Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

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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