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Local Food? What About Local Farm Working Conditions?

[ 32 ] August 25, 2016 |

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Liberals love local food. But for the most part, they really don’t want to know what’s going on at the farm. They are fine with pictures of community members going out to the co-op farm and picking tomatoes or whatnot. But working conditions simply do not matter to most consumers. That’s almost as true for the liberals going to the farmers market as the everyday person shopping at Walmart. What is happening on those farms? Don’t we have to know this to know if we are creating a sustainable food system? Can sustainability exist in the face of exploitative working conditions? These are the questions Margaret Gray explores in this excellent Jacobin piece.

But my research, dating back to 2000, reveals that working conditions on local farms in New York’s Hudson Valley are not very different from those on the factory farms that dominate the headlines.

Of the farm hands I met, 99 percent were foreign born. The vast majority, 71 percent, were non-citizen Latinos; 20 percent were on H-2A guest-worker visas and hailed from Jamaica or Latin America. Most of the Latinos spoke little English, had low literacy in their native languages, and, on average, received a sixth-grade formal education.

The lack of English skills actually benefits their employers, who see learning the language as a stepping-stone to becoming American. The problem with American workers, farmers told me, is that they don’t have a work ethic.

Hudson Valley farmworkers were not primarily migrant workers: they lived in New York year-round, even if their farm jobs were seasonal. About one-third of those I met also lived with their families. This family reunification counters the workers’ loneliness, but it also undermines their financial goals.

Manuel expounded on this point:

I currently have nothing. You make dollars, but here you spend dollars, not like at home where the money goes further. The situation would be different if I made money here and sent it back to my country, but my family is here. You honestly cannot save money here.

The workers reported even worse economic exploitation in their home countries: age discrimination in factory work, bosses who paid in food, and subsistence living.

One comment raised both environmental issues and the retraction of irrigation programs and farm subsidies in Mexico post-NAFTA: “I used to have my own potato farm, but there is no water. Nothing happens with land that is dead.”

Those I spoke to also described their fear of losing their jobs or being deported. They also did not know their rights.

These factors, coupled with their desire to return home, created a vulnerable workforce willing to make tremendous sacrifices. To protect vital income for their families, they kept their heads down, set aside concerns about their own well-being, and complied with employer demands.

Many acutely analyzed their positions — they were utterly dependent on farm wages, lonely, and alienated.

A twenty-two-year-old Guatemalan woman broke into tears when she described how much she missed her home. She spoke to her mother often over the phone, but said she never related her sadness or complained about the work. Like others I interviewed who downplayed their hardships, her goal was to optimize her income even as she was painfully aware of her meager earning potential.

The work they perform is difficult, dirty, and strenuous; it requires repeated bending or crouching, sometimes with sharp implements, and sometimes in extreme weather for long hours. “You are dead by the end of the day; your arms and your feet ache because of standing all day,” one worker said.

A field hand told me he thought dogs were treated better than he was. But then he got worried that he was telling me too much. Many workers were reluctant to share stories about their working conditions, using phrases like “I better not say” and expressing fear of reprisals.

There are stories of wage theft, human trafficking, sexual harassment, illegal firings, and intimidation. But even if employers were prosecuted for such violations of existing law, the job would still exploit workers.

In New York — as in most other states — farmworkers do not have a right to a day of rest, they do not have a right to overtime pay, and they do not have a right to collective bargaining.

This means that some work eighty to ninety hours a week, for minimum wage, sometimes over seven days. Farmworkers argue that the law sets them up for exploitation since it fails to recognize them as equal to other workers. Heriberto, a farmworker who has given public talks, tells New Yorkers that they should be embarrassed by these laws.

This is not agribusiness. This is the local farm out in the countryside, growing such tasty veggies sold at roadside stands and farmers’ markets. There is massive exploitation on these farms. Yet none of this is really on the radar for most food consumers, even those who describe themselves as having a food consciousness, who buy organic and local. For food writers like Michael Pollan, these issues are even less important. And he should know better. But he’s never really paid much attention to work, preferring a romanticized past of mom laboring in the kitchen for hours each day without pay, ignoring the reality of modern life. Simply put, a food movement that allows for labor exploitation has no right to call itself sustainable. And yet the food movement has never cared about workers. As I discussed in the food chapter of Out of Sight, the fear of vegetables laden with pesticides led to a real consumer movement. But the companies completely defanged it by changing the pesticides to a new style that hits hard and fast and then dissipates. That protects the consumer but makes the lives of workers far more dangerous and poisonous. Consumers were fine with that. Once again, Margaret Gray:

If we are sincere in our solidarity with farmworkers, we must pay equal attention to labor conditions at smaller farms. Organic produce is thriving because consumers said they wanted it; animals are treated better because consumers said they cared.

While supporting farmworker efforts against corporate giants is commendable, we also need look in our own backyards and confront our local farmers — which should be one of the benefits of intimacy.

And that’s only the start. Those concerned with the politics of food need to think more clearly than Kingsolver, Pollan, and the other avatars of the “locavore” movement about the range of problems contemporary farms, industrial and “pastoral” alike, face — and to be more sanguine about the limits of consumer activism.

The plight of hyper-exploited workers on small farms will remain hidden if activists continue to portray factory farming as a unique evil facilitated by some kind of spiritual disconnect from the land, rather than one particularly telling example of capitalism’s inhumanity.

There is much to admire about small, local farms. But any serious effort to address the food supply chain must be big and international.

Until there is a food movement that takes place on those terms, produce cultivated under fair labor conditions will stand for little more than “organic” and “cage-free” do now: the costly mark of good conscience available only to the small few who can afford it.

Indeed.

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Cities versus States

[ 49 ] August 25, 2016 |

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This is a good piece on the battles in conservative states between their liberal enclave cities and the right-wing extremists who control the statehouse.

“PREEMPTION” LAWS ARE not new, nor are they necessarily about undoing local legislation. But with some notable exceptions, past preemption laws have generally enforced what can be called “minimum preemption”: They force localities to do something where they might otherwise have done little or nothing. As it’s often said, they set a “floor” for regulation. For instance, the federal government has been setting minimum standards of environmental protection for years, preempting the states from allowing lower environmental standards. Similarly, states often set a floor for various local regulations, whether regarding pollution, trade licensing, gun ownership, or other matters.

Most current preemption laws, by contrast, are what one might call “maximum preemption.” These laws aren’t about setting minimums; instead, they prohibit local regulation. States have prevented localities from creating paid sick leave requirements for businesses, or raising the minimum wage. Many who oppose these measures blame their proliferation on the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, which has drafted “model” preemption bills for state lawmakers to use. “Pretty much anything you can think of that matters to the American family is under assault by local preemption,” says Mark Pertschuk, the director of Grassroots Change, which fights preemption laws around the country.

Earlier this year, a fight in North Carolina over Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance cast such maximum preemption laws into the national spotlight. The Charlotte City Council had passed a measure extending civil-rights protections for its LGBT community. The policy also allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity rather than with their biological sex. Including gay and transgender people in anti-discrimination ordinances has become a standard business-friendly move; nationwide, 225 cities and counties have passed similar measures, in part to attract businesses. While Republican Governor Pat McCrory and state legislature leaders threatened to intervene in Charlotte, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, an advocate of the measure, wasn’t overly concerned. “I thought they’d make a big noise about it but they’d recognize it was just Charlotte, it’s a progressive city, and they didn’t need to come in and change anything because it would jeopardize the economy,” she says.

But when the state Republicans responded, they sent shockwaves around the country by passing a maximum preemption measure that invalidated all local anti-discrimination ordinances, including those protecting women and racial minorities. Not only did they force transgender people to use public bathrooms based on their reproductive organs; for good measure, they also rolled a provision into the bill that forbade any North Carolina city from increasing the minimum wage.

There’s a very specific reason why conservatives fetishize state government, even to the point of calling for the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment. All the talk about devolution that came out of the 90s stops right at the state capitol. It’s not about principle. It’s about conservative control. The federal government is too big for corporations or movement conservatives to easily control. Cities are too small. States are just right. State legislators can be bought off for incredibly small amounts of campaign donations. So making the federal government powerless, unless it wants to do corporate bidding, and making the cities powerless is part the conservative game to maintain power. And it’s been that way since at least the 1930s, when corporations complained about federal control and wanted power to reside at the state level. That’s what these wars on liberal cities are about in red states. Some of these cases, like the Denton fracking ban or Austin’s rejection of Uber, are about corporate control, others like HB 2 in North Carolina, are not. But for each type of conservative group, the state is where they see power residing precisely because that’s where it’s easiest for them to control that power.

Happy Centennial to the National Park Service

[ 10 ] August 25, 2016 |

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One hundred years ago today, Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating the National Park Service. While other nations do have national parks, no other nation has used the idea to also tell interpretations of the nation’s history, protecting not only battlefields and a few other nationally famous places, but also relatively obscure places that tell different stories, often outside of the mainstream of national narratives. During the last 8 years, with bills to create new national parks out of the question in the face of hostile Republicans utterly outraged by gay people’s existence, not to mention their acceptance in American society, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act to create national monuments, usually to add to the diversity of experiences told by the NPS, including the Stonewall Inn. Just yesterday, Obama created a new national monument, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine. There have been calls for a national park in northern Maine for a very long time, but the lack of federally controlled land combined with the hostility of local residents who believe the timber industry is going to make a comeback to make it very difficult. Finally, the founder of Burt’s Bees gave nearly 90,000 acres of pristine land to the government to make it happen. Hopefully, this sets the groundwork for an expansion of the park over the years, especially as tourist dollars start flowing to the region. Expect more national monuments between now and January, particularly the Bears Ears in Utah and unprotected areas around the Grand Canyon in Arizona, as well as more land in Nevada as Harry Reid has sought to cement his legacy in that state, in part by making the land where Cliven Bundy was illegally grazing a national monument.

Of course, the National Park Service also faces major problems, including that all these new monuments do not come with additional funding and there is a ridiculous backlog of basic maintenance projects that is forcing the agency to seek corporate funding and therefore sponsorship, which is a form of pollution. But who can blame them? Another major issue is of course climate change, where the parks are having to adapt to rapid changes in often very sensitive locations. The parks are trying to educate the public about climate change, despite continued hostility from Republicans who refuse to fund any of it. They are also making infrastructure changes where they can, especially in coastal regions. That’s going to be a continued struggle. Maybe someday Congress will actually properly fund the agency again.

Even with those problems, the national parks are also national treasures and it’s exciting to see President Obama so proactive in creating new ones, protecting American lands and telling American historical stories for the future.

Le Chant du Styrène

[ 10 ] August 25, 2016 |

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In 1958, Alain Resnais made an industrial film, for whatever reason. Money I assume. Le Chant du Styrène is about plastics. It’s also an absolutely beautiful film, really a wonderful artifact of postwar modernism. Unfortunately, the only copy on YouTube I can find is subtitled–in Spanish. But even if you don’t speak French or read Spanish, you can still follow along as Resnais takes us through the wonderful world of oil-based products.

Cherry Catsup Salad

[ 92 ] August 24, 2016 |

As is clear by now, like many others, I am both fascinated and horrified by postwar food. The terrible recipes of the 1950s-1970s are a wonder to behold. Today, I was introduced to this.

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Color me shocked that this horror comes from South Dakota. Probably some distant relative of mine. Really, this is the single worst ketchup-based recipe I have ever seen. And that’s a high bar!

I have discovered as well that there is a website devoted to making and trying these food catastrophes. You may not be surprised that this is a terrible recipe.

This didn’t go together at all. At all! If you have ever had a bite of ketchup-covered hot dog in your mouth and washed it down with a gulp of cherry Kool-Aid, then you know what this gelatin tasted like. It tasted like a bad idea. Add a bite of salad to that mouthful, and you have the complete flavor profile: A bunch of random ingredients, thrown together and suspended in gelatin. I can guess that this was supposed to be a type of side to be served with meat, like a sauce or a chutney, but I can’t think of the type of meat that this would compliment. Except for hot dogs, apparently. In this gelatin’s defense, it had a good, crunchy texture. And it did remind us of summer through the whole hot-dog Kool-Aid thing. But other than that it was a bunch of different flavors all happening at once. And all those flavors told us ketchup and cherry gelatin do not go together well.

The canned black olives may be the worst part of a very bad idea. Even worse than the ketchup. What’s with canned black olives? It’s like postwar food companies decided to take a wonderful food, with hundreds if not thousands of awesome varieties, and breed them to make a really terrible tasting olive that somehow worked brilliantly on the market. I guess it’s forgivable in the 1970s. Not sure why on earth someone would eat them now. I figure the use of canned black olives is a good sign that one shouldn’t eat at a given pizza place, although the even less forgivable use of canned mushrooms is more telling. Anyway, you all should make this recipe and report back.

Also, this California prune cream salad from 1934 is seriously the most disgusting historical artifact I have ever run across.

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Night night! Sweet dreams!

Elites vs. The Masses

[ 161 ] August 24, 2016 |

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I don’t agree with everything in this article, particularly that we have less democracy in society than 40 years ago. I think the answer to such a question is tremendously complicated but surely isn’t obviously this conclusion. But I do approve of the overall tenor of it. The last thing we should be doing in response to the Trump campaign and most especially the Sanders campaign is think that democracy is dangerous and should be clamped down upon in favor of elite rule.

The vileness of the Trump campaign has exposed something just as odious, and ultimately more insidious: the contempt some elites feel at the prospect of sharing power with regular people. This contempt is nothing new, of course—what’s striking is how acceptable it has suddenly become to express such antidemocratic views in polite company. Just as Trump has given a veneer of “respectability” to expressions of bigotry and xenophobia, he’s made calls for reining in popular democracy sound, to many people’s ears, like a reasonable response.

The elitists gave their game away, though, when they routinely cast Bernie Sanders and his supporters as virtual doppelgängers of the Trump crowd—another out-of-control and misguided mob, hopelessly immature and unrealistic about how the system works. Sanders, The New York Times sniffed, was irresponsibly promising his followers “the moon and a good part of the sun.” In an all-too-characteristic column called “2016: The Reckless Versus the Responsible,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called Sanders and Trump “peas in a pod.” Post reporter Callum Borchers unfavorably compared the Democratic insurgent’s impassioned followers with Trump’s: “If there is a trophy for bad behavior, Bernie Sanders’s supporters appear hell-bent on taking it from Donald Trump’s.”

The argument that Trump, Sanders, and their respective constituencies are two sides of the same benighted coin gained currency, in part, because it lets elites off the hook. It’s a way to rationalize clinging even more vehemently to a ruinous, oligarchic status quo—democracy be damned. But here again, it gets things backward. Protests and populist political movements, after all, are signs that people have been locked out of structures of governance, not that they have successfully “hijacked” the system. Elitists plead for more reason in political life—and who can disagree with that, in principle? But their position itself is not entirely rational.

In a widely circulated cover story in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch rallied to the defense of those in power. “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around,” he complained. “Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last acceptable form of bigotry.” Mass discontent, he concluded, is a “virus” that must be quarantined.

But mass discontent has already been quarantined. That’s why voters on both the right and left are so pissed off. The real challenge facing America today is the near-absence in civic life of democratic channels that run deeper than a sporadic visit to the voting booth, or the fleeting euphoria of a street protest.

Simply put, while I don’t know exactly what “we need more democracy” means because in the real world, that’s really hard to define and implement, what we absolutely do not need is technocratic betters keeping everyday people out of policy and leadership positions. Because we know that is a dead end in the long run. Even in comments here, I’ve seen people defend the superdelegates in the Democratic Party as a defense against a Trump-like takeover of whackos. And that’s a terribly bad thing to argue.

Teen Minimum Wage?

[ 110 ] August 24, 2016 |

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To say the least, the idea of a teen minimum wage of $4.25 is a horrendous idea with enormously awful policy implications. It also underplays the actual cost of being a teenager which is not going out with Biff and Cindy to the drive-in and maybe getting some malts afterwards and gee isn’t that soda jerk cute. Unfortunately, a 1996 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (thanks Bill!) allows employers to pay workers under the age of 20 $4.25 an hour for their first 90 days of employment. This needs to change. Not only has that number not increased with inflation, but it always was nothing more than a way for the government to allow exploitative employers to be even more exploitative. At its heart is the idea that teenagers aren’t real workers and shouldn’t be treated as such. This still animates conversations about certain sectors of work, as conservatives and even too many liberals dismiss thinking of fast food work as legitimate work worthy of being covered by labor law or being the target of organizing campaigns. That’s teen work, right? But no, it’s often not. Allowing employers to pay young workers less only undermines the wages for everyone. Meanwhile, many of these teen workers are working to pay for AP exams and to contribute to their family’s income. Repealing the teen minimum wage needs to be a top progressive priority.

Affordable Child Care

[ 49 ] August 24, 2016 |

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The number of policy options that would make people’s lives better while also spurring the economy is quite large. These commonsense choices would be a huge boon for 99 percent of Americans while having the singular downside of making rich people pay higher taxes. Therefore it is of course impossible. But the government taking the lead in creating affordable child care makes more sense than just about anything else and the election is the time to talk about these issues.

Affordable day care, for instance, would stanch the income loss experienced by parents who now must leave the work force while their children are young. The damage of such career interruptions does not end when a parent goes back to work; among other things, there are the raises that were missed and the savings that otherwise would have accrued. A 26-year-old mother who takes five years off from a median-paying job — $30,253 in 2014 — would forfeit $467,000 over a work life, reducing her lifetime earnings by 19 percent, according to a calculator by the Center for American Progress.

The losses are even more profound when multiplied over the economy. International comparisons indicate that more family-friendly policies in the United States, including quality child care, would allow roughly 5.5 million more women to work, assuming the economy was adding jobs at a reasonable pace. All else being equal, that surge could generate an astounding $500 billion a year in economic growth, or about 3.5 percent of gross domestic product.

Proper child care also lays the foundation for future productivity gains. Research shows that public investment in early education yields benefits for children far in excess of its cost, including higher academic and career achievement well into adulthood, as well as better health. McKinsey researchers estimated that closing academic achievement gaps between low-income students and others would increase the size of the economy by roughly $70 billion a year; closing racial and ethnic gaps would add $50 billion annually.

But hey, taxes might go up on the wealthy. And those parents shouldn’t be having kids if they aren’t millionaires. Why can’t the breeding poor just pull themselves by their bootstraps like I did by being born to a corporate lawyer who graduated from Yale?

Hillary Clinton has something of a plan to deal with these problems. Donald Trump does not. But both parties are the same, amiright? Stein ’16!

Welcome to Trump’s America

[ 121 ] August 24, 2016 |

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Racists, let your freak flag fly.

The message on the receipt rattled Sadie Karina Elledge, but it made her grandfather see red.

Instead of leaving a gratuity on Monday, a couple eating at the Harrisonburg, Va., restaurant where Sadie works scrawled: “We only tip citizens.”

The dig was aimed at Sadie, 18, who was born in the United States but is of Honduran and Mexican descent. So, John Elledge took a photo of the grease-stained receipt left for his granddaughter and posted it on Facebook.

Beneath the photo he typed: “You are a complete and total piece of dung.”

Earlier on Facebook, the lawyer had written some other harsh words:

I’d happily do the jail time if I could get just one solid punch in to the face of the son of a bitch who paid for his meal at the luncheonette where my granddaughter works and left the receipt for her with a note saying, “Sorry, we only tip citizens.”

Elledge, who is white, told The Washington Post he’s particularly sensitive to slights directed at his multicultural family.

FWIW, this is also another reason why we need to pay restaurant workers a decent wage and eliminate tipping.

Irving Fields, RIP

[ 9 ] August 23, 2016 |

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The wonderful Irving Fields has died at the age of 101. Fields was a brilliant piano player and probably the last living man on the Catskill circuit of the postwar years who in the 1950s combined Jewish music traditions with Latin rhythms. His most famous album is 1959’s Bagels and Bongos, the height of this combination. It’s simply a wonderful album that is a tremendous amount of fun to listen to. Fields, having great success on that album, recorded a bunch of other albums combining European lounge and Latin traditions. I also Champagne and Bongos, which builds on French cafe music. It’s good, but not as good as Bagels. In his late career, he was picked up in the John Zorn circle, which allowed him to record some albums of Zorn’s Tzadik label. His album Oy Vey! Ole! with the percussionist Roberto Rodriguez is absolutely fantastic. His solo album on Tzadik, My Yiddishe Mama, is quite good, although in my view it has the limits of most solo piano albums which is a lack of varied sound. Fields played weekly in an Italian restaurant in New York until just a few months ago. I am disappointed with myself for not finding a reason to go see him play. Here’s a few available clips from his long career. RIP.

Texas Conservatives Are Winning Their War on Women

[ 53 ] August 23, 2016 |

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Good god Texas.

The rate of Texas women who died from complications related to pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014, a new study has found, for an estimated maternal mortality rate that is unmatched in any other state and the rest of the developed world.

The finding comes from a report, appearing in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that the maternal mortality rate in the United States increased between 2000 and 2014, even while the rest of the world succeeded in reducing its rate. Excluding California, where maternal mortality declined, and Texas, where it surged, the estimated number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births rose to 23.8 in 2014 from 18.8 in 2000 – or about 27%.

But the report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval”.

From 2000 to the end of 2010, Texas’s estimated maternal mortality rate hovered between 17.7 and 18.6 per 100,000 births. But after 2010, that rate had leaped to 33 deaths per 100,000, and in 2014 it was 35.8. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 600 women died for reasons related to their pregnancies.

No other state saw a comparable increase.

In the wake of the report, reproductive health advocates are blaming the increase on Republican-led budget cuts that decimated the ranks of Texas’s reproductive healthcare clinics. In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.

No one can say that Texas conservatives don’t know what they are doing. I would like to see how this specifically affects Latinas, because dollars to donuts, the biggest impact is in south Texas. But this article doesn’t explore that.

Building on Obamacare

[ 116 ] August 23, 2016 |

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The Affordable Care Act is arguably the biggest progressive legislative victory since the Johnson administration. It’s also deeply flawed and in need of update in many areas. These two statements are not contradictory. The question, as Jim Newell asks, is whether Democrats are ready to build upon that great victory and improve the law.

First, some of the issues, which have been more in the news lately because of Aetna deciding to play the villain.

But it’s becoming clearer that the Affordable Care Act, for all its advances, is due for the sort of legislative maintenance that most major laws require after implementation. Two temporary federal programs, reinsurance and risk corridors, designed to cushion losses for insurers as they determined sustainable premium price points in new markets, expire in 2017 as the exchanges enter their fourth year of operation. Carriers serving sicker-than-expected pools or rural areas find that their options are either to sharply increase premiums or to leave the exchanges altogether. Average premium increase requests from insurers on the individual exchanges are well into the double digits across much of the country. And a Kaiser estimate in May projected the number of counties that could have a single exchange insurer in 2017 to be 664—70 percent of which are mostly rural—up from 225 in 2016. That number will increase following Aetna’s withdrawal and could reach roughly a quarter of all counties in the country. Alabama, Alaska, South Carolina, and Wyoming are set to have just one insurer offering coverage on their exchanges in 2017. Most of North Carolina, except for the Raleigh metropolitan region, will be down to one insurer as well.

One problem with legislative redress for Obamacare is that the legislators who are supposed to do the redressing seem less than eager to return to the front where not long ago they’d declared victory. The second problem is that, once again, the fight will almost certainly involve the public option.

So what about the public option and what, if anything, are Democrats ready to do if they have a big win in November? Newell correctly notes that most Democratic politicians see the fight as protecting the ACA from Republicans and therefore really not articulating any changes. He does have a slight bit of hope that Hillary Clinton will push toward something like the public option.

There is one Democratic figure who might be in office in 2017 who has treated the law’s shortcomings seriously and put together a bevy of health care proposals—and she happens to be the party’s presidential nominee.

In the beginning of the campaign, Hillary Clinton, too, suffered from the “everything is fine!” bug, going so far as to red-bait Sen. Bernie Sanders over his Medicare-for-all plan. Sanders’ specific proposal suffered from some fuzzy math. But he understood that though the ACA was a vast improvement on an untenable status quo, its flaws really were flaws, and it made little sense to avoid confronting them just because doing so would be a pain. One staple of Sanders’ events during the campaign was to ask members of his crowds to raise their hands if they were facing sharp premium increases, and then to say how large the increase was. There was never a shortage of volunteers.

Eventually Clinton put together a series of health care proposals. It wasn’t the overhaul Sanders wanted, but he gave his enthusiastic endorsement anyway. Clinton would add a Medicare “buy-in” option for those 55 and older, and she also committed to doubling the money for community health centers from the funding mark set in the original ACA, an important provision won by Sanders in 2009. She offered further inducement for states that haven’t already accepted the Medicaid expansion to do so and would grant the HHS secretary additional “authority to block or modify unreasonable health insurance premium rate increases,” increase resources for enrollment outreach, and expand existing exchange subsidies.

And yes, she’s also pledged to “pursue efforts to give Americans in every state in the country the choice of a public-option insurance plan.”

It’s unclear how high a public option, and the political fight that will come with it, ranks atop Clinton’s list of priorities. But if 2017 open enrollment goes poorly and more insurers flee the exchanges, the public option—which has always polled well—would be an obvious go-to solution for restoring competition. The idea doesn’t rely on hand-holding private insurers until they feel properly incentivized to perform their societal function. It is a direct delivery of health insurance plans to health insurances exchanges. “Health care markets will inevitably differ from region to region,” Jacob Hacker, the Yale professor and so-called “father of the public option,” wrote in Vox on Thursday, “but there’s no reason every one of the existing marketplaces couldn’t offer a Medicare-like plan—a plan that’s stable; a plan with predictable costs; a plan that gives patients a broad choice of providers just as Medicare does.” It would also save money—$158 billion over 10 years, according to a 2013 Congressional Budget Office estimate.

There’s another problem that Newell does not discuss, but that I feel. The ACA was a big win but the Tea Party’s rise and McConnell destroying the historical norms of the Senate has meant that it’s now been 7 years since we have seen a major progressive bill become law. The victories of the last 7 years have been in the courts (especially in the last few months) and through the executive branch. There are a lot of other priorities that have been ignored or put aside. If Clinton wins and has the ability to pass any legislation (just play along here), I think her top two priorities should be an immigration bill with a path to citizenship for undocumented Americans and a sizable minimum wage increase. Both of these have significant political support and are fairly simply to articulate. After that, maybe health care comes back on the table, but so does a climate bill, college tuition and debt issues, a revived Employee Free Choice Act, and a whole lot of other things. Given all of this, to what extent should Democrats fight to improve Obamacare?

Which, in other words, means that this could serve as a thread on what you think Clinton’s top legislative priorities should be, in particular keeping in mind what is actually possible, even if she does have 55 senators and a narrow House majority for the precisely 2 years that will probably last.

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