Archive for letters

‘The least of these’ are not less than the rest of us

In Kansas, if you're on public assistance, this could become illegal for you to buy.

In Kansas, if you’re on public assistance, this could become illegal for you to buy.

I’m watching state after right-wing state in a competition to see who can be the most mean-spirited to people on government assistance.

A bill in Missouri would prevent people using food stamps from buying steak or seafood. A bill in Kansas would restrict people on public assistance from buying any kind of entertainment, going to psychics or having tattoos.

Under the bill, which passed last week by large majorities in both the House and Senate, public assistance recipients can’t spend their government aid on body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, arcades, cruise ships or visits to psychics, according to CNN.

The bill also forbids spending the money at theme parks, dog or horse racing tracks, a “sexually oriented business or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment, or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”

And it limits cash withdrawals of the funds to $25 a day, an attempt to prevent recipients from using their funds on inappropriate expenditures.

These are the same people complaining about how Democrats are setting up a “nanny state,” yet they have the temerity to tell poor people how they can and can’t spend the money they receive.

God forbid we should allow poor people to have any dignity.

As we cut taxes on the wealthy and refuse to increase minimum wage to make it even half of a true living wage, we become increasingly punitive toward the poor, while still hailing ourselves as a “Christian” nation.

I have news for the so-called Christians who seem to get a kick out of kicking the poor: Jesus would be ashamed of you.

If you go back and read about the man you supposedly follow, you’ll read about how he helped the poor, people with disabilities, mental illnesses and even leprosy, which was about as unclean as a person could get.

There was the woman who’s been bleeding (as in menstruating) for years. No one would go near her because she was unclean, but Jesus healed her.

Jesus reached out to “the least of these,” as are described in Matthew as people who are sick, hungry, thirsty, naked and in prison. And, he added, “whatever yo do unto the least of these, you do also unto me.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said it in another way in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.”

Instead of thinking poor people are somehow immoral, we should look at the circumstances that led them to be poor. Perhaps they’re working (most poor people do work) for minimum wage, which is less than half what it takes to live in just about every city in the nation. Perhaps they had huge medical bills after an accident or illness that was no fault of their own. Perhaps the family is headed by a single mom who has escaped a violent partner.

So many roads lead to poverty in this country, including the superhighway of low-wage work. The jobs that were lost in the 2008 economic meltdown have been replaced by low-wage jobs and states like North Carolina have cut unemployment compensation so far that people are forced to take these low-wage jobs or have no income at all.

So, we’re forcing people into poverty and then shaming them for being poor.

When I talk to conservatives about this, their answer is inevitably, “I know a guy who …”

Well, I know dozens of poor people. I work with them all the time, and almost every one of them works hard, or wants to.

I know people with illness or disability who would love to work but can’t. They’re lumped in with the “lazy” people who are working two or more minimum-wage jobs while trying to make ends meet.

The people we need to shame are the wealthy and the mean-spirited. We also need to tax the hell out of them. When we start doing that, we might see an improvement in the plight of the poor.

At least I’m not alone

Michael, age 3, playing with his food.

Michael, age 3, playing with his food.

This is a hard time of year for me. Tomorrow is Mike Day, the anniversary of my son’s death.

I think he chose April 1 to go; he was a proud jackass. He loved turning things upside-down and inside-out for a good laugh. His best friend, James, eulogized him as a jackass and everyone laughed and applauded.

I don’t know why this doesn’t get any easier. I honestly thought that after seven ears I would miss him a little less, that the edges would have worn off the pain, but that’s not so. I think of him every day, sometimes every hour, and on days near the anniversary of his death, it’s more like every moment.

At least I’m not alone.

I’m not talking about the friends and family who have stood by me and held me up, although I treasure them; I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of others whose family members and friends have died the way Mike did.

Before the Affordable Care Act, the death toll was 45,000 a year, and each one was loved by somebody. Each person was adored by friends and family.

The death toll is lower now — about 17,000 a year in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.

Marketing people tell us we need to use the phrase, “close the coverage gap,” but that doesn’t say it any better than “expand Medicaid.”

How about this? It’s time to stop this immoral and inhuman killing of people just because they can’t help enrich insurance companies and Big Pharma.

Or, this for all the “Christians” who think we don;t need to ensure access to care for everyone: Who would Jesus turn away?

And for those of you who are “pro-life,” but think that doesn’t include access to health care: You are most decidedly NOT pro-life, even though you have tried to make the definition only about abortion.

chose not to have an abortion when I was advised to do so, and you “pro-lifers” did nothing to help him get the care he needed after he was born.

You are not pro-life.

Maybe if I was alone, if my son’s case was an aberration, it would be easier.

But my friend, Lila suffers every day because she can’t get insurance. The pain she endures makes it impossible for her to work full-time, and without that income she is eligible for neither premium subsidies nor Medicaid.

My friend, Crystal, is just 30 years old and the mother of two. She has cervical cancer and can’t get treatment because even though she works, she can’t get insurance or Medicaid. She’ll likely die the way my son did, and she will leave behind two orphaned children.

If their lives don’t matter to you, you are not pro-life.

If their lives do matter, you need to do something about it. Our state legislators say the people don’t want to care for the poor because they’re lazy bums.

What they don’t tell you is that 88 percent of people living in poverty have low-wage jobs. And in this so-called economic recovery, most of the jobs being created are low-wage. Fully one-third of people in poverty have two full-time workers in the home and still live below the poverty level.

We need to call and visit our legislators and tell them they’re going home in 2016 if we don;t have expanded Medicaid by then. And then you need to work hard for the candidate who will expand access to health care.

We did it here in Buncombe County. We sent home Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey and replaced them with people who will vote to close the coverage gap, expand Medicaid, stop the senseless and immoral carnage — however you want to phrase it.

My precious son has been gone seven years. I had hoped we would have made more progress by now.


The Equal Rights Amendment is back

ERA button

I rejoined the National Organization for Women when the US Supreme Court decided employers could deny women access to contraception, as well as abortion.

Obviously, they want women at home, bearing baby after baby after baby because a few religious extremists think that’s the way life should be for everyone, and if they’re denied their “religious freedom,” they will scream that they’re being persecuted.

It seems we’re all supposed to be the family from 19 Kids and Counting, even though most of us could never support that size family and God knows these same people who pushed for this Supreme Court decision don’t care a bit about our children after they’re born.

I was appalled at the walking back of our right to control our own bodies and reproduction.

The thing is, we never actually had that right. In fact, the only right women are granted in the Constitution is the right to vote. All our other “rights” are granted at the pleasure of the men for whom the Constitution was written.

I believed it back in the 1970s and I believe it now; we need the Equal Rights Amendment to have the same rights in all other things as men now enjoy.

They are free to pass laws governing our bodies and our ability to plan our families and careers unless we are granted equal rights under the Constitution, and you know they’re not going to be fair to women when they won’t even let us in on the discussion.

Monday night in Raleigh, state Rep. Carla Cunningham announced at a gathering of NC Women United she would introduce the Equal Rights Amendment into the NC House, most likely next week. Sen Terry Van Duyn said she would be one of the primary sponsors in the state Senate.

The Equal Rights Amendment was written by suffragist Alice Paul and introduced into the US Congress in 1923. It passed in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. Only three more states need to ratify the amendment, although there is one more hurdle: Congress must vote to remove the five-year time limit that was set in 1972.

I know the atmosphere in this country is decidedly anti-woman right now, but we women can change that. There are more of us than there are men, and we tend to vote in larger numbers.

So, what we need is a coordinated effort to oust those who would send us back to the 19th century. We need to educate all girls and women about the importance of voting, and we need to get them registered and to the polls.

If you are anti-abortion, that’s fine. But if you think it’s OK to tell a woman she has no right to prevent pregnancy and then say rape can be a beautiful thing or that a woman won’t get pregnant from rape unless she enjoys it, I think we should part ways right here and now.

It’s time to give women the same guarantees as men to the rights granted by the Constitution. It won’t mean we have to share bathrooms (one of the more common arguments against the ERA in the 1970s) or showers at the gym. It won’t mean men have fewer rights; it only means women will have equal rights.

So, it’s back. Let’s work together to get it passed.

In the name of “God,” I abuse thee

Here she is, apple in hand, listening to the snake. That's Eve, the cause of all women's problems.

Here she is, apple in hand, listening to the snake. That’s Eve, the cause of all women’s problems.

I grew up as a “daughter of Eve,” in a fundamentalist church.

Daughters of Eve (all women in the church’s view) are unclean because they share Eve’s “sin.” Because of their propensity to sin, girls and women must be closely guided, lest they fall prey to the lure of sin.

None of that made sense to me, especially since my parents weren’t fundamentalist Christians. On the one hand, my father was telling me I could be anything I wanted.

My mother was telling me I should learn to type “In case anything happens to your husband, you’ll have a skill to fall back on.”

The church was telling me I existed to be a “helpmate” to a man and a mother to his children.

Women held no power in the church. We couldn’t be ministers; we couldn’t be deacons; we couldn’t serve communion; we couldn’t even teach Sunday school to children older than 12 because the Apostle Paul said so.

I rejected all of that as I grew up, although I married an “old-fashioned” man the first time out. Once I realized I didn’t want or need a boss, or an owner, I moved on to healthier relationships.

I kept my sons away from church because I didn’t want them to become the kind of men who would treat women without respect.

I finally discovered that there are churches where women are equal; churches where even the men were feminist. In my childhood church, these were called “Dens of Satan.”

The people in fundamentalist churches feel persecuted because they can’t make everyone believe God is a punishing father figure, and they can’t force all of society to live according to their Medieval tenets.

They are the driving force behind laws that withhold health care from poor women by closing women’s health clinics. They are the people who filed the Hobby Lobby suit that exempts “Christians” from covering women’s contraception.

They’re also the ones behind that proposed laws that would allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples or fire someone on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity.

They are pulling us all backward with their so-called values, as though women’s lives are less consequential than men’s.

Now comes a bill in Georgia that would exempt these good “Christians” from domestic abuse laws because they believe the man is the head of the household and should be allowed to administer whatever discipline he chooses for whatever displeases him.

“Yeah, I smacked her. She burned the toast. I have a deeply held religious belief that I have to correct her.”

That’s what it’s often called, by the way, “correction,” as though women’s desires are meaningless and wrongheaded and therefore must be corrected.

So, what comes next, public stonings of women who have been unfaithful? How far do we allow ourselves to be pulled down this road?

The day the so-called Hobby Lobby decision was rendered by the Supreme Court, I found my local chapter of the National Organization of Women and re-joined.

The Asheville/Buncombe County chapter holds meetings the second Sunday of each month in the Community Room of the YWCA in Asheville.

Wherever you live, if you’re a woman, you need to become active. You need to register and vote. You need to raise your voice.

When I was a young feminist, I thought we were winning these rights for all time; not I know we have to keep fighting.





Too many of us just don’t get it


This meme from a high school friend set me off this morning.

Do people really think those who have to rely on government assistance enjoy it?

Do they really believe the person getting $50 a month in food stamps has no worries?

Here was my reply:

You mean giving it to a 1-percenter in the form of a tax break, right? I work with people who are receiving government assistance, and not one of them (except the 82-year-old veteran) wants the help. My son would have loved to get help before it was too late to save his life. These selfish memes make me furious. It’s the wealthy who are picking our pockets, not the poor or the sick or disabled.

So far, no one else has commented.

My son had stage 3 cancer and was forced to leave his wife to be eligible for Medicaid. He still hadn’t been approved for disability. That would take 37 months and the first check would arrive nine days after his death.

He applied for food stamps, and even though he had no income, he was approved for just $10 a month. He walked away from it.

He wanted to work, but he was too sick, so he tried to rely on systems he had paid into for 15 years. He got next to nothing.

Among the people I encounter in my work is a young mother who works full time in a restaurant but whose income is still below the federal poverty level, so she can’t buy insurance through the Marketplace. She can’t get Medicaid, either, and she has cervical cancer. Without treatment, she’ll die.

She pays taxes, by the way. Every time she buys anything, she pays sales taxes. Her rent money pays her landlord’s property taxes.

Another person we serve is on disability because of bipolar disorder. Believe me, she would trade a healthy mind and body for her government assistance any day. She became addicted to drugs when she self-medicated to get rid of the emotional pain. Until the Affordable Care Act became law and mental health services were mandated to be covered at the same level as other health services, she wasn’t getting the treatment she needed. She had to go to jail to get that.

Not a lot of people on disability are lazy. They’re living on below poverty level incomes and they’re watched carefully. If they need more, that’s just too bad. Any increases in the money they receive — often after working and paying into the pot for decades — is going to the wealthy in the form of a tax break.

Let’s flip this meme on its head. Let’s demand that the people who live off the sweat of others give up some of their perks. No one needs the kind of money being hoarded by the Koch Brothers and the Walton family.

And certainly, the poor don’t deserve to be vilified.

Please, when you see something like this, don’t just roll your eyes and keep scrolling.

Speak up, or as they used to say in the evangelical church I grew up in, testify!


We need to bring the light

cop shot

The two cops who were brutally murdered this week in New York City are just the latest victims in what is starting to look like a civil war among ourselves.

They are as much victims of this mess as are the African-Americans murdered by white police officers.

The real perpetrators are the gun manufacturers and the rest of the war machine. They’re getting filthy rich off the arming of America’s citizenry and the militarization of our police forces.

Fox News whips up fear among those who watch and believe, and while we the people are distracted, the 1 percent pick our pockets by convincing us they need more. It’s never enough. When you have that much the greed becomes pathological.

It doesn’t matter how many of us die, just so long as there are enough people to labor on their machines, fight their wars and tend to their desires.

I know this is radical thinking, but it becomes increasingly obvious that we, the working class, are losing.

People are so distracted by threats of terrorism and Ebola that they don’t see their rights being plucked away, bit by bit. “Oh, sure, demanding an ID before someone can vote isn’t a bad idea,” you might think. Then they convince you people who can’t pass a literacy test shouldn’t have a say in electing a government.

Young, unarmed African-American men, even boys, are shot down in the street, choked, attacked, beaten, frisked for no reason, and too many of us listen to those who call them thugs and say they deserve to die.

Poor people live on the streets, many of them in need of treatment for psychiatric illness or addiction, and we listen to the people who call them bums and try to run them off by passing laws criminalizing giving them food.

The War Machine wants us to be scared enough to follow the call to war anywhere, any time. We say “no more boots on the ground,” but then we always seem to cheer on our troops when we become convinced we need boots on the ground.

When we have sent these men and women into combat five, six, eight times and they have become too debilitated to be of any further use to the machine, we discard them.

So much for honoring the troops, although we still are called to glorify the military, to say thanks to a soldier as we vote for the people who will strip away more of their benefits.

After World War II, we prosecuted Germans and Japanese for doing exactly what we did to people under the guise of fighting terrorism, and more than 50 percent of Americans think that’s OK.

We’re the frog put into a pot of cool water and heated ever so slowly until we’re poached. We don’t see it coming until it’s too late, and it’s getting damn close to too late.

What we’re seeing right now is only the beginning, and unless we see substantial wage increases, fewer tax breaks for the super-rich, a cease of the attack on women’s and workers’ rights, and improvements to the things we need and use every day — our nation’s infrastructure — we’re cooked.

I’m not sure what the path would be to combat the increased violence, and the increased tolerance of it. I guess we each have to stand up for what we believe is right. We have to reject the violence and hatred. We have to be constructive and not destructive.

I guess what I’m saying, is that in this season of darkness, we have to bring the light.

Blessed be, as my Pagan friends say. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas.


We are not the good guys


We tortured people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It wasn’t just “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to a newly released CIA report.

We used sleep deprivation and we broke bones. We chained people to the floor and sexually humiliated them.

We kept them standing or in stress positions, yelled at them, stripped them, dragged them across floors and beat them. We kept them in secret sites that no one but the CIA knew about.

We did things that we prosecuted the Japanese for after World War II.

We are not the good guys anymore. We are the scary bad guys.

This is not the United States I was raised to believe in. Of course, much of that was a lie, since we secretly meddled in other countries for decades before 9/11. We created Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

When our creations no longer suit our needs, we use whatever means — legal or illegal — to get rid of them. In this case, we tortured human beings.

What’s worse, the torture yielded no results. Information provided by someone who is being tortured is unreliable at best. People who are being tortured will say anything to make it stop. The most reliable and truthful information came from people who were questioned without harsh techniques.

The CIA lied to the White House, Congress and the Justice Department about its tactics.

Someone needs to go to jail for this. In fact, an entire group of people need to rot in jail for a very long time, including the psychologists the CIA hired to help develop the techniques used.

And even though the CIA lied, I think if Congress were doing its job, someone should have uncovered this mess.

We were living under an administration that said waterboarding was OK and that it yielded good information. Of course the people who wanted to torture would take that as a signal to go another step or two further.

We were “rendering” people with no trial to foreign countries and secret CIA prison sites to be interrogated by monsters of our own creation.

I am incredibly disappointed by President Obama’s reaction, which amounted to, “Oops.”

His carefully chosen words about these methods of interrogation being “inconsistent with our values as a nation” were cowardly and inappropriate. He should have been incensed, but he was disappointed.

This report should make all of us sick to our stomachs, but there already are people rushing to defend the CIA and its tactics.

If things like this are done in our name is it any wonder that we treat our own people with disdain?

If people mean nothing to us as a nation, then torture abroad and the murders of innocent, unarmed people at home become commonplace. Lives become meaningless and thus, disposable.

This is not the kind of society I want to live in. We need to work to change it. All of us.

I have to say, I’m not very proud to be an American today. Shame on us.



“This stops today!”

protest 120414

That was what Eric Garner said moments before he was killed. It also was one of the chants at last night’s demonstration in Asheville, where we shut down Biltmore Avenue for a time.

But when my friend, Noel Nickle and I wanted to sing, “We Shall Overcome,” many of the young people there didn’t know it. So she and I sang it, and a few people joined in.

To us, the singing was about building something, not just shutting something down.

Yes, racism must be shut down. The fatal flaws in out so-called justice system need to be shut down.

But then what?

It’s one thing to insist something evil be torn down, but it must be replaced with something better.

If “this stops today,” then what do we begin tomorrow?

How do we build a more just society?

That’s what we need to be thinking about.

Last night in Asheville, we chanted and sang, we shut down Biltmore Avenue and marched through downtown.

We have demonstrated our anger and frustration.

Now what?

How do we get people to respect each other as fellow human beings?

I know I live with white privilege. I don’t ever have to think about the color of my skin or whether I’m being pulled over for driving while black.

I met a young man last night who I hope will become a friend for life. We were talking about our different perspectives, and how we were able to reach the same conclusions about the injustice that’s so pervasive in our culture.

“Don’t tell me it isn’t about race when I’m 21 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a white man my age,” he said.

Keith Knox Jr. is a senior at UNC Asheville, majoring in political science. He plans to get a master’s degree in public policy and then go to law school — a similar path to the one my late son wanted to take before he died from neglect.

As Keith and I talked about what we would like to see happen, a television reporter walked over to interview us.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” he said.

Why were we there? What enraged us enough to come out to protest?

I gave my usual answer: that Michael brown could have been my kid or my grandson, and that each of these fallen young men is part of my human family. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do also to me.

Keith answered the question with one of his own: “Why should I be expected to pledge allegiance to a country that won’t respect me?”

There was a lot of energy, as there has been at all of the protests across the country.

We have taken to the streets.

Now what?


It feels overwhelming


I’m having the worst time focusing today. I’m trying to sort through my thoughts as I attempt to write about my own son’s death from medical neglect and at the same time, wrap my head around the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner.

Before he died, my son insisted that I forgive the people who were responsible for his death and move on to something positive, so I began to advocate for universal access to health care.

But what are the mothers and other family members of these folks supposed to do? How do you get over the death of a 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun at a playground?

How do you get over the brutal murder of an 18-year-old who was days away from starting college and actually had some hope of escaping a life of poverty?

How do you move beyond the choking death of a 43-year-old father of six?

Immediately, the media try to criminalize the victim. The 12-year-old should have known better than to play with a toy gun.

The 18-year-old was a “thug” who may have stolen some cigars.

The father of six was selling loose cigarettes.

It’s as though these offenses — real or imagined — warranted the death penalty.

That’s why no one is being tried, even for involuntary manslaughter, in any of these deaths.

And we the people are supposed to shrug and move on. Or perhaps we’re supposed to join hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

I believe in peaceful protest, although even that too often is met with violent militarized action by police.

Someone throws a bottle and the tanks and tear gas come out, which just makes the crowd angrier and things keep escalating.

These three and many, many more, mostly black people, die because cops can get away with acting as judge, jury and executioner.

These atrocities don’t happen in my white neighborhood, and I could “mind my own business,” I suppose.

But I can’t stand by and do nothing in the face of such injustice. I have to speak out. I will be at a protest tonight, and I will continue to protest until things begin to change.

I’ve gotten into a few discussions on Facebook about these deaths. Someone called me a racist for saying it happens too often to black men and boys.

People who want to remain comfortable in their middle-class neighborhoods don;t realize that they’re not safe from the abuses of power.

First they came for …

Go ahead and make excuses for the cops if you want. You can feel safe — for now.


Another killer cop walks free

The final moments of Eric Garner's life.

The final moments of Eric Garner’s life.

OK, I know the title sounds like nasty rhetoric, but it has happened again, and this time there’s video to prove the cop broke the law.

Last July, Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes near the ferry terminal in Staten Island, NY. Video shows police approach and wrestle him to the ground. In the video, the person behind the camera says Garner had just broken up a fight.

Whatever the reason for the police being there, Garner resists being put in handcuffs, so several officers tackle him. One officer has him in a chokehold and later has his knee on Garner’s head to keep it on the ground.

Repeatedly, you can hear Garner croak, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!”

The officer ignores his pleas and continues to keep him in the illegal chokehold.

I watched the video. It’s disturbing as hell.

The coroner ruled the death a homicide, but the Grand Jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to indict — even though the video clearly shows the officer in violation of the law.

Garner was unarmed, by the way. The officers were never in any danger from him.

Garner had asthma and other medical problems. He weighed about 400 pounds. He was in violation of the law when he sold loose cigarettes, but he was not dangerous when police tackled him. He denied he was doing anything wrong and police just got rougher. He was obviously frightened of being put in handcuffs.

So, what happened is that Eric Garner got the death penalty for selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, has been stripped of his badge and gun. He may lose his job. That’s hardly payment for causing the death of a human being.

Go ahead and call me racist for saying I don’t think it would have happened to a white man, but I really don’t think it would have.

New York is the home of stop and frisk and the vast majority of people who get stopped are non-white.

Now we have another unarmed black man killed, and no one will have to answer for the crime.

Let’s face it, the system is broken. This isn’t justice. Something has to change.


a world of progress site | woven by WEBterranean