Friday, June 17, 2022

Poland's Abortion Ban Nightmare

Even though I have long been a liberal on the pro-choice side, I have been reluctant to weigh in on this issue until recently. Part of being pro-choice is acknowledging that some people believe that abortion is immoral while others believe it is a necessary evil to preserve the right of a woman to control her own body. Both sides have a right to their belief and to live their lives as they see fit. But when one side wants to legally impose their will on the other, this can lead to problems - some very serious!

Earlier this month, the New York Times had a story Poland Shows the Risks for Women When Abortion Is Banned that I believe most people would find to be disturbing whichever side of this issue they are on. 

The banning of abortion in many US states will become a reality if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade as expected. It is understandable that some people who find abortion to be immoral want to make it go away by making it illegal. But as we know from countless past examples (most notably Prohibition and the War on Drugs) making something illegal doesn't make it go away! This is especially true with abortion since even with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many states will continue to make it legally available. So especially for women who have the financial means, they can easily travel to a neighboring state if needed to legally have the procedure done. Only the poor will be put into a bind and perhaps forced to have a pregnancy they don't want or can't afford - or even have their lives put at risk in the event of complications.

I hope all of you will read the complete article in the above link. For now, I wish to quote and comment on some of the passages in this article on what are some serious unintended consequences of the present abortion ban in Poland.

Let's start with the article's subheading:

Poland’s abortion ban has had many unintended consequences. One is that doctors are sometimes afraid to remove fetuses or administer cancer treatment to save women’s lives.

This is a tragic reminder that women in Poland have needlessly died - especially when the laws favor the unborn over the life of the mother.

The long battle over Poland’s 29-year-old ban on abortion has intensified over the past 17 months after the elimination of the last significant exception permitting the procedure: fetal abnormalities.

The most common pro-life position through the years in the US is to allow exceptions to any possible abortion ban when rape, incest or the life of the mother are to be considered. But Poland's ban most notably does not allow for exceptions. In the US where one conservative wants to prove they are more conservative than others, a frightening number of proposed laws along with conservative candidates are proudly in favor of the incredibly cruel 'no exceptions' form of abortion bans.

Only one in 10 Poles support the stricter ban, which was enabled by a decision by the country’s highest court, dominated by judges loyal to a deeply conservative government. 

Just like in the US, the majority of Poles are pro-choice. But each country has their own version of a Supreme Court where religious conservatives can impose their will on its people. In the US, the Evangelical Christians are the main political driver. In Poland, it is the Catholic Church.

Just this month, the government required Poland’s central health care system to log pregnancies. Opponents called it a “pregnancy register” that could be used to track down illegal terminations.

Now, we really have a slippery slope! About 1 out of 4 pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Common sense says we can't prosecute a woman for an accidental miscarriage. But how does a government determine for sure if the miscarriage is accidental or from an abortion? This would involve incredible violations of privacy that at least in the US would be intolerable, especially when some of the same people consider Covid mask mandates to be an intolerable invasion of privacy!

Admittedly, there are few examples. But there are some women who have served time in prison for what was likely an accidental miscarriage. But this can be taken a step even further. A woman who suffers an accidental miscarriage can still be prosecuted if it is determined that they contributed to the miscarriage by lifestyle choices such as smoking or drugs. And yes, it has happened here! 

Since [Poland's] last year’s ban on abortions of fetuses with abnormalities, the demand for late-term abortions has surged, too.

A popular straw man argument by some on the pro-life side is that the pro-choice side wants abortion on demand until the day before the baby is born. Don't believe me? There was this gem from Donald Trump repeated often during his 2020 campaign rallies. 

"Virtually every Democrat candidate has declared their unlimited support for extreme late-term abortion, ripping babies straight from the mother’s womb, right up until the very moment of birth."

Demagoguery at its finest! But as the fact check article clarifies:

Most abortions are performed in the earlier stages of pregnancy. About 1 percent happen after the fetus reaches the point of viability. [Normally as a result of a serious fetal abnormality.] In short, the president is describing something that rarely happens and that no Democrat is calling for anyway.

It's easy for some to advocate abortion bans. But as the example of Poland shows, the unintended consequences can be tragic and the invasion of privacy these bans entail would make them almost unenforceable. And after all of these draconian measures, abortion rates are hardly affected - which was presumably the purpose of the bans in the first place.

Abortion has been constitutionally protected in the US for almost 50 years. So most of us, especially those of child-bearing age have never lived in a US where abortion has been banned. So the question must be asked, When it comes to abortion rights, do we want to become Poland?

Friday, May 6, 2022

Tyranny of the Minority

When some people see the difficulties we are having with our present system of government, it is natural to wonder if perhaps there are some others that may be better.

I found a wonderful essay by former UK Ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett The Worst Form of Government the first two paragraphs of which I will quote here:

Winston Churchill once said that: “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” His cynicism was perhaps justified after the British people voted him out from his position as Prime Minister within months of winning the Second World War.

Whether it is the worst form of government or not, there is little doubt that the alternatives are worse. Suppressing people’s views through dictatorship or tyranny means the rule of a narrow minority over the rest. Imposing stability through fear is not the best way to provide the security, prosperity and growth that will make people’s lives better.

I believe that a great deal of the difficulties we are facing is not because of democracy itself - but is due to our execution of it that is flawed by enabling a minority of voters to often times have total control of our government.

An integral part of democracies is relying on majority rule to pick our leaders and make decisions through our chosen representatives. Or putting this another way - a democracy ruled by a minority is an oxymoron. Respecting the minority to allow them a voice in our system is all well and good. But allowing a minority to actually take over some parts of our government is clearly a bridge too far!

The Electoral College allowed G.W. Bush (in 2000) and Trump (in 2016) to become President despite not getting the majority of the popular vote.

These minority presidents appointed 4 of the 5 Justices that are expected to overturn Roe v. Wade. As a matter of fact, a draft of their opinion was recently leaked. This is unprecedented. It is this minority in effect, sticking it in our faces!

This would be taking away a right that was decided almost 50 years ago by a 7-2 vote, 5 of the 7 being Republican appointed. This is against a solid majority of Americans who want Roe upheld and it obliterates the concept of stare decisis - something each of these justices held near and dear to their hearts during their confirmation hearings.

Speaking of confirmation hearings, pro-choice Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are plenty pissed at the Trump appointed Justices apparently ready to strike down Roe after assurances to them that they considered Roe to be settled law.

So what's next? Contraception? Same-sex marriages? Interracial marriages? (Look out, Justice Thomas. They may be coming for you next!) What's stopping them? Nothing! Some democracy, huh?

In addition to minority rule affecting the presidency and Supreme Court, there is the Senate:

Currently, the 50 Democratic senators represent nearly 40 million more voters than the 50 Republican senators. Even worse, these Republicans representing a minority of voters have total power to stop any and all legislation from passing as they see fit through the filibuster. And they are using this power - sometimes gleefully, like Mitch McConnell as is his wont. Being a minority induces no guilt whatsoever over what they are doing.

And by 2040, 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states, and to be represented by only 30 senators, while 30% of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf.

So it is pretty apparent that the Founding Fathers' design of the Electoral College and the Senate give disproportionate weight to less populous states - which favors Republicans.

Despite being the minority party in the US and not having control of the White House, the Republicans have skillfully exploited these advantages to exert a significant amount of control over the US government - to the eternal frustration of Democrats. 

The ultimate fate of Roe v. Wade is unknown until the Supreme Court announcement later in this term. Although the leaked opinion draft has been acknowledged as authentic, there are a few positions of some of the Justices that could possibly change before that announcement.

This abortion issue may well change the dynamics of the upcoming mid-term election in November. It is usual for the party controlling the White House to take a pasting at the following mid-term election. And the persistent low approval ratings of President Biden have helped to make it a sure thing among most observers that the Republicans will at least recapture the House if not also the Senate.

But not so fast! While there has long been the fear among pro-choice supporters of Roe getting overturned, this leaked opinion has been a major wake-up call to them. Now the thoughts around painful consequences of many (especially poor) women with unwanted pregnancies and few if any legal resources available to them are hitting home.

Another wild card that will affect this election is the persistent influence over the Republican Party of The Former Guy. Most candidates competing for Republican nominations have decided that they have to go all-in as Trump supporters - including repeating the Big Lie about how Trump was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election. And why not throw in a few QAnon conspiracy theories while we're at it?

Batshit crazy may win a Republican primary nomination. But will it play well in a general election against a Democrat? This recent upset victory in Michigan says, maybe not! 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Permanent Daylight Savings Time in America? NFW!

It's hard to imagine a flaming liberal like me agreeing with the NY Post on anything. But here is a notable example. America’s already rejected permanent daylight saving time — for good reason

The US Senate [unanimously] just voted to make millions of kids go to school before sunrise for months at a time, via a bill to put the whole country on permanent daylight saving time. That problem is just one of many with the idea of eliminating the twice-a-year clock resets.

Indeed, we already tried it, back in the ’70s — and changed our minds.

Yes, tens of millions of Americans could get another hour of sleep one night of the year — but, as a result, they would have to go to work or school in the dark and cold for four months. Alternatively, other millions of Americans would lose 240 days of beautiful spring and summer evenings.

Those would be the effects of proposals nationally and in many states to install either permanent daylight time (keeping summer DST throughout winter) or permanent standard time (using winter’s standard time all year). While these options may seem enticing, both have major flaws.

This article sums up my feelings perfectly.

I love DST. Love that extra hour of summertime daylight in the evening.

Permanent DST? I say NFW! Send our children to wait for their morning school bus in the dark? We tried this before for a year in 1974 in the interest of saving energy and hated it. Why should it be different this time?

The New York Times also covered this story. I have quoted some of its paragraphs below.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, rose on the Senate floor on Tuesday to speak in favor of his bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, which would end the practice of turning clocks back one hour to standard time every November, making daylight saving time, which currently begins in March, last throughout the year.

“One has to ask themselves after a while: Why do we keep doing it?” Mr. Rubio said, adding, “The majority of the American people’s preference is just to stop the back-and-forth changing.”

When he moved for the bill to pass by unanimous consent, not a single senator objected. But some audibly celebrated.

“Yes!” exclaimed Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, who flashed a big smile and clenched both her fists in triumph as she presided over the chamber.

After reading this last paragraph, I immediately started screaming obscenities at my phone. (It didn't listen.) 

Why? Am I just a madman?

Sinema was MIA last fall when we had some momentous occasions in Congress and in our nation. Under the guise of the big lie that The Former Guy spread about him losing the 2020 presidential election due to "massive fraud", Republican controlled state legislatures across the country adopted revised voting laws that they hoped would make it more difficult for minority voters to vote.

This is bad enough. But much more scary is the installation of Republican partisans who could overturn an election result they don't like. This may affect the upcoming 2022 midterm election and possibly the 2024 presidential election where Trump has indicated a will to run again. Just wondering...if indeed Trump won both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections as many Republican voters believe, wouldn't he be running for a constitutionally illegal third term in 2024? Nobody seems to mention this.

Among many attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, Trump placed a phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffenspurger asking him to find 11,780 votes to flip a Georgia victory from Biden to Trump.

Raffenspurger is a Republican and likely voted for Trump. But in not wanting to betray the trust of Georgia citizens who elected him, he not only refused his request (order?), but also secretly recorded the phone call to document what happened. The recently passed Georgia election laws by Republicans would sideline Raffenspurger and a future request by Trump or somebody like him could find a Republican partisan willing to overturn the election results - legally!

When elections can be rigged at will, we no longer have a functioning democracy!

Back to Sinema, the only way to stop this nationalized vote tampering on the state level would have been to pass a federal voting rights package pushed by Democrats (which also required a way around the filibuster.) Sinema (along with Joe Manchin) refused to vote for this vital legislation to try and protect our democracy.

But this Arizona Senator on the issue of Permanent DST not only voted for the bill but applauded afterwards.  Perhaps someone should point out to her that Arizona (with the exception of Navajo Nation) has always opted out of DST on a year round basis! Arizona with its often extreme summer daytime summer heat understandably doesn't want to delay the cooling sundown by an hour.

So because of ignorance or just plain indifference, Sinema not only failed to support legislation to try and preserve our democracy, she voted for permanent DST, something most Arizona voters are clearly against. Who is she representing in Congress? This is a question whose answer has so far eluded us!

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Is Medicare Advantage for Suckers?

I guess I've insulted those on Medicare Advantage plans by calling them them suckers. Let me back out of this a little by saying that if you have a complete understanding of Medicare Advantage and still signed up for it, I am wrong to call you a sucker and I apologize!

Having said that, I am convinced that most people who have Medicare Advantage or are considering it have no real understanding of it because of the extremely deceptive advertising practices throughout the insurance industry.

In my opinion, if you really understood Medicare Advantage, you may well want to switch to Original Medicare (if possible) or avoid Medicare Advantage as an initial choice upon reaching 65. Indeed, there are those like liberal commentator Thom Hartmann who believe that Medicare Advantage Is a For-Profit Scam - Time to End It

Medicare Advantage is a massive, trillion-dollar rip-off, of the federal government and of taxpayers, and of many of the people buying the so-called Advantage plans.

It's also one of the most effective ways that insurance companies could try to kill Medicare For All, since about a third of all people who think they're on Medicare are actually on these privatized plans instead.

I have no financial interest in what you choose, but hope after reading on, you will make an informed decision whatever it is.

'Tis the season! Not just the holiday season but for the health insurance industry, something far more important - open enrollment season for Medicare Advantage, October 15 to December 7. The media is saturated with seemingly non-stop ads for Medicare Advantage. And just about all of them are deceptive in their own way. This is what pissed me off enough to do this blog posting.

It's important to note that there are no outright lies in any of the ads. That might get them in trouble! Instead, they are an endless stream of true but deliberately misleading messages.

Examples? Check these out!

Need help deciding on a Medicare plan? Call and talk to me, your [insert insurance company] Medicare advisor!

An advisor is understood as being a source of unbiased advice on selecting the right Medicare plan for that person. But this so-called advisor is paid to get you to sign up with the company that pays his salary. The word 'salesman' is a lot more honest.

[Here in the Pittsburgh area] If you sign up with the UPMC for Life [Medicare Advantage] plan, you get access to all of the world class UPMC doctors and hospitals!

True enough but misleading. Virtually all of the UPMC doctors along with most others accept all Medicare patients. So you don't have to enroll with the UPMC plan to get access to these same doctors.

The worst is all of the claims of what you can get for free from many Medicare Advantage companies. $0 monthly premiums. Free dental. Free vision. Free fitness club memberships. Free rides to the doctor. Some even promise to refund the $148.50 per month that is deducted from monthly Social Security benefits for all who have Medicare. Get all the benefits you have coming to you! Call today!

Everything for free? Unlimited benefits? Does this sound too good to be true? As they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. It's hard not to notice that these insurance companies are spending ad money by the bushel to get us as customers. Surely, they must be making enough money selling these policies to make them worthwhile. And they are. But how? They certainly don't say so in the ads.

One clue was provided by the UPMC 'advisor' trying to steer me toward one of his Medicare Advantage plans. As long as I stay healthy, I'm saving money with Medicare Advantage. Which is absolutely true! But again, utterly misleading!

The problem is that if you get sick and have to go to the hospital and possibly need surgery, there can be some nasty copays on the back end. They are going to get their pound of flesh one way or another! There is a usual annual out of pocket maximum of about $6,700. But if your illness lasts into a second calendar year, a new out of pocket maximum kicks in. Getting really sick can trigger some nasty bills. And unfortunately, as we get older, we are more likely to get sick.

I instead pay $120 per month for my selected Medicare supplemental insurance. (This will vary depending on your desired level of coverage.) In addition, I need to buy Medicare Part D prescription drug insurance for about $30 per month. Some of the brand name drugs can be pricey. Regrettably, Medicare is legally prohibited from negotiating drug prices with big pharma. It's not perfect. Medicare Advantage offers everything without requiring separate policies so it's one stop shopping. But despite what is claimed in some of the ads, that doesn't necessarily make it a better choice.

So the bottom line is that I pay more up front in premiums than those on Medicare Advantage. But the back end charges are minimal. I can't afford any financial calamities so this works for me. If the lower up front charges are more appealing and you can afford the possible back end billing, go for it! But make sure you understand how Medicare Advantage really works and don't sign up just based on the misleading ads.

Another major difference with Medicare Advantage is that it's managed healthcare. To keep costs down, patients are restricted to a network of providers and hospitals. Procedures and referrals to specialists beyond basic care can be subject to approval by the insurer. Visits to out of network providers may not be covered at all. Many retirees spend time away from home traveling or staying with friends, children and/or grandchildren. Getting sick while out of town may make covered in network providers inaccessible.

So how about going with the less upfront costly Medicare Advantage at age 65 and then moving to Original Medicare with the Medicare supplemental insurance later on when there is more of a chance of getting sick? Not so fast! In later years past age 65, getting the Medicare supplemental insurance runs into obstacles. There are higher premiums by age and health questions to navigate. Someone with too many health problems may be rejected. On the other hand, new Medicare applicants at age 65 get their choice of insurance plans with no questions asked.

Before I turned 65, I imagined that once I got on Medicare, my health insurance needs would be met and I would no longer have to worry about private insurance. That turned out to be a fantasy. When Congress created Medicare back in the 60s, they made sure that private insurance companies would not be totally left out of the party. Original Medicare covers a lot but the coverage gaps make it an unsuitable risk on its own without either private Medicare supplemental insurance (aka Medigap) or the leap to Medicare Advantage which turns everything over to private insurance with Uncle Sam paying the insurer to take over its coverage.

Negotiating the jungle of private insurance options can be daunting. A site like medicare.gov allows individuals to research and eventually directly sign up with a chosen insurer. But finding a (hopefully trustworthy) insurance agency that works with health insurance is an easier way to go. The cost to the end customer is the same either way.

In closing, I would like to offer the reader the following link: Medicare Advantage Is Cheaper for a Reason - Beware!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Take This Job and Shove It!

Of course, I didn’t make up this title. It was a 1977 hit song by Johnny Paycheck. It is still well known today and has generated countless memes like this one.
Take this job and shove it

I ain't working here no more
Songs of grievance about the workplace are nothing new. Despite some who have all of a sudden discovered that the American labor market really sucks (especially compared to other countries), others will tell you that it’s been very bad for a long time, especially for those on the bottom of the food chain.

There are an uncountable number of workplace grievance songs. But let me share a couple of songs from the past that are my favorites.

I don't want no gold watch for working fifty years from nine till five

While the boss is guzzling champagne and I'm belting beer in some dive

'Cause I want to be

Happy and free

Living and loving for me

I want to be

Happy and free

Living and loving for me

Like a natural man
The last song is about coal miners. For those in rural America, it paid well compared to other jobs. But it was a dirty and dangerous job so whether these workers were fairly paid is open to question. One part of living in a remote coal town was the company store.
Company stores have had a reputation as monopolistic institutions, funneling workers' incomes back to the owners of the company. This is because company stores often faced little or no competition for workers' earnings on account of their geographical remoteness the inability and/or unwillingness of other nearby merchants (if any existed) to accept company scrip, or both. [Of course, this was long before Amazon!] Prices, therefore, were typically high. Allowing purchases on credit enforced a kind of debt slavery, obligating employees to remain with the company until the debt was cleared.
So now you can better understand…

(Introduction by Dinah Shore)
You load 16 tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go

I owe my soul to the company store

It is a phenomenon going on all over the US. ‘HELP WANTED’ signs everywhere but seemingly not enough applicants to fill these jobs. The restaurant/hospitality industry has been hit especially hard with many fast food restaurants doing drive-thru only while closing their dining rooms (long after covid lockdowns ended). In addition, a number of full service restaurants that have stayed open through the pandemic are now closing several days a week because of their labor shortages.

What the hell is going on? Labor shortages are affecting many industries for various reasons - too many to discuss here. One of the largest and most important employers in the US is the restaurant industry. So now, let’s focus the discussion here while noting their problems also apply to other industries, most notably retail.

Much has been written on what makes restaurant employment so problematic for many so I will only mention these in passing:
  • The pay sucks
  • Working hours are inconsistent
  • Working conditions can be both physically and mentally stressful
  • Often no benefits like health insurance, vacation, or sick days
  • Notorious for sexual harassment
Because of those reasons among many, people left these jobs during the pandemic to retrain for others, vowing to never return to restaurant work for any wage!

Much of this is a symptom of American exceptionalism - but not in a good way!

Americans are paid far less than equivalent workers in other countries.

I have heard restaurant owners say that if they decided to pay their workers a living wage they would then be placed at a competitive disadvantage. That may well be true. But that’s why we need effective minimum wage laws! If all employers were forced to pay a higher minimum, the workers would get more and no employer would be at a competitive disadvantage.

Of course there are naysayers about a minimum wage, most of a conservative bent. Raise the wage and people will be put out of work? If we raised the minimum wage to $1 million an hour, that would effectively destroy everything. But the present national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is ridiculously low. Some may say that $15 an hour is too much. Certainly, there is a reasonable compromise here.

The price of goods and services will go sky high. A Big Mac will cost $10! Most of the cost of an article you buy does not go to labor but to other overhead. It varies but according to this article labor costs are around 20 to 35 percent of gross sales. So what about that Big Mac? Where I live in the land of the $7.25 minimum wage, a Big Mac costs about $4. In Seattle with a $16 minimum wage, a Big Mac goes for about $6. Two things to say about this. I love a bargain as much as anybody - but not relying on slave wages. If a modest price increase means that workers are paid more fairly, count me in! Also, if everyone were getting paid at least $16 an hour, a $6 Big Mac wouldn’t be a hardship for anybody, would it?

It has been pointed out by many that when an employer doesn’t pay a living wage or provide health insurance, the worker often needs public assistance to get by. But instead of criticizing the worker as being a sponger off the system, why not call it like it is - corporate welfare. This public assistance allows the employer to get away with substandard pay and benefits.

As is well known, America is the only industrialized country without universal health insurance for its citizens. There are all too many who cling to a job they may well hate because they don’t want to lose their health insurance. Obamacare has helped somewhat but it’s still too expensive for many. You would think that corporate America would love Medicare for All, relieving them of administration and expenses associated with health insurance. But for the most part, they don’t knowing that the health insurance they provide helps to keep employees from straying away to greener pastures.

The minimum wage can act as a union for low wage workers. But many others need the leverage that a union provides so that a worker can have a fighting chance in negotiating wages and benefits with an employer. If the American worker ever had it good it was during the 50s through the 70s when unions were far stronger than they are now. When President Ronald Reagan, former president of the Screen Actors Guild fired the air traffic controllers, he likely had no clue of what this would do to destroy the union movement in America. Union membership has fallen drastically since then. So instead of workers getting the raises they deserved, the money gets sucked upwards to the executives and large stockholders. Most economists believe this is a major contributor to the wage and wealth inequality that is dogging America.

Regrettably, anti-union sentiment has predominated much of the public discourse. Unions are greedy, corrupt and just plain useless in the eyes of most conservatives. Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had an obsession against unions. To big businesses like Walmart and Amazon, unions are a mortal enemy to destroy. States with Republican legislatures are passing something with an Orwellian description, Right-to-Work Laws. With this, workers are no longer required to pay unions who are representing them. If there are enough free riders, the union may well be starved out of existence - which is the point of the legislation.

On the other hand, CEOs and other large stockholders who walk away with most of the money are worshiped on the right as ‘Job Creators’. But truth be known, the real job creators are consumers like you and me. When we want to buy stuff, people must go to work to produce and sell those goods. Here’s another truth. Corporations only hire and expand capacity when they can’t meet demand for their products. When money is thrown at corporations to entice them to hire and expand like the Trump tax cuts, the corporations pocket the money and say thank you followed by buying their own stock back to increase its value. Workers get zilch, nada, nothing!

There are other areas where American workers are pitifully behind the rest of the industrialized world like vacation time, sick pay, and maternity leave for example. But that is a discussion for another time.

In fairness to the employers, there are problems that are beyond their control in enabling them to hire the people they need.

One is a mainly conservative narrative that since President Biden was paying people to stay home during the pandemic, people no longer want to go back to work. This sounds plausible, but in many states the benefits have expired. There wasn’t the expected big rush of new job applicants. So this explanation appears inadequate.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to more hiring is childcare. Many of the women laid off during the pandemic had jobs on the lower end of the labor scale that could not be done remotely. These women then had to do full time childcare and perhaps help tutor their children who may have been struggling in their exclusively online education.

So now what do they do? Assuming they feel safe upon returning to work and feel the children will be safe going back to school, two big ifs, there is the problem of finding affordable childcare. A lower income woman getting a job and spending most of the additional income on childcare obviously makes no sense. So most of these women thus far are staying home instead of reentering the workplace. President Biden wants to offer government benefits to assist with childcare for these people. But you know there will be yells of Socialism! Socialism! to make this a challenge to achieve. For readers who want to explore this more in depth, please check out this excellent background article for more info.

Before the pandemic, there were many American workers who were stuck in jobs that made them miserable but they stayed because they saw no other alternative. The pandemic has taught us that life is too short and too fragile to live this way. Many of us have decided to hold out for the right job at the right pay. Some households have cut back from a two earners to a one earner standard of living in the hope of a better quality of life at home. Employers are slowly starting to respond by finally raising pay. But inflation is eating up any of those gains so it’s not so easy to resolve this standoff between employers and potential workers.

During the height of the pandemic there were workers who had to do the stuff we needed in order to eat while the lucky among us could work remotely. We saluted these ‘Essential Workers’ and promised that once the pandemic ended, they would be recognized and paid accordingly. They’re still waiting.

As Rodney Dangerfield would say, the workers of America for the most part don’t get no respect. No respect at all! That has to change. There is a positive sign in the near future. A group of about 60,000 members of a union known as IATSE are fed up with their miserable pay and working conditions and are threatening to go on strike this Monday if they don’t get a deal. A work stoppage would shut down film and television production across the US.

Whether they will succeed is unclear at the time of this posting. But it’s nice that the American worker is finally flexing his muscles. It’s about time that the American worker finally shouts out, I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Are We Now Losing the War on Covid-19?

The title of this post conveys a decidedly pessimistic mindset. But it wasn't that way for me until pretty recently. As someone who is over 65 with additional risk factors, I was in no mood to take any chances of contracting the disease.  When the vaccines were announced late last year, I looked forward to the day when it would be my turn to get the shots. After I was fully vaccinated, I felt the euphoria of finally being able to safely gather with family and friends - a life that finally signalled a return to normal.

But even back then, most of us knew that we had only won the battle. To win the war, we first needed to vaccinate enough Americans to get us to that promised land of herd immunity. But even then we knew that the war would not finally be won until enough of the world’s population was vaccinated. It was no surprise that some of those here in America would be hesitant to take the vaccine. But seeing over 600,000 Americans perish from the disease, it was hard to believe that the resistance from those left to take the vaccine would last so long and be so entrenched. We were wrong. We were so very wrong…


Once the so-called Delta variant started to take hold, an epidemic sickened many of those who chose to remain unvaccinated. The progress we celebrated started to take a u-turn backwards. Will we need masks and lockdowns again? While the present vaccines still adequately protect the vaccinated against the Delta variant, the virus has not yet surrendered. There is reason to fear that if the virus hangs around long enough, there will likely be future variants that will elude our present vaccines. Will many of us, especially the older ones, need a third shot soon to keep us safe? And what about those under 12 who have shown that they too can get sick, but are unprotected for now because they are ineligible for the vaccine?


Put another way, until the virus is eradicated or at least brought under control, it will continue to become an increasingly dangerous threat - probably someday even to the vaccinated. There is only one way out of this to win the war - we simply must get enough of us vaccinated! 


While a shortage of vaccine supply is an obstacle to the long term goal of vaccinating the world, the more immediate obstacle is to get enough people vaccinated here in America where we have an abundant supply but too many who are hesitant to take it.


So how do we get enough of the hesitant to take the vaccine? This is a question without any easy answers. Polls have determined that this is far from a monolithic group. Many fall into different categories, each possibly requiring different strategies in hopes of winning them over.


In the interests of simplifying things, I believe most of the hesitant fall into one of two categories.


The first group is primarily politically oriented. While there are some on the left who haven’t been vaccinated, surveys show that many more on the right are stubbornly resisting the vaccine. With them, it is a libertarian streak asserting itself. To them, Americans must have the right to choose whether or not they will wear masks and whether or not they will take the vaccine. It’s all about FREEDOM! Government has no right to make this decision on their behalf. In his attempt to be “helpful”, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to take away the ability of public schools in Florida to enforce mask mandates on its students. In his eyes, this is a decision that belongs in the hands of parents and not big, bad government.


The second group more than anything else is just scared of the vaccine. A recent poll showed that among this group, there is far more fear of the vaccines than the diseases they are supposed to prevent.


Trying to persuade these people seems to be a tall order. The idea of imposing vaccine mandates at first blush looks to have more appeal. Want to work in an office or attend public events with others? Prove you are vaccinated or undergo periodic testing. Don’t want to take the vaccine without a bonafide medical exemption? The cost of your health insurance may go up. (Many smokers already pay more for health insurance.) While this may all sound appealing, in my opinion, this is something that should only be considered as a last resort. People who feel that their liberty is being taken away are not going to be cooperative to say the least. Even more disturbing, a number of unvaccinated people who were polled openly admitted that they would not hesitate to use fake vaccine cards to avoid exclusion from places where they would not normally be allowed.


So can enough of the vaccine hesitant be persuaded to take the vaccine? Although there are both Democrats and Republicans among the vaccine hesitant, it stands to reason that a Democratic administration is going to have a much more difficult time persuading Republicans/Conservatives. Indeed many of these people see vaccine hesitancy as a litmus test to prove they are real conservatives. But the irony of this all is that The Former Guy and his wife indeed took the vaccine. Unfortunately, it was done in a very quiet and low key way instead of being recorded on video for all of America to see. What is so regrettable is that this one man had the power to persuade more conservatives into taking the vaccine than anybody else in America. But true to his selfish nature, he apparently couldn’t be bothered to do so.


One thing that the Biden Team had right from the beginning was that when it came to persuading people to take the vaccine, the messenger was at least as important as the message itself. But despite assembling what appeared to be a formidable cast of celebrities to spread the message, the results have been to be kind, underwhelming. Perhaps if they could only find the most convincing spokespeople, they might be onto something.


Interestingly, in the last few weeks, a small clue emerged. For those paying attention, the vaccination rate lately has been slowly increasing. Nothing earth shattering, but a trend nonetheless. What could be the cause? While before most of the attention has been on the vaccine deniers, a new story has begun to dominate social media. 


One of the first of its kind was posted on Facebook by a Birmingham, AL intensive care physician, Dr. Brytney Cobia. With Alabama’s lowest vaccination rate in the country, she was suddenly surrounded by sick and dying Covid patients, most of whom strangely enough were still in denial over whether Covid was a real disease that demanded a vaccine to help evade its dangers. The post has since gone viral. But for those who missed it, here is a link to the story. 

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late," she wrote.


"A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same,” she posted.


“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu,’” Cobia wrote.

But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives,” she continued.

But even this was too much for some of the crazies who still believe in their lies.

Cobia declined a request for an interview on Wednesday, telling NBC News via text that she’s been receiving “threatening messages.”

There are many other similarly sad stories online. The reader can Google “unvaccinated regret” to see more. Hopefully, the reader can indulge me with sharing a couple more stories before I conclude.


Here is a gut-wrenching Facebook video diary by Travis Campbell from his hospital bed.

“I messed up big time, guys,” he said through an oxygen mask in one video posted to Facebook on Wednesday. “I didn’t get the vaccine … I made a mistake, I admit it.”


In his first couple videos in July, he was describing his illness in full, uninterrupted sentences. By July 31, he was talking only a few words at a time between strained breaths.

By Tuesday, he was lying in bed, struggling to talk about whether he and his wife would let hospital staff put him on a ventilator if needed.

That night appeared to be his darkest yet, because by Wednesday, he was recalling a difficult thought that came to him: He might not live to see his 19-year-old daughter’s wedding, whenever it comes.

“I had to make a phone call (Tuesday night) to my 14-year-old son … and I had to ask for his permission that if I didn’t come home, that he would give my daughter away” on her wedding day, Campbell said in Wednesday’s video.

I saved the final story to talk about Phil Valentine who is not just a recent victim of Covid, but who also used his conservative radio talk show to spread vaccine skepticism to his audience. This is his story. 

Conservative radio host Phil Valentine spent months preaching vaccine skepticism to his followers in Nashville. It seems like many of them listened. Tennessee has experienced a dramatic spike in the Covid-19 cases as the Delta variant has swept the nation, with the case rate ballooning over 220 percent over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times.

 

Among the newly infected is Valentine.

 

Valentine’s station, 99.7 WTN, announced on Friday that the host contracted Covid and that he is in “serious condition” in the critical care unit. The experience has led Valentine to reconsider his stance on the vaccine. “If he had to do it over again, he would be more adamantly pro-vaccination, and that is what he will bring in his message when he gets back to that microphone which we hope is sooner rather than later,” his brother Mark recently told News4 Nashville.


Valentine’s hospitalization is another needless tragedy in a pandemic that should have been all but snuffed out months ago. Thankfully, he’s had plenty of support. Since the announcement last week, friends and fans have expressed their well wishes on Twitter, and his family has kept followers updated on Facebook. “Phil & his family would like for all of you to know that he loves ya’ll and appreciates your concern, thoughts & prayers more than you will ever know,” 99.7 posted July 22nd. “Please continue to pray for his recovery and PLEASE GO GET VACCINATED!”

At the time of this posting, we do not know what Mr. Valentine’s ultimate fate will be. [Sadly, Mr. Valentine died from Covid 8/21/21] I’m sure there are some that if he were to die, wouldn’t shed a tear. He got what he deserved.


I don’t feel the same way. He may have put out a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda. But he was at least morally consistent in that he himself didn’t take the vaccine. I would categorize him as willfully ignorant but not evil. To my mind, the lowest of the low are those who put out anti-vaccine rhetoric while unbeknownst to others, he and his family have taken the vaccine.


I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that Mr. Valentine survives and makes a full recovery. And then I hope he gets on his knees and thanks the God he worships for granting him another chance for life. But most importantly, I hope he uses this second chance for life to own up to all the lies he has spread, going far and wide and talking to anybody who will listen.


As mentioned earlier, it’s often more about the messenger than the message itself. If President Biden tried to appeal to a hard core conservative by telling him to take the vaccine to save his life, he likely would accomplish little. At worst, the man might conclude that if Biden was giving him the advice, it might convince him once and for all to permanently ignore it. But the same advice coming from a fellow conservative he trusts and has come within a whisker of losing his life over the lies he believed - would be truly difficult to discredit.


If President Biden wants to launch an effective ad campaign to convince as many as possible to take the vaccine, using these conservative survivors to tell their story would be a most effective option. And for those who weren’t fortunate enough to have their dear loved one or friend survive, there would be no better tribute to their memory than saving as many lives as possible by persuading as many as possible -  to just take the damned vaccine!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Will the Republicans Steal our Democracy?

Steal our democracy? That may seem over the top to some. But they certainly look like they are trying.

When Trump refused to concede the election alleging fraud, we figured it would only be a matter of time until he was done trying to find this alleged fraud. Maybe he won't concede, but once the Electoral College certified Biden's victory in December, this would finally go away. Indeed, most mainstream Republicans finally recognized Joe Biden as the president-elect. The actual meeting of the Electoral College in December was certification of Biden's win. That settled it - except for the electoral votes being announced in Congress on January 6 in what is (or at least should be) little more than a ceremony. But we all witnessed the rioters storming the Capitol, encouraged by Trump to try that one more time to retake the presidency believing the election was stolen. They were not successful but tragically, lives were lost in the process. The day is considered so tragic that this event is now referred to as 1-6, just like we do with 9-11.

Many Republicans in Congress said they were done with Trump even though most of them did not vote to convict in the impeachment trial. It was assumed that Trump would go away quietly, especially with his Twitter account being taken away from him. But after awhile, it became apparent that many Republicans at the state and local levels throughout the country were still fiercely loyal to Trump with as many as 70 percent of them believing that the election was indeed stolen from him and that Biden is not the legitimate president. This caused many Republicans in Congress to reevaluate their stance toward Trump. If the only way to win a Republican nomination in future elections was to endorse Trump, they will then become Trump supporters often going as far as endorsing the fraud that Trump still alleges (but without any supporting evidence).

To be a member of good standing in today's Republican Party, one has to pledge loyalty to Trump. If he wants to steal the election along with effectively stealing our democracy, this is more important to them than their oath to faithfully protect the Constitution. This is sadly from one of our two major parties.

To address what they claim as voter fraud, there have been voter suppression laws passed along with many in the works in states with Republican legislatures. The view of Democrats is that these laws are there to make it more difficult for black voters to come out and vote. Republicans deny this. But it is obvious that with their added restrictions it will be more difficult to vote. They are certainly not going to make voting more difficult for themselves. The only possible reason for these laws is to try and keep groups more likely to vote Democratic away from the polls. In other words, this is about gaining a tactical advantage for Republicans. The stuff about voter fraud is just a pretense that has been debunked many times. Every time an investigation of fraud is initiated (usually by Republicans), the amount of fraud found is close to non-existent. House Democrats have passed a comprehensive bill known as the For the People Act to address these abuses along with gerrymandering, a term for partisan redistricting. Needless to say, Senate Republicans are bitterly opposed to this bill.

The phony election audit conducted by Trump partisans in Arizona is just icing on the cake. In essence, the Republicans want to select their voters as much as possible but even worse, want to be able to overturn an election result they don't like. If this isn't an attempt to steal our democracy, I don't know what is!

But will they succeed? It's scary as hell but ultimately, I don't think they will.

The important thing to remember is that Republicans are still a minority of the American voters. Trump may be loved by many Republicans but he won a minority of the popular vote in both elections he ran in. All of this loyalty to Trump may indeed win primary elections. And in solidly Republican states, this will win general elections (just like before). However, in the swing states with all of the independent and especially suburban voters that Trump lost in the second election, this nonsense is not going to fly! What do you claim in your reelection campaign? That you did little more than help to spread crackpot theories that Biden is not the legitimate president? I think not!

The Democrats hold very slender margins in both the Senate and the House. And conventional wisdom says that the president's party will lose seats in the midterm elections. Although Republicans in Congress have voted in lockstep against Biden's bills, the polls show that Biden's recently passed Covid-19 relief bill along with his proposed infrastructure bill are surprisingly popular with many Republicans back home.

But for President Biden to keep passing bills, the Senate will likely have to end the filibuster. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been solidly against this, wanting to negotiate with the Republicans to secure enough votes for passage each time. But he also said that the Republicans will have to be more than just the party of no. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that Biden's proposed infrastructure bill will get zero Republican votes while promising to put 100% of his effort into opposing President Biden's agenda. Surely, Manchin will change his stance if the Republicans refuse to compromise on any bill. Yes, Manchin is a very conservative Senator from a state that Trump won by about 40%. But I have to believe that he wants his fellow Democratic president to succeed. Surely enough non-stop McConnell obstruction will eventually make Manchin change his mind about the filibuster despite promising to never do so. 

So when the midterms come along, who will have the better sales pitch to the voters? The Democrats who have provided help to a wide section of the population? - or the party of no? Having said this, a number of Republicans have shamelessly claimed credit to their constituents for benefits they opposed when the bills were voted on.  The Democrats will have to be alert and call out these hypocrites when they run for reelection.

But there is also a reason to be pessimistic. When President Obama took office in 2009, he pushed through a stimulus bill to rescue an economy in free fall along with passing Obamacare which provided health insurance for tens of millions more Americans. The voters 'rewarded' him with a crushing Republican victory in 2010.

Perhaps it's little more than wishful thinking that the Republicans won't someday steal our democracy. After all, another Trump can become president without all of the incompetence the former president displayed. Trump himself still talks about running again in 2024. But as long as the Republicans remain as the minority party, our democracy is so precious that I have faith President Biden and enough Americans will not let this happen!