Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vote for Me

I've been thinking lately that maybe I should run for office.  Any office.

I have a Ph.D. in psychology and I read a lot, but I don't consider myself all that knowledgeable about the issues you need to know a lot about to make laws.  I don't think that would make much of a difference.

I've been listening (not on purpose) to people like Ted Cruz, who I hadn't even heard of a few months ago, and now he has "public service" ads telling you to make your elected officials get rid of the IRS.  Then there are creepy evil characters like Mitch McConnell who I imagine likes to take away his grandchildren's favorite toys just to see them cry.  Speaking of which, there is John Boehner, who cries when he is happy (haven't seen that happen in awhile).  One of my favorites has got to be Louis Gohmert, who can always be counted on to come up with "facts" like, for example,  more people are killed by hammers than guns.

I don't want to make it sound like men in public office have the prize for stupidity locked up.  There was the New Mexico state legislator who introduced a forced pregnancy bill stating that in cases of rape the fetus could be used as evidence.  And let's not forget Jodie Laubenberg, the Texas legislator who stated that if a woman were raped she could go to a hospital for a rape kit, that was like a morning after pill.

My point is, you really don't have to know anything to be an elected official.  In fact, being smart can and will be used against you.  Those Harvard educated wingnuts like Mitt Romney get to call Harvard educated Barack Obama "elite" because Romney has managed to pretty much renounce any intellect he may have had at one time.  William Safire, who despite not making it through college, got to write a column criticizing y'all's use of the English language and call us all snobs at the same time, was also a speechwriter for those two great anti-intellectuals, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.

So it's not really how smart you are that determines your success in politics, it's really how convincingly you can kiss up to the truly wealthy and influential.  Look at our own Nikki Haley and Tim Scott.  I can't imagine there is a corporate backer that would have an opinion on which either one would beg to differ.

And then it just becomes a matter of practicing all those well-used arguments about taxes and the minimum wage killing jobs and guaranteed health care and food stamps making people less motivated to go out and work.  And trust me, the more I read, the more I find that today's right wingnuts are only just reinventing the wheel, in their case a square one.  They've been saying the same tired things for decades, and nobody notices they aren't true.

So how hard could it be to run for office?  All you need is a bankroll, and the ability to memorize your lines.

Brains and morals not required.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

When It's Just Hard to Hear

I was listening to a few minutes of House subcommittee hearings on immigration reform on C-Span.  All sounds so civilized.  A guy representing a Southern Christian group saying how he and his group support a path to citizenship, that it's not right for children born here to be sent back, or for those children to be separated from their parents.

Wow, I thought.  But then, in a very smooth and civilized way, the questioner performed a well-rehearsed bait and switch.  He asked about whether these people should be allowed their dream if border security was not increased.  And that good Christian of course said no.

It was like waking up from a pleasant dream and realizing your pet had died yesterday, and was still dead.

This is the US House of Representatives, friends, where there is no issue that does not come down to small mindedness and mean spiritedness.  Facts don't matter.  Testimony can be twisted and warped to whatever purpose the committee intends.

The purpose of this committee hearing was all too clear.  Regardless how many testified to the cruelty of deportation there was the kindly authority figure representing our Christian nation by bringing us back to the business of the republican majority.

When the importance of securing our border was reiterated -- several times -- I wondered what that actually meant.  Because you've probably heard that for the first time in many years illegal border crossing is negligible.  And what would be considered adequate security?

The answer is that there is no amount of money, arms, personnel, or fencing that will be enough.  This issue of border security is one more diversion that protects the wealthy and powerful in this country from scrutiny.  Just like the ferocious gun control debate, wherein the NRA holds forth with absurd arguments against any type of gun control, the issue is not the law, it is the power.  Like the fight to limit women's reproductive choice, the republicans in the House of Representatives do not give a fig about life, but as long as we are forced to keep fighting for our individual rights we are not fighting the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance industry.

While the battle goes on, and people are lined up to plead for sanity, we have no one fighting the real battle against Wall Street banks, big corporate farms, and Walmart's refusal to pay a living wage.

And when a woman testified about a three-year-old who is no longer allowed to see her mother, who is being held and waiting to be deported, I just could not listen anymore.

We have got to get this argument back on track.  It is not about the right to bear arms, but the right to travel without fear of someone who is armed.  It is not about the immigrants who are here illegally, it is about the employers who are unwilling to run their companies responsibly.  It is not about whether a woman should have the right to have an abortion, it is about our right to live free and without tyranny, and with good health care and education, and a living wage.

Let's not let ourselves get caught up in the weeds; let's insist on redirecting these insulting notions back to the big picture, which is the quality of life in this country.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My New Pen Pal

If you send someone you've never met a letter, you probably feel the need to communicate something.  If you send them another one, I guess that means you're becoming pen pals.

T.B.S., who wrote me pages of colorful comments about his feelings about the NAACP and Trayvon Martin, apparently felt he had more to share.  So a couple of days later, he got his colored pens back out and posted several more pages of burning thoughts:

Yes, it's comical.  And it is also very creepy.  And it made me wonder why (other than the fact that this writer is unbalanced).

Here is the text of my Letter to the Editor in the P & C that began this flurry of activity:

Blaming victim
As a girl growing up in the ’60s in Rhode Island, I knew there were places I had better not walk. Even so, I was about 10 years old and walking to the library one day when a car with several men drove by and I had what I think was a soda can thrown at me.I recall as a teen-ager and then a young woman that when a woman was raped, she was asked what she was doing in that neighborhood, at that time, by herself, with those clothes on.
Now that the trial of George Zimmerman is over, I am not only reminded of how women were blamed for being attacked, I am thinking about my son who is now 21, not that much older than Trayvon Martin when he was shot and killed.
Imagine your teen-age boy walking any street, dressed as teen-agers do, in the early evening hours. And then imagine that he realizes that he is being followed.
He tries to ignore it, and then panics. He makes a phone call to alert a friend and in his fear and anger describes his pursuer in angry language that you or I might use under those circumstances. Finally, feeling confused and trapped, he decides to fight.
Trayvon Martin was standing his ground.
George Zimmerman was not being pursued. He was not at home protecting himself and his family. He was the pursuer.
By attacking Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin was standing his ground and died because apparently in Florida an adult man with a gun trumps a teenage boy attempting to defend himself from a pursuer with his hands.

Agnes F. Pomata, Ph.D.
Foxfire Road
Wadmalaw Island
Nowhere in the letter I wrote did I talk about race, or refer to the NAACP.  This letter was about violence directed at women and teenagers, and the fact that carrying guns with our government's approval has made the violence more deadly.

But my letter came from Wadmalaw Island, and I have an unusual name, and I talked about my son -- T.B.S. has assumed that I am myself African American, which I am not.

The rage that these missives convey chill me.  Particularly because they were written by someone who is insane (has poor boundary control) and has focused his considerable hatred on black Americans.  If this is a man with a gun, and it well may be, there is a good chance he will someday use it.

And people like Chief Justice John Roberts, who believes we live in a post-racial America, will never have a close-up view of that irrational hatred, or be in danger from such a disturbed individual, because he is protected on many levels.  As a chief justice, his life is sheltered, and as a white man, he will never be the focus of that blind rage that people of color in this country struggle with every day.

As the easily identified minority, black Americans are not only vilified and feared, but are targets of hatred.  My pen pal knows not to send his letters to the P & C, but he still carries that rage.  Let's hope that the only weapons he uses are those colored pens.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Scratch the Surface

Wednesday will be a day of action and protest for raising the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.  If you are a low-wage worker making more than that, it would probably be less without the minimum wage law.  This required federal minimum truly lifts all boats.

But not by much.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of big business and their lobbyists, Congress is unwilling to hurt their true constituents by forcing them to pay what would still amount too little too late; the proposed Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 would raise the minimum wage to $8.20 per hour immediately and then take another two years to get all the way to $10.10.

Rev up your calculators, folks.  $8.20 an hour comes out to an unbelievable $17,056 annually.  McDonalds in a move so gutsy we just have to wonder if it was supposed to be a joke, created a sample budget in order to help their employees learn to budget.  I wonder just how surprised these execs were at the outrage engendered by a budget that assumes the employee needs two jobs to survive.  This also proves the point that there are a lot of people up the corporate ladder that are making way too much money than they are worth.

Now, when I googled "minimum wage," about the third site was  Oh ye trusting souls.  As you read on that website, you will begin to feel the hairs on your arms prickle.  You are reading about how an increase in the minimum wage cuts into the few cents businesses make on the dollar, and results in higher prices and less customer service, and of course fewer jobs.

But wait!  If you haven't got the gist yet, the next paragraph authoritatively states that "award winning research" has proven that raising the minimum wage does not decrease poverty.

This is when you want to scroll back up to the About tab, where you will learn that this crock of nonsense is brought to you by the Employment Policies Institute .

Don't spend too much time there, though, because it is just too icky.  Rather, take a look at its Wikipedia page.  There you will find that this is yet another one of those evil right-wing "think tanks" that have taken on pretty much everything we hold sacred in our democracy.

Operated by Richard Berman of Berman and Associates in -- where else -- Washington, DC, this is just one of his many faces.  Anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-science, anti-ACORN, and loads of other attack groups come under Berman's polluted umbrella.

So here we have, once again, come full circle.  Pick an issue that is stalled in Congress, scratch the surface and you will find a sleazy corporate lobbyist who has made his fortune by spreading lies.

What's to be done?  This first thing is to know that this is happening.  When you talk to your Republican friends who seem to be voting against their own best interests, know that they have been fed carefully worded misinformation by groups like Berman and Associates and his Employment Policies Institute.

Then we need to spread the word.

Oh, and talk to everyone you know about the minimum wage, and how their wages won't go up if the minimum wage doesn't.  And how small businesses can't hire and thrive if employees can't afford to buy their stuff.  And how the rich have been getting richer because no one is forcing them to pay their workers a living wage.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Problem with the Debate

On Tuesday, the Post and Courier published a letter I wrote about the Trayvon Martin killing ("Blaming Victim").  Friday, I received a multi-page response in the mail.  To say that the respondent put a great deal of effort into the rebuttal would be an understatement.  This dude, named "T.B.S.", gathered up all the colored pens he owns and appears to have spent hours composing this reply:

Apparently, I touched a nerve.

So I spent a bit of time considering how I might respond, if I was similarly crazed, and came up with a few tantalizing possibilities:

*  I'm so glad that you read my letter in the P & C.  It must have been very difficult.

*  And your point is...?

*  I found your letter quite well thought out, especially the colors.

*  Well, you've certainly convinced me!

Chuckles aside, I think what we have here is the whole problem with the gun control debate.  The people who most fervently believe they have the right -- in fact, the need -- to carry weapons, are those like Mr. T. B. S.  who, apart from the fact that he apparently is not at all hispanic, shares much the same paranoia and rage as Mr. Zimmerman.

The NRA and ALEC need a frightened population in order to thrive.  They pay our gun-rights politicians substantial amounts of money to fire up the fearful.  And what we end up with is crazy people who are truly afraid that if we take away their guns they will be overrun by "those people."  The people they are afraid of range from the gub'mint to the NAACP to the A-rabs to Nancy Pelosi.

In other words, they are afraid of anyone our right wing legislators tell them to be afraid of.

George Zimmerman is the living proof of why we need to outlaw guns.  And why we need to vote the fearmongers out of office.

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's About Guns, Again

I would be willing to say that the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was not about race, although it was.  Based on his own utterings, I don't for one minute believe that Zimmerman would have stalked Martin if he had been a white teenager.  Because then he would have assumed that the boy belonged in that neighborhood.

If you recall Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, or Michael Caine in Harry Brown, there is also a fear in adults of teenage gangs.  But Trayvon was alone.

So there is George Zimmerman, a paranoid individual who perceives himself to be harassed by "those kids," and who really, really wants to be the enforcer, to put a stop to those kids that can get away with that stuff.

So he joins Neighborhood Watch.  He takes courses that talk about the "stand your ground" law.  He becomes in his mind the guy the police can count on to straighten out his neighborhood, to make it safe for people like him.

And the means by which he is able to do this is his weapon.

Had Zimmerman not been allowed to carry a gun, he may have stalked Martin, he no doubt would have called 911 to report a suspicious individual.  It is less likely that he would have continued to pursue Martin after he was told to back off, although he may have.

What I think we can safely say, however, is that neither of the two would have died in the altercation.

So what this comes down to is whether we are going to continue to let the NRA dictate to our state and congressional leaders the terms by which we will be able to walk our streets.  We don't need people like George Zimmerman protecting our community.  We don't need the kind of unstable men who feel strongly the need to walk among us armed to be encouraged to do so.

So let's not let this be about race, although it certainly was race that fueled the fire.  Let this be about the gun that George Zimmerman carried -- and carries once again -- that allowed him to choose his enemy and kill him.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Texas Lege's Comedy Hits

Perhaps you've been missing The Daily Show as it's been on a two-week hiatus.  I know, lately they're taking almost as many breaks as our US Congress.  But fear not:  the Texas State Legislature continues to offer can't-miss comedy in its place.

You hardly ever get the opportunity to read a blog post titled, Tampons don't kill people. Republicans do.  So I would like to thank that great Texas blogging duo, Margaret and Helen, for alerting me to the latest comedy accomplishments of the Texas Legislature, in their work to rid the world of intelligent democratic debate.

On Friday, during their routine ransacking of women's handbags, security guards confiscated feminine hygiene products.

You are probably going to want to read that last sentence again.  Go ahead.

Apparently, Texas lawbreakers -- I'm sorry, lawmakers -- were concerned that women might use tampons as projectile devices.  I guess most members of the Texas lege don't have much contact with menstruating women and their hygiene products, and so thought that a maxi-pad hurled from the stands just might knock out a member of their august group.

Meanwhile, it is a-okay to carry a gun, unless, I suppose, you're a woman.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Nation of Whiners

Harry Reid has finally decided to do something about Mitch McConnell's blocking of executive branch nominees.  If you were watching C-Span yesterday, you got to see McConnell have a tantrum over -- are you ready? -- the fact that Reid called the meeting for Monday, at 6 p.m.

The Minority Leader of the Senate was upset because his members would have to show up early for their work week.  This despite the fact that Reid could have called the meeting for Monday at 9 a.m., which is when the normal work-week starts for lots of us who are not members of Congress.

He then followed up that impressive argument by calling Harry Reid a "liar" and Obama's recess nominees "illegal."  To which Reid defended himself by saying, "Am not."  Not his finest moment, granted, but this is Harry Reid, and you have to be proud of him for just taking a stand, right?

The behavior of our republican officials prove the point that bullies are cowards and whiners.  Their government jobs, big salaries and short hours, great health care and paid vacation and sick leave, and quite enviable retirement benefits, including the ability to use their contacts and influence for life, only make the whining more incessant.

The 2012 election season, with its highlight the Republican National Convention, was a showcase for bullies.  These are the people who steal your lunch money and then when a friend gives you half their sandwich, knock it out of your hand and call you a crybaby.

Which is what they are also demonstrating in the battle over the Farm Bill.  In essence, they are stealing our tax dollars for their buddies (and themselves) in Big Agra, while knocking the food stamp dollars out of the hands of the poor.  And whining the whole time.

We should be better than this.  And I'm talking about those who vote these characters into office.  Those who bullied their way into the health care town halls of a few years ago, even shouting down a woman in a wheelchair.  The ones who would have us spend our tax dollars to build a fence and pay for yet more border patrol but gripe about public school dollars.

Who are these people?  We know them.  They are misinformed and afraid they are going to lose whatever they have.    They put their trust in the bullies, because the bullies yell the loudest, and point the finger away from them.  The bullies provide a scapegoat.

The poor, women and children, gays, minorities, immigrants.  What they have in common is not that they are destroying our country.  What they have in common is that they are those not in power, they are the weaker among us.  They are the groups that bullies feed on.

But the LGBT among us stood up and stopped being afraid of the bullies.  The immigrants who live among us, whether legal or not, are standing up so that we can see that they are essential, and can no longer be picked on.  Minorities will stop letting the bullies pit them against each other, and when they unite, they will be minorities no more.

Women are beginning to fight back.  We are finding our heroes, like Wendy Davis.  We are beginning to see that the fight against abortion is a red herring that allows the powerful to continue to gain wealth and power while we fight among ourselves.

And the poor?  Thanks to the success of bullies like Mitch McConnell, more of us than ever have joined their ranks.  Which means that when we fight back, we will be formidable.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Not MY Son

As I watch bits and pieces of the trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting and death of Trayvon Martin, I can't help but imagine what this case would be like if this 16-year-old had been a white boy.

Like my son.

Here is a boy dressed in a way that would be weird for an adult but not for a teenager.  He is walking around this neighborhood, and honestly, if he was not black, would anyone have questioned what he was doing there?  So let's supposed he is white and walking around at -- for god's sake, 7 p.m.

Enter George Zimmerman, a wannabe cop, who makes all those racial assumptions about a black boy in his neighborhood and decides he needs to be followed.

Again, imagine this is my white 16-year-old son.  He realizes he is being followed.  He keeps walking but becomes ever more conscious that that is indeed what is happening.  He begins to get scared.  Trayvon Martin knows what can happen to a young African-American male that has wandered into the path of an angry and/or paranoid white man.  My son might have been oblivious of being followed for some time.  He might have imagined that this couldn't be happening, that it was his imagination.

But at some point, when the unknown man continues to follow him, my son would become frightened.  He would try to contact someone.  He would almost certainly refer to the person following him as crazy, followed by any other descriptive obscenity, which would emphasize his fear.  When this nightmare continues, he realizes a full-blown panic and decides that he has to fight back.

In other words, my son, and Trayvon Martin, would stand their ground.  Unarmed, they would use the weapon they have, and physically attack the stalker.  And under Florida law, they would be in the right.

Unfortunately, he who carries the gun has lived to tell the tale.  And if Trayvon had been a white youth, it is unlikely that the defense attorney would be mocking the young black woman who was the nearest thing to a witness for Trayvon, and pretending not to understand what she is saying in an effort to emphasize that she -- and therefore Trayvon -- are not like the members of the jury.

Of course, had it been a white youth killed that day, it would not likely have taken nearly six weeks for his attacker to be charged.

But here we are.  The paranoid, angry and power hungry man who stalked an innocent young black boy, who refused to heed the police officer on the phone who told him to step down and stop his pursuit, is the one who is seen as "standing his ground."

Let's all step outside of the hype and media circus, and imagine this scenario with our own teenager, walking down the road, and being stalked by an unknown man.

I wonder if, in this angry and paranoid decade, the jury will be able to give, not Zimmerman, but Trayvon Martin, a fair trial.

Monday, July 1, 2013

More from the Planet of Texas

I really, really think that Molly Ivins should be around to see what's going on in the Texas Lege.  I had thought masturbating fetuses was about as dumb as a Texas republican could get, but then I heard about Representative Jodie Laubenberg, who testified that cutting the number of abortion clinics in the state would not be a hardship because  in the case of rape, ER's are equipped with what you call your "rape kit" which cleans a woman out:

Really?  Coming from South Carolina, I am reluctant to poke fun, but I get the opportunity so seldom.

I suppose it could be worse.  Ms. Laubenberg might have imagined that a "rape kit" was a DIY item used by a rapist.