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. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Getting Slammed and Fighting Back

Here is the difference between Democrats and Republicans:  we Dems -- the ones who volunteer and vote -- are doing okay, but we know that there are others who are not.  We understand that we will all do better when we all do better.  We also empathize with those who are struggling.  We see ourselves in them.  Republicans, on the other hand, are focused on getting the most for themselves.  Capitalism, Christianity, even democracy are twisted to their own needs.

So when it comes to getting out the vote, when it comes to firing up the electorate, the republican party knows how to make it meaningful for their voters.  Even if they have to lie.

They make it about jobs, and don't mention that those jobs will underpay and offer no security.  Nikki Haley is running on all those jobs she brought into the state, but neglects to mention that our tax dollars paid for giveaways to those corporations so that they could pay less than they would elsewhere.

On the republican side, the mantra is to cut taxes.  Well, everything else is going up but our taxes, so it makes sense, doesn't it, that what we get for our tax dollars is going to be struggling schools, poor highways, inadequate medical care.  But with the millions of dollars that goes into campaigns, most voters only see the message that their candidate will provide jobs and cut government.  A simple good/bad message.

I just watched the documentary film, Koch Brothers Exposed, and although I have lately been working hard to take our state and country's downward spiral in stride, I have to admit that it brought me to tears.  The Koch brothers, having done their dirty work in attempting to segregate schools and controlling the universities and state government in North Carolina, have set their sights on South Carolina.  They now have three offices in the state, the newest one in Mount Pleasant.  They are of course, going to work to cut taxes, thereby making our government even more ineffective, and continuing the push to privatize education.

Our Supreme Court (and I use the word "our" quite loosely) has made it clear that money talks and the rest of us can just do what we are told.  Shovel money into banning women's reproductive freedom, and the Supremes are all for it.  While corporations have become people and as such have unfettered freedom of speech, as in the ability to buy candidates and elections, the rest of us have lost our own religious liberty, along with the right to the health care we are paying for, equal opportunity in education, and the right to vote.  All with the blessing of the evil Scalia and his right wing-nuts, bought and paid for by the Kochs.

More depressing even than that is that all nine justices voted to allow abusive demonstrators access to abortion clinics, as a freedom of speech issue, apparently not recognizing the irony that we the people can get nowhere near the justices themselves to engage in our own freedom of speech.

So it's been a tough time.  The greedy and powerful are able to control the uninformed and insecure.  We need to fight fire with fire.  We need more wealthy supporters who understand the cost of increased poverty, underemployment, poor education, poor health, low taxes and an unfair tax system.  We need politicians that understand that voters need to know exactly how this bad system affects them.  Sadly, those with health care have been led to believe it will cost them more if others are insured.  They need to see in black and white how much emergency care is costing them, and the jobs that come with health care expansion.  Most of us can't see how bad roads risk lives, but give them dollars and cents of how much wear and tear on their car will cost going over those potholes.  Compare the cost of increasing the prison population versus improving schools.

It saddens me that we have as a nation become so self-absorbed that we are unable to see that what affects one affects us all.  That insecure politicians can be bought so easily.  That the wealthy who now control our elections find it so easy to appeal to the lowest common denominator among us.

But the Koch brothers don't waste their time worrying about the way things should be.  They look at what we are, and they use it.  If we are made vulnerable by our fears and insecurities, then we need our progressive candidates to understand what we are afraid of and explain to us what they can do to help.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Firing Up the Anti-Abortionist

Our Supreme Court once again today made it that much easier for anti-abortion fanatics to harass and endanger the welfare of persons entering and leaving abortion clinics.  To my dismay, but no longer my surprise, all nine justices agreed that a state cannot make legal a buffer zone around a clinic.

Obviously, these justices have not had the unique experience of attempting to walk through protesters to get into a medical facility that performs abortions.  If they had, they might understand that the claim that protesters merely "sought to have quiet conversations" with women entering the clinics was either purely fabrication or a mental break with reality.  Derisive shouts, cries of "murderer," pictures of bloody fetuses that misrepresent the actual procedure, all unwanted malicious harassment.  Were we to walk down the street window-shopping or on our way to lunch and be accosted by such a crowd, we would surely have the right to have the harassment stopped.  But pregnant women at a medical clinic have no such rights.  They are vulnerable, and they are the true victims.  Clinic workers have also been victimized:  attacked, even murdered, by fanatics who see it as their right and duty to stop those who perform abortions.  In fact, the Massachusetts law creating a buffer zone came to be because of harassment and violence at abortion clinics, including shootings.

The Supreme Court seems to think highly of freedom of speech.  In fact, the headless corporate beast with many and deep pockets has over recent years been given the right to free speech.  And here we have not just free speech, but the right to approach, uninvited, women who apparently do not have the right to not have to listen.  Just as the Westboro Baptist Church was allowed to defile the funerals of members of our military with their anti-gay obscenities, there is a line wherein freedom of speech becomes abuse of others.

Here's the hypocrisy:

Nowhere do our Supreme Court justices go where they are forced to be assaulted, or even approached, by unknown members of the public, not even for the purpose of seeking "to have a quiet conversation" with the justice.  Our members of Congress (supporters of gun rights who nonetheless approve of security checkpoints that disallow guns in Congress) even have a separate entrance to the halls of Congress so that they do not have to risk being approached by the commoner who would like to share an opinion.  When our presidents speak to us, dissenters have the right to protest -- in a cordoned off area far, far away from where they might be seen or heard.

I would like to suggest that our justices and our elected leaders follow the same rules that they inflict on we the people.  Whether it is making guns accessible or allowing protesters access, they should experience first-hand the effects of the laws and rulings that they make from their ivory towers.

Meanwhile, today's ruling is sure to fan the flames of psychotic rage that gives this small but tireless group of anti-abortionists  their raison d'etre.  And sadly, at some point, the words, vile enough on their own, will morph into acts of violence.  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kudos South Carolina

Well, it's over.  It's been an agonizing legislative year here in South Carolina.  Yes, there were great comic moments like the debate about the Columbian mammoth and the age of the earth.  And we all appreciate the great effort put into all the new laws reinforcing our gaming and fishing rights.  But we spent much of the past session trying to protect South Carolinians from the woman-hating power-mad religious right, while at the same time fighting to provide our citizens with health care and better than minimally adequate education.  Given all that, I feel the need to do something I rarely do:  brag about our success.

If you look at our neighbors, all those fellow "red states" and even purple and blue states, you'll see that we've all been bombarded with right wing-nuts with pockets full of money who fund all those "conservative" -- i.e. radical -- social issues that get their angry and ignorant constituents out to vote.  But we fought and I am proud to say we did NOT have any crazy personhood, pre-owned, pre-born baby bills pass in South Carolina.

We came so-o-o-o close to bringing our sex education curriculum into the 21st century, only to be stopped at the last second by one narcissistic and rather stupid state senator.

We attempted to pass meaningful marijuana legislation and equality legislation for the LGBT members of our community.  We fought for veterans, seniors, children and parents, the working poor, the unemployed and underemployed, and those who are not protected by unions.  We fended off drug testing legislation and warrantless searches of our electronic devices.  We went up against the bullies in the gun lobby, and while we weren't able to keep them from allowing guns in bars and restaurants, we continue to fight that battle, and we did succeed against crazy open carry legislation -- hey, we could be Georgia, but, I'm proud and relieved to say, we are not.

We, and by this I mean you, worked so hard to get some good bills passed, but we also kept some real stinkers from becoming law.  I was so impressed with the work that so many groups and individuals put into showing up and fighting, day after day and week after week.

Our Truthful Tuesday movement brought much needed civil disobedience back to Columbia, with brave individuals getting arrested for blocking traffic at the State House to protest the attempt to nullify the Affordable Care Act, and to bring attention to the need to accept federal money for Medicaid expansion.  A stupid bill that might have passed into law and would only have been overturned by the courts was kept from wasting our time and resources.  The protests got state and national attention.  Medicaid expansion hasn't happened yet, but it will.  This group is not giving up.

Here's a group whose existence I only recently became aware of:  Tell Them SC is a grassroots advocacy network that works tirelessly towards bringing appropriate and much needed sexual education to our teens as well as fighting for accessible birth control and making information and vaccine available to prevent cervical cancer.  I was amazed at the intensive effort that went into promoting legislation that would provide kids with better health care and better education.  They worked to let us know what was on the table, who to call or email, and when, so that our legislators wouldn't forget we were there.

And our amazing South Carolina ACLU has been there in Columbia, testifying and fighting for our constitutional rights.  Voting rights, reproductive rights, the rights of immigrants and members of our LGBT community.  If you regularly read our newspapers, you will see very frequently commentary by the director of the ACLU.  If you attend legislative hearings you will hear her speak to all those issues and many more.  The ACLU has been an integral part of our effort in beating back bad legislation and promoting bills that guarantee our individual rights.

And, you know, there are others, too many to mention.  We may not be a blue state, but you are all out there fighting to protect us from the uninformed and mean-spirited, who are funded by those with deep pockets and a hunger for more power.  We don't see our national Democratic party supporting us much.  And some of our Democratic elected officials here in South Carolina sometimes are too intimidated to stand up and fight for us.  But we have these amazing people who are here and are not afraid.  They won't compromise away our rights, and they won't let those rights be traded in the night.  They will fight, they will be loud, they will be heard, and they aren't going away.

Thank you all.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Children or Yours?

As you know, if my blood pressure has been under control for awhile, I get inexplicable and self-destructive cravings for C-Span.  A week or so ago, I had the misfortune of tuning in to hearings about student loan debt.  I don't tend to hobnob with those who can readily pay for their children's college educations.  I do know that many of us do what we can and hope that the loans our students are so readily offered will get them through college and into jobs where they can be paid off.  These days we mostly fear that they will be paying off those loans for a very long time.  And the loans are so big that their young years will be spent having to budget incessantly and hope that their jobs are secure, and that no unexpected financial hardships arise.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders have been tireless in fighting to change this system whereby the wealthy see their kids through college and the rest of us are forced to see our kids saddled with college loan debt.  Of course, it would be foolhardy to try to push through legislation wherein college costs would be funded by the government.  All the current proposed legislation would have done would be to allow students to refinance loans to a lower interest rate, as do corporations and people with mortgages.

I tuned in just in time to hear Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin begin his "questioning" of a recent college graduate, Brittany Jones, in which he was trying to get her to admit that if she "could go back in time would (she) incur this much debt?  Would (she) try to figure out a different solution?"

He was obviously frustrated when she reiterated that in order to achieve her goal of teaching it was necessary to get student loans, so then proceeded to tell her about the College of the Ozarks, "they go by the moniker of 'Hard Work U.'  All the students work and nobody incurs debt."  It sounds a little like the wonderful land of Oz, and it is, full of happy munchkins who sing happy songs to keep the wicked witch of the real world at bay.  After Ms. Jones once again said that in her case without a loan she would have been unable to pursue her career goal, he shifted gears.

Turning to Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Johnson began to sing the sad song about "shifting debt from a select few to all our kids and grandkids."  And when Chopra explained the rationale behind refinancing, Johnson sang the chorus once again.  And asked him how he felt about a 2007 act which forgives student loan debt after ten years (and doesn't that burden our children and grandchildren, sing it again...).  And Chopra explained that there was no data as to how that would work, BECAUSE NO ONE HAD EVER BEEN ABLE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.

And on and on about "piling on our kids and grandkids," and taking loans "on the backs of American taxpayers and our kids and grandkids."

You get the gist.

But the reality is that Senator Johnson and his fellow plutocrats don't mind if debt is incurred by the government while the wealthy stash their millions in offshore tax-free accounts.  And they sure don't mind if the government incurs debt through subsidies to big corporations.  What he has a problem with is giving a student an opportunity to get a higher education when that student can't pay up front.

Conservatives are only conservative if they are the ones who have the money and are able to hoard it.  To that end, they are constipated by their own dogma, and unable to see real world connections between being able to go to college to join a profession and being able to then contribute to the maintenance of our society.  Those blinders just can't see where all our children who are burdened by poor education and low wages will not just go away, but will have the vitality sapped out of their own lives as well as the country.  The poor, the unemployed and underemployed who could have gone to college, could have gotten jobs with living wages, are unable to raise children in healthy and rich cultural environments, unable to then invest back into the country.

College?  People like Ron Johnson don't want to spend money to repair a bridge, much less send the country's children to good schools.

And so it is all about believing in and investing in this country, the one that all those flag-wearing right wingnuts brag on in their meaningless mantra.  Those of us who can, invest in ourselves, our homes, our families, our communities, and when we were able to do that our country was able to grow and thrive.  When the haves began to insist that they deserved to keep it all, opportunity began to shrivel, communities became drained, and we all suffered.

Except perhaps people like Senator Johnson, who I presume has enough and wants to keep it, plans on passing it on to his kids and grandkids and plans on having them keep it as well.

But he doesn't look that happy.  I think he worries a lot about a world in which my kids have the same opportunity as his kids.  And I think that, my friends, is what this is all about.