LikeTheDew.com » Andy Brack http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Tue, 21 Oct 2014 21:03:43 +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 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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Do not buy this anti-South rant for any reason http://likethedew.com/2012/09/03/do-not-buy-this-anti-south-rant-for-any-reason/ http://likethedew.com/2012/09/03/do-not-buy-this-anti-south-rant-for-any-reason/#comments Mon, 03 Sep 2012 10:59:49 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=41918 If you come to the South with a bad attitude and want to find clichés, you’ll find them.

As Oregon travel writer Chuck Thompson relates in his new South-hating book, the South still has some rednecks, tacky trailer parks, racists, government-haters, religious zealots, fat people and guys who look cloned from the movie “Deliverance.” But so do Vermont, Kansas, Utah, Alaska and just about anywhere you look across America.

Come to think about it, it’s probably not too hard for anyone visiting Oregon to find salmon-wrestling lumberjacks who wear cowboy hats.

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If you come to the South with a bad attitude and want to find clichés, you’ll find them.

As Oregon travel writer Chuck Thompson relates in his new South-hating book, the South still has some rednecks, tacky trailer parks, racists, government-haters, religious zealots, fat people and guys who look cloned from the movie “Deliverance.” But so do Vermont, Kansas, Utah, Alaska and just about anywhere you look across America.

Come to think about it, it’s probably not too hard for anyone visiting Oregon to find salmon-wrestling lumberjacks who wear cowboy hats. Or maybe someone who looks like Thompson’s book jacket mug shot — an effete, coffee-drinking, wannabe hipster who dreams lazily of spending more time on a skateboard while decked out in the latest fleece sweater. 

Chuck Thompson

Chuck Thompson

Thompson has particular disdain for South Carolina, which he calls the “most dysfunctional state in the union … renowned for producing politicians as slimy as the inside of a pumpkin.” Then he sashays forward a predictable list of disgraced figures from Thomas Ravenel to Mark Sanford. And then, almost on cue, he paints everyone here as a racist.

Yep, this Thompson guy has a problem. He’s a regional bigot. His irresponsible screed, “Better Off Without ‘em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession,” willfully ignores how today’s South is a far different place than the “Dukes of Hazzard” cliché he sought.

At more than 75 million people, the South is home to a fourth of the nation’s population. People are moving here in droves — not because of the backwardness that Thompson imagines, but because of the great quality of life in dynamic places like Charleston, Durham, Birmingham, Orlando and Atlanta, just to name a few.

Sure, we still have historic problems with education, poverty and obesity. But we’re still struggling Civil War-induced stagnation that the North didn’t have to deal with for four generations. While other areas of the country industrialized, much of the South had to wait until after World War II.

In the years since, we’ve significantly transformed an agrarian economy into a manufacturing powerhouse where more cars are produced than any other region of the country. In South Carolina, we’ve now got BMW and Boeing, neither of which would have moved here if the state were as bad as Thompson imagines. In fact, think of top Fortune 500 companies and where they’re headquartered — Wal-Mart (#2), Bank of America (13), Home Depot (35), UPS (52), Lowe’s (54), Coca-Cola (59), FedEx (70). Answer: All in the South.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the offensive Thompson criticizes Southerners for its growth when he notes, “the modern political South is more accurately described as a captive tool of corporate ideology. Regional politics reflect this reality with an unwavering drive to confirm the conviction that the industrialization of the South is not only sacred, but attainable only though cheap land and laws that maintain a perpetually impoverished lower class from which to draw it.”

Boy, this guy is at least a generation behind. BMW, which has built more than 2 million cars in South Carolina, didn’t need cheap land when it moved here. It came here for a skilled work force, not a poor one, to build complex machines. It wanted a place where people take pride in their work. (It should be noted, though, it didn’t hurt that unions aren’t strong here.)

Fortunately, Thompson’s venom is being panned by critics. “If there are good things to be discovered about the South,” Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times, “this book has no use for them. Nashville’s music? Not mentioned. Contemporary Southern literature? Mr. Thompson thanks the publisher of the journal Oxford American in his acknowledgements. But his actual text sticks to the ignoramus theory.” [Check out the review by S.C.'s Barton Swaim here in The Wall Street Journal.]

Thompson’s anti-South rant is embarrassing. It spews a lot of disconnected facts and venom but is surprisingly shallow on any real intellectual level of trying to comprehend the South of today. Do we still have work to do? Absolutely. But things have changed dramatically, a concept which the dilettante Thompson only gives lip service to because his wacky see-the-world-my-way beer goggles are in the way.

Bottom line: Do not buy this book. In fact, throw away this column or remove it from your computer’s cache so you don’t have to think about Thompson’s tirade ever again.

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Don’t tread on the Gadsden flag http://likethedew.com/2012/06/04/dont-tread-on-the-gadsden-flag/ http://likethedew.com/2012/06/04/dont-tread-on-the-gadsden-flag/#comments Mon, 04 Jun 2012 15:30:39 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=39741 Look around in your town and it probably won't take long to spy a bright yellow flag with a coiled rattlesnake in the middle and the words, "Don't Tread on Me."

This flag, named for Charleston patriot Christopher Gadsden, is a Revolutionary War symbol for national unity and perseverance. But that's not why the 237-year-old flag is showing up in front yards all over. It's being inappropriately hijacked by the tea party.

Back in 1754, founding father Benjamin Franklin penned America's first political cartoon to whip up national support to encourage colonists to fight with the British in the French and Indian War. Franklin's cartoon featured the words "Join or Die" under a rattlesnake cut into eight parts, each of which symbolized the colonies.

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Look around in your town and it probably won’t take long to spy a bright yellow flag with a coiled rattlesnake in the middle and the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

This flag, named for Charleston patriot Christopher Gadsden, is a Revolutionary War symbol for national unity and perseverance. But that’s not why the 237-year-old flag is showing up in front yards all over. It’s being inappropriately hijacked by the tea party.

Benjamin Franklin's Join or Die flagBack in 1754, founding father Benjamin Franklin penned America’s first political cartoon to whip up national support to encourage colonists to fight with the British in the French and Indian War. Franklin’s cartoon featured the words “Join or Die” under a rattlesnake cut into eight parts, each of which symbolized the colonies.

Long a proponent of the rattlesnake as a good symbol for the fighting spirit of colonists, Franklin wrote in 1775 how the snake was vigilant because it had no eyelids. “She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders. She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”

That fall, Col. Gadsden, a member of the Second Continental Congress from South Carolina, served on a seven-member committee in charge of outfitting the colonies’ first naval mission due to a British naval threat. Before the colonists’ first ship departed in December, Gadsden presented a yellow flag with a rattlesnake emblem to the new Navy’s commander-in-chief to serve as his personal standard, or flag, on the ship. It went on the ship’s main mast. The following year, Gadsden, presented a copy of the flag to the provincial congress in Charleston.

“I would definitely say it is a symbol of unity — that out of the many parts of the rattlesnake, we would come together and defeat the British,” said Samuel K. Fore, a Revolutionary War historian and assistant director of the Harlan Crow Museum in Dallas.

The Gadsden flag later inspired the first U.S. Navy Jack, a standard of 13 alternating red and white horizontal stripes with a rattlesnake in the middle and the familiar “Don’t Tread of Me” words. Today following a 2002 order from the Secretary of the Navy, that flag is displayed on all U.S. Navy ships, replacing the blue Union Jack with a white star for each state.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell believes the Gadsden Flag, like all flags, should be viewed in terms of their historical importance and not be corrupted. McConnell, as you may recall, knows a little about flags. As a powerful state senator, he was a key player in the controversy of getting the Confederate battle flag off the Statehouse dome and next to a war memorial on the Statehouse grounds.

“When any of us start taking historic emblems and start using them for contemporary political reasons, it starts to create confusion about the historic emblems,” McConnell said. “That flag didn’t belong to the politicians. It belonged to the people who carried it.”

the Gadsden FlagBut tea party enthusiasts now are using the flag to show their anger at government — much like segregationists appropriated the historical symbol of the Confederate battle flag to represent hate.

“It’s a shame,” McConnell said, “that the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy didn’t speak up louder and protest more about the misuse or co-opting of those emblems for contemporary politics.”

Historian Joseph Ellis told NPR in 2010 that the Gadsden flag was an appropriate expression of defiance in 1775 when the British Parliament was taxing colonists without representation.

“Obviously, contemporary tea party advocates have elected representatives,” Ellis said. “They just don’t agree with what they’re doing.”

McConnell said he didn’t think any damage had been done so far to the true meaning of the Gadsden flag. But “over time, the practice [of using it now in politics] will lead to confusion about what the flag was about. There’s nothing wrong with people flying it off their houses. But when you start associating historic emblems with contemporary politics, you start going down a slippery slope.”

Political movements like the tea party need to find its own emblems, not rip off and spoil historic symbols of the past.

Here’s a suggestion: Use the bird that Franklin espoused instead of the bald eagle as our national icon — the turkey.

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New job might have saved McConnell’s life http://likethedew.com/2012/05/14/new-job-might-have-saved-mcconnells-life/ http://likethedew.com/2012/05/14/new-job-might-have-saved-mcconnells-life/#comments Mon, 14 May 2012 04:44:55 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=39260 Becoming South Carolina’s lieutenant governor in March just might have saved Glenn McConnell’s life.

“People have said ever since I came down here, I look healthier and I’ve been healing faster,” said McConnell, the powerful Senate president pro tempore who resigned from a job he loved to take over for disgraced former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who was sentenced March 9 on ethics charges.  In December, a rare tick bit McConnell on the neck.

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Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell in his Columbia office this week.Becoming South Carolina’s lieutenant governor in March just might have saved Glenn McConnell’s life.

“People have said ever since I came down here, I look healthier and I’ve been healing faster,” said McConnell, the powerful Senate president pro tempore who resigned from a job he loved to take over for disgraced former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who was sentenced March 9 on ethics charges.

In December, a rare tick bit McConnell on the neck. He didn’t think much of it. Unfortunately, the tick injected a virus into his bloodstream. McConnell then got asthma after a concrete-pouring project. But the drug to treat the asthma interacted so negatively with the tick virus that McConnell ended up in January in an intensive care unit on the verge of congestive heart failure.

As he was trying to heal, Ard’s shenanigans came to light, causing enormous pressure on McConnell. On one hand, he’d spent more than 31 years building seniority in the Senate so he could be the policy power player that he’d become. But on the other, he knew what the state Constitution really required.

“It would have been easy for me to get the doctor’s excuse that I needed to step down as president pro tem — the stress and everything,” the Charleston Republican said in an exclusive interview this week.

At most, some of his friends advised, manipulating Senate rules and the Constitution to avoid becoming lieutenant governor wouldn’t be news for long.

“I told them it may be a two-day story for y’all, but it will be an everyday story for me when I had to look at myself in the mirror. How can I ever come back to the Senate floor and talk about constitutional compliance and I did the talk but wasn’t willing to make the walk?”

He added, “Constitutions shouldn’t be twisted into something that they’re not and you shouldn’t try to circumvent them, go around them or reinterpret them for your benefit.”

Today, there’s a new Glenn McConnell filled with a new vitality and energy. Yes, he’s still healing. And sure, it’s frustrating to not be able to interject policy and political views as he’s presiding over Senate debates. But a lot of the pressure is off.

“I’m not going to say I’m having fun,” he said. “I will say I am enjoying now what I’m doing. And now that the stress is off of me, I’m able to get more focused.”

McConnell has become an impassioned advocate for the state’s Office on Aging, which is part of the lieutenant governor’s office.

“I have become enthusiastic about my new duties in trying to ensure seniors of South Carolina have a bright future and that the taxpayers of this state know we’ve used best business practices and the best judgment to deal  with the problem of improving the track record” of the office.

When he took over, more than 8,000 seniors were on waiting lists to get services from rides to doctors’ appointments to meals to home-based health care. McConnell has lobbied the Senate to restore operational funding for his office in the new state budget — and to add $5 million to the Office on Aging. The move should save money by allowing seniors to get the help they need for a fraction of the cost of being put in a nursing home, he said.
“We don’t have seniors signing up on waiting lists to get in nursing homes,” he said. “They want to stay home.”

Over the next months as McConnell hits the road to talk about aging issues across the state, many will wonder whether he’s going to try to keep the job he never sought — whether he’ll run for lieutenant governor, or even governor.

“I haven’t even opened an account,” he’ll tell you. When pushed, he’ll reflect on what he’s learned this year: “I’m just not going to rule out anything. I learned this year — you don’t know what you’re facing. You take it as it comes and you make a decision based on what’s before you.”

One thing is for sure. We can use a few more Glenn McConnells in Columbia.

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