Sunday, June 28, 2015

Supreme's Greatest Hits

The Supreme Court seems to have ended its session and begun summer vacation with a bang.  Three major decisions over the past several days have reflected what I heard one commentator refer to as the most "liberal" court in decades.

To which I did a double take.  But when I thought about it, we did have some really significant wins.

The surprise decision was the one that supported the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Surprising in light of the demolition of the Voting Rights Act, which gave states the right the do whatever damn thing they wanted to keep selected groups from voting, and which they wasted no time following through.  Chief Justice John Roberts, with his Pollyanna smile, declared there was no need for voting rights protection because racism was dead.  Leaving me wondering what rationalizations he made to justify the red-state rush to legalize voter discrimination immediately after the decision.

Not one to ever learn from his mistakes, Roberts was one of the four who voted against supporting the Fair Housing Act.  But he did weigh in with us liberals on the case that had my heart beating fast.  The state health care exchanges, with federal subsidies, remained intact, leaving a lot of folks like me with our Obamacare.  The vote was 6-3, with the core group of idiots, Scalia, Thomas and Alito holding down the right wing-nut opinion.

For those of you who are thinking Roberts may be sliding to the left, his opinion had nothing to do with the rights of Americans to have affordable health care.  His decision, just like the one in favor of Obamacare three years ago, was purely pro-business.  If you recall back then Roberts' opinion had pretty much everybody's head spinning, including his own.  He twisted and corkscrewed the law, arguing not the obvious one that was in question regarding the Commerce Clause, but that the individual mandate was a tax, and the feds were within their constitutional right to levy that tax.

So.  I'm thinking Roberts knew quite well that the insurance industry would take a crippling blow if it lost all us customers that could no longer afford health insurance without the federal subsidies.  And there are quite a lot of us.

Scalia, on the other hand, and despite his contention that his decisions are based purely on constitutional originalism, consistently bases his decision on what feels good to him.  This is the guy, after all, who believes that the devil is a real person.  So let's assume logic doesn't have as much to do with his thinking process as he would like us to believe.

Along with his imaginings of the devil and what the founding fathers believed we should be doing all these years later, Scalia has the kind of rigid and fragile psyche that just can't take much confrontation.  And so when he writes his dissents (which Chris Hayes noted are extremely wonderful and entertaining, especially because they are dissents) he tends not to sound all that educated, or intelligent, or even rational.

In his dissenting opinion on the Obamacare decision he calls the majority opinion "interpretive jiggery-pokery" and "pure applesauce," legal terms that no doubt go back to the founding fathers.  He snipes that since the Court has backed Obamacare in two major decisions, "we should start calling this law SCOTUScare."  And in an overwrought, pubescent and melodramatic fit, he sums it up by saying, "Words no longer have meaning...."

Roberts predictably let his right-wing flag fly in the marriage equality decision.  No surprise there.  It was purely a human rights case, and human rights will not sway our Chief Justice.  And I was not at all surprised that Kennedy was the deciding vote in favor of marriage equality, as he has voted in favor of gay rights before.

I'm thinking that a couple of things are happening with the Supremes.  Justice Kennedy retains his position as the swing vote.  I believe that he is a romantic, and he likes to feel like he is being wooed.  It also seems to me that he is easily influenced by the new guys on the block.  It happened when Roberts and Alito took up the cause of the right a decade ago, and now we have the left-leaning Kagan and Sotomayor.

Roberts is going to vote pro-business and against human rights.  The only individual he is going to support is the individual corporation.

The most fun these days is watching the narcissistic Scalia as he comes apart at the seams.  And even better, the more that happens, the less likely Kennedy is likely to want to be seen siding with him, leaving him sitting alone at the cafeteria table with Clarence Thomas and Sammy Alito.

Without taking away from these important victories, though, I am concerned about one group of decisions, those affecting women's privacy and health care rights.  Hobby Lobby, which has never blinked about paying for insurance that covers vasectomies, won the right to deny women contraceptive coverage.  Even Kagan and Sotomayor voted against a woman's right to be safe from harassment at an abortion clinic, refusing to support a state's right to determine an appropriate buffer zone from protesters.

At this point, with state and federal legislators pushing ever more extreme anti-abortion bills into law, pro-choice groups are afraid to take a case to this Supreme Court, fearing the complete overturn of Roe v. Wade.  This could happen, but we need to take our cue from the fearlessness and persistence of the LGBT community.  We need to continue to take cases to the Supremes, and we need to find new arguments, just as Burwell did with Obamacare.  We can't stop fighting, and we can't let our worry about the bias of all those Catholics on the bench slow us down or even cause us to hesitate.  As disappointed as I have been in the women's reproductive health care decisions, it is only by showing our strength that they will eventually be swayed.

So have a good summer vacation, Supremes.  We are counting on you to keep us entertained next time around. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Safer to Debate the Flag

Yesterday I posted to a Facebook group in response to a comment about "the flag."  I commented about a concern that I have these days, that is, that while we're all worked up about the Confederate flag, the even more important debate about gun control has gotten left behind -- just the way the NRA wants it.

Minutes later, someone replied in a rage.  She posted something to the effect that first we got her flag and now we want to take away her guns, and added "don't you people ever have enough?"  I thought about ignoring the rant, and then I thought about being intimidated by crazy people with guns.  So I replied that I wondered what was wrong with a debate about guns, and also, who "you people" are.  My first thought was that my picture was on my post and I am very obviously not an African American.  But no, her reply (which I merely scanned as she was getting more wild and long-winded) indicated that the group of "you people" to which I belonged was liberals.

Two days after her press conference about the flag, I heard an MSNBC commentator ask, "Nikki Haley being considered for vice president?"  This was after I had been stewing about what a shrewd political move this was on Haley's part.  Of course, the question at this point is idiotic, but her goals of being on the national stage are evident.

What makes me want to pull my hair out is just how clever her move was.  It may be time to take the flag down, she said, but let's not forget all those people who truly see the flag as a proud representation of their southern heritage.  Really, she repeated, let's not forget those people who love them their confederate flag.  And said it a couple more times.  She pretty nearly said the flag should come down, but she also made it quite clear that it wouldn't be up to her. 

While in Alabama for-goodness-sake the republican governor ordered all four flags removed from the capitol grounds, Nikki is letting us all know that her greatest concern is following the letter of the law.   Wink, wink.  That's the Nikki Haley that has never let the letter of the law get in the way of doing what she wants where her own self interest is concerned.

And as if Alabama hadn't had our heads spinning enough, Paul Thurmond, son of that old racist Strom, spoke eloquently and unequivocally calling for the end to the waving of the flag that represented racism and slavery.

So while Bentley of Alabama and our own Paul Thurmond are proving themselves to be on the right side of history on this one, I'm thinking that this is still a win-win for Haley.  She gets to sound like a reformer while making it clear that her heart is also with her redneck base.  She's going to let idiot senator Lee Bright take up the call for the paranoid and delusional.  As he is quoted in the New York Times:

“There are those of us who have ancestors that fought and spilled blood on the side of the South when they were fighting for states’ rights, and we don’t want our ancestors relegated to the ash heaps of history,” he said. “Through the years, the heroes of the South have been slandered, maligned and misrepresented, and this is a further activity in that.”

I am aware of just how quickly a pleasant southerner can turn rabid when certain trigger words come up.  It once was "Clinton" as in Bill, and then it became "Obama."  I imagine that over the coming months people will start to foam at the mouth over "Hillary."  But there are words like "confederate flag" and "gun control," "taxes" and "unions" that accomplish that same effect.  And republican politicians here in South Carolina have trained their followers well.

I don't think Dylann Roof created the firestorm that is brewing in our state.  It has always been close to the surface.  If we are truly going to "debate" the flag, we are going to see the crazies coming out of the woodwork.  And that leads me to my main point.

Nikki Haley lept at the chance to take her stand with the confederate flag.  She got to sound strong, and she got to move the debate away from gun control.  You may have heard that at a church vigil last week, a call for gun control was met by a roar of approval and a standing ovation -- except for Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, conspicuously seated in the front row.

It is clear that while Haley may shed a few crocodile tears for these victims of gun violence, she is able to pull herself together for the NRA.  Tim Scott, who pretends to be one with the African American community, is on the side of money and power -- as usual -- in this case, feet firmly planted on the same side as wacko Lee Bright, for the freedom to wield weapons.  Scott and Haley made a striking pair, sitting at the vigil for nine dead who would be alive but for the ease with which Dylann Roof could get a gun.

And that's the thing.  While we all fight one important battle -- to take down that flag that represents the enslavement and subsequent fear and hatred for free and equal African Americans, the issue of guns in the hands of the haters is left on the back burner.  Those bills promoting guns in schools and shops and on the street, open carry, lessening of training requirements, Second Amendment Awareness Day, tax free holidays for guns, they aren't going anywhere.  And how do we fight it anyway?  If the angry rednecks are getting ready for a showdown over the confederate flag, what will they do if they think the issue is taking away their guns?

I was unnerved by the strange Facebook attack yesterday.  But I am going to continue to talk about the need for gun control.  You can see, though, how much easier it would be to go after the flag and once again let the whole gun thing go away, until next time.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Still Too Soon...

Since the church massacre in Charleston, committed by a paranoid psychotic young man with a weapon he should never have had, I have been stunned, and then disgusted, and now enraged.  In attempting to do some cursory research for this post, I found that there is absolutely nothing I can say that hasn't already been said.  The same clowns and NRA puppets are coming out and saying the same things they said after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, after the massacre of children in Newtown, after each and every obscene mass murder in our country since Columbine.

When that asshole Mark Sanford was asked about gun control on MSNBC on Thursday, he said, "I think it's premature.  I think that advocates on both sides of the gun debate will use this tragedy to make their case."  He called it a "tug-of-war, if you will, that goes with the world of politics."

I wish I could just say what I am thinking, but the string of obscenities that come to mind just don't advance my position on this, so I won't.  Although obscenity would certainly be warranted in response to the obscenity of Sanford's bullshit.

Fact is, as usual, Sanford is not saying anything new.  I am sure that since Wednesday the NRA has been in high gear, reaching out to all its politicians in South Carolina and the rest of the country, soothing raw nerves, giving Nikki Haley a figurative tissue to dry her eyes.  I'm not sure she was choked up over the tragedy, or over "the humility" she was seeing.  A normal human being might consider that she had been wrong about her staunch advocacy over gun rights; after her all too recent prayer day, she might even wonder if God was trying to tell her something.  But what will come out of this, after she congratulates herself on being there for the families of the victims, is more certainty that what we need is more law and order, as well as more guns.  Just like her buddies at the NRA want her to believe.

It's appalling -- appalling doesn't even approach the word I am trying to convey -- that these protectors of the weapons can pretend to be protectors of the people.  The NRA bullshit spouted by Lindsey Graham about a mother needing a high capacity gun to defend her children, the bullshit by Wayne LaPierre that has been parroted by all our gun-totin', NRA worshipping officials:

This morning The Onion did an angry and ironic spoof, not of the violence, but of the NRA's Charles Cotton who was front and center telling us why we should not cause this tragedy to infringe on our constitutional rights.  In the words of The Onion:

“While we mourn those killed, we should never let an incident like this distract from our defense of [the fact that I myself am a pile of human waste who is fundamentally incapable of responding to the deaths of innocent people without raw, putrid sewage gushing from my mouth].”

And keep your eyes on Lindsey Graham, who is now saying that the reason this happened is the failure of the national background check system.  I wonder why the system failed... maybe it's because the last time it was up for debate in Congress people like Lindsey Graham played politics with it, hoping to slip in some nasty amendments and maybe water down the language.  It seems to me that basically what Graham wanted to do was track people who were mentally ill, and under no circumstances allow universal background checks.

If there was money involved here, I would say keep your hand on your wallet.

But it's only about money for the NRA.  They are again twisting this tragedy around to promote the kind of fear that actually armed people like the young man who committed this horrendous crime.  After Aurora, it took the NRA about a week to come up with the line that it is too soon after the tragedy to debate gun control.  By the time of the Newtown massacre, they were armed and ready, successfully convincing politicians and too many of the fearful public that what was needed was more guns, not less.

And the taste of success was green and gold.  Billions of dollars were made by the arms industry from the blood of innocent and fearful Americans.

So now the lines are well rehearsed.  The NRA has actually, as spoofed by The Onion, assigned blame to pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney for failing to support bills that would allow people to carry guns in churches.  While Charleston mourns the tragedy, Nikki Haley has come out armed and ready for revenge, saying that the gunman deserves the death penalty.  I don't know what god she prayed to last weekend, but it was not the one that was being studied at the Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Conferencing on Abortion in SC

So, if tomorrow's conference committee does not agree to the proposed amendments on H 3114, that damned twenty-week abortion ban, it won't go away.  I can't promise you that your action will send it to the garbage pile where it belongs.  But if we can get enough of the six senators and representatives on the committee to refuse to go along with the bill, it will be done till next legislative session.

Even more important, we will have sent a strong message to the right wingnuts who believe government should be controlling women's medical decisions.  We will be telling them that we will not be bullied, that reasonable and concerned legislators will not compromise away our rights and our daughters' rights, and our families' rights.

This bill is not about whether a fetus can feel pain, because if it was about that, it would have gone away as soon as the real medical experts weighed in.  It is not about God's plan, and although most of the legislators have been careful not to talk about religion, since we still have the pretense of separation of church and state, "testimony" has been more about presuming to know God's plan than medical science.

The bill is not about defending life, because the very same people who are trying to push this bill through are the ones who believe guns should not be regulated, taxes should not pay to help children of the poor receive medical care or even adequate nutrition, and parents are not entitled to the kind of living wage that would allow them to care for their children.

This bill is about control and punishment.  It is about people who obsess about sex and can only deal with that obsession by seeking to control and punish others.  And it is about people who continue, in the 21st century, to blame women for seeking independence and -- worse -- pleasure.

I was not happy with the amendment that was added in the Senate that would allow exceptions for rape, incest, severe fetal abnormalities and the health of the woman.  Because basically that becomes a law that allows women to do what they have been able to do freely since Roe v. Wade, because it is their right.  The fact that some legislators believe that it is their prerogative to turn this right into a law means that women and doctors must now submit to control by government.  It is a manipulation to impose guilt and pain on women, to force doctors to focus on providing proof to the state rather than give their best medical care, unfettered by regulation.  Hmph.  And these are the people who whine about regulation for everything from weapons to pollution.

What is worse is that fools like Lee Bright and Wendy Nanney just can't abide by women getting away with having sex and being able to get an abortion under any circumstances.  Smarmy people who believe they have God's ear thinking that a woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy that was forced on her.  People who believe they represent "family values" when they force a woman to carry a fetus that may be stillborn or only live hours or days.  And forced to pay the exorbitant medical bills, and worse, forced to take care away from their families in order to carry a fetus that is unlikely to survive.

Harsh, isn't it?  I believe this is why we on the pro-choice side are not as loud and persistent as those who are working so hard to curtail our liberties.  But if we don't speak out, yet again, it is our right to determine our own path that will be taken away from us.  Doctors who perform abortions will be hounded until they decide it is too costly, emotionally as well as financially, to practice.  Our daughters may in the not too distant future be looking at the back alley and coat-hangar decisions that were tearing us apart up until 1973.

So let me ask you one more time to contact these members of the conference committee:

Rep. Robert Ridgeway

Sen. Raymond Cleary

Sen. Brad Hutto

Sen. Katrina Shealy

We are anticipating that these are the committee members who are likely to be more rational and receptive to our call for reason in this matter.

I have sent the following email to each:

At twenty weeks, few women seek an abortion.  Those that do are likely to be making this decision because their health is at stake, or they have learned that the fetus has severe abnormalities.  Some women or girls have been raped, and yes, it may take this long for them to come to terms with this tragic situation. 
It is wrong to force a woman to carry to term a pregnancy that may be so severely deformed that it will be stillborn or only live minutes or days.  It is not for the government, but only for the woman with her physician's medical expertise to come to a decision.  The harm that is done by forcing this path onto a woman and her family is unconscionable.
Please do not allow H 3114 to pass without the exceptions that were added to the Senate version of this bill.

To Senator Brad Hutto, I included the following:
I believe this bill is unnecessary and an insult to the rights of women to medical privacy and freedom.  

I urge you to call or write (or both) each member of this committee, which meets Tuesday at 10.  This may be our last chance to give our crucial input to this horrible bill.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Praying for 2016

Nikki Haley is finally reaching across the aisle.  On Saturday she will be praying for all of us.  It's apparently called "The Response," and while they want you to think they're waiting to hear what God has to say, it really is just another snow job by the right wing in an attempt to divert us from the fact that they are the cause of a lot of our problems.  The web page for Saturday's event is interesting, given that presumably the most important thing about this event is that it is not supposed to be about politics or government, at all.

Call me a cynic, but after all Nikki Haley has done to keep black people from voting or their children from getting a good education, it is interesting that the home page of this event sandwiches her in between two black men, ministers if you will.  I guess buddying up with Tim Scott worked so well she figured it was time to hunt up some more conservative African Americans.

From what I can see, Zoe Warren appears to be an actual non-political religious person.  But Samuel Rivers, Jr., representative from Goose Creek, is not just political, but so political that he can't quite get the dirt off him.  Not only does his Facebook page sing the praises of the Bush family business (the presidency), but his right wing positions include high marks from conservative business groups and the NRA.  He wrote a a guest column in the Post & Courier (that has since been withdrawn) opposing EPA regulations on water bottles that appeared to have been cribbed from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.  At least he toes Haley's line politically, which I'm sure makes her happy to have him standing next to her, prayer-wise, even though he has lied about having an actual Doctorate of Theology.

While we're scratching our heads over this big event, I have to ask myself who is paying for it.  After all, free admission at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center isn't like crowding into a church hall or a school cafetorium.  Well, hold on to your hats, folks, because the sponsor is the American Family Association, the group that is so rabidly anti-gay that it is currently asking followers to stop doing business with WellsFargo because of its support of LGBT rights.

Not a political gathering.  At all.

According to David Lane, president and founder of the American Renewal Project, this will be a day of fasting and prayer.  But wait.  David Lane is the guy that is going to wage war for Christianity.  He is going to fight for prayer in schools and to get rid of gays.  He is going to bring back those good old family values, the kind you can find in the Bible, but I think he means more Old Testament than what Jesus preached.

And non-political?  From the American Renewal Project website, his mission:

" make evangelical Christians a power in the Republican Party."

And in Lane's own words:  "An army.  That's the goal...."

So what are they going to be praying for?  Nikki says she wants to "pray to remember that we're not in charge."  But would like to be?

There will be lots of proselytizing, lots of pretending to care about the poor and the sick.  But the bottom line under all this hypocrisy is that they actually have the power to change that.  And as far as I recall, God never said to turn to Him when you can fix a problem yourself.  Are they asking for a miracle, in the sense of pray and you will be made well?  Maybe.  Because the alternative would be to pray for health care, and ain't no one on that stage that's going to be praying for that.

And one last thing.  The people on that stage aren't really going to be the ones that are praying.  Or, they may be "praying" but they aren't going to be listening for an answer.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Special Interests v. Literacy

I have lived here long enough to know that, in Charleston County, logic does not always rule the day or the decision.  Budget cuts just a few years ago came down hard on the Charleston County Public Library, then one of the best library systems in the nation.  Since our current director blew in from one of the wealthiest counties in the country telling us he can save us money and move us forward (a song we in the South know well), our collection has been further decimated.

So when he and the library board proposed a building referendum, and the County Council put it on last year's ballot, I had enough doubt in the promises that were made to vote no.  But we in Charleston love our library, and that along with an impressive publicity campaign, won the referendum handily.

Now, on James Island, many in the community are in an uproar over the mishandling of the choice of location for the much needed larger branch library.  And this time, it looks like I can't blame Doug Henderson or the library board.

Here are the proposed locations, along with the current location of the James Island Library (apologies for my poor attempt to create this Google map): 

The shaded area is the outline of James Island.  The current location is surprisingly very much in the middle.  At 860 Folly Road is the large Bi-Lo Shopping Center, with a large long-vacant building; after a Dills Bluff location that was rated first came in with too high a price tag, the Bi-Lo lot is the site that the Library Board of Directors has recommended.  They based this recommendation on a number of factors, primarily cost and location.

But, wait, from out of nowhere, the Charleston County Council has stepped in and decided that they have a better plan.  An empty site on South Grimball Road, way down in the corner of James Island, is the location they are pushing.  Of course, by "they" I don't mean all the Council members, but "they" who are pushing are pushing as though they have more than a passing interest in this site.

But take a look at the map.  Those of you who spend time on Folly Road will know at a glance that this Grimball Road location will mean more time stuck in traffic, less convenience for both middle schools and the high school, and very likely too many people opting not to drop by with their kids or to browse the books and dvd's.  It is pretty much as out of the way as you can get and still be on James Island.

So what's the deal here?  Rumors are flying, which is only natural given the choice itself makes no sense.  The Post and Courier has noted that residents near the proposed Grimball Road site are concerned about congestion and the effect this library would have on the small community.  There is an historic cemetery adjacent to the property, a fragile marker of the past.  And then there is Folly Road traffic, which for many months of the year can be backed up to the Wal-Mart.

But if you owned some real estate in the area, and property values would rise with the building of the library, you might be likely to want that library built for reasons other than the good of the community.  We hope that isn't the case, but take another look at the map and come up with a reason why this location is the best for all of James Island.

Those who have been following this debate are divided as to what they think Council should do.  Sadly, some are afraid to push too hard for the Bi-Lo site because they believe Council has already made up its mind and no amount of reason will move it in another direction.  Leaving the existing bustling and beloved branch open along with the larger Grimball Road site is an option, although I can already hear the whining about the additional cost.

I concur with the Library's Board of Directors (something I haven't done for many years).  The Bi-Lo site is ideal for so many reasons.  It is on the main road with bus routes, at a traffic light, convenient to the Middle Schools and High School and it is fairly central to James Island.  The building has been vacant for some time and renovating it to build a library would certainly be an improvement and welcome to the community and shoppers.  The library board has already determined that it would be the most cost-effective option.

So what's the problem?  Are some members of County Council trying to confuse the issue by changing meeting agendas and introducing petitions that were gathered from selective members of the community?

The next step is the County Council meeting on Tuesday, June 16 at 6:30.  If you have a strong feeling about where your James Island Library should be built, start or sign a petition, write a letter to the editor or to the Council members (don't worry about who is "your" member, they are all making this decision that affects you and your family).  Show up at the meeting on the 16th, either to speak or to just show your support for James Island.

It may not be that special interests are controlling this important decision.  Perhaps they just believe that they know more about what library patrons on James Island need than the library board.  Or the residents.  Or even from the information you could get from looking at a map.