Monthly Archives: June 2013

Haley’s reckless CON madness gets madder by the minute

When we last looked at the matter, Nikki Haley had vetoed funding for the certificate of need process that state law requires before new health facilities can be built and operate — leaving DHEC with an unfunded mandate, and SC hospitals in limbo on major plans.

Her action exhibited a blithe destructiveness across a wide spectrum, from public health policy through economic development.

And the stupid House failed to override her.

Today, it all got crazier:

S.C. hospitals, nursing homes and physicians can go ahead with plans for expansion or adding services without state approval after a program was not funded next year.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will suspend the Certificate of Need program on Monday, agency director Catherine Templeton said in a letter.

The state House upheld a veto by Gov. Nikki Haley over $1.7 million in funding for the program this week.

“DHEC has no independent authority to expend state funds for Certificate of Need, and therefore, the veto completely suspends the program for the upcoming fiscal year,” Templeton said.

The agency will not take action against any work done while the program is suspended unless told to do so by the General Assembly, Templeton said…

Wow. So… hospitals are just supposed to go ahead with multi-million-dollar projects without going through the approval process that the law still requires, funding or no funding, and not worry about any future legal ramifications? Really?

Then this afternoon, this release came out:

Chairman Brian White and Representative Murrell Smith of the House Ways and Means Committee Issue a Statement Regarding  Governor Haley’s Certificate of Need (CON) Veto



(Columbia, SC) – On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, the South Carolina House of Representatives sustained Governor Haley’s budget veto number twenty by a vote of 56-65.  The effect of this veto reduced general fund support for the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Certificate of Need (CON) Program by over $1.4 million.


“The House of Representatives did not intend to eliminate the CON Program or its statutory requirements.  In fact, the House believes there are a number of ways for the CON Program to retain its function and purpose. The Governor has the sole power to appoint DHEC’s governing board and is ultimately charged with enforcing the CON law. If the Governor and the agency director wish to unilaterally discontinue the program, as they have indicated, then that is a decision that lies exclusively within the executive branch and one which may be contrary to law but is certainly contrary to the will and intent of the House of Representatives.”



# # #

OK, that release is really badly worded, especially that last sentence. But what the lawmakers appear to be saying is that even though they went along with cutting the funding, they had NOT meant for DHEC to ignore the law — they had meant for it to find the money somewhere to continue the program. Which, of course, was grossly irresponsible on the part of lawmakers — they should have overridden. One of the least defensible dodges of irresponsible legislators is the old “Oh, find the money somewhere” gag. When, you know, they’re the ones who decide what gets funded and what doesn’t.

This is some bad craziness, people. I would think that Ms. Templeton were doing this outrageous thing as a protest of the governor’s irresponsibility, if she weren’t like, you know, the gov’s protege.

The only thing I can think of to fix this problem is the same thing that Joel Lourie is suggesting — that the General Assembly should go back into session to fix the problem and appropriate the funding for the program.

It’s a lot of trouble to go to, but this is a serious matter. One knowledgeable observer (which means, “someone who understands the world a lot better than our governor does”) said to me today, “I suspect there’s going to be a very interesting lawsuit here.”

Hey, more than just one. I can see hospitals suing each other, subcontractors suing contractors when work is started then halted, just a free-for-all.

This is amazing.

ULI Reality Check: Growing by choice, not by chance

Elise Partin, mayor of Cayce.

Elise Partin, mayor of Cayce.

Today was the kickoff of a program that a bunch of community leaders have been working on under the auspices of the Urban Land Institute.

Here’s the release about the event:

  Midlands Reality Check Focuses on Growth and Progress for South Carolina’s Capital Region

Columbia, S.C.  Midlands members of Urban Land Institute South Carolina, together with area stakeholders, government officials and business/industry leaders, today announced the launch of Midlands Reality Check, an unprecedented, collaborative effort aimed at creating a strong, progressive and sustainable urban growth plan for the future of the Midlands.

“Creating a realistic and attainable regional vision for the Midlands is imperative if we want to remain competitive and be viewed as a desirable entrepreneurial hub, that is an ideal place to live, work, visit and play,” said Irene Dumas Tyson, co-chair of Midlands Reality Check and director of planning for The Boudreaux Group.

Demographers estimate the Midlands region will grow by approximately 450,000 individuals in the next 30 years. That is equivalent to putting slightly more than the population of the four-county Asheville, N.C. metropolitan area into the Midlands by 2040.

“The goal of Midlands Reality Check is to bring together a diverse group of Midlands business, government and community leaders to work together and identify how we can grow by choice – not by chance – over the next three decades,” said Herbert Ames, development manager with EDENS and co-chair of Midlands Reality Check with Dumas Tyson.

One unique aspect for Midlands Reality Check will be a participatory “Game Day” event mixing 300 individuals from across the region and engage them in open dialogue on where the highest concentrations of development and infrastructure should be within our community. Taking place Oct. 22 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, participants will use Lego playing pieces to represent increases in population, jobs and housing; and colored yarn for transportation corridors and to outline potential green spaces.

“It may sound like fun and games, but this innovative approach to urban development looks at a region in a tactful and creative way that will highlight areas across the Midlands that are prime growth opportunities,” said Dumas Tyson.

Funded by private sponsors, foundations, governments and community organizations, Midlands Reality Check will focus on laying the needed groundwork for a more cohesive approach to strategically and thoughtfully uncovering pockets of potential growth and expansion across the Midlands. The event will lay the groundwork for needed regional conversations and future action to accommodate growth in a way that adds value to our communities while simultaneously protecting and improving our quality of life.

The Urban Land Institute has held Reality Check events in some 15 locations around the country, including Greenville, Charleston, Richmond, Charlotte, the Research Triangle and Jacksonville, Fla.

“We are confident this initiative is the catalyst the Midlands needs to put some big things in motion. This process and event will be the blueprint for intentional, collaborative change in the way our region thinks and acts about growth for decades to come,” said Ames.

For more information about the Midlands Reality Check or how to get involved, please visit

About Midlands Reality Check:
Midlands Reality Check is a South Carolina initiative of The Urban Land Institute created by a regional collaboration of stakeholders and leaders within the business, government, economic development and tourism sectors. Focusing on urban growth and planned land use, Midlands Reality Check will lay the foundation for a unified vision to grow the Midlands. For more information about Midlands Reality Check, please visit

About the Urban Land Institute:
ULI, the Urban Land Institute, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research and education organization supported by its members. Founded in 1936, ULI now has members worldwide, representing the entire spectrum of land use and real estate development disciplines working in private enterprise and public service. A multidisciplinary real estate forum, ULI facilitates an open exchange of ideas, information, and experience among industry leaders and policy makers dedicated to creating better places. ULI South Carolina was the first statewide district council formed and has since become a national model. For more information about ULI South Carolina, please visit


That pretty much covers it. I’m glad somebody wrote a release, because I was busy Tweeting during the event, and couldn’t take extensive notes. It’s not that I can’t pay attention; I was supposed to be Tweeting. By way of full disclosure, I’m on the committee that is publicizing the program, and I drew social media duty today. Which I like, I’ll admit.

There was an impressive crowd there today. Not huge (it was Famously Hot in the amphitheater along the riverfront in West Columbia), but a good assortment of the kind of people who need to pay attention were there — the mayors of Columbia, Lexington, Cayce and Blythewood, leading members of Richland and Lexington county councils, key business leaders. The folks who need to be paying attention to trends and anticipating them to the extent that it’s possible.

Here’s a link to’s story on the event.

Irene Dumas Tyson of The Boudreaux Group, co-chair of the effort.

Irene Dumas Tyson of The Boudreaux Group, co-chair of the effort.

Your Virtual Front Page, Thursday, June 27, 2013

A bit late in the day, but here goes:

  1. Senate approves bill to overhaul immigration (WashPost) — That’s one miracle, comprehensive immigration reform getting through the Senate. Now we need a bigger one for the House to pass anything remotely like it.
  2. Boston Bombing Suspect Is Indicted on 30 Counts (NYT) — He’s charged in four deaths, including that of the police officer.
  3. View of what Bull Street neighborhood might look like emerges (thestate,com) — The story says “What the proposed Bull Street neighborhood might look like became a litter clearer Thursday…” Presumably that will be fixed in the print version.
  4. Obama rules out barter for Snowden (BBC) — He also says, “I am not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Which is a pretty good line. Meanwhile, The Guardian is still acting like what Snowden has to disclose is a big freaking deal, playing it above all actual news in the world.
  5. Live: Results of Senate votes on Haley vetoes ( — I can’t tell whether they’re still at it or not…
  6. Voyager 1 is still in the sun’s embrace (WashPost) — Meanwhile, in news from the outskirts of our solar system…

ICYMI: WashPost sees SC governor race as 7th most competitive

OK, this is old news (June 14), but I missed it until a release from Vincent Sheheen celebrating it brought it to my attention today.

The Fix over at The Washington Post has listed South Carolina’s as the 7th most competitive gubernatorial race in 2014:

7. South Carolina (R): Democrats are surprisingly optimistic about the re-run candidacy of Vincent Sheheen against Gov. Nikki Haley (R) despite the clear GOP lean of the Palmetto State. Haley won with an unimpressive 51 percent against Sheheen in 2010 and has struggled mightily in her first term. Sheheen will get more attention (and likely money) from national Democrats this time around but Haley and her team know they are in for a fight.  And, it’s still South Carolina in the second midterm election of a Democratic president. (Previous ranking: 8)

By the way, here’s an excerpt to Politico’s above-linked earlier (May 12) story about Nikki’s “rocky” term in office:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley rode into office in 2011 on a Republican wave as the first female and first Indian-American governor of the state — a rising GOP star with national potential.

Two-and-a-half bruising years later, she has a fight on her hands just to get reelected.

After winning a nasty 2010 primary with heavy tea party support and Sarah Palin’s blessing, Haley encountered the complex realities of governing without the full support of her own party. A hacking scandal that exposed millions of taxpayers’ financial data, her contentious dealings with the legislature, and high unemployment in the Palmetto State have taken a toll on the 41-year-old’s popularity.

Though she remains the favorite for reelection next year — South Carolina is solid Republican territory, and the employment picture has brightened lately — polling suggests Haley is not a shoo-in for a second term…

Haley still fighting the Lexington County battles of yesteryear — while hurting the Lexington of today

I found it interesting that Nikki Haley, whose former employment by Lexington Medical Center raised ethical questions from many, once again vetoed funding for the operation of the Certificate of Need program.

If you’ll recall, several years back, when Lexington Medical was fighting to get a certificate to do open-heart surgery, the CON process was the bête noire of Lexington County politicians. The state bureaucrats had let Palmetto Health start an open-heart program, so why were they picking on Lexington County?

That issue is now behind them, after a deal struck by Providence and Lexington that allowed Lexington one of the Catholic hospital’s certificates. So folks in her old district by no means benefit from her defunding the program.

In fact, they wouldn’t have back in the day, I suppose — since this action doesn’t obviate the legal requirement for a CON; it just prevents the state from having the means to process one.

And today, this veto — unfortunately sustained by the House — positively harms her former employer, since Lexington is awaiting a CON for a $7.9 million expansion of its radiation-treatment facility.

So no one can accuse the governor from playing hometown favorites with this veto. No, her sin in this case looks to be mere blind, foolish, destructive ideology.

Thoughts on the Bull Street redevelopment?

Benjamin video

I see that Mayor Steve Benjamin is sufficiently proud of the new agreement for redeveloping the storied Bull Street property that he’s posted a video of him talking about it on his re-election campaign site.

Personally, I’ve been too busy the last couple of days to digest it all and decide what I think, beyond the fact that I’m glad there is some movement on the deal, finally.

But it occurs to me… I’ve noticed that some of y’all spend a lot more time thinking about urban development than I do, and no doubt you already have some well-informed opinions.

So, share. What do you think about this? If you come up with something “incredibly insightful,” your opinion could actually have an effect…

I’m told that back in the day, “going to Bull Street” meant the same thing here that “going to Bolivar” used to mean when I worked in West Tennessee (the state mental hospital was in Bolivar, TN). In the foreseeable future, it will mean something else. But what?

Who wants ANY kind of watch in 2013, much less a Rolex?

This news item is a real head-scratcher for me:

A prominent political donor purchased a Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, according to two people with knowledge of the gift, and the governor did not disclose it in his annual financial filings.

The $6,500 luxury watch was provided by wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the people said. He is the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific and the person who paid for catering at the wedding of the governor’s daughter. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing federal investigation into the relationship between Williams and the McDonnell family…

It raises all sorts of questions:

Who needs a watch in 2013? Cell phones (and computers, and tablets, and other devices that surround us) do everything a watch does and so much more, and are perfectly set to Naval Observatory accuracy.

If you were so atavistic as to feel the need for a watch in this century, why would you ever shell out more than $10 for one? As I recall, back when I was still aware of the price of watches (back in the day when, as Douglas Adams would say, we were so amazingly primitive that we still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea), that’s more than what a little LCD digital from the grocery checkout line would cost, and it would get the job done.

Assuming you received a watch as a gift, and it was an ostentatiously expensive watch, why on Earth would you keep it, if you were in politics? Your natural reaction, if you had half a brain, would have been to quote Bo Diddley in “Trading Places,” saying, “Man, that watch is so hot, it’s smokin’.”

It’s just astounding.

Part of my problem is that I really don’t get the appeal of jewelry. Jewelry for men, that is. I mean, honestly, I don’t understand jewelry for women, either, but I’m willing to accept that women like the stuff based on the fact that men and women are just different, and vive la différence.

I don’t get it at all. I see these professional ballplayers with gold chains around their necks, and I think, “Did they just run out of stuff to spend all that money on?”

And it seems to me that the only way to explain wearing a watch in 2013 is to say that it just appeals to some people as jewelry.

I just know that, if someone gave me a Rolex, and it was ethical and legal for me to accept the gift, I would immediately run out and sell it and spend the money on something practical, something either I or someone else could actually use.

But not everybody is like me, I’ve noticed. More’s the pity…

Left and right both wrong about Voting Rights Act

The left and the right are both wrong about the Voting Rights Act.

I agree with the right, and disagree with the president and other Democrats, that it’s a good thing that the Supreme Court has struck down the provision requiring South Carolina and other pariah states get preclearance of any change in voting procedures.

That requirement was fundamentally unjust. It assumed a guilt on the part of these states, and required them to prove their innocence before they could conduct their own voting business in ways other states were free to do without undergoing such procedures.

This was wrong. It condemned people who had absolutely nothing to do with past discrimination — all those who were guilty have long, long ago left office, and most are dead. Everyone in public office, appointive or elective, today has spent his or her entire career, if not entire life, in a world shaped by the provisions of the Voting Rights Act. It is completely unjust to require that some people, and not others, labor under the burden of greater suspicion because of the accident of where they happen to live.

If someone did enact new voting lines or procedures, and they in some way violated the Act, then they were subject to being accused of doing so, and having to answer for it. That will still be the case without preclearance. And that is the way it should be. Individuals, and governments, should have to answer for what they do wrong, and not be automatically punished with suspicion over everything they do.

So… preclearance has been an unjust burden, as conservatives say. And it’s particularly hard to justify such an injustice in a time when, for instance, minority voter participation is better in Mississippi than in Massachusetts.

However… where the right is wrong is when it says that the Voting Rights Act is a huge success, particularly for minorities, and that it has moved us racial discrimination in our politics.

On the contrary, under the Voting Rights Act, we have a new kind of racial tension in our politics. Conservatives rail at Democrats, saying the liberals only want to keep the thumbscrews on the South so they can draw more minority-majority districts. And perhaps they do, if they are fools. For in fact, the drawing of such districts has been a tremendous boon to white Republicans.

White Republicans in South Carolina seized power in the early ’90s by giving the Legislative Black Caucus more districts that were likely to elect black legislators. The way this was done was by putting as many black voters as possible into a few districts, and given the racial patterns common to both black and white voters, those districts had a greater tendency to elect black candidates.

But the truth, which for some reason is not painfully obvious to everyone, is that you can’t make some districts super-black without making surrounding districts super-white. What this meant was that for each new “black” district, you created several districts far, far more likely to elect white Republicans. Not only that, but a certain kind of white Republican — one far less likely to give a damn about the concerns of the black citizens who live in other districts.

So, you get two kinds of people — those from majority-minority districts, and those from ethnically cleansed white districts — who are elected BECAUSE of racial considerations, and who know that.

And the way they start to engage issues starts to reflect that. You can see it in debates over public health, education, and all sorts of things that we desperately need to be considered with regard to the good of all the public. Instead, what we get is a few lawmakers elected from districts with a high poverty rate (which tends to correlate to race, although it’s certainly not a one-to-one relationship). They tend to see the value in, say, expanding Medicaid (especially when the federal government is picking up the tab).

But they are outvoted by people from suburbs who can honestly say that their constituents don’t care about such things, and who can afford to treat the whole thing as an abstract, ideological issue. They can dismiss health care reform designed to provide care for the uninsured for something as frivolous as the fact that the name “Obama” is attached. Their constituents are largely fine with that. That is to say, enough of them are to keep electing the same kinds of representatives.

And so we don’t get policies designed for the benefit of the whole state. Because neither kind of gerrymandered district “looks like South Carolina.” Neither represents whole communities, but rather subsets of communities, defined by race. So relatively few legislators see themselves as there to serve a broad range of people in different circumstances, with different viewpoints.

It’s great that we don’t have poll taxes. It’s great that minorities who were marginalized are now so engaged with the political process. In those respects, the Voting Rights Act is a great success.

And we have seen success stories that give us hope for a future without elections that are predetermined by the skin color of the electors. Barack Obama’s two election victories offer that kind of hope.

But on the district level, our politics are still largely defined by race. And there, the Act has not been such a boon.

Gee, and I thought Edward Snowden was protecting me from these kinds of intrusions

Today, my wife got a call from the Target Red Card people, demanding to speak to me because of suspicious charges on the card.

She told them that if they were just noticing that charges had been made across several states in recent days, that it was fine; we had driven to Memphis and back in a short period of time.

She was informed in no uncertain terms that they did not care about her opinion regarding the validity of the purchases; they wished to speak to the primary card holder.

I am the primary cardholder for the simple fact that I made the mistake of filling out a form at the checkout at Target several years back. The young girl at the register asked me to fill out an application for a Target card. I said I might sometime, but I was in a hurry. She begged me to please apply for a card, because unless I did, she could not go on a break. So I filled out the application, and she went on her break.

I thought I was going to get one of those preferred-customer things that people keep on their keychains, which would entitle me to an occasional discount or something. I didn’t realize it would be a Visa card. I would never, ever have applied on my own for a credit card, because we had more than enough of them. And if we had set out to get another card, we’d likely have put it in my wife’s name, because she pays the bills. But this one came in handy. You do get discounts at Target for using it, so we kept it, because we all like Target at my house. My wife and one of my daughters (who was living out of state, and whom we wanted to have a backup for emergencies) each got one later.

At the time, I had two cellphones — one for work, one for personal. The personal one got on the Red Card account. At some point, we shuffled things around, and my wife ditched her old number, took my personal one, and I kept the work one. Hence the call today,

Anyway, I called the Red Card people a few minutes ago to see what they wanted. This took awhile, because I had to punch in the card number, followed by the last four digits of my Social Security number, which the recording claimed was NOT my SS number, but then when I entered all the very same numbers again, I was allowed to speak to a person. After several minutes of explanation, I was told in heavily accented English that everything appeared to be in order.

But please, the lady implored me — in the future, let them know if I leave town. You know, the way you do with a parole officer.

Then, she questioned me about my landline, which I explained that I got rid of a couple of years back. She expressed satisfaction that I was forthcoming with that information, so that they could fix that in their files, too.

Nothing like living in a world in which only the mean ol’ gummint pokes its nose into your comings, goings and communications…

If only Gaddafi and Saddam were still alive, Snowden would have two more friends in the world

Let’s see…

First, that bastion on transparency and respect for privacy China protects Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, and lets him leave.

Then, Vladimir Putin insists it has no control over who comes and goes there. I liked the way the WSJ’s Bret Stephens underlined the absurdity of that claim: “When the Russian government wants someone off Russian soil, it either removes him from it or puts him under it.”

Of course, at each stage of his picaresque journey, Snowden’s had is being held by Julian Assange’s organization. Julian Assange, who makes it his business to shut down communications among U.S. security organizations, taking us back to the pre-9/11 condition in which information was kept in silos and not shared to prevent terror attacks.

So where might he go next? The late Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela has been mentioned. Rafael Correa of Ecuador, already happy to be harboring Assange in London, would be delighted to cock another public snook at the United States and its allies.

I’m sort of feeling bad for Evo Morales in Bolivia. You know he’d love some of this kind of action, but I haven’t heard that he’s on Snowden’s potential itinerary. Snowden and Assange should at least throw the guy a mention, just to keep peace in the anti-Yanqui clubhouse.

If only Moammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein were still around. Snowden would have two more friends in this cold, cruel world…

Taking care of business in Memphis, eating at Pete & Sam’s


As previously mentioned, I was in Memphis over the weekend. It was quite a trip — seven of us (all adults; the little ones either traveled separately or stayed home) packed into a minivan. All the way there Friday, all the way back Sunday. Except for a couple of brief stints while I wolfed down some lunch in the passenger seat, I was the driver the whole time.

We were there for a wedding, and being out-of-towners, were invited to the rehearsal dinner Friday night. It was at my favorite restaurant in the world, Pete & Sam’s on Park Avenue. It’s my favorite mainly because of the great memories of many dinners there with my wife’s family over the years. It was my father-in-law’s favorite place, and he took the whole crowd there whenever we were in town. Mr. Sam used to come over to the table and chat with him whenever we did.

It’s just a very, very Memphis place, for Memphians. The opposite of touristy, it doesn’t attract the kind of clientele that, say, the Rendezvous does, or even Corky’s.

It’s an Italian place, so it may seem odd that it would be a favorite of mine, since I’m allergic to almost everything on the menu (can’t have cheese, can’t have pasta, and even their famous spinach has egg in it, so I can’t have that). But they have this great item on the menu called “Beef Tender,” a steak that comes in a hot, deep metal dish, and you can’t even see the meat because it’s submerged in a wine sauce with mushrooms. It’s awesome, and it’s preceded by a salad with the best house Italian dressing anywhere.

The place was established in 1948, and if it’s been redecorated since, you can’t really tell (although the little mini-jukeboxes that were once in the booths have been gone for awhile). It’s really, really old school. For whatever reason, the place has never gotten a liquor-by-the-drink license, so everybody brown-bags. Fortunately, there has long been a liquor store nearby (in Tennessee, you can only buy wine at a liquor store, not in a grocery). When I say it’s a place for Memphians, I’m not sure all Memphians know about it. But most Italian, Irish and other Catholics seem to. It has an ethnic feel. There are always large family groups there, with multiple wine bottles crowding the table. See the picture, below, that I took of a nearby table that had not yet been cleared away; I took it late one night on a previous visit in April.

Not all customers are Catholic, though. Some, for instance, are aliens. I mean, like from outer space. I once ran into Prince Mongo of the planet Zambodia, someone well-known to Memphians although not as famous elsewhere as Elvis or Al Green, at Pete & Sam’s. Photos of better-known celebs line the wall behind the cash register. Ed McMahon appears twice.

I learned on this trip that, sadly, Mr. Sam passed away last year, just a couple of years after my father-in-law (his cousin Pete was only a partner for six months back in the ’40s, but Mr. Sam kept the name). One would have thought he was immortal. Some robbers shot him in the gut on Christmas morning in 2000, when he was 76. He was soon back behind the register, and three months later was climbing on the roof fixing the air-conditioner, according to The Commercial Appeal.

By the way, Doug Ross will back me up on Pete & Sam’s being a good place to eat. He’s been spending a lot of time in Memphis on business lately, and I’ve been trying to keep him well fed. He’s tried both Corky’s and Pete & Sam’s on my recommendation, and he’s enjoyed it.

Beyond Pete & Sam’s, we didn’t have time to do much Memphis stuff (I never got to Corky’s for barbecue, for instance), but on Saturday afternoon, while the ladies were hanging at the pool, the twins were getting ready for their roles as flower girls and my younger son was taking a nap, my older son and I played tourist for a couple of hours. We dropped by Graceland for the first time in many a year, and went by Sun Studios — where the above photo was taken.


Memphis looms large in the family legend, and I think it’s spiritually important to make contact with these touchstones now and then. Mind you, I’ve never taken the tour of Graceland. That wouldn’t seem right. Elvis himself didn’t invite me into his house. I haven’t even been on the grounds since right after he died, when the family was still living there — his uncle Vester was sitting out on a folding chair by the famous gate greeting people who came from all over the world to file by the graves. It was more of a pilgrimage then than a tourist thing.

But I do like to go by and see the place. Before my family moved to the Memphis area when I was 18, I only knew one thing about the city — that it was where Elvis lived. I don’t think I could even have told you it was on the Mississippi River.

I’m feeling kind of wistful now that we’re back in SC. I don’t know when we’re going to get back to the Bluff City. Since my parents-in-law died, we only get there for weddings, and while we’ve had a nice string of them the last couple of years (nieces and nephews), there’s not another on the horizon currently — no “save-the-date” cards on the fridge.

So Friday night’s Beef Tender is going to have to hold me awhile.

photo (5)

Krauthammer: Syria as the Spanish Civil War


What with all the travelling I’ve been doing the last few days (I was working on the coast Wednesday and Thursday, drove to Memphis Friday, drove back yesterday), I’m just now getting to Charles Krauthammer’s column from late last week.

I liked his analogy:

The war in Syria, started by locals, is now a regional conflict, the meeting ground of two warring blocs. On one side, the radical Shiite bloc led by Iran, which overflies Iraq to supply Bashar al-Assad and sends Hezbollah to fight for him. Behind them lies Russia, which has stationed ships offshore, provided the regime with tons of weaponry and essentially claimed Syria as a Russian protectorate.

And on the other side are the Sunni Gulf states terrified of Iranian hegemony (territorial and soon nuclear); non-Arab Turkey, now convulsed by an internal uprising; and fragile Jordan, dragged in by geography.

And behind them? No one. It’s the Spanish Civil War except that only one side — the fascists — showed up. The natural ally of what began as a spontaneous, secular, liberationist uprising in Syria was the United States. For two years, it did nothing….

As will not surprise you, he is not satisfied with President Obama’s belated decision to help the rebels with nothing more than small arms and ammo.

He gets way harsh on the pres with regard to Iraq:

The tragedy is that we once had a counterweight and Obama threw it away. Obama still thinks the total evacuation of Iraq is a foreign policy triumph. In fact, his inability — unwillingness? — to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have left behind a small but powerful residual force in Iraq is precisely what compels him today to re-create in Jordan a pale facsimile of that regional presence…

We had a golden opportunity to reap the rewards of this too-bloody war by establishing a strategic relationship with an Iraq that was still under American sway. Iraqi airspace, for example, was under U.S. control as we prepared to advise and rebuild Iraq’s nonexistent air force.

With our evacuation, however, Iraqi airspace today effectively belongs to Iran — over which it is flying weapons, troops and advisers to turn the tide in Syria. The U.S. air bases, the vast military equipment, the intelligence sources available in Iraq were all abandoned. Gratis…

Can’t believe ‘Tony’ is gone at 51


Don’t really have time to concoct a tribute tonight; I just want to express my shock at James Gandolfini’s sudden death at 51:

Actor James Gandolfini, 51, has died, HBO and other sources confirm. The former star of the HBO series The Sopranos was reportedly on holiday in Italy when he died. The cause of death is not yet known with certainty, but HBO says the actor may have suffered a heart attack. Other reports have indicated Gandolfini had a stroke.

Initial reports of Gandolfini’s death were confirmed to NPR by HBO, which has released a statement:

“We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us.”

In a statement, Sopranos creator David Chase called Gandolfini a “genius.”…

I feel like I should be gathering up the family and heading over to the house to comfort Carmela and the kids.

Yes, he was a fine actor all-around. But he brought Tony Soprano to life.

Your Virtual Front Page, Tuesday, June 18, 2013

For all my readers from Columbia to Verona, here are the top stories at this hour:

  1. US to open direct Taliban talks (BBC) — Seems like our number-one demand in these talks should be that the Taliban stop being the Taliban. But I’m not terribly hopeful of getting a good response on that…
  2. Putin dashes G8 hopes for Syria talks (The Guardian) — He stands foursquare behind his boy Assad.
  3. 50 terror plots foiled by surveillance, NSA chief says (WashPost) — For those of you who have been awaiting some examples…
  4. State finds ‘questionable statistics,’ funding errors, and low board participation in S.C. First Steps review ( — Not much to say after that headline of epic proportions. This is about an LAC audit.
  5. Where’s Jimmy Hoffa? Everywhere And Nowhere (NPR) — This story is actual a sort of step-back thumb-sucker on the subject. For an update on the actual news story, see this from Reuters.
  6. Obama May Be Ready To Let Bernanke Go (WSJ) — Yikes! Maybe our fellow South Carolinian can get his old job at South of the Border back…

Hey, Romeo! Hey, Juliet! How’s it going in Verona?

"I wonder what they're saying on Brad's blog right now?"

“I wonder what they’re saying on Brad’s blog right now?”

One of the more interesting aspects of Google Analytics is that it not only tells me how many people are on my blog at a given time, but where they are.

A few minutes ago, I had a reader in Verona, Italy.

Who could it have been? Romeo? Juliet? Mercutio? Friar Lawrence?

Whoever it was, he or she was looking at this post for several minutes. I have no idea why.

My readership in fair Verona is not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve…

I still think food stamps shouldn’t pay for junk food

So I’m glad to see SC moving forward with this initiative, or at least taking a half-step in that direction:

After hearing all the pros and cons during several months of public input, the state health department has recommended that South Carolina apply for a waiver to ban the use of food stamps for sugary drinks, candy, cookies and cakes.

The SC Department of Health and Environmental Control stated its position in a letter sent Monday from director Catherine Templeton to Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Social Services. Koller’s department administers the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, and will determine the content of a waiver request…

I have great respect for Sue Berkowitz and other advocates for the poor who have concerns about this. And the “food deserts” concern is a real problem.

But I just can’t see the taxpayers subsidizing purchases that are killing people instead of nourishing them. As Ms. Templeton says, we’re able to make WIC work with restrictions; why not this?

Starbucks almost deserted in the middle of the day? Can the Zombie Apocalypse be far behind?


Had a strange experience a little while ago.

The photographs above and below were taken at 12:57 p.m. today inside the Gervais Street Starbucks. And no, they weren’t closed for renovations. In fact, there were a few customers in there — I just shot the empty parts.

But… there are never empty parts in that Starbucks. Or at least, I don’t remember it happening to this extent before. Normally, if you meet someone there for a business meeting, it’s hard to find two or three seats together. I mentioned the eerie emptiness to my barista, and she said others had commented on it. She quickly noted that they had been quite busy earlier in the day, which I fully believed, but still — this empty, at lunchtime?

What gives? Didn’t everybody get a Starbucks gift card for Father’s Day (I certainly did)?

I remarked on the phenomenon to a young woman who was one of my few fellow patrons, and she had a one-word explanation: “Summer.” (When you’re young, female and attractive, it’s best to keep your answers short when old guys you don’t know start chatting you up.)

Perhaps so. One of the first things I noticed about Columbia when I moved back here in 1987 was that once the Legislature goes home, the town seems to be deserted. That applies to Mondays and Fridays during the session as well as the off-season.

Add that to USC being out, and things just really slow down. They’ve slowed down the last few days here on the blog. The comments, anyway. I haven’t noticed much dropoff in pageviews.

It’s like our activity just drops a few notches when the lawmakers go home — even when what we do has little to do with them, directly.

That’s one theory, anyway. I admit that it’s not entirely satisfactory. But you tell me — why was I almost alone in Starbucks today?


Reasons to be skeptical of Rouhani

A couple of days back, Phillip rightly chastised me for my giddy optimism regarding the election of Hassan Rouhani to be the new president of Iran. Hey, I was just eager for some good news.

Now, I’ve been far more sharply checked from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Opposite from Phillip, I mean.

Bret Stephens of the WSJ has this to say about Americans hailing Rouhani/Rowhani/Rohani (and seriously, haven’t we learned not to trust these foreign chaps who can’t decide how to spell their names?) as a breath of fresh air: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Stephens paints him as quite the baddie. Excerpt:

All this for a man who, as my colleague Sohrab Ahmari noted in these pages Monday, called on the regime’s basij militia to suppress the student protests of July 1999 “mercilessly and monumentally.” More than a dozen students were killed in those protests, more than 1,000 were arrested, hundreds were tortured, and 70 simply “disappeared.” In 2004 Mr. Rohani defended Iran’s human-rights record, insisting there was “not one person in prison in Iran except when there is a judgment by a judge following a trial.”

Mr. Rohani is also the man who chaired Iran’s National Security Council between 1989 and 2005, meaning he was at the top table when Iran masterminded the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people, and of the Khobar Towers in 1996, killing 19 U.S. airmen. He would also have been intimately familiar with the secret construction of Iran’s illicit nuclear facilities in Arak, Natanz and Isfahan, which weren’t publicly exposed until 2002….

Stephens warns that the mullahs have pulled this “good cop” routine on us before, suggesting that this time our willingness to give the new guy room to operate will give them more room than they need to finish building the Bomb.

This scenario also fits the available facts. If that’s what the mullahs were pulling, this is just the way they’d do it.

The thing that hasn’t added up, for the “good news” scenario, is that the powers behind the presidency have so meekly gone along with the results of this election.

Remember, when we had a peaceful turnover of power after the 1800 election, it was a revolution in human affairs. And it’s still not as common as it should be, outside of the liberal West.

The liberal West which is a perfect patsy for the “We’re trying to change things; just give us some concessions so we can have some room to maneuver in our internal politics” ploy. It it’s a ploy. The terrible thing is, if Rouhani is a serious reformer who really wants a better relationship with the rest of the world, then he’d be asking for the same thing.

A touchy situation…

Is it really ‘hypocrisy’ when partisans switch sides on national security? Or is it something more promising?

Meant to post about this Friday night, but got too busy…

NPR posted this Friday under the headline, “Why Partisans Can’t Kick The Hypocrisy Habit:”

American politics has become like a big square dance. When the music stops after an election, people switch to the other side on a number of issues, depending on whether their party remains in power.

That was pretty clear this week, when polls revealed more Democrats than Republicans support tracking of phone traffic by the National Security Agency — the exact opposite of where things stood under President George W. Bush.

A Washington Post-Pew Research Center released Monday showed that 64 percent of Democrats support such efforts, up from just 36 percent in 2006. Republican support, meanwhile, had dropped from 75 percent to 52 percent.

It’s not just a question of whether you trust the current president to carry out data mining in a way that targets terrorists and not innocent Americans. Partisans hold malleable positions in a number of areas — foreign policy, the economy and even who continue to serve under a new administration.

“People change their views depending on which party is in power, and not based on objective conditions on the ground,” says George Washington University political scientist John Sides….

But is “hypocrisy” the right word? You know me; I like to trash partisanship whenever I can. But maybe in this case at least some of the partisans are getting a bum rap.

As usual, I was very interested in what E.J. Dionne and David Brooks had to say on the subject Friday night.

Here’s what Brooks said, regarding the way Joe Biden has changed his tune on surveillance practices that he once called “very, very intrusive:”

Actually, there’s education, not hypocrisy… You get into office and you learn the threats. You get the daily intelligence brief. Maybe you get sucked in by the National Security apparatus, but I’d like to say you just learn. And so you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do because you learn the truth…

Indeed. And as you know, I have welcomed the Obama administration’s pragmatism on so many points of consideration in the realm of national security.

E.J. also saw something more positive than mere “hyprocrisy,” although he saw it from a different angle:

You know, in only partial defense of Biden, I would say that we have more legal limits now than we did at the time he spoke. But I think there’s been a lot of hypocrisy on this, and oddly enough, I kind of welcome it. On the one hand, you do have some liberals who were critical of Bush and now support Obama, and you have a lot of conservatives who supported Bush but now suddenly say the same things are bad.

But you also have consistency. You have liberals who are mad at Bush, mad at Obama, conservatives who support Bush, support Obama. I think the fact that there is – people have switched sides reflects a deep and intelligent ambivalence. We want to be safe. We also want to be free. And we want to have our privacy protected. And we know it’s complicated to have all of those at the same time.

And I think the fact that the partisan and ideological lines have been scrambled might actually help us have a debate on the merits…

Good points from both. For my part, I take the good breaks we can get. If Obama is able to get the political room to act on these things for the same reason Nixon could go to China, well, more power to him. Pun intended.

By the way, in the realm of putting these surveillance programs into a clearer perspective, I liked this, from Brooks:

As for the point [Biden] made, Charles Krauthammer in a column today said it’s like the outside of an envelope. The government has a right to keep track of what’s on the outside of the envelope.

They do not have to read what’s in the envelope and that’s essentially what they’re doing with the calls. I’m old enough, I can remember getting a phone bill where every single call you made was listed on your phone bill. Is that keeping track? Is that an invasion of privacy? I think a minimal one.