Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Getting Away with Lies

Yesterday, the Post & Courier had an opinion piece by Dave Schwartz.  You may not know him; he doesn't even have a wikipedia page.  But this is just the way his employer, David Koch, of the Americans for Prosperity, likes it.  Anonymity allowed him and his brother, the other Koch, to get away with years of control of our legislators, until investigative journalists like Rachel Maddow forced them out of the shadows.

So we have this new guy who comes into town and spreads lies about bad government and good corporations, bad taxes and good job creators, and then moves on.  He has been State Director for AFP in Maryland, then Virginia, and now South Carolina.

The opinion piece in the Post and Courier is an example of the dirtiest of dirty work, full of blatant and absurd lies, like calling the American Legislative Exchange Council "non-partisan."  He argues, predictably, that it is our high state taxes that is the cause of all our ills.  If only we had low taxes like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, we would have -- that's right -- job growth and prosperity.  And he sites that other "non-partisan" group, the Civitas Institute, for research that states that SC has the highest tax rate and the "lowest take-home pay in the region."  The Civitas Institute, for those of you who aren't aware, is that North Carolina group of right wing-nuts who, despite Schwartz claim that they are non-partisan, describes themselves as "North Carolina's conservative voice."  A voice that is funded by Art Pope, who as NC budget director engineered the cutbacks that have devastated North Carolina in recent years.  He has just resigned; we might want to keep an eye on him to see where he will be going to spread his dysentery next.

Anyway, to get back to Dave Schwartz and the Post & Courier.  He has made claims in that piece that are totally fabricated, made to scare and anger readers.  We know he is disseminating lies.  We know that our governor bribes businesses to our state with tax giveaways, that our education system suffers as a result, that too many of our workers are not paid a living wage.  We know that the reason our economic growth in SC is lower than much of the rest of the country is that our yahoos in the legislature and our governor are wasting our resources working to cut services to the poor, deny voting rights to seniors and minorities, and ensure that workers are not allowed to fight for a living wage.  We also know that big corporations are favored over small businesses, and that because the wealthy who profit in our state are not made to contribute, our education, health care and infrastructure resembles that of a third world country, where the lines are clearly drawn between the rich and the poor, and those in the shrinking middle struggle every day to access the American dream.

We should not allow Dave Schwartz and other Koch and Pope minions to get away with disseminating lies without fear of contradiction.  When we see an article online, let's quickly comment.  Let's write letters to the editor pointing out the fallacies and distortions, and correcting the misinformation.  Let's not complain among ourselves, or ignore these outrages.  They will not go away.  They will invade and erode, so that truth becomes fiction.  They snuck into North Carolina like body snatchers and left its government wasted and its people devastated.

It is hard to believe that we have elections coming up in a few months.  Interest has been pretty lackadaisical, considering all we have at stake.  Our Democratic politicians and candidates aren't screaming loud enough, they aren't showing enough outrage.  Shouldn't one of those candidates be writing an Op Ed in the Post and Courier denouncing Dave Schwartz's ridiculous claims?

Somebody, anybody, everybody, please, speak out.  And let's start with the fact that he is misrepresenting who he is and what his organizations stand for. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

War at Home

I have been away for awhile.  I found that it seemed I was writing the same old over and over again.  No new information, no new perspectives.  It has been nice being a member of the uninformed public.  Also, when I got back not a thing had changed -- except that somebody told me gay marriage is now legal in South Carolina, which I guess would be earth-shattering news if it were true.

The "riots" in St. Louis are related to George Zimmerman being handed his gun and set free with the blessing of the NRA and the KKK.  And the Zimmerman outrage is related to the fact that Columbia, SC, last year bought a tank from the federal government.

Rachel Maddow last night had an excellent retrospective on the shootings at Kent State in 1970.  But then she went farther back, to the campus protest in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1967, when Vietnam protests were turned over from local campus police to city police, ending in 65 people hospitalized.

After that, Madison hired a new chief of police, David Cooper, who in his long career there successfully demilitarized the police force, and began what is now called "community policing."

I urge you to read The Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko.  He paints a gruesome picture of how police departments in small communities in this country over the past decade have become armed.  Just as the US is supplying their favored sides in battles in the Middle East, they are also arming our communities.  And what they are being armed for is not fighting neighborhood crime, but for war.

Here are the priorities in the nation today:  we do not have money to spend on education, on housing, on psychotherapy.  We do have unlimited amounts to spend on arms and prisons.  And the citizens of our country are the ones who have chosen these priorities, because they are the ones who are voting.  They may be voting out of ignorance, they are certainly vulnerable to the hysterical fear-mongering of Fox News and the NRA, but the fact remains, we voters have chosen.

The reason we voters choose an armed America is because we believe that only the bad guys will get hurt.  But the battering rams are not shattering the houses of drug lords, but homes of individuals who may have their small stash of pot.  They aren't going after cartels, but people enjoying poker night.

Don't believe it?  Neither do most of us, because it is too horrendous to consider.

But there are a couple of truisms about this situation.  First, there is the supply of weapons.  Then there is the fact that we will pay for the toys, but not for the training.  And then there is the fact that the police have gone from those who live in the community and are hired to protect us, to those with too much firepower, too little training, and who believe that they need to be constantly vigilant, in order to protect themselves.

And of course, police violence like that going on in Ferguson, Missouri, won't be likely to happen in suburban white communities.  We have over the past several years, been fed racist attitudes that have allowed black teenagers to be targeted.  It may be that Michael Brown stole cigars from a convenience store, but maybe not.  He may have pushed the officer, but maybe not.  Whatever he did do, he was unarmed, and shot eight times.

This is not our system of justice.  This is a national corrosion of values, evident in "stop and frisk" and "papers, please."  Where guns are not just allowed but welcomed, because politicians and, yes, our courts, don't really have a clue about the second amendment but prefer to sow seeds of fear across the country, and quash state and individual rights to protect themselves through peaceful measures.  In fact, the second amendment has become somewhat like a Rorschach Test, reflecting just how power hungry and paranoid we are.

This time, though, there were journalists -- white journalists -- who got caught in the tear gas and the rubber bullets and the jailing.  It was a middle class, conservative campus in 1970 where the murders of four unarmed students forced the nation to look at its war on its young citizens.  I am hoping that the media, because members of its own were caught in the crosshairs of a militant police action, will pick up this fight.  Because we are looking at a future with tanks and assault weapons, where people are watched from cameras on the street corners, and are guilty until proven innocent, or maybe until killed. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Gun Conundrum

So you're carrying your gun.  Either you watch a lot of Fox News and have been frightened into believing that anywhere you go there will be a paranoid bully waiting to take you out.  Or you are a paranoid bully looking for someone to take out.

Fact is, the world is a confusing place for gun-toters.  Let's take the beach community of Atlantic Beach / Morehead City, North Carolina, which is where I have been vacationing this week.  My own resort has posted by the tennis courts a sign that says that guns are not allowed anywhere in this resort.

I was relieved, but then I thought, how would all the gun-toters know about this?  I've been here for five days and only just saw the sign.  Suppose I'd been traveling from Georgia, where everybody is encouraged to carry their arms everywhere, all the time, just in case.  Or maybe to impress the ladies.  And I've heard (from Fox News) that here in the South (you gun-toters know it as "Dixie") no bleeding heart Obamacare liberals are going to stop you from protecting yourself and your loved ones from, well, them damned liberal gun-toting Obama-loving Democrats.  And especially in North Carolina, where their God-fearing, Koch-worshiping politicians have ensured that those that got it, flaunt it.

So of course I take my weapon on vacation.

And here we are, a real American family, on vacation.  We've been to the beach, we've barbecued and stayed up late drinking our brew.  We've even honored the voluntary ban on smoking in the rooms.  But we've never been to the tennis courts.  Are we in the wrong here?  And if we were (which we are probably not) how are we supposed to know?  And if we found out when we got here we aren't supposed to be carrying our guns, what the heck are we supposed to do with them?

Here's another example.  Last night I went out for Italian.  Let me tell you, I have been coming here, on and off, for twenty-three years, and I say with some confidence that there is not a lot of great food in the Atlantic Beach area.  And I am the person who is able to rout out great food nearly anywhere I travel.  But I figured this place, a couple miles away in Morehead City, sounded like it had potential.  I'd been eating in all week and thought I might have my dinner there.  I had already checked to make sure they served alcohol, because in these God-fearing parts of the South, you never do know when a family restaurant will just assume lemonade and sweet tea are the perfect accompaniments to steak or oysters.

Crispino's had an interesting online menu and served beer and wine.  It was in a large shopping center, and looked like either they were preparing to expand, or they had just decided to use the shop next door to store pizza boxes.  It was fairly small, with several people waiting for take-out, and otherwise empty.  Not a single person eating in.  So I decided I would do take-out.  As I sat waiting for my order, I noted with displeasure that Fox News was on the television, but at least sound was muted.  I prefer my pizza without partisan politics, but one young man watched, rapt, as the gospel according to Fox played on the screen.  I took out my book.

But just before my order was ready, I noticed a sign that said:

Now this really got me thinking.

If the proprietor appreciates judicious marksmanship, does this mean for just the good guy with the gun?  I'm assuming one would prefer the bad guy not to hit any unintended targets as well.  Also, was the young woman who took my order so inordinately polite because she was afraid that being rude might cause the need to arise for a weapon to be unholstered?  And just suppose that some bad guy comes in to this very small pizza place and even judiciously targets another customer (or employee); what are the chances he is going to be able to hit his target without taking some chunks out of the booths?  And suppose another customer decides to judiciously fight back; how likely is it that not a single customer standing there waiting for their take-out is going to get hit?  Not to mention the possibility that the gun-toter in question doesn't know the meaning of the word "judicious?"

Well, fortunately, I was sitting so I wasn't a great target.  Even more fortunate, I wouldn't be sitting for long because my order was almost ready.  I was glad I had decided not to eat in after all.

But later I wondered at the confusion caused by this situation.  Suppose you had your weapon at home and you were feeling a bit naked and unprotected, and then you came in here, ordered your pizza, and then realized you could have brought your gun.  And also that other people probably already know they can bring their guns.  How can you possibly enjoy your meal under the circumstances?

Or suppose you bring your gun, enjoy your pizza without incident, and then walk over to Dunkin' Donuts only to find that they don't allow guns.  Or maybe they do, my point being you don't actually know until you go in.  Some quandary, isn't it?  I would think the situation would put so many people on edge that somebody is bound to get shot just from the stress of not knowing whether to tote or not.

Meanwhile, back to Crispino's.  The food was good.  I would certainly have gone there again on a future vacation.  But now that I know guns are welcome, it's put a damper on my enthusiasm.  So my plan is to go to TripAdvisor and write an honest review, stating that there is no food that is worth the risk of marksmanship, judicious or not.

I encourage all y'all to do the same when you encounter an establishment that doesn't just allow guns but encourages them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Awesome in North Carolina

I know, I couldn't wait to get away from SC politics, so here I am, in North Carolina.  Well, it couldn't be helped.  It's a timeshare week that I hoped to rent to help cover my recent blue state getaway, and since I couldn't rent it I figured I'd head on out to Atlantic Beach and see how much it's changed in five years.

My resort is still fairly nice, hasn't changed much, and it's lovely to have the beach a short walk away.  The skinny little island, however, is just sad.  It's been way too wet lately, and the standing water and drizzle combined with the fact that ugly three-story tall houses two feet away from other three-story tall houses have been stuck any wherever they barely fit make it seem that the whole thing is just going to sink fairly soon.  I walked the main drag to the causeway yesterday and it's so trashy it's depressing.  It pretty much seemed like a testament to greed and refusal to care.  After my time at the beautiful beach towns in Rhode Island, I couldn't have imagined a greater contrast.

But today I decided to head out to neighboring Morehead City to find Sugarloaf Bakery.  Despite my poor sense of direction, my GPS got me there with no problem.  Traffic was light and I took a careful u-turn and parked in front of the tiny building, and looked up to see a cop car with lights flashing pull up behind me.  The 30-40-ish African American officer took a few seconds to check out my out-of-state plate and no doubt my blatantly liberal bumper stickers.  

I couldn't figure out what I might have done wrong, so when the cop walked over and I asked "What did I do?" I was very obviously not faking it.  I had taken a u-turn under a small unobtrusive sign that said "No U-turns."  I apologized and explained that I was looking for the bakery and hadn't been here before.  He looked up at the bakery and commented, "They have great cheesecake.  The best in the state."  And then he explained to me about the u-turns and told me -- nicely -- not to do it again.  And left.

The tiny bakery was supposed to have opened at 11, but the sign on the door said that due to roof damage from the rains they would be opening at 12, and it was just a couple minutes before.  So far, I'd been lucky all the way around.

The shelves of goodies were still being stocked, and the woman behind the counter described the different sweets.  I bought too many, and as we said our good-byes I told her I was glad they were open and that I hadn't been given a ticket.  She replied that she had noticed my bumper stickers and that she had seen me being stopped for something that people do all day.  Given that I had been let off with the recommendation to try the cheesecake, I really didn't think the stop had been because of the bumper stickers.  The man was, after all, a police officer, and he was a black man, so I thought that I had those two details in my favor.

But she is a Democrat, and we talked about the sad state of North Carolina in the maws of the Republican party and the Kochs, and treading cautiously with a small business in the belly of the beast.  Being from SC, I commiserated, and I told her how astonishing it was to see NC get taken down, and how proud I was that with groups like the SC ACLU, we managed to not have a single anti-abortion law passed in this last legislative session.  Then I got the great opportunity to talk about being fearless, taking chances (like plastering pro-Obama care and anti-Citizens United bumper stickers on your car).  It was a very happy meeting.

And the more conversations I have like this, the more I heartily believe that there are far more of us out there than our Democratic politicians believe.  They just need to know -- we just need to know that we are not alone.  We need to know that our representatives, our candidates, will really stand up for us.  Elizabeth Warren did it in 2012.  In South Carolina we have a few who are unafraid to speak up on issues like women's reproductive rights and gun control, and they even get elected.  Fearless women like Gloria Bromell-Tinubu.  Heck, there are even a couple of men who proudly fight for marriage and workplace equality and women's reproductive freedom.

And that is what it is going to take.  Because we really are the ones who are fighting to protect the American people.

So speak up.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Just a Night's Escape

I know someone who has worked at Wal-Mart for some 18 years.  She works hard; along with back and knee pain she has recently been suffering from a heel spur.  She refuses to get a cortisone shot because the doctor refuses to write her an excuse to get three days off work so that she can stay off her feet while the shot is taking effect.

After 18 years, she makes about $17 an hour.  She will never make a penny more.  Her pay is capped, so that regardless of glowing evaluations, on which pay raises are based, she is not eligible for a raise.  Rather, she figures they are waiting for her to retire so that someone will do her job for much lower pay.

My friend doesn't live big.  She doesn't go away on vacation, she and her husband do their own home and car repairs when possible, and they live well within their means.  But every few months, they head out to Foxwoods Casino and spend a little money on the slots.  They budget how much they are going to spend and assume they will play and mostly lose, but they enjoy the night out.

This time at Foxwoods, they had an amazing night.  Early on, she won $400 and he won $800.  An hour later, she had won another $100 and he had won $400 more.  As they cashed in, they looked like two cats that had both swallowed canaries.

They made their way up to their room, trying very hard not to let others see their excitement, but when they got to their room, they burst into giggles, took pictures, exclaimed over and over how this had never happened before.

Then they hid the winnings.

Not too long after that, they became serious.  They began to talk about what they would do with the windfall.  They decided they were going to do a long awaited car repair and fix the floor in the kitchen.

This is the way it goes for most of us.  Those windfalls these days don't go towards a vacation or even a new car.  We plan to pay down the mortgage, to get that dental work done, to stash the money in a college account for the kids (and hope we don't need to take it out for an emergency).  People who spend too much money gambling or on the lottery are mostly dreaming of a life without burdensome bills and the fear of financial crisis, a life they will never have otherwise.

While the wealthy are stashing money offshore or on Wall Street where they don't have to pay the same taxes we do on our earnings, most of us are just trying to handle our financial obligations.  Our entertainments are modest, as are our plans for the next week, the next month, the next year.

It's just insulting to hear the wealthy and their paid representatives in Congress, most of whom have wealth and job guarantees that we will never dream of having, talk about how we need to pull in our belts.  The taxes they don't pay, that would turn our country around from what has thus far been an inexorable plunge to third world status, the profits they hoard, these fortunes are intended for their own children.  Who don't live by the same standards they expect our children to live by -- it's understood that they should not in their lives have to worry or even work to get by.

And here we are, in the twenty-first century, bad roads, mediocre education, being told we are lucky to live in this great country, with all this opportunity.  Where Exxon can hike the price of gas as high as it likes, but the government won't raise taxes for roads.  Where we are made to believe that we have to choose between jobs and environment.  Where big business controls us with groups like A.L.E.C. while they systematically get rid of our own unions.  And where those big corporate groups and politicians keep us fighting among ourselves over our right to medical privacy and religious freedom while they rape and plunder our country.

And all our hard work leaves us little time, energy or desire to fight for our rights.  So much to lose, and yet so little.   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Our Nanny State

My husband has cancer, and so far chemo isn't helping.  I only bring that up because he has been dealing with pain for nearly two years.  Increasing doses of Oxycontin do nothing to alleviate the pain, only increase his dependence on Oxycontin.

He has been left, at age 76, to skulk around trying to find connections to procure weed in order to ease his pain.  And this pisses me off.  Our legislators, drinks in hand, are quick to point out that marijuana is too dangerous to allow us simple folk access.  Meanwhile, they whine about having to clean up the air we breathe and the water we drink, claiming that the polluters would suffer if forced to clean up our living space.

In defiance of the facts, we are encouraged -- encouraged -- to bring guns into bars, schools, pretty much anyplace except the state and US capitols that these idiots inhabit.  And because facts would prove the need for gun control, they pass laws preventing the collection of data about gun control.

On the other hand, they are concerned enough for our bad behavior that they allow cameras on every street corner and permit police to invade our houses in search of illegal poker games and, of course, medicinal marijuana.

Just as much psychotic legislating goes on regarding our health care:  laws that grant the government the right to monitor our decisions about our bodies, while denying health care to pregnant women and infants.  Death panels?  Not from Obamacare, but from our own legislators, the ones whose stated goal is to protect us from the evils of providing health care to all.

Here we are, listening to bullshit about freedom from the people who are attempting to limit our choices, curb our freedom to live in pursuit of life, liberty and as much freedom from pain as possible.  These are the people who are all too quick to make laws that deny us our rights while granting them to corporations.  Regulate the people, not the banks, or the pharmaceutical industry, or Monsanto, or the Kochs.

So why do they get elected?  In the beginning, this time around, in the 70's, our good lives had some setbacks, and the fearmongers turned us against ourselves.  They had been waiting for their moment, and it came, and so they preached the evils of unions, and regulation, and ungodliness.  And they found a teflon coated actor to lie to us, and the American people bought it.  Morning in America.

And as corporate America became more powerful, even those of us who knew they were wrong began to believe we could not win.  We stopped voting, we stopped fighting.  Our unions compromised themselves out of existence.  Our politicians leaned ever more to the right in order to not fall off the sinking ship.

You don't have to look too closely to see the hypocrisy.  On the one hand, control the individual, with the Patriot Act, with electronic spying, with laws that make our lives more dangerous and on the other hand pass laws that prohibit us from making decisions that would keep us safe.

Meanwhile, my husband would just like to be able to buy some grass so he can get a little rest from the pain.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Beating Graham

Some of you may not know that Lindsey Graham does actually have an opponent in the upcoming election.  Brad Hutto has been around and involved in state politics for awhile, and represents SC Senate District 40.  I was so impressed with his strong stand on women's right to reproductive freedom and privacy that I hoped that he would be that candidate who is unafraid to really promise to make a difference.

Sadly, based on his website, this does not appear to be the case.  Other than promising to fight for a woman's right to make her own health care decisions without government intervention, his statements on issues tend to be along the lines of trying not to say much that might be controversial.  Getting people off food stamps, improving education and infrastructure (while making sure government tightens its belt).  He's going to "fix" the Affordable Care Act, by allowing people to choose the best plan and at the same time not letting the insurance companies be in control.  Granted, he promises to support alternative energy development, but even Exxon claims to do that.

I like Brad.  And we all know it took guts to step up to run against Graham, who has been courting the biggest of the big money backers for a very long time.  He doesn't have lots of billionaires who are going to be writing him checks because frankly, they have Lindsey Graham in their pockets.  What he does have is lots of people who might make the effort to get out and vote for him if he is willing to take a strong and public stand for them.

I don't know anyone who is sponging off the government by collecting food stamps.  That allotment is a pittance, and yet it helps to sustain more of us than you can imagine.  I like that Hutto is speaking out in support of raising the minimum wage.  But $10.10, by the time it gets passed in the Senate is still inadequate.  It will still keep families living in poverty.  By the way, those of us who are living with the help of food stamps -- you don't even know who they are, because they are embarrassed and afraid to admit it.  In order to get rid of the need for food stamp assistance, our government needs to take a strong stand against employers who claim they are unable to stay in business if they give employees a living wage.

And here's more unsolicited advice to State Senator Hutto:

Don't be afraid to speak up for Obamacare.  Honestly, if you're willing to campaign on all the great benefits of the Affordable Care Act, you will be doing a great service to the public, because you will be fighting the absurd and destructive disinformation campaign that idiots like Graham have been promoting, all in the name of fear-building in order to garner votes.

And by standing up to right wingnuts on women's reproductive health, you've gotten our attention and a lot of loyalty.  Mention it every chance you get, and we'll actually get out and vote for you.  

Here's something few politicians do in South Carolina:  talk about the great work Elizabeth Warren is doing to curb the great and powerful Wall Street beast.  And specifically talk about the bill that was recently defeated that would have allowed people to refinance older student loans at current lower interest rates, and Lindsey Graham's part in that defeat.  And if you want students to get out and vote for you, talk about making college more affordable.  Oh, go on, even talk about subsidizing education, the way we subsidize big oil and big agriculture.

For that matter, you might even get some hard-core republican farmers out to support you if you talk about how failure to regulate and large government subsidies have strangled the family farm, and small business in general.  Because Graham and his gang have convinced voters that the enemy is government, where the enemy is actually the giant corporation with their lobbyists and lawyers that control people like Lindsey Graham.

So many issues, and it's just a matter of explaining to people how the current system, with Graham and Scott, have worked to keep us one of the poorest states, with bad roads, failing education, low-paid workers, inadequate health care, oh, and gun violence.

The issue that seems to have alienated more of us Dems than any other is that of gun control.  Hutto voted for the ridiculous bill that allows guns in bars and restaurants, putting the onus of responsibility on the bar/restaurant owners.  If you're afraid of the people here who are passionate about their guns, you should know that even gun owners understand that there is a time and a place for wielding that weapon.  Here we are in 2014 making the country's top-10 list for gun violence.

I would give pause at the voting booth when I consider that you might be in the US Senate, voting on a bill that would require background checks and limit ammunition capacity.  Such a reasonable law, adopted in states that recognize the need, a law that might actually make life safer on the streets and in our schools, I would have to say at this point you would vote against it.

All things being equal -- and in politics in 2014 they are not -- you just might win against Graham.  But because all things are not equal, Brad Hutto needs to be a strong alternative to Lindsey Graham, not a lukewarm bunch of promises.  My motto here in South Carolina is, if you're going to lose anyway, you might as well speak out.  In fact, and in a wonderful irony, speaking out will get you the greatest chance of beating the odds and winning that election.

So, Brad, go out and defend us against the likes of Lindsey Graham.