If Ray Garofolo (R-Chalmette) and others of his ilk have their way, Louisiana public schools will soon be teaching Grimm’s Fairy Tales in social studies classes that once touched on the real history of this country.

And while they’re at it, they may as well bring back the House Unamerican Activities Committee’s sixties-era propaganda film Operation Abolition and the classic Reefer Madness.

The latter is a classic camp film about the (inaccurate) potential of marijuana to induce acts of violence in its users, a film of which most people have at least a passing knowledge. Operation Abolition, on the other hand, may not be as familiar to younger readers. Basically, it was the product of the anti-communist fervor that swept the country, a fervor fueled by the alcoholic mind of Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wisconsin). And it was part of the old “Americanism vs. Communism” non-credit class that the Louisiana Legislature mandated in its hysteria as a requirement for high school graduation back in the early 1960s.

It was propaganda then and what Garofolo is advocating is propaganda now.

Donald Trump loves to toss about the term “witch hunt,” and that two-word catch-phrase was never more appropriate than during the actual Salem witch trials or later, during the red-baiting days that saw Hollywood actors black-listed for their political persuasions. Thanks to the likes of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, anyone with a modicum of sympathy for the poor, gays, the working class, minorities, or even women, was automatically considered to be a communist sympathizer and was ostracized accordingly, their careers and lives ruined.

That, in essence is what Garofolo and his Republican cohorts in the Louisiana Legislature are attempting to do now. They want to return to the sterile era of Doris Day and Roy Rogers, to the days where the nation’s gravest concern was Nixon’s dog Checkers.

What’s wrong with Doris Day, you say? Nothing, except in those movies, she apparently had a thing for Rock Hudson. Let’s see Garofolo square that one up with his agenda.

Let’s eliminate all teaching about the Civil War, how the West was really settled, the Trail of Tears, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression (after all, the business of America is business – Herbert Hoover said so), and the civil rights struggle.

Those are negative guilt trips. Garofolo said so himself: “There is no reason to make students feel guilty,” he proclaimed last month. “That is exactly what we are hearing today. We should teach the good things about this country.”

Well, Rep. Garofolo, that is exactly what they do in North Korea. Nothing but “good things” are taught about Dear Leader there. Likewise, you’d be hard-pressed to find critical teachings in Russia or China or in Islamic states or in most Latin American countries. Funny thing is, in those countries, we call it propaganda or brain-washing. Garofolo wants to call it social studies here.

I’m not advocating that we teach only the negative aspects of our history; quite the contrary. I’m suggesting that we paint an accurate portrait of our country when we teach its history, and not gloss over inconvenient facts simply because they are…well, inconvenient. We can be supportive of our country and still hold our leaders accountable.

Instead of portraying Charles Lindbergh as a hero who could fly an airplane across the Atlantic, we should let kids know that he was also a Nazi sympathizer, as was Joseph Kennedy, in the lead-up to WWII. Why not let students know that the American West was won through our own unique form of genocide carried out against Native Americans? And when we didn’t complete the job, we stuck them on barren reservations?

Andrew Jackson delayed the Civil War by preventing South Carolina from seceding long before Lincoln arrived on the scene but his treatment of Native Americans far overshadowed any of his other accomplishments.

Teddy Roosevelt was a great conservationist and was credited with breaking up big trusts and championing consumers and the working class, but he also had a huge ego and was something of a warmonger.

It’s not pretty, but it’s a fact that Article I, Section 2 or our very own Constitution proclaimed that blacks were considered three-fifths of a citizen of a country where “all men” were otherwise “created equal.”

Garofolo obviously prefers that students not know that shameful part of America’s legacy which said it was just fine to “own” another human being, that the slaughter of millions of Native Americans was somehow justified, that women were denied the right to vote until the 20th century, that maybe this country should not be interfering in elections or encouraging revolutions in other countries (much as I despise him, Trump was right about that last one).

“My country, right or wrong” is not the lesson we should be teaching our young people.

Winston Churchill, in paraphrasing Spanish philosopher George Santayana, said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

Garofolo not only has learned little from our history but he now wants to completely redact it.

“Republicans at state level have moved from pursuing conservative economic policies to pushing measures designed to cripple the opposition and undermine democracy. The Republican party used to be anti-Democratic, now it’s anti-democratic.”

–Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker.

“Before social media, before online contributions, it would have been very, very difficult for backbenchers to get that kind of visibility and raise that kind of money.”

–John Pitney, Jr., professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, discussing how Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz rank among the biggest fundraisers in Congress. The lesson learned from Trump: Truth doesn’t matter. Just run your mouth and beg for money – like some cheesy televangelist.

The current number of co-sponsors of House Resolution 82, now officially a teenager, which ostensibly would repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) programs that negatively impact retirement earnings for certain government employees in Louisiana as well as the spouses of others who pay into Social Security all their working lives is now up to 190, a 37.7 percent increase over the 138 reported by LouisianaVoice back in May.

Newcomers to the Louisiana delegation Julia Letlow (R) and Troy Carter (D) have signed on since our May update, giving Louisiana a clean sweep among its six House members. Kentucky is the only other southern state with 100 percent co-sponsorship among its six members.

None of the four Arkansas or seven Alabama members have signed on, but the most abysmal showing was that of South Carolina, where not a single one of its 17 House members is listed as a co-sponsor, according to GOVTRACK, the service that monitors Congressional activity on a daily basis.

Of the 122 House members in the 11 southern states, there were only 40 (32.7 percent) co-sponsors, 11 points lower than the 43.7 percent for the entire House.

It was somewhat revealing to note that the political party that middle-class Americans believe is most representative of their interests has shown the least inclination to come to the aid of say, teachers, who are presently ineligible to draw on spouses’ Social Security even though that spouse may have paid into the system for decades.

The GPO reduces or even eliminates Social Security benefits for public employees who are members of a retirement plan and do not pay into Social Security – even if they previously held private-sector jobs and did pay into the system.

The 48 Republicans listed as co-sponsors comprised only 22.5 percent of the total House GOP membership (213) while 64 percent of the 222 Democrats are included in the list of co-sponsors. Remove the 10 Republicans in Kentucky and Louisiana from the equation, and the participation rate for the GOP drops to a dismal 17.8 percent.

Besides the failure of South Carolina, Arkansas and Alabama to have even a single co-sponsor, other southern states with lackluster support for working Americans included North Carolina (four of 13 members), Georgia (three of 14), Virginia (four of 11), Mississippi (one of four) and Florida (nine of 27).

Conspicuously absent from the roster of co-sponsors were QAnon darlings Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia who apparently are far too busy with their farewell tour to be burdened with such mundane chores as performing their constitutional duties.

Lest those of you currently barred from receiving benefits get your hopes up that a sufficient number of co-sponsors will eventually join the fray to get the resolution called up for a vote, just remember that this resolution has been around a very long time and way back in 2008, it actually had 352 CO-SPONSORS out of 435 representatives. That’s 81 percent of the total House membership.

It only takes a simple majority (218) to pass a resolution and 292 (a two-thirds majority) to override a possible veto. Did I mention there were 352 co-sponsors back in 2008?

That should convey a crystal-clear message: Congress has no intention (never had, never will) of approving the resolution. If it did, it would have been called up for a vote 13 years ago.

So, when you hear all those warnings about Social Security SCAMS, just remember: you’ve already been scammed by the slickest scam artist of them all – your guvmint.

And in this case, both political parties are equally complicit in this little shell game.

You wanted to see bipartisanship in Congress? Well, that’s true bipartisanship.

One thing you can always count on in times of crisis is price-gouging by unscrupulous individuals willing to take advantage of others’ misfortunes in order to turn a quick buck.

What you don’t usually count on is for those individuals to be public employees assigned to help disaster victims.

But then, the State Fire Marshall’s Office is, along with Louisiana State Police, part of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, so I guess you’d come to expect some degree of underhanded – if not outright illegal – behavior, especially from the administrative offices of these agencies.

Still, it seems more than a little twisted that the very ones charged with protecting the public’s interests can work so long and hard at perverting the process for personal gain. And make no mistake, whether they have the integrity to accept it, those at the top own responsibility for subordinates’ actions.

The sign on Harry Truman’s desk said it best: “The buck stops here.”

Administrators who deceive themselves into thinking they can fire miscreants and then wash their hands of the scandal often end up like Macbeth’s wife who attempted to rinse the stain of Duncan’s blood from her conscience while pleading, “Out damned spot.”

It was first REPORTED on July 9 that six persons, including an attorney who once worked as a fraud prosecutor (oh, the irony), his twin brother who worked for the state Fire Marshal’s Office, had been indicted on charges of defrauding Louisiana of more than $800,000 in a scheme to profit off the state’s hurricane relief efforts last year.

Four others were also indicted. They included Philip Sibley, Stacy Smith, Bernard Christmas and Ava Richardson. Secretary of State records listed the McCormick Law Firm as the agent of record for one of the companies involved in the scheme, Emergency Logistics Solutions, managed by Sibley.

All six were tied to a number of companies that were used to launder the money was the law firm of Robert McCormick’s brother, former fraud prosecutor Tom McCormick who used the money to pay credit card bills, car payments and school tuitions. In just one example, participants purchased 16,000 bottles of water at 13 cents per bottle and submitted vouchers to the state for $1.50 each through Robert McCormick, who worked for the fire marshal’s Office as its emergency management officer in charge of procuring supplies for relief efforts following the devastation to Southwest Louisiana during the 2020 hurricane season.

Robert McCormick, through his position with the fire marshal’s office took advantage of his position of procuring materials and supplies for emergencies to approve the fraudulent payments.

The investigation, first initiated by the Legislative Auditor’s Office and later turned over to 18th Judicial District DA Tony Clayton.

The investigation led to the discovery of unspecified violations by Robert McCormick’s supervisor and reserve deputy fire marshal Stacy Smith and her husband, Dean Smith, who, also resigned even though Dean Smith was not named in the indictments, according to The Advocate.

So, who is Dean Smith?

It’s not the University of North Carolina basketball coach who passed away in February 2015.

I’m talking about the Dean Smith whose last day as police captain for the Pontchartrain Levee District was January 27, 2017, and who went to work as a Fire Chief for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal three days later at a cool $85,000 per year.

Nothing in his background would seem to qualify him as Fire Chief.

Louisiana Civil Service Department records show that Dean Smith began working for the Pontchartrain Levee District as a Police Captain on July 1, 2010 at a salary of $61,000 per year.

On March 12, 2012, he was designated as a Police Captain A and on October 1, 2015, his salary was $71,000 and remained at that level until his departure to join the fire marshal’s office. Three days after he left the levee district and with no professional experience to qualify him for his Fire Chief position, his salary jumped by $14,000 per year, to $85,000 in his new post.

Smith’s employment history prior to joining the fire marshal’s office was spotty at best.

He was a volunteer fireman in Gonzales when Browning was Fire Chief there and the two are close friends, often joining each other on motorcycle rides.

Smith was also an Ascension Parish deputy sheriff at one time. While in that capacity, he had a gun to discharge accidentally, striking a prisoner in the spine and rendering him a paraplegic. He left the sheriff’s office after that, was elected a justice of the peace and eventually resigned to work for the levee board.

Irony of ironies, we are informed that one of the duties of the man who once accidentally shot and paralyzed a man was to serve as firearms instructor for the Fire Marshal’s office.

Despite holding down a critical job like Fire Chief, it proved impossible to reach Smith by telephone when attempts were made to reach him when we did our initial story on him back in 2017 because he had no phone extension at the Fire Marshal’s office. None. Nada. Nil. Zip. Attempts to call him on two separate occasions by LouisianaVoice met with explanations that he had no extension but that a message would be given him to return the call.

Of course, he never did.

Wanting to know just what it was that Smith did to earn his $85,000, I emailed State Fire Marshal Butch Browning, the man himself. He should know, after all:

From: Tom Aswell [mailto:azspeak@cox.net]
Sent: Friday, August 11, 2017 1:07 PM
To: ‘butch.browning@la.gov’ <butch.browning@la.gov>

Mr. Browning:

How long has Dean Smith worked for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal and why does he not have a phone extension?

What, exactly, is his title and what are his duties?

You will notice my email was sent at 1:07 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2017. Minutes later I received a receipt showing that Browning had read our email at 1:08 p.m.

From: Butch Browning [mailto:Butch.Browning@la.gov]
Sent: Friday, August 11, 2017 1:08 PM
To: Tom Aswell <azspeak@cox.net>
Subject: Read: FW: DEAN SMITH

Your message

To: Butch Browning
Sent: Friday, August 11, 2017 1:07:24 PM (UTC-06:00) Central Time (US & Canada)
was read on Friday, August 11, 2017 1:08:01 PM (UTC-06:00) Central Time (US & Canada).

But Browning never answered my inquiry, so four hours later, at 5:12 p.m., a follow-up email was sent but alas, he must’ve already started his weekend for he never opened that message:

So, to learn just what else besides teaching firearms safety did a Fire Chief at SFM do to earn his $85,000, I was forced to turn to other sources, namely a couple of employees in the Fire Marshal’s office, both of whom said Smith and Browning were pals from way back.

One of those says Smith was hired to oversee the non-existent SFM fleet of boats. Well, it shouldn’t too difficult for a Fire Chief with no apparent firefighting experience to watch over boats that don’t exist.

He also cooked jambalaya for attendees at a firefighters’ conference held in Houma the weekend of July 19-22. Maybe that’s what the title Fire Chief meant.

If that conference could somehow be deemed an emergency, perhaps that might justify the use of the SFM’s special service trailer. The trailer was “up-fitted” in May 2015, 2017, from 5 Alarm Fire Apparatus of Raceland at a cost of $4,649 “for USAR emergency field food service cooking during emergencies.” The Fire Marshal’s office said at the time the expenditure was necessary, that the office “has no way of supporting USAR events or emergencies when they take place. This up-fit cooking trailer will now support events and emergencies with equipment for field food services when necessary.”

They probably also made good use of the 30-gallon roll-around combo set (complete with paddles for stirring the jambalaya) purchased in January 2015 from Krazy Kajun Cookware for $895.

But, despite the apparent critical need for an $85,000 per year Fire Chief, Boat Watcher and Jambalaya Cook, he didn’t even have a telephone extension at the Fire Marshal’s headquarters in Baton Rouge even though that’s where he worked reported to collect his salary.

Just a reminder that you do not have to physically attend today’s book signing to get a signed copy of any of my books.

While we are emphasizing my latest book, Murder on the Teche, I have other signed copies of books that are available for purchase from Cavalier House Books:

Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption (a true story of otherwise unbelievable exploits of many of Louisiana’s sheriffs, both past and present);

Vieux Carré Vengeance (a ghost story novel set in New Orleans), or

Bordello on the Bayou (a fictional account based on the Baton Rouge Madam of a couple of decades ago – with several events of the book occurring right here in Denham Springs).

If you can’t make it to the physical book-signing at 3 p.m. today in Denham Springs Antique Village, you can click on the Cavalier House logo to the right of this post and make your order and a signed copy of the book(s) you select will be mailed to you.

In the meantime, good reading!

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