News & Commentary

August 29, 2021

Nikita Rumsey

Nikita Rumsey is a student at Harvard Law School.

Hurricane Ida, now a Category 4 storm, is expected to make landfall in Louisiana today, on the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The storm’s trajectory includes New Orleans in its path and will present a test of the 350 miles of infrastructural protections built up around the city in the years following the devastation from Katrina in 2005. In addition, since city hospitals are already strained by the resurgence of the Covid-19 Delta variant, there is added concern about New Orleans’ capacity to handle a possible surge in patients in worst case scenarios of hurricane impact. Indeed, the Times reported that daily deaths from Covid-19 reached their highest levels in Louisiana last week. While the overall impact of storm surge from Ida is expected to be somewhat less severe than that from Katrina, Ida’s winds and rain are predicted to exceed those from Katrina, stoking fears among experts about wind-related damage and flash flooding. In anticipation of the storm, the New Orleans mayor asked for voluntary evacuations and urged residents to flee by Saturday to avoid the brunt of the storm.

Meanwhile, with the monumental $3.5 billion budget resolution moving through Congress, the Times reported on one of its lesser known components: Democrats’ proposal to provide dental care to tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford it by adding dental benefits to Medicare. The Times noted that this would be among the largest changes to Medicare since its 1965 creation, but will need to overcome resistance from dentists themselves, who are concerned about potential hits to dental income from Medicare’s lower prices. The American Dental Association, which lobbied to exclude dental care from Medicare coverage in 1965, has instead advocated for a limited dental benefit that would only be offered to poorer patients, and which would be offered by private insurers and included in its own special part of Medicare. Yet the full benefit proposal has near universal support among Democrats in Washington and is backed by many consumer and health industry groups, and according to one recent survey enjoys 84% of Americans’ approval. Indeed, despite the relatively high cost of the measure—the cost estimate for a version passed by the House in 2019 was $238 billion over 5 years—research has increasingly shown a clear link between dental and overall health, making the case that, as Senator Bernie Sanders has stated, “dental care must be part of any serious health care program in the United States.”

In other news, the new Democratic majority on the National Labor Relations Board was cemented this weekend when David Prouty was sworn in as the fifth and final member, replacing William Emanuel (R), whose term ended this Friday. As Bloomberg noted, with a 3-2 majority taking effect, the Biden Board is likely to hit the ground running and is “expected to issue decisions that will help unions win elections, loosen restrictions on expressing support for labor in the workplace, and tighten joint employment standards, among a host of other potential changes.” Yet as management-side attorney Emanuel vacated his seat this week, reports emerged that he was subject to a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice over possible ethics violations, namely allegations that Emanuel had improperly participated in several Board cases involving companies in which he owned stock. According to Bloomberg, the DOJ decided not to pursue the case, which essentially put the matter back before the Board itself, which now must decide how to handle the four prior rulings in which NLRB Inspector General David Berry has determined that Emanuel had a conflict of interest that should have required his recusal.

On another note, the Times published a guest essay this week which considered how China’s “lie flat” movement and the U.S.’s labor shortage may be symptoms of a greater movement away from the “false idol” of work. In China, a 31-year old former factory worker’s social media post, which claimed resistance in choosing a slow lifestyle of leisure and odd-jobs to get by, quickly went viral and spawned discussions over the possible consequences of China’s hyper-competitive “996” work culture. Yet Cassady Rosenblum, a writer and podcast host who herself decided to “lie flat” at her parents’ home in West Virginia after quitting her job at NPR earlier this year, sees expressions of a similar discontent between China’s tangping movement and recent trends among U.S. workers, including both this summer’s record shortfall of workers willing to take starvation-wage jobs as well as the laments of Goldman Sachs analysts with self-described “inhumane” working conditions. Indeed, while Rosenblum notes that there is immense privilege in lying flat and acknowledges the obvious necessity of making a living, she writes that “[w]hile jobs are sustenance, careers are altars upon which all else is sacrificed,” and urges readers to have a rest and, if available, sit on a porch for a while.   

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