Thursday, June 26, 2014

Firing Up the Anti-Abortionist

Our Supreme Court once again today made it that much easier for anti-abortion fanatics to harass and endanger the welfare of persons entering and leaving abortion clinics.  To my dismay, but no longer my surprise, all nine justices agreed that a state cannot make legal a buffer zone around a clinic.

Obviously, these justices have not had the unique experience of attempting to walk through protesters to get into a medical facility that performs abortions.  If they had, they might understand that the claim that protesters merely "sought to have quiet conversations" with women entering the clinics was either purely fabrication or a mental break with reality.  Derisive shouts, cries of "murderer," pictures of bloody fetuses that misrepresent the actual procedure, all unwanted malicious harassment.  Were we to walk down the street window-shopping or on our way to lunch and be accosted by such a crowd, we would surely have the right to have the harassment stopped.  But pregnant women at a medical clinic have no such rights.  They are vulnerable, and they are the true victims.  Clinic workers have also been victimized:  attacked, even murdered, by fanatics who see it as their right and duty to stop those who perform abortions.  In fact, the Massachusetts law creating a buffer zone came to be because of harassment and violence at abortion clinics, including shootings.

The Supreme Court seems to think highly of freedom of speech.  In fact, the headless corporate beast with many and deep pockets has over recent years been given the right to free speech.  And here we have not just free speech, but the right to approach, uninvited, women who apparently do not have the right to not have to listen.  Just as the Westboro Baptist Church was allowed to defile the funerals of members of our military with their anti-gay obscenities, there is a line wherein freedom of speech becomes abuse of others.

Here's the hypocrisy:

Nowhere do our Supreme Court justices go where they are forced to be assaulted, or even approached, by unknown members of the public, not even for the purpose of seeking "to have a quiet conversation" with the justice.  Our members of Congress (supporters of gun rights who nonetheless approve of security checkpoints that disallow guns in Congress) even have a separate entrance to the halls of Congress so that they do not have to risk being approached by the commoner who would like to share an opinion.  When our presidents speak to us, dissenters have the right to protest -- in a cordoned off area far, far away from where they might be seen or heard.

I would like to suggest that our justices and our elected leaders follow the same rules that they inflict on we the people.  Whether it is making guns accessible or allowing protesters access, they should experience first-hand the effects of the laws and rulings that they make from their ivory towers.

Meanwhile, today's ruling is sure to fan the flames of psychotic rage that gives this small but tireless group of anti-abortionists  their raison d'etre.  And sadly, at some point, the words, vile enough on their own, will morph into acts of violence.  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kudos South Carolina

Well, it's over.  It's been an agonizing legislative year here in South Carolina.  Yes, there were great comic moments like the debate about the Columbian mammoth and the age of the earth.  And we all appreciate the great effort put into all the new laws reinforcing our gaming and fishing rights.  But we spent much of the past session trying to protect South Carolinians from the woman-hating power-mad religious right, while at the same time fighting to provide our citizens with health care and better than minimally adequate education.  Given all that, I feel the need to do something I rarely do:  brag about our success.

If you look at our neighbors, all those fellow "red states" and even purple and blue states, you'll see that we've all been bombarded with right wing-nuts with pockets full of money who fund all those "conservative" -- i.e. radical -- social issues that get their angry and ignorant constituents out to vote.  But we fought and I am proud to say we did NOT have any crazy personhood, pre-owned, pre-born baby bills pass in South Carolina.

We came so-o-o-o close to bringing our sex education curriculum into the 21st century, only to be stopped at the last second by one narcissistic and rather stupid state senator.

We attempted to pass meaningful marijuana legislation and equality legislation for the LGBT members of our community.  We fought for veterans, seniors, children and parents, the working poor, the unemployed and underemployed, and those who are not protected by unions.  We fended off drug testing legislation and warrantless searches of our electronic devices.  We went up against the bullies in the gun lobby, and while we weren't able to keep them from allowing guns in bars and restaurants, we continue to fight that battle, and we did succeed against crazy open carry legislation -- hey, we could be Georgia, but, I'm proud and relieved to say, we are not.

We, and by this I mean you, worked so hard to get some good bills passed, but we also kept some real stinkers from becoming law.  I was so impressed with the work that so many groups and individuals put into showing up and fighting, day after day and week after week.

Our Truthful Tuesday movement brought much needed civil disobedience back to Columbia, with brave individuals getting arrested for blocking traffic at the State House to protest the attempt to nullify the Affordable Care Act, and to bring attention to the need to accept federal money for Medicaid expansion.  A stupid bill that might have passed into law and would only have been overturned by the courts was kept from wasting our time and resources.  The protests got state and national attention.  Medicaid expansion hasn't happened yet, but it will.  This group is not giving up.

Here's a group whose existence I only recently became aware of:  Tell Them SC is a grassroots advocacy network that works tirelessly towards bringing appropriate and much needed sexual education to our teens as well as fighting for accessible birth control and making information and vaccine available to prevent cervical cancer.  I was amazed at the intensive effort that went into promoting legislation that would provide kids with better health care and better education.  They worked to let us know what was on the table, who to call or email, and when, so that our legislators wouldn't forget we were there.

And our amazing South Carolina ACLU has been there in Columbia, testifying and fighting for our constitutional rights.  Voting rights, reproductive rights, the rights of immigrants and members of our LGBT community.  If you regularly read our newspapers, you will see very frequently commentary by the director of the ACLU.  If you attend legislative hearings you will hear her speak to all those issues and many more.  The ACLU has been an integral part of our effort in beating back bad legislation and promoting bills that guarantee our individual rights.

And, you know, there are others, too many to mention.  We may not be a blue state, but you are all out there fighting to protect us from the uninformed and mean-spirited, who are funded by those with deep pockets and a hunger for more power.  We don't see our national Democratic party supporting us much.  And some of our Democratic elected officials here in South Carolina sometimes are too intimidated to stand up and fight for us.  But we have these amazing people who are here and are not afraid.  They won't compromise away our rights, and they won't let those rights be traded in the night.  They will fight, they will be loud, they will be heard, and they aren't going away.

Thank you all.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Children or Yours?

As you know, if my blood pressure has been under control for awhile, I get inexplicable and self-destructive cravings for C-Span.  A week or so ago, I had the misfortune of tuning in to hearings about student loan debt.  I don't tend to hobnob with those who can readily pay for their children's college educations.  I do know that many of us do what we can and hope that the loans our students are so readily offered will get them through college and into jobs where they can be paid off.  These days we mostly fear that they will be paying off those loans for a very long time.  And the loans are so big that their young years will be spent having to budget incessantly and hope that their jobs are secure, and that no unexpected financial hardships arise.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders have been tireless in fighting to change this system whereby the wealthy see their kids through college and the rest of us are forced to see our kids saddled with college loan debt.  Of course, it would be foolhardy to try to push through legislation wherein college costs would be funded by the government.  All the current proposed legislation would have done would be to allow students to refinance loans to a lower interest rate, as do corporations and people with mortgages.

I tuned in just in time to hear Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin begin his "questioning" of a recent college graduate, Brittany Jones, in which he was trying to get her to admit that if she "could go back in time would (she) incur this much debt?  Would (she) try to figure out a different solution?"

He was obviously frustrated when she reiterated that in order to achieve her goal of teaching it was necessary to get student loans, so then proceeded to tell her about the College of the Ozarks, "they go by the moniker of 'Hard Work U.'  All the students work and nobody incurs debt."  It sounds a little like the wonderful land of Oz, and it is, full of happy munchkins who sing happy songs to keep the wicked witch of the real world at bay.  After Ms. Jones once again said that in her case without a loan she would have been unable to pursue her career goal, he shifted gears.

Turning to Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Johnson began to sing the sad song about "shifting debt from a select few to all our kids and grandkids."  And when Chopra explained the rationale behind refinancing, Johnson sang the chorus once again.  And asked him how he felt about a 2007 act which forgives student loan debt after ten years (and doesn't that burden our children and grandchildren, sing it again...).  And Chopra explained that there was no data as to how that would work, BECAUSE NO ONE HAD EVER BEEN ABLE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.

And on and on about "piling on our kids and grandkids," and taking loans "on the backs of American taxpayers and our kids and grandkids."

You get the gist.

But the reality is that Senator Johnson and his fellow plutocrats don't mind if debt is incurred by the government while the wealthy stash their millions in offshore tax-free accounts.  And they sure don't mind if the government incurs debt through subsidies to big corporations.  What he has a problem with is giving a student an opportunity to get a higher education when that student can't pay up front.

Conservatives are only conservative if they are the ones who have the money and are able to hoard it.  To that end, they are constipated by their own dogma, and unable to see real world connections between being able to go to college to join a profession and being able to then contribute to the maintenance of our society.  Those blinders just can't see where all our children who are burdened by poor education and low wages will not just go away, but will have the vitality sapped out of their own lives as well as the country.  The poor, the unemployed and underemployed who could have gone to college, could have gotten jobs with living wages, are unable to raise children in healthy and rich cultural environments, unable to then invest back into the country.

College?  People like Ron Johnson don't want to spend money to repair a bridge, much less send the country's children to good schools.

And so it is all about believing in and investing in this country, the one that all those flag-wearing right wingnuts brag on in their meaningless mantra.  Those of us who can, invest in ourselves, our homes, our families, our communities, and when we were able to do that our country was able to grow and thrive.  When the haves began to insist that they deserved to keep it all, opportunity began to shrivel, communities became drained, and we all suffered.

Except perhaps people like Senator Johnson, who I presume has enough and wants to keep it, plans on passing it on to his kids and grandkids and plans on having them keep it as well.

But he doesn't look that happy.  I think he worries a lot about a world in which my kids have the same opportunity as his kids.  And I think that, my friends, is what this is all about.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Making Noise

I think there is one thing about the Republican Party that we can all agree on:  they make a lot of noise.  Unabashedly.  They may be idiots, but they are bombastic and cocksure idiots.  And we all know when they are in the room.

Look at Mark Sanford.  He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he does know how to attract a crowd.  We Dems all laughed at the stunt he pulled in front of MUSC,

but Mark got the last laugh.

And more recently, there was the traveling circus act that involved Lindsey Graham and his pack of wannabees.  From the minute he learned that dim bulb Lee Bright was planning on running at him from the right in the primary, Lindsey began to beat his chest and pound the news shows; his face was on every media outlet he could finagle.  Whenever there was a shooting or an abortion bill, you would find Lindsey Graham flashing his conservative credentials in most ridiculous fashion.

All that talk about guns and abortion fired up a few more of South Carolina's right wing-nuts.  We ended up with quite the circus, four (or more?) challengers for Graham's seat.  And did they make noise!  You may not be able to name all those who ran against Graham, but you probably had fun watching the fireworks.  And the media complied.

On the Democratic side, we tend to shy away from attention.  We want people to understand that we are on the side of the good, and because we really do represent all those middle class ideals the republicans pretend to value, we don't get the support of the billionaires.  Groups like A.L.E.C.  just aren't very likely to want to throw big bucks at candidates that don't see government as a tool for, say, A.L.E.C.

So we don't have a lot of money, but our intentions are good.  What's to be done?

There was an interesting race in Virginia's 7th District.  You may have heard of it, especially if you've watched or read anything about Tuesday's primaries.  Eric Cantor, GOP leader for well over a decade and current US House majority leader was toppled.  Furthermore, he was toppled by an unknown, a university professor, who spent a fraction on his campaign (spending little more on his entire campaign than Cantor spent at steakhouses, according to the New York Times.)  David Brat won handily, by more than ten points, leaving everybody -- except his supporters -- stunned.

David Brat is a creepy guy.  Student evaluations of faculty comment more about how cute and charming he is than his teaching abilities.  And so he got out to voters in the 7th District, constantly, tirelessly.  He hammered out the message that -- are you ready for this? -- Cantor is a liberal.  His proof?  That Cantor had made some comments indicating that immigration reform, particularly in regard to children brought to the US, made sense.

Within this nasty success story is the kernel of a lesson.  We Dems need to seek attention, not hide from it.  We need to brag about our differences, and more important, if we really believe in Democratic principles, we should be able to tell people why they will benefit.

Here's another thing.  There is a lot of free publicity available out there.  The media loves something different.  The four idiots that ran against Graham made the Republican Senate primary the centerpiece of the primary news cycle.  When they all vowed to support each other against Graham in a runoff, it made front page.

Our candidates need to get together and work together.  They need to figure out how to make news, and how to turn news to their advantage.

Here's another example.  In our Senate primary, even those who try to follow the news mostly don't know who is running against Tim Scott (yes, I am guilty).  But on the other side, Brad Hutto had a challenger.  And that lit a fire under the Democrats that made the difference.  It would have been a far better effort if the result had been state-wide debates and arguments rather than trash-talking, but any attention was better than none.  Because we are the party that speaks for the people.

There is a race here in South Carolina District 114 for state representative.  Most of us know Bobby Harrell.  As far as I can tell, nobody likes him.  His voting record is awful, and he is about as corrupt as they come.  But unless we make some noise, he will win.

Bobby has two opponents.  Yes, two.  What an opportunity for us Dems.  Mark Sanford knew that if he stood on the sidewalk downtown and gave a speech he would be ignored, but bring along a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi and people are paying attention.  Let's suppose that Sue Edward of the Green Party and Mary Tinkler of the Democratic Party coordinated events -- debates and even ads.  Why would they do that?  They would get twice the coverage for less dollars.  They would not only be able to debate their differences, but talk about their similar goals.  Even better, they would be able to talk about how Harrell's votes have worked against the people of South Carolina.  What the heck, invite Bobby and make news whether he shows up or not.

My point is -- one of them, anyway -- is that when you have two great candidates, there is no reason for that third one that nobody likes to win an election because of name recognition.  We need to be creative and open to really different ideas about how to get the word out.  Think about Sanford debating Pelosi's cardboard image.  We can do better.  We just have to be willing to take the risk.  And we need to believe in ourselves.

In the end, we increase our chances of winning -- look at the Cantor upset.  And whether we win or not, we will have influenced the discussion, and perhaps even our elected officials' votes.  And isn't that really what it's all about?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Honoring Our Legislators

As the clown car pulls out of the Columbia station, I think we should all take a few moments to reflect on what I believe has been a year of astounding idiocy.

For example, who can ever get enough state symbols?  Whenever we start to think there is nothing our legislators can agree on, we can always turn to choosing another state symbol.  But wait!  This year, we managed to turn a simple request to recognize the Columbian mammoth as state fossil into a battlefield.  Just as we keep fighting the Civil War, this was yet another chapter of science versus the bible.  Senator Kevin Bryant added an amendment that referred to the animal "as created on the sixth day with the beasts of the field."  Not to be outdone, Senator Mike Fair then put a block on the bill based on his failure to grasp the theory of natural selection.  These religious objections and aimless incursions into the realms of science are just another day of governing down here;  my favorite objection, however, is that we have just too darned many state symbols.

Anyway, my personal opinion about the state symbol debate is that the more time they spend arguing about state-whatevers, the less time they have to do real damage.  Like the way they mangled attempts to legalize medical marijuana.  Our moral mediocrity members, by way of protecting us from relief of pain in our illnesses, whittled down what should have been a simple bill by creating complexities that Obamacare drafters could only have written in their dreams.  Talking out of the other side of the mouths that they use to spout stuff about individual freedom, our legislators showed their concern that we not succumb to the evils of the wicked weed by narrowing the type of oil, its point of origin, the specific type of research, and I believe the hours of the day and days of the month it can be accessed.  And probably a dozen or more other stipulations that will keep that plant out of the hands of those in need.

But no prizes to those who worked hard to make the bill meaningless; it's been done already.  Right here in South Carolina, in 1980, the South Carolina Controlled Substances and Research Act had so many inclusions and exclusions that it has never actually been used.  Not once.  While we wait another 35 years for the next attempt at a law that would actually allow people to use medicinal marijuana, we'll just have to keep relying on that oxycodone, the stuff that will get you high and addicted, while PhRMA gets ever richer.  Hey, it's legal.

Well, that was a little too heavy for a clown car award, especially if you start to think about the people you know who experience chronic pain, and/or the drug dependency and side effects of oxy use.  So I'm not even going to talk about Wendy Nanney's work to become god's crusader for exposing (and controlling) women's medical decisions.  But Wendy did give us a lighter moment.

It seems she was driving home one day and noticed a bicyclist do something dangerous.  And in the time it took her to get where she was going, she had devised a bill that would require licensing and classes for cyclists.  Except that the minute it went public, and to her surprise and consternation, friends of hers in the bicycling community were up in arms; two hours later, the bill went down.  Wendy defended her bill by saying that it wasn't really about big government; only those over 15 years old would have to be licensed.

Now this to me is proof that Wendy sincerely cares about life before birth and after age fifteen.  Any life falling in between is on its own.

Wendy Nanney -- You have to be this tall to be required to get a bicycle license.
Another heated battle that should not have been was about whether to bring sex ed into the twenty-first century, which for some of our legislators would have been too much too soon, as we never actually made it all the way into the twentieth century.  Mike Fair, staunch defender of his own religious distortions, sees no need to bring any education, much less sex education, up to the level of "medically accurate."  Seems to me he was back there complaining that "minimally adequate" was too high a standard for educating our children.

The problem may just be that Mike is uncomfortable with the thought that these young kids might end up knowing more than he does.  So after months of serious legislators, organizations and constituents fighting to get it to the point of passage, he put a block on the bill.   Proving that one idiot can move an entire Senate, and in fact, an entire state -- backwards.

In the final minutes of debate on another bill which attempts to provide much needed awareness to our children, one senator wakes up and rises to ask, "Why are we teaching sexual awareness to our four-year-olds?"  The sponsor of the bill informs him that it is not "sexual awareness" but "sexual abuse awareness."  Watching this debate, a wise friend commented, "Forget the kids; our legislators need sex ed."

And so it goes; another year down the tubes.  If it's any consolation, these guys did approve a raise for themselves.  Might be coming out of the savings from denying people food stamps and Medicaid, but it will be well worth it to keep these idiots off the street.

If you have a favorite moment from this year in South Carolina's legislature, please leave a comment and share it with us all.  Sometimes you just gotta laugh.