Posts Tagged ‘Social Justice’

I Don’t Shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday

In fact, I don’t even shop on the weekend of Black Friday. Thanksgiving is spent with my family or my girlfriend’s family. The following weekend is spent with whoever we didn’t spend time with on Thanksgiving. Black Friday, I usually work (thankfully not retail anymore), but even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother going to any Black Friday sales. It’s just too crowded and mobbed to be able to relax and look for what I want.

However, even if I had the time and inclination to shop during this time, I would not show up on Thanksgiving to go shopping. Frankly, it’s ridiculous to pull people away from their families to make an extra buck on one of the few holidays that was, until recently, considered off limits to corporate greed and encroachment. Because of this, I could not in good conscience show up to a Thanksgiving day sale since it’s not ok to support this kind of corporate behavior.

Wal-Mart’s Executive VP Duncan Mac Naughton had this gem to say when asked about employees working on Thanksgiving: “Wal-Mart associates are really excited to work that day, it’s a pretty high energy day for associates as well.” This is laughable because it’s either corporate doublespeak of the worst kind, or he is completely out of touch with the people who work for his company. Maybe both. I’ve never met anyone who wanted to work on Thanksgiving. These people may exist, but I do not expect they are the norm. When I worked retail, I didn’t want to. Fortunately for me, this was never an issue since most retailers in my state simply aren’t allowed to open on Thanksgiving, but this isn’t the case in most states. As for it being a high energy day, sure, it’s high energy, in the sense that it take a high amount of energy to make it through, and anyone working this day is going to be drained of energy by the end of it.

Because of this, I think I may even take this a step further, if possible. If I can put together a list of stores that did not open for Thanksgiving that I can complete all of my Christmas shopping through, then I will not do any Christmas shopping at any store that opened for Thanksgiving. That Christmas season that is such a big deal to them? Take it away so they know in the future, if they open on Thanksgiving, it will hurt them. I’d like to encourage others to do the same thing. And don’t just do it, but be sure to call and/or email corporate for the businesses pulling this and tell them why you’re doing it, so they know why they are losing your business this Christmas shopping season and how they can get it back next year. Be sure not to mention any specific location when you email or call into corporate, we don’t want individual stores taking the blame for bad corporate policy. Make sure there’s no way corporate for any of these companies can place the blame elsewhere, or they will.

Daily Kos has put together a quick (and likely incomplete) list of stores that will be open and closed on Thanksgiving. If you plan to avoid the stores opening on Thanksgiving for the Christmas shopping season, that list isn’t a bad place to start. That said, it won’t hurt to do your own research for additional stores, and to note some odd situations. For instance, Apple is on the list of stores closed for Thanksgiving, yet they do intend to have three Apple stores remain open. Why these three stores? No idea. But something to take into account depending on how much credit you want to give them for going most of the way, but not all the way.

In the end, is this something we can make a difference on? Who knows, but there’s only one way to find out. Tell people you know what is happening, why it’s important, and ask them to take a stand with you and anyone else who believes this is an issue. Flood the corporate headquarters of these stores with calls and emails letting them know if they want you to shop there during the Christmas season, they’d best start giving their workers this holiday, as it’s one of the few that is left for many workers these days.

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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 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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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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Abuse of Power in the Education System

Recently, I came across this story about a student at Bonny Eagle high school in Maine being denied his diploma for taking a bow and blowing a kiss to his family. See, apparently the superintendent, Suzanne Lukas, was mad about students bringing beach balls to the ceremony, something that is not uncommon, though typically high school administrations frown on this kind of celebration. After the superintendent snapped at students over the beach balls and deputies confiscated them, Justin Denney approached the stage to receive his diploma. From the article linked above, this is what happened then, as well as Justin’s and his mother’s take on it that explains in a little more detail:

While in his seat or waiting in line for his diploma, Justin Denney never touched a beach ball. After his name was called, he took a bow, blew a kiss to his family and pointed to friends, but he didn’t get his diploma, leaving a whole family in disbelief.

“I said, ‘What did she ask you?’ And, he goes, ‘She said, ‘There’s no fooling around up here,” and he just kind of looked at her because he wasn’t fooling around. He didn’t consider that fooling around or misbehaving in any sense of the word, and she goes, ‘Why do you feel you deserve your diploma?’ He goes, ‘Because I worked hard and I earned it,’ and she goes, ‘No go take your seat,’” Mary Denney said.

The school system, naturally, hadn’t returned comment by the time the piece was written.

So, we have a case where a superintendent has created a bogus reason to not give a student his diploma because she was in a bad mood. Moreover, she was in a bad mood over something that happens at every graduation I’ve ever been to, and no one ever complains about it. She needs to take the stick out of her rear end, and let people celebrate their accomplishments. At my university graduation, they threw the beach balls back to us. Because they wanted us to celebrate, instead of trying to enforce some kind of dire solemnity on the event that isn’t needed. You’d think if anyone were going to try to make it formal, it would be a university, but they seem to be way more relaxed.

The school board will be discussing graduation ceremonies next Wednesday. I have a suggestion for them: keep it simple. Get rid of the code of conduct, because obviously, their superintendent can’t interpret it in a rational manner. Just tell students that they will be ejected if they’re disruptive, and be clear on what disruptive is. Celebration is not disruptive. Disruptive is when the ceremony can’t proceed due to the behavior of a student or group of students. And even then, mildly disruptive behavior that serves a purpose shouldn’t be punished either.

For instance, at my graduation, I had a friend who organized a performance of a song he wrote (of the screaming variety) with the class officers who would be speaking. While our principal did try to convince him not to do it, in the end she just told him not to do anything he’d regret and let him go on. Sure, it was a little disruptive, but you know what? It added a little pizzazz to the ceremony and gave it a little something original and unplanned, and we’ll all remember that.

You know why this worked out? Our principal had some common sense and didn’t feel a need to abuse her authority. Meanwhile, the superintendent of Bonny Eagle’s system seems to lack this ability to use reason and use her authority wisely when things don’t go exactly as she wants them to. She needs some training in how to deal with students, and when to let things go.

Justin will receive his diploma. He’d better receive a public apology from the superintendent as well. I’d also like to see her explain how she will deal with this in the future so other students don’t have deal with what Justin had to.

Finally, I want this to serve as an example to all schools of how not to deal with graduations. Being an overbearing powermonger isn’t the way to do it. Graduation is a celebration for the graduating students. So let them enjoy themselves, and stop trying to assert yourself as the controlling power.

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Some Thoughts On Gay Rights and Gay Marriage

While I’m a supporter of gay rights, I can’t say I’ve been particularly involved in the community. That is to say, while I’ve always defended their rights in conversation with others, I’ve never been involved in any organized effort. But, I feel the need to share a few views here that I hope might help, though it’s entirely possible that this has been thought of already.

First, regarding civil unions and marriage, this whole deal with using separate terminology isn’t going to work. Separate terms lead to separate classes of citizenry. Certainly, having civil unions could be called progress, but it also sets a double standard. None of this is anything new to the movement. I saw an idea on a piece on the Huffington Post that I really liked though: for all couples, heterosexual, homosexual, or any other lifestyle, make civil unions the legal form of marriage, the contract that two people enter into, and have it accessible to any two people. The term marriage will then be reserved purely for religious and spiritual purposes, and will be unregulated by the state. There are plenty of churches and religious groups who would perform a marriage ceremony for homosexual couples. And the marriage would be all about spiritual laws, while the civil union would be what is used to insure all legal rights that are currently reserved for marriage.

Of course, this won’t happen overnight, though I hope to see it happen someday. In the meantime, I have a suggestion for homosexual couples who are up for it. Get married anyway. Then, whenever it’s not a legal issue (for instance, don’t claim you’re married on your taxes, it won’t go well), tell everyone that you’re married to your partner. If they talk about the legality of it, simply explain that while it’s not a legal marriage, you are spiritually married and that marriage is recognized by your religious group, even if not by the state. Make it a point to use the term marriage, because as more people do so, it will undermine groups who want to define marriage as between a man and a woman. If everyone else uses the term marriage for all couples, it will come to be seen that way. Then, it will be easier to claim your right to marry legally as well as spiritually. If this were successful enough, it might not even be necessary to separate marriage and civil unions the way I described above, though I still think it would be a good idea, simply to have the secular issues dealt with secularly and the religious issues dealt with religiously.

I’m certainly aware that some couples wouldn’t want to do this. For some, they don’t like their relationship being in the open due to societal pressure. For others, they want to enjoy their relationship instead of spending their life pushing and pushing for equal rights. And there are certainly other valid reasons people might have for not doing this. The point is, for those who are in the right kind of committed relationship, and don’t have issues about being vocal about it, proclaiming their spiritual marriage will hopefully help make people see marriage as valid for all couples as time goes on.

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