Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Ironic Cherry Reads...

...Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

This latest by Grisham is a great read, action packed and full of legal insight, expertise and irreverence.  It is a book of interconnected stories in the life of a defense lawyer who lives out of his van, in the image of Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer, but with Grisham's own unique voice and spin.

If Grisham is not to your taste, or you don't have time for the whole novel, do make time to read the chapter entitled, "Warrior Cops."  It begins with a SWAT team home invasion, wherein, misinformed, they break into the home of a law-abiding retired couple.  The writing is great but, more important, Grisham gets the details right.

If you google, as I just did, "SWAT wrong house," you will be treated to a nightmare list of bad raids, and headlines such as "SWAT Team Raids Wrong House Holding Mother and Child at Gunpoint."  That one was dated August 15, 2015.  Pets are frequent fatalities, as in the June, 2015, raid which occurred due to nonpayment of a gas bill.  South Carolina made the news in 2013 when a SWAT team raided a low stakes poker game hosted by a 72-year-old man, resulting in a 20-minute shootout.

Grisham also paints a picture of laws that are designed to protect the police for their mistakes, recklessness, and overreach, and that criminalize innocent citizens who attempt to defend themselves from these sudden and terrifying invasions of their own homes.

We need to have serious discussions about the amount of force being used as it relates to the severity of the crime.  We also need to hold our police responsible for harm caused due to negligence and excessive force.  Over the years since SWAT teams began they became glamorized, and free federal tanks and assault weapons gave arms to small communities that had no need of such a show of power.  Small forces in typically peaceable towns with little violent crime can't and shouldn't be trained in paramilitary tactics.  When you have tanks, assault weapons and flashbang grenades it is human nature to start to look at the community you are policing differently.  It is indeed a matter of, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

It is time to look at the risk to innocent citizens by armed SWAT teams and the increased incidence of fatal error caused by police that are over-armed and under-trained.

Because we respect our police and want to keep them safe, we have allowed their safety to become more important than that of the citizens they are charged with protecting.  There needs to be a balance.  The laws need to reflect this.

And John Grisham does a fine job of dramatizing the problem.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Seniors, Tighten Your Belts (Again)

Once again, the republicans in Congress have decided that those who are trying to eke out a subsistence have got to try a little harder.  Just as Nikki Haley will give away millions to big corporations but wants to make sure each struggling artist or eBay seller pays taxes on their labors, the US Congress is determined not to let anyone who is not a millionaire catch a break.

Hence the decision to withhold the annual COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) to seniors and veterans.  Their rationale is the decline in the price of gas.  So if you have been able to catch some relief at the gas pumps, our republican Uncle Scrooges are going to make sure we make up for it elsewhere.

The formula they use is based on the cost of living for a portion of the general public, not seniors, who are spend less money on gas than the public as a whole.  What they will be spending more money on in these years of extreme heat and extreme cold is heating fuel and electricity.  They will spend more money on medical bills (The affordable care available through Obamacare is NOT available to those 66 and over; Medicare may once have been affordable, but republicans have been chipping away at those benefits for decades.).  Those who have a car will see car insurance increase and will pay for costly repairs on older cars; housing -- insurance, maintenance, rental costs -- none of those are going down.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to allow corporations to deduct raises for CEO pay in an egregious tax loophole.  CEO's with an annual income of $16 million on average will be seeing raises of 3.9% this year, and those raises will be subsidized by the taxpayer.

Elizabeth Warren explains this large piece of legislative hypocrisy far better than I could:

This is why Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are cosponsoring a bill that would close that corporate loophole, and use the tax income derived from it for a one-time payout to social security recipients and veterans to cover what they would have gotten from a COLA.

The problem, of course, is that our republican Congress, squealing over government waste and entitlements, is unlikely to pass a bill that would close a loophole for their corporate constituents.  But we can let them know we know what they are up to.  We can make our voices heard and insist that they pass this Senate bill.  We can let our friends, families and coworkers know that seniors are struggling without a COLA this year while CEO millionaires and billionaires are getting a tax-deductible raise.

We can write and call our legislators, Graham and Scott.  We can write letters to the editor telling our legislators to stop cutting senior and veterans benefits while pandering to wealthy CEO's.  We can tell them to support the SAVE Benefits Act.

Let's make it hard for them to ignore us.  And let's also let their hypocrisy be known.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Beating Mark Sanford

You may remember state representative Jenny Horne from the passionate speech she gave after the Charleston shooting in which she pressed her fellow House members to vote to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.

I am happy to say that she plans to announce that she will run for the US House of Representatives, challenging good ole boy and dirtbag Mark Sanford.  Sanford, despite being a mediocre and not well liked governor, even after abandoning his post as governor for an illicit dalliance without informing staff -- or family -- of his whereabouts, was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2013.

Sanford is entertaining, true, but that he should be the only option on the republican side has even made South Carolina republicans turn up their noses.  Jenny Horne's primary challenge should be a welcome relief.

Here on the other side of the aisle, I read a few days ago that Elizabeth Colbert-Busch might step up to run as the "Democrat" against Sanford.  You may recall that she ran as a "Democrat" in 2013 against Sanford.  The quotation marks are because, although she had many good plans for education and business, she performed the SC two-step to avoid entirely issues that might get the other side riled up, like women's rights.  She actually had a 9-point lead in the polls soon before the election, despite a push poll alluding that she had had an abortion.  Some of us wonder about where that lead went, and assume that there well might have been some voting booth irregularities going on.

Mark Sanford, a stupid man who nonetheless is astute in advertising, chose to ignore Colbert Busch, at one point "debating" a poster of the evil Nancy Pelosi on the sidewalk outside MUSC.  In the actual debate there is a moment that I think sums up the contest. Colbert Busch finally got around to mentioning Sanford's going AWOL, which he pretended not to hear and then proceeded to talk past.  And when I think of Colbert Busch at the debate, all that comes to mind is, who on earth convinced her to wear that dowdy dress?

Which brings me to her stand on women's issues, which is basically, let's not talk about it.  She might have been a strong, intelligent woman who fought for issues that have been neglected too long in South Carolina; instead, she did the dance of the southern Democrats, the one where you try not to upset the other side and hope they might not notice.

Such a disappointment.

If this time around Colbert Busch decided, what the hell, let me run as a Democrat, she might prove a real challenge to Horne.  Because, while Horne has been on the right side of important issues like taking down the Confederate flag and even updating sex education in the schools, she has voted for the pending bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks, as well as the bill that became law allowing guns in bars and restaurants.

I doubt that there will be that kind of contest.  If Colbert Busch decides to run, it is unlikely that she would say anything controversial.  She would bring little new to the race, and the same people who stayed away in 2013 will stay away in 2016:  young women, African Americans, Latinos, members of the LGBT community.  She would not be a new voice, merely an opponent echoing those same safe issues:  I'm good for business, I will improve the schools.  Not even a choice here in SC.  If you are running as a women who won't pose a threat to the status quo, they will eat you alive.

I hope I am wrong.  I would love to see a strong Colbert Busch, a woman who would really represent all the people who have been ignored here in SC for too long.  I would love to see her speak out for the rights of those many who are underserved, low income workers, people without health care, students who go to school in impoverished areas, women whose bodies continue to be on the auction block at every vote and every election.

So I guess we'll see.  To say Horne is an improvement over Sanford, well, that's an understatement.  But wouldn't it be swell if a Democrat got up and argued for all of us, and maybe didn't win, but gave Jenny some food for thought on some of those issues.  Of course, she has to beat Sanford first, and in that endeavor I am fully behind her.