Khorasan a worse threat than ISIL? What’s next? Terrorists with superpowers, led by General Zod?

When it comes to foreign affairs and matters of national and collective security, Americans are notorious about not paying attention, or not paying attention for long — and then being totally shocked and surprised by subsequent developments.

If network news starts showing starving people in Somalia, we’re all, “Let’s send in the troops and feed those people!” Then, after the Battle of Mogadishu, we’re like, “What! We still have people over there and they’re getting killed? Let’s get out of there!”

The fact that the NSA was collecting and sifting metadata to counter terrorism was known by people who paid attention for years, and uncontroversial. Then Edward Snowden makes a fuss and we’re all like, “What!?!? I didn’t know we were doing that! Let’s stop it!”

And so forth.

Although I used the pronoun “we” above, I like to think of myself as not really one of those Americans. I like to think I follow things less fitfully, and am less surprised at developments.

But today, I feel like one of those people.

Here I had just gotten used to the idea that ISIS, which the organization itself calls Islamic State, and the in-the-know people inside the Beltway call ISIL, was this shocking new animal, a self-financing terrorist army, with capabilities that made those old Mustache Petes in al Qaeda look pathetic, with the power to capture and hold territory and carve out new countries at will. So I felt like I was hip and up-to-date and had a good grasp on things.

But then we started bombing targets in Syria last night — no surprise there, of course, to those of us paying attention — and all of a sudden there’s a shocking new wrinkle. Not only were we hitting ISIL targets, but… well, read this from The Washington Post:

In addition to a broader campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State targets across Syria on Monday night, the United States also pounded a little-known but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.

The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday that the United States conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”

Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later told reporters that the group was in the “final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland.” He added, “We believe the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe” or the United States, having attempted to recruit Westerners who can more easily enter the target countries….

The Independent termed Khorasan “a terror group more feared by US officials than Isis.”

And I’m all like, “WHAT!?! We’re just beginning to deal with ISIL, which I’ve come to understand is way worse than al Qaeda, and now you tell me there’s something out there even worse — which I don’t think I had ever even heard of before now? WTF?”

“What am I going to learn about tomorrow? A terrorist army with superpowers, led by General Zod?”

But then I calmed down, and realized that Khorasan is only worse than al Qaeda in that it was planning attacks here at home. Which is certainly one sense of “worse,” from an American perspective. But they don’t seem to be a rampaging terrorist army like ISIL. They’re more old-school. In fact, Muhsin al-Fadhli learned the terror trade at Osama bin Laden’s knee.

Khorasan is a serious new threat, apparently pursuing an unusually sophisticated strategy:

Khorasan hasn’t arrived to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. It’s not interested laying claim to great swaths of land and resources, as is the Islamic State. Rather, American officials told the Associated Press, its members have come from Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan to exploit the flood of Western jihadists who now have skin in the fight — and possess very valuable passports. According to the AP, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri dispatched this deputy to recruit those Western fighters, who have a better chance of escaping scrutiny at airports and could place bombs onto planes.

But so far, they don’t seem to have superpowers. Which is reassuring…

The best SC headline this week: ‘Lawmakers consider gas tax hike’

headline

It was the most encouraging headline I had seen out of South Carolina in some time: “Lawmakers consider gas tax hike.”

But before we write this into another chapter of Profiles in Courage, let’s ponder the cold-water caveat:

A bipartisan group of S.C. lawmakers told business leaders Monday they are ready to raise the state’s gas tax — one of the lowest in the nation — to repair roads and bridges. But, they added, they need the support of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley, who is seeking re-election, has said she would veto increasing South Carolina’s 16-cent-a gallon gas tax, which has not been increased in 27 years…

The boldface emphasis is mine.

In other words, we’re going to be brave and step out and do the right thing — but only if the one person in South Carolina least likely to go along with us steps up and leads us.

So, no dice.

Still, the fact that they’re floating this is encouraging. It makes me think, maybe something positive can be possible — after the election. Of course, barring some road-to-Damascus conversion on the governor’s part (assuming she’s still governor), the initiative would need a veto-proof margin of support.

Which is a ridiculously high mark to have to meet in order to do the right thing, the commonsense thing.

But that might be the reality. And that’s in a best-case scenario.

Speaking of elections, allow me to remind you that only one candidate for governor has had the guts to take the right position on this issue. That’s long-shot independent Tom Ervin.

Here’s what the Red Cross needs. Go give it!

Here's what the Red Cross needed as of last night, plus the times of operation...

Here’s what the Red Cross needed as of last night, plus the times of operation…

Yesterday, I had been scheduled to give my regular donation of double red cells, but at the last minute, the Red Cross called to ask me to give platelets instead, because that need was even more dire.

So I did. It was my first time. And I’ll admit, this was somewhat harder than giving whole blood or double red cells. It’s kind of like the double-red experience, in that they pump your blood out, then pump it back into you with certain elements removed. But instead of doing all that through one needle, it takes two — one in one arm, the other in the opposite hand.

And worse, it takes 90 minutes. By which I mean, 90 minutes from the beginning of the pumping process, which in my case was well over an hour after I arrived at the donation center on Bull Street. So I was there more than three hours, and the 90 minutes of almost complete motionlessness while I was hooked up was a new adventure in tedium, I’ll admit.

So I can see why more people don’t do it. But it’s needed. So I’ll do it in the future. Next time, I’ll take my iPad and watch Netflix.

But hey, help me out, and more importantly, help out your community. At the very least, go give whole blood, which is like falling off a log compared to this. (I once did it in a little more than five minutes.) Go, and give….

Benghazi obsession has a logo and everything now

Header_082314_1100x284_Red1

Got a release today from a group called “Benghazi Accountability Coalition.” It says in part:

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) held the first public hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi last week.
While the session yielded some persistent questioning regarding failed security procedures in Benghazi and at other State Department embassies and installations world-wide, it did not get to the heart of the events of September 11, 2012, nor did it begin to address the lack of accountability for decisions that led to the deaths of four Americans that night. Particularly glaring was the failure to address the breaking story just two days before the hearing of former State Department official Raymond Maxwell’s account of witnessing the culling and potential manipulation or destruction of Benghazi-related documents in a basement room of Foggy Bottom.
The hearing, the topic of which was selected by Democrats and agreed to by Gowdy (“Implementation of the Accountability Review Board recommendations”), produced a tedious discussion of technical security procedures and, in large measure, assisted the Democrats’ slow-roll strategy to frustrate the investigation before leaving town for the November election (with the always-ready complicity, and in this case, dereliction, of the mainstream media). Having given such huge deference to the Democrats in this opening round of the committee’s public hearings, it begs the question if in fact Chairman Gowdy and/or the Republican leadership are committed to thorough and full accounting for the Benghazi attacks….

This group has a logo and everything.

This thing continues to have legs. Maybe Gowdy’s effort could turn into a standing congressional committee. Forty years from now, senior members of Congress would be jockeying for seats on the powerful “Benghazi Committee”…

The worst idea the new American Party has come up with

I really groaned when I saw this:

Party to undertake “Recall” initiative for elected officials

In the interest of holding our elected officials accountable and in keeping with our Party’s core principles, the American Party is undertaking a RECALL initiative in South Carolina. This initiative is aimed at enhancing governmental accountability by amending the State Constitution to allow registered voters to recall elected officials who violate the trust placed in them by the electorate.

We would like to invite you to join us at our press conference to announce this initiative:

Thursday, September 25th
10:00am
1st Floor State House Lobby
(enter through visitor’s entrance under the north state house stairs)

Please be on hand by 9:45am. Contact Scott Malyerck at (803) 446-2881 with any questions.

Thank you for your continued support.

Dr. Jim Rex and Dr. Oscar Lovelace

This alternative party had already succumbed to the temptation of embracing other populist nostrums that sound far better, to the unthoughtful, than they are in reality — term limits, for instance.

Recall petitions are as bad as government by plebiscite, which I half expect Messrs. Rex and Lovelace to embrace next.

One of the worst thing about politics today is that elected officials are so busy looking over their shoulders, fretting about the next election, that they seldom pause to govern. This would make the looming pressure of election hover over them even more ominously and destructively. The perpetual campaign would, if anything, be even more omnipresent.

We need lawmakers who can step away from whatever fads and fashions are running through the electorate at a given moment long enough to deliberate and govern. This pulls them in the opposite direction.

This is disappointing.

So why can’t a hallucination be an actual message?

Unfaithful

 

First, a confession…

Sometimes in Mass, my mind wanders. This is not entirely my fault. I love St. Peter’s and its architecture, but the acoustics have always been terrible. Everything said from the altar or the pulpit bounces around in the dome above it, so that the last thing a speaker said is competing with what he or she is saying after that. This is particularly bad for me with my Meniere’s problem, because it causes me to have particular trouble separating speech clearly from background noise. Add to that the fact that the Mass I attend is in Spanish, and while my pronunciation is good, my understanding isn’t what it was 50 years ago when I lived in Ecuador. Even when I can hear it clearly, I have to work hard to catch enough words to get the drift.

Put all that together, and I have a lot of trouble following what is being said. So my mind wanders. Frequently. And when it wanders, I often think of religious-themed posts for the blog. But then, by the time the Mass is over, and I go home and have lunch and, if I have my druthers, have a nice Sunday afternoon nap, I’ve forgotten about it. So Sunday posts remain rare.

But here’s the one that was going through my head in Mass yesterday…

The night before, I watched on Netflix an episode of “House,” from Season 5, titled “Unfaithful.”

It opens with a weary, dissolute-seeming young priest (Greene’s “whiskey priest” in The Power and the Glory seems to be a literary antecedent) who has just taken off his collar and is trying to relax in his dingy cell, located in the charity that he runs for the homeless, by knocking back a whiskey or three.

A few moments before, a homeless man had knocked, seeking a warm coat, which the priest gave him. Now, someone is insistently knocking again. Reluctantly, grimly, he drags himself to the door, opens it, and before him is a bloody Christ, with fresh stigmata, scourge wounds all over, and the crown of thorns.

The priest says, “That’s not funny, freak.” The figure before him answers, “No one is laughing, Daniel.” The priest looks down and sees that the figure’s nail-pierced feet are hovering several inches from the ground.

This, to say the least, freaks him out.

The priest immediately turns himself in to the hospital where House works — because, of course, he was hallucinating. He leaps to that conclusion because, after being hounded from parish to parish by a false sexual abuse charge leveled at him by a young man several parishes back, the priest has no faith left.

So to him, as to the atheist House, the only explanation for such an incident is that there is something wrong with his brain. It’s a symptom, not a message from God — a diagnosis with which the writers of the show clearly agree. And we viewers, being moderns, are meant to assume this is the case.

The next day, thinking about this in Mass, it occurred to me that there’s something wrong with the logic underlying the show’s premise. To follow me, I ask my unbelieving readers to suspend their disbelief for a moment. Stipulate — just for the sake of this discussion — that there is a God and that He does try to tell us things from time to time.

So, if we accept that… why would the incident being a hallucination mean that it wasn’t an actual message from God? Mind you, I can’t tell you what the message in this case would be, beyond shocking the priest out of his faith slump.

But what about a hallucination makes it an invalid form of perception, within the context of faith? Think about this: The Bible is filled with instances of people receiving divine messages through dreams, from the original Joseph of the many-colored coat to Joseph of Nazareth. No one says, “It can’t be a real message because it was just a dream.”

And what is a hallucination except a waking dream?

We mortals have a wide variety of methods of communication. We can speak to people face-to-face, or tell them what we’re thinking with sign language. There’s writing, smoke signals, Morse code, email, videochat, texting — some of which are more “virtual” than others, but all seen as genuine communication. And let’s not forget movies with special effects — do such effects mean that they can’t communicate a serious message? (Not that CGI-rich films tend to be heavy on ideas, but they can be, just as any other film can.)

The hallucination, or the sleeping version, seems to be a favorite mode of communication of the Almighty.

And you don’t have to be a believer to find meaning in dreams, to see them as powerful communicators of important ideas. Ask a Freudian. Absent God, it could be your superego is trying to tell you something.

We empirical moderns like to think that something isn’t real if it can’t be independently confirmed — which seems rather narrow and limited of us. If someone else looking out his window at the moment the priest was having his waking dream did not see the crucified figure hovering there, then the priest didn’t, either. Except that he did. And if anyone could make him see something that his neighbor didn’t  — encoding the message for him alone to see, which is not a radical concept — an all-powerful God who knows everything about how every individual is made would be the one. Again, you have to believe in God to follow this, but if you do, why would you think the Deity couldn’t do that?

A photograph taken at the time wouldn’t show the Jesus figure. There would be no drops of blood on the sidewalk. But then, there was no physical evidence of Moses’ burning bush experience, either. The scripture specifically notes that although it was burning, the bush was not consumed.

So while you might not believe, if you do believe, why is this priest’s vision automatically less legit than that of Moses, or the dream in which Joseph was urged to go ahead and marry Mary?

There are some belief systems that are all about hallucination, even about deliberately inducing them — I think of shamans who treat peyote as a sacrament.

Have you ever read any of Carlos Castaneda’s books? They’re all about achieving greater enlightenment by inducing hallucinations, and actually entering into those hallucinations and taking action within them. The Separate Reality is as legitimate, within the context of that system of thought, as one that concrete thinkers see as the only reality.

So, given all that, what’s the justification for seeing a hallucination as just a hallucination, and therefore automatically devoid of meaning? That seems a very shallow, and at the least unimaginative, explanation.

Anyway, that’s what I got to thinking about during Mass when I was supposed to be paying attention…

Regarding Scotland, I add my cheers to Friedman’s

Friday night, I ran into our own Phillip Bush at the Greek Festival. He had a pint of beer in hand, which he had obtained at the craft beer stand next to the main tent, where Greek-flavored music was being performed. I asked if he would recommend one of the beers. He said that, Anglophile that I am, I should get a Skunk Cabbage ESB, to celebrate the Scots’ rejection of separatism.

Which I did. And I congratulate the local brewers — I liked it better than the legendary Fuller’s ESB.

But I congratulate the Scots even more heartily. And I share this Tom Friedman column, which Samuel Tenenbaum brings to my attention:

Three Cheers for Pluralism Over Separatism

MADRID — THIS was an interesting week to visit Britain and Spain — first to watch the Scottish separatists push for independence and then to watch Basque and Catalan separatists watching (with disappointment) the outcome of the vote. One reaction: I’m glad a majority of Scots rejected independence. Had they not, it would have clipped the wing of America’s most important wingman in the world: Britain. Another reaction: God bless America. We have many sources of strength, but today our greatest asset is our pluralism — our “E pluribus unum” — that out of many we’ve made one nation, with all the benefits that come from mixing cultures and all the strengths that come from being able to act together.

As I’ve asked before: Who else has twice elected a black man as president, whose middle name is Hussein, whose grandfather was a Muslim, who first defeated a woman and later defeated a Mormon? I’m pretty sure that I will not live long enough to see an ethnic Pakistani become prime minister of Britain or a Moroccan immigrant president of France. Yes, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., reminds us that we’re still a work in progress in the pluralism department. But work on it we do, and I’ll take the hard work of pluralism over the illusions of separatism any day….

This turnip isn’t giving YOU any blood, anyway

I knew the Democrats were in trouble this year, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw this email appeal today from Nancy Pelosi:

Dear Brad,

What’s the main difference between Republicans and us?

Them: They rely on the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and outside interests to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy elections for them.

Us: We rely on grassroots support from Brad…

Wow, y’all really are hard-up.Turnip_2622027

I mean, first, you can’t get blood from a turnip. And second, even if this turnip had blood to give, he wouldn’t be giving any to you or any other political party.

So you might want to review your strategy. Better do what the Republicans — and you — have long done. Turn to George Soros, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and the rest of your “outside interests.” (And while you’re at it, take a good look in the mirror at the beam in your eye.)

Oh, but speaking of blood — I have an appointment this afternoon to give again at the Red Cross over on Bull Street.

This time, I’m doing something new. I was all set to do my usual double red-cell donation, but then on Friday, they called to say that right now, they need platelets even more. So I’m going to do that.

I don’t even know what that entails. I’ll tell you later…

Graham, McCain blame Obama for not stopping ISIL earlier

This is from an op-ed piece by the two senators in National Review:

President Obama cannot avoid his share of responsibility for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As dangerous as ISIS is now, its rise was neither inevitable nor unpredictable. Time after time, President Obama had the opportunity to act when U.S. engagement could have made a decisive difference, and in pulling back from America’s traditional leadership role, he left a vacuum for other, more dangerous actors to fill. As a result, the situation in Iraq and Syria has descended into a crisis that poses a direct threat to the United States. Worse yet, our options for countering this threat are fewer and far worse than they were just a few years ago.

At least four of President Obama’s key decisions stand out…

Boiled down, the four are:

  1. The “failure to leave a residual force in Iraq in 2011.”
  2. In 2012, “when President Obama’s entire senior national-security team — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey — identified the threat posed by radicalization in Syria and recommended a proposal to arm and train elements of the moderate Syrian opposition.”
  3. “President Obama’s decision not to strike the Assad regime in September 2013 after Assad crossed the president’s own red line…”
  4. “Finally, in the fall of 2013, President Obama refused to launch targeted strikes against ISIS in Iraq when some U.S officials and Iraqi leaders were urging him to do so…”

Hindsight is indeed 20/20, but in this case, a lot of people were seeing trouble back then, and trying to tell the president. Of the four, I continue to find No. 2 the most startling. That wasn’t about the president’s political opponents second-guessing him. It was about him ignoring his whole team.

What IS this thing I found on the street today?

Thing 1

This morning, as usual, I parked my car in a metered space along the median on Assembly Street, just north of Gervais. As I got out, I almost stepped on the pictured item.

When I first saw it, it was on its side with the hollow bottom was pointed toward me, and I thought it was a particularly heavy-duty thimble. Which was odd enough.Thing 3

But then I picked it up, and I don’t know what it is.

The round thingy on top makes it look like a charm for a charm bracelet. But it’s way too heavy for that. A woman with seven or eight of these dangling from her wrist would find ordinary use of her hand rather tiring.

As you see, it’s shaped like a helmet of some kind. Like a cross between those worn by a “Star Wars” storm trooper, Iron Man and those guys dressed as ancient hoplites who were wandering about the Greek Festival over the weekend, posing for pictures with the public.

It seems to be made out of pewter. And as I said, it’s heavier than it looks.

It must be of value to somebody. I debated whether to leave it there on the pavement, or bring it with me and publicize on the blog that I had it. This way seemed slightly more likely as a means of getting it back to its owner.

But before I give it back, I need you to satisfy my curiosity by telling me what on Earth it is

Thing 2

Haley really needs you to feel good about SC economy

Dems are heavily pushing the idea that Haley's ecodevo success story is "smoke and mirrors."

Dems are heavily pushing the idea that Haley’s ecodevo success story is “smoke and mirrors.”

Did you see Andy Shain’s piece in The State over the weekend, digging into just how good a job Nikki Haley has really done on economic development? A key excerpt:

Some of Haley’s economic claims and numbers are inflated, The State newspaper found in an analysis of jobs announcements and federal data:

  • While political scientists say most voters think the 57,000 jobs that Haley mentions in speeches have been filled, only a little more than half of the jobs announced in 2011 and 2012 exist, according to a survey by the newspaper of major economic development announcements made during Haley’s first two years in office.
  • Haley’s 57,000 announced-job figure also includes businesses that never opened, or opened and then closed, based on a list provided by the S.C. Department of Commerce this summer. Her tally also includes 4,350 jobs — nearly 8 percent of the total — for stores planned by Wal-Mart. Low-paying retail jobs typically are not part of economic development tallies.
  • And contrary to a Haley claim, South Carolina has not had the East Coast’s fastest-growing economy since 2011, according to revised federal data.

I don’t know, quite honestly, what to think after reading that. I mean, would we have seen the same thing under previous administrations — total jobs not equaling the announced number, two or three years later? Yes, I think so. This has been a constant refrain for a lot more years than Nikki Haley has been in office — boosters make excited predictions, which aren’t always borne out in the end.

Of course, if you want the state’s economy to grow, you do tout announcements and make a big deal of them because you’re trying to create a bandwagon effect — giving the impression that your state is attracting growing businesses, because you want other growing businesses to see SC as a happening place. And you’re not lying, or even exaggerating — you’re passing on the numbers offered by the growing or moving businesses themselves. Big plans don’t always pan out. Doesn’t mean anyone was lying.

But these numbers are particularly important in the case of Nikki Haley, as is pointed out later in the story:

Political observers said they are not surprised Haley is focusing on her economic record as her strong suit for her re-election bid.

“What else is she known for?” said Neal Thigpen, a retired Francis Marion University political scientist. “It may be her only biggest suit.”…

Ignore the odd wording in that quote (“her only biggest suit?”) and think about that. Really, what else does Nikki Haley have to point to? I mean, when you hear the idiotic narrative from some of her supporters, you have to laugh — that because she did the books for her parents’ small business (a business that had trouble paying taxes on time) she is some kind of business mogul, with all kinds of real-world experience that a “trial lawyer” lacks. Never mind that through his law practice, Vincent Sheheen has been a considerably more successful businessman than Nikki Haley ever dreamed of being.

She really needs to be seen as an ecodevo powerhouse in office, because her record is otherwise so thin on accomplishments, both before and after she became governor.

This is her main accomplishment, ever. So it’s natural that she would make a big deal about it — and that Democrats would go to such lengths to question it. And while political opponents often pose such questions, such challenges are particularly critical in her case, because the numbers loom so large in her legend.

It’s International Talk like Robert Newton Day

Some call it “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” but I’ve often wondered where we get the silly notion that pirates went around saying “ARRRH!” and growling in a West Country burr.

I assumed it came from the movies.

Apparently, it came primarily from character actor Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver in the ’50s. This was brought to my attention by the Slatest.

So, if you didn’t know before, now you know…

Robert Newton

Sheheen’s new education ad

This ad doesn’t strike me much one way or the other, but I thought I’d put it up to see what y’all thought…

Here’s the release that went with it:

NEW TV AD: “Futures” Contrasts Sheheen Vision for Education with Haley Record of Cuts
“A strong economy depends on great schools – and South Carolina deserves both.”
Camden, SC – Sheheen for South Carolina today released a new television ad contrasting Nikki Haley’s repeated vetoes of school funding and teacher pay raises with Sen. Sheheen’s long-standing record of support for public schools and plan to expand four-year-old kindergarten and increase teacher pay. The spot, “Futures,” is part of a substantial six-figure statewide TV buy beginning today.
“Nikki Haley’s veto pen has hit education harder than any other area, and she’s spent three years standing against pay raises for teachers while she increased her own staff’s pay — that’s not leadership we can trust,” said Andrew Whalen, Sheheen’s campaign manager.  “Vincent Sheheen has spent his career fighting for public schools, expanding four-year old kindergarten, and has worked across the aisle to achieve results. South Carolinians deserve honest leadership and accountability from a governor who understands that our children’s future and our economic well-being depends on great schools – that’s Vincent Sheheen.”

And below is supporting material (provided in the email I received, but for some reason not with the version on the website) for the assertions in the ad:

AD BACKUP:

Claim Backup
My mom was a teacher, and my sons go to the same public schools I did.
We know education builds futures.
Image of NH over shot of empty school hallway w headlines/quotes.CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Cut Over $100 Million From Schools

“SC governor’s veto pen has hit education hardest,” Adam Beam, The State, 6/27/2013Of the nearly 200 budget vetoes Gov. Nikki Haley has issued during her three years as governor, no government service has been struck more than public education.
A review of the governor’s budget vetoes shows the first-term Republican has vetoed $110 million worth of public education programs and services since 2011, vetoes that account for more than a quarter of the $419 million she has vetoed in state spending since 2011.
But Nikki Haley cut millions from our schools… “SC governor’s veto pen has hit education hardest,” Adam Beam, The State, 6/27/2013Of the nearly 200 budget vetoes Gov. Nikki Haley has issued during her three years as governor, no government service has been struck more than public education.
A review of the governor’s budget vetoes shows the first-term Republican has vetoed $110 million worth of public education programs and services since 2011, vetoes that account for more than a quarter of the $419 million she has vetoed in state spending since 2011.
Image of NH over shot of empty teacher desk w headlines/quotes.CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Raises for her staff

…and vetoed both teacher pay raises “Gov. Haley Vetoes $10 Million for Teacher Raises,” Robert Kittle, WSAV, 7/6/2012:Gov. Nikki Haley has vetoed 81 items from South Carolina’s budget, including $10 million for local school districts to give teachers raises.
and four year old kindergarten. “Haley, in veto, says early childhood nonprofit needs a closer look,” Jamie Self, The State, 6/12/2014:Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a bill that supporters say would improve a nonprofit that distributes public money to private pre-kindergarten providers.

 

Image of NH over shot of empty school auditorium w headlines/quotes.CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Raises for her staff

“Gov. Haley sets premium staff pay,” Jim Davenport, Associated Press, 1/13/2011 

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley will pay her chief of staff $125,000 per year, a salary that eclipses her own pay and is $27,000 more than former Gov. Mark Sanford paid his chief of staff, according to records obtained today by The Associated Press.

While giving her own staff twenty five percent raises. 

That’s not leadership we can trust.

“Gov. Haley sets premium staff pay,” Jim Davenport, Associated Press, 1/13/2011 

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley will pay her chief of staff $125,000 per year, a salary that eclipses her own pay and is $27,000 more than former Gov. Mark Sanford paid his chief of staff, according to records obtained today by The Associated Press.

VS talking to elementary school kids / talking to teacher in busy school hallway.CG: Vincent Sheheen

CG: Restore School Funding / Raise Teacher Pay

As governor, I’ll restore school funding, and raise teacher pay.
Because a strong economy depends on great schools – and South Carolina deserves both.

Open Thread for Thursday, September 18, 2014 — Special Scottish Referendum Edition

Today, I’ll offer you two choices:

  1. Discuss the independence referendum in Scotland, results of which will come in over the next few hours.
  2. Discuss whatever you like. I mean, if the Scots can do whatever they like, including committing economic suicide, then why shouldn’t my fellow Americans say what they please? (Within reason, and my civility rules, of course. Because this blog isn’t a bloody democracy. Harrumph.)

I see that YouGov has the Scots deciding to stay in the UK. If that’s correct, they haven’t gone completely mad. Or, if you prefer, they haven’t gone totally radge.

As to why I oppose Scottish secession, I do so for the same assorted reasons I oppose the Confederacy, Quebec secession, the disintegration of the Balkans, the Anschluss and Putin slicing off a chunk of Ukraine on the grounds of protecting ethnic Russians. Throw in my Anglophilia and my affinity for the Special Relationship, which causes me not to want to see Britain divided and weakened.

Also, I think the Union Jack is one of the most beautiful flags ever. By comparison, the St. Andrew’s Cross alone seems rather sad…

1200px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

If you MUST read about Mark Sanford, don’t miss these columns

You probably already saw Kathleen Parker’s column about Mark Sanford — and, as long as she was at it, Thomas Ravenel — since it was in The State today.

If you missed it, here’s a highlight:

“What is it about South Carolina?” is a question I’m frequently asked. From the former governor’s mindless meanderings to the recent assault of the reality show “Southern Charm,” starring former state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, this baffling state seems determined to besaint the besotted and magnify the man-child….

Ravenel, who comes from an old, well-regarded Charleston family and made a fortune on his own, is inexplicably trying to unseat the soon-to-be venerable Sen. Lindsey Graham. (He isn’t quite old enough yet.) Ravenel doesn’t stand a chance of winning because, among other things, he’s not a serious person. Just watch the show, if you can stand it.

And then there’s that thing about Ravenel serving 10 months in prison after a drug conviction.

Thus one wonders, why run? The answer can only be to try to fill that bottomless trough of narcissistic need…

Then there’s Gail Collins’ column in The New York Times, which mentions Ravenel, but concentrates more on Sanford:

Now he’s the Facebook Congressman, who announced his breakup with his Argentine-squeeze-turned-fiancée in a 2,346-word posting that was mainly a whine about his ex-wife, the divorce settlement and visitation rules. “I think I owe you my thinking on this personal, but now public matter,” he told the world. Which most definitely had not asked for the information.

This is precisely the sort of thing his constituents should have been dreading when they gave the 54-year-old Republican another chance in a special House election last year. Sanford’s problem is less his libido than his remarkable, garrulous self-absorption. The man can’t stop sharing. Returning from his Argentina foray, he gave an interview to The Associated Press, in which he philosophized about the “sex line” that set his mistress, María Belén Chapur, apart from other women for whom he’d lusted.

And he held an endless press conference, perhaps the only moment in American political history in which a politician talked about his illicit sex life so much that everybody got bored with the subject. (“I’ll tell you more detail than you’ll ever want. …”) This was the same appearance in which he made the memorable announcement: “I spent the last five days crying in Argentina.”…

You can read the rest of it here.

SC Club for Growth endorses Democrat. In related news, temperature in Hades drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit

This had social media buzzing this morning:

Columbia, SC – The South Carolina Club for Growth, a network of fiscal conservatives, made history today by endorsing its first statewide Democratic candidate – Ginny Deerin – who is running for Secretary of State.Headshot_Ginny_Deerin_color_SM

“We are endorsing Ginny Deerin for three reasons,” said SC Club for Growth Chairman Dave Ellison. “First, her plan to cut the budget, cut the fees and cut regulations in the Secretary of State’s office compellingly aligns with our commitment to fiscal conservatism.”

“Second, her opponent – the 12-year incumbent – has allowed the Secretary of State’s office to become a bloated bureaucracy that wastes taxpayers’ money and makes doing business in our state more cumbersome for South Carolina companies and charities.”

“Third, Ginny Deerin wants to make our state government more efficient, not only by cutting the budget, fees and regulations in the Secretary of State’s office but also by making the Secretary of State an appointed office, rather than an elected one.”…

The SC Club for Growth, up to now, was best known as Mark Sanford’s most reliable cheerleaders. While he was governor, the organization seemed to exist primarily for that purpose. It has from the start been the champion of the kind of airy, theoretical, ivory-tower, Ayn Randian libertarianism that Sanford represented (as opposed to the more populist, down-home, nitty-gritty, anti-intellectual Tea Party libertarianism that Nikki Haley represents).

So yeah, this is kind of a milestone. While the Club certainly has not loved all Republicans in the past — just as Mark Sanford never did (and the Club went after the ones he really didn’t like) — but this is the first time it has been sufficiently down on a Republican as to endorse a Democrat instead. So I guess that makes Mark Hammond a bit of a record-breaker, too.

Not sure what kind of an impact, if any, it will have — partly because I’m not sure how many of those folks who will vote for anyone or anything with an “R” after its name have even heard of the Club for Growth.

But it’s interesting…

By the way, my first instinct when I saw the news was to be a wise guy about it:

But I see that she’s posted some of the social media buzz about the nod on her website. And well she might: If not for this, you might have gotten to Election Day and beyond without ever having heard of her. So even if it’s just because of the novelty of the thing, this helps.

Deerin 2

Sen. Gregory makes the case for gas tax increase

Meant to post this yesterday, but got sidetracked.

On the same day that Tom Ervin was telling me how he had changed his mind and was now pushing for a gasoline tax increase to address the state’s road needs, Sen. “Greg” Gregory, R-Lancaster, had an op-ed piece in The State in which he used numbers to demonstrate why such an increase is needed.

An excerpt:

4: South Carolina’s rank among 50 states in miles of state-maintained roads.

41,460: The number of those miles.

47: Where S.C. fuel tax ranks among the states.

1: Recent ranking of Rock Hill for the nation’s cheapest fuel.

16.75 cents: South Carolina’s fuel tax per gallon.

1987: When the state’s fuel tax last was increased.

7.8 cents: Purchasing power of the tax today compared to 1987.

33 cents: What the per-gallon tax would be today if it had been adjusted for inflation since 1987.

6 cents: S.C. fuel tax in 1937, when paving began on many of what were then farm-to-market roads.

36.5 cents: North Carolina’s fuel tax.

$560 million: Transportation Department’s revenue from state taxes this fiscal year.

$451 million: Portion of that revenue derived from taxes on fuel.

62 percent: Increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled in South Carolina since 1987.

14: Average mpg for new cars in 1975.

33: Average mpg for new cars today.

54: Mandated average mpg for 2025…

And so on. The numbers made it pretty plain that for a number of reasons, the current tax is inadequate for providing roads that can stand up to today’s traffic.

My only beef is that he copped out slightly at the end, partly invoking some of the magical thinking that has informed the statements of other pols on the subject:

Inflation has reduced the purchasing power of our fuel tax by more than 50 percent since it was last increased in 1987. Higher-mileage vehicles have decreased it by another 25 percent. These trends are irreversible. These facts mean that South Carolina must increase funding for our roads if only to stave off further decline. From where should it come? Some say an increased fuel tax. Others say from growth in the state’s general fund. Both are correct.

“Growth in the state’s general fund,” as in Nikki Haley’s “money tree,” as in Vincent Sheheen’s proposal to rely on the revenue growth that occurs every year as a result of inflation and population increases. I refer you to the way Cindi Scoppe eviscerated that Sheheen plan:

If our Legislature decided next year to divert all the revenue growth to infrastructure, it wouldn’t be able to hire those 200 caseworkers that the Department of Social Services says it needs — and Gov. Haley says she supports — to get staffing up to pre-recession levels, and maybe keep a few kids from being killed by their parents.

And just as with the individual, it’s not merely a case of being unable to do anything new. Diverting all the revenue growth to roads and bridges means there’s no money to cover inflation — much less population growth.

We wouldn’t just be unable to hire those additional case workers; we’d have to further reduce the number we have, even as the number of families who need DSS supervision grows. We wouldn’t just be unable to expand 4K and hire reading specialists; we’d have to lay off teachers, even as the number of students increases.

No, you don’t necessarily have to cut government programs if you divert all the new revenue — for one year. But by year two, you have to start making some cuts. By year 20, well, you probably don’t want to think about how big those cuts would be. And you’d still have half the job left undone.

We do NOT have to further cannibalize the other, badly underfunded, essential services of state government in order to fix our road system. We have a mechanism for that, an eminently fair system that charges the most to those who use the roads the most.

It’s called the gasoline tax.

Arrrggghhh! Sheheen ad appropriates one of Haley’s most clueless tropes

Doug Ross brought this to my attention with the words, “You’re not going to like this… Sheheen using Haley-speak to bash Haley.”

Boy, was he right.

As I said just yesterday in a comment on the importance of civics education:

… I’d like our electorate to be sophisticated enough that no one who says “I want to run government like a business” (which shows a lack of understanding of both government and business) would ever get elected. I’d want every voter to understand the basic, profound ways in which government and business are different and SUPPOSED to be different….

The link was to a previous post that referred to how, even back in the days when we used to endorse her for the House, it drove me nuts to hear Nikki Haley repeat that phrase.

So imagine my dismay to see this ad, in which a Sheheen surrogate says, without a trace of irony or suggestion that he is mocking the opposition:

I think government should run like a business and be accountable.

The addition of “and be accountable” is intriguing, and interesting twist. Because one of the chief differences between a business and government is that government is expected to be accountable in ways that a private business most assuredly is not.

So one is tempted to hear that as, “I think government should be run like a business, but still held accountable, like a government.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t mean it that way.

The speaker cites an incident in which the head of a corporation — Target — stepped down when hackers breached credit-card customers’ information.

Well, that’s not a case of someone in business being HELD accountable by anyone other than himself. In government, it’s different. This election is about whether the present governor will be held accountable by the voters. Government has that mechanism, and business does not. Customers of Target do not get to vote the CEO out of office. See the difference?

The fact that voters don’t always vote wayward politicians out of office is one of the messy facts of democracy that makes business owners — who run their own businesses the way they see fit, and see that as the natural way to run anything (when it most decidedly is not the way to run a government in a republic) — think government should run more like a business.

When it shouldn’t.

My very gratifying conversation with Tom Ervin, who now favors a gas tax increase

This morning, I was on my way out of having my breakfast at the Capital City Club, and saw today’s WSJ on the sideboard by the door to the grill, and paused to pick it up and glance over the front page.

Then I hear someone say “Brad,” and look up and it’s Liana Orr, and she’s got someone in tow — a guy about my age dressed in a yellow polo shirt. As she’s introducing me, I see that it’s Tom Ervin, the independent candidate for governor.

He’s a pleasant and personable guy, and as he smiles and tells me that he enjoys my blog, I’m thinking, “Yeah, and you probably say that to all the bloggers, but thanks…”

But then he says something to let me know that he’s read the blog at least once.

Back on July 3, I wrote a post headlined “Tom Ervin won’t say how HE’D pay for roads, either.” It took him to task, along with Nikki Haley and Vincent Sheheen, for ducking the simple fact that if we want more money for roads, we already have a mechanism for that — raise the state tax on gasoline.

Today, Ervin tells me that I was right and he was wrong, and now he’s advocating for a gas tax increase. And of course, he makes sure I realize that he is the only candidate for governor who dares to do that.

So I congratulate him on his new position, and thank him for sharing it with me, and walk around the corner, and immediately whip out my notebook. My friend Roscoe Wilson started to say something to me, but I said, “Wait! I have to write something down.” I wanted to get the exact words that Mr. Ervin had said to me, to wit:

You were absolutely right. You were right to call me out on it.

Because those are words that one might normally put in the “Things no politician said to an editorialist, ever” category.

And yeah, he was flattering me and being disarming and all, but the fact is that when I Googled it, I found that six days after my post, this headline appeared in The Greenville News: “Ervin says he’d raise gas tax to fix roads.” From that story:

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has vowed to veto any proposal to raise the gas tax, while her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, says he won’t endorse a gas tax hike but is willing to talk about it.

Neither Haley nor Sheheen have a realistic plan to fix roads, “and that’s irresponsible,” Ervin told The Greenville News. “Both of these career politicians should be ashamed for not being truthful to the people and telling them straight up.”

Budget surpluses won’t do the trick, Ervin said, and fees can’t be raised enough to meet all the needs, which a state task force projected to be $29 billion over 20 years.

“Nobody likes a tax increase,” said Ervin, a former judge and state legislator from Greenville. “I don’t like it because I’m constantly on the road, too. But we want our highways to be safe. And we also want to continue to attract quality industry to our state, and you can’t get products to market when the highways are falling apart.”

I don’t know how I missed that. Maybe it didn’t get picked up down here. If I’d read it earlier, I would have written something congratulating him.

Anyway. I may not agree with Tom Ervin on everything, but I definitely appreciate his position on this.