Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The “Grab World” and How It Relates to Property Rights and the Right to Bodily Autonomy

I just read a post on a concept called the “Grab World.” I highly suggest you read it, as well as this post about a Grab World, but I’ve included what I believe is the most important snippet below.

“Property law violates the basic rule that you may not act upon the bodies of others without their consent. A property right is not a right over a piece of the world, but a right over other human beings: a right to physically restrain and interfere with their bodies. Without property law, people are free to move about the world as they please, avail themselves of any material resources they find around them, and so on. But with property law, people find themselves dramatically restricted. Should you move about the world as you please, you will find your body acted upon without your consent.”

While I don’t advocate for a world like this, if I had to choose between a Grab World or the hyper-libertarian/anarcho-capitalist idea that private property is absolute and whoever owns it can do literally whatever they want with it, no matter how it affects other people, I would take the Grab World every time. Of course, I believe the world, and our society, are more complex than either of these, and we need to find a reasonable way to balance the world so that people can have rights over their bodies and rights over their property. But my starting point is that people have rights over themselves and their bodies first, and property rights are secondary.

Of course, everyone who knows me knows I’m a bleeding heart liberal, and I’m happy to jack up taxes on the wealthy to pay for government services such as single payer health care, government funded public university, even universal basic income (I recognize this last one is a very hard sell right now, but I think it would be effective in fixing innumerable economic issues and eradicating poverty.) I don’t even care if these systems are abused by people who don’t need them, as long as they are filling a need for people who do need them, the abuse is incidental and worth the price to ensure people with the least power in our society are getting their needs met. In fact, I would argue that creating these government systems increases bodily autonomy, as people could pursue the path in life that they wish without worrying so much about all of the things that currently tie them to unfulfilling low wage jobs just to get by and get the rent paid.

However, what this Grab World philosophy helps illustrate in my mind is a difficult dichotomy to explain; how do we define freedom? Is it freedom of property? Is is bodily autonomy? And who, if anyone, enforces these rights? To me, bodily autonomy comes first, and property rights come second, though of course in our society we do allow certain property rights to trump certain rights that come with bodily autonomy.

I think this is okay, even necessary in an ideal society, but I think it’s important we prioritize bodily autonomy first, then make reasonable concessions to allow for private property to exist in a reasonable way in a world where we are free to move about as we please and do as we please so long as we aren’t causing harm to others. I think so long as we have large ranging public spaces, for instance, it’s okay to have private property where owners can have their own space and tell others to keep out. But it would not be okay for all land to be private land, where people were restricted only to their own land, if they had any at all, unless they could negotiate with landholders for the “right” to move through their property to get from point A to point B in the world. At the point a world exists where you can be imprisoned within a box of private property, private property has gone too far.

And of course, I believe government should exist to enforce these rights. I think that it should always be done with as little force and restriction of freedom as possible, and we can work on doing better about that than we do in our currently extant world, but there is a role for government to enforce rights as an independent, ideally unbiased, arbitrator.

This really hit on the concept I needed to express the issue I have with extreme private property though. It’s really hard to argue against private property, because I have possessions and property that I value, things I don’t want stolen. However, I value bodily autonomy, the freedom to move about, do things, and experience things, far, far more than I value private property.

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Let’s Talk About Third Parties

I’m a liberal independent. By the time I started voting in 2004, the Republican Party had drifted so far rightward that I’ve never once voted for a Republican in my life. I frequently vote Democrat, and occasionally independent when the independent candidate has a enough support to have a chance at winning and better aligns with my values. Rarely, I’ll vote third party, with the same conditions on which I’ll vote for independents.

In practice, this means Democrats nearly always get my vote. And these days, the Republicans are so crazy that I’m willing to let the Democrats do the bare minimum because the alternative is to let the Republicans destroy decades of progress in our country.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa?!” you exclaim. “What about third parties?”

My answer is that they are not a viable alternative. Not right now. If you’re a third party supporter, you likely don’t like that answer. I don’t even like that answer, though some of my reasons are likely different from yours. But that is the answer. Don’t believe me? Look at the two biggest third parties since the year 2000, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. Libertarian Gary Johnson won 3.28% of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. Green Jill Stein won 1.06% of the popular vote in the same election. They’re not anywhere close to winning, despite any claims they make to the contrary. In fact, when they make claims to the contrary, they make their position worse because then they seem like they’re out of touch with reality.

Third parties need a plan. They need a real, believable plan backed by data and presented with a compelling narrative to convince people it’s time to jump ship from one of the major parties and support a winning third party that is the real deal. I would love to begin voting for the Green Party. They’re more in line with my political views than the Democratic Party is (with some exceptions for liberal Democrats, but they aren’t the norm). But I’m not willing to hand the country over to the Republican Party on principle when the Democratic Party is passably capable of governing. It takes more than a wish and a prayer for a third party to win, and all third party candidates and supporters need to get on board with this fact.

Using the Green Party as an example, there’s a lot I need to know from them.

If a large swath of liberal voting Democrats starts voting Green, effectively splitting and killing the Democratic Party, what is the interim plan to prevent Republicans from causing even more harm in the country until the Green Party achieves enough power to seriously challenge the Republican Party? How do we stop them from passing abhorrent laws, repealing helpful laws, or stacking the Supreme Court? Even if I prefer single-payer health care, I like Obamacare better than no health care plan at all. I also like environmental protection and allowing our national scientific organizations to share real, scientific data and facts with us.

What is the plan for achieving this power, and realistically, how long will it take? Are you planning to supplant and replace one of the existing parties? Open up election law and process through ranked choice voting and other reforms to make third parties viable? How will you do either of these? How likely are you to be successful? Back up these answers with real data, facts, and understanding of our political system.

Why should I risk giving Republicans power to destroy decades of progress when I can get 50%-75% of what I want out of Democrats, and maybe 70%-90% of what I want out of the Greens? I know a lot of people talk about how awful the Democrats are, or say they’re just the same as the Republicans. There are times I wish the Democrats had more of a spine, and stood for more liberal values. There are also times where they don’t do enough to protect those who need protecting. But on the whole, they do a reasonably good job, especially in light of Republican obstruction that was rampant through President Obama’s terms as president. And the Democrats are light-years ahead of the Republicans when it comes to governing well and supporting the disadvantaged. Why should I throw that away on the hope the Greens will be better when they haven’t even convinced me voting for them is a risk worth taking? Because again, if the Green Party succeeds enough to split the vote between Democrats and Greens, but not enough to win, then the Republicans win. I’m okay with the Democratic Party winning. I’m not okay with Republican Party winning, not as their party stands today.

In short, if you’re a third party candidate and supporter and want my vote and support, provide me a solid, realistic plan that gets you into power while minimizing the harm caused in the process. Back it up with real data and knowledge of the political system. If you do this, and my values align more with yours than the other parties you’re running against, you will win my vote. Until then, I’m stuck with the Democrats and the occasional safe independent and third party candidate.

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Facts Matter

So after my last couple posts at the end of last year, I’ve been gathering my thoughts and trying to make sense of President Trump’s presidency and his ignoring or denying of facts. I’ve also been deciding how I want to move forward from here. I’ve decided to start simple, with a reminder that facts matter, facts are real, and denying facts, even if you’re the president, doesn’t make them any less real.

More important than this, though, is the idea that we all need to educate ourselves beyond sources that reinforce our beliefs. Now, I’m not suggesting liberals read Breitbart or conservatives check out Truthdig; in fact, I encourage you not to and won’t dignify either site with a link. But it’s important to find reliable sources of news that present viewpoints that don’t mirror your own for many reasons. I suspect most reasonable people will get this already, or at least consider this once it’s laid out.

First, exposure to differing viewpoints will force you to reconsider your own views. Either your views will withstand the arguments of others, or they won’t and you’ll either need a better argument, or it may be time to consider refining your point of view.

Second, if your view does withstand the arguments of others, you’ll be able to gain an understanding of why people who think differently than you think the way they do. Maybe it’s different priorities, different moral beliefs, interpreting the facts differently (this is different from ignoring the facts), or a host of other reasons. But understanding this will better enable you to see them as people with a wide range of views instead of reducing them to the craziest people on the other side.

Third, when it comes time to debate or discuss politics with people you disagree with, you can demonstrate that you have some understanding of where they’re coming from and build some goodwill with them. Also, because you have a better understanding of their view, you can empathize with them even if you don’t agree with them. By discussing politics in this manner, you have a better chance of swaying someone to your side, and you become more open to changing your own mind when presented with a good argument and solid evidence.

Finally, reading high quality news from sources with differing points of view helps you see where the common ground is, where everyone basically agrees on things, and this can help you sort out facts, opinions, and complete fictions when consuming news from other sources. And this is important because, as noted in the title of this post, facts matter. This assumes, of course, that you’re already reading the news. If you aren’t, then also consider being informed about politics and world events another benefit of this.

There’s another reason it’s important to get news from high quality news sources, and it’s a little less obvious than the ones above. The reason is to support the people and organizations that do quality reporting and produce high quality news. If they don’t get support, in the form of page views and ad revenue or in straight up purchases, donations, and cash, then they lose the ability to do what they are doing, and we lose an important part of the media that does everything they can to keep us informed. And it’s worth noting that there is no “free news.” Good reporting costs money, and someone has to pay for it somehow.

News aggregators don’t do original reporting, nor do many opinion sites who report on other people’s reporting while providing their opinion on it. This very site is not news, as when I ramp up, I’ll mostly be writing opinion pieces based on news I’ve learned from other sources and my own personal beliefs and moral compass. While I think it’s valuable to express opinions on and debate the news, this value is different from the value of news itself. And without quality news reporting, these kinds of opinion pieces wouldn’t be possible.

So, this means if you know an organization doing quality reporting, including investigative journalism, interviews, research, and other forms of reporting that require digging up information from original sources to bring new information to light, you should support them however you can. Buy a subscription, click an ad, make a donation, read their stories and spread the word, whatever you can do. Because the media needs this support to survive.

Why should you care about this, you may ask? Because we need the media. The media gives us information so we know what our government is doing, what is happening in the world, and often through the opinion pieces they also help provide us with a solid base to build further viewpoints on, or to understand other viewpoints (see, there I go talking about understanding again). Without the media, we wouldn’t know about illegal government surveillance, abuses in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Watergate, and a whole host of other problems. It also required sacrifice from others, but without the media to report on the information these others provided, this information simply wouldn’t have made it all that far. The media also provides important day to day information, so we know what people in positions of authority are telling us meshes with the facts. Importantly, this also tells us when those same people are giving us false information, and helps us gauge how much, if at all, we should trust them.

Now above, I’ve also emphasized the importance of getting news from quality news sources. Aside from wanting good information, supporting quality news sources does something else important; it shows the demand for quality news is higher than the demand for dumbed down, heavily biased, sensationalist, or even completely fake news. Higher demand for quality news will translate into more outlets providing quality news.

I’m beginning by making a concerted effort to get more news from a larger variety of good sources. I don’t yet know the best way to vet news sources, so I’m currently relying on other people along with some intuition to get me there based on what I already know. As time goes on, I hope to get better at this and be able to do better vetting on my own, but I have to get started somehow, and this is how I’m doing it. I’ve also included links to sources that so far seem to provide quality sources of news on my sidebar in the links section. I encourage you to dive into their news and politics sections. Check out a few, even those who don’t mesh with your current viewpoints. As I read more, I expect to grow the list of news sources I’m linking to, and hopefully refine it as well.

Also, because I believe in sources, I think it’s only fair to point out that I started this list of links after talking with friends and acquaintances about where they get news and using this InfoGraphic:

Because I care about methodology and accuracy, here is an explanation from the creator of her methodology for putting it together:

Her view on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, BBC, and NPR is pretty well calibrated with my own, and so I decided to start there. This doesn’t mean she’s accurate. But it at least seemed like an ok place to start for me, until I learn and understand more.

So, that’s where I’m at now. I think it’s time for me, and for many others, to expand our consumption of news and aim for the best quality news we can find expressing a variety of viewpoints so we can become as well-informed as possible. I hope you’ll join me in this, whether you’re starting out in the same place I am, or from a level of more or less experience.

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Protest Is Admirable! Keep Going!

“Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

That last bit there; “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” along with that freedom of speech bit is the right to protest. The 1st amendment acknowledges this right.

The people protesting now are NOT “sore losers” or “children.” They’re not wrong for protesting, nor should they be belittled for it. They’re participating in the political system, just as is supposed to happen. They’re protesting for many reasons, chief among them I imagine the policies they believe Donald Trump will enact based on the campaign he ran. They have the right to do this!

I haven’t personally joined protests in the wake of the election because I personally believe it is more effective to protest policy itself rather than election results when policy has yet to manifest. But that’s me. Though I hope to be proven wrong, based on the campaign he ran I believe there will be plenty of policy worth protesting.

In the meantime though, to those who are protesting, since you clearly believe this is worth protesting now, keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t let others dissuade you just because they disagree. We all need to be more engaged in politics, and the way to do that is by peacefully expressing your beliefs through whatever avenues are open to you.

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Where We Go From Here: Understanding

Alright, this happened. Donald Trump will be president. And that’s incredibly disappointing to me, for many reasons that have probably been articulated by other people way better at writing this stuff than I am. Below will be lots of rambling, a lot of it is me sorting my thoughts.

So, there’s a couple other things I want to focus on. First, it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of people who vote are voting in good faith for the person they believe can do the best job governing us. Regardless of who they voted for. Everyone has a different way of looking at the world, and different priorities, and those lead to different perceptions of who will do the best job as a leader.

Now, before continuing, one thing you need to know about me is I’m very liberal politically. No surprise to most of my friends.

And as a liberal, it’s hard to see that, much like some of us like to talk about the conservative bubble where they see things the way they want to, we have a liberal bubble where we do the same thing.

We all need to learn to get out of these bubbles. Seek out opposing viewpoints. Find out why people politically opposed to us believe what they do, and why they’re voting the way they are. Something I’ll guarantee is that most Trump voters are not themselves bigots, racists, or misogynists, even if the candidate they voted for is. They most likely voted for him despite those traits in him, not because of them. They saw other qualities in him they deemed positive, and they either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the other negative qualities, because in their estimation, the good outweighed the bad. Or perhaps, in their estimation, he was the lesser of two evils.

And, after learning each others views of things, we should talk, discuss, and debate. All the time. And we should accept that any person involved in such a debate may not change their views, and that’s ok. It’s about understanding and learning first. People may change their views, and we may change ours as we learn something new or recognize a good point made by someone who disagrees with us. And we also may not. The hope, of course, is that with enough constructive discourse the best views will become accepted by the largest number of people possible.

Also, we need a narrative. Not just the facts. A narrative frames the debate on a personal level, makes it understandable and relatable. It provides a framework so someone with an opposing viewpoint or understanding of the world can be invited in to see your view of the world, whether they agree or not. But once they’re able to see your view, then the facts supporting that narrative become easier to accept and digest, because there’s something there to relate them to.

So yeah, I guess what I’m getting at is, we can all do a lot better when it comes to understanding others. And for us to progress forward, it’s vital that as many of us as possible do as much as we can to get there.

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Wealth Distribution and Power

A note:  When I’m talking about the rich in this post, I’m not referring to that millionaire you may know. That millionaire is rich, yes, but their wealth still pales in comparison to the 1%, which, along with wealthy corporations, is who I’m referring to when I refer to the rich in this piece.

How do you believe wealth is distributed in the United States? How do you believe wealth should be distributed? What percentage of wealth does the top 1% have? The top 20%? How about the bottom 20%? How much should they have?

Well, some smart people explored these questions. They asked how Americans believe wealth should be distributed, how they believe it is distributed, and then show how it is actually distributed. Then they put it together in this video to break it down.

That’s insane, right? I mean, spreading that wealth more equitably (but still not 100% evenly, of course) would pretty much let our country’s poorest live in comfort, while there would still be incentive for people to get ahead and enjoy more luxury in their life. Seems like a reasonable proposition, unless you’re one of those who happens to be super rich.

Of course, it’s good to be the king. And make no mistake, the rich have a lot of power and aim to be the king. They already lobby for laws favorable to themselves and pay lots of cash to get it done, because in the long term, they will be able to accumulate even more wealth by making such up front expenditures. Think about that for a second. The rich can actually buy laws they like.

The rich have other forms of power too. Being rich gives you more of a chance to be famous, and being famous gives you the ability to reach more people. People love wealth and the idea of wealth, so if someone rich speaks, people are more likely to listen. Wealth also provides you the ability to do what you wish without needing to worry about how much it will cost. If you want something, you buy it. If you want to go somewhere, you go. If you want to do something, you do it. Also, earning money often requires investing money, and having money makes it easier to earn more money.

If you don’t believe that last line above, consider this. If you have little money, then you have no access to a car. This limits your job prospects to whatever you can get to by foot or through public transportation, and in many parts of the US, public transportation is laughable. If you have a little more money, you have a car, so your job prospects open up a bit, and you can work anywhere in driving distance, assuming the cost in gas and time is worth the wages, but you may not be able to afford moving somewhere else for a new job. With yet more money, you can also afford to move so a new job would be within driving distance. And with much larger amounts of money, you can even invest money and live off the interest, dividends, and other forms of income generated from letting someone else hold or use your money.

So I hope by now you see where there are advantages in having more money, both to do what you want, and to earn more money so you can continue to do what you want.

Now think about your employer. If you’re like much of America, your employer can likely fire you whenever they please. They will likely not feel it, and even if they do, it will be a slight discomfort for them, and a major life event for you. This gives them power over you already. So then they use that inequality to determine how much they’re willing to pay you (just barely enough to keep you working), and will dictate the terms of your employment for you. If you have a specialized skill, training, or are otherwise valuable to your employer, you may have more bargaining power than the average American and be able to negotiate something better, but even then you are likely still at some kind of disadvantage compared to your employer. After all, your employer has the money.

This is seen lately by many retail outlets deciding that they will be open for Thanksgiving Day. I guarantee you no one wants to work on Thanksgiving. And I say that to mean even if they don’t like going to work, they specifically do not want to work on Thanksgiving, as it is traditionally one of the few holidays that most workers are able to enjoy as a holiday (I understand that restaurant workers and emergency personnel do not get this, and there are likely a couple other exceptions). But they will, because the risk of getting fired and not being able to earn what they can isn’t worth the risk of standing up to those with the money and the power.

The rich have the money and the power, and they don’t want to share it. There are some among the super wealthy (Bill Gates and Warren Buffet come to mind) who do use their wealth to try and help those who are worse off. But as an institution, the rich want to maintain their advantages. They don’t want to even out the wealth so the poor can be comfortable. Note, I said comfortable, not living in luxury.

As a country, we can’t let that continue. We have to put enough pressure on our representatives, our government, and our employers to force change in spite of the money that is arrayed against us. Think about the video at the beginning of this post. Even if we could change the actual distribution of wealth to the distribution of wealth we think exists in America life would be much better for those in the bottom 80% of the country. And remember, although I’ve talked about money being a form of power, it’s not the only form of power. Information is power, so make sure people understand the issues facing them and us. Banding together in large groups to pick someone who represents what we want, then voting together for that person is a way to harness our individual power to force change as well. If you aren’t sure where to start, then start by talking to someone else and asking them what they think about this, or any other issue you feel strongly about. Even if you can’t work on a large scale, or don’t know how to start, starting with one person is how movements begin, whether they are for smaller victories or the larger changes those small victories eventually lead to.

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Jon Stewart Discusses States Refusing Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

I recently wrote about how Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) has a coverage gap in many states after a supreme court ruling striking down part of the law requiring states to expand Medicaid to cover everyone who earns an income below the poverty line, and recently discussed that my home state of Maine is one of the states refusing to expand Medicaid by virtue of Governor Lepage vetoing the bills passed to expand Medicaid. While I’m not happy to say this has not yet been fixed, I am happy to say Jon Stewart tackled this issue at the beginning of The Daily Show this past Thursday. The clips below show the issue explained as only he can.

Both of the above explain the issue in a brief, easily accessible manner. After that, feel free to read the posts I linked above if you have not yet seen them, or take a look online for more stories about this for a more in depth explanation of what is going on with this and how some of this country’s most needy are being left out in the cold on health insurance.

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Maine Has not Yet Passed Medicaid Expansion

I recently wrote about how Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) has a coverage gap after a supreme court ruling striking down part of the law requiring states to expand Medicaid to cover everyone who earns an income below the poverty line. Maine, where I live, is one of the states that has not yet enacted a law to expand Medicaid to cover all of these people. Our legislature has passed a bill to do so, but Governor Lepage vetoed the bill. When the Maine House of Representatives voted to overrule his veto, they were two votes short of doing so.

That’s better than I hoped for, but obviously not good enough to get the law passed. I actually have health insurance through my employer, so this doesn’t impact me directly, but it does impact a number of people I know who simply don’t earn enough money to qualify for health insurance subsidies but earn too much to get on MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid system) or don’t meet the conditions to get off the waiting list. These are people who either can’t get reliable work because it’s not available, or can’t work due to health issues they can’t get addressed because they have no insurance.

Yeah, that’s right, there is a group of people that can’t work because of health issues, can’t get health insurance and health care because they can’t work and so can’t afford it, and can’t get the state to step in and help them out because they still don’t qualify for MaineCare. This is one of the situations Obamacare was intended to prevent, and would have prevented had it been implemented in it’s entirety or if the current congress were willing to fix it. It could also be fixed in my state if Lepage didn’t veto the Medicaid expansion bill we passed.

I’ve not yet found a list online of who voted for and against the bill or to override Lepage’s veto. If I find such a list, I will link to it or post it to get that information out too. For now, I’d encourage anyone in Maine to get on the phone with their legislators to encourage them to pass this expansion the next time it comes up for a vote, and to contact the governor and let him know we want this bill passed and in force to allow citizens of our state better access to health insurance.

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Obamacare Has a Glaring Coverage Gap

The idea behind Obamacare is great: get everyone in the United States affordable health insurance. It could have been done better, such as with a single payer system, or even providing a public option, but what was put together was pretty good. There’s a problem though: if your family is below the poverty line, and your state doesn’t participate in Medicaid expansion, you get no subsidy for health insurance, and no Medicaid option if you didn’t already qualify for it. Basically, in this situation, you’re stuck paying full price for health insurance, and nothing changes for you.

Perversely, the people who are poorest and most in need of help from Obamacare will actually be no better off once it goes into effect in states that don’t participate in Medicaid expansion. When I originally voiced concerns about Obamacare, I had expected middle income people to get shafted, but it looks like middle incomes will actually come out more or less ok.

There’s a reason things turned out this way. When the Affordable Care Act was drafted, it was mandatory for all states to expand Medicaid to cover people who were below 138 percent of the poverty line. Subsidies to purchase insurance were then put in place to provide help to people at 100 percent to 400 percent of the poverty line on a sliding scale. Basically, this would have provided assistance to everyone, from those well below the poverty line to those earning a decent chunk of change above it.

Then the Supreme Court intervened. While they upheld most of the ACA, they struck down the portion of the bill that would have required states to expand Medicaid to cover all people below 138%  of the poverty line or lose all federal funding for Medicaid. Leaving the gap in coverage that the poorest of our country now fall into. While it would be sensible to just expand subsidies to them, this would require a new bill amending the law to do so. That seems unlikely to pass, nor is it even really being discussed. People need to be aware of this so it is discussed, and pressure can be put on Congress to fix this issue.

Related Articles on Other Sites:
Missouri’s Poorest Residents Won’t Benefit From Obamacare
Obamacare’s Forgotten Faces

Also, here’s a subsidy calculator you can play with if you want to see what you may qualify for in subsidies. I assume it’s relatively accurate, but can’t make any promises. When you’re done playing with the calculator, or better yet, before you pick it up, spread the word so people know this is happening.

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Some Thoughts On Our Senate

I was recently reading a piece on the Huffington Post asking the Senate to force those who want to filibuster to actually speak on the floor continuously to halt moving forward with and voting on health care legislation. If you’d like, give a read to Bring Back the Cots! The Filibuster and Health Care Reform. Then understand that I think the idea of forcing those who want to filibuster to actually speak and maintain a presence in the Senate chambers is an excellent idea. This would dramatically cut down on the use of the filibuster and reserve it for times when there is a strong reason to use it rather than just a way to force every issue to require sixty votes instead of fifty-one.

However, some comments on the post seem to miss the point of the Senate as well. There have been people saying that Senators should be apportioned by population just like happens in the House of Representatives. However, the Senate was created as it is precisely to protect smaller states, such as my state of Maine, from being overruled by larger states, such as California. While that particular aspect is undemocratic, you have to realize we are a democratic republic, which means that it’s not all about the majority. The idea is to let the majority make the decisions most of the time, while still protecting the rights of the minority. Remember, states are basically semi-autonomous nations that bought into the United States government. They all had to agree to join when the country was created, and while the Constitution is our founding document, in many ways, it is also a treaty between the states saying which powers they keep for themselves and which powers they hand over to our alliance. When considered in this light, the Senate is there to make sure each individual state has an equal voice in the proceedings, while the responsibility of the House of Representatives is to make sure the people have an equal voice in the proceedings. Sure, this system isn’t perfect, but it is better than just doing representation by population in both houses, or equal state representation in both houses.

Now, I’ll be honest, I’m very dismayed that our Senators are speaking against meaningful health care reform, and if it were my choice, we’d have the democratic candidates in the Senate right now. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, so we are dragging the debate down because of that. So I understand the frustration of those in other parts of the country, and I encourage all Maine residents to communicate their views on this to our Senators to try to sway them on their positions.

However, that doesn’t mean smaller states should lose their equal representation in the Senate. We should just lose the power to filibuster with impunity. This would go a long way toward restoring the balance of power as it seems to be intended.

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Some Thoughts On Question 1 in Maine

My first reaction to seeing that question 1 passed in my state was a combination of anger and sadness. Then I hopped online and saw people calling those who voted yes all sorts of names, with bigot being the most common. While I understand we’re all frustrated by this, particularly those couples who are waiting for their rights to be recognized, the name calling really isn’t helping our cause. Railing against those who voted yes is just going to make us look immature. Instead, we need to think of our next move, keep campaigning, keep talking to people, keep explaining why the right for all to marry is important,  and continue to apply political pressure to get the job done.

Remember, when the gay marriage legislation in Maine was being drafted, Governor Baldacci was against gay marriage. He was convinced to change his views during the debate that took place during the time the legislation was drafted. The very civil debate that took place. And that’s how we’ll win the hearts and minds of the people as well, though it’s obviously going to take longer than we originally hoped. While that really sucks, that’s the reality we have to deal with.

Right now, the campaign to move gay rights forward has two options. One is to try again in 2011, which is when we can pass a new law granting same-sex couples the right to marry and attempt to vote down a people’s veto. The other option is to challenge the people’s veto in state court on the grounds that it violates protected minority rights. In California, that court challenge failed after proposition 8, which sets a bad precedent for us, but precedents don’t always carry over between states either. Waiting until 2011 has the problem of waiting another two years, but really, we do have to be in this fight for the long haul if we’re going to gain equal rights for everyone.

There’s also talk about challenging the constitutionality of prop 8 in federal court, which would be good on a national level if it succeeded. However, with such an even split of justices, that’s a very high risk, high reward strategy. If the supreme court rules in favor of the gay community, then we basically win in the eyes of the law. Otherwise, we don’t get to challenge in federal court again, and have to keep campaigning state to state. It really depends on if we think we can win in court now, and if we think we’ll have a better chance at a reasonable point in the future.

In any case, there are lots of paths to be taken to continue the fight for equal rights. So, we should be focusing on that, rather than the name-calling that has recently sprung up. I know that there’s a lot to be unhappy about after the vote, but we need to focus on the solution to the problem. So, let’s be civil, let’s talk to people about equal rights, and let’s think about our next move to get equal rights for everyone.

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The Republicans Do Have Some Ideas on Health Care

Now, that’s not to say I’m at all happy with the congressional republicans right now. Too much bluster, voting no all the time, and refusing to budge on anything. And I don’t think most of their ideas will do the job either. Tort reform just isn’t going to do the trick, and cooperatives just wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective at lowering prices as the public option would be, because the cooperatives would have far less bargaining power as fewer people would be signed on to them.

However, they do have one idea, that’s really quite simple, that we should put into practice. Let people buy insurance across state lines, and force all the insurance companies in the country to compete with each other. Make them earn our business instead of being the only place to turn in a given area for coverage. As far as I’ve seen, it hasn’t been added to any reform efforts yet, and it really should be.

Now, I understand that this could cause some insurance companies to go under. While that isn’t great news, it would mostly be a result of having more companies than we need taking more money from the market of buyers than they can afford. And the health of our country comes before company survival. Of course, if too many companies fall out of business, then we’ll end up right back where we are now. I think this is unlikely to happen since there would be a much larger pool of people, so the presence of enough companies to foster competition could be supported.

That doesn’t mean we should do away with the public option though. I’m still a huge supporter of the public option, and I think it’s one of the most important parts of health care reform, along with eliminating clauses about pre-existing conditions and eliminating the ability of insurance companies to rescind coverage. The public option provides us with a non-profit option for health care, will help to keep the insurance companies honest, and can also be used to make sure a basic level of care is offered at a rate as affordable as possible. Besides which, the public option provides us with cover in case the remaining insurance companies after the dust settles decide they would like the idea of a rate hike.

But, when an idea is good, it’s good, and we ought to acknowledge that and think about how it might be incorporated into the larger policy package. Perhaps we’d hear more about it though, if the republicans would stop obstructing and start conversing.

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Protect Marriage in Maine

By allowing gays and lesbians to marry just like we allow any two other consenting adults to marry. Marriage, as defined in the law, is a secular institution and contract between two people who wish to share their lives with each other, and provides a slew of legal benefits you simply can’t easily get any other way. Some, such as tax benefits, can’t be received in any other manner. So, if we deny gays and lesbians the right to marry, we deny them the right to a beneficial contract that can enhance their lives in a way no other substitute contract can.

Most opponents of gay marriage laws present their case as protecting their religious freedom and religious institution of marriage. I have some bad news for these people. The government can not and does not regulate the religious institution of marriage, only the secular contract. Gays and lesbians already get married religiously, and there are plenty of religions perfectly happy to perform the ceremony for them. Besides which, while you have the freedom to practice your religion as you see fit (so long as you bring no harm to another), other people have this same religious freedom, including the freedom to allow gays to marry in their services. Furthermore, Maine’s gay marriage law doesn’t force churches to perform marriage ceremonies that go against their religious beliefs. A gay couple will instead simply find a church who supports their marriage, or they’ll be married by a justice of the peace.  No infringement of religious freedom is required to provide equal rights to gay couples.

So, to those who would deny the right to marry to gay couples, stop pretending you’re protecting marriage. You aren’t, you’re simply trying to enforce your view of religion on everyone else and deny a group their civil rights. Frankly, I’m tired of hearing this argument that the religious institution of marriage will fail if gays are allowed to marry, and I’m tired of hearing you treat religious marriage and secular marriage as the same thing, because they aren’t. They’re just currently tied a little too closely together in the law.

Stop trying to deny gay and lesbian couples their civil rights. Don’t force your religious beliefs onto others. Instead, learn to live peacefully with your neighbors, and accept them for who they are. We’ll all be better off if we can manage this. So vote no on question 1, and show the state of Maine and the United States that we support marriage, equality, and civil rights by allowing gays to marry.

Note: For reference, this is question 1 in Maine on November 3rd, 2009: “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?”

Check out some videos on gay marriage in Maine:

Rachel Maddow
A cool WoW machinima piece on gay marriage in Maine
People’s reactions to letting gays and lesbians marry

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The Public Health Care Option and Mandate to Purchase Health Insurance

Two of the major reforms being proposed in the health care package being debated by congress are the addition of a non-profit public health insurance option (which is NOT single payer and is NOT socialized health care) and mandating that everyone purchase health insurance, with a fine levied on those who fail to do so. The mandate for purchasing health insurance needs to be tied to the public option, and if the public option isn’t passed, the mandate to purchase must not be passed either.

I understand why the mandate is seen as a good idea. There are many people who are uninsured who will have their bills footed indirectly by taxpayers and those who do purchase health insurance, and by requiring other people to purchase insurance, we’ll be spreading the cost around more and asking them to contribute to the pool of money that will likely end up helping them or their families at some point in their lives.

Here’s the problem though: many of the people who do not purchase health insurance can not afford it. They simply haven’t found a way to earn enough money to do so. Fining people money they don’t have is not the way to help them get insurance or get on their feet. While I understand there is a system of tax credits in the work, such a system does sometimes render people who need help to make such purchases ineligible for help. See the recent fiasco with food stamp benefits for an idea of what I mean. If this were to happen with health insurance, it could deal some families a financial blow they can’t deal with. The public option would be another layer of protection to prevent this from happening with a mandate to purchase in place.

I know there are also talks of having insurance co-ops instead of having a public option. I don’t think co-ops can replace having a public option when it comes to providing affordable insurance to the largest number of people possible. I think they would be a great supplement to the public option and give people more choices in their plans to pick one that best suits their needs, but a non-profit will likely be most able to offer the most inexpensive insurance, which is what some people need.

I’ll be honest, on their own, I think the public option is a good idea, and the mandate to purchase is a bad idea. As a package though, having the public option and the mandate together is still quite good, and I’d be very happy with a bill that did include both. I just don’t want to see a mandate to purchase health insurance pass, then see families who can’t afford health insurance fined because the assistance system put in place to help them overlooked them.

As a final note, I’m no expert on health care, I’ve just been reading a lot about it lately. So, this is true to the best of my knowledge, but there is a lot of information and misinformation going around, and it really is difficult to pick the good out from the bad right now. I’ve also mentioned my biases about the two major topics, so you know where I’m coming from on this. In addition, the bill is still being hotly debated, is constantly changing, and different ideas seem to be going on and off the table all the time, so it’s hard to keep up with all the developments. I’ve tried to be accurate in my representation of what is being talked about, but I know that I may be missing some pieces, so feel free to add your own voice in the comments if need be.

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Another Reason We Need Better Health Care In the U.S.

Ah, health care. Something we all need at some point in time, yet many can’t afford for one reason or another. It’s expensive after all. There are lots of reasons people like to list in saying we need either universal health care or less expensive health care. A lot of these arguments talk about how health care is a right, no one should be turned away simply because they can’t afford it, and similar ideas. I agree with these thoughts, but you’ve heard them, and many others, argued about quite often by now I’m sure.

I want to talk about another reason we need better health care, one that might even get through to those who have oodles of money and don’t want to “subsidize everyone else’s health care.” Because this reason effects them too.

Remember the outbreak of swine flu we had recently? Remember how it wasn’t a big deal, but many people seemed to think it would be? Well, what happens when we have a real epidemic?

Under our current system, those who can afford it get preventative treatment, whether it be a shot, some kind of medication, or some other way to prevent the disease. Those who can’t afford it will go to the emergency room after they get sick. Guess what happens then? The disease spreads like wildfire, because it has plenty of carriers who simply couldn’t afford preventative treatments. And then it’s more likely to infect those who could afford preventative treatments, because said treatments aren’t usually 100% effective, especially when they’re new treatments, or general treatments for a variety of illnesses. Which means, by letting the poor get sick, the rich are also more likely to be sick, because more carriers of disease means that there are more chances for everyone to get infected.

Now, if we had universal or inexpensive health care, we’d see something different. Yes, some people would still get sick. But, with everyone getting preventative medicine, fewer people would get sick, which will leave fewer chances for the disease to spread. This is good for everyone, not just the people who have health care who otherwise wouldn’t.

Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that no matter who you are, it is in your best interest that everyone have access to affordable health care. Because really, your health will be affected by the health of everyone around you, and the people they’re around as well. So, even if you don’t believe health care is a human right, at least bear in mind that by denying a segment of the population health care, you’re putting yourself at greater risk too.

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