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Alternative Beliefs

Review: The Original Canopy Chair 3.0 by Renetto

There have been a lot of renditions of the canopy chair over the past few years, but one company owns the patent on a key design element. Renetto’s claim to fame is that they’re the creators of the original canopy chair. I’ve seen a variety of versions of this sort of camp chair, but most have design issues, or are made very cheaply. The Renetto Canopy Chair 3.0 is different. It’s built strong with materials that are made to last, and the design is well thought out [...]

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Ultimate Survival Gear: Part one – Camping

Greetings campers, and wilderness adventurers. Today, I bring you part one of a three part series where I feature some lesser known, yet important gear that can save your life. Throughout this series, I will feature little oddities and amazingly compact items that can have a tremendous impact on your ability to survive in the wild, as well as have a real good time in Nature. I will be featuring three articles on Camping, Fire, and Survival where I will take a look at some of the survivali [...]

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Why the Republicans’ Bizarre and Failed Efforts to Repeal Obamacare Is a Major Defeat for Trump and the GOP

More than $1 trillion in spending cuts and tax breaks were not enough for House Freedom Caucus.

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have stunningly failed their first major legislative test, as a bill to repeal Obamacare and defund Medicaid was pulled from House debate just before voting was to begin. A chorus of “No” erupted before its live video link went dead.

Ryan’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and gut Medicaid was a risky gamble. It showed that the right-wing ideology of ending government programs under the guise of cutting spending and spreading personal freedom was more fantasy than reality, especially when the GOP faced undermining millions of lives.

Even though Republicans have been pledging to dismantle Obamacare for years, Ryan’s bill arrogantly went beyond Trump’s oft-repeated campaign pledge to repeal and replace the ACA by tying it to the first major defunding of Medicaid, an anti-poverty program that has served tens of millions for half a century. Across the country, tens of thousands of people attended rallies protesting the proposed healthcare cuts and unexpectedly deluged town meetings convened by Republicans in their home districts.

At a press conference after the bill was pulled, Ryan darkly predicted Obamacare would collapse under its own weight yet the government’s role in providing health coverage is here to stay. "Obamacare is the law of the land. It’s gonna remain the law of the land until it’s replaced," he said. "We did not have quite the votes to replace this law.”

What Really Happened?

It will become clear in coming days what prevented Ryan from gaining the votes needed for passage. Many news reports blamed the so-called House Freedom Caucus, whose several dozen members are notoriously inflexible and refused to budge despite numerous concessions from Ryan. While Trump threatened that anyone voting against the bill wouldn’t be re-elected in 2018, the libertarian Koch brothers countered they would set aside millions to defend members voting no, claiming Ryan’s bill didn’t go far enough.

A more intriguing narrative emerged a few hours later. More moderate Republicans had deserted Ryan and Trump, facing—as Democrats reminded them during the floor debate—tens of thousands of their constituents who would lose coverage, with polling finding that only 17 percent of Americans supported Ryan’s plan. 

“Some of the highest-profile opposition to the bill came from the 30 or so right-wing members of the House who make up the Freedom Caucus,” wrote the New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells. “But by midday Friday—when the chair of the House Appropriations Committee announced his opposition to the bill—it seemed that the larger pool of opponents might come from the Party’s moderate wing. At lunchtime, the conservative Congressman Louie Gohmert, who was firmly against the bill, tweeted, a little gleefully, ‘Leadership hiding likely more NON-Freedom Caucus No votes than Freedom Caucus No votes.’"

While a Republican blame game has ensued in the capital, with conservatives decrying Ryan and Trump, millions of Americans who want to see health safety nets expanded and legislative reforms that cut their healthcare costs without losing coverage are undoubtedly breathing easier.

What Republicans will learn from this episode is worth watching. Ryan said the House GOP still has to learn how to govern after years as an opposition party. Other Republicans who have criticized the rise of right-wing extremism in the party, from rabid talk radio to websites trafficking in conspiracies, said the ardent right-wingers need to get over “self-inflicted blind spots” and realize that most of America isn’t like them.

“In March in 2010, America committed itself for the first time to the principle of universal (or near universal) health-care coverage,” David Frum, a speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote in the Atlantic. “That principle has had seven years to work its way into American life and into the public sense of right and wrong. It’s not yet unanimously accepted. But it’s accepted by enough voters—and especially by enough Republican voters—to render impossible the seven-year Republican vision of removing that coverage from those who have gained it under the Affordable Care Act. Paul Ryan still upholds the right of Americans to ‘choose’ to go uninsured if they cannot afford to pay the cost of their insurance on their own. His country no longer agrees.”

Frum’s comment is a remarkable indictment of how out of touch Ryan, Trump and the Freedom Caucus are. But he ends his essay with a plea that may fall on deaf ears: “I would urge that those conservatives and Republicans who were wrong about the evolution of this debate please consider why they were wrong: Consider the destructive effect of ideological conformity, of ignorance of the experience of comparable countries, and of a conservative political culture that incentivizes intransigence, radicalism, and anger over prudence, moderation, and compassion.”

The Negotiator-in-Chief Fails

The House action is also a major defeat for Trump, underscoring the fact that he lacks the experience and clout to lead his party to enact major legislation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had personally lobbied 120 members of Congress and “left everything on the field” in negotiations.

Outsourcing the details to Ryan, who could not bring the GOP factions together, on top of Trump’s disinterest in policy details, is undoubtedly another reason why the repeal failed. Spicer said there were no plans to revive the repeal, although Trump later said he would be willing to try again once Democrats realize how problem-plagued Obamacare is.

It’s breathtaking to consider what Trump left “on the field” that the House nearly adopted. Although it did not completely erase Obamacare, Ryan’s bill was a trillion-dollar hollowing out of federal health programs. The bill did not revoke the ACA's ban on lifetime insurance coverage caps or allow insurers to decline coverage for pre-existing conditions, but it posed devastating blows to medical safety nets for the poor, working class, middle class and elderly.

The bill brought to the floor Friday would cause an estimated 24 million Americans to lose coverage in a decade with half of those losses next year alone, all while cutting Obamacare’s income taxes on the rich and medical industries, and ending minimum coverage requirements for insurers.

The decision to pull the bill came after nearly four hours of debate, in which most Republicans and Democrats stuck to party line positions heard in recent days. Few specified what could be done to bring down costs while ensuring the public gets the care they need. Both sides talked past each other, with few Democrats addressing Republican criticisms that had merit, and vice-versa.

That kind of legislative process, in which a new major program like Obamacare is fine-tuned by successive Congresses to respond to changing economic or societal trends, was not in evidence. What Trump and Ryan do next remains to be seen.

But as of midday Friday, the Republicans have failed to deliver in their first major legislative test and that has left millions across America breathing easier.   


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Trump Is a Conservative Only by Accident?

Trump's conservative beliefs are determined by his character disorder.

Perhaps you've heard it said that Donald Trump is all about ego, not ideology. The reason many conservatives were so slow to warm up to him, on this view, is that they realized he's not really one of them. He is driven not by any political or philosophical principle but by his desperate need for attention and approval. Thus, as one columnist suggested hopefully after the election, he may “tilt in whatever direction, and toward whichever constituency, is the surest source of applause.”

If that were literally true, if Trump were a demagnetized compass needle, then it it is just by chance that he is in fact governing from the extreme right, that the American Conservative Union pronounced his cabinet "the most conservative of any Republican president." And instead of slashing funding for social needs and the environment in order to funnel an additional $54 billion to the military, he might just as well have done the reverse.

Merely to propose this scenario, though, is to expose its implausibility. And while the man's wealth may help to explain his animosity toward redistribution and regulation, it appears something else is going on. That something else is his psychological profile. It does indeed affect the direction in which his needle points, but it is not politically neutral. Put differently, Trump's conservative beliefs don't simply exist alongside what many have described as his character disorder. Rather, those beliefs are determined by it—and therefore far from accidental. 

It is true that before he ran for his very first public office—the presidency of the United States—Donald Trump showed no particular interest in various issues that matter to social conservatives. Indeed, he supported abortion rights and at one point identified as a Democrat. But the basic tilt to the right was already there in many other respects: his outspoken support for capital punishment, his attitudes about race and his worshipful regard for power. More than a quarter-century ago, he was characteristically emphatic in declaring that he believes "very strongly in extreme military strength" and that he "wouldn't trust anyone... [including] our allies."

Trump has an indiscriminate need to triumph over people and to construe all relationships (between individuals or between groups) as adversarial. Life for him is not about succeeding but about doing so at someone else's expense. As a rule, such competitiveness simultaneously reflects and reinforces a fundamental distrust of others. People who need to come out on top are desperately trying to prove their own worth, but victories fail to slake that thirst. Competition exacerbates the insecurity that gave rise to it, so the more they win, the more they need to win. 

For most people who fit this profile, struggles for dominance take place in corporate boardrooms or on playing fields. But when such an individual finds himself in politics, the psychological need may express itself in militarism and a preoccupation with law and order. Thus, it makes perfect sense that Trump has chosen to surround himself with generals (whom he has appointed even to nonmilitary posts) and incidentally, billionaires. When you fish in these pools, you don't catch many progressives.

“We have to start winning wars again,” Trump said recently, to justify swelling the military budget. He gives the appearance, as one journalist put it, of being “fascinated with raw military might”—a fascination best viewed through a psychological lens. This is someone who needs to feel powerful, to humiliate those around him, to puff up his masculinity—which in turn helps to explain his view of women as prizes to be won, objects to be admired (primarily for their physical features) and even groped at will.

Trump's psychology also meshes perfectly with his commitment to nationalism, which is "different from isolationism" in that it "demands engagement but on ruthlessly competitive terms." This springs not only from his need to beat those he encounters but also from a deep-seated fear of the Other. Hence his need to demonize immigrants, to paint all Muslims as evil. The (racist) policies reflect the (pathological) psychology. The same man who is a self-described germophobe—who says he feels “much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible”—talks endlessly of building a beautiful wall to keep out foreigners. This is a textbook case study.

One of the defining characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder, from which many observers believe Trump suffers, is an inability to empathize. This is consistent with his competitiveness, his need to defeat others, his taunting and bullying. He doesn't try to understand why someone might be criticizing his decisions or questioning his actions; he simply flies into a rage. This absence of empathy—as well as sympathy and the capacity for what psychologists call "perspective taking" (the capacity to imagine others' points of view)—might help us to make sense of his enthusiasm for cutting social welfare programs.

The general premise that certain personality features may underlie political positions is not new. A 2003 review of multiple studies, featuring 88 groups of subjects from a dozen countries, found that specific psychological characteristics were associated with political conservatism. Among them: an intolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity, anxiety about death and loss, and low scores on a well-studied attribute known as "openness to experience." 

Another fascinating study even suggested that certain personality features observed in very young children predicted their political beliefs 20 years later. Preschool children who were described as "feeling easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and relatively over-controlled and vulnerable" were more likely to be politically conservative at age 23.

If certain personality features are correlated with political views, then a more extreme psychological profile may be correlated with more extreme politics. Consider that the clearest examples of truly narcissistic heads of state tend to be dictators. Democracy, after all, involves checks and balances; it requires collaboration, compromise, consensus. The capacity to engage in such processes isn't merely outside of Trump's skill set, it's beyond what his psychological makeup allows. 

A dangerous, self-reinforcing loop is created as other autocrats in the world recognize in him a kindred spirit and give him the approval he desperately needs. (Recent headline: "Authoritarian Leaders Greet Trump as One of Their Own.") By contrast, democratic heads of state are put off by his petulance and peremptory demands, and since anything less than adulation makes him livid, he reacts the only way he can, with insults, taunts and vindictiveness.

It's not quite accurate to say that Trump is all about ego rather than political convictions. He has political convictions all right, but they're defined by his ego. That's why it's so important to understand how this man is damaged in order to understand the damage he can do.


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The Equilibrium: A modern knife for a modern world

When it comes to knives, designs can range from kitchen cutlery to zombie apocalypse machetes, and in between those, you will find a wide variety of fixed and folding knives and survivalist blades, yet finding the right one will be as unique as finding one’s own style of clothing. It can take time to find the right fit. But if you are indeed searching for that right blade, it’s important to consider what uses are required of the knife, and what you demand of it. [...]

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Republicans Can’t Agree on How Much They Want to Destroy Our Health Care System, Delay Congressional Vote

Ryan and Trump fail to cut deal, but they'll try again Friday.

No matter when the House votes on repealing Obamacare—it was scheduled for Thursday but abruptly postponed—President Trump and the House GOP have shown the nation that the Republican Party’s most extreme elements are in the driver’s seat.

Instead of anything resembling political discipline or party unity, the arch right-wing House Freedom Caucus has demanded a series of increasingly draconian measures to be put in the Obamacare repeal legislation to secure their yes votes. Whenever Speaker Paul Ryan brings a repeal bill forward with enough votes to pass it, it’s likely to be a hollow victory for Trump and the House GOP. That’s because its details will be so harsh that even more GOP senators will likely side with Democrats and vote no.

“There are at least a dozen skeptics of the bill among Senate Republicans, who maintain a slim 52-to-48 advantage, and many of them want to maintain some of the current law’s more generous spending components,” the Washington Post reported midday Thursday, before Ryan postponed the vote. “If Republicans fail this initial test of their ability to govern, Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans may face a harder time advancing high-priority initiatives on infrastructure, tax reform and immigration. They might also find themselves navigating strained relationships among themselves.”

The White House and House Republicans know they have to pass something to save face, as they have gotten off to the least-productive start of any recent presidency. However, beyond the question of whether any legislation that suffices in the House is doomed in the Senate, is the emerging reality that the House’s most ideological Republicans now know that they have power to hold that body hostage to their bottomless whims.

As of late Thursday, it appears the Freedom Caucus is on a rampage that neither Ryan nor Trump can satisfy or defuse. The nation is seeing a primetime display of boundless extremists who, once they are given concessions, keep demanding more. Millions of Americans who value Obamacare can only hope that these Republicans continue their stampede sufficiently to derail any repeal. 

Look at how the week began. On Monday, Ryan, responding to this hard-right flank, revised his legislation that would strip health care coverage from 14 million people in 2018 and grow to 24 million in a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Ryan added a punitive work requirement for low-income Medicaid recipients. It hardly mattered that the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid has helped people return to work and that new requirement would make it harder for many people to hold jobs, as economists said. Somehow this right-wing cadre sees that as spreading freedom.

By Thursday, the Freedom Caucus had met with Trump and were said to extract more concessions, namely a pledge to repeal Obamacare’s “essential health benefits.” These require insurers to cover services including emergency-room visits and hospital stays, mental health, maternity, preventive care and prescription drugs. The Freedom Caucus’ rationale was that not everyone uses these, so why should they be included in all health plans and premiums? This section of the law also bars insurers from setting premiums based on a person’s sex, medical condition, genetics or other factors. Yanking these standards would be a bonanza for insurers, while pushing those lacking coverage when crises strike into financial ruin. But that, too, is more freedom.

Exactly how the essential benefits revocation would be legislatively handled was one of the reasons why the vote was postponed. A pledge by Ryan and Trump that it would be kept out of the House bill but added by Senate GOP leadership wasn’t sufficient for some Freedom Caucus members. They wanted it in the House bill and didn’t believe that its inclusion would procedurally kill the bill in the Senate. (A spokesman for the Senate Democratic leadership said doing do would invoke rules requiring 60 votes to pass; there are 52 Republican senators). Other Freedom Caucus members said they didn’t trust the Senate to add it as an amendment. While others, such Rep. Justin Amash, R-MI, remained unsatisfied because Ryan’s repeal didn’t revoke every line of Obamacare.

The House Republicans and White House said they expect to bring an Obamacare repeal bill to the floor as early as Friday. Whether the elements of that legislation will doom its passage in the Senate is an open question. But for now Americans have seen who holds the power in the House. It’s not Ryan. It’s not Trump. It’s the most extreme right-wing Republicans. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.



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A modern method to combat motion sickness

Do you suffer from motion sickness as I do? I don’t know about how bad it is for other, but motion sickness can really drag down a fun time. I avoid roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls like the plague, and I have to be that guy who insists on sitting in the front passenger seat of any car, because the backseat feels so floaty, especially when driving on back mountain roads, that I can’t even withstand a mere car ride at times. If you know what I mean, then keep reading, because [...]

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A More Equitable Economy Exists Right Next Door

In Quebec, co-ops and non-profit businesses account for 8-10 percent of GDP.

Business owners gather at an elegant Montreal event center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a large-scale economic partnership.  The former chief of Quebec’s largest bank is the guest of honor.

Sidewalks bustle with people walking in and out of homes, offices, bank, pharmacy, workout studio and coffee shop at Montreal’s Technopole Angus, a development that already sports 56 business with 2500 employees and will eventually encompass a million-square-feet of real estate.

Morning-shift workers unload barrels of paper onto conveyor belts emptying into giant shredding machines on the shop floor of Recyclage Vanier, a Quebec City firm specializing in secure disposal of confidential documents.

A line snakes down the street for a matinee at the Cinema Beaubien, an art deco moviehouse in a quiet Montreal neighborhood. Taxis line up across the street waiting for customers who will soon be getting out of the early show.

Leonard Cohen’s gravelly voice rings through the taproom at La Barberie Brewery, located near Quebec City’s business district. Its Belgian-style saisons and blackberry blanc beers are enjoyed throughout the province. A few blocks away, an 18th-century monastery inside Quebec City’s historic walls has recently opened its doors as a hotel and spa.

Welcome to everyday life in Quebec, Canada’s second largest province with 8.2 million people. Yet these scenes of economic activity are different in a notable way from similar ones occurring throughout North America. Each enterprise involves a cooperative or non-profit organization, which together make up 8-10 percent of the province’s GDP.  More than 7,000 of these “social economy” enterprises ring up $17 billion in annual sales and hold $40 billion in assets (Canadian dollars). They account for about 215,000 jobs across Quebec.

Quebec’s social economy (also translated as “solidarity economy”) extends far beyond the province’s two major cities and includes manufacturing, agricultural cooperatives, daycare centers, homecare services, affordable housing, social service initiatives, food coops, ecotourism, arts programs, public markets, media and funeral homes. The capital that fuels all this economic activity comes from union pension funds, non-profit loan funds, credit unions, government investment and philanthropy.   

“We always say the social economy is simply the formalization of the commons. It’s social ownership, the goal of which is a sustainable, democratic economy with a market—instead of a market economy,” explains Nancy Neamtan, co-founder of Chantier de l’Economie Sociale, a network of social economy organizations whose anniversary banquet is described above. “Our mission is building a broader vision of what the economy actually is.”

“When Chantier started out, a lot of people said it wouldn’t work. We had unions, women’s organizations, green groups, and many thought it was too diverse,” Neamtan says. “But it does work.” Evidence for her assertion is visible all around—Chantier’s office is tucked into a six story building that takes up most of a city block, all of which is filled with social economy organizations.  

Not all of these social businesses are new—some of the credit unions, cooperatives and union pension funds go back a hundred years. “But they were largely invisible to many people until the name social economy became popular,” Neamtan adds.

Quebec’s social economy ranges from a video game creator’s cooperative to a social integration program for Haitian immigrants to a coop grocery in a remote town on the Gaspe peninsula to a network of 8000 home healthcare workers, half of whom were on welfare before being trained for the field.  Here are more examples showing the range of these enterprises:

Groupe Paradoxe: Chantier de l’Economie Sociale’s 20th Anniversary celebration was staged in a renovated church run by Groupe Paradoxe, which teaches at-risk young people job skills in the booming audio-visual presentation, events and meetings industries.  

Desjardins Group: The banker honored for his work at Chantier’s banquet was former president of the Desjardins credit union, founded in 1900 and today the province’s largest financial institution.   

The Nitaskinam Cooperative: Also on hand at the banquet was Nitaskinam, an Inuit-run cooperative which designs clothing inspired by art of the Atikamekw people, which has doubled from three to six members in its first year. “The social economy is our traditional economic model and fits with our values,” explains co-founder Karine Awashish, who is also an economic development official of this tribal nation. “I see good opportunities for us to create new social economy jobs in forestry, health services, tourism, arts festivals and youth projects.”

UTILE Student Housing Cooperative: One of the youngest entrepreneurs at the banquet, Laurent Levesque, helped launch a student housing development organization with other activists involved in the headline-grabbing 2012 Quebec Student Strike, collaborating with Chantier de l’économie Trust.  “Students pay 70-80 percent more in rent on average,” he explained, “which creates an inflationary spiral” that hurts not just them, but their low-income neighbors.  With start-up capital from the Concordia Student Union and further funding from social economy partners like Desjardins and the province of Quebec, UTILE is set to break ground on apartments for 160 students.

Technopole Angus: It’s no coincidence that that the Desjardins credit union has a branch in the new Technopole Angus sustainable urban village, which brings opportunities to a working class neighborhood that was rocked when the Canadian Pacific Railway shuttered its machine shops in 1992.  A number of historic brick structures were repurposed, and new eco-friendly buildings constructed, with more planned for the project’s phase II.  The community will eventually include 500 affordable housing units, 450,000 square-feet of office space, 20 local shops, four public squares, a bike-pedestrian main street and a one-acre urban farm growing organic produce.    

Recylage Vanier: A non-profit organization started 30 years ago by two out-of-work men who realized the recycling industry could benefit the disadvantaged as well as the earth, Recylage Vanier offers training for people struggling to find work because of low job skills, recent immigration, substance abuse, mental illness, disability, or other challenges.  Jobseekers arrive here for a 24-week program that emphasizes work readiness and life skills as well as on-the-job experience.  Most are long-term unemployed, who have been sent by the Quebec employment bureau and social service groups.

“They have to get along with a boss, get along with colleagues, master simple tasks and then take on new ones with more responsibility, all the way up to driving a forklift,” says Nicolas Reeves, one of Vanier’s managers.  For the final four weeks, they split their time between the recycling plant and job hunting with the help of staff counselors. About 85 percent of graduates find work, and 10 percent seek further education, according to Reeves. Recylage Vanier faces stiff competition from two private companies in the field, so clients who value the organization’s mission are important to their success—including the province of Quebec, which provides about half their business.  

Cinema Beaubien: This is non-profit neighborhood moviehouse explicitly proclaims its mission to “defend the primacy of persons and labor over capital in the distribution of its surpluses and incomes.”  The cinema’s importance as a community gathering spot can be witnessed in the long lines at the ticket booth, where patrons merrily chat with one another rather than staring at their phones. Taxis wait across the streets to whisk moviegoers to their next destination, about half of which are from the Taxi Coop Montreal.  (In Quebec City, all taxi drivers belong to a cooperative.)

La Barberie Cooperative Microbrewery: Operating as a worker cooperative for the past 20 years explains the success of this brewery and brewpub, says general manager Jean-Francois Genest, who joined La Barberie three years ago after running his family’s bookstore and later converting another bookstore into a cooperative. “The co-op is a good plan to keep a place going. Sharing the profits means you attract the best workers. For our part, we try to make their jobs as interesting as possible, offer more holidays and higher pay.” Emilie DuMais, who’s tended bar here for eight years, notes, “You have much more ambition working for yourself than working for someone else.”

Le Monastere des Augustines: A convent dating back to 1700s in the heart of Quebec City’s walled city has just opened as an elegantly renovated hotel, spa, museum and conference center. It is organized as a non-profit in accordance with the social mission of nuns still living there to promote holistic health and spiritual renewal. Besides tourists, spa patrons and participants in corporate meetings, guests also include activist groups holding retreats and health care workers seeking a reprieve from the stress of their jobs.

RISQ: In 1997 Chantier created RISQ (Reseau d’Investissement Social du Quebec), which has invested $25 million in technical aid and capital for social economy businesses, resulting in: 1786 new jobs, 5,119 jobs maintained and job training for 1527 marginalized workers across Quebec, according to their calculations.  RISQ financial analyst Nathalie Villemure, who worked for many years in private banking, notes that they see fewer defaults than commercial lenders. “These people have a cause bigger than themselves, so they work harder and we help them find solutions.”

Fiducie: In 2007 Chantier launched Fiducie, a $50 million “patient capital” (or slow money) fund that provides long term, non-guaranteed loans of $50,000-1.5 million to promising cooperatives and non-profits with less than 200 employees. “We don’t expect to see anything in repayment for 15 years,” says General Manager Jacques Charest. Thirty million of the investment came from union pension funds with the rest from the federal and provincial governments.   

What We Can Learn from Quebec’s Social Economy

While Quebec possesses a distinct culture and history, the emergence of a strong social economy across the province provides practical lessons for other places.  

Recognize the Social Economy When You See It

Cooperatives and non-profit initiatives already exist throughout the US and most other countries, so the first step is seeing, naming and claiming the social economy as part of the commons we all share.  

Look Widely for Inspiration & Ideas

Neamtan points out that the American tradition of community organizing was a big influence on their early work, especially community development corporations (CDCs) that arose to tackle problems of disinvestment in urban neighborhoods. The Dudley Street Initiative, which transformed a low-income community in the Roxbury district of Boston, was a particular inspiration for her. The proliferation of cooperatives in the Basque and Catalonian regions of Spain provided another model for bottom-up economic development.  

Seek Solidarity

Social economy initiatives benefit from the longstanding sense of solidarity in Quebec, where French speakers were discriminated against and their local economy dominated by English-speaking Canadians, Americans and English.  A analogous situation can be found among racial and social minorities, and in rural and deindustrialized regions where economic power is wielded from outside.

Tap the Power of Government

Government agencies have been a partners and funders in many projects through the years. Social economy initiatives often arose even when conservative politicians were slashing government programs to provide a more humane alternative to strictly market-oriented development. Legislation passed by the left-center Parti Quebecois in 1997 gave the social economy movement a big boost by offering local governments more leeway in supporting community and cooperative efforts to create jobs and promote entrepreneurship.

Partner with Unions

“The labor movement boosted the social economy by making the choice in the 1980s not to just negotiate contracts but to create jobs and support civic enterprises,” explains Neamtan, which led to the creation of the landmark Quebec Solidarity Fund, an $11-billion-dollar pension fund, of which 65 percent is invested in small- and medium-sized Quebec-owned businesses.

Partner with Faith Organizations

Historically, the Catholic church controlled many aspects of life in the province, and priests enthusiastically promoted cooperatives and non-profit institutions as models of the church’s social teaching. By the end of the 20th century when the church’s influence waned in the face of increasing secularization, social economy organizations found numerous opportunities to set up shop in closed churches and convents.  The church remains an ally, Neamtan notes, “especially now that Pope Francis talks all the time about the Solidarity Economy.”


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A new way to camp in style (in under 90-seconds)

What is the worst thing about camping? Was your answer: the bugs or the bears? the dirt or lack of creature comforts? Or was it the hassle of setting up a tent or starting a fire?When I first started camping, I felt a little dread or fear for all of those aspects of camping. But once you’ve been outdoors awhile, the bugs and the bears, and the dirt rarely become a second thought. Nor do the creature comforts. Outdoor stores and gear companies have made sure that glamping (glamorous [...]

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GOP’s Planned Cuts to Medicaid Will Impoverish and Imperil Millions of Aging Baby Boomers and Seniors

One-fifth of Medicare recipients are covered through Medicaid, including nursing homes and long-term care.

The House Republican leadership’s Obamacare repeal bill will not only cause upwards of 24 million people to lose their health care coverage over the next decade, as the Congressional Budget Office has said, but it will also push millions of seniors already on the financial edge into deep and harsh poverty.

That time bomb would result from the law’s imposition of per capita spending limits on Medicaid recipients and its ripple effects. Currently, there are no caps on federal subsidies to that state-run program, which provides health care coverage for 70 million poor Americans, including one in five people on Medicare. (Medicaid is the federal health care program for low-income people of all ages, including, importantly, children; Medicare is the federal health care program for those age 65 and older.)

Currently, states do not ration care under Medicaid, although some red states have imposed draconian requirements to deter enrollments. But if the House GOP leadership bill imposing per capita spending limits and turning Medicaid into a block grant passes into law, the resulting funding cuts and rationing of care could impoverish millions of aging Americans.

This ambush comes in two waves.

First, the financial shockwaves from an Obamacare repeal would raise insurance costs for those over age 50, as the Congressional Budget Office found. The increase in costs comes from withdrawing federal Obamacare subsidies. Additionally, as younger, healthier people drop coverage, insurance pools would shrink, raising premiums for those covered. Higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs means aging working- and middle-class individuals would have less disposable income to put into retirement savings. That savings shortage was already quite a problem, with most households woefully unprepared to maintain their current lifestyles into retirement.

Second, an Obamacare repeal would strike another blow by limiting what federally subsidized care Americans would receive as seniors under Medicare and Medicaid. This would come after households have burned through personal savings or faced significant medical issues and end-of-life living challenges. The House Obamacare repeal cuts $880 billion from Medicaid over the next decade. What’s not widely appreciated is that one-fifth of the people on Medicare are also Medicaid recipients. They were already poor, or have become poor and fall under the program.

The Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health policy, issued a report Monday saying that 11 million people were in this category: Medicare recipients whose care was paid via Medicaid. This includes two out of three nursing home residents, a majority of whom are women, according to KFF's analysis, "What Could a Medicaid Per Capita Cap Mean for Low-Income People on Medicare?" Home nurses and other long-term care options “that would be unaffordable for seniors with low-incomes” are paid by Medicaid transfers to Medicare. Thus, the sickest and most vulnerable seniors stand to lose out, forcing them to turn to family, friends or strangers.

For older people with no one to help and nowhere to turn, the scenario is bleak. We may see more elderly homeless. 

“Low-income people on Medicare who receive assistance from Medicaid tend to have more chronic conditions, cognitive limitations and functional limitations than others on Medicare,” KFF’s analysis said. “About six in ten (61%) need assistance with one or more activities of daily living (versus 33% of other people on Medicare), more than half (58%) have a mental condition or cognitive impairment (versus 29%), one-third (37%) have five or more chronic conditions (versus 27%), and about one in six (18%) rate their health status as poor, more than three times the rate among other people on Medicare (6%.)”

Betraying Their Base

You might think older voters would have been wiser when it came to voting for Trump, not falling for his promises he would leave senior safety nets alone. While candidate Trump repeatedly told seniors he would protect their Medicare and Social Security, he’s not doing that. Trump has gone all-in pressuring House Republicans to pass Paul Ryan’s Obamacare repeal.

Astoundingly, a huge block of older Americans went for Trump. Election Day exit polls analyzed by PewResearch.org found “Older voters (ages 65 and older) preferred Trump over Clinton 53%-45%. This is roughly the same advantage for the Republican candidate as in 2012 when older voters backed Romney over Obama 56%-44%.” Curiously, this continued a prior trend of older voters increasingly drifting toward Republicans during President Obama’s tenure.

“Today’s seniors were once Democrats,” was the heading from a 2014 report by the Gallup poll that looked at changing senior voting patterns. “In 1993, Americans then aged 45 to 79 represented the age group that today is 65 to 99. At that time, 20 years ago, those 45 to 79 were highly Democratic, with a 12-point advantage in favor of the Democrats… Over the last seven years [Obama’s term], seniors have become less Democratic, and have shown an outright preference for the Republican Party since 2010.”

Gallup said seniors were the country's largest block of “non-Hispanic whites.” Reports from the campaign trail last year, especially in states with a history of voting for Democratic presidents, found white seniors were a significant presence at Trump rallies.

“Trump has run a campaign aimed squarely and frankly at old people’s nostalgia, fear of danger, and anxiety about social change,” the Atlantic’s Molly Ball wrote in late October. “He has also appealed directly to their desire to protect their government benefits.”

Those campaign promises may turn out to be one of Trump's—and the House GOP's—biggest cons, perpetuated on millions of Americans. That's because Republicans who have dreamed of slashing the federal budget kept quiet as Trump campaigned on leaving those programs alone. Now Trump is following their script, as long as he can claim credit for repealing Obamacare. 

How Bad Will It Be for Retiring Baby Boomers?

Even the demographic best prepared to enter their senior years from a fiscal standpoint—white households, many of whom voted for Trump—won’t last long under the GOP’s envisioned defunding and dismantling of Medicaid and Medicare. Whites, on average, have $142,000 in retirement savings and assets. That’s compared to average black household savings and assets of $11,000. Latino households and single women also have much smaller retirement savings.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of cost shifts onto families if federal spending on Medicaid is gutted shows what's in store for everyone who’s not wealthy as senior living crises mount. Under Obamacare, medical bankruptcies plummeted for individuals who bought insurance on its exchanges. Additionally, the medical debts accrued by poor people on Medicaid also fell. Consider these average costs cited by KFF that are now covered by Medicaid, and envision what they would do to household savings once federal subsidies vanish.

“On a per person basis, Medicaid spent $11,419 on each low-income person on Medicare (excluding amounts spent on Medicare premiums)—nearly three times the amount it spent on other people on Medicaid ($3,941), on average, in 2012. However, Medicaid spending for low-income people on Medicare ranges greatly, from $3,781 per person, on average, for people who did not use long-term care services to $36,209 per person, on average, for those who used long-term care services."

The GOP's financial wrecking ball doesn't stop there. As Nancy Altman, a co-founder of the advocacy group Social Security Works laid out in a Huffington Post piece, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Obamacare repeal would make insurance unaffordable for those on the cusp of being eligible for Medicare. Altman wrote:

“Some light has also been shed on Trumpcare’s impact on those seniors desperately holding on until they turn 65 and go on Medicare. A 64-year-old who earns $26,500, for example, now pays $1,700 annually for her health insurance. Trumpcare—or, for people in their early 60s, the cat food proposal—would force her to pay $14,600 for the exact same coverage. That is more than half of her income! And that is just the cost of the annual premium. It doesn’t include the cost of medication, co-pays, deductibles, or non-covered items like glasses. That doesn’t leave a whole lot left over for housing and food.”

Are Republicans so blinded by their anti-Obamacare and budget-cutting ideology that they are willing to play politics with the quality of millions of people’s lives as they enter their senior years and grapple with medical issues and long-term care? It appears they are. As politically divided as the nation seems to be, there is near-unanimity among seniors that Medicare and Social Security should not only be protected, but if anything, their benefits are insufficient and should expand. 

No Partisan Political Divide Here

A March 2017 report by the National Institute of Retirement Security found nearly 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans worried about how they would pay for their health care and long-term care expenses in their senior years. NIRS wrote: 

“Some 88 percent Americans agree that the rising cost of long-term care is a major factor that makes preparing for retirement more difficult, slightly up from 85 percent in 2015. For respondents that identified themselves as Democrats, 91 percent agreed that it is a major factor and 89 percent of Republicans agreed. Americans say other factors that make retirement more difficult are: salaries not keeping up with the cost of living (83 percent), increasing debt from student loans, housing or credit cards (81 percent), fewer pensions (64 percent), living longer (64 percent), funding and managing their retirement savings on their own (52 percent), and stock market volatility (44 percent). Here again, Democrats and Republicans alike consistently agree on the level of importance of these factors in making retirement more difficult.”

The report cites other federal agencies’ findings that affirm how deep the retirement security crisis is, underscoring how House Republicans are fabricating and fomenting an unnecessary crisis while ignoring a very real one.

“About half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings,” the federal Government Accountability Office notes. “When all households are included—not just households with retirement accounts—the median retirement account balance is $2,500.”

There are more striking statistics to consider. A retirement account balance of $100,000 translates into less than $400 a month in income to supplement Social Security, NIRS said. Its surveys found that about half of Americans felt a pension paying $2,200 a month was “about right.” However, most American retirees have nowhere near a half-million dollars in investment accounts and equity, the sum needed for that level of middle-class pension. The average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees in January 2017 was $1,317.

In other words, House Republicans are poised to make a preexisting retirement security crisis much worse by foisting escalating health care costs onto millions of already stressed seniors. As if that's not enough, after Obamacare, the House Republicans are mulling going after Social Security, NIRS notes, citing numerous statement by Ryan and other House GOP leaders.

“There is discussion of further benefit cuts,” the NIRS report said. “Almost 22 percent of people age 65 and older live in families that depend on Social Security benefits for 90 percent or more of their income. Another 24 percent receive at least half, but less than 90 percent, of their family income from Social Security. Reliance on Social Security increases with age, with 30% of persons aged 80 and older depending on Social Security for 90% or more of family income. In 2012, Social Security kept almost a third of older Americans out of poverty.”

By repealing Obamacare, House Republicans and Trump are poised to push millions of aging and elderly Americans into an accelerating downward slide into poverty. If they are successful in undermining President Obama's major domestic achievement, who knows what will come next.


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