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.