Friday, June 28, 2013

The SCOTUS Marriage Decisions: Ripples Across the Nation and Right Here In PA

I was going to give my more coherent and complete thoughts on the Supreme Court's Wednesday marriage decision yesterday, but it was my son's birthday and we were playing board games most of the day so I just decided to take a cue from Jon Geeting over at Keystone Politics and take yesterday off.  Happily so, or I wouldn't have been able to include my thoughts on a related incident that took place in the Pennsylvania General Assembly on Wednesday.

Wednesday, after the momentous and historic decision to strike down DOMA and to effectively overturn Proposition 8, Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) got up during the unanimous consent portion of the House session to say a few words in honor of these ground-breaking rulings.  If you are unaware, Brian Sims is the first openly gay lawmaker that Pennsylvania has ever elected.  His speech, however, was unceremoniously shut down by Daryl Metcalfe and some of his arch-conservative cronies.  Metcalfe has been mentioned here before for his passionate love of limitless guns and also his particularly virulent hatred of people whose sexuality differs from his.  Oh, and let's not forget that he's a cosponsor of the recently passed bill that limits a woman's ability to purchase health insurance that covers abortion.

Metcalfe and company objected to Sims' speech and thus it was shut down.  Later in the day, Metcalfe stated during interviews that,
"I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law,"
Go ahead and read that again, because it really takes a couple reads to fully comprehend how totally ridiculous and wildly unconstitutional it is.  This attitude, however is exactly in keeping with the people who have fought and who continue to fight for laws like DOMA and Prop 8 and their counterparts across the country, including right here in our own commonwealth.  These are people whose primary argument against marriage equality is "because God says no."  

On Wednesday, as I sat at my laptop watching coverage of the Supreme Court decision stream live on CSPAN3 I listened for a bit to CSPAN take callers of various political positions talking about their feelings regarding the decision.  The Democratic opinion was grounded squarely in happiness.  The Independent position was split and, not quite surprisingly, so was the Republican opinion.  What was especially unsurprising was how many people who identified Republican called in giving only the argument that homosexuality is yucky and against god.  One man actually said "I don't care if it's a man and a man or a woman and a's disgusting."  People talked about "biblical marriage" and "redefining marriage" and the judgement of god.  Some people were at least charitable enough to allow that it wasn't the government's business to enact god's judgement here on earth as gay people would face god's judgement in the next life.  

There is no arguing with these people, just as there is no arguing with the even more extreme people who insist that striking down DOMA paves the way for legalizing bestiality and pedophilia.  For those people, you may want to point them to this handy Crack'd article about the specific effects of the Supreme Courts rulings.  The important thing to remember is that, as important as these decisions are, unless you are a woman who wants to marry a woman or a man who wants to marry a man your life has been affected exactly 0%.  Sure, you may be excited for friends and family members who now have the ability to receive all the same legal benefits as you (depending on what state they live in).  You may be utterly disgusted that same-sex couples now have the ability to gain federal benefits.  Either way, your personal life is totally unaffected.  

This differs specifically from say...the push for gun control.  One Republican who called in to CSPAN said that, though liberals are thrilled about gay people having the right to be married, we are the same people who wish so fervently to take away his 2nd Amendment rights.  First of all, that's not true.  I, and I suspect most other self-identified liberals, have no problem with law-abiding and mentally stable citizens owning guns, be they for self-defense or hunting.  However, as the many victims of mass shootings across this country will tell you, the types of guns and ammunition that people may own can very much affect the lives of countless others.  Marriage, on the other hand, affects those who wish to get married.  

These explanations, like the reasons why I am pro-choice, are explanations with which I feel I am just about done.  If, at this point, certain people still need it explained that their piety does not depend upon other people's actions then I am simply at a loss for what words would successfully convey the feelings of tens of millions of Americans and counting who have come to the understanding that - between consenting adults - love is love.  So I guess now what I have to say when extremists and lunatics spout nonsense is exactly what Representative Nancy Pelosi said when asked about Michele Bachmann's statements on the Surpreme Court's decision, "Who cares?"

I will set aside voices of hate and fear and I will rejoice in these decisions that will have a positive effect on individuals and families across our nation.  Our fight is not over until we reach full equality for LGBT persons everywhere in the United States, but a pivotal step has been taken towards that full equality.  The DOMA decision is especially important because DOMA was struck down based on the Equal Protection Clause.  This can, and I'm sure will, be used as legal precedent to argue that same-sex couples should receive equal protection under state laws as well.  Chad Griffin, President of The Human Rights Campaign has declared a goal of full marriage equality to all 50 states within the next five years.  

Although the Prop 8 decision skirted the matter at hand, it still likely accomplished the goal of allowing marriage equality to return to California.  In fact, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared that, as soon as the stay is lifted, counties must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples again.  It's probably safe to say that very soon we can add California to make the count 13 states and the District of Columbia that have marriage equality.  For Californians, and hopefully soon for all Americans, we can - as a friend said on Facebook - stop saying "gay marriage" and "same-sex marriage" and just say marriage.  We're not there in Pennsylvania yet, but thanks to representatives like Brian Sims, I am confident that we can look forward to a day when same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage will just be marriage.   

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Prop 8 Struck Down...

Proposition 8 has been effectively struck down, the court having ruled that the Ninth Circuit court did not have standing to consider the appeal because the parties who brought the appeal had no standing.  This ruling only effects California and does not effect any other state.  It is the most narrow possible ruling, and it means that there may be more litigation on the way, but likely marriage equality will stand in California.

It is, as my husband pointed out, a decision that "kicks the can down the road."  However, it's better than nothing.

All told, I think that we can be happy about today's rulings.  After yesterday's ruling on the Voting Rights Act, it's a hell of a lot better than I had hoped for.

One Down, One to Go...

DOMA is dead!!  Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer have voted to strike down the provision denying federal benefits to legally married gay couples.

Later on I'll have some more coherent and intelligent commentary, but right now I'm going to spend a few minutes being thrilled.

Filibusters and Feminism

After the dramatic, if confusing, end of last night's legislative session in Texas, I felt the need to talk a little about filibusters and feminism.  Senator Wendy Davis' ten hour filibuster of SB85, a bill that would have effectively destroyed Texas women's ability to obtain an abortion by requiring abortion facilities to be certified as surgical facilities, was - for me - absolutely inspiring.

Of course, other people felt differently.  When I posted my support of Sen. Davis on Facebook, a friend of mine responded that, while he supported the cause, he sees filibusters as dirty politics.  For the most part, I don't actually disagree with him.  Nowadays the procedural filibuster is used far too frequently to obstruct the will of the majority on a pretty regular basis.  Procedural filibusters are, in the words of my maternal Grandmother, horse pucky.  This is basically someone saying "I'm filibustering" and then buggering off for a latte.  The procedural filibuster is indeed horse pucky and I absolutely think that the rules for filibusters should be reformed so that people can't use this tactic.  It is dirty and it is obstructionist.

However, there is such a thing as a real actual filibuster.  I'm going to say something that I thought I would never say and that is that I think Texas has got the rules for a filibuster down.  No bathroom breaks, no water, no leaning, and stay on topic are four solid rules for keeping a filibuster in line.  If those were the rules for filibusters then I could support them absolutely.  As it happens, filibusters get used frivolously pretty much all the time.

I can absolutely see why people dislike filibusters and why I am likely alone in my opinion, happily I am freely allowed to have my opinion.  What I cannot disagree with is this sentiment:
"I cannot take her seriously in that outfit and wearing those shoes!!! With something so important, why would you want to look like you don't give a shit? 13 hours yeah,...but she's not cross-training in there! I've had plenty of days in blisteringly painful, appropriate or not footware, and that wasn't for such an important issue!"
This is the opinion of a male friend of mine.  In case you're unaware of the outfit to which he is referring, let me give you a picture.

Originially posted by
What do you think about Senator Davis' outfit?  Trick question, I don't care and neither should you.  Focusing on a person's outfit rather than their message is something that happens to men almost never.  It's something that happens to women all the time.  Sometimes it comes from a nice place.  The last time I was on Plain Speaking (the Blair County Dems' Public Access program), someone told me that I looked so pretty and I was so smart.  Now, I'm super glad that I sounded intelligent and I'm even glad that I looked okay on camera, but did it really matter that I looked pretty?  It really didn't.  Here again, I'm not mad at hearing that I looked good, I'm just saying it didn't really matter.

As a woman, I know that there is a pressure to look a certain way and wear clothes that flatter my body and make-up that looks good with my coloring.  The vast majority of women have felt this kind of sexism.  The story becomes what we were wearing, not what we were saying.  I guess what I'm saying is that if you have more to say about what a woman was wearing than what she was saying is that your priorities are off.  Most especially in a situation like this when a woman like Sen. Wendy Davis is making last stand to defend the rights of the women of Texas, if your mind is drawn more to what she's wearing than what she's saying then I am personally disappointed.

With that, I will adjourn to wait for the DOMA/Prop 8 decisions, on which I hope I will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Supreme Court Gets More Disappointing

It's hard to feel optimistic about tomorrow's DOMA/Prop 8 decisions after today's extremely disappointing decision on the Voting Rights Act.  In case you missed it - if you're reading me, it's unlikely you have - the Surpreme Court laid down their 5-4 ruling today which struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, effectively making section 5 unenforceable.

Those ruling in favor of striking down the VRA are exactly who you think they are: Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.  Roberts to Kennedy voted to strike down section 4 of the VRA, while Thomas wrote a concurrent opinion about how he wished that they'd have struck down both sections 4 and 5.  It is, apparently, their view that racism is over.  I'm sure they're right.

After all, there's no way that - say for example - if a state had tried to pass measure that were determined to be discriminatory that they would use this decision as a way to just go ahead and immediately jump for joy and pass them again.  Right?  Wrong.  In fact, it appears that Texas has done just that.  But hey, discrimination is dead!  Maybe if we all pretend it's not happening it will cease to exist.

There's a reason that the Voting Rights Act had to be put in place.  It's not because every person in the South is a racist, it's because people in government used their power to discriminate.  People in government, let's be clear, Republicans in government use redistricting and voting regulations as a way to stack the deck in their favor.  They discriminate against black people and Latino people, not to mention poor people of all colors.  They do this through voter ID laws and limited voting hours, just to name a few ways.  The saddest thing isn't that we still need the Voting Rights Act, the saddest thing is that maybe we need those recently struck down provisions to cover more places than they covered originally.

Now, if you think that the VRA is unnecessary and that racism is a thing of the past then I wish I could live in your rose-colored glasses world, but in the mean time, how about taking a look at some numbers from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Maps courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice

So that's illuminating.  Even with the Voting Rights Act, restrictive voting laws are being passed across large swaths of the country and the Supreme Court feels that now is the perfect time to chuck it out the window?

It is somewhat heartening, though perhaps cold comfort, that the President, AG Eric Holder, and Senator Leahy have all spoken out critically of this decision.  Both the President and Senator Leahy are intent on taking immediate action to fix the damage caused by the Supreme Court today.

Racism isn't dead.  It's alive and well in the hands of people who are more than happy to use it to consolidate and increase their political power.  Now the ball is in Congress' court, and believe me I know how depressing that is.  I suppose the very minimal silver lining here is that we all now have a chance to put serious pressure on our Representatives and Senators to find a way to stop voter discrimination.  We don't have to wait until someone introduces something.  You can call your Representative or your Senator today.  Tell them that you are disappointed in this ruling and now they've got to do something about it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Questions? What Questions?: The UPMC-ARHS Merger Continues

Thursday, I joined a group of nurses and concerned community members to deliver petitions to the Altoona Regional Hospital.  As I mentioned, the delivery was covered by both WTAJ and the Altoona Mirror.  The Mirror article didn't come out until the next day and when it did I was interested to find out what Dave Cuzzolina, Director of Marketing and Communications, really thought of we happy few.

The reaction seemed mixed.  Either we were bent on misleading the public through scare tactics...

"They [opponents of the deal] continue to try to scare people with this," he said.

Or we're essentially well-meaning idiots...

"These are sincere people who are concerned," Cuzzolina said.  But they needn't worry, he said...
We needn't worry.  Thanks, since at the end of last week UPMC ended their negotiations with Highmark in Pittsburgh, I'll go ahead and continue to worry.  UPMC won't be renegotiating their contract with Highmark when it expires in 2014.  Altoona Regional claims that, since there are so many Highmark customers in our area, there will be a separate negotiation here and I'm sure there will be.  What I'm not so sure of is how it's going to go now that UPMC has slammed the door in Highmark's face in Pittsburgh.  Once our hospital is no longer an independent entity we're expected to believe that what goes on in Pittsburgh will have no effect on us at all.  This is exactly the pill that we're all having a very hard time swallowing.
The hospital, though, is apparently undeterred.  In an even more recent piece in the Altoona Mirror, CEO Jerry Murray can't imagine why people think the board is being so secretive since he claims that questions from the community - and this is according to the Mirror - "have been rare."  
Don't you love how people form a community action group and they're suddenly no longer part of the community.  Well those trouble-makers keep badgering us about it, but no one from the community has asked any questions.  Mr. Murray, guess what?  I'm a member of the community.  I have some questions.  My question is this: how is it that you think that no one would be concerned at the possibility that their only community hospital might not accept their insurance.  You are literally asking us to just take your word for it that everything will be fine.  Even people who are well-off, not to speak of the rest of us, are often one catastrophic illness away from complete financial collapse.  At this exact moment employees of the City of Altoona are covered by Highmark insurance.  What kind of money do you think city employees make that they can be so blasé about the future cost of health care?  
The truth is that they don't know what benefits will or won't be affected.  They can't give us the answers because they won't be negotiating any new deals with Highmark; UPMC will be doing it for them once the deal is done and the hospital belongs to the UPMC network.  In the meantime we just have to sit around and hope everything works out for the best, the best likely being that UPMC's new monopoly on healthcare in our region bullies your place of business into switching your insurance provider.  
We'll apparently know as of July 1 what happens.  In the meantime, if you're a community member and you have some questions, maybe you should call the and let the administration know.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Voice of the People, Delivered

Today it was both my honor and pleasure to join a group of nurses and community members in delivering the signatures of over 2,000 3,000 people to Altoona Regional Hospital.  The petitions regard concerns over the upcoming merger between UPMC and Altoona Regional.  I wrote last month about a city council meeting that I attended where I spoke about my concerns over the speed and secrecy of this merger.  Both WTAJ and the Altoona Mirror covered the delivery - before and after, respectively.

Certainly, it is too early to say whether the petitions will be fruitful, but to speak out against the way this merger is being carried out.  Still, the meeting was at least congenial.  Our group was put in a conference room while we waited to speak with Jerry Murray, the President/CEO of the hospital.

Unfortunately, we were told Mr. Murray was on a conference call and could not see us.  We were, however, seen by Dave Cuzzolina, the Director of Marketing and Communications.  Mr. Cuzzolina was very polite.  He received the petitions and took the time to speak with our group.

We voiced our concerns about what will happen to people insured by Highmark and regarding the costs at which UPMC sets their procedures.  There were two exchanges during the meeting that I found the most noteworthy.

First, when we talked about the high cost of UPMC procedures in comparison to surrounding hospital systems, Mr. Cuzzolina pointed out that UPMC's costs are actually lower and that they pay their nurses and doctors less than Altoona Regional Hospital.  He said this as though it was somehow an argument for UPMC taking over the hospital.  I was not the only person who found the statement a bizarre argument in UPMC's favor.

Secondly, Mr. Cuzzolina pointed out that the philosophy of the board, in looking into what health system to merge with, was that the Board of Directors represent the people.  Pastor Paul Johnson, one of our group, asked, if that was so then why won't the Board talk to the people they purport to represent?  It's something that we're all wondering and we're going to keep wondering it, as loudly as possible.

If you haven't yet signed the petition to ask the Altoona Regional Board of Directors to answer the community's questions you still can.  Go to where you can read about what we know so far and sign our petition.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

School Closings, But Not the Fun Kind

Pennsylvania Constitution
Article III, Sec. 14
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.

Of course, if Pennsylvania's school boards have anything to do with it, there may not be a public school system left to maintain.  Only yesterday students, parents, and teachers of the Altoona Area School District listened on sadly as they heard the result of the school board's decision regarding Washington-Jefferson and Wright Elementary Schools.  The board voted to close both schools

For the last few months parents and teachers, not just of Wright and Washington-Jefferson but, of elementary schools all over Altoona have been wondering and pondering and worrying about the effects of this decision, this decision that we all knew was going to be made.  My own son just finished his kindergarten year at Baker Elementary School.  Parents and teachers alike at Baker have been concerned about the effect of these school closings on Baker's class sizes.  During the last week of school this year, Baker's computer lab was dismantled to make space for another classroom.  

It's not just Altoona that is concerned about school closings, however.  Just the other day, under protest of parents, teachers, and students, officials closed 23 Philadelphia schools.  These weren't all low-performing schools.  Some of these schools have made vast improvements in educational standards, nevertheless, Mayor Nutter is comfortable closing these schools.  He's comfortable with the lay-off of almost 4,000 staff and teachers.  While Philadelphia is busy closing schools with one hand, the other will be investing $400 million in the building of a brand new prison.  

Schools across Pennsylvania face similar problems.  From Millcreek to Pennsbury and Snyder County to Pottstown, parents and teachers and students are looking at the not-so-pleasant future of public education in Pennsylvania.  They're faced with school boards filled with people bent on fulfilling their own prophecies of how ineffective our public education system is.  There's a difference between keeping a balanced budget and cutting and slashing until schools are falling apart at the seams.  Unfortunately, that's just what many school boards are doing.  This is, of course, nothing new.  Even years ago when I was in grade school I remember my school board trying to shut down my school's music program in the name of lower costs.  

I've got news for school boards: you're not running an investment firm.  At least, not the kind that deals with earning monetary profits.  You're in charge of investing in our children's futures.  This isn't the real estate business either.  Selling a school never netted anyone the kind of profit that made it worthwhile to the children that used to attend it.  

Still, the students of Altoona's elementary schools and students across Pennsylvania will start next school year in unsure circumstances.  I know that Pennsylvania's public school teachers will do everything they can to give our children a quality education.  The question is, what will our school boards do?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Vagina Control

Pennsylvania legislators are very concerned about controlling the vaginae of Pennsylvania.  I'm sorry, I mean the women of Pennsylvania.  It's just so hard to remember that I'm a woman and not a vagina when all my legislators seem to care about controlling how I can use my vagina.

You see, while Republican legislators are intensely concerned that we're all allowed to own whatever guns we want regardless of whatever future laws the federal government may - or more likely may probably not - pass, they're equally concerned that women can't buy insurance that covers abortion.  The Pennsylvania Senate has recently passed HB818, a bill whose only purpose is to be sure that if a woman buys health insurance through the health insurance marketplace, that insurance cannot cover abortion.  Whether a person needs a government subsidy to afford their insurance or not, that person cannot buy a policy that includes abortion coverage.  Of course, women can go out and purchase supplemental insurance specifically to cover abortion.  Not through the insurance marketplace.  Don't be ridiculous.  It's important that the legislature controls women's bodies.

It's not enough that, thanks to Henry Hyde, American women who rely on Medicaid for their health coverage needs have not had access to abortion coverage since 1977.  It's not enough that poor women, whose access to contraception and reproductive education has been consistently under attack all over this country.  It's not enough that, as of May 1 of this year, women must receive state directed counseling designed specifically to discourage them from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours to have one.  It's not enough that, again as of May 1, public employees only receive abortion coverage in the case of life endangerment, incest, or rape and that minors must have the consent of a parent before receiving an abortion.

No.  On top of all that, if you want to use the federally created health insurance marketplace - that was the Republicans' idea in the first place even though they're running from it like the bloody plague now - you can't buy health insurance which includes abortion coverage.  You can't buy it, not even with your own money.  You can't take advantage of the system that was set up to allow people a chance to get the same rates as companies get when they get group insurance policies.

It's a system designed to put us all on equal footing, but Republicans don't want women on equal footing.  Republicans, to be fair, want a hierarchical world where rich men - preferably white men - are on top and everyone else is scrabbling for a position in second place.  In this particular case, the target of control, the target of oppression is women.  Henry Hyde didn't have a "vehicle" to stop anyone from poor women from getting an affordable abortion if it was needed.  If only he'd have hung around a few years longer he'd have lived to see the legislators of Pennsylvania find a way to start filtering that misogyny up to the middle class.

I'm not going to tell you my personal opinion on abortion.  There was a time when I would have spent some time on it, but I'm done apologizing to people who call themselves pro-life while putting women's lives in untenable positions.  My personal opinion on abortion doesn't matter.  Your personal opinion on abortion doesn't matter.   The only opinion that matters is the opinion of a woman who needs to make a decision about her body and her life and the only person that needs to know that opinion is her doctor.

Richard Alloway (R-33), David Argall (R-29), John Blake (D-22), James Brewster (D-45), Patrick Browne (R-16), Mike Brubaker (R-36), Jake Corman (R-34), John Eichelberger (R-30), Edwin Erickson (R-26), Mike Folmer (R-48), John Gordner (R-27), Stewart Greenleaf (R-12), Scott Hutchinson (R-21)Richard Kasunic (D-32), Charles McIlhinney (R-10), Bob Mensch (R-24), Dominic Pileggi (R-9), John Rafferty (R-44), Robert Robbins (R-50), Joseph Scarnati (R-25), Lloyd Smucker (R-13), Timothy Solobay (D-46), Robert Tomlinson (R-6), Elder Vogel (R-47), Randy Vulakovich (R-40), Kim Ward (R-39), Michael Waugh (R-28), Donald White (R-41), John Wozniak (D-35), Gene Yaw (R-23), and John Yudichak (D-14) are the 31 senators who recently voted to approve a piece of paper whose only purpose is to deny women the rights to their own bodies.

I'd like to make a special shout-out to Kim Ward (R-39) who has the special distinction of being the only female senator to vote for this odious piece of trash.  Also to John Wozniak, John Yudichak, John Blake, James Brewster, Richard Kasunic and Timothy Solobay - all Democrats who approved this nonsense: thank you so much for protecting the rights of women.  For the record, if the Democrats had stood together against this bill it would have been a 25-25 tie.  If Kim Ward cared about women, it would have failed 26-24.

This didn't have to happen.  Are you angry?  I'm angry.  If you're as furious as I am, please call your representative.  Some of you may have a representative on the list above.  You'll notice they're all linked to their information pages.  Be sure to stay in touch.

(Check out this post, cross-posted over at Keystone Politics, then you can hop over to Broad and Pennsylvania to see Rich Wilkins' response to my post and then, if you're still in, you can check out my counter to his response, To Primary or Not to Primary.)