Tuesday, April 29, 2014

U.S. Economy's Worst Kept Secret

I just learned that America is no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy, wherein the country is controlled by a few.  Well, you could have blown me over with a feather.  In fact, Paul Krugman warns us of this very thing.  What is amazing is that he warned us of this in 2011.  So why are we surprised?

Not only that, we've become a plutocracy, which is government by the wealthy.  I know, this is another shocker.

Day after day, as the rich get richer and even more of a controlling interest in the United States of America, we continued to be astonished that this could happen -- in a democracy!

I'm looking at this as a kind of a snowball in hell:  the more wealth and power, the greater the wealthy and powerful become.  And the greater they become the faster they become more wealthy and powerful.

Unlike the rest of us, the wealthy and powerful know how to form a union and then they know how to strategize to get what they want (more wealth and power).  They don't really care whether or not you get an abortion just as long as the folks they elect to office keep us distracted by fighting about it while also, that's right, legislating greater wealth and power for the wealthy and powerful.  And as long as they can keep us fighting amongst each other over whether to feed the hungry they figure we aren't going to much notice that they are growing the national debt by:  giving more to the wealthy and powerful.

I'm not much into history; after all, I am an American.  But of late I am learning an awful lot about the Gilded Age, wherein the cruelty and excesses of the wealthy and powerful actually led to the great reforms of the Progressive Era.

And I am being told that we are in the midst of a new gilded age.  One of the things that concerns me though is that we seem to be unable to move ourselves into the new progressive era that, according to history, should follow.  Are we that much better off?  Are perhaps not enough poor children dying?  Will Obamacare and food stamps cause us to survive just enough to keep those billionaires going while not giving us the strength to fight for more?  Are we like the frog who is put in a pot of water at room temperature and then the heat is turned up so we die so gradually we don't even notice?

I'm  not suggesting that things should get worse so that we can decide we need to fight to make it better.  But it seems that that is the way it's going.  The gains are too small, too few, too far apart.  By the time we get an increase in the minimum wage, it will already have been shrunk by the increases in the cost of living.  Hail Obamacare, but the insurance industry has made sure that it's the middle class and the government that are getting gouged with rate increases, and the poor will still have to struggle with co-pays, deductibles, and all those other economic creations that have made health care in the U.S. unattainable by so many.  The insurance industry will continue to be, that's right, wealthy and powerful.

My father was a tool-and-die maker.  I never really knew what that was, but he earned a living.  He had job security.  And the rise of the unions was recent enough that he understood their importance.  That generation would have gone on strike, picketed, and risked imprisonment or worse if there was a threat to their livelihoods, because they were close enough to know what it would be like if they did not.

But my generation lacked that knowledge.  We had always known job security, a living wage, benefits, overtime, health care coverage, sick pay, retirement benefits.  We grumbled about having to pay dues.  And I believe this is why, when the economy hit that big rough patch in the 70's and the big businesses began to ask unions for concessions, they began to concede.  And it hasn't stopped yet.  We first caved because we thought if we were reasonable, our employers would as they promised, make the concessions temporary.  Blue skies ahead.  Then we caved because we could lose our jobs.  Then we caved because some of us had already lost their jobs.  Then our employers screwed us anyway.

And like a bully who is angry that nobody likes him, capitalists continue to have tantrums because their great profits are not great enough, that they are expected to contribute to the society without which they would not have that wealth.  And they are angry because anger works.  We are intimidated.  Afraid of losing what little we have.  And those of us who are still making it are terrified of the time when they might join those long-term unemployed, the uninsured, the homeless.  And terror has made us powerless to fight the bullies, so we fight those with even less than us.

Unions?  We gave ours up while corporate America was growing theirs.  They have PhRMA making sure drug prices stay high while government regulation shrinks.  Then there is the agricultural lobby, that this year assured that big farms would continue to receive subsidies (although they are apparently calling it crop insurance now) while cutting food stamps for the poor.  The oil industry has been strangling us with increased gas prices, and the environment with its careless drilling practices.  And then there are the "pan-unions," like American Legislative Exchange Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Enterprise Institute, and Americans for Prosperity.  The latter is owned and operated by those uber-plutocrats, Charles and David Koch, whose father was one of the original members of the John Birch Society, and whose oily hands are into every aspect of our lives.

And all the while all these big fat capitalists who rise in fury at the thought of a mandated living wage are spending fortunes in advertising and in political campaign funding to convince us that all those things that are good for the country will take food out of our own mouths.  That the price hikes since Obamacare are not just more of the same profit game but are caused by those deadbeats who don't pay for insurance.

I don't know what it will take for us to look out and see who the real bad guys are.  I don't know if I will see a new Progressive Era in my lifetime.  I do know that things change, they have before and they can change again.  Against all odds.  Because we have done it before.    

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Real Perverts

Some twenty years ago, I was with my family in New York City.  It was Christmas season, and we annually celebrated my daughter's December 2 birthday by going to the city for a play, dinner, and of course to see the holiday sights.  She was somewhere around five years old.

We were approaching the line to see the famous window displays at Lord & Taylor.  As we approached I saw there was a commotion; some yelling on the sidewalk at what looked to be a street vendor.  As I got closer my mouth fell open in horror.  It was a woman standing by a table with a huge poster depicting a woman in full hideous, heart-wrenching bondage.  As I attempted to get my small child away from this scene I did yell something to the effect that she should be ashamed of herself, which of course, was the kind of attention she was seeking.

The purpose of this display was to point out to the public the abuses of pornography.  I would have been fine with that intent and her first amendment right to such a protest.  But it was abhorrent that she chose to do this where children were passing.  To my mind, she was as much a part of the pornographic culture as what she claimed she was protesting, but in a more deceitful and emotionally disturbed way.

This is what I see happening with all the nation's focus on abortion.  It has nothing at all to do with protecting life.  There is in fact an inverse relationship of concern about life before birth to life after birth.  Those who most loudly support abortion bans are the least likely to want to care for the pregnant woman herself, much less the newly born infant.  Proof of this is the lack of support for health and nutrition programs, and our pathetic infant mortality rate, the shame of civilized nations.

If it is not about protecting life, what is the anti-abortion movement about?  For one thing, it is control.  It is forcing women who have unprotected sex to lose control over their bodies and their lives.  And the anti-contraception movement is about forcing women to not have protected sex, further losing control of their lives.

And the reason for the vehemence of the supporters of this cruel and ignorant cause has more to do with voyeurism and exhibitionism than just about anything else.  Imagine spending as much time obsessing about sex and a woman's body as our legislators have done.  It would be a diagnosable condition if the false moral imperatives were not celebrated as "Christian values."  The combination of the positive and negative attention that this crusade engenders is no less than thrilling to these self-appointed arbiters of a woman's morality.  And the ironic cherry atop this disgusting sundae (if you will...) is the legitimacy that it gives to the prurience of the crusader.

So, much as the woman who masqueraded her fascination for pornography as a protest, our anti-abortion protesters focus their lives, and their political campaigns, around matters of a woman's body.  Creepy?  You bet.  And isn't it time we saw these really dysfunctional people for what they are?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Education - Corporate America's Biggest Victory

Ted Cruz is coming to town tomorrow.  He's going to be speaking at the 8th Annual Free Enterprise Foundation Dinner.  If that's not enough to get you to drop what you're doing and head out to the Citadel, Rick Santorum is also going to be there.  And Nikki Haley will be smiling her Miss Right-Wing South Carolina smile, soaking in the publicity.

To my astonishment, the Free Enterprise Foundation is tax-deductible.  As far as I can tell, they get away with this by pretending they are educational, as opposed to indoctrinational.  And I'm not just saying that based on the number of times they use the word "freedom."  Although if you click on the button called "Freedomville" on their website, it offers to take you to their "Financial Literacy Curriculum."

Except that when I tried to get to Freedomville I got an error message.

And more mysterious, there is no Free Enterprise Foundation listed on Wikipedia.

If not for the Washington Post article about tomorrow's big dinner, I would have no idea that they are brought to us by Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United.  Now, Americans for Prosperity calls itself an "organization of grassroots leaders," the leader of which is that old grassroots guy, David Koch, seen not too long ago on the board of Boston's PBS station, WGBH.  Apparently, if you can't kill public broadcasting, you just buy a position on the board.

This bizarre situation that finds David Koch running PBS, is I suppose the other reason these folks are allowed to be considered non-partisan, tax-exempt, and grassroots --  because they claim to be educational.  In fact, this Free Enterprise Foundation is not only based at The Citadel, but:
We have a close working relationship with faculty at the Citadel, the College of Charleston, and the Medical University of South Carolina.
Are we outraged yet?  Where are those liberal attorneys who can pore through reams of legal documents and confront these partisan corporate critters?  Are we so under the thumb of the Kochs and groups like this and the American Enterprise Institute that we will let them lay claim to Charleston's proud educational institutions?

Close working relationship with faculty???

Well, that does it.  You won't find me at the fundraiser tomorrow night.  I'll just be here at home crying into a beer and wondering how we in Charleston have so easily sold out our institutions of learning.

Friday, April 11, 2014

...And the Winner is...

A few months ago, I put The State, Columbia's newspaper, on my home page, along with The Onion and a non-weather channel weather site.  This gave me all the news I needed in the morning.  I began to comment on front page headlines in The State that were important to me.  Today, I posted a comment on the legislature's pathetic attempt to ban abortion by pretending they care about pregnant women.  When I posted the comment, I found to my delight that I was now a "Top Commenter."  And you can be one too.

It seems that to be a "top commenter" what you need to do is:  comment.  You don't have to be crazy, which is a misconception many of us have.  In fact, what I believe has happened is that we have left the commenting to the gun nuts and anti-Obama freaks.

So I want to invite you all to have a go at being a top commenter.  It appears that you need a Facebook page, but that's not a bad thing, because then even more people can see what you have to say.

I believe that there are lots of us liberals and truly pro-life (anti-guns, pro-social safety net, pro-living wage) individuals out there, but our inclination to be rational and mind our own business has left us shouted down by the radical right-wing minority.  It's time we involved ourselves in these conversations, in a public forum that truly appears to be open to all.

So visit The State or the Post and Courier online, check out the headlines, and make a comment.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brave New World

I just heard our own Mark Sanford bloviating on the House floor.  He likes to twist things around, he does.  He called Paul Ryan's proposed budget "brave."  Okay, are you all done doing your double-take?  Because I'm still stunned by the man's nerve.  I'm talking about Ryan.  Sanford's just an idiot.

Jim Clyburn spoke just before Sanford.  Talk about pearls before swine.  He listed all the things that would be cut from Ryan's budget.  For example, seniors would have to pay more for medication -- if you were happy with the donut hole of the Bush prescription boondoggle, it's back.

We know about Paul Ryan's program, because the republicans have been trying to cram it down our throats for years.  Children, that other group of takers, will be denied school programs, food and nutrition programs, health programs.  Working parents as well as the unemployed will see safety nets cut out from under them; in fact, in Ryan's (and Sanford's) ideal world, there would be no minimum wage, no labor regulations at all.  Remember Newt Gingrich's plan to put poor kids to work as school janitors?  And forget about affordable colleges.  In fact, let these guys have at education so that they can privatize it -- more profit for their corporate buddies, less actual quality education for the dollar.

You might wonder what is "brave" about the Paul Ryan budget.  Maybe Sanford's talking about having to face us all after he's cut out support for basic human needs -- what they derisively call "entitlements."  You heard Ryan's former running mate Romney:  he was just appalled that people think they, as Americans, should expect food, a roof over their heads, health care.

I guess it must be "brave" to suggest to 47 percent of the people whose lives you govern that they are unimportant.  Unmotivated.  Undeserving.  Imagine thinking, much less stating, that some of us deserve better schools based on what we earn, that some children should be denied health care and nutrition, that losing a job when the rich have run the economy into the ground is no concern of the government.  Imagine not giving a damn about people who struggle every day to do right by their families.  Quoting Ayn Rand and her mythological capitalist American hero as though it was anything other than right-wing fantasy.

That's Paul Ryan.  Don't even get me started on Mark Sanford.  This is the man who stole from the state government because funding laws were not meant for him.  Who walked away from the governor's office without being responsible enough to let his staff (or his wife) know he was off on an assignation.  Who is happy to let the government pay for any-damn-thing he can get away with, and then deride social programs as pork.  This is the man who just called Paul Ryan's budget "brave."

We need to make lists, as did Clyburn today, extensive lists, and let everyone know what they will lose if Paul Ryan and Mark Sanford get the government they have dreamed of.  Because there is something in there that affects all of us.  We need to document each benefit that will be lost, because for example, just saying Obamacare will be cut is not the same as telling people they will no longer be protected if they have a pre-existing condition, they will no longer be able to keep children on their health plans till they are 26, they will no longer have free preventive health care.

And we need to tally up the huge costs of Paul Ryan's budget as he continues to give fistfuls of money to the biggest and wealthiest corporations, tax breaks to billionaires. And does away with regulations that will end up costing us dearly whenever a bridge collapses or a food-borne pathogen creates an epidemic of illness or Wall Street is allowed to play wildly with mortgages and retirement funds.

If Paul Ryan and Mark Sanford are allowed to enact their plans for the future of America, then we will truly see a brave new world.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Last Gasp of the Columbian Mammoth

I don't want to suggest that making the Columbian Mammoth the state fossil wasn't a hard fought victory; after all, it came to having to decide once and for all whether the earth is 6,000 years old.  But we managed a compromise between religion and science and we can rest easy about our State Fossil.  Which thankfully continues to make science in this great state a matter of opinion.

But still on the horizon are some horrendous and stinky bills, that are being pushed through in the last weeks of the session.  This week coming up are anti-abortion bills that masquerade as anything from protecting women from assault to protecting 20-week-old fetuses from feeling pain that they are physiologically incapable of feeling.  And just added to the roster is a bill that would add regulations to birth centers that would restrict the practice of midwives.  And another bill proposes to protect the rights of public schools to display religious symbols that represent holidays, once again keeping Christmas safe.

So here is a brief rundown:

In the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, Thursday 4/10, 9:30, 407 Gressette:
S 83 is the personhood bill, stating that life begins at fertilization. 
S 457 is pretty much the same nonsense, as far as I can tell. 
S 527 pretends that it wants to protect pregnant women from violence by allowing them use deadly force against an assailant.  THE TRICK IS THAT THE FETUS IS DEFINED AS AN UNBORN CHILD, WHICH SETS THE PRECEDENT FOR PERSONHOOD IF PASSED.  Nice try, sleazoids.
 Subcommittee members are:   Campsen (ch), Hutto, Gregory, Allen, Hembree.

* * * * *

Also in the Senate, the Medical Affairs Subcommittee Wednesday, 4/9, at 9 a.m., will hear debate on H 4223.  This is the 20-week abortion ban, falsely called the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act."  THIS BILL HAS PASSED THE HOUSE.  It is crucial that we be heard in the Senate on this bill.  Members of the subcommittee are:  Ray Cleary (ch), Hutto, Bright, Tom Davis, Kevin Johnson.

* * * * *

H 4458 will be heard by the House Committee on Education and Public Works.  This bill, which goes by the inoffensive title of "Winter Holidays" opens the door to religious symbolism in public schools, pretending that all religions would get equal representation, and that this is for the purpose of education rather than indoctrination.  This meeting will be held on Wednesday, 4/9.

* * * * *

H 5002 is a late-to-the-party attempt to restrict midwives through "accreditation" and "addressing professional requirements for staff members (at birth centers) who provide patient care."  You can't convince me that this doesn't also have an anti-abortion/contraception hidden agenda, although I can't prove it.

* * * * *

At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I am going to end with some potentially good news.

H 3435, the Comprehensive Health Education Act, has had its first reading on the House floor and could be called up for a vote as early as Tuesday.  This bill proposes upgrading school standards for health education to "medically accurate."  This is a good thing, and it seems to have a bit of momentum.  Which means you should call your legislators in the House and give them that little extra encouragement to vote yes, and bring our health education system out of the Stone Age, which is even older than the age of our State Fossil.

Finally, I would like to apologize for any errors.  I find this whole process terrible confusing, and wonder if that is part of the grand plan.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Saving the Future -- for Paul Ryan's Kids

I had the misfortune to happen to turn on the television, which for some reason I can't fathom, I have tuned to C-Span.  They were pounding out rhetoric about that twit Paul Ryan's budget, but at the moment it was the Democrats' turn so I left it on while I looked at the Guide, so I could see what movies I could watch during the weekend's free HBO preview.  But then, as would happen, it became the republicans' turn at the podium, and that hot-airbag Louis Gohmert stepped up.

You certainly can't accuse Gohmert of not enjoying hearing himself speak, because he seems to be on the floor spouting nonsense most of the time I turn the TV on.  I imagine he does not have much of a home life.

Anyway, who knows why I didn't immediately turn the volume down, so I had the great bad luck to hear him thanking -- profusely -- his friend on the other side of the aisle for agreeing with him.  His "friend" had been talking about the future of our children, and how we need to provide the foundation for our children to build on (my words, but you know what I mean, or, I mean, he meant).  Gohmert of course was talking out of the seat of his pants.  He was not at all in agreement, but was twisting the words around so bad that they were not recognizable.  Gohmert was saying that it is irresponsible for the government to spend money to help people by providing them with social services.  That this was actually denying our children a future.  By "our children" of course, he meant his children -- his and Paul Ryan's.

This is the way it works.  If the government does not spend money on social services, like education, health care, nutrition, unemployment benefits, then my kids and maybe yours, will have less with which to get a fair start in their lives.  But Louis Gohmert's kids will do great.  And so will his grandkids.  And that's what he and Paul Ryan are talking about it.

I wish I could say that even that was at all accurate.  Most of our Senators and Representatives are pretty well off, in fact, the majority are millionaires.  So unless they take a family member out of their will, or figure out how to take it with them when they go (always a possibility), their kids will do just fine even if they pay a lot more in taxes than the amount they are currently whining about.

On the other hand, the kids whose parents have to sacrifice to provide a college education will have to count on some good fortune as well as brains and hard work.  Even more so for those living in poverty, where hard work often doesn't even result in a living wage.  And when parents have to work two jobs to make ends meet and aren't there with the kids when they get home from school, or lose a job and have to scrape by on a miserly amount of food stamps, and a child goes to a "minimally adequate" school without the books, technology, or extracurricular activities that would motivate a kid to hope for college and a future, well, I don't think we have to worry about spending their future wealth.

And that's just it.  You could go into how spending money to improve lives now improves everybody's future, but you can't convince Paul Ryan that spending any of his "hard-earned" income so that our kids will have a chance at a good future makes economic sense for the country.  Because his rationalizations don't go any farther than his wallet.  And his own kids' future.  He can't hear your worry about paying your bills, or about your child's health.  And he doesn't have to.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Will the Democrats Stand Up?

West Wing spoke to many of us over a decade ago.  I was so in thrall to its message that I actually went out and bought the entire series, and determined that someday I would start from the beginning and do it again.

About a year ago, I decided the time was right.  I have been watching one episode a week now, and find to my surprise/dismay, the same political games and the same attacks on the same groups, with the exception of the recent gains made in marriage equality and marijuana legalization.  Women are still fighting to keep our reproductive freedom and privacy; African Americans' right to vote is still under attack; the same programs that make some small dent in the struggles of the poor are being picked at by corporate and right-wing vultures.

So when Bruno Gianelli, campaign organizer for Bartlett's
re-election campaign said this:


I threw my bowl of popcorn to the floor and stood up and cheered.

In spite of the fact that the republican party has become more destructive with each passing year, and in spite of the fact that the goal of these right-wingnuts is to take from the poor and middle class to make the wealthy even richer and more powerful, I am hearing Democrats talk about the possibility -- no, the likelihood -- that we could lose the US Senate.

Even as more of us benefit from the Affordable Care Act, democrats, rather than take this as the cue to turn moderate republican voters (most republicans) to our cause, are tip-toeing around the fact that this program just might be a success.

Here in South Carolina, we support democrats who do not support women's reproductive rights or LGBT freedom, who do not openly support President Obama, or the Affordable Care Act, or Food Stamps, who incredibly vote in favor of allowing guns in bars.  Our candidates will continue to force us to live in a right-to-work-cheap state because they just have no clue as to how anyone could be helped by a union.

That's it, really.  Too many democrats running for office that appear to be clueless about what it is to be a Democrat.  It's almost as though the thought process is, "Gee, there's already a republican running, and I really want to win this election, so I may as well run as a democrat."

I'm with Bruno Gianelli on this.  I've had it with politicians expecting me to vote for them because I'm a Democrat and, well, they are running as democrats.  Not good enough.  If you want my vote, start now by acting like a Democrat.  That means fighting for individuals who may not have the financial clout, or may be in the minority, or may be too beaten down to get out and vote for you.

You never know.  If our candidates fearlessly run as the opposing party, they may actually be heard by young men and women who really haven't seen a reason to turn out and vote -- yet.  Those poor people that are so easily dismissed may be staunch supporters if they think you might honestly make a difference in their lives.

Our state and county democratic party needs to try a lot harder to invite people in, and to get them heard.  They need to stop looking for the safe candidate and begin to look for real Democrats.  They need to stop thinking that cheerleading is going to convince voters that their candidate is going to make a difference.

Barack Obama has had a tough uphill slog.  I have been among his critics.  But I have to say that, once he decided to talk and act like a Democrat he began to get things done.  If he were starting his presidency today, knowing what he knows now, he just might be pushing for universal health care.  He is not equivocating about raising the minimum wage, although shamefully, some congressional democrats are starting to do that dance.  His eventual support for marriage equality has helped in the progress that has been made.  He is fighting for the vast numbers of people who have been imprisoned for minor drug possession.

He's not perfect, but he's certainly given our politicians some coattails that they can hold on to.  They just need to stop cowering in the corner.  As Bruno Gianelli said:

"No more.  Let's have two parties."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April 1 Breaking News

On this day each year, I like to highlight important breaking news.  Here are today's likely headlines:

Anti-gay activists promise to mind their own business.

In related news, anti-abortion radicals say:  If we don't believe in abortions, we won't have one.

On the 2014 campaign front, since learning that Lindsey Graham may be "ambiguously gay," his four primary opponents have vowed that in a run-off they will join together to support him.

Finally, due to the popularity of the decision by the state budget committee to censor college assigned reading by withholding funds, our legislators have decided to also withhold food stamps from those who read foreign language books.

Enjoy your April Fool's Day.