Tuesday, November 25, 2014

At Least Make It a Good Excuse!

A few days ago, I naively posted on Target's Facebook page that "Target should be closed on Thanksgiving so that employees can enjoy the holiday with their families."  I wondered if Target would take down the posting.  But no need.  A couple of days later, by email I was informed of the following comments:

"I'm shopping Thanksgiving."

"Why do (sic) care if they open or not?  It's their business."

and the ever popular:

"Some people actually want to work."

At least Facebook Target shoppers remained civil.  Maybe that barrier would have been crossed if I had been arguing against opening at whatever wee hours on Black Friday.

In retrospect, I am surprised and glad that my posting only elicited those three comments.  I was disappointed that not a single Target fan posted that they were happy to wait till Friday to shop so that employees could take the day off.  Anyway, in the interest of raising the level of discourse, I would like to make a few suggestions to others tempted to defend the practice of shopping on this family holiday.  I would like to suggest that the excuse at least be kept in line with the spirit of Thanksgiving.  For example:

"My employer pays me so little that I would be unable to buy my family presents if I didn't shop those Thanksgiving Day sales."


"I work seven days a week and getting Thanksgiving off is the only chance I will have to shop for Christmas."


"I am not really shopping; I am spreading goodwill to the unfortunates who are employed by (state name of mean-spirited company)."

I truly hope you will stay away from the Thanksgiving Grinches on the holiday, and maybe even on the curious but aptly named "Black Friday."  Spend the day with family and friends, or by helping those in need.  Spend the day alone reading a good book, watching a football game, taking a brisk walk on the beach, catching up on sleep.

There really is no television or computer sale that is worth taking people away from what was once known as the last commercial free holiday... or was that Halloween?

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Ironic Cherry... Reads

On Living While Dying

I have all my life been afraid of dying.  When a year and a half ago, my husband told me he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I became determined to grow up and face my fears, and deal with the inevitability of being mortal.  The way I confront things is mostly by reading.  Since then I have read books from Mortality, Christopher Hitchens' amazing chronicle of the cruel progression of his cancer to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, about her husband's illness and death.  I read The Cancer Chronicles by George Johnson and The Memoir of a Debulked Woman by Susan Gubar.

I learned two things over the year.  The first is that cancer sucks and it is ugly.  It got down to, as I would think about my husband's suffering, muttering, "fucking cancer."  I also learned over the year, I think, how to accept that it -- death -- happens to all of us.  We all get there, one way or another, and then it's done.  And it's okay.

Because it is not only about the cancer and the suffering.  We all age from the time we are born, and in the beginning we improve the way we function.  At some point, our body begins its reversal, things fall apart, and we eventually die.

In some bizarre alignment of the stars, or at least the DVD's that had just come in to the library, I spent five days watching movies that directly and poignantly dealt with dying, including Cloudburst with Olympia Dukakis ("I'm almost eighty; nobody lives forever."), Top of the Lake ("You don't have any worries because when you die you'll be gone; it's the others that will be left."), and a wonderful foreign movie with a dying child which title I'm sad to say I can't find.  And two others sprinkled in that also distinctly involved death and dying.

As my husband suffered through three different and unsuccessful chemotherapy regimes, I believed I was beginning to understand and accept my own inevitable dying, as well as his.  Finally, over the last two months of his life, I read three wonderful books, two written by physicians, and the last a book of essays by Terry Pratchett.

Internal Medicine: A Doctor's Stories by Terrence Holt is a collection of fictionalized accounts from the start of his medical training.  Accounts of surprising misdiagnoses, twists and turns in the relationship between doctor and patient, and poignant stories about patients, families and doctors as they approach death together.  New to hospice rounds, the doctor needs to be taught by hospice nurse and patient how to attend and how to treat the whole person.  Patients comfort doctor.  And the best doctors are always listening.

Atul Gawande has been writing game changing books about the practice of medicine for years.  His latest, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, was prompted by his father's path to facing the limitations of aging.  Beginning with the physical deterioration of our bodies, Gawande explores through stories of family and patients, the paths that we choose, or that too often choose us.  He talks about how medicine has wrestled the process of death away from the dying at great cost, and then describes the various paths that are truly open to us.  The development of more humane and human homes for assisted living and hospice care, the way physicians can learn to talk to patients and families so that they can better hear and help achieve the needs and desires of those nearing death.  The book shook the earth for me, as I read it in the last days of my husband's life.

Sir Terry Pratchett is infamous for his fantasy series, The Discworld.  At age 56, he was diagnosed with early onset dementia, a particular type that causes increasing difficulty with perception and motor skills even as he continues to write (with the help of human, mechanical and computerized aids).  A Slip of the Keyboard is a collection of essays.  A good portion of the book is about writing, touring and Discworld.  He has since his diagnosis promoted Alzheimer's research and there are essays here about his frustrations with his illness and with the limitations of treatment.  Finally, he has become a strong proponent of the assisted dying movement, and talks about the need to be able to die with dignity and how various countries have developed the means.

If you read nothing else that I have described, please read Internal Medicine, Being Mortal, and the third section of A Slip of the Keyboard.  If you only have time for one read Being Mortal.  These three are so, well, human.  I am happy they are there to help us wander through our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and guide us to better understanding, and better decisions towards dying with dignity, and living as well as possible to the end.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Just as Silly

I'm having flashbacks to the Republican loss in 2012.  Remember when, immediately after the election, they were all talking about what they'd done wrong, that they must not have been reaching the American people, and then they came out the other end with the idea that it must be that they had to change, not the message, but the way they sold that message.  Say what???

So let's move forward to 2014.  Here are the Democrats, all demoralized, wondering what they did wrong.  All talking to each other having meetings and forming committees, trying to figure out why people didn't come out to vote for them.  It seemed like they almost nearly just about had it figured out.  Maybe it was because they hadn't represented the issues that Democrats were supposed to stand up for.  Maybe they were trying too hard to soften the message, to distance themselves from the President.  Maybe they had failed to talk to the voters about all the successes the Democrats had, in spite of Republican obstruction.

In fact, I'm hearing one Republican strategist say he can't understand why the Dems ran away from their successes, were afraid to talk about all the people that were now insured, the low unemployment rate, the declining deficit.  And Rachel Maddow is pointing out how the Dems that won in this really bad year were the ones that actually ran on Obamacare, the environment, saving Social Security, you know, Democratic issues.

So here we are a week and a couple days later, and I hear that Mary Landrieu who is in a runoff race for her Senate seat, is trying to push her opponent's bill to approve the XL pipeline before the end of the session.  Huh???

And here's a Harry Reid story:  apparently he is reluctant to get all those Obama judicial appointments -- and that all-important attorney general appointment -- through the Senate while the Democrats still hold the majority.

So what have we really learned from this year's midterm disaster?  Well, President Obama has figured out that if he plans on enacting all those things he promised in his two election campaigns, he's going to have to do it without the help of his party.  And the Republicans have learned to keep doing what they are doing, because it really scares the Dems and keeps their base happy.  The Democrats who didn't get it to begin with seem to have learned nothing.

With people voting to approve gun control measures, and legal marijuana, and gay marriage, the only big success stories from the candidates were those who ran a campaign on solidly progressive issues, like Al Franken.  Even the two guys who were beaten in an NRA-sponsored recall election in 2013  in Colorado for their gun control legislation had their day.  The voters re-elected them to the seats they had lost such a short time ago.  And Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper who promoted that gun control legislation has also won his re-election.  And my goodness, in the Arizona town where the school board voted to remove pages from an honors level science textbook that discussed abortion, the electorate sent those recently elected idiots back to their caves and elected candidates who actually approved of educating students.

Maybe voters aren't really paying attention to what the candidates stand for.  So when the candidates are afraid to be outspoken and challenge their opponents, all we have to go on is the rumor, scandalous headlines and idiotic ads.  No wonder then that voters are often able to vote smart on issues, but just pull that big "R" when it comes to candidates.

I just don't think that Wendy Davis or Alison Lundergan Grimes understand that where they fell short was where they backed off from being a Democrat.  And it seems that Mary Landrieu will learn too late that pushing the pipeline isn't what will make people head to the polls to support her in the runoff.

Silly times, tragic consequences.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

When All Else Fails

The morning after the election, the first person I saw to speak to was my orthopedist's assistant.  As she set up the paraphernalia for the shots I was getting to renew my knees for awhile, I asked her if she had voted Tuesday.

She looked abashed, apologized and said, no, she hadn't.  She was busy, she worked all day....  "If you had voted, would you have voted Democrat or Republican?"  She hedged, saying she really didn't know who was running.  This was probably true, but given my Hillary tote-bag, my guess is she was trying to avoid telling me she would have voted Republican, because that's the way her family has always voted.  Just guessing.

Alexandra Pelosi is a documentary film maker.  She interviews people in malls and parking lots, asking them what they know and what they think about what is going on in politics.  What she does is brilliant in its simplicity.  In September, on Real Time with Bill Maher, she talked about what people didn't know about the upcoming election.  People did not know who their congressman was or who was running in various races.  What they did know was that if they voted they were going to vote "R."  Please go to the above link and watch (around minute 2'30") the interviews.  It is far more informative than anything our Democratic leaders have come up with to explain why they lost last week.

Since November 4th, we have had panels and meetings, interviews and discussions of all sorts, with different kinds of experts trying to explain why the Democrats lost.  What has been missing  -- WHAT HAS BEEN MISSING -- is asking the voters.  I don't think knocking on doors before the election does much to raise the chances of a person voting for a candidate; it seems that they usually agreeably promise to get out and vote for whoever is asking.  But now that the election is over, wouldn't it be a good time to knock on doors, stop people at the mall, have conversations at local meetings?  And this time, wouldn't it be a good idea, instead of telling people why they should vote for a Democrat, maybe it would be a good idea to not just ask them whether they voted and who they voted for, but to ask them what is important to them.

One of the things the Republicans are really good at, is pretending they are your friend.  If you didn't know better, they would really seem to be listening.  I can't get Jim Clyburn or Vincent Sheheen to answer an email, or even snail mail, but Nikki Haley not only signs her letters (typed on very nice stationery) but adds a little personal "Thanks for writing!"  We laugh at Haley and commiserate with state employees forced to answer the phone by telling the caller that "It's a great day in South Carolina!" but isn't it shrewd to even force her employees to present her personal happy face to anyone who calls.  She may not have given a hoot what a visitor had to say, but most of us know that she opened her door and met with anyone who wanted to speak with her (maybe she doesn't any more, but she sure got a lot of publicity when she did).

Our Democratic Party invites us to send money, and occasionally come to meetings and fundraisers, but send an email and ask them to give you a call.  If the Democratic Party doesn't have anybody there that wants to know what I think (and I am very free with my opinion), what about all those Democrats that don't get out to the polls because they just don't think anybody cares?

We Democrats know what is best for you, the voter, and it really pisses us off that you don't think it's as important as we think it is.  Maybe that's what we are doing wrong.  Maybe we need to spend some time, before the next election cycle, asking and listening.  And resisting the temptation to jump in and lecture and explain.

Here's one last thought.  Most of us are tired.  We work hard, we pay our bills, we do our best to be there for our families, and then we try to enjoy some of our free time.  Why would we take time to plow through all the politics -- and politics can be boring, meaningless, or just mean -- when we could be doing something that feels good?  When Barack Obama ran in 2008, he gave us something different, something special.  He really did give us hope and the promise of change.  He reached people that we are no longer reaching.  Our candidates seem to be scrabbling to promise high school graduates technical jobs rather than the opportunity to reach for the moon.  Our opponents are the ones promising the tech jobs.  Maybe we should be working harder to promise the moon.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Racism and Reverberations

First thing I want to do (as do we all) is vent.  The republican party has had big balls and they have been bouncing them around since Obama's landslide six years ago.  We all laughed when Boehner said, "Hell, no," but it worked, and it has worked ever since.  Today I heard Michael Steele say that Obama should just try to approach the new Congress, nicely, regarding immigration.  Really???  Did this image occur to anybody else:

Whenever they say "hell, no" they reinforce their power and confidence, and when we waffle, we are seen as unsure of what we think will work and maybe even a little shady.  It began with health care when Obama backed off from the public option; our Blue Dogs added a few nails to the coffin when they failed to throw their support behind the Affordable Care Act.  And with a few exceptions we have been seen as cowards that will do anything to survive ever since.

Worse is the slurs and insults directed at the President by the opposition, and the Democratic flight to safety in response.  When Bill Clinton was kicked around, we can say he gave Newt and his gang the ammunition, not only by his sexual misadventures, but by dancing around the truth and outright lying about everything from not inhaling to whether he had sex with that intern.  Barack Obama has had no such dark deeds in his background; he has an enviable family life and was frank about past casual drug use and even his cigarette habit.  Unable to dig up any hidden bodies, the idiot brigade resorted to making up racist nonsense about a Kenyan birth.  But once they did, the noise reverberated for years.  The racism that has accompanied this president's years in office has been overt more often than not, and barely masked at other times.  And the Democratic Party predictably failed to stand together confidently to back our President.

And we can thank the media from both sides and in the middle for helping to keep the echo going.  Anything for a story.  Anything, that is, but the issues.

Speaking of which, if we were to talk honestly about the issues, this president has done some heroic things against great odds, including the auto bailout, handling terrorists with intelligence and calm and making gains with sustainable energy that have been too little publicized.  He has also made some serious mistakes by siding with Wall Street over Main Street, stepping up deportation of undocumented immigrants and excessive border control,  and  giving the NSA a free hand with domestic spying and failing to protect whistleblowers.  But there has not been a president who has done great things who has not also shown a tragic flaw, as did LBJ with civil rights juxtaposed alongside the Vietnam war.

Sadly, we have been hearing the media talk about Obama's unpopularity for some six years, almost through his re-election.  We have all believed it because it has been said so often by so many.  Rather than simply and rationally disagree on certain of the issues, we Democrats have allowed ourselves to reject the President on the whole, to the delight of the republican party.  And I have to say, it has not just been us red staters.  And the midterm election disaster was what we ended up with. 

Barack Obama is a great statesman and an admirable politician.  I believe that if he were to run a third term, he would once again be re-elected, and he could do it on all the good things he has done during his time in office.

So it was tragic when Alison Grimes, once running ahead of McConnell, chose to refuse to admit that she voted for Obama.  So many ways she could have said he was and is the best man for the job, although she disagreed with him on energy and would always vote what was best for her constituents.  Instead, she bumbled and looked embarrassed.  The media ran with it, and the republicans did not need to do anything other than look smug.

And the absence of the President during the campaign -- noted often and loudly by the media -- was what was wrong with these midterm elections.  Yes, there are other factors that affected the outcome, and I would like to talk more about those at another time.  But had we stood proud and tall with the leader of the country, who has after all, done some amazing things with a country that his predecessor had pretty nearly flushed down the toilet, we would no doubt be on the other side of history these next two years.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Some Last Thoughts (Before I Vote)

Unsurprisingly, in the last day before the midterm money leads by, well, a lot.

Take Lindsey Graham, for example.  Graham has proven that he is slick and, I have to say, pretty creepy.  He can sit back and sound like your kindly uncle who knows what is best and well, he's just going to do it, because it's good for you.  Like increasing the social security retirement age.  But don't forget that he has also taken some unpopular stands and went up against a slew of opponents in the primaries and, well, he slew them all.  Why?  Because he's willing to work with those on the other side.  Huh.  Of course, like that wise old uncle, he tells you that you're going to have to give something up as well.

Here's the thing you need to remember about Lindsey Graham:  he is a manipulative s.o.b.  He actually said, in his moderate voice, that the reason we needed to vote for him is that it will take a republican to work with the crazy republicans that keep blocking progress in Congress.  And in case you thought you had heard him wrong, he said it again.

And then there is the megalomaniac Tim Scott, who sees himself as sent by God (in the guise of Nikki Haley).  He is dumber than dirt, and maybe even dumber than his predecessor, Jim DeMint, but he has been polished to a shine even brighter than his nice suit.  People I actually know think he is smart, and that he sounds good in public.  Maybe I just haven't been around enough to see him preaching to his congregation.  But I listened to the debate, and he may have been rehearsed, but he was wooden, as though even he didn't believe his stock phrases anymore.  And I saw his ad, the one where he brags on pretending to work next to "everyday people," of whom he apparently no longer counts himself.  And I've heard his lies, like about how he voted to reduce the interest on student loans.

And then there is Nikki Haley.  Smarmy and flirty, who has wowed all the big bucks, basically because she will do absolutely anything they want her to do, and even more.  South Carolina under her watch has sold itself to big corporations and refused to feed, insure and educate its poor.  She has worked to deny those who might oppose her right wing plans the right to vote, and she has cost us millions of dollars to fight this battle in court.  She is mean-spirited and vindictive, and she can flash a phony smile better than just about anybody I know.

Then we have idiots like Mike Fair, who wears his stupidity with pride and calls it faith.  He single-handedly stopped our state legislature from moving health and sex education into the 21st century because the old ways are good enough for him.  Of course, he and fellow idiot Kevin Bryant also provided us with better comedy than you can find on cable TV when they argued for putting the Bible in the Columbian mammoth bill.  

But we've also got a few tough choices, but choices nonetheless, and some where we have to hold our noses to give it our best shot, and some where that doesn't even help.  Parenthetically, when someone distasteful is running unopposed, or unhappily you just can't vote for either candidate, don't leave that space blank.  Write-in "None of the Above" so your vote will count.

Do not despair, though, because we do have some good choices, and even some very good choices.

We don't have to let Mark Sanford breeze by without opposition, because Dimitri Cherny is running as a write-in independent candidate.  He's a good man, and I would love to see Sanford's face if Cherny with no financial backing or name recognition made a decent showing.  

Brad Hutto has fought against great odds to unseat Lindsey Graham.  What I like about Hutto is that he is not trying to hide the fact that he is a Democrat, and that he supports the Affordable Care Act, and even President Obama.  It took guts (and I hear some persuasion by the state party) for him to agree to step up.

Bakari Sellers is running for Lieutenant Governor, and he is smart and caring.  He has traveled around the small towns in South Carolina introducing himself to people and talking about what he can do to improve life for South Carolinians.  He has been endorsed by Charleston Mayor Riley, among many others.  I have to say that I watched the debate, and Bakari's comments were a breath of fresh air compared to those of his opponent, you know, the guy who thinks we should all volunteer for service jobs so people like him don't have to pay taxes.

I haven't mentioned Gloria Tinubu here because she is not running in Charleston or for a state-wide office, but she is an amazing woman running for Congress in the 7th district.  She is brilliant and outspoken, and although she lost in 2012, she is determined that she is going to try again so that she can fight for her district, the state and the country in Congress.  If you know anybody from the 7th district, tell them to by all means get out and vote for Gloria.

Last but certainly not least, Joyce Dickerson has had to fight to be heard throughout this race.  She has run on a shoestring, and in spite of the lukewarm support of the Democratic party (famous for failing to support good candidates in past years).  She won the primary against two male candidates in spite of suggestions by male Democratic leaders that maybe she should step aside.  She is not just the underdog in this race against Tim Scott, but she is the underdog that we should all be fighting for.

Joyce Dickerson will not be swayed by power or money.  She knows who her constituents are in South Carolina:  the struggling middle class, seniors, veterans, children.  She knows the issues:  low wages, lack of health insurance, failing schools, unemployment, crumbling roads, student loan debt.  There isn't one of us who would not benefit by having Joyce fighting for us in the Senate.

It was a big step, going from Richland County Council to the U.S. Senate.  But, unlike Tim Scott, she is doing it without the dollars and support of corporations, lobbyists, and of course, Governor Nikki Haley, who gifted the seat to him two years ago.  And unlike Nikki Haley, she is a woman who will fight for women, and her candidacy has made me proud.

So, I'm happy to say, we do have lots of reasons to vote.  It may be that many of these great candidates don't win because they are fighting enormous odds.  But they have fought, and it has cost them a huge chunk of their lives, and people have contributed to their campaigns because they believed in the message, and that we need this change.

Given all that, the very least we can do on November 4 is vote.  And bring some friends and family members.  And if enough of us turn out, well, you never know....

Saturday, November 1, 2014

When Even Holding Your Nose Doesn't Work

I am proud of being a Democrat, mostly.  There are times when they do make it difficult.  For example, about a week ago, I went to my mailbox and found what turns out to be the nastiest piece of campaign crap I have received this election season, which certainly says a lot.  Worse thing about it, is it came from a Democrat.  Well, not exactly "a Democrat."  It came from one of those shadowy groups in which individuals don't have to own up to their ugly message.

This is what I received:

Don't be surprised if the first word your eyes are drawn to is the word "Negro."  And it's not a coincidence that both lunatic Cliven Bundy and Thomas Legare are in similar poses.  What's going on here is guilt by association.  Now, I don't know Thomas Legare, but I do know that he is a longtime businessman in Charleston County, and the thing you don't do in Charleston is toss racial slurs at people who live and work here.

Anyway, the text affirms, not that Legare is a racist, but that he supports racist, anti-American radicals (which in Fox Newspeak could be just about anyone).  Again, I do know that Legare has said some crazy stuff in support of Cliven Bundy.  But the association here is that his support of Bundy makes him racist.  Are you fired up???

I tend to distrust political ads and I like to know where they come from.  So I looked up the upstanding-sounding "Lowcountry Leadership Initiative," the group that paid for this mailing.  Turns out that this is a new political action committee formed to raise money for candidates who support the controversial completion of I-526.  When I first looked it up, there was an October 20 Post and Courier article by Diane Knich, in which the reporter stated that not much was known about the group.  But on October 28, the intrepid Knich followed up with more specific information about the pursuits of the PAC.  Lots about the politics, but, imagine that, still nobody owning up to being a part of the group.

Well, I would be ashamed to admit to it as well.  And so should Anna Johnson, the County Council incumbent running against Legare.  Last weekend, I sent her an email asking her to denounce the group and the mailing, and just as with Ms. Knich, I received no reply.  And the most recent mailing by this group doubles down, calling Legare a "Tea Party radical" who "sided with racist Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in an armed standoff with our own federal troops."  In which they either got carried away with their rhetoric, or they maybe wanted us to believe that Legare was right there with Bundy.   

It appears that Anna may be finding herself in a bit of a shit storm; by siding with the wrong bunch, I believe she herself has crossed the line of common decency here in Charleston.  Over the years since she has been convinced that completing I-526 is a good idea, she has not only suddenly been dressing a whole lot better, but has found herself bitterly opposed by former supporters.  This deceit and dirty dealing by Lowcountry Leadership Initiative has not helped.

Tragically, Anna has also done some good with the County Council, by supporting much needed social programs.  For this reason, I had planned on holding my nose and voting for her on Tuesday.  But I will speak against dirty politics and I draw the line at giving my vote to someone who has been bought by a group of such sleaze that they work anonymously, and with no ethical constraints.

So on Tuesday, I plan on leaving Charleston County Council District 8 blank.  I urge you to also take a stand on this race, which represents the dirtiest of dirty politics.