Thought you might enjoy seeing this video whipped up by Mrs. Jack. Look sharp, we’re both in there.
As the holiday season approaches, I’m keenly aware of the toll taken on my family by the political climate in the United States. My Republican/Religious Right Conservative brother will once again boycott the family gatherings due to his anger at our mother, Mrs. Jack, and me for voting for Barack Obama and his concerns, fueled by Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, that the anti-Christ is riding in on a wave of Democrat-inspired socialism. What a bunch of crap!
What is going on in our country? Why is “The Right” doing everything in its power to turn everyday Americans against each other like no time since the Civil War? I think it is very simple: Divide and conquer. While they keep pouring gasoline on the fires of disagreement between the various groups of society, they are helping Big Business, Big Banking and Big Insurance continue to take advantage of us by tying up any legislation that would enforce regulation and rein them in. It’s the oldest tactic in the book. Distract somebody while you pick their pocket.
The Republicans have very successfully used this strategy since the election of Richard Nixon to turn their minority status into a winner in more elections than they have lost. They have stirred the pot of racial hatred in The South. They have stirred up homophobia in the rural portions of our country. And they have made major hay out of the abortion debate. The Republican Party should call itself the party that calls for the founding of The Divided States of America, because that’s exactly what they are doing. And their influence—at least where I live—is doing just that. They are dividing neighbor from neighbor and sibling from sibling as well as child from parent. I see it in my community and in my family. The party of “family values” should be ashamed of themselves.
A lesbian friend of mine handed me a letter she had received from Michael Steele and the RNC asking for her support to “STOP the Obama agenda.” The letter rambled repetitively on for four whole pages asking for donations and issuing bold-face warnings against the “radical socialist agenda” that is being perpetrated by the Obama Administration. It also made the outlandish claim that “liberal media propaganda” says that “The entire country supports Obama’s agenda.” Those words are taken directly from the letter. I thought that was particularly rich considering the last telephone town hall meeting “staged” by my Republican Congressman, Kevin Brady, would have me believe that 100% of the callers did agree with his ideas even though he carried only 75% of the district. The letter from Mr. Steele was laced with misrepresentations and inflammatory language to stir up those who do disagree with progressive ideas for the future direction of our country. But not even the word “liberal” is deemed adequate and sinister enough for the Republicans; they have fast forwarded the rhetoric to “socialism,” and not just any socialism, but “radical socialism.” BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID!
What this does is stir up the fears of an older generation that lived through the great worldwide conflicts between The West (the U.S. and its allies) and The East (the now defunct Soviet Union). It urges “people like you to stand up and make it clear that you are not ready to see the United States turned into a European-style socialist state by Obama and the Democrats.” You know, being gay, I’ve seen a lot of drama queens in my day, but this ranks up there among the most dramatic. While there is no proof of any kind to back up such an accusation, the RNC is completely willing to put it out there in order to stir up the uninformed and take their money to fill the campaign chest so the RNC can stop something that isn’t even real.
What is going on is the same thing that has been going on for longer than I probably even know about–pure politics. A powerful, rich group of entities are stirring up trouble among the uninformed masses for their own gain. They throw in a cup of fear of socialism, a cup of religious sanctimony, and a heap of distortions to distract people from their own agenda of allowing big business of every kind unregulated reign over the rest of us. And they are stirring up the very people who are most angry at big business by pretending to care about their issues when they don’t care at all.
First, let’s talk about abortion. After Republicans occupying the White House for 30 of the past 39 years, it is still perfectly legal to get an abortion in America. For many of those years, especially under Bush II, the Republicans even had control of both Houses of Congress, yet nothing was done to help the anti-abortion movement in this country. Now, that issue is being trotted out one more time by the same crowd to kill health care reform. Let me state as emphatically as I can, unless there is an issue of the mother’s possible death, I am AGAINST abortion. Most liberals feel the same way. HOWEVER, I am equally AGAINST the right of THE STATE to make that decision for women. That is a personal decision to be made by a pregnant woman and her doctor—and nobody else! It seems that the same people who are against THE STATE making health care decisions for them, are the moving force in pushing THE STATE to make a decision about someone else’s health care choices. I am amazed that anyone could be so unthinking as to rank the health care of a member of their own family—a child, a husband, a wife, a parent—behind a concern for what some stranger is doing in their life.
Okay. Okay, so you don’t like to have your tax dollars go to help some woman get an abortion. I understand that, because I don’t like to see my tax dollars go toward blowing up women and children in faraway lands under the guise of justifiable warfare, but I didn’t get a choice in that. That choice was made for me by my government under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. I also don’t want to pay for a bridge to nowhere in Alaska just because some Republican Senator has the power to get it built, but a Republican Congress okayed it anyway. Perfection is an aspiration, not a result. And anyway, what I would really like to see in the publicly funded abortion debate is some statistics on how many “welfare mothers” get abortions at taxpayer expense as opposed to well-heeled suburban women and teenagers who get their insurance companies to pay for them. I have a feeling those numbers would be particularly revealing. The way I remember it in my teen years once I was aware of such things and abortion was illegal in America, well-heeled white folks who attended church and were considered respectable members of society would fly their daughters to faraway lands at great expense to get their “little social embarrassment” taken care of, and women of less means sought out dangerous, illegal back-alley operations to help them with their decision. Just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
That brings me to my own personal favorite: gay rights. What is the problem here? When I was a toddler, there were indications that I might be gay. It wasn’t about sexual desire; it was about how I perceived myself. And when I came out to my parents in my late 30s, they both said they had known it since I was a toddler but didn’t know what to say back in the 50s, so they let it go and let me come to my own “decision” about it. You may wonder how they would have known that I was gay. Maybe it was because I used to drag around a baby doll that I doll-napped from an aunt who was four years older. Maybe it was because I was always putting on my aunts’ can-cans and twirling around like Loretta Young when visiting my grandma’s house. Maybe it was because I had “crushes” on boys and men when I didn’t even know about sex. I was GAY. There was no choice. That’s just who I was. Of course, society imposed certain expectations upon me that dictated that I hide that part of myself in order to succeed, so I did until I was 38 years old. BUT I was GAY!
This is an issue of religious freedom: not the freedom to impose your religion on me, but my freedom to agree with your religion or not. Your religion is a club you belong to, and when you don’t even invite me to join, how could you possibly believe you have the right to impose your religious rules upon me, a non-member?
This story is one told by countless numbers of my friends and acquaintances in the gay community. They knew from childhood that they were different way before they knew about being “gay.” Many have also reported that their families have expressed their lack of surprise when they came out. Whatever it is that causes us to be different from heterosexuals is there long before puberty brings sex into the equation. But like with all teenagers, puberty brings complications and emotional baggage that must be dealt with, and whether “straight” or gay, those issues often follow us through our lifetimes. But for a bunch of egotistical politicians to take advantage of ignorance and use us as whipping boys (and girls) for their personal advancement is shameful. This is an issue of religious freedom: not the freedom to impose your religion on me, but my freedom to agree with your religion or not. Your religion is a club you belong to, and when you don’t even invite me to join, how could you possibly believe you have the right to impose your religious rules upon me, a non-member? Now, them’s fightin’ words, pardner! Get out of my bedroom and tend to your own.
But that being said, it is even more wrong for politicians to exploit religion for their personal advantage, and that’s exactly what they are doing. They are getting a bunch of people to put the hatred of me ahead of doing what is in their own self interest, in the most current case, gaining access to healthcare for themselves and their loved ones. The party of “family values” is doing what it can to keep families out of the health care system unless they work at a job with health insurance benefits or buy their own, providing they don’t have some actual real need for health care which will disqualify them from purchasing private health insurance.
The other painful reality of all this is that my blog will not be read by my right-leaning brother or millions of others who are more interested in Sarah Palin’s latest revelations of her mistreatment, not only by the media, but by John McCain’s campaign staff. Instead they will be busy reading “Going Rogue,” watching FOX NEWS (NOISE), or listening to Rush Limbaugh as they sit in rush hour traffic escaping left-leaning, minority-run cities for the quiet comfort of mostly white, middle-class suburbia. Once there, they will begin the frantic life that they have left at the end of their long, frustrating days and wish that someone would do something to help them out. Unfortunately, they will most likely believe that Limbaugh, Palin, Beck, O’Reilly or Hannity really, really care about their problems and will ignore the REAL right-wing, pro-business agenda of the Republicans and keep on hating those who “drove” them out of the cities and onto congested freeways: minorities and gays, otherwise known as socialists.
As Sunny and Cher sang way back in the 60’s of my high school days, “And The Beat Goes On!”
I’m Jack, I am who I am, and I’m hitting back!
With Liberty and Justice for ALL!
Over 35 years ago when I started court reporting school in Houston, a professor from the University of Houston Law Center came over and taught us a rudimentary course on law so that we would not take our Perry Mason belief system into the courtroom with us upon graduation. It embarrasses me to admit that due to my advanced age (LOL) I have forgotten his name and have been unable to find him through the Internet in order to give him proper credit for his sharpie and mullet analogy. But if you’re out there Professor, thank you for this knowledge. When we moved from the study of criminal law, where only official reporters work, into civil law, where both official and freelance reporters work, he told us that the world was divided into two groups: sharpies and mullets. He went on to explain that in spite of our egos telling us otherwise, the vast majority of us are mullets. While I hate to think of myself as being a mullet, all too often in life since then I have awakened to find that, indeed, I have been feasted upon by a sharpie.
The analogy goes like this. There are the sharpies of the world who prey upon the mullets by unfair business practices and outright fraud, and the only real recourse that the mullets have is to go out and hire their own sharpie—this would be a plaintiff’s attorney—in order to get back that which was stolen. This is the basis of “tort law.” You injure me in some way, physically, financially, socially or mentally, and I sue you to get compensation for my “damages.” The old model for business practices that I always heard in my growing up years was, “Let the buyer beware.” That was it. If you got taken by someone, it was your fault for letting it happen. But despite the desires of “strict constructionists,” societies evolve and their legal needs evolve with them. After the financial carnage caused by the robber barons of the late 19th century, the courts and slowly the government responded to the robbing of everyday citizens by beginning to hold the rich and powerful more accountable for their actions. Then came the Wall Street crash of 1929, which plunged the nation and the world into a financial hole that we seem to be mirroring today. Greed and unreasonable expectations of the bankers and the investor class have now led us to the same precipice. And like 1929 the response of the guilty parties is, “We can handle this ourselves, so get out of our business,” ignoring the fact that their “business” is all over our business.
In much the same vein, the big insurance companies of the U.S. are pulling no punches to keep the government out of their lucrative business. “Let the buyer beware,” they shout. “We have the greatest health care system in the world,” they warn. And then they slip in the little booby trap that they want to hide under the roadway: tort reform. Now, much is made of the “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits that are filed “every day” in our court systems. What is not made much of is the fact that the refusal of the malpractice insurance carriers to come honestly and reasonably to the table and compensate patients who have indeed been injured by a doctor’s all-too-human mistake is the cause of disputes coming to court in the first place. Come on, we all make mistakes. That is one of the reasons that we carry liability auto insurance, so that our all-too-human mistake doesn’t bankrupt someone that was injured in our accident. The auto insurance industry pelts us with never-ending ads about being in good hands with our good neighbor who will save us money as well as peace of mind when we take to the road. Yet the selfsame companies, over in their medical malpractice divisions, pelt their customers, doctors, with a barrage of scare tactics about how patients and lawyers are out to get them. No offer of peace of mind there.
What’s the game? It’s the sharpies, dear mullets, doing what they do to manipulate everyone to give them what they want: a limit to their liabilities on all claims. That’s right. ALL CLAIMS! A few years ago when the insurance companies successfully campaigned for and won a “tort reform” constitutional amendment in an off-off-year election here in Texas, they ran countess ads on TV about how difficult it was for pregnant Texas women to get an OB-GYN because they were all leaving the field due to high malpractice insurance premiums. Well, this was big winner here in “family values” Texas. There was hardly a breath of opposition as their rescue of OB-GYNs also rescued the insurance carriers from all sorts of punitive damages assessed by Texas juries.
What are “punitive damages,” many of you will ask. They are an assessment of monetary punishment for bad faith performance by a person or company who knowingly causes damages and doesn’t seem to care. Many years ago in Corpus Christi, TX, I worked on a case that I think of as the poster child of the need for punitive damages. One evening a couple of beautiful 19-year-old girls were returning from Corpus Christi to their homes in the suburb of Calallen, Texas, in their late-model American-made sub-compact car. One of them spilled her soft drink, and they pulled over to the improved shoulder of the two-lane street they were on to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, while tending to their clean-up, a drunk driver in a luxury sedan, mistaking their taillights for those of a moving vehicle plowed into the rear end of the smaller car, curling the rear-end of the car up over the passenger compartment, exploding the gas tank, and raining the flaming gasoline down on the girls, burning one to death on the spot and burning the other one so severely that she lay in a local hospital for a week before succumbing to her own injuries.
Now, this may seem like a simple drunk-driver-hits-and-kills-someone scenario to many, and he got sent to prison for a long time for his actions. But there was another actor in this case, the auto manufacturer. Without naming names, there was widespread knowledge among the people and many news reports about the propensity of a certain model of car made by a certain American automobile manufacturer to blow up when hit from behind. What came out in the investigation of this case by attorneys hired by the girls’ families was startling. First, all models of that manufacturer’s cars had the same design flaw and were in danger of blowing up as a result of a rear impact. Second, in the course of getting records from the files of the auto maker, a damning set of memoranda were found. The memoranda were between the board of directors, the engineering department, and the legal department. In the end they showed that the engineering department estimated that it would cost $125 million to perform a recall and fix the defect, and the legal department assured the board of directors that they could defend any lawsuits against them for less than $125 million. The board of directors, acting on this advice, refused to recall the defective vehicles. In other words, they decided to weigh their monetary loss against the loss of life that might result from their negligent design, and like most big business, they chose the bottom line.
When the jury of 12 ordinary people in a Corpus Christi courtroom came back with their verdict, they sent a strong message to the auto maker: Not to our children in our community. They assessed punitive damages in the amount of $126 million dollars against the auto maker. The verdict was breathtaking in its size, but it told the corporation’s board of directors that life is more important than money and expressed what I consider to be the legitimate outrage of everyday people that a big American corporation that we trust with our lives and safety everyday could act so cavalierly. During the resulting appeal process, the auto maker settled for about half of that punitive damage assessment, but still never ordered a recall on the faulty vehicles. In case you’re wondering what the defect was, it was very simple. The mounting bolts for the rear bumper, which were long and unprotected on the back, were pushed into the gas tank upon impact causing a metal-on-metal spark and igniting the gasoline inside. KABOOM!
Of course the insurance industry has been in a state of outrage ever since this happened and fought long and hard to get laws changed to protect them from similar outcomes, regardless of the actions of their clients. And of course, with the other hand they have raised the premiums in response to jury verdicts, keeping their bottom line virtually unchanged. That brings me to another case that is not about punitive damages, but just everyday people being denied compensation from their insurance company after faithfully paying their premiums for years.
This case was reported by me in Federal Court in Oxford, Mississippi. During the recession of the late 1970’s Mississippi residents were hit hard. A working family from Oxford lost their jobs and decided the only way to hang onto everything they owned was to come down to Baytown, Texas, and work in an oil refinery until things turned around back home. The husband and wife as well as their son worked at the refinery in Texas to make ends meet, trying to maintain their mortgage and insurance payments on their home in Mississippi, while paying rent down here. One week night, their Oxford home burned to the ground. They made a claim on their home-owners policy and were denied by their insurance company, a big national company which will remain nameless. In order to collect on the insurance policy they had paid all along, they had to sue in Federal Court because the insurance company’s headquarters were out of state.
I met these folks and the attorneys for both sides when I was employed on a freelance basis to go report the trial in Oxford. It seemed pretty cut and dried to me, but this is the week I learned how important a good lawyer can be. The attorney for the insurance company was from a big Atlanta, Georgia firm, and he was impressive in every possible way. He dressed in the most expensive suits, had an impressive movie-star quality smile, and was, no doubt about it, a very expensive, very excellent attorney. The poor blue-collar family from Oxford were represented by an older gentleman from the community who was in no way up to the task against the powerful and slick—yes, I said slick—opponent that he faced. As the evidence was presented, nothing came out that sent up any red flags about the family’s reputation. They were salt of the earth types, never had any brushes with the law, what we used to call “poor but proud” in my childhood days. They were also what is called “good Christians” by their friends and neighbors. They bought insurance, paid the premiums, their house burned down, case closed.
Then Mr. Atlanta took the reins of the courtroom, and while never producing a single witness to corroborate his “theory” of the case, he began weaving in his questions a scenario where the family came from Baytown, Texas in the night and burned their house down. Despite the fact that time cards were produced showing them clocking out the evening of the fire and clocking back in on the morning after, Mr. Atlanta kept planting the seeds of arson in the jury’s minds. Since I lived in Mississippi at the time and had family in the Houston area that I visited, I knew that such a thing would be impossible, and expected the lawyer for the family to point this out, but he didn’t. After Mr. Atlanta argued in his closing that he believed the family had clandestinely returned in the night and burned their house down for the insurance money—which is perfectly legal for him to say in closing arguments, which are not considered “evidence”—the jury quickly returned a verdict in favor of the insurance company, leaving the family totally uncompensated for their loss.
I was outraged. As a court reporter, it would be unethical for me to tell the lawyer for the family what I knew about the driving time between Oxford and Baytown, or betray my feelings in the courtroom, so I kept my head down until I got back to the privacy of the staff offices. Once there, thinking I was out of public view, I ranted to the court clerk about my outrage at the miscarriage of justice I had just witnessed. Much to my embarrassment, she looked over my shoulder when I was finishing my rant, and I turned to realize that Mr. Atlanta was standing right behind me the whole time. He simply smiled at my naive, young face, and said, “It’s my job to make ‘em work for it.” He then turned and left. I realized that he was right, but the situation was in no way right. In an interesting after note to the incident, there was a clause in the insurance policy that protected the bank/mortgage holder against loss under any circumstances, so they were compensated for their loss, but the nice, hard-working family had lost their home and their possessions to a fire and then been cheated by their insurance company.
In one last example, I go back to Corpus Christi, Texas, where I reported a trial of a medical malpractice case. A young Hispanic father of four was taken to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. A local general surgeon performed the surgery, and after a few days in the hospital, and despite complaints of pain, the man was released to go home on a Friday. During the weekend his pain worsened, and his young wife called the doctor on several occasions to see what could be done. The surgeon initially told her to give him some aspirin, which she did. However, over the weekend, the pain became more and more severe. The wife called the doctor’s service several more times, and he returned the first of her calls and dismissed the patient’s pain. As the man’s pain became more and more excruciating , she continued to call the doctor’s office, getting his service where he had left a message for her to “just give it some time.” Exercising amazing patience, the wife waited until Monday afternoon to call the doctor’s office to report that her husband was literally doubled over with pain in his abdominal region. The doctor, by his own admission from the witness stand, had lost all patience with the woman and told her to take her husband to the emergency room and quit calling him.
That evening, upon returning to the ER at the hospital where the initial surgery had been performed, the man was observed to be doubled over in extreme unmanageable pain and upon examination was diagnosed to be suffering from necrotizing fasciitis at the surgical incision. Most folks, myself included before this case, have never heard of this little “bug” (typically Group A streptococcus) that lives in hospital operating rooms, but it is literally a killer. It eats away at the fascia level of skin (that’s underneath what’s visible to the eye), and at least back then was incurable. The young father of four died within 24 hours of his re-admission to the hospital.
Before the case came to trial, the hospital had already settled with the family for an undisclosed amount. For his part, the surgeon claimed no responsibility for the infection, and on the witness stand testifying for himself he was one of the coldest witnesses I have ever encountered. It was quickly apparent that he possessed no bedside manner whatsoever, and expressed not one whit of sympathy for the patient or his wife and children. Expert medical testimony presented by his attorney asserted that it was the hospital’s fault for not having a clean enough operating room, and that nothing the surgeon could have done would have saved the man’s life. While I agreed with the expert’s assessment of the case, I felt that the surgeon would be harshly dealt with by the jury. I, myself, thought the surgeon was a cold, unsympathetic, arrogant bastard. But the jury came to the right decision and found in his favor. In exit interviews, they expressed their disdain for the doctor, but agreed that it was not his fault.
This verdict does not mean that the suit filed by the family was frivolous. They had every right to question the surgeon’s culpability in the loss of their loved one, as does every other citizen in this country. The only way that the family could access the doctor’s records was to file a lawsuit, and had the surgeon’s insurance carrier settled the claim, the surgeon could have been spared being exposed as the heartless person that he was. I know that the next time I visited my family doctor, a man I trusted with my life, and a man with an excellent bedside manner, I instructed him to NOT under any circumstances allow the said surgeon to operate on me if the need should arise. My doctor assured me that he was both a competent and reliable surgeon, but to me his lack of any semblance of bedside manner ruled him out forever. I expect that most of the jurors and others who witnessed his testimony expressed similar opinions to their families and doctors. And as for the surgeon’s feelings about being hauled into court to answer for his actions, I have no sympathy for him whatsoever. He was cold and condescending to a poor woman who was trying to take care of her husband and the father of her children. So, to me, despite his lack of “malpractice,” he deserved what he got, a public exposure of his true character.
These cases are the most illustrative of those I saw from the court reporter’s chair over the years. There were many more. As a freelance reporter most of my career, I worked for attorneys on both sides of the docket. A good lawyer is worth his weight in gold, and a bad one should be run out of the profession, and sometimes they are. Local and state bar associations have the ability to suspend or revoke the license of attorneys who commit malpractice or unethically take advantage of their clients. I also have been the court reporter for such proceedings. These proceedings are held behind closed doors, but as the only outsider in the room, I can assure those who do not know, attorneys are very hard on each other in these meetings. They enforce their ethics to the greatest extent allowable.
So, why do we need tort reform? My view is that we don’t. A very nice doctor visited my site recently, and we have exchanged comments back and forth and I have visited his blog site. He asserts that much money is being wasted on “preventative medicine” to combat possible malpractice lawsuits. I agree. But I remember that every time I got out my Stenograph machine and went to work, I realized that the rights and liberties of others were literally in my hands. It was a great deal of pressure, and I felt it every day. But, as I told my students in the 14 years I taught court reporting, “That’s why we make the big bucks.” All professionals feel the pressures of their jobs, because they are doing important things that affect the lives of others. That’s why the educational requirements are so high and so many fail to make it through the educational process into the field. None of us would want to think that our doctor had graduated with a C-minus grade point average. The same is true for all professionals. Their training is rigorous and demanding so that they can learn to cope with the pressures they will face. But in the end, they, like the rest of us, are mere mortal human beings, and they are going to make mistakes. When in the jury box, we should remember that and be fair to them. I have seen this to be the case a great deal more often than not.
But the last thing any professional needs is some megalithic insurance company looking over his shoulder telling him how to do his job. The insurance companies of America should be ashamed of themselves for offering a product designed to relieve the stress of life, and then turning it into a weapon to scare up support for their refusal to do what they advertise they will do. It’s time for everybody to recognize that insurance companies are sharpies, and they are treating the rest of us like a bunch of mullets. For those of you who live in fear of malpractice lawsuits despite your best efforts, do your best, pay your premiums, turn off the noise and be happy. Pretend you’re in a convertible driving down a country road with the top down, oblivious to the fact that an expensive prize bull may be waiting around the next curve. If he’s there and you hit him, if he don’t kill you, you will kill him, and the rancher will expect your car insurance company to pay for his damages. But that’s only a maybe. Don’t let it ruin your drive.
Don’t let Big Insurance use you like a mullet to advance their agenda to deny health care insurance to those they want to exclude due to the bottom line. Don’t worry; be happy!
Thanks for hanging in there with me so long today.
I’m Jack, I am who I am, and I’m Hitting Back!
With Liberty and Justice for ALL!
A week ago today, yet another blue state enacted a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage forever! At least that’s the intent of such amendments to constitutions. So on a day that I really wanted to address the issue of tort reform that has been dragged by Republicans into the health care debate, I find once again that my attention is pulled by another attack on me and those like me. Whatever you may think of gay people, we are CITIZENS of the United States of America and our respective states. Most of us, like myself, were born here into families that go back to the days of The Colonies. Yet, there is a hateful group of people who has taken it upon themselves to marginalize us because we do not agree with their religious beliefs. Isn’t that why The Pilgrims came here to begin with? Of course, that knowledge could only be obtained by actually reading American History instead of listening to some meathead like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly. I guess that’s just too much to ask.
In the GLBT community, angst grows and threats are made to mount more demonstrations across the land to protest our ill treatment. However, judging from the media response to 200,000 GLBT citizens on The Mall in Washington, D.C. recently, I honestly don’t know how that’s going to help us much. And there are those in the movement who suggest that we should go and visit our elected officials in their offices and protest our treatment. While as late as two weeks ago I might have gotten excited about such a plan, I have noted in my recent contact with those who claim to be my representatives in Washington, that they are not in the least interested in anything that I have to say. Of course, they are a trio of Republicans, and I expected as much. But what about the Democrats? Where were they when people in Maine were abolishing our citizenship last Tuesday? As usual, they were AWOL! For those of you who are unfamiliar with that acronym, it is military-speak for “absent without leave.”
You know, it is bad enough that Republicans are cozying up to their extreme right-wing base in bashing us, but for me the feckless Democrats are far more offensive. Every two years they come before the gay community with their hats in their hands asking us to come out and vote for them, knowing full well that we don’t have much in the way of an alternative. And every two years we haul ourselves up, write blogs, become delegates to local, state and national Democratic conventions, work on campaigns and pour out our support and go vote for Democrats running for office only to be dismissed after the election. Now, this dismissal is not only coming from leadership within the Democratic Party; it is coming in dead silence and lack of support among the rank and file who enjoy the fruits of our labors when their candidates are elected, but fail to show up in support of their fellows when under attack. What are we doing?
For years the GLBT community has mocked and belittled The Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republicans. These folks just keep slogging away at the Republican Party by showing up at conventions and rallies only to be denied admission or participation. We shake our heads at their naiveté and accuse them of stupidity for banging their heads against a brick wall. The Log Cabin Republicans still cling to the idea that they can only change the Republican Party from the inside, so they persist in their efforts. To be fair to them, they really believe in the more moderate message of the Old Republican Party that deals with fiscal issues and the joys of capitalism. Believe it or not, there are many, many gay small business owners, and I do not fault them for taking care of their own economic interests.
But what about the rest of us in the GLBT community? If we are political—and not everyone is—we tend to think of ourselves as Democrats because of the social oppression that we have experienced in our lifetimes. We are attracted to the Democratic Party because it tends to address social injustice. Recently, we have watched in horror while George W. Bush promised not to do anything against gay Texans while Governor and then gay Americans while president, then turned into a supporter of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to permanently take away our rights. In fact, when running for Texas governor as a moderate Republican, Bush commented the old, “Some of mine and Laura’s best friends are gay.” While not naming names, I have always suspected that this is the “secret reason” that so many right-wing crazies came out swinging when Harriet Myers was nominated for Supreme Court Justice. Now, that’s just based on rumors I heard around Dallas in my court reporting days there. So, I’m not stating that as a fact. Like Rush and Glenn, I’m just putting it out there as a thought.
Anyway, we all know how fervent “W” became in his support of the right-wing anti-gay agenda, particularly during his re-election campaign. In fact, he and Karl Rove used it very effectively to get the “right” voters out in Ohio and swing the election in his direction. And it has been downhill for us ever since that chilly November day in 2004. With a steady push by the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party, state after state has adopted anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendments, more often than not putting them out there in off-off-year elections to get those who are gung-ho out there with little pushback from everyday citizens. This was the successful tactic in Maine last week, but let us not forget California. One year ago, Democrat Barack Obama handily carried The Golden State, reputedly the most liberal state west of Massachusetts, while leaving the gay community behind in the dust of defeat. In electing their first president, the black community of California came out and voted against equal rights for gay Californians. How shameful! After being called on to help elect Barack Obama, gay voters in California were stabbed in the back by many of Obama’s supporters. OUTRAGEOUS!
So what should we do? I’ve given this much thought since the news from Maine. I was by no means stunned by yet another defeat. I was hurt that it came in a so-called blue state instead of a state like mine that is more RED than Mao’s China in its group-think. But what it really tells me is that those folks that turned out to support and vote for Barack Obama last November were unwilling to give up their plans last Tuesday night to help a friend in need. After basking in the warm glow of last year’s victory, liberals who are not gay are not particularly interested in returning our support. Instead, they stay home and let those who oppress us manipulate democracy to deny freedom of religion to American Citizens who happen to be gay. Is this more their fault or more our fault?
One of the maxims of psychiatry is that “insanity” is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Isn’t that what the GLBT community is doing politically? Aren’t we blindly giving support to Democrats who then turn around and ignore our oppression once they are comfortably installed in office? Of course, we are. How do we stop? We just STOP!
I know it’s radical, but here’s my plan. Bear with me while I explain, and don’t give up on me until the end, okay? I thought about just dropping out and refusing to vote for a few years. We all know that the Democrats, who are wrangling among themselves to the point of total inability to get anything done in Washington, are going to really, really need our votes next year as the Republicans mount their comeback offensive. It’s time to say no and mean no. I know that sounds dangerous because that puts more Republican power back into Congress, but to me that’s a risk we have to take. Then, after that, come 2012, with the country still in a funk and the prospects of a Sarah Palin or Tim Pawlenty or even Mitt Romney on the presidential horizon, President Obama is going to come calling yet again, hat in hand, begging for support, dragging Oprah behind him. We can pretty well bet that those same old swing states will be swinging and every vote will count. What if we say no one more time? It could cost Barack Obama his re-election. I know that for many in the GLBT movement this is a frightening thought, but stick with me.
The greatest problem with this plan, other than the election of some nut job like Palin, is that the “gay vote” is dismissed or discounted as being unimportant in the outcome. That’s because there is no way for us to be counted if we stay home in protest. So, let’s do something really radical! Let’s form our own third party. I would call it The Pink Party so there could be no doubt about where it’s coming from. It would work like this. We would run as many candidates as we could for every federal office, including President of the United States. Crazy, you say! Of course, it’s crazy. That’s why it will work. Let’s not fool ourselves that we will win seats in Congress or actually mount any kind of a serious run for the presidency, but our votes will show up as a protest. And just like the myth that Ralph Nader and the Green Party cost Al Gore Florida in 2000, if in fact a swing state is carried by the Republican Presidential Candidate by less than the Pink Party vote, the Dems will realize that they need us after all. Then we will have a seat at the bargaining table, something we do not have now.
To put the icing on this cake, I was “treated” to the sight of the whining Carrie Prejean on Today this morning. Oh, poor dear, she’s under attack from everyone for daring to exercise her right to free speech. BOO HOO! In a few years she will marry a young guy she really loves, or an older man whose bank account she loves, maybe even somebody else’s husband, and she’ll go on to live a happy life with kids and all the rights and benefits that inure to a married lady in America and California. And you, my dear, sweet, gay person, will still be prohibited from seeing your ailing “partner” in the hospital unless his/her fundamentalist family grants you permission. So, Miss Prejean, spare me your troubles. They are fleeting, and in the end they will be unimportant to your life, once you get one. And my dear, sweet, gay person, your problems are not fleeting. This is your life! Isn’t it time you got off your pink, but lovely ass, and did something about it? VOTE PINK!
I’m Jack, I am who I am, and I’M HITTING BACK!
Well, a week has gone by since I began “hitting back!” I don’t know what I expected, but, somehow, eternal optimist that I am, I come away disappointed at best. The results were underwhelming.
Let’s start at with the “best” of the bunch, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R- TX). At least Senator Hutchison sent me an e-mail reply to my initial comment on the issue of health care. At the end of her lengthy reply, she said that she valued my comment, but there was nothing in the text up to that point that convinced me that she “valued” my comment. In fact, since Mrs. Jack also sent her own individual comment to the Senator’s website and got back the exact same word-for-word reply, I am doubtful that anybody other than a computer program in her office “read” Mrs. Jack’s or my comments. Later, I will go into her reply in more detail so that we can all understand exactly what the Republicans have in mind for us. But for now, I will recount my experiences with my other two “representatives” in Washington.
Senator John Cornyn thanked me “warmly” for my comment in an e-mail acknowledgement entitled: DO NOT REPLY! It promised that the good Senator would send an answer to my comment in the future. Having yet to hear from him in all these many days, I’m not sure which future year I should be expecting that reply. Maybe 2014 when he is up for reelection. I guess it doesn’t matter all that much because from what I heard this morning on State of the Union with John King, Senator Cornyn and the Republicans in Congress are pretty entrenched in their position and won’t be waffling between now and 2014 anyway.
That brings me to my U.S. Representative, Kevin Brady (R-TX). His website thanked me for my comment and offered a check box to sign up for his e-mail newsletter. I checked the box and received a “do-you-really-want-the-newsletter” e-mail telling me to type only the word “ok” in reply to the confirmation request and I would be added to the list. What came back was frightening. I got an e-mail from the Congressman’s office with what looked to be Chinese characters on it interspaced with “unknown command” and “help” in English. In subsequent e-mails I was informed that my request had gone unanswered for over 24, then 48 hours and I should try again. The same weird thing happened again. I hate to assume anything from this strange experience, but I do suspect that, due to my unwillingness to agree 100 percent with Representative Brady’s views on health care, perhaps, just perhaps, he put me on his don’t-waste-your-time-on-this-guy list. Just a thought. Anyway, now, I seem to be caught up in an e-mail Twilight Zone where I receive a daily message from Mr. Brady’s office telling me that my request didn’t go through and to try again. I guess he’s “hitting back.”
That brings me full circle back to Senator Hutchison, who wants to leave Washington behind and become Governor of our State. In her “lengthy” canned reply to my comment requesting a government option for healthcare, she went on and on with what she believes in. It went something like this: I’m a Republican, blah, blah, blah. I’m afraid of big government, blah, blah, blah. You should be afraid of big government, too, blah, blah, blah. Socialism, blah, blah, blah. It may LEAD to government-run health care in the future, blah, blah, blah. We need tort reform, blah, blah, blah. It may drive our good friends the insurance companies out of business, blah, blah, blah. Free enterprise, blah, blah, blah. Be afraid! BE AFRAID! BE VERRRRRRRRY AFRAID! Finally, near the bottom of the text was her generous solution to the entire problem: vouchers for you to buy your own health insurance. It was just wonderful. The government will give you a voucher of $2,000 per person or $5,000 per family to offset those nasty insurance premiums. And due to the huge level of competition in the health insurance market, rates will go down, and everybody will be able to afford to go to the doctor. It will be wonderful and, without the pesky interference of Big Government, the insurance companies will do the right thing and take care of us all, making us all, healthy, happy and free! (Wave flag here.)
The only thing soaring higher than Senator Hutchison’s rhetoric is her oversized Texas high hair wig! So I decided to offer a rebuttal. I wondered if she or an aide would respond to my rebuttal with a different canned message, or actually answer it. Nothing! Not a word has come back from Senator Hutchison’s office since I dared to “question” her plan. I merely pointed out that for Mrs. Jack and myself, since we are past 60 but not yet 65—that is, Medicare eligible—and we both have “pre-existing” conditions, the best quote we got on health insurance for both of us was $1400 per month. Now, let’s see. If we “qualified” as a family, which I’m not sure we do—but we’ll say so for sake of argument—that means our $16,800 per year insurance premium would be offset by $5,000, leaving us a mere $11,800 out of pocket. That would leave us about $4,000 a year to live on. How very generous! Perhaps the delay in Senator Hutchison’s reply to my reply is to allow her time to come up with a ladylike way of saying, “That’s too bad; f**k off!” I don’t know if you’ve ever seen her on TV, but there’s an old Southern expression for women like her: Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Anyway, on with the saga.
Then this morning on State of the Union with John King, I saw the always scary House Minority Leader John Boehner, (R-Ohio). He clearly outlined the Republican plan for health care reform when he said, “We want to ‘fix’ the CURRENT health care system.” Then he added some blah, blah, blah of his own, but in short, he stated that “most Americans” just want the current health care system fixed, not some sort of major overhaul. When pressed about the 47 million Americans without health care insurance, he brushed the question aside and went on with his Republican, “Big Government, blah, blah, blah” argument.
So let’s take a good look at what the Republicans are really offering the American people. They want to give you $2,000 a year to offset your insurance premiums and allow the “current system” to stay in place allowing Big Insurance to do what it pleases, and allowing the costs of health care to continue spiraling into the stratosphere. That is the CURRENT system! That is what the Republicans are offering. What it amounts to is a $2,000 annual tax break to those who can afford to buy their own insurance and nothing for everybody else. Now, that’s reform we can believe in. Oh, that’s right, they aren’t interested in REFORM! The Republicans are only looking out for the interests of Big Insurance and their own political party to keep the hated Obama from doing what he promised the American people he would do: REFORM THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IN AMERICA.
Instead of doing anything to help people, the Republicans, as always, are dispersing scare scenarios and citing the burden on “our children and grandchildren.” Of course, those would be the children and grandchildren who survive because they have access to health care. And that would be the really important children of that upper crust portion of the Republican Party who can afford their own Cadillac-quality health care insurance.
I’ve got a better plan for the Republicans, if they don’t want the government involved with health care. Why don’t they demand their overlords, the Health Insurance Companies, do on their own what the Republicans say they will do if we leave them alone? If the Health Insurance Companies are so willing to get rid of those pre-existing condition clauses and let everybody buy their product, and if they’re willing to lift all the bans they have lobbied into place in the States to protect themselves from competition and even losses, why don’t they start TODAY. It would make the need for health care reform moot. But they are not doing that, are they? Just like the banks, they are grabbing while the grabbing is good, threatening to raise premiums in the years prior to the reform measures kicking in, and clamping down even harder on their customers’ rights to access medical care. Yeah, these are nice guys indeed. I trust them. Don’t you? Oh, come on, the Republicans say we can trust their friends, the Insurance Companies. Where’s your faith?
After all we’ve been through during the Republican Revolution, where Big Banks and Big Insurance have taken the best that our country has to offer and have returned nothing, I’ll put my trust in government. At least I can vote against it if I don’t like it.
I’m Jack. I am who I am, and I’m HITTING BACK!
With Liberty and Justice for All!
The image of the lone young woman swimming offshore and then being pulled to her death by a killer shark in Jaws is burned into our collective brains. It is downright horrifying because it is unexpected yet possible. Saturday Night Live parodied the event brilliantly in their Land Shark skits and gave us all a good laugh at our fears. But there is a new shark, a loan shark, in the waters of America, or perhaps just an old shark that has grown a new set of even sharper teeth to replace the ones that were recently removed by Congress. That loan shark goes by very respectable names: Bank of America, CitiBank and others whose headquarters occupy lavish, shiny skyscrapers in the cities of our country.
In response to the financial sector meltdown of last year and the resulting credit crisis, Congress enacted new laws restricting the banks’ abilities to rip off the American consumers by uncalled for interest-rate increases and ridiculous and unfair fees. But the bank lobby—that’s right, they exist and are very real—swimming under the surface of Capitol Hill managed to put a delay into those laws “to help the poor innocent banks adjust to the new rules.” What they have done instead is take advantage of the delay to jack up interest rates to a baseline that they can move up from after the new rules go into effect and replace the old unfair fees with some NEW UNFAIR fees.
And where, oh where, and when did the American people find out about this chicanery? The first I heard of it was in a report on the Today show on the day the new fees went into effect. Thanks, big network news organizations, for the heads up before the fact. That’s what I call “great journalism.” The other way that folks found out that they were waking up in a new world this week was the insertion of those little flier-like pages that flutter out of the envelope when you get your credit card bill. You know, the ones with the teeny, tiny print that you must read over, perhaps several times, to make any sense of.
My experience was jolting. On Monday afternoon one of those nondescript envelopes showed up in my mailbox bearing a return address from somewhere I didn’t know anybody and containing a letter without any letterhead whatsoever along with one of those little fliers. A reading of the letter indicated that CitiBank was raising the interest rate on my account with them to 29.99%. I panicked because I don’t have a credit card or account of any kind that I know of with CitiBank. Due to the snappy songs of those CreditReport.Com guys, my first thought was that someone had stolen my identity and opened up an account with CitiBank in my name. OMG! WTF? How could this happen? Mrs. Jack and I have been living a credit-free existence for some time now, and we like it like that. It is our way of surviving these tough times on a fixed income. We pay cash for everything, and if we don’t have the cash, we don’t put the merchandise in the cart. I’m sure this drives them crazy at Wal-Mart.
But I had forgotten something. Back at the time when we went credit free, I kept some gasoline credit cards for emergencies. You know, like a hurricane at the end of the month when the budget is in its shutdown mode. We hadn’t used them for some time, so I had forgotten about them. Mrs. Jack found the offending card and talked me down, but I was not appeased and still resented two things about the incident. Number one, I had no idea CitiBank was “managing” my account with the oil company; and, number two, I was still in disbelief about the news account I had heard that morning.
It seems that CitiBank’s new unfair fee is on those who do not keep a balance of at least $2400 on their cards. Now, the reporter was quite specific about the fact that this did not mean that your credit card account had to reach $2400 per month; instead, you must rollover a balance of at least $2400 each month to avoid this fee, which was a whopping $150 per month. Ouch! If you pay off your card or pay down your card or fail to charge enough to reach that level, you will be charged $150. Is it just me, or is this outrageous? And CitiBank was not alone in announcing new “inactivity fees.” Bank of America had one, too, charging you a fee every month that you choose not to use your credit card with them. In other words, the big boys in the banking world are saying to the American People, “F**k you very much for bailing us out. Now, you pay yourselves back so we don’t have to.”
Last evening and this morning, there were reports from two credit card holders—one a bank CEO from a smaller bank—who received word that their credit card interest rates were going up into the 30- to 40-percent range. Both men were solid citizens who paid their bills on time and had done nothing “bad” to deserve this treatment from their credit card issuers. I’m sorry, 30- to 40-percent interest, to me, is pure usury, and these lenders qualify as loan sharks in my book.
So, what do we do to kill these loan sharks in the muddy water where they swim and prey on us? First, get on the web or phone and contact your congressional delegation and express your outrage and your desire that they stop this in its tracks. Second, and this is what I did, pick that fluttering flier up off the floor and call the offending bank at the telephone number given and cancel that card right now! The nice person on the other end of the phone is just an employee of the loan shark, so do not yell at her/him. Just matter of factly state that you will not accept the new unfair “terms and conditions” that they are offering you. The young lady that I talked to reminded me that if I cancelled my card, it would be “permanent.” I told her that was all right; I tell you I should hope so! They can stuff it along with my mythical “permanent record,” wherever that is.
In fairness to the great big oil company that has turned me over to the loan sharks at CitiBank, if I paid off my balance every month as I always have, I would not be affected by the NEW UNFAIR interest rate. But, you know, to me it is all part and parcel of my new “Hitting Back Campaign.” And I don’t want to be surprised some day when I open a statement from my long unused oil company credit card to find that I, indeed, do have an emergency on my hands because I didn’t use it and have now incurred an unexpected inactivity fee. I know they are required to send me notice, but I know that things get lost in the mail. I once had a credit card where the statements mysteriously showed up in the mail after the due date. I cancelled that card the second time it happened and later saw a TV news report about credit card companies doing this deliberately to get late fees and more interest from consumers. Go figure!
As I watched the spectacle last summer of the right-wing crazies pouring crocodile tears down their faces, wanting their country back, I didn’t realize that by now, I, too, would want my country back. That country is the one that I thought existed before the Republicans dismantled the safeguards on the banking and finance industries to protect us from them. The country I would like back is the one I was raised in, where we considered banks a trusted place to keep our money and get fair and honest loans when necessary. That world is long gone, and the very politicians that those crybaby conservatives put in charge were the ones that banished it to history.
It is time to hit back! My act of hitting back was canceling the offending credit-card account and then gleefully taking a pair of scissors to the offending plastic and carefully distributing it to the various waste baskets around the house, because they get emptied at different times.
Over the past decades we have all come to feel a very real need for credit cards. You have to have them to rent a car, check into a nice hotel, and lots of other things. They are convenient but deadly accessories to modern American life. In the swipe of a card, we can overextend our finances and invite a world of hurt down upon ourselves. We can use them unwisely on the internet and expose ourselves to theft. And as the holidays approach, we can use them to give us a mammoth headache next January when the broken toys are strewn upon the floor and the memories of warm pumpkin pie and turkey are long gone.
I know that for many, credit cards are a necessity, and for those I say, get on that phone or on the internet and shop around until you find a better deal for your credit needs. Credit unions are a good place to start. You may not get the same credit line that you had before, but maybe it is time to rethink that anyway. That’s your decision to make. But it is way past time for us as consumers to stand up to those who take advantage of us, because our politicians seem to be too entangled with the “money lenders” to put up much resistance.
So, to paraphrase an old joke: How do you kill a charging loan shark? Take away its plastic!
I am Jack. I am who I am, and I’m HITTING BACK!
With Liberty and Justice for All!