McMaster, Guns, North Charleston & Myrtle Beach: Compare and Contrast

Over the weekend in Myrtle Beach, a “rash” of gun violence has prompted Governor McMaster to gather community leaders in an effort to put an end to it.

On its face, this sounds like a great idea. And I’m not suggesting it isn’t good. By all means, go to Myrtle Beach and have a meaningful discussion that can result in decisive action regarding gun control and our state, Henry.

But can you stop by North Charleston on your way?

This “rash” of gun violence was a disorderly brawl that resulted in a carjacking in which the perp was caught and no one died. Here’s the truth, right from Pulitzer-Prize winning Post and Courier“In all, seven people suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, but it remained uncertain who was responsible for their wounds.”

I’m not diminishing those wounded. That’s terrible. But meanwhile, North Charleston’s violent crime incidence is 1.6 times that of Myrtle Beach. (the crime rate is technically higher in Myrtle, but consider that their population is just under 30,000, while NoCHS is just over 100,000). Last year, North Charleston had the third-highest murder rate in the country and  Myrtle Beach was deemed the seventh most dangerous city in the country. Obviously, we both have problems, but only one of us is getting Gubernatorial attention.

Myrtle Beach is a tourist destination and the Governor and Mayor want to ensure it stays that way. I get it. I don’t want their economy hurt because of gun violence any more than I want my economy hurt by gun violence.  But if this past weekend was all that Myrtle Beach needs to get the Governor’s attention, our community deserves at least the same if not more.

North Charleston should demand an audience with the Governor and, more importantly, funding and an independent audit from the Governor. While we may not be a tourist destination, we do attract millions of dollars in industrial investment and home to the airport, through which thousands of tourists come each year to visit our beautiful Lowcountry.

The sad truth of the matter is that his visit to Myrtle Beach will probably do nothing for their problem. After all, he supported a bill that allowed permitless carry of a firearm (helpful tip, Henry, maybe start with the gun laws to help stem gun violence).

 

Happening right MEOW: Legislation Introduced and Passed

This is just a short list of things that caught my eye. The following legislation has either passed in the House or been introduced in the House. Those passed will go to the Senate for a vote (or a committee referral for a floor vote).  If you wish to make your voice hear on the matter, the next step is to contact your Senator*.

Introduced: H.R.804 – “To amend the National Security Act of 1947 to protect the National Security Council from political interference, and for other purposes.”

There is no bill text yet, but you can watch Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-Fl.) introduce it here. You can follow it on countable here.

This bill, largely a reaction to the recent (perhaps unwitting) placement of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to the National Security Council Principals Committee, was introduced on Feb. 1 and has been referred to House Intelligence Committee.

Passed: H.J.Res 57: Passed 234-190.

This bill overturns a regulation released by the Department of Education that sought to guide the states in implementation of the Every Child Succeeds Act. Supporters of this bill thought the regulation limited individual states flexibility in accountability standards. Read the full text of the regulation in the link above; it’s my understanding that the regulation clarified portions of the bill to give states a better understanding of how to set up their own standards in a more measurable, consistent way.

 “Whereas the ESEA…required a State educational agency (SEA) to hold schools accountable based solely on results on statewide assessments and one other academic indicator, the ESEA, as amended by the ESSA, requires each SEA to have an accountability system that is State-determined and based on multiple indicators, including, but not limited to, at least one indicator of school quality or student success and, at a State’s discretion, an indicator of student growth.”

Passed: H.J.Res 40: Passed 235-180.

Read full text, Countable summary. This bill was received by the Senate on Feb. 2. Check the link on the side to contact your senator should you so desire.

This bill repeals a regulation that prevents those with mental “deficiencies” and receiving disability benefits with the Social Security Administration from purchasing a firearm. The law provides an ability for any affected individual to petition for their right to own a firearm, making it a case-by-case basis of review.

Related Bills: S. J. 14. 

A friend who works in a law office whose clients are primarily veterans and that would be subject to such a rule offered this insight:

I work in federal administrative law and this rule made so much sense. The rule called for the Social Security Administration to notify the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of those individuals who had been found disabled and entitled to disability benefits based on the fact that they either met a listing under listing 12.00 Mental Disorders or had a primary diagnosis of a mental impairment AND had been deemed incapable of managing their own benefits and a representative payee had been appointed to manage their funds for them.

The smear campaign against the rule made it sound like the SSA was coming for your guns.

To get reported to the system a person had to be not only mentally ill or intellectually impaired but also deemed incompetent to handle their own money.

If you can’t handle a debit card you really shouldn’t have a gun.

On the President’s Desk

H.J. 38, passed  228-194. Passed in Senate 54-45. Presented to the President on Feb. 6.

Read full text, Countable summary. This bill revokes an EPA regulation known as the Stream Protection Rule, which tightens exceptions to a rule requiring 100-foot buffer between coal mining and streams, as well as compel coal mining companies to restore/reclaim streams and areas affected by mining.

Related Bill: S. J. 10: Read full text, Countable summary.This bill has been  referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

H.J. Res. 41, passed 235/41. Passed in Senate 52-47. Presented to the President on Feb. 6.

Read Full Text, Countable Summary. This bill revokes the “Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers” rule, which requires resource extraction issuers to disclose payments made to governments for the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals. It is a transparency issue.

Related Bill: S. Joint Res. 9: Read full text, Countable summary. This bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.


Quick caveat: If you support how your Rep voted in the bill, let them know, too. They get so many calls that are demoralizing. When I called Sen. Graham’s Lowcountry office to thank him for issuing the press release with Sen. McCain condemning the executive order on immigration, she thanked me. She told me the call she got before me and several before that were angry people demanding that Graham act like a Republican; that the people want this and the people voted for President Trump so Graham should lock step with that mission. As a daughter of Holocaust refugees, this type of speech was very frightening to the local aid, and she started crying. So, yeah. Just don’t be a garbage person to whomever answers the phone.

SC Statehouse Bills on Personhood in Committee

The Bill

  1. H 3530: Personhood Act of South Carolina
  2. S 217

Context

The South Carolina statehouse–both senate and the house of representatives–have nearly identical bills on personhood definition that have been referred to the judiciary committee for evaluation of vitality. The language used in them is enough to raise objection, as well as the fact that they are probably unconstitutional.

The bill seeks to amend the 1976 Code of South Carolina laws to enact the “Personhood act of South Carolina,” which establishes “that the right to life for each born and preborn human being vests at fertilization, and that the rights of due process and equal protection, guaranteed by section 3, article I of the constitution of this state, vest at fertilization for each born and preborn human being.”

Discussion

My personal position on abortion is this: I support you if you are “pro-life,” as devicisve a term that is, but I don’t think it should preclude what I see as my constitionally conservative view that the government doesn’t have a right or reason to legislate the conditions of medical intervention of s voluntary procedure. Tl;dr: if you don’t support abortion, don’t get one, and don’t push your views, experiences, and access privilege on others in the form of legislation. Instead I think a good outlet for that energy would be to extend your compassion for “preborn humans” to the women making difficult decisions or women with children they weren’t prepared for and need a helping hand or loving hug.

BACK TO BUSINESS

There are two remarkable things about this legislation. One is the phrase “preborn human” used to avoid the medical term of fetus. As a gentle reminder, the medical community has already empirically defined “personhood,” or when the organism is referred to as a baby instead of a fetus: it is when it can survive outside of the womb. I’ve never had a baby, but I’m at least 80% sure that a zygote can’t thrive outside the womb. Maybe I’m wrong.
The other, really, truly remarkable part of the bill is their justification: God and country. Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the drafters then present the following “regarding the sanctity of life”:

(2)    All persons are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

(3)    Personhood is God-given, as all men are created in the image of God.

(4)    The Preamble to the Constitution of the State of South Carolina contains the sovereign peoples’ acknowledgment of God as the source of constitutional liberty saying: ‘We the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the preservation and perpetuation of the same.’

Let that sink in for a moment. We have separation of church and state as well as religious freedom written into our laws, not to mention the rights protected in Roe V. Wade. This bill seeks to codify the unprovable actions of an indefinite, subjective being.

And if we are to take the bill literally, which in my opinion we ought to, otherwise what is even the point of laws?, then the third point would put into law that only men are created in the image of God, and thus it could be argued that the rights protected in this bill are not extended to any “preborn human” (or other groups who currently do not have the same protections), who is assigned female the second they exit the womb.

Finally, this could effectively ban abortion in South Carolina, because one of the rights of personhood as outlined in the bill is “that no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

Action

As of this writing, a vote has not been ordered in either chamber nor is it on the judiciary docket for either chamber. Contact your state representatives (senate and house) if you want to object to the legislation. Click here to find them.  If you live in Park Circle, your reps are:

Senator Lawrence K. “Larry” Grooms
(803) 212-6400
click here to send him a message.

Representative J. Seth Whipper
(803) 734-3191
click here to send him a message.

Here is contact information for the respective judiciary committees and links to see all members:

Senate Judiciary Committee — (803)212-6610

House Judiciary Committee — (803)734-3120

Suggested script:

 In regards to points subsections 2, 3, and 4 of section 1-1-320 in H. 3530 and subsection B, C, and D of section 1-1-320 of S. 217, I oppose both bills on the following grounds:

Both bills, in defining personhood through a religious deity, violate a citizen’s right to freedom of religion and the premise of separation of church and state.

The ban on abortion that this measure would create is unconstitutional, as it violates Roe V. Wade and favors the life of an unviable fetus over that of the mother. Abortion is already limited to 20 weeks, which is problematic enough as it is possible, depending on the regularity of one’s menstrual cycle, to not even be aware you are pregnant at 20 weeks  [option insert of discussion of the number of times you have missed your period for more then two months]

This bill will jeopardize the lives, safety, and prosperity of South Carolina women. Women will still need to get abortions, so those with the means will travel out of state at their expense, and women without the means will either face the immense cost of raising a child more often than not in a household that cannot afford it, which in turn will burden the state, and those who cannot afford it and are desperate to avoid that fate will find other means of terminating the pregnancy, and many will be irreparably harmed or killed in that effort. Women will die as a direct result of this bill.

Finally, the gendered language effectively states that women are not equal to men as “personhood is God-given, as all men are created in the image of God.” 

 

Don’t forget! Senate is still voting on Betsy DeVos on 1/31

While originally writing this post, I quickly realized I needed to ask teachers their perspective, since they have lived the effects of these issues. I asked Kelsey Clodfelter–who has taught in a charter school and a traditional public school in Chicago and now mentors first year teacher for Teach for America in Minneappolis–and Christina Clark, an educator in Hillsboro, North Carolina, to weigh in. Kelsey edited for accuracy and clarity and Christina offered direct comment to the Discussion section. 

The Issue

Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, has sparked stark opposition from the left. DeVos is an advocate (read: lobbyist) for “school-choice,” as its proponents like to call it, but you may also know it as the charter system or school vouchers. Mrs. DeVos has, along with her family’s lobbying PAC and foundation, has supported and bolstered the charter program in her native Michigan. Detroit has the largest urban network of charter schools and is consistently one of the worst districts in the country. The G.O.P. supports the appointment in large part because of the move it would make towards drastic reform of the american educational system and move towards more state control of the system.

Mrs. DeVos has also not indicated that she is opposed to guns being allowed in schools, despite being directly asked.

Context

Central to this debate are charter schools and vouchers, which are often described interchangeably, though they are not. John Oliver did a great piece on them last year, but here’s the basic distinction:

Charter school — a school that, like the public system,  receives government funding but is not subject to most (depends by state) of the local and state educational regulations imposed on schools.  They can be established by a joint granting body like a school board and an outside group, like a collection of teachers and parents. The National Education Association reports that charter schools receive $30 billion annually.

School Vouchers — “state-funded scholarships that pay for students to attend private school rather than public school. Private schools must meet minimum standards established by legislatures in order to accept voucher recipients. Legislatures also set parameters for student eligibility that typically target subgroups of students. These can be low-income students that meet a specified income threshold, students attending chronically low performing schools, students with disabilities, or students in military families or foster care.” [National Conference of State Legislators]

 

Discussion

We’ll start off with the points Christina made, and then move on to revelations offered from the Detroit Free Press.

From Christina Clark:

I started writing something about Devos but couldn’t narrow down what I wanted to say. She’s being appointed in the same vein as other appointees–meant to destroy the institutions of government from within with incompetence…All of these incompetent appointees will distract from Trump’s incompetence and greed as he secures his business interests and stops investing in American citizens.

I know that my colleagues and I are specifically concerned about the guns in school policy. Any weapon in a school can end up in the hands of an unhappy student (or teacher). But we see the larger issue of school choice as a drain on public schools in an effort to end services provided for poor and disabled children.
Charter schools, by design, funnel taxpayer money away from public schools and into private ones. High preforming charters give lower income neighborhoods access to more resources and opportunity, but they are fraught with corruption and loss. The theory in part is an answer to the waste and achievement gaps seen in the American Public School system with that resounding, confounding solution that a school should be run like a business. Sound familiar?

A graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids,  Mrs. DeVos has never attended public school nor did she send her children to one, does not have a degree or background in education or pedagogy, so at the very least a legitimate indictment against her is that she has no first-hand experience with the system that evidence suggests she wants to weaken in favor of charters.

DeVos and her family operate one of the largest charter lobbies in the country, contributing millions upon millions of dollars over the past 20 years to reduce regulation and oversight and increase the quantity and amount of federal funding of charter schools in Michigan. As a result, Michigan has a huge number of failing charter schools and no way to shut them down or cease funding to them based on performance. Even in the face of this demonstrable fact, her support for a Michigan-style school choice system as the superlative option remains unshaken. I haven’t been able to suss out whether she financially benefits from the proliferation of charter schools.

Just look at Detroit to see the harmful effects of this purpose-built unchecked system. The city boasts the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools, so while there is no shortage of schools for parents to send their children to, “what remains in short supply is quality,” according to Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson.

“In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently,a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.”

Action

Just three republicans need to vote against her to stop her confirmation. Call, email, and tweet at your senators. Here’s one script:

I’m writing to express my disapproval of the nomination of Betsy DeVos. She has no experience in directing dynamic educational systems and displayed a lack of even a basic understanding of the issues the department tackles. She says she supports children, but her actions don’t fully support it or respect viable, objective data that can be used to help her in her job. .

Government can’t, and shouldn’t, be run like a business.

One of the things getting collective panties in a snarl this week is the possibility that Betsy DeVos will be confirmed as Secretary of Education on January 31.  Central to the debate is the old idea believed by many more right-leaning folks, including DeVos, that government should be run like a business.

On the face of it, running schools or the government like a business sounds great. Successful businesses are so because they have optimized workflows, cut operational costs and risks, and, most notably, increased revenue. One of the crucial ways you do that is by identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIS) and implementing a rigorous system to measure them. You then use the data to make informed decisions.

As astutely pointed out on Tuesday, January 24th’s episode of Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal, it is impossible to implement a direct parallel to government because the central theses of each system are diametrically opposed. Government is driven to serve the people and promote the welfare of society, while business is built to increase wealth and power of individuals, not (inherently), society. And because of these differences, the methods by which these two systems function don’t support integration.

“There are all these rules we put in place because the government has to have social goals that the private sector does not. And in business, it’s easy to measure success: the bottom line. In government, you have social goals which can be measured a million different ways by different people who don’t even always agree on what goals are,” noted Marketplace.

Equivalent CEOS within government still have multiple bosses—congress, the president and the people, to name a few—who they are legally accountable to and have to disclose their processes at the drop of a hat if so asked. Or at least that is how it is built to operate. Businesses don’t have to justify anything they don’t want to except to large shareholders.

This administration and many of those who voted for Trump operate under the myopic if not misled assumption that “moneymaking is a transferable skill,” as pointed out in the Jan. 21 issue of the Economist. For some, it may be, but it is not a rule.

There are certainly portions of the government can be improved by rules and practices of the free market, but similarities do not justify wholesale adoption.

The other side to this coin is the joy with which some people greet the nomination of thirteen political outsiders to cabinet and cabinet-level positions by President Trump. Yes, sometimes people within government are corrupt. But so are some people in business. The great benefit to politicians is that, excepting the president, at practically every juncture of their career advancement they must disclose their finances, contributions, relationships, and undergo hearings and mass evaluations for fitness of office and conflict of interest. So, say what you want to about Jeff Sessions, but at least we’ve seen his tax returns and a bi-partisan, sworn investigation of his actions.

H.R. 7 Passes in the House

Yesterday at 2:05 p.m., the house heard H.R. 55, titled “Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 7) to prohibit taxpayer funded abortions.” The measure passed 233 to 187.

I’m not 100% sure what happens from here. The measure that passed technically just means they agree to consider H.R. 7. At 4:18, the record says the matter of H.R. 7 was considered finished business, which is just vague and seems slightly passive aggressive? Like what your mother says to you when she won’t extend your curfew.  The  congressional record for H.R. 7 lists the most recent action as passing.

In her introduction of her bill, Rep. Cheney (R-WY) called the bill bipartisan, which is pretty comical given the vote results. Of the 101 co-sponsors to the bill, one was a Democrat. So this bill is at best 0.99% bipartisan.

Her introduction was short, and stated that the purpose of the bill was simply to codify the Hyde amendment. She says the fact that federal subsidies are used to help people pay for healthcare that covers abortions a violation of the Hyde amendment and that it should be rectified. I watched the proceedings to see if there was a cogent argument that wasn’t only driven by people being opposed to abortion on underlying moral and religious grounds. There wasn’t one. There was repetition that the Hyde Amendment has “saved” 2 million lives, that 61% of Americans do not support tax-payer funded abortion, and alarmist descriptions of abortion from a republican Rep. Smith (NJ) , notably this gem:

“The billion abortion industry markets the choice and going to extraordinary lengths to cover up, ignore and trivialize the battered victim child in the womb. Madam speaker, pro-life americans struggle for the day when abortion will be replaced by compassion and empathy for women and respect for the most vulnerable among us, the child in the womb. They believe that we ought to love them both, mother and child, and not fund the destruction of children through abortion.” Notably,there was no discussion of empathy or compassion for the children once they are outside of the womb.

The voices of opposition were strong and measured, but often veered to comment on Trump’s tax returns and conflicts of interest. I think this is a trend we will see continue. given a revelation brought up by Rep. McGovern when he rose in opposition. His comments are just spot on and alarmingly shed light on the fact that the house republicans did not allow amendments to be heard on the bill.  “There is no opportunity for any amendments to be heard here today. No opportunity for there to be a real debate. And I regret that very much. Again that is the trend that we see in this congress,” he began. 

But this bill isn’t really about the Hyde amendment. Despite what republicans claim, this extreme and sweeping bill would go even further by placing unprecedented limits on women’s access to reproductive access to reproductive — private insurance can spend private dollars when purchasing health insurance would radically change our nation’s long-standing policy. It is deeply troubling and must not become law.

And I hope people who believe in upholding a woman’s right to choose are watching this debate. And I hope that they are just as outraged as I am by this attempt to roll back women’s health care rights. I hope they call their representatives in congress today to speak out. This is a time for action and we need all of you to make your voices heard.

Representative Watson-Coleman pointed out the hypocrisy so often present in GOP pro-life supporters:

The G.O.P. Has put our bodies and the choices we should get to make about them in the middle of a political firestorm. And with every exhaustingly repetitive argument about when, how and where that a woman should be able to make those decisions, our country suffers. If my republican colleagues are concerned about the life of a child why isn’t their priority to put forward a plan for public education? Why haven’t seen a comprehensive plan a job for job growth. I refuse to allow this white house say politics can rule over a women’s body.

Representative Gottheimer got into the details.

“Now the house is considering a radical bill that would undermine a woman’s right to make her own health decisions but also her ability to choose her own health insurance plan. On top of that, the bill would raise taxes on small businesses who provide their employees with access to comprehensive I health coverage and impose unfair burdens on the women of the united states military. These are the facts. I will always fight back against efforts to limit choice and women’s health.”

You can watch the proceedings here.

As I was watching the proceedings, I received a call from Senator Lindsey Graham’s local office. I’ve called them over the past few weeks about several different issues. Yesterday it was H.R. 7, and on Monday it was DeVos and the U.N. I explained my concerns over the bill and he said “But isn’t there already a law about this?” Yes, sir. Yes there is.

The senate vote on H.R. 7 has not been scheduled yet. Click here to find and call your senator.

 

Action & Context — H.R. 7 No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure

This is the first of what I hope to be a regular type of post with 4 parts: The Bill, where the concern in question is identified and defined, Context, where I’ll try to relay the human-speak version of said issue as discussed by third-party sources (always linked), Discussion (my thoughts, if any), and Action, with links to contact relevant parties and any helpful scripts. 


The Bill

The bill text is a bit ambiguous, but the basic gist is this:
  1. It would make permanent the federal prohibition of tax funded abortion services (this is currently voted on every year)
  2. Place bans on insurance companies participating in the Affordable Care Act marketplace from offering abortion coverage.

Context

Salon broke it down really well:
“It effectively bans providers that participate in the Affordable Care Act marketplace from offering abortion coverage,” said Amy Friedrich-Karnik, the senior federal policy adviser for the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a phone interview. “The way that it does that is by saying women who get premium assistance credits are not allowed to use those credits to purchase any plan that has abortion coverage…In other words, this bill would ban anyone who receives subsidies to buy insurance through Obamacare from purchasing a plan that covers abortion. While that’s numerically a narrow group of people, this bill could end up undercutting most or all private insurance coverage for abortion.
It would, as Friedrich-Karnik explains, become so difficult for insurance companies to figure out who is and is not eligible to buy plans that covered abortion that companies might well choose to remove abortion coverage from all their plans. Most private insurance companies currently offer abortion coverage, but that could very well change if this bill becomes law.”

Discussion

There is a pro and con list attached to the write up on Countable. My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that a) I understand why they might not want to have to vote on the Hyde amendment every year, but inconvenience isn’t a good enough reason. To me the repeated vote is an effort of checks and balances. b) As we know,  the Supreme Court settled this matter int he eyes of the federal government. Access to abortion is a right, so to me, any regulation or restriction is morally driven and not legally justified. If there is a legal argument why this one procedure should not be covered by insurance but others are, I would like to hear it. I haven’t heard one that doesn’t invoke a polarizing moral imperative that is entirely subjective.

Action

If you want to contact your rep you can do so through that site, as well as through the House Find Your Rep page. Since the bill will probably be voted on today, I suggest calling both local and DC offices and sending an email.
Here is a script:
Dear Representative NAME,
I’m writing/calling today to voice my concern over the proposed legislation in House Resolution 7, No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017. This bill has the potential to raise both individual healthcare costs and risks. I am concerned it will place additional limitations on the few insurance companies available through the ACA marketplace and has the potential to limit coverage even further.
Thank you,
Your Name