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:

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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When Your House Is Falling Apart

Our government has been following some very bizarre rules for tending to things.  It's so bizarre that I have found myself thinking of it in terms of psychiatric illness.

We could probably start with the shock of 9/11.  There we were, thinking we were the greatest nation in the world, infallible, struck in our hearts (in America heart=wallet) in the full light of day by renegades armed with weapons we left lying around unguarded.

Post traumatic stress disorder?  Not only were we looking over our shoulder and under our bed for the next attack, our corporate funded president couldn't figure out how to fast enough get those dollars to flow.  No conversation about the death and destruction of the Twin Towers could happen without focusing on the economic devastation.

Now, I'm not talking so much about people who lost their jobs because their livelihood was so totally disrupted.  Nor am I talking about those who lost the family members who provided them financial stability.  (And as I write these two sentences it chills me that we are talking about dollars and not lives, but I am trying to reconstruct as honestly as I can.)

The trauma that shook the country may not have been financial, but to our corporate-owned government that terrorist attack was all about money.  As Al Qaeda intended.

That's when the bucks started flowing.  Tax cuts and subsidies flowing to Wall Street and airlines.  We couldn't do enough to get those businesses going again, while the financial aid to families, including those first responders we heralded, was quite a bit slower to come around.

And there is where our obsession has been since then.

A convenient excuse by the Bush administration to feed its constituency, in W.'s own terms, "the haves and have-mores."

It only naturally followed that corporate America took what it felt it had always had coming, Congress shocked into being afraid to say no, believing every lie and passing it on.  The American people were easy.  We believed every scary story we were told.

And here we are in 2013.  Our bridges are falling down.  Our children are going hungry.  And those who are responsible for guarding the country's purse strings run up the debt to feed the corporate beast, and continue to tell us to tighten our belts and stop whining.

Pass the farm subsidy and the oil subsidy and the subsidies to the pharmaceutical industry.  But cut back on food stamps and the arts.  Feed the dinosaur, starve the hummingbird.

The uproar from the voters can barely be heard.  Those who question this bizarre philosophy of taking good care of the wealthy so they don't punish us by taking away our jobs are too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed, too confused to yell.  And the most fearful, the most psychologically vulnerable, are fed fears about the debt, the poor, Obamacare, and urged to stand up and shout.  And they do.

What will it take for the sane but tired of us to stand up and yell louder?  When our house is falling apart and whatever we do to keep it together no longer works, is this when we will rise up in anger?  When we have nothing left to lose, is that when we will no longer be afraid to risk being struck down?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Giving Them What They Want

I just heard Dave Cullen, the author of the exhaustive analysis of the Columbine shooting, make an excellent suggestion in reference to the Washington Navy Yard shooting on Monday.  He said that he has made a point of not referring to shooters by name.  Those who have been responsible for mass shootings are seeking notoriety.  When the media reports with familiarity on these killers, referring to them by name, showing photos, interviewing their family members, they are fueling the next one.

The reaction to Monday's shooting, given all that has happened -- and not happened -- since children were murdered in Newtown last December disgusts me.  The first bit that I heard on C-Span of all places was congressional tweets expressing their sympathy for the families of the dead.  The first one listed was Senator Ted Cruz.  I'm sure the very next thing he did was ring up the NRA to assure Wayne LaPierre that he will take this opportunity to re-energize his fight to arm every American.

Gun-totin' Senator Lindsey Graham rang in his support for gun rights, saying that we need to focus our efforts on mental health legislation.  This is the guy who wants to defund Obamacare.  I'm assuming that by mental health legislation he is talking about keeping data banks of anyone who has been hospitalized or imprisoned, and tracking their movements, as opposed to actually treating troubled people.

I would like to applaud Dave Cullen for his thoughts about the media not feeding the appetites of potential future killers.  And I would like to take the proposal another step further.

I don't believe we should allow a mass shooting to become a forum for assholes like Wayne LaPierre, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham.  It is apparent that false words of sympathy are followed by words intending to incite fear and anger in those who cling to their guns.  With each shooting, they are able to play their followers like a fiddle -- or should I say, an AR-15.

So let's tell the media to stop showing Facebook photos of shooters, talking about their friends, interviewing a weeping mom.  And let's tell the media to stop for god's sake inviting Wayne LaPierre to interviews, and to stop printing quotes by right wing-nuts who are trying to stay in office by fueling their rabid base.

This morning I heard the sounds in my rural neighborhood that I hear whenever we have a shooting tragedy.  It was the sound of someone shooting.  Getting ready for the next bad guy with a gun.  And that ka-ching you are hearing is the sound of the money being made by the arms manufacturers, the NRA, and right-wing politicians.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

In All Fairness

While I was tuned in to as much of the Syria "debate" as I could stand, a couple of remarkable things happened.

The absolute ickiest person in the country, Ariel Castro, after being found guilty of kidnapping and holding captive three women and sentenced to a hearty life plus 1,000 years, committed suicide.  Eric Bolling at Fox News thought it was Christmas, imagining all the tax dollars that could be saved if every bad guy killed himself.

Again in the icky category, George Zimmerman appears to have threatened his wife with a firearm.  It also appears that he is not likely to be arrested, as his wife, whose veracity is questionable to say the least, is now saying he did not have a gun.  Who knew Zimmerman was potentially violent?  Certainly not the court that found him not guilty for murdering Trayvon Martin, and then handed him back the gun he used to kill Martin on his way out of jail.

Meanwhile, continuing with the stranger than fiction theme,  back in the real world, the US and Russia have reached an agreement on a proposal to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons arsenalThroughout these amazing talks between two world leaders that have lately been unable to agree on the weather, the media have reported that the American people are not happy.  It seems that not only do we not want to go to war because there is nothing in it for us.  We also are disgruntled because such an agreement with Syria would mean that Assad would give up Syria's chemical weapons without getting punished.

And as I write this last line, let me remind you that yesterday may have been Friday the 13th, but it's feeling more like April Fool's Day.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Another Stranger than Fiction Moment in Congress

People sometimes confuse the wonderful Borowitz Report fantasies with reality.  This is why.

South Carolina's own Joe Wilson, who everyone in the world knows for the class clown act of yelling "you lie" at the President of the United States during a Congressional speech, is at it again.

On Wednesday, at a House Foreign Affairs committee hearing, he posed a "question" to Secretary of State John Kerry, asking whether President Obama was working the Syria angle to in effect take our attention away from Benghazi and Obamacare.

Well, even Borowitz couldn't have dreamed that up.

John Kerry, who has up to now been able to narrate lists of evidence about the worst atrocities in his infamous monotone, responded in kind to this nonsense.

However, when Wilson's buddy from South Carolina Jeff Duncan held forth with the same accusations, Kerry had had it (4:20):

It's good to know that South Carolina is heavily represented in the House Idiot Caucus, but it's a bit upsetting to think that these guys also serve on the committee that asks the questions that will determine the vote on intervention in Syria.

I like to think that back in the home districts, constituents are looking a little embarrassed and not high-fiving each other in the streets.

Meanwhile, it was good to see John Kerry get his blood up.  This decision is far too important to stand on Congressional form and politeness.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

All Eyes

As we all talk about war in Syria, and wait with baited breath to see just what action the US will take in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons, I am making my way through Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill.  Scahill, who also wrote Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, continues his detailed account of the US involvement in the "global war on terror."

The history of our expanding war, military funding of questionable governments in Arab countries, attacks on supposed al Qaeda militants which end up killing innocents -- often supporters of the US -- is an important perspective as we consider our moral position against Syria's attacks.  During the Bush years, our own president was a puppet for Dick Cheney's masterminding of expanded presidential war powers.  What has come to be known as the "Cheney Doctrine"  -- that if there is a one percent chance of a terrorist group obtaining weapons of mass destruction the US must perceive it as a certainty -- has led not only to deadly attacks in foreign countries with little justification, but to former US supporters joining the ranks of al Qaeda and other anti-American groups.

Tragically, Obama, who once planned to reign in such acts, has become ever more adept in using those special forces to capture or kill those whom his administration determines to be suspected terrorists.  We have an ever-expanding "kill list," reviewed by the Obama's security team on the incredibly nicknamed "Terror Tuesday" meetings.

What we also have is a continuation of a Keystone Kops atmosphere where too much questionable intelligence has led to deadly mistakes.

Where President Obama has succeeded, however, has tended to be in those actions in which he has had a world audience.  The operation resulting in the killing of three Somali pirates holding hostages on the Maersk Alabama was low-key, but precise and heroic.  And of course, the operation resulting in the death of Osama bin Laden was breath-taking in its combination of intelligence and military skills.

Which leads me to the hope that if the world's eyes are on President Obama as he plans his response to the atrocities the Syrian government has committed on its people, he will take precise and effective action.  His decisions thus far, involving cautious evaluation, and the input of Congress, could well lead to support and cooperation from the international community.

As to whether we should take action, and the idiotic focus by the media on the "red line," we should be aware that Assad has escalated his acts in a manner that can only draw attention and approbation; he is a bully looking to see how far he can go.  And the consequences have been an estimated 100,000 deaths and two million refugees.

Each of us brings to our opinions about this war our experiences of past wars.  Some recall that we waited too long to join in the battle against Hitler, others the tragedy of the bombing of Japan.  Then there was Vietnam, and our government's evasions and our own soldiers, those who were tortured or lost their lives, and those who engaged in atrocities against our enemies.  And of course, we have the continuing nightmare of Afghanistan, along with the Iraq war which destroyed so many lives to topple one tyrannical leader.

But we need to look at this war from what we know is happening within its borders.  We cannot imagine, but we should try, a country in which the government has turned against its people, in which our own towns could be attacked, our families killed.  All we could do would be to look to the global community, in the hope that they would intervene.