Probing Puerto Rico’s Power Paucity

 

-Shilpa Gunuganti

 

Ten weeks have elapsed since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and wreaked havoc, while simultaneously generating a plethora of infrastructure issues, including a disastrous power shortage. Hurricane Maria has caused a loss of 1.25 billion hours of electricity supply for Americans, which makes it the largest blackout in U.S. history.


Unfortunately, this enormous number of hours will, without a doubt, continue to grow at this gradual recovery rate. Six weeks after the disaster, 70% of the island was still without power. As of this week,
the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has only regained about half of its generating capacity. This sluggish growth has left many wondering about the reason for delay.

Typically, with a large-scale power outage, two U.S. groups will coordinate responses with mutual-aid agreements, the same contracts that were used in Florida and Texas. In Hurricane Harvey’s case, power company AEP Texas initiated a mutual-aid agreement with EEI and staged about 1,000 workers from 11 states before Harvey even made landfall.

With Hurricane Maria, challenges came up right from the start for power companies and these beneficial actions were not able to be taken. The American Public Power Association (APPA) was ready with a contract for the coordinated response effort but the call to initiate the help was never made.

Because of this lack of efficiency and coordination, power companies headed to Puerto Rico were already a few steps behind the usual response rate. Furthermore, Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm, was given the $300 million no-bid contract with PREPA to serve as coordinator of all power companies headed to Puerto Rico.

The Whitefish Energy contract attracted intense scrutiny in Washington. While the Department of Homeland Security said it was investigating, The House Committee on Natural Resources demanded to see all of the agreement records. FEMA said it had “significant concerns” and warned that it might refuse to cover the costs, which led to the final decision to cancel.

On top of this distraction, Puerto Rico’s road to recovery is still being obstructed. Despite the contract cancellation, Whitefish Energy was supposed to continue its work but it delivered the latest blow on recovery efforts. A week ago, the company announced it would stop all work until Puerto Rico’s government paid the $83 million it was owed by the very same cancelled contract.

Although the legalities of the issues are not clear, Whitefish made problems worse. Compounded with the preexisting economic issues in Puerto Rico, the confusion, disorganization, and delays were bound to prolong this horrible blackout, which has left the individuals and small businesses in the region entirely helpless.

In times of persistent recovery, it is not only important to focus on future possibilities, but also essential to carefully examine mistakes or events that could have been carried out in a more suitable manner. By scrutinizing the recovery effort in Puerto Rico, we can ensure that the same mistakes never occur again and that we are better prepared for next time.

 

Modern Slavery

-Paige Cromley

150 years after the 13th Amendment was added to the Constitution, slavery continues in the U.S. in a new form. The Amendment banned involuntary servitude and labor, except as punishment for convicted criminals. The prison system and wealthy corporations have used this loophole to profit from what many have termed “legalized slavery” under the radar.

Profit from this unethical system only incentivizes imprisonment and longer sentences, as it relies on having a mass number of workable inmates. This adds to the problem of mass incarceration with laws in place which unfairly target minorities.

Today there is more incentive than ever to lock people up, as it reels in profit for investors and private prisons. Though violent crime rates have gone down, the prison population of the U.S. has soared. One quarter of inmates worldwide reside in the U.S., despite the country containing only 5 percent of the global population.

Companies such as AT&T have utilized this mass incarceration in states where prison labor contracted by private corporations is legal. Prisoners are encouraged to work so that they can send money home, but they are also coerced by the threat of being locked in isolation cells if they refuse. And of course, they are ideal workers for large corporations.

They work full time, can’t go on strike, don’t get vacations, and never have family emergencies. Most importantly, in some states, they are only paid a fraction of the working minimum wage. Those residing in federal prisons in Colorado typically receive two dollars an hour; inmates in private prisons can sometimes be paid just 17 cents per hour.

Many would agree that this is exploitation and must be unconstitutional. But it’s all perfectly legal and in accordance with the 13th Amendment. And, even eerier, the U.S. has a dark history of manipulating its own laws to funnel minorities into prisons to work.

It all started right after the Civil War, when freed slaves were convicted of unproven crimes and hired out to work in mines, on railroads, or on farms. Then, Jim Crow laws were put into place, continuing the tradition of racist laws.

The war on drugs, with laws still in place today, is a subtler example of legislation targeting minorities. One example of this is the grossly longer sentencing of those found in possession of crack (usually found in poor black or Hispanic communities) than those found in possession of cocaine powder (which is typically used in affluent white communities).

Laws such as these, as well as the basic discrimination against minorities in court, have resulted in disproportionate black and Hispanic prison populations. These inmates, almost all of them convicted for non-violent crimes, are then put to work in the prison industry complex. They are paid too little and released too late, so the “rich men in suits” can profit as much as possible.

The U.S. never stopped exploiting the forced, underpaid labor of minorities. Slavery simply evolved into a legal, less-known system, all the while keeping its unethical and racist undertones.

The FCC is Giving up its Net Neutrality Authority with Little to Replace It

(Photo credit: savetheinternet.com)

 

Lida Ehteshami

The Federal Communications Commission has announced a “total repeal” of Obama-era net neutrality rules, a sweeping rejection of Obama-era rules meant to keep the internet a level playing field and prevent companies from charging additional fees for faster internet access. The FCC will likely vote on the rules Dec. 14, but the move will create a fierce court battle with parties already promising to pursue it to the Supreme Court.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

The move has already set off a furious fight over how the government should regulate companies connecting Americans to the internet. No less than 21 million public comments were submitted to the FCC’s website when it originally opened for comments.

In theory, Republicans and Democrats agree on a free and open internet. In policy terms, the disagreement is bitter. Net neutrality is generally defined as ensuring internet service providers do not block, slow, or otherwise discriminate against specific content and applications. An internet without these rules could see customers pay more for certain services (such as Netflix), and internet providers degrade internet speeds unless companies agree to pay more, which could exclude startups from the web in favor of deep-pocketed incumbents.

Democrats want to treat all content equally with strict agency oversight based on a history of abuse by telecoms. Republicans argue that letting the industry rely on voluntary guidelines and arms-length regulation by the Federal Trade Commission for anti-competitive or abusive behavior is preferable. Federal authority to regulate the internet is seen as a potential abuse of power and could stifle innovation.

The rules proposed by Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, fall squarely on the Republicans’ wish list. The draft rules would lift a ban on blocking or slowing web traffic (so-called paid fast lanes), scrap regulatory authority to police behavior deemed unreasonable by the FCC, and overturn the FCC’s legal basis to enforce net neutrality provisions by dropping telecoms’ classification as utilities. The plan would require internet service providers to tell customers when they are blocking or throttling content.

Pai has pledged to protect net neutrality by handing enforcement off to the Federal Trade Commission, which has latitude to enforce “truth in advertising” commitments for public statements made by internet providers.

Pai told PBS the Obama rules will hinder investment to expand broadband. “My concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out internet access to a lot of parts of the country in low-income, urban and rural areas,” he said.

That argument is still speculative. Investments by telecoms since the FCC adopted a stricter net neutrality stance have not changed much. The net neutrality advocacy group Free Press disputes the argument, saying that investment is affected by interest rates, competition, economic growth and consumer demand. “Net Neutrality and Title II are benefiting businesses and internet users alike,” its report argued. “The case is clear. ”

If Pai succeeds, he will effectively erase the 2015 Open Internet Order that categorized internet service providers as utilities. The 3-2 party-line vote gave the FCC clear legal authority to enforce the strongest net neutrality principles to date. The agency’s previous attempts to do so under a different legal designation had been rejected by the courts since 2009.

The move was fiercely attacked by telecoms and allies in the Republican Party. “Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet,” then House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “More mandates and regulations on American innovation and entrepreneurship are not the answer, and that’s why Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme.”

Washington is still waging the same battle today. As Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s head of public policy, prophetically wrote after the 2015 vote, the FCC’s partisan split (three Democrats defeating two Republicans) “is an invitation to revisiting the decision, over and over and over.” So it has been. The latest proposal will likely be approved this December in a 3-to-2 vote along party lines.

Yet Pai’s strategy may be to use the repeal of net neutrality rules to force the hand of Congress. Those familiar with FCC deliberations say  abdicating its net neutrality authority could pressure Democrats into cooperating with Republicans on passing a bill. Republican Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has offered to hammer out net neutrality legislation with Democrats in the past. Activists such as Berin Szóka, president of tech policy think tank TechFreedom, argue “only Congress can put net neutrality on a sound legal footing.”

If this is Pai’s strategy, it seems likely to fail. Congress has punted this question for years. Net neutrality legislation circulated in 2015 never made it to a vote, and the Telecommunications Act hasn’t been revised since 1996. Congress has failed to pass a single major piece of legislation since Trump assumed the Presidency 305 days ago, despite the GOP’s unified control of government. Few bipartisan bills of consequence have seen the light of day.

Net neutrality may prove to be yet another casualty of America’s spreading political paralysis.

 

President Trump has an Irrational Fear of the Iran Deal

Lida Ehteshami

Long before Donald Trump was mocking “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea, or taunting “fools” in the Republican foreign-policy establishment, he expressed special contempt for one international agreement: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which blocked Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

After the Obama Administration signed the agreement, in 2015, then candidate Trump called it “the worst deal ever,” and vowed to “renegotiate” it once he was in office. In fact, the landmark agreement capitalized on a rare consensus. After years of hesitating, China and Russia joined the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, along with Germany and the European Union, in supporting American pressure on Iran to change course.

At a negotiating session in Vienna, the coalition was so large that, for appearance’s sake, Iran stocked its side of the table with additional staffers. Jake Sullivan, one of the U.S. negotiators, recalled, “It was the whole world versus Iran.”

The deal did not change all of Iran’s bad behavior: Tehran continued to test conventional ballistic missiles, to foment violence in Iraq and Syria, and to unjustly detain Americans. But the effect on its nuclear program was unquestionable. In return for the removal of sanctions imposed by the United States and other nations, which had crippled its economy, Iran agreed to shut down facilities and to give broad access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

When President Trump discovered that not only Mattis but also Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other national-security officials wanted to preserve the agreement, “he threw a fit,” a source told the Washington Post last week. By early October, the White House had devised a plan to assuage his anger.

The President would refuse to certify that the deal is in America’s national interest, an action that would not undo the agreement outright but punt the decision to Congress, for lawmakers to decide whether to renew sanctions.

It is a risky move, nonetheless. If hawks in Congress push through a law demanding further concessions, it could provoke Iran to abandon the deal, eject the inspectors, and accelerate its nuclear program. That might result in calls for Iran’s facilities to be destroyed before they can produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb.

Such a chain of events could lead to a particularly perilous consequence: returning to the possibility of military conflict with Iran, at a time when the United States is already facing a nuclear standoff with North Korea, would court the prospect of a two-front war—an act of self-sabotage.

Gutting a deal that Americans conceived, brokered, and secured would also undercut decades of U.S. leadership on nonproliferation.

Indeed, in the past two weeks there have been a number of indicators of the President’s growing political instability. On October 7th, Trump, having ridiculed Tillerson for seeking a negotiated solution with North Korea, all but threatened an attack, tweeting, “Sorry, but only one thing will work!”

Last week, NBC reported that, during a Pentagon briefing, Trump called for a nearly tenfold increase in the nuclear arsenal. National-security aides were unnerved—any such increase would violate a raft of disarmament treaties and set off a global arms race. The President and his aides denied the account, and he tweeted that it might be time to challenge NBC’s broadcast licenses.

Decertifying the Iran agreement would fracture the United States’ credibility among its original partners in the deal. It would open a rift with China just as it is weighing whether to join the United States again, this time in negotiating with North Korea.

Global Times, a state-backed Chinese newspaper, has asked, “If America would overturn a pact it made to the rest of the world, solely because of a transition in government, how can it retain the reputation of a great power?”

The harm to America’s full faith and credit would be particularly acute in Pyongyang. A decision to undermine the signature foreign-policy deal of a previous Administration would tilt the balance away from North Korean officials who argue for compromise. The more hawkish cohorts will feel emboldened during internal deliberations against people in the diplomatic, intelligence, and economic communities.

A nation’s credibility is the type of asset that is easy to overlook, until an emergency makes it precious. During the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy dispatched former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Paris to inform President Charles de Gaulle that the Administration had decided to stage a naval blockade of Cuba.

Acheson offered to show surveillance photographs of the island’s missile sites, but de Gaulle waved them away, saying, “The word of the President of the United States is enough for me.” History suggests that President Trump’s disdain for even the achievements of his predecessor is most damaging not in the eyes of America’s enemies but in the eyes of its friends.

Fast Facts: Revisiting the Iran Nuclear Deal

Connie Lin

Recently Trump has been giving the Iran Nuclear Deal some serious side-eye, calling it “the worst deal ever,” having decertified it last month.

Background

In the past, the international community has tried to prevent Iran, a nation known for funding terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, from obtaining nuclear weapons through economic sanctions. (Although Iran claims that it wants to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.) Iran has claimed to want to eliminate Israel, causing some tension in the country. Negotiations within the international community about curbing Iran’s nuclear developments have spanned years, and the deal was finally ratified in 2015.  

What’s in it?

Essentially, the international community (including US, EU, Russia, China) has agreed to remove the economic sanctions and in return, Iran has agreed to reduce its uranium stockpile, decreasing its chance of producing nuclear weapons. However, the deal is not permanent, with the limits on centrifuges and uranium ending in 2025. Iran refuses to completely discard its nuclear development program, claiming that its programs are used for peaceful purposes.

So where’s the controversy? Everywhere.

All the Perspectives

The Yays:

Obama’s Administration

Supporters of the deal argue that Iran has been complying with the terms , making it very difficult for Iran to create a nuclear weapon in a short period of time, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran

Of course, Iran is hugely in favor of the status quo, because it removed economic sanctions, causing billions of dollars of oil revenue to flow in. Iran’s foreign minister Zarif responded to Trump’s announcement of decertification by saying the decision will undermine U.S. credibility.

Russia

Russia, a supporter of the Iran Deal, is an ally of the Assad regime in Syria along with Iran. Putin told the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei ““We oppose any unilateral change in the multilateral nuclear deal”

Europe

Britain, Germany, and France released a joint statement in support of the Iran Deal. Their rationale is that hopefully keeping the Iran Deal would convince nations like North Korea that developing nuclear weapons is not necessary for their security.

The Nays:

Trump

Trump claims the Iranian government isn’t trustworthy and that the deal has emboldened Iran’s military expansion in the region, contrary to American security interests (e.g. assisting Assad, the Syrian dictator and detaining American sailors). Iran’s frequent ballistic missile tests are also troubling, because they might be able to carry a nuclear warhead, although this issue isn’t specifically covered by the deal. Furthermore, suspicion has been raised about the credibility of the inspections, especially since the IAEA itself has admitted to be unable to ensure Iran’s full compliance. The UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is rumored to be the strongest opponent of the Iran Deal in Trump’s administration, in contrast to Secretary of State Tillerson.

Israel

Israel, seeing Iran as a threat, believes that the deal does not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has expressed cautious concern over the Iran deal. There is a long history of animosity between the Iran and Saudi Arabia that is difficult to put in few words. You can read about it in depth here.

 

Look What She Made us Do

Jacob Tate

Our treatment of Taylor Swift and her political activity (or lack thereof) is a microcosm of many greater problems.

           Sitting in the post-Harvey traffic gridlock, my father made an observation: “Taylor Swift is a lot like Hillary Clinton.” This didn’t come out of the blue—we had spent a while discussing why Taylor Swift gets so much flack—but the comparison shined a new light on our conversation. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Two successful but imperfect women attacked by the internet meme culture for being slightly cringey or not doing “enough.”

           Ever since Taylor dropped her admitted iffy single “Look What You Made Me Do,” the mock-Taylor-Swift apparatus has come back full force. This is nothing new—she’s been criticized for everything from dating too many people to cultural appropriation—but that doesn’t make it justified in any sense.

           Why does Taylor Swift have to put up with this? The answer lies in a combination of sexism and the polarization of our political climate.

        Sexism

The sexism count is obvious. Ever since she showed up strumming a guitar, Taylor Swift has been crucified for writing songs about boys. How is she any different from the Justin Timberlakes of the world who have built a career off making songs about relationships? She isn’t. But tabloids and 4chan love to create drama around women, especially ones that are so successful. This is where the Hillary Clinton parallel comes back into focus. Sure, both Taylor and Hillary have flaws, but those are magnified by the intense societal spotlight placed on successful women.

One example of blatant sexism in both their lives are the repeated claims that they are not responsible for their own success. Taylor has had two claims of this regard. First is that her parents bought a record label so she could record her first album. I won’t go into details and bore you—but know that this is wrong. Even more wrong is its implication: that Taylor Swift bought her way to the top. Money certainly helps, but you can’t buy talent. Secondly, the Kanye West fiasco. While I’m sure he meant it as a joke, taking credit for Taylor’s fame by saying he “made that b***h famous,” is another sexist insult. Hillary, meanwhile, has had to deal with accusations that she’s only successful due to her husband, even though she was a successful Senator from New York before Bill’s presidency.

Even the accusations of Taylor being a “snake” or Hillary being “crooked” play off the negative stereotype of women as conniving and untrustworthy. Even then, our society is just looking for excuses to make a strong, successful woman fail.

        Politics

           Taylor Swift’s involvement in politics is murky. She rarely talks about her stances. While it should be perfectly acceptable for a celebrity (or any human being, for that matter) to keep their views to themselves, this has simply made for another conduit for people to attack her. Her silence has even led to ridiculous speculation. Google “taylor swift trump supporter” and you will find far too many articles claiming she supports Trump. Even this ties into sexism. Bruno Mars has never made a statement regarding his political views, but he does not get lambasted for it.

           However, Taylor can’t win. Even when she gets involved in politics, she gets attacked for not doing enough. For example, during the women’s marches, she tweeted out her support for the movement even though she did not attend. That’s perfectly fine. If your friend tweeted that she was proud of the people who marched, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

           Another example of political backlash to Taylor involved a recent sexual assault case. She took a radio host to court for groping her butt earlier this year and won. First of all, it’s notable that while celebrities such as Kesha have received much support from the celebrity community (including Swift), Taylor received nary a helpful tweet. Secondly, Taylor Swift was actually criticized for the sexual assault case. It was suggested that classifying groping as sexual assault, as she did, was an insult to rape victims. Others attacked her self-satisfaction in victory when she had done nothing for the real victims of sexual assault. Taylor Swift took a man to court for something that fits the definition of sexual assault, won the case, and got attacked for it. What was she supposed to do?

           This all comes down to a fundamental critique of Taylor Swift: her views on feminism. She’s long claimed to be a feminist and has actively promoted it as part of her persona. This opens her up to a lot of attacks, and frankly, some are legitimate. If she’s a feminist, why didn’t she attend the women’s march? Why did she go out of her way to attack Katy Perry? Is she using feminism as just a part of her brand?

           These are valid talking points. However, I think this points at a greater issue in the liberal sphere of thinking there is a right way to interpret an ideology. Feminism is an idea with no set definition that is open to interpretation by each individual. I’m a feminist, but I may see feminism as different from another feminist. We both might see it different from Taylor Swift.

           What becomes an issue is when you have groups that try to police what feminism is. They heap criticism on people like Taylor Swift, when they’re really on the same side. The fact is, not everyone will be a staunch feminist. And that’s fine, because even if you’re not all-in, you can still contribute to a cause. This policing of “feminism” will only lead to an alienation of those who are more mild feminists and a perception of the cause as extreme.

           The same goes for the idea of a “liberal,” this time in the context of Hillary Clinton. Especially since she was running against Bernie Sanders, Hillary was repeatedly criticized for not being liberal enough. This infighting only serves to weaken a cause by turning it against itself.

        Conclusion

           The saga of Taylor Swift can teach us two things that are more critical than ever. First of all, we can never count out sexism. It will always be there. Secondly, we don’t have the right to impose our views on anyone, especially when you and that person are on the same side. This only leads to a decrease in moderation, which does not bode well for our nation.

           This is not to say you should love everything about Taylor Swift and Hillary Clinton. I don’t. It’s just that we need to be more aware of the patriarchal and divisive elements at play before we retweet that meme. This isn’t just about these two either. Next time you want to mock a public figure, especially if it’s a woman, examine why you’re doing it before you do. The motivations may be more sinister than they appear.

 

Fall State Debates

Shilpa Gunuganti

From carefully examining the possible effects of Alex Jones buying out all media corporations to engaging in civil discourse on Catalan Independence, the resolutions for debate at Fall State this year are not only exceptionally varied but also engaging and more relevant than ever.

Despite the obvious option for involvement in debates by being a main speaker, numerous other opportunities exist, such as delivering a subsequent speech in a satirical debate, contributing ideas in a Thought Talk, or perhaps even just asking speakers insightful questions at the end of their address.

A major aspect of becoming fully engrossed in the spirit of fighting apathy involves some sort of involvement, whether small or large, in these well-planned debates. Regardless of whether you are an expert in JSA-style debate or if you are a freshman who has never taken part in a formal discussion of issues and beliefs, JSA debates are excellent opportunity to further assimilate into the inviting culture of this organization by meeting and discussing your beliefs with fellow statesmen and stateswomen.

I have personally made a few significant JSA friendships simply through the interactions that occur in every JSA debate from talking to the person sitting next to me to debating against the person on the opposing side. Unlike a lot of settings where either discourse does not exist or is rude and uncivilized, JSA debates provide the perfect opportunity to partake in respectful and informative discussion.

Despite the initial intimidation that you might feel or already have felt at your first JSA debate, that experience is beyond significant and unique for each of us. In order to fully immerse yourself at Fall State this year, pay attention to the remarkable opportunities that you have at this convention and take advantage of them. Try to learn something new at every debate you go to. Whether you are a novice or a veteran, JSA always has something to teach you.

If you are interested in moderating or being a main speaker, check out jsa.debateware.com and start signing up!

 

Lessons from Single-Payer Healthcare’s Failure in Colorado Last Year

-Lida Ehteshami

On the day the state of Colorado voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by about 5 points, voters there also rejected a ballot measure to enact a state-based single-payer system by an astounding margin of 79 percent to 21 percent.

Amendment 69, the Colorado Creation of ColoradoCare System Initiative, would have created a system in which all Coloradans would gain insurance through a tax-funded government insurance program. Private health insurers would have been rendered obsolete.

The Colorado initiative bears a resemblance to the Medicare-for-all legislation released by Senator Bernie Sanders on September 13 and endorsed by leading Democrats like Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand, and to HR 676, Rep. John Conyers’ single-payer proposal which has the support of a large majority of House Democrats.

Colorado’s initiative, in other words, matched the 2017 health care platform of the Democratic Party. And it failed — terribly.

“The proposal came too soon and too fast for where voters were,” Joel Dyar, who worked as state field director for the ColoradoCare Yes campaign, says.

Some of that failure is attributable to the unique challenges of adopting single-payer through a ballot initiative, and at the state level. Because Colorado’s constitution bans public funding for abortions, ColoradoCare would’ve taken away access to abortion from the hundreds of thousands of women currently in private health plans that cover the procedure.

That earned the amendment the opposition of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, two leading progressive groups in the state. “They didn’t check in advance to see if this was a problem,” Karen Middleton, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, recalls. “By the time anyone had seen the language, it was already locked in.”

And because the proposal had to be set in stone in order to appear on the ballot, advocates did not have time to negotiate with key stakeholders on details of the plan, meaning few stakeholders bought in.

Many progressive think tanks like the Colorado Fiscal Institute and the Bell Policy Center, unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers, and advocacy groups like ProgressNow Colorado wound up opposing the plan. “A poorly thought-through initiative like Amendment 69 does violence to the future of single-payer in Colorado,” Ian Silverii, ProgressNow Colorado’s executive director, says.

But other obstacles will be just as present in a federal fight. Entrenched interest groups, particularly insurers, spent millions opposing the measure. Moderate Democrats like Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Michael Bennet, and former Gov. Bill Ritter came out against it. And ultimately, Colorado voters were just not persuaded.

The ColoradoCare Plan

ColoradoCare, the single-payer system to be created by Amendment 69, was vague in specifying what benefits it would cover, listing 11 categories like “ambulatory patients services, including primary and specialty care,” “prescription drugs and medical equipment,” and “preventive and wellness services.” The plan would include no deductible and no copayments for preventive and primary care services; copayments for all other services were to be waived for financial hardship.

This isn’t quite as sweeping as many single-payer plans. For example, HR 676, the Conyers bill supported by most House Democrats, covers “the full scope of dental services,” “basic vision care,” “long-term care,” and even “chiropractic services.” Bernie Sanders’s bill is similarly comprehensive, as is California’s proposal. ColoradoCare, by contrast, didn’t guarantee long-term care or vision care or dental care, at least to adults.

But the abolition of deductibles and copayments and traditional premiums, and inclusion of prescription drugs as part of the core benefit, makes ColoradoCare quite a bit more generous than Medicare or most foreign universal health care systems.

The plan was to be funded by a 6.67 percent employer-side payroll tax plus a 3.33 percent employee-side payroll tax, and a 10 percent tax on all nonwage income, like capital gains, self-employment, Social Security benefits, etc.

That’s on the low side of estimates of what a single-payer system would cost. California’s State Senate Appropriations Committee estimates that a (more generous) single-payer system there would require a 15 percent employer payroll tax, while Vermont abandoned its single-payer effort after it concluded an 11.5 percent payroll tax hike and an income tax hike of up to 9.5 percent was necessary.

Advocates note that these taxes would be replacing current employer and employee spending on health care. Health insurance currently makes up about 7.5 percent of private employers’ compensation to employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the average household spends 6.2 percent of pretax income on health care.

With major exceptions, like adult dental and vision and purely elective procedures like cosmetic surgery, ColoradoCare would’ve replaced all those expenses for Coloradans and their employers. Though payroll and income taxes would rise, advocates argued, households and businesses would be held harmless or even made better off once you take that removed burden into account.

Independent analysis cast doubt on some of the details here. The respected, nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute prepared an analysis of the proposal that concluded that while it would roughly break even in its first year, it would have a quite large deficit by year 10: $7.8 billion, or 13.9 percent of revenue.

Understandably, the proposition’s supporters disputed this, with Colorado State economist Anders Fremstad arguing that the analysis underestimated how much the system could restrain health spending and how much it’d continue to bring in in federal funds. And CHI’s Joe Hanel says the group also estimated the tax rate needed to break even over 10 years, and found that a modest bump to a 12 percent rate would work.

ColoradoCare would have run into trouble if it came up short on cash. It would have been governed by an elected board of 21 trustees — three each from seven different geographic regions of Colorado — who’d have the power to raise copayments, eliminate coverage of some services, and even shut down the entire program if the finances weren’t working out.

ColoradoCare’s board could also vote to put a tax increase on the ballot to fund the program, but voters would have to assent to it. “Colorado voters tend not to approve tax increases, so approval for higher premium taxes for ColoradoCare would have proven difficult,” Natalie O’Donnell Wood, a senior policy analyst at the progressive Bell Policy Center in Denver, says.

The voting process was also weirdly designed. “ColoradoCare,” CHI notes, “would create a separate voting system for itself. [It] would create two distinct classes of voters: the current registered voters of the state and members of ColoradoCare. Most adults would be in both groups, but some would be included in one group but not the other.”

For instance, ColoradoCare’s elections — for board of trustees, and on tax increases the board proposes — would be open to noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants, but it would require voters to live in Colorado for at least a year before the election, while normal Colorado elections only have a 22-day residency requirement.

The elected board existing on its own off to the side of Colorado’s regular political structure generated concern among progressive activists. Wood notes that it could have invited legal challenges. One analysis noted that the rest of the Colorado Constitution requires US citizenship to vote, and because “Amendment 69 does not explicitly repeal the Constitution’s voter criteria,” that requirement could still be binding, meaning the different rules for voting on ColoradoCare could be struck down.

The new board could also be vulnerable to co-option, especially if elections to it were low-turnout. “If I’m the Koch brothers,” Silverii, the head of ProgressNow Colorado, says, “the only thing I do in Colorado is attempt to rig that system to gerrymander the districts, get the most anti-universal health care, anti-progressive people on the planet elected to those positions to intentionally run the thing into the ground and then say, ‘See, it doesn’t work!’”

Why progressives reject ColoradoCare

A lot of the opposition to ColoradoCare was predictable. The opposition raised more than $4 million in total — largely from health insurance companies — compared to about $900,000 for supporters.

According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the health insurer Anthem donated $1 million to the anti-ColoradoCare campaign, Kaiser Permanente gave $500,000, UnitedHealth gave $450,000, and the hospital chains Centura and HealthOne each gave $250,000.

“The citizens supporting single-payer in Colorado were vastly outspent by status quo health care powers,” Dyar, the ballot measure’s field director, says. “There were millions of dollars put into television to run ads against it and millions of dollars put into misinformation and fear tactics.”

Worse still, Dyar says, “the national progressive interests didn’t come to the rescue.”

So why is that? For one thing, at the time, backing single-payer represented a political risk. Colorado was a purple state in the presidential race, and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet was up for reelection. While he didn’t attract a top-tier opponent, the state’s tilt makes him inherently vulnerable. “The party felt like it was very risky and that candidates were vulnerable to being tied to the initiative,” Dyar recalls.

But a number of progressive activists in Colorado also thought the measure could actively make things worse. A major issue was the governance challenge posed by putting the program in the state constitution, where tweaking it could be more difficult.

A report by the left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute focusing on Hispanic families noted that while many and likely most low-income Hispanic families would pay less under ColoradoCare, low-income Medicaid enrollees would be faced with new taxes without new health benefits to offset them. This is the kind of thing that could be fixed ahead of time if the proposal had gone through a legislative process — but it did not.

Many, like Silverii, were also skeptical of trusting its supervision to a new board that could be elected in low-turnout elections and that could thus be subject to manipulation and capture.

Perhaps the biggest issue of contention, however, was abortion.

In 1984, Colorado narrowly passed Initiative 3, the Colorado Abortion Funding Prohibition Amendment, which barred all public funding for abortion except if needed to save the life of the mother. And ColoradoCare wouldn’t have changed that. It couldn’t have: The state constitution has a “single subject” rule requiring ballot measures to stick to one topic, meaning the ColoradoCare initiative couldn’t simultaneously repeal the abortion funding ban.

ColoradoCare thus would have taken away abortion access from women whose private insurance covers the procedure — a group totaling more than 550,000, per NARAL’s Middleton. It didn’t just fail to expand access to abortion to poorer women; it actively made access worse.

And while some advocates for the policy argued that it was still worth supporting for the “greater good” of expanded health care coverage for other procedures, reproductive rights advocates were understandably not having it.

“I’m sure there are still hurt feelings, and I’m sure there are still people who are upset about it,” Middleton says. “It was also a proxy around the Bernie-Hillary break. You had people supporting Bernie in the primary who supported Amendment 69 who saw that alignment, and it heightened that tension that you saw around the country in the primary.”

Advocates for the act disputed this interpretation, arguing that ColoradoCare actually overrode the abortion ban, and that the board of trustees could choose to cover abortion if it wanted to do so.

NARAL wasn’t persuaded, noting that the ColoradoCare ballot measure didn’t mention abortion at all, and so courts could easily conclude that it did not conflict with or supersede the abortion ban.

What federal single-payer advocates can learn from Colorado

In some ways, the federal situation is more promising than that in Colorado. While major Democrats in the state resisted the single-payer push, more and more national Democrats and 2020 presidential contenders are endorsing Medicare-for-all.

“ColoradoCare came too soon and came without an open dialogue with the Democratic Party and candidates up and down ballot,” Dyar, the ColoradoCare field director, says. “Had this initiative had the Democratic Party’s support, it could have gone much further.”

The federal effort also doesn’t involve a ballot initiative changing the Constitution. If a real push happens for single-payer the next time a Democrat is in the White House and the party controls Congress, there will be time to negotiate particulars and work out the kinds of problems that emerged with the ColoradoCare language.

“It’s important that many progressive and centrist groups have a role from the start in writing single-payer legislation,” Dyar says. “Without that buy-in and without that compromise that comes with that process, there’s always something to make someone unhappy.”

“Colorado may not be the best case study in looking to successes and failures on single-payer,” Wood concludes, given ColoradoCare’s unique set of challenges. But at the same time, the ColoradoCare debate offered some warnings as to issues a federal single-payer push will have to address.

Abortion is a big one. While the US Constitution doesn’t ban federal funding for abortion, the Hyde Amendment does statutorily ban funds from going to abortions (with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother). That’s just a legislative provision regularly included in federal appropriations bills, and it could be repealed as part of a single-payer push.

But as the 2009 to 2010 fight for Obamacare showed, there are some Democrats who might be on board to raise taxes and expand health coverage, but not if that coverage includes abortion. Former Rep. Bart Stupak nearly scuttled the effort by offering an amendment barring federal funds from being used to subsidize insurance plans covering abortions.

He and other anti-abortion Congress members threatened to oppose the bill without the amendment, and abortion rights groups threatened to oppose any bill that included it. Eventually, President Barack Obama was forced to issue an executive order limiting funding for abortions through the insurance marketplaces to satisfy Stupak.

It’ll be hard enough to get 218 House votes and 51 (or even 60) Senate votes for single-payer. If even one or two members of either House take Stupak’s position, Democrats could be forced to choose between single-payer with no abortion coverage and a system in which every abortion is paid for by the federal government, enraging anti-abortion groups and likely greatly increasing the number of abortions performed.

Another obstacle is the tax shock. Bernie Sanders has been fairly vague about how he’d fund his single-payer proposal, and past funding plans he’s put out have raised far too little money to cover the benefits. But when Congress actually debates a single-payer bill, that bill will have to specify pay-fors, or else its advocates will need to persuade colleagues to access a massive increase in deficits and debt.

That will be tough. Running against big tax increases and a “government takeover of our healthcare” is, as ColoradoCare’s opponents demonstrated, very easy.

“It took the opposition three seconds to call it a tax and supporters three minutes to explain how it was simply a different way of payment that would save them a whole lot of money,” Dyar recalls.

Public opinion on specific issues like single-payer is quite malleable, and support for single-payer falls in polls after respondents are informed of common criticisms of it.

Before any counterarguments, 55 percent of respondents to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll supported single-payer, but after being asked, “What if you hear that opponents say guaranteed universal coverage through such a plan would give the government too much control over health care,” only 40 percent still support it, and 62 percent oppose it.

Hearing supportive arguments (like that it would make health insurance a basic right) turns public opinion in the opposite direction. Which is exactly the point: The public is very suggestible on the topic. And when insurers and spending millions to oppose the proposals, it’s likely people will hear more arguments against the idea and respond by turning away from it.

Bernie Sanders is, of course, hardly a naif about the immense power of corporate interest groups. But even if there were no corporate opposition, winning over the public would be tough.

While the current system clearly doesn’t work for people without coverage, most people with employer-based insurance like it. They like it a lot, in fact. And they tend to be “very skeptical of big disruptive efforts to change it,” as Princeton sociologist Paul Starr argues.

There’s a reason Obama spent months assuring people that if they liked their health plan, they could keep it. When you tell people you’re going to take away what they have now, they usually find it unacceptable.

This is why many health reform advocates, starting with UC Berkeley economist Helen Halpin and Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, have argued for transitioning to single-payer by offering a public option available to employers and individuals alike.

If such a plan paid the same rates to doctors and providers as Medicare (rates lower than private insurance), that would translate into lower premiums, which would lead employers to gradually shift into the public plan of their own accord, without a huge, super-visible tax increase.

This is the approach that former Rep. Peter Stark offered in his AmeriCare Health Care Act in 2006, and Sen. Chris Murphy is offering similar legislation this year. The Colorado experience suggests that such an approach could avoid the problems that dog more ambitious single-payer plans — particularly if employers could choose between a public plan that covers abortion and a public plan that doesn’t.

 

The Net Benefit of Net Neutrality

Shilpa Gunuganti

A simple belief with a complicated name, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all content equally. In other words, ISPs cannot charge premiums for internet access and block, throttle, or prioritize certain broadband. It sounds fair enough, but these principles were not enacted until 2015 and are already under attack.

During the ordeal of implementing net neutrality in 2015 under then President Barack Obama, political and legal battles emerged, signifying a future change that would revolutionize internet regulation. Ultimately, a Court of Appeals upheld the regulations that still stand today. However, this battle has re-emerged on an entirely new field with different players this time around.

Ajit Pai, the President Trump-appointed head of the Federal Communications Commision since January of this year, wasted no time in squashing net neutrality by introducing a proposal to rescind these regulatory oversights. Pai argues that continuing heavy-handed regulations could discourage companies from branching out Internet access to low-income areas.

Pai and other opponents of net neutrality further that “nothing is broken” without net neutrality. Allowing ISPs to charge more for services that use more bandwidth equates to more money for ISPs to invest in faster networks, indicating the belief that current net neutrality rules are stifling growth and innovation.

Despite their very public support of net neutrality rules, large Internet Service Providers such as Verizon and Comcast insisted that the government should not have the authority to implement these forceful changes in a series of lawsuits challenging the FCC’s authority in 2015.

However, not all Americans seem to agree with the views of ISPs on a free and open Internet. In fact, many postulate that the creation of multiple tiers of accessibility would have detrimental impacts on individuals and businesses because it would allow larger businesses to dominate the marketplace by paying for higher speeds, ultimately harming smaller entities.

The backlash against Pai’s actions is enormous. More than 800 startups sent a letter explaining that without net neutrality ISPs would have the far-reaching power of picking the “winners or losers in the market.” Beyond businesses, individuals also seem to care and have left more than four million public comments to federal regulators on this specific issue.

Dubbed with a high-tech sounding and geeky name, net neutrality may sound like a dull and uneventful issue, but the ensuing discussions over the next year will not only affect U.S. government regulation and businesses but also Internet access for individuals.

 

My Life and Mass Casualties

The first mass casualty shooting I vividly remember was on Friday, December 14, 2012. I was in sixth grade. I remember staying home that day since I had the flu and turning on the television to watch the news. From there, the cameramen showed an aerial view of a school and the caption read something along the lines of “Active Shooter in Elementary School.” This day would be remembered in U.S. history as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

There have been more mass casualty incidents since then. Oddly enough, every time such events took place, I remember exactly what I was doing. The Boston Marathon bombing. The Charleston church shootings. The Paris attacks. The Pulse nightclub shooting.

Then on Monday morning, I, like most teens, checked Twitter on my phone. Headlines across my home page read that there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Later, when I sat down to eat breakfast, I had asked my mom, “Did you hear about Las Vegas?”

These are just some of the few memorable mass casualties throughout my lifetime. In my parents’ lifetime, from 1966 to today, there has been 90 mass shooting events in the United States alone, accounting for 31 percent of all public shootings in the world.

What does this mean for us living here? Do we need stricter gun control laws? Or are we just so divided? An analysis by CNN shows that states with stricter regulations on gun magazines have lower casualty rates. However, Chicago, according to the Trump Administration, is proof that stricter gun control laws are not associated with a lower crime rate.

What causes people to use their weapons as a means of harm may remain a mystery to some. It is easy (and sometimes proven) that mass shootings are hate crimes or terrorist attacks. But not all can fall into those categories. In the most recent attack in Las Vegas, the gunman’s motives remain unknown.

In August, I was able to travel to Boston. Carved into a sidewalk,  I saw a small memorial towards those who died in the Boston Marathon. Further down the street was a trumpet player with a sign for world peace and love who could play the anthem of any country asked. A reminder that if hate can be preached, so can love.

– Liana Salehian