Sunday, April 24, 2016

Do Our Legislators Have Grits for Brains?

Georgia rural hospitals are in imminent danger of extinction!  That includes our very own Monroe County Hospital.  Four hospitals have closed in the past two years and fifteen more are on the brink of financial ruin by 2017.  This problem is not unique to Georgia but the states in this same situation happen to be Republican controlled state legislatures with Republican Governors who stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid. Those states that expanded Medicaid have robust revenues.

The expansion of Medicaid was included in the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) for people who make too much money to qualify for existing State Medicaid programs but too little to qualify for ACA’s insurance subsidies.  Nearly 500,000 Georgians fall in this coverage gap.  The Supreme Court ruled that the States could decide if they wanted to accept the federal funds (actually our tax dollars) to expand Medicaid.  

I am reminded of the statement made in 2014 by Georgia’s Republican Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens about Obama Care. He said, “We will do everything in our power to be obstructionist!”  Following that, Governor Deal refused to accept the $39 billion in Medicaid expansion funds.  Then Governor Deal took himself off the hot seat by turning all future Medicaid expansion decisions to the State Legislature. 

This is a crisis that could have been avoided and did not have to happen.  This is a crisis created by officers of our government who made the conscious decision to deprive healthcare to the working poor of Georgia.  Instead, they put their personal politics ahead of the good of the people.  Our healthcare crisis is not much different from the Flint Water Crisis caused by Michigan’s Governor and elected officials. Both were a result of their disdain for the poorer population who tend not to be part of the conservative base that you hear so much about.

During the 2016 Legislative Session that just ended, our lawmakers had ample opportunity to submit and pass a bill to expand Medicaid.  Numerous panels and commissions have been formed in Georgia to study the problem of the financial woes of our rural healthcare system.  Waste of time and money!  We all know the answer is to expand Medicaid.  I just don’t understand how elected officials could hate a President so much they would continue to allow 10 Georgians a day to die due to lack of healthcare.  Disgraceful! 

In fairness to the Legislature, I will point out that during this year’s session, they at least recognized the problem. However, instead of passing a bill to expand Medicaid, they passed a bill to give tax credits to corporations and individuals who donate to rural hospitals.  Well whoop-tee-do!  I liked the offer made by ACA better.  That was going to be $9 million a day for three years, free, and in subsequent years Georgia would pay an increasing percentage, not to exceed 10%.   I also point out that Governor Deal has yet to sign this brilliant bill into law.

According to economists at Georgia State University, not only would Medicaid expansion bring $3 billion to healthcare providers, but would also create 56,000 new jobs and $6.5 billion in economic activity.  Sometimes I wonder if our legislators have grits for brains.

I introduced proof to you last week in my column that if the members of the legislature want a bill to pass bad enough, they can conjure up a way to do it, like they did with Kirby’s Law.  Since the Legislature won’t act on healthcare, I have a plan. Let’s all contact UGA’s Coach Kirby Smart and ask HIM to request the Legislators pass a bill to expand Medicaid!  I bet they’d work their magic for him again.

Trivia for the week:  Did you know there are approximately 15,000 registered voters in Monroe County and more than 20,000 Elect Bittick Sheriff signs?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Georgia Football and the First Amendment

The Georgia State Legislature is a house of magicians.  They are skilled in producing illusions by slight of hand.  During the 2016 session, while we taxpayers were being distracted by the Religious Liberty Law and the god-awful Campus Carry Law, they slipped a big one in on us.  Before we even knew this bill existed, it was already signed, sealed and Deal-ivered!  Historically, the Legislature has passed such special interest bills at the sounding of the bell to prevent controversy.  Legislature hocus-pocus.

I’m speaking of the bill now known as “Kirby’s Law”, because it was passed at the behest of Kirby Smart.  For those of you who may be like me and don’t live and breathe college sports, Kirby Smart is the new football coach at the University of Georgia.  I think they are called the “Bulldogs.”  When Coach Smart visited the General Assembly, he was asked if he needed anything.  Out of all things he could have requested, he whined that answering Freedom of Information requests was time consuming for his office staff.  Ask and ye shall receive. 

Kirby’s Law extends the time for athletic departments of Public Colleges and Universities from the mandatory 3 days to an unprecedented 90 days to answer requests for records.  This bill was introduced and passed after midnight on the very last day of the session, at the very last minute.  And the magic show gets even better!  This bill was tacked on to another bill that allows state agencies to reject records requests regarding any economic development projects until the deal is complete.  I hope the Governor and his economic development team don’t strike a deal to bring a nuclear dump to middle Georgia.

This new law may seem harmless on the surface.  However, look for another bill next year that will allow other State agencies to hide their secrets for 90 days.  Consider the Department of Family and Children’s Services.  They have so many records requests they have an attorney on contract.  I’m sure they could use a time break, too.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Georgia’s Open Records Act (ORA) was instituted to insure that government agencies did not abuse their discretionary powers.  The Federal Act and State Act mirror each other.  Both Acts require records to be turned over 3 days after the request is made.  Now, the only agency that has 90 days to comply is Georgia college athletic teams.  These Acts were passed in accordance with the Constitution’s First Amendment.  The First Amendment!  The same amendment that Republicans claimed they were protecting when they created the Religious Liberty Bill.  However, the right of citizens to know what their government is doing and freedom of the press is also in the First Amendment. 

Don’t you see the hypocrisy here with the Republicans?  They use the First Amendment to justify passing a bill to discriminate against a population of citizens, while simultaneously ignoring the First Amendment to deny citizens our right to information pertaining to agencies that are tax funded. 

We, as tax paying citizens, depend on news agencies, newspapers, and reporters to inform us of abuse taking place in our government agencies.  These same people depend on records requests to bring you the facts.  They were completely duped by this slight of hand magic by the legislature.  They were caught sleeping. They will have a hard time doing their job of informing the public if anything arises.  For instance, if a reporter learns that the NCAA has sent a complaint letter to the Athletic Director, the reporter would have to hold his story for 90 days.  I project that the first time this happens, this law will be litigated, an expensive undertaking for both parties.  FOIA and ORA were born out of litigation.  Must we litigate the same things repeatedly?

When Governor Deal signed Kirby’s bill, the Governor said, “It simply levels the playing field with other states that also have strong athletic programs like Georgia.”  Really?  That’s a reason to violate our First Amendment Rights?  Exceptions to FOIA and ORA should be reserved for security reasons, not sports teams. 

Instead of going down this path, I wish the Legislators would have told Coach Smart they would make one phone call and get additional funding for his poor, over-worked office staff.  However, understanding that football is the most important thing in Georgia, I hope the Governor is right and UGA or GA Tech will win the NCAA Championship this year since the obstacle of answering records requests timely has been eliminated.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How Bernie Can Win But Still Lose

This is the most wonkish column I’ve written in the two years I’ve been writing Unfair and Unbalanced.  Please stay with me, though.  I feel it’s important that before too many people jump to the conclusion that Bernie Sanders’ “winning” streak will be the political death of Hillary Clinton, you should clearly understand the rules we’re playing under.  Under the rules of the Democratic Party, it makes it unlikely that Sanders can over-take her in the delegate count.  That’s because under the rules I’ll explain below, you’ll understand how a candidate can win but still lose.

Electing a President in our country is a complicated and confusing matter.  It can even be exasperating and infuriating.  For instance, the big news this week is that Bernie Sanders won the Wyoming caucus with 56% of the vote to Clinton’s 44%.  So he won!  Not so fast.  Wyoming had 14 delegates to the convention to award.  Convention delegates are awarded depending on how well the candidate did in the larger populated congressional districts.  Even though Sanders won the popular vote of the caucus, he was awarded only 7 delegates.  Clinton was awarded 7 delegates.  Now it appears to be a tie!  Nope!   Wyoming has 4 super delegates who are members of the Democratic National Committee who automatically have a seat at the Democratic convention.  They have previously committed to be a Clinton delegate.  Therefore, Sanders received 7 delegates and Clinton received 11.  That’s a win for Clinton by anybody’s math and she didn’t even campaign there. 

You may not like it, but it’s the system of the Democratic National Party (DNC).  The DNC sets the rules for the super delegates and the convention rules.  The individual State Democratic Party decides on whether the State will have a caucus, an open primary, a closed primary, or semi-closed primary.  The State party also decides if it will be a winner-take-all allocation or whether the delegates will be proportionate as to how well a candidate does in each congressional district. 

The Republican GOP has a slightly different system.  They don’t have super delegates but a delegate can run as un-pledged. As a Democrat, it’s not my job to explain Republican election rules.  I defer to Will Davis for that.  I’m just guessing that right now, the GOP is wishing they had the super delegate provision in their rules.  If they did, the establishment of the GOP wouldn’t be having a cat fit about Donald Trump.

The idea of super delegates by the DNC was born to avoid another disaster in their nomination process like happened in 1972.  They wanted to make sure that future nominees represented the values of the Party and avoid the possibility that a cult figure, a flash-in-the pan (so to speak) and a person nominated based on one issue was nominated.   His opposition to the Viet Nam War powered Senator George McGovern’s campaign and a strong grass roots movement of college students and pacifists.  McGovern did not have the support of the party establishment.  Combined with problems faced by other front-runners at that time, McGovern was nominated. (Sound familiar?)   McGovern, as the Democratic nominee, went on to lose in 49 states, a devastating landslide loss.

There is another category of delegates called Pledged Leaders and Elected Officials (PLEO).  PLEO’s are elected by party members after the last primary is held.  For example, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is one of many that will be seated as a delegate under this provision. 

Super delegates are made up of party elders and party faithful based on their history of supporting the Democratic Party and their candidates.    Since this rule has been instituted, a nominee has not been chosen by the vote of super delegates and PLEO’s.  Keep in mind, just because it’s never been done, does not mean it can’t happen. 

Hillary and Bill Clinton have been Mr. and Mrs. Democrat for two decades.  They have supported the Democratic Party and their candidates with their time and fundraising abilities relentlessly. There are few elected officials that Hillary has not helped through the party.  For this reason, even if Sanders was to rout Hillary in the rest of the primaries, it is doubtful that the super delegates and few of the PLEO’s will abandon her, a die-hard Democrat, for a candidate that has never professed to being a Democrat and is using their organization for his vehicle.  Yes, Bernie Sander’s supporters will scream, “They are stealing the election from Bernie!”  They’ll have to get over it.  That’s our system and that’s how we roll.  Just ask Al Gore when he won the popular vote over-all, but lost the Electoral College vote in the General Election by losing the popular vote by 587 votes in a questionable Florida election.  I hope it doesn’t become necessary for me to write about the Electoral College, our most inexplicable election process.

On a lighter note, Happy Tax Day!  Ha!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Chris Matthews, A Hero

What a week!  It finally happened, folks!  It appears Trump is literally “down for the count.”  As I predicted last year, one of Trump’s goons would hurt someone and that would contribute to his downfall.  After his campaign manager assaulted a female reporter, things got even worse when Donald Trump assaulted all women in his interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.  Ending the week with a whopping 70% disapproval rating among women according to the Wall Street Journal, it appears that the really smart people in America have seen the truth. 

And we owe it all to Chris Matthews!  He unmasked the phantom.  He is the only journalist with the skill and fortitude to use Trump’s own tactics to trip him up and expose the real Donald Trump.  No, I don’t believe that Trump actually thinks that women should be punished for having an abortion.  However, the fact that he thought it was the answer he should give to get votes makes everyone know he is too dumb (and dangerous) to be President of the United States.  Chris Matthews has earned his place in journalism’s Hall of Fame and we should all be grateful for his service to our country. 

Now what, Republicans?   Ted Cruz?  The upside with Cruz, unlike Trump, he doesn’t think women should be punished for having an abortion.  The downside is, he believes the doctor should be executed. 

This week, George and I will observe our 47th wedding anniversary.  You will notice I didn’t use the word “celebrate.”  That’s because we don’t do much of that anymore. Besides, I told George I wanted to go eat somewhere this year that required reservations.  He said, “I don’t think that’s possible at Waffle House.” 

I know some of you newly weds would like to know the secret to our marriage longevity.  I would, too.   As a paralegal in the family law business, I was only exposed to marriages that didn’t work.  I think we all know some of those reasons:  Infidelity, abusiveness, financial, failure to communicate, and failure to stop and ask for directions.  I don’t have an explanation as to why some marriages work and some don’t.  There is no magic formula.  All I can tell you is what has worked for George and I.

Never go to bed angry at each other.  Certainly not groundbreaking advice, but it’s very true.  In the case of my marriage, George deserves all the credit here.  There is no way he will let me stay angry. When he says, “Okay, tell me you’re sorry and take it all back,” I laugh so hard I forget I’m angry.

Time alone.  We have found this to be most beneficial to our relationship.  Twice a week, we go to a nice, romantic place to dine.  White tablecloths, candlelight, soft music playing in the background, and enjoy a glass of fine wine.  He goes on Tuesdays and I go on Thursdays.  (Gotcha!)

Laugh and have fun.  Look for the humor in situations instead of dwelling on the negative.  You’d be amazed at how the pain in a situation can be eased with laughter.  Example.  One day we were headed to the car to leave for an occasion.  George abruptly disappeared.  After waiting in the car for at least five minutes, I went to look for him.  I opened the bathroom door and surveyed the inexplicable situation.  He was fully clothed, sitting in the bathtub with the water running.  “What the hell are you doing?” Obviously in agony, he explained that he had confused the tube of medicine used for mild anal irritation with my tube of arthritis medicine, Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper.  Clearly, the only assistance I could give him was to ease his pain with laughter, the best medicine. 

Forgiveness.  This is most important to a long lasting marriage.  You have to remember that although you put your spouse on a pedestal, your spouse is human and cannot please you 100% of the time.  And, if you find yourself married to someone who finds happiness in making jokes at your expense, telling stories about you at parties to make people laugh, or sometimes even writes about you in the newspaper, never take it personally and always forgive her. 

Finally, to find the perfect mate for life, it takes a lot of luck.  I found the pot o’ gold.