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Dear Kentucky: This is what an abortion ban looks like

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Salvador Dali “Liberation”

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While she runs my credit card, the clerk makes polite conversation. “Is this rain ever going to stop?” she sighs, describing how there is no way to get her toddler in and out of a carseat without getting soaked.

“Well, now I’ll need to see pictures of your toddler,” I say, and like all proud mothers she gets out her phone and starts scrolling. She almost slips past a photo of her 11 year-old daughter with a friend, saying “And that’s Jaycee who stays with us,” when I stop her and ask what “stays with us” means.

Jaycee, she explains, came for a sleepover about a year ago and never really went home. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. “Her mom is only 26, she also has six younger children but won’t give up the kids because she gets a check. And Jaycee feels safe with us, so she stays.”

I wonder if our state legislature consider cases like Jaycee’s, children whom they insist must be born yet fall outside the safety nets they think they are building with bills like HB158 (a foster care bill of rights) and HB1 (adoption and foster care reforms).

In a 1997 interview with The New Yorker, writer Jeanette Winterson said about human nature, “Most of us spend a lot of time censoring everything that we see and hear. Does it fit with our world picture? And if it doesn’t, how can we shut it out, how can we ignore it?”

It seems Jaycee, her mother, the additional six children, and even the clerk whose family has taken Jaycee in, all fall into the “shut it out and ignore it” category while the pro-life, mostly male, contingent of our legislature pat themselves on the back for a job well-done.

Rep. James Tipton wrote in the Feb. 20 issue of The Anderson News that “The House passed HB148 by a 69-20 vote last Friday. This measure seeks to prepare Kentucky for the possibility that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade by prohibiting abortion in all cases except when required to save the life of the mother or prevent serious harm to her. The Senate also passed SB9, a measure which bans abortion after the child’s heartbeat can be detected.”

A friend who is expecting texted: Is Kentucky really going to pass a six week ban? We didn’t even suspect we were pregnant until five or six weeks, then it took a month to get a doctor’s appointment. And we didn’t know the health/viabilty until 12 weeks.

Let’s be clear. It’s not a heartbeat bill. It’s a ban.

Pro-lifers would have us believe that Roe v. Wade created abortion, and that striking down the law will be the panacea, the final solution, the big win. But the facts say otherwise. Terminations of pregnancy date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and so the pro-life obsession with banning a woman’s right to choose begs the obvious questions:

Is the goal of the pro-life movement—which began in 1980, not as a moral movement but as a Hail Mary pass to get Evangelicals to the polls—to significantly reduce the number of abortions?

If so, programs offering free birth control, pre-natal and well-baby care, and subsidized childcare so women can return to work might go a long way.

Or is the goal zero tolerance?

Gov. Matt Bevin and his caucus have been clear: they seek to outlaw abortion in Kentucky, even as thousands of years of history clearly tell us that outlawing abortion does not end abortion.

So in addition to women risking their lives by trying to self-abort, let’s consider what a Bevin Ban—what criminalization—looks like.

How do you suggest punishing a poor, scared, 16 year-old from Appalachia, Louisville, or Lawrenceburg?

Will there be a significant fine, a sliding scale, maybe, based on income or lack thereof? Or will public shaming, her mug shot, in the local paper do?

Will you put women in the county jail or state prison—“Lock her up! Lock her up!” comes to mind—and for how long? What happens when she loses her job and her health insurance for going to jail? Are you going to support her? Am I?

And what do you suppose happens to kids like Jaycee and her six siblings, born to a woman who does not want to be a mother?

Does this fit your world picture? Or will you simply ignore it?

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The baby killers

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Pablo Picasso

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I am pro-choice, which leads many pro-lifers to call me a baby killer. Last week, a Kentucky lawmaker referred to abortion as a holocaust inside the womb. And on Feb. 6, the publisher’s editorial in this newspaper stated that “New York approved a measure that allows abortions right up until the time of birth, and for babies that survive the abortion, to be killed outside of the mother’s womb.”

According to the Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org, the New York law specifically states that “after 24 weeks, such decisions must be made with a determination that there is an ‘absence of fetal viability’ or that the procedure is ‘necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.’ That determination must be made by a ‘health care practitioner licensed, certified, or authorized’ under state law, ‘acting within his or her lawful scope of practice.’”

A far cry from killing a baby outside the mother’s womb.

If you believe healthy, pregnant women are casually waltzing into clinics in their last trimester, saying, “Everything is fine, I’m just tired of being pregnant,” then not only do you have a horrifyingly misogynistic view of women, but former Governor Chris Christie has a traffic-free bridge in New Jersey he would like to sell you.

Let’s talk facts. The Centers for Disease Control reports that only 1% of abortions take place in the final trimester. On Jan. 26, Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a board certified OB/GYN in both Canada and the U.S., sought to educate why in tweeting examples from her own practice:

“25 weeks, severe growth restriction and fetus not expected to survive. Pregnant person has severe pre-eclampsia, chooses abortion over c-section.”

“32 weeks, anencephalic fetus. Pregnant person just can’t take people touching her belly and asking about the baby. Chooses an early induction, which is technically an abortion.”

“Triploidy pregnancy. Had been planning to deliver at term and have hospice. At 36 weeks, transverse lie. Can’t be induced for this reason. Does not want a c-section. Chooses a dilation and extraction.”

Unfortunately, the medical underpinnings around this topic have been all but drowned out by pastors and politicians.

The term “pro-life” was devised in 1980 by political operatives. Ronald Reagan, who had long supported women’s reproductive rights as Governor of California, was suddenly faced with a failing presidential bid, and his strategists were desperate to rebrand their candidate and get a new block of voters, Evangelicals, to the polls.

It was political genius. It worked. And it continues to work today.

Women have been terminating pregnancies for thousands of years, as evidenced in writings dating to Hippocrates (circa 400 B.C.). In his June 2015 essay, J.R. Thorpe chronicled ancient remedies: crocodile feces inserted into the vagina, pennyroyal tea, stepping over a viper, sitting over a pot of hot onions, camel saliva with ants and deer hair, being shaken or beaten, and more.

Whenever I advocate for common sense gun laws, one argument I consistently hear is that making guns illegal or difficult to get won’t stop people who really want a gun. Okay, but wouldn’t that same logic, then, apply to abortion access?

The phrase “I’m pro-life” certainly sounds idyllic—the very definition of a moral compass pointed eternally north—but our laws did not create the ability nor the need to end a pregnancy. The laws simply made it legal, safe, and as accessible to the poor as to the rich who can afford air travel, the best doctors, and secrecy.

As for me, I love nothing more than a baby, and I am eagerly awaiting the birth of my first grandchild in June, so how about we hang such heinous titles as “baby killer” around the necks of those who have earned it.

Like the man who gunned down 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as 6 adults.

Like the former student who shot and killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, injuring 17 others.

Like the 16 year-old boy who walked into his Albuquerque high school last Friday with a note in his pocket that read, “Find ex gf, kill ex gf, kill other people, and if you have a last bullet take your own life.”

Troubled young men are killing our babies. What, may I ask, is the pro-life movement doing about that?

Our real national emergency

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When my niece was a baby, my mother started avoiding town. “I’m so embarrassed when I take the baby to Walmart,” she would say, “because all the women, they think she’s black or a Mexican, and then I have to explain that the mother is Polynesian, and they’re looking at me like ‘what’s a Polynesian?’ and I just want to scream and get the hell out of there.”

I was reminded of this—of the shame my mother felt among the so-called friends she’d known her entire life—when I heard Tom Brokaw’s comments about immigration. Hispanics, he said, should work harder at assimilation, adding, “Also, I hear, when I push people a little harder, ‘Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.’ I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other.”

Brokaw’s remarks about assimilation is a commonly repeated lie. Research shows that Latinos acquire English just as quickly as Asians and Europeans who arrive here. But it was the part about brown grandbabies that got me.

Is it really taxes and jobs and fiscal responsibility that drive your politics, or is the browning of America the real fire alarm going off in your heart?

As much as my mother adored her first grandbaby, her fears of being shunned and shamed at Walmart (and all over town, really) for the child not being pure-enough white are sickeningly common. What will people think? What will they say about me behind my back?

Shame, fear, and bigotry are extraordinarily powerful, and our president is a master craftsman in control of his favorite tools.

Illegal immigration is at a 45 year low. But instead of taking credit for this, the president sticks with story after story about thousands of brown people in caravans breaching our southern border. Terrorists, drugs, rape, crime! Why? Because it works; because he knows these stories, these images, are what keep his voters’ attention.

And yet, when his national security team testified last week before Congress about all of the dangers we face, guess what none of them mentioned: our southern border.

Where, then, lies his great national emergency?

In a Jan. 30 interview, the president’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network she believes that God wanted Donald Trump to be president, which prompted musician Rosanne Cash to respond, “So he could separate mothers and babies, deny health care, kill people w/ previously banned pesticides, destroy the environment, redefine domestic violence in favor of the abuser, give voice and legitimacy to racists, bigots and dictators and bully the world? Maybe her God, not mine.”

The week before the November midterms, I was at our Senior Citizen Center setting up for a meeting when an elderly man I’d never met advised me there was no need to vote. “You know who’s going to fix all this? Not you. The man upstairs, that’s who. You ask me, we got to get rid of all the Mexicans and all the blacks—and you know that other thing we call ‘em, the blacks—we got to get every last one of ‘em out of this country, that’s what we got to do.”

Yeah. Maybe his God, not mine.

Democrats want border security as much as Republicans. To say otherwise is a lie.

But a wall? Even the president doesn’t want a wall. What he wants is a fight about the wall; a fight with your favorite new boogeyman, Nancy Pelosi; a fight about the brown people he has demonized from day one; a fight that feeds your bigotry and fuels your worst fears.

My mother died before her grandbaby got to Kindergarten. As my giggling niece regaled our family about having so many new friends, my brother (her father), put on his worried face and warned her not to befriend the black boy at her table of six year-olds. “You know what little black boys do to little white girls?” he ribbed.

Then she was afraid to go to school.

This—the fear and bigotry and shame we continue install in our children—is our real national emergency.

Shine, perishing republic

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It is official. The man who would “Make America Great Again” now owns the record for longest government shutdown in history.

As 800,000 federal workers head into 2019 without paychecks—in a fight over funding a border wall that Mexico was going to pay for—news breaks that the president has been the subject of a counterintelligence investigation to determine if he was working on behalf of Russia against American interests.

Incidents like these would cripple any other presidency. But Trump supporters never waiver, never question, holding stubbornly firm like someone who always does the Sunday crossword in ink and refuses, no matter how Gordian it gets, to consider a pencil.

This is not uncommon. As military historian Thomas E. Ricks wrote in his 2017 book on Winston Churchill and George Orwell, “We should remember that most of us, most of the time, do not welcome the voices of people like Orwell and Churchill appearing in our midst…. To refuse to run with the herd is generally harder than it looks. To break with with the most powerful among that herd requires unusual depth of character and clarity of mind.”

When Sen. Mitch McConnell came to little Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in February 2017 for a closed, ticketed town hall, I recall him snickering, “Elections have consequences. Winners make policy and losers go home.”

McConnell was right, which begs basic questions. Why did the president, whose party controlled Congress for two years, not obtain wall funding and start building? If McConnell believes the wall is the solution to border security, why has he been sotto voce? Why is the president, holed-up and tweeting from the White House for the last month, not out hosting town halls to garner support for the wall?

And then there’s Russia. On Jan. 12, Judge Jeannine Pirro of FOX News asked the president point blank if he has ever worked on behalf of the Russians. He blamed his usual list of suspects—the NY Times, Jeff Bezos, James Comey, the FBI—then said, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

How hard is it to simply say no, I am not a Russian agent?

Watching Pirro conduct this interview was like watching a wife waving a handful of hotel receipts, accusing her husband of having an affair, and his only response is, “You’re being ridiculous.”

Consider the opening stanza of “Shine, Perishing Republic” by poet Robinson Jeffers. “While this America settles into the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire, and protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens.”

No matter the constant, bubbling, molten mass of troubling news, Trump supporters remain dug in. Ask yourself: why was it easy to believe the absurd claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S. but hard to imagine Trump as the least bit compromised?

Ricks was right: to break with the herd is generally harder than it looks.

If the shutdown continues—and the president has warned it could go for weeks, or even months—how will federal workers pay rent, buy food, fill their gas tanks, afford medication?

A local woman wrote to me about the tertiary effects. “FHA loans have been suspended. Therefore, good friends who sold their home to a buyer who was FHA approved fear they will lose the home they are purchasing because closing dates aren’t met. Domino effect.”

Airport TSA employees are calling in sick. How long will air travel remain safe? If you were a terrorist, how vulnerable do we appear?

Sadly, the mass continues to harden. The new year begins with a paralyzed government. Our elected leaders are barely speaking. Almost a million Americans are either furloughed or working without pay. And the president (Mr. “I alone can fix it.”) storms out of meetings, refusing to negotiate, while also reportedly under investigation for working on behalf of Russia and against American interests.

It’s time to pick up a pencil.

Season Finale

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As we approach the end of Season 2: The Trump White House, our president—the man holding both the nuclear codes and 800,000 federal paychecks hostage—held a raucous, rambling, televised cabinet meeting while displaying a Game of Thrones-inspired poster. “November 4,” the poster read, though it was January. “Sanctions are coming.”

Wait, was this an episode I missed?

I hone in on the poster. President Trump emerging from a thick mist, his coat waving in an imagined wind, a throwback to the way TV producers once sold him to audiences of “The Apprentice” in the opening credits. The unmistakable vision of wealth. A towering, mysterious man walking away from a helicopter to the tune of, “Money money money money. MON-aayyy.”

And then it hits me. The poster, the entire cabinet meeting in fact, are teasers for his season finale. Will Trump get his wall? Will almost a million American workers receive paychecks? It’s must see TV!

To be fair, the show delivers. Consider some of the president’s most highly-rated episodes.

S1:E1—The Muslim Ban: A young man waits all day at the Los Angeles airport for the release of his 80-year-old Iranian grandmother who has already traveled 20 hours and is then locked in a small room with other detainees for nine hours. An Iranian couple with a four month-old baby scheduled for heart surgery is denied entry into the U.S., and even though the family is already in transit with their sick child, they have no choice but to return to Iran.

S1:E5—Russians in the Oval: After 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agree Russia interfered in the 2016 election, the president punishes them by firing his own FBI Director. He then invites Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak into the Oval office with only Russian media (no Americans) in the room. Afterward, the president sits down for an interview with ‘The Economist,’ after which the editors describe his grasp of economics as “unimaginative and incoherent.”

S1:E8—Charlottesville: Neo-nazis march in Virginia, carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” A woman is viciously murdered. The president declares good people on both sides, and the KKK’s David Duke tweets him a thank you.

S1:E9—Hurricanes and Dreamers: In Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, as communities struggle to survive and recover, the president announces his intent to shut down DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) as the body of 31 year-old Alonso Guillen, a DACA recipient, washes ashore, four days after he drowned while voluntarily rescuing stranded Americans.

S2:E6—The Singapore Summit: Not long after announcing a meeting with Kim Jung Un, the president fires his National Security Advisor. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, retired Admiral James Stavridis, responds, “You look for the national security apparatus as guardrails around the presidency because of the immense power that’s invested in the executive branch. I feel like those guardrails are drifting. God help us if we lose Jim Mattis.”

S2:E7—The Helsinki Summit: After a two-hour, private meeting with Vladimir Putin, President Trump is asked who he believes regarding Russia’s interference in our elections, 17 American intelligence agencies or the Russian president? He chooses Russia. Sen. John McCain responds, “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

S2:E11—Kids in Cages: After Central American immigrants walk more than a thousand miles to reach the United States, border patrol agents confiscate their children and store them in cages and tents, after which Homeland Security loses track of many migrant children in their custody. Meanwhile, the president shuts down the government, demanding billions for a wall, citing “caravans.”

In the Jan. 7 issue of The New Yorker, in an article about the making of “The Apprentice,” Patrick Radden Keefe describes how “camera operators often shot Trump from low angles, as you would a basketball pro, or Mt. Rushmore….His entrances were choreographed for maximum impact.”

As we await President Trump’s Season 2 finale, a new, up-close, visage of the president with the words “The Wall is Coming,” have been emblazoned on a new poster. Will the government re-open? Will he get his wall or declare a state of emergency? Tune in!

The American presidency has been reduced to a reality TV show, the star with the nuclear codes is disgruntled, and co-star General Mattis has left the show. God help us.

On the gaps in our education

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The magazine rack at our local coffee shop.

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When I was 20, I got a job in the typing pool of a big city law firm. One day, I scuttled into the office of a young lawyer and closed the door behind me. “Did you know,” I whispered conspiratorially, “that the Davises are Jewish?”

“Ummm, so am I,” he laughed, pushing back his chair. “My last name is Goldstein, for crying out loud.” When this failed to register, he tried more clues, but nothing he offered up made a dent. “Wait a minute,” he said finally. “Are you telling me you’ve never met a Jewish person?”

I recall my face getting hot and how I avoided him for days after. I felt small, ashamed of my ignorance, sorry for the nasty way I’d said, “the Davises are Jewish” like an accusation, when I had no idea what being Jewish even meant.

I grew up in a place much like Lawrenceburg in rural, southern Missouri. Everyone I knew was a Christian of some sort. When I was in high school, my mother remarried and we moved to a little town of 500 with one church, and the local joke was that if you were of a differing faith they ran you out on a rail. A joke that was not all that funny, frankly, when you bore witness to a family literally and cruelly being run out of town.

The sheltered, uninformed way I grew up came to mind last week when I read that our high school principal wants to hire a preacher to teach Bible class.

Unlike my little Missouri town with one church, we have dozens of churches here, as well as a multitude of Sunday schools, Bible study groups, and Vacation Bible Schools. Most businesses around town have Bibles in the waiting rooms and/or Christian radio playing over the sound-system. I think it is fair to say Anderson County is awash in both Biblical study and Christianity.

When I graduated high school, I knew plenty about the Bible, but lacked so much else. I had a hard time managing a budget, ran up credit card debt, had never been to the theatre or a museum, struggled filling out the most basic tax forms, bought cars I did not realize I could not afford, and sometimes made unintentional but unkind comments around people of different cultures or faiths.

My question for the principal is this: what educational gap is Bible class expected to fill?

What if we offered more classes about how to buy a car or a house, how the stock market works, ways to save for retirement, how to budget and cook for a family of four, how to interview for a job? What if we took our kids on more field trips to Louisville and beyond to experience the theatre, a museum, a synagogue or a mosque, ethnic foods?

Last week a friend shared a story about her church’s Sunday service. The pastor had asked someone to sing parts of traditional Christmas songs and then he offered commentary. Can we sing still “White Christmas,” he said, or is that too politically incorrect? After a song about a boy wanting a toy gun and a girl wanting a doll, the pastor asked (sarcastically, I assume) if we can still sing a song about gender-specific toys without offending the liberals.

I do not profess to understand the purpose of that sermon, but sadly it seems both petty and no more informed than me at age 20. Instead of teaching the Bible in high school, maybe we should have a class that teaches our kids how to discuss differences of religion, ethnicity, and politics with respect, because as I can sadly attest, many of the same folks lecturing me with long lists of Bible verses recently have also made public comments and filled their Facebook pages with memes that do not exactly denote a civil, Christian spirit.

If the high school principal is set on offering a new class, why not add something like “World Religions and Cultures,” instruction that could send our kids out into the world more tolerant and less fearful of people, ideas, and religions different from them?

Filling this ever-widening gap might be the most Christian, most Biblical, education of all.

What healthcare for the very, very rich looks like

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Portrait of Dr. Gachet, one of the most revered paintings by Vincent van Gogh

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I am sitting down the dinner table from a wealthy man when I hear him describing a term I have never heard before: concierge medicine. “$1,200 a month,” he explains, “and worth every penny. If I get sick on a holiday or a Sunday, my doctor answers his phone. Same-day appointments, prescriptions filled in an hour, no waiting for a nurse to call you back.”

Looking up and down the table, I expect surprise, some pushback, but nobody balks, so I go back to picking at my salad, calculating the value of $14,000 a year before taxes. Then I picture myself calling Dr. Lu or Dr. Charlene at home on Christmas morning. It’s me, my throat hurts, are you busy?

Money might not buy happiness, but for the wealthy it buys … and I feel I should say this with the French flair it demands … concierge de sante.

I recall the gleaming promises of healthcare that President Trump made within days of his November 2016 election. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” he told The Washington Post. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

He told 60 Minutes he would replace Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) with “great healthcare for much less money. So it’ll be better healthcare, much better, for less money.

Two years on, the president’s plan for better, cheaper, insurance-for-everybody still does not exist, but he took to Twitter on Dec. 14 to cheer a Texas court ruling on the ACA. “As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!”

What kind of man gleefully chalks up a big win at the idea of vulnerable Americans losing their healthcare? The kind of man who has never laid awake nights wondering if he, or his children, can afford to see the doctor. A man born rich.

Mr. Trump sold himself to working class voters as self-made, but The New York Times has reported, “a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.”

The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, is famously quoted as saying, “Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money.” Maybe, but I would argue that easily shelling out $1,200 a month for the privilege of calling your doctor’s personal cell phone 24/7 eliminates one very big damn thing.

An oft-reported exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway went like this: “The rich are different from you and me,” Fitzgerald said, with Hemingway adding, “Yes, they have more money.” These days, they also have access to dark money and the colossal power to enact or withhold legislation, like healthcare and tax reform.

This time last year, the president had just signed his massive GOP tax cut bill—the creme de la creme of his first year in office—and told reporters, “I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs.” And then he jaunted down to Mar a Lago for the long Christmas break and announced to the members of his private club at a dinner party, “You all just got a lot richer!”

At a candidate forum in Anderson County on October 18, a voter asked Congressman Andy Barr about how the tax cuts helped regular people like us, and Rep. Barr took the opportunity to boast about what a boon $2,000 a year is. How thankful we should all be! Two-thousand a year is a lot of money!

Well, I’m no tax expert, but I can multiply and divide and I know $38 a week is nowhere in the ballpark of, “You all just got a lot richer.”

Now, if I only had an extra $1,200 a month for concierge de sante so I could see my doctor before her first available appointment: April 25.