Thursday, May 28, 2015

Killing Obamacare

I am outraged by assaults by the republicans on abortion rights and voting rights, but these are issues that are not personally going to affect me.  What I am personally concerned about these days is all the efforts that are going into killing Obamacare, still.  The latest assaults could well succeed.

Antonin Scalia, narcissist extraordinaire and the mouthpiece most damaging to the honor and credibility of the Supreme Court, is the most likely nail in the coffin of the Affordable Care Act.  He believes that in looking at legislation, intent should not be considered, even if it is verifiable.  The only consideration should be the exact words in the law.  Unless, that is, it goes against his own belief of what the law should be.

In this case, the whole of Obamacare is resting in the four words, "established by the state."  Despite the fact that no one involved in the debate or writing of the law believes that the intent was to exclude those states who refused to create an insurance exchange, Scalia will hold forth with the claim that those words are in the bill and must be followed.

Now that the ACA is the law of the land, and people have become very happy with having affordable insurance, the republican party is being a bit more sneaky about killing it.  They have already come up with an alternative that would continue the ACA until 2017, but only if the individual and employer mandates are discontinued.  Those extremists who believe tax subsidies should only go to wealthy corporations are proposing tax credits rather than subsidies.  So basically, if your income is so low you pay no taxes, voila, no tax credit.

Because I turn 65 in 2016, and it seems even the rabid republicans can't kill Medicare in that short a time, I let go a sigh of relief to hear that I could still have insurance even if Scalia gets his way.  But that doesn't make the problem a lesser one.  Killing the mandate kills the funding for the ACA.  What the republicans understand is that Obamacare only works if everyone participates.  And what they also understand is that most voters are mostly concerned with what affects them immediately.  They will be angry if they lose their insurance coverage.  But if the republicans can blame Obama and the Democrats, which they have done successfully for some time now, it is a win-win for them.  They can continue to be the anti-tax party and the freedom party.

What they understand all too well is that people don't care about health insurance until it affects them.  That is why forcing insurance companies to offer better plans only matters to those who had inadequate insurance that they needed.  Those who didn't need it are quite loud and angry about having to pay more for what amounts to better insurance.  And some that are quite stupid will yell about paying more even when they use that better coverage.

I worry about what the Supremes will decide in June.  As should we all.  Because I might be okay till I turn 65, but my kids might not.  They might end up having the same vulnerability to illness that too many of us Americans experienced up until Obamacare was passed.  It was a terrifying time, and the republicans, frankly, don't give a damn.  They can turn our fear and tragedy to votes.

What we can do at this point, is be educated about this.  And inform others.  Keep an eye on the Supremes, and be willing and ready to fight our South Carolina legislators, both state and federal, to preserve affordable health care.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

To Legislators: If You Won't Stop the Assault, Then Pay for It

The twenty-week abortion ban, H 3114, which we have all heard far too much about, is making its way back to the House to approve the bill with the Senate amendment which would make exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormality or the health of the woman.  Some few are expected to vote no because they balk at the exceptions -- women should carry a pregnancy to term under any circumstances, the more gruesome the better.  But it is very possible that this bill will pass, making the rare 20-week abortion illegal in South Carolina, and imposing hardship on the pregnant woman.  It will also impose draconian regulations, reporting, and burdensome proof upon the physician, with exorbitant penalties for non-compliance.

I wonder who in our government is going to be responsible for this surveillance.  It will entail data collection and monitoring, as well as law enforcement.

This is a bunch that continually repels background checks on gun purchases as a violation of our liberty.  They promoted an anti-Obamacare campaign based on the myth that the ACA would invade our privacy:



These are the people who continue to waste the state's time and money to push through bills that would do exactly what those false Obamacare ads claimed.

So this is my proposal.

If you are going to vote for bills that will add both emotional cost and financial cost to a woman and her family, than let's insist on amendments to that bill that would require the government to pay all costs.  Costs for additional health care for the pregnant woman, and guarantee health care costs for mother and child after the baby is born.  Costs for any emotional hardship to the woman and her family, as well as any financial losses she must endure because she has been forced to remain pregnant.  It goes without saying that any costs to maintain a healthy pregnancy, including nutrition, should be borne by the government.

And don't forget the burden on the physician, requiring extensive paperwork to justify their recommendations, and by-the-way, requiring them to give up medical data that has up to now been considered a private trust between woman and doctor.  The state, with its strong beliefs about protecting small business owners, should certainly be willing to give tax breaks to any doctor who is forced to comply with these onerous new regulations.

I think Lee Bright is onto something when he and his fellow cretins flood the Statehouse with variations on the same bill, and insist that time and money be spent to address these bills.  Proponents of healthy families and the rights of doctors to practice unimpeded should have no trouble coming up with amendments to all these bills, as well as new bills that guarantee a woman each individual right that is being threatened by the anti-abortion gang.

Seriously.  Isn't it time our pro-choice, pro-women, pro-family legislators became pro-active rather than continue to try to play whack-a-mole with each piece of outrageous anti-abortion legislation that are thrown at them?

We need to adopt for our own the tagline of those creepy Obamacare ads:

Don't let government play doctor.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What's Different About Abortion

As the mad Christians in our nation fight to preserve their right to control the bodies of women, I wonder why it is that we have been -- for decades -- victimized by this plague of anti-democratic, anti-freedom, anti-privacy, anti-women wingnuts.  As those in the LGBT community gain freedom and acceptance, as African Americans insist that their rights are respected by law officers, women continue to have their rights violated and their privacy -- and bodies -- invaded.  Some of the most liberal of our lawmakers deem it success when they reach a compromise that only violates some women.

How can this be, when we are fifty percent of the American people?  How can this be when most of us of reproductive age use birth control, many of us have had abortions, and most of us believe that women have the right to make those decisions privately?

At the heart of this battle for reproductive rights is the right to privacy.  Whether or not women should use contraception or have an abortion is so incredibly personal.  But it has become the center of public debate because at its core it has to do with sex.  This debate is not about safety or even about life.  Pure and simple, this is about forcing women who have sex to bear the consequences.  And the vitriol is so intense that those at the far radical religious right claim that even a married woman must literally carry the burden of the act of sex.  The flights of fancy the anti-abortion brigade have taken to pretend this is about the value of life can easily be discounted by their near-unanimous opposition to gun control, universal health care and nutrition programs.

Why, then, are our forces so much weaker, our anger so readily ignored, our supporters so much more inclined to compromise our rights away?

Why are we not so enraged that we can't be ignored?

For one thing, we are women.  I truly hate to say this, but we have been raised to believe that we should sacrifice for the common good, we should be willing to compromise, even walk away from a fight.

And we have accepted that abortion is a bad thing, to the point where our staunchest defenders are willing to make convoluted arguments about how birth control isn't always used to prevent pregnancies.  We chase around the bizarre false scientific claims, arguing about what a fetus is capable of doing and feeling rather than merely insisting that what is inside of a woman's body is her own business, her own life, and it cannot be made into a separate life with separate rights in any way, shape or form.

We can look to movies and television for a sense of social progress.  It wasn't that long ago that I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of mixed race portrayed without it being a part of the plot.  The same thing has happened with gay couples.  They no longer need to be making a statement about who they are -- they just are.

But when have you ever seen a movie or television program where a character just gets an abortion?  Damn, it happens in real life, why doesn't it ever happen in fiction?  Until it becomes just something that happens, we are likely going to be treating it like a complicated moral dilemma, perpetuating the guilt and shame we have been told we should feel at having to deal with possible pregnancy.  And passing it on to our daughters.

On the bright side, we can go to the fringes and find Amy Schumer, who I saw during a televised stand-up performance outright make a joke about getting an abortion.  I did a double-take, admittedly a little horrified, and then feeling incredibly free. I was in the generation that was liberated by George Carlin's "7 Dirty Words" comedy routine.  And yet, in 2012, we watched, stunned, as a Michigan representative was barred from debate after saying the word "vagina" on the House floor.

We certainly need to change the way we talk about our bodies and about abortion.  But I don't think that that is the main reason we continue to struggle with winning back our freedom.

Abortion is a temporary condition.  This makes it essentially different than sexual orientation or racial heritage.  And, despite the crazy talk by the right wing, nobody wants to have an abortion, any more than a person would want to have a tooth extracted.  Pregnancy is a condition that has a beginning and an end.  We may look forward to or dread being pregnant, we may delight in our pregnancy or it may make us ill.  But it is still not our identity.  So when we decide to have an abortion, that too happens and becomes the past.  If we have not been burdened by the taint of the abortion mythology, we are able to get on with our lives, as with any other medical process.

So when we won the right to reproductive privacy, we got on with our lives, naively assuming the courts had spoken and it was now law.  We didn't look back, and our daughters did not grow up with the fear and dread of an unwanted pregnancy.

And now we must go back to assuming that we are losing that right.

And we don't want to either lose it, or have to fight for it.

That, I believe, is the essence of why we are losing the abortion war.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Logic Behind Banning Sharia Law

Many of us chuckle at the bill introduced in the South Carolina House that would ban sharia law from our courts.  The misunderstanding that has led to outright paranoia in America has served as red meat to the right-wing Christian base of the republican party, as well as other extremist political groups.  Sharia law is no more or less than Islamic law, and has in some countries and cultures been moderate and affirming, in others radical and destructive.  Just as has Christianity in this country.

Fortunately for us, the Establishment Clause of our Constitution has held back the tyrants of the Old Testament as well as allowed other beliefs (yes, including atheism) to grow freely.  But not without a fight.  And the conservative tide in this country has made the separation of church and state ever more tenuous.

Too many of our legislators, both in the state and in Congress, know about that slippery slope.  They navigate it pretty well these days, in the hope of opening the door to making Christianity -- their view of Christianity -- the national religion.  One law at a time.  Prayer -- what harm could it do?  Using fake science rather than calling on religion to defend bans on abortion and contraception.  And of course whining that by allowing us all to live freely we are taking away the rights of the Christian.

The bill introduced by Chip Limehouse to ban sharia law has been mocked, but be wary because it hasn't gone away.  The debate will continue next week.  The fear underlying the paranoia is that if in Moslem communities they are allowed to follow their own religious laws, and that can be defended in court, the courts will become the servant of sharia law.

Just as Limehouse and his ilk would like to happen with Christianity.  If these radical legislators have their way, extremist Christian moral views could herald a whole new era of blue laws, laws that expressly reflect religious views, and not just on Sunday any more.  Bans against homosexuality, contraception, interracial dating, followed by laws against certain types of dress and behavior and music, and then restrictions on movement in the street.

Ridiculous?  We've had lately some variation of all those bills in the US, mostly at this point allowing businesses to do the banning and restricting.  And while the five two-hundred year old justices of the Supreme Court exercise their pointy heads about whether the Founding Fathers would have wanted the federal government to make laws that invade the rights of businesses, that door continues to open.

Here's the thing.  Once that door is open to allowing extremist Christian beliefs to determine the law, it will set the precedent for other radical religious views to be accepted.  Hence, the need to specifically ban the rules of other religions, the most notorious and threatening today being sharia law.

The message being that there is only room in US law for one dogmatic tyrannical religious rule and that rule is Old Testament Christianity.

So chuckle if you will, but be aware that on Tuesday our lawmakers are going to be engaged in a heated debate that could close the door to freedom of religion for communities with views different than radical Christian, and that includes atheist and moderate Christian.  Thus opening the door wide for "Christian" rule in our courts.

And that is why it has become so important to ban sharia law.

Debate on this bill, H 3521, will be continued in the full House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.  Please go to scstatehouse.gov and follow the links to email all members.  Because there are representatives who have signed on to the bill that are not on the committee (and more than one member has already withdrawn their names), I think it makes sense to contact all.  Let them know that our courts follow US law and that this bill is not just unnecessary but a senseless attack on a major religion.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Trying to Be CNN

If you'd like to know, the only important thing that has gone on this week is the tragic derailment of the Amtrak train between New York and Pennsylvania.

I know because I get my news from MSNBC, and the best and brightest on their evening lineup have been filling their entire broadcast with that event.  Either it is the only news worth covering, or MSNBC has changed their format from covering several important and newsworthy events per one hour news show to wall-to-wall coverage of one single event.

I don't intend to seem callous.  The derailment is important news, and not just for the tragic deaths.  The day after the accident Congress, not to be "derailed" by reality, cut funding for Amtrak.  You can't make this stuff up.  And, to be fair, MSNBC covered the budget cut.  But you can only get away with calling their coverage of one event over the course of one hour, much less several hours running, "breaking news" for so long.  Jon Stewart has had many hours of fun (not consecutively however) mocking CNN for doing exactly that.

I'm not sure when this nonsense began, but after the shooting in Ferguson, Chris Hayes was out there night after night interviewing people on the street.  He did the same thing after the shooting in North Charleston and ditto in Baltimore.  He tends to get excited over these admittedly horrendous events, and it seemed at times that he was actually enflaming the crowd.  A newsworthy event, but it stopped being news after the first fifteen minutes of each broadcast.

Anyway, I had assumed this was because of the importance of the gun issue, and the point was in fact that police violence toward African Americans was a constant presence in America, one we had been ignoring throughout our history.

But two nights after the Amtrak crash, there was Chris Hayes, interviewing, well, anyone that was there.

I've gotten to the point where I can tell in minutes whether MSNBC has got their teeth into a news story that is going to go 24/7, and of course, after a short time, it is no longer news.  And then I wonder, what about all the other important things that are going on in the country?  Do people really want to hear from every single person on the street, and how many times can you re-air somebody-or-other's official statement, and how many different ways can you analyze it?  Larry Wilmore interviewed gang members in a Baltimore diner and was able to be more relevant and newsworthy in eight minutes than MSNBC had been throughout their whole coverage.

During those entire weeks of wasted airtime, I hunger for other news.  For that matter, I also get impatient when Rachel Maddow takes twenty minutes repeating the same comment over and over to make one important point.  If she only said the same thing once or twice, her program would be fifteen minutes long.  But boy would it be powerful.  Or, she could cover that many more stories.

I hate that MSNBC has dulled their news reporting, made it as trite as that of CNN.  Their repetitions and redundancies, their hundreds of on-the-street interviews, have watered down the important headlines and analyses that I had come to expect from them.  While we heard over and over and over again that the engineer on the Amtrak train was in the hospital and had amnesia for the crash, Congress was voting on important budget matters, attempting once again to prohibit the right of women to seek abortions, fighting over Obama's fast-track trade deal, and who only knows what else, because it wasn't being covered on MSNBC.

This is what I would like.  I would like, in the first segment on each show, an update on any major event.  And then I would like to hear what else is going on in the country and in the world.  If you asked, you might find that I am not the only one that after the first few minutes of the same reprocessed news about the important event turns off the TV or walks out of the room.

So please, MSNBC, take a look at what you're doing.  Would YOU watch your show night after night to see the same piece of information presented over and over again?  Really, you are far, far better than that.

Thank you, and good night.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The (Absolute) Least We Can Do

While other states, mostly those that aren't busy trying to dictate women's reproductive health and make sure there are guns in every home, business and classroom, have increased the minimum wage, our legislators are still mostly not sure if that's necessary.  In 2015, there are 29 states which have increased the minimum to wage to levels above the federal minimum wage.

Now, the fact that we have to do that anyway really reflects just how out-of-touch our Congress is with the needs of its citizens.  Not only do our elitist senators and representatives assume that their extraordinary wages and benefits (and extra goodies) are well deserved, they just can't see a need for their constituents to be making a living wage.  Of course this represents the philosophy that what goes into the pockets of American workers is going to come out of the pockets of the millionaires and billionaires who are the people they really truly work for.  Out-of-touch meaning really far away from the rest of us, and pretty much holding hands with guys like the Kochs.

But it is what it is, and it's good that states have recognized that waiting for Congress to do the right thing is decidedly the wrong thing.

And here in South Carolina, there is a bill in the Senate, S 146, which proposes to put the question of raising our state minimum wage on the 2016 ballot.  We don't want to rush into anything here, because those who are struggling to try to live on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour sure wouldn't have a problem waiting.  And of course raising the minimum wage to $1 an hour over the federal rate would hardly be called providing people with a livelihood.

We've heard all the lame arguments about why idiots like Jim DeMint (remember him???) are opposed to increasing the minimum wage:  it's only kids who live at home that make the minimum wage, it would be so costly to employers that they would have to cut jobs, it's anti-American for the government to set a minimum wage.  DeMint may be hiding out at the Heritage Foundation instead of wasting space in Congress, but folks like Tim Scott are happy to fill his expensive shoes.  So we aren't going to see a reasonable federal minimum wage anywhere in the near future.

And the fact is, it takes so long to move our federal lawmakers to increase the minimum wage that by the time it goes into effect it is still too low to make a dent.

But we got what we got, and what we got here in South Carolina is S 146.  And on Wednesday, May 13, at 10 a.m., the bill will go before a Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Subcommittee.  Here are the members of the subcommittee, and their phone numbers:

Kevin Bryant, Chairman (R) -- 803-212-6320; 864-202-8394
Glenn Reese (D) -- 803-212-6108; 864-592-2984
Shane Massey (R) -- 803-212-6024; 803-480-0419
Kent Williams (D) -- 803-212-6000; 843-362-0307
Lee Bright (R) -- 803-212-6008; 864-576-6742

Or you can send an email by going to scstatehouse.gov, click on "Senate" and then click on "email" and then click on the senator's name.  Unfortunately, you can't do it as a group but you can copy and paste your message in each email.  Put S 146 in the Subject line, and be sure to begin the message by 1) saying if you are a constituent (you don't have to be a constituent to write, but if you are you should let the guy know) and 2) saying "Please support S-146, to allow South Carolina voters to decide on whether there should be an increase in the minimum wage."

Then you can add a sentence or two stating that people can't live on $7.25 an hour, a raise in the minimum wage would take people off the food stamp rolls, an increased minimum wage would put more money into the economy and be good for business in South Caroline, etc.  Don't worry about your literary skills, some of these guys are minimally literate anyway.  They just need to see how many of us are behind this ballot measure.

This is what I just sent to each member of the committee (yeah, even Lee Bright):

I am writing to urge you to support S 146 which would allow voters to decide whether the minimum wage in South Carolina should be raised.
Raising the minimum wage would be a boon to the economy, as the increased wages would be spent in businesses throughout the state.  It would make employees less dependent on government assistance to survive.
Please vote Yes on this bill.

And here's another thing you can do:  you can go to the Statehouse on Wednesday to lobby for a raise in the minimum wage.  Nothing makes a legislator want to say yes than having to look a constituent in the eyes.  If you are able to make it up to Columbia, would like to sign up for a ride, or would like more information, contact Loreen Myerson at:

LoreenJMyerson@gmail.com or 415-637-9119.

Our legislators can do this, but they need to know we are watching.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Threat of a Union

Why, we wonder, do people vote against their own interests?  Why are we so vulnerable to the attacks on unions by right-wing politicians?

One of the greatest fears we have in this country is loss of our livelihood.  There may have been a time in your life -- there have been a few in mine -- where I was looking at losing a job, or not being able to find a job, alongside a nearly empty bank account.  Terrifying.

Add to that financial disasters, like that of the mid-70's, with gas lines and prices doubling, tripling and quadrupling.  Employers squeezing unions, forcing them to choose between cuts in benefits and layoffs.  We hear about how Obamacare has forced employers to cut staff from full-time to part-time, but that has been going on (check with your elders) since the seventies.

All it takes is an economic pinch for corporations to take advantage of our fears.  And since the seventies, it has worked.

The other strategy that has worked quite well for corporations is painting the union itself as the bad guy.  Politicians and lobbyists have no problem twisting the truth to make it appear that unions will cause us to lose our job security.  That unions are corrupt, pocketing your dues to benefit themselves.

It is the same argument, ironically, that is used against taxation.  If not for taxation, we would have higher employment, better wages, more job security and -- my favorite -- better government services.

It's all nonsense.  But if you say it often enough to people in insecure times it is going to work.

In Little Accidents, a 2014 movie recently released on DVD, there are fierce pressures by members of a mining community on the only surviving witness to a deadly accident caused by negligence to cover up the company's responsibility.  The palpable fear is that the government will force the closure of the mine and loss of work.  People willing to risk their lives in order to earn a living.

Loss of work is the fear of any whistleblower.  Edward Snowden had to weigh the consequences of what he knew would be a major attack on the government's credibility, with major fallout.  But in smaller ways, most of us reach points in our lives when we could complain about something that is wrong, or close our eyes, even participate.  And most of us rationalize why we should just do as we're told.  Because otherwise we would lose our jobs, our homes, our friends, our families.  It is not so easy to take a stand.

And when Nikki Haley builds her right-wing creds by union bashing, she is touching that same nerve.  Fear that leads to isolation, that leads to rage, that turns the fear around from being afraid your employer will let you go to anger at the union rep that has shaken your faith in the security of your life and livelihood.

Haley has used the union issue to garner fame and a future from her corporate handlers.  She has done it by creating fear in people who just want to make a living.  She knows that if unions were to get a fair hearing, employees would listen, and just might consider letting them in.  And Boeing, despite their pretense of being open to unions, would lose the power to make the demands on its employees that it currently holds.

Good for Boeing to be able to sound reasonable and let people like Nikki Haley do their dirty work.  Which she does happily.

Meanwhile, though, we need to provide a platform for workers to tell their stories, to tell us what they would want from union membership.  We need to hear the things they are afraid to say in public while they are not protected by a union.  As long as South Carolina's workers live in an atmosphere of fear, the information vacuum will work both ways, and Nikki Haley will continue to thrive from the power she holds.