Monday, July 29, 2013

Last Call For City Employee Healthcare

As far as major American cities with employee medical costs are concerned, a bunch of them are looking at putting employees on Obamacare in order to save local taxpayers millions, starting with of course Detroit:

As Detroit enters the federal bankruptcy process, the city is proposing a controversial plan for paring some of the $5.7 billion it owes in retiree health costs: pushing many of those too young to qualify for Medicare out of city-run coverage and into the new insurance markets that will soon be operating under the Obama health care law

Officials say the plan would be part of a broader effort to save Detroit tens of millions of dollars in health costs each year, a major element in a restructuring package that must be approved by a bankruptcy judge. It is being watched closely by municipal leaders around the nation, many of whom complain of mounting, unsustainable prices for the health care promised to retired city workers. 

Similar proposals that could shift public sector retirees into the new insurance markets, called exchanges, are already being planned or contemplated in places like Chicago; Sheboygan County, Wis.; and Stockton, Calif. While large employers that eliminate health benefits for full-time workers can be penalized under the health care law, retirees are a different matter

That's probably the best way forward for Detroit, frankly.  I don't like it, but it's better than the alternative:  no health care.  And once again, the more people making a success out of exchanges, the more people will use them.  Eventually, we'll be getting to a single-payer model.  But for now, Obamacare's exchanges are going to be where health care is going to go over the next several years.

Picasso Baby Blues

I had a very interesting and enlightening discussion with a good friend over the weekend about Jay Z's new project, Picasso Baby.  Rolling Stone:

Earlier this month, Jay Z gave a impressively Herculean performance in New York City, rapping the Magna Carta Holy Grail track "Picasso Baby" over and over again for six hours straight at the Pace Gallery.

The performance was filmed, and HBO just announced that it will be airing the resulting work, Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film. The special will debut on Friday, August 2nd at 11 p.m. Eastern time, immediately after the rapper's appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher. In the trailer for the film, Jay Z can be seen interacting with Alan Cumming, Judd Apatow, and the artist Marina Abramovic, who were all spotted at the gallery during the performance. 

My friend's argument was that Jay Z was guilty of massive appropriation of culture here, and that the art community was furious with him for doing the full nouveau riche on it.  She's somebody with a couple of art degrees and on the subject she's far more qualified than myself to speak, so I listened.  The inclusion of Marina Abramovic was really deep into shark-jumping territory, she argued, and in his quest for artistic legitimacy, Jay Z has simply blundered into the world of performance art and taken over through his money, not his talent.  She didn't think Jay Z had any methodology in the piece, either, no root in art of the body, no paradigm, just "kids playing dressup."

My counter-argument was that if Jay Z was anyone else but Jay Z, it would be considered a major boost to the world of performance art, and that the guy was far from the only putative art snob dropping ridiculous amounts of money to buy art (in this case, he basically bought himself an HBO special) in order to get the access and power its exclusivity and legitimacy provides.  Why shouldn't a black man who has legitimately made it not push the boundaries of culture?  Jay Z didn't need the art world to become famous, maybe it needs someone like like him to expand it.

But, she rebutted, that's what makes the project so brazenly and transparently shallow.  Everyone can clearly see Jay Z is doing this not for the love of art, but for the sake of that exclusivity, that attention, and that power he's thirsting to receive.  It's culture appropriation in an attempt to become something he's not, and that it's not really that much different from other examples of appropriation, say, if Marina Abramovic went on her next world tour as a performance artist and chose rap as her medium.

My rebuttal was that the judgment of Jay Z has been pretty harsh, especially since the project hasn't aired, and that if say, a white musical artist like Bono or Sting were combining their music with performance art in a gallery, it would be applauded.  We both then agreed to at least watch the special Friday night to see what Jay Z is at least capable of.

What say the rest of you?  Any interest in Picasso Baby?  Is Jay Z and Beyonce's "life as performance art" mode over the last couple of years, meticulously documented and packaged, presented, and dissected really art?  Is it buying legitimacy, or earned?  Is it belittling the world of art, or is it strengthening it?  What role does race play in all of this?

I think it's fascinating, but I want to hear from you guys.

Four Out Of Five, Folks

A new Associated Press economic report finds some pretty grim numbers for the large majority of American workers.

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor and loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

The AP defines this struggle pretty clearly:

The gauge defines "economic insecurity" as experiencing unemployment at some point in their working lives, or a year or more of reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

I know I meet that criteria on the first condition, more than a few times (as I expect most of us will), and come very close to qualifying for the second as well (and as a result of the first leading to the second, I came close to the third to boot.)  But here's the food for thought: if income inequality in America really is this bad (and it is) what does that mean for low income voters voting Republican?

Sometimes termed "the invisible poor" by demographers, lower-income whites are generally dispersed in suburbs as well as small rural towns, where more than 60 percent of the poor are white.  Concentrated in Appalachia in the East, they are also numerous in the industrial Midwest and spread across America's heartland, from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma up through the Great Plains.

More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation's destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

Nearly 20 million poor whites, many of them right here in my area:  the Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky tristate, as well as other red states in the Midwest.  And overwhelmingly these are the voters that install Republican governments at the state level to make inequality worse, with massive tax cuts for the rich at the expense of programs that go to help these very voters.

They've been taught time and again that the problem is too much government interference in corporate America that's forcing these good, upstanding business giants to lay people off, and besides, it's all the black president's fault.

In 2013 poverty is far less about race than it is simply not being among the one percent, and we're fighting battles over the scraps that the corporations give us.  That's just the way they want it.


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