Open Thread for Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Let’s see what we have to offer today:

Russians have many theories about the MH17 crash. One involves fake dead people. — You know, the Rodina must be a very interesting place to live. This story compiles some of the wacky alternative explanations of the crash that are given credence by Russian media or influential websites.

Two Ukrainian Warplanes Shot Down . When this broke this morning, the first AP bulletin said:

Which caused me to react, “As opposed to CIVILIAN fighter jets?” Yeah, I know. The AP is being deliberately redundant in order to make sure the reader doesn’t misread it and think it’s another civilian craft. But it still bugs me. Of course, “fighter jet” is pretty redundant without “military” added. Think about it: Here in the 21st century, a fighter is highly unlikely to be a Spitfire or a Sopwith Camel. But maybe some countries still have some prop fighters. If so, I’d like to see them in action…

Israel Faces Rising Pressure to End Conflict in Gaza . And why, pray tell, is the pressure on Israel, instead on on Hamas, which started it, and insists on continuing? I suppose because Israel is more likely to respond favorably.

A Doctor Leading The Fight Against Ebola Has Caught The Virus – All I know about ebola, I learned from Tom Clancy novels. But that’s enough to make me shudder.

DSS: state needs 200 more child-welfare workers. I believe them. You?

In case you haven’t had a good 2nd Amendment argument today…

This just in:

Washington, DC (WLTX) – U.S. Capitol Police have arrested a Camden buisnessman after they say he tried to take a gun into an office building on the Capitol grounds.

Ronald William Prestage, 59, is charged with carrying a pistol without a license. Officers say they recovered the 9 mm handgun from him as he tried to enter the Cannon House Building, which is one of the structures containing the offices of members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Police haven’t said yet if he gave an explanation for why he had the weapon…

Actually, my headline is kind of misleading. I doubt many of my regulars, even the most ardent gun-lovers among us, will want to assert the right to enter the U.S. Capitol offices while packing heat.

Am I right? If not, have at it…

By the way, if you read the rest of the piece (I quoted as much as I thought I could get away with under Fair Use), you’ll find that this Mr. Prestage is an upstanding member of the community, the manager of the Kershaw County Airport (which you would think would make him a little more sensitive about where it’s a good idea to carry a gun, and where it isn’t). No rootless drifter/gunslinger is he.

He’s also president of the National Pork Producers Council. Yeah, I thought that was an unusual combination, too, but that’s what the story said…

Explain to me how these are ‘public relations director’ jobs

 

PR 2

As I’ve mentioned before, back when I was job hunting after being laid off, I signed up for a bunch of services that were supposed to send me tips on jobs that were relevant to my skills and experience.

I’ve continued to get those emails, and they are often entertaining.

This one service, The Ladders, which specializes in placing executive-level job seekers, regularly sends me messages with the subject line, “Public relations director jobs for you.” I especially like that personal touch, the “for you” part, don’t you? Just for you; I didn’t compile public relations director jobs for anyone else but you…”

I’m not sure how The Ladders decided that that was the only type job I wanted, but it’s really fixated on it. I get an email like this from them every week or two, sometimes more often.

Here’s the thing, though — not once have they sent a tip on an actual “public relations director” job. At least, not since February, which is as far back as I’ve been saving them.

In addition to that “Commercial Escrow Officer” gem above — which in no way bears any relationship to anything on my resume — The Ladders has in recent months tipped me to the following “public relations director” opportunities:

  • Sr. Electronic Engineer / Support
  • Air Compressor Technician
  • Executive Assistant
  • Supervisor Meeting and Special Events
  • Executive Director
  • Military Analyst Lead
  • Veteran Arabic Levantine Linguist Analyst
  • Veteran Arabic Iraqi Linguist Analyst
  • Video Production Specialist
  • Army Mission Command Program Analyst Senior

What makes this worse is that The Ladders is really selective in what it sends me. Other services send me lists of 25 or 30 job openings at a time, many (but not all) of them just as irrelevant. But The Ladders picks one or two at a time especially for me!

And yeah, I see the thing that advises me, “To improve your matches, consider editing your job goals.” But I have no idea what username and password I set up for that service five years ago, and would it really be worth it? It obviously ignores the input from me it has now.

This would all just be a hoot if not for the fact that there are algorithms just as bad as this one screening resumes and rejecting them before they are ever viewed by a human. I’ve had plenty of experience with that. When your last job, the one you held for many years, is “vice president/editorial page editor,” if the prospective employer is anything other than a newspaper, their algorithm isn’t going to have a clue what to do with you. It takes a human to think, “Hmmm, here’s a guy who knows his community, knows the movers and shaker in both politics and business in the state, and has writing and other communications skills that could translate well to what I need…”

So forgive me if I don’t laugh uncontrollably at the fact that these programs are even worse at matching me to a job than Netflix is at figuring out what kinds of movies I like…

Well, yeah — there might be offshore drilling if we FIND something

The Conservation Voters of South Carolina are upset about oil and gas exploration off the SC coast:

Sonic cannons: Is offshore drilling next?

Conservation Voters,

On Friday, the federal government announced its approval for use of sonic cannons to search for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean, from Delaware to Florida. Sonic cannons blast loud noises underwater, disturbing marine mammals, including the endangered North American Right Whale. This method of exploration has serious impacts, and it is the first step to drilling off our coast.

Past projections indicate too little oil and gas, too much risk and too little benefit for South Carolinians. We have serious concerns about the use of sonic cannons in our waters despite the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) “mitigation measures.” The fact that BOEM will not share the results of the studies compounds our misgivings. This process is as opaque as our waters will be if there’s drilling offshore.

Regardless of the results, the fundamental geology of our coastline suggests that offshore oil and gas would be a drop in the bucket, especially with our country’s exploding natural gas production. These are global commodities, and any oil or gas produced off our coast would not lead to lower energy costs here.

We urge Governor Haley to reject the “drill, baby, drill” rhetoric of the past.  We disagree with her assessment that drilling could be a “tremendous boon to South Carolina.”  Instead, we ask state leaders to support clean energy policies that bring jobs and lower power bills, without the risks that we saw so vividly in the BP Gulf Oil disaster. We cannot turn our coast into an industrial zone for oil companies’ profits and federal government royalties. Converting McClellanville, Pawleys Island, or Beaufort into a home for large refineries and industrial-scale natural gas infrastructure would imperil the tourism and fishing industries that sustain these special places.

Stay tuned.We’ll be following this issue closely in the months to come.

The answer to the question, “Is offshore drilling next?,” would seem to be Yeah — if we find anything that makes the effort worthwhile.

I’m a tree-hugger from way back — I participated in the first Earth Day when I was in high school — but I’m also founder of the Energy Party, and that means I’m going to have to hear more arguments before I’m opposed to this exploration off our coast (although the “sonic cannon” bit does sound a little wild).

The point isn’t “lower energy costs.” The point is energy independence. And unless you have a plan for us to be independent and stay independent without exploring for oil — because until hydrogen cars or some other breakthrough are here and mass-produced and affordable, our economy is going to need oil — then we need to go get it where we can find it. And that requires looking for it first.

Sheheen’s plan for roads (first, no gas tax increase, which is a BAD thing…)

Vincent Sheheen has presented his plan for fixing roads in South Carolina, and right off the bat, he loses me by saying he wouldn’t do the most obvious thing that needs to be done — increase the gas tax in order to pay for it all.

Here’s his release:

Sheheen Releases Plan to Rebuild Roads & Bridges
Gubernatorial candidate lays out plan to responsibly invest in infrastructure and restore safety after years of neglect
Camden, SC. – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his plan of action to rebuild roads and bridges in South Carolina. The plan lays out a responsible course of action to improve safety and efficiency of the state’s infrastructure immediately and for the long term.
Sen. Sheheen’s plan centers around four key components that will increase accountability and lead the state to responsibly invest in infrastructure without having to raise the gas tax: adopt a Fix it First approach to focus on repairing roads before building new ones; reorganize the Department of Transportation to save money, improve accountability, and be more efficient in choosing what gets repaired; issue bonds for an immediate one-time infusion of money to get investments started and create jobs; each year, automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to rebuilding our roads.
This plan of action comes after three years of total neglect to South Carolina’s roads and bridges by Nikki Haley that have left only 15 percent of South Carolina’s roads listed as “in good condition,” left thousands of bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete,” and made the state’s rural roads the most dangerous in the country according to a new study. The Governor has refused to release a plan on roads until after November’s election.
View Sen. Sheheen’s plan to rebuild roads and bridges, as well as his other ideas for how to improve leadership and accountability in South Carolina, at www.vincentsheheen.com. His book, “The Right Way: Getting the Palmetto State Back on Track” includes an entire chapter on improving transportation infrastructure and is free and also available online, here.
Honest Leadership & Real Accountability to Rebuild SC Road & Bridges
Under Nikki Haley’s administration, South Carolina’s roads, bridges, rail lines, and waterways are in desperate need of repair after years of neglect.
South Carolina had the fifth highest rate of traffic fatalities in the country, according to the US Census. Our rural roads are the deadliest rural roads in the nation, according to a new report released this month. In fact, only 15 percent of our roads are classified as “in good condition” with thousands of our bridges so unsafe that they are classified as “functionally obsolete.”
South Carolina’s families, businesses and taxpayers in general deserve so much better from their government. South Carolina needs honest leadership and real accountability to responsibly fix the roads and bridges – we need a Governor who will make infrastructure a priority.
As a small business owner, and an attorney who has helped families and small businesses grow and succeed, Vincent understands that economic activity depends on a good and viable transportation system. Having reliable roads and bridges is vital to growing the economy from within and attracting companies from out of state. Similarly, as the father of three boys and a native South Carolinian, Vincent knows how imperative it is for families to have safe roads and bridges. Taxpaying citizens should not have to fear for their safety while driving down a road in their town or across a bridge in their community.  And we shouldn’t be embarrassed when visitors come to our state by our dreadful highways.
Adopt a “Fix It First” Approach
South Carolina has the nation’s fourth largest state-maintained transportation network. Additions place an increased burden on an already overburdened maintenance program. If we can’t afford to maintain roads we already have, how can we afford to build new ones? It’s time for honest leadership and a common-sense approach where we fix our roads first.
Vincent’s plan of action
  • Issue an executive order to require the Department of Transportation to adopt the Fix it First rule he has promoted in the Senate.
  • Appoint a Transportation Director to be accountable and use the limited resources to secure the safety of the existing roads.
  • Set benchmarks on Fix-It-First projects to tackle our most crumbling roads first. Hold the DOT accountable to those benchmarks and provide monthly updates on projects to improve transparency.
Transform how we pay to maintain our roads & bridges. 
Currently South Carolina is heavily reliant on the gas tax, which generates about $500 million per year and accounts for 71 percent of all state highway funding. But the gas tax is a declining source of revenue as cars become more fuel efficient. Increasing the gas tax is not going to solve our transportation funding crisis. To succeed, the state must diversify funding and weave together sources to responsibly invest over the long-term.  Because of historic underinvestment in our roads we need to create an additional dedicated funding source and issue bonds to jumpstart needed investments.
Vincent’s plan of action:
  • Issue bonds to fund long-term investment.
    • The use of infrastructure is enjoyed by generations of our citizens. Just like a family takes out a responsible mortgage to buy a house for their long-term success, bonding is a responsible way to invest over multiple years in the future that will help families and businesses alike. The use of bonds would allow the state to inject a tremendous one-time infusion of funds needed to bring our roads up to standards while using other sources of revenue to maintain their integrity.
  • Dedicate five percent of General Fund revenue for roads.
    • As a state, we must decide that road funding is such a priority to deserve a portion of general tax revenue — especially surplus revenue. As governor, Vincent would put forth a budget to phase in the automatic dedication of five percent of the General Fund and surplus revenue to Department of Transportation to repair our roads and bridges.
  • Investigate other sources of revenue.
    • Honest leadership means bringing people together and considering many new ideas while building a bipartisan coalition to move forward and deliver results. As Governor, Vincent will explore potential revenue sources to pay for the repair of roads and bridges, including:
      • Lease rest areas to private businesses to establish gas and food sales at rest stops and generate new revenue.
      • Investigate an out-of-state truck tax to gather funds from those out-of-state who use our roads but don’t pay anything to maintain them. This will generate funds and make South Carolina more competitive with other states’ approaches.
 
Make the Department of Transportation more accountable
People expect and deserve a government that works and works well – and when it doesn’t, they deserve real accountability. South Carolina can fund its priorities by cracking down on waste, mismanagement, and incompetence to put politics aside and focus on getting results.
Vincent’s plan of action: 
  • Restructure of the state Department of Transportation to make the director answer directly to the governor
  • Abolish the DOT Commission to allow the legislature and governor to manage and set road funding and policy and to increase accountability.
  • Increase oversight from the legislature so that with new leadership we could have real accountability.
  • Combine the State Infrastructure Bank with the Department of Transportation to provide a consolidated and accountable approach to road improvements and maintenance.
View this release online, here.

Yes, restructuring DOT — as we failed to do in 1993, and again in 2007 (because, in both cases, the General Assembly did not want to reform DOT) — is a great idea. It’s a no-brainer, something that should have been done long, long ago.

And I commend Sen. Sheheen for presenting a plan, instead of playing the game that Nikki Haley is playing — saying she’ll have a plan for us, but only after the election.

But if announcing your plan before the election means you feel compelled to avoid the most obvious way of paying for your proposal, then something important is lost.

Again, we have a way to pay for roadwork. It’s the gasoline tax. It has been held artificially, ridiculously low for far too long. There’s no need to run all over creation trying to find some other way to pay for infrastructure when we have a way to do it already. It’s a particularly bad idea to cut into funding available for all the other functions of government that don’t have a dedicated funding stream (“automatically dedicate five percent of the General Fund”), to pay for a governmental function that does have a dedicated funding stream — a common-sense one tied to use.

Obamacare ruling: WOW, talk about a lack of perspective!

There’s some big news out of a federal appeals court in D.C., and I am just stunned by the lack of perspective in the way The Washington Post is reporting it:

federal appeals court panel in the District struck down a major part of the 2010 health-care law Tuesday, ruling that the tax subsidies that are central to the program may not be provided in at least half of the states.

The ruling, if upheld, could potentially be more damaging to the law than last month’s Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. [emphasis mine]

The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs who argued that the language of the law barred the government from giving subsidies to people in states that chose not to set up their own insurance marketplaces. Twenty-seven states, most with Republican leaders who oppose the law, decided against setting up marketplaces, and another nine states partially opted out…..

Wow. Do ya think?

This ruling, “if upheld,” would mean Obamacare would cease to exist for those of us in South Carolina and in 26 other states. There would be nothing left of it. We don’t have the Medicaid expansion, and we don’t have a state exchange, so this would be it — no one — South Carolina would be getting health insurance through the ACA.

Which, of course, is precisely what Nikki Haley and all those other SC Republicans who hate Barack Obama and all he stands for far, FAR more than they care about the people of SC want. Their dream, our nightmare, would be achieved — South Carolina would have “opted out” of health care reform.

Compare that to a ruling that closely-held corporations with religious objections would not have to cover some contraceptives — while covering EVERYTHING ELSE that a person would go to a doctor for.

So, uh, yeah, it could “potentially” (that hedge word is just the cherry on top of this monument to lack of perspective) be more damaging to the law.

Wow. Wow…

I’ll get mad at Nikki Haley and her fellow ideologues who put South Carolina in a position to be denied any benefit (any benefit at all, people, not just your preferred contraceptives, or your favorite antihistamines, or your chosen brand of bandages) from the ACA later. Right now, my mind is too boggled by that observation from the WashPost

I don’t know anything about this Sandhya Somashekhar person who wrote the piece, but does she not have an editor?!?!?

The morality isn’t QUITE as clear as Krauthammer says

From Charles Krauthammer’s latest column:

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel-Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows the proudly self-declared raison d’etre of Hamas: the eradication of Israel and its Jews….

He’s right that there is not moral equivalence here, and that Hamas is the party that is in the wrong. They are the ones who started this by firing the rockets, and absolutely refusing to stop firing the rockets, which is all they had to do, at any time, to stop the violence.

But the fact is that innocents are being killed, and up to the time he wrote his column, they were Palestinian innocents, for the most part (the Israeli casualties have started climbing now that the IDF is engaged in ground operations, which is always the way).

And that raises the huge moral contradiction in this conflict:

  • Hamas is trying to kill innocent noncombatants in Israel, but failing.
  • Israel is trying NOT to kill innocents, but is doing so regularly.

That’s Hamas’ fault, no doubt about it. As Krauthammer says, those Palestinian innocents are being sacrificed by Hamas deliberately to score international PR points.

As Netanyahu says,

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”…

And what else is Israel to do, since Hamas won’t stop firing the rockets?

Krauthammer’s conclusion is inescapable. But it’s wishful thinking to say this is a moment of unusual clarity. The situation presents a moral mess, which is exactly what Hamas, of course, wants. The matter is clear to Krauthammer, and clear to me. But it isn’t to everyone, and to the extent that is the case, Hamas is succeeding.

Tom Erwin adds staff

I kind of like it when candidates send out helpful memos like this, to make it easier for me to keep up with who is running their campaigns. It keeps me from having to ask around, which, let’s face it, is kinda like work:

Ervin Campaign Announces the Addition of Press Secretary Christian Hertenstein and Senior Advisor Matt David.

Greenville, SC — The Tom Ervin campaign announced today its most recent additions to the campaign’s staff, press secretary Christian Hertenstein and senior advisor Matt David.20140525_0138-300x300

“We are recruiting top talent to our campaign team so that we continue our momentum and claim victory in November,” said Tom Ervin, the Independent Republican candidate for governor of South Carolina. “We want the entire state to understand our plan to grow the economy, ensure every child has access to a quality education, and implement tough ethics reform in Columbia; this is the team we need to do it.”

Matt David is a partner at Outland Creative Works in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to this he held a number of roles in Republican politics, both in state government and campaigns. David was the deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. David’s experience in South Carolina includes work in two Republican presidential primaries: deputy communications director for Sen. McCain in 2008 and campaign manager for Gov. Huntsman in 2012.

“South Carolina is in need of a chief executive that both reflects the values of the state and has a clear vision for its future. I’m thrilled to help Tom in his mission to make a better South Carolina,” said David.

Christian Hertenstein is serving as press secretary and has both private sector and political communications experience. Most recently, Hertenstein managed communications for a financial institution. Prior to his private sector work, Hertenstein was the communications director for the South Carolina Republican Party.

But they should provide links. I added the two above. I hope I linked to the right people of those names…

How could Huck Finn not top any list of Great American Novels?

Thomas Hart Benton's depiction of Huck and Jim

Thomas Hart Benton’s depiction of Huck and Jim

A piece in The Washington Post this morning on the new book about living next door to Harper Lee mentions the status of To Kill A Mockingbird as a, if not the, Great American Novel — and casually links to a list.

The list isn’t explained. I don’t know who compiled it, or what the criteria may have been.

But of course I’m drawn in. The list extends to 358 books (which requires straining the definition of “great”), but let’s just examine the top ten:

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  4. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  5. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  6. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  9. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  10. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

OK, first, it’s just not right for Steinbeck to get three out of the 10. Especially since — confession time — I’ve never read the first two. The Grapes of Wrath is one of those novels I’ve meant to read for most of my life, and I will (my wife finds it utterly incredible I still haven’t). East of Eden, not so much.

And, to confess further, despite having started it again to great fanfare, I’ve still never finished Moby Dick. It just seems to start to drag after they go to sea. (Yeah, I know that’s pretty early in the book.) Which is weird, because that’s when seafaring tales generally get good.

I think all the other works are deserving of the top ten, although I might move up some of my faves from the second ten (On the Road, The Sun Also Rises, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fahrenheit 451).

But my main beef is this: How could any list of the Greatest American Novels not start with Huckleberry Finn? Hemingway famously said, ““All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” And I agree, except that I would delete the word, “modern.” It’s superfluous. All American literature, period.

It’s THE American novel. It’s episodic, picaresque structure is quintessentially American. Huck Finn, the freest character in literature, untainted by the history or culture of the Old World, couldn’t be more American. Huck can be anyone he wants to be, and slides in and out of identities throughout. And the central conflict in the novel is about the deepest, most profound issue of our history — in the sense that it has a central theme. Remember the author’s warning:

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

Which is a very American sort of warning — notice in no uncertain terms that pretension will not be tolerated.

Even the novel’s weaknesses are very American. Such as the uneven tone — starting out with farcical comedy that is an extension of Tom Sawyer, moving to tragedy with the Graingerfords and other incidents, the slapstick and menace of the Duke and the Dauphin, and ending with the broad comedy of Tom’s insistence on throwing flourishes from literature into Jim’s escape from the Phelps farm – itself a deadly serious matter, which nearly leads to Tom’s death, and does result in Jim’s recapture (as a result of his own selflessness).

Sorry, that was a confusing sentence. But you see what I mean. The novel was no more constrained by a particular tone than life itself. Very free, very American. And certainly great.

OK, off the top of my head, my own list:

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  3. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  5. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
  7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  8. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  9. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
  10. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Some runner-ups:

  • The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
  • Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
  • City Boy, by Herman Wouk
  • The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
  • Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth
  • The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
  • God’s Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Better stop there, as my quality was slipping a bit at the end there (Heinlein is fun, but is it literature?).

I’ll come back and explain those choices a bit another day. Gotta run now…

Your Virtual Front Page, Friday, July 18, 2014

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Surprise! We haven’t had one of these in a while. Y’all seemed to like Open Threads more, and they were less work, so I went along with you. But lately, you’ve seemed less enchanted with the open threads, and I like VFPs (they appeal more to my compulsion to try to make sense of the news), so here you go:

  1. U.S.: Missile was Russian-made (WashPost) — Now this is a lede story worthy of the term. The WSJ, the NYT and the WashPost are all going multi-column on their headlines on this one. You may of may not have noticed, but normally a lede on those sites is held to one column. Since the headline on this could well include the words “Cold War Redux,” this is heavy news, indeed.
  2. SIDEBAR: Indiana University student athlete killed in crash – She was Dutch. There was one U.S. citizen: Quinn Lucas Schansman.
  3. SIDEBAR: Obama says ‘near 100’ AIDS workers killed. Is it true? – The number remains uncertain, but the NYT has identified at least one top researcher killed in the shootdown.
  4. Netanyahu Warns of Wider Israel Operation in Gaza (NYT) — The story that would be the lede most days. The world is an extraordinarily dangerous place these days, as the U.S. slouches toward greater isolationism.
  5. Obama opens Eastern Seaboard to oil exploration (AP) — A story with implications for SC. The exploration involves something called “sonic cannon,” which lets the women of the world know right off that this is something a guy is responsible for thinking up.
  6. SC jobless rate held steady in June (thestate.com) — The rate has stayed stagnant since April, after a year of sharp declines.

Haley doesn’t want those children fed and sheltered in SC

Gov. Nikki Haley is walking a very fine line.

On the one hand, she decries the “humanitarian crisis” of those thousands of children, driven by desperation we can’t even imagine, who find themselves alone on this side of the border. We are told that “As a mother (emphasis mine), Republican Haley said finds it ‘disturbing’ that the migrant children would be left ‘to fend for themselves’ as they attempt to cross the border.”

Which, you know, suggests a modicum of compassion.

On the other hand, she wants to make sure that, as the government figures out what to do about this crisis, none of those children are sheltered here in South Carolina — not even on federal reservations such as military bases, which to my mind would be none of her business.

This sort of dims the halo of her compassion, to say the least.

Looking at the transparency issue from the perspective of those who have had to deal with the media

In reaction to the buzz about the chairman of the Ethics Commission making a rule that the press has to deal with him and him only, Bob McAlister — communications consultant, former director of communications and then chief of staff to Gov. Carroll Campbell — had this to say on Facebook:

This is a case of media hyperventilation. Any organization has the right—indeed the responsibility—to decide who acts as spokesman. There’s nothing here to suggest that the Ethics Commission’s openness and access to reporters will be curtailed. Who better to speak for the agency than the person who runs it? The press has the right to know the truth about an agency; it does not have the right to dictate who gives them the information they seek.

I don’t disagree with Bob at all. If I were running an agency that deals with matters as sensitive as those the Ethics Commission deals with, I would want to make sure the message that went out accurately described the agency’s position. Especially if I was dissatisfied with something someone in the agency had said publicly.

But there’s something I think Bob’s ignoring here: The irregular manner in which this new policy was propagated. The chairman didn’t bring it up for discussion in an open meeting or call for a vote of the commission. He just issued an edict, unilaterally — which makes the whole thing look worse.

Now, giving the chairman the benefit of the doubt, this could just be a kinder, gentler way of dealing with a subordinate whom he views as a loose cannon. That is halfway suggested in the story in the state. I say “halfway,” because first, Chairman James Burns (not to be confused with Jimmy Byrnes) and Executive Director Herb Hayden, were paraphrased as saying this was not a move to silence Cathy Hazelwood, the agency’s deputy director and general counsel, who has been quite free with statements in the past:

Burns and Hayden said the new policy was not an effort to stop Hazelwood, who declined to comment, from speaking to the media…

And then, in the next graf, Hayden is quoted as suggesting the aim IS to silence Hazelwood:

“We don’t want to give the impression that Cathy as the prosecutor is already predisposed to any particular action on any particular case,” Hayden said. “(Y)ou don’t want the prosecutor making a statement that could imply that they’re going to (make a decision) one way or the other. Her role is to evaluate the evidence presented during an investigation.”

Interesting thing about that point: Were this the criminal justice system, the prosecutor is exactly the person I would expect to be free to comment on a case. You would not expect the judge or jurors to comment. Prosecutors, by their very nature, take a position. It is the job of the judge and jury “to evaluate the evidence presented,” and to do so impartially. And in the case of the Ethics Commission, the commission that Burns chairs is the judge and jury.

To move on…

Bob wasn’t the only person to stick up for the new policy.

Later, on the Facebook link to my earlier blog post on the subject, Matt Kennell, president and CEO of City Center Partnership, observed that recent anti-transparency developments “may be pushback to some abuses by the media… from expereince.”

That is a separate issue. That observation popped up on my iPad as I was eating breakfast this morning. Moments earlier, Matt had been sitting at the table behind me, so I turned to ask him to elaborate. But apparently, he was downstairs at his desk by then.

If I were currently an editor or news director in the local MSM, I’d give Matt a call and ask him what the problem was, and clear the air, so that there is less likelihood of a problem next time…

Weird Al does it again

Although this may be the last time. At least, his last album. For now:

This week, seemingly inspired by the cornucopia of videos that attended Beyoncé’s latest album, “Market-Savvy” Al has adopted an Internet-conquering strategy of releasing a video a day from his new, 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. This is probably his last full-length, he’s said, as his record contract is up (the title is partly a joke about contractual obligation) and the format is no longer so suitable to a spoofing style that depends on timeliness…

It could be that Weird Al’s time has passed, because he no longer stands out from the crowd:

He had the especial fortune to coincide with the MTV era—videos were essentially ridiculous already, and ripe for the clowning. Without the visuals, Yankovic’s songs would never have had the same traction. He was working in memes and virality before those terms existed. What’s more surprising is that he had so little competition. (Even This Is Spinal Tap was a cinematic event that didn’t much ruffle the charts.)

But today, as many observers have noted, it’s the opposite. He’s not so much “Weird” Al as “Norm”-Al. As Jody Rosen wrote last year, “We’re all Weird Al Yankovic.” The spike in sophisticated comedy as well as the do-it-yourself recording and video-making boom centered on YouTube have brought if anything a surfeit of musical mockery. And a lot of the newborn Weird Als, face it, are simply better than “Field of One” Al ever was….

I don’t know about that last part. No one has ever touched the soaring goofiness of “Eat it,” which, let’s face it, was way better — far more creative, certainly — than the song it apes:

Sheheen proposes to fight beach bacteria on Grand Strand

Sheheen made this proposal in Myrtle Beach today:

Democratic candidate for governor Vincent Sheheen called Wednesday for the state to spend millions to remove bacteria-filled stormwater pipes from the beaches that anchor South Carolina’s tourism economy.

In the Myrtle Beach area on a campaign stop, Sheheen said he favors spending $10 million to $20 million in state money to get rid of pipes along the Grand Strand so that vacationers aren’t exposed to contaminated runoff.

If elected governor, Sheheen said he will make removing the drainage pipes and improving water quality in the Myrtle Beach area a priority….

The Conservation Voters of SC have reacted with praise for Sheheen’s proposal. But then, they’ve already endorsed him.

Is there a war on transparency in South Carolina?

There was an unmistakable theme running through different items in The State this morning — a tale of government transparency on retreat.

South Carolina has never been on what you’d call the cutting edge of openness in government. After having worked for years under Tennessee’s wide-open Sunshine Law, I was deeply shocked when I got here and learned how easily public bodies could meet behind closed doors.

Based on three items in the paper today, the cause of transparency seems to be retreating on multiple fronts:

  • Ethics chief limits who can talk to media – Under some circumstances, I can have some sympathy for public officials trying to make sure a spokesman actually speaks for the institution, rather than confusing the public. But it’s particularly disturbing to see that it’s Nikki Haley’s appointee as chairman who’s trying to narrow and control the information pipeline — given our governor’s own history on the ethics front.
  • SC high court: Autopsy reports not public records — Says press mouthpiece Jay Bender: “With this decision, I fear that the only version of events that will reach the public will be the one that exonerates government personnel from any claims of misconduct.” I also like what an editor at the Sumter paper said in response to the courts concern that releasing an autopsy could reveal sensitive health information: “There has never been an autopsy that has ever been performed that improved someone’s health.”
  • Cindi Scoppe’s column on “Sealed records, closed doors” — Cindi writes about a series of weird instances of judges in the Lowcountry not only sealing documents that should be public, but closing the courtrooms’ doors. This is based on a report from Fitz McAden, executive editor of The Beaufort Gazette and Hilton Head’s Island Packet, so maybe it’s limited to courts in that part of the state. But Cindi worries that it isn’t.

And as Cindi notes in that column, we have yet to see what mischief may be caused by the Supreme Court’s footnote about certain aspects bearing on the Bobby Harrell ethics case also being heard in camera. Cindi promises, with a warning tone, to keep an eye on that:

If the high court indeed was sending a signal to close the courtroom, that would constitute a dramatic departure from its longstanding policy, and if that turns out to be the case, we will have ample opportunity to discuss that. At length.

The trendline at the moment doesn’t look good…

Most effective anti-Haley ad I’ve seen

I missed this yesterday for traveling.

Months after those outrageous anti-Sheheen ads from the Republican Governors Association, its Democratic counterpart has put out the above ad. Here’s the release that goes with it:

NEW TV AD: Nikki Haley Put Her Career Ahead Of Children’s Lives

“Interview” Features Former State Social Services Worker Who Quit So She Didn’t Have To Cook The Books, Put Kids At Risk

 

WASHINGTON, DC—The Democratic Governors Association today launched a new television ad in South Carolina highlighting how Governor Nikki Haley has put her own political career ahead of children’s lives through her mismanagement of the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the subsequent coverups that left children in abusive and, at times, deadly situations. The ad, “Interview,” features Betsy Burton, a former staff attorney at DSS, who resigned rather than cook the books and put more kids at risk.

“Governor Haley has put her own political career ahead of the lives of South Carolina’s most vulnerable children,” said DGA Communications Director Danny Kanner. “Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time she has tried to cover up her gross incompetence – she withheld the fact that millions of South Carolinians had their personal financial information hacked on her watch and that children had been put at risk from a tuberculosis outbreak in public schools. But with the death of three children, enough is enough. It’s time for Governor Haley to start protecting kids instead of her own political career.”

Watch the ad herehttp://youtu.be/gRXO6f8BxV0

This is the first television ad that the DGA has aired in South Carolina, and is part of a significant six-figure buy. The ad comes far earlier in the cycle than when the DGA ran television ads in 2010. The Sheheen for South Carolina campaign ran a television ad earlier this year highlighting Governor Haley’s tragic handling of the situation at DSS.

Here’s background information on the tragic situation at Governor Haley’s DSS:

 

WLTX: “DSS Dropped The Ball In Hundreds Of Cases”. “When the South Carolina Department of Social Services accepts a case for investigation, state law requires it to begin that investigation within 24 hours. News19 learned about the law, and it’s importance to child safety, after an investigation earlier this year into the death of Robert Guinyard Jr., a Richland County boy who died despite multiple reports of abuse to DSS… Guinyard’s case was not initially referred to a DSS investigator. For cases that are, reports show DSS dropped the ball in hundreds of cases failing to comply with a state law DSS also includes in its policy manual.” [WLTX, 4/24/14]

Post And Courier Editorial: “Covering Up Systemic Problems”. “It is very troubling that Ms. Koller and her staff would obfuscate when circumstances warrant tough scrutiny and deliberate reforms. Children in DSS need the state to protect them, not to use them as twisted statistics. And covering up systemic problems certainly makes reform elusive. How do you repair DSS using misleading numbers?” [Post and Courier, 5/30/14]

 

Greenville News Headline, 2012: “Some Children Spending Less Time In Foster Care”. “The state Department of Social Services has stepped up the rate of moving long-term foster children back with their parents or to adoptive families by 50 percent in the past fiscal year, a trend that has drawn both praise and criticism. DSS increased the number of foster children moving into permanent homes from 789 in 2010-11 to 1,184 in the 12-month cycle that ended June 30… Faster movement through the foster care system is part of a national trend, but South Carolina had the second-highest percentage drop in the nation in the number of children in foster care between July 2011 and July 2012, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” [Greenville News, 10/17/12]

  • Haley’s DSS Appointee Had Previously Used “Similar Tactics” – Raising Concerns Over “Stories Of Children Being Sent To Places They Shouldn’t Be Sent In Such A Short Timeframe.” “State DSS Director Lillian Koller, appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2011, used similar tactics when she headed the social services agency in Hawaii and won national acclaim for her efforts. But not everyone is happy with the more rapid flow of neglected and abused kids through the system — particularly those who care for these children in group homes. ‘In theory, what we all want is for children to not be spending their lives in group care, or in foster care for that matter, unless it’s a permanent foster situation,’ said the Rev. John Holler, president of Epworth Children’s Home and member of the board of directors of the South Carolina Association of Children’s Homes and Family Services. ‘But the Department of Social Services is under such pressure to meet numbers because of federal mandates that any provider you talk to you hear the stories of children being sent to places they shouldn’t be sent in such a short timeframe.’” [Greenville News,10/17/12]

 

Koller Emphasized Speed And Statistics From The Beginning Of Her Time With The Agency. “The director of South Carolina’s social services agency wants to speed up the time it takes to find safe, permanent homes for the thousands of abused and neglected children put in the state’s care. It’s a goal the Department of Social Services has struggled to accomplish for years. But six months into office, director Lillian Koller is confident the agency can improve, and she insists it will do so dramatically. She has put her goals into concrete numbers. Koller has charged her agency with placing 50 percent more children now in foster care into a ‘safe, loving home for life,’ either through adoption or reunification with their biological parents. It’s a tall order. Over the last few years, adoptions of foster children have risen by 5 percent. Koller wants to hit the 50 percent goal by next June, and make progress toward it monthly.” [Associated Press, 7/31/11]

January 2014 Senator On DSS Oversight Panel Expressed Concern That Children Were Being Removed And Returned From Homes Too Quickly. “Several South Carolina state senators say they’ll try to make changes at the state Department of Social Services after looking into problems at the agency. ‘It is the whole system. I feel like our system is broken,’ Paige Greene told a special Senate DSS Oversight subcommittee Wednesday. She’s the executive director of Richland County CASA, the guardian ad litum program for abused and neglected children in Richland County… Oversight subcommittee member Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said in some cases DSS is taking children out of homes too quickly while in other cases putting them back in their homes too quickly. ‘It leads me to question the whole way the management and the implementation and the process is working at all,’ he said.” [CBS – 7 WSPA,1/16/14]

 

Response to Child Death: “Social Services Had Received A Tip About The Child Being In Danger. But The Agency… Waited Seven Weeks To Follow Up.” “Social Services had received a tip about the child being in danger. But the agency said it could not find the child’s parents and waited seven weeks to follow up with the medical professional who issued the warning. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott held a news conference after the child’s death, criticizing Social Services for not telling law enforcement when the agency could not locate Bryson’s parents. In response, Social Services put in place a new policy to call law enforcement within 72 hours if it cannot locate a family.” [The State, 5/13/14]

Post and Courier Editorial: “Troubling” That DSS Oversight Committee Were Told “Misleading Numbers.” The Post and Courier opined, “It is very troubling that Ms. Koller and her staff would obfuscate when circumstances warrant tough scrutiny and deliberate reforms…And covering up systemic problems certainly makes reform elusive. How do you repair DSS using misleading numbers? For example, the Senate’s DSS Oversight Committee was first told that the average worker handled six cases at any time… So pressed at a later hearing on the subject, Ms. Koller conceded that the average was more. Far more.” [Post and Courier, 5/30/14]

  • “DSS Leadership Is More Interested In Producing Impressive Numbers Than In Providing Good Services.” “Then there is the issue of secrecy. Several coroners reported to the Oversight Committee that DSS was refusing to cooperate and provide information necessary for them to investigate deaths. DSS clients, including children, are correctly afforded privacy as a rule. But when they die, the rules change. It’s important to diagnose why and how it happened, and to use that information to improve DSS policy and practices… But a number of DSS employees and former employees have complained that the current DSS leadership is more interested in producing impressive numbers than in providing good services.” [Post and Courier, 5/30/14]

 

Worker Assigned To Child Who Died Had Caseload Six Times Higher Than DSS “Average” Shortly After Death. “Workers are required to see all of their children in a month. That means that the case worker with 96 children, working five days a week, has to see an average of 5 kids during a 7.5-hour day in order to meet her goal… DSS officials say they obtained the average of six by dividing the number of cases among workers statewide…  Five-month-old Bryson Webb died in his car seat on April 22, after he stopped breathing. DSS has said the agency repeatedly tried tracking down the boy’s family, who were allegedly living in different locations. But the worker assigned to Bryson’s family had 37 cases on March 2, according to a DSS document. ByMarch 9, the worker had 49 cases.” [Post and Courier, 5/27/14]

I would say it’s the most effective Sheheen ad I’ve seen. But since it’s not actually from the Sheheen campaign, I’ll say it’s the most effective anti-Haley ad I’ve seen…

SC, do you REALLY want Joe Manchin for president?

Here’s my latest new follower on Twitter:

Joe Manchin

 

It appears to be nothing more than a feed for reTweeting another called “Draft Joe Manchin.”

I had to follow a couple of the links provided even to find out who Joe Manchin was. From Politico:

IF HILLARY PASSES, MANCHIN FOR PRESIDENT? – Sen. Joe Manchin says a 2016 presidential run is “low on the totem pole,” but he’s not exactly ruling it out.

The West Virginia Democrat, a frequent critic of President Obama and perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the upper chamber, has already endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. But if the former secretary of State takes a pass, expect to hear more about the former Mountain State governor – especially with former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, another possible ‘16 hopeful from a red state, making some off-color remarks about gays and prostitutes.

Some Twitter accounts have popped up in the past week with the handles @NH4JoeManchin and @Iowa4JoeManchin – though he hasn’t made trips to those early primary states. @DraftJoeManchin recently tweeted: “We think that Joe Manchin is the most gifted leader and the most unifying leader we could elect as our next President.”…

Told that Manchin’s politics would probably be too conservative to win his party’s nomination, he replied: “My politics are about as middle of the road and American as you can get. I keep saying I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate, and I think most Americans are.”…

So, in case you, too, run across some of these Tweets, now you know what it’s about…

What — no red M&Ms? Hillary Clinton’s list of demands

I wasn’t that interested that Hillary Clinton was paid $275,000 to speak at the University at Buffalo. What grabbed me was her other demands:

The potential 2016 presidential candidate’s agent requested that the university provide “a presidential glass panel teleprompter and a qualified operator,” that Clinton’s office have “final approval” of her introducer and the moderator of any question-and-answer session, as well as “the sets, backdrops, banners, scenery, logos, settings, etc,” and that the topic and length of the former secretary of state’s speech would be at her “sole discretion.”

These requirements are spelled out in a nine-page contract between the University at Buffalo and Clinton’s representatives at the Harry Walker Agency. The contract was obtained through the freedom of information law by the Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit research and educational group….

What? No bowlful of red-only M&Ms? I guess every rock star has a different set of demands…

Here’s how the scar is coming along…

scar

Doug, or someone (I can’t seem to find the email now) said I should give y’all an update on how the Red Badge of Stupidity is coming along.

I was reminded again this morning when Pat Littlejohn of the SC Center for Fathers and Families told me I had kind of a Frankenstein thing going on.

The doctor who took out the stitches assured me it would make for a real “tough guy” scar, since it’s vertical, and doesn’t blend in with the wrinkles when I furrow my brow, which you see me doing above in an effort to look at the camera. Sort of like the mark you’d get from someone breaking a bottle on your head in a barroom brawl in an old Western. Except it the Westerns, no one ever had any marks on them in the next scene…

As for other effects, I’m still kind of scatterbrained, but no one will think that’s out of the ordinary…