Friday, November 29, 2013

"Corporations are People, my Friend"

As Mitt Romney so infamously said. But are they? Are corporations people? The right-tilting side of the Supreme Court seemed to say yes with the Citizens United case in which they deemed that corporations have free speech rights just like people. Furthermore, they decided, not only are corporations people for the purposes of politics but money is the same as free speech.

Why do most people incorporate their businesses? Well, when my friends and I opened our pizza store, we became a Limited Liability Corporation for the purposes of insulating ourselves against the possibility of failure. We didn't want to be personally responsible for the debts left owing if the business went under, which a majority of small, new businesses do. The government wanted to encourage people to take chances on starting new businesses, which are the lifesblood of the nation's economy, so they made incorporation a way to eliminate the fear that if the company went down the toilet, the owner's personal lives wouldn't be flushed right along with it.

So, corporations were given special privileges that real people don't have but, in return, the owners of the corporation lost some rights too. The company now had to put their personal feelings aside and abide by the laws that dictate what corporations may and may not do.

At least, they have been until now. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that deal with the right of corporations to dictate their employees health care decisions on religious grounds. The Affordable Care Act requires that businesses must provide contraception to their female employees. In the first case, Sebelius v Hobby Lobby, the company objects to providing its employees with certain forms of contraception that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus (the sponge, the morning after pill, IUDs), which it considers abortion. In the smorgasbord of family planning choices, the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, picks and chooses for itself what it does and does not approve of. A lower court favored Hobby Lobby.

In the second case, the Mennonite-owned Conestoga Wood Specialties, Inc. does not want to provide its employees with any type of birth control. The lower court sided with the government in this case.

Now the Supremes must sort it out. Will the same justices who declared that corporations are people for purposes of politics consider them people whose religious consciences must be honored?

In 1990, Antonin Scalia pooh-poohed the idea that Native Americans who were terminated for smoking peyote as part of a religious ceremony should be reinstated. It will be curious to see if he feels the same about providing contraception - or is it only his own religion which deserves such deference?

If the court's ruling is, once again, that corporations are people, where is the bottom of that slippery slope? Can a Muslim corporation mandate that its employees pray five times a day, while bowing to the east? Can it order its female employees to wear burkas while at work? Can a Jewish corporation insist that its employees not bring pork into the company cafeteria? Can a company owned by Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to pay for blood transfusions? Do those Indians fired for smoking peyote get their jobs back?

My own opinion is that the Supreme Court made an enormous misjudgment in ever declaring corporations even remotely like people. Corporations exist simply for the purpose of commerce. They are unfeeling, emotionless entities, their existences are simply law-created words on paper. It is not against the law to "kill" corporations (about which, Mitt Romney himself should be very glad since Bain Capital killed many of them). At the point owners choose to take their businesses public, they too lose the right to religious and political freedom. That's not to say they can't contribute to organizations that promote political parties or churches, but they themselves must be neutral. They must follow the laws of the land....all the laws of the land.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Good-bye Mom

My mother died yesterday after a hard three years during which she began experiencing dementia that got progressively worse. I finally retired to stay home with her. She had quit driving and she could no longer be trusted to cook. She forgot where her clothes were. She filled sacks with stuff and begged me to take her "home" though she's lived here with me in this house for over 20 years. It was heartbreaking for both her and me. She was 94 years old.

When I think of my mother, I think of the quintessential American. She grew up on a homestead in Arizona, riding her horse to school in a railroad car. At every seat, an Anglo child sat with a Latino child, both learning the other's language. They traded homemade bread and white bean sandwiches for refried beans wrapped in tortillas. (Life was simpler than, huh? The Mexicans were the ones who'd been there the longest.) When my grandfather died, my grandmother abandoned the ranch and brought her five children back to Illinois. She went to school to become a nurse.

Economic times were still hard then. Mom, the oldest, went to work in a Chinese laundry at 14 and gave all her money to Grandma to help feed the family. She still managed to complete high school although it took her a couple of extra years. During the war, she was one of the original Rosie the Riveters, working in an aircraft plant while the men were fighting. When they returned, they said, "okay, you gals can go on home now," but women like Mom, who'd found financial independence said, "not so fast".

My father was a rolling stone, a genius with machinery. He never filled out an application but simply said, "give me a machine, a piece of metal and a blueprint, then tell me if you have a job for me." He always got the job but he never stayed long. He loved moving on and traveling in trains and staying in hotels. My whole childhood was a series of moves from one end of the country to the other and back again - Philadelphia and Birmingham, Cheyenne and L.A., Phoenix and Chicago and Denver.

Mom got a job everywhere we went. Finally, after years of following him, she began working for the Department of Defense and when he's said, "let's go," she said, "no." She spent the rest of her career working as a Quality Assurance Representative. She gave her total commitment to that job although, back then, women were often treated as second class citizens. Once she took a course with generals and other military higher ups. She got the best score but they told her, "you know, Janey, we just can't say that you beat out our best and brightest," so in the newsletter, it said, "General So and So gets high score in course."

I remember a Captain who told her during Vietnam, "we have a shortage of rifle stocks and we need them desperately. I'll get down on my knees if it means getting them early." Mom told him, he didn't have to get down on his knees, she would guarantee he got them by the requested date and he did. I recall her getting up in the middle of the night and going out in a snowstorm to approve a lot of parts the company needed to ship to make its payroll. When she retired, she lost hundreds of hours of leave she'd never taken.

People seem to hate the government now but Mom was always tremendously proud of working for the military of the United States.

The thing was though, when she retired and got a part-time job in a video store for minimum wage, she gave them the same level of commitment she'd given the Department of Defense. That work ethic was simply part of her nature.

And she was the same as a wife and mother. She was the kind of Mom who if you forgot until bedtime to tell her you needed cupcakes for the next day of school, you could go on to bed and go to sleep in absolute confidence that cupcakes would be waiting in the morning. If you brought home a puppy, then didn't live up to your vow to feed and water it, she would take care of it. If anyone needed a shoulder to cry on, they came to Mom. If they needed a meal, they came to Mom. She fed everything - orphan birds and kittens and puppies and people. If you came to my house and she found out your favorite was stuffed pork chops, every time you came, she'd have stuffed pork chops for you. All my friends called her Mom; all John's friends called her Grandma.

My father and I were shouters. When we argued politics, we yelled and cussed. I don't remember my Mom ever raising her voice in anger but Dad always used to say about her, "your mother is like a termite; she works from within" and it was true, in her own gentle but obstinate way, she would undermine your foundation until you collapsed.

She was a student of religion without a religion. She could quote the Bible to you as well as any preacher and the Koran as well. She had a large collection of Bibles - Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles, Amish Bibles and Mormon Bibles, Jewish Bibles - and she compared passages from one to another.  But her own faith boiled down pretty much to the Golden Rule and she came closer to abiding by it than anyone I knew.

She never missed registering to vote no matter how many times we moved. Even when her mental capacity was diminishing, she paid attention to the news and knew who she wanted to vote for. The last time, I had to help her press the buttons she wanted but she voted. She was always proud of her country, and especially the military she spent 30 years working for. The last few years left her aghast at how hateful and divided America had become. "What's happening to our country that we're all turning on one another?" she asked me. "I don't know, Mom, I guess its a phase we're going through."

She was a NASCAR fan and more especially, a Jimmie Johnson fan. One of the last things she asked me was, "did Jimmie win?"

Her last two months were especially bad. She always declared that she wasn't a quitter. "Sometimes, it's okay to quit, Mom," I told her, "just let it go and go kiss Daddy for me." They told me for four nights that she couldn't live 'til morning but in that quietly stubborn way she had, she defied their predictions.

She'd made her own arrangements long ago. She willed her body to the Indiana University Medical Center. "I'd like to make one more contribution before I go. How do we expect young doctors to learn if we don't give them the resources they need?" She wanted no memorial service nor any obituary. "Anyone who cared about me will know through you."

So, she left me with nothing much to do except cherish the memories of a very special lady.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Contrary to Popular Belief, I Don't Hate All Republicans

Over all, election night was a win in my eyes. My most passionate interest was in the Virginia's governor's race. Thank God, McAuliffe overtook Cuccinelli! The Cooch was my idea of the most unacceptable kind of candidate...way, way, way to the right, particularly on women's issues.

The polls indicated Chris Christie would win in a landslide in New Jersey and in fact, that's what happened. If I'd been a New Jerseyite, I'd have voted for his competition but I can live with Christie, who is a sensibly conservative Republican, willing to compromise when its in the best interests of his constituents.

Alabama was one I watched closely as an indicator for what is happening with the Republicans. I take it as a positive sign that the more moderate candidate beat the off-the-wall Tea Partyier. Bill De Blasio, an out and out liberal will take over as Mayor of New York City. That will be interesting to watch after the Bloomberg Years. I think Bloomberg was good for New York over all, though a little too Big Daddy for my taste.

Northern Colorado defeated a measure to secede from the rest of the state. This was largely a statement vote and nothing would have come of it but it failed even at that.

I didn't know enough about the candidates in Boston to have a favorite. At any rate, they are both Democrats. Detroit will have a white Mayor for the first time since 1994....and what a daunting job he will have. For one thing, the city is bankrupt (though whether bankruptcy is the best scenario for trying to heal Detroit's wounds is another issue). Secondly, since Republicans in Michigan have basically banished democracy, the people's choice won't have much power seeing as how Detroit is being run by a City Manager, appointed by the governor.

In New Jersey, along with Governor Christie, voters approved a $1 an hour increase in the state minimum wage - a win. Washington State rejected labeling foods containing GMO ingredients. I see this one as a loss. South Portland, Maine voted down the ban against an bringing tar sands oil through their city. Another loss. But Portland, and three Michigan cities (Lansing, Jackson, Ferndale) voted overwhelming to legalize small amounts of marijuana (this now makes 14 cities in Michigan that have done the same). Win.

Apart from the election, the Illinois House approved Marriage Rights for LGBT Americans. Soon, only the most solid of red states will still outlaw gay rights. Big win.

In every election, some go your way and some don't but I'm generally satisfied with the outcome of this oneelection.

I have often been accused of being a lemming, a sheeple (whatever the code word of the day happens to be), blind to the weaknesses of my own party...a hater of Republicans based on general principles.

Contrary to popular belief among my conservative Facebook friends, that has never been true. I would like nothing more than for the Republican party to go back to its roots as a socially moderate, fiscally conservative party. I think the country is way better off when there are two equally strong parties fighting it out. We, the people, are more likely to get good legislation and positive leadership when both sides have to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle.

But, in my view, the years of the ultra-right-wing Tea Party types have been disastrous for both the U.S. and the Republican Party itself. Their ultimate goal seems to bring down the government rather than to make it better. Rather then working together, they prefer to stonewall and obstruct. They seem to believe that preventing anything from happening is a positive outcome.

So, we've stumbled along from one economic catastrophe after another as they refused to enact legislation that would help the economy grow. The House keeps cutting back on the number of days they work. Why? Because they don't plan on doing anything....not immigration reform, not a farm bill, not a jobs bills, not an infrastructure bill. The Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives has been tremendously destructive for the entire country. Their main purpose appears to be conducting witch hunts and hearings that go nowhere, sequester, government shutdowns. They rule through the blackmail of fiscal cliffs and default.

They decided on their tactics to bring down Obamacare from Day One. It would be their main priority. Republican governors would refuse to set up their own exchanges, leaving it to the feds to do....a huge task when you're talking about 27 states. They would refuse to accept the funds to expand Medicare even if it left tens of thousands of their poorest citizens uninsured. They would decline to sponsor information programs to help their constituents learn about the Affordable Care Act, decline to hire navigators to assist people trying to discover how Obamacare would affect them. They would reject spending the money to improve the system. In fact, they wouldn't even discuss the changes they thought would make it better. They didn't want it to be better. They simply wanted it to fail.

The Tea Party Republicans have essentially engaged in democracy nullification. If they didn't like the choices made by the voters, they simply tried to go under, over and around those choices. They impeached Bill Clinton and they'd like to do the same with Obama. Don't like the way voters vote? Figure out ways to keep them from going to the polls or being allowed to vote once they get there. Redistrict yourself into non-competitive seats. Don't like the court's ruling on reproductive rights? Create restrictions that close down clinics or make having an abortion a traumatic and humiliating event for desperate women. Don't like gun laws? Make it a crime for federal agents to enforce them. These are the Constitutionalists who get to decide for themselves when the Constitution applies and when it doesn't.

It's not Republicans I is a certain breed of radical right-wing Republicans. So is this election the tiniest light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe. I hope so.