Friday, January 23, 2015

Homeland Insecurity

Last August, I took my husband to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda for a chemotherapy treatment.  He had warned me of the serious security measures that were in place.  He wasn't exaggerating.  We each had to show ID, then get out of the car and walk into a building that was equipped with the kind of scanners set up at airports these days.  While I ran myself and my purse through the scanners, my car was being checked out for bombs.  Having passed inspection, I was given a one-day photo ID and we were sent on to the hospital.

It was a beautiful, warm day, and I decided to explore the area, and walk to downtown Bethesda for lunch.  I walked out the other side of the compound (for it truly was a compound), past a manned guard booth, and out the gate.  As I so often do, I misjudged distance, and what I thought would be a one-half hour walk turned into over an hour, each way, in the Maryland heat.

So, nearly three hours after I left, I walked through the gate looking like someone who had crossed the desert and was hoping the end was truly in sight and not a mirage.  The same gentleman was at the guard post, and he indeed stopped me.  Apparently, not too many people walked out the gate, and he remembered me.  And yet my one-day pass proved inadequate ID, he also made me show him my driver's license.  And then told me I needed to go around to the front of the complex and go through the full security process again....

The look I must have given him seemed to convince him a) that I wasn't much of a threat, and b) had I to walk around to the front I might have ended up being admitted as a patient, bad public relations for NIH if nothing else.

As I pondered this strange experience, and later talked to my husband about it, we wondered if there was some top-secret highly dangerous research going on that would require these extreme measures.

But no.

In Pay Any Price, by James Risen, he talks about what he calls the "war on normalcy" that has been going on since 9/11.  It is of course a tremendous boondoggle, costing us billions of dollars, in the name of national security.  What all these security corporations have sold to our fear-mongering politicians is the ability to continue to win elections by instilling terror in the populace.  And what we have gotten in return is a nation that trembles in its boots, although we have had far fewer terrorist attacks than we had in the 60's and 70's on our soil.

What have we lost?  Our airports, once the place for reunions of families and friends, are now war zones.  There was once a time when people could walk to the gate to see their loved ones off.  Hell, there was once a time when you could bring a bottle of your own water onto a plane.  I am told that if you are over 75, you are exempt from taking your shoes off as you go through screening, but that's only until the feared jihadis put a 76-year-old on board.

On December 26, at a wonderful, small local movie theater, I was astounded to learn that they were checking bags.  Granted, the woman who was charged with this ridiculous task conducted the most embarrassed and cursory search I've ever undergone.  But still....  And then I realized that this was the big, bad opening of The Interview, a totally goofy, mediocre comedy that had recently struck fear into the hearts of Americans, worried that Kim Jong Un's warriors would be storming our theaters.

What else have we lost?  In Charleston, when I first moved here, I was enthralled by the First Night festivities.  Locals and tourists walking the streets downtown, with what seemed like hundreds of free and inexpensive performances in churches and theaters.  My daughter played the fiddle with Na Fidleiri, and we wandered in and out of other performances throughout the night.  I thought it just couldn't get any better than this.

Then, after 9/11, First Night disappeared, pretty much without a peep.  I have looked it up, yearningly, from time to time, and what it has come down to is a few hours of performances -- "family entertainment" and specifically "non-alcoholic" -- on Marion Square.  And lots of advertisements for restaurants.  A tragic loss, in the name of protecting us from terrorism.

Seems we have terrorized ourselves these past fourteen years.  In the name of security, we have taken away community, and warmth, and freedom to walk the streets, the airports, the theaters of our country.

And, need I add, the real terror really lies in the hypocritical freedom to carry weapons, weapons not to hunt, but to wage war on others in our communities, with no checks or controls.  So it hasn't been Al Qaeda that has terrorized our schools and theaters, it has been unbalanced individuals with access to assault weapons.  And those fear-mongerers whose purpose is to maintain their power of office refuse to legislate gun control.  But are happy to keep us from going about our lives as though life were normal.  Our insecurity is what keeps our politicians secure.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Gun Fantasies

Holiday time, and neither the anti-abortion nuts nor the guns rights idiots could take time off.  Weeks before the start of the South Carolina 2015 legislative session, bills were being pre-filed to make sure they were right in the front of the line to trample on our desire for peace and civil liberty.

As far as gun rights and the NRA are concerned, don't ever think you've heard it all.  And, as with the anti-abortion war, any recent victory -- or defeat -- will result in more attacks on more fronts.

Since his not-quite-stunning defeat in the US Senate primary against Lindsey Graham, not-so-bright state senator Lee Bright has redoubled his efforts to be South Carolina's most formidable gun nut.  If you recall, in the last legislative session, he attempted to top the "guns and liquor" bill by offering up his "guns everywhere" bill.  Supporters of the "Constitutional Carry" bill claim that South Carolina is one of the most restrictive states in terms of allowing folks to tote guns, interpreting the lack of express restrictions in most states to mean that gun-toting is allowed, and not that it should be so obvious that guns aren't allowed that there has been no need for express laws banning them in specific situations.  The "Firearms Freedom Act"  would have kept South Carolina gun manufacturers and owners safe from all those pesky federal laws.

Neither bill passed, but we can count on Bright to come back energized and ready to take up the mantle once again like a warped Don Quixote.  And he has been joined by fellow gun nut, Alan Clemmons, who has proposed a required three week Second Amendment curriculum in all public schools, ending in a Second Amendment Awareness Day, with the festivities closing with a poster/essay contest on "The Right to Bear Arms: One American Right Protecting All Others."  That's right, because in the America we all grew up in, it's guns that have protected our freedom of speech and our individual rights.  Oh, irony, since it's these same goofballs that are continually attacking individual rights.  Maybe if we had weapons, women would be free to have private reproductive health care and gays could marry, anyone could vote and poor people would be given a living wage....

Anyway, obviously, the NRA has its hands all over this one.

But wait!  Here are some of the other less-than-delectable tidbits from the gun nuts in our state legislature:

Again, the "constitutional carry" bill, which would change breaking the law from carrying a gun to carrying a gun with intent to commit a crime.  So, as long as our police officers can spot a crime before it's committed, we're okay.

And because having all South Carolina residents carrying just isn't enough, there is a bill which would allow reciprocity for citizens from other states.  Now, here's the thing about this.  South Carolina does not allow reciprocity with other states for licensed professionals.  South Carolina does not even allow persons from other states with motor vehicle learners permits to drive with licensed SC drivers.  But:  "Got a gun?  Come on in!"

Last year, gun nuts had a resounding success with passage of the bill that allows guns in restaurants and bars.  Because you never know when a gunfight will break out at the saloon, and we should all be ready to defend our honor and our shrimp 'n' grits.  If you don't look too closely at the numbers of shootings in and around South Carolina, you might think that hasn't been a problem.  And if you like the idea of protecting yourself when you take the family out to dinner, you will love the bill that will allow guns to be carried at any college.  Because we'll all rest easier knowing our kids are getting their secondary education in a place where there will never be anyone who is stressed out and unstable and feeling the need to bring a gun to school.

The topping on that deadly cake are bills that would remove the fees for applying for, renewing or replacing one's concealed weapons permit, and of course, allowing it to be used as Voter ID.

To end on a more optimistic note, Democrats Gilda Cobb-Hunter and Mia McLeod have filed H 3034 that would require a person to surrender firearms if the courts have determined that he (or she) presents an imminent danger in a domestic abuse situation, with comparable bill S 3 in the Senate; and H 3033,  requiring national criminal background checks.  I believe I also saw a bill that would create penalties for adults when a child is endangered by a weapon in the home, but I haven't been able to find it again.

Now this is all very confusing for me, as I am sure it is intended.  But I did my best, and apologize for any mistakes.  The important thing is that we know these bills are up there, and they are going to move forward as long as we don't oppose them.  That's how Georgia ended up with its "guns everywhere" law.  Our state restaurant association claims not to have know about the bill allowing guns in bars and restaurants.  So it will take more than occasional disgruntlement to fight this tsunami.  The gun nuts in our legislature know how to rally the gun nuts in the populace.  There really aren't as many of them as there are of us, but, as with the fight for reproductive rights, they are loud and persistent, and we need to keep up, and keep shouting.  So find out who your legislators are, and let them know, today, tomorrow, and next week, how you feel about people walking around in our communities with deadly weapons, and how you feel about our children being forced to learn untruths about the Second Amendment.

It's not just a matter of quality of life, it's a matter of life and death.
  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Ironic Cherry... Reads

For those of us who really don't understand why people are fussing about the minimum wage, and complain when someone on food stamps buys steak, and get touchy when a checkout clerk doesn't smile and enjoy our small talk, Linda Tirado is here to clear things up.  In Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, Tirado takes us into her world.

For those of us fortunate enough to never have had to live without -- or need -- a safety net, or worse, to be living in an America where poverty is suspect and scorned, we are reminded (as so many have been in the last decade) that many of us are one mishap away from her world.  She reminds us that while we all talk about whether or not to raise minimum wage, there are a slew more of us who are living near enough to minimum wage to be enduring the same nightmare of trying to survive on not enough.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed:  On (Not) Getting By in America, wrote the introduction, and that is as is should be.  Ehrenreich opened a lot of eyes in 2001 when she published the book describing her experiences going undercover and working several of the low-wage jobs that incredibly have only grown and gotten worse.  We apparently have a great ability in this country to hide the poor, and pretend that either they don't exist or they deserve what they got.

And Linda Tirado has had it.  The book is in the form of a rant, and it is one of the all-time great rants.  You want to know why that clerk at the dollar store is short with you?  How about she's been on her feet all day, has a sick kid at home, is in physical pain herself, is worried about how she is going to get home -- or get to her second job in time?  She describes the impossible but everyday circumstances of the working poor:  getting a car towed and then watching the cost to reclaim it skyrocket because she can't get there right away or doesn't have the money to get it back; dental problems that are ignored to the point of constant agonizing pain; juggling the demands of your children's schools and employers who demand that job comes first (to the point where you can't hold a second job because you are required to be always available even for a part-time job).

And then there are the frustrations of trying to move forward:  not being able to afford the clothes that would be acceptable at an interview; inadequate transportation; needing to take time from the job that is paying that small but necessary wage to look for those better jobs; not being able to get additional training because it would require time and money you don't have.

And then there are the legislators who we are paying a pretty decent salary (and benefits) who are passionate about not giving a dime to help those who are struggling just to try to get their heads above water.

And the anti-abortion wackos who will make it their life's work to prevent working women from attempting to have some control over whether and when to have a child, but don't want to spend a penny to help a woman who wants a child have better nutrition, better working conditions, better health care.  (Tirado talks about not having a doctor for her first child and the condemnation she received for not taking care of herself while pregnant.  The second -- planned -- pregnancy was met alternately with criticism for having a second child she couldn't afford, and anti-abortion crusaders taunting her as she walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic for her free check-up.  She gleefully recounts her brush with the protesters:

...they kept telling me, "You don't have to do this" and "You have options."  Since I was arriving at the clinic for my first ultrasound to make sure that the baby was healthy, I had a ball pretending to be outraged that they obviously wanted me to abort my baby.

Bathroom breaks.   That's right, there are jobs where employees have to ask for permission to use the bathroom.  If you find that hard to believe, you have definitely been out of the low-wage marketplace for too long.  I remember way back in 1970 doing "piece-work" in a factory (another whole way to abuse employees) and getting into trouble for going to the ladies' room before break-time.  The only way we have allowed that barbaric policy to continue is by refusing to believe that it happens.

Some reviewers of this book are a little put out by the language, others see Tirado as too strident.  I think I know what she would say to that, and I wholeheartedly agree.  This book started with an online rant, which led to a sizable amount of donations, and this book.  Some really snarky idiots have complained that that means Tirado is no longer working poor, and therefore has no business complaining that the working poor are stuck in poverty.  Yeah, that's pretty much how we ended up in a country with working poor, and no where to go but to those same dead-end jobs day in and day out.

And the future for the children of the working poor?  Well, Tirado will tell you how grim that story is too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"Pain-Capable" Is Back and as Devious as Ever

Anti-abortion legislation is the bread-and-butter of the right wing.  Followers are rabid and loud.  My guess is it is a much smaller group than they seem, but they seem bigger because they just. won't. stop.  They show up at Planned Parenthood clinics, ACLU meetings, statehouses and Congress.

One might think that the right-wing, so concerned about governmental invasion of privacy in the Affordable Care Act, would be opposed to anti-abortion legislation that would control medical care and enforce it through invasion of privacy in those same medical records they have claimed to be protecting.  Or right-wingers that go ballistic (yeah, it's a pun but it's not that funny, is it?) over the suggestion of background checks much less registration of gun owners for fear they would invade the privacy of those who seek to wield deadly weapons would look askance at these bills.  Or how about those freedom-of-the-marketplace right-wingers who are now fighting to prevent private pharmaceutical and health insurance companies from offering birth control and abortion services?

These right-wingnuts are the same people who block attempts to feed the poor, including the pregnant and children, much less provide health care or adequate housing.  Life seems a little less precious to them when it comes to protecting it after birth.

Here in South Carolina, on Tuesday, an infant died.  Less than a month old, with a 17-year-old mother, who has been charged with murder and child felony abuse.  What social services might have prevented this tragedy?  And, what's worse, who among our lawmakers even cares?

So once again Congress and our own state legislators are force-feeding us the 20-week abortion ban, which, despite proven science, is misnamed the "pain-capable unborn child prevention act."  This is a win-win for these cruel and creepy lawmakers.  Whether the bill passes or not, they are allowed to act morally superior, get lots of publicity, and garner the support of the most vocal, persistent and vicious of us.

Neither new Senate leader Mitch McConnell nor our own Senator Tim Scott care about the suffering of the poor, the hungry children, the emotionally disturbed who are forced to bear children without a support system.  And here in South Carolina, during the holiday season, our own Wendy Nanney couldn't wait to introduce the 20-week abortion ban.  The national organizations are all over this, helping write the laws that allow others to invade the privacy and personal lives of women; they are there to corrode liberty in each state and nationally.

The thing is, we should also be all over this.  Not just because it seeks to impose government control over what should be women's private health care and reproductive decisions, although that is more than enough.  This bill speaks lies and deception from its very name.  First of all, "pain-capable" -- what the hell IS that?  Apparently, it means that a fetus is "capable" of feeling pain, if only...?  How about a fetus is capable of feeling pain if the mother does not get the proper nutrition?  Or a fetus is capable of feeling pain if a pregnant woman is not properly housed, or has to work in unsafe conditions, or has to breathe polluted air?

Actually, no, a fetus still is not capable of feeling pain under those conditions.  However, a pregnant woman is capable of feeling pain in those circumstances.  And if a pregnant woman brings her pregnancy to term, an actual baby is likely to feel pain with inadequate nutrition, health care, environment.  It seems that all those right wingnuts stop caring whether there is pain once a living being is actually capable of feeling it.

And actually, abortions at twenty weeks are very rare, and most often done in wanted pregnancies, when serious health problems arise.  To hear the wingnuts talk, you would think droves of women sit around pregnant for five months and then impulsively decide they'd rather not have that baby.  We need to yell bullshit to the false, deceptive presumptions that give these bills air each legislative season.

I for one get tired of fighting for the rights that women were guaranteed when we had a Supreme Court that considered individuals and not their own personal biases.  I hate to think about it, because there may well come a day when our daughters will be denied those rights, in fact, have been gradually losing them over the past decades.  But, you see, those on the other side love nothing better than that good old self-righteous fight.  If they lose, they lose nothing, and it feels good to bash others.  And if they win, they will be smug and smarmy about it for awhile, and then redraw that line so we have to fight them or lose another freedom.

So we need to be louder, and more persistent, and angrier than all those who are once again standing up to defend their right to take away a woman's freedom and privacy.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Ironic Cherry... Reads

I can't believe he wrote this....

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi is a young adult book.  Everyone should read it.  Young adults won't be able to put it down, but neither will you.  Not only does the book have rebellion and romance, excitement and suspense, it is a political book.  The plot revolves around the powerful, shadowy world of corporate product defense, and from the very personal viewpoint of the teenage daughter of the company's president.

As I read, I waited with bated breath.  No, not for the fast-paced plot twists, although they were there.  I waited for the author to back down, to sell out, to find the squishy, happy, compromise ending.  That didn't happen.  This is a book written by an activist, writing about the horrific effects of those public relations and legal defense specialists on any attempt to shine light on bad products.  The whole history of this industry, from tobacco to attacks on the EPA to defense of dangerous drugs, is described in a very vital way.

Just as I can't believe Bacigalupi wrote this, and that Little, Brown published it, I can't believe it is on our library's shelves.  The author is a National Book Award finalist, which lends legitimacy and authority, making it the rare book for young adults that speaks the truth about the world they are coming up in, the world of the Koch brothers and the pharmaceutical giants.

Buy it or check it out and by all means, read it yourself, and pass it on to any and every young adult you know.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How Libraries Die

Back in the day when libraries were funded because books were thought to be important, here in Charleston we had a generous -- and sensible -- book purchase policy.  Eight copies -- one for each large and regional branch plus Main -- were purchased for pretty much anything that wasn't totally obscure.  Before our current director hit town, there was a copy at each branch.  Since he decided we had too many couriers carrying books back and forth, and for that matter, too many books, there is no longer an owning branch.  When you return a book, it stays wherever it was returned.  So there may be five copies of a book in tiny James Island, and none at St. Andrews Regional.

Since so many of us request books online these days, the tragedy does not so much begin with those older books, although it certainly ends there as they get discarded prematurely.  People that go into the library to borrow books encounter the New Books section first.  And many of us, even those who do most of their shopping online, browse those New Books.  That's where they see titles they would otherwise never know about.

Except that over the years our library has cut back on their purchases.  Especially for books that are not best-sellers.  You can always find copies of Bill O'Reilley's latest tome, but some books disappear before we ever see them.  Painful, awful decisions about what books not to order, and of what books to order only one copy.

For example, and this is enraging me as well as breaking my heart, is the book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt.  Even though there is a dearth of books about abortion rights, and the reviews of this book by this established author have been quite good, making the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014, Charleston County Public Library owns ONE copy.  There are only four holds on this book, so it is unlikely that more copies will be purchased.

And here's the thing.  With only one copy, far fewer patrons will know it exists.  When they browse those new books, they won't see it.  When those holds are exhausted (in two months), there will only be one copy of this book on the shelf at one branch.  People who browse the shelves won't know it exists.  People who are interested in abortion rights won't know it exists.  And if that one copy doesn't get lost or damaged in its short life as a New Book, it will go off into the non-fiction stacks to die.

Imagine this happening on way too many topics.  Not only do we not have the opportunity to learn about these important new books because we don't see them on the shelves.  We fail to see topics that might catch our eye, stir our interest.  We become smaller.

And that is what is happening as we downsize our libraries.

Here is what you can do:

1.  If you hear about books like Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, place a hold on it at the library.  A long waiting list gets the attention of the people who do the ordering and they are more likely to order more copies when the topic comes up again.  They may even order more copies of the current book if the waiting list is sufficiently long to prove an interest.

2.  If they don't order more copies, call, email, visit and ask them to order more copies.  Don't let them get away with making decisions about topics that affect our communities, and our lives.

As our library shrinks down to best-sellers and cookbooks, please join me in the fight.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Say No to the Stinkers

The battle over the passage of a budget clearly demonstrates why we need Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, not in the White House.  In the past, when those last-minute, late-night budget bills came for a vote just before Christmas (or any other) break, you could count on House and Senate members holding their noses and voting yes.  Especially Democrats.

But Warren found those two stinky amendments snuck into the bill, and blasted both houses of Congress for even considering passing the legislation.

One of those most offensive amendments would repeal a critical part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation that would hold banks responsible for risky derivative trading rather than the federal government.  The other nasty little piece of work would raise the limit on amounts of campaign contributions that can be made to either Republican or Democratic national committees.

Since Bill Clinton, the Democrats in Congress and the White House have been more than willing to compromise in order to get things done, and the hustlers in the Republican party have been all too happy to hold the government hostage in order to pass legislation that continues to weaken the middle class while increasing the control of the plutocrats.

But Warren has said NO.  And in the House, Nancy Pelosi must be delighted to finally have a senator stand with her in this fight.  Since Ted Kennedy's death, there have been progressive voices, but none has held the attention of the media and the American people as has Elizabeth Warren.  She is an orator reminiscent of Barack Obama, and she has the intellect and determination to carry the argument.  She may be the one to cause weak-kneed Democrats in Congress to stand taller.

In the sorry state of the Democratic Party since the 2014 mid-term election, we could do no better than to have Elizabeth Warren locate our missing voices.  Blue dogs may even figure out that being Republican lite is not the way to rouse the American voter.  It may be that even here in South Carolina Elizabeth Warren's strength and willingness to fight for true democratic values on the national stage will help our battle weary progressives move into the political spotlight.

So let us all take advantage of this opportunity.  Now is the time for our state and national progressive leaders to be loud and stand tall.  Instead of whining about all those anti-Obama, anti-LGBT, anti-women and family bills that a few rabid legislators are introducing at the state house and in Congress, let's urge those good people that are there to take the offensive.  We need them to introduce bills and amendments that assert and protect our rights, every one of us.  We need to stand together with all the groups who have been attacked and form a solid coalition that will not sell out one group in a sad attempt to protect another.

We have been losing ground for years out of fear.  2015 could be the year that we stop being afraid and fight back, if only we look to leaders like Elizabeth Warren to light the way.