Big Banks, Big Insurance, Big Pharma & Big Housing: Corporate America Is Burying Us in Fees

Thanks for the poverty

Working for a living is hard. You have to get out of bed early, get dressed… maybe even put wear a silly uniform that you were required to purchase… drop the kids off at school, drive around to find parking or sit on a bench waiting for the bus, rush to work to be on time, and repeat in reverse after work a few hours later. If you are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, the complexity and aggravation of daily life grow exponentially … one grueling day after another.

Decades ago, Wall Street bankers learned that making money off of other people by charging fees for absolutely everything their accountants can think of… and then charging late fees upon those fees… is an fast route to Easy Street. Banks and other lending institutions are masters at making money from fees (as opposed to real work).

The Fee Game is now pervasive across Corporate America. As a result, We the People are getting fleeced at every turn. People complain about high taxes from the government, while Corporate America is slipping billions of dollars out of our pockets in service fees, administrative fees, application fees, late fees, nonpayment fees, stop payment fees, online payment fees, nonrefundable deposits, usurious interest rates,  junk health insurance, unaffordable health insurance premiums, co-pays, coinsurance, and the list goes on. It’s no wonder people are strapped for cash. We’re being nickel and dimed into bankruptcy by Corporate America, while Congress and state Legislatures bend over backwards to be “business friendly.” For more about The Fee Game and how lucrative it is… read on…

Continue reading Big Banks, Big Insurance, Big Pharma & Big Housing: Corporate America Is Burying Us in Fees

Democracy Now: Compelling Stories about Extreme Wealth & Extreme Poverty in California (video)

Safe Park Homeless camp 2015
Safe Park Dream Pod, Tucson 2015
Safe Park Dream Pods for Tucson homeless,  2015

Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now radio show has a long history of hard-hitting, investigative journalism. Today’s show (October 25) juxtaposed Progressive Congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib grilling Facebook CEO with a story about homelessness in California.

These stories represent the two sides of California– a land of extreme wealth and innovation that also houses 50 percent of our country’s homeless population, according to Goodman.

Excerpted from “State of Emergency”: Special Report on California’s Criminalization of Growing Homeless Encampments

“In a Democracy Now! special report, we look at the rise in homelessness in many major cities across the United States. California has become the poster child for this economic and humanitarian disaster, with growing encampments in Los Angeles and the Bay Area as more people are forced onto the streets. The state is home to 12% of the country’s population but half of the country’s unsheltered people. As the crisis deepens, so has the criminalization of homelessness, with increasing efforts by city and state officials to crack down on unhoused people occupying public space. President Donald Trump made headlines this month for attacking California’s politicians over the homelessness crisis, threatening to destroy encampments, increase police enforcement and even jail unhoused people. But advocates say California has already employed hostile policies that criminalize homelessness, from laws against unsheltered people sitting on sidewalks to frequent sweeps of the encampments that have popped up on thoroughfares and under freeways across the state’s cities. One of these crackdowns is currently unfolding at a massive Oakland encampment that Democracy Now! visited just a few weeks ago.”

Watch the video and read the story here.

 

 

 

Maternal & Child Health: a Public Health Model for Social Justice (video)

NICU

A few weeks ago, I gave the guest reflection at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson on maternal and child health in Arizona. Below is the text of my talk or you can listen to the podcast here. I have been talking with people for months about this topic, and many of you have expressed an interest in working on solutions to improve maternal and child health. My plan is to hold stakeholder meetings on the state of Maternal and Child Health in Arizona, with the goal of crafting bills for the 2020 session. Stay tuned on the PowersForThePeople.net blog and on my Facebook page. I will be giving another talk on this topic at the Salt of the Earth Labor College on September 21, 2019.

Prevention: A Public Health Model for Social Justice (reflection text)

As the Public Health Parable in the Message for All Ages previewed, today, we are going to talk about prevention not only a public health strategy but also a social justice strategy.

Like the industrious carpenter in the video, we are going to assess the current problems, walk upstream to examine the root causes, and brainstorm long-term solutions to tackle those root causes.

Rather than focus solely on putting out fires today—as our government often does—the Public Health Parable teaches us to not only put out the current fire but also to devote significant effort to preventing those fires in the future.

My original idea for today was to discuss three unfolding public health crises: migration, housing security, and maternal and child health, but when I started to pull everything together, I realized we would be here all day if we tackled upstream solutions for those three, highly complex issues.

These three seem like disparate topics– migration, housing security, and maternal and child health—but they have commonalities.

Can you name some?  

[Pause for audience to shout out ideas.]

Poverty is a big factor in all of these, right?

But many of the “isms” are also involved: racism, sexism, classism, capitalism. And let’s not forget capitalism’s destructive cousins: war, austerity and bad policy.

How we tackle the unfolding crises of migration, housing security, and maternal and child health could have wide-ranging, positive OR negative repercussions on children, families, communities, future generations, and the climate.

Now we’re talking interconnectedness of all life, right?

Today, I want to focus on the area that has received the least amount of attention: maternal and child health. We hear a lot in the news about migration and housing, but there is a statewide and nationwide crisis in maternal and child health that is being ignored.

Continue reading Maternal & Child Health: a Public Health Model for Social Justice (video)

Why Can’t the Ronstadt Center Be an Open-Air Transit & Community Space?

Ronstadt Center, Tucson, 2013

Do you remember the controversy surrounding redevelopment of the Ronstadt Transit Center? Back in 2013-2014, developers were making a play to redevelopment the Ronstadt Transit Center. They had pitched redevelopment of the Ronstadt in the past and failed; the 2013-14 plans revolved around building something on top of the Ronstadt. I mention this ancient history because the Ronstadt redevelopment project– which I mistakenly thought had died a silent death– popped up at a recent Mayor and Council candidate forum as a good idea. Now I realize that demolition of the Ronstadt Transit Center is on the horizon– along with construction of more luxury apartments and yet another “boutique hotel.” Groan. Why are we doing this? Why are we destroying our sense of place and community on Congress Street and 4th Ave. in exchange for big boxy buildings?

The History…

Ronstadt Center, Tucson 2009
During community events like Downtown Saturday Night or the gallery art walks, dancers would perform at the Ronstadt Transit Center (2009).

Old timers like me remember the original design and intent of the Ronstadt Transit Center as not only a transit hub to bring people in and out of downtown but also a community gathering space. In fact, I often wrote about and photographed downtown when I had my writing, photography, and design business in the 1980s and later in the 2000s as a downtown artist. In addition to writing for Dateline Downtown, a weekly downtown newspaper, the Tucson Arts District Partnership was one of my clients. In the 2000s, as Wind Dancer Design, I was a member of Central Arts Gallery, one of the former on Congress Street galleries that were replaced by restaurants and bars.

The low brick walls were designed as benches and gathering spaces around the Ronstadt Center. The rustic brick, custom decorative tiles, and the large decorative brick patio area (with bricks from the Ronstadt Hardware Store, that once stood there) gave the design a sense if place and purpose. Form + function makes for good design. The patio, which had tables at one point, was designed for people to sit while they waited for the bus or had sandwich from one of the restaurants or a food cart set up on the patio.

Continue reading Why Can’t the Ronstadt Center Be an Open-Air Transit & Community Space?

FY2020 Budget & #AZLeg Session Wrap-Up: What Just Happened? (video)

Arizona House

Drama, rumors, secrecy, backroom deals, coup attempts, flexible rules, and a bit of chaos are commonplace during the waning days of each session of the Arizona Legislature.  This is the atmosphere in which our state’s budget is crafted each year.

The First Session of the 54th Legislature ended in the wee hours of May 28, 2019. The new budget took effect on July 1, 2019. New laws that had “emergency clauses” are already in place. All other laws take effect 90 days after the end of the session, which is August 27, 2019.

Here is a peak behind the curtain during the last days of the session and some high and low points in the legislation that was passed.

The Game Plan

In 2019, secrecy and chaos reigned supreme as the Republicans desperately clung to their standard game plan: hear and pass primarily Republican-sponsored bills; ignore all Democratic ideas, bills and constituents; make enough pork barrel deals with their members to get 100% of them on one budget; and ram the budget through in the middle of the night when voters are asleep and Legislators want to be.

The Chaos

There was more chaos than usual in 2019 because a few Republicans realized that the slim D-R margins in both the Senate and the House gave each R a lot of power. (Rep. Kelly Townsend showed the Republican leadership her power back in March when she starting voting “no” on every bill one day. Here’s the blog post and video.)

The chaos was amplified by totally random floor schedules…

Continue reading FY2020 Budget & #AZLeg Session Wrap-Up: What Just Happened? (video)

Housing, Homelessness & Gentrification: What Is the Path Forward?

homelessness

Where do the mayoral candidates stand on affordable housing, low-income housing, and homelessness?

I think that’s a great question, and I hope to find the answers at the upcoming Mayor and Ward 1 City Council Candidate Forum on Saturday, June 22.  The event will be held at El Rio Center, from 12 noon – 2:30 p.m. and will moderated by Nancy Montoya from Arizona Public Media. According to the Blog for Arizona Calendar, the three Democrats running for Mayor and the four running for Romero’s Ward 1 seat are expected to participate.

What is the state of housing in Arizona?

Arizona’s Housing Crisis: Has the Legislature Done Its Part?

As rents and evictions increase, housing has become a huge issue across Arizona. Housing– like prison reform and charter school reform– got a lot of lip service in the Arizona Legislature in 2019. During the session, there were many opportunities to tackle the housing crisis in a meaningful way, but those bills died.

On a high note, the Legislature allocated $10 million for the Housing Trust Fund in the FY2020 budget, which begins in a few weeks. The Housing Trust Fund used to be $40 million per year until the Tea Party Reign of Terror swept the funds and left only ~$2.5 million in it. (Of course, back then, tax cuts were far more important than helping people keep roofs over their heads.)

Continue reading Housing, Homelessness & Gentrification: What Is the Path Forward?

UPDATED: Multiple Bills Look at Housing, Homelessness (video)

I published this original blog post and video on March 30, 2019– back when I thought the Arizona Legislature would take some serious steps toward solving the state’s housing crisis.

The original article focused on five housing-related bills that passed the Senate and passed through my committees (SB1471, SB1336, SB1539, SB1383, and SB1098) and on the issue of restoring full funding to the Housing Trust Fund.

Early last Tuesday morning, May 28, 2019, was sine die, the last day of the session. The Housing Trust Fund was not restored to full pre-recession funding ($40 million of designated funds from unclaimed property), but it did get $10 million. The only bill from the above list that made it to the Floor of the House was SB1539, but it was changed dramatically, which resulted in a party line vote.

I really regret the demise of SB1471 (help for homeless youth and families) and SB1383 (property tax assistance for widows and the elderly).  The community groups backing SB1471 came up with a procedure to collect capitol gains tax on sales of Arizona property by out-of-state sellers. The Legislature said “thanks for the collection idea”. That procedure was adopted and put into the budget, but the earmark for homeless youth and families was eliminated. (Grrr…) SB1383 is a Maricopa County only program that helps widows and the elderly pay their property taxes; I think it should be expanded to statewide to help these people age in place. Instead, it was no heard in House Appropriations or Rules.  On a bright note, the affordable housing tax credit bill– which would have costs the state over $90 million in the coming years– died again.

Continue reading UPDATED: Multiple Bills Look at Housing, Homelessness (video)

Housing for Homeless Youth & Families (video)

Safe Park Dream Pod, Tucson 2015

Homelessness, transitional housing, low-income housing and affordable housing are obviously big problems in the state of Arizona. There is a mixed bag of several bills in the legislature that deal with different parts of the housing problem.

Today’s video focuses on SB1471 which provides a creative funding mechanism to put up to $10 million per year in the Housing Trust Fund for homeless youth and families. There are no federal HUD funds for this population. This is one of several bills.

SB1471 sets up a process for the state of Arizona to collect capital gains taxes on sales of Arizona property owned by out of state individuals. Apparently, compliance with capital gains taxes owed by out-of-state investors is less than 30%. This bill is projected to make around $8 million of year and could go higher. If more than &10 million is collected the excess goes into the general fund.

Continue reading Housing for Homeless Youth & Families (video)

More Tax Giveaways: Republicans Fight for ‘Revenue Neutral’ (video)

revenue neutral meme

The House Ways and Means Committee passed HB2522 today. This is the revenue-neutral tax conformity bill, which would give the richest Arizonans a tax cut.

The Democrats stood strong and said that we should not give a tax cut when there are so many needs in our country. Also we must look at investment for the future rather than giving away money today. Our rainy day fund is underfunded. If Wall Street crashes the economy again, Arizona will face more devastating cuts, when we haven’t recovered fully from the last cuts.

This bill and the mirror bill SB 1143 need a 2/3 majority due to the emergency enactment clause, since we waited until the last minute to act on tax conformity. It will be difficult to get these out of the Senate or the House. Democrats need to stand strong on this.

Continue reading More Tax Giveaways: Republicans Fight for ‘Revenue Neutral’ (video)

#AZLeg Budget Update: What’s in Store for the 54th Legislature (video)

budget update

Unlike many years, the Arizona Legislature will have money to spend when it convenes the 54th Legislative Session on opening day, January 14, 2019. We have an unexpected $900 million in one-time funding due to unexpectedly high sales tax returns and personal income tax returns.(Gosh, could the minimum wage have played a role in this?) We also have $200 million in the structural budget (money that should be available for three years).In addition, there’s tax conformity and review of the tax giveaways.