Thursday, December 20, 2012

Your Opinion: Clean Water and Air is for ALL Seasons.

From: Michelle McDonald of Trussville




For years I have read comments and watched the verbal attacks on those who try to protect our natural resources so we may have clean air to breathe and water to drink.They have been called no growthers, tree hugging liberals, and other unjust monikers.These clean water and air advocates are not making mega bucks to do their jobs, they are not living in mc-mansions and more often than not bravely take the arrows the business community and politicians sling their way. These advocates are working to preserve our natural resources because they have a passion and responsibility to all who drink water and breathe air – which is you, me and all MANKIND.
Most every beverage one drinks contains water.I challenge you to count how many bottles or glasses of water you drink or purchase in just a week’s time.I am sure you take fresh water to your jobsite to ensure you do not get overheated when working. Or perhaps you take it for a jog or provide it when your children are playing sports. When you go outside you never consider what you may be putting into your body with each breath you take.You assume the air you are breathing is clean.
The importance of clean water can be traced all the way back to biblical times.Remember Jesus uses water and fish to feed the multitudes. Do you think he took these resources for granted as we do today? Would he have deliberately offered dirty water or contaminated fish to his followers? Do you think he would call those who work to protect our resources fools and or call them names? Do you think Jesus would say money is always the most important aspect of anything we encounter? It has been said people can live off bread and water. In some third world countries they pray each day for just this simple life sustaining gift.
Life should not always be about what we can get, it's about what we can give.Water is for all seasons and we should give thanks for the warriors and advocates who work daily to preserve these precious natural resources for us to give to our children and future generations.Consider this, it does not matter how much money you have, if you do not have water to drink you cease to exist and all that money/greed and name calling will not have made a bit of difference.What would Jesus do?He put us on this earth to be good stewards of what He created.Thank you to the people who work selflessly on our behalf to make sure we honor what God created and we so often take for granted.
-Michelle McDonald

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

To Tell the Tooth


by Jim Reed

My late Dad made this funny sound with his teeth after every meal, thfttt! It was annoying and funny and, ultimately, quite meaningful. Ask me to send you the story.

I used to write a column for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Dental School, called, “To Tell the Tooth” (actually, the final name was “The Wisdom Tooth,” but I always liked this one better). This was way before you were conscious (in the early 1970s). It was a Q&A column in the Birmingham News. Since apparently no-one ever read it, I didn’t receive any Qs, so I made up the questions myself, then conferred with dental faculty to provide answers.

Toothpicks are a way of life in my South, so they provide great spectator sport. My brother Tim and I used to love watching poofed-hair women at Red Lobster pick up toothpicks at the cash register and walk out making our Dad’s sound. Sometimes, to make gentle fun of them, we’d stick five or six picks between our teeth and make a great show of sauntering out, pretending to be the good ol’ boys we never were. thfttt!

Almost everyone lies to dental hygienists about how often flossing occurs. I like Jay Leno’s approach. Right before his teeth-cleansing session, he eats a couple of Oreo cookies. He would have enjoyed my and Tim’s company, had he been our buddy back in the day.

I used to be a Mad Man (a public relations practitioner) forty years ago. First thing I learned was how to show more teeth than I could possibly possess, when smiling at clients. We had to act nice all the time. I still wish that just once, I’d had the courage to stuff my mouth with Oreos before one of my client meetings.

The most excruciatingly painful fun I ever had was having my teeth worked on by dental students—it was cheap but time-consuming, since each step of the process had to be double-checked by dental faculty. Way back then, I lay there, a prisoner of the torture chair, mouth filled with gauze and cotton, observing the students’ gaffs. One self-confident student would carefully wash his hands, then poke them in his pocket, rattling change and keys, while he tried to figure out what to do next. Then, he’d wipe his nose, run fingers through hair, cough into his hands and jam them into my mouth. My gutteral protests were never heard…Besides, I wanted to make no enemies, since I’d be seeing him and his fellow students several more times.

As a kid, the scariest thing I ever read about teeth was a passage in the book Diary of an Unknown Aviator. It described how the earliest parachutists (imagine being the first person ever to use a parachute!) learned their skills. It was important to be able to find the ripcord instinctively, once you leapt from the plane. Someone suggested that no matter how dark it is, no matter how stressed or disoriented you are, you can always find your mouth with your hand…thus jumpers would bite down on the ripcord, confident that at the right time, they’d be able to grab the cord and make a safe landing. What they had not anticipated was the missing teeth that resulted.

The most honest observation I ever heard about teeth came from my then-early-teen daughter Margaret, after she and her friend Jessica returned from their first trip to the Alabama State Fair: “Dad, I’ve never seen so many toothless people!”

Assuming that you and I can only deal with so much tooth at one time, I’ll stop here and urge my Muse to take a nap. If she doesn’t obey, I’ll get her back by writing a story about how she takes her teeth out just before each naptime.

Listen at: http://www.jimreedbooks.com/mp3/totellthetooth.mp3

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Confessions of the Last Liberal

by Carl Beck Sachs


At last, my fellow citizens, rejoice and step out into the crisp air barely warmed by the autumnal sun, for our long national nightmare is over: the 2012 election is now over and done.  Though the wounds incurred to the national psyche by the last two years continue to ooze pus of resentment, there are bigger fish to fry. And by “bigger fish” I mean some highly opinionated, totally biased, and of course completely objective ruminations.

Post-2012 election assessment: ah, what a strange time to be alive, when privileged, erotically disrupted white men are finally revealed to be the whining, petulant, and entitled minority they’ve always accused other groups of being. To them I say, “Welcome to the 21st century, assholes, hope you enjoy your stay.” And they accuse us of being “special-interest groups”?  To hear their side of it, one might almost get the impression that non-whites, non-straights, non-Christians and women are treated like second-class citizens. Ok, so much for the low-hanging fruit; a few other remarks, in no particular order.

Demographics: The much-touted “red state/blue state” (one state, two state) jargon is slowly easing up, as better data visualizations reveal what everyone ought to pretty much know already: that Democrats and Republicans, like most Americans, live everywhere.  Exit polling data at the county-level shows that there are considerable pockets of conservative voters in “blue” states and considerable pockets of liberal voters in “red” states, i.e. We Are Already Among You.  Apart from that, it seems that Obama (surprise, surprise) did pretty well assembling a broad-based, multi-racial coalition and Romney (surprise, surprise) did not. Obama also did quite well among voters between 18 and 29, garnering 60% of their vote, suggesting that kids are either gullible and easily manipulated, or the opposite. But what really interests me is the rural/urban split: that Obama did extremely well in pretty much every city (including Birmingham), whereas Romney did well in the more rural parts of the country. The red/blue dichotomy is really a rural/urban continuum, with suburbs and exurbs falling out in different ways in different places. Why this is, is an interesting question, on which I shall offer only the flimsiest of hypotheses: that urban life is less amenable to the rampant xenophobia upon which the far-right echo-chamber feeds.

Campaigning: Conceivably, Obama won because he ran a better campaign than Romney did. As Mario Cuomo once put it, “politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose,” and Obama is very likely one of the finest orators of our time. Both campaigns were noticeably short on substance, with major issue after major issue being tabled before, during, and after the presidential non-debates. My sense of the situation is that it’s not that the Democrats did anything particularly good or right, but that the Republicans seemed unable to stop shooting themselves in the foot.  The problem with shooting yourself in the foot is that, afterwards, you’ve got a hole in your foot.  Romney seemed unable to convey much genuine human emotion, because he spent so much energy tailoring his personality to whatever audience he was speaking to at a time. Of the Tea Party and their inability to stop talking about how women should be shamed for having sex, the less said, the better.

Voter Turnout: 50.6% of the popular vote is not exactly a mandate, as such things are reckoned.  With voter turnout at 57.7% of “eligible voters” (itself a significant category, if one considers the injustice of disenfranchisement laws), just under one-third of all votes cast by eligible voters. This is not to undermine the legitimacy of his victory, since most recent presidents have governed perfectly well with a similar margin. However, low voter turnout does reveal a more serious problem concealed amongst the tattered remains of American “democracy”: that so many people have lost faith in it.

Does Either Party Have Much a Future?  Since 2008, the Republicans have had a single goal: to prevent Obama from being re-elected. To that end they have done everything within their considerable power to prevent him from succeeding. And in that fanatical pursuit of that single goal, they failed. And that means that the Republican party is done. That they weren’t able to accomplish this task—with all their fear-mongering, obstructionism, conspiracy-theorizing, and transparent lies —means that they’ve got nothing.  Certainly the Republican Party will continue to be a major political force in the South, as the Know-Nothings once were (were!) in the Northeast.  But it has moved so far to the right that I simply cannot see how it can govern at a national level. It will be a strong regional party for a long time, and of course continue to have a lot of power in the House, but I have to say, I don’t see control of the Senate or the Presidency shifting back to the GOP within the next ten or so years, if it doesn’t do some serious house-cleaning and soul-searching.  And that would be a disaster for the country, because our political discourse is nurtured by the respectful exchange of ideas.

Thus, one might conclude that this is a good time to be a Democrat, but if it is a good time to be a Democrat, it is not a good time to be liberal. The most serious issues that we face as a society—unchecked and permanent war, climate change, massive economic inequality, an unsustainable ‘bubble’ in higher education, and a general inability to recognize that “the dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present”—will not change because an African-American man was re-elected to the highest office in the land.  If anything, I suspect that they will change, if at all, only because of political pressure coming from the left, from the Occupy movements and those aligned with them. We will not see, within the political system, anything like respect for the rule of international law, the safeguarding of civil liberties, the protection of unions and worker’s rights, strengthening of the social-safety net, environmentally responsible policies that are strictly enforced, strong financial regulation, and the refusal to engage in unjust war.  For those of us who, like myself, have grown up as “liberals,” hoping that such ideals could be realized within the political system, we may be the last of our kind. Obama’s victory, however laudable and worth celebrating, does little, if anything, to change that.

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Apology to the President of the United States of America


Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you in regard to certain actions taken just now by certain citizens here in the State of Alabama. It seems they have joined citizens in more than thirty other states in “peacefully” requesting your permission to secede from The United States of America. While I assume they know that this is largely a symbolic request—you’d never grant such an absurdity—I feel compelled to speak on behalf of those of us who regard this as a more serious matter.

What is being proposed here is that these individual states be allowed to legally separate from the Union and form their own sovereign governments. This is no doubt due to the fact that the policies enacted into law over the past four years are seen as so egregious as to be unbearable for some. If asked, I imagine many of these seditionists would say that Obamacare, certain executive orders regarding immigration (etc.), and (misperceptions of) current and past events warrant their stance.

Amongst many in my state, you are somehow seen to be “other” than what our traditional Presidents have been. You have an Arab name, are non-Caucasian, and advocate for progressive policies that the right-wing entertainment media complex has convinced them are “socialist” or “Marxist.” While I am certain that the first two of these descriptions of you are quite accurate, the third is definitely not.

For me personally, I love the reforms that are provided in the Affordable Care Act—no pre-conditions, no caps on benefits, premium rebates if my insurer doesn’t spend enough of my dollars on actual healthcare, and the coming exchanges—and there is nothing at all socialist about any of that. And I love that you refocused our efforts against radical Islamist militants on the militants themselves, not on your predecessor’s policy of nation building in Arab lands. I love that you rescued America from falling right off the economic cliff into a depression in 2009—something that your opponent in that election stated he would not have done. I love that you established the Consumer Protection Agency, disabling much of the abuse that banks and credit card companies routinely inflict on us. I love that you are proposing a balanced approach of increased revenue plus cuts to solve our growing fiscal problem. I love that you are proposing reasonable adjustments to Social Security and Medicare, instead of the Draconian ones your opponents in this recent election were proposing. I love that you instituted some regulation on Wall Street and the banks, making it much more difficult for them to gamble with America’s wealth and collapse the economy again. I love that you are in favor of all Americans having the same rights to marry, or to worship (or not worship) as they choose. I especially love that you regard war as an absolute last option, ensuring that the very brave men and women in our military are put in harm’s way only in the most critically necessary of circumstances.

If you were to grant secession to my state, I have no doubt I would lose a great many things that I do not wish to lose—federal interstate roadways, clean air and water, the protection of the U.S. military, the Medicare and Social Security that I have long paid into, legal equality of all races and genders, federal regulation of an increasingly narcissistic business community, FEMA help for our fairly frequent natural disasters, and other federal benefits too numerous to mention.

But many of my state’s residents don’t see any of these benefits that have been guaranteed to them by your presidency and the Constitution. They are ill-informed, and/or misinformed by such right-wing extremists bearing the names of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Drudge, Breitbart, and others. The venom spewed by these types is believed by hordes of my state’s residents, either because they are severely uninformed or because a long-entrenched popular ideology disposes them to do so—an ideology that renders them nostalgic for supposed earlier and better times when white people were dominant and the public square was mostly inhabited by “Christianity.” Many believe that you favor a dependent society where “free stuff” is the order of the day and they are the ones paying for it—despite the fact that you have praised individual initiative and reject helping those who will not help themselves (in fact, your own story is the epitome of individual achievement). And despite the fact that requirements to access entitlement benefits remain unchanged from your predecessor’s administration.

Much of this is driven by both racial/cultural biases and by fundamentalist religious ideology. But I also believe that the populist neo-libertarianism that has recently sprung up is the result of misperceptions by many about their perceived loss of liberty. When I ask such Alabamians which liberties they have lost, they really can’t name any.

So, Mr. President, please don’t grant this absurd and insurrectionist request to secede from these great United States—not that you would anyway (e.g., The Constitution provides no legal path to secession for any state)—because 4 out of 10 of us here in Alabama believe you are doing a very good job of navigating us through some fairly difficult times. And because we believe that secession would permit those who are running this state to immediately thrust us back into the 19th century, when only the privileged could enjoy a chance at living a prosperous life. This is not speculation, as the powers in Montgomery have already passed racist and economy-harming bills like HB 56 (which, thank Heaven, the Supreme Court mostly struck down), our attorney general joined with other states to have the Affordable Care Act struck down, and of course most recently certain citizens have submitted this un-American request to secede.

So I apologize for my state, and want you to know that many of us here in the Deep South believe that you have done an excellent job, and are optimistic that the next four years will bring us even more reasons to be glad that the recent election turned out the way it did.

Sincerely, and with great respect,
Jim Hoffine
Birmingham, AL (11-12-12)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Nation Threatens Nude Streak in Wake of Election Results

by Sean Hogan
Photo by ben [deleted] via Wikimedia Commons
If there is one thing watching the horrid performance art of politics (and a few dozen shots of gin) have thought me, it's that rhetoric is always apocalyptic. Most will tell you that there hasn't been an election like this in a long time. And that the steaks of this political duke-out are so high they make Johnny Wadd’s wad look like an infant on a cold day. And, when you consider, in your writer's humble ego-centric opinion, the poor choices we are presented this year I might almost believe them. At least I would if I didn't recall how the TV screens, like quadrennial clockwork, informed me in various ways that the election of two-thousand and blank could be the most important election before Americans. It seems that ever since Terrorism reared its ugly head (and perhaps before that) we've been trying to out-do ourselves in how serious the consequences for electing our national buffoo— I mean leader, is.
And during all this, we, the uninformed masses, hoop, holler and fling feces before, during and after watching election coverage. Blinded by the light, and revved up like a douchebag. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green-Partiers, Tea-Partiers, Anarchists and even them Commies all agree on one thing: if their candidate doesn't win the 2004— I mean 2008— wait, no… 2012 election then the country will simply fall apart. The terrorists will fill their turbans with even more firecrackers, the economy will crash (again), rich people and corporations will take everybody's money (again), the government will invade your privacy and take away your rights (again), anarchists will over-throw the government with spite-wads, Gay people might threaten marriage worse than actual marriages, people will run thrue the streets naked, houses will turn into drum barrel fires, you might have to work in the morning, and baby Jesus will bawl his eyes out until Rapture, at which time he will point to you and say “he's the one who made me cry, da-da!” Come the night after the election, you will look at the results, sigh, and go about your day-to-day life. Because you are a pawn in a government that you have no stake in, except to make a vague choice every two, four or six years when you get to pick from two groups of assholes with slightly different toppings. It will go on like this, because, when it’s all said and done, you really don't care enough.

Romney's Brown Note


By Gendanken

Image courtesy of southpark.wikia.com
Over a decade ago, the geniuses of South Park popularized a little known legend in sound theory known as the “brown note.” It’s a pitch that when played at infrasonic ranges well bellow 20hz will cause humans to lose control of their bowels and, quite frankly, defecate and soil their unmentionables.

Science has proved this note doesn't exist and therefore slumbers away in the shadowy realm of superstition and lore. However, I say unto you, such a note does exist and the human ear is prey to its birth every 5 seconds, beating its nasty fist on the delicate film of the human eardrum every time Mitt Romney says “Jobs.”
That a man like Romney--who has perfected the art of the “leveraged buyout’ where equity firms like Bain Capital target and buy out a struggling company and force it to pay for its own purchase—that he is now speaking to the American people about the importance of “jobs” is  a hypocrisy wicked enough to crush bowels.

A leveraged buyout, or LBO, is a shill where debt is treated as currency and people like Romney can actually squeeze dividends from a giant liability hole that doesn't exist even as paper, where the first fat trimmed off the cut is the workers, their pensions, and their health insurance to improve the value of that company before selling it, a practice that leaves, by necessity, a nasty trail of layoffs and bankruptcy.

Why aren’t Americans livid?

The author now professes her ears burn at Romney’s baying about struggling Americans living in so and so, how he ate donuts with such and such at a diner in Canton where a poor widow poured out her dear little heart about being unemployed and how she now has pinworms because she can’t afford health insurance and how awful it made him feel that such a thing as a widow with pinworms even exists in God’s country. Who wouldn't soil themselves knowing that this man, who now cares so much about unemployed widows suffering worms, grew up in Bloomfield Hills? It’s an affluent suburb in Michigan, among the top 5 wealthiest cities in the nation, where he attended a middle school that had archways and giant manicured lawns sprinkled with sculptures.  Isn't middle school supposed to be a rite of passage where adolescence is ground in the jaws of social inequality and failure? For the bulk of humanity, middle school is a jungle, not a golf course. It’s where little boys and girls learn the gimmick of survival so they don’t grow up to stand in front of an Iowa state fair and bleat ignorant stupidities about “Corporations are people, my friend.” Because, and I quote :

Of course they are,” Romney said. “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?”

Not to that widow in Canton, my friend, and it certainly won’t rid her of worms. According to an article for the Rolling Stone written by Josh Kosman, the World Economic Forum came out with a study showing that of all the big buyouts that have taken place since the ‘80s, the biggest job cuts anywhere occur about the third year after an LBO and not in companies that have otherwise broke on their own and never been leveraged. This is because a buyout really isn't buying anything, but simply acquiring some thing to weaponize into a debt-churning machine that spits out returns to the investor spinning the wheel.  It’s like paying someone to steal your lunch money.

It’s quite insulting, really: the goal is not to create jobs at all, but to expand profit.

The key to that profit is debt, and to generate the returns that Bain Capital became famous for under Romney’s administration, the fundamental rule is that you always create as much debt as possible while investing as little capital as possible, reducing the personal risk to the “investor” while increasing as much interest as possible on the cheap loan. This means there really is no investment, per se, and therefore, no real economic value is actually generated; all resources are swallowed up paying off debt and if that company has no real assets to help cushion the ‘adjustment period’ for the long term, you've just given that widow in Canton the starring role in a Titanic where she gets to watch an ocean of blackness slowly swallow existence.

Before writing this, the tortured author sought to distance herself from the mealy rhetoric that boring liberals cut teeth on when it comes to Republicans. However, as much as she wanted to like the little boy who sat on George Romney’s lap and read newspapers as a toddler, the same little boy who walked up to shake Santa’s hand like a gentleman,  there is no getting over the nausea of watching a waxed corporate hound pretend he cares about suffering Americans looking for work. And there is no pill that can tighten one’s anus every time that prick says the word “jobs.”

The Bain of Romney’s existence is his private equity firm, and I look forward to another four years of fresh underwear.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

BBA AND CRT PLAYING CHICKEN LITTLE


Letter to the Editor:
Image courtesey of Black Warrior Riverkeeper
and Southern Environmental Law Center
I don’t know about you but I would like the BBA and the Coalition for Regional Transportation to stop playing free and easy with my tax dollars.Yes, it is MY and YOUR tax dollars that are funding the large federal ticket item known as the Birmingham Northern Beltline.The current cost is $5 billion and counting which works out to $90 million per mile.Can you believe a country in a $16 trillion deficit would consider spending this amount of money on a road that does not form a loop (does not connect to I-459 where it stops) and has nothing to do with traffic?The BBA and CRT would have the gullible believe local and state government will not have to contribute any - $0 – to this transportation project.That is not a very honest portrayal of the facts.Literary circles would classify this as fiction.The truth is JEFFCO and its surrounding cities will have to supply the water, sewers and roads along this long, spiraling route.We know JEFFCO filed the largest bankruptcy in US history. Just a week ago the county transportation department stated they could not pick up dead pigs on the side of the road due to budget cuts.Is the BBA and CRT going to supply septic tanks all along this route when sewers cannot be provided?Are they going to pick up road kill?Is that their idea of economic development?The state has had to dip into the general fund and hold a special election to keep current programs funded.Not to mention the condition of our current roads which need repair and the inability to even keep much of the current interstates lighted.The BBA and CRT freely use the word no-growthers when they are challenged to arguing the merits of the Northern Beltline based on fact.Why do they not advocate other transportation alternatives or initiatives?Recent studies and government departments have noted the economic development realized from the NB is far less than the $7 billion quoted by the CRT and BBA, in fact it is realistically economic relocation not growth. It has also been shown the NB is overbuilt.So BBA and CRT why does the NB have to be built to interstate standards?I am not hearing a reply.Why not look at transportation alternatives with a lesser price tag?Oh silly me, I forgot this is FREE money- more fiction.
YES the Northern Beltline is spending MY FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS and not wisely.My federal dollars should be used to repair current infrastructure which puts people to work.It is time the BBA and CRT stop playing CHICKEN LITTLE and shouting the sky is falling the sky is falling when they are faced with the reality that citizens do not want their hard earned dollars wasted on an antiquated, overbuilt road project entitled the NORTHERN BELTLINE.
Mrs. Charles R. McDonald
Trussville

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On the Importance of Lukewarm Enthusiasm

By M. David Hornbuckle

Previously posted on mdavidhornbuckle.com

As we get into the final weeks of the campaign season, I want to put a few of my thoughts down. Unlike some people, I’m not inclined to keep my political opinions to myself. I think political discussions are inherently valuable. They don’t have to degenerate into juvenile name calling and facetious insults. And whatever a person says about themselves, I don’t think anybody is actually “apolitical.” I think people who say this about themselves are (1) sick of juvenile name calling and facetious insults on both sides (2) not inclined to supporting one particular party or the other, and (3) not interested in the “horse race” aspect of elections. But everybody has issues that they care about and that affect them on a day to day basis, and it’s useful to talk about those issues in an intelligent, informed manner. Those issues are decided by policy. Politics and policy are the same thing.

When people on the radio say, “that’s just politics,” or “he’s just being political,” what they really mean is “That’s just a cynical narrative device designed to improve his chances at re-election or to attain more power for his party.” Let’s stop using the word politics this way. Politics, in reality is the work of government, and the work of government is everybody’s business. I’m not interested in horse race either, and though I am inclined more toward the Democratic party in elections, it is only because there is currently no reasonable, supportable alternative at the national level. The Republican party takes every opportunity to stand against virtually everything I stand for–equality, justice, peace, and liberty. The Democrats don’t always stand for those things as much as I’d like, but they don’t act against them most of the time.

You might say you stand for the same things, but I’m full of shit about how how Democrats and Republicans relate to those ideals. That’s fine. It’s just my opinion, but hang in there. I’m getting to a point.

President Obama is not my ideal president. In my opinion, he has been too conservative in many ways. He has not always shown the leadership I’d like to see. In negotiating policy, he has given the other side the benefit of the doubt when they have not afforded him the same courtesy. In short, he has been too nice, too moderate. But I understand these challenges as the reality of how national politics work. The presidency, by definition, is a moderate office. Radical changes at that level have many unintended consequences. Obama doesn’t have a lot of radical ideas, and that’s basically okay. Probably the best he can do is fix some little things and enable progress, whereas I feel that his opponent, Mitt Romney, would deter progress. Romney would actively work against it; he would take us backwards, happily, into disaster.

Radical changes need to occur at the local level, at the grass roots level. Third parties have to get footholds at a local level. If you are frustrated by the two-party system, work to get a third party elected to your local government. When you accomplish that, get them elected to your state government. Until we have a half a dozen state governors that are neither Democrat or Republican, we will never have a president from a third party. It just isn’t going to happen. At this time, voting libertarian or socialist or green party at the presidential level actually enforces the two-party system because it makes those third parties look weak and ineffectual. They don’t have enough support to effect actual change. They have just enough support to swing an election from the lesser evil to the greater evil.

I don’t say all this to be depressing. I don’t even think this is a bad thing. If you are serious about real change, you have to understand that it takes a long time, and there are really important but small steps we take during every election cycle that empower long term change. Letting Romney get elected will only set things back another ten years. I am afraid that many people I know will say they would never vote for someone like Romney, but they just aren’t enthused about Obama so they’ll stay home. This is a mistake.

I believe another Obama term will give him a far better chance to stand up to the machine that has worked day and night to make his first term a weak one. He won’t do everything I’d like him to do. The policies I’d most like to see him enact are pipe dreams. They aren’t popular because there are still too many people throwing smoke screens under the labels of socialism and heathenism, and too many people are fooled by those smoke screens. So he won’t do everything, but he will enable progress. It sounds like I’m underselling him, that I’m not passionate enough, but enabling progress is the biggest thing a president actually can do. No president is going to save the world. Enabling progress is actually a really big deal, even though it’s hard to package it as such because our society is addicted to instant gratification.

Long term change requires long term thinking. That’s why I’m lukewarm on Obama, but he still has my enthusiastic vote this November.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tributary: Becoming Green Warriors of the Red Earth Country


By Leah Alford
Summer air here can be felt, almost fingered, it’s so succulent with moisture. At high temperatures, it’s chokingly humid, but in more moderate weather, it’s velvet and invasive against the skin. In Alabama at the southernmost end of the Appalachians, everyone wades the water/ air mix many evenings during the warm seasons. This state has an abundance of water resources; some popular forms of water contact are boating, fishing, water skiing, and swimming. When I was in college swimmers went to old strip pits or ‘swimming holes’ on streams; the romantically inclined went ‘creekbanking’ with picnic lunch and beer. My own tastes run mostly lower profile. I have a lifelong history, here and elsewhere, of plunging and sampling my way through the pleasures of lakeshore and seashore sitting, walking beside streams with my mother and lifting colorful stones out of the water, viewing swamps from moving autos, and following creeks to guide me through forests with no trails. After college, my husband and I lived with a view of water out the window, on a houseboat. I tried swimming in a slough off the Black Warrior River. One day he pointed to two traveling lines of splash on the surface where I had just been floating. “Snakes,” he said. I stopped swimming!
After moving back to town we often drove out to the places near water. I’ve watched the cobalt blue radiance of cave walls receding downwards under huge spring waters; I’ve walked with a group up the middle of a large shallow creek instead of alongside. In quiet, pooled places, I learned how to send stones rippling across the water surface by throwing with spin. A haze of the everyday obscures these enjoyments like the protective colorations on toads, and they have to be noticed instantaneously and often privately. Huge fun for us, they didn’t always make for sparkling party conversation. But by keeping the visual and tactile senses tuned, you can lead a life of sudden amphibious incidents, making smaller but intensely meaningful splashes.
The old southern phrase ‘bourbon and branch water’ reflects back to the original freshness of watersheds in America. In my lifetime, both state and region have always been in need of economic growth, and sometimes its bountiful waters haven’t always had the attention I feel they should. That said, this can be true anywhere. We’re now seeing it in the news every day.
In the eighties we moved into the country and I began recording riparian lore. I now live in a dense forest, among the oaks, pines, maples, sweetgums, poplars, and dogwoods that help keep the moisture content in the air high--an Appalachian jungle. About a hundred and fifty yards away is a branch that’s five or six feet wide. Creekside is actually the place I prefer to be, my water of choice. In late spring and early summer heat, after walking through the yellow-green razzle-dazzle of the plushly leafed woods, and on through the brush of a now empty, scraped down lakebed, we arrive at the rapids area. Small sensualities are here for the sampling. Reddish and charcoal colored, the rocks underpin the froth, water at its most frivolous, scattering light into glitter. The stream is named “Bee Branch” for its ‘busy as a bee’ qualities. The orange-red, mud-laden torrents from the early spring rains have gushed off, so we can easily step across now, stone by stone. Flanked by a steep bluff, we look across at the march of the scrub pines on the lakebed shore, with a garnish of yellow wildflowers near the edge. Upstream, we glance towards darkening shades, as the sun-gleam of the rapids fades into stiller, reflective areas, a muted frieze of shadows and leaves. Here the branch twists and frets against its sandstone trough; downstream it deepens and pools into a swimming hole with fish, and then quiets and scrapes along in a mud and pebble bed in the shallows. It empties into a winding lake, probably man-made, that narrows back to stream. Farther on, it goes into Hurricane Creek, a longer, wider body of water that eventually reaches the Black Warrior River. Upstream, the map shows its origin in a lake fed by two other creeks that also issue from lakes. In all, it is the recipient of run-off from three thousand acres of watershed. Known for biodiversity, the area has a bounty of flora and fauna. Feasting senses now, I would later think about the traveling of streams and their connecting points to each other, about why the word ‘branch’, taken from the structural joinery of trees, means ‘creek’, and about the fixed amount of water on earth.
Visitors who come out to the house always want to go down to the branch. Some of my fondest memories with visiting friends happened alongside the water. My selected sitting area of the creek is a stage for the presentation of incidents from the stories of many passers-by. There’s the constant flux of the rapids water itself, pattering loudly and with voice-like effects, and the volcanic blue jots of damsel flies. A spotted sandpiper has pranced the edges to our chorus of “Look, look, look”. There are quick glows through the brush – glimpses of the Yellow-Breasted Chat in the daytime; eyes of small animals towards evening. Tracks of deer, raccoons, and foxes appear periodically in side mud, the creek’s ledger of the previous night’s visitors. Driftwood arrives; bushes go upend after heavy rains, and fossilized calamites ferns keep popping up among the lichens and fallen mountain laurel petals. Poles gnawed by beavers appear, although these animals themselves are never seen. For a quick cool-off on a day when summer air is shimmering and heavy as quilts, I take a playful notion and go into the water. Nothing beats reclining in the shallow rapids, being slicked and soaked by cross-eddying water fingers, smelling fresh stream and moss reek. Back on the sand, seeing bubbling places, it’s easy to imagine varieties of monsters under the water’s surface. This is water you can get close to and be intimate with(1). We had the best visits and celebrations beside the water.
Up a smaller tributary, in deeper woods, it’s a different scenario. The change in the forest has come about by the time we approach this spot, leaf configurations shifting slyly around us. Here there are broadleaf wild magnolias skirting the stream, with their tropically sized foliage, and thicker expanses of ferns. The oaks and pines are gigantic in this less accessible area, with trunks a foot-and-a-half to two-feet in diameter. Our destination at first appears black amidst the irregular spaces of candlelight green. To reach this cozy nook we have to descend the sharp drop of the banks, bracing against the twisted trees that grasp the edges. The brook is about half the width of the branch it flows into. Directly ahead several boulders have intruded into and blocked the streambed, pinching the water into two falls, one ferocious and roaring unseen through a subsurface crack, and another arcing the other direction, a visible spray.
We have come the last few times wondering how long this rare cranny of a streamspot, and the surrounding forest, will remain as they are now. It is the late '80s and a ‘sea changing’ new industry has arrived in the area. We not only want to slake our senses by taking in images, we are seeking comfort, strength, purpose and recharged spirits; and as a bonus, we’ll take metaphor and story. We stand on the islands of mud and sand, rivulets of all descriptions flowing at our feet. The water is pooled and murky in one place, mounding with cross-hatched ripples over pebbles another, rapids in miniature yet another. Dark boulders are furred with avocado and chartreuse mosses; the water is slithering and silver over their flat tops. Upstream the dazzle pales off like twilight. Holly hangs low over the creek cut. At our feet a rock engulfed by moss sprouts the first yellowish tendrils of an unknown vine. We see one perfect raccoon track and one black-winged damselfly. Not much of the sky is visible overhead through the meeting of prodigious ovate leaf variations. The peculiar humidity sizzles on our skin. The scenes here are more somber and contemplative than those at the barn dance of the main branch. We soak and steep our psyches in the waters and woods, until we’re sated. Civilization feels farther away, but we dwell on the threats to this remoteness that have begun to surface. Going back, we head into the graying scallops of forest.
All of these less splashy scenes occur in local ways. Without tremendous visibility, these types of water sports are sometimes as unintentionally plainspoken as the deeper toned places under the still water’s surface, as unknown as the day roosts of giant night-going moths in the adjacent forest. Notation is by those who prefer frogs, turtles, crayfish, and mental color-gathering along small water to the boating and swimming activities of big water. But as awareness grows there are more out there watching, besides the little wildling animals. I recall springside from the past, the words, if I had this I would never let it get away from me, rural accents joining those from the cities. It’s easy to imagine many other spots along these branches, many others savoring such moments unobtrusively. Creeks repeat themselves, inspiring and gathering infinite other unsung scenes and stories. A friend’s great blue heron sighting downstream mixes in with my recalled pleasures. Water, always on the move, “stops by” at our personal locations, having already been to many singular locales along the way. It brings a feast for the senses and refreshment for the spirit to each person; from this, intentions form.
Freshwater tributary systems have been intruded upon. Washing on, like the individual moments, pollutants also travel the waterways. The sequences of the natural world are blatant in these cases – what goes in upstream gets downstream, what happens to one part of water, essentially, eventually, happens to all. Water we see today travels to the Gulf, flows into the ocean.
Summer, peak water sport time, is going pell mell. The first cicada ‘screes’ sound, a few frogs chirp from the distant trees. The woods are an immense rooted salad seasoned with noisy buzzing bits. Away from the branches, sitting in the house with cats, evening steaminess stirs a reverie of remembrance and worry. I’ve had a long walk for many years along many waters. Past creeks I’ve known gleam like party crepe strands in the mind, celebratory, crackling as August suns. They attach like tributaries to the present translucent spray, green-black currents, and skeins of moss. Raining in my head, treasured images, like the frog hatch of hundreds at another streamside twenty years past. Along with them, the flotsam and jetsam from the wreck of humankind’s contact with nature, flows in: the first casual mention of the word “pollution”, heard thirty years ago from other children; excessive siltation; medical wastes on beaches; the former frog-yelling chorale after rains of five years ago lapping against many years of drought and decline in amphibian populations, distinctive voices from a puddle outside the window, gone; veteran fishermen talking about the deformities they see in their catches; sewage odors in former swimming places; fish kills; a crystal clear stream devoid of life due to altered pH from industrial run-off. All these things float in on the effluence of information, facts that stir actions. My sweet mental creeks swell and spill over the banks, turning from molten silver during twilights to the red mud color of erosion run-off seen after spring gullywashers. Moments spent deep in forests turn to motives. Somewhere in this soup are my intimate creekside perceptions with their festival airs, like the stubborn greenness of plants in the branch, or seaweed in the ocean. The bitter experience of environmental devastation mixes with those joyous brookside times we’ve all had, times that revealed why we need to tune our psyches to our natural surroundings and work to preserve them. Soon all up and down the branches, private fights about water are bubbling up and running together as everyone jumps in, trying to save personal slivers of stream and woods. After years of writing letters about distant rainforests and rivers, I am now faced with the defense of my own forest and water spots.
Two decades have gone by since that old defense, those past maneuvers. In some ways we won, protecting some lands and giving much offense to industrialists; in others, we lost and there were sad changes to our forest forever. Now, in 2012, I frequently learn of new citizens’ groups protecting Alabama’s natural resources, and a growing number of members of the International Waterkeepers’ Alliance devote themselves to our waterways. Hurricane Creek has its own Hurricane Creekkeeper, and its own advocacy group. Their efforts go to preserving both water quality and the scenic beauty for all to enjoy. Here upstream, our water will make it down to that creek, one day. At meetings about Alabama water keeping after the Gulf oil deluge of 2010, the speeches are rousing and the sentiments are fierce. “…These are our waters,” says John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper. “They belong to all of you. Everyone in the United States has a right to eat a clean fish from these waters”. Real-life stories and poetry about the creek are being recorded; volunteers have helped clear debris out of it after the 2011 tornado.
I became fascinated with wilderness at the age of eight. In the foothills of the Appalachians of Virginia and Alabama, my attachment to nature was ripened and burnished. But my anecdotes are raindrops in a downpour, and these stories are far from done. The cool frenzy of rapids against the skin, the plunk-gulp sound of the unseen wild escapee that scurries into the water as we approach; small sensualities and quiet moments, flowing together, make a flood of resolve.

(1) Recently there is new knowledge of a hazard, a rare but deadly amoeba that has occasionally been contracted in warm Southeastern waters, calling for a new sense of caution about jumping into creeks and lakes and rivers, the way I used to do. The links below are the source of information about the rare, but fatal amoeba infection of the brain in southeastern waters:
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/brain-eating-amoeba-kills-3-this-summer-including-9-year-old-boy/
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/15/us-amoeba-death-idUSTRE77E5ZN20110815

Leah Alford is freelance writer with a lifelong fascination with the natural world. She has been published in Piedmont Literary ReviewThe Improvisor, and Snowy Egret. She lives in a forest near Cottondale, Alabama. More information is available on her blog: catwoodsporchparty.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Citizens United Trap for Republicans

by Stephen Crockett


Republicans have been cheering loudly for the unleashing of corporate and billionaire spending that have been flooding the campaign coffers of Republicans all over the United States. It has mostly been a huge plus for a political party that has little else going for them. However, the ruling might not be so great for Republicans in the long run and might even backfire on them by November or over the coming years.
The public hates the Citizens United ruling and wants corporate money completely out of our elections. Public opinion polling margins against corporations and billionaires having the ability to buy elections with essentially unlimited spending is massive among both independents and Democrats. Even most Republicans are against it. And these are not “soft” opinions. The passion is in favor of strict campaign donation limits and zero corporate spending on politics.

If Democrats run campaigns that make the case in enough races that the Republican Party has been
“corrupted and sold to corporations and billionaires,” it is likely that the Democrats will capture huge majorities of the key independent vote in November. They are likely to make huge gains in the Senate, the House and in state races using this tactic as part of a “fairness in government” theme.

Having Romney as the Republican nominee will certainly make a “fairness” theme resonate with the public. Obama can point out that he has released all his tax returns for every year as far back as 2000 while Romney has released only one year so far.
The “what is Romney hiding” issue is already burning up the Internet. It is starting to generate articles in the mainstream media. By the November elections, this issue will be huge even if it is not played up by the Obama campaign. The American people are sick of excessive secrecy and corruption in government.

If Romney releases his tax returns, then the ways in which he made his massive fortune will be exposed. There will be issues about possible tax evasion or avoidance combined with the ever present “fairness” issue to overcome. This brings us back to the corporate spending unleashed by Citizens United.
The biggest campaign question for 2012 will be “what do corporations and billionaires expect to get in return for all this money they are spending to elect Republicans?” The public can take a look at the actions of Romney in his private sector career and combine it with things from his public office career like the hard drives that his staff took away when he left as Governor of Massachusetts. They will look at his strange bias toward secrecy in both his private business and public office careers. This is going to be a huge “trust problem” for Romney and Republicans to overcome.

Voters will take a look at Republican Governors and state legislators and find massive “trust problems” everywhere
. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has shown terrible judgment in terms of ethics and conflicts of interest especially in regards to the healthcare industry where he made his own massive fortune. Governor Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania along with the Republican state legislature has some serious problems in trying to justify to voters their sweetheart deals with the oil and gas industries. These include a provision in a recent law that doctors may have access to information about the health impacts of natural gas “fracking” but legally prevent the doctors from informing their patients about any dangers the discover. In Pennsylvania, thanks to Republicans, the oil and gas industries will reap billions of dollars in profits that should have paid for schools, roads, senior services, healthcare and more. Because of this kind of essentially corrupt legislation, the corporate campaign cash keeping flowing to Republicans in both states… and pretty much all the other states.
Of course, Republican officeholders are aware of the potential voter backlash. This is why they are making voting and voter registration as difficult as possible for poor and working class Americans in as many states as possible. Pennsylvania and Florida are good examples but Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and dozens of others have or are facing strong Republican efforts to reduce the number of voters who would most strongly object to corporate control of government and the corrupting influence of big, big money in government. The Republican voter suppression efforts are energizing the opposition just like the massive spending by corporation and billionaires to elect Republicans.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the resulting are producing some serious backlash that is likely to do long term damage to both corporate and Republican political power. These include four major reform efforts:

(1) a state based effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban corporate political spending and make campaign finance laws explicitly Constitutional that has already seen success in New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maryland, California and Hawaii legislatures,

(2) a growing movement to strip corporations of their “corporate personhood” status under the law or at least restrict all the political citizenship rights that the Roberts Supreme Court Five Justices claims go with it,

(3) a strong shareholder movement that would require explicit shareholder direct approval of any political spending which would take the decision to spend shareholder money out of the hands of corporate executives or other corporate employees

 (4) and finally a movement to Impeach the Roberts Supreme Court Five (see Facebook group at
http://www.facebook.com/stephen.s.crockett?ref=tn_tnmn#!/groups/459884114022586/ ) of Justices Alito, Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts for bad behavior, lying to Congress during confirmation hearings and/or ethical lapses.

If all these efforts fail and the voters do not rise up against Republican officeholders over the next few election cycles, the Republicans are still facing a corporate and billionaire political spending trap.
The massive spending of corporations and billionaires can still be turned against individual Republicans at any time. Corporations and the Super Wealthy have conflicts among themselves over legislation, government spending and public policy.

Any individual Republican officeholder can do a favor for one wealthy campaign donor or corporation and anger a different one or group of them. The Republican politician in this case instead of benefitting from the corrupt campaign spending system can instead become the victim. Republican officeholders will never be secure in their positions because of the political spending system they helped create.
 
Finally, the billionaire and corporate political spending is going to fray over time the Republican activist base. In the long run, neither the Christian Right nor the Tea Party is going to be happy with their reduced influence in Republican politics. How is the Christian Right going to explain to their people that the largest corporate donor to Republicans so far in 2012 is a casino gambling empire controlled by one of their largest billionaire individual contributors? Will grassroots Tea Party activists have any influence on policy or politics compared to these corporations or billionaires? Will these voters remain parts of the Republican coalition under those conditions?

Clearly, the Citizens United ruling unleashing massive corporate and billionaire political spending on behalf of Republicans may end up being a trap Republicans have sprung on themselves. We can only hope it does not completely destroy American democracy in the process.
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Written by Stephen Crockett (Host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio.com , President of College Marketing.com http://www.CollegeMarketing.com and Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com http://www.Mid-AtlanticLabor.com ).
Email: demlabor@aol.com. Phone: 443-907-2367.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Good Deeds Punished III

by Jim Reed

Listen to an audio version of this article

[In two previous columns, I presented transcriptions of secret meetings held in the city by employees L.G. and G.L., whose sole purpose is to attract additional revenue to the city through the imposition of SHOPPING PENALTIES and VISITORS PENALTIES without the annoyance of putting forth public relations, goodwill, good manners and the like. The following is a third transcript.]

Read Part I
Read Part II

L.G. is sitting in the empty conference room, mopping up coffee that has dripped from his pastry. He is startled at the abrupt entrance of fellow employee G.L.

“Hey, sorry I’m late. I forgot to pay my parking meter and had to cough up a $15.00 penalty,” says G.L.

L.G. is amazed. “Why did you park at a meter? Your parking is covered here at City Hall, in the deck.”

“Oh, I had to stop at Goodyear Shoe Hospital to pick up my wife’s slippers—usually I’m in and out so fast, the meter maids don’t catch me,” G.L. is annoyed that he’s had to pay a fine that he originally helped impose, better known as Birmingham’s SHOPPING PENALTY aimed at discouraging Downtown retail. But the annoyance doesn’t last long. G.L. is basically an optimist, just trying to please his employers.

“Okay,” L.G. pulls out his dog-eared legal pad. “What do you have for me today?”

G.L. consults a napkin upon which notes are scrawled. “Well, I’m trying to figure out more ways to penalize all the different categories of people who come through Downtown each day.”

“Wait a minute,” L.G. is starting a column. “Exactly which groups of people are you addressing?”

“It’s quite a list,” says G.L. “Each week, we have an amazing variety of visitors.” He begins calling them out:

1. Shoppers
2. Professionals in town to meet with clients
3. Layovers (that includes accidental visitors who come through via bus, train, airplane, tour bus...and are trying to entertain themselves while they’re waiting for their connections)
4. Tourists
5. Loft dwellers’ families and guests
6. Customers who patronize retail and professional businesses
7. Students who are attending classes (Birmingham School of Law and various company and non-profit seminars, for instance)
8. Vendors who are selling services to everybody who works, lives or visits Downtown
9. Drive-bys, people who are on their way someplace else and want to take a break
10. Jurors on break from the courts
11. Museum patrons who want to see what else is Downtown (museums include Sports Hall of Fame, Civil Rights Institute, Jazz Hall of Fame, Museum of Art, Museum of Fond Memories, Central Library Archives, History Museum)
12. Attractions attendees (McWane Center, Alabama Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Imax Theatre, Carver Theatre, etc.)
13. Suburbanites who are touring the Downtown area as part of their civic club excursions (Shepherd Centers, church groups, etc.)
14. Explorers (people who want to visit the icons and landmarks they’ve heard about, such as the Peanut Depot, hot dog stands, shops such as Reed Books and Sojourns and Charm and What’s on Second, Railroad Park, etc.)
15. Walking tours (architectural, historical, civil rights, urban studies, school groups, etc.)
16. Foreign visitors who are here on tour or as exchange students, etc.
17. Conventioneers who take long breaks to explore the town

“Okay, okay. What’s the point?” L.G. blurts out.

G.L. explains, “Well, we usually try to see what kinds of penalties we can extract from shoppers and people who live and work here, but this list proves that there are a lot more folks to consider.” G.L. knows that L.G. needs to have it spelled out. “My point is, these people basically slip through the cracks—they aren’t just citizens of Birmingham, they come from all over the world.”

“So, how does this apply to our job—which is to please the Big Bosses with more ways to bring in revenue?”

G.L. is trying to be patient. “Our main plan has always been to fine people who stay too long—you know, overtime parkers, jaywalkers, folks who turn the wrong way on a one-way street, panhandlers, public nuisances, etc. But the categories on this new list are mostly people who can’t pay a fine—they just won’t be available to send a ticket to. They don’t live here, and they don’t park where we can ticket them (they walk, take a cab or a tour bus or a shuttle, are dropped off, etc!)”

L.G. is beginning to feel the warmth of a light bulb floating above his bald head. “Oh, man! I hadn’t thought about that. We usually pick the easy marks—folks who have to pay a penalty for breaking a rule they aren’t aware of.” His brow wrinkles all the way to his pate.

There is silence while L.G. tries to think and G.L. fiddles with his pencil.

At last, L.G. is ready to pronounce. “Hmm…we can’t catch most of these people, so we’ll either have to make up new rules they can break…OR we can do something else…”

G.L. has an epiphany: “We can charge ADMISSION to Birmingham!”

L.G.’s jaw drops. “Way cool!” he shouts. “If we charge admission to Downtown, we won’t have to worry about chasing tickets, we’ll just collect up front…AND we can keep on penalizing for parking and the usual activities we already raise revenue from.”

In the heat of the moment, both G.L. and L.G. have forgotten to stay calm and carefully analyze what they’ve just invented. Both men are breathing heavily as they try to calculate how much fundraising they can report to the Big Bosses.

L.G.’s first goal is to survive and maintain his job, so he finally flips back to basic instinct. “Okay, I think we have something here. But don’t tell anyone else about it!” L.G. means to take full credit wherever and whenever he can.

G.L. needs direction. “So what do you want me to do?”

“Just keep adding groups and categories to that list—the longer the better,” L.G. concludes. “And bring it back to next Friday’s meeting. I’m sure we’ll be able to come up with effective ways to implement our plan.”

G.L. is hungry and ready to break up the meeting. “Sounds like a winner. I’ll bring an updated list.”

The meeting is adjourned amid L.G.’s visions of Big Bosses’ approval dancing in his head.

Stay tuned next time for PART FOUR…GOOD DEEDS PUNISHED

Friday, May 18, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Women's Health and Equality

Alas, men will never know what it’s like to have menstrual cycles, experience endless vaginal and uterus examinations, or become pregnant. So it is uniformly disconcerting why so many men in the Alabama State House are obsessed about what women physically have to go through for all of these things, but especially what happens when women want to control their own reproductive destinies. Are men jealous of women?

The Legislature is in the middle of trying to introduce no less than 12 different bills concerning women’s reproductive rights, none of which involve the introduction of mechanical objects into male reproductive orifices, mandatory readings or verbal interpretations of photographic male medical procedures, or refusal to provide legally available male medical services, including approved pharmaceuticals used by men.

As if the current laws on reproductive health are not enough, these bills are championed by 29 white Republican males, with 4 Republican white women scattered throughout (3 of which appear to be past childbearing years), and one token black democrat woman (shame on her, at whatever age). While we applaud democracy in action, these 34 elected officials need to take this obsession just one step further, for the benefit of all Alabama males, not just the Republican ones in the State House.

To ease the male jealousy of female reproductive parts, we would like the Democrats to waste valuable congressional session time with just one more new bill, such bill shall require all males capable of participating in a reproduction of human life (approximately ages 15 to 19 with parental consent, and 20 to 95) to undergo a government-required but not government or any insurance-paid, manual and machine examination of the male reproductive systems and related orifices, at least annually, but in all cases, every time the male is involved in activities involving potential procreation.

During each and every examination, the attending physician shall be required to read or provide other verbal communication and visual evidence to the male on the entire procedure(s), step by step, including computer screen imaging in real time or other visually graphic methods. Further, should said male patient be unwilling to undergo such procedure, said patient shall be forever excluded from any insurance or state provided medical services, including legally available pharmaceuticals (i.e, Viagra-type assistance, or STD assistance), to alleviate conditions involving reproductive health, and said patient shall also be excluded from receiving any type of government monetary assistance for any resulting offspring.

Additionally, any physician who may refuse at any time to abide by the law, by reasons of conscience, shall post daily, in a prominent place of their individual or collective place of practice, a notice of sufficient size that will catch the attention of a 15 year old and a 95 year old male explaining the conscientious objection and reasons therefore. Conscientious objections shall be limited to religious, not medical, reasons.

Responsibility for one’s reproductive health is a two way street, ladies and gentlemen. You cannot have your obsessions without consequences. We will work proactively and financially to elect any male or female, Democrat or Republican, who will balance legislative efficiency of reproductive health.

Or we could just leave well enough alone, and get back to the real issues in this state, like poverty, jobs, infrastructure, county bankruptcies, and open government. Republicans, please understand that LESS government means just that. If getting felt up by TSA at the airport doesn’t offend us, then having a 35mm telephoto lens inserted into your reproductive organs shouldn’t offend you either. After all, it’s for the common good.

 -Carol Moore, Birmingham

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Diverse City


by Gendanken

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a country whose gross national product was its citizens.

These people were truly disgusting, and the feeling of being repulsed throbbed in direct proportion to how much closer one got to a Southerner. Because this giant country was cloven in two, people naturally acquired the courtesy all decent, God-fearing citizens have for separating themselves on the pettiest stupidity so that a Yankee could look down on a Redneck because Yankees only despised your low class, while that idiot Southerner hated your skin color.

Both had opinions on everything from abortion to glue, to how many licks would it take to make a Republican vote blue, that they blurted even in sleep their cherished ideas each clutched like a blankie, so soothing was the sound of Hearing One’s Own Voice.

Thus did the Goddess Baubo grow to detest her creation: Man.

“Meh,” thought Baubo. “I’ve created a monster” and this mischievous god with the heart of a sadist that gave us the platypus, kudzu, and Benin summoned the demiurge named Gendanken.

“Gendanken”, she said, “I have a mission for you. I’ve grown tired of Man. He’s a scoundrel who’s stolen my laughter, and I wish him destroyed.”

Gendanken listened with the fear of Jonah scratching the days on the flesh of a whale’s anus.

“What do you wish me to do?” asked a timid Gendanken.

“Live among them,” replied Baubo. “Observe and write a report on their worth. On that, I will decide whether to destroy such a dumb little creature. Go.”

And so Gendanken flew down to live among men, walking the battered roads of their mind, settling among a clot of Southerners watching the playoffs. Here, where women cackled like chickens and laid eggs they called ‘men’, she found a strange people far more educated on “punts” than they were “punctuation.”

They were loud, rude, and obnoxious; they fried butter and used words like yonder. They passed laws outlawing employment, then whined that work was not being employed; laws that barbarized humans as “aliens,” yet alienated humans with a barbarized understanding of law.  Not above dragging the past from its swamp, the Southerner made old laws into new ones again by garnishing their language with modern vocabulary, like plucking a dead fish from a bog and sprinkling the nasty thing with a ransom of spice to camouflage the foul odor. Strange above all, Gendanken noted their sewers and realized these people somehow managed to make defecating the most expensive activity in the world.

She met a mayor who sold his city for a Rolex; she met pudgy little lobbyists paying millions to teach senators that c-a-s-i-n-o is spelled b-i-n-g-o, education directors no different than children, and an illiterate hobbit who was voted to the state senate because, though he’s a liar who’d steal a quarter off a teacher and then all the children, it’s obvious to any good Christian his moral authority with a name like Shadrack McGill. And, so, Gendanken grew  hateful as she could no longer believe anything in this insane little city, and therefore the world, was worth keeping alive.

So, a period away from signing Man to his doom, she heard a curious sound through a window. Peering in, she found people hunched over a keyboard. To her delight, the tapping noise was that lovely music of writing. This meant that in a hungry sea of stupidity swallowing the last of the sane, a tiny island persisted where men fought the madness with an armada of humor and, above all, curiosity and thought. She discovered they were writing this newspaper, a little attempt at breaking the sameness and glut. This paper you hold embodies what Mark Twain wrote about horses:

“It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races.”
Gendanken, in short, discovered she could not wish mankind destroyed.

Not knowing what to do now that she found such a people, she decided to shred her report and instead collected all the metals and stones in the world.

And from this mongrel diversity of precious stones and base metals, she cast from a mixture of mud and gold a most beautiful statue studded with diamonds and gravel.

Gendanken then flew back to Baubo and handed the Goddess this statue and asked her, “Would you destroy such a statue?”

And Baubo, her sharp tongue for once blunted by the glow of being surprised, only wept that she ever wished to destroy Man.

Who would destroy a beautiful statue simply because gold is mixed in with mud?

This is what little Gendanken taught Baubo, a little lesson on diversity: value is an appraisal of opposites. Intelligence shines brightest among bigots.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Community Cannibalism


by Ian Hoppe


We are inundated with daily reports of the economy. Most of the time they are negative or apocalyptic, but other times they seem to be taking on a bit of an optimistic flare. Just a couple of weeks ago, for instance, the country was thrilled to receive the news that the monthly job numbers had been aggregated and compiled by whoever the hell does that sort of thing and had improved to a surprising level. This bit of refreshing information, however, was quickly picked apart by the various pundits and talking heads until it resembled a banal carcass after a funeral pyre. They had determined, through references and inductive reason, that the numbers were not that great after all and may, in fact, signal a coming collapse of this market or that market. So we sit and wait for the coming good news which should be on the way, since we’ve supposedly left the recession in our wake.

The relief from nervousness never seems to come, though. So I would like to offer you a different rubric on which you might be able to measure where we are in our upswing or total collapse. This rubric is only a local measurement tool, but despite our steadfast allegiance to national news, we all live, work, and shop in a local setting. Even the prices at the national franchises we frequent are subject to local demand. So you might think of this measurement as a more practical one than the high and mighty job numbers.

To what degree has the community turned in upon itself for sustenance?

Depending on your socio-economic status you may be wondering what I am talking about. But take it from someone who has worked in and has close ties to the blue collar communities in and around the Birmingham area: If you want a gauge on the viability of a local economy, watch the scrap yards.

The working poor are the first to lose their jobs when an economy tanks and it just so happens that they are the most resourceful of us all. In the past couple of years we have seen an uptick in copper theft. In December of 2010 the lights from the city Christmas tree were stolen for the copper wiring. Later that year, hundreds of people in West Birmingham lost telephone service for hours when a chunk of the telephone grid was stolen. The Mount Zion Baptist Church in West End was hit three times, with thieves stealing the copper from the air-conditioning units. And then just last month seven air-conditioners were ransacked at Fairfield City Hall.

These are only the higher profile cases. There have been many thefts since the economy crumbled. AT&T says that Alabama has the highest rate of telephone line theft in the country.

Vacant warehouses too are a major target, offering larger wire and more cover than outdoor theft. Many of these thefts require a bit of knowledge of electricity and competence with tools. As businesses close and leave their buildings unoccupied those marginalized at the bottom of a society turn inward for fuel.

When the economy is growing people are working outward. They go to work, help to build wealth and cultivate a region. But when that growth is stifled and scarcity takes hold, the community consumes and recycles itself in a very natural turn of events.

So next time you wonder what the state of the local economy is, ask yourself: What is your community’s current rate of cannibalism?

Read more from Ian Hoppe at his blog Polymath Moshpit.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Connecting Civil Rights to Gay Rights in the Heart of Dixie


by Stephen Blevins


[Ed Note: This article was written and published in our print edition before President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage, causing many in the media to compare the statements to landmarks in the Civil Rights movement. Interracial marriage was legalized in 1964.]

Our country’s best and brightest tend to want to live in places that are tolerant. It is well documented that Alabama suffered financially as a direct result of its past race problems. For those who haven’t followed the history, this is the reason Atlanta has an international airport and Birmingham doesn’t. Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, recently reminded us of this when he was interviewed for an Atlanta Journal Constitution piece that dealt with the history and progress of southern cities. According to that article, “Reed compared the situation in the early 1960s when Birmingham was the Southern leader in commerce, but lost that title to Atlanta because of its attitude on civil rights.” Reed also stated the obvious fact that Birmingham still hasn’t caught up from that major blow.

Alabama’s conservative politicians and the citizens who support them seem to be making the same mistakes all over again with regard to gay rights.

When the Birmingham Free Press asked her about the state’s progress on gay rights, Representative Patricia Todd, the state’s only openly gay legislator, responded, “Equality Alabama is working to pass a non-discrimination bill, amendments to the hate crimes law and also working on making sure LGBT is covered in the student harassment law. We are moving forth on marriage rights. That, unfortunately is a lost cause in Alabama.”

Six years ago, the Alabama Legislature passed the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which banned civil unions and marriages for gay couples. The bill, among other things, lists marriage as “a sacred covenant, solemnized between a man and a woman, which, when the legal capacity and consent of both parties is present, establishes their relationship as husband and wife, and which is recognized by the state as a civil contract.” Phrases like “sacred covenant” reek of a disregard for the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state.

Many of the law’s defenders like to quote Leviticus 18:22, which says “Homosexual acts are an abomination to God.” Leviticus 25:44-46 reads, however “You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.”

Um, I wonder what time in Alabama’s long and not always pleasant history this quote was used.

The UAB university and health system, as the largest employer in the state, has been one of the few bright spots in our local economy. Apparently, though, economic survival means little in this state. In 2009, UAB and a few other universities in the state began offering same sex couples health insurance plans similar to those offered to married heterosexual couples. The hysteria was sad and predictable. Representative Duwayne Bridges, (R-Valley) and others in the state immediately began pushing to ban UAB and other state-supported institutions from offering benefits to gay couples. Despite what Representative Bridges might think, it can only help the state to encourage the best doctors, researchers, and professors from around the county to make Alabama home for their work, not to mention the grants and capital it would bring to the state. But, hey. Who cares about money, bankruptcy, and all that kind of stuff when you’ve got the best football team three years in row! Take that financially solvent, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and a lot of other states.

Much like the Civil Rights era, the general acceptance of gay culture in Atlanta is a far cry from what we find in Birmingham. It’s well known that Atlanta has one of the highest concentrations of GLBT in the nation (third highest in fact at over 12%). It’s hosted a gay rights parade for over thirty years and there are plans in the works for an even larger GLBT community center. How Atlanta treats its gay population should be of concern to Alabamians because Georgia’s capitol is home to economic engines like Emory and Georgia Tech, which directly compete with UAB in the medicine/general science research fields. Emory alone contributed over 775 million to the Georgia economy. With universities like Vanderbilt, Nashville is also a direct competitor with Birmingham and is also generally more tolerant of the GLBT community. Last year, The Music City passed a municipal law specifically banning discrimination based on a person’s sexuality. In contrast, Larry Langford, the now infamous and imprisoned former mayor of Birmingham, was sued in 2008 by gay rights activists for not allowing city workers to hang signs for a pride parade.

It took the power of the federal government to turn off the fire houses and quiet the dogs, but the ghosts still remain. It the end, maybe it’s the federal government to the rescue again. Proposition 8, a ballot measure that outlawed same sex marriage in California was recently overturned by an appellate court, and the legality of gay rights across the Alabama and the nation will inevitably be settled behind the closed doors of the Supreme Court. Until then, as a state that likes to view itself as gung-ho outsiders who buck the trend of a decadent America while standing up for morality perhaps a quote by Clint Eastwood, the famous Republican and iconic tough guy, will us overcome the sickness of homosexuality in the twenty first century: “They go on and on with all this bulls--- about ‘sanctity’ — don’t give me that sanctity crap! Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.”