Thursday, October 30, 2008

A zygote's life

I met a zygote while waiting in line at the grocery store the other day. The water on the floor suggested it was a fresh escapee from some nearby fertility lab. I tried to engage it in conversation but all it did was jiggle awkwardly in its little petri dish. What a rude, weird zygote.

Don't laugh. It's not funny. Zygotes are people too, you know. At least, according to Kristi Burton, the 21-year-old mastermind of a Colorado ballot measure that would define "personhood" as beginning at the moment of conception.

Burton is, as you may have guessed, very pro-life and very Christian. She is entitled to her opinion and to pursuing this pro-zygote legal endeavor. But passage of such a law - which would begin to lay the groundwork for overturning Roe v. Wade - would create some rather problematic yet quite amusing quandaries.

For example, if zygotes are lawfully considered people, then would the many thousands of frozen eggs in fertility clinics have to be added to the U.S. census? (NPR asked this question as well)

Since zygotes are unable to work as productive members of society, would the government have to offer social security, unemployment compensation and food stamps so they can keep up the required diet of nourishing stem cells?

If a woman in Colorado, unaware she is pregnant, smokes or consumes alcohol or decides to surf down the stairs on a boogie board and the zygote is harmed, will that woman be charged with child abuse? (This question is posed in the linked article above)

Must a loving couple unable to create their own zygotes file adoption applications and meet with the guardians of unwanted zygotes before claiming a zygote as their own?

Do pregnant women dining out now have to add one extra zygote to every dinner reservation?

Will the U.S. Government have to re-write current education law to ensure that no zygote is left behind?

I promise, I'm done. But do you see what I'm trying to illustrate here? I don't mind anti-abortionists expressing their opinions, but enough is enough. Debating abortion has become futile and pointless, because no matter what we do, abortion will unfortunately be a necessary evil sometimes. I think we all agree that abortion is terrible, but some medical situations unfortunately necessitate this procedure to save the life of another. For that reason, abortion cannot, and never will be, eradicated completely.

Giving zygotes all the rights associated with personhood is ridiculous, particularly when hundreds of thousands of other innocent human beings who successfully survived gestation live a hair's tip away from death each day, due to poverty, lack of access to suitable healthcare, persecution and war. And all in our own country, I might add. Don't get me started on other areas of the world.

Those with a fighting chance at contributing to society, along with those who clearly would but can't because of a disability, deserve the rights to personhood first. Once they're all taken care of, then we can talk about appeasing entitlements for cells in petri dishes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

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I'm amazed at how much Republicans seem to care about women these days.

Perhaps they always did. Call me crazy, but staunch support from conservative Republicans for the reversal of Roe v. Wade seemed to suggest otherwise to me. Not to mention religious views shared by many conservative Republicans that clearly put the woman's role in the home in second place at best, if you know what I mean.

The McCain campaign blasted Barack Obama for saying the following:

"John McCain says he's about change too, and so I guess his whole angle is, 'Watch out George Bush -- except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics -- we're really going to shake things up in Washington.' That's not change. That's just calling something the same thing something different. You know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You know you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough of the same old thing."

The McCain camp demanded an apology from Obama for using the 'lipstick on a pig' remark, saying this reference directly mocked Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. How sexist and tasteless, they said, to call such a venerable woman as Palin a pig wearing lipstick! What a disgrace!

If you took Obama's words in this context, then notice the McCain campaign seems OK with McCain being compared to an old fish wrapped in a piece of paper with "change" written on it.

The McCain campaign was smart to pick up on Obama's 'lipstick on a pig' reference and twist it into an accusation of sexual harrassment their revved up, suddenly pro-female base will eat up and spit out as more votes come November. They've always been good at turning stupid drivol into real controversy to galvanize small-minded people. Just look at the "swiftboating" of John Kerry in 2004.

Never mind the fact McCain once frequently used the same term when describing Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan. It's not the same, they said. I'm assuming the only thing different about that situation was the guy who said it was white.

Anyway, while the playground tattle was smart, I hope the American people are smarter. I hope they realize this tactic truly was "a pathetic attempt to play the gender card," as the Obama campaign said in its response.

If otherwise smart Republicans take this reference and try to convince Americans that Obama's calling Palin a pig with lipstick, then it proves to me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, two things: They're willing to play on social ignorance to deflect attention from real issues (such as the lack of a proper vetting process on Palin), and that conservative Republican views of women indeed haven't changed.

If women were truly equals to conservative Republicans within McCain's campaign, the lipstick on a pig comment wouldn't have been an issue. The vetting process on Palin would have began months ago. And anyone with a down syndrome baby would have received a standing ovation.

All this controversy reveals is that Republicans are willing to shove Palin into a spotlight and whore her out as an agent for change, not because of her accomplishments or qualifications, but because she's a woman.

All this controversy reveals is that Republicans seem to want us reverted to a type of pre-Civil Rights thinking that criminalized a black man's audacity to even talk to a white woman.

All this controversy reveals is that Republicans are banking on people never seeing past Palin's gender and giving her the vote solely for the fact that she's a novelty on this large political stage.

And that, my friends, is the real disgrace.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New landlords: Google before you evict

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I haven't posted in quite some time, but ironically the reason why fits rather nicely into this blog's discussion of the issues middle class people face.

Our landlord is selling the two-family house where we live so he can move out of state to be with family. On July 15, the future owners came to our apartment to tell us a) they wanted to live in our apartment, and b) they wanted us out by August 1 so they can perform renovations before they move in on September 1. Even though we politely explained that our current lease - and the law, for that matter - simply cannot accommodate that request, the conversation ended by establishing that if we weren't out by August 15 at the latest, they would start an eviction process.

In our lease, it clearly specifies that we must be notified in writing of our landlord's intent not to renew our lease no fewer than 45 days before the end of the lease. Since that didn't happen, we CYA-ed by following another provision in our lease, which states we must give our landlord written notice of our intent to vacate no fewer than 45 days before we leave. So, we did so on July 17, exactly 45 days before September 1. Our landlord agreed, and we thought our problems were over.

Then the future owners started forwarding their mail to our address.

The closing is taking place today (July 30). Yesterday, the soon-to-be owners came by unannounced with their realtor for a final walk-through. These people didn't say hello or look me in the face as they trolled about my home, their faces scrunched with anger at the fact that our stuff wasn't in boxes. The man, who has yet to give us his name, asked me what the status was. I politely told him that even though I was legally advised not to speak with them about the apartment until after the closing, I would gladly offer that we'd found an apartment and it will be ready for move-in on September 1.

He then asked me for the name of my lawyer so that his lawyer could contact him to begin the eviction process - and then sue us for their legal costs.

Now, even though we have confirmed 10 times over that an eviction request against us will be thrown out or at best not granted, we still face the possibility of being frivolously dragged into court and forced to pay legal fees for our defense - all because the law won't accommodate some guy's home improvement schedule.

Unfortunately, arrogance and stupidity seems to run rampant among landlords, particularly newbies who don't know how to do a Google search on rental property law and those who are not bound by the strict laws of a metropolitan area where apartments abound. While bum tenants deserve to be prosecuted, what these people are doing to us - good tenants that pay rent on time and follow their lease perfectly - is nothing short of criminal.

I'd be interested to know how the housing crisis has affected the number of tenant/landlord complaints filed. I'm sure many middle class folks rent in part because getting a mortgage is now harder than ever. And I'm sure many have landlord horror stories worse than mine.

In my ongoing quest for justice, I came across some good links to share with folks who might need help like this now or in the future:

A great list of tenants rights groups

Attorneys General in the United States

Or better yet, just do a damn Google search. You never know whose aggravation you might be saving.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Praying for days with no copays

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I've been to the doctor more times this year than I'd like to count. It's like a throwback to the old days, when as a child I racked up a record seven strep throat infections, four bronchitis bouts and two walking pneumonia diagnoses in one year.

This time, they think I've got asthma. Only time and tests and numerous rule-outs will tell. And in the meantime, I can't leave the house without albuterol or Symbicort.

I do consider myself lucky, however, not just because this is a very manageable disease, but mainly because every time I go to the doctor, it doesn't cost me too much. Ten bucks a visit - even for specialists. It's a sweet deal courtesy of my full-time employer.

But as I'm sure we all know, not everyone is so lucky. A few weeks ago, I stood in line behind an old man at my cardiologist's reception desk and patiently waited for him as he tried to wheel and deal the receptionist into reducing his copay of $30. He looked like he was a regular, so I could understand why he'd try to do the impossible. Thirty bucks times an average of one visit per week equals $1,560 per year in doctor copays alone. Yikes.

The cost of healthcare is thankfully at the forefront of issues being covered by our presidential candidates, but I'm not sure I agree with either stance.

Both McCain and Obama want to make it easier for Americans to obtain health insurance, but from who? The same insurance companies that drive up costs for individuals and businesses on an annual basis? Doesn't seem to make sense to me.

Get your commy comments out now, because regardless of what you think I'm going to say it: as far as I'm concerned, converting to a single-payer healthcare system is the only true healthcare reform.

Group a single-payer system with heavy emphasis on prevention instead of treatment, and incentives for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol instead of incentives for denying insurance claims, and that candidate will have my vote.

Yes, health insurance companies have a right to exist in our capitalist society. But as long as my healthcare is in the hands of a company that exists to make a profit before making sick people healthier, we'll keep having the same problems with our health system.

Chances are, that old man at the cardiologist will never live to see a day when he wouldn't have to pay a copay just to see the doctor.

I, on the other hand, hope I do.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

July 1 is Day One for student loans

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For many people who must borrow money to access higher education, July 1 is a big day.

On that day, the rates on federal student loans will drop nearly a full percentage point. The government will also free up access to more unsubsidized Stafford loans. And unconsolidated variable rate Stafford Loans will drop to 4.21 percent, more than three percentage points below the current rate of 7.22 percent.

Compared to what college students were getting before, I'd say these developments are enough to put a smile on any student-debt-worry-wrinkled face.

Personally, I was lucky. I locked in my federal student loans at a cool 3.5 percent interest rate back in 2003. But I just missed the start of the time frame for New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's probe into the shared beds of financial aid offices and private student loan companies.

No doubt, this is good progress on the part of our government. Now if only private student loan companies would follow suit...

For me, federal student loans were never the problem. Private loans, on the other hand, nearly cost me my decent credit and played a role in my decision to change jobs a couple of years ago.

After I graduated, my full student loan payment on both the federal and private loans (both sets of which I consolidated) was about $350 - very manageable, because at the time the interest rate on the private loans was about 4.5 percent. Two years later, those interest rates doubled to about 8.5 percent.

I'd gone to college to be a newspaper reporter, knowing full well the money would suck in the beginning, but I didn't care. I was doing what I loved and believed the money would come later. Ready and willing to wait it out, I deferred my student loan payments. Then, the folks at the Student Loan Corp. came calling, and said I could no longer defer my private loans. I suddenly realized I couldn't make the payment on my salary. I tried to compromise and work things out with the company, but they wouldn't budge. So, I found a better-paying job as a communications specialist. In the month or so it took to transition to the new job and pay scale, I couldn't pay the loan. Even though I explained and explained the situation and always paid on time before, rude and nasty collections staffers from the company called relentlessly, one so rude and demeaning she reduced me to tears.

I consider myself somewhat lucky, because I at least enjoy what I do now and I didn't have to make a drastic career change. But realize there are others who had to find a higher salary doing something they hate or have no passion for, all to satisfy the hungry student loan beast and avoid life-ruining credit blemishes.

I hate the fact that I cried in audible earshot of some scumbag collections agent who had her soul taken from her when she signed on to do her job.

Perhaps she could get her soul back if the government did something I think would over time truly boost our economy and society: simply turn all those federal loans into grants.

Let's face it - most middle class families don't make enough, but they still make too much in the eyes of the federal government to qualify for grants or even the maximum amount of student loans allotted. My parents saved and saved for years for my college education and in a matter of two years, it was gone. That's why they took out private loans for me and while I'm forever grateful for the intent, the resulting blow to my wallet is just unnecessary.

But if all the federal loans I took out had been grants, I'd have a lot less debt worry on my hands right now. So would millions of other students. That's the kind of debt shrinkage that would enable newly-minted baccalaureates to (gasp!) save money, buy the stuff they need to start a new job and a new life after college, even purchase real estate. Call me crazy, but those sound an awful lot like economic stimuli.

Not to mention, many students of color or working class students who would otherwise never consider college because of their financial lot in life might finally get the true access to higher education they deserve, creating more diverse workplaces and more equality among classes and races.

If we can spend billions on a war Congress didn't even authorize, why can't we give money to our future leaders to go to college? That's something I'd rather see my tax dollars go to anyway.

So on July 1, I hope college students enjoy the slight lightening of their debt load - and I hope our country's leaders think about just how easy it could be to widen the college road.