Let’s Talk about Free Speech

I’m seeing a lot of people online whining, frankly, about free speech and censorship and living in a communist country because President Trump got kicked off Twitter and Parler got shut down and now we’ll be next and no doubt they are coming for our guns too.

So I just thought I’d use MY free speech (because I DO have free speech here on this blog which I pay for, unless of course I start trying to plan to an insurrection, in which case WordPress would kick me off their platform, and rightly so) to explain how so many people are getting it wrong.

Read on, and then you can comment below (IF I approve your comment, of course, because I have comment moderation turned on, which does not make this a communist country or even a communist blog).

Do you see what I did there?  To elucidate:

  1. There always have been, and always will be, limits on speech in this country.  Example: If you make violent threats against the President, you may find yourself arrested.
  2. In most situations, your free speech gives rise to consequences.  Examples: If you make offensive comments at my house, I might ask you to leave.  If you make offensive comments in public or at work, you might get fired.  Your speech is still free; you were not jailed or executed for speaking your mind: you just suffered consequences.
  3. In a communist country, the government either owns or exerts control over the press.  If this were a communist country, with Trump as its leader, he would still have a Twitter account.  The government would either own Twitter or they would put its owner in jail if he tried to kick the President off.
  4. It is because the U.S. is a capitalist country that we have these giant companies whose platforms feel essential to us, and that have the power to kick us off those platforms when they do not like what we say, or are worried about being liable for what we say, or are afraid they will lose advertisers if they continue to allow us to say it, or are patriotic enough not to want to facilitate the planning of an insurrection.
  5. You may or may not consider the above to be problematic (I would agree that it can be), but it has nothing to do with your (or Donald Trump’s) right to free speech, or with communism.

Here’s to a year of my speaking more freely, and trusting the God will be with me through whatever the consequences may be!

My Catholic Vote

I love voting on Election Day, but wishing to leave nothing to chance in this crazy year, I took advantage of early voting last week.  I marked my paper ballot for Joe Biden, coloring it in very carefully and staring at it for a long time afterward before I scanned it, wanting to cherish the moment for which I had waited so long.

In choosing my candidate I followed a process I laid out here, and my conscience is absolutely clear, no matter how many of my fellow Catholics believe (and are happy to tell me) that my vote is a sin.

In 2008, I sat out the Presidential election.  In 2012, I voted none of the above.  In 2016, seeing Trump as a danger to our country, I voted for Hillary.

When Trump won, my Republican friends said I should give him a chance.  That he would surround himself with good people.  That he would grow into the office.  I did, and he didn’t.  If anything, his presidency has been more disastrous than I could possibly have imagined.

In fact, it has been so disastrous, and I believe him so unfit, that I would have supported any one of the Democratic Primary contenders this year.  If you want to know my thinking, check out the 963 reasons compiled here, rightly referred to below as horrors:

This election year, amid a harrowing global health, civil rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis, we know it’s never been more critical to note these horrors, to remember them, and to do all in our power to reverse them.

However, Joe was my number one choice from the get-go, primarily because I believed he was the candidate with the best chance of beating Trump.  His relative centrism, his likable personality, his years of experience, his ability to compromise, his relationships with folks on both sides of the aisle–these are the qualities of someone who could build a broad and diverse coalition of support, as he has gone on to do.  I had always liked Joe, but as I have learned more of his story, I have come to love him.  No longer is my vote just an anti-Trump vote.  It’s an enthusiastic vote for Joe Biden, and here are some of my reasons:

  • Because he writes things like this, and means them:

We all matter in the eyes of God, and it will take all of us to achieve the healing America so desperately needs. To follow God’s Greatest Commandment, and to love each other fully. Together, we can win the battle for the soul of our nation; navigate the multiple crises we face – ending this pandemic, driving our economic recovery, confronting systemic racism; address the scourge of poverty; pursue immigration and refugee policies that uphold the dignity of all; and do everything in our power to ensure that all God’s children have the hope and future they so rightfully deserve. (Read more here)

  • And, maybe most of all, because of this:

Our country is in trouble  We are broken and hurting, scared and divided.  Four years ago I believed–I still do–that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified person ever to run for President.  I would never say that about Joe Biden.  But I DO believe, with all my heart, that he is the candidate most qualified to meet this moment and to bind our nation’s wounds.

More Than Politics

I recently was honored to appear on Julie Varner Walsh‘s brand-new podcast, More Than Politics,  a “podcast for those of us who want something more than what we’ve come to expect from politics — and from our political discourse. Each week, More Than Politics will feature a conversation that helps put today’s politics in context, that honestly and charitably explores the issues of the day, that encourages us to engage in politics in a moral, even loving way.

I have been enjoying the podcast since it began–I feel smarter every time I listen!  Julie and I had a great discussion about feeling politically uncomfortable.  You can listen to it here.

And you can expect to be seeing more political posts from me (or that’s what I currently intend, anyway) as we get closer to the Presidential Election.

Five ObamaCare Facts and a PSA

For this year’s ObamaCare update, I am sharing five ObamaCare facts.

  1. The Affordable Care Act and ObamaCare refer to the same thing. I hope that’s obvious to you, but it isn’t to everyone–I have seen many a “man on the street” video with folks saying how awful ObamaCare is while in the same breath raving about the healthcare they receive under the Affordable Care Act.
  2. One ObamaCare provision requires your insurer to pay you back a portion of your premiums if they fail to spend a certain amount of their profits on patient care.  This is the second year I have gotten an unexpected check in the mail.
  3. ObamaCare includes a yearly cap on out-of-pocket expenses.  Once you reach that cap, all your care is free.  The cap varies by insurance plan, and this year some of us will should be getting free care in December.
  4. The Affordable Care Act benefits you even if you don’t buy your insurance from the Marketplace or a state exchange.  The ACA made it illegal for insurance companies to refuse to insure you or charge you more due to pre-existing conditions.  This is a big freaking deal, and it is just one example of protections put into place by the ACA that apply to everyone.
  5. Enrollment is NOW OPEN at Healthcare.gov.  If you are already covered by an ACA plan, it’s time to re-enroll.  If you are currently uninsured or unhappy with the insurance you have, you can sign up until December 15, 2019.

For more of my writing on the Affordable Care Act aka ObamaCare, see below and click away!

The $64,000 Question, Answered
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
ObamaCare Update
ObamaCare Update 2
ObamaCare:  My Latest Update
ObamaCare Revisited
More on Our Journey to Health, Brought to You by Obamacare
It’s Good to Be Insured: An ObamaCare Update
Obamacare in Practice:  An Update
An Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal ObamaCare
Obamacare Update: Good, Bad, and Ugly
Not Repealed and Not Imploding:  An Obamacare Update
ObamaCare Endures, and for That We Are Grateful

Illegal or Unthinkable: One Pro-Life Catholic’s Perspective on How to End Abortion

Confession: I really don’t want to write this post.  Despite evidence to the contrary, I don’t court controversy and don’t enjoy being bombarded by people from both sides of our country’s political divide. And so I’ve been uncomfortable but quiet over the past few weeks as many of my pro-life friends celebrated and most of my pro-choice friends decried the latest laws limiting abortion.

Then I attended my 30-year Georgetown Reunion, and took part in a workshop on Social Justice.  One of the takeaways was that although the need for change can seem overwhelming, and we may wonder what–if any–impact an individual can have, we all have spheres of influence where we can hope to make a difference.  And we were charged with committing to doing what we could within those spheres.

So here I am, y’all.  A blog (and its associated social media) seems like a pretty obvious sphere.  And not writing about the controversy surrounding the new abortion laws is starting to feel like cowardice.  After all, I have a history of writing at the intersection of the Catholic faith and social justice, and even though I have been keeping quiet, it’s not as though I have nothing to say.  So here goes.

The Goal of the Pro-Life Movement

Let’s start with a question: what is the goal of the pro-life movement? I suspect if you asked a pro-choice person, he’d say it’s to make abortion illegal.  On the other hand, if you asked a pro-life person, I’d hope her answer would be that it’s to END abortion.

By itself, outlawing abortion won’t END abortion, because women with means will procure safe illegal abortions while poor women resort to unsafe ones.  Babies–and some mothers–will continue to die.

What we should really want is to make abortion UNTHINKABLE.

Tell me, why don’t you beat your children? Until 1875, there were no laws in the United States to protect them from abuse.  But is that why you don’t beat them, because you are afraid of being caught and arrested? No, you don’t beat them because it is abhorrent and you would never dream of doing such a thing.  That’s how we should want everyone to feel about abortion in the future.

If you think all of the above means that I don’t think abortion should be illegal, you’d be wrong.  If an unborn baby is a human person, then it deserves the same protections as any other human person.  We cannot allow killing an innocent human person to be legal.

The “Heartbeat Laws”

So why am I not enthusiastic about the “Heartbeat Laws” virtually banning abortions (because most women would not find out they were pregnant in time to get one)?  There are a number of reasons and I am here to break them down for you.

These laws have not yet gone into effect and I doubt they ever will.  They were drafted with one goal in mind–and it wasn’t to make abortion  unthinkable.  Rather it was to force a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision, gambling that the latest conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices will seize this opportunity to overturn it.  AND I DON’T THINK THEY WILL.

These laws are going to be challenged and overturned, as they are currently unconstitutional, as they were designed to be.  Babies will continue to be aborted as the laws make their way through the courts.  If the Supreme Court chooses to take them up–and remember, they can refuse to–I believe they are so extreme (not including the rape and incest exceptions that most Americans–NOT ME–favor) that the justices will uphold Roe v. Wade as settled law.

I might be 100% wrong.  I hope I am.  But remember, even if Roe v. Wade goes away, that leaves many states where abortions will continue to be legal, and where those pro-abortion laws will no doubt become even more entrenched in response.

An Incremental Approach

The legislative approach I prefer is an incremental one.  For example, it’s perfectly licit for a Catholic legislator to vote for an abortion-limiting law that contains exceptions for rape and incest, not because those babies ought to have any fewer rights, but because it is still better than the current situation and such bills have a better chance of passing into law and being upheld by the courts.  In the same vein, there are other laws that could be proposed to limit abortions that the majority of Americans find reasonable.  Laws that limit abortions after a fetus can feel pain, laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital, laws regulating abortion clinics in the same manner that other free-standing medical clinics are regulated, laws requiring parental consent:  these are measures that the majority of Americans who are in the mushy middle on abortion can understand and support.

The Mushy Middle

And that’s most Americans.  Most Americans don’t embrace the extreme positions represented in our online debates.  They think abortion is wrong and should be limited but not prohibited before a certain point.  Most Americans would be perfectly happy with unlimited abortion in the first trimester and increasing regulations thereafter, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the mother’s life.

For practicing Catholics (and other pro-life supporters) and extreme pro-choice supporters alike that position doesn’t make any logical sense.  To be clear, if abortion is killing a human being, it is always gravely wrong; and on the opposite end of the argument, if it’s ever acceptable it must be always acceptable.  These are the facts that underlie the entrenched positions of those of us doing most of the arguing, that we cannot ever really get past.  But the position of most Americans on abortion–the folks I call the “mushy middle”–is not rooted in logic.  It’s rooted in their feelings–their feelings of distaste for the procedure AND their feelings of compassion for women in difficult circumstances.

Making Abortion Unthinkable

Those people in the mushy middle are the ones we have to win over if we really want to end abortion.  And we are not winning them over by passing extreme laws.  They are horrified by diagrams of partial-birth abortion, but they are equally horrified at the prospect of twelve-year-old incest victims forced to bear their rapists’ children.  Never mind that both of those scenarios are rare compared to the total number of abortions; they are what we both sides trot out to to try to sway opinions and they end up canceling each other out.

I fear these new laws will take those moderate folks and turn them radical, that they will be more moved by the “my body my choice” argument as they see abortions becoming illegal without the exceptions they largely favor.  And that would be a shame because we have been making progress with them!  Millennials are a more pro-life generation.  People with disabilities are becoming more visible, many of them advocating themselves for their right to be here.  We’ve succeeded in some states at passing more moderate laws limiting abortions.  Clinics have been closing.  Abortion rates have slowed.

So how do we continue the progress we have made?  By helping women.

Respecting All Life

Look, I know that there are lots of folks active in the pro-life movement who are also providing assistance to women and their unborn babies and caring for babies after they are born.  I know all about Catholic Charities.  And I know that I’m not the only pro-life “social justice warrior” in the state of Tennessee, not even close!  I also know that some people who oppose legislation to help the poor are very generous on a personal level.  And while it’s true that people of good will can disagree about the best way to help these women, it’s hard to ignore the statistics in articles like this one demonstrating that abortion rates go down during Democratic administrations.

But this is the reality: women are aborting babies because they don’t have affordable day care, because they don’t have maternity leave, because they don’t have affordable housing, because they are desperate.  Until we fix some of this, abortion will remain the first thought for many desperate women, and the people in the mushy middle will want them to have access to it, thinking that is compassionate.  If every pregnant woman had the support she needed, the perceived need for most abortions would disappear and most Americans wouldn’t see any reason for it anymore.  In time we could look back on the past 40 years and wonder how this ever could have happened and why on earth it took so long to fix it.

I know that most pro-life people really do care about babies, but I also understand why many Americans don’t believe that.   When we vote to end abortion but for caging migrant children,  against health care reform,  for removing welfare funds, and against family leave, we don’t seem pro-life.  We don’t look consistent.  We really make it look like “controlling women’s bodies” is all that we care about.  If we can demonstrate through common-sense, compassionate legislation that we really love them both and that our opposition to abortion is rooted in our respect for ALL life, I believe that’s when we will start to change hearts and minds.

And while legislation may make accessing abortion more difficult, it’s changed hearts and minds that will make abortion unthinkable.

Five Takeaways from the Covington Catholic Controversy

This will be my first–and I hope last–time weighing in on the post-March for Life encounter between MAGA hat-wearing teenagers from an all-boys Catholic school in Kentucky and Native American activists visiting D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples March.  I don’t have definitive answers on the truth of what was actually happening in the viral video (which I will NOT link to), but I do have some observations and thoughts.

What You See Depends on Where You Stand.

That’s pretty obvious, right?  There are dozens of videos of this moment taken from many perspectives; if, for example, you watch one that was filmed from behind the boy who was involved in the face-off with the Native American elder, you wouldn’t see his now-famous face (sporting an expression that has been characterized as both a nervous smile and a smug smirk).  But I’m speaking metaphorically here.

Where do you stand as you consider this encounter?  Are you Catholic? A Southerner? Someone who has participated in Marches for Life?  Do you despise Donald Trump and MAGA hats? Are you Native American?  Have you experienced bullying?  Are you a mother of teenage boys?  Your answers to these questions will determine your predisposition to interpret the video, especially since by the time you watched it you had already read opinions about what was happening from the sources you trust.

We Are Angry About the Wrong Things

Don’t get me wrong–we should absolutely be angry about racism, bullying, misunderstanding, misrepresentations, death threats, disrespect, and many other evils that this video and the furor around it have come to represent.  However, it isn’t our job to be angry about everything everywhere all the time.  Fifteen years ago, no one but the folks involved would ever have known about what happened in those few minutes.  It would have been up to them to make sense of it and to perhaps learn something from it.  Meanwhile the rest of us should spend more time being angry about–and trying to do something about–the injustices that we certainly encounter around us every day.  Would those of us who bravely wield keyboards in the face of injustices five hundred miles away be so ready to actually intervene in person at home when, for example, a co-worker tells a racist joke?

Teenagers Are Not Adults

Teenage boys may look like adults and they may think they are adults but they are not adults.  Their brains are not finished developing.  They have poor impulse control.  They tend to follow the crowd.

Our criminal justice system recognizes this by having a separate system to govern underage crime.  We don’t execute teenagers or give them life sentences.  We recognize that they can be rehabilitated.

If these boys are guilty of the worst possible interpretation of the video, they are still boys.  Stupid teenage boys who can learn to be better.  I’ll bet you knew some people who were, frankly, assholes in high school who grew up to be pretty good folks.  You might even have been one of them!  I know I’m a better person now than I was when I was a teenager.  Should they suffer consequences? Make reparations?  Absolutely! Should they receive death threats and have their lives ruined forever?  I don’t think so.

It Is Not Wrong to Extend Mercy to the Privileged

I have read several posts from writers who have walked back their original interpretation of the encounter and have decided to give the Covington boys the benefit of the doubt.  And I have seen those same folks attacked because they are giving privileged white boys that which is denied to other sectors of the population.  If you doubt that these boys are privileged, imagine the exact same scenario only with a big group of African-American boys from a D.C. public school.  Would the reaction be the same?  Would those boys be interviewed on the Today Show and be invited to the White House?  I expect some of the very same people who are defending the Covington boys would assume the worst about these hypothetical black boys.

Some seem to be saying that fairness demands we assume the worst about everyone.  But look, y’all, what we should be shooting for is a society that gives EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt.

Catholic Students on a Field Trip to the March for Life Should Not Wear MAGA Hats

Nor should they wear I’m with Her hats or Yes We Can hats or any other kind of political hats.  They should wear their school uniforms, if you ask me, or matching t-shirts identifying themselves as students at a Catholic school.  And they should remember that when they are in uniform, they are representing the Church and act accordingly.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Election Day Redux

Confession time:  I am still not over the 2016 Presidential Election.  I don’t know that I will ever really get over it.  To go from euphoria to despair in just a few short hours, and then to see many of my fears realized over the past two years–it has truly been a demoralizing time for many of us.
Still, hope springs eternal.  And it has been exciting and energizing to see so many people voting this year.
Last year I wore my closest approximation of a pantsuit in tribute to Hillary.  Here is this year’s voting ensemble, a tribute to my political homelessness:
election 1.jpg
Election Day is a holiday for public school students, so Lorelei accompanied me to the polls.  She’s almost 14, but she still likes pressing the button for me.
election 2
In 2016, Emily was also with us, and the three of us celebrated what we expected to be an historic occasion by visiting the women’s suffrage statue in Market Square and then breakfasting at Pete’s.  This year, Emily voted early because she had to be out of town today.  But Lorelei and I still went out to breakfast, this year at First Watch, just down the road a piece.
And now, it’s time to watch the returns, and the kids are calling me.  We’ve done all we can do.
Election 3

Obamacare Endures, and for That We Are Grateful: An Update

Well, it’s that time of year:  Open Enrollment is upon us.  It’s a time I both dread and welcome.  I dread the clunky website and the endless data entry and the long but usually helpful calls to customer service, but I welcome the opportunity to once again share with you my gratitude for the blessing that Obamacare has been to our family.

As I wrote in last year’s update, Blue Cross returned to the exchange, and Humana left.  There were two good results for us:  one of our doctors that we see regularly was back in network, and our premium was so low that Advance Premium Tax Credit covered the whole thing.  Yes, you read that correctly:  our monthly payment was reduced to zero.  On the negative side, our deductible went up to (I think) 1350 per person, and John has still not met his.  And even after the deductible is met, we are now on a 50-50 plan instead of the 80-20 we had become used to–and this was the only choice we had.

We haven’t had major medical expenses this year, so we have made out just fine with this plan.  I haven’t run the numbers, but my sense is that not having to pay a premium made up for the higher deductible, especially since we still get the negotiated rate advantage on all our prescriptions.  But we got a letter the other day saying that this plan is going away and we are going to have to pick a different Blue Cross plan for next year.  These changes do get old, but my preview of Healthcare.gov last week left me hopeful–we have several plans to pick from and they look as good as what we have currently.

Another bright spot was a letter I received from Humana (last year’s insurer) a few weeks ago–a letter that included a check refunding us a portion of our premiums!  Apparently a little-known aspect of the ACA requires that if insurers earn over a certain amount of profits, they must refund a percentage of the premiums paid.  Yes, you read that right–under the terms of this imploding law that is so bad for insurance companies and consumers alike, Humana ended up doing so well that they had to give me money back!

So, yes, no matter what you may have been hearing in the news, Obamacare lives on, and is still helping people, with all its flaws.  It needs changes but it doesn’t need to be repealed.  And the constant uncertainty caused by the GOP threats to get rid of it isn’t helping anyone.  I know it hasn’t been the unadulterated blessing it has been for us for some of my readers, and I am sorry for that.  But I continue to believe it is important for me to share the positive experiences that the ACA has brought to this previously uninsured family.

2019 TN
For more of my writing on the Affordable Care Act aka ObamaCare, see below and click away!
The $64,000 Question, Answered
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
ObamaCare Update
ObamaCare Update 2
ObamaCare:  My Latest Update
ObamaCare Revisited
More on Our Journey to Health, Brought to You by Obamacare
It’s Good to Be Insured: An ObamaCare Update
Obamacare in Practice:  An Update
An Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal ObamaCare
Obamacare Update: Good, Bad, and Ugly
Not Repealed and Not Imploding:  An Obamacare Update

Not Repealed and Not Imploding: An ObamaCare Update

When last I wrote on the topic of healthcare back in February, I envisioned writing many posts on the ACA this year.  I was HOT.  I wanted to showcase some stories (besides mine) of people who have been helped by the law, and I wanted to encourage activism to prevent its repeal.
But I find my capacity for outrage is finite, and the constant barrage of bad news on this topic and others has stretched it to the limit.  ObamaCare has survived almost an entire year without Obama, with little help from me other than the occasional Resistbot letter to my Congressmen (who voted in favor of every lame proposal thrown up by the GOP this year despite my pleas).
In just a couple of weeks I’ll be back on the ACA website, and I wanted to tell y’all a little about the way this year–on a new plan–has gone for us.  I want my readers to see at least one story that demonstrates that the ACA is NOT imploding (Yes, it needs revision.  I have always said that) and that it is still helping people.
In addition to regular checkups for John, Emily, Teddy, and me, we’ve had some expensive extras that would have either been out of reach when we were uninsured or would have thrown us deep into medical debt had we chosen to go forward with them.  Back in March, John developed bursitis.  He went to the doctor three times–including twice to a specialist–and the chiropractor once, had two sets of X rays and an MRI, and got a cortisone shot and several medications.  All this helped us to meet our deductible early in the year (we are still paying for the MRI), but we wouldn’t have gotten in the door to run up these bills if we didn’t have insurance.  I cannot stress this often enough:  insurance equals ACCESS!
In September, John’s doctor was concerned with some symptoms he was having and ordered an EKG, and then sent him to a cardiologist for further testing.  I haven’t seen the bills yet for the stress test and heart ultrasound performed at the hospital and two visits to the cardiologist (he’s fine, by the way), but I know that we will only be paying 20% of the negotiated rate.  Insurance equals LOWER PRICES!
I had my first mammogram this year, and am scheduled for my first colonoscopy in November.  If I didn’t have insurance, rest assured I would not be getting these screening tests performed.
Finally, last week I noticed some discomfort and a coating on my tongue.  I was pretty sure I had an oral fungal infection.  Did I wait to see if it got better on its own?  Did I look for home remedies? That’s what I would have done and did do, back in my uninsured days.  No, I called the doctor and made an appointment IMMEDIATELY, got some medication, and felt better after two doses.  Being able to go to the doctor right away is a privilege I do not take for granted.
Have we had issues with the ACA this year?  Certainly.  Due to quirks in the sign up process, we were not allowed to insure Jake.  So when he wanted to go to the doctor in September, he went as a self-paying patient.  However, the fact that he has been insured the past three years meant that he had a relationship with our doctor, and she was willing to see him and even give us a discount for paying the whole bill up front.
Also, I don’t much like having to get my prescriptions at Food City with its limited hours; but on the other hand its small size means a very personal touch that I didn’t always experience at Walgreens, and a relationship with the actual pharmacist.
Look for another update after I undergo the tribulations of Healthcare.gov.  Last I heard, Blue Cross will be making a reappearance in the Marketplace, but I have no idea whether our former plan will still be available or how much the rates may rise.
For more of my ObamaCare stories, see below and click away!
The $64,000 Question, Answered
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
ObamaCare Update
ObamaCare Update 2
ObamaCare:  My Latest Update
ObamaCare Revisited
More on Our Journey to Health, Brought to You by Obamacare
It’s Good to Be Insured: An ObamaCare Update
Obamacare in Practice:  An Update
An Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal ObamaCare
Obamacare Update: Good, Bad, and Ugly