Friday, September 25, 2015

Making Our Library Work -- The Socialism Episode

When you look up Bernie Sanders in the Charleston County Public Library catalog, there are three entries:  in one 2013 book, he is noted because he wrote the preface, the second comes up in a book about Charleston because there is an entry by a writer named "Bernie" and another by a writer named "Sanders," and the third is a DVD that includes a first name of "Bernice" and a last name of "Saunders" (not the same person).

When you look up socialism, you will find a few books that haven't been tossed yet that go back as far as 1969, and then the results get grim.  The titles that come up include:  The Politically Incorrect Guide to SocialismHeaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (which Wikipedia entry states "The book has been accused of factual errors and right-wing bias"); and (I'm looking for an adjective but words fail me) Jim DeMint's Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide into Socialism.  Oh, and then there are those anti-Obama tomes:  Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.  "Tyranny of socialism," "rampant socialism," German dictatorship and national socialism.

It is not surprising that idiots like Jim DeMint get heavily represented.  That's what a lot of people here in SC want to read, fact free political drivel.  But it is a shame that the quality of our library's collection is so poor when it comes to representing views other than right wing-nut fear and conspiracy theories.

With an actual socialist running for president, it is critical that we patrons of our library system let them know they need to fill in those gaping holes.

Each of us can go in to our local branch, or call the Main Branch (ask for the Collections Department and tell them you want to make a request for purchase).  If you really want to educate this very nice bunch of people, you can explain to them that the library has no books on Bernie Sanders and that socialism is totally misrepresented, and that the only books that are accurate are extremely outdated.

And here are some specific recommendations you can make:

The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America, by Jonathan Tasini, just published on 9/8/15.

The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, first published in 2011 but reprinted as recently as 2015.

Outsider in the White House, by Bernie Sanders, to be published on October 27.

My guess is that without hearing from many of us, the library might purchase one copy of each of the books (or not).  These books should be on the shelf of every branch of our library system, just the way books by Donald Trump would be.  The only way to convince CCPL of this is by overwhelming them with requests.

New books are beginning to come out about socialism as well, including:

Socialism... Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, by Danny Katch, that sounds perfect for those (like me) that don't want a dense read but something with practical information.  That is just out, and I will be making my purchase request next time I go into my Johns Island branch.

By the way, A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, reissued in 2005, a book that should be read by every history student in the country, includes a chapter called "Socialism."  But our library no longer has any copies.  So you might want to tell our collections department that this is a gap that should be filled.  They might tell you that they only order books that are less than a year old, but that is not true for classics, extremely popular, and important books.  If they insist, tell them to order some good new books on socialism.  Or complain to the board.  Or the Post & Courier.

We can't get someone with new ideas elected if the old guard won't let them be heard.  If curious people look up Bernie Sanders and don't find anything about him, or look up socialism and find books on Hitler, we lose our chance to make some real change.

But I guarantee that if enough of us communicate this need to our library, they will respond.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Failing Our Daughters

Imagine a teenage girl having sex.  I know, I know, she's had sex ed and been told not to.  Which has been proven to be as effective as the legal drinking age of 21.  So, as so many of us have done, she waits anxiously for her period, and it doesn't come.  Either she can or she can't tell her parents.  Or she can but she doesn't know that.

She doesn't say anything, except maybe to her boyfriend, who suddenly starts avoiding her.

If she goes to her guidance counselor, her parents will find out.

She can't go to a doctor, because the doctor would insist on telling her parents.

There was once a time, or should have been a time, or should currently be, clinics where teens can get accurate information about pregnancy, and told objectively about the options.  But that doesn't exist.

She tells a friend, who tells another friend, and, as Kurt Vonnegut might have said, so it goes.  The friends try to piece information together.  Somebody has heard that drugs for animals can cause abortions.  Another friend has heard of someone who swallowed lye.  Someone else suggested that she throw herself down the stairs.  They all agreed that she should wait and see; sometimes you just miss a period.

When there is absolutely no doubt that she is pregnant, she looks up some family clinic phone numbers.

At this point, when she turns the problem over to the adults, there is still no certainty that she will end up with accurate information and an objective counselor to go over her options.  If she is determined to have an abortion, she may not have the money.  She may end up talking to anti-abortion counselors who give her bad information.  She may not be able to get to an abortion provider.  Or she may end up, in desperation, swallowing lye.

Meanwhile, she has been depressed, distracted.  She may have continued to go to classes, but her grades have suffered.

Perhaps at some point her parents figure it out.  Recriminations followed by an insistence that she has the baby:  you got yourself into this.  She tries to believe this is the best thing.  Her mother is supportive one minute, angry the next.  Her father says she can stay at home with the baby, but then complains that he will have to take care of her and her kid.

If staying with her parents is intolerable, she may decide to go out on her own.  In some states, there is no health care available, or it is minimal and hard to find.  She can't get housing or food stamps.  There is no child care.  She takes what welfare she can, but it is hard to figure out where to go and how to apply.  When she does get assistance, it is not anywhere near enough to survive.  She doesn't eat well, she doesn't sleep well, she has never learned how to budget and has no resources to help her.  And she surely has no idea how to take care of a baby.

Lindsey Graham sent out an email yesterday bragging on the upcoming "fast-tracked" abortion ban vote.  This is part of an all-out blitzkrieg on women's reproductive rights in conjunction with voting to defund Planned Parenthood.  Once again, holding the government hostage by threatening a shutdown if Planned Parenthood is not defunded.  A Sophie's choice of which most desperately needed programs are going to be killed.

After Wednesday's republican debate, the media heralded Carly Fiorina as the "winner," because she was poised and spoke in complete sentences.  Women cheered her on for confronting Donald Trump for his crack about her face.  On the other hand, her comments about Planned Parenthood were complete fabrications.  Which fact-checking has gone pretty much unnoticed.

In this fictional right-wing world, it is all about saving "lives."  The government should be small and we should all celebrate our "freedom."  Unless we are women, or obstetricians.  Or teenage girls.

Accurate information and objective reporting or counseling has no place in 2015 America.

Here in South Carolina, where our legislature has finally passed a bill requiring accurate sex education be taught in the schools, the same determination is going into thwarting that law as that which went into civil rights laws integrating schools.  Charleston County, which is supposed to be a shining star in the redneck firmament which is South Carolina, has been outstanding in its efforts to avoid telling the truth to our teens regarding their bodies.

So that girl who makes the mistake of having unprotected sex is easily forgiven.  She is living in a world of denial and of falsehood.  She has nowhere that she knows she can turn because anyone that might help her find her way is threatened with firing or defunding.

Our choice.  Not hers. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Ironic Cherry Reads...

...The Invisible Bridge 

"If the people believe there's an imaginary river out there, you don't tell them there's no river out there.  You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river."

This is the quote that prefaces the book "The Invisible Bridge" by Rick Perlstein.  It is attributed as "Advice to Richard Nixon from Nikita Khrushchev."

The book is a doorstop, some 800+ pages.  If you have time to read only one book, this is the one you should read.  As the subtitle says, it chronicles the time -- bridges the time -- of "the fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan."

If you have been sitting here in 2015 scratching your head and wondering how we got here from the amazing sixties, this is the book that will clear it up for you.  Yes, we had Roe v. Wade, and civil rights legislation, ended the war in Vietnam and began to end pollution and save the planet.  We had desegregation, a war on poverty and more kids went on to college than ever before.

But we liberals never saw the backlash coming.

The abortion wars began as soon as they ended, fires fueled by rage at the Supreme Court justices that made a woman's right to abortion the law of the land.

It was in the 70's that the textbook wars began, with a mild mannered Christian woman named Alice Moore speaking up at a Texas school board meeting, and refusing to back down until school boards in Texas and across the country removed books that offended with their words of sex and science, integration and art.  Evolution was banned from textbooks and classrooms, as well as "The Grapes of Wrath."

Lest we yanks feel smug, it was in Boston where fierce rioting went on over school busing.  "Two groups of people who are poor and doomed and who have been thrown in the ring with each other," was how columnist Jimmy Breslin described the battles between whites and blacks.

And in today's headlines we have a dozen odd republican candidates for president keeping those same wounds open.  They may be using Mexicans instead of African Americans, but their followers I assure you see them as pretty much the same problem.  You can't publicly pledge to send blacks back where they came from these days, but ending Obamacare and the Voting Rights Act is nearly as satisfying.

While Hillary is wasting her time apologizing for emails, we must know that this has nothing to do with what is going on with the upcoming election.

Remember that big brouhaha over Obama's 2008 comments on guns and religion?  We need to go back and listen to those comments again:

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 
And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Yes, they continue to cling to their guns and religion, and they are fueled by opportunistic politicians.  And what we see is craziness and rage.  We see nobodies like Kim Davis regaled as a hero for refusing to obey the law and used by fools like Mike Huckabee to promote his own small-minded religious agenda.  And those people who live in their own ignorance and isolation thrive on the narrative that the freedom of others to live differently will deny them their religious freedom.

And there you have that invisible bridge.  There won't be better jobs and the kids will either bail out or follow in the footsteps of fear and denial.  And the politicians will continue to pretend that they care about "religious freedom" while they deregulate and cut taxes for the rich.  And they will cut services to those same isolated small towns, health care and education, roads and schools, police and firefighters, blaming the government.  These pols have created and perpetuated this vicious cycle, wherein ignorance leads being frightened and vulnerable to lies and manipulation, which leads to more isolation and ignorance.

What is different now than it was in the 70's is that we have a Supreme Court that has been molded by the right-wing to reflect that bizarre religious paranoia.  Since Reagan the Supremes have formalized the union between corporate power and religion.  Small businesses haven't noticed that they have not been included in all the freedom of speech that is being bought, and politicians are giving them nothing but lip service.  But the pols have taken up the fight for the religious fanatics.  Because while they are wasting time and dollars with votes and court battles to end Obamacare, voting rights and Planned Parenthood, they are seeming to serve those small town old-timey values while their real constituents, the billionaire capitalists, are allowed to continue to freely run the country.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Speaking for Sanford

Nobody knows why Barton Swaim does not name Mark Sanford as his boss in the non-fiction The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics.  After all, not only does he name names of SC legislators, but in the book bio it states that he was Governor Sanford's speechwriter from 2007 to 2010.  Whatever.  This is a quick read.  There is no biographical information about Sanford before the events of his last term in office.  It really is pretty much about what it is like to work as Sanford's speechwriter.

And it is a thankless job.  He not only is unable to articulate what he wants from his staff, he is merciless in his criticism.  He is also just plain old inarticulate, which is what prompted Swaim to actually ask for the job interview.  Sanford's staff hates him, mocks him behind his back, and uses devious and comical strategies to deal with his conflicting and at times nonsensical demands.  Swaim finally studies Sanford's own letters and speeches and compiles a list of words and phrases that he would otherwise never use in order to write to please his boss.  Which also makes his characterization of Sanford spot on.

Other than it is an interesting quick read, there are a few bits of information that we as voters, constituents, activists, or merely residents in South Carolina should know, mostly about Sanford, but also about the SC legislature and the characters that reside therein.

I don't believe Sanford is intellectually astute.  But he does understand his base.  At one point, he criticizes Swaim's writing this way:  "'ve got to know your audience.  The mechanic in Greenwood doesn't go around talking about things being 'the extent for which'."  While Sanford's bumbling manner of speech appears to be real, he is very much aware of its impact, and it certainly does the job of appealing to his base, which truly feels that, despite his wealth, he is a good ole boy just like them.  In other words, barely literate.

His gimmicks are notorious.  From bringing pigs to the Statehouse to protest "pork,"

to standing in front of MUSC debating a poster of Nancy Pelosi:

Mark Sanford is as good as any cigarette advertising executive at getting attention, getting a laugh, getting the support of right-wing South Carolina.  He doesn't have to make sense, and he knows it.

Here's another interesting detail from Swaim's years as Sanford's speechwriter.  One of his tasks during those years was to write "surrogate letters."  In other words, he would pen letters to the editor as though they came from Sanford supporters, send them off to those supporters, who would then submit them to the state's newspapers.  That's right, some of those barely readable letters praising Sanford's policies were written by Sanford's speechwriter.  Swaim claims that this is a common practice in politics.  I imagine that the Karl Roves of the political world would agree.  But I wonder if this is true, or if Swaim just needed to be convinced.

While Sanford felt that letters to the editor were a valuable way to convince people to support him, Swaim doesn't have a lot flattering to say about them.  He says, "Of course, very few letters to the editor come anywhere near coherence.  Mostly they're platitudes basted with the rhetoric of outrage."  I like to think this bias is because he spent his time reading the ones that were favorable to the governor (and for which Sanford insisted Swaim send thank-you's under his name).

While Swaim seems to detest Sanford personally and in his professional interactions, he admires Sanford's politics and his refusal to back down.  This (along with the gimmicks) appears to be key to his success.  If reality is working against him, he ignores reality, as with public opinion after the Appalachian Trail scandal.  He is stubborn in a way that only a true narcissist can be stubborn.  He will wait out adversity and damn if he isn't able to outwait us every time.

I would like to end by saying that this book is a rollicking jaunt through Mark Sanford's last term as governor.  In fact, it would be a great deal more fun if the jackass wasn't serving in the US House of Representatives, where he is likely to have an uncontested seat for as long as he wants it.

Even so, it is a painless -- and entertaining -- way to know your enemy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Consistently Inconsistent

I was listening to my podcast of Bill Maher's 8/28 episode a few minutes ago.  It was "Overtime," in which the panel answers questions from the audience, and after a bizarre argument about the Iran deal, Maher changed the subject by asking California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher about his marijuana bill.

Rohrabacher has co-sponsored, and the House passed in June, a medical marijuana amendment.  He replied to Maher:  "I am very proud... that we believe... in personal responsibility, we believe in doctor/patient relationships, we believe in making sure that you have limited government and maximum of individual freedom.  Well that means that you should let people smoke marijuana if they want to."

Fortunately, I was heading into my own yard at that point, because my head spun around like Linda Blair possessed of the devil.  Right wing-nuts have that effect on me.

My reaction this time was because I distinctly heard Rohrabacher, during the show just minutes earlier, put his stupid on in order to argue why Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

Rohrabacher was able to perform some incredible feats of illogic to support his "limited government" while jumping ship on the "maximum of individual freedom" part of his stated ideal.  As Wendy Davis looked on in disbelief, Rohrabacher defended the goal of shutting down the government in order to force the defunding of Planned Parenthood with:  "selling of body parts and how to get a fetus out of a woman's body so they can sell the parts, that's a little unnerving."

When Maher corrected him by saying that a) it's legal, b) it's fetal tissue, not body parts, and c) fetal tissue has been used to solve a lot of medical problems, the idiot Rohrabacher replied, "You're trying to tell me that's what these body parts are being sold for?"

And then when Davis referred to the loss of health care for 180,000 women by Texas' defunding of Planned Parenthood, Rohrabacher said smugly, "There are 9,000 clinics in the US that provide those services to women."

Which sounded a lot like Jeb Bush's comment that he's not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women's health issues.  Nine thousand clinics across the country?  Well, what are you women complaining about?

Meanwhile, if you change the reality of fetal tissue to body parts, fetus to baby, woman to mother, well, damn, you can reshape the whole argument.  And then all that nonsense about "personal responsibility,... doctor/patient relationships, limited government and maximum of individual freedom" becomes a government that needs to make laws to govern women's decisions about their bodies, and that monitors the woman's doctor/patient relationship.

Funny how the argument changes when it's about women.