icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

I Should Have Majored in Economics

I had the highest grade in a class of 55, with 50 young men and five young women. Instead, when the professor pointed this out to the inferior fifty guys, I was very embarrassed. I never even considered the field as a career. I’m still glad of that in a way, given the daily struggle with discrimination it would have been. There’s enough of that among historians; it would have been overwhelming with economists. I also remember my second full-time job, which was as a researcher and writer at an investment firm. When I left for teaching, I was asked to train my replacement, an inexperienced guy who started at a pay level higher than mine.

I was reminded of this personal history with the field of economics when Tampa native Jimmy Walter, who now lives in Vienna, sent a link to a New York Times article questioning the way we measure national prosperity. The writer is right. For many reasons, our measurements are deceptive. The unemployment rate, for example, doesn’t show how many people are underemployed, let alone how many are working three jobs to get by – indeed, that phenomenon feeds a false impression of more than 100% employment. Similarly, the GNP (gross national product) was invented during the Great Depression of the 1930s when our farms and especially our factories really were producing something; much of that production has gone overseas, where labor is cheaper, and now the GNP measures too much paper passed between bankers, brokers, and lawyers.

So it occurs to me that this is a rare case when we should measure by the negative instead of the positive. Why not take toll of the economy by counting how many people cannot afford to buy a decent house? How many people don’t go to the dentist because it’s too expensive? How many grandmothers are spending their retirement taking care of grandkids because moms can’t afford child care? How many grandpas are working as bag boys because their retirement income isn’t nearly enough? How many people patronize businesses that, in truth, are licensed loan sharks because legitimate banks won’t accept their meager accounts? I can think of other negative measurements that would be more revealing than the current ones, but you get the point. Sometimes answers appear when the question changes.

“We Could See the Train Wreck Coming”

The media has been full of commentary about the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which signaled the Great Recession under Dubya and Dick. Actually, the collapse began long before that, but many people didn’t catch on until this dominant Wall Street player declared bankruptcy. The easiest way to explicate this, I think, is to quote myself, from my 2012 Congressional Quarterly work:

“Running for office and losing can be a good exercise in humility – and that can be an asset later, when greater modesty encourages one to ask questions and foresee what may be going wrong. In 1990, Sheila Bair, a Republican, ran for Congress and lost. Young and self-confident at the time, she said, ‘I couldn’t believe it.’ She was working for Kansas Senator Bob Dole, and she said, ‘he told me the reason I lost was because I was a woman, and I was unmarried. That made me all the more determined...’

“By 2006, Bair chaired the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which was created in the 1930s by the Democratic Roosevelt administration to insure deposits in local banks. In a speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, where she accepted a 2009 Profile in Courage Award, Bair spoke about when the economy crashed under the Bush-Cheney administration:

I wanted to make sure our [FDIC] policies helped the average homeowner on Main Street, not just the large financial institutions on Wall Street. We could see the train wreck coming and working families needed protection, too.

Robert Frost liked to say that a banker is someone who gives you an umbrella when the sun is shining and takes it away when it starts to rain. Well, we set out to prove that adage wrong at IndyMac bank. During the time we were conservator, we restructured loans for over 13,000 families to keep them in their homes…

We weren’t trying to do something great or even courageous. We were just trying to do something that seemed like basic common sense.

In its press release for her award, the library said, “Sheila Bair has been called ‘a lone voice in the wilderness’ for her early warnings about the sub-prime lending crisis of both Wall Street’s and the government’s management of the subsequent financial meltdown.” So, I’m wondering if anyone at the White House has her phone number – or if she would accept the call if it came. But I fear another train wreck is coming. Maybe we could put some people in charge who don’t even know what “sub-prime” means. Or whose personal pocketbooks are, in fact, sub-prime. At least they would know something about the real economy and putting food on the table.

“Access to Quality Health Care Should be Available to Everyone”

I recently was invited to a panel discussion on health care by a young man whose mother apparently wasn’t thinking when she named him Coulter Lena. But like Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue,” Coulter learned to be persistent. If you want a PR flack who will do his job and do it again and once more after that, you could do worse than to call him. Hence the following.

The sponsoring organization was the Women’s Business Development Council of Florida, and they describe themselves as “award-winning experts in assisting women in business to access opportunities, connections, and resources.” Everyone in the Centre Club room introduced herself and said a few words about the start-up or invention she was undertaking. The moderator asked them to add something personal, and almost everyone talked of kids and grandkids. That’s who women are – the real futurists.

The panel was made up of a moderator from the USF Small Business Center, as well as a woman from the Health Council of Tampa, a State of Florida non-profit group; a woman from Florida Blue, which I know from fifty years of experience is certainly a profit-making insurance company; and Debbie Bain, the founder of a health-insurance advocacy company called Prism. It is based in Connecticut and expanding into Florida.

Debbie was a firefighter and a pioneer in domestic violence, and she began Prism because she saw the difficulty people had in accessing the health care to which they were entitled – with a strong emphasis on ultimately saving money for her clients. She included case studies in her PR packet, the first of which featured a man who lived in Europe (where, you know, they have free health care). His 92-year-old father was being kicked out of a Connecticut hospital after spending three days in ER. He was being discharged without having any tests and without a diagnosis. His wife was told to take him to a rehab facility that would cost $13,000 a month. Prism stepped in, worked through the financial and legal mess, saved the client a ton of money, and reported the incident to the State Attorney General.

Debbie believes that “access to quality care should be available to everyone,” but while we wait for a Democratic Congress to enact that, she recommended that you (1) insist on line-item charges on bills (2) check for duplicative billing of the same treatment (3) communicate with the real workers, the nurses and other staff about what is going on (4) become knowledgeable about health terminology (5) and demand! You can find more valuable information at www.PrismHealthAdvocates.com.

Many of Prism’s clients have problems getting the system to do what should be done for a sick person, but the opposite also can happen, when profit-mined people do a procedure that the patient doesn’t want or need. When Medicare began in the 1960s, most doctors strongly opposed this program enacted by President Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic Congress. By the 1980s, however, some physicians had discovered that it provided a new financial jackpot for them, and my friend Kay Sullivan told me about a case she had then as a Pinellas County social worker.

Her client was a 95-year-old African-American woman who was content with death – but her white male physician insisted on surgery. She didn’t want it, but the doctor said that he would get two colleagues to sign a form and then do the surgery without her permission. Kay stepped in and reminded him of her volunteer status with the American Civil Liberties Union. Not surprisingly, he walked away. But some people will do anything for money. We ought to lock ‘em up.

Odds and Ends

• Did you see that the Trump administration is paying $5 million to a bankrupt company for a contract re the 2020 census?

• And yes, the Tampa Bay Times, which used to hire reporters who won Pulitzer Prizes, really did publish a three-part section totaling 48 pages to publicize the profit-making Bucs.

• Another sign of the reality of grass-roots campaigning this year: A Democratic candidate in Michigan’s 1st Congressional district, the Upper Peninsula, got 30,000 write-in votes in their August primary. The backstory is complicated and we’ll have to wait until November, but that huge number of write-ins indicates real organizing ability.

• Some pundits are saying that lieutenant governors don’t matter in elections, but I say tell that to Alex Sink. She would be governor today but for Rick Scott’s trickery in putting an African-American woman on his ticket. Jennifer Carroll pulled just enough minority votes for him to win – and then he dumped her.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
Make a comment to the author