Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Redistribution of Wealth...

...or, just how many millions of dollars are you worth?

Halloween is just around the corner.  This year's scariest costume is going to be Bernie Sanders, the socialist.  I just saw Michael Steele, that faux intellectual, on C-Span interviewing another conservative, i.e. wealthy, republican.  The inevitable question came up about "redistribution of wealth."  The answer being, if they are going to take all my money and give it away, I will no longer have the incentive to work to make that money.

Yeah, well, we've been hearing versions of that tune for a long time now.  It comes as the "job creator" myth, wherein if you let rich people keep their money they will grow their businesses and hire more people.  Also known as the "trickle down" theory of the Reagan years.  Turns out, it only trickles down when the rich folk pee all over us.

It seems odd to me that the middle class has had to work harder for less, but we continue to work hard.  More jobs, fewer benefits, worse health, less mobility.  Kids who can't afford to go to college.  Elderly who would eat cat food, but it's as expensive as tuna.  Working poor who have to turn to food stamps, who have to go to work sick and leave their kids home alone or get fired.  But we keep working.

And yet the Koch brothers, should they be required to pay a smidge more of their wealth to the government so that the middle class and the poor can breathe a little easier, well, they just might get discouraged and throw in the towel.  Take their marbles and go home is more like it.

The wordsmiths of the right wing have been all over this, telling lies and calling the fight for income equality "class warfare," the estate or inheritance tax renamed "death tax," turning "socialism" into a bogeyman.  If we want to see a Democrat in the White House after 2016, we need to understand the reality of income inequality and the bizarre wealth gap that exists in America.

Robert Reich, economist and sketch artist extraordinaire has a number of simple and eloquent youtube videos that tell the story.  Jon Oliver has had a few entertaining and informative segments that illustrate, for example, how we have all been led to believe the "death tax" should be abolished even though 1) it does not affect 99.86 percent of us, 2) you don't pay a penny under 5.3 million dollars and 3) the people who would pay the tax actually didn't earn it.

Here's the thing about this redistribution of wealth nonsense.  The rich pay a lower percentage of taxes than the poor and middle class.  They are able to hide wealth in tax shelters and have loopholes designed expressly in which to hide their wealth.  It is a gross falsehood that the poor do not pay taxes.  Here in South Carolina, food is taxed.  The inequities that persist in auto taxes in SC were documented in February in the Post and Courier:  the sales tax bill, regardless of the value of a vehicle cannot exceed $300, and then cars are assessed an annual property tax.  Each year I pay over $30 on my 2003 Mitsubishi, 180,000+ miles and counting.  Because legislators refuse to increase property taxes on the wealthy and stop giving away the store to corporations, we are forced to keep voting to raise the regressive sales tax to pay for needed improvements to our schools and libraries.

Our politicians have been schooled well in nurturing our ignorance and giving us a false sense that they are protecting our interests.  That is why we continue to elect those who promise to cut taxes and reduce government.  We see how government doesn't work, because the combination of giveaways to corporations and reduction in services becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy of bad government.

When opponents wake up to Bernie Sanders, and they will, socialism will come front and center as the dirty word of the 2016 campaign, and along with it the threat that the government is going to take the wealth away from all those hard-working job creators.  Don't let them get away with this nonsense.  Paying people a living wage, making sure that our children are well fed and educated, bringing our infrastructure, from electrical grids to the internet, into the 21st century, that is the job that government should be doing, and those who have gotten rich from our hard work should help finance it.

So this Halloween, when someone jumps out from behind the shrubbery and yells, "redistribution of wealth!" I plan on saying, "Oh, thank gods, I was afraid you were Donald Trump."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

September 1 -- Vote!

If special elections have a low turnout, it just makes sense that this is the time we can be heard.

September 1 -- next Tuesday -- is primary day for the special election for SC State Senator for District 45.  This is the seat that was vacated with the murder of Senator Clementa Pinckney.  There are eleven Democratic candidates and two republican candidates.  We need to 1) learn about who is running, 2) spread the word and 3) get out and vote.

But even before we do that, we need to find out if we live in Senate #45 and if we are registered to vote.  Not as hard as you might think.  Go to, plug in your name, county and date of birth, and voila! you will get all the info you need.  This site will tell you not only whether you are registered, but what legislative districts you are in, and your polling location.

That out of the way, good luck learning about all eleven Democratic candidates.  To that end, a couple of weeks ago I did some research and wrote a blog.  Not to blow my own horn, let me just say that this is the most minimal information you would want to use to make a decision.  But it is a start.

Go to Facebook and look up candidates, do a google search.  When you get a campaign call from an actual human, ask about the issues most important to you.  I have had a couple of callers talk to me about my most important issue, women's reproductive rights, and actually had a caller hang up on me when I asked my question.  This is THE time to let a candidate know what they need to do to represent you by telling THEM what they can do for you instead of listening to them roll out their talking points.

By the way, women's reproductive rights is my litmus test.  If in South Carolina a candidate can say outright that they support a woman's right to contraception and ABORTION (yes, say the word), I expect they will pretty much support voting rights, LGBT rights and workers rights.

After you have done a little research, I'm going to ask you all to spread the word.  Make people aware that this important election is going on.  Email, Facebook, text, telephone and bring it up when you see your friends, neighbors, co-workers.  It's our chance to talk about the issues.

This is why this election is so important:

In the upcoming legislative year, there will be bills promoting the freedom to carry guns everywhere.  On the program are bills allowing guns in colleges and universities, as well as public schools.  There are bills that would welcome those who carry guns in other states to come on in and bring your ammo.  There is an actual bill that would require schools to have a "2nd Amendment Week" celebrating our right to wave our guns around and ending in an essay competition on how carrying guns has guaranteed us our rights.

There will be about a zillion bills prohibiting women from exercising their right to contraceptive care and to decide to have an abortion, free of government interference.  The first effort will be to pass the ridiculous twenty week abortion ban.  That's the one that claims that at twenty weeks a fetus can feel pain, despite all medical and scientific evidence.  When that one gets through (and we do have some strong women's rights legislators that are fighting it, but only a few, and they need all the help and support they can get), it opens the door to bills that would ban abortions earlier, all the way to conception.  I guarantee there will be bills to defund Planned Parenthood, denying those of low income the gynecological care that they would otherwise be unable to afford.

On the other side are bills that would ensure voting rights, equality in employment and marriage rights, raise the gasoline tax to pay for improved roads and bridges, and improve our schools throughout the state.  We need voices to get expanded federal Medicaid dollars, and we need to make sure that no one in need is denied food and housing.

I will be writing again about a few of the candidates before I vote, but please mark your calendars, and spread the word about this critical special election primary.  With so few voting and so many candidates, we need to make the right choice.

I will end with the words that strike fear into the hearts of South Carolina Democrats:


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hearing Bernie

I was there last night, at the Charleston rally for Bernie Sanders.  His throat was raw from the schedule he's been on, but after a few minutes he got his voice back.  He is pure momentum, determined to tell us unequivocally where he stands.  And as far as I have been able to tell, he stands for what is right for democracy and for the American people on every issue.

His arguments are clear.  Unchecked greed has fueled the hate and divisiveness that has caused the hard-working middle class to turn against itself.  That fraction of a percent that owns this country has kept us focused on all the ways we are different from each other and makes sure that we feel threatened by those differences.  It works, because while we are fighting about race, abortion and sexuality, our rights are being stolen out from under us.  Our right to privacy, our right to health care, education and a living wage, our right to feel safe on the streets -- all being undermined so that the powerful can continue to control us.  It happened in Nazi Germany, hate and jealousy allowing a maniac total control.

Well, the crowd last night was energized.  Each person was not there just for their own interest, but for all of us.  It was more like what I once thought our country could be than I have seen in some time.  When I left, my heart was full.

As I left, I passed a couple of booths between the doors and the parking lot.  One sign said something to the effect of, "some things you should know about socialists."  A woman at the other booth asked me if I wanted a copy of The Militant.  At first I thought these were right-wingers attempting to rile up the crowd.  But it seems they were proponents of radical socialism.

In Charleston as well as across the nation, Black Lives Matter is an important group that hopefully will not let us forget that racism is alive and well and needs to be confronted.  As many times as it takes.

I hope that the activists, socialists, African Americans, and all the others, keep fighting for those whose rights are being denied, who live in fear and poverty, who are treated as though they are not real American citizens.  I hope that they fight the right battles, and oppose the real enemies.  While the riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention had legitimate purpose, it resulted in Richard Nixon in the White House.  We can't afford that, with Donald Trump and the rest of the republican line-up appealing to all those who have been fed hatred and fear since the shock of 9-11.

For those who care to know, socialism is neither communism nor fascism.  For others, they have been taught to respond to the word as though it is the ultimate evil.  People who are beginning to listen to Bernie Sanders with some interest should not be hit on the head with The Militant or facts about socialism.  And African-Americans should know that Bernie is about leveling the playing field for us all, and of course within that goal black lives will matter because they have been affected by hate more than most others of us.

So this is indeed an opportunity to be heard.  But it is also an opportunity to reach out to those who have been manipulated and isolated by the right-wing.  Bernie Sanders sees an America where the middle class works together instead of against each other, and where that middle class understands that helping those that are struggling will make all lives better.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood

More people seem to be upset about the Ashley Madison hack than about the edited videos being used to attack Planned Parenthood.  Chris Hayes was positively apoplectic in talking about the breach, because it was actually ruining lives.  In his defense, he tweets that this hack could just as easily have been one on confidential medical records, income tax returns or emails.

But why hasn't the attack on Planned Parenthood resulted in the same outrage?  Nikki Haley has expressed her outrage at the Ashley Madison hackers while vowing to begin an investigation of Planned Parenthood in South Carolina.  Not to be outdone, fellow idiot, Bobby Jindal, actually showed movies on a continuous loop outside of the governor's mansion of those abhorrent tapes.

But have you seen the video of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor denouncing yet another Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood? Nobody is playing that on a continuous loop.  I did not even hear it referred to on MSNBC; it might have aired at some point, but it surely didn't get the airtime of Donald Trump's latest attack of verbal diarrhea.

In Warren's speech, she gets right to the point:  our republican Congress has repeatedly attempted to shut down Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that government does not fund abortion services.  They have perpetuated lies and misdirection.  They have blocked unrelated bills by adding amendments to defund, and continue to threaten to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood is not defunded.

Meanwhile, small businesses like Stem Express are feeling the pressure of the intense publicity resulting from the bogus Center for Medical Progress films, and intensified by by House and Senate demands for them to appear before congressional committees.  They have essentially been forced to cut ties with Planned Parenthood in order to attempt to survive the assault.  Of course, the right-wing media is using this to further insinuate that it is Planned Parenthood's misbehavior that caused the rift.

The greatest difference between the Ashley Madison hack and the assault on Planned Parenthood is that the latter is based on lies, editing and misdirection.  Imagine, per Chris Hayes' tweet, that your income tax records were hacked, and then edited to show that you had broken the law in an egregious manner.  That is what is going on with the attack on Planned Parenthood.

It happened with ACORN, when a couple pretending to be applicants entrapped employees into making questionable statements.  Some of the same characters whose names have popped up egging on CMP provided the grist for the right-wing republican hate machine with the same dirty tactics.  Housing, voter fraud, abortion:  all red meat and headlines for the right-wing scam artists and the members of the echo chamber in Congress.

Here's the thing.  Next time you find yourself talking politics in a restaurant or at work, next time you send an email to a friend or post to Facebook, imagine that what you say is being taped or copied.  Imagine that at work there may be people who are listening to pick up anything you might say that could be heard as improper or inflammatory.

And how often does a friend, acquaintance, customer or stranger ask a leading question that you grudgingly answer in a way that you honestly don't believe rather than argue or be seen as different?  How often have you not responded to racist, anti-gay or misogynist comments in a way that made it absolutely clear that you disagree?  Imagine that this is being done in a planned and purposeful way.  On tape.  And then the tape is edited, further distorting what you just said.

That, friends, is the world we need to be worried about.  Whether it is Ashley Madison or Planned Parenthood, people are able and willing to expose us, for things we have done or not done, things we have said or haven't said, intentions we had or never did have.

That is why we need to bring the debate back to the lies.  Every time.  We need to keep asking the accusers, as did Elizabeth Warren, "Did you fall down and hit your head???"

Because it could happen to Bobby Jindal, as it did to Mitt Romney, as it did to those playing out their fantasies on Ashley Madison.  And just as those real faux pas can go viral, shit factories like the Center for Medical Progress can also crop up to "expose" right-wing groups.  I like to think that those on the left hold to higher standards than that, but, hey, it could happen.

That is why we all just might want to take another look at this new world of warfare.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Taking Down Planned Parenthood -- Know Your Enemy

The headline from two days ago on Politico was, "Human Tissue Firm Cuts Ties with Planned Parenthood after Videos."  The article also says that the company, Stem Express, is a small biomedical tissue procurement company, does a small amount of business with Planned Parenthood which follows clear and correct ethical guidelines.  The company announced its plan to end ties with PP after being questioned by no less than two congressional committees.

What we hear is a company distancing itself from a potentially bad actor.  What actually happened is a small firm was threatened with congressional inquiries and bad publicity and due to that pressure ended a small, legal and proper business relationship.  That's the part most of us don't hear.

In yesterday's blog, I mentioned the demolition of ACORN.  It turns out that there is more than a passing similarity between the two smear campaigns.  The Daily Beast describes decades' long attempts to attack Planned Parenthood with associates whose paths criss-cross in their nefarious schemes.  James O'Keefe, whose similarly twisted and edited videos took down ACORN, had also had a hand in planned videos with Planned Parenthood as the target.  The bad actor in the current assault is David Daleiden, head of the naturally ironically named Center for Medical Progress, who set up a fake biomedical research corporation as a cover to pose as buyers so that they could tape interviews with Planned Parenthood staff.

And then edited them.

What worked in taking down ACORN appears to be working with Planned Parenthood.  Members of Congress also hard at work investigating Hillary's emails have positively leaped at the opportunity to use false evidence obtained under false pretenses to poison the public and mount pressure to take down Planned Parenthood.  Yesterday I referred to killing the organization with the death by a thousand cuts.  Associates pressured by adverse publicity and backed to the wall by less-than-esteemed members of Congress forced to cut ties with PP.  Media showing over and over the doctored videos, burning the images into the minds of viewers.  And corrupt and evil organizations like the Center for Medical Progress spreading lies to serve its twisted objectives.

If you google Stem Express, that small company that has been caught in the crossfire, you will find along with the search results the following "reviews:"

"This company buys body parts and harvested organs from aborted babies."
"Late term abortions are illegal as well."

"This company it's officers and the company (Planned Parenthood) performing..."

When there are enemies that have spent much of their lives plotting against their warped idea of women's reproductive health services and services created to particularly help the poor, how do we fight back?  When the hate is so visceral and irrational, where does morality and truth get a foothold?  When our political leaders are either part of that rabid mob of bullies or on the other side cringing and hoping to bargain their way to peaceful coexistence, the odds of survival appear to be slim.

As I said yesterday, what it will take will be to be as loud and passionate, as uncompromising, as unrelenting as those who have chosen to be powerful by attacking women, attacking the poor, attacking by lying, and will not ever stop.

When this quote is featured in an article about the outrage over the allegations:
“Unborn babies are being tortured as they’re being sucked out of the woman’s body,” said protester Laurie Hertzberg.
it is hard to believe that we can shout loud enough to be heard.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Wrong Fight

Looking back on it, Obamacare was inevitable, because President Obama made it so.  Regardless of the hurdles, the absurdities of the Democrats, the rage of the Republicans and the dollars of the corporations, he was going to exert every ounce of his power and determination until the Affordable Care Act happened.

Likewise, I believe that at some point Planned Parenthood will be defunded.  Roe v. Wade has been red meat for stupid people since it happened in 1973; politicians and corporations have been tossing it to them knowing it would guarantee power.  It took little time to create the shorthand equating Planned Parenthood with abortion with baby-killing.

Until we want our reproductive freedom more than the crazy people want to deny us, we will continue to roll down that hill to the inevitable crash.

Because the fight is not about what is rational.  Whoever organized the surveillance, the editing and distorting of the tapes and the gradual and cleverly planned distribution over the internet and feeding of the media, knew that facts had nothing to do with their cause.  Just as the ACORN blitzkrieg was orchestrated during the 2008 election season, the Planned Parenthood demolition was scheduled for the current presidential election season.  Whether PP is taken down or not, all the buzz is about the nonchalance over killing babies, and the money scandal is just the topping (the ironic cherry if you will) on the icky mess.

We may have candidates like Bernie and Hillary that can win despite this mammoth publicity stunt, but Planned Parenthood will have to continue to fight until the day our not-so-mighty Congress glady (republican) or timidly (democrat) vote to defund.  Possibly even worse, Democrats will give in to budget cuts, destroying Planned Parenthood with a death by a thousand cuts.  Which has already begun.

When you Google Planned Parenthood, today the news headline is that "due to the increased questions" about PP, a major human tissue firm has cut ties.  After the Wikipedia entry and PP's own Stand with Planned Parenthood page comes "Planned Parenthood Exposed".  Then our own NPR, itself under constant siege, grabs readers with Ben Carson's accusation on for-god's-sake Fox News that Planned Parenthood is an attempt to control the poor black population.  Like he cares.  But if Fox News can play the "Fair and Balanced" game, so can NPR.

While Planned Parenthood is fighting for its life, and trying to fight while appearing not to lose its head, why are the rest of us debating this bullshit?  I've heard Democrats calmly talk about the indiscretion of the PP employees caught on the doctored tape, or wondering why opponents just don't understand the importance of fetal tissue in health research, or defending PP because of course they are not "selling" fetal tissue for profit.  And then there is the fact that abortion is a legal procedure, which at this point in our fragile existence is the staunches defense being presented.

Bullshit.  The reason the anti-abortion brigade is not swayed by reason is because this is not about reason.  Some holding the pitchforks are screaming "god" and "faith."  Others are outraged about tax dollars whether or not they are being used on abortions because, well, they are being used for poor people.  And then of course there are those who spit out "Planned Parenthood" the way they mutter "Obama."

Fact is, we should leave the rational arguments to Planned Parenthood.  What we should be fighting about is the sneaking, spying, lying and conniving being done to this organization.  If the government was doing it, it would be considered entrapment and thrown out.  But because it is not a government investigation which would theoretically have to follow rules of ethics, this campaign of deceit is allowed to proceed, unquestioned and unchecked, cheered on by right-wing politicians, to annihilate another lifeline to women.

And we can count on the media to lead with the headlines provided by this sleazy front, without wasting time or money to investigate this attack on this women's health care organization.

So we are left with nonsense, but nonsense filled with incendiary words and accusations that will be repeated throughout the coming year.  The threat of losing Planned Parenthood will be another of those battles we must waste time chasing rather than attacking the corporations that have bought our politicians and our country.

This fight is ugly.  There are no rules.  As long as we attempt to be reasonable we are going to slowly but inevitably lose.  We should be outraged.  Men should be outraged that their families are being assaulted.  Women should be in a fury over the attempt to control their bodies; the attempt to end Planned Parenthood is a symbol, because once that goes the battle to end not just abortion but birth control will proceed with full speed, the warriors vitalized.  And that tool Ben Carson has it half right:  it is about poor African Americans, but it is his side that is destroying their lives and livelihoods.  It is about women -- and men -- being unable to determine their financial security, to care for themselves and their families, to pursue college and career without fear of disruption.  It is about a woman not having to cower when she is attacked, but being able to fight back and take back control of her life.  It is about not having to hide in the shadows, living hand to mouth, and it is about not having to go back to the back-alley abortions, coat hangers and poisons of the days before Roe v. Wade.

It is about unlawful surveillance, it is about lying and misrepresentation, the weasels responsible for it and the media that repeats the lies.  We have let our legislators get away with proposing to invade our privacy at a time when those same legislators are defending the right to carry a gun without restriction.  We have been moving toward ever greater surveillance and threats to a woman's right to live in her body without interference while guns can be carried without fear of reprisal.

I am not going to be arguing about whether those conversations should have happened, doctored or not.  It is the surveillance and lying that should not have happened.  These are the crimes that should be investigated and prosecuted.

We lost ACORN and the enemies of our freedom said, "Job well done."  We may not lose Planned Parenthood right away.  Hillary may be defending it today.  But over time, when the screams and threats of the attackers get louder rather than subside, even Hillary will make concessions to the rage and the hatred.  Because it is scary and it doesn't stop.

I hope I am wrong, but I am not seeing the outrage and passion we need to win this war.  Our elected officials need to join us in getting as apoplectic about the invasion of privacy in affairs of women's reproduction as republicans throwing red meat out at those voyeurs who harass women in front of abortion clinics. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What Special Election???

I finally got a call on Thursday asking for my vote on September 1.  It's tough to think about this election because it is a reminder of the murder of state senator Clementa Pinckney.  But we owe it to Senator Pinckney, and ourselves, to get out and vote, and to vote for the best candidate.

The primary for State Senate District 45 is September 1, little more than three weeks away.  It appears that there are eleven democratic candidates running in the primary, according to Ballotpedia:

Chauncey Barnwell, whose Facebook page says that he is dedicated to "helping citizens create prosperity for themselves and their families."

William Bowman Jr. talks about "inclusion, ethical actions and transparency."  He spoke at Stop the Violence Day in Jasper County.

Sheree Darien says she is inspired to continue Senator Pinckney's work and would like to bring more funding to rural South Carolina.

Kent Fletcher ran for Senate seat 46 in 2008, and talked about fighting rampant development, and developing energy independence through renewable resources.  He was against the Wall Street bailout and would support more funding for education.  He was a Marine in Iraq.

Libbie Henry Green appears to have run for House 122 in 2008.  I was unable to find out anything about platform, positions or background.

Kenneth Hodges is SC House representative for District 121.  That means we have a voting record we can look at.  It indicates that Hodges has voted for improved sex education and against the hare-brained anti-abortion bills that have plagued our state legislature.  He has gotten high ratings by conservation groups and low ratings by Tea Party groups.

R. Keith Horton is a Ridgeland real estate broker.  I'll bet a better blogger than me could find more on him, but this is all I got.

Margie Bright Matthews is a Walterboro attorney who appears to have some support in the Democratic party.  I have inquired via her website as to her positions, and particularly on women's reproductive rights.  I'll let you know what I hear.

Richmond Truesdale, Jr. has little out there in the ether, other than he ran for this seat and lost resoundingly in 2008.

John Edward Washington is running in order to continue Senator Pinckney's legacy.  However, other than stating he will do what his constituents want, he does not specifically address any issues.  Senator Pinckney had a voting record and clear opinions on legislative issues.  I would hope that Washington would be more cognizant of those issues and Pinckney's positions.

Korey Williams.  I am so glad this is the last candidate, and I hope that it is not due to sheer exhaustion that I can't find anything on him.  Other than he is a defense, personal injury and family law attorney.  In my defense, that's all the P & C had on him as well.

I would welcome any additions and/or corrections to the above.  We need to have some discussion and debate about this election.

For me, issues of women's reproductive rights is key.  When I got the call from someone endorsing Kent Fletcher, I asked for his position on that issue.  When the woman I was talking to admitted she didn't know, I told her that I would base my vote on this issue.  I urged her to pass this message on to Mr. Fletcher.  Of course, those volunteers making calls rarely have the ear of the candidate, but if ever this were so, it would be now.

I also believe that anyone in South Carolina who will stand up for women's right to freedom and privacy in reproductive health care -- and yes, I did say "abortion rights" -- will stand up for pretty much all other democratic issues.  There is a reason why abortion has become a litmus test for candidates all the way up to the Supreme Court.

It is a shame that Charleston County Democratic Women is on summer hiatus.  But let's give this truly special election, and the candidates running for Senate seat 45 the attention it deserves. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

When a Cop Hurts One of Us

When I got back from my two weeks in the blue states, and as I slowly immersed myself back into bizarre red state politics, one of the strangest stories was that of Sandra Bland.  I saw the video of her stop, heard of her subsequent arrest, and then ... she was dead.  We appear to be debating whether her death was suicide or not.  I keep coming back to how on earth a police officer could treat a citizen the way Brian Encinia did to Sandra Bland.

I have lots of feelings about officers of the law, going back to being a teen in Warwick, Rhode Island, in the late 60's.  Back then they were shining lights into the car while we were "parking."  And I learned very early in my driving career to be more alert for cop cars than for speed limit and stop signs.  To this day when a cop is driving behind me I go into high alert, worried that even though I am going the speed limit I might get stopped if I venture one or two miles faster, or for something else entirely.

And I am a white-haired white woman.

I can't fathom being stopped for a minor traffic violation and having my attitude questioned.  Or being told to put out a cigarette, in my own car.  I can't begin to imagine having to worry about being taken to jail for minor violations.

I think when all the cop on black killings began to be aired after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson we all just assumed it had been black men than were being targeted.  Initially it appeared that it was police reacting to what might have been honestly perceived as a dangerous situation, but when a man was shot in South Carolina after reaching for his license during a stop for a seat belt violation, the racism inherent in the choices being made by police became obvious.

Then a group of black teens -- children -- were assaulted by police at a pool party.  We've seen the bits on the news, the "most hilarious" moment when the cop has his Bruce Willis moment.  But take seven minutes to watch the unedited youtube video to capture the horrific reality of what raising a black child in America is all about.  It brings me to tears imagining that there are children in this country that could be treated that way.  

Because I am a white-haired white woman, I tend to be treated with respect by police officers in Charleston, even when I have been speeding.  And when I stepped out of my car to get my pocketbook in the back seat.  I have even had an officer stop and change a flat tire for me.  But I do remember that there was a time back in the 60's when cops were the enemies.  I was a teen in a RI suburb, but as I got a few years older, and became interested in the Vietnam protests and saw the paranoia of the Nixon years, I became aware of the potential for violence in our police force.

So many years ago, and in all that time, violence has continued to be perpetrated against African Americans by cops.  It must be so ingrained in the structure of the police force that even video cameras can't prevent the violence.

There has been such a history of police violence in our country.  It runs so deep and has been so well-protected that I am cynical about the potential for change.  If videos don't stop the violence and grand juries side with the cops, if a woman can be ordered to put out her cigarette in her own car and be arrested, if black men continue to be shot for totally innocent and reasonable behavior, if there are cops who will segregate children by their skin color and treat them as dangerous criminals, if there are police that will unite to protect fellow officers regardless of their behavior, what is there to do?

I imagine that much of it rests with the media.  There hasn't been all that much attention to Sandra Bland.  I don't know if it would be more upsetting if this were true because she is a woman or because the media has gotten tired of spending weeks focused on extreme police misconduct.  Maybe she would be getting more attention if she had been shot on the scene.  We may never know whether there was foul play in prison or if she committed suicide.  I suspect that the arresting cop was attempting to find her emotionally unstable from the moment she questioned his motives.  Calling women hysterical when they question authority has been going on since the Victorian era.  And with the likelihood of publicity, I imagine each cop who oversteps begins to try to figure out justifications for his behaviors at the very scene of his crime.  You could see this playing out as the various police yelled at the black kids at the pool party.

We need to keep shining light on these incidents.  We need to hound the media to continue to focus on all these many crimes against civilians.  With enough pressure and publicity, some towns have begun to change their policies.  It will take changing hiring practices and training and supervisory techniques.  It will take towns whose police chiefs see their officers as part of the community rather than seeing the people in the community as enemies.  It will take a whole realignment of the perception of when violence is necessary, and that realignment is in learning to see and hear what is really going on and truly become peace officers, cops who calm a situation rather than create fear.

When a cop attacks a black child, or an innocent black man or woman, he is attacking the world we live in.  He is creating disharmony, fear and hatred.  He is making it harder for good cops to do their job.  We need to continue to turn the attention of the country to each incident, even as they pile up and because there are so many, until there are no acceptable excuses and the face of the police in America has changed.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Why We Hate Our Government

I came back from my two-week hiatus from red state ignorance to a letter from Federal Blue Cross (FEP).  In a letter addressed to my deceased husband at my address, at which he never lived, I (he) was told that the Office of Personnel Management had instructed Blue Cross to terminate his family health insurance effective 11/16/14, which happens to be the day of his death.

We have all had frustrating experiences with the federal government.  There was the time when I lived in New York and an IRS error resulted in not getting the refund I was due.  After a couple of YEARS of trying to get this resolved, a letter to Al D'Amato (for-god's-sake) resulted finally in a speedy resolution.  Which could have happened far sooner and without political intervention if contacting the IRS had not at the time been like falling into a bottomless pit.

There was another time when the IRS billed me for back taxes and their punitive and insane interest and penalties for a couple thousand dollars of income I had earned as a psychology intern.  That time it took a favor from a lawyer for whom my neighbor worked; a brief phone call in which he explained that the stipend was tantamount to "coffee money" and should never have been taxable income quickly fixed the problem.

Not to overly dump on the IRS, as a psychologist I was one of the very few in Suffolk County, Long Island, that accepted Medicaid.  At a time when the going rate for therapy was $80 - $100 per 45 minute hour, Medicaid was paying $20 for sixty minute hours.  And that alone would not have been enough to cause me to finally end my relationship with Medicaid.  Claims were routinely lost and payments not made, calls took endless tries to complete and ended with a demand that I resubmit and wait another month for payment.  And the threat that at any time all my confidential records could be audited finally sunk the boat.  In the end, I chose to use a sliding fee scale of sorts for low income clients, $5 for a 45 minute session rather than Medicaid's $20 for sixty and all-the-grief-you-could-stomach.  Most others just chose not to accept Medicaid or lower their fees.

Each of us has a story of government bureaucracy, and this one is currently eating away at me.  So let me share it with you.

My husband died in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in November.  On Monday I made my first attempt to contact the Office of Personnel Management to apply for survivor benefits.  After a number of attempts met with a busy signal, I assumed it was a Monday morning thing and instead called Blue Cross.  The BC FEP representative told me I was entitled to benefits through November (which Stephan had already paid for) plus an additional 31 days of coverage at no cost.  Remember that.

What I learned on Tuesday about OPM (lesson 1) is that the busy signal wasn't a Monday morning thing.  It takes something like a half hour of calling and getting a busy signal before you get through.  It's like calling a radio station to win a prize.  Except that when you do get through you receive an automated message telling you there is a half hour wait.

When I reached a human, I reported my husband's death and my request to apply for survivor benefits.  I also told her about my plan to terminate BC FEP on December 31 when my 31 days of coverage was up.  She told me she would send me an application for survivor benefits and when they received it I would be switched to a self-only health insurance plan.  Which retrospectively made no sense.  But which led to lesson 2:  OPM representatives don't listen to a word you tell them.  The assumption is that they've heard it all before, they know what you want, and they are going to give it to you, regardless of your actual verbalizations.

Except that they don't.  Lesson 3 is that OPM loses more information than they eventually have on you.  And they appear to keep no record of your calls, request, and frequently, your paperwork.


After several calls spaced weeks apart to give them time to access whatever they needed to access, a kind representative offered to expedite my application process, meaning the process wherein THEY SEND ME THE APPLICATION.  Then another wait and another call to find that they had not yet received my application and it may take another month.

When they did finally receive and process my application -- and I actually have this piece of paper in my records although I have no recollection of receiving it -- someone at OPM filled out a form authorizing Blue Cross FEP to continue to provide me with coverage that I did not want, and authorizing monthly payment to Blue Cross from my survivor benefit.  That, folks, left me with a $17 per month benefit.  It also left me paying insurance on two plans, as I had applied for and was receiving insurance through the marketplace effective January 1.

My next call was to someone who was sympathetic and assured me that she would immediately put in the request that my health benefits be canceled effected January 1, and assured me that I would receive the amount paid to BC retroactively.  Except that didn't happen either.  The following month, I received a $17 monthly benefit, minus the insurance payment of $198.

Yet another call to OPM, after 1/2 hour on hold, ended with the call getting disconnected the moment I reached a human.  Hours later, the person I finally talked to snapped at me.  Truly.  She told me brusquely that I was getting the coverage because I had failed to fill out the Request to Terminate Coverage Form.  Of course; why didn't I know that?  So she sent me the form, and I immediately sent it back.  I called three weeks later, only to find...

...well, you all know what happened.  They hadn't received the form.  But maybe they have a way of knowing when an applicant has reached her wit's end.  Because I was given a fax number and told to send in a statement saying this was the 2nd notice, and that I was requesting my health benefits to end on 11/17/14.  After giving this a little thought, and knowing what I know knew about OPM, I changed the wording to request the termination effective 1/1/15.

On May 1, I received the full amount of my benefit, plus retroactive payments.

But wait -- you know that wasn't the end of the story.  My deceased husband has just been informed that some idiot at OPM has instructed Blue Cross to terminate his coverage, including the month he paid for before he died, on November 16, 2014.  And they are going after him for any claims they paid out during that time.

I do not believe there is anyone at OPM that can help me.  I do believe that I am going to be held liable, once OPM lets BC know Stephan is deceased but does not authorize coverage as stated by the plan.  My own House Rep. Jim Clyburn has never responded to an email, so I doubt that he would start now.  Tim Scott or Lindsey Graham might do it, but only if they could then crow about how bad the federal government is and demand further cuts.  I tried months ago to find a pro bono lawyer in the state or county offices for senior services, but -- surprise -- no luck.

Now I'll stop whining and tell you why this happens.  The federal government and certain departments are being starved for funds, in the expectation that we the people will be furious and vulnerable to idiots like the Tea Party.  This is simplistic and the problem goes back farther than Ted Cruz.

But think about it:  a department gets lots of funding when it seems to be a good idea.  Lots of people get hired, the public uses its services to the point where it needs to expand.  And then the group that is not in power starts to yell that the government isn't working right and demands cuts to that department.  People in lower levels of government (the ones that deal with us) don't lose their jobs but those with better options leave, technology upgrades don't happen, offices become shabby, workers feel attacked and in fact, they are.  They are not rewarded for good service, and unofficial rewards, like employee holiday parties, are publicized, denounced, then banned.  Supervisors are likewise under the gun and if not already burned out, burn out.  Old workers do what they have to to get by, young workers aren't hired as needed.  When they are hired, they find themselves in an environment that is depressing with work that is repetitive and unrewarding, and are burdened with stupid employee evaluations and unnecessary paperwork.

As with the backlog of veterans seeking health care, most departments in the government that directly serve the people are underfunded, with too few employees and incredibly outdated technology.  Supervisors are neither trained nor encouraged to make jobs easier or more pleasant for their employees.  They continue to require that i's are dotted and t's crossed, by hand and thousands of times over.

Except for the woman who snapped at me because I hadn't filled out a form that nobody told me I needed to fill out, I don't blame the OPM workers.  When government services are seen to be important, and government employees are treated with respect and also given reasonable tasks, departments like the Veterans Administration and the Office of Personnel Management will run more efficiently.  People will get what they need with far less waste of time and resources.

But then again, we will value government, see our tax dollars as wisely spent, and continue to vote for progressive democrats who will continue to promote and establish good government.

But meanwhile, I need to go back to writing another letter to OPM that will fall into that black hole.

*I have recently changed the Comments section of my blog so that it should be easier to post comments.  I would like to invite you to briefly share your stories of frustrations with government (ha ha -- "briefly").