Checking In: Are We Doing Okay?

The last time I wrote, Barack Obama was President.

The last time I wrote, Hillary Clinton was going to be President.

The last time I wrote, things were normal.

Now things are anything but normal.

Last night, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey found out on a television broadcast playing in the background while he was delivering remarks to a group of FBI officials. The White House said it was because of his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“Yeah, right,” was the collective response.

Last week, House Republicans passed a bill that would lead to an estimated 24 million Americans losing health insurance. People with preexisting conditions are no longer guaranteed coverage. The Republicans said it would be better in the long run.

“Are you sure?” we asked.

Last month, the President dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” in Afghanistan. It was necessary and it worked, they told us.

“Okay…” we raised an brow.

Last year, Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election.

“What the fuck?” was the phrase heard round the world.

The world is a different place than the last time I wrote, so I thought I’d check in. How are we all doing? Are you, like me, “considering” more than usual? Are we taking care of ourselves? Are we doing the most good that we can where we are?

Since the election, there have been a lot of discussions, at least in my sphere, of the need for more civil dialogue. We need to be able to talk to each other again. We need to be able to agree on facts and disagree on ideas. We need to consider other points of view and allow for the possibility that maybe, someone else could be right.

Let me know how you’re doing. Let me know what you’d like to consider, and maybe we can start some civil dialogue here again. I think it’s needed now more than ever.

Considering Orlando

Ck3Ve0CVAAA8UZLA week ago today, I woke up, like the rest of the world, to the news of Orlando. I didn’t really feel surprised. I think we’ve stopped feeling surprise at these kinds of stories. They’re happening too often. What I did feel was sad and hopeless.

We’ve become resigned to the fact that nothing will actually change after this. This semi-regular horror is just the way of the world, it seems. Our new normal.

But why is it that 1 man can kill 49 people and injure more than 50 more others and we consider that normal? That it’s semi-regular? Why can’t we fix this? Why can’t we even talk about fixing it?

That is what Senator Chris Murphy spent 15 hours talking about on the floor of the Senate Wednesday night.

At the end of his filibuster, the Senate agreed to vote on some gun control bills, aimed to stop terrorists from purchasing guns.

President Obama explained why he thought a bill like this was necessary at a PBS Town Hall just few weeks ago:

“I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I got people who we know have been on ISIL Web sites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun. This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer. And if he wants to walk in to a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as much — as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing’s prohibiting him from doing that, even though the FBI knows who that person is.”

The bill in question is being referred to as “No Fly, No Buy,” meaning that if someone is on the No-Fly List they also shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. The NRA issued its own statement on this issue this week, stating:

“The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period. Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing. If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist. At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.”

This bill was introduced a few months ago and the argument was about due process. Many Senators were concerned about how to protect the second amendment rights of citizens who may unfairly end up on the so-called “No Buy” list, but were not actually terrorists. That seems like a healthy conversation to have: how to protect the public good while safeguarding personal freedoms.

Except they didn’t have that argument, and the bill didn’t go anywhere.

This is why we haven’t made any progress curbing gun violence. We don’t reach solutions, we drop bills. We don’t have civil debates, we stop talking. We don’t discuss our options, we ignore problems.

Since 1996, the Center for Disease Control hasn’t even been able to research gun violence or anything that could lead to gun control. Technically, President Obama lifted the research ban in 2012, shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, but fear of funding cuts from Congress meant the CDC still hasn’t conducted any gun violence research. The American Medical Association announced last Tuesday that they are calling gun violence a public health crisis and will be lobbying Congress to lift the ban on gun control research.

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on four different bills concerning background checks on gun purchases. And while it feels like a victory that these bills are being debated, the overarching assumption is that they won’t pass, and will probably die in the Senate.

I don’t know when we’re going to decide that we’ve had enough. That people’s lives are important enough to at least try to curb gun violence, to pass a bill, to do something.

At least this time, we’re having a conversation. We’re having a debate. But it would be nice, for once, to have some action.

Considering Utah SB 57

Utah’s SB 57 is an Autism Insurance mandate that would make insurance companies cover behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy for children with autism. I worked on the bill 2 years ago and I’ve worked with children with autism. I just want to spend some time sorting through it.

Let’s start by talking about all the arguments against the bill.

Argument 1:”I don’t believe in insurance mandates”

Fine if you are a political pundit, but I personally think that ideologies should be checked at the door if you are a legislator. When elected, you have a responsibility to consider each situation individually and do what is best for the city/state/country.

That being said, voters reward ideology and they punish independent thinking. Mitt Romney was framed as a “flip flopper” for changing his mind based on the current situation. People get elected by saying things like “I don’t believe in insurance mandates,” and they get reelected by sticking to that ideology.

Argument 2: “Insurance companies should cover it without a mandate”

Great, but they won’t. Just like they didn’t cover diabetes, heart disease, or cancer without a mandate. Insurance companies are in the money business and the less they cover the more they make. I would love to live in a world where they’d cover an epidemic of autism’s proportions on their own, but I don’t so…. mandate please!

Argument 3: “We can’t give a handout to every group that asks for one”

First of all, this is not a handout. Families pay insurance premiums, they just want their particular medical condition covered. They aren’t asking the government to pay them anything.

Second of all, I like the fact that you don’t give money to every group petitioning for funding. If an underwater basket weaving college wants public funding, please don’t just hand it over. However, autism affects 1 in 47 children in Utah. We have the highest rate of autism in the country. Read: epidemic. This is not a fringe group. That is one child in every grade in every school in every district in Utah. And they don’t need a handout. They need their medical needs covered by insurance.

Argument 4: “We don’t have the money

Yes you do. Because you’re paying plenty in social services for people with autism. And for every child that receives treatment, they can save up to 1 million dollars per child over their lifetime.  The bill is predicted to cost 3 million dollars. The pilot program showed the bill will not cost as much as expected, so it won’t even cost 3 million. Assuming, it does somehow cost that much, you could cover 30% of the children with autism for the same cost as not treating 3-4 children. That sounds fiscally conservative to me!

Argument 5: “Small business will be forced to close because of the mandate.”

Except they won’t. 34 states that have passed the law and a Utah pilot program prove that it will not shut down small businesses. The estimated increase is $0.33  per member per month. 33 cents. A business isn’t going to close based on 33 cents.

Now, let’s go through what has happened at the capitol.

HB 88

HB 88 was a bill that extended the aforementioned pilot program. It would cover 10% of children with autism (in addition to the approximate 30% SB 57 would cover), but is a social program. It’s basically a medicaid expansion for children up to the age of seven. This bill is not bad and will help a lot of people, but how come Utah’s Republican legislature is more ready to spend more money, covering less kids by extending social programs?

SB 57 1st Substitute 

This bill should ultimately pass later this week. It’s an amended version of the original bill and instead of covering kids up to 18, it will cover kids up to 9 for roughly 12 hours of therapy a week (the recommended amount is closer to 30 hours a week). The bill kicks in in January 2016. This is what we call a compromise. 

Buzz and Woody (Toy Story) Meme meme

Passing an insurance mandate in Utah is a HUGE accomplishment. Should it really be so hard though considering how much financial, social, and common sense it makes?

The Down Side

I am currently living with an almost seven-year-old boy with autism. Once he turns seven he ages out of HB 88 and in 2016 he will almost be nine and age out of SB 57. Nothing the legislature did is helping this little boy. 

Last week, when the amendments were announced, it was a day of mourning in this home. Sure, the bill is of great historical significance, but that doesn’t help him or any other child with autism right now over the age of five. It totally and completely blows. No one is at fault except out of touch legislators and insurance companies. It’s just something that really really sucks.

What I’ve learned 

Ideology doesn’t win.

Facts and logic don’t win.

Politics moves slowly.

The people who are fighting for something are not usually the people who benefit.

But sometimes, somehow, things get done anyway.

Congratulations to everyone who helped, and will help, SB 57 become law.

Considering Arizona LGBT Bill

All over my news feed is discussion about Arizona’s LGBT legislation. This legislation would let business owners use religious beliefs to refuse serving an LGBT individual.

Supporters of this bill claim that refusing service is religious freedom. Critics say it is legalizing discrimination. What’s in the middle of religious freedom and discrimination?

My first question was regarding signs I often see outside of businesses that say “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” What makes Arizona’s legislation necessary if business owners can refuse service? The Federal Civil Rights Act does. Legalzoom.com explains that it “guarantees all people the right to ‘full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.'”

Basically, a business owner can refuse service for arbitrary reasons, but refusing service based on a customer’s identity is illegal. A flower shop owner or baker cannot simply refuse an order for a wedding based on the sexual orientation of the couple. Arizona’s bill, that passed the legislature and is waiting Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature or veto, would allow a business to use religion as a reason to refuse service.

Outside of Arizona, there is vocal opposition against the law. The tech company Apple, which was planning to build a sapphire glass plant in the state, urged Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill claiming it could seriously damage the economy. American Airlines and Marriot hotels also came out in opposition of the bill. The Super Bowl, which is supposed to take place in Arizona next year, may be in jeopardy. Now, leaders of the national GOP are urging Gov. Brewer to veto.

I think my Senator, Orrin Hatch’s confused comment in a Politico argument about the GOP shows how confusing the issue is:

“This is one of the societal issues that has to be resolved. I do believe states should be able to decide things for themselves, I do believe that that’s the constitutional way of handling these matters. And the states that want to go a certain way have a right to do so.”

But, Hatch added: “I don’t think we should have discrimination anyway. On the other hand, I think there’s a legitimate question raised about whether businesses have to conform to certain moral standards they disagree with. I think it’s a real important pivotal issue, and I don’t know how to resolve it, honestly.”

The question is whether baking a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding is making the owner “conform to a certain moral standard they disagree with.” Standing up for beliefs is often an important part of a person’s religious experience. I can understand how participating in that ceremony may make a religious person feel as though they are forced to support something they find morally objectionable.

I found it interesting that Marriot opposed the bill since JW Marriot, Jr., Chairman of the Board, is Mormon. Marriot’s religion does not support gay marriage, but his hotels are still open to gay people, as well as plenty of other people who practice a whole myriad of objectionable acts in the eyes of the LDS church.

For example, does allowing unmarried couples reserve rooms mean Marriot supports pre-marital sex?

There’s never been a reason to think that businesses can control their customers’ identities and behaviors. If you want to open a business, you open it up for everyone in the area and hope they come and spend their money.

There needs to be an understanding that just because you own a business that sometimes serves people who don’t believe the same things you do, does not mean you support every action of a customer’s. I think once that is understood, the discomfort and objection will disappear.

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Considering Obamacare

Let’s talk about Obamacare. It was bound to happen eventually right?

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported  that Obamacare would lead to a reduction in the workforce of 2.5 million jobs and it took approximately 2.5 seconds for everybody to freak out.

To be clear, this does not mean that 2.5 million people will now lose their jobs. The report states, “The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in business’ demand for labor.”

Translation: The reduction in the workforce comes from people voluntarily leaving their jobs or reducing their hours because they no longer need employer-provided health insurance. This is not a job loss from employers reducing hours or laying people off.

The real question, then, is how does Obamacare affect people’s employment decisions?

Paul Krugman, liberal op-ed columnist for the New York Times, said that,  “First of all, we’re mainly talking about reduced hours rather than quitting the work force.” More people will choose to work less hours.

And why shouldn’t they?  Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) claimed that Americans work too much – more than any other industrialized country in the world. And an ABC News report from last year agrees, stating we work “more than the English, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. Even, recently, more than the Japanese.”

The White House argues that, because of Obamacare, people can finally retire and leave jobs they don’t wany, but have been locked into for health insurance reasons. The line goes that Obamacare empowers people to pursue their dreams. 

Personally, this makes sense to me. I just graduated college and am figuring things out. During this time and for the next few years, I can stay on my parents’ healthcare because of Obamacare. The goal is to choose a career I really enjoy  now, and by the time I am 26 be better prepared to afford my own health care. I am not taking  government handouts or costing taxpayers money. I’m just figuring things out without the concern of whether I can afford a doctor’s visit. This will be better for my short term stress level and long term health.

Republicans do not agree people voluntarily leaving the workforce is a good thing. In a Forbes article, Grace-Marie Turner argued that the CBO report proves that Obamacare is a disincentive for people to work. “[How] can we pay people not to work and expect the economy to thrive?”

Whether healthcare is a form of payment, I’m not sure, but I’ll go with it.

In O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama that I discussed last week, O’Reilly claimed the biggest difference between the two of them was that O’Reilly was against a “nanny state” and the President thought  the government should solve people’s problems. This idea that people can gain healthcare without working as hard fits into that narrative.

I’d like to have a nice little bow-like paragraph to tie this article up with, but I don’t. While writing these posts, the most unsettling thing at times is not making a concrete decision. I’m learning, slowly but surely, to consider two sides an argument and being okay saying, “I don’t know .” I’m learning, especially today, that more than one person can actually be right – it’s not just a cute idea.

As I’m writing this the White House announced that the employer mandate will be delayed again. Even from the middle, one thing is sure: this conversation is not over.

Considering Bill O’Reilly’s Superbowl Interview

Each year, on Super Bowl Sunday, the President grants an interview to the network airing the big game. Since that channel was Fox this year, Bill O’Reilly conducted a 10 minute pre-game interview with the President.

Much like Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck, I’ve never dedicated a lot of time to understanding Bill O’Reilly. He is objectively combative, often arguing with his guests. Those who watch him love this about him, and his critics (me) detest it.

For those who haven’t seen the interview, let me try and summarize it.

O’Reilly begins by saying he wants to get the President “on the record” about a few things. He then asks about the botched healthcare roll out, Benghazi, and an IRS scandal. The President replied by saying they tried to fix the healthcare.gov website as fast as possible, called Benghazi an act of terror the day after the attack, and there is no IRS scandal.

Many commented  on O’Reilly’s interrupting, with one newspaper reporting it happening 42 times in 10  minutes. Many headlines included  President Obama’s criticism that scandals keep arising because Fox keeps bringing them up.

With that summary, I will try to consider the whole interview from the middle.

In days leading up to the interview, O’Reilly said he wanted to be “precise” and ask poignant questions that wouldn’t let the President speak too long. Pundits, especially O’Reilly, do not usually have one-on-one  interviews with the President, so he wanted to keep control of the 10 minutes he had. And yes, our President has been known to struggle with short answers (see the first debate with Mitt Romney). So from O’Reilly’s view, he wanted to keep the President on point. I can sympathize with that.

Now on to the point that O’Reilly was trying to stick to. Not being a regular O’Reilly viewer myself, the questions kind of confused me. Healthcare.gov rolled out 4 months ago, the IRS story broke about 9 months ago, and the embassy in Libya was attacked 17 months ago. Each of these subjects have had their own separate hearings. Why bother talking about them?

First of all, further research proved I was wrong. It seems congress, and particularly House Republicans, are reintroducing the IRS scandal. So that question makes more sense.

As to the other questions, Fox News analyst, Howard Kurtz, hypothesized as to why O’Reilly asked what he did. CNN aired an exclusive interview with President Obama the Thursday and Friday before. This interview was longer, and more in depth. As Kurtz points out, “CNN’s Jake Tapper…asked solid questions but made little news.”

Sensational questions sell. Long interviews do not.

There may be another reason besides ratings why O’Reilly legitimately thinks the President hasn’t discussed the other “scandals” before: O’Reilly might watch Fox News and/or MSNBC.

A new study shows that those who watch Fox News as their primary news source actually know less about national and international events than those who watch no news. MSNBC viewers also knew less than the news-less about international events, although do a little better on national events.

These news stations are fun to watch for us political nerds. However, they not only polarize us, they don’t seem to keep us informed very well, liberal or conservative.

I will say this post was kind of hard. I had to work not to jump down O’Reilly’s throat as he kept interrupting the President. Looking for his point of view took more time than anything else so far. This project of impartiality is way more time consuming than I thought! It began with attempting to watch the interview without bias, and then hours looking for answers to the question “Why did he do that?”

What did you think of the interview? Do you think there is a place for biased news channels in our media?

Considering Social Media

sirius-xm-twitter-politics

I recently read an article titled 8 Things Your Brain Does Wrong Every Day. The article states that “we naturally gravitate towards things that we agree with or that reinforce our existing beliefs.” This is never more apparent than when using social media.

Everyday we friend, follow, and add people to our networks who we know will validate our ideas. Transversely, we hide and unfollow those who challenge those ideas.  Even which “news”  channel we watch – Fox or MSNBC? –  shows bias. We gravitate towards what we already agree with.

With that in mind, I decided to begin my impartiality experiment by purging my Twitter Feed and Facebook Timeline of bias. Mainly, this meant unfollowing liberal media outlets. Like most people, I use Twitter for most of my minute-to-minute news. Early yesterday I began unfollowing A LOT of my social network.

I said goodbye to Mother Jones, MSNBC, Rachell Maddow, DCCC, and other “liberal” groups. As I went along, determining whether groups were “liberal” or not became more difficult. Certain news outlets (Huffington Post, Buzzfeed) and journalists (Paul Krugman) were confusing. Biased or not? Other hard ones were Planned Parenthood and the Brady Campaign (A group pushing for stronger gun control legislation). These are nonprofits that liberals support, but does following them show a liberal bias? 

Simply unfollowing the questionable users seemed like the best answer, except for one problem: Purging people from my timeline was really hardI began to feel extremely guilty. By unfollowing “my network” am I revoking support and not being true to them and subsequently myself? I realized my political affiliations have become a huge part of who I am. Stupid as it sounds, I felt like I was denying a part of my identity by removing people I believed in from my newsfeed. 

This stressful response surprised me. I did not expect to care that much about the purge. This was a testament to how much I identify with my social media. The irony, of course, is that none of these people know I exist, let alone care whether I am following them or not.

After tearing of the band aid, I think I was able to remove all bias from Twitter. I kept most the news outlets, but removed the political pundits and columnists. I kept following both Republican and Democratic politicians, although I may decide to unfollow them later.

I forgot to check, but I would guess I unfollowed about 15-20% of my newsfeed. I used my new Twitter feed during the Super Bowl, and I didn’t seem to miss  anything – even caught Hilary Clinton’s Fox News zinger! Twitter honestly kind of seems less cluttered, but that could be my imagination.

I’ll update soon to talk about how I feel about my new unbiased Twitter feed.

Do you think purging Social Media of bias is a good idea? Would you ever do it? Let me know!

Considering Mitt

mitt-netflix__131209205343-275x407

The inspiring spark for this experiment and subsequent blog was the movie, Mitt. I’ll dive into that surprisingly emotional experience in a moment. First, some background.

For those who don’t know, Mitt is a documentary that follows Mitt Romney from the 2008 campaign to the 2012 elections. The filmmaker was given unprecedented access during intimate Romney family moments throughout both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. The goal was to make this hard to relate to candidate relateable.

In 2012, I interned Obama headquarters from September until the election. I was fully immersed in the campaign during  the 47% video and all the debates. It was an exciting, emotional time in which I grew to deeply dislike this man, Mitt Romney.

Flash forward a year and a half later and I’m watching Mitt. Within minutes I found myself rooting for this guy I had worked to defeat in 2012. My change of role was unsettling. During the campaign the candidate was criticized for being clueless and out of touch, but he certainly didn’t come across that way in the hotel room with his wife. He, himself, thought President Obama and his administration were out of touch.

Then, the movie began to show some policy. It tried hard not to be political, but even so, I found myself sympathetic to Romney’s policies for the very first time. Even though I never really considered Romney a bad guy, I was suddenly realizing he may had even had some good ideas. And that concept was freaking me out.

I felt like watching some Daily Show just to remind myself why I was right and why it was  good that he didn’t win the election. No matter what I reminded myself about Binders Full of Women and 47%, I couldn’t get rid of a nagging thought: What if he was right… and Obama was right… what if neither of them were totally wrong?

This questioning led to more: What if we lived in a society where, after the election, President Obama appointed Romney as an economic adviser? Half the country voted for him. Is it really that crazy to have his ideas be part of the political discussion? And the answer is, for right now at least, yes, it is.

Have you watched Mitt? What did you think of it and/or the 2012 campaign in general?