Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gun Safety v. Gun Control

As I updated my legislative tracking list yesterday, I cheered because a few of our Democratic leaders in South Carolina are loading up the House and Senate with gun bills.  But I grimaced every time I entered the preferred term "gun safety" rather than "gun control."

We Dems don't much like to fight.  We operate under the delusion that if we frame what we are doing in more peaceable terms, our opponents will look thoughtful, shrug and then say, "Well, then, I never thought of it that way."

Meanwhile, republican wingnuts (pardon my redundancy), harbor no such concerns about our feelings when they are talking about gun "freedom."  The same holds true when they proudly claim that they are "anti-abortion" as opposed to our gentler "pro-choice."

This is a battle of words, but the words represent how strongly we feel about going to war.  There is a reason that while my car is laden with political bumper stickers, I have passed up the opportunity to advertise my gun control sentiments.  The reason is twofold:  those who disagree are more willing to fight over it, and they are armed.

It is a good thing that we have legislators like Marlon Kimpson in the Senate and Wendell Gilliard in the House that are ready to stand up against the legislators who have drunk the NRA cool-aid that is killing off so many innocent people.  It is going to take not just a slew of bills, but it is going to take courageous co-sponsors, and it is going to take South Carolinians who are willing to yell louder and and yell every day until those bills are passed.

We need to stop worrying about what to call it, and how it will affect gun owners.  We have had enough polls showing that sane gun owners, including NRA members, want gun control.  They want licensing, background checks, waiting periods, and controls on what type of weapons are for sale.  The lunatics that are afraid that Obama is coming after their guns, that yell about Second Amendment rights without a clue about the meaning or history of the Constitution, are not going to be swayed by reasoned, gentler language.  They are bullies, and they are bullies with guns.  The way to stop a bully is through a show of strength and through fearlessness -- and I don't mean bigger bullets.

When someone rants about taking his (or her) gun away, I am tempted to point out that "you are exactly the type of person who should not own a gun."  Fact.  If you have irrational fears and anger issues, you shouldn't have a gun.  The shootings we have been subject to on a daily basis, whether mass shootings, terrorist attacks, gangbangers or paranoid or depressed loners, have gone on too long.  The rage and fear has been stoked by politicians who are bought by the NRA who exists solely for the arms manufacturers.  Lindsey Graham and Lee Bright, and all in their club, bear responsibility for what is going on in this country.  Their constant and unreasoned criticism of our country, their insistence that we are in danger and our national government is not doing anything about it, their targeting groups based on race, sex, sexual orientation, all feed the mob.

We need strong language, fearless language, and a determination not to stop fighting.  So join the lawmakers who have stepped up to fight this fight.  Letters to the editor, calls, emails, talking to friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, posting on social media -- the only way to stop a bully with a gun is to take away the gun.

And here is a PS:  we need bills that will carry penalties for individuals whose carelessness has left guns in the wrong hands.  Too many toddlers getting killed playing with their dad's weapon.  Painting toy guns pretty colors isn't going to do it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Ironic Cherry Reads...

...Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Seniors, Tighten Your Belts (Again)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Beating Mark Sanford

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a disappointment.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Disturbing Schools

Way back when I was a teenager in a northern state, at a really predominantly white middle class high school, a few smartasses thought it would be a riot to paint murals of our geometry teacher on a large prominent window over the weekend.  He was a sweet guy who got a bit confused at times.  These geniuses learned that he had been a boxer; we all assumed he'd been punched one too many times.  It was also rumored that his name in the ring was "Killer Kells," although this may have just been my classmates' creative genius at work.  Each weekend, for a number of weeks, there would be admittedly clever but truly cruel paintings of "The Killer," bald head shining.  As the weeks progressed, the school administration got faster at removing the evidence, so that eventually it was being removed by Monday morning so that no one ever saw it, the thrill of the crime was gone and the vandalism stopped.  Poor Killer.

As juniors in French class, we all took great pleasure in refusing to speak French.  A few hecklers would entertain us and, again, rumor has it, we drove one of these two very dear women to early retirement.

And of course there were fights.  There are always fights in high schools.  There are always kids that talk back to teachers, that hang out in the bathrooms instead of going to class, who refuse to do what they are supposed to do.

In 1962, South Carolina adopted the "disturbing schools" law.  It remains on the books, and because it is vague and overreaching, it can be used to justify pretty much any police involvement in a school.  School resource officers have become an integral part of middle and high schools, theoretically selected and trained to be positive role models and actual legal resources for students, teachers and administrators.  Some actually do that.  Others, like Officer Ben Fields, bring his aggressive, even militaristic, attitude to his job.  He seems to have neither the skills nor the training to help him understand why teens would act out, and what represents an actual threat versus a troubled kid giving a teacher a hard time.  And how each of those cases require different interventions.

We can probably thank the mindset that created and maintained the "disturbing schools" law for that.  It's a spare the rod and spoil the child 1950's philosophy to which too many parents, voters and legislators continue to adhere.  The punishment mentality has far more to do with sex education in our schools than any desire to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy.  And here in South Carolina, it is no surprise that, along with teaching the perennial and negligibly effective D.A.R.E. program, Fields was football coach.  I have to say that it would take an unusual personality to be successful at coaching football and be able to relate to non-jocks, and particularly girls.  Ben Fields was not that personality.  He has been accused of excessive force (charges dropped), had in 2006 been accused of battery during an arrest of a black woman, and has a trial coming up in January against a charge of racism and false accusations towards a black student.

We know that the Catholic Church moved clergy around rather than take action after accusations of sexual assault.  We know that often people are promoted out of a situation where they have created problems.  I would not be surprised if a police officer who has had incidents of questionable behavior and lawsuits is moved from the streets into the schools, where the assumption is that the job would be less challenging and sadly, more out of the public view.

Of course, being a coach usually means that you can count on the loyalty of your team members.  In this case, students have spoken in his defense, of what a good guy he is and that he is not a racist.  On Friday, there was a walk-out to protest Fields' firing.  And even though Sheriff Leon Lott did the right thing by firing Lott, in his remarks he repeated that the student was in the wrong.  He congratulated the students who had recorded the incident, but has stood behind the arrest of the young woman who spoke out against Fields' assault as it was happening.

Let us not forget that Leon Lott was one of several sheriff's that acquired an MRAP, an armored personnel vehicle, that he nicknamed the "Peacemaker."  Lott said he planned on using the tank for "community policing programs and for personnel protection."  A spokesman for Lott said, "it's been a great icebreaker for kids and adults."  The attitude of might makes right permeates Lott's philosophy of law enforcement.

So while we should make our top priority getting rid of those "school resource officers" that believe that force is their best resource, there are underlying and long-lived philosophies about the best way to care for -- and discipline -- our kids when they are at school.

Our kids can make us all feel powerless and frustrated.  Teachers, here in South Carolina, often with classes too large, inadequate administrative support, low pay and not enough training, will face more and worse behavior problems.  That is what needs to be addressed in the long run.  Firing the problem resource officer (which appears would have been unlikely to happen without the video proof) is easy.  Improving the schools, and changing the attitude that resists improving the schools, is the hard part.  Let us not say impossible.

On the other hand, our lawmakers know nothing if not how to slow down and prevent progress.  Even though the Supreme Court found in favor of the Abbeville School District and is requiring the state to look at and change the funding formula that disadvantages rural schools, little progress has been made, nor is expected to be made.  And this is merely to meet our own low bar of bringing all districts up to "minimally adequate."  With that in mind, we are expecting our kids to spend most of their waking hours in places we adults would not frequent, loud and raucous classes full of students who frankly have bigger problems of their own.

And that really is it in a nutshell.  If you have ever had to go to work with a big problem on your mind, you understand how hard it is to concentrate, or to feel that your job is just that important.  If it is a job that gives no pleasure or support, if the work feels meaningless, and you have your own problems that you are wrestling with...

...well, imagine kids with their own troubles having to sit in those classrooms and be compliant for hours every day.

Better paid, trained and supported teachers is a start.  Smaller classrooms, counselors rather than officers.

Now that that one bad officer has been fired, how about tackling the hard job of fixing the schools?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Ironic Cherry Reads...

...Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Two decades after I graduated high school, I ran into one of our class's popular girls.  She was well-liked, a cheerleader, and academically successful.  In our short conversation, she commented on how horrible high school was.

Dave Barry has facetiously said that when an adult of any age commits suicide, it is because he can't get out of his mind some dumb thing he did when he was a teenager.

The young adult book, Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers, was one of the choices on the 9th grade honors summer reading list at West Ashley High School this year.  Thanks to a single parent's protest, it was removed.  I happened upon it at my branch library, where free copies were made available and displayed during Banned Books Week.

And I read it.

I was astonished at just how good the book was.  Yes, parties with drugs and drinking.  Sex, including attempted rape.  Smut, as this horrified West Ashley parent called it.

But that is not the point of the book.

Teenagers, trying to grow up, facing pressure from peers and teachers, and oh, clueless parents, all while trying to excel:  at academics, at sports, at popularity, at love.  Given the incredible mistakes adults make in their lives, it is no surprise that teens will make big mistakes.  And suffer for them.

I identified with this story on so many levels.  As a former high school psychologist.  As a parent.  And yes, friends, as a former high school student.  Because the conflict was there, the longings and the hurt, the striving and the feelings of failure.  All those hormones don't just go into the drive for sex, although they do indeed go there.  The passion for wanting to be a part of what is going on, while never really knowing what is going on, or what it is you really want, who can forget that?  How many people do you know that honestly enjoyed those school years?

And don't forget those clueless parents.  Parents who are proud or disappointed, who ask the wrong questions and hear what they want to hear.  Parents who have somehow blocked the pain of high school society from their memories and have no idea what their kids are going through.

Parents like this helicopter mom at West Ashley.  Who reads along with her daughter's summer reading assignment, but just can't handle the material.  Who can't deal with the discomfort of the bad things that do happen in high school.  Who was so blown away by scenes that reflect the reality of drugs and sex that she wasn't able to see the fear and pain that floats under the surface, under the facade of confidence, throughout every school day.

Who saw to it that if she couldn't handle it, no one else would get the opportunity.

I thought it was interesting that she took the book away from her daughter, got it banned from the school, but finished it herself.  Proclaiming about its indecency all the way through, while having her moment of fame and power.  Almost as though she were still there, in high school.

Of course, there is no excuse for the actions of the principal.  Except that is exactly what the principal at the fictional high school would have done.  We will have no controversy in our schools.  We will cover over the problems with a poor paint job, censorship, and detentions.  We will not defend our teachers' professional decisions, because we are afraid of creating a controversy.

Meanwhile, our students are dealing, every day, with tough decisions about conformity and rejection.

The banning of this book is exactly what the writing of this book illustrates.

The alternative would be letting teens know that they are not alone, that adults have been there and will be there for them.  Opening the discussion about how it feels to be afraid of making the wrong choice, of being rejected, is the way to give our teens real options.  Banning the discussion is the way we perpetuate the tyranny of high school.

And by the way, the educator that put this title on the summer reading list had intended that it would pave the way for the reading and discussing of books like Lord of the Flies, also banned in its day.

Some Girls Are is a quick read, and a page turner (I don't blame that West Ashley mom for not wanting to put it down), and the characters are intense.  In a very real sense, they are alone on an island, with the grown-ups far away and unreachable.  I urge you to give this book a try, and then pass it on to your teens.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Being Invisible

It was comical after Wednesday's Democratic debate, to watch MSNBC political hosts and pundits dance around the fact that Bernie Sanders has more supporters than Hillary.  They have mostly been ignoring his growing and extremely enthusiastic followers despite huge crowds and numbers -- and amounts -- of donations to his campaign.  They have been ignoring this despite the fact that he is accomplishing this without the celebrity and fortune of Donald Trump.

So when several focus groups agreed that after the debate they would support Bernie over Hillary, the media continued to report Hillary as "the winner" of the debate.  I heard a pundit rationalize that just because people in focus groups say they support someone it doesn't mean they will go out and vote for them.  Okay, I guess that could be said for all the brouhaha about Donald Trump as well as his sidekick, idiot savant Ben Carson.

But look who has noticed Bernie Sanders.  Donald Trump, the following day, called him a "maniac" that is forcing "poor Hillary" to the left -- "this socialist-slash-communist."  And, by the way, this maniac that is pushing Hillary around is just not the "tough, strong leader" that we need.

While we might not call Trump logical or rational, what he does have is a very sharp awareness of threat, and a subsequent instinct about how to attack and manipulate that threat.  Call it his cutthroat business sense, or maybe just his success at being a bully.  So when Trump takes notice and begins to attack Bernie Sanders, it is safe to assume that he recognizes the threat.

When is the media going to get it?  Time and again we have seen the media snowed by the loudest voice, the predominant story, the words of the powerful and/or the wealthy.  Take their focus on candidate Trump.  How many times did we watch segments wherein the media couldn't believe all the attention Donald Trump was getting from the media?  They have their story and by gods they are sticking by it, regardless of the facts.

The facts being that Bernie gets the largest crowds, the greatest number of donations, the most hits on Twitter, the loudest cheers of all the Democratic candidates.  That pundits were reporting Hillary as the winner of the debate after hearing the audience response (remember the old applause meter?) meant that they may have been hearing but they sure weren't listening.

Speaking of applause meters, back in 1980, I would watch Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.  As the presidential election approached, each night he would ask the audience to clap if they were voting for Carter, and then if they were voting for Reagan.  The applause was always, always far louder for Reagan.  And Carson would look astonished and chuckle.

The media is doing that now for Donald Trump, and I am not finding it all that funny.  My own sense of self-preservation and denial kick in and I think, "Well, that doesn't mean they are going to get out and vote for him."  Yes, sadly, the idiots that can find their way to the town halls and the stadiums to cheer for his hate-filled nonsense can -- and will -- find their way to the polls.  But I am hoping that there is a lot more noise than substance, that those republicans who are embarrassed by Trump are many, and they are not seeking attention.  And that when a strong candidate presents on the other side, all those wackos will stay home and watch Trump and Fox News on TV.

On the other hand, we Democrats aren't comfortable welcoming success to our house.  I have talked with far too many who say they like Bernie but can't vote for him because he can't win.  And yet the enthusiasm among younger voters is very much like that for Barack Obama in 2008.  Are we really willing to reject a candidate we like, refuse to see the groundswell of support he is getting because it does not match our expectations?

When Obama won in 2008, with an increase in the majority of both House and Senate, Democrats were smug in their assumption that the republicans had been put down.  Oh we did laugh when John Boehner said "Hell, no you can't!" in his opposition to the health care bill.  And we were amazed at the gall when Mitch McConnell in the Senate said that the number one goal of the republican party should be to see that Obama did not get a second term.  Well, Obama did not back down on health care, although too many Democrats in Congress did, and the result was that Obama won his second term and became stronger, and the Democrats in Congress were left in the dust.  Not surprisingly the ones most likely to get dumped were the ones most afraid to stand tall as Democrats.

So here's the thing about Bernie.  I'm fine with him being ignored by the media, but he has shown himself to be quite capable of handling the inevitable attacks on his "socialism."  The people know he's out there, and a lot of us are behind him.  Hillary is a fine candidate and would make a fine president, but Bernie is that much better for not ever having to be tempted to be beholding to Wall Street and corporate donors.  He has made it farther than any of us, including himself, thought possible, so who are we to jump to conclusions about the likelihood of his success?

I am 100 percent for Bernie Sanders.  He has as much chance as anyone to win the nomination, and more so if those of us who are worried about whether he can make it stop worrying and vote for him.

If he does not win the nomination, I will throw my support behind Hillary with no reservations.  But until then, I believe that Bernie Sanders is our best possible candidate, and that he can win both the nomination and the election (my god, look who he would be running against!).  And, as Obama did in 2008, Bernie will help us get back a Democratic Congress.

Meanwhile, isn't it wild being the party of the people, fearless and moving forward?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Let the Banning Proceed!

When I moved to Charleston in 1999, I learned that my son's elementary school library was not ordering the Harry Potter books.  Not because the librarian thought they were bad, but because she feared parent complaints.  You know, Christians worried about making witches look like heroes, and the evil of magic.

Charleston County Public Library, then one of the best libraries I have ever encountered, happily filled the need.  In time, as more and more children absorbed the wonderful series, the Harry Potter controversy dissolved.  And the juvenile and young adult books the library has since made available to our children I believe continues to be among the best collection in the country.

More incredibly, just over a year ago, South Carolina lawmakers threatened to cut funding for the College of Charleston because the book Fun Home by Alison Bechdel had been on the freshman reading list.  The book deals with issues of gay identity in the context of family conflict.  It was horrifying to imagine that our legislators would attempt to censor college reading based on their homophobia.  But it happened.

Last week was Banned Books Week, and my branch at Johns Island had a wonderful display to remind us, once again, of the astonishing poor judgment that has caused communities over the years to ban some of our best books.  And to recognize once again, those amazing books.

On the bottom shelf of that display was a stack of books.  The accompanying sign welcomed patrons to take one.  Never one to resist that kind of bargain where books are concerned, I picked up a copy and flipped through it.  There was an insert from the author explaining why the book was being given away.  During the summer, a parent had complained to West Ashley High School's principal that this book was on the Honors required reading list (actually a choice between this and another) and was not appropriate and should be pulled off the reading list.

Instead of following the process in place in the school district, this principal decided to pull the book from the reading list.  Charleston County Public Library and others then agreed to distribute copies of this book so that any young adult that wishes can read it.

As a parent of two now adult former honors students, it horrifies me when any kind of information is blocked.  The purpose of education is not merely to provide facts, but to pose questions.  In my home any book could be read, any movie could be watched (which at times got uncomfortable), and both kids knew that we could talk about anything therein.  If our schools are not up to teaching honors students (or any student) critical thinking, we are failing them.  Parents who judge material unfit always have the option of not allowing their own child to participate, and I know that teachers and administrators are more than cooperative in this regard.  But to deny others access to material based on one's own comfort level is wrong and should under no circumstances be courted by school administrators.

The same blocking of information is now going on in the Charleston County School District regarding the new law that would require sexual education to be accurate and up-to-date.  Really???  There are people who work in education, serve on school boards and are raising children who do not want sex ed to be accurate?  Yes, and they are working hard to prevent that information from going out to any students in Charleston County.

But back to books.  The one that has been banned from West Ashley High School is by Courtney Summers and it is entitled What Goes Around and is actually two books in one.  The author has received awards and rave reviews for a number of young adult books.  Her writing is honest, the problems are complex, and if you are looking for pat, polite answers, you aren't going to find them here.  It is a wonderful opportunity for young adults to explore the complex and often very adult problems that exist in their world.

Again, it is chilling to imagine that one parent who does not want her teen reading about gritty, real-life problems can prevent all others in a school from having access to that material.

I am proud that Charleston County Library has stepped up to fill that void, and in so doing, make us all aware that important books continue to be banned in a country that was built on freedom of speech, openness to ideas, and the ability to engage in critical thinking rather than hide from unpleasant realities.

I also hope that parents made aware of this poor decision will speak up.  Charleston County School District has a process for reviewing parent complaints (as does the library).  The freedom to read and explore controversial topics is essential, and decisions to censor any book should never, ever be made lightly.

Thanks, Charleston County Library, for stepping up. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Other Nikki

Here are some words that I have never strung together, even during the Confederate flag business:  kudos Nikki Haley.

I just watched a news conference in which she described the catastrophic damage of the past few days and the steps that are being taken to get us up and running again.  She was pretty amazing (again, words I have never used to describe our governor -- unbelievable, yes, but amazing, never).  She covered all the important points, had a clear understanding of what the issues were, and a good sense of priority.  She had a plan that appeared pretty comprehensive.  She nailed problems from roads caving in to lack of drinking water.

It occurred to me that during this event, Nikki Haley was not being political.  Because of that, she was clear headed about what needed to be done.  She did not hesitate to ask for emergency relief from "the feds" as she calls them, and appreciative and gracious toward our president and first lady.  She was unconcerned about balancing the cost versus the worth of the people who needed help.  If a person needed help, it sounded like they would get help.

This may be illusion.  It may be just the first response.  It may be that as time goes on, certain people will be expected to get back on their feet sooner than others, and will get far less aid than they need.

But for right now, it felt like I could call 911 and get taken to a shelter, or a hospital, and no one would be looking to find out if I could afford a hotel or had health insurance.

Imagine if Nikki could govern like that when we were not in a state of emergency.  If she did not dole out food stamps as though her pocket was being picked or graciously accepted Medicaid dollars for the uninsured the way she is accepting emergency funds.

Here's another thing.  Nikki isn't talking about praying for help.  She is doing what needs to be done.  From road repairs to bottled water, she is not resorting to ideology to determine if the government should be spending that money.

If only she governed that way the rest of the time, what a fine place South Carolina might be.

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.