Tag Archives: politics

The Affordable Care Act

This seems like a good time to mention this again:

  1. I had cancer as a kid.  This was not my fault.
  2. I am now self-employed.
  3. A few years ago I moved to California, where I tried to buy private health insurance.
  4. I was denied, not because I couldn’t pay for it—I could—but because of a “pre-existing condition” (the childhood cancer).
  5. To repeat: I WAS WAVING MONEY AT THEM trying to buy health insurance. The response?  NO HEALTH INSURANCE FOR YOU! unless I switched careers (and specifically to something that would give me employer-based healthcare).
  6. I finally managed to find a solution, albeit a temporary one, that allowed me to buy private healthcare.  (My premiums are more than most of my friends’ car payments.  I pay more in healthcare costs than I do in rent.)
  7. This year, I got cancer again.

Given that the reality is that I was very close to not being able to get private health insurance AT ALL and now HAVE CANCER, The U.S. healthcare system—or lack thereof—for all practical purposes wanted to me either to (1) give up what I love doing for a living, (2) go bankrupt, or (3) die.  So, to anyone who frames the ACA as “removing choice:” here, have some childhood cancer, assholes.

The ACA isn’t perfect, but it beats what we’ve had.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules on DOMA, Prop 8

The Supreme Court today announced its decisions striking down DOMA and ruling that the proponents of Proposition 8 did not have the standing to have put the case before them.

Salient notes:

  • The decision on Proposition 8 returns the case to the lower courts’ decisions, which both struck down the law.  This means, barring future complications, that same-sex marriage will be legally restored in California.  It does not, however, make any statement about overall constitutionality regarding bans of same-sex marriage. Edited to add: Reading the decision indicates that the lack of standing ruling vacated the decision of the Ninth Circuit.  The district court also struck down Prop 8, however, so I think that should still make same-sex marriage legal in CA going forward?
  • As much as I would have liked to see a wider ruling, in a way, I kind of love that SCOTUS told the people bringing the case that they didn’t have standing to do it.  It’s like what I always say about same-sex marriage: why do you people care so much?  Nobody’s going to force you to marry someone of the same sex; why are you putting so much effort into this?  And SCOTUS effectively just told those petitioners they were sticking their noses where they didn’t have the legal standing to!
  • From what I’ve read, the only part of DOMA before the courts was the part about federal benefits.  The rest of the law still stands, I believe, including the part about states not being required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states (this part of the law was not being challenged in this court case).  But now federal benefits will have to be extended to legally-married same-sex couples.  (I wonder if this will be applied retroactively back through to the Massachusetts decision ten years ago?  If so, a lot of people are going to get hefty tax refunds.)
  • Both decisions were 5-4, but with different breakdowns.

This is about what I expected to happen from reading analyses of the cases, but I’m still ridiculously happy about it.

Diversity at Wharton

At my sister’s graduation Sunday, they flashed up on a screen the name and city of origin for each student in the roll call.

My mother and I were both very impressed at the number of international students.  There were students from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Malaysia, Luxembourg, Canada, and Japan.  We saw Colombia, Australia, and Singapore more than once, and quite a few students came from China, Taiwan, India, or Turkey.

The gender ratio appeared to be about 50/50.  And even among the American students the diversity was staggering.  We saw a huge number of South and East Asian-American graduates, a decent group of African-American Whartonites, and quite a good chunk of Hispanic names.  In fact, the class was far, far more diverse than the statistics for America as a whole.[1]  And as far as I could tell, every (or almost every) name called as winning a student award—for leadership, for philanthropy, for general excellence—was the name of a POC, which means that not only does Wharton accept a large percentage of nonwhite people, but those people succeed there.

This isn’t affirmative action.  Wharton is probably the most exclusive business school in America; they would have no reason to dilute their student body in order to be more diverse than the American population, when simply coming close to the demographic curve would allay any criticism.

I kept thinking that if this were a movie, the extras would never have been cast with this much diversity.  Yet here it was in real life.

The other reason I find all this notable is that Wharton is arguably releasing the world’s future CEOs and other business leaders into the world.  This is a group often identified as coinciding with Republican party ideals, and yet, as seen in the 2012 election, the GOP has a long way to go in attracting the votes of nonwhite citizens and women who are swayed by concerns other than their tax liabilities.  If the Wharton graduation is any indicator, the face of business in America might be changing, and political powers would do well to take note.

  1. The official statistics for the Wharton Class of 2013 show that it’s a bit over a third international students, that the U.S. students are a third nonwhite (meaning the class entire is probably more like half nonwhite), and that almost half the class is women.

Never Learn About Your Heroes — On Ben Carson

I’m sure we’ve all had this experience: there are people we admire, maybe actors or musicians who brings art to life in a way that monumentally connects with us, but when we make the mistake of looking them up, they disappoint us.  Maybe they cheated on their spouses, or committed tax evasion, or voted for the “legitimate rape” guy, or said something racist—or maybe they’re just dull people.  Whatever the reason, we quietly close the tab and swear we won’t look up our heroes ever again.

Well, I just had an odd and unlooked-for case of this happen.  You see, when I was a kid, I heard Ben Carson speak.

It was a national science competition where I was a contestant.  I had never heard of him before I heard him speak, and to be honest, not being in the medical profession myself I’d forgotten his name until he came up in the news last week.  The reason I remember him and his speech after so many years is that he was amazing.

He talked about his mother making him read, and what a difference it had made.  He talked about how obsessed he had been with College Bowl in high school, in such a dorky way that we all fell in love with him—he had set his sights on being in it, diligently studying every category, becoming obsessed with classical music and opera so he would be able to answer those questions.  His family only had the money for one application fee, and he chose Yale instead of Harvard, he said, because Yale had won the College Bowl that year and he didn’t, y’know, want to go to a school of losers!  (We laughed.  He was adorable and self-deprecating.)  And then he matriculated at Yale and they canceled the College Bowl that year.  We aww’ed in sympathy.

(He described using his knowledge of classical music and opera in a job interview many years later.  That stuck with me for some reason.)

He moved on and talked about medicine and science.  He asked us all to raise our hands if we remembered when our birthdays were, and in a burst of rapid technobabble listed the entire process that had just happened in our brains from the moment we heard his question.  (And then he apologized to the poor stymied ASL translator.)  He talked about the extraordinary science, the extraordinary emotions, that had gone into his surgery separating the conjoined twins.  He excited us and moved us.

I heard him speak many years ago now, and he’s one of the few speakers I heard as a teenager that I even remember, let along recall with such excitement.  I wish I’d kept that memory the way it was, a shining anecdote from childhood, a person whose life intersected mine ever so briefly with no other context.

Then Dr. Carson came up in the news recently.  Apparently he’s a rising conservative star, and commentators listed enough biographical details that I thought, “Wait a minute . . . !”, looked him up, and realized he was the same person I’d heard speak so long ago as a kid.

You know, the fact that I disagree with him on . . . everything . . . is not the problem.  I respect plenty of people I disagree with.  Yes, the fact that he seems to have little clear understanding of any science outside his own—he doesn’t believe in evolution!—makes me want to cry . . . but then I read his remarks comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia.

There’s a difference between disagreeing with me and saying—that.  I can’t, guys.  I just can’t.

How can someone be so inspiring and yet fail so entirely as a human being?

Equality. There’s No Downside.

I just wrote quite a long post that I’m going to save for another day, because, no, I have to talk about the marriage equality stuff that’s going on right now.

I don’t have anything new to say, really.  All I can do is comment on how, in my lifetime, I’ve never seen this staggering and steady a reversal of public opinion, this fast.  How it’s knocking the wind out of me a little bit, this tsunami of support rising in the nation—in a good way, in a really good way, like I’m on a carnival ride swooping so fast it’s taking my breath away.

Half my Facebook is filled with red equal signs.  Friends are passing me their phones to show me tweets from George Takei or sharing pictures of celebrities sporting supportive slogans.  In the news, Senate Democrats are flocking to support marriage equality in droves, and Republican lawmakers are mostly silent.  Companies—private corporations!—are bursting out all over the place in support of gay rights.

I’m getting the distinct feeling some of the politicians are scrambling because they don’t want to be remembered as being on the wrong side of history.  To which I say: Good. That’s how you should feel.  That’s how we, your constituents, should make you feel.  Like this is inevitable, like the power of public outrage will topple the bigotry of legislation banning same-sex marriage until a generation hence it’s viewed with the same scandal and shame as miscegenation laws.

Marriage equality isn’t the be-all end-all for LGBTQ rights, of course.  We still have a long way to go—after all, look at all the entrenched institutional attitudes with regard to race and sex still persisting an entire half a century after we passed the Civil Rights Act.  Making same-sex marriage legal won’t automatically make everyone treat it as normal—won’t necessarily make everyone treat gay people as normal.  It won’t solve bullying, bigotry, or stereotyping; won’t convince religions to accept and embrace their gay parishioners; won’t stop families from judging and rejecting their gay children; won’t convince America that gay relationships aren’t any more scandalous than straight ones.  It won’t stop some lawmakers from continuing to try to pass sneakily bigoted laws.  It won’t stop television shows and movies from portraying gay people poorly or invisibly.  It won’t solve the mess our society makes of embracing everyone else on the QUILTBAG spectrum.

But you know what?  It’s a step.  And it will be the rectification of an injustice that has already gone on for far too long.

Monopolies and Powerlessness

For the work I do in Hollywood, there is a certain industry directory I have to be in (“have to” meaning, “massively professionally hindered if I refuse”).  It’s a terribly run service, but the fact that everyone uses it means everyone must use it.

In particular, I recently found one of the service’s billing policies to be disingenuous bordering on fraudulent.  Which, you know, made me mad.  So I wrote a strongly worded letter to them telling them so.

I hit “send” on the email, and immediately felt a frisson of apprehension.  Because this particular directory?  I need them way more than they need me.  I may be a paying customer, but them dropping me from their service would be a far worse outcome for me than me leaving the service would be for them.  Other directories exist, but the fact that it’s an industry standard gives this one a de facto monopoly.

So I started to get a little bit nervous about having sent that letter, and that got me even angrier.  Because I shouldn’t feel like I can’t complain about terrible-bordering-on-fraudulent billing practices.  I shouldn’t feel like I can’t speak up when a service I am paying for makes me unhappy.  It’s bad enough that I have to pay money to a service I don’t like because of the other people who use it rather than because the service itself is well-run, that I have to accept an absolutely frustrating user experience and a badly put together system—but to feel powerless on top of it, to feel like there’s any reason I can’t or shouldn’t speak up, is awful.

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Support Aaron’s Law

Those of you who have been following my blog posts about Aaron Swartz, please consider going to Demand Progress’s website and expressing your support for Aaron’s Law.  They have it set up so you can send a letter to your lawmakers with one click.

Here’s what Aaron’s Law would do:

  1. You know those license agreements you always click the “I agree” box next to on every piece of software ever?  Right now if you accidentally break one of those, it’s a felony.  The proposed law would decriminalize such violations; instead those agreements would be treated as contracts, with any disagreements handled in civil court (as they should be).
  2. There’s also a request to the Oversight Committee to open an investigation into possible prosecutorial misconduct in the Aaron Swartz case.

Demand Progress has a lot more detail on both these points, and it only takes a few seconds to register support for this law.  Please consider doing so!

Redefining Language, and a Culture That Invites Prosecutorial Overreach

I’m still blogging about Aaron Swartz.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I heard news of his death and started reading about his case is how successfully American culture has demonized people who believe in freedom of information.  I can’t believe our societal condemnation of copyright infringement as THEFT THEFT THEFT! isn’t what enabled the U.S. Attorney to go after Aaron like she smelled blood.

I am not disinterested in the intellectual property debate, personally, professionally, or financially: I work in film, and I make my money off people paying for creative endeavors.  I believe in freer information because I believe it’s better for creators and better for society, that artists will earn more money and have greater longevity for their work in a freer culture, that the public sphere will benefit from the dissemination and mixing of ideas and knowledge encouraged by greater freedom of information.

I have these opinions because I’ve read extensively on the subject and come to a decision on what attitudes toward intellectual property I feel are appropriate and beneficial.  I’m very reasonable about my opinions.  I am happy to discuss the ramifications of less stringent reservations of rights and why this might or might not work for different business models, I enjoy discussing statistics and studies, and I don’t accuse anyone who believes in more stringent copyright of DESTROYING SOCIETY!!1 or what have you.

And yet.

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On the Penny: Let Go, America. Let Go.

The United States of America has been in an economic crisis.  It seems like if we could make a small change that would save us hundreds of millions of dollars per year, we’d do that, right?

And yet we refuse to abolish the penny.

The U.S. loses almost $60 million per year from minting the penny (which shouldn’t happen; the government usually makes money from producing currency), even more from transporting and distributing pennies, and between $300 million and $1 billion in the cost of employee time wasted on pennies.

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Conversations About Gun Control

Whenever a tragedy involving firearms hits America, my Facebook lights up with two types of messages.

The first type is of the, “This is why nobody should be allowed to own a gun” variety.

The second is, “This is why more people should be armed.”

And then the vitriol starts to fly.  And I’m left thinking, “This is madness.  We’re all starting from the same place. Nobody wants dead children.

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