Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fun Home -- A Legislative Tragicomic

If you haven't yet read Fun Home, the graphic autobiographical novel by Alison Bechtel, you should be happy to know that the waiting list at our library is only 17, since they recently got in a slew more copies.  And even though this is a book we all should read, we owe its current popularity (its copyright is 2006) to our South Carolina legislature.

Just as they claim to be experts on medicine and science in general, this bunch has now weighed in with their expertise in literature.  Mind you, most of them haven't read the book.  It appears that out of 232 pages, someone was shown one of two pages that depicted a sexual act (and not all that graphically I might add).  And that's really all it took for idiots like Larry Grooms and Mike Fair to begin this newest battle in their war on education.  In defense of his position, Fair refers to a state law against "the abominable act of buggery," which a) gives you an idea of how backward and perverse the man is, and b) is proof that he hasn't read the book.

In fact, this is an award-winning piece of literature written by an adult who explores in depth her relationships with her family and particularly with her father.  Issues about belonging, trying to do the right thing, and those coping mechanisms we resort to when we are lost.  So many complex questions of sexuality that we should all think about, and discuss, critically and with sensitivity.  It would be a feather in the cap of South Carolina's legislators to promote the freedom of educators to include this in recommended reading.  And it sure wouldn't hurt anyone if it were required reading.

Because the people who force us to accept prayer in public places and legislate their faux science based on their right-wing interpretation of the bible don't think that professors should have the same right to expose students to different ideas.  I mean, of course, different from the legislators' own.  This controversy and the heavy-handed manner in which the most ignorant of our "representatives" have forced their opinion on our educational institutions should be a red flag.

Recently a bill to introduce the Columbian Mammoth as the state fossil was held up by religious freaks like Kevin Bryant who felt the need to add amendments recognizing God for creating the woolly mammoth.

While such stories are good fun to those who are peeking at us through the bars, being here and knowing that our legislators have so little knowledge and are so comfortable throwing their weight around is tiresome if not plain scary.  Raising children in a state in which our lawmakers want to be sure evolution is taught as part of a debate against intelligent design and in which books from Harry Potter to Fun Home have come under fire is tragic.  The great loss is that the world around us may be growing in insight and understanding while we stumble backwards, clinging fearfully to superstitions and suspicion.

And the fire that was started by the ill-conceived controversy over Fun Home is not just about reading matter.  It is about understanding and tolerance of life styles, recognition of our inter-relatedness, and inspiration through new ideas.  It is about living together and moving forward.  Sadly, our lawmakers are more inclined to attack those who are different or hold different beliefs.  In a very small way, it gives them power.  And makes us all feel that much more insignificant in the context of the world.

The way we here in the South have reacted to this rigidity is to cling even more fiercely to old ideas, become more defensive and hostile to other ideas, and continue to vote into office people who will protect us from the outside.  We do have representatives that speak out against dogma and for that I am thankful.  But more of us need to speak more loudly for reason and tolerance, for critical thinking and insight, for the freedom to seek and share other points of view.  And we need to elect more legislators who are proud to fight for those principles.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tim Scott's Road to Success

Our own Tim Scott was on a panel at the American Enterprise Institute.  It was fun to listen to Tim parrot the words of his right-wing heroes.  It was also obvious that he was better rehearsed than, say, George W. Bush.  It's also obvious that he believes what he's preaching.  And why shouldn't he?  It's worked pretty well for him.  It's worked well, not in the sense that the nonsense he is spouting works, but the fact that he is a believer has brought him lots of goodies.

But hold your nose and listen more closely to the words (Tim's words of wisdom are about 27 minutes in):

Introduced as a "guy who thinks for himself," Tim proceeds to preach from the right-wing prayer-book.  He and his fellow panelists agree that they are there because they care about the poor.  The moderator and president of the AEI, Arthur C. Brooks, jumped into W's murky pool of "compassionate conservatism," and it is obvious that he is proud to show Tim off, just as he is sure to bring up Marco Rubio, both of whom are proud right wing-nuts with lower class minority roots.

Scott talked pretty up there on that panel.  You can tell he has been well groomed.  He is even coming up with his own nifty sound bites.  My favorite is that the poor are "assets, not liabilities."  He pretends to be offended that kids growing up in poverty are called "high risk kids," and adds that that is an "awful label for a kid."  He prefers that they be called "high potential children."

Because the government doesn't need to help "high potential children."  In fact the solution to the problem we have with these "high potential children" is -- drum roll -- local control and giving parents more choice.

And what he means by local control and giving parents more choice is:  privatizing schools, with the help of groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council.  Right wing groups have over the past decade come to realize that the important fight is not so much in the US Congress, which they already own, but in the local elections.  And who better to speak to that than Tim Scott, who came up through local elected positions, earned his Tea Party wings and was gifted with the Senate seat by right wing-nut Nikki Haley.

He proudly talks about failing in public schools, and then blames the government for his failure.  And he believes that the private sector is the way to success for failing schools.  Of course, just as with prison privatization, the money comes from the federal government.  But those private companies can do it cheaper -- because when they do it cheaper there is more profit for them.  And when big business is happy, they are happy with Tim Scott, and that makes Tim Scott happy.

Choice is going to mean whatever private enterprise is able to sell to local governments.  Local governments won't be able to afford high teacher salaries and schools a child can be proud to attend.  We are likely to see more kids sitting in front of computers, at home or at school.  Vouchers will of course come from the government, which will have no say in determining where that money goes.  Parents will no longer turn to education experts to decide how best to educate their kids; they will look to advertising, and cost.  Those with greater income to add to their vouchers will send their kids to better schools.  Religious schools will pick up a lot of the slack.  And poor schools will take in the rest.  If that sounds familiar, look around.

It doesn't matter how pretty and inspiring are Tim Scott's words.  The fact is, with educated leaders and enough money funding public schools, it is the absolute best way to educate our children.  Scott's own struggle with getting educated happened because people like him refused to pay for good education for minority children in low income neighborhoods.

Compassionate conservative Arthur Brooks, after Tim Scott's heartfelt words added,

"The reason for free enterprise is not the rich.  The reason for free enterprise is the poor."

Look around you.  Look at the people in this "right-to-work-cheap" state who would be forced to choose mediocre private schools because their vouchers don't pay what it takes to attend a good private school.  Ask yourself why people like Tim Scott are happy to have the government pay a private company to do what he won't let the government do.  Could it be that supporting private corporations over the government is Tim Scott's real road to success?

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Premature Victory Lap

Yes it is thrilling that South Carolina is coming out of its financial slump, with low unemployment and lots of money sitting in the treasury.  In fact, some of our legislators are so excited at having money to spend that they've forgotten that they blanch at the thought of funding food stamps and medical care, and are ready to start refunding things like (I am not making this up) the college pigskin all-star bowl, according to Bill Davis of Statehouse Reports.

But before Nikki Haley starts to do her victory laps, I think we should take a look at the bigger picture.

A fight on the federal level for jobs programs, educational funding, better medical care, improvements to roads, bridges and ports, has allowed people to get back on their feet after the financial disaster.  Republicans may snort at helping people who are underpaid or unemployed, but those food stamp dollars get put right back into the economy, so that grocery stores can hire and profits can grow.  When there is better and more affordable health care, people tend to take care of problems before they end up in an emergency room, costing taxpayers far less.

Here's something for South Carolina:  our huge boost in tourism often comes from people who often come from other states, and often from those blue states, where their lives have become secure enough that they can begin to vacation again.  We have a beautiful state and a great tourism industry, but let's not give our governor credit for all those tourism tax dollars.  That could not have happened unless the tourists came to spend the money.

If it was the South alone that was booming, I might be inclined to say, keep on going with those corporate giveaways and the "right-to-work-cheap" philosophy.

But we continue to be in a sorry state as far as the working poor, and they can't spend money they don't have.  Let's not forget that one of the big problem areas that our budget windfall is not fixing is the cost of Medicaid -- and that our governor has refused to take the federal dollars that would not only provide health care to the poor, but would save us lots of money.  So we could put more into education, roads and bridges, oh, and what the hell, even funding those pigskin games.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Benghazi Plot

Things have gotten pretty grim around here.  Unemployment is down, the federal budget deficit is shrinking, and Obamacare is working.  Oh, and Hillary may be running for president in 2016.

What's to be done?

The answer:  Benghazi.

While even Kentucky has failed to buy into the evils of the Affordable Care Act, here in South Carolina you can't hardly say a friendly hello before someone tells you about that bad old Obamacare.  That's the result of the never-ending republican election strategy.  Years of repeating the same lies about the ACA, the "death panels," the threats of losing your favorite docs, socialism and government control, long lines and higher prices.  All that repetition actually works, especially when you have an uninformed middle class that has been hit hard in the economy.  It has gotten my fellow South Carolinians as fired up and ready to go as any Obama oratory.

And while they were hyping the evils of health care for all for the hurting middle class, they got the religious right cranked up with regularly scheduled anti-abortion votes in the House of Representatives.  In 2011, they introduced 44 anti-abortion bills.  Of course, there was no chance of getting them passed, but if the GOP understands anything it is how to get their base riled up -- and by the way, distracting us all from unemployment and corporate (and Wall Street) crime.

After the horrific shooting of twenty children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012, to our amazement, the republican party turned its attention to increasing the freedom of gun owners to bear weapons.  This became the cause that fired up the paranoid redneck population which has resulted in state laws permitting guns in bars and restaurants here in SC, to Georgia, which now has a "guns everywhere" law that "guards against tyranny."  Except, of course, for the tyranny of those nuts with deadly weapons.

So is it any surprise that those far thinking right wingnuts should be setting their sights (as in cross-hairs) on Hillary, who was in charge during the Benghazi attack?  If they can get their uninformed but flammable constituents to parrot the word "Benghazi" the way they have for "Obamacare" they will be well on their way to a strategy for 2016.

It would do us well to recall, however, that this strategy has not worked so well against Barack Obama.  They tried it when he was candidate Obama, and for a couple of years thereafter, with the Kenya birth certificate nonsense.

And since then, regardless what new conspiracy the right wing is pushing, Obama has moved forward.  In fact, in the Senate in 2012 the Democrats picked up two seats.  Had it not been for the nefarious redistricting done after the last census, Democrats would have won House seats, having won a nation-wide plurality in all House elections.

I don't think Hillary is quaking in her boots over Benghazi.  The shame is that one of South Carolina's own is proudly chairing the committee to perpetuate the question of whether Benghazi can lead to republican victories in 2014 and 2016.  Has the country not laughed at us enough?  I admit, I will miss the bizarre rages of Darrell Issa but I am confident that he will have plenty more conspiracy theories with which to waste time.

The further shame is that people who don't know or care where Benghazi is, people who waved the American flag in support of the Bush administration lies that led to the war that resulted in so many deaths, are pretending to really care about the four American fatalities in the Benghazi attack.

Since the only alternative to conspiracy theories, however, is to talk about issues like the economy, corporate greed, and the environment, you can rest assured that in these parts you won't be able to swing a dead cat without hitting someone muttering about Benghazi, at least through the next couple of elections.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Home Through the Looking Glass

I wasn't even gone a week.  My first conversation back in Charleston was with the guy at the car rental desk.  We began with the weather, then to the increase in car accidents and what on earth is going on with that?  Then I told him my premium had gone up, not because I had had an accident but (according to the customer service rep I spoke with) because there are more accidents in my area.  Then on to Costco doing car rentals and car insurance.

At that point the man mumbled something about health insurance.  Apparently he was looking and didn't like what he was going to have to spend, so he decided he wasn't going to do it.  "What if you get sick?" I asked.  "Oh, I'm getting health insurance," he said, "I'm going with the Lindsey Graham -- Tim Scott plan."

Okay, y'all can do a double-take.

When I left here not one week ago, South Carolina was being regaled with TV ads brought to us by a group of right wingnuts calling themselves The American Chemistry Council.  Apparently, the strategy of teaming up the unlikely couple of Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott in a clever ad and then blasting it around the state for a few days has made it a done deal.  Graham and Scott are now our favorite couple.

Now I don't have any idea what the good ole boy behind the counter at the car rental was talking about.  It seems that whenever I try to hang in on a conversation like that it doesn't take much for me to go over my crazy quotient.  Do Graham and Scott really have their own insurance plan?  All I know is my new friend told me he'd happily pay the fine for not enrolling in "that Obamacare."

Back when I hadn't been down here that long I would have gotten angry.  I might have tried to argue, or I might have just glared and walked away.  But I've been living here some 15 years.  I laughed and told him, "It sure is good to be back home," and walked away.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott: It's Complicated

Back in November, it seemed that Tim Scott wasn't too happy with Lindsey Graham.  Was it the Tea Party whispering nasties into his ear?  Back then Tim was best buds with Nikki Haley, and why not -- she was the one who gave him the golden ticket to the U.S. Senate.

In fact, just about a year ago, her campaign site,, featured the pair smiling enticingly at we the voters.  Today she's resorting to the more traditional family photo.

So imagine my surprise last night when, as I fast-forwarded through commercials to get back to Letterman, I saw this unlikely image:

Curiosity got the better of me, and I rewound back to the beginning of the ad.  Incredibly, it's sponsored by a group called the American Chemistry Council, which makes it the number one contestant in the game called:  "what's wrong with this picture?"  It would be unfair for me to try to describe it, so here it is:

 You know how much I love to delve into the mysteries of who's funding the right wingnuts.  And this bunch didn't even have the words "Freedom" or "Liberty" in their name, so it was guaranteed to grab my attention.  And the implication of science paired with those good old evangelical freaks was making my day.

The American Chemistry Council was once called the Chemical Manufacturers' Association.  They have a warm and fuzzy website that, to sum it up, says, "Trust us."

Their purpose is (hold on to your seat) deregulation, calling it the "Responsible Care Program."  In 2005 they developed a public relations program they called "essential2" -- apparently having skipped over essential1 -- which purpose was to convince us that plastics is good.  To that end, they have been heavily involved in preventing plastic bag regulation.  Yes, when the public has supported initiatives restricting the use of plastic bags, The American Chemistry Council has been there with its "plastic bag lobby" to sway the voters, and when that fails, sue the local government.

On April 21, the American Chemistry Council rolled out its support for our two great senators, for their positive outlook in a negative political atmosphere, and for their work to tackle the two biggest problems we face:  economic growth and job creation.

After we all do a double take, let's get down to checking out our heroes' actual hard work in the Senate.

I believe it was just the day before I saw this ad that I turned on CSPAN to find Lindsey Graham regaling an almost definitely empty Senate chamber with posters proving his paranoid theory about Benghazi, apparently having at one point called White House officials "scumbags."

Meanwhile, as Lindsey Graham gives us Benghazi all day every day, his new buddy Tim Scott continues to fight for jobs by determining to end Obamacare, with his latest weekly email missive stating "Obamacare Must Go."  To be fair, he is also determined to create a couple dozen jobs through the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Which must be what makes the American Chemistry Council so darned proud.

These ads will be running for a few days, because the American Chemistry Council understands just how to buy a senator or two.  And our two senators from South Carolina are ready to stand up and be bought.

And if they have to do it together, well, I guess that's a price they're willing to pay.