Saturday, June 29, 2013

Texas' Fact Challenged Child Protection Act

They actually are calling it the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" over there in the Texas State Lege.  But the testimony by the gaggle of heart-thumping supporters of forced pregnancy truly makes one wonder just how gullible they think we are.

In 2012 it was called the Women's Health Defense Act, and I just wonder why that bill didn't fly.  So this year, much in the way the tobacco companies bought scientists to prove that smoking was not harmful, but without the scientists, the evangelists of the Texas Lege lined up this year to bemoan the pain that fetuses feel at 20 weeks in a bill comically calling 20 week old fetuses "pain-capable."  Which sounds to me like an extra feature one could have installed for a small additional cost.

And as if this simple-minded, fact-free argument, that fetuses can feel pain, wasn't enough, Michael Burgess stepped up to the plate to argue that fetuses also feel pleasure, and that he has seen fetuses masturbate.  Do we really even need to travel into the recesses of that mind?

This is not a funny topic.  If you've read anything I've had to say about our legislators need to force women to carry pregnancies to term, you know I don't think it's funny.  But there comes a time when the only way to address the absurd is to laugh at it.

Which leads me to Molly Ivins.  She was the hero reporter for the Texas Observer, where she wrote on the Texas State Lege.  She loved those lunatics, and she painted them with the clear strokes of reality, in their full crazy plumage.  If you haven't yet, read the book of collected essays that brought her to national attention, entitled, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?  The story of the title is worth the price of admission.  Hint:  It began with an article in which she had written of a local congressman, "If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day."

So you can see why I'm wishing Molly were here now to enjoy and comment on the idiots in the Texas Lege.  She would have a laugh riot over her favorite group of idiots as they continue to prove that they can indeed continue to get dumber.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Trial By Food Stamps

A Day In the Life

I was heartened to hear that some members of Congress had taken the "food stamp challenge" in order to experience life on the federally funded supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP).  While most of the members of Congress who took this challenge affirmed that eating on $4.50 a day was difficult, Texas congressman Steve Stockman was unconvinced.

No, he did not himself try to live on that food stamp budget, but had spokesman Donny Ferguson do it for him.  Predictably, this dude said after two days that it was "a breeze."  Well, I have to say that I have been fighting a losing battle with my weight all my life, and I can diet easily for two days.

So let me just say that I believe, Mr. Ferguson, congratulations, and you are now ready for the next level of the Poverty Game.

You work 40 hours a week -- that's 8 to 5 because you don't get paid for lunch.  You are earning a lush $10.00 an hour, well above minimum wage, but with a spouse looking for work and two school-aged children your Food Stamp Challenge is exactly that.  Your spouse drops you off at work with your one car in order to get the kids to school, limiting where and how often you shop for groceries.  Nice that the big box stores are now accepting that EBT card but you can rarely make the trip.

It's also nice that there are incentives for buying fresh fruits and vegetables, but that means getting the kids to eat the fruit and finding time to make that salad and find palatable ways to cook that broccoli.

And when you get home it's 6:00 and the kids are tired and hungry, unless your spouse has bought a frozen pizza and a bag of cookies.

A glass of wine would be nice when you can budget it in, and sometimes a glass of wine just won't do the trick.

Hey, Ferguson?  How about sharing with us what you eat (and drink) when you're not making that two-day sacrifice?

And Representative Stockman?  You've argued with your wife over the need to get the car repaired, which you've been trying to budget in for a year now along with the increasing price of gas.  And you've decided that that pain in your stomach will have to wait just a little longer before you can take the time off to see a doctor (You know after the co-pays and deductibles there are just going to be more costs and time off for tests and medications, if not appointments with specialists.).

Still feeling like you're living on "easy street?"

How about those looks you get from people like you when they see you load that cart up with those frozen pizzas?  Did you know that SNAP doesn't cover the fried chicken at your supermarket's deli counter?  So if you are in the mood for a little greasy relief, you are just going to have to cook it yourself.

And that birthday cake you bought with that EBT card?  There are some including my own South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley that concur with you that life should just not be that easy for those forced to accept government dollars.  Bake that cake your own self.  Your kids may not have seen you all day, you're asleep on your feet and still have a load of laundry to do, but that bit of extra effort will make you a better person. 

You may think you've taken the Food Stamp Challenge, Mr. Ferguson, but you haven't got a clue until you've done it day in and day out, along with all the other special experiences of living at poverty level in the US.

So perhaps you can stop feeling so smug, and perhaps you can pause a moment before you judge those whose lives are not quite so cushy as yours.

And don't forget, they may not pay a lot of income tax, but the taxes they do pay support your life on "easy street."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Consistently Lindsey

While Jon Stewart and I were away (he's still gone, but I'm back), John Oliver had a bit to say about privacy.  Of course, our own Senator Lindsey Graham, hot to beat out any Tea Party challengers in 2014 (you know who I'm talking about, Lee Bright), is the go-to guy on just about every issue that plagues our lawmakers.  The biggest plague being our president.

What has been difficult for Graham, however, is when President Obama takes a sharp turn to the right.  Being a man of rigid, if not good, Southern values, Graham is fearless in supporting any sacrifice of personal privacy in the name of national security.

Except one.

Here is our own Lindsey Graham, right around minute seven, summing up his position on privacy:

Let's hope that his 2014 Democratic challenger takes note of this little inconsistency.  You know what they say about politics and strange bedfellows.  The Tea Party just might not be as enthused about electronic surveillance of US citizens as Senator Graham.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It's About Ideals

I was late coming to The West Wing, but it's one of my favorite things.  So much so that I invested in the whole series on DVD.  I decided that at some point I would start at the beginning and, one episode a week, I'd do it all over again.

This January was when I began to do it all over again.

Sadly, it's so many of the same issues.  Gun control, campaign finance reform.  Gays in the military, and in America in general, was the one bright exception.

Today I watched the episode called, "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet." It is fraught with frustration, as poll numbers drop and the press corps, the military chiefs and Congress let Jeb Bartlet know in no uncertain terms that he is just not going to make a difference.

Turns out that he hasn't been trying that hard.  It turns out that winning a second term has become more important than any of the issues that made it worth running for President in the first place.

And by the end of the episode there is a rousing turning point, wherein the President and the staff of the West Wing determine that the most important thing is fighting for those ideals.

I think we're all pretty sick of politics.  Of politicians saying what they think we want to hear.  President Obama's poll ratings go up when he speaks his mind.  The trick is not to pay attention to the poll ratings, but to keep paying attention to what is on his mind, and to keep speaking to it.

Gun control, campaign finance reform, violence against women, protecting the environment, educating our children, raising taxes to fund what our citizens need.  We have seen our president step up every so often, and he gets beaten down by scandalmongers, and sometimes by his own questionable secret agendas.

Maybe it's time for that moment, where he asks himself, why am I here after all?  Maybe he needs to go back and rerun those old speeches, just as I have been rerunning those episodes of West Wing.  I think he too would find inspiration in those ideals spoken back when he was first running to change the country.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Antonin and Me

Some of us are up in arms at the Supreme Court ruling that it is a-okay to take DNA swabs of suspects  and use them to search databases of open crimes.

I do hate to be on the same side of a fight as Justice Scalia, and I can't say I agree with his weird "we should continue to live in the 18th century as the Founding Fathers would have wanted it" philosophy.  But still.  One does have to ask, "Where does it end?"

In the debate following the decision, some have said it would not be amiss to swab at birth, and have the data right there in a national database.

Now, don't go all panicky just yet.  Think of all the data our government already has on us.

Some were outraged when the government began to require we all have social security identification cards.  Back then it was illegal to use those identification numbers for anything other than social security.  So imagine the panic when colleges began to use the number as student ID.  Now imagine not using the number as an ID for nearly everything.

To be honest, even though I was of the generation when by the time you had finished applying for college, you'd be very likely to have your SSN memorized, it truly chills me that this number has become the ID that follows us throughout every stage of our lives.  While we are encouraged to develop computer passwords that will be so complicated no one can break in, including ourselves, that one nine-digit number links us to every important thing we do.

And then there is the fingerprint.  My fingerprint went into that creepy database when I took the licensing exam for psychology, because what greater security need is there than to keep track of those licensed professionals?

Being a lifelong underachiever, and having been minimally employed since I walked away from a psychology practice that was being governed by the bottom line of managed care rather than the interests of the patient, I have no idea what other high status positions require fingerprinting.  My guess is, more than you or I would imagine.

And then there are drivers' licenses, which, as with the social security card, were met with distrust by those individuals who felt that living in a free country meant that our names and photos should not be on file.  Of course, it is becoming commonplace to require photo ID to vote, and to not carry such an ID, which is maintained by the state and might as well be considered a national database given the technology, has nearly become unfeasible.  The fact that its original purpose was to be as proof of the qualification to drive a car is ancient history.

So what is the big deal about just collecting that DNA?  Don't fight it.  It's just a matter of time.

And RFID, those little electromagnetic chips that are in the tags on the clothes you buy to prevent shoplifting, are also being used to track inventory.  And -- why not? -- your purchase history.  In fact, those of us who are annoyed at having to carry around so many cards for ID, to charge purchases, to borrow library books, might just step up and volunteer to have one of those chips put right under our skin.  If you don't mind the fact that you can be followed by your cell phone signal, why would you care about a chip under your skin?

So we have here the inevitable creepy centralized tracking of us.  And most of us don't mind.  But there is one exception, and I just have to wonder why.

Those same folks who brought you voter ID, who believe the ability to track us all will keep us safe from terrorists, will fight to their death (actually, to your death) for the right to bear arms without ID, license or registry.

Go figure.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Little Perspective on an Ivy League Education

No, this isn't an excuse to brag on my son getting his bachelor's degree (Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude) in physics from Harvard last week.  But I was the first to get a bachelor's degree from my immediate family, just barely scraping by at the University of Rhode Island, which is a good school.  But it's not Harvard.  So I said it.

Last week was an awful lot of pomp and hot air.  I was taken in till my sister and her husband arrived, and that was good for bringing me back down to reality and having a few good laughs at all the putting on of airs, hot or otherwise.

A lot of that hot air involved telling the almost-grads that they are now about to become members of an exclusive and important club.  All said with a great deal of noblesse oblige.

Doors would indeed be open to them because of their "H-brand."  And it would be up to them to use that power to do good -- to be leaders, and to make the world a better place.


It wasn't till I got home, in fact, days after I got home, that I wondered at just how many students in that audience were vowing that they would indeed take it upon themselves to use their power for good rather than evil, as opposed to checking their iPhones.

After all, Harvard graduated Barack Obama, but also Mitt Romney.  I can assure you that both believe that they are doing good and we all know which one really is.  

Then there are those who are world leaders, and done much good along the way, who decided Harvard just wasn't doing it for them, people like Bill Gates.  Of course, there is debate about how he accumulated the resources to do good with his Foundation, but still....

It is more likely that many of those who are on that august roster who have made the greatest contribution to our country and the world are not known by us.  There appears to be a tendency for those notables who use their Harvard credential -- or any noted credential -- to affect change to take care of Number One first -- and best.  And whether that grad has come from wealth or poverty, most are willing to forget, if indeed they were ever aware of, those who are being left behind.

Compare the scientist who searches for a cure who is funded by government grants to the scientist who works for the pharmaceutical company who has vowed not to share progress rather than risk cutting into potential profits.

Then there is the army of Harvard MBA's -- bless their cold and shiny hearts.  I was pleased when a joke was made by one student speaker about another -- a notable business school speaker -- destroying the world.  Could it be that the students have clearer vision at the point of departure than those faculty that send them off?

Maybe Commencement Week at Harvard isn't the place to be unabashedly honest about the likely futures of many of the grads.  And, to be fair, cheating scandal and student tragedy was brought up alongside the acclaim of the four years.

But parents, time to wipe away the tears of pride.  Harvard, by virtue of that prestigious "H", has given your graduates  the power, and given many the confidence, and offered them all an ethical education with a moral message.  But whether or not they heard that message will remain to be seen.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why I Need a Break

I just now turned my TV from DVD mode to C-SPAN (not on purpose).  Some House Republican was pontificating on the need for Federal Duck Stamps.

I suppose better that than women's issues.