Godspeed, Henry and George

At an Oct. 1, 2013, press conference with George Miller and Henry Waxman

At an Oct. 1, 2013, press conference with George Miller and Henry Waxman

Two of my favorite members of the House of Representatives have announced they will retire at the end of this session — George Miller and Henry Waxman.

Both have been strong advocates of the social safety net and of health reform. Without them and their tireless efforts, there would be no Affordable Care Act.

I met Rep. Miller back in the late 1980s when I was a reporter attending a conference on family issues at the Watergate Hotel. This was back when Gannett would pay to send its reporters to conferences and seminars.

I hadn’t heard much about Rep. Miller, but his presentation impressed me. He talked about women — and men — having choices such as job sharing and part-time work to give parents more time with family. He talked about the Family Leave Act, which then-President Reagan refused to sign.

I paid a lot more attention to him after that, and he was and still is consistently progressive. When liberal was a dirty word, he was proud to be one. He never backed off his belief that all people deserve a decent life and that government can help more people achieve it.

I got to meet Henry Waxman last Oct. 1, when I participated in a press conference in Washington. I was surprised at his height, for one thing. I don’t know why, but I always thought he was much taller. Perhaps it was the magnitude of his influence in progressive policy that made him seem larger than life.

Miller and Waxman both were first elected during the Watergate era. Both of them went up against titans of industry, including the tobacco industry in 1994.

The two were among the crafters of the Affordable Care Act, which was as much the product of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s relentless efforts as it was the president’s. Waxman said that the law was the realization of a lifelong dream.

It was an honor to stand with them on Oct. 1, and to thank them in person for the work they have done over the years.

Miller commented that we both were young the first time we met. With all the battles going on now between people of reason and the far right wing, it’s enough to make anyone want to get the hell out of Washington.

I know there are younger members who will rise to take their places, but I will miss these two of the most progressive voices in the House.


Screw the platitudes! Let’s be bold!

sotuI was disappointed at last night’s State of the Union Address. I wanted bold, and what we got was tepid, with a few inspirational quotes thrown in.

“I believe when women succeed, the nation succeeds.”

“Time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”

“With our feet set in the present and our eyes cast to the future, America will be a great nation.”

“America does not stand still, and neither will I.”

“No American working full time should be living in poverty.”

But he talked about support for the natural gas industry, which is destroying the environment wherever it “extracts” gas using the method known as fracking. I wanted to hear that fracking won’t be promoted. I wanted to hear the president propose a ban on fracking and bigger tax breaks for solar and wind power.

He talked about using an executive order to increase the minimum wage for government contractors to $10.10, which still leaves workers far short of a living wage. If you’re going to use your executive power, Mr. President, be bold. The vast majority of Americans would approve of a $15 minimum wage, which is a living wage.

Perhaps the president is so used to making timid proposals and having them shot down by Republicans that he can’t be bold anymore.

Well, Mr. President, you have two years left. You can’t run again. Show us what you have and make it good. If the Republicans want to stand in your way, fine; let the American people know that’s what they’re doing.

I’m thinking no more Mr. Nice Guy because they’ll just crap all over you no matter what you do.

We are locked in a battle for the very life of our Democracy. Corporate powers want to run things their way, which means slave wages, rape of the environment, intrusions on women’s right to control their own bodies and worse.

We must stand up. If we can’t be bold, we will lose.



yaraYesterday in Raleigh, I was found guilty of second-degree trespass for being in the rotunda of the General Assembly on May 13.

The photo above is of Yara Allen being on arrested the same day I was. We sang all the way to jail, and she was tried and found guilty with me yesterday.

I was at the legislative building with Yara and others who were trying to get the ultra-conservative legislative leaders to hear why we oppose their onslaught of laws harming working people, women, children, voters and the poor.

My issue was health care, and I carried a photo of my son, Michael, who died from lack of access to care.

I had tried writing, e-mailing, calling and even going in person with Rev. William Barber to see House Speaker Thom Tillis. He literally ran away from us.

In this year alone, about 2,800 people will die because they lack access to health care. We could prevent it by expanding Medicaid, but these people refuse to do that, even though it costs states nothing to expand Medicaid until 2017, and then it’s just 10 percent of the costs that states will have to bear.

For that little cost, we could save 2,800 human lives every year. They don’t care.

These same legislators slashed access to abortion, saying they’re pro-life, but they’re not. They’re anti-abortion, and that’s different. Pro-life means you want to save people’s lives even AFTER they emerge from the birth canal.

I also oppose the slashing of unemployment benefits and the massive cuts to education, the dangers to the environment and of course, the arrogance of these people.

We in the Moral Mondays movement went into the General Assembly building to be heard, and we were arrested because they could hear us.

Yesterday, the judge merged eight cases. She gave the state six hours to present its case and then rushed through the defense, continually asking our attorneys to hurry it up because of the “late hour.” In all, we had less than two hours to present the defense of eight people.

The judge found the two men not guilty and the six women guilty, even though we all did the same thing.

We all were welcomed into the building as officers held the door for us. We were singing as we entered the building, so they can’t say they didn’t know what our intentions were. In fact, the chief of the General Assembly police stood outside the building. He could have stopped us, but he let us in. More officers showed us where to go once we were in the building. Then, a few minutes later, those same officers arrested us for being in the building.

One judge has been hearing most of the cases, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to her judgments.

Our attorneys use the same arguments trial after trial, but the verdicts are mixed.

We were arrested for political reasons. Our freedom of expression was compromised.

One of the women convicted yesterday said she believes we are political prisoners. That might sound harsh, but the police chief was asked by the DA to just issue citations, and he refused. He arrested us to try and intimidate others.

He heard my testimony yesterday and told me afterward that he didn’t know the significance of the photo I carried at the protest. He said he can’t imagine the pain of outliving a child. I told him I hope he never has to bear it.

So, I am a convicted criminal because of my “political” view that everyone deserves access to health care. I am in good company. There are 941 of us here in NC just for this one movement. But there are thousands more — tens of thousands more — in the American history books, not to mention millions more around the world who have stood up to tyrants.

Right now, we rabblerousers are more popular that the NC legislature because people understand what’s at stake.

I’m not giving up. My attorney has filed an appeal already. I refuse to be intimidated by this immoral crew in Raleigh. I am not afraid, and I will not back down.



Thugs in Durham

Police in Durham, dressed in riot gear, released tear gas into a crowd of protesters.

Police in Durham, dressed in riot gear, released tear gas into a crowd of protesters.

Last night, protesters in Durham, NC, were attacked by the city’s police, who were dressed in riot gear for a vigil-turned-protest.

My friend, Laurel Ashton, was driving to the vigil for Jesus Huerta, a 17-year-old who died while in police custody, when she stopped at a traffic light to see people running away from police and her car was engulfed in tear gas.

“I hope everyone is safe and far away from the police right now,” she wrote.

Huerta was in the back seat of a police car in November, arrested for trespass, when police say he shot himself in the head with a gun that did not belong to police. Since police are supposed to search people before they are placed in the car, no one knows where the gun came from or to whom it belonged.

Both Huerta’s family and police called for peaceful protest, but Thursday night’s vigil turned violent. Police say participants carried banners and shouted obscenities at them and began throwing bottles and other objects at them.

Police answered with tear gas and billy clubs, just as they did at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

As protesters neared police headquarters, they were met by a line of officers in riot gear, as though those in the protest were presumed to be violent.

Police knew about the vigil, and although no one had applied for a permit, they say they allowed the event to go on. But they met protesters with a barricade of officers dressed for combat. What the hell did they expect the response to be?

Nothing bad happened until after protesters were met by riot police and some of the protesters began shouting.

Those doing the shouting were in the wrong, but did they deserve being met with full force? I don’t think so. It was an over-reaction by police.

There must be a better way to do this. Are police so frightened of citizens that they have to show up to a vigil in riot gear? Do they not realize this will provoke people who already distrust them?

The whole thing could have been defused by police offering to protect vigil participants instead of attacking them. Police are supposed to keep the peace, not provoke violence.

We need answers to the questions surrounding the death of a 17-year-old who was arrested for trespassing. We do not need attacks from police on the people who are asking the questions.

We now also need answers to questions about why police over-reacted and why participants in a protest were told they would be arrested for unlawful assembly after police allowed the march to go on and why protesters were met with tear gas and billy clubs.

I’m not saying everyone in the crowd was blameless, but the response was overblown and overly violent.



The very definition of insanity

The very definition of insanity, personified in Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

The very definition of insanity, personified in Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, each time expecting a different result.

Well, House Republicans have voted 41 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the law is still in place.

In desperation, the GOP shut down government, trying to de-fund the law and make it impossible to implement.

That didn’t work either, although it did cost us $24 billion, according to a Standard & Poor estimate.

So now, what’s the plan?

Well, Ted Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas, says he wants to shut down the government again.

And here at home in NC Congressional District 11, our representative, Mark Meadows, has been called the architect of the shutdown because, back in August, he reportedly wrote the letter calling for the shutdown unless “Obamacare” was de-funded.

Economist Steve Morse of Western Carolina University said the shutdown cost people in this district about $1 million a day in lost tourism revenues.

October is the busiest time of year here because of the changing leaves and mild climate, and the shutdown cost people in the tourism industry half their October business.

Meadows has backpedaled on his insistence that the Affordable Care Act be de-funded, probably because people in this district were so angry at the closing of the national park and at his role in bringing about the shutdown (which he now denies, by the way).

So, perhaps Meadows now sees the folly in his obsessive hatred of the Affordable Care Act. His constituents don’t want to lose their businesses over it; they don’t want another government shutdown — hell, they didn’t want the first shutdown.

Cruz was elected because he claimed he could bring government to its knees, which he did, briefly.

Now he claims he wants to be president. Well, let him run and see how far he gets. The American people overwhelmingly disagree with his far-right stands and we are not amused by his antics.

Cruz could still cause trouble, but it’s doubtful he can orchestrate another shutdown and it’s even more doubtful he could take the White House.

Cruz has shown his hand and it’s a loser.


Why we all went to Raleigh


Vicky and Doug Ryder were acquitted of all charges in their Moral Monday arrest.

The prosecution has it all wrong in the Moral Mondays cases.

The state thinks we all went to Raleigh just to be arrested. I’ll be honest, we all knew it was a possibility — even a probability. But by the third week, I expected the police would hand out citations, not arrest us.

I went to court yesterday, and although my case wasn’t heard, the cases of Vicki and Doug Ryder were. The trial lasted six hours and the defense lawyer Scott Holmes was amazing.

He talked about our Constitutional right to address our legislators, who have continually refused to talk to us about the issues or listen to our concerns as they passed laws that actually jeopardize our way of life here: slashes to education and unemployment, refusal to expand Medicaid — putting health care out of reach of a half million people — voter suppression, degradation of the environment, denial of climate change, approval of fracking … and on and on. And the thing of it is, all these issues are intertwined.

I am passionate about making health care accessible for every human being, and they’re taking it away. And because of the rejection of Medicaid, hospitals and clinics that serve the poor will lose a great deal of their indigent care funding. Some will close. This is about human lives, and I am desperate to be heard.

That’s why I went to Raleigh, and that’s why Vicki and Doug went to Raleigh. Doug told the prosecutor that he went to give voice to people who have none — to people in minimum-wage jobs who can’t take a day off work to go to Raleigh and petition their lawmakers.

I have said time and again I am not afraid to be arrested, although I won’t go anywhere with the intention of being arrested. We went to have our voices heard and they decided to arrest us.

Then, Scott and the other defending attorney, Dave Neal, proved that the General Assembly Police chief knew we intended to protest but allowed us into the building anyway.

He showed that the people standing in front of the doors to the Senate chamber weren’t preventing senators and staff from getting into the chamber — which was called into session while the protesters stood outside.

Scott and Dave asked whether Chief Weaver was ever afraid we might resort to violent behavior and he said no. Scott asked whether there were other people in the rotunda who were cheering and clapping but were not arrested and he admitted there were, but they “weren’t within the perimeter we had set up.”

In the early afternoon, Judge Joy Hamilton dropped two of the charges, and about 4 o’clock, she dismissed the final charge.

We couldn’t whoop it up like we wanted, but there were a lot of smiles and tears of relief in Courtroom 402 yesterday afternoon.

We have said all along we are doing nothing more than exercising our Constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and our right to talk to our legislators about our grievances.

House Speaker Thom Tillis literally ran away from us when we went to see him.

How else can we be heard?

Those of us who are determined to have a trial have had to go to Raleigh at least three times so far. For me and several others from this region, that means a four-hour drive each way and an overnight, plus meals.

This is not justice. People who have jobs and can’t make trip after trip to Raleigh are forced to take the plea deal of 25 hours of community service and payment of $180 in court costs. Many of them can’t afford that, but they can’t lose their jobs to fight for vindication either.

Yesterday, the judge agreed with the defense attorney. That gives the rest of us hope that we will be vindicated as well, but we still have to go back unless the DA dismisses all the charges against all of us.



Anger and lies on the right

Image by Huffington Post. This graphic shows the cost of health care premiums state-by-state. It shows the average weighted cost for the least expensive policy on the bronze tier. Dark colors are the most expensive, light the leaSt.

Image by Huffington Post. This graphic shows the cost of health care premiums state-by-state. It shows the average weighted cost for the least expensive policy on the bronze tier. Dark colors are the most expensive, light the least.

As the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces finally open for business, opponents of health reform are getting desperate.

Take, for example, the 21-hour circus sideshow fake filibuster by Texas Republican Ted Cruz in the Senate.

Take the willingness of Republicans to take down the entire government in a desperate last-ditch effort to kill the law.

Look at the TV ads with the frightening Uncle Sam head popping up behind a doctor’s examining table.

In the last week, my son read stories about how Georgia will be the most expensive state in the county to buy insurance. I did some reading on my own and found the numbers in the story were NOT the average prices but the worst-case scenario — you know, someone my age who would not be eligible for assistance.

In fact, Georgia is not the most expensive, it’s the middle of the the pack, and if you make less than four times the federal poverty level (about $46,000 for an individual, $60,000 for a couple and $93,000 for a family of four), you will get help paying for your premiums.

Then yesterday, I heard North Carolina will be the most expensive. Look at the graphic here. It’s in the middle of the pack too, along with California and New York. I’ll bet they have similar misinformation campaigns in every state.

In all, prices are about 16 percent below what was first predicted. Granted, it’s not cheap, but for most people, it will be affordable. The hysterics are nothing more than lies perpetrated by the very people who want the law gone. These are the people who are going around telling young adults to “burn your Obamacare draft card.”

I suppose people could do that if there were an Obamacare draft card, but there isn’t.

Those creepy Uncle Sam head TV ads also are lies. You will buy your insurance from a private company and you will see your own doctor.

Your insurance company can no longer deny necessary treatment, thanks to the law.

They can’t charge you a co-pay for annual physicals, cancer and other screenings or immunizations, thanks to the law.

They can’t put annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

They can’t throw you to the curb if you get sick.

They have to pay out 80 to 85 percent of what they collect in premiums on direct services.

And they don’t like all this regulation because it cuts into their obscene profits.

Because of all the money spent to spread the misinformation, 70 percent of the people who are eligible for help in paying for their premiums don’t know it. More than one-third of Americans think the law was repealed.

The truth is the Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted 41 times to repeal the law, but have failed to get it done, thank God.

The truth is that 45,000 Americans died in this country every year from lack of access to care before the Affordable Care Act, and thousands will continue to die because of GOP-led efforts to deny Medicaid expansion.

These are not pro-life people, no matter what they say. I have had some argue that point with me, but the truth is that if you want to deny people access to life-saving care, if you lie to convince people not to take advantage of access to care, you are not pro-life, no matter how much you love unborn babies.




Fire Aldona Wos now

vos & mccroryIn the last few weeks, it has been revealed that NC Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Vos has hired young campaign workers and paid them more than double what an experienced teacher makes in this state.

Then this week it came out that a colleague of her husband’s has been paid more than a quarter million dollars as a consultant in just eight months.

Today, the news is that another consultant has been paid $100,000.

Talk about blatant cronyism.

This is happening while Wos wants to privatize Medicaid, which will inevitably cut money for services for people in need. Privatization is what happened to mental health services a decade ago and it caused our system to implode.

Reimbursement rates went down so no one could make a profit, providers went out of business, leaving thousands of our most vulnerable people without services.

This is what Wos wants to do with Medicaid instead of expanding it, which would cost the state nothing for three years and then just 10 percent after that.

She has lied about the reason for not expanding Medicaid, saying our Medicaid program is “broken.” Well, before the Republican General Assembly de-funded it two years ago, it was a national model.

Then she said it was because our computer system wasn’t up to the task. She didn’t mention that the state turned down millions of dollars in federal money to build the system up.

Then she said it really wasn’t her decision anyway. I replied that if she and the governor had come out strongly in favor of it the way Gov. Jan Brewer did in Arizona, we could have gotten it through. I also mentioned that the shit-eating grins on her and the governor’s faces were not the demeanor of people who were disappointed with the outcome of the vote.

She walked away from me.

So, we don’t have the money to pay teachers a decent wage, we’re too broke to help people who are unemployed through no fault of their own, our infrastructure is starting to crumble and we have to cut as many social safety net programs as we can.

But Aldona Wos can fritter away hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring friends and campaign workers.

She needs to go. Now.

Here is the letter I e-mailed to Gov. Pat McCrory. Feel free to use it as a template for your own letter to the governort:

Governor, it is time to cut your losses and fire Secretary Aldona Wos. She has violated the public trust again and again.
While Secretary Wos cries about the state Department of Health and Human Services being too broke to provide health care and other services to people in need, she pays a colleague of her husband a quarter million dollars in just eight months, pays another contractor more than $100,000 and gives jobs paying $80,000 and more to young, unqualified campaign workers.
These are not the actions of a devoted public servant; they are the actions of a woman on the take. How can you criticize people who are unemployed and then approve of Secretary Wos’s actions? How can you cut services, refuse to take federal money for an expanded Medicaid, slash funds for education, all because we’re “broke,” and allow this? It is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy.
Fire Aldona Wos now.


You’ll find less news in our local paper

The Citizen-Times cut loose some of its best, most experienced people today. Six people from the newsroom, all of whom had been with the paper for years.

Jaime McKee and her son, Lucas.

Jaime McKee and her son, Lucas.

The first to go was Jaime McKee, who started at the paper in 1998, while she was still in college.

I think she grew up in that newsroom as she grew into someone who knows more about the web than anyone I know. I don’t know how they plan to maintain a quality web site without her.

I’m sure she’ll do well, either with another full-time job or as a freelance web builder. I know I’d hire her. Her husband is a teacher and we all know how hard it is to live on a teacher’s salary in North Carolina.

If you want to know more about Jaime, visit her blog at http://www.lovejaime.com/


RobThe next to go was Rob Mikulak, a copy editor with 40 years experience in the business. He was two years away from retirement and an excellent editor. No one knew more about newsroom operations and no one had a keener eye for mistakes in copy.

Rob also happens to be my husband. We haven’t put that out in public a whole lot because we didn’t want the Tea Party to go after him the way they did me. He always said, “Someone in this house has to have a real job.”

It’s not that he thinks running a small nonprofit isn’t a real job; it just doesn’t pay a real salary yet.

Anyway, he’s been counting the days until he can retire, and the countdown just accelerated to zero. He seems relieved, but the paper will be less reliable without him.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford

Then there’s Jason Sandford, the popular Ashevegas blogger. Jason brags that he has been hired at the paper more times than anyone else — four. He is a native of Asheville, and he knows everyone.

Former publisher Randy Hammer considered him an asset partly because of all the people he knew and who would talk to him. That’s a pretty powerful thing in the communications business.

Jason is so even-tempered — a rarity in this business. He loved coming to work every day and he often made the days a little more bearable for those of us who were less even-tempered.

Jason will continue to work on Ashevegas. Look for him to do good things with it.

Susan Reinhardt.

Susan Reinhardt.

Susan Reinhardt has a huge following because of her quirky sense of humor — part Southern belle, part neurotic mother of teenagers.

We all identify with her takes of family and friends. We see ourselves in her or her Aunt Betty.

Susan also has a huge heart for people who are less fortunate, and her telling of their stories touched a lot of hearts.

She’s never been a “hard-news” writer, but her gift for story-telling earned her a huge following. She will be OK as she continues to tell her stories in books.

Thomas Fraser

Thomas Fraser

Thomas Fraser came to the paper six years ago from another Gannett newspaper in New Jersey. We had a number of mutual friends, since I worked at papers in Central New Jersey.

Thomas worked the worst shifts, 3 to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and he rarely complained.



fletchpixI couldn’t find a photo of photographer John Fletcher, one of the most talented people I know, so I included one of the photos he took.

Fletch takes breathtakingly beautiful photos of our mountains and he captures the best of the people he shoots.

I was surprised to hear he was one of the ones let go today.

Actually, I was surprised to hear about all the decisions. These are six really talented people who have always performed well. They have been loyal, hard-working, good employees.

Without these people, there will be fewer stories on the Citizen-Times web site, fewer stories in the paper, more mistakes, less truth.

Perhaps that’s what Gannett wants. This huge corporation cares nothing for talent, for loyalty, for the value of people who work for them, or for informing people of the truth.

Newspapers used to be a better way to get information than television; they could go into depth and analyze the issues. That’s not true anymore. There are so few people in newsrooms anymore that no one has time to investigate anything, and that’s how big business wants it.

Newspapers are killing themselves. The Citizen-Times is profitable — for now; Gannett is profitable. But they continue to make decisions that leave people less informed, when information is supposed to be what they sell.

All six of these people who were canned today will lose their insurance unless they can afford COBRA. Fortunately for all of us, the Affordable Care Act takes effect in January, so my husband, who has had bypass surgery, and I, with my asthma, will be able to get health insurance.

Shame on Gannett.


Let’s talk about women’s health and “balanced” reporting

femcareAs a reporter, I was always careful to tell both sides of a story, unless the “other side” was a lie — i.e. tobacco is safe, the world is flat or the free market can handle health care without any regulation whatsoever.

It was particularly important when dealing with controversial issues like abortion. I bent over backwards to be fair because although I am pro-choice, I chose not to have an abortion when I was advised to have one. There might have been a circumstance under which I would have chosen to end a pregnancy, but I didn’t encounter it.

I will not, however, condemn any woman who chooses an abortion because I am not in her shoes. According to the law of the land, she has a right to make that choice, with choice being the operative word here.

This week, the only clinic in the state that was eligible to perform safe, legal abortions was shut down by the state, just after the governor signed a law that will close the other 15 clinics.

The thing is, this isn’t just about abortion. These clinics aren’t abortion factories; they provide affordable care to women who are uninsured. I know because I got my primary care at an “abortion clinic” for several years when I didn’t have insurance and I never had an abortion. I’m not the only person who realizes how important these women’s clinics are for women’s overall health.

Women’s clinics also do well-women care such as cancer screenings. Many also have obstetricians who offer affordable care through pregnancy and childbirth. When you close down women’s clinics, you close down women’s access to health care. A lot of people are aware of this, and I would expect newspaper reporters to be among them.

However, when I opened my newspaper this morning, I might have thought I was the only one who knows about the diversity of services offered at women’s clinics and the importance of having them in the community. The front-page headline stated that the “abortion clinic closure” was “praised.”

Perhaps the closure was praised by people who oppose abortion under any circumstance, but the issue here is also access to affordable care, cancer screenings, contraception and other medications.

The problem here is that there is precious little help for women now. A woman of childbearing age (which I no longer am) has a right to decide when and if she will have a child. That’s pretty simple if she has effective contraception, but now that Femcare is closed, that makes affordable contraception more difficult to get. And the very people who deny women access to abortion also want to deny them access to contraception. Then, when the inevitable happens and a baby is born, these same people complain that poor women keep “pumping out” babies.

No matter what, they want to lay the blame on women — not on the men who impregnate them, not on a society that punishes people for being poor, but on women, often because we’re seen as sinful. Eve committed the first sin, after all. That’s what I was taught growing up.

So now, a group of old white men in Raleigh has decided that women can’t have access to abortion and the newspaper reporter can’t find a single person to say it’s not a good thing? No one is available to say women need the services this clinic provided?

I find that hard to believe.


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