Monday, February 28, 2011

Woman of the Century -- The 19th Century

It was another proud moment for us South Carolinians, when our own Governor Nikki Haley and the ever confused Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona faced off against Democratic (no, Nikki, not "democrat", which is a noun, not an adjective) Governors Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and John Hickenlooper of Colorado on ABC's This Week yesterday.   

Jake Tapper introduced his roundtable as "four of the top governors", leading to the inevitable question, "top of what"?  He further introduced Nikki Haley as "age 39, the youngest governor" which caused me to wonder if, in light of Nikki's reputation, Jake was maybe putting some moves on her.

Haley is nothing if not enthusiastic.  And outraged.  On the subject of the Wisconsin Democratic senators' protest, she twice used the word "cowardly".  Tapper, moments later, redundantly asked the Democratic governors if they didn't think leaving the state was "cowardly", and I may be wrong, but I think he winked at Nikki as he asked the question.  Not to be outdone, Jan Brewer saw and raised Haley's "cowardly" with an even more outraged "despicable".

First of all, I have to say, coming from the state where the former governor and Nikki Haley supporter Mark Sanford left without a trace for a week while he "walked the Appalachian Trail", it takes a great deal of nerve for Haley to refer to the 14 senators as cowardly and irresponsible.

Furthermore, I think Governor Haley has some misconceptions regarding the whole idea of "collective bargaining".  She believes that the state should get rid of collective bargaining because "they opposed health care cuts and they opposed benefit cuts".  I believe that is called the first step of negotiations -- each side asks for what they see as the best possible position, and then they bargain from that point.  I understand that Haley, coming from the right-to-work cheap state of South Carolina, would be unfamiliar with workers making demands, and in fact, the whole idea of negotiating might be a bit scary to the new face of the "good ole boys", but that's the way it is done.

Finally, it concerns me that Haley has so little respect for the role of protest in our nation's history.  From the Boston Tea Party to student protests over the Vietnam War, the right to protest is what has made our democracy as robust as it is.  The most amazing and hopeful aspect of the current revolution in Egypt is that the police and military stood with the protesters.  The actions of the Wisconsin Democratic senators means that they were listening and being responsive to their constituents, and not taking the easy way out.

I wonder that Haley and Brewer, governors of two of the most miserably failing states (morally as well as financially) in our proud nation, are asked their opinions about what is wrong with Wisconsin.  Given the corporate excesses and enormous federal tax cuts that have broken our states' treasuries across the country, Wisconsin was not seen to be in desperate straits.  Certainly, collective bargaining as opposed to the union killing measures Governor Walker had plotted, would have left the state in good stead.  Unless of course, Walker then went on to give tax breaks to businesses and write no-bid contracts into legislation to benefit corporate giants like the Koch brothers.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Corporate/Government Union

I live in a "right-to-work cheap" state.  But I can guarantee you that I would be working for a lot less than my $11.00 per hour if unions had not raised wages and improved benefits and working conditions up north where them damn Yankees live.

The non-union workers who are bitter about the good deal the government workers in Wisconsin are trying to preserve should know that as their union's power gets whittled away, our working conditions here in South Carolina will continue to worsen.

Be advised that all those governors who have begun to enact bills similar to that that is getting rammed down the democrats' throats in Wisconsin are working together.  Their goal is not balancing the budget -- Governor Walker put in some tax cuts for his business buddies just before he noted that, oops, now we got a budget that's not balanced.  The goal is a conservative movement goal, taking power out of the hands of the people so that management (including Walker) can make more out of less -- more profit out of lower wages.

The prank call that was ostensibly by David Koch should have us all incensed, not that Walker said anything surprising, but that he has that kind of relationship with one of the biggest corporate entities in the country.  In fact, even though Governor Walker is concerned about his state's deficit, he included in the deadly bill an item that allows for no-bid contracts.  You may recall Halliburton and no-bid contracts in Iraq.  That is where, instead of getting the best deal for the taxpayer, the corporate bedfellow is able to steal huge amounts from the government because there is no competition.

Of course, Walker has some sweet rationalizations for why no-bid contracts, uniformly seen as bad, undemocratic, dishonest, sneaky, and, well, bad, are actually going to help balance the budget.  So that a few years down the road, Koch has pocketed a small fortune from the state of Wisconsin, Walker has pocketed favors and maybe even a nice new non-government job, and the media is able to act incensed that this has happened.

Well, just so you know, it is happening now.  In a few years, Wisconsin's schools will be the worse for this Macchiavellian deal, the budget deficit will indeed be large, and Walker will continue to contend that he tried to straighten things out, but those darned unions wouldn't just go away and die quietly.

And there will be those voters that will say, yeah, you know, it's those unions.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Choice Is Ours

I wondered at the people of Egypt and their courage.  And I wondered how long before our citizens, once proud workers, would fight back against those who truly believe the rich should inherit, well, everything.

They are fighting back in Wisconsin.  A governor whose reputation hinges on union-busting, who first gave tax breaks to business, and then claimed the need to cut government employee salaries and benefits because of the deficit -- a deficit that will only happen because of the business tax cuts.  And government employees who see this as the political play that it is; that is, it is not about the salaries, it is about the elimination of bargaining rights.

We have been losing the battle over our unions for decades.  It is no surprise that salaries and benefits have been on the decline as union membership has declined.  It is not in fact because our country is doing so poorly, it is because our corporations are doing so well, that the middle and lower classes continue to lose.

When the first union agreed to freeze wages the war began.  Because when times were bad, the cuts got bigger, and when times were good, the cuts continued to get bigger, even as the corporations got fatter.

And so it saddens me to see the brave people of Wisconsin, and the brave Democrats of the Wisconsin legislature, taking the position that "It's not about the money", and agreeing to concessions in order to keep their bargaining rights.  Because it is about money, money and benefits, that the governor gives to the wealthy, and forces from the middle class and the poor.  And when they concede the money, they have agreed that it belongs to the wealthy, and not to them.

And it is no surprise that Governor Walker is rejecting this compromise, because the powerful and wealthy do not compromise.  And the small-minded greedy Tea Party protestors have come out, on demand by those who control them, convinced that when one group is paid fairly it takes from them.

This fight, in Wisconsin and throughout our nation, will be a long one.  We fought it before, and while I reaped the benefits, it was before my time, and my children and your children don't remember a time like this, when handouts are given to the rich and a livelihood is being taken from the rest of us.  But it has to be fought and it has to be won.  The alternative is too tragic to consider.

Friday, February 18, 2011

An(other) Open Letter to Lindsey Graham

Senator Graham, on Casual Day

I admit, I enjoy this kinda sorta correspondence I have going with Senator Lindsey Graham.  For years I would send him emails, or put my name on petitions for various causes, and all I would get back would be those expensive form letters, sparing no expense to let me know, via snail mail, that he was glad I had contacted him, and then going on to explain how his beliefs are more valid than my beliefs, so he is going to continue to damn well do what he's been doing all along.

That was frustrating and disappointing.

When I emailed him asking him to please stop spending my money on postage, he at least ignored me and didn't send me a letter in the US Mail telling me he was happy to hear from me, but it didn't matter a wit.  It just simply didn't matter a wit, without the letter.

When Progressive Change Campaign Committee put me on television asking Senator Graham to please don't extend the social security retirement age, I believe that was what they call a game changer.  I had his attention.  He didn't send me a letter, but that's all right.  The ad caused one of the editors of Charleston's Post and Courier to have a conniption, and that was good enough for me, even if Senator Graham hadn't been watching when Keith Olbermann aired the ad on his last episode of Countdown.

So, now that my 15 minutes of fame appears to have expired, I was happy to receive an actual email response from Senator Graham about an email I had sent:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me.  I appreciate the opportunity to hear from you.

In spite of the high volume of mail I receive daily, I look forward to reviewing your correspondence and providing a personal response as soon as possible.

As we continue our work in the 111th Congress, I look forward to supporting our troops in the War on Terror, repairing our economy and creating jobs, strengthening Social Security, lowering the tax burden on American families, and making the federal government more accountable and efficient.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of further assistance to you or your family, and if you need immediate assistance, please call my office at 202-224-5972.  If your correspondence pertains to a scheduling request, please fax your request to (202) 224-3808.


Lindsey Graham

Granted, it had the same sentiment as all those snail mail communiques, but at least he wasn't wasting my tax dollars on postage.

So I sent a reply.

Which was promptly returned by the evil Mailer Daemon.

I like this back and forth that I am pretending to have these days with Senator Graham, so I decided to just send it to him through my blog:

Dear Senator Graham:

I am glad you are responding by email these days, and saving us a few pennies.  I do need to say, though, that I am feeling cynical about your stated goals.  In actual fact, your tax cuts have resulted in me paying an additional $5 of my $175 weekly income, while social security continues to be raided so that my benefits (and those of my children) are being threatened.  I also wonder how invading a woman's privacy and condoning murder of abortion doctors creates jobs (not your fault, that honor goes to Mr. Boehner).  I have yet to understand how slashing the programs we need is going to make the federal government more accountable and efficient -- it sure hasn't worked here in South Carolina.  And finally, the only war on terror ("War on Terror") y'all seem to be conducting is the one where you terrorize the middle and lower class citizens of this country.

I'll just continue to be cynical, and hope you prove me wrong.

By the way, when I went to the mailbox later in the day, there were two letters from Senator Graham, which I never opened.  So apparently they haven't got that government accountability and efficiency thing down yet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

So Close...

I had a minute left to the end of my shift.  Someone came up to the counter and said, "You were in the newspaper, weren't you...?" and then proceeded to thank me for speaking up.  I commented on how millions were being given to corporations, and yet they always start talking about the deficit and cutting costs when it comes to our social security benefits.

She agreed wholeheartedly, and then said, in a whisper, "And you know where it goes... it's the illegitimate babies..."

...and it's a very good thing it was time to go home, because I came very close to having my head explode.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

We Have Met the Enemy...

Supercapitalism, by Robert Reich, is not the book you want to read if you want to get angry at somebody.  We all know the problems -- growing poverty, joblessness, pollution, corporate control of Congress.  But Reich makes a compelling and disquieting argument that the blame is not to be laid at the door of the corporation.  The conflict is not between us and them.  The conflict is between we the consumers/investors and we the citizens.

Look around and see the conflict everywhere.  The parking lot at Wal-Mart is full of people who have chosen to support the low-wage anti-union corporate philosophies of Wal-Mart.  SUV's are votes for big oil.  Less obvious is the fact that the stocks in which our pension funds invest are those that guarantee through cost cutting the highest returns; cost cutting means the cheapest material and labor.

And so, as we have made these consumer and investor choices over the decades, we have found ourselves with fewer dollars because our wages continue to shrink.  We vote for lower taxes and find ourselves with bad schools, bad roads, higher unemployment because the government employees that we need for needed government services are being cut.

Here we are, in this vicious circle, where, because we chose to shop at Wal-Mart, we now must shop at Wal-Mart.  We allow CEO's to be paid criminally high salaries and bonuses because we insist on the highest stock market returns, and we demand that they cut costs in order to be competitive, so we can reap even higher returns, until we lose our jobs or health and have to raid our IRA's to survive.

Still, we feed the beast.  We refuse to support the regulation that could cost us a few more pennies in the short run while empowering us to live better, healthier lives in the long run.  We vote for politicians that promise to cut taxes and allow industry the freedom to, well, continue to do what they have been doing, make the most money they can.

Stuff gets cheaper, but corporations get more expensive.  They cost us our health, our livelihoods, time with our families, our children's futures.

You could get a good deal on an SUV right now, but I guarantee, you won't be able to afford the gasoline.  In many more ways than the sticker price for a gallon.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Talking to Ourselves

Last week I sent a letter to the editor to the Charleston Post and Courier, in response to their editorial regarding the ad I made for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, addressing Senator Lindsey Graham's comment that he would look at increasing the Social Security retirement age.

Then I thought, suppose they don't publish it?  After all, it is critical of the thoughts of one of their editors.  I copied it into a blog posting, but that wasn't enough.

So I have been thinking about freedom of speech, and our ability to actually speak out.  The ad by PCCC certainly upset people like the editor who responded (which editor was it anyway?), and he had the means to respond.  Whether his response made sense was irrelevant; he had the podium.  He also has the attention of the many people who read the Post and Courier editorial page, more I think, than read the news.

We do, today, have more options than we did a decade ago.  I can make a You Tube video.  That is probably the most universal and immediate way to be heard by people who don't know you, who are interested in the topic, who will hear you whether or not they agree (and then possibly respond with a thoughtful idea or maybe something obscene).  And where else can an individual go to respond to an attack, or argue an unfair proposal by an organization bigger than they are?

For the most part, on issues, we end up talking to ourselves.  I don't watch FOX, my coworkers don't watch MSNBC.  We meet on Facebook with like-minded friends.  We read bloggers whose interests are like our own.  There is no place to go to debate amongst ourselves, to argue all points and feel we have listened and have been heard.

And suppose we want to let people know we are going to get together?  I am thinking specifically about how long it took me to connect with fellow Democrats in my neighborhood.  Do we place notices in the Post and Courier?  Or the City Paper?  We need a website these days for certain.

Where in our neighborhood can we post notices?  The library has a policy which is adhered to based pretty much on the motivation of the individual branch manager, which does not allow religious, business or political notices to be displayed.

Yet the library is now displaying brochures regarding religious support for communities, because our governor believes it is cost effective to use churches instead of tax dollars.  And we smile on businesses who throw us a few dollars to help support the Summer Reading Program or a less formal relationship by letting them post on a library community bulletin board.

What the library doesn't do is allow groups to post notices of meetings.  Let me clarify, if you are in a knitting group, it's okay to post.  But if you are in a group meeting to talk about politics, whether it be a formal meeting of a democratic or republican group, or just meeting to talk about, say, how to lobby for peace in Afghanistan or increasing library funding, you can't advertise it on the library's community bulletin board.   I think that's interesting.

People read that thing.  They look to see what's for sale, and what's going on in their community.  And yet there are meetings going on in their community, of varying levels of importance, that cannot be advertised, pretty much because they might be controversial.

A number of years ago, one of the branches allowed a giant poster to be displayed advertising a meeting at a church, at which a national republican figure was speaking.  I made some quiet noise until some good people complained and it was taken down.  It was blatantly political, and the community bulletin board at the library was not the place for it.

But notices of meetings?  It seems strange that a small notice of the monthly meeting of the local Democrats/Republicans/Tea Party/Progressives with a time and place can't be posted at what is really the most logical place to communicate:  the local library.  The big guys, the newspapers and television stations in a community will never be a mouthpiece for any but their own political views, even if they try hard to print or run opposing views.  And we are a culture that does not gather in the street to inform or debate the issues of the day.  So that pretty much leaves us, individuals or partisan groups, talking to ourselves.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The More They Golf

Last week I happened to look up the House of Representatives Legislative Calendar for 2011.  I have to admit, at first I thought I was not reading it correctly.  It seemed to me that there were not an awful lot of work days on it.  No, I must have been reading it wrong.  It used to be, back in the days of the Democratic House, that you could turn on CSPAN most of the time and see members of one party or the other speaking.  Granted, they were mostly talking to an empty house, but we knew at least one of them was working.

Monday, Rachel Maddow gave voice to my puzzlement:

Apparently, the big plan for the House GOP (and a couple of misfit Democrats) is to avoid doing anything that might make any of their constituents angry, which leaves abortion.  So we will no doubt be seeing many more bills seeking to redefine rape and incest, and the boundary where a woman's body ends and a republican's nose begins.

Meanwhile, what to do to fill up the time?  As I noted, and Rachel remarked, the bulk of the House calendar is to be filled with -- time off.  BMOC Eric Cantor is pleased to inform us that there will be 123 days in session this year.

In House parlance, every third week or so has been termed a constituent work week.  You know what those are:  those are when you go home and visit with your constituents... on the golf course, mostly.  Followed by a meeting at the country club over a drink or three, or more.  And who do they meet with?  Not me, and not likely you.  They will meet with like-minded concerned citizens, those who have strong ideas about tax cuts and defunding entitlement programs (not corporate entitlement programs of course), and no doubt plans for implementing those ideas when they get back to work.

So I am inclined not to be angry about all this time off.  I recall back in the 80's, observing Reagan's inclination to dose at a cabinet meeting, Arlo Guthrie said, "The more he sleeps, the safer we are."

But if they aren't going to sleep, golf is the next best thing.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bad Business

The Post and Courier's editorial department put in their two cents on February 3, regarding the Progressive Change Campaign Committee ad that I starred in.  I felt a burning need to respond, and so sent a letter to the editor, the text of which follows:

Dear Editor:

As the ad by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee was about me, I would like to respond to the editorial "Hard Entitlement Reality" in the February 3 Post and Courier.

I was a bit surprised at the defensiveness of the writer; he calls the ad an "attack" on "our senior senator".

Excuse me, but it seems to me that as one of Lindsey Graham's constituents, it is my right to speak to the Senator regarding the issues on which he is voting.  I was surprised that this editorial implied that Graham is allowed to express his opinion nationally, but it is "an attack" on Graham if someone debates those opinions.

Don't take it personally, because Senator Graham probably is taking it in stride.  It is his job.

Now to the issues.

I heard a lot of talk last fall about how essentional it was to not leave the huge budget deficit to our children.   And then Congress voted to continue the outrageous tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.  And then I heard our President brag on how he was putting more money in middle class pockets by the deal he brokered with Mitch McConnell et al.

That money that the President and Congress put in our pockets did indeed take money from our children, because it came from the payroll tax through which we contribute to social security and medicare.  Trying to "destroy" social security?  Whether that was the goal or not, those tax cuts certainly added a nail to the coffin.

I have heard far more about the likelihood of increasing the retirement age to 70 than I have heard about raising the cap on income subject to payroll tax.  And yet there is no reason that one who earns more (and will receive more upon retirement) should not pay more into the account.  Yet we keep coming back to the retirement age.

My ad talks about people who over the course of 40 years or so earning a living very often have body trauma as a result of the daily job requirements.  Those of us who are in the service sector, on our feet, loading shelves, will no doubt have a few more of those aches and pains than the esteemed writer of the editorial.

The statement that Senator Graham is not proposing the elimination of Social Security Disability was just an insult and a total lack of understanding of the problem.  First of all, most of us do not want to collect disability.  Secondly, people far more disabled than I have been rejected, often more than once, before being approved, and many don't bother.  I had the option, one year ago, to continue to work full time until I was far more disabled, and then stop working and attempt to collect disability.  I chose to work part-time instead, with the dramatic cut in an already low salary, in order to try to retain my health.

The solutions to the social security crisis that Senator Graham proposes, and that your editorial writer defends, demean the hard-working, aging workforce.  And, because the Senate would not attempt to make the change immediate, it will not affect me, but it will affect the generation coming up, and it will affect my children.  Remember, it's the children we don't want to punish for our spending?

And, in fact, by forcing people who are ready to retire to continue to work, we end up with a work force that will cost more in sick leave and injury, while holding positions that could be given to the younger citizens, those who are now collecting unemployment.

Bad business all around.

Yes, it is.

Friday, February 4, 2011

South Carolina Isn't Funny Anymore

I came away from a political meeting last night shaking my head.  I'm working on grasping the destructive politics of the US Congress, and I believe a good bit of it can be understood by the concept of: "Follow the Money".

But here in South Carolina, that doesn't even work.  We refuse federal dollars (that our taxes have paid into) to build infrastructure that would make our state more appealing to the businesses we claim we crave.  We join the rest of the country in mocking a governor for eight years (re-electing him just to be sure we aren't missing something), and then elect a woman who reflects the same goals and values.

I believe South Carolina operates under the assumption that, if banging your head against the wall isn't working, it's only because you aren't banging it hard enough.

Is it the "good ole boys" that just get angry because y'all in the Yankee states are trying to prove they're wrong?  Because they don't even seem to want to do what is good for big business, other than keep cutting their taxes.  And of course, the worse our schools and roads and neighborhoods get, the more tax incentives they have to offer to compete with other cheap labor (oh, I'm sorry, freedom to work) states.

And our voters, ever the product of a poor education system that teaches compliance and acceptance of minimum standards, continue to be grateful that smooth talkers like Lindsey Graham and Jim Demint defend their right to be from one of the states with the worst education system, highest level of teen pregnancy, and greatest numbers of working poor (that are lucky to be employed at all).

So how do we even begin to figure out how to change any of this mess?

Well, our neighbor, North Carolina, is having troubles of its own.  And they have figured out a way to begin to turn things around:

So now that we are so pathetic we don't even rise to the level of laughingstock, I guess we can either declare war on North Carolina, or wake up and start to support people and programs that will begin to dig us out of this hole.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Too Many Fires

As long as our corporate right-wing legislators continue to sing the same chorus of the same song, our defenders are left scurrying around trying to put out fires.  I read my political email and we have a smorgasborg of destruction:  abortion, health care, guns, budget cuts.  So many fires for so few people to try to put out.

And then we have Obamacare, which appears to be heading to that bastion of partisanship, the Supreme Court, after a Bush appointee in Florida decided you couldn't make people buy health insurance.

Don't get too comfortable with getting health care for those pre-existing conditions.

And the real solution to mass shootings like that in Arizona is more guns, and especially for members of Congress.  They might as well, they act like cowboys.

So we have a president who is either in it with the elite, or is really, really naive about how vicious is this fight.

One of the more comedic effects of Obama's love affair with the republic party is listening to Mitch McConnell kissing up to his new bud.

And while Jim Demint appears to be keeping a low profile, having figured out that the less he says, the smarter he sounds, it is positively fright-night to hear Lindsey Graham, the other half of the dynamic duo from the economically devastated state of South Carolina giving his opinion on what needs to be done.

Last year the headline from the State of the Union was "'You lie' Wilson", and this year we have the technical gaffe of Michelle Bachmann's camera crew during her Tea Party rebuttal to everyone else.

Oh, and everybody liked Obama, especially the independent voters, and that is really the audience he is trying to capture, because they may not know what the hell is going on, but at least they are willing to change their votes.

But at least it's February, folks, and at some point the heating bills will be lower -- to compensate for the price of gas going up.