Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stop Letting Republicans Create the Narrative

I am so far beyond tired of Democrats' inability to change the narrative.  While perusing my RSS feed, I read a story from yesterday on Keystone Politics about Democratic Senator John Yudichak.  He was quoted on PennLive as saying that about not being able to stop Chris Abruzzo's nomination as Secretary of the DEP, 
"But I don't want this to be like Washington where we would apply an ideological litmus test on every issue to every position in state government."  
An "ideological litmus test"?!  Are you kidding me right now?  Accepting scientific fact is not an "ideological litmus test".  Calling the acceptance of climate change an "ideological litmus test" accepts the Republican narrative that you can pick and choose the science you like - that you like any at all, that is.  It accepts the idea that science is a belief system.  Science doesn't need you to believe in it because it exists whether you like it or not.  Democrats like Senator John Yudichak make me scream because instead of changing the narrative they play defense on the Republican narrative.  It's lazy and it's a loser every time.

Yudichak also says:
"If we were going to select a secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection to my liking, we're going to have to elect a Democrat governor,"
Yes, Senator, and in 2014 I hope we'll do that.  Guess what though, we're not asking you to select the perfect Democratic DEP head, but you could at least say, "no, this guy doesn't accept fundamental scientific concepts related directly to his proposed job."

Out of 23 Democrats in the Pennsylvania State Senate exactly 8 voted no on Abruzzo.  Eight.  Eight Senators voted no.  We weren't going to stop Abruzzo from becoming DEP head.  We didn't have to rubber stamp a bad choice.  What is the point of these people?  Seriously.  Someone tell me what the point is.  

So, in order to stop myself from raging out, I'm going to take a moment and thank the eight Senators who didn't rubber stamp Chris Abruzzo's totally ridiculous nomination to be DEP head.  

Thank you, Senator Andrew E. Dinniman.

Thank you, Senator Jim Ferlo.

Thank you, Senator Vincent J. Hughes.

Thank you, Senator Daylin Leach.

Thank you, Senator Judith Schwank.

Thank you, Senator Matt Smith.

Thank you, Senator LeAnna M. Washington.

Thank you, Senator Anthony H. Williams.

Thank you, eight Senators who said "no" even though it didn't stop Chris Abruzzo from being confirmed.  You can always say "no" and you did, so thank you.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Daryl Metcalfe Wants to Defund Planned Parenthood

...I hope I haven't shocked you.  I know, how startling that a dyed-in-the-crazy, ultra-conservative, registered vagina regulator like Metcalfe would want to shut down Planned Parenthood.  It's almost like he has nothing better to do.  That's not entirely true though, and before I tell you about the oh-so innocuously named Whole Women's Health Funding Priorities Act, let's take a moment to look at Metcalfe's co-sponsorship memoranda for the 2013-2014 session.  You can check it out here.

There's a bill to stop local lawmakers from regulating firearms and ammunition and a bill to address the theft of scrap metal.  Of course there's a bill that would address the definition of marriage, because Daryl Metcalfe is the absolute last word in who you can and cannot love.  Since Metcalfe isn't in favor of regulating firearms, even for the sake of our children, he'd like to provide for more guns in our schools via the Empowering School Districts to Provide More Protection bill.  Just in case you didn't know that Daryl Metcalfe supports your Second Amendment Rights, he introduced a bill that would prohibit new federal gun laws from being enforced in Pennsylvania.  That would, of course, be totally unconstitutional...not that Daryl Metcalfe cares because GUNS!

Next there's a slew of bills dealing with the Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative which, again, sounds really great, but it's all about destroying unions.  The upshot of this nonsense would be that Pennsylvania becomes a right-to-work state.  Incidentally, you should check out this page on Media Matters to read some myths and facts about right-to-work laws and states that will give you a leg up the next time a conservative friend tries to sell you a line of manure.

Where was I?  Oh yes, the Voter Referendum.  This fun piece of legislation "would require any and all future local property tax increases, unless the increases are for public health or safety concerns, be approved by a voter referendum."  No.  

And the final thing prior to today's piece of garbage?  The resolution to impeach Kathleen Kane for refusing to defend PA's bogus denial of same-sex marriage.  So yeah, so far great record.

And now the Whole Women's Health Funding Priorities Act.  The upshot here is that Metcalfe's bill would take public funding away from Planned Parenthood.  See here:
"Additionally, the legislation will prohibit the Department of Health from entering into any contract with or providing grants to any entity that performs non-federally qualified abortions."
The full text of this bill isn't available yet, but I'll definitely report again when I can read the whole thing.  Take a moment and write Daryl Metcalfe an email or give him a call and tell him that you'd like him to focus getting Pennsylvanians jobs instead of regulating how Pennsylvanian women take care of their bodies.  If you aren't going to support women's health then you can at least get the hell out of the way and let people who really care handle it.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Sky is Blue and Republicans Are Slut-Shaming

So here, apparently, is one of the new ads meant to encourage young people to get health insurance.  I just read this fun article about the right's insane reaction to the ad.

Let's go over a couple points.  Yes, this ad portrays a woman as being actively into having sex.

Okay, maybe that's just all the points.  Oh...well it promotes the idea of a woman taking responsible precautions prior to engaging in sexual activity.  Okay, two points.

(Warning, the following paragraph may include rape triggers, please read on with caution.)

On the Right, apparently a woman who actively seeks out sexual activity is a "whore" or a "slut".  I'd like to say that the right is just using slut-shaming as a tool to fight Obamacare, but it's really not.  Slut-shaming is de rigeur for the right, and not just from Rush Limbaugh.  Every Republican (or Democratic, for that matter) legislator who pushes legislation to make it harder to get birth control or wants to put in place hurdles to discourage abortion use language that is shaming to women.  Transvaginal ultrasounds?  They don't even care if you look (Tom Corbett certainly doesn't), they just want you to feel the discomfort of someone shoving a piece of plastic inside you because you've already had "the sex" so does that even bother you?  What they're concerned about is punishing us for our immoral behavior.  It's all slut-shaming.

Entirely too many Republicans seem to not understand that taking birth control doesn't mean you have too much sex.  In fact, you could have between zero sex and all the sex and you'd still take the exact same amount of birth control.  Learn a fact, Conservatives.  There are actually women who enjoy sex and that's okay.  Liking sex doesn't make you a slut and seeing an ad where a woman is depicted as thinking positively about sex does not encourage sluttiness.  What it does encourage is for women to get some health insurance so they don't have to pay through the nose for birth control, something that we had to fight to have included.  Actually women have to fight to get any of our shit included.  Women had to fight for mandatory maternity coverage.  We didn't get mandatory maternity coverage until the Affordable Care Act so if you are at any point about to say to me that feminism is unnecessary you can turn around and walk away because I'm not interested in talking to you.  (Here's a big double middle finger shout-out to Greg Mankiw)

Look, I could go on, but I have one final question for Republicans who are angry at the idea of women enjoying sex.  If you don't think women should enjoy/want sex...what are the circumstances of your personal sexual encounters?  Follow up question: are they really sad?  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2013 Blair Democrats Fall Banquet

I'm just going to start with one of the highlights of my evening...

My husband and I with fmr. Congressman and ret. Admiral Joe Sestak

I would have thought that on an off-year things wouldn't be terribly exciting, but our speaker line-up this year was excellent.  Our keynote speaker was Admiral Sestak, but we'll get to him in a minute.  Our first guest was State Representative, and former Centre County Commissioner, Scott Conklin.

Have you ever heard Scott Conklin speak?  I hadn't either before Sunday evening and I don't want to play favorites and truly all of our speakers were great, but I think Scott Conklin's five minutes may have been my favorite five minutes of the evening.  Conklin is a vocal supporter of LGBT equality, and Planned Parenthood reports that he supports family planning services and birth control.  However, he was one of the Democrats who voted in favor of HB818.  You may recall I wrote about HB818 in a piece called "Vagina Control".  I have to admit, that my fervor is somewhat quelled by that particular vote.  Planned Parenthood gives him a 100% in family planning and prevention but I don't feel particularly inclined toward anyone that's in favor of curtailing my ability to control my own body.  Let's say Conklin were to run for a statewide office though, would I support him?  I might.  I would push to be sure that he fully supports a woman's right to choose her own way, but I would probably support him.  

Speaking of people running for statewide office, someone who is definitely running for statewide office is fmr. Congressman Mark Critz, who was also at our event.  Critz was a great guy, good speaker, and he's the successor of the legendary Jack Murtha.  Mark Critz is definitely pro-life  on a federal level and that is not cool.  Can you be pro-life for yourself?  Yes.  When you start legislating your beliefs onto other people especially as a man who can never ever really understand the position who has to consider abortion, then I have a problem with you.  Mark Critz also doesn't have a great record on LGBT equality.  Am I going to have other options when it comes to Lieutenant Governors, though?  Mark Smith from Bradford County is apparently running, but I know basically nothing about him.  I know...I'm starting to get a little depressed too.
Our next speaker is almost incapable of disappointing if only because he hasn't run for any office (yet) and his father was a Republican, so as a Democrat he's already looking better to me.  This would be Jay Paterno.  As a Pennsylvanian, as someone who grew up in a Penn State household, I was thrilled to hear Jay Paterno speak last year and absolutely didn't disappoint.  This year was the same as he was the official warm-up act for our keynote speaker.

From left to right: Frank Rosenhoover,
Jay Paterno, Joe Sestak
Our keynote speaker is one Democrat that I can endorse wholeheartedly and without reserve.  Fmr. Congressman and ret. Admiral Sestak has a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice and has been quoted as saying "Regardless of my religious beliefs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade that - as a nation - the United States should offer every woman the right to have a legal and safe abortion, if that is her choice. I support that decision."  I support that statement.  Finally, someone who understands that his beliefs don't need to be legally mandated.  I love it.

Admiral Sestak talked about the dichotomy of America, about our rugged individualism and our simultaneous sense of community.  He said that we all work together to build ladders so that individuals can have the courage to climb them alone.  That's his definition of American Exceptionalism, and I think it may be my favorite definition.

He told several stories from his military career, one which featured prominently a female service member who performed an extreme act of heroism, a story which certainly underlined Admiral Sestak's commitment to true equality for the women of America.  I don't think we could do better for the next Senator from Pennsylvania than Admiral Joe Sestak.

I know it's pretty early to start talking about 2016...pause for laughter...but I honestly can't wait to replace Pat Toomey.  He's awful.  He's spiteful.  He's got his head so far up the Tea Party's collective behind that I bet he doesn't even remember what the sun looks like.

So after a magical evening, the shine may have worn off a couple of the speakers, but I'm still all in for Sestak and like so many people am hoping that Jay Paterno decides to run for something...anything.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Go Vote!

Have you voted yet today?  I did.

 I always take my son with me to vote because voting is important.  When I first started voting I was so insanely excited to get to do my civic duty.  I was thrilled.  It's my hope that when my little munchkin gets old enough to cast his own vote that he'll remember all the times that we went to vote and how important it is to make your voice heard and that he will never ever take it for granted.

I know that, especially in a place where you're a political minority, voting can seem pointless and like a total waste of time.  It's not.  Go vote.  Every voice is important.  You may only be a drop in a bucket, but you can't fill a bucket without a million drops of water.

Go Vote.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Demanding A Fair Shake From Integrated Delivery Networks

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of working again with nurses from the SEIU on some grassroots community political action.  This past spring Altoona community members were forced to accept that the Altoona Regional Hospital would be subsumed into the UPMC network, and indeed it has been.  Our local hospital is now officially UPMC Altoona.  Today our group was working on educating people about some newly introduced legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Me canvassing with Sue Delozier, registered
nurse at UPMC Altoona

The legislation I'm talking about are two bills that are going to be important for all of Pennsylvania and certainly right now Altoona especially.  The Altoona area is faced with a situation that's bound to become increasingly common around Pennsylvania given the trend of what's referred to as an "integrated delivery network".  Simply, an integrated delivery network is a hospital network that is also an insurance provider like UPMC or Geisinger or Highmark with its Allegheny Health Network.  The problem is the whereas once upon a time you'd have a hospital that wasn't affiliated with a particular insurance provider and so it contracted with multiple providers, now you've got hospitals whose parent networks are doing the negotiating and they're negotiating with their competitors.

Negotiation between competitors is bad enough, but what happens when negotiations break down?  Clearly hospitals have to treat you if you come to the emergency room, but you can certainly get charged out-of-network costs.  The legislation that has been introduced, HB1622 and HB1621 will require integrated delivery networks and hospital-owned physician practices to contract with any willing insurer.  I'm a supporter of this legislation and here's something to share with your Republican friends - so are Republicans.  The primary sponsors are Dan Frankel (D-23) and Jim Christiana (R-15) and John McGinnis (R-79) has already signed on to co-sponsor.  So yes, I now agree with Rep. McGinnis on something.

These bills are really important.  If we're not going to have single-payer universal health insurance then we need laws that mandate that hospitals - and most especially these integrated delivery networks - contract with all insurers because having insurance is pretty useless if your local hospital won't take it.

As a sidenote, this has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.  Nothing.  If you here people associating this in any way with the ACA set them straight, because the second you here "Obamacare" this or "Obamacare" that, the conversation has ceased to be worthwhile.  It is a red herring.

Besides talking about HB1622 and HB1621, our group was letting people know that nurses are coming up on their first negotiation with UPMC.  What you're going to hear about in the paper is that the nurses just want community support for their contract as though that's a horrible thing.  Our community should be supporting nurses in their contract negotiations because do you know what they're fighting for?  Safe patient-staff ratios.  Does it benefit nurses if the hospital needs to have a lower patient to nurse ratio?  Sure it does, then they need more nurses.  That ratio, however, also benefits patients.  If you've ever spent time in a hospital you know that having nurse coverage is incredibly important.  Do you want frazzled over-worked nurses that don't have time to learn one patient from the next?  I don't.  Supporting nurses makes sense for our community.
Nurses, community members, and family members who walked the
We should support our nurses because they support us.  When you need support most, you need nurses.  When you're in the hospital the doctors may make the big decisions, but the people taking care of you will be nurses.  When you read in the Altoona Mirror that the nurses are trying to negotiate for a better contract, remember the thing that the Mirror is probably not going to tell you: union nurses are negotiating for more than themselves, union nurses are negotiating for you and your health.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kathleen Kane Is My Hero

Kathleen Kane is my hero.

Let me back up a minute.  Did you know that Daryl Metcalfe is (or maybe was) trying to get support for filing articles of impeachment against Kathleen Kane?  He's doing that.  You may or may not know what a total looney Daryl Metcalfe is.  I've mentioned his specific obsessions here (guns), here (gays), and here (gaginas?).  His current mania is over the impending doom that will befall us should same-sex couples ever gain the legal ability to *insert dramatic music* marry! 

So look, the wind is blowing pretty clearly.  DOMA was the the first domino in a long line that leads to nationwide marriage equality.  It is now a matter of time and smart people, like Kathleen Kane, know it.  In her capacity as Pennsylvania's Attorney General, Kane has declined to defend Pennsylvania's own law that states that marriage is between a man and a woman.  She's allowed to do that.  Daryl Metcalfe and other super conservatives are ready to eat their hats about it and so Daryl has been pounding the pavement around Harrisburg trying to find Republicans to co-sponsor his shenanigans.

How does one respond to Daryl Metcalfe?  It's hard to say.  Brian Sims did a pretty good job after the whole "open rebellion against God" thing.  He called out Metcalfe on his hatred for women and immigrants and gay people and minorities, and that was pretty awesome.  Like I said, that was pretty cool, but Kathleen Kane just laid the full smackdown on Metcalfe:
"Rep. Metcalfe's goals of media attention and political gamesmanship are accomplished through loud, arrogant and misguided claims. Instead, his priorities should be reforming education, job creation, fixing our transportation system, or making the streets safer for kids and families, and should also include cleaning up the good ol' boys' system of public corruption. Instead, he chooses to focus on wasting time and battling me because I had the gall to run for office, win and serve Pennsylvania as an independent watchdog over the government they desperately want to rule."  - Kathleen Kane, via PennLive
There's more.  Seriously, if you haven't read the whole thing, you should really go do that because it's awesome.  I'm just adding this incident to the growing list of reasons why Kathleen Kane is my hero.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Social is Economic

I wish there were more hours in the day.

As I was going through my epic and extensive RSS feed list, I came across an article about Pennsylvania and women.  Specifically, Pennsylvania is failing women.  If you're a person who's got a progressive political mindset you probably didn't need to be told this, and in the Centre Daily Times the preaching is probably happening largely to the choir, but these facts need to be disseminated broadly to every person of every political persuasion.

First of all, if you like numbers and you are a nerd for statistics then you should absolutely check out this study that was done by the Center for American Progress.  They've got an interactive page where you can check out all the data.  It's amazing.  It's a really helpful place to check out the fact that Pennsylvania has only 1 gynecologist per 19,565 women.  That makes Pennsylvania the worst place to find a gynecologist.  We are worse than Alabama and worse than Mississippi and worse than West Virginia.  Every state you've ever made fun of for being a backwater hotbed of bumpkinery, we're worse than them. This should be underlined, I feel, by the fact that, just because you've got a gynecologist nearby (and I do mean a gynecologist) doesn't mean that your one gynecological option accepts your insurance.  That means that you may well have zero access to a gynecologist, most especially in the center swath of the state that gets referred to so often as Pennsyltucky.  I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to Kentucky who - though they rank 4 lower than us overall - has 1 gynecologist per only 4,095 women.

If only it ended there.  Pennsylvania was the 28th worst state for women, according to this study.  We got a C-.  I know a lot of college students that would high five over a C-, but when lives are on the line a C- might as well be an F.

This article seemed to drop into my lap at the perfect time.  Just today I was talking about the things that Democrats in Pennsylvania - and probably in other places where conservatives rule the roost - sacrifice in the name of appealing to a broader section of the public.  Who are the first two groups that get thrown under the bus?

LGBT persons.


Democrats feel the need to call themselves "pro-family".  They back away from supporting marriage equality (not all of them) and they back off of protecting a woman's right to control her body (again, not all of them).  In areas where people identify primarily as conservative, Democrats do things like identify as "conservative".  In Altoona we've got a mayoral race coming up in which our Democratic candidate (who is a nice guy and pro-labor and all that good stuff) who on his About page calls himself "conservative"!  I have heard Democrats who I like and respect who actively push "social issues" to the side because "we can't win on those."

I'd like to deliver some truth to you.  In 1969, Carol Hanisch wrote an essay titled "The Personal is Political" and that became the rallying cry of Second Wave feminism.  What we need to realize now is that these social issues are economic issues.  Abortion is an economic issue.  Birth control is an economic issue.  Making decisions for my body is an economic issue.  When I can't afford to drive out of my way to go to a gynecologist to diagnose a medical issue that I'm having, that has an economic impact on my life and that has an economic impact on my family and I am not the only one.  When you add up all the women who have to made their health decisions in a way that is motivated by their financial situation you have a serious economic problem.

Yesterday a young woman in one of my political science classes asked our professor what would happen if we got rid of all of our social welfare programs and my professor wasn't even really sure how to answer that question because it's so big and so complicated.  And this, by the way, is not a criticism of my professor.  He's right, that is a big huge question.  I think, however, that I've come up with a way to think about it that relates to the economic issue of bodily autonomy and access to health options.  If there is no social safety net, if there is no unemployment and no social security and nothing whatsoever, what are the things that you make choices not to do or to buy?  What happens to the American economy when only the very very richest people are able to have luxury products?  And I'm not talking about gold-plated yachts; I'm talking about blu-rays and televisions and cell phones and anything that you can think of that you don't need.  What happens to our economy which relies so heavily on our collective ability to buy crap that we don't need when we can't afford to buy the crap that we don't need?  For so many women in America, this is already a reality.

The social is economic.  For too long Democrats have allowed Republicans to frame the debate.  We will never win that way.  How do you fight against "pro-family"?  What is "pro-family"?  Are there people out there who are campaigning against families?  No, they aren't, and every time a Democrat is forced to label themselves as "pro-family" they're handing a win to the Republicans.  When we let the debate be about whether or not abortion is a moral choice then we lose because whether or not it is a moral choice is beside the point.  Moral according to whom?  You?  Me?  Pat Robertson?

It's time to take back the debate and show it for what it really is: an economic issue.  When Democrats (and Democrats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, I'm talking to you) cave in to this pressure to see reproductive justice as something that can be tossed aside then you are effectively tossing women aside.  When you don't support reproductive justice then you don't support a woman's ability to find economic parity with men.  The social is economic, and it's time for every Democrat to heed that call.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Matt Baker Thinks You Need More of "The Man" In Your Life

You know, I never cease to be amazed at how often Republicans talk about how they want to get government out of our lives and then they propose things like the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.  What is the "Prescription Drug Monitoring Program"?  Well the bare bones of it is that Rep. Matt Baker wants to create a database that holds the records of all the users of prescription drugs in PA and what drugs they're on so that we can stop prescription drug abuse.

Did you all just roll your eyes with me?
Rep. Matt Baker (R-District 68)

How is it that Republicans get to spend all day bloviating about decreasing the scope of government while simultaneously expanding government further and further into our personal lives?  Hey, whatcha doin' with your vagina?  Would I morally disapprove of it?  Maybe you should stop to make me feel more comfortable. Who are you interested in having sex with?  I hope it's someone of the opposite gender!  What prescription drugs are you lawfully taking?  Why do I ask?  Because what if you're abusing your lawfully prescribed medicines?  I need to judge you about it.

And here's just one of the many issues with this "Monitoring Program".  These aren't "drugs", they're medicine.  I know that it's just one little word but the connotation speaks volumes.  Drugs are illegal.  Drugs, as Mr. Mackey of South Park would say, are bad, m'kay?  Medicine, on the other hand, is something that a doctor gives you that is expected to treat an illness or disorder of some kind be it in a curative or maintenance capacity.  It is an important and stark distinction that views people either as potential criminals or as people with medical problems.

Is there prescription drug abuse?  Yes, there absolutely is.  Are we going to stop it by monitoring the medicinal intake of every person in Pennsylvania?  No.

As rules were made to be broken, databases were made to be abused.  I'm not saying that there aren't great and valid reasons to have databases.  Using them to monitor what medicines people are on is not one of them.  Databases like this start from an assumption that because some people are doing something wrong we should monitor everyone.  What that sounds like is that the government assumes that you're guilty and you have to show them that you're innocent...constantly.  Does that sound like the opposite of our justice system to anyone else?  I bet Matt Baker wouldn't support a database for owners of firearms in Pennsylvania, and yet he'd like to pre-criminalize every person in Pennsylvania who is prescribed medication.

I realize that just now I made an argument against a firearms database and know what?  I'm fine with that.  I don't believe any problem has been solved by making an exhaustive, creepy, Big Brother database about it.  People who are legitimately taking Oxycontin right now can back me up when I say that there are already hoops in place for medications that have been deemed as high-risk for possible abuse.  Pennsylvanians do not need a redundant, state-based monitoring system in place.  We do not need more of "The Man" in our lives.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Swing And A Miss For the Corbett Campaign

I like to be up on the latest political...well everything...and I have some specific Google Alerts set up to that end.  Right now I've got separate alerts for all the PA Democratic gubernatorial candidates and today an article about Allyson Schwartz, specifically Tom Corbett's latest attack on her, really caught my eye.

Before I begin, it should be said that I'm still feeling pretty hesitant about Allyson Schwartz.  Her record on the Patriot Act and the recent failed attempt to defund the NSA's domestic metadata collection via the Amash Amendment are everything that I dislike about Bush-era neo-conservatives.  This isn't to say that there's not a lot to like about her.  There are many things to like about her, but the field is still pretty broad and we haven't reached a point when I'm required to weigh the importance of my various policy positions.

The race is getting more serious though, and the Corbett camp has decided to take some test punches at Allyson Schwartz who, realistically, is looking like the strongest candidate.  To this end, the campaign put out a press release that hit two points that are immediately tired, desperate, and stupid.

1. Allyson Schwartz is a "tax and spend" liberal.

Yeah.  She wants to tax the gas industry and then...and here's a shocker...the state would spend the money it receives in taxes.  I know, it's a novel idea for Republicans who'd prefer to just spend money without taxing anybody - you know, except poor people.  I am beyond tired of hearing Republicans insult Democrats (because let's not raise it to the level of actual criticism, it's not) by calling them "tax and spend Democrats."  The whole reason that a government levies taxes is so that they have money to spend.  What was one of the biggest reasons the Articles of Confederation failed?  The federal government had no power to tax.  Without taxes government couldn't function, let's stop knocking them.  It's old, it's tired, and it's not substantive.  In this case particularly, we're not even talking about a proposed tax on the people at large, we're talking about taxing the gas industry which brings us to the second point...

2. If Allyson Schwartz taxes the gas industry Pennsylvanians will lose good jobs because the gas industry will leave us!

Are you kidding me?  Where are they going to go?  Are they going to pick up their gas and leave?  Oh wait, they can't because it's a natural resource.  Unless they can pick up the land and move it somewhere else they aren't taking their jobs anywhere.  There's debate about the number of actual jobs the gas industry is creating and maintaining in Pennsylvania, but refusing to regulate them or make any demands on them isn't helping anyone but Gov. Corbett's campaign fund.

You'd think that as interested as Republicans tend to be in legislating sexual morality that they'd know the age-old cautionary tale of the man who won't buy the cow if he gets the milk for free.  Well guess what?  Pennsylvania is giving the natural gas industry all our milk for free and they aren't going to just offer to put a ring on it out of the goodness of their hearts.  And see, in this situation, it actually matters.

Governor Corbett had better up his game as the election gets into full swing because these attacks are some weak sauce and they're only going to give him ground with people who are already on his side, and the number of people on his side are dwindling.  Nevertheless, let's not take anything for granted, but work harder than ever to make sure that in 2014 Governor Corbett becomes One Term Tom.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Newsflash: Being Gay Doesn't Legally Inhibit Adult Decision-Making

I've got a chapter of Astronomy to take notes on, some Spanish to review and a Gay-Straight Alliance meet and greet to get to at Penn State Altoona tonight, but I had to take a few minutes to talk about how much the attorneys for Governor Corbett and thus Governor Corbett himself are just awful.  Perhaps you heard about this yesterday:

Attorneys for Pa.’s Republican governor say gay couples, just like 12-year-olds, can’t marry

I can't even begin to wrap my head around these people.  I really can't.  The argument that they've made is in regards to a lawsuit filed by the Corbett administration attempting to block D. Bruce Hanes, Montogomery County Register of Wills, from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  It should be noted that for organizations working for marriage equality in PA, like Equality PA, this is not the preferred method of challenging current marriage laws.  Regardless, Mr. Hanes has taken it upon himself to correct what is a discriminatory policy, and I have a hard time not applauding him just a little.  

So the Corbett administration can't possibly let this stand because forcing women to have unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds and denying us abortion coverage (even if we're paying for it) is fun and all, but denying gay people the right to legally recognized, committed relationships is where it's at right now.  The thing is, though, that all the really good invalid arguments have already been made and they apparently really desperately wanted something unique to throw in front of a judge.  What did they come up with?  Gay people are like 12 year-olds and so we shouldn't recognize their marriages.  

Gay people getting married is the same thing as two twelve year-olds getting married.  That's their argument.  I understand that what they're getting at is that Pennsylvania law currently defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and since that's a pile of bologna in and of itself, they can't possibly just say "hey look, we define marriage this way not that way."  If they just made that argument they might have to defend the law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.  Solution?  Gay people equal twelve year-olds.  
My favorite response to this is actually from my husband who said:
Because just like twelve year olds, homosexual men and women aren't able to vote, drive, smoke, enter into other legally binding contracts, make their own medical decisions, etc.  
Except of course they can, because they're grown-ups.  They are adult human beings who are entitled, just like straight people, to legal recognition of their committed relationships if they want it.  The problem for Corbett and his attorneys and everyone who - inexplicably - stands against marriage equality, is that there is no rational argument against it that does not involve religious belief and, whatever Daryl Metcalfe may think, religious belief is not a legal standard in the United States.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fox News In My Face

I don't watch television at the gym.  I'm sure you're wondering where this is going, but I'll get there, I promise.  When I'm at the gym I listen to podcasts.  Smartest Man in the World, The Nerdist, Slate's Political Gabfest, The Bugle, and WTF with Marc Maron are my top five...not that you were wondering, but now you know.

In any case, while I'm plugging away at the treadmill there are four televisions that are lined up in front of the treadmills and they play Fox News, CNN and...I can't remember what else.  As a creature of habit, there's a specific treadmill I prefer to use, as long as no one is at the treadmill next to it, and it is just off to the left of the Fox News television.  Fox News didn't play into my choice of treadmill.  It's just that it's the treadmill that is least likely to be near other people unless the gym is really busy.  Fox News is just a bummer that's always there.  Happily, I don't have to hear what's going on on any of these televisions unless I want to plug my earbuds into the treadmill and thanks to podcasts, I don't.

Even if I don't choose to listen, however, the televisions always have the closed captioning on, so I sometimes inadvertently read along.  In order to put the brakes on my sadomasochistic tendencies, I will often take my glasses off so that I can't readily read what's happening even if my eyes do wonder up to the screen.  Today, however, something caught my eye that is just the most classic Fox News horse crap and I needed to share it.

The image that initially caught my eye was President Obama speaking, so I glanced up and squinted somewhat absent-mindedly at the screen, recognizing an old statement he made about the Affordable Care Act.  You may remember when he said If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your current health insurance plan you can keep it.”  Well it would seem that people on the right are screaming bloody murder because various companies are changing their insurance policies and their plans, etc.  

Politifact gave the President's initial statement on this a rating of Half-True because he does make it sound as though you have the option to keep your plan no matter what and clearly, if you get your health insurance - like many people - through your employer, that may not be the case.  What he very likely meant was that the government wasn't going to come along and dictate who your insurance provider was going to be, but this is beside the point.  Obamacare or no Obamacare, if you get your health insurance through your employer you do not have the option to freely decide on your insurance provider whether that means choosing your provider or choosing whether to stay with your provider.  

It is exhausting to keep up with all the ridiculous and idiotic attacks on the Affordable Care Act that emerge day after day.  It's so exhausting that I try not to pay too much attention to them, but occasionally they annoy me to such an extent that I need to get it out and so here I am.  The AFA is the law of the land.  The Supreme Court approved it and the fight is over.  There have been 40 votes to repeal or defund the AFA and they've all died.  Is the AFA the best we could hope for?  No.  The best we could hope for is a single-payer system where everyone - actually everyone - is covered.  So until we come up with something better, this is what we've got and just because rich, greedy assholes have made it their job to try to ruin it for us all doesn't mean it's bad.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to School Policy

It's back to school, kids, and the policy of the moment is education.  From Head Start to higher education and all the shockingly ill-funded students in between, Democrats smell blood in the electoral waters and they aren't holding back.  The current state of Philadelphia city schools is Pennsylvania's nationally visible shame, thanks to Governor Corbett and our Republican-led state government.

While gubernatorial candidate John Hanger talks sensible high education funding and Brian Sims slams Corbett on his near total abandonment of Pennsylvania's students, today the Secretary of the Commonwealth announced that Pennsylvania would join a multi-state anti-voter-fraud initiative.  Because seriously, you guys, voter fraud is a serious issue...or, you know it would be if it happened ever.

Educational funding is something that has had a huge impact on the course of my life.  Twelve years ago I had to leave college during my sophomore year at Penn State because my family and I just couldn't make the financing work.  I was, at the time, totally unaware of what my options were, which is not to say that I sat by and expected my parents to do it all for me.  On top of a full course load I maintained a full-time job, but it wasn't enough.  I don't know what we could have done differently, but at this point it doesn't really matter.  After twelve years, I only have to wait six more days until I start classes again, this time at Penn State Altoona.  If anyone knows the importance of supporting education, it's me.

School districts all around the state are in trouble, but perhaps none so much as Philadelphia.  As a person from Western PA, I've certainly complained about how much time and thought and money siphon into Philly, but this time you'll hear no complaint from me however much money anyone wanted to put into Philadelphia schools.  In the United States of America we have a great dream left not just unfulfilled, but under attack.  That dream is free and equal education.  In Pennsylvania, that free and equal education is promised to us in our Commonwealth Constitution: 
"The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."
..."a thorough and efficient system" indeed.  The only thing thorough and efficient about education under Governor Corbett is the unsurprising prowess with which Corbett and his ilk have worked to utterly dismantle Pennsylvania's public school systems.  As they allow money to be siphoned into private charter schools, they complain that no amount of money would ever make public schools worthwhile.  Back in 2011, the PA Republican Committee of Chester County lauded Governor Corbett for tearing money away from our public schools because when you're over budget, the first thing you should cut is school funding.  

Over the last two years it's been more of the same in school funding.  During the first half of this year, Governor Corbett has been pitching his liquor privatization plan as a way to fund schools.  He proposed that schools would get $1 billion from liquor privatization.  Hey, isn't that exactly the amount that got cut at the beginning of his administration?

What students and parents alike should remember at the beginning of this school year is that, as Brian Sims pointed out, 83% of children in this commonwealth go to underfunded schools.  Governor Corbett and his Republican allies aren't interested in fixing the problems, they're interested in placing blame.  It's up to every citizen of this Commonwealth to make sure that they know exactly where they should be pointing those fingers - the mirror.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Katie McGinty: On My Radar

Until last week my full attention in the upcoming Democratic gubernatorial primary was focused on Allyson Schwartz, John Hanger, and whether or not Rob McCord has freaking announced already.  This all changed abruptly when I read an article on Penn Live about Katie McGinty.  A couple weeks ago before John Hanger made a visit to Hollidaysburg, I had been avoiding intense mental involvement in the primary race altogether.  It is, after all, still ten months away.  Nevertheless, election cycles are getting longer and longer and when people start to campaign that close by, well it's time to hunker down and get ready for the long haul. So, while it seems a little early to be totally decided on a candidate, Katie McGinty is a candidate that I might actually be excited about.

Since she made her way onto my radar I've been scouring the internet, trying to soak up every iota of available information.  Her bio is lengthy, to say the least.  From a working class Pennsylvania family, the ninth of ten children, she earned a B.S. in Chemistry from St. Joseph University and went on to earn a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law.  On top of an impressive educational background, Katie McGinty has had a long career in both the public and private sectors, working primarily on environmental concerns.  In fact she made such an impact in that arena that, at the official renaming of the EPA's headquarters, President Bill Clinton mentioned McGinty specifically as a person who deserved to have the building named after them as least as much as he did.

Interestingly, much of McGinty's environmental work has been in the private sector so it would seem that she is uniquely qualified to move our commonwealth toward creating jobs in the fields of environmental sustainability and renewable energies.  In Bill Clinton's speech at the newly named EPA headquarters, he said:
“You can protect our precious natural resources, and you promote the public health, and you can fight climate change” while still growing the economy and jobs, Clinton said. “In fact, from now on, that’s going to be the only way to have a sustainable economy.”
That's a mantra that Katie McGinty espouses whole heartedly, and we should all be glad of it.  She's not the only environmentally friendly candidate out there, after all John Hanger was her successor as Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, but McGinty has far more experience applying her passion for an environmentally sustainable economy in practice.  Those concerned about the environment have expressed some dismay about the connection of candidate Allyson Schwartz to the fracking industry through large campaign contributions.  It is, as yet, too early to know who exactly is contributing to McGinty's campaign, but campaign contributions are certainly something that it's good to keep an eye on.

It has also been pointed, so astutely, that Katie McGinty is a woman and has thus split the female vote just by entering the race.  In April, just after McGinty declared, John Baer pointed out in his column, Baer Growls:
"So the question becomes which woman, McGinty or Schwartz, has greater statewide appeal to the Democratic base. That's unclear at the moment. But what's certain is Schwartz no longer has a clean shot."
Let the cat fights begin! Insert eyeroll here. I hate to be the one to break it to John Baer, but Schwartz didn't have a "clean shot" to begin with. He may not know this, but women don't vote exclusively based on who's got a vagina...even Democratic women. Feminism means a lot of things, and one of those things is that wanting women to succeed doesn't mean voting into office every woman that runs for a position.

During my research I was happy to learn that, though she doesn't seem to have talked about it extensively at this point, Katie McGinty is a strong supporter of the rights of women to control their own bodies. Robert Vickers of The Patriot News noted, "Though pro-business, she's an environmentalist who supports gay marriage, tighter gun control, embraces Obamacare, and is pro-choice." While I'd certainly like to hear a little more detail to those various positions, we've got plenty of time to get into the nitty gritty of it all.

McGinty has served many years in government service under Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Ed Rendell; however she's never served as an elected official before.  This was, momentarily, a fact that gave me pause, considering that the position of Governor is a state's highest office.  Still, after a little research I found that - if elected - McGinty wouldn't be the first governor in Pennsylvania's history to have never served as an elected official prior to their time as governor.  Both Dick Thornburgh and Milton Shapp vaulted directly from non-elected service to the governor's seat.  This is not even to mention the various governors of other states who came to the office without elected experience.  Still, it's an issue that will likely be raised when compared to candidates like Allyson Schwartz and - if he ever gets in the race - Rob McCord, both of whom have experience as elected officials.

Given her apparent zeal for the office, I hope that in the near future McGinty's campaign will take the dive into social media.  She's already got a serviceable website, but there's nothing cheaper or easier than creating a Facebook page or a twitter account (or both) to keep in touch with supporters and keep people updated on where you're appearing and what you're doing.  John Hanger and Allyson Schwartz are both already in campaign mode, traveling across the state and making appearances and even having house parties.  I've read that McGinty's also traveling and "hustling for support", but unfortunately I don't know where or when.

For now I'll be watching my Google Alerts for any updates, and I hope that I get to see Katie McGinty speak in person in the not-to-distant future.  If you can, I always suggest seeing a candidate speak live, since politics is sometimes more about your persona than it is your positions.  I look forward to finding out whether McGinty really has the one-two punch.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Importance of Online Organization

Tomorrow or the next day I hope to have a piece out about Katie McGinty and her candidacy.  I'm mid-article on that one.  While I was writing it and looking at information on the various gubernatorial candidates though, I came across Jo Ellen Litz's campaign website and I was enthralled, but not in a good way.

My husband and I sat for ten minutes or so and felt compelled to pour through this website, which is like a messy GeoCities page circa 1997.  Her page makes an awful first impression.  In 2013, and let's be honest for several years now, a candidate's website has been, is, and will continue to be one of the best and quickest ways to get a feel for a candidate.  Beyond looking at a candidate's biography and positions, you can get a feel for the level of their organization.

Commissioner Litz's site appears initially to consist of exactly one page including everything, and indeed the proverbial kitchen sink, although there are actually many separate pages.  Unfortunately, those pages aren't linked in any logical way with any kind of organization.  In fact, once you start clicking on links that are actually subpages of, we find that the page is a labyrinth of subpages.

In Commissioner Litz's Business ABCs, she is quoted as saying:
"Small business people tend to be jacks-of-all-trades," said Litz. "They try to do as much as they can for themselves, especially if they cannot afford to hire staff specialists."
To this end she has created the Electronic Business Pack, a list of tips for small business owners, and those looking to open small businesses, to follow.  It's got some good advice, and she's right that small business owners of have to jacks-of-all-trades.  A good small business owner has to also be aware of what they don't know.  In 2013 you don't have to hire someone to build a decent website.  The odds are that you know someone that knows the basics of putting together a good-looking - and more importantly - well-organized website.

What Commissioner Litz has is more like three websites jammed into one space.  She's got a website for herself as Commissioner, herself as an active member of the Lebanon County community, and herself as candidate for Governor.  To be honest, I'm not even sure if it's appropriate for her gubernatorial page to be the same as her Commissioner's page.  To be clear, I'm not suggesting that there's anything specifically illegal about it, it just seems like bad form.  Not just Commissioner Litz's constituents, but her potential supporters should have a better organized and more coherent place to visit her online.

The really sad thing is that Commissioner Litz seems, from a thorough search of her page, to be a dedicated Lebanon County community member.  She seems to have a detailed, practical knowledge of how to get things done in Lebanon County and beyond.  Regrettably, I fear the casual wanderer will turn away from Commissioner Litz's site before they've had a chance to discover her finer qualities.  I don't know whether the site was put together by Commissioner Litz herself or a member of "Team Litz", but a serious gubernatorial candidate deserves a serious and separate gubernatorial campaign website.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Meeting John Hanger

The 2014 Gubernatorial primary season may not have officially started yet, but that hasn't stopped one man from getting out on the road to get the word out about his candidacy.  The man I speak of is John Hanger.  You may have heard about him recently after several news outlets wrote about his proposal to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana by 2017.  While I may have heard his name in passing, I myself hadn't really paid much attention to him until last week when a friend of mine asked about Mr. Hanger's chances.  Funny enough, last night I was informed that John Hanger would be stopping through Blair County and that he'd be in front of the County Courthouse talking to the public today and so I got a chance to meet the man himself and get a better sense of who he is and what he's about.

John Hanger, talking to news media down the street from the Blair County Courthouse
Up to this point, all I've really heard about John Hanger is his stance on marijuana which is, really, not all that revolutionary.  People tend to get either really excited about pro-legalization candidates or they become suddenly diametrically opposed to them.  I'm not saying that John Hanger is going to be the guy for PA Democrats, but he's got other ideas that I think are far more important to consider.

For one thing, he's apparently focusing very strongly on public schools.  He pointed out that Governor Corbett's crusade to steal money from schools (that's my wording by the way, not his) not only adversely affects schools, but taking state money away from schools forces schools to have to raise taxes.  Meanwhile, schools are cutting classes that are - erroneously - viewed as extraneous.  Hanger also pointed out that several charter schools in PA have been accused of stealing money, but still hold their charters.  Beyond that, he states that 70% of charter schools in Pennsylvania are not meeting federal math and reading standards.  I haven't been able to confirm that number specifically, but I did find that a recent study showed that PA is in the bottom three nationwide for charter school performance.

John Hanger would like to see the Pennsylvania state government contribute "close to 50% of education" funding.  He'd like to see Pennsylvania stop spending so much money on charter schools and to hold charter schools accountable just as we would any other school.
Hanger, talking with locals

During the question and answer portion of his appearance a member of the local media asked him whether he thought it would be beneficial to him to be so specific in his policy ideas so early on.  Hanger said that he feels that voters are tired of politicians coming out with vague promises and no substance to back it up.  He pointed out that he's currently polling 7 points ahead of Governor Corbett, although he also point out, "each and every one of you could be ahead of Corbett if you were polled."

I can't say that chances look great for John Hanger.  He seems like a nice guy and he's got some really great ideas and the specifics to back them up.  If only that were all you needed to win a political race.  Hanger recognizes that he's got a hard road ahead though.  When a local man wished him good luck Hanger replied, "You get lucky when you work hard."  

If you'd like to take a closer look at John Hangers positions, you can check out his website here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Not Defending the Indefensible

In Altoona right now there are some people that aren't very happy with AG Kathleen Kane because she didn't stand in the way of the takeover of Altoona Hospital by UPMC.  Personally, I think that she didn't have grounds to stop the "merger" *cough...takeover...cough*, and I also think she went much further than she had to in stating that ARHS is a community hospital and that UPMC has to maintain the ability of all community members to access it.  She did what she had to and she put UPMC on notice, which, as far as I'm concerned, was more than she had to do.

For me, Kathleen Kane is just one win after the next.  I'm not saying she can do no wrong, everybody - and most certainly every political figure - is going to disappoint sooner or later.  I'm still waiting for AG Kane to disappoint though, and I now know that one issue on which she will not disappoint is marriage equality.

Picture from Delware Daily Times

Several days ago the Pennsylvania ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's marriage law which states that marriage is a a civil contract between a man and a woman and which declares that same-sex marriages entered into elsewhere are void in Pennsylvania.  The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of 23 plaintiffs; ten couples, two children of same-sex parents, and one widow.  The lawsuit names both Governor Tom Corbett and AG Kathleen Kane as defendants, but Kane stated yesterday that she would not defend the law.
"I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's version of DOMA as I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional," 
Kane was, of course, labelled almost immediately by Republicans as not doing her constitutional duties because of her personal beliefs.  Of course the irony of that is really almost too much to handle since it was just a few weeks ago that Daryl Metcalfe (R-Crazytown) wouldn't let a fellow Representative speak because what the Representative in question was going to say was "against God".  In fact, PA General Counsel James Schultz simply could believe that Kane wouldn't defend the law "merely" based on her personal beliefs.  Newsflash for Mr. Schultz and other similarly minded PA Republicans, it is also the duty of the Attorney General to review the legality of proposed laws.  Now, clearly Kane wasn't in office when this law was enacted, but if she feels that it's unconstitutional then why should she waste taxpayer dollars defending it?  

The real Republican sour grapes are most likely from the fact that now the defense of this law, this law created based on some people's personal beliefs, will fall to Governor Tom Corbett.  This situation is a stinker for Corbett, whose poll numbers are in the toilet.  Between telling women to just close their eyes and being unable to find a Latino, Corbett couldn't ask for much worse than being forced to choose whether to defend Pennsylvania's increasingly unpopular marriage law.   Corbett will absolutely defend the law, since he is an ardent supporter of rampant inequality.  I'm not sure if it will hurt his numbers, but it certainly won't help, which is just as good for whoever his Democratic opponent ends up being.  

I'll be watching this lawsuit to see how it unfolds.  Republicans are saying that it is circumventing the democratic process, but I say that challenging a law through the court system is something that's built into our democracy.  It's checks and balances in action.  Just because a law was voted on by our elected representatives doesn't mean that it either reflects the will of the people or that it's necessarily constitutional, as we've seen recently in the case of DOMA.  Whether or not Pennsylvania's marriage law will be ruled unconstitutional is hard to say.  This court case isn't going to be quick or easy and maybe Representatives like Brian Sims will make this lawsuit unnecessary by passing marriage equality into law in Pennsylvania, we'll see. 

What I do know is that, in a state where you can be fired just for being gay, the 23 plaintiffs in this suit are heroes.  They are standing up for their freedom to love and to have that love recognized and to receive all the same legal benefits that I receive as a woman married to a man.  Recently in this state two men who have been together for 45 years had to legally take on the status of parent and adopted child to ensure that they would not be subject to discriminatory inheritance laws.  Pennsylvania's current law enforces a discriminatory view that those two men who have been life partners for 45 years have a relationship that is somehow less than mine and less than any other opposite sex couple.  If marriage is, as Pennsylvania law states, a civil contract, then whether that contract is between a man and a woman or two men or two women is absolutely irrelevant.  The idea that same-sex marriage is wrong is one based purely on religious prejudices which have no place in a civil contract and I look forward to a day when this kind of prejudice is no longer enshrined in the laws of the Commonwealth that I love.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Townhall Meeting: Screaming at the Wall

Last evening I attended the better-late-than-never (I guess) town hall meeting where community members could ask questions and share concerns about the now finalized (seriously this time) UPMC-ARHS merger.  The meeting was held at Altoona Area High School's senior high auditorium.  Nearly 200 people attended.  I heard the number 197 tossed out, but I can't confirm that definitively.

Let's just start with the disappointment.  UPMC and the brand new UPMC Altoona declined to send a representative that would actually answer questions.  Jerry Murray sent someone to collect written questions, with the promise that they'll be gotten back to in the near future.  They didn't have nothing to say, however.  UPMC Altoona sent a statement which was read by Councilman Butterbaugh.  In the statement, the hospital notes that Jerry Murray was not at all involved in the scheduling of this event, by which I guess we were to take to mean that it wasn't their fault they weren't there.  Happily, Dave Butterbaugh pointed out that while this was technically true, that Jerry Murray and UPMC had made it clear from the beginning that they did not want to be involved in this town hall meeting at all.  

Hey look, there are the empty chairs where UPMC and Altoona Hospital representatives should be!

By this time, hopefully, you'll have read the Altoona Mirror article that talks about the meeting.  It got some things right.  The article got wrong a couple things.  First, it's Gillian Kratzer.  That's Gillian, pronounced with a 'j' sound, and Kratzer: K-R-A-T-Z-E-R.  Krawt-zer.  Secondly, and probably more importantly, I am not a hospital employee.  I'd like to point out that I didn't say that I was a hospital employee, and of course no one asked me either. 

What I talked about briefly was the lack of transparency, the lack of communication, and Jerry Murray/UPMC's near complete disregard for the concerns of the community that supports this hospital.  As Attorney General Kane pointed out, Altoona Hospital is a community non-profit hospital and, as such, it doesn't have to pay taxes.  It is involved in the PILOT program (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes), wherein it would make a payment, the amount ostensibly determined by the hospital, to the city in lieu of taxes.  Mayor Schirf, however, pointed out that last year the city of Altoona didn't receive any money from ARHS and this while the city is in Act 47.  If we the community members support this hospital and pay for this hospital we deserve  at the very least to be in the loop about what's going on at the hospital.  Of course, it seems that Jerry Murray isn't interested in involving more people than necessary since, as he told a nurse who asked why there weren't a few employees on the board when discussing the merger, "too many people make it messy."

The Mirror article touched some important points, but I think it also missed some really important stories.  One story that it skimmed over lightly was Cindy Cromie's.  Ms. Cromie is from Erie and she was a medical transcriptionist at what is now UPMC Hammond.  When UPMC took over there they forced all their medical transcriptionists into a job with a different company called Nuance.  They would be doing the same jobs for half the money, less benefits, and health insurance at double and triple the cost.  What really struck me about her story is that when medical transcriptionists asked if they could apply for unemployment they were told that the unemployment office would be informed that they were offered jobs and consequently that if they wanted unemployment that they would have to fight for it.  So much for good paying, quality jobs.  

Another fairly shocking story was that of a nurse from Pittsburgh, a Highmark subscriber, who was turned away from her doctor of seven years because she was a Highmark subscriber.  Even after she offered to pay for her visits out-of-pocket, she was still told that her doctor - as a UPMC doctor - could no longer see her as a patient.  Let that sink in for a minute.  In Pittsburgh right now there are people who can't even pay money to see the doctor of their choice because of the UPMC-Highmark feud.  

Apparently Mirror reporter William Kibler spoke to Dave Cuzzolina after the meeting and Cuzzolina had this to say:
"I'm not sure whose purpose it serves to turn the community against something that has so many positives."
It's great that UPMC is bring so many positive things to our community, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore the possible negatives.  Nor, it should be pointed out, has anyone been "turned against" anything.  If Altoona Hospital administration had it's way they'd have done this with no fanfare or notice at all until the ink was dry and the deal was done.  That's nearly where we all came into this as it is.  At this point, I'm not sure what it's going to take to make UPMC generally and UPMC Altoona specifically understand that "don't worry about it" is not an answer to anyone's questions.  The continued disrespect that the hospital board has shown to this community is troubling to say the very least.  

In the opening statement made by Rep. McGinnis, he expressed concern about the idea of a hospital also being an insurer and the conflict of interest since - in his mind - your insurer is supposed to be your advocate.    Personally, I think that to say that insurance companies have our best interests at heart is somewhat naive.  As Rep. McGinnis is a Highmark subscriber, he has a vested interest in seeing that UPMC Altoona continues to accept Highmark insurance.  

The final speaker of the evening was a social worker who I think wrapped the meeting up appropriately when she expressed gratitude and concern at the fact that several people traveled from places hours away to share their stories about their experiences with UPMC.  We heard from Cindy Cromie the medical transcriptionist from Erie, a Pittsburgh Controller, and a nurse from Pittsburgh who was denied access to her doctor.  

This merger, this takeover, has happened.  Now we wait and see whether UPMC plays fair or whether, a year from now, Highmark subscribers will be left out in the cold.  We heard the term "good faith" quite a few times from our state representatives on the dais.  I don't know about anyone else, but I have very little faith in the "good faith" of UPMC at this point.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

UPMC Takes Over, Altoona Mirror Rejoices

If you're a regular reader you'll know that I've mentioned UPMC a couple times in recent months.  Were it not for being on the Blair Dem's Public Access show, Plain Speaking, I might not know anything about the Altoona Regional Hospital System/UPMC merger except the magical and glorious things I heard about it in the Altoona Mirror.  Had I heard about the merger there I would only know what Mirror writer, William Kibbler, wanted to tell me about it, which is basically that it's the best thing ever and there's no downside and there's no need to ask questions, this is great for everyone.

Well, the merger has gone through.  There is apparently at least one UPMC Altoona banner up at the hospital and the fight is over.  Well, mostly.  The Altoona Mirror didn't mention it in their most recent article, but as far, as I can ascertain, the Attorney General hasn't actually approved the merger yet.  Clearly "UPMC Altoona" is either very optimistic or knows something that the public has yet to be privy to, but when I called the Antitrust office at the Attorney General's office they told me that they were as yet unable to comment on that merger.  According to the Mirror though, it's all coming up roses.

Today's article on the merger was a gleeful celebration of the soon-to-be actually official UPMC Altoona.  Tucked into that piece, however, was this a little tidbit that seemed trivial to Willam Kibbler, but sounded like something to me.  He talked to two employees, an IT guy and a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist who expressed these concerns:
"Still, both are leery about the possibility that the acquisition could reduce their benefits, including their retirement package.But they're young enough to move on, if necessary, to cement those benefits, they said."   Fusion with UPMC Comes to Fruition, Altoona Mirror 
Oh well, they're young enough to move on if the benefits suck.  Well that's great for them, but what does it say for the Altoona region?  This region can't afford to say "c'est la vie" to young people moving out of the region for better pay and benefits.  This calls to mind a month or so ago when I visited the hospital with other concerned citizens and Dave Cuzzolino, Director of Marketing and Communications, told us that UPMC keeps costs down by paying their doctors and nurses less.  And this kind of took me into a long conversation with a friend about how Altoona, as a city, likes to shoot itself in the foot as regards publicizing their businesses and attracting people and opportunities into the city.  Maybe that's a whole other article.

In any case, if you haven't been paying attention to the articles about the UPMC merger, here are some of the titles (chronologically):

Antitrust Concerns With UPMC Debated
Petition Protesting Hospital Merger Delivered to Hospital Brass
CEO: Hospital On Target For Merger
ARHS Votes to Join UPMC
UPMC's Altoona Situation Unique
Doctor In Erie Says Fears Unfounded
Hospital Becomes UPMC Altoona

Throughout the articles there's a continuing argument in favor of the merger, pushing that people who are afraid of the merger are needlessly fearful.  People, like the roughly 70,000 insured by Highmark, have nothing to worry about.  Personally, I think that we are rightly concerned, and so are employees of the Altoona Regional Health System...excuse me, UPMC Altoona.  As WTAJ reports, Children's Hospital President Christopher Gessner, who is soon to sit on the new UPMC Altoona board, "can't give a 100% guarantee on job security for employees."  He worries about the pressure to reduce the cost of healthcare.  If UPMC Pittsburgh is anything to go by, they'll be reducing costs on the backs of the nurses, doctors, and other staff of the hospital.  

There will be a community forum of sorts at the Altoona Senior High School Auditorium on July 9 at 6pm.  If you're an interested community member with questions, you should certainly attend.  I hope to be there, if nothing else to see if we finally get any concrete answers beyond the usual "we'll try to work with Highmark" and "no really, for the first year nothing will change at all!"  I'm left wondering what the healthcare landscape in Blair County will look like a year from now.  UPMC talks a good game about competition, but I think that if you asked people in the Allegheny area you'd hear a different tune regarding UPMC's actions when it comes to healthy competition.  In the meantime, I'll be interested to hear whether the AG has actually approved the merger and whether the AG's office will issue some sort of statement explaining their decision, whatever it may be.