Sheheen proposes to fight beach bacteria on Grand Strand

Sheheen made this proposal in Myrtle Beach today:

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

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

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

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

Is there a war on transparency in South Carolina?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trendline at the moment doesn’t look good…

Most effective anti-Haley ad I’ve seen

I missed this yesterday for traveling.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

SC, do you REALLY want Joe Manchin for president?

Here’s my latest new follower on Twitter:

Joe Manchin

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how the scar is coming along…

scar

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

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

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

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

Open Thread for Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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It’s been a busy day with little time for blogging, but here’s some stuff for y’all to chew on:

  1. Columbia OKs spending $35 million on new stadium – The money will be borrowed, and paid back with meal taxes over the next 30 years.
  2. Israel Agrees to Brief Truce, but Gaza Invasion Is Seen to Loom – The biggest news story in the world today, it would be the lede were this a VFP. WashPost reports that Chance of ground invasion is ‘very high’
  3. Court upholds Assange arrest warrant – This guy, Snowden, still at large. Only one of these we’ve managed to prosecute is Bradley Manning, who says he’s not Bradley Manning any more. So our prosecution track record isn’t great on protecting classified material.
  4. Cursing the lack of darkness – I listened to this report while driving to Aiken this morning, and it occurred to me — I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Milky Way. You?

Or whatever y’all want to discuss…

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Ravenel’s two press releases today

ravenel media

First came this one:

EDISTO, SC – Lowcountry businessman and independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel issued the following statement regarding his decision to participate in a second season of Bravo’s ‘Southern Charm’ reality television show: 

“I struggled with this decision in light of the political campaign I am undertaking,” Ravenel said. “Ultimately it came down to this: It doesn’t make sense to turn down a platform that enables you to spread your ideas to a bigger, more diverse audience. If America is ever going to turn things around, we’ve got to get rid of this notion that cookie cutter politicians with their blemish-free backgrounds are the way to go. The truth is those are the very politicians who are driving this country into a ditch. That’s never been who Thomas Ravenel is – and so owning a part of my life that doesn’t fit the typical political mold is fine by me.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Heekin…

Then came this one:

RAVENEL: “PUPPET” LINDSEY GRAHAM MUST CUT THE STRINGS TO MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, LIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT

EDISTO, SC – Lowcountry businessman and independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel called on U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to publicly disavow a $250,000 contribution made by former New York Mayor and notable anti-Second Amendment zealot Michael Bloomberg to a “Republican” political action committee that’s supporting Graham’s reelection.

Ravenel also challenged former S.C. “Republican” Party chairman Katon Dawson to send the money back to Bloomberg.

“Lindsey Graham is nothing but a puppet of the far left – and he’s never going to cut the strings. In fact his silence on contributions like this means he’s just fine with the gun-grabbing efforts of politicians like Michael Bloomberg – and with liberal special interests bankrolling his reelection effort,” Ravenel said. “This is why the Republican brand is dying – because politicians like Lindsey Graham are bought and paid for by this country’s liberal elite.”

Ravenel added that this wasn’t the first time liberal money had washed up in South Carolina on Graham’s behalf.

“When Lindsey Graham joined John Kerry in pushing for a new energy tax hike in 2009, the far left flooded South Carolina’s airwaves with ads defending him,” Ravenel said.  “They’ve been holding the purse strings – and pulling his strings – for years. He’s nothing but a puppet.”

Ravenel also called out the state’s “Republican” establishment for its hypocrisy.

“This week the SCGOP attacked me on Lindsey Graham’s behalf – but now we learn the party’s former chairman is getting a quarter of a million dollars from Michael Bloomberg to defend Graham’s liberal policies?” Ravenel said. “And they have the audacity to call me an ‘embarrassment?’ The only embarrassment here is a so-called Republican establishment, led by Lindsey Graham, that would rather go to bat for the far left than stand up for you – the tapped out taxpayer.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Heekin…

My question is, how does the campaign expect anyone to pay attention to the second one after they’ve read the first one?

Toby Ziegler didn’t get it, but Jed Bartlet did

Here’s my third post on my “people (even politicians) are people” theme…

Two nights ago, as I was still thinking about my arguments on Cynthia Hardy’s radio show in opposition to the cynical approach to politics, I saw an episode of “The West Wing” that illustrated my point.

It was the 10th episode in the 5th season, “The Stormy Present.” Here’s a synopsis:

Bartlet clears his schedule to attend the funeral of a former President whose conservative views often clashed with his own while he monitors a potential firestorm in Saudi Arabia as freedom protesters threaten civil war and surround a worker’s compound that includes dozens of Americans. Elsewhere, Josh mediates a post-Civil War fracas between a representative from North Carolina who demands that her Connecticut counterpart return her state’s copy of the Bill of Rights — stolen long ago by a Union soldier — and C.J. is flustered after meeting a Pentagon scientist whose security innovations could threaten privacy. En route to the funeral, Bartlet shares sobering thoughts with two other men who appreciate the weight of the Oval Office — Speaker Walken and ex-President Newman.

Toby Ziegler is on the plane carrying the president, along with officials from the administration of the former president, to the funeral. Toby is tasked with writing a eulogy for Bartlet to deliver at the funeral. Toby is a basket case. He’s deeply appalled at being on the same plane with these people he regards as dangerous wing-nuts. He spend most of his time on his cell complaining to his colleagues back in the West Wing about what hell it is to be in the company of such people. He’s sincerely stressed out. He gets into Air Force One’s liquor supply and gets too wasted to be much good in writing the speech. (Looking back, I’m not entirely sure who DID write it in the end.)

But there are a couple of good scenes in which Bartlet reveals that, while his overly partisan staff may see the previous GOP administration as the embodiment of evil, he has learned to get over that. He has come to value his predecessors as the only human beings on the planet who understand what he is experiencing as president. He has come to see past the ideological differences and political competition between the parties. He, and especially the former presidents, are past that.

There is a good scene with a former Democratic president who’s along for the ride who talks about how furious he was at Bartlet, and was going to call him up and chew him out… until he was talked down by their conservative Republican predecessor.

I got really disgusted with Toby watching this, as he seemed to embody everything that was bad about hyperpartisanship today — he was so wrapped up in his hostility toward the opposition that he couldn’t function, which made him a metaphor for everything wrong with Washington today.

But the human connection and understanding between the current and former presidents held out hope of a way our system could work, if the parties, staffs and interest groups could just shut up for awhile, and let people listen to each other and work together, deliberately…

If you have Netflix, I recommend you go back and watch this episode.

An old column elaborating on the ‘politicians (like Soylent Green) are people’ theme

Following up on this post earlier today, here’s a column I wrote on a similar subject, back in 2007.

The point, then as now, was that politicians are generally neither devils nor angels, which can be easy to miss, since the parties are all about painting everything in black and white terms. Here’s the pertinent part:

… Rent a movie, and watch it. Specifically, this one: “Journeys with George,” a documentary about George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign for president, made by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter.

No, really, it’s good. I was worried, too. I had ordered it from Netflix in late November, thinking it was something I ought to see. Then I let it sit on top of the TV until last week.

Bush according to Pelosi, I thought each night. Too much like work. Tired. Watch “House” episode for third time instead.
I broke down last week, at the behest of one of my daughters. Two minutes into it, I called another daughter who was upstairs, told her she had to see this, and started it over. It was that good.
What was so good about it? Well, certainly not the production values. It was shot with a camcorder by Alexandra Pelosi as a home movie of her year as an NBC producer, traveling with the Texas governor as he sought the presidency. You’ve seen YouTube? Like that, only longer.
What was good about it was that everybody in the film came across as a human being. If you don’t find that surprising, you need a quick unreality check: Put this down, watch a couple of hours of TV “news,” then visit a few of the more popular blogs.
See what I mean?
In this movie, the president-to-be is neither the warmongering demon nor the stalwart defender of all that’s right and true.
He’s just this guy. The joshing, never-serious, somewhat condescending uncle to the young woman who keeps sticking a camcorder in his face for reasons that aren’t entirely apparent. A little on the goofy side, but no idiot.
And Ms. Pelosi is neither the Spawn of the Liberal She-Devil nor what you think of when you say “NBC Nightly News” either. She’s not the former because, brace yourself, Nancy Pelosi is actually a human being, too. She’s not the latter partly because she’s a producer, not the on-air “talent” you’re used to. Producers are the ones behind the scenes who get actual work done — arranging travel, lining up interviews, soothing hurt feelings — while the ones you know are checking their hair. Think Andie MacDowell to Bill Murray’s weatherman in “Groundhog Day.”
She comes across as what she apparently is — a bright, friendly young woman who is very tired of getting up at 6 a.m., herded to airplanes and fed turkey sandwiches all day.
The two of them are practically friends. When she gets interested in a smiley guy from Newsweek(who later turns out to be a cad), Gov. Bush teases her, then offers semiserious advice. When she reports a little too accurately on her fellow media types and they all refuse to speak to her, George steps in to make peace.
In other words, they act like people. Likable people, no matter what you think of their politics. So do the others on the bus, including some familiar faces. Nobody took the camcorder girl seriously, so they forgot to put their masks on. Sure, the candidate is deliberately trying to charm the press. What will surprise his detractors is that he’s so good at it. Karl Rove still comes across as a creep, but that’s because it’s real life.
This brilliant little ditty of a film reveals a deep, dark secret: Like Soylent Green, politics is actually made of people. Real people, whom you are not required by law either to hate or to love. You just hang with them, and see them as they are in the tedium of daily coexistence. People, living their lives. Not symbols, not abstractions, not caricatures.
I ordered the movie because Columbia attorney Jim Leventis, a perfectly normal guy who belongs to my Rotary Club, is Alexandra Pelosi’s godfather. He describes the speaker of the House as “just a wonderful mom and just a wonderful friend.” Really.
You should see it if you can, and remember the lesson it teaches. It might ground you enough to preserve your faith in people over the next 12 months.
I’ll try to remember it, too, as those 18 candidates posture for the extremists in their respective parties. If I forget, remind me.

 

The importance of understanding politicians (and media types) as people

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks...

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks…

Having heard my limit of cynical statements bordering on paranoia, I resolved, on live radio over the weekend, to do The Most Daring Thing a Journalist Can Ever Do.

I decided to stick up for politicians. And for the media, for that matter.

I learned long ago, well before I started blogging, that the surest way to be the target of derision and contempt — from the public, and even one’s peers — is to praise someone in politics. It’s way more damaging to your reputation than criticizing people. We’re expected to do that. And those of you who know me know that I do my share of that. (In fact, some of you claim, hyperbolically, that it’s all I do, when the subject is Mark Sanford or Nikki Haley.)

But just let me say something laudatory about a politician — say, Lindsey Graham, who I believe is more deserving of such defense than anyone in high office in our state — and here comes the tsunami of cynicism. (Try to say “tsunami of cynicism” several times really fast.)

Journalists tend to relish the criticism that comes from being critical. It means we’re tough, and hard-hitting. Nobody pulls the wool over our eyes! We’re no saps. Cutting remarks make us sound like John Lennon. Saying nice things makes us sound like Paul McCartney. And everybody knows which one was the cool one, right?

Anyway, as Sunday’s show wore on, I endured a number of cynical remarks about media, politics and politicians, letting them pass by because of my long experience of knowing how hard it is to change people’s minds when they say things like, “They just stress all that negative stuff to sell papers,” or, “You can’t trust the MSM because they take advertising and are in the grip of corporate America,” or “He’s no different from all politicians; they’re all crooks.” (These are reconstructions; I wasn’t taking notes. But I’ve heard these kinds of comments SO many times.)

But finally, I couldn’t sit still, and I explained:

  • People who think advertisers control content in a newspaper have probably never worked at one. In my 35 years in newspapers, most of it as an editor, I never once was involved in a decision that was in any way influenced by money considerations, either involving advertising or circulation. (The only way money affected what we did was that the lack of it prevented us from having the people we needed, or to pay for travel, to do everything we wanted.) I DID find myself making decisions that I knew made life miserable for the ad people, and even lost the paper money. I mentioned a situation in which we took, and maintained (and the newspaper maintains to this day) an editorial position that cost the paper hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years. That didn’t make me happy or anything, but it had no impact on our position.
  • As for Will Folks’ assertion that we were supportive of lawmakers he despises because of the newspaper industry’s sales tax exemptions, I had to ask how he explained our ongoing repeated calls, year in and year out, for comprehensive tax reform that would put all exemptions on the table? (Doug likes to talk about that one, saying we should have called specifically for eliminating the newspaper exemption. But the truth was, I’ve never seen that one as in any way more egregious than the rest, and I would have been lying, and grandstanding, to say otherwise.)
  • Those who say this or that gets published because “it sells newspapers” don’t understand what makes journalists tick. There CAN be the temptation to be sensational, and we’re always trying to grab your attention, but not for anything so normal and sensible (the way most people see the world) as selling papers. What we wanted, what we want, is to be read. In terms of indulging my deep-seated need, no one had to buy the paper. They could steal it, just as long as they read it. Bryan loved that. After he wrote about it on his blog, I felt compelled to explain a bit. It’s not that I was advocating stealing the newspaper, mind you…
  • People talk about there being too much “bad news.” Well, I’m sorry, but to a great extent, the definition of news is something that has gone wrong. You don’t report on the 10,000 cars that pass a certain intersection safely in the course of a day; you report on the fatal wreck that occurred there. You don’t write about the thousands of buildings that didn’t catch fire; you report on the one that burned down. And you don’t write about the vast majority of politicians who are honest and doing their best; you write about the ones who are derelict and/or have their hands in the till — because that’s what people, as voters, need a heads-up about.
  • On that last point… I blame my profession, and particularly my generation of Watergate-influenced journalists, for the cynicism about government and politics that infects so many in our society today, from Will Folks and many other bloggers to the Tea Party to some of our best friends here on the blog. Maybe that’s one case where we DID overemphasize the “bad news.” We were so adversarial toward public officials and public institutions, so aggressive in chasing after scandal — and (seemingly sometimes) nothing but scandal — that we created an indelible impression among the reading and viewing public that government is a bad thing full of bad people. When it isn’t. We’re just trying to let you know about the bad parts that need addressing.

When I stated that probably 90-something percent of politicians were good people trying to do the best by their lights for their communities (even though they might, in my opinion, be really wrong about what’s best), Will erupted in derision, both on the air and on Twitter:

But I insisted it was true. I might think most of the things lawmakers try to do is stupid sometimes, but I don’t doubt their sincerity or honest intentions. As for the idea that people go into public life to enrich themselves monetarily — well, they’re really have to be stupid to do that, because the greater potential is definitely in the private sector, and the chance of getting caught is a lot lower than in public office.

Not that there aren’t some politicians for whom the pathetic renumeration that legislators receive is the best job they ever had. We had some people like that in the Legislature in the late 80s and early 90s. Lost Trust caught people selling their votes for pathetically small things, such as a new suit or some such.

Lost Trust was the low point in South Carolina, leading to indictments of 10 percent of the Legislature. But I turned that around to say that, when an aggressive federal prosecutor did his best to catch every lawmaker open to bribery or some other form of corruption… he could only get 10 percent. Which fits my 90ish-percent thesis.

Bottom line, people in politics are people, like any other. Oh, they may be more extroverted and given to exhibitionism of a sort, but they are not worse than other people. They might not be the wise solons that they should be — and I, for one, would prefer that they were a good deal wiser than average — but they’re just people.

So are journalists, for that matter, just to come full circle…

Terrorists Got Drones! Open Thread for Monday, July 14, 2014

For years, various folks who question the morality of President Obama’s habit of waging war by drone attack, like Zeus hurling thunderbolts down on terrorists, have frequently asked, “What are we going to do when others, especially our adversaries, also have drones?”

Well, we need to come up with an answer to that pretty quickly, because the day has arrived. In fact, it’s official: Terrorists now have drone technology:

The Israeli military also intercepted an unmanned aircraft flown from Gaza, blowing it apart in midair just offshore from the Israeli port city of Ashdod, a spokesman said. The drone attack by Hamas added a new element to the week-old conflict.

The military wing of Hamas claimed on Monday that it had sent “a number of drones” flying into Israel on “special missions,” saying on its website that the aircraft were one of the “surprises” it had promised over the last week….

So, the future is here, and it’s unsettling.

Meanwhile, in case you’d like to have an open thread today, here are some other topics:

Psychological warfare by text — Not only is Hamas deploying drones, they’re sending out texts to Israeli citizens to sow fear and uncertainty. So they’re getting more sophisticated. Kinda. You can tell it’s Hamas disinformation when it’s really badly spelled, apparently.

World Cup win stirs German patriotism – Fortunately, it’s not of the national socialist kind. In fact, some of the most excited wavers of flags are Turkish rather than Aryan. But it’s an unfamiliar feeling for this generation of Germans. Der Spiegel posed the question this way: “We’re back, but as what?”

Bergdahl returning to active duty – Meanwhile, the investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance in Afghanistan is “ongoing.”

Or whatever y’all want to talk about…

 

Ravenel delivers his petitions to Election Commission

I ran by the SC State Election Commission today to catch Thomas Ravenel delivering his petitions in a bid to get onto the ballot to run as an independent for Lindsey Graham’s U.S. Senate seat.

It was a bit of a muddle, based on what I saw and what I heard. I missed the first part of it (couldn’t get away from the office in time), but Jack Kuenzie from WIS filled me in on what I missed. As he said on Twitter:

Jack also said Ravenel arrived, went into the election commission office, came out about 10 seconds later and then did it all again, saying something about it being a second take. Like it was a reality TV show, instead of actual reality.

In response to a question from Jack, T Rav said he had just been kidding about renouncing his citizenship.

When I arrived, everybody was filing into a room with several election commission workers sitting around while one official stood over the box of petitions that Ravenel had brought in. After we waited a few minutes, some of the gaggle headed back out of the room and I followed, and out the back door there was Ravenel holding forth again, this time on foreign relations (see the video above). Doug and Bud should love his notions of nonengagement.

Then, everyone started traipsing back into the room where the petitions were. I kept shooting video while walking through the corridor, in an homage to the scene in “This is Spinal Tap” when the band keeps winding around in the bowels of a concert hall, and never finds the stage. (Other journalists give you an organized, artificially logical account of what happened. I give it to you as it was. Naturalism. You can thank me later.)

Then, there was another uncertain period when Ravenel stood watching the election people doing official stuff with his petitions. Eventually, I got his press guy’s phone number and left. I might talk with Thomas tomorrow.

The commission has 30 days to determine whether Ravenel has enough valid signatures.

If you want a fuller account, here’s Jamie Self’s at thestate.com.

And for the campaign’s perspective, here’s their release:

RAVENEL FOR SENATE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thomas Ravenel Files Petitions To Appear On November Ballot


COLUMBIA, SC - 
Lowcountry businessman, reality television star and former statewide official Thomas Ravenel submitted 16,469 signatures to the S.C. Election Commission (SCEC) today – more than enough to qualify him to appear on the November ballot against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and State Senator Brad Hutto.

 
Ravenel issued the following statement after submitting his signatures:

Today I filed signatures to appear on the November ballot and give South Carolinians a real choice – not a false choice between two increasingly indistinguishable bought-and-paid for political parties.

 
Working together over the last few weeks a team of volunteers and professionals collected more than 16,000 signatures from all 46 counties in the Palmetto State.
 
First I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to gather signatures.  And everyone who signed our petition. 
 
When it comes to their voice in the U.S. Senate, South Carolinians no longer have to make the false choice between the warfare state and the welfare state – between crony capitalists and bureaucratic apologists.
 
Before I filed these signatures, voters had to choose between a guy who wants to take most of their wallet and all of their liberties … and a guy who wants to take all of their wallet and most of their liberties.
 
Now they can vote for someone who will protect both – advancing prosperity and freedom for all no matter their age, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
 

Lindsey Graham doesn’t want you to have this choice.  In fact the special interests who bankroll his campaign and his pit bull political action committees are going to do everything within their power to maintain the status quo.

They. Are. Scared.

 
And not just of losing, they are scared that for the first time someone with an unafraid, uncompromising voice is stepping forward to call them out for what they are – thieves of your liberties and your livelihoods.
 
Unlike two-party Washington, my campaign will propose real reforms – true spending cuts, tax cuts and other market-based reforms aimed at redefining our relationship to government – asking not what government can do for us but what we can do for ourselves and – wherever possible – those in need.
 
I look forward to laying out those ideas in the weeks to come and engaging in a long overdue debate over the future direction of this country. 
Watching the process begin.

Watching the process begin.

Hear me Sunday evening on the Big DM

 

onpoint-web-headerrevised

This Tweet from Will reminds me:

I’m going to be on Cynthia’s show tomorrow evening, at FM 101.3. As I recall, we’re going to be talking about social media vis-à-vis traditional media.

In the South, we don’t just take the pain; we take the pills

painkiller-prescriptions-per-person-by-state-580x378

Burl Burlingame says he was discussing this with our fellow high school classmate Gary Berliner, a physician in Georgia, and he shares:

Health care providers in some states prescribe far more painkillers than those in other states, according to a new government report.

Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012 – many more in some states than in others – according to Vital Signs, the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that highlights the danger of overdose.

Health care providers in the highest prescribing state, Alabama, wrote almost three times as many of these prescriptions per person as those in the lowest prescribing state, Hawaii. Most of the highest prescribing states were in the South.

CDC said previous research has shown that regional variation in use of prescriptions cannot be explained by the underlying health status of the population…

Burl notes that Hawaii, where he and Gary and I graduated from high school and where Burl still lives, had the lowest number of such prescriptions. To that, I’ll say two things: Hawaii is easily the least painful place I ever lived, and 52-71 prescriptions per 100 people is nothing to write home about.

I thought that chart above contained a huge error at first: 95-143 prescriptions per 100 people in SC and the rest of the South? More prescriptions than people? Surely they meant per 1,000, or per 100,000. But then I saw that figure of 259 prescriptions, and realized yep, that’s one for almost every one of us.

Wow. I mean, I’m not the most stoic of men myself, but the only time I was ever prescribed oxycodone was after sinus surgery years ago. I’ve been prescribed hydrocodone for pain a couple of times in my life, such as after I broke four ribs kick-boxing in 2001. I took it for a month — I couldn’t have slept otherwise — and I found it unpleasant to quit (jangled nerves, irritability for several days). But I was very glad to say goodbye to it.

What are people taking all these pills for?

I was interested to see the Tennessee numbers. That’s where Dr. Nick prescribed so freely for Elvis. It’s also where, a few years later in Gibson County, we covered a case of a woman found dead with an astounding number of pill bottles around her. Fingers were pointed at a local physician who the whole town knew was an easy touch for drugs. Sometime before that, I had been sitting in General Sessions court, waiting for the arraignment of a murder suspect, listening to the disposition of several lesser cases, when a young woman was called to the stand to account for the drugs that had been found in her purse at a traffic stop. Percodan or some such.

“My doctor prescribed those for me,” the young woman protested.

“Your doctor is Dr. So-and-So, isn’t he?” asked the judge with a world-weary manner. Yes, he was. Everyone knew about him. (I remember his name but I’m not using it because the man’s dead, and I still remember with some sympathy the pain of his family when we mentioned the case in his obit.)

SC GOP leaders back reauthorization of Ex-Im Bank

South Carolina’s top Republicans are all signing on for reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, breaking with the “conservative” wing of their party in the U.S. House:

Governor Haley, Senators Graham and Scott Support Ex-Im Bank Reauthorization

WASHINGTON – South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott have written to congressional leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate expressing support for the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

“As elected officials from a state where thousands of hardworking families benefit from exports, we urge you to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) before its charter expires this year,” wrote Haley, Graham and Scott.  “As the official export credit agency of the United States, Ex-Im is a vital export finance tool to the businesses in our state – at no cost to American taxpayers.

“Ex-Im allows South Carolina businesses to compete globally on a level playing field.  Without Ex-Im our local businesses would be forced into a global market with foreign competitors that receive extensive support from their own export credit programs.  Allowing Ex-Im to expire will deliberately disadvantage American businesses and lead to increased unemployment.”

#####

This shouldn’t be surprising, for two reasons:

  1. The Ex-Im Bank is hugely important to Boeing, which is in turn hugely important to SC politicos.
  2. The GOP sentiment for shutting it down seems pretty much confined to the extreme wing in the House, and outside advocacy groups. Senate Republicans are broadly supporting reauthorization.

That classic Ariail cartoon I couldn’t find the other day

Bent but not broken_cmyk

On Wednesday, I had wanted to use the above cartoon with my post about remembering The State‘s coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

It’s one of Robert Ariail’s most popular ever, and it served a good cause — it was turned into a poster, copies of which were sold, and the proceeds donated to disaster relief.

Unfortunately, it’s from the pre-digital days, so I couldn’t find it online.

Robert was kind enough to email this to me, so I share it now.

The original that ran in the paper was black-and-white, although color was added for the posters. After scanning the original to share it with us, Robert photoshopped in some color to recreate the poster effect…

The court’s unanimous ruling in the Harrell/Wilson matter

Dave Crockett points out that we haven’t discussed the SC Supreme Court’s unanimous smackdown of Judge Manning’s bizarre ruling in the matter of Bobby Harrell, and Alan Wilson’s power to investigate him.

Maybe I’ve just been avoiding it, subconsciously, out of petulance over being scooped by that upstart Bryan Caskey:

Bryan didn’t just scoop ME. I happened to read that Tweet while attending the awards ceremony at The State Wednesday afternoon. I followed his link, and passed my phone first to Cindi Scoppe, then to John Monk — two people who have done more than anyone to keep us informed on this case — to give them the heads-up. (To John’s credit, he had told me before we sat down that the ruling was sort of expected, “Even as we stand here.” Fortunately, another reporter from the paper was covering that base while he was occupied.)

What to make of the ruling?

Well, to start with, it affirms what remaining faith we have in the rule of law. The justices unanimously rejected the absurd argument that the trial judge had constructed of whole cloth.

On the other hand, Manning could still rule unfavorably on Wilson’s ability to continue to handle the investigation, as the judge was instructed by the court to consider Harrell’s original motion seeking to remove the attorney general from the case.

So justice is still not out of the woods.

And I’m still a bit worried by that footnote to the ruling: “Due to the secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings, future arguments regarding jurisdiction, or any other ancillary matter, should be held in camera.” I’m not sure what that means, in terms of what will be cloaked in secrecy and what will not. You’ll recall that our awareness of this power struggle began with John’s story about how the attempt by Harrell to have the court consider whether to toss Wilson off the case secretly.

On that point, I await further elucidation.

There seems little doubt, though, that the justices have been distressed from the start by the splash this case has made on the front pages.

But how could it be otherwise — a struggle between the highest levels of two branches of our government, with the third branch caught uncomfortably between?

Open Thread for Thursday, July 10, 2014

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I’m going to be kind of tied up the rest of the day, so here are some things to discuss amongst yourselves:

  1. Boehner splits with Palin on call for Obama impeachment – You know, things have come to a pretty bad point when all you have to do to look like a statesman is not want to impeach the president.
  2. Germans Order Expulsion of Top U.S. Spy in Espionage Case – So much for that big World Cup win putting the Germans in a good mood so that they forget about this.
  3. Iraq insurgents seize nuclear material – First, AP tells us they’ve found chemical weapons in Iraq (“Iraq says Islamic State militants have control of facility holding 2,500 rockets filled with chemical weapons, then backtracks (“CORRECTION: Iraq: Facility held by extremists holds remnants of degraded chemical rockets (not active weapons)“). Now this. Listen, folks, it doesn’t do us any good to find the WMD now
  4. The girl who has everything — I noticed that Haley ex-Chief of Staff Tim Pearson is rather exercised at The State for having referred to the governor as a “girl.” Or rather, he’s upset with the Post and Courier for not standing up for the governor, since they got so worked up about the “little girl” thing a while back. Below you see the headline as it appeared in the paper; it appeared as “woman” online. Thoughts?

Girl

 

The unofficial Sammy Fretwell ‘Fan Club’

Had a nice time attending the awards ceremony at The State yesterday afternoon. Aside from recognizing the staff that almost won the Pulitzer for Hugo coverage, we saw three former colleagues inducted into the paper’s Hall of Fame, and honored two current staffers with the annual Hampton and Gonzales awards.

Sammy Fretwell received the Gonzales award, which is given each year for superlative reporting. It was an excellent choice. In keeping with theme that was running through a lot of the event about noting ways things have changed in the business, Sammy mentioned that something he’s had to get used to is the flurry of critical Tweets that follow everything he does these days.

When he said it, I thought, well, yeah — that’s something you have to expect today. Goes with the territory.

But when I Tweeted an innocuous picture of Sammy and me together after the reception, I saw what he meant. There does seem to be a rapid-response team on a hair trigger, ready to fire at any mention of Sammy Fretwell in the Twitterverse. Note the following: