A New Progressive Platform

This is a cycle we seem to be caught in. The Republicans get elected, and govern like a cross between a barbarian horde and a drunken fraternity. Then, the Democrats come in, and have to do the expensive and unpopular work of fixing the problems…which makes them unpopular, allowing a new Republican horde to ride into town like a panzer division on acid, and start the looting and pillaging anew.
As long as we are caught in this pattern, progressives /cannot/ win any lasting victories. There will only be occasional pauses in the downward spiral. How do we break out of this cycle? The answer, it seems to me, is big ideas. We have been so focused on repairing the damage that we haven’t done anything honestly worthwhile in a very long time. ObamaCare came close, but not really: like HillaryCare 20 years earlier, it was hobbled by its attempt to work within the existing paradigm instead of embracing the kind of genuine restructuring that might have genuinely changed things. So, we’re talking about New Deal, Great Society big. BIG.

So, here’s my Big Idea Platform. I’d like to know what the people think of it.

1) The Election Reform Act
This act will include public financing of elections, based on the understanding that any transfer of a thing of value to a public official or political campaign should be considered an attempt to bribe that official, and an end to partisan redistricting. There are robust, mature systems of public financing around the world available for study and adaptation. It is long past time to end the system of legalized bribery that has captured the US government and rendered it unresponsive to the needs of the general population. Likewise, all redistricting shall be done by non-partisan commissions.

2) An “Apollo Program” for clean energy.
It will be based on solar, wind, and wave power. Such a platform shall include a new energy grid that harnesses distributed micropower generation and AI management, and a new generation of nuclear reactors capable of using existing stocks of nuclear waste as fuel. This will simultaneously reduce carbon and heavy metals pollution in the environment, mitigate climate change, and eventually rid the country of nuclear waste.

3) Universal healthcare.
This can include a true single-payer system allowing access to everyone while allowing private providers for those who wish to avail themselves of additional services. Again, robust, mature systems are available for study and adaptation. Possible models include France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, and Canada.

4) A program of free post-secondary education or business investment.                                        Under this program, citizens will be able to either A), attend four years of a public university at public expense, B) access the amount of money four years of schooling would cost and use it as seed money to start a business, or C), any combination thereof: for instance, a student would be able to attend two years of technical school and then access two years worth of seed money funding for a start-up. Such a program will also include the forgiveness of all existing student loan debt, which is currently consigning two generations of Americans to debt peonage and acting as a huge brake on the US economy.

5) Raising the minimum wage.
This will include indexing the minimum wage to the inflation rate, putting an end to the degrading spectacle of continually having to beg for a continually-shrinking slice of the pie. Likewise, and for the same reason, Social Security benefits shall be indexed to the inflation rate.

6) Ending the war on drugs.
This will include the outright legalization of cannabis, the pardon of all federal prisoners held on simple possession charges, and the institution of a robust national drug treatment program for addicts. Under this program, regulatory authority will be transferred to the Food and Drug Administration, the DEA will be abolished outright, and asset forfeiture will not occur in the absence of a criminal conviction. This program will include a ban on the transfer of military equipment from the Department of Defense to civilian police departments, and a requirement that any civil judgement against a police officer must be paid by the officer personally. This program will hold that possession/intoxication itself is not a crime, but that criminal behavior, such as DUI, is.

7) Immigration reform.
Under this program, all immigrants, documented or otherwise, will be granted amnesty and allowed to stay if they register. This will allow immigrants to be protected under labor and civil law, ending the problem of legitimate business being undercut by underpaid, illegal labor. Any illegal employment of an undocumented worker shall be considered a felony. Likewise, immigrants convicted of crimes of violence, theft, fraud, espionage, or a pattern of criminal behavior, are subject to permanent deportation.

8) The Federal government as the employer of last resort.
This can be thought of as a new WPA: anyone unable to find productive work can go to work for the government, building/repairing infrastructure, parks, public buildings, etc. This should make the institution of a Universal Basic Income unnecessary, although a cost-benefit analysis and comparison between this program and a UBI should be conducted.

9) The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act.
This will outlaw any and all warrantless electronic or physical surveillance of a citizen, and will include a Citizen’s information Bill of Rights, which will state that any business that compiles information on a citizen for sale or other distribution is required to notify that citizen and give the citizen the opportunity to dispute information included therein. Further, any business that profits from the sale of individuals’ information will be required to share those proceeds with the individual.

10) The Private Security Services Reform Act.
Private prisons, police forces, military contractors, and intelligence agencies, or any other businesses serving largely identical functions, are henceforth banned.

11) The Assault Weapons Control Act.
Any firearm design that includes a detachable magazine and a semi-automatic or autoloading action shall be considered a Class III weapon under the National Firearms Act. Further, the manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to increase the rate of fire of an otherwise legal weapon, such as, but not limited to, trigger cranks, multiple-fire triggers, or so-called “bump-stocks”, shall be banned.

12) The Honesty in Commerce Act.
Any business that engages in systemic theft or fraud, as has been widely documented in, among others, the banking and auto-repair industries, shall be subject to seizure and liquidation without recompense to shareholders, and shareholders shall be held liable for crimes committed to their benefit. Likewise, the importation, manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to access or steal from individuals, such as credit-card skimmers and car lock defeat mechanisms, shall be banned.

13) Adoption in total of S.1006, the “Equality Act”, to, finally, “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

14) The Criminal Justice Reform Act.
In order to avoid the further criminalization of poverty and to promote equal justice before the law, this bill will reform the cash bail system as follows: No bail for a violent felony. Sliding scale for a first-time violent misdemeanor; no bail for a second offense. Not showing up is a no-bail felony. Analysis of an arrestee’s likelihood of showing up based on previous history and investment in the community; sliding scale bail depending on results-unlikely to appear, high bail, likely to appear, low (or no required) bail.

Feedback, suggestions, and comments are encouraged.

Enjoy tonight’s debate, but beware rampant anti-intellectualism

85As the countdown for tonight’s Republican debate enters its final hours, American politics—and to a greater extent–America stand at a crossroads. After nearly seven years of Barack Obama’s stoicism and “Mr. Spock” approach to governing, a cast of characters so illogical, over-emotional, and downright anti-intellectual will grace the stage in Cleveland, Ohio. They will no doubt castigate Obama’s legacy as president, lambasting every policy, executive action, and statement ever uttered by the two-term president. For this group of candidates, they are not looking toward the future, but a way to bring the nation to a screeching halt before putting the car in reverse.

The prospect of reversing the nation is truly terrifying. The country remains at the precipice on a host of defining issues that could make or break these United States. Climate change, unabated economic, social, and racial inequality, and the prospect of continued ground wars in west Asia must be addressed by Obama’s successor and thus far, every Republican firmly stands in opposition to any progress made over the last six and one half years.

Continue reading

Ebola News Round-up for a Fear-Free Weekend

Now that New York City has documented its first case of Ebola, it’s time for Americans to freak out. Okay, I exaggerate. However, I have been completely turned off by the hysteria emanating from the mainstream media looking to increase ratings and elected officials playing politics, knowing there are midterm elections in a few weeks. As we know, politicians and partisans cannot let a good crisis go to waste. I have shunned all cable news these past few weeks. I now prefer to get my information from the cooler heads at NPR (Morning Edition), PBS (The News Hour) and the BBC. Actually, the best source for information about Ebola can be found on the World Health Organization’s web site. (Imagine that!)

This is not to say that people shouldn’t be worried because it is a scary virus and taking precautions, such as washing your hands, is always a good idea. Furthermore, it is obvious from recent events in Dallas, that the United States is ill-prepared to deal with this disease. That should change as experts are called in to educate hospitals and their staff about how to interact with infected patients, dispose of contaminated material and bio-hazard waste, and handle lab specimen properly. Coordinated protocols for health care workers traveling to and from affected regions is a must.

A big part of the fear originates from the lack of trust for those in charge, and some of it is quite warranted. However, fear is overcome by knowledge. You can diminish the anxiety you feel by seeking information from reliable sources, not solely from those whom you align with ideologically – be it on the left or the right. Below are some articles and resources you may find helpful. There will no doubt be more cases of Ebola diagnosed in this country, but you are more likely to be killed by a shark, or by lightning, or in a car crash (that one much more likely), than from Ebola.

 

What’s My Risk of Catching Ebola?

 

There is no better resource about Ebola than the World Health Organization. Information is power. Information reduces fear and anxiety.

Ebola facts from the World Health Organization

FAQs about Ebola

 

Primary focus of response must be to halt spread of Ebola in West Africa – UN

“As the international community mobilizes on all fronts to combat the unfolding Ebola outbreak, the primary emphasis must continue to be on stopping the transmission of the virus within Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three hardest-hit countries, United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) experts said today.”

 

Some examples of needless panic:

The Most Ignorant American Ebola Panic of the Moment

 

However, there are legitimate reasons to be afraid. Below is an interesting study that explains the panic.

One Study to Explain Ebola Panic

“The experiment’s takeaway was this: When the perception of risk increases, the feeling of risk increases. This lesson is instructive in thinking about why some pockets of America are overreacting to the threat of Ebola.

To our collective credit, the American people are thinking pretty calmly about the disease’s threat. Just 24 percent of respondents to a recent Gallup Poll said they were worried about contracting Ebola. But for some communities who see themselves as being just a few degrees of separation away from Ebola, the threat has provoked panic. To extend the metaphor from the Michigan experiment, these communities are being sneezed on or are acting out of fear of being sneezed on.”

 

But there is some good news! Congratulations, Nina!

Nina Pham, Dallas Nurse, Declared Free of Ebola and Released From Hospital

 

And more good news!

Seems all it takes for vaccine research and production to kick into overdrive is for Ebola to impact the developed world. Funny how that works…

Millions of doses of experimental Ebola vaccines will be produced by the end of 2015, the World Health Organization has announced

 

Big Pharma’s race to develop an Ebola vaccine

“Are these companies just profiting off misery? As The New York Times pointed out yesterday, testing and scaling up the production of drugs takes real money, and bringing a new vaccine to market can cost as much as $1.5 billion.

This often pays off for Big Pharma, as patented, brand-name drugs can be worth worth billions, For diseases like Ebola, though, it can take a humanitarian disaster to create the necessary urgency to act.

Sure we can be cynical. But to view the success of stocks like Bavarian Nordic and NewLink Genetics as the profits of doom is to ignore the economic realities that go into discovering and administering a real-world cure”.

 

Stephanie Cutter: Ebola vaccine research was cut in half, and more cuts are coming

Perhaps cuts to Ebola research, due to budget cuts for research at the NIH, should never have been made. It appears more cuts are on the horizon, per the sequester…perhaps Congress should reconsider that one.

 

Big data put to good use:

Big data could help: Mobile-phone records would help combat the Ebola epidemic.

“CDRs can therefore tell epidemiologists where people have been, when—and perhaps also where they are headed, based on their past movements. Analysing the records has proved helpful in tracking the spread of diseases on previous occasions.”

 

Why Ebola won’t go airborne

The video in the above link explains it well. I recommend watching it.

(I tried to embed the video, but I couldn’t get it to show up. Sorry.)

 

Now that you know the odds of catching Ebola, have some facts, are aware of the misinformation out there as well as what is being done/can be done to deal with any future cases, and hearing the news that Nina Pham is Ebola-free, chill a little and enjoy an Ebola-fear-free weekend. Peace!

The Struggle You Don’t See

Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.
(I am human, I consider nothing human foreign/alien to me.)
Publius Terentius Afer: The Self-Tormentor;” Act I, Scene 1, line 25 (77)

In 2001, I find myself at the top of a skyscraper. It is windy this high up. The city is lovely, the air is crisp and autumnal. And I catch myself thinking something that scares me. I immediately leave the balcony, take the elevator to the ground floor, and sit on a bench. I cannot cry. I wish I could. I don’t care that I’m in public. I am terrified of myself. .  

I am a college senior. I am severely depressed. And I have just had my first suicidal thoughts. 

Yes. I do believe, when we’re brutally honest with ourselves, something along the lines of “I wish I were dead” or “they’d be better off if I died” drifts through our minds when we find ourselves in a really unpleasant situation.

But the thoughts in 2001 weren’t like that. This was not a fleeting thought. I was seriously contemplating…

My thoughts were focused on planning. The how-to’s. And you will hopefully note, I am not going into detail of that planning. 

Later that week, I went to a mall, just to watch people and attempt to distract myself. That ended up pretty much the same way. I had a GREAT plan in place for that mall. 

Alas, I over-think things. I couldn’t do that to my family. Or the people at the mall. Or….the possibilities of many people I felt I owed my continuing existence, even if I wasn’t fully convinced I was right and they’d get over it. 

Again, I left. I blinked back some tears this time. I safely drove back to my dorm and called my parents. They were and are amazingly supportive. I assured them I was not going to do anything to hurt myself, but I told them that I was scaring myself. (I think my mom said something along the lines of, “I don’t think you will hurt yourself, we believe in you, but I do appreciate you telling us this.”)  Lucky for me, a fall break for school fell on the very next weekend.My parents arranged for me to come home and see a new psychiatrist. 

I was diagnosed with “treatment resistant depression.”  This means, simply, that I can be on anti-depressants and I’ll sometimes need to “jump start” the uptake of serotonin and all those other incredibly neurological chemicals with a new medication. I did start an additional medicine, and in a short time (less than 2 weeks), I was felt–well, not depressed. More like a person who enjoyed things in life, rather than going through motions so as not to stand out. I started cognitive behavior therapy, which trains me to recognize and deal with the dark thoughts when they bubble up.

I’ve found, over the years, I’m quicker at picking up when the black dog approaches, and take appropriate steps, thanks to kind support networks of family and friends. They hug me. They don’t always accept “fine” as an answer to “How are you?”   

They sit with me in silence. We share stories. They invite me to lunch or tea (and as I heal, it becomes a happy habit.) We laugh (yes, people with depression do laugh on occasion.) We listen. Serious, hardcore listening.

In essence, they accept that I have a chemical imbalance that benefits from medicine, like many forms of diabetes. Only my chemical imbalance doesn’t occur in my pancreas, but in my brain.

I really do not talk about it online. For starters, it by no means defines me. Yes, it is a part of me, but I am more. True friends know this. They know, for example, about that time I misspoke and said “promiscuity” in a course when I meant to say “potential” …

You get the idea.  

So while the US invaded Afghanistan, I threw myself into reading about Japanese war crimes in WWII. By no means is this a happy or even “meh” topic. It’s sickening. But I had read a book (prior to the depression reoccurance) about Hiroshima. So I threw myself into my school work, and when that was done, educated myself about Japan during WWII. 

This, I realized, is how I cope. I throw myself into academics. I can distance myself from my self. It works for me.

When I learned of Robin Williams death yesterday, I was sad. 
When I learned the death may have been a suicide, I was further saddened. 

But I saw people posting things on facebook and twitter that, quite frankly, frustrated me.

Take, for example, Friend Z. Friend Z knows about my depression, but their response when I confided in them was, “You have nothing in your life to be sad about. Just cheer up and stop thinking about it.” 

Um….thanks. I cannot imagine why no one told me that before, and I also had no idea Friend Z knew everything in my life.  

So Friend Z is posting about how we need to treat depression as a real illness (agreed, because it IS). But the justification from Friend Z was something along the lines of “because we lost someone famous.”

What am I then, Friend who tells me to just cheer up or “be happy?” What are we non-famous people who suffer from depression? And yes, it’s truly suffering. What are those who have/has or are suffering from depression supposed to make of that? We’re not as important? We should just, in Z’s words to me a while back, “be happy?”

Now–to switch gears a tad, let’s fast-forward a few years. I am in a long-term committed relationship, and the person starts having delusions and psychotic breaks. I find myself on the “other side” of mental illness, and it’s really hard. It’s trying for us both personally, but I’m not leaving because of many reasons. Love is a strong bond. Staying by this person’s side and talking them through an episode is trying, but essential–at least to me. 

I’ve been asked by people why I didn’t leave at the first break. Again, love. But also…the opening quote. “I AM HUMAN….” 

Now, there is no shame is acknowledging that you don’t understand whatever the illness is; there is no shame in admitting you have an illness!

But fully, 100% deserting someone you know is suffering–I cannot fathom that. I understand being fearful of unusual behavior, changes in behavior; call a helpline FOR yourself, do not assume the person who appears ill will call just because you gave them the number. It’s a good thing to do, but calling yourself can help equip you with tools for yourself and the person. 

Sure, I don’t understand it, but I get that you’re afraid and I will hold you tight and talk you through this, or just reassure you I’m here, you’re real. And I will help you get help, whatever form that help may be. 

I think, by my own nature, I would do this for anyone. Maybe it’s selfish on my part? I don’t want anyone dying or hurting themselves or feeling alone when I could have possibly stopped it. You will not scare me away. And if I am scared, I will gather a team of people I trust, who know and understand mental illness, to help me help that person.

We are all in this life together, and we can make it better or worse for someone hurting from a wound not visible to the eye.

I understand the frustration from not understanding an illness you cannot see. I cannot claim that I was always as sympathetic as I am advocating now. Live and learn?

If Williams’ death is ruled officially as a suicide, then let’s continue to live, and let’s learn from this tragedy.

Research. Learn that mental illnesses are biochemical and what the person is experiencing may be absolutely terrifying to them. 
Reach out. You may be turned away, but keep reaching out. “Let’s have lunch at X at noon on Friday.”

I could go on, but these are just my opinion/thoughts. 

I highly recommend the National Alliance on Mental Health’s website as a starting point for more  information on mental illnesses, the politics of it, symptoms, support (for everyone affected, family members, etc.), and advocacy. 

Addendum: An attempt at suicide should not, in my opinion, be viewed as a mere cry for help or attention. It should be taken as exactly what it is: an attempt at ending your own life. 

[Crap, it’s 2014 and I have to write that?]

If you’re struggling, if you have struggled, if you’ve supported someone who’s struggled with mental illness…I send you big hugs. Nothing is alien to me. If you need help getting treatment, check out NAMI’s state chapters, your parish or county’s public health options, etc. 

The most dangerous thing is to not address this. Please, let’s keep this dialogue open and flowing. 

Health Care “reform”: My response to Obama (from 3 years ago)

NB: I wrote this quickly on March 22, 2010, after reading Obama’s speech. The ACA had just been passed. I couldn’t listen to his speech the previous night. I think I made it to the third paragraph of his speech before I grabbed my “comfort book” (Epictetus, thank you) and went upstairs to read in dim light.

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America’s families and America’s small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

This sounds so good, President Obama.
Does this mean that I can get affordable health insurance for some pre-existing
conditions now?

No? Okay, so I guess I can just keep on dealing with these awful migraines because I can’t afford the $500.00 a month it would cost to get a preventative medication that might work. I won’t find out, because, you know, I have to feed my family first. That’s cool, I understand.

Call this me taking one for the American people. Every time I vomit water or plain bile because I’ve been unable to keep food down for more than 24-hours due to a mere migraine, I’ll just think of it as my sacrifice for the Good of the Country.

So, God forbid (you do invoke Him several times) I get sick, my husband and my daughter would be left without me, or we’d be bankrupt, or…?

That’s so comforting.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear.
Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.

I must disagree, politely but vehemently, with any sort of claim that “we” have “proved” that the “government…still works for the people.”

The government works for some of the people. Hurray for some!

And kudos for us to returning to the failed ways of Ancient Greek oligarchies—this bill has proven more than anything that we are ruled by corporations.
All right, though, I will grant that the Supreme Court recently did rule that corporations are people, too.

Maybe I will change my name and incorporate myself. I could start as an S-corp, sell some stock, and let my investors decide what I should do with my life. That does seem to be one way for me to “get ahead” in America, at this date and time.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve.

To those of you who struggled with voting yes, go fuck yourselves. Yes, seriously. You have health insurance. Many of us don’t.

What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we lack health insurance because we don’t want it?

So if you found doing the RIGHT thing was hard, then maybe you should retire from any sort of public life until you’ve gotten in touch with yourself and let go of some of your financial obligations.

And you should also read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—it’s mild, but it’ll remind you (maybe) of what we need. Of what true courage and conviction is.

Today’s vote answers the dreams of so many who have fought for this reform. To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard — it has been heard tonight. To the untold numbers who knocked on doors and made phone calls, who organized and mobilized out of a firm conviction that change in this country comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up — let me reaffirm that conviction: This moment is possible because of you.

I have never felt like more of a failure with my activism work than when I read this paragraph. I haven’t been heard, that’s clear. I’ve been working for single-payer for years. No, I haven’t been heard. And hundreds of others I’ve encountered during my activism haven’t been heard, either.

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat — it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party — it’s a victory for them. It’s a victory for the American people. And it’s a victory for common sense.

The only victory I see is that maybe, maybe Rush Limbaugh MIGHT leave the country. [And that didn’t happen, dammit.] But has he not said this sort of crap before and stayed? And honestly, even if he did leave, he’d still go on with his show.

There is no victory, Mr. President and members of Congress. This, if anything, is a time to mourn your failures.

Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight’s vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and
losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration. But long after the debate fades away and the prognostication fades away and the dust settles, what will remain standing is not the government-run system some feared, or the status quo that serves the interests of the insurance industry, but a health care system that incorporates ideas from both parties — a system that works better for the American people. <

I don’t give a shit about the frenzied analysis. I want change. I want it NOW. I’m sick and tired of living in fear, Mr. President and members of
Congress. What do I fear? I hate that I live in the shadow of a migraine that will inevitably strike me. I hate that I live in fear of falling down the stairs. How could I pay for a broken bone, never mind something more “serious?”

If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known — so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

25994_10100187621531793_2478648_tI am so distrustful of the health insurance industry, and I have total faith that they will find a way to continue to make obscene profit off of sickness.

If you don’t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history — so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

Wow, great. Our country can pay billions of dollars a day to go to other countries to kill other people, but I have to pay for the basic human right to, you know, live?

Thanks.

This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors. It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade. And it’s the
right thing to do for our future. It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that.

Anyone else alarmed that extending the life of Medicare by a decade is progress? What the f, people?

So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

I cannot argue that this isn’t change. I certainly won’t argue with the first line there, that this isn’t radical reform. It’s not.

Our healthcare situation, as it stands now, is hemorrhaging. And the doctors, the government, have decided a band-aid will do the trick. And I’m not talking decent-sized or even normal band-aids. I’m talking about one of those silly round band-aids that doctors will sometimes put on you after taking blood.

In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it.

I’ll wait and see what the outcome is, Mr. President. I’ll get back to you in a decade or two.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some sort of health insurance then.

To Hell in a Handbasket

In less than 24 hours, our country could enter into a very serious situation. In addition to a partial federal government shutdown that is having far-reaching effects across the economy; by this time tomorrow our government may no longer have the authority to borrow money to meet its daily financial obligations. And all the while, Congressional Republicans are acting like a bunch of over-grown Frat Boys, drunk not on cheap beer, but on power. Very much like a recalcitrant child, they have stuck a macramé pin in the wings of our government and are content to sit back and watch it squirm. Oh, and sing “Amazing Grace.”  Really? Nero fiddled; the Republican Caucus sang. You’d think, seeing how well the Nero thing turned out, they’d think twice. But nooooo… true to form, the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

I would be an entirely different story if their arguments had any basis in truth. In true Lee Atwater style, they have framed a fiscal debate around the stereotype of blacks being fiscally irresponsible. And in true Republican style, the Base is eating it up. The fact of the matter is that most appropriations bills originate in the House of Representatives – in which Republicans have held the majority since the Great Shellacking of 2010. So, one could easily argue that the Republicans hold – at the very least – a large share of responsibility for this country’s current bills.  The raising of the Debt Ceiling does not authorize any additional spending. It allows the government the ability to take out short-term loans in order to meet daily obligations, as required by the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA). In this way, government spending actually does work very much like a household budget and checking account. Every household has certain monthly obligations. And a functional household ensures monthly expenditures do not exceed monthly income.  Sound financial theory. But how many of us have been faced with an unexpected expenditure – like a flat tire – and ended up having to replace two tires … like now? In our personal budgets, we have some flexibility. We can dip into our emergency fund, we can pay for the tires with a credit card, we can use our overdraft protection.  The only problem with that: because of the ADA, none of these options are available to the federal government. If you have two flat tires and there is not sufficient money on your Car Maintenance budget line on that day, you would not be able to buy the tires, period.  You couldn’t dip into your savings, or use your credit card, or dip into your discretionary fund. No calling up BankofMomandDad. So, while the government may forecast that they will have a certain amount of money on any given budget line on any given day, the money has to be on the correct budget line at just the right time or that obligation cannot be met.

 And then we have the other exacerbating factor:  a budget is based on forecasted receipts. Well, let’s just look at where the government stands right now. Income tax is a major source of funds for the government. But, because of the federal government shut-down, some 800,000 government employees are not receiving their regular pay, so are being taxed based not on their regular pay, but on their earned pay. Do you see where this is going?

But to me, what is most sad is how ill-conceived and short-sighted the Republican shut-down strategy is. They allege that this is all about saving the American people from the evils of the Affordable Care Act.  Okay, so let’s just say – for argument’s sake – that the ACA is Evil Incarnate and must be destroyed. Had the Republicans thought this thing through, they would have cleared the decks: passed a Continuing Resolution, raised the Debt Ceiling, and allowed all business to continue as usual. That would have left the headlines free to chronicle the daily debacles of the ACA roll-out. But, instead of being inundated with stories about software glitches, crashing websites,  under-trained and under-staffed Assistance Centers, and endless wait times on toll-free lines, we have … the House Republicans singing all three verses of Amazing Grace without the words written down!

“God bless America. And no one else.”

What’s goin’ on?

Things we’ve been reading:

First, a friend of mine shared this.

I lightly broke it down (do read it) with this response:

1. Referring to yourself and/or group of friends as “bro” seriously might as well be a sign you’re a douchcanoe.
2. “Midnight or after, if you have been talking for awhile and they’ve had a couple drinks, ask if they want to dance. If you see an untalked to group or a solo girl, go up to her and ask if she wants anything to drink. If she says yes, get her a drink and then ask if she wants to dance. If she says no, ask her to dance. DANCING IS FUN!!!!! Always try to dance. If she does not want to dance and is with friends, say “aw thats no fun” (or something like that) and then ask one of her friends.”
I thought the stereotype was that guys don’t like to dance, which made the all caps insistence DANCING IS FUN massively humorous. But is DANCING FUN with creepy guys who call each other “bro?”
He really does need to learn about the body though. There’s a lot in between “just under the boob” and “fingering her.”  Just sayin’.
3. “If she starts putting her hair over her ear, THAT MEANS SHE WANTS A KISS.”
I had no idea this was part of the mating ritual of humans. I’m sure my husband is stewing “That feminist bitch I married never puts her hair over my ear, dammit.”
WTF is he talking about? Well, he sure is fond OF ALL CAPS.
4. ” 6. Ejaculate (should also be self explanatory) ”
No, I’m sorry, I don’t follow, care to explain? Preferably in ALL CAPS, AMIRITE BROS? How many women do you think this “bro” *shudder* has so cleverly used this MASSIVELY AWESOME ADVICE ON, [name of friend]? Success rates count.

Also, why are people so stupid to think emails won’t be leaked, etc? Geez.

In other news:

No, Congress is not exempting themselves from Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act began enrollment on October 1. The site has had many hits, more than anticipated. However, as was expected, there have been glitches in the system—some not so small. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog offers an explanation of why these technical glitches are occurring and what is being done to resolve them. We shall see in the coming months how it all plays out as the kinks get worked out.

These glitches, however, serve as easy ammunition for opponents of the law looking to kill it. Another weapon being used to derail the law and raise the ire of Americans is the claim, mostly in conservative media, that the President and Congress are exempting themselves from Obamacare. This is a falsehood that has been fact checked. But as one knows, if a claim is repeated enough times people will believe it.

This Factcheck.org piece explains all of this exemption brouhaha quite well. I guess it all comes down to who you trust.

Friends referred to me these two articles:

These articles refute the above pieces:

I’ve also heard the claim that somehow these government employees are not contributing to the cost of their healthcare plans at all. That is false. Per Wikipedia:

“Premiums vary from plan to plan and are paid in part by the employer (the U. S. government agency that the employee works for or, for annuitants, OPM) and the remainder by the employee. The employer pays an amount up to 72 percent of the average plan premium for self-only or family coverage (not to exceed 75 percent of the premium for the selected plan), and the employee pays the rest.”

Now, one can make the argument that perhaps they should contribute more to their own coverage; that is legitimate. However, to state they don’t contribute at all is incorrect because they do.

This information can also be found directly from the OPM website. See their latest statement regarding this issue below.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule on Aug. 7 explaining that members of Congress and applicable congressional staff will be required to purchase health insurance coverage through the exchanges created by the law. However, according to the proposed rule, the federal government, as the employer, will still be able to make a contribution to health insurance premiums as it currently does. The contribution will be no greater than that now offered to members and their staffs under the FEHB program, and members and their staffs will not be eligible for premium tax credits made available to other persons purchasing health insurance through the exchanges.

A Most Dysfunctional House

So we are experiencing a government shut down.

The last time we had one, I was an adolescent and news via internet, blogs, and the like weren’t popular. (Cue the sound of your modem . . . )

I actually had health insurance 17 years ago, and I was (unfortunately) using it.  (I say “unfortunately” because being sick and in the hospital = not fun).  So yes–I spent one shut-down (1995) in the hospital. I would ask my parents and nurses about the effects, but I gathered from my sources it wasn’t really hurting anyone too much. I still really don’t know, but I gather I was being spoon-fed some information so I could focus on recovering—?

Now, I’m not yet insured (not my choice). I have two children.

And I know what it’s like to be poor.

The shutdown hurts the poor.
It hurts children.
It hurts the barely-existing middle-class.

. . . and more . . .

My friend and fellow blogger found this gem:

“We’re not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

— Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

I know. Sigh. Deep breaths.

WTF!?!?!

Let’s review:

  1. The Executive Branch approves the ACA/Obamacare, which was drafted by the Heritage Foundation.
  2. The Judicial Branch of the government, the Supreme Court, has ruled that the ACA/Obamacare is Constitutional.
  3. HALF of the Legislative Branch has approved the ACA/Obamacare. Sure, some of the members of the Senate may not like it, but they realize that it is, in fact, law.

Could this be the most dysfunctional House in a century? It certainly seems to be in my three decade lifespan.

Olympic National Park, May 2005. (Photo by me)

The National Parks are gated shut. You can look at the nice photograph, but don’t expect to be able to see anything like it in person right now.

Headstart funding is killed.  Meals-on-Wheels and WIC are slaughtered.  Crucial scientific research on all sorts of things–including pediatric cancer–has ceased because the NIH is gone.

And there’s more we’re not investing in because Rep. Stutzman, Rep. Yoho and others have a point to prove.

I’m sure they’ll figure out what their point in a few weeks.  I’m also sure people directly impacted by this tantrum-led shutdown won’t care, won’t get their medication, their food, their education, etc. These aren’t things you just “make up for” with more later.

So while we wait for the House majority to figure out what the hell their point is, we’re hurting our most vulnerable citizens first.

Investing in the future of this country is clearly not a priority.

Be sure to thank your Representative if they did their best to prevent this.

If you’re in a situation like me, then make your voice heard and call/email your Representative of this sad, dysfunctional House.

I posted the what follows earlier this week. Sadly, it bears re-posting:

(transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

Obamacare enrollment begins today, despite government shutdown

Despite House Republicans’ forty plus attempts to repeal and defund “Obamacare,” the six-month enrollment period starts today. House Republicans dead set on making sure this legislation fails have used the ACA as leverage to threaten a government shut-down. Mission accomplished. However, the President, Democrats, and some Senate Republicans are refusing to use the ACA as a bargaining chip. Good. The law was passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. Forbes.com reported yesterday that recent polling shows only 33% of Americans think the federal law should be repealed, delayed, or defunded, and the majority definitely don’t want a government shut-down over it.

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is essentially health insurance reform. It is a far cry from the “socialized medicine” its opponents claim it to be. While the state health insurance exchanges become effective January 1, 2014, other components of the law have been postponed until a later date and therefore full implementation will not occur until 2015 or later.

If you don’t want to read about the Affordable Care Act, watch this YouToons Video for information about the law. I urge you to check it out. It’s comprehensive and easy to understand.

Opponents who make claims about ACA’s negative impact are not being honest because until it is fully implemented an accurate assessment of the legislation cannot be made. (The same can be said about those making overly optimistic statements about the law’s benefits and cost-containment.) Some people may see higher insurance premiums, others will see their costs decrease; some health care costs will be contained, others likely will not. However, what the ACA will do is bring millions of uninsured Americans into the system. It is the first serious attempt since the Clinton administration to provide affordable quality health care to all Americans, though sadly, it is estimated that 30 million Americans will still remain uncovered, for various reasons.

Over a quarter of uninsured Americans are unaware of ACA enrollment. This is a problem. One reason for this is that the Obama administration, HHS, and supporters of the ACA have only recently begun disseminating information through advertising campaigns, social media, and community networks. Another reason is that there is much misinformation out there about the ACA. Most people cannot tell you the provisions in it or the benefits they will receive, or why they hate it so much, except for the mandate that requires they must now purchase insurance coverage.

Recent polls have found that 46% of people disapprove of Obamacare, but only 37% disapprove of the Affordable Care Act. It’s one and the same. Still, Americans are largely supportive of its main provisions. There is a major disconnect between the perception of Obamacare and what it is in reality.

So what is in it? Since March 2010, pre-existing conditions for children have been eliminated; come January 2014, that will be extended to all people. Young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26 years old. Mammograms have been covered in full and will continue to be. You can read more about the benefits and provisions here on the timeline.

Full implementation of this legislation is further imperiled by GOP-led states or states where the legislatures are dominated by conservatives who have refused to set up their state exchanges (Nevada being one exception) but are deferring to the federal government do it. Some states have refused to expand Medicaid, which would allow more low-income Americans to have medical coverage, even though the federal government is paying for it initially, and by 2020 would still be responsible for 90% of state Medicaid funding.

To make matters worse, these states are obstructing the enrollment process and making it harder for navigators to assist residents in their states to access information and to enroll. This is reprehensible. Even in the reddest of states there are people who need health insurance that may save their lives—even conservative lives. This is not an ideological issue, it is a human issue. I expect the fact that these legislators are actively working to make it more difficult for their constituents to receive health coverage will at some point come back to bite them—hard—and it should.

Currently, we are seeing in states where implementation has been going on for months, the exchanges are not perfect, but they are ready for enrollment and these states are willing to assess where the challenges lie and address them on an ongoing basis. We also see that in many states premiums are coming in lower than expected. A Rand Corp analysis of 10 states and the United States overall predicts that there will be no widespread premium increase in the individual health insurance market. However, in states like FL, TX, LA where they are not expanding Medicaid under the ACA, premiums could increase 8-10%.

Arguments against the ACA include: the mandate is too coercive, it goes against our idea of “freedom,” that Obamacare is already causing insurance premiums to increase, or it is the biggest job-killer right now. First of all, the fine for foregoing insurance coverage is not highly punitive. In the first year, it is $95 or 1% of  income, whichever is higher. Furthermore, if you are too poor and still cannot afford coverage, the fine will be waived.

The penalty for not purchasing coverage should be high enough to at least make people stop for a moment and ask if it is worth the cost to not be insured. The idea of the mandate, is to increase the risk pool, including old and young and sick and healthy. Spreading the risk this way brings down/contains the cost of coverage. Right now, those of us with insurance, subsidize those who do not have it when they need medical care. That’s unfair. Furthermore, it’s the freeloader issue that conservatives are always bemoaning, so one would think this would be an element of the law they would like: everyone taking personal responsibility for their medical coverage.

Providers will offer four plan-levels in the exchanges: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Anyone with income up to 400% of the poverty level—$45,960 for an individual, $94,200 for a family of four—will get subsidies to help cover the cost. Disclosure: I am not eligible for subsidies. I make too much money, which isn’t a lot for the NY/NJ area, but even though I do not qualify for them, I do not begrudge those who do. I know how important it is to have decent coverage. I am a leukemia survivor and my healthcare story is a cautionary tale. I was one of the lucky ones.

The second criticism above about increased premiums that people want to assign to solely to Obamacare is also false. Think about it, health care costs have been increasing steadily over the past decades, much higher than wages. This is nothing new. From 2003 to 2011, family premiums for employer-based coverage increased 62% while average median incomes grew only 10%. Some insurers, guaranteed, are setting huge premium increases to fatten their bottom line and blaming it on Obamacare because it’s a great excuse, and most people won’t look for information to refute this subterfuge.

Not only have healthcare costs gone up over the years, but employers have also made employees share more  of those costs. Employers have also decreased pensions as well as their contributions to employee 401K plans. All these costs placed on the American worker have been happening for years, not only in healthcare. The entire system is pushing more costs onto workers.

As for the ACA being the number one job-killer in America—not so much. Read it here, here and here.

No matter what you think of Obamacare the one thing you should remember is that it gives American people choices. If you are fired, or laid off, or want to leave your job, you can do so without the fear of having no affordable health care options for you and your family. That’s liberating. People stay in jobs they hate because they need health insurance. That is ridiculous. Healthcare should not be tied to employment. Furthermore, if businesses did not have this expense they would be much more competitive, globally and domestically. Getting healthcare out of the employment equation is a positive goal because it makes American businesses more competitive and provides Americans the choice and freedom to move to a different job or to start their own business.

The ACA is far from perfect; it is not what I would have designed. However, it is a start to providing universal healthcare to the people of this country. Its implementation will not be complete until all elements of it are in place. And as stated previously, some components have been postponed. The initial enrollment period is for six months (October 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014). In subsequent years, it will be three months (October 1 – December 31).

Furthermore, if Obamacare is delayed for a year, as House Republicans want, it will never get implemented. That is their goal because they are hoping that in the near future there will be a Republican President and a Republican Congress then they can obliterate the law. Our current system is broken, it’s costly to American taxpayers, there are already “death panels” and “rationing” going on in the insurance industry, and have been for years. It’s time to try a different approach, and if that doesn’t work, try another one. The status quo is not an option; our healthcare system is unsustainable.

0006_health-care-oecd-full

SOURCE: Data from OECD, Health Data 2013, June 2013. Compiled by PGPF.

Once we see what is working and what isn’t then we can put policies in place to improve it. But trying to prevent people from accessing a system that though imperfect may help them, possibly even save their lives, is a bad strategy.

There will be obstacles and glitches initially with Obamacare, but perhaps many will be minor. We will never know how a different health care system will work if we don’t try, and even if there are problems, we can improve upon it. We’re Americans. We can meet these challenges. The Affordable Care Act will not affect the majority of Americans or their current coverage. However, if you are uninsured, enroll. The exchanges are open.

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal