To all who observe...
Some notes on """"freedom""""
I haven’t prepared any remarks for the weed holiday, but I did want to share this 1985 photograph of South Carolina’s current Republican governor, Henry McMaster, holding a sizable quantity of hashish.
If you’re not from South Carolina, all you need to know about Henry McMaster is that he’s a living breathing seersucker suit who talks like an emcee at a debutante ball. Long before he ascended to the governorship by dint of succession, McMaster had a gig as a U.S. attorney in the early days of the War on Drugs. He made a lot of political hay claiming credit for a huge, much-hyped international weed bust nicknamed “Operation Jackpot” and even tried to run for U.S. Senate in 1986 on a platform of “Hey remember that time I threw those hash smugglers in jail.” He won exactly 1 county and lost to the incumbent Democrat by 27 points.
The only important distinction from McMaster’s career in the U.S. attorney’s office was that he pioneered the use of civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officers to seize property from people suspected of crimes, even if they have not been convicted. “But wait, isn’t that a recipe for corruption, an obvious violation of due process, and basically a form of legalized theft?” you might ask, and the answer to all of those questions is yes.
Here’s what The Greenville News’ Nathaniel Cary found in an excellent investigative piece called “TAKEN” in 2019:
Police across South Carolina are losing track of who they take money from — hundreds of thousands of dollars — and sometimes they’re keeping the money for years or even decades before asking a court if they can keep it …
When agencies finally file paperwork to retain the money, often they’ve lost track of the owner. So they list John Doe or just a first name as the person who owns the money and may want to argue for its return.
Not once in recent years were authorities able to track down a John Doe once they had mishandled a seizure and lost the attached property owner's name, our investigation found. In each instance, the state awarded the money to the police.
So in addition to losing the war on drugs, McMaster cleared the way for cops to straight up steal your money and lose it in their breakroom couch cushions. I’m not much of a “weed guy” myself, but I do know that I live in a deeply racist state rife with unaccountable cowboy sheriffs — a state that cages more of its population than any country on earth. The defining legacy of McMaster’s career will be that he made all of those problems worse.
Speaking of blatant government overreach, here’s a …
Teacher censorship update
The South Carolina House of Representatives resumed debate today on House Bill 5183, the “South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act,” one of the numerous right-wing attacks on teachers’ academic freedom that have been clogging up the debate tubes in state legislatures across the country this year.
I didn’t get to watch the livestream of today’s debate, but according to the great rabble-rousing teacher Steve Nuzum, Democrats fired off a rapid succession of amendments, similar to the tactic they used to wear down and embarrass the proponents of the no-trans-kids-in-sports bill a few weeks ago. On the other side of the aisle, House Republicans’ theologian-in-residence Lin Bennett proposed an amendment that would make it illegal to teach “that United States history is a story defined by oppression.”
The bill didn’t pass the House in time for the “crossover deadline,” so it’s unlikely to make it to the Senate, much less to Gov. McMaster’s desk, this year — but I have long since given up guessing what these people are capable of. A lot of the same politicians behind this particular attack on the First Amendment also held a press conference today announcing they were forming an apparently all-white “South Carolina Freedom Caucus,” which as you can imagine has as much to do with freedom as the Diet of Worms had to do with eating worms.
Precisely because the conservatives leading the charge on censoring teachers are so loosey-goosey and postmodern with their terminology, I’ve been trying to pin down the actual definition of a word they throw around a lot in these debates: “critical race theory.”
Last year I put in a Freedom of Information Act request for the state education superintendent’s emails containing that phrase and obtained a stack of emails that revealed some ideological underpinnings to the attack du jour on free speech and public education. I recently uploaded those emails in a searchable format on DocumentCloud (part 1 and part 2) if you would like to check them out. You can also read a summary of what I found below.
This year the superintendent, Molly Spearman, claimed in a Feb. 16 House Education and Public Works Committee that she’d received “several hundred” complaints from the public about CRT in the classroom, so I sent her office another FOIA request to see what those complaints were actually about.
They tried charging $318 for the public records, which under state law should be free because they’re in the public interest. I re-submitted the request with a footnoted explanation of why they were wrong, and also asked several educators and professors from across the state to co-sign the request.
For reasons I still don’t understand, the department reduced the fee … to $242. At this point I’m going to just pay it and set up a fundraiser to recoup the expenses, but I think the whole case exposes some glaring weaknesses in South Carolina’s public-records law.
I’ve rambled today. My mind is in a hundred places. If you happen to be in or around Greenville this Thursday afternoon, I’ll be joining a panel discussing South Carolina’s anti-truth bills at 2:30 p.m. in Furman University’s Burgiss Theater.
I’ll be the guy speaking via webcam. Reply to this email if you would like a link to join remotely.
FOIA be with you.
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