LikeTheDew.com » Andy Brack http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Thu, 30 Jul 2015 11:18:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/dew3_mh4feed.png http://likethedew.com 88 31 A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Confluence of factors drive momentum to take down flag http://likethedew.com/2015/06/25/confluence-of-factors-drive-momentum-to-take-down-flag/ http://likethedew.com/2015/06/25/confluence-of-factors-drive-momentum-to-take-down-flag/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:03:01 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=60627 The S.C. General Assembly put the Confederate battle flag in a place of prominence on the Statehouse grounds. Now after nine deaths in the horrendous Charleston church shooting, the legislature must take it down. Today, as the body of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the slain Jasper County Democrat and pastor of the church, lay in honor at the Statehouse, imagine the feelings of those who had to pass the Confederate flag before they paid their last respects.

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The Confederate battle flag flew outside the S.C. Statehouse Wednesday as mourners entered the building to pay their respects to slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper. (Ken Lund)

The Confederate battle flag flew outside the S.C. Statehouse Wednesday as mourners entered the building to pay their respects to slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper. (Ken Lund)

The S.C. General Assembly put the Confederate battle flag in a place of prominence on the Statehouse grounds. Now after nine deaths in the horrendous Charleston church shooting, the legislature must take it down.

Today, as the body of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the slain Jasper County Democrat and pastor of the church, lay in honor at the Statehouse, imagine the feelings of those who had to pass the Confederate flag before they paid their last respects.

That flag shouldn’t be there today or in the future. A governor can’t take it down.  But the legislature can — either by a supermajority vote to override the portion of a state law protecting the flag and areas named for historical figures. Or, as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn argues, they could just repeal the whole law, which would only take a majority.

The battle flag apparently first got put on the Statehouse dome in 1961 as part of a centennial to commemorate the Civil War, according to a 1999 story in Point. The flag kept flying until passage of a legislative resolution the following year. Such resolutions apply only to the legislative branch, which controls what happens in the Statehouse buildings and grounds. Despite attempts at revisionist history by some conservative columnists, then-Gov. Fritz Hollings did not raise the flag because governors do not have approval or veto authority over legislative resolutions.

The move to fly the battle flag prominently was pushed by Aiken Rep. John A. May, a legislator so enamored by Confederate heritage that he reportedly wore a Confederate uniform around the Statehouse. As time passed, the flag became more controversial.  Although there were several attempts in the 1990s to remove it, including a march on Columbia from the Lowcountry led by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a compromise in 2000 put the flag in its current location.

Fast forward to today. In the week since the tragic, senseless shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, momentum surged to remove this Civil War icon — something that represents Southern heritage to some, but has grown exponentially to symbolize hate to many, many more.

Over the weekend, pressure increased on people like GOP Gov. Nikki Haley so that she could no longer ignore the divisive issue of the flag on Statehouse grounds. Prior to Monday, Haley bypassed the issue, saying CEOs interested in the state never brought up the issue. (The state, of course, obviously didn’t inquire. )

So how did this public reversal happen so quickly? Consider these pressure points:

  • Unified voices. The governor attended three large gatherings over four days with hundreds of people united in their outrage and pain over the shootings. Such emotional experiences had to shatter any notions that she could continue to overlook the flag issue.
  • Political power. It surely was no coincidence that the chairman of the Republican National Committee was part of the bipartisan Monday news conference during which Haley announced she thought the flag should come down. Party leaders surely don’t want 2016 presidential and other candidates constantly asked for their position on the flag. So they looked to Haley to get rid of the political problem for them — with the carrot of future political roles to speed change.
  • Business demands. South Carolina has worked hard to attract global companies — Michelin, BMW, Boeing and, now, Volvo — that want to do business, not stain their reputations with a political issue as divisive as the Confederate flag. Calls by the business leadership certainly had an impact on shifting state leaders’ position on the flag.
  • Religious reactions. Because the shooting occurred in a church, a place of sanctuary, black and white people of faith united in reactions of shock, horror and anger about the murders. And then when the victims’ families publicly forgave the shooter during a bond hearing last week, more momentum built for change.

South Carolina has been tested over the last 11 weeks, first with the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white cop in North Charleston, and then with the Charleston massacre. But unlike other places in America that erupted in violence after their challenges, South Carolinians united. It helped that a suspect was caught quickly. But this confluence of pressures, perhaps fueled by different motives, generated a tidal wave for something big to be done.

It’s pretty clear South Carolina has turned a big corner. As a state, we’ve still got a lot of healing and talking to do. But now, the legislature needs to catch up and finish the job by taking down the flag.

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Open the door of the race closet http://likethedew.com/2015/06/23/open-the-door-of-the-race-closet/ http://likethedew.com/2015/06/23/open-the-door-of-the-race-closet/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 17:29:13 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=60530 Most South Carolinians don’t know a lot of out-of-the-closet, vociferous racists. They’re probably around, just like they have been since two people who didn’t look like each other first met. But in our society — here and in other states — they generally live on the fringes.

A hundred years ago, racism was institutionalized in the South with Jim Crow laws and separate but equal schools.

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Most South Carolinians don’t know a lot of out-of-the-closet, vociferous racists. They’re probably around, just like they have been since two people who didn’t look like each other first met. But in our society — here and in other states — they generally live on the fringes.

A hundred years ago, racism was institutionalized in the South with Jim Crow laws and separate but equal schools. That changed after World War II as people marched to embrace civil rights. And while governments deinstitutionalized racism in accommodations, schools and meeting places, people’s attitudes took longer. The overt racism of the past became a more hidden, covert prejudice found today across the nation in persnickety comments, sharp glances, rolled-up windows at stoplights.

But what I know, today, is that most people in the South get along, regardless of skin color. People might have different economic circumstances. They might go to different churches. They might live in different neighborhoods. They might have different cultural traditions. But they generally are accepting and not hung up on race. White, brown, black people attend the same schools, restaurants, football games, libraries, grocery stores, malls, beaches, airports and so on.

I also know that people from outside the South have a hard time believing any of this, particularly with the rebel flag flapping in the wind outside the Statehouse in Columbia. Or when they see news of a white gunman going into a place of worship and shooting nine people at a prayer meeting. Or when a white cop uses a stun gun and then a pistol on an unarmed black man stopped for a traffic violation.

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley prepares Thursday to broadcast from outside the church.

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley prepares
Thursday to broadcast from outside the church.

Folks, there is evil in the world. There’s no two ways about it. It’s in South Carolina. It’s in Oregon. Good people must do what they can to thwart it. Otherwise, we’ll have more shootings like the one in Charleston. Or Newtown. Or Littleton. Or Aurora.

There are things we can do to combat this evil. It would help, for example, if we stopped fueling hate with bitterness, acrimony, divisiveness and partisanship in our political and community talk.

Quite frankly, America — not just South Carolina — needs to blast the closed door of race off its hinges and confront it vigorously. We need active community discussions, involvement and engagement over a long period to heal and deal with the issue. We need, as Columbia strategist Charles Weathers says, to have “courageous conversations.” Let’s target hate and racism just as we target lung cancer or some other dreaded disease — with education and resources.

It also wouldn’t hurt if symbols of hate were not prominently displayed, such as the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds. Yes, the flag represents heritage to some. But a far greater number find it to be a symbol of hate. If you want your flag, fine. Put it on your wall. Find it in a museum. But don’t publicly display it on state-owned land.

We also could do more to control the pervasiveness of handguns. There are more than 50 million in the United States. As a state, do we really need to make it easier for people to carry concealed weapons — without a permit, as a current House bill proposes — or do we need to make it tougher? For the record, I am not suggesting that people give up the right to own handguns. What I’m suggesting is more controls — criminal background checks, mental stability checks, longer waiting periods, controls on gun shows.

I can already hear the gun lobby’s arguments: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But those who want guns controlled like in every other advanced country find this ludicrous. Easy access to guns makes it more likely someone who is upset or mentally ill will turn to one and use it. Just look at our state’s high rate of domestic violence. Our legislature made a good start this year to try curb guns in the hands of abusers, but it’s only a beginning.

What happened in Charleston Wednesday night does not reflect the core of South Carolina. But we’ve got to prove it by working diligently to confront hate and eradicate the roots of racism so this kind of senseless tragedy never happens again.

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Charleston shooting brings sadness, shock, anger, frustration http://likethedew.com/2015/06/22/charleston-shooting-brings-sadness-shock-anger-frustration/ http://likethedew.com/2015/06/22/charleston-shooting-brings-sadness-shock-anger-frustration/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:38:02 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=60533 As I headed to bed Wednesday night, a white gunman shot and killed nine people in an historic black church in the center of town just four blocks from where I used to live. Unaware of the evil, sleep came quickly. But in the wee hours, the ping of a text from an Australian colleague woke me. I didn’t want to read it and tried to go back to sleep. But after tossing and turning, I read the text, only to learn the heart-wrenching news about what was going on a few miles away. I was dazed.

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As I headed to bed Wednesday night, a white gunman shot and killed nine people in an historic black church in the center of town just four blocks from where I used to live. Unaware of the evil, sleep came quickly.

But in the wee hours, the ping of a text from an Australian colleague woke me. I didn’t want to read it and tried to go back to sleep. But after tossing and turning, I read the text, only to learn the heart-wrenching news about what was going on a few miles away. I was dazed. Several instant reactions percolated and struggled to the surface.

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper County Democrat who was pastor at Emanuel AME Church.  He was one of nine killed Wednesday night during a prayer service.

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper County Democrat who was
pastor at Emanuel AME Church. He was one of nine killed
Wednesday night during a prayer service.

Deep, utter sadness for victims, their families and their incomprehensible loss. “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, ministered by state Sen. Clementa Pinckney who was killed in the senseless shooting, has always been an open, welcoming place, a harbor of comfort, a leader for bringing together black and white.

Shock that something so horrific could happen in the heart of Charleston, one of the world’s great small cities. Across the street from the church is one of the best public elementary schools around. Adjacent is a world-class performing arts center that is about to re-open after a long renovation. A couple of blocks away is the main library. In the other direction is a central square used weekly in the summers for a farmers market and just vacated by dozens of artists in town for Spoleto Festival USA.

Anger at a society that continues to glorify the gun culture and makes it easy for nuts to walk into a great place of worship and open fire. A bill to allow anyone to carry concealed weapons without a permit narrowly missed passing in the recent legislative session. Instead of making it easier to get and carry guns, state lawmakers across the country need to make it tougher.

Tired, frustrated and forlorn that some Southerners and Americans just can’t get beyond race. Skin has different colors, I tell our children, but people all have red blood, too much of which spilled Wednesday night in Charleston.   Right now at 4:30 a.m. in the morning, I don’t know what I’ll tell them when they wake up and learn that they won’t be going to summer day camp because it’s four blocks from the scene of the shooting spree.

Dozens of bouquets lined a sidewalk Thursday outside Emanuel AMC Church in Charleston.  The display board still lists the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney as the church's pastor.

Dozens of bouquets lined a sidewalk Thursday outside Mother
Emanuel AMC Church in Charleston. The display board still
lists the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney as the church’s pastor.

There’s never a good time for a tragedy, especially one of this magnitude that cuts to the core of how a community interacts and relates. But now, just 10 weeks after a white police officer in nearby North Charleston shot an unarmed black man to death after a traffic stop, there’s not been enough time for healing from that tragedy before the assault of another.

It’s clear that Charleston’s police and elected leaders were on top of the gruesome, heartbreaking shooting at Mother Emanuel, quickly branding it as a crime born of pure hate. Religious and other community leaders instantly mobilized to provide solace during the tumult.

What’s not clear yet is what Charlestonians will do now that it is on the list of locations of deadly mass shootings along with Blacksburg, Va. (32 dead in 2007), Newtown, Conn. (27 killed, 2012), Killeen, Texas (23 dead, 1991), San Ysidro, Calif. (21 killed, 1984), Littleton, Colo. (13 dead, 1999), Aurora, Colo. (12 killed, 2012).

This list is too long. Instead of waiting for the next shooting at a church, school or theater, something needs to be done to rein in the gun culture in America. Politicians need to stop kowtowing and being fearful of the likes of the National Rifle Association and its lobby. Instead, they need to put in reasonable gun safeguards that allow sportsmen to hunt, but implement ways to stop the senseless killing of good people.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

There’s no telling at this hour how many bullets were fired Wednesday night in Charleston, but it’s clear there were at least nine in a fairly short time period. That’s nine too many.

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Statue honoring Waties Waring is long overdue http://likethedew.com/2014/03/17/statue-honoring-waties-waring-long-overdue/ http://likethedew.com/2014/03/17/statue-honoring-waties-waring-long-overdue/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 15:54:39 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=55014 Almost 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education school integration decision, a statue will be erected to honor the Charleston judge who steered the nation toward the landmark ruling. It’s long overdue. Quite frankly, we should be embarrassed that it’s taken this long. U.S. District Judge Waties Waring’s courage and conviction in law helped to transform a segregated America into an integrated land of opportunity. At 2 p.m. April 11 in the garden at the Hollings Judicial Center in Charleston, judges and citizens from around the state and nation will honor Waring, the unlikely Southern jurist who became the social outcast who left town for challenging segregation.

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Waties-Waring

Almost 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education school integration decision, a statue will be erected to honor the Charleston judge who steered the nation toward the landmark ruling.

It’s long overdue. Quite frankly, we should be embarrassed that it’s taken this long. U.S. District Judge Waties Waring’s courage and conviction in law helped to transform a segregated America into an integrated land of opportunity.

At 2 p.m. April 11 in the garden at the Hollings Judicial Center in Charleston, judges and citizens from around the state and nation will honor Waring, the unlikely Southern jurist who became the social outcast who left town for challenging segregation.

Waring was an architect of the legal path that led to the Brown v. Board decision handed down on May 17, 1954, through want has been called “the dissent that changed America.” Waring was the first federal judge directly to challenge the 1896 “separate but equal” doctrine that propped up segregation as an everyday practice in the South. He wrote June 21, 1951 in Briggs v. Elliott:

“Segregation in education can never produce equality and that it is an evil that must be eradicated. … I am of the opinion that all of the legal guideposts, expert testimony, common sense and reason point unerringly to the conclusion that the system of segregation in education adopted and practiced in the State of South Carolina must go and must go now. Segregation is per se inequality.”

 Not only is there going to be a new statue featuring Waring, but Lowcountry artist Jonathan Green has painted a new work to celebrate Waring’s contributions to South Carolina.  The painting, which captures a scene during the 1951 hearing on the Briggs case, will be displayed in the courthouse and is expected to be unveiled during the April 11 ceremony. Copies of the painting are to be distributed to schools throughout the state to honor Waring’s decisions.

Not only is there going to be a new statue featuring Waring, but Lowcountry artist Jonathan Green has painted a new work to celebrate Waring’s contributions to South Carolina.
The painting, which captures a scene during the 1951 hearing on the Briggs case, will be displayed in the courthouse and is expected to be unveiled during the April 11 ceremony. Copies of the painting are to be distributed to schools throughout the state to honor Waring’s decisions.
More: WatiesWaring.org

Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court, in considering appeals of the Briggs case and four other segregation cases, delivered a unanimous verdict that “separate but equal” public schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional.

What’s particularly interesting about Waring’s story is how his perspective broadened to challenge the segregated society in which he was raised and prospered until he became a federal judge at age 61 in 1942. Born in 1880, he had a solid but comparatively undistinguished legal career as an assistant U.S. attorney starting in 1914, followed by private practice in the 1920s. He supported the cultural order, became city attorney in 1931 and kept close ties with leading state politicians. When he was appointed to the bench, few thought he’d ever rock the boat.

But as writer Richard Kluger described in “Simple Justice,” Waring’s conversion into a moderate jurist began gradually, first with a case involving a black man detained against his will to work on a white farm. Instead of just telling the farmer to stop, Waring shocked many by sending him to jail.

Soon, Waring ended segregated seating in his courtroom. He appointed a black bailiff, virtually unheard of in the nation. Then came a case in which he ordered the state to desegregate its law school or create an equal facility for blacks.

At the time, as current U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel explains, Waring was essentially enforcing federal law and court precedents. He required equal treatment, but didn’t challenge the standard of “separate” outlined in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson.
“He’s not out there creating new law,” Gergel said. “What is remarkable is there is no other [Southern] district judge enforcing the rulings of the appellate court.”

Then Waring divorced his wife of 32 years and quickly married an outspoken, twice-divorced  Northerner, a union which led Charleston bluebloods to ostracize them.

But Waring’s ruling to end the all-white Democratic primary in 1948 endeared him to few. “It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union,” he wrote in one opinion. In October 1950, a cross was burned in his yard on Meeting Street. Three gunshots rang out one night. A concrete lump crashed through a window. The Warings had to get federal protection. He retired soon after the Briggs case and moved to New York, spurned by Charleston.

Gergel says Waring’s story inspires because he had an easy way out by just ruling to keep the status quo.

“It was always kicked upstairs,” Gergel said. “Judge Waring breaks the precedent because he obeys the law. He is just enforcing law.”

And now, finally, the time has come to honor him.

“This is a great story for Charleston,” Gergel said. “This is a great story for South Carolina and a great story for America. It’s a vindication of the rights of the American Constitution.”

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The politics of taking and refusing federal money http://likethedew.com/2014/02/24/politics-taking-refusing-federal-money/ http://likethedew.com/2014/02/24/politics-taking-refusing-federal-money/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 20:00:27 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=54808 The eagerness that South Carolina's Haley Administration showed in seeking federal disaster assistance during this month’s Great Ice Storm makes one wonder whether there is any sense to what kind of federal money is OK to take and what isn’t.

You’ll recall that as hundreds of thousands of people lost power and sat in dark homes growing ever colder, Gov. Nikki Haley rightfully said South Carolina was in a state of emergency and requested the federal government to officially designate it as an emergency.

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Gov Nikki HaleyThe eagerness that South Carolina’s Haley Administration showed in seeking federal disaster assistance during this month’s Great Ice Storm makes one wonder whether there is any sense to what kind of federal money is OK to take and what isn’t.

You’ll recall that as hundreds of thousands of people lost power and sat in dark homes growing ever colder, Gov. Nikki Haley rightfully said South Carolina was in a state of emergency and requested the federal government to officially designate it as an emergency. The move, approved the same day by President Obama, opened the state for lots of federal assistance — generators, bottled water, meals and more. Who would pay? The feds would pay 75 percent and the state would make up the rest. In other words, it was a three-to-one match to speed assistance.

So if you’re keeping score, it’s fine to take money that helps everyone get over a bad storm.

What about the $2 billion in stimulus money that the state eventually received to help plug shortfalls during the Great Recession? Although then Gov. Mark Sanford railed and steamed about why the state should refuse the money, the General Assembly, facing millions in shortfalls, grudgingly took the money. Then-state Rep. Nikki Haley voted for the money at first, but opposed it on final passage.

So despite a lot of political wrangling, the state took the money, which allowed South Carolina to not fire teachers, state troopers and prison guards, among many other things.

Score: Take the money, 2. Don’t take the money, 0.

Some other issues:

  • Unemployment bailout. Also during the recession, the state accepted nearly $1 billion in federal loans to bail out its unemployment insurance coffers, which ran dry because legislators earlier changed a formula to keep rates low for employers.
  • Port deepening in Charleston. The state has put aside millions, but it will match even more millions expected from the feds.
  • Highway bills. The state Department of Transportation in 2011 had to turn to the feds to ask for advance payments to pay some bills it couldn’t.

Score: Take the money, 5. Don’t take the money, 0.

In fact, if you look at the state’s total budget, South Carolina accepts about $2 billion more in federal money each year than it does through its own tax structure. Here are some of the big ticket items the feds paid for — and we accepted — in the 2012 fiscal year:

  • Medicaid assistance: $2.9 billion.
  • Food stamps: $1.7 billion
  • Road grants: $776 million
  • Hospital subsidies for caring for poor: $326 million
  • School services for handicapped: $273 million

Bottom line: As a state, we receive more than $7.7 billion a year in money from federal sources — money that we paid in federal taxes that comes back to help us here.
fedrevenue
But what won’t we take money for? Medicaid expansion and an education grant.

Last year, the legislature, prodded by Haley, refused to accept $11 billion over seven years to expand Medicaid to pay for health insurance for the poorest of South Carolinians. Not only was it money we already pay into federal coffers that would have been returning to the Palmetto State, but it would have been free for a couple of years and required a $1 match for every $9 received in the long run (much better than the 3:1 deal for disaster recovery.)

In 2011, state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais also refused to apply for $143 million in new federal funding available to pay for more teachers. So what happened? Our share went to other states.

Is there a rhyme or reason to what we’ll take and what we’ll fight? This seems to be the formula:

  • If it is something we’ve taken for a long time, we’ll take it.
  • Or if it is something that helps a broad range of people, including the rich and middle class, we’ll take it.
  • But if it’s something new that helps poor people, such as Obamacare or more teachers pushed by a president that many in the General Assembly don’t like, we won’t take it.

Overall answer: It’s all politics. Who would have figured?

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Time to focus on Southern Crescent of Shame http://likethedew.com/2013/05/21/time-to-focus-on-southern-crescent-of-shame/ http://likethedew.com/2013/05/21/time-to-focus-on-southern-crescent-of-shame/#comments Tue, 21 May 2013 17:53:15 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=51260 A few years back, Columbia public relations guru Bud Ferillo made a film about several economically distressed counties that he dubbed the “Corridor of Shame.” This area, which stretched along Interstate 95 in South Carolina from Dillon County to Jasper County, got a lot of attention when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama toured an old Dillon middle school in the run-up to the 2008 election. But did you ever wonder whether South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame was an anomaly -- or whether something similar was happening on the other sides of our state borders?

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A few years back, Columbia public relations guru Bud Ferillo made a film about several economically distressed counties that he dubbed the “Corridor of Shame.” This area, which stretched along Interstate 95 in South Carolina from Dillon County to Jasper County, got a lot of attention when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama toured an old Dillon middle school in the run-up to the 2008 election.

But did you ever wonder whether South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame was an anomaly — or whether something similar was happening on the other sides of our state borders? Unfortunately, similar conditions continue, extending north to Tidewater Virginia and curving south and west across middle Georgia and Alabama before swinging north to the Mississippi Delta.

Our Corridor of Shame is just a piece of a Southern Crescent of Shame of economically distressed areas inhabited by more than 4 million people. They live in a rural South shaped by long-term poverty and lack of economic opportunities outside of agriculture. [Below, see map of poverty in 2008; the darker that the red is, the higher the amount of poverty.]

2008 Poverty Rate

2008 Poverty Rate

This Southern Crescent is home to as many people as live in the whole state of South Carolina. But unlike cities with the dynamism of Charleston, Columbia and Greenville or the increasing manufacturing prowess of Sumter, Anderson and Florence, the 100+ counties in the Crescent seem to be places where hope may go to die.

That’s not to say there aren’t success stories. Downtowns in places like Hampton, S.C., and Blakely, Ga., are getting new lives. Some forward-looking communities have taken extra steps to plan and innovate. Over recent years, for example, Vidalia, Ga., has branded itself as the go-to place for sweet, delicious onions. Prosperity shows throughout the town, but 25 percent of the people in Toombs County live in poverty. Or look at Hartsville, S.C., where Sonoco is making big investments in local education efforts to help create a more skilled work force for the future.

Still, there’s an sense of gloom in these Crescent towns, hamlets and crossroads that mixes with a pride of being less complicated and more friendly, relaxed and personal than generally found in suburbs. A bank employee in Fitzgerald, Ga., this week reflected that her young son was growing up in a good place, but schools in her nearby hometown didn’t have the high-tech tools that her brother’s son had in his school in Seattle. She worried that he’d be left behind.

1860 Slave Population

1860 Slave Population

It’s not hard to see the Crescent stand out on maps that display how its counties have higher rates of poverty, unemployment, single family households, chlamydia, obesity and diabetes. With the blink of an eye, it’s easy to see that these areas easily correlate with another map at the left — that of where enslaved people lived in 1860.

Folks, the Southern Crescent is a remnant of plantation life — a region that has been the soft underbelly of the Deep South for generations. One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, it’s time that this area starts receiving the same attention that Appalachia did in the 1960s War on Poverty.

The Center for a Better South is starting a three-prong effort to focus attention on the Southern Crescent. First, it has a new Web site — SouthernCrescent.org — that highlights a different image of life in the region every other day. Second, it seeks to work with nonprofits and foundations to fund research and studies on how to coordinate better and smarter delivery of existing services to infuse more dynamism in the region. And the Center encourage creation of a special national study commission to recommend federal and state policies to raise living standards.

This effort may not cost a lot of money. The Center presumes that if various state and federal government bureaucracies get out of their comfort zones and work with engaged rural communities, they can figure out ways to coordinate services better and create more economic opportunities.

After a week of riding roads in South Carolina and Georgia through Crescent communities, it’s clear that millions of rural Southerners want more opportunities for their counties.  Now is the time to get moving so they don’t get left behind even more.

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Sanford win pre-determined by gerrymandering http://likethedew.com/2013/05/13/sanford-win-pre-determined-by-gerrymandering/ http://likethedew.com/2013/05/13/sanford-win-pre-determined-by-gerrymandering/#comments Mon, 13 May 2013 13:03:16 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=51071 If state Democrats want to win big elections like the one they lost Tuesday on the coast, they’re going to have to get busy and retake control of the state Senate.

Why? Because the outcome of Tuesday’s election was practically determined two years before the special contest between GOP former Gov. Mark Sanford and challenger Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Why? Because constitutionally-required redistricting to even population changes after the 2010 census made it tough for any Democrat to win.

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SC-01_mapIf state Democrats want to win big elections like the one they lost Tuesday on the coast, they’re going to have to get busy and retake control of the state Senate.

housebyrace

Click for larger image

Why? Because the outcome of Tuesday’s election was practically determined two years before the special contest between GOP former Gov. Mark Sanford and challenger Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Why? Because constitutionally-required redistricting to even population changes after the 2010 census made it tough for any Democrat to win.

In the First Congressional District, for example, voting age blacks comprised just 18.2 percent of voters. Huh, you might wonder? On the coast where African Americans comprise 30 percent of Charleston County, 26 percent of Dorchester County, 25 percent of Berkeley County and 20 percent of Beaufort County?

It’s because of how congressional district lines were gerrymandered by the General Assembly. An adjacent district — the so-called “black district” — of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn finds blacks comprising 55.2 percent of the voting population.   If, for example, Clyburn’s district were made of only 45 percent of black voters (which still all but guarantee his victory) and the First District were drawn in such a way to have 28 percent of black voters, Colbert Busch probably would have won.

It’s the same story all over the state, a story brought to you by Republicans who carved district lines in state House, Senate and congressional districts to maximize the number of Republicans elected. [To be fair, Democrats did little different when they were in charge.] As we wrote in 2011, reapportionment is the political equivalent of the fox guarding the hen house because the very people who redraw the lines are those in office.  [The percentages of blacks and whites in House districts are shown at right. Click here for similar Senate figures.]

In the late 1980s, Gov. Carroll Campbell actively persuaded Democratic House members to join the GOP. By the early 1990s when it was time for redistricting, an emboldened GOP approached black Democrats and made a deal that guaranteed them a higher percentage of black voters in their district, thereby making it easier for them to win reelection. In turn, the GOP got whiter “white districts.”

Just look today at the 124 House seats. Some 30 districts have black voting percentages of greater than 50 percent. All are Democratic. Just five are represented by white Democrats. Six other districts have black voting percentages of at least 40 percent; two are represented by blacks.

There are 10 House Democrats — all white — who represent districts with less than 40 percent of black voters, from Leon Stavrinakis of Charleston (23.2 percent black) and Beth Bernstein of Columbia (26.4 percent black) to Jimmy Bales of Eastover (39.5 percent black).

It’s not much different in the state Senate where nine of 46 districts have a black voting age population of more than 50 percent. Sen. John Scott (D-Columbia) has a district that’s 63.8 percent black, while an adjacent district for Senate President Pro Tem John Courson (R-Columbia) is 18.7 percent black.

If Democrats want to have more of a chance in the Statehouse — which would make the whole governmental system more competitive and vigorous — then they’re going to have to have more of a say in the redistricting process. To do so, they have to win at least one of the two chambers. The House is so overwhelmingly Republican that it would be tough, but a switch of six seats in the Senate would return it to Democratic control.

Furthermore, what needs to happen in the next redistricting process is for black districts to get less black and white districts to have more people of color. If that were to happen, political races would be more competitive, which would mean more vigorous debates and a step away from predetermined policy solutions that skew Republican.

The effect that all of this has had on our political system is truly spectacular and depressing. A majority of Republicans and Democrats in office run for re-election virtually unopposed because the numbers are in their favor to win. Turnover of seat tends to happen when someone retires, dies or decides to run for something else.

That needs to change.

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The inspiring, heroic story of William Pinckney http://likethedew.com/2013/04/27/the-inspiring-heroic-story-of-william-pinckney/ http://likethedew.com/2013/04/27/the-inspiring-heroic-story-of-william-pinckney/#comments Sat, 27 Apr 2013 13:22:32 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=50722 You want someone like William Pinckney on your side. The Beaufort County South Carolina native, who would have turned 98 tomorrow, is such a hero that the U.S. Navy named a destroyer after him, the USS Pinckney.

On Oct. 26, 1942, during the Battle of Santa Cruz, Pinckney was a Navy cook on the USS Enterprise when two Japanese bombs hit the ship. Pinckney, born in 1915 in the Dale community, was knocked unconscious when a five-inch shell exploded in the magazine he was manning.

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You want someone like William Pinckney on your side.

The Beaufort County South Carolina native, who would have turned 98 tomorrow, is such a hero that the U.S. Navy named a destroyer after him, the USS Pinckney.

On Oct. 26, 1942, during the Battle of Santa Cruz, Pinckney was a Navy cook on the USS Enterprise when two Japanese bombs hit the ship. Pinckney, born in 1915 in the Dale community, was knocked unconscious when a five-inch shell exploded in the magazine he was manning. Four sailors died. When he came to, fire raged through the smoke-filled magazine. As he was trying to find a way out, he came upon gunner’s mate James Bagwell, who outweighed Pinckney by 20 pounds and was too weak to climb through an escape hatch, according to a Navy report.

13.0426.pinckneyBut Pinckney picked up Bagwell to get through the hatch. On the way, an electrical cable touched Pinckney, knocking him unconscious. When he came to again, he got Bagwell up a ladder and to safety. Then “ignoring the burns that had taken the skin off his hands, right leg and back,” Pinckney went back into the magazine to see if anyone else was alive. Minutes later, he returned, collapsed and got treatment.

Later he modestly said he “did help a little here and there … When the first guy seemed to be surviving pretty good, I went below to see if I could help someone else but they were all killed and I couldn’t help anyone.”

Pinckney, treated for shrapnel wounds and third-degree burns, received a Purple Heart and the Navy Cross — the service’s second highest award for extraordinary heroism. After the war, he and his wife, Beaufort County native Henrietta, eventually moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. where Pinckney served as a cook in the Merchant Marine for 26 years. Then the couple returned home to Beaufort. Pinckney died in 1976 of spinal cancer and is buried in Beaufort National Cemetery. Mrs. Pinckney still lives in Beaufort, the Navy says.

When asked about his time in the Navy, Pinckney would “often tear up, saying only that he was ‘proud to serve.’” And that’s the motto of the destroyer that was named for him when commissioned in 2004.

13.0426.mabusU.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told me that all sailors and Marines are heroic because they risk their lives to protect us.

“When those men and women confront incredibly difficult and dangerous situations and, without regard for personal safety, act to save lives, we call them heroes,” Mabus said. “’Hero’ is a label we use to help us understand how someone like Navy Cook First Class William Pinckney could act so selflessly in the face of mortal danger.

“As Secretary, I have had the profound honor to award many of these heroes with medals, some posthumously. Not one medal recipient, family member or comrade in arms accepted that label. It isn’t false modesty. It is simply the shared belief that they were just doing their job.”

William Pinckney’s story stirred Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling.

“We should all sing out loud as this is an inspiration for this and future generations — how a man of modest means follows his moral compass to do the right thing for someone in dire need, risking his life to save another.

“There are so many young men who waste their lives listlessly on street corners in baggy pants or thinking that brandishing a firearm gives them an identity when Pinckney’s star should be shining more brightly than a rock star or athlete or drug pusher.”

Heroes like William Pinckney and all of the people who rushed to help victims of the recent Boston Marathon bombings motivate us to do better — to be more selfless, more compassionate, more helpful and less partisan, less demanding, less irritable.

And perhaps our state legislators could learn a little something from Beaufort County’s inspirational cook. We need them to do what needs to be done to help lift South Carolina out of the country’s basement so we can all shine.

You can learn more about William Pinckney’s story here

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Where there is no vision, the people perish http://likethedew.com/2013/04/17/where-there-is-no-vision-the-people-perish/ http://likethedew.com/2013/04/17/where-there-is-no-vision-the-people-perish/#comments Wed, 17 Apr 2013 18:09:40 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=50575 A psychiatrist would have a field day if the state of South Carolina were to get on a couch for a diagnosis. Maybe state government and her leaders have Cluster A disorders, which according to the American Psychiatric Association include odd or eccentric behaviors such as the fear of social relation:

  • Paranoia, or irrational suspicions and mistrust of others, perhaps such as the state’s fear that more federal government money to expand Medicaid to help hundreds of thousands of poor South Carolinians get health care is a bad thing.

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SC-on-a-Psychitrists-Couch-featA psychiatrist would have a field day if the state of South Carolina were to get on a couch for a diagnosis.

Maybe state government and her leaders have Cluster A disorders, which according to the American Psychiatric Association include odd or eccentric behaviors such as the fear of social relation:

  • Paranoia, or irrational suspicions and mistrust of others, perhaps such as the state’s fear that more federal government money to expand Medicaid to help hundreds of thousands of poor South Carolinians get health care is a bad thing.
  • Schizoid personality disorder, which involves the lack of interest in social relationships or sharing time with others. Maybe this would explain the state’s seemingly continuing desire to secede based on an overzealous interpretation of the notion of individual liberty.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder, which is behavior or thinking that is just odd, such as lawmakers’ proposals to allow people to carry concealed guns in schools, college campuses or, of all things, bars.

Perhaps, though, the state could better be classified as having Cluster B disorders for dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior:

  • Antisocial disorder, a diagnosis that features disregard for the rights of others and lack of empathy. Although often associated with criminals, might it not also be associated with politicians who want to tell people on food stamps what they can and can’t eat?
  • Borderline personality disorder, which often is defined by thinking about things as one way or the other. In the legislature, this might be characterized by increasing partisanship and how compromise — thinking about alternatives in the middle — seems to be dying.
  • Histrionic personality disorder, which often appears as attention-seeking behavior and exaggeration. There are a few politicians who you can probably think of that fit in here.
  • Narcissistic disorder, defined as those who have a pattern of grandiose behavior, lack of empathy and need to be admired. There’s no lack of candidates here either.

Other disorders that might be part of the state’s diagnosis include obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (abortion politics) and passive-aggressive personality disorder (refusal to deal with growing education funding problems despite generations being lost). Regardless, whatever is wrong with South Carolina may take years of therapy.

More than anything, the Palmetto State seems to be going through an identity crisis.  Does it want to be an overzealous nanny and tell people what they can do (what to eat on food stamps) or can’t do (get access to health care through Medicaid expansion)? Or does it want to be a Petri dish of government experimentation, such as when rich guys like Howard Rich pump in gazillions of dollars to fuel voucher efforts or U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham talks about how he can sell immigration reform anywhere if he can sell it in South Carolina?

Or does South Carolina want to be a bastion of individual liberty where libertarian philosophy galvanizes what government does to the point of absurdity, such as all of the crazy efforts to try to nullify what the federal government is doing or continue to craft laws to protect gun rights — even though nobody is really talking about taking away the guns that people have now?

When you think about South Carolina from the perspective of a psychiatrist or from somebody who is on the outside looking in, it’s pretty clear what the prescription is for any or all of the disorders above (and no, the answer isn’t to put state lawmakers on drugs to calm them down). The answer is engaged leadership — leadership that will bring people together to form a common vision to improve the state and then work to achieve common goals.

It’s time that South Carolina gets off the autopilot of the way we’ve done things in the past. It’s time for us to wake up, put on our big kid underpants and craft a future where children have real opportunity and adults can live in dignity. It’s time to stop the politics of “us” and “them,” and remember that “we” are in this together.

Yes, it’s time for South Carolina to listen attentively to the lesson in Proverbs 29: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

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Haley is pressing all of the media’s buttons http://likethedew.com/2012/12/18/haley-is-pressing-all-of-the-medias-buttons/ http://likethedew.com/2012/12/18/haley-is-pressing-all-of-the-medias-buttons/#comments Tue, 18 Dec 2012 14:00:40 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=47263 You’ve got to give it to Gov. Nikki Haley. Despite sagging state poll numbers that show her as less popular than President Obama, she played the media for all she was worth in the saga over appointing a replacement for retiring U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.

On Dec. 17 -- 11 days after DeMint surprised politicos in Washington and South Carolina with news that he would step down four years early to take over as head of the conservative Heritage Foundation -- Haley tapped first-term U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, as DeMint’s replacement.

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You’ve got to give it to Gov. Nikki Haley. Despite sagging state poll numbers that show her as less popular than President Obama, she played the media for all she was worth in the saga over appointing a replacement for retiring U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.

On Dec. 17 — 11 days after DeMint surprised politicos in Washington and South Carolina with news that he would step down four years early to take over as head of the conservative Heritage Foundation — Haley tapped first-term U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, as DeMint’s replacement.

Haley tapped first-term U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, as DeMint’s replacement (SCNewsExchange.com)

Haley tapped first-term U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, as DeMint’s replacement (SCNewsExchange.com)

Looking back, what was really interesting in the whole process is how Haley showed herself to be a master of dragging out the announcement so she could stay in the headlines, despite repeatedly saying she would make a quick decision.

Soon after DeMint’s announcement, speculation started immediately about whether Haley would try to take the seat herself. But Haley put an end to the conjecture by saying she would not resign so she could potentially take the seat. “My goal is not to make it drag out,” she told a radio reporter on Dec. 6.

The next day, Haley issued a statement that reiterated she’d make a quick decision, but in a “thoughtful and dignified” manner. Her choice, she said, would be someone cast in the conservative, tea party mold that she and DeMint embrace.

“I will appoint a person who has the same philosophy of government that Jim DeMint and I share,” the statement said.

That weekend, pundits had a ball, speculating about this member of Congress or that former elected official in DeMint’s position.

On the Monday after the DeMint announcement, Haley stepped back into headlines saying she wouldn’t hogtie the nominee by expecting him or her to be a lame duck “placeholder” for a 2014 election when voters will pick someone to serve the final two years of DeMint’s term.

“I do not want to deprive our state’s citizens of the chance to render their judgment on the appointee’s performance by way of their vote,” she said in another statement.

With reporters frothing at the mouth Tuesday, Haley teased them at the Boeing plant in North Charleston. She joked she had a big announcement, which turned out to be nothing about DeMint’s seat, but that “we make planes” at Boeing. But also that day, someone apparently leaked Haley’s short list of five contenders to the media, which set them off again like a pack of wild dogs.

“Only my husband knows what’s in my head right now, so I’ll leave it at that,” she later said. She wouldn’t answer questions about possible choices, noting, “There are numerous good people who could hold this position. South Carolina is not limited on good people.”

And the governor as media puppeteer pulled reporters along more. She said the decision on DeMint’s replacement likely would be made before Christmas. “I don’t want this to drag out,” she told a reporter. “I don’t think that is good for the people of South Carolina.”

Result: More positive stories on Wednesday, which deflected news about a Tuesday poll that showed Haley two points behind her 2010 challenger, Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen, in a mock contest.

So what happened next? Haley kept the media in a lather with a comment that her pick wouldn’t need to have political experience.

“There is no question that I’m looking for a conservative person to fill those shoes, but we are never going to find someone as conservative and staunch as Jim DeMint,” she said after a state Budget and Control Board meeting.

By now if you don’t believe the governor was playing the media like a fiddle, guess what she did Thursday? She released mock vetting documents on Facebook rejecting home-grown comedian Stephen Colbert as a potential senator.

So kudos to Haley for not “dragging out” the process.

Fortunately for all of us, the grandstanding is done. While Scott is the winner, the big losers are the state’s Democrats, who will have to field two Senate candidates in 2014 when there are few people who are standouts now as challengers.

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More early childhood education will pay off http://likethedew.com/2012/11/20/more-early-childhood-education-will-pay-off/ http://likethedew.com/2012/11/20/more-early-childhood-education-will-pay-off/#comments Tue, 20 Nov 2012 17:59:01 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=44312 Education. Education. Education. It's the mantra you hear from just about anybody who talks about the key to South Carolina's future success. They suggest more, that it be better and that it be innovative.

And despite wags who say you can't throw money at our education system to fix it, there's a pretty good business case to be made that investing more in early childhood education will pay off big in the future.

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Education. Education. Education. It’s the mantra you hear from just about anybody who talks about the key to South Carolina’s future success. They suggest more, that it be better and that it be innovative.

And despite wags who say you can’t throw money at our education system to fix it, there’s a pretty good business case to be made that investing more in early childhood education will pay off big in the future.

According to a groundbreaking 2007 study by researcher Robert G. Lynch, if South Carolina started a high-quality pre-kindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds, the annual cost would be $442 million in 2008 dollars.

But before you get your britches in a knot, look at the benefits: First, we already pay a lot of money that would be included in the total amount. Second, the program would start paying for itself in just nine years, the study says. Total benefits by 2050 would be $9.2 billion with an overall cost of $1.2 billion. Savings to the state’s budget over the years would be more than $2.3 billion plus another $1.8 billion in savings to individuals from reduction in crime. Increased wages and benefits would be $5.2 billion.

Bottom line: The benefit to cost ratio of investing in early childhood education would be 7.5 to 1. That’s an outstanding return! A study for the Partnership for America’s Economic Success says early childhood education produces a ten-fold return.

Fancy research, however, isn’t the only thing that touts more early childhood education programs. The S.C. Chamber of Commerce has a goal of 80 percent of the state’s at-risk children completing pre-K programs by 2020. Successful programs in Hawaii, Arkansas, Texas and Pennsylvania highlight how early childhood education closes achievement gaps and gives more kids the tools that they need to succeed.

South Carolina’s pre-K education structure currently is a mish-mash of programs split between public 4K in some places funded by Education Improvement Act and Title One dollars to Head Start to ABC Child Care vouchers to private kindergarten. All totaled, an estimated 41,000 of South Carolina’s 4-year-olds have some kind of pre-K education. But about half that number don’t get anything.

South Carolina should consider following the model of sister state Georgia, which has reached more than a million 4-year-olds through a voluntary pre-K program the state started in the early 1990s. Last year, some 82,000 students participated at a cost of about $3,500 per student. The total annual cost was just over $300 million.

What’s interesting about the Georgia program is how it blends participation by public and private organizations. Some 912 private companies in 1,844 locations provided 2,111 classes that educated 44,732 children in 2011-12. Public school systems provided 1,726 classrooms where 37,283 students received pre-K instruction.

Instead of embarking on expensive building programs, South Carolina’s “educracy” could partner with public school districts and private companies to deliver pre-K instruction to the 20,000 kids not being served now. The estimated cost — $70 million to $85 million — ain’t peanuts, but it could be funded through sales tax reform of the billions of exemptions given away for years to special interests.

An alternative source of funding? Lottery dollars. The way that the statewide lottery law currently is written, the lion’s share of proceeds go to college scholarships. But there’s a mechanism in current law that could provide scholarships to pre-K students to attend public or private classes.

Many South Carolinians who voted for the statewide lottery did so on the incorrect assumption that the millions in new funds would help the primary and secondary education system. But the way it works now, the current system rewards those who get through school with college, but fails to invest on the front end to give all kids a better chance of succeeding.

So it kind of makes sense to rethink how lottery proceeds are used. Instead of investing only at the end of the process, why not invest some in the beginning and give kids a better chance to be ready for first grade?

Early childhood education makes economic and business sense. More importantly, as one executive said this summer, “It’s the right thing to do” now in South Carolina.

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Sixteen days? Really, Gov. Haley, really? http://likethedew.com/2012/10/30/sixteen-days-really-gov-haley-really/ http://likethedew.com/2012/10/30/sixteen-days-really-gov-haley-really/#comments Tue, 30 Oct 2012 13:24:22 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=43419 Gov. Nikki Haley could learn a thing or two about leadership from Batman. "When the average citizen on the street is in peril, something must be done, and quickly," Batman said in 1967 in episode 109 of the classic television show.

But when the private information of South Carolinians was in peril thanks to a hacker who invaded the state's surprisingly vulnerable Department of Revenue computer system, what did Haley and company do? Wait. Not one day. Not two. Not a week. Not even two weeks. They waited 16 days to let people know their private information was at risk.

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Gov. Nikki Haley could learn a thing or two about leadership from Batman.

“When the average citizen on the street is in peril, something must be done, and quickly,” Batman said in 1967 in episode 109 of the classic television show.

But when the private information of South Carolinians was in peril thanks to a hacker who invaded the state’s surprisingly vulnerable Department of Revenue computer system, what did Haley and company do? Wait.

Not one day. Not two. Not a week. Not even two weeks. They waited 16 days to let people know their private information was at risk. That’s longer than the entire Cuban Missile Crisis!

If you want to get some perspective about what went on from when Haley was notified on Oct. 10 that the Revenue computer system had been hacked until Oct. 26 when she and law enforcement officials came clean, click on the attached PDF that marries the timeline of what officials did after discovering the hack to Haley’s public schedule.

From Oct. 10 to Oct. 26, the promotion-loving governor had more than a few ample opportunities to let people know they were victims of identity theft. To wit:

  • Haley had nine media interactions in the 16-day period — from press conferences to interviews to scheduled media availabilities. At no point did she warn people that something was awry with their private information. Instead, she said “It’s a great day in South Carolina” time and again.
  • Haley made 54 posts to her Facebook account, including lots of political posts about the presidential debates and one open 50-minute chat in which she interacted with dozens of people. Again: No word about the hack.
  • Haley attended four political events, including a three-day weekend in Napa, Calif., with fellow Republican governors. Instead of staying at home to warn people about identity theft, she left the state to politick.
  • Haley spent a Saturday having family fun at the State Fair.

Bottom line: The hacking episode that has left 3.6 million South Carolinians vulnerable to identity thieves was a crucial test of Haley’s leadership. Quite simply, she failed. She left the whole situation up to others in the law enforcement community instead of taking control. Had the media not finally caught on that something was up, we still might not know.

U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings taught a long time ago how public officials work for the public, not for law enforcement who are investigating a problem or other government officials looking for more time.

Think back to February 1993. At that time, Hollings discovered that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission quietly had targeted Charleston’s naval facilities for closure. The official report wasn’t due for about six weeks.

What did Hollings do — wait for the report to come out? No, he got on a plane to Charleston, held a press conference and warned Charlestonians of the impending economic blow. He got criticized for letting the cat out of the bag early and lots of local officials didn’t believe him.

But he was right on the money. And he let people know quickly because he knew his duty was to the citizens of South Carolina. He let them know because it was the right thing to do. As a result, a couple of things happened. First, Hollings’ early warning forced Charleston to start dealing with the situation more quickly than other communities and they were better prepared to fight. Also, the early warning forced the Navy to back down a little, which resulted in Charleston keeping NavalEx, the highly-technological complex of engineers that today are known as SPAWAR.

Nikki Haley talks a lot about transparency. But the secrecy involving private information of 3.6 million people is about as transparent as a blindfold. She should be held accountable.

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Remembering Peatsy http://likethedew.com/2012/10/15/remembering-peatsy/ http://likethedew.com/2012/10/15/remembering-peatsy/#comments Mon, 15 Oct 2012 15:15:20 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=43069 Our hearts go out today to the family and friends of Rita Louise "Peatsy" Hollings, who passed away Sunday evening.

Peatsy, wife of retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, served as the gold standard of a senator's wife. Not content to simply write thank you notes for social occasions, she was a full participant in Hollings' political career, his most trusted advisor. As past aides note, Peatsy "grounded" Fritz -- she kept him in touch with what people felt, what they dreamed. She did it with aplomb and a streak of humor that served well as she and her husband traveled the halls of power and backroads of South Carolina.

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Peatsy and Fritz

Peatsy and Fritz

Our hearts go out today to the family and friends of Rita Louise “Peatsy” Hollings, who passed away Sunday evening.

Peatsy, wife of retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, served as the gold standard of a senator’s wife. Not content to simply write thank you notes for social occasions, she was a full participant in Hollings’ political career, his most trusted advisor. As past aides note, Peatsy “grounded” Fritz — she kept him in touch with what people felt, what they dreamed. She did it with aplomb and a streak of humor that served well as she and her husband traveled the halls of power and backroads of South Carolina.

A 1984 story from when Hollings ran for president serves as an example. Seems that the senator had an appearance on a national morning news show. The phone rang in the early morning hours to wake him up. (One version claims this was in New Hampshire; another says it was in California during the Democratic convention.) When Peatsy answered the phone, the caller asked, “Umm, is Senator Hollings there?” Without missing a beat, Peatsy replied as if talking to the senator, “Honey, your name Hollings?”

Born Rita Louise Liddy on the last day of 1935, Peatsy became a teacher. Often at events in Washington or Charleston, former students would approach “Miss Liddy,” grasp her hand and tell her how much she meant to them and how she made civics come alive during classes at St. Andrews High School. In 1964, her zeal for politics poured over into her after-school life as she chaired the Charleston County Democratic Party.

In the late 1960s, then an aide to Hollings, she helped research and edit what became a groundbreaking policy book by Hollings, “The Case Against Hunger.” That book helped change the debate about need for maternal feeding in the country and led to the creation of the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, supplemental nutrition program for low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women. It has provided help for millions of American children and gave them the fuel to allow their brains to develop as babies. According to a USDA Web site, WIC serves 53 percent of all infants born today in the United States.

 Peatsy and Fritz on their wedding day, 1971.

Peatsy and Fritz on their wedding day, 1971

Married to Hollings in 1971, Peatsy helped with numerous charitable causes, such as the American Heart Association, March of Dimes and American Cancer Society. From 1990 to 2000, she co-chaired an annual gala salute at Ford’s Theatre for the President and First Lady. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to a four-year position on the National Advisory Mental Health Council, which she tackled with enthusiasm and passion.

But public education was always her chief passion. As related in a 2004 story on how Peatsy redefined the role of being a senator’s wife, she didn’t hold back when asked what issue she would trumpet if Hollings became president: “Public education. I am definitely against a tax exemption for private schools. Private schools are one reason people are unequal — they don’t take everybody and most people can’t afford them. Public schools should be the main concern of this nation because they teach different types of people how to live with each other. Certainly the cutbacks in education are criminal.”

Soon after Hollings retired from the Senate in 2004, Peatsy started a long struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. For years, she’d be with him in an office on Calhoun Street at the Medical University, where the senator continues to champion funding for cancer research. In later years, she enjoyed drives through the countryside.

Rita Louise Liddy Hollings, 1935-2012. You enriched the lives of South Carolinians. We’ll miss you. Rest in peace.

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Lawmakers must reform ethics system now http://likethedew.com/2012/10/02/lawmakers-must-reform-ethics-system-now/ http://likethedew.com/2012/10/02/lawmakers-must-reform-ethics-system-now/#comments Tue, 02 Oct 2012 15:21:03 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42520 If anything has become crystal clear in politics over the last few months, it’s that legislators aren’t very good police officers of their own behavior.

Recall that earlier this year, Republican activist John Rainey complained to the House Ethics Committee that GOP Gov. Nikki Haley wrongly acted as a lobbyist while she was a member of the House. The committee met in private session and quickly threw out the allegations, only to receive massive criticism for acting too rashly and out of the public eye. So it started the process again, got evidence, investigated and held a two-day hearing in June, only to throw out the allegations again.

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If anything has become crystal clear in politics over the last few months, it’s that legislators aren’t very good police officers of their own behavior.

Recall that earlier this year, Republican activist John Rainey complained to the House Ethics Committee that GOP Gov. Nikki Haley wrongly acted as a lobbyist while she was a member of the House. The committee met in private session and quickly threw out the allegations, only to receive massive criticism for acting too rashly and out of the public eye. So it started the process again, got evidence, investigated and held a two-day hearing in June, only to throw out the allegations again. Rainey, never one to give up, asked the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal on whether the charges can be heard in court. In August, the court agreed, but hasn’t yet set a hearing date.

Meanwhile about the same time, Haley put on a two-day, dog-and-pony show calling for ethics reform at the Statehouse because nobody ought to be “forced to sit in that seat like I did.” Sounding the familiar call for government transparency and accountability, Haley stomped the soap box in four cities calling for recusals by lawyer-legislators from some votes, dissolution of legislative ethics committees, more disclosure and stronger Freedom of Information laws.

At the time, House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) stuck it to Haley for not adequately explaining what she did to earn thousands of dollars from a political supporter, noting, “It’s ironic, that if we had these reforms in place before Governor Haley committed her actions, she would probably still be meeting with the Attorney General, only in a different place.”

So now the other shoe has dropped and Harrell may be looking at meeting with the attorney general, too. Over the past few days, news reports highlighted how Harrell has been less than candid about campaign reimbursements of more than $325,000 since 2008 for travel expenses, most of which apparently were for use of his private plane. The Post and Courier asked for receipts and itemized expenditures for a month, only to be told, “The Speaker is in full compliance with all requirements of the S.C. Ethics Act.”

Later in the week, Harrell repaid $23,000 into his campaign account for expenditures he apparently couldn’t account for and told the Associated Press that he “probably will be more specific” on finance forms about reimbursements in the future.

Bottom line: Both ethics stories illustrate how the ethics system for lawmakers is broken. But it shouldn’t be a surprise. The State Integrity Investigation ranks South Carolina 45th out of 50 states with a grade of F in its 2012 Corruption Risk Report Card based on a number of factors — financing of politics, lack of transparency, institutional secrecy and loopholes in ethics laws.

“In South Carolina, critics say, politics trumps law, and politicians often rule as lords as evidenced by documented accounts of clear abuses of power,” according to the investigation. “An undercurrent of fear and political interferences bubbles throughout the state’s civil service, one that is shot through with cronyism and patronage.”

So what should be done? Wholesale reform far beyond what Haley has proposed that takes into account the separation of powers. To be constitutional, reforms must allow House and Senate leaders to  be the judges of their behavior. But reform doesn’t mean they have to run investigations about their own members.

First and foremost, lawmakers must establish an independent joint ethics oversight panel charged with taking complaints, investigating them and making recommendations for real action to the House and Senate. Such a commission should include a respected former judge or Supreme Court justice as chair overseeing members who include former legislators and private citizens.

Second, legislators need to beef up the State Ethics Commission to give it more authority and power to deal with all ethics complaints involving state and municipal officials and agencies. Instead of cutting the commission’s budget, it should grow in the name of accountability and transparency.

Finally, lawmakers must comb through the ethics codes to remove loopholes and politics from the process.

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Be careful about questions on chocolate cake, road extensions http://likethedew.com/2012/09/18/be-careful-about-questions-on-chocolate-cake-road-extensions/ http://likethedew.com/2012/09/18/be-careful-about-questions-on-chocolate-cake-road-extensions/#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2012 16:13:22 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42247 If you got a letter in the mail or a call on the phone from someone who asked whether you "favor or oppose receiving a chocolate cake," there's a high degree of likelihood that you'd say, "I'd favor it." Why? Because chocolate cake tastes good.

The same goes for a caller who wanted to know whether you wanted to receive a sports car, a trip to Bermuda, or, say, the construction of the Mark Clark Expressway along a particular route. But if you were told that the chocolate cake would cost you $50, would you still be in favor of getting it?

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If you got a letter in the mail or a call on the phone from someone who asked whether you “favor or oppose receiving a chocolate cake,” there’s a high degree of likelihood that you’d say, “I’d favor it.” Why? Because chocolate cake tastes good.

The same goes for a caller who wanted to know whether you wanted to receive a sports car, a trip to Bermuda, or, say, the construction of the Mark Clark Expressway along a particular route.

But if you were told that the chocolate cake would cost you $50, would you still be in favor of getting it?

Probably not.

This is just the kind of logic used in the recently announced survey results regarding extension of the Mark Clark Expressway. A survey backed by the state Department of Transportation (SCDOT) asked a simple question but left out a key component — that the roadwork would cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

So it’s not surprising that 72 percent of respondents in a “random sample” of 5,000 households from West Ashley and Ravenel to the islands — James, Johns, Kiawah, Seabrook and Wadmalaw — said they’d be for extension of the highway. The hypothetical question they were asked was loaded to favor a positive answer!

Mark Clark Extension mapThe folks at the University of South Carolina who conducted the survey for the SCDOT provided a 19-page report on the methodology on why it is a good survey. But quite simply, it is flawed because it didn’t ask any substantive follow-up questions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that:

  • The two-page survey opened with a color map and a detailed 15-line description of the project’s proposed route. Would it have been so hard to add one line that it is expected to cost $558 million? You don’t, for example, see news stories about the proposed highway that fail to mention the cost. Shouldn’t a survey do the same?
  • There should have been more than one question asked to provide more insight into the answer of the first question. Certainly there was space. More than likely if people had been able to respond to a question that the road would actually cost them money, the number of positive responses would have plummeted like a duck shot from the sky.
  • In the dark ages when I took graduate-level statistics, mail surveys generally were thought to be imperfect tools for public opinion because a good response rate was considered to be 5 percent of surveys mailed. In the survey for the SCDOT, researchers got a 39.8 percent return rate, which was boosted to 44.2 percent after they followed up with phone calls to people who wouldn’t fill out the paper survey. The response rate alone should be a clue that the survey is suspect.

This survey falls into the category of the kind of document that purports to apply science to a matter of public opinion. But the foundations of the whole survey aren’t worth the paper on which it’s printed. Sure, the math works out and the 19 pages of logic and results sound good at first glance. But when you check under the hood, there’s more than enough to worry about.

Is this a case of elected officials pressuring for a simple survey to get the results they wanted? Why didn’t the survey ask enough questions to get to the root of how people really feel about the proposed extension?

We’ll probably never know. For now, be careful about assuming the results of this survey are an accurate snapshot of what people where the road may be built really think.

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