamacare by fiat . . .

Nah.  Not buying that one.  My theory is that the insurance companies are starting to push back against President Obama's continual backpedaling over his own signature legislation, because he's now starting to cost them serious money.  Since nobody in Congress is willing to do that, they're looking to their industry sock puppets in the States to do the work for them, since folks like KWS have always been there for the insurance industry before.

Read Duke economist/political scientist Michael Munger's brief take on this, and you'll realize immediately what's going on.

As for KWS, here's the story:  RING, RING.  "Hello?"  "We need you to jump."  "How high?"

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Today's WNJ is full of reasons to elect a Libertarian

Let's see:

We have the typical Gannett corporate journalism piece on why cutting the Defense budget is bad because it will reduce the staffing and equipment at Dover AFB.  Implied is economic disaster, even though economists long ago worked out that money taken out of the military budget and put back into the economy in other ways (even by the government) creates more jobs and more prosperity.

A Libertarian answer:  Let's continue taking money out of the largest military (not "defense") budget on the planet, and put that money to far better, non-violent use either by returning it to the taxpayers or at least by investing in roads, bridges, and schools as we somehow find it absolutely critical to do in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not in Delaware or Pennsylvania.

Then, in the surprise of the century, the Delaware General Assembly Task Force on campaign reform decides that it is more important to change primary dates to accommodate the preferences of incumbents than to make recommendations about campaign finance reform.  Signing off on it, one member has a sudden attack of honesty and declares the work to be "very shallow."

A Libertarian answer:  I've already suggested it:  Money only from individuals, not groups or organizations, and a campaign spending limit equal to gross one-year-salary for the position being sought.

Governor Markell ominously advises Sussex Countians to support his gasoline  and water taxes or see their businesses go under because nobody likes the pollution or bad roads.  For a man who just discovered in the sixth year of his term that Delaware's water was polluted, and who let the fund for highway repairs head for broke while he was handing out over $43 million per year in corporate subsidies annually, this is apparently the zealotry of a deathbed conversion.  Or just some cynical "legacy making" wherein he will be out of office before we get the bill.

A Libertarian answer:  Again, I've already suggested it:  start by cutting out corporate subsidies and other pieces of obvious waste, prioritize our spending and our projects, and build from the start both an infrastructure and an environmental agenda that's actually financially sustainable without being regressive.

Finally, there is the spectacularly tone-deaf editorial by PNC Region VP Nicholas Marsini Jr which praises early childhood education because the overriding purpose of our schools is apparently a return on investment in jobs: 

Another form of economic development invests entirely in preschoolers so that as adults, they have the skills to become successful in the workplace. Some might even emerge as business owners who themselves create jobs. Early childhood education as economic development, however, does not grab the same headlines as news that a new company is coming to town with a promise of hundreds of jobs.
Yet the outcome of investing in Delaware's youngest learners can generate a stronger, if not a better, return than traditional investments. Its effects create an improved workforce, strengthen our communities and reduce crime.
Maybe this passes for enlightened social commentary among bankers, and maybe Mr. Marsini is correct in that the only way we'll get corporate Delaware to actually invest money (as opposed to divert taxpayer money for its own purposes) in our schools is by selling them strict "return on investment" scenarios.  If he is right, and the idea of public education enhancing democracy, building citizenship, creating critical thinkers, or nurturing the talents of each child (no matter how they may not relate to employment) is all lost, then so is American civilization.

A Libertarian answer:  let's acknowledge that we've got to fix Wilmington before we solve education problems for Delaware's poorest children; that we have to stop WASTING tens of millions of dollars each year on high-stakes testing, ridiculous teacher accountability regimes, and bureaucratic waste in order to have the money to invest in research tested initiatives; and that we have to get back to valuing the investments of parents, teachers, and local school boards in Delaware's children more than we value the investments of bankers and politicians.

Can I get this ALL done as a single Libertarian in a General Assembly controlled by Democrats and Republicans (who pretty much already agree with each other on everything but marriage equality)?

No, I can't.

But what I can do it force them to start have REAL conversations, and looking at alternatives outside the box, and representing somebody besides the PACs that currently control Delaware elections.

If you think that's important, then whether you live in the 22nd District or not, think about looking to the right and sending me a few bucks.  The well-heeled, corporate-backed incumbent is collecting PAC donations at $600 a shot like he usually does.  Give me from $5-25 from a few hundred people and I'll give him a race like he's never seen--like Delaware's never seen.

I'll give him an actual race about ideas . . . .