Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Merry Christmas, Congress

Just as Congress made sure it would not be inconvenienced by airports delays they caused by allowing sequestration, they have for the first time in many years stopped fighting to block legislation in order to not delay their holiday vacation.  Both sides of the aisles have suddenly learned the art of compromise, Boehner has brought bills to the floor despite Tea Party ire, and all are heading home for what Bill O'Reilly would insist on calling "Christmas break."

In this season of warmth and giving, it matters not that our Congressional leaders have performed a slight-of-hand with the budget deal which we did not believe they were clever enough to accomplish.  We are all just happy they did it.

Beyond the holiday cheer, however, is a grim look at what this new era of compromise heralds for us.  The new budget reinstates the full funding of the military, its waste and the greed of military corporate interests.  The compromise part of the budget is in non-defense spending.  Long term unemployment compensation is gone -- Happy Holidays, to the unemployed from your US Congress.  Another battle in the right-wing war on poverty has been won, with food stamp cuts over the next two years.  Government workers -- not Congress, of course -- will suffer cuts to pensions and increases in insurance premiums, but all for the good of the country and the pretend reduction of the national debt.

So here we are, folks, with the new, improved Congress, gearing up for the 2014 Election Season of Lies.  If only I believed that the Democrats would loudly denounce this plan by the Republicans that would have us forget all the damage they have done to the fabric of our democracy over the past five years.  Rather, they will modestly speak to their ability to garner cooperation from their "colleagues across the aisle" while aiding and abetting the plundering of the poor and middle class.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Congressional calendar is proof of the fact that our leaders are not expecting to do much next year other than run for re-election.  The House of Representatives, apparently having wasted too much of the 126 days they were scheduled to meet in 2013, have reduced their calendar year to 113 days, many of which no doubt will be taken up by voting to kill Obamacare.

Indeed, Congress more than ever continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.  To themselves.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Trying to Channel John Galt

I did a double take as I was driving along Folly Road on James Island yesterday.  I had seen the signs to dump
Graham and even a couple of Lee Bright signs over the past weeks, but this one said, "Who Is Lee Bright?"  I had to chuckle at that one, and muttered, "He's an idiot...." as I continued by.  But the comparison to John Galt of Atlas Shrugged fame just cracked me up the rest of the day.

It's not news by now that South Carolina State Senator Lee Bright is threatening our own sometime reasonable/sometime insane US Senator Lindsey Graham

 with a primary challenge from the right.  Far right.  Bright is indeed a controversial figure, a true South Carolina character.  And by no means modest.

He has lately compared himself to Jesse Helms, saying, "If you elect me to the Senate, you will think Jesse Helms has rose from the dead."  Yes, I think we can all agree that he sure does talk like an uneducated redneck.  And if you know anything about Jesse Helms, you probably know that he was a sanctimonious racist but not exactly a fiscal conservative.

In this, Lee Bright may be more like Helms than Galt.  Because the oxymoronic Bright is more than willing to spend what needs to be spent on forcing women to have babies.  His judgmental social values have been tyrannizing the state legislature for awhile now; his persistence has to do with his close relationship to God, apparently.  He has said that Jesus/God has told him to run for Graham's senate seat, so he would be in good company with Tim Scott, who is also serving at the grace of the Big Guy.

I have to say, if you want the real scoop on Lee Bright, you could do worse than checking in on FitsNews.  I really don't think you could get much more objective than this:

We’ve known S.C. Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) is a moron for some time. But he has an unimpeachable pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty voting record – so we’ve generally tolerated his intellectual incuriosity.
To get back to the John Galt thing.  Apart from it's being fiction, and Ayn Rand's schoolgirlish fantasy -- yes I read Ayn Rand and loved Atlas Shrugged, and then I grew up -- Lee Bright is not exactly like the hero of the story.  He claims to be a small government fiscal conservative, but the big chip on his shoulder guarantees that he will spend what needs to be spent on fighting wars, against foreign leaders as well as gays, women and hispanics.

Ayn Rand's John Galt was an atheist; he would no more make laws banning birth control and abortion than he would regulate industry.  Galt may have been simplistic, but he was consistent.  All Lee Bright is, really, is consistently foolish.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Other Side of the Gun Control Debate

First of all, I'm not going to talk about Newtown.  It was a tragedy that resulted a year ago in the killing of twenty children, and was followed by the abomination of lobbying that has prevented -- a year later -- the gun control that the American people were calling for.

And I'm not here to talk about the "other side" of the debate that pretends to make the 2nd Amendment about a right handed down by God and our founding fathers for all of us to be able to be armed to the teeth.

The other side of the argument that all us citizens need to be armed has a great deal to do with how armed our police have become.  While we weren't looking, we went from the creation of well trained SWAT teams to be used in cases of extreme threat to small town SWAT teams with military weaponry and little training who are very excited about using their new toys.

We're not talking about breaking into houses that hold caches of weapons, nor are we talking about busting large drug cartels, although we hear plenty about it on the rare occasion that it happens.  The invasions into private homes today are nearly always about finding small amounts of drugs, often for private use, or breaking up friendly poker games.  Damage is done to homes, pets are shot.  The terror is coming, today, from our own police forces.

And far too often, those SWAT raids happen at the wrong address, or with misinformation that has not been adequately corroborated.

We hear about our police on the front lines risking their lives as though our neighborhoods were war zones.  We have come to accept that innocents can be harassed, homes broken into, without warrants, without warning, because otherwise drugs might be flushed, guns might be used against the police in the time it takes to assure citizens their rights.

Community policing should be, and once was, intended to be a friendly police presence in the community.  Today it has become an "us against them" mentality, wherein the police in the community need to be on the lookout for all of us citizens, who may be breaking the law.  The crimes we are suspected of range from carrying dope to looking like an illegal immigrant.

We may be thinking that "stop and frisk" is on its way out in New York, but that remains to be seen.  Despite the polite phraseology, Arizona's "papers, please" law has resulted in increased harassment by and fear of the local police.

A few years ago, my daughter, then an undergraduate at a university in another state, commented that while there were unsolved rapes in the college community, police presence was high but more often associated with random stops for suspicion of driving under the influence than for preventing dangerous criminal activity.  And where the police force has a SWAT team, while bulletproof vests and military weaponry might allow some police to feel safer, they are likely to use that force against small or questionable crimes.  If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.  

Radley Balko has written quite a bit about the militarization of our police.  His book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces,  is extensively researched and an essential component in understanding America's fixation on fire power.  We may all believe that the police need that weaponry to protect themselves from criminals, but what if the criminals are perceived to be us?  What is the cost, in lives, in quality of life, in dollars, to protect police whose primary duty once was to protect us?

As the police escalate their war against those suspected criminals among us, the pressure is on to defend ourselves, isn't it?  Maybe the solution to all this obsession with guns and defense is a de-escalation on both sides.

What?  You think I'm being paranoid?  Overreacting?  How about a $658,000 armored vehicle designed to "protect SWAT team officers... from dangerous confrontations?"  You may think we don't need one here, but now that Columbia has one, maybe Charleston is next in line.  After all, here in South Carolina we may not want those federal Medicaid dollars, but you never know when you might need a tank to break up one of those illegal poker games.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Obamacare and the Rose-Colored Glasses

It's time to pause in my cheerleading for Obamacare and entertain a little reality check.  Yes, Obamacare is better than nothing, but is it right that here in 2013 that should continue to be the mantra of the U.S. healthcare movement?

Once upon a time, on Long Island, I was a psychologist.  As has been my pattern in my life, I was in the right place at the wrong time.  The year I began my private practice, managed care was threatening to take over, promising false promises of great savings in healthcare costs and improved treatment.  Psychology stood in the front lines of the managed care firing squad.  By the time they were done with me, I had decided the only moral choice for me was to quit the couple of remaining groups I was in and just accept sliding fee scale payments.  After that disastrous cut in income, I could afford to retire my practice and move south, and with relief left the field I once loved behind.

What I learned was that the insurance industry would always find a way.  The government was always too many steps behind, and had too many naifs on one side and too many corrupt on the other.  Medicare eventually was plundered to the point where there are now premiums, co-pays and in the end requires supplemental private insurance, a sweet deal for private insurers.  Doctors and hospitals did not sit innocently by back in the Medicare heyday.  If they could raise costs and collect more from Uncle Sam, they quickly did.

Medicaid has never, not ever, been more than a band-aid, and one that doesn't quite cover the wound.  Back in my psychologist days, when private practitioners were charging up to $100 per 45 minute hour, Medicaid was paying out $20 and requiring a full 60-minute session.  Along with the time it took to do bookkeeping and note-taking, and resubmitting all the claims that they had screwed up, lost, or otherwise refused to pay out.  The end result of that, for me, was that I had my pick of patients, because no one else could be bothered.  Hard work for little pay, just like Walmart and McDonald's.

So when President Obama and I insist that we must expand Medicaid, at least one of us knows that this is an insufficient solution to providing health care to Americans.  And when we all scream about protecting our Medicare, our backsides are still unprotected from the insurance industry that has made additional coverage necessary.

As long as we in this country are unwilling to agree that health care is not a for-profit enterprise, we will continue to have inadequate, too expensive protection.  And even when the government pays out, our tax dollars are going toward the fat and inefficient health care machine.

Do doctors make enough money?  I don't know.  I do know that on my insurance claim statement, the same Blue Cross that Congress has access to, the amount billed is considered the fantasy charge.  Since the days of managed care, the insurance industry has been free to invent its own "customary charge" which sometimes reflects a more realistic amount, and sometimes is taken from billing structures from ancient history.

Do hospitals charge too much?  It seems to me that a well run hospital is going to cost a lot of money, but what we have today is hospitals that cost a lot of money to run with inadequate staff on one side and ridiculous waste on the other.

The only reason that medical tests, medical instruments and pharmaceuticals cost as much as they do is because they can.  Our government watches helplessly, when they are not colluding with all kinds of medical corporate interests, as industry gouges doctors, hospitals and consumers.  They parrot lame excuses about the cost of research that don't seem to apply to most other consumer products, where research and competition go hand in hand.  Our government resists providing much needed oversight and regulation for the same lame reasons.

So where does that leave us?  With too many uninsured and the hope that we can at least let them have a band-aid for their troubles.

What should we do?  Strong and common sense federal regulation has to happen for costs to go down.  We have to get private industry out of health care.  I believe that health care will work best on the state level, where there is real concern for the health and well-being of its citizens.

Vermont is taking the challenge.  They have approved a single payer plan to be fully operational by 2017.  Everyone covered, no premiums, co-pays or deductibles.  A slight rise in taxes.

Cynical as I tend to be, I am feeling hopeful about this solution.  This small state has its heart in the right place.  They have Independent Bernie Sanders in the US Senate, and he is as progressive, outspoken, and uncorruptible as they come.  When that works, I know that other states will be quick to come on board.  Not my state, but still, it's a start.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Corporate Thanksgiving -- Or Not

I had been planning on writing today about Thanksgiving v. greed.  When I checked my emails, I found that someone, somehow, has deleted the blog I had posted on The Charleston Patch on Monday.  The article was about shopping on Thanksgiving, and about choosing to give our holiday business to those who respect their employees enough to give them a living wage and time to spend with family.  It may have been an error, but I am tending to think that I ruffled some feathers, and that the feathers didn't belong to a Thanksgiving turkey.

As I get older I am tending to focus ever more on the quality of my remaining years.  I am more likely to want to spend time reading a good book than cleaning house.  Although I have to pinch pennies, I am glad that I am retired and no longer under the control of a boss.  I am very happy to finally have the time to write, and the internet and blogosphere where I can share my thoughts with others.

The shame is just how much time we are forced to spend trying to make ends meet.  Jumping through hoops to keep a job.  Paying more and more for things that provide less -- less quality of life, less security, less peace of mind, less joy.  The greed that grows each year as corporations continue to get fatter and more powerful is a tragedy.  It is wrong that so few can control so many, and do so in their own interest.  Our health care is driven by the profit motive, and the movement to privatize and profit is continuing to encroach and jeopardize the ability to enjoy the best education available.

So this holiday season, I will continue to ask that you do not shop at those stores who do not pay a living wage and who force their employees to work on that day that has up till now been left for the freedom to enjoy one's family, or just a day of rest.

And finally, I am glad that, despite whoever banished my words from the Charleston Patch, I am able to send them to you here.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 18, 2013


I just spent the past hour+ disconnecting from Google+.  I was extremely disconcerted a few days ago when I googled Charleston County Airport for general information and my upcoming flight popped up at the top of search results.

The disconnecting was not easy.  And by that I don't just mean Google doesn't make it easy to break-up -- and they don't -- I mean emotionally it was nearly traumatic.  Because at this point in our relationship, Google and I have been together for so long that I don't know where they end and I begin.  If I disconnect from Google+ what will they do to my Youtube account?  I don't want to get notifications from Google+ that I didn't ask for, but now that we are no longer a thing, apparently I can't chat or have circles (whatever they are).  I was surprised to find that my son and another friend were actually in my Youtube circle (or group or page or family), so that meant I was also cutting them off.  I think.  For all I know they aren't aware that they ever joined.

So it wasn't easy.  The threats -- offered as "more information" -- sound scary.  "Are you sure you want Google to stop notifying you when your children are in town?"  "If you decide to decline to use your full name in every program in which Google has influence your driver's license will be revoked."  "When you click on okay to terminate your participation in this program your identity will be wiped from your memory."  The actual threats were little less ominous.

I love Youtube.  I can learn how to do very nearly anything there.  I only have a handful of videos myself, mostly of my foster kitties, so I never felt like I had much of a "profile" there.  But a few months ago, Youtube began insisting that I give up my screen name and use my real name.  I mean, really being pushy about it.  And because we aren't that close, I kept saying no.  But, now that I've split with Google+, I don't know whether I even have a name on Youtube; the warning sounded like if I quit I will forever more be nameless.

And while I'm at it, a good privacy rant just has to include Facebook.  I don't ever put personal information on my Facebook page.  A few years ago I was playing Words with Friends with my daughter, and a minute after I had searched Expedia for hotels in Providence, my Words with Friends page had Providence hotel suggestions.  And I don't know how they found out I was overweight, but I got really angry about the weight loss ads.  Are there really people out there who don't mind (or don't notice) that advertisers have got their number, weight-wise?  As someone who believes one's religion and one's weight should be private, these ads are as offensive as the spam email that thinks I want a larger penis.  And who knows what will happen now that I've typed the word "penis" in my blog.

Anyway, shortly after Facebook stepped over the line with their targeted ads, I became aware that Gmail also had targeted ads based on words I had included in mail I had sent out.  Like, if I send an email to my daughter telling her a mutual friend is pregnant, the next time I look at my email, there will be ads for pregnancy kits.  That's just yucky.

Targeted ads alongside your gmail is like sending someone a letter in a sealed envelope and mentioning that you were concerned about your drinking and then getting mail and phone calls from rehab centers.  Except that now, today, everyone can see your email.  And your Facebook page.  Especially advertisers, and followed by our government.  Then come the people that Facebook, Google+ and all those other overinvolved software geeks have decided you should want to include in anything you put out online.

I don't know whether it's worse that people don't know about all this, or the fact that those that do know aren't horrified.

And the absolute worst thing about all this lack of privacy and personal control is that I -- myself -- am ambivalent, mostly because of what I don't know is happening to all this information.  I like that I am not going to lose emails I want to keep; when I decided to stop using Outlook a number of years ago, I lost all the wonderful emails my kids had sent me when they were much younger, that if they had been snail mail would still be in a box somewhere.  And, to be perfectly honest, even though it's so much easier to stay in touch today, I would love to have those letters in a box.

What is this "cloud?"  And what is Google going to be keeping on those barges?  Why is it that, the less tangible my information is to me, the more is collected about me?

Let me end on a happy note.  At some point, Google search began putting ads at the top of my search results.  Not ads in an separate box like they used to.  These were ads that looked like search results.  So I looked around and found a website with a free download called AdBlock.  It's wonderful.  It's as though you have free will in determining what you want to see online.  Not that you actually do have free will, but it is almost just like it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fear (and Loathing) at the Airport

Sadly, I had to make a trip to the Charleston International Airport yesterday.  Sad, because I remember (not all that long ago), when we could walk to the gate to welcome travelers to Charleston, or to kiss them good-by when they leave.  I stopped flying when the full-body scanners were installed, and when it was rumored that they had been removed, I found that I was just as happy staying away.  I like not having to take my shoes off to get on a train, and I don't have to pay to park my car.  Oh, and nobody takes a picture of my license plate as I leave the parking lot.

The Charleston International Airport is a puffed-up name for a very sweet, small airport.  But after 9/11, they may as well have named it (and all other airports in the US) the Bin Laden International.  He has certainly left a legacy.  After 9/11 the searches became more extensive and ridiculous.  If you were dropping off a passenger at the curb, you were no longer allowed even five minutes to use the restroom much less help carry bags to the airline check-in.  Only passengers are now allowed past the now ubiquitous security check-points.  Which over the years have taken up more and more space.

Our security system here in the US may cover a whole lot of space, but the net has awfully big holes.  Which is why there have continued to be acts of violence in and around airports, the latest being at LAX on November 1.  Crazy killers can still get guns, because nobody knows they're crazy enough to kill until it happens.

But don't get me started on guns.  My point is that, since the LAX shooting, the question is not, why do we still make it easy for people to carry guns, but how much more security can we cram into the airports.

Increased airport security appears to be the answer to just about any question you might ask regarding air travel.  So since the idiot tried to set off a bomb in his shoes, we have all been forced to take off our shoes before we board an airplane.  And when another idiot tried to detonate a bomb in his underwear, the solution was to give the TSA the right to gaze at our naked bodies.  And don't forget, you're only allowed to take 3 oz. of liquids, and be sure to leave your water bottle at home.

Do you feel safer now?  Because I sure don't -- even though the miniscule Charleston County Airport (please don't make me call it "International"...) is crawling with ever more security.  In fact, when I got there yesterday I found that in the past year, the security checkpoint area had quadrupled.  There were more security people this afternoon than passengers.  People in wheelchairs were made to take off their shoes.  And some old folk who could barely lift their arms had to stick them up for the scanners.

I was there to pick up my husband, who required wheelchair assistance.  Except that there weren't enough porters to help with the passengers requiring assistance.  So eventually the young lady wheeled him to baggage claim and then said she had to leave to go help someone else.  Fortunately the two large suitcases for Stephan's three week visit came through before she got away, so we didn't have to wrestle them off the carousel and out to the sidewalk with the wheelchair.  She got us out to the sidewalk and ran off for her next handicapped traveler.

When I brought my car around and hesitated, waiting for a spot to open up at the curb I was instantly approached by airport police, whose job it is to protect us from people sitting in their car in front of the airport.  When I pointed to the old guy in the wheelchair, he motioned me over to a space and then quickly bicycled off in search of other parking malefactors.  And, because there is more airport security than there are skycaps, my 75-year-old husband had to get out of the wheelchair and help me haul the two suitcases into the car. 

You know, this is Charleston.  If I had needed help on the street someone would have come up and given me a hand.  But over at the Charleston County Airport, crawling with people who are employed there, they are too busy looking for trouble that doesn't exist than to actually help out.

What a way to welcome a traveler to Charleston.

Osama bin Laden is grinning in his watery grave.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nikki and Vincent -- The Same Old Song

It's been four years, but it might as well be yesterday.  Oh, wait, it was yesterday.  South Carolina Nikki Haley is beating Democratic contender and state senator Vincent Sheheen to a pulp, while Sheheen tries to defend himself by proving he's not really a Democrat.

Sheheen is throwing around big hard-to-understand words like "ethics" while Nikki keeps talking about "jobs."  Listen, Vincent, nobody really cares about Nikki's dirty dealings -- these are the people who voted Mark Sanford into office, and then re-elected him and then sent him back to the US House of Representatives.  Don't you get it when you get those blank looks when you talk about "ethics?"  All your talk about ethics reform got nothing but hot air from your friends across this aisle this past legislative season.  What I'm saying is, you should take that as a hint.

Meanwhile, Nikki is the expert at quick, snappy words like "jobs."  She has been selling out South Carolinians for what seems like forever, giving away millions of tax dollars to bribe businesses into town.  Boeing has been her mantra.  And Vincent doesn't seem to be there when it comes to running down the figures.  She's quick to tell you how many jobs she created, but not how many of them were good paying and upwardly mobile.  And why isn't Vincent talking about how much it's cost us in tax dollars per job?  Or why that money wouldn't have been better spent on teachers' salaries?

And as far as the cyberattack on our tax records, Nikki has had no problem turning that into a win.  She apologized (sincerely...) and we all got a year of free credit monitoring.  We got over it; maybe it's time for Sheheen to talk about the other dumb ways Haley is pinching our pennies.

The Medicaid expansion is a primo example.  Except what's sad about that is that when Sheheen brings up Haley's refusal to accept federal money to insure the thousands of uninsured, he twists himself into a pretzel to deny that by promoting this he is backing President Obama.

And Nikki has a blast blasting Vincent for his "hypocrisy on social issues."  What she means of course is that Sheheen doesn't really support gays or women's reproductive rights, but he wants our votes anyway.  Same for unions.  And because he is refusing to take a Democratic stand on these issues, she is able to slam him for hypocrisy.

And in the ultimate irony, our own Jim Clyburn says, "To me, Sheheen is as conservative as anybody else."  If this is the endorsement from one of South Carolina's most influential Democrats, well, I guess Sheheen really doesn't need any enemies.

So what we have is two anti-gay, anti-women, anti-union contenders for the governorship.  One of them knows exactly what we want to hear ("jobs") and the other keeps trying to tell us he's going to deliver something different.

And what I'd like to know is, when are we going to get a Democrat to run for governor? 


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Obamacare -- The Fight Goes On... And On...

Here in South Carolina, we do seem to be doomed to continue to fight the Civil War.  Since President Obama moved into the White House, this has taken the form of nullification laws, which basically say, "We don't want your dadgum gub'mint."

Remember those Tea Party town halls back in 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was just a bill?  Those rousing town halls in which the most violent and irrational attacks were played and replayed to the benefit of that new group of radical right-wing nutcases?  Where pro-bill senators were shouted down and wheelchair ridden proponents were told to just shut up?  Here are a few moments from this glorious episode in our history: 

Rather than being embarrassed, the Tea Party saw this as a glowing success story.  And here in SC, legislators unable to pass nullification in spring of this year, have decided that town halls are the way to relive that glorious past, win that ole War against Northern Aggression, and defeat even scarier Tea Party challengers on the right.

Beaufort County Tea Partier Tom Davis is hosting nullification town halls throughout the state, hoping to relive those glory days and make life safe once again for... well, at least for Tom Davis.

Here in Charleston, the event will be held Wednesday, November 6, at 6 p.m., at the North Charleston City Hall.

This time could be different.  For one thing, we know a few things we can get from the Affordable Care Act, and in fact have already benefited from.  The big items include:  no longer being disqualified due to real or fictitious pre-existing conditions, being able to keep a child on a family plan until age 26, and covered-with-no-co-pay preventive care, including birth control (which truly is preventive, folks).

In the true take-no-prisoners -- even if we have to shoot ourselves in the foot -- spirit of the confederacy, we've lately heard a bunch of myths, i.e. lies, and distortions about Obamacare, and I'd like to address that here.

1.  There has been a lot of outrage by people whose health care plan has been dropped, or whose premiums have gone up, since the inception of the ACA.  I don't know where y'all have been, but here in the US, being dropped from plans is not a whole new thing.  And premiums going up?  You really just woke up and realized your premium was going up?  How do you think we got to be #1 in health care costs?

2.  Those young people don't need health care; why should they be saddled with paying for everybody else?  I've got more news for you.  Not only are young people young, they are more likely to be more active, and yes, take more risks than us more mature folks.  And do you have any idea what the cost of a simple broken leg is these days?  So let's not pretend that young people have less need to insure their health than the rest of us.  Statistically it may happen less, but in the real world it can certainly happen.  And here's another news flash:  responsible young adults are all too happy to have health insurance, because they understand the risk of being uninsured and the cost of health care.

3.  Why should people pay this tax (excuse the four-letter word) for something they don't want?  Okay, let's start with paying taxes for a bridge you aren't ever going to cross, and for all those business incentives that corporations claim they need to exist, and then we can end with the Iraq War.  And all the government funded programs in between.  That's what taxes are, and that's what they do.  With a better Congress, we might be paying less for subsidies to big profitable corporations and more to build roads and schools.  But that's another whole soapbox.

So when you go to that Town Hall on Wednesday, be sure to make those points, and all the other good ones you can think of.  Things are different now, and we won't be shouted down.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Favorites

It's that time of year again, and our favorite scary people are out and about.  Here are my top three, and what to look for:

Dick Cheney comes out from under his rock for all special occasions.

Even creepier when he's happy.

Vader gets angry when mistaken for Cheney.
Lately, in the pot calling the kettle etc. category, he is criticizing President Obama for lying, keeping secrets and wanting lots of control.  He's calling this "European socialism" by which he means "Bush era strategies."  I think he's jealous, misses the good old days.

How do I know that?  Because just one day earlier, he was pissed off at Edward Snowden and called him a traitor, adding that spying is just what the NSA does.

The good news/bad news is that Canada is still trying to arrest him for war crimes but he keeps giving them the slip.  Have no fear; if they get him he will no doubt still be out in time for next Halloween.

Antonin Scalia will be in the scariest costume he can find:

Likes to steal treats from little kids.
Was it just last year that Scalia brought forth his apparent childhood neurosis when he compared the health care mandate to forcing people to buy broccoli?  Antonin does tend to wear his heart on his sleeve, but with such a big sleeve it's often hard to see.  To say he's fearful, of broccoli, of gays getting married, of black people voting would be nothing compared to what he feels about the devil.

Scalia recently talked about his disappointment in the devil, that he is not around so much lately, and then confessed, in whispered tones that that is because he "got wilier."  He reminisced about the days when the devil (which he pronounces with a capital "D") would get pigs to run off cliffs, possess people "and whatnot."

He hopes next year to find a costume that gives proper credit to the devil, like perhaps a Supreme Court robe in red.

Ted Cruz of the scary state of Texas is the most recent addition to the Halloween Halls of Horror:

Pretends to look silly.
Cruz dresses for Halloween in his usual.  He wears silly expressions and tries to act nice so that people won't see what he's up to.  He also was born in Canada, in an attempt to get us to let our guard down by thinking he's ineligible to run for President.  He likes to talk -- for hours -- about his worries about our health care, but he gets confused, like thinking that the reason England has universal health care is because of Hitler.

Jon Stewart later givers a reading of The Bore-Ax.

And he enjoys reading Dr. Seuss, but doesn't get that Sam I Am actually tried Green Eggs and Ham and discovered that he liked them.

Yes that dopey well-meaning look is really the best disguise of them all.  Because Ted Cruz opposes Obamacare, women's reproductive freedom, food stamps, and I believe small children in general.  But who would know?

So this year, in spite of the Red Sox being off the streets sleeping off their hangovers, there will be some truly scary stuff happening.  And the only thing to do if you see any of these characters in your neighborhood is to give them ALL your candy.  And your health insurance.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Seriously Pro-Life? How About Some Gun Control?

Checking the headlines today:

A shooting death, possibly a drive-by, in Mount Pleasant, just reported.

And if that kind of gun violence doesn't bother you anymore, how about the six people shot in what appears to be a murder-suicide in Greenwood County?

For those of us who are truly pro-life, gun violence is the problem, not abortion.  And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has found themselves avoiding the issue out of helplessness and horror.

But we are nearing the holiday season once again, that time of high stress and emotional lows.  We are nearing the anniversary of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that on December 14, 2012 resulted in the killing of 20 children and six adults.

Yet our legislators continue to spout nonsense about God and being pro-life, while they have refused to make any but absurd contributions -- like allowing more guns in public places -- to the gun control effort.  They have shook the hands of Newtown parents and promised to do whatever they can to help, and then the majority have gone on to vote against ANY meaningful legislation.

I am writing about this today because despite my desire to ignore the horrific situation of our state and federal legislators helping to put guns in the hands of potential killers, we have to keep the issue alive.

As of yesterday, two more children in South Carolina are dead because an apparently depressed and disturbed individual had a gun.  How many more?

Monday, October 28, 2013

In Charleston, It's In the Air

Once again, Charleston has been voted #1 travel destination.  We are about as happy to have visitors as they are to be here -- it's good for business, and it is just really nice that people love our city.

One of the wonderful things about Charleston is that in spite of the bustle and popularity, it continues to feel like a small town.  No skyscrapers.  Manageable traffic.  And what continues to be a leisurely pace.  People don't tend to honk if you take too long to wake up when a red light turns green, and we're really happy to give directions, and in fact, just keep talking to you for as long as you want.  There are great restaurants and art galleries, and wonderful historic walks around town.

Why would anyone want to change all that?

In fact, if we continue to ignore the increasing congestion and pollution caused by cruise ships in our port, not only will Charleston begin to be less of a desirable tourist attraction, the air quality will endanger ourselves and our children.

Bobbie Rose is running for Charleston City Council for District 8, and she knows that we cannot ignore the risks to our treasured city.  She understands that the best thing we can do for tourism in Charleston is to create regulations that will protect the environment.  She knows that while unregulated, the cruise ship industry has no reason to curb its pollution in our harbor.

We have had too many politicians in Charleston and in South Carolina that refuse to work with businesses in the interests of our families and our environment, scaring us with talk of killing jobs if we establish reasonable rules and limits.

Isn't it time we stood proud here in South Carolina, and work with those businesses who respect and want to maintain (if not improve) our quality of life?

The City Council election is Tuesday, November 5.  To find out which district you are in go to SC Votes.

If you are in District 8, be sure to support the candidate that will work to insure that the quality of life in Charleston doesn't just maintain, but improves.  Bobbie Rose will keep Charleston #1, not just for tourism, but for its residents.

from Charleston City Paper

Bobbie Rose
Charleston City Council
District 8

Vote: Tuesday, November 5

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Killing Democracy, One "Rule" at a Time

Over the last -- I don't know it seems like forever -- couple of years, we've heard a lot of talk about the "Hastert Rule" in the dysfunctional belly of the House of Representatives.  When I hear it, I usually snort derisively and mutter something like, "And who the hell made that a rule?"

The "Hastert Rule" means that a bill can only be introduced in the House if a majority of the majority (read, republican majority) supports it.  This idiocy was the brainchild of the evil Newt Gingrich, who managed to alienate his House and lose the Speakership after he brought the government to a shutdown in 1995.  Hastert was chosen to be Speaker of the House when the other options were too sleazy even for the republicans (I'm sorry, my disgust is showing.)  Hastert was considered more moderate and reasonable.

Enter George W. Bush and his peaceable bunch of thugs.  Next thing, in 2004 Hastert makes this "rule" the official policy of his speakership.  Can you hear Democracy crying?

Well, today's wild bunch could not have wielded the wrecking ball quite so effectively without Boehner's insistence on following this nasty policy.  Except when public pressure got to be too much, like on votes for relief from Hurricane Sandy, the "fiscal cliff" deal, and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  I imagine the Tea Party brats were in such a frenzy over not being able to throw their weight around that Boehner had to promise them, "You can have the Hastert Rule again next time."

So last week when the republicans were starting to get the feeling that the American people maybe didn't like them anymore, for example blaming them instead of the president for the shutdown, and the bullies in the backroom were having a good laugh over the wrecking of the government, Boehner caved and let that old Hastert Rule go.

But before that happened, the Speaker changed House rules just a little bit to prevent a Democrat from bringing up a vote to pass the Senate bill that would reopen the government:

This amazing piece of sleaze should make alarms go off throughout the country.  But if Representative Van Hollen had not sent it out on youtube, we probably would have no idea.

We really need to ask ourselves why the media did not pick this up, and why every Democrat (and the occasional patriotic Republican) is not screaming bloody murder about this.

Not only have the republicans gotten away with a gerrymandering that prevents a majority of voters from choosing their representative, and then successfully made laws to limit voting by those groups more likely to vote Democrat, but with the "Hastert Rule" and House Resolution 368, they have taken steps to make certain that elected House Democrats are unable to participate in the workings of the House.

We need to know this is going on, and let others know whenever it happens.  This is the sound of our Democracy getting flushed down the toilet in the interest of power.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rambling Thoughts about Republican Bullies

I have been somewhat reluctant to write about the criminal idiocy that is controlling our Congress since the shutdown.  There are so many out there who are speaking out far more eloquently than I might.  Turn on C-Span and listen to the testimony about all the government services lost and all the individuals being hurt by the narcissistic cowards in charge.  Or listen to Jon Stewart's nightly rants on the absurdity.

Unfortunately, the media continues to give legitimacy to this asinine process.  I heard someone on a panel ruminate that Obama would have to give something in return for getting something, that something being the end to the government shutdown and raising of the debt ceiling.  You know, in order for the House republicans to be able to save face.

Basically, this is like handing the school bully a couple of dollars if he agrees not to steal lunch money for a couple of weeks.  In fact, the behavior we have witnessed since John Boehner's first "Hell, no!" is no better than middle school tantrums.

And we -- the administration, the American people, the media -- have been treating this bad behavior in a way that has perpetuated it.  We have first of all paid attention to it, with media focusing on every brat-attack by the Tea Party since their bizarre inception.  Then we have rewarded them by voting their loudest and stupidest into office.  And then our ostensible leaders have all been cowed by the idiots, from Boehner fearing for his Speakership to Obama's early attempts to compromise, to Mitch McConnell's recent comical avoidance of expressing an opinion and our own Lindsey Graham's waving his guns around in attempts to ward off that fearsome "challenge from the right."

Meanwhile, the media appears to not have noticed that the tide is turning.  Big business has noted that shutting down the government in order to kill Obamacare has not been good for their health.  Wall Street has woken up to the fact that government spending is an essential force for the good in our economy and their continuing accumulation of riches.  Even the Democrats are aware that the party of greed and fools has gone too far.

And nearly last on the train is the Americans who cheered on the Tea Party, who have finally noticed that cutting all that wasteful government spending could actually affect them as well. 

Typically looking backwards, and fearing that oh-so-2010 challenge from the right, the radical wing-nuts of the republican party haven't noticed, or have no idea what to do with the fact of their increasing unpopularity.  Like the bully, the only possible response in their limited repertoire is to hit harder.

I imagine they might be surprised to find that the challengers that take them down in 2014 are going to be the moderates, you know, the ones that sound like they want to try to make government work.

And the media will probably realize this just about the same time.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

God: the Default Option

October is a scary month, and I mostly revel in it.  I read scary books and watch scary movies.  And when I turned on the TV yesterday, there was the Values Voter Summit.

The strangely named event is brought to us by Tony Perkins -- no, that Tony Perkins...

...was making an honest living.  This Tony Perkins heads the Family Research Council, one of those groups that make you want to shower after you have been exposed to their sick ideas.

They are anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-spending their wealth and our tax dollars on the poor.  They bludgeon us with their faith, so that we don't notice their hypocrisy.  And this weekend they are in full wrath of god mode, the wrath being hurled against, naturally, the Affordable Care Act.

And there he was, our own Tim Scott, doing his poor Martin Luther King routine.  I had heard he was a powerful speaker, but I was misinformed.  He was well-rehearsed.  His recitation of the words of the wondrous Amazing Grace in those halls of greed were a shameful manipulation, as was his story -- oft told, I'm sure -- of his rebirth in God.  The twisting of Christian values to the cause of power looked plain old wrong coming from the mouth of a South Carolinian who I believe was raised to believe in good works.

The final twisting was the requisite attack on Obamacare.  And this was impressive, because he was given fake numbers to read, like "three trillion dollars to insure five percent of the population."  Not only were his "facts" twisted lies, but brought home the reality that this is not at all about providing health care to those without.

A comment that was so odd that he may have inserted it himself was in the "if you earn a dollar you spend a dollar" fiscal responsibility segment.  That is, that you should give 10 percent to the church.  Hmm, why would you do that?  I don't think it's to lay gold at the feet of God.  I think maybe it's so that the church can redistribute it to the needy.  

No, that's the old Christianity, the one I grew up with.  The new Christianity says that you lay gold at the feet of the representatives of God so they can build bigger and more awesome churches.  Interesting that while Pope Francis is returning his church to those old values, these guys are still trying to get us to believe that giving a portion of one's wealth to the poor is bad.  And just sad that Scott's point would be that the problem with Obamacare is that it's too much money to spend on too few people.

If you check out the homepage of the Values Voter Summit you will see the button, "Having Issues Viewing the Video?"  And I must reply, "Yes, it is tasteless, full of lies, and truly absent of Christian, or any religious, merit."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Field Trip

Back when I was a psychologist, there were lots of neat tax-deductible places we could go for "educational purposes."  Like Caribbean cruises.  Throw in a couple of lectures and you're good to go.  Of course, we did have to pay for the trip ourselves.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I never could afford a Caribbean cruise.

Not so with the U.S. House of Representatives.  As much as they squeal when President Obama travels as President of the United States, they were all too happy to accept a trip to Israel, expenses paid for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  Why a group of 37 Democrats followed by a group of 26 Republicans needed to take a trip to Israel, rather than have a couple of representatives go is beyond me.  Also, why they needed to go in separate groups, as though if they went together a few ideas might get exchanged, much like middle school boys and girls who are afraid of getting cooties from each other.

And of course they all brought wives, because who would want to go on an educational junket without a spouse.  And of course our own Mark Sanford wouldn't want to feel left out and lonely, so he got special dispensation to bring along his girlfriend, excuse me, fiancee.  I'm absolutely sure since they are not married they had separate rooms....

As the House Republicans fight over taking pennies for the poor out of the budget, and making sure that no one who can't afford it gets heath care, it strikes me as the height of hypocrisy to have the nerve to take massive group vacations on someone -- anyone -- else's dime.  Not to mention the fact that if Israel pays, no one is going to come back complaining about money we spend on Israel.  Can you say "conflict of interest?"  And I thought taking gifts from lobbyists was illegal.

Don't let Mark Sanford, or anyone else who is voting against the poor while getting paid vacations and lobbying junkets, get away with it.  Our Representatives are living high off their corruption, and we need to keep letting them know we know about it.  They have no conscience, so we will have to take that role for ourselves.

Tweet @MarkSanford, go to his Facebook Page, call and email him to let him know what you think of his hypocrisy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Planned Parenthood

For better or worse, much of my life has been a tight squeeze financially.  So I have learned to stretch a dollar pretty much till I could see through it.  That includes giving by volunteering rather than with cash.

There are two exceptions to that rule.  The first is the American Civil Liberties Union, for which I maybe don't donate a lot, but I do donate annually.  I figure, without the ACLU, we would most likely be, well, Russia.

The other exception is Planned Parenthood.  This group, like me, knows how to stretch a dollar, but unlike me, they are under constant attack from (as Jim DeMint likes to say) enemies of freedom.  Like ACORN, Planned Parenthood provides services to those who would do without.  And like ACORN, Planned Parenthood's service to the underserved is a great opportunity for the wealthy and powerful.  By attacking those who help the underserved, they are able to keep the focus off their own greedy schemes.

Right now, this very weekend, the Republican House added to their agenda of evil an anti-contraception provision to their already Grinchy funding bill.

Here in South Carolina, each year we are under attack by the truly anti-life right wing in our state legislature, with bills restricting doctors who perform women's services, redefining "life" in ever more absurd ways in order to restrict abortion, and attempting to prohibit access to contraception.

And of course, under attack throughout the country, is Planned Parenthood.

Which is why I am asking you all to do something I rarely do:  donate.

Not as easy as you think.  If you go to the Planned Parenthood website and click on "Donate" you may end up giving to the national organization, in which case our own center will get a mere cut.  In order to donate fully to our own hard-working South Carolina branch this is what you need to do:

1.  Follow this link:  http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-systems/

2.  On the top right, click on "Donate."

3.  On the right, where it says you can "Give to a specific local affiliate, click here."

4.  At the top where it says Organization, scroll down and select "SC" and "Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc."

5.  Be as generous as you can.

After all, doesn't every child deserve a planned parenthood?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pope Frank

When a priest in Italy tried to convince my imprisoned father to fight for Mussolini, he quit the Catholic Church.  My own break with the Church was far less dramatic and had to do with my father's insistence that I attend Mass even though he refused, and my unwillingness to get up early on Sunday morning.  I was also becoming more conscious of the hypocrisy that works its way through just about every aspect of the Church, most obviously the conspicuous wealth and power that seems to bang right up against the teachings of Jesus Christ at every turn.

The aspect of the Catholic Church that I am most proud of in fact is the ability of so many practitioners to reject what makes no sense.  Birth control?  Homosexuality?  Racial equality and integration?  The Church has been wrong before, and will be wrong again.  I think I'll deal with this on my own, thanks anyway.

So much to my surprise and wonder, this most conservative group of men select a pope that is very nearly an anti-pope.  The world -- my cynical self included -- is enthralled with this pope who does not just preach peace and love but walks the walk.  Fellow atheist Bill Maher fondly calls him "Pope Frank."

In a world in which reaching out is seen as weakness, inclusion as the work of the devil, and the poor and meek merely deserving of their bad fortunes, Pope Francis humbly disagrees.  He reminds us that he is not God, but attempts to represent God; perhaps the Church is infallible, but the man who represents the Church should not be one to judge.

So this new world leader rolls out some amazing comments.  Not only the predictable ones about the poor and war, but about gays and abortion.

That said, let me not appear unrealistically optimistic.  Pope Francis will not be likely to ever support a woman's right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.  But he will not presume to support laws punishing women for having an abortion.  He will not be likely to condemn gay men and women for marrying but won't in the near future offer to perform the ceremony.

In fact, hot off the presses, the Pope has just excommunicated a priest for advocating gay marriage and female clergy.  Apparently the wheels of the Catholic Church move slowly and this has been in the works for years.  Even so, he's the Pope, he could have figured out how to put the brakes on this.  But he's said he was fallible, so maybe this is the proof.  I don't know, this is a little too much like Obama not being willing to run up against the bad boys in Congress.

So here we are, lapsed and intact Catholics all excited about having a Pope who seems to really care about people and not just perpetuating the power and the holdings of the Vatican.  I'm going to keep my eye on him though.  The most difficult job he is likely to have will be retraining those who work under him.  Centuries of greed and narcissism don't evolve easily into, well, Christianity.