The World Of Politics

View of Arizona after Religious Freedom bill still terrible

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) stamps the veto of SB1062, the "Religious Freedom Bill" on Wednesday

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) stamps the veto of SB1062, the “Religious Freedom Bill” on Wednesday

There was jubilation in the plaza of the Arizona capitol on Wednesday after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed SB1062, the so called Religious Freedom Bill.

But was the jubilation justified?

In interview after interview, Republican lawmakers, both federal and national, indicated that after the backlash became national news, they decided it would be bad for business or it would paint Arizona in a bad light, or the language of the bill was a bit too broad and left too much potential for negative interpretation.  In one news report, the anchor indicated that people thought twice about the bill after considering that a Muslim taxi driver could choose not to accept a Christian person as a fare if they felt the Christian was somehow infringing on their religious freedom.

But what about the fact that nobody could cite a single example of an instance where anyone’s religious freedom had been infringed upon making this bill necessary?

State Sen. Al Melvin (R) told Anderson Cooper that “if anything this bill is preemptive” when asked to cite an example of an infringement that necessitated this bill.  When Cooper pressed and asked if there were any instance on record where someone’s religious freedoms were under attack in Arizona, Sen. Melvin said “Not now.  But what about tomorrow?”

State Senator Steve Pierce (R) who voted in favor of the measure then encourage Gov. Brewer to veto it when asked why he was now asking for this veto, said that “there wasn’t anyone who told us it was a problem and it all went so fast.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hoped that his good friend Gov. Brewer would veto the bill “most importantly because it’s the impression that it’s creating because is is being viewed as discriminatory”.  He went on to say that it could impact tourism and business development in the state.

As Daily Show host John Stewart was quick to point out, nobody was either vetoing this bill or reversing their position on it because it was, as he put it “Morally Repugnant.”  But why wouldn’t anyone in the Republican Party simply come out and say that?

Because they don’t believe it is morally repugnant.

Right wing fundamentalists by and large believe that religious freedom means Christians can do or say whatever the hell they want and if you don’t believe with them, burn in a pit of despair.  How much of a reach would it be if a religious freedom bill were to pass that a large corporation run by a right wing religious fundamentalist decide he only would do business in states that took “appropriate measures” to limit abortions?  The state’s leadership would then have to respond by further restricting abortion, without making it illegal of course, in the interest of “economic development”.

Where are the big government right wingers now? (pausing for sound of crickets)

Let’s be perfectly honest here.  Arizona is at the top of the list of narrow minded hate filled idiots occupying political offices.  Look at the history.

Arizona lost a Super Bowl when it decided that it didn’t want to recognize an annual holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Arizona passed SB1070, supposedly the “Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act”, more commonly known as the “Papers Please” bill, clearly providing for the legal targeting of Latinos for harassment.

Arizona has Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (You really don’t need to say much more than that)

Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed SB1062 because of public outcry and because logical thinking business people started thinking twice about doing business in a state that thinks legislation like this makes sense.  It wasn’t because she herself believed it was a crock of garbage.

George Takei, famous for his role on the original Star Trek and one of the more prominent gay rights activists, said it best recently in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now when he indicated that the good people of Arizona are not properly represented by this Legislature.

The only problem is the same good people of Arizona not properly represented voted these idiots into office.

Right wing fundamentalists and their journalistic mouthpiece should remember one thing when they continue to preach that their religious freedoms are under attack.  The original religious freedom bill came in the Bill of Rights in the First Amendment, when it was determined that

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

We’ll honor your religious freedom when you realize you are obligated to honor our freedom from religion.

The impact of Obamacare on an actual small business

We’ve all heard the talk for years now.  “Obamacare will be a job killer for small businesses.”  

The assumptions were as varied as the publications that carried them.  From people losing coverage to coverage costs skyrocketing, to businesses cancelling their group plans, leaving their employees to fend for themselves.

As the Business Manager for an actual small business, I have now completed the process of transitioning from the previous insurance world to the new world as it exists under the Affordable Care Act, the name of the law people choose to call Obamacare.

Our company uses an insurance broker to secure bids from the insurance companies.  Our broker has been the only part of insurance that hasn’t made me want to launch into a profanity laden tirade from the top of a building.  He has served as the go between so that when the insurance company tried to short change one of our staff members, I didn’t have to verbally assault them.  I could express my irritation with the extortion artists and he could translate it to a language that would keep us insured, but stress the seriousness of the situation.

As we entered into the Marketplace, I learned more about the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).  We applied and shortly after that we had bids from all the major providers.  The plans ranged in cost and in out of pocket expenses, but coverage was fairly comparable across the plans.  Perusing the quotes, it was abundantly clear that Health Net was well below anyone else.  It was a clear choice for us.  We were going from coverage that would be considered bronze by the new standards to gold.

I fired off an e-mail to our broker, and the response was completely disappointing.

The Insurance Commission had informed Health Net they had bid the program incorrectly and all of the quotes were invalid.  Health Net had no issue with the quotes, but apparently they were getting inundated with potential customers, and my guess is this didn’t play well with the other providers.

I was back at square one.

I received the new SHOP quotes and now that the Health Net numbers looked more like everyone else (collusion anyone?), I had an entirely new problem.  The coverage options that worked best for my staff with existing or ongoing medical issues were far more expensive to my staff with no issues.  And the plans that suited the people with no issues were not comprehensive enough for those who did have issues.  The problem was we could only choose one plan.

The broker supplied a possible solution.  A program called a “Defined Contribution” program that allowed a choice between a handful of plans and the employer determines how much they would contribute to anyone who enrolled.  This seemed like a brilliant option.  The problem was there was only one carrier who had the program, Blue Cross Blue Shield, traditionally one of the most expensive carriers. When I received the quote, it was almost like a joke.  Their bronze level plans were more expensive than the gold level plans for other carriers.

Back to square one again.

At this point, I was growing frustrated with the process and was beginning to understand why people were bashing this program.  But then I remembered something that is important to consider.  Our company doesn’t have 50 or more full time employees.  I’m not bound by any of the regulations.  At that point I realized that trying to find the best answer to this was more of a personal belief than it was a rule.  I realized that my goal was to see that all of my staff members were covered because I believe everyone should be covered. It was at this point that I started thinking of the process differently.  I don’t have to think of a group plan in the traditional way.

What would happen if I entered each staff member’s info into the Marketplace website and see what their quotes would look like?

When I entered the first one, my belief in the system was immediately renewed. There was 111 plans to choose from, with a full range of premiums, deductibles, out of pocket maximums and payment methods for routine doctor visits (co-pays vs. co-insurance, etc.)  I knew this would be overwhelming for the staff, so I went through and narrowed down the choices to the best options from each level.  I would then meet with each staff member and review the plans I had picked out, and if one of those met their needs, great.  If not, we would look at other options together on the site.

We have been paying 50% of the medical premiums for our staff since we signed up with our current carrier in February 2011.  In 2013, our portion of premiums totaled over $46,000.  We were hoping we could hold as close to this cost as possible in 2014.

It was then I discovered the other benefit of allowing the staff to choose their own plans individually.  The tax subsidy only applies to the individual if they sign up individually.  Doing it this way would allow the staff member to get their tax subisdy for their monthly premium, then get our contribution on top of that.  The company would sacrifice the tax benefit and only have the write off of whatever we contributed the same as any other business expense.  But if the staff could get better rates it meant the company would also get better contribution costs.

One of our staff members had coverage for herself and her spouse and their premium totaled more than $1,100 per month.  When I went through their coverage options, I was shocked.  Again, our coverage was a bronze at best on our better plan.  The current plan has a $6,350 deductible and a max out of pocket of $10,000 per year.  The new plan will upgrade them to gold, have a deductible of $0 and a maximum out of pocket of $4,000.  Their doctor visits will drop from $35 to $20 and their emergency room visits will drop from $500 to $75.  But the best part is that the premium drops from $1,100 to $223.  That is an 80% reduction in premium, while reducing out of pocket costs dramatically and increasing coverage.

We have a staff member who will turn 65 in the next year.  Under the new quote system, she would have the highest rate possible because of her age.  She currently has our “value” plan, which no longer qualifies as sufficient coverage under the new law and her premium is $300 per month, which we pay 50% of.  Her new plan goes from bronze to silver, reduces out of pocket expenses considerably and her premium will be $88.  She will go from paying $150 a month to paying $44 a month until she reaches 65 when she will enroll in Medicare.

This story remained consistent across every staff member we have.  The administrative staff saw reduced tax subsidies, which was appropriate as their household incomes were higher, but their coverage was dramatically improved and out of pocket expenses reduced by a minimum of 50%.

The end result is still in tabulation, but the estimates are as follows.

Total estimated annual premiums under the previous plan were over $92,000.  Under the new plan that number will drop to approximately $50,000 while increasing coverage and decreasing out of pocket costs. We will still use what is called a third party administrator to confirm that the premium payments are made by the staff members prior to our reimbursement to them for our contribution.  This may cost us $1,200 per year but it eliminates the possibility of running into a situation where we are reimbursing someone who didn’t pay their premium, which can result in tax penalties to both the employee and the employer.

The process is not perfect.

This has been an unbelievably tedious process for us and the staff has been under stress not knowing what was going to happen.  But to see the look on their faces when I tell them how much better their coverage is going to be and how much less it will cost, every bit of the work has been worth it.

The bottom line to this story is if a small company with about 60 total employees can find a way to make sure all of their staff members have access to quality insurance coverage at as reasonable a cost as we can expect in this system while lowering the cost for the company, the people who you hear complaining about Obamacare are just lazy, greedy or apathetic.  #ThanksObama

Coal Ash spill in North Carolina threatens ecosystem

82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water the ash was stored in spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina on Sunday. (photo from

82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water the ash was stored in spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina on Sunday. (photo from

82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with the water it was stored in began spilling into The Dan River on Sunday after a storm water pipe that ran directly beneath the storage pond of toxic sludge broke.

Duke energy, the company that runs the coal fired power plant that produced the ash, says that tests downstream show no problems at this point, and they indicate that hundreds of workers with heavy machinery are working day and night to remedy the problem.

Environmental workers say that all the heavy machinery in the world may not be enough to solve this problem.  They indicate that unless the plan includes dredging the rivers entirely they can’t possibly hope to reverse the damage that has already been done.

Coal ash is known to contain lead, arsenic, mercury and radioactive uranium, which would impact the drinking water for North Carolina and neighboring states.  Virginia Beach, Va has already stopped drawing water from Lake Gaston, which is fed by the Dan River.  Danville, Va says they have been successful at filtering the contaminants at this point.

There’s no question that Duke energy, the largest electricity provider in the United States, will throw large amounts of money and manpower to limit the damage on this latest disaster, it still brings up numerous questions about the continued direction of our energy policy.

The first, and to me the most obvious question, would be why any company would be allowed to create a storage pond for toxic sludge directly on top of a storm water pipe.  If we go by the premise that accidents happen, shouldn’t we create some common sense barriers between the water table and toxic sludge storage?

The next one is certainly more ideological, but no less valid.  When will we realize that the impact of continued dependence on fossil fuel now outweighs the benefits?  I know the President touted his “all of the above” policy that targeted dependence on foreign oil, but if the price for reducing our reliance on foreign oil is an increase in domestic ecological tragedies, how is this a victory?

But I guess we have to fair.  Remember when that wind farm in California suffered failure and poisoned the groundwater across 5 counties?  Or when the solar array in Arizona began emitting greenhouse gases, resulting in severe air quality warnings for 6 months?

You don’t remember those?

That’s because clean energy doesn’t poison the environment.  Argue all you want about the cost as thousands of people begin their plans to camp out when the next iphone or ipad is released, but the reality is that if we embraced the concept as a nation, instead of in pockets, we would see a shift in industry and the cost would balance itself out.

In a week or less, this story will go away, but the impact will linger on, just like the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the groundwater contamination that has been documented as a result of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas, and the BP oil spill.  We have been conditioned to accept these things as a minor inconvenience.

With this history, It’s just hard to imagine why people would have concerns about a pipeline carrying tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, a project that also quietly includes a fracking project in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Basin which is estimated to produce 100,000 barrels per day.

A pipeline that runs across the nation willed with concentrated sludge, combined with a process that uses more toxic chemicals to create cracks in the ground to draw yet more oil and introduces these toxic chemicals into the groundwater, and then the transportation via pipeline of more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Clearly no reason for concern there.

Duck Commander offers too much reality for reality TV

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson has been suspended indefinitely by A&E from the hit series after he made anti gay remarks in an interview with GQ magazine.

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson has been suspended indefinitely by A&E from the hit series after he made anti gay remarks in an interview with GQ magazine.

Patriarch of the Duck Commander empire and father of the Duck Dynasty family Phil Robertson has been suspended from the A&E “reality” show after an interview with GQ magazine, in which Robertson made disparaging remarks about homosexuality.

In the January issue of the magazine, Robertson is quoted as saying (in excerpts released yesterday) that;

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine.”

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Television network A&E, which hosts the reality show chronicling the Robertson family and their multi-million dollar hunting products company, was quick to respond, suspending Robertson indefinitely, and issuing the following statement;

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

There has been a media storm since the excerpts were released and again following the suspension. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has stepped forward to defend the Robertsons and their right to free speech. The Roberstons live in West Monroe, Louisiana and the state surely hasn’t been hurt by the publicity the show has generated. It is estimated that 14 million people watch the show each week.

But the underlying issue here is the balance between “Reality TV” (some call it “unscripted” to avoid the reality moniker) and reality. Apparently you can indeed be too real, or go too far from the “unscripted” script.

Phil Robertson has made no attempt to hide his faith, his beliefs or his lifestyle. While he is the founder of Duck Commander and holds the patent on the duck call that launched the company, he takes no real active role in the operation, and is an ordained minister. The show has captured him conducting church services.

As a fundamentalist Christian, it should come as absolutely no shock that Robertson views homosexuality as an abomination, an affront to God, and a sin. This is not a new position on the issue, and it has been shared by countless fundamentalists and ministers across the country. In fact, when you hear a fundamental minister indicate he doesn’t abhor homosexuality it is shocking.

So A&E knew what they were getting when they signed up this group. Nobody who watches the show or has watched the show (the show kind of jumped the shark after the second season) that is shocked by this statement. And while A&E doesn’t diminish the logic to the level of TLC, it is still the network that also hosts American Hoggers, a gluttony of Storage Wars versions and Bad Ink.

Phil Robertson is guilty of believing in an outdated, narrow minded ideology, one that thankfully is diminishing in our nation. But you don’t hear people outraged that A&E shows someone praying to a fictitious deity at the end of every episode, and there are plenty of people who find that as offensive as Robertson’s stance on homosexuality.

Some will simply write this off as an ignorant redneck showing his intolerance. Phil Robertson may well be a redneck, but he is anything but ignorant. He has a masters degree in education from Louisiana Tech University. The show plays up the hillbilly persona of the characters, but the bulk of the cast are also well educated individuals. Ignorance is not applicable here.

In the end, the old adage that says “There’s no such thing as bad press” will prove true. The ratings for the show will surge, as fundamentalists rally around their chastised brethren. Sales of the ever growing list of Duck Dynasty products will soar, and the family will be hailed as “victimized by the mainstream media”, while A&E benefits from all of this.

For those who think they will see an apology from Phil Robertson over his comments had better think again. If an apology is put forth under pressure by network executives responding to advertisers, you can be certain it will be “scripted” and won’t be coming from anyone named Robertson.

Senate deal to end shutdown and avoid default now falls to House GOP

All eyes are now on Speaker of the House John Beohner (R-OH) as his GOP caucus must decide if they will pass a bill to avoid the default and reopen the government after 16 days of useless shutdown. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

All eyes are now on Speaker of the House John Beohner (R-OH) as his GOP caucus must decide if they will pass a bill to avoid the default and reopen the government after 16 days of useless shutdown. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

In one of the least surprising events in recent memory, the Senate has reached a last minute, bipartisan agreement to both avoid default and end the government shutdown after sixteen pointless days.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that the deal wasn’t what their side had hoped for, but it was better than had been feared or proposed by their opponents on the other side of the aisle. This is the language used to prepare constituents on both sides for disappointment when the details are revealed.

And while Senators from the group of 14 who worked to present this deal, seven Republicans, six Democrats and one Independent, took to the floor of the Senate to thank each other for finally working together to craft and end to this nonsense, the party is still a bit premature. The bill now has to go to the House, where the problem started and still lives. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) still has to convince his renegade band of Tea Party conservatives that this is a deal that simply must be done and that their little debacle is over.

To do that, he runs the risk of losing their confidence, and potentially his position as Speaker.

For the record, Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose 21 hour rambling on the floor of the Senate about how the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was set to unravel the very fabric of the United States and how this was the time for true conservatives to stand up to the President and the Democrats set the tone for House Tea Party conservatives to create this pathetic scenario, has said he opposes the deal, but will not delay its proceeding with another mindless rant.

Previously, it seemed as if the concession regarding the Affordable Care Act was going to be removal of the medical device tax that was put in place to assist with funding the law. This of course would have created a scenario by which conservatives could later come back and indicate the negative impact of the law on both the debt and the deficit, which would then rally support behind a situation they created by removing some of the funding to finance the law. Since most people don’t remember what passes in a law from day to day, they would blindly agree with the talking heads and rally further for the repeal of the law.

Now it seems as though the concession will come in a clause that will make people verify their income before they can qualify for tax subsidies for insurance coverage under the new law. It certainly falls short of the total defunding, or the delay in the punitive phase for individuals who fail to sign up in time, so how the Tea Party members in the House will sell it to their narrow base will be interesting.

It also would appear possible that Democrats could have more support for this bill in the House than Republicans, clearly illustrating what everyone already knows, that there is actually two parties within the GOP, and that their ability to actually lead on an issue is impossible since they can’t even agree with themselves.

In the end, this is not a resolution by any means. It funds the government until January 15th and extends the debt limit until February 7th, which means we will most likely revisiting this stupidity again in the new year.

If the 80th Congress from 1947-1949 was labeled the “Do Nothing Congress”, this group of misfits has certainly earned the moniker of the “Kick The Can” Congress, as they have failed to reach a deal on anything comprehensive since they were sworn in January.

Republicans begin next attempt at propaganda battle in government shutdown

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“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

This is an ageless axiom that we all have heard countless times in our lives. Well, the GOP leadership have decided to follow it in launching the new campaign for why the evil Democrats and the Socialist President are responsible for the government shutdown, now in its eleventh day.

Last week, Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky) was caught on an open microphone telling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) that he didn’t think the Democrats had poll tested the concept of not negotiating when it came to the battle over the government shutdown, which was initiated by House Republicans who submitted a budget bill that included varying levels of defunding or repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

As it turns out, it may have been the GOP who didn’t poll test, as the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll shows. In the poll, 78% of people believe the nation is on the wrong track, with 70% disapproving of the job the GOP is doing in Congress. 60% of people surveyed said they would vote out every member of Congress if they could, while 53% said they believe the Republicans in Congress are responsible for the shutdown, versus 31% who blame the President.

When you compare the blame numbers to the last government shutdown in 1996, also by a Republican Congress with a Democratic President, 44% of people blamed the GOP and 37% blamed President Clinton. The backlash in the following election was overwhelming for the Republicans, as they lost control of Congress.

46% of those polled said the shutdown was extremely serious and 31%, nearly one in three, said that they personally have been impacted by the shutdown in terms of employment, benefits or services. 70% said that the GOP is putting their own political agenda above what is best for the country.

In terms of how those polled shake out politically, 86% are registered voters, and 44% voted for President Obama in the last election, while 35% voted for Mitt Romney.

Former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) recently proposed backing off of the Obamacare debate and having serious discussions about the “entitlement” programs Medicare and Social Security. This method of approach seems to be garnering much more favorable feedback, so it seems to have been handed out as the go to line for GOP members of Congress.

This morning on the MSNBC show Jansing & Co. Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) started out by telling host Chris Jansing that he wasn’t in Congress to read polls, but to do what the American people called for. When Jansing pointed out that the pools clearly indicate the American people think what they are doing is wrong, Rep. Radel went right to the entitlement card, attempting to sell the idea that this is what the Republicans have trying to address, while the President has continued to say he would not negotiate.

Rep. Radel and the GOP clearly hope the nation has some level of short term memory loss with his attempt to sell the idea that the government shutdown was created because of an unwillingness to negotiate on budget numbers, since a clean budget proposal has yet to be sent to the Senate for a vote.

Showing that he couldn’t resist yet again attacking Obamacare as the real problem with the country, Rep. Radel then said that all they were asking for was to delay the individual fines for people who didn’t sign up for insurance by the deadline of March 2014. He noted that big businesses have been exempted from the penalty by the President, but that individuals have not been exempted from it. Jansing then attempted to ask if it said anything that the sheer number of people who have gone to the website to begin their enrollment process actually reveals that people are encouraged by the prospect of getting “affordable” coverage. Rep. Radel sidestepped the question and once again indicated that the President cut a deal with big business but wasn’t willing to cut the same deal for the general public.

Whether or not the GOP is poll testing their propaganda campaign, it’s clear they have a new line to try and sell the public. If they decide to continue holding the nation hostage to gain their political points, they may well find themselves out of work very soon, and then they can join the 800,000 people they have put out of work for their fifteen minutes of grandstanding.

GOP senators tip their hand on government shutdown compromise

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All week we have looked at what was really behind the government shutdown, who was directly responsible for it and how it might end. Well yesterday, two prominent GOP Senators may have let us in a bit more to how we might ultimately see a resolution in this lunacy.

Thinking they were off mic and off camera, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed some strategy for saving face as they try to back out of the spotlight as the ones who put 800,000 federal workers out of work because they have a political ax to grind with the President and the Democrats over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Sen. Paul leans in and tells Sen. McConnell “I don’t think they poll tested we won’t negotiate.” He is referring to a couple of different things with this statement. The first is that the commonplace now for any political rhetoric is that you poll test the phrase or statement to see how it plays with the nations as a whole as well as with your base. The second aspect of this statement is the fact that President Obama and the democratic majority in the Senate have stuck to the fact that they will not negotiate modifying or delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as a ransom for putting those 800,000 federal workers back to work.

Paul follows that up by saying “I think it’s awful that they keep saying that over and over again.” McConnell agrees, saying “Yeah I do too.”

Then Paul, who seemingly knows that they are not going to get any victory of substance in this foolish debate, indicates how they may be able to target instead a victory of perception instead. “I think if we keep saying we wanted to defund it (Obamacare), we fought for that, but now we’re willing to compromise on this, we’re gonna win this I think.”

Now let’s be perfectly clear here. This is a junior Senator (and Tea Party favorite) talking independently with the Senate Minority Leader and expressing his thoughts. It could be as simple as that. There’s no specific indication that this is coming down as the party line, and it has been the Tea Party members in the House that have been the ones holding those 800,000 jobs hostage to try and gain political points with their base voters.

But when you look at the totality of the process this debate that is normally over the budget, not a law that has been passed by the House, passed by the Senate, signed into law by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court, it seems clear that this entire nonsense ultimately will be about making a political statement, and in defeat being able to paint themselves as the ones attempting to do the will of the people in the spirit of compromise, will the evil President and his minions refuse to come to the table to solve problems in a bipartisan way.

The troubling thing about this is the GOP used this same technique during the battle to pass this legislation, and they rallied the conservative voters into a frenzy that the totalitarian Democrats were building a Socialistic empire at the expense of liberty and the working class. Clearly they poll tested their rhetoric and at the midterm elections Tea Party candidates from across the nation were voted into office under the premise that they would come to D.C. and focus on debt control and jobs.

Meanwhile, they have voted to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act 43 times, passed numerous pieces of legislation attempting to limit women’s reproductive rights and exactly no bills targeting job creation.

But so long as you can save face and win the battle of perception, perhaps actual performance doesn’t mean very much.

Tea Party House member reveals mindset behind government shutdown

Today at a construction company in Maryland, President Obama continued to press the Tea Party member of the House and Speaker Boehner to do the right thing and end the government shutdown.

Meanwhile Tea Party members continue to reveal the true cause of the shutdown, and how narrow minded they are.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) made probably the most revealing comment to date, quoted by the President in Maryland today. Talking to NBC’s Frank Thorpe, Stutzman said “We’re not going to be disrespected here. We have to get something out of this and I don’t know what that even is.”

That’s about as clear a message as you could send that the government has been shut down, 800,000 federal employees have lost three days of income thus far, and countless civilian contractors have ceased working on government funded projects so that the Tea Party House members of the GOP can “get respect” by getting something out of this deal, even if their own members don’t know what that something is.

Their target to this point has been the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They started with the complete defunding of the law as their goal, and have since backed down to delays in varying levels of implementation. There has been speculation that if the Democrats were to be willing to give on anything concerning the Affordable Care Act, it might be on the Medical Equipment tax provision. This tax does not apply to equipment sold over the counter and does not include things like eye glasses or hearing aids.

The interesting thing about this provision is that it is part of the funding for the Affordable Care Act that enabled the law to be debt and deficit neutral. Eliminating this tax then would require revenues to be generated elsewhere or it would have a negative impact on the deficit and the debt, something that the GOP, and especially the Tea Party, swore was their number one goal to avoid.

So here we are three days in. The Senate has passed a clean bill the specifically addresses the appropriations needed to keep the government running. No hidden agendas, no doctoring of the numbers, just the job they are required to do. This bill has been sent to Speaker Boehner and it sits on his desk. If he took the bill to the floor, it would most likely with twenty GOP members in the House already indicating they would votes yes. This is more than the seventeen necessary to carry a vote in the GOP controlled House.

But Speaker Boehner risks losing his party if that happens. And if he loses his party, he could potentially lose his position and the power that goes with it. And despite the fact that the vast majority of rational thinking Americans have called for an end to this stupidity, the Speaker must also be making sure he is not disrespected and making sure he gets something out of this.

Let’s hope that the 800,000+ people who are being immediately impacted by this lunacy will pay attention and cast their votes in November 2014.

President Obama spells out insanity of government shutdown over Obamacare

President Obama stepped to the podium in the White House rose garden this morning to address both the government shutdown and the opening of the new Insurance Marketplace established as part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

He minced no words about who shut the government down and why.

He indicated that it is one faction of one party in one branch of government that has decided to “demand ransom”.

“They’re shutting down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health care to many Americans. They are demanding ransom just for doing their job,”

The President made it exceedingly clear that the Affordable Care Act “passed the House, passed the Senate, was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, and it is the law.” Gathered around him were people who were able to sign up for the insurance marketplace starting today, most of whom had no options for “affordable” insurance coverage prior to this new mechanism.

The President indicated that before 7:00 this morning, more than one million people had visited to begin the sign up process, creating a bandwitdth problem, resulting in slower than usual access to the sites content. He indicated that everyone expects glitches, and that they will be fixed as they arise.

He joked that Apple had released a new operating system in the last week and that it had some glitches, so they released an update to fix them. He said that nobody asked for Apple to be shut down because of the glitches.

President Obama was also very quick to note that while the extreme right wing faction of the House Republicans have decided to put 800,000 people on furlough to make a statement about their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, the insurance marketplace is up and running, as the law does not receive its funding through the same appropriations process as the rest of the government does.

He also took a moment to address the upcoming debate over the debt ceiling, indicating that this is a routine piece of business that has been done 45 times since President Reagan was in office. He took a moment to explain that raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending, instead it ensures that the bills already committed to by Congress are paid. He compared it to someone buying a car, then not paying the bill. “you’re not saving any money, you’re just a deadbeat.” he said.

Republicans are still attempting to sell this negotiating tactic as something the American people have asked for, and still attempting to indicate that the Affordable Care Act is actually hurting the economy, but fewer people are buying it as time passes. Anyone who is paying attention can see that the economy continues to grow, however slowly, despite the fact this law has been in effect in varying degrees for two years now.

There is still a lot of work to be done to solve the complicated issues of healthcare costs in this nation, but the importance cannot be overstated. It is not a coincidence that the President indicated 15% of Americans live without coverage right now, and statistics show that the same percentage live in poverty. If you live at 138% or less of the poverty level, you are able to be covered by Medicaid, in part due to the expansion of the program outlined in the Affordable Care Act. When you look at these numbers, it shows you the same group of people that are struggling to get by are also struggling to pay for basic medical care. It’s the group working full time jobs that are paying somewhere between minimum wage and $15.00 per hour, the segment of the population that is growing the fastest, and the segment of the economy doing the most hiring.

So how do the members of the GOP House propose to address this? Add 800,000 more people to the list of underemployed and/or unemployed by shutting the government down to protest healthcare benefits for those who can’t afford to get by as it is.

Stay tuned to see how long this nonsense carries on.

Fifty years later, ‘I have a dream’ vision is still vastly unrealized

Fifty years ago on this day, an estimated 250,000 showed up in Washington D.C. to call for justice and equality for all.

Fifty years ago on this day, an estimated 250,000 showed up in Washington D.C. to call for justice and equality for all.

It’s almost fall in 1963.  The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., already being viewed as a national leader for civil rights, organizes what would be called the “March on Washington”, a call for a peaceful demonstration in our nation’s capital at the Lincoln Memorial.  The march would be a chance for all Americans who believe in equality and justice to let their elected officials know they would not continue to stand idly by while inequality and injustice were still commonplace in this the nation that spoke so proudly of freedom.

An estimated 250,000 people flood along the National Mall and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  People of all ages, races and economic backgrounds gathered together to call for a new America.

And while the March on Washington is credited with shifting the momentum necessary to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we have to look at where we are fifty years later to determine the lasting impact of the most memorable civil rights movement in our nation’s history.

Dr. King noted throughout his speech that true freedom knew no color, and in fact

“….many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.  They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”

The idea behind this movement is that civil rights are human rights, just as women’s rights or gay rights are human rights.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

It’s easy to read this statement and suggest that because we elected a black president in 2008 that we have realized this dream.  But the dream was not speaking to the elite.  It was speaking to the poor, the underprivileged.

The chart below shows how we have progressed in the area of people living at or below poverty.

The above charts show how poverty percentage has remained fairly stagnant, while the pure number of people living at or below the poverty line has not been higher in generations.

The above charts show how poverty percentage has remained fairly stagnant, while the pure number of people living at or below the poverty line has not been higher in generations.

While median wages have increased just over 20% in the last 23 years, the cost of living has increased 67%.  The income of someone making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is $15,080 gross annually.  It is estimated that the median gross annual wages needed for basic security is $30,000.  This means that for those working in the lowest income brackets, it requires two full time jobs to barely scrape by.  Amazingly, the person who makes $15,080 per year is living at 130% of the poverty level, and therefore is not considered in the chart above.

Both of my daughters are taking dual enrollment in high school.  This means they are taking classes that give them credit for both high school and college, enabling them to get closer to an AA degree while still in high school.  This is a fantastic program that I am extremely grateful for.  But then we are told that one of the books for a particular class costs $160.  The school offers coupons, and you can search around for used books, and we were fortunate enough to find one for $20, but many of her classmates paid upwards of $80 and a couple had to drop the class because their families couldn’t afford the book.

Education should not be a luxury, and it should not perpetuate income inequality.  The children of the lawyer are dramatically more likely to receive a college education, where the children of the janitor have to have everything go perfect for them to consider it.  Then there’s the consideration that the debt incurred by those who have to utilize student loans to get a degree will exceed their income potential when they graduate because the job growth at this point of our “recovery” is in low income jobs.

Indeed while the stock market numbers continue to break record highs, we still have 8% unemployment, and closer to 20% underemployed, meaning people who are working a job below their sill or education level.  Corporate profits soar, while wages remain stagnant.

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the
difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream
deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the
true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal.”

This dream is not just about black opportunity, or gay opportunity, or women’s opportunity, it is about human opportunity.

The cynical will hold to the blind theory that those who live at or below the poverty line do so because they are lazy or because they lack the drive to achieve better.  But the dream is that the person who sweeps the street is valued in the same way the person who designed it is.  It’s not that street sweepers should make the same as a CEO, but they should never have to look for a job after they finish the streets so that they can start a family, or buy a small house or put away so their kid can go to college.

It would be naive to say we have not made some progress.  But that progress has been too attached to wealth and not to potential.  To status and not to character.  It would be equally as naive to say the dream is realized.  Our nation’s greatness should not be measured by the accumulation by the elite, but by the opportunity afforded the least of its citizens.  This doesn’t mean welfare, it doesn’t mean housing and childcare assistance.  It means real opportunity to hold a job they can make a living at without having no life to live.  It means having access to healthcare without having to have a second job to pay for it.  It means having the opportunity to see their children get the education to allow them to exceed based on their ability to perform, not their ability to pay.

Fifty years later, the dream still lives, but the fight is still just as real as it was then.