Friday, November 27, 2009

Stuck in Traffic with Adam Smith

congressman_joe_wilson_scBy Baynard Woods

I drove from Washington to South Carolina for Thanksgiving. South Carolina’s representatives probably flew home. If they had driven, they would have learned something about capitalism.  For anyone who may have forgotten, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations articulates three major ‘laws of capitalism.’

  1. Self-interest (it is better for the nation as a whole when I seek what it good for me)

  2. Competition (it is better for the nation when people compete economically)

  3. Supply and demand (prices are set through the complex balance of availability and desire).



All three of these argue that economic health is determined by millions of small actions rather than centralized orchestration. These ideas sound right (unless you’re reading Ayn Rand in which case the same ideas sound like the ridiculous ravings of a b-movie idiot). But are they?

I thought a lot about this as I sat stalled in an infinite line of red break-lights beaming through the dreary rain in Northern Virginia. Like economic interactions, highway traffic patterns are also determined by the effect of millions of small actions. And in the world of holiday travel, Smith’s laws fall apart. Supply and Demand doesn’t quite fit. But in the complex system of traffic, competition and pure self-interest are bad for us all.

Here’s the classic example. Lane closed ahead, merge right. We all know what happens. Some people go ahead and merge right. But there are those who will not merge right until the very last moment. They speed ahead, zooming past everyone waiting to get through the bottleneck. When the left lane finally closes and all of those competitive self-interest drivers cut their way into the line in the right, they slow the traffic behind them for miles back. In fact, it turns out that those drivers are the ones who create the jam in the first place. Nobody would be waiting at all if it were not for the people who looked out only for their own best interests.

When Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations the world’s population was small and disconnected. Capital could not be transferred electronically. There were no complex derivatives. There were no speed limits for horses and buggies because their speed was limited by nature. Traffic laws and even drunk driving are not strictly enforced where populations are small. DeMint, Wilson and other conservatives argue that what worked for the horse and buggy should work for the race car.

They want you to make a Smoky and the Bandit gamble. “Keep your foot hard on the peddle, never mind the brakes, let it all hang out cause we got a run to make,” the immortal Jerry Reed sang. If you don’t make it back to Atlanta from Texarkana with that case of Coors, you lose your retirement, your savings, and your job.

Jim DeMint and Joe Wilson are like Big and Little Enos Burdette, the evil Texans who orchestrate the whole thing in the 1977 Burt Reynolds vehicle. Except, they’re gambling with your money. They don’t want to do the right thing. They say what they say to get the votes of people frustrated by our slow advance forward.

Sure, slow progress is frustrating. We don’t like traffic jams. And we don’t like the Highway Patrol. But, when we’re stopped in a traffic jam, we don’t listen to the maniac in the car beside us yelling “gun it” and honking his horn. If you wonder what could happen if the Big and Little Enos get their way, just remember back to 2005. DeMint championed privatizing social security. If you want something to be thankful for this year, imagine what it would be like if your Social Security as well as your 401k was in the trunk of the car in flames at the bottom of an economic gully. Our elderly would be devastated this holiday if we had listened to DeMint. So, next time people talk about Big Government wanting to kill grandma, remember, they’re actually talking about Big Enos DeMint.

Weakened Sanford pushes ahead despite cloud

By Andy Brack


mark-sanford On the day newspaper headlines screamed that the state Ethics Commission accused Gov. Mark Sanford of 37 violations, the governor's sense of humor remained intact.  When asked how he would like his terms as governor to be remembered, he said, “Better than today.”


Then during another of his Rotary Club apology tours across the state, Sanford paused 9 seconds to consider the question.  He highlighted two areas he hoped to be remembered for:


Investment. He pointed to $8 billion in job-creating business investment over the last two years.  He briefly highlighted some initiatives, such as tort reform and tax policy, that improved the “soil conditions” for small businesses to thrive better.

Land conservation. Sanford said more land had been protected under his administration than any other.  In turn, that improved the state's attractiveness and quality of life.  Since funding for the S.C. Conservation Bank started in 2004, more than 152,000 acres have been set aside at a cost of $80.6 million.


During the talk (and after the self-imposed obligatory apology for letting people down with his extramarital affair), Sanford asked Rotarians to urge state lawmakers to make a few specific policy changes – what he called “rifle shots” – to help set the course on a new direction.   Among the suggestions:  restructuring the state Budget and Control Board into an executive Department of Administration overseen by a governor; allowing the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket; changing some constitutionally-elected officers into appointed positions; setting spending limits; improving economic development; and reforming the state Employment Security Commission.


None of his proposals were new.  As he discussed them, what was remarkable was how the sometimes rambling, professorial rhetoric had not changed, but how the wind was gone from his sails.   He was a fellow talking the talk, but who seemed really tired of walking the walk.


Sanford said he had become a big fan of these policy rifle shots because he “I thought there was more power in the executive branch than there was.  And we took some bigger bites than were achievable.


“Little bites are indicative of the ways that more policy has to change. … We have a political system designed to guard against revolutionary change.”


* * *


And so it would be revolutionary if South Carolina's legislators actually turned Sanford out as governor.  While a House subcommittee started work on an impeachment bill this week, caution is in order.


At this point, Sanford is accused not of any felony, but of ethics violations, each of which carry about a $2,000 civil fine.  Although some GOP lawmakers remain mad, embarrassed and highly irritated with how the governor behaved over the summer, the real question is whether these ethical allegations are aggravated enough to throw out a weakened weak governor out of office.


Yes, he's made some mistakes.  But flying business class instead of coach doesn't reach the level of impropriety envisioned by the framers of our state constitution.  It's better for a governor to get off a 14-hour plane trip a little refreshed than to go into immediate meetings with bad jet lag from being cramped in a coach seat.


His campaign spending might have some minor problems, but that's not unexpected with millions of dollars and hundreds of events over several years.  Most of the legislators “sitting in judgment” of Sanford probably wouldn't meet the standards they're setting for Sanford in their own campaign spending.


And sure, he might have used some state travel in questionable ways.  But remember, governors and their families live in a bubble imposed by the job.  They have big pressures on them to try to maintain normalcy.


Bottom line:  Sanford has been weakened by his affair.  His legislative initiatives are pretty much dead on arrival in the General Assembly.  But he hasn't reached the threshold of serious wrong to be turned out of office according to the law in the state constitution.  Instead of obsessing on Sanford in 2010, lawmakers should spend their time on real problems – getting better jobs for people, improving education and bettering health care.


Andy Brack, publisher of S.C. Statehouse Report, can be reached at:   brack@statehousereport.com.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

War and Peace at The Citadel

Students study the psychology peacemaking



The men and women in the Corps [of Cadets] live and study under a classical military system.... About a third of the graduating classes accept military commissions.

-- from The Citadel website


By Will Moredock


moredockmug Since 1842, The Citadel has been training men (and now women) for business, science, politics, and other fields, but most famously, for war. It is, after all, the Military College of South Carolina, and takes its Sword Drill, Summerall Guard and Long Gray Line Parade quite seriously. Its cadets and graduates have fought in every American war since 1861.

That's why I found it curious that Dr. Will Johnson of The Citadel's Department of Psychology would be teaching an Honors level course called the Psychology of War and Peace – with the operative word being peace.

“I had the idea a couple of years ago,” Johnson said. “I wanted to explore what the field of psychology can offer in terms of topics beyond straight military training. Peacemaking is touched on in political science, but there is no study of the subject based on human nature....I wanted to look into that nature and ask if we are just aggressive machines and built to fight.”

Johnson thinks he is alone among the nation's military schools in studying the psychology of war and peace. He has found nothing like it in the curricula of the Army, Navy or Air Force academies.

Yet he is in good company within the field of academic psychology. Since 1990, the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence has been a division of the American Psychological Association and, according to its website, is “a home for psychologists who work to promote peace within nations, communities and families.”

The study of peace and conflict is relatively new and its application within a military environment is groundbreaking. Yet, the need is clearly there. History and current U.S. military policy are strewn with examples of how military force and diplomacy were used wisely and wastefully.

“The purpose of our military is to promote our national interest,” Johnson said. “But what is the national interest?”

After World War II, our interest lay not to further crushing Germany and Japan, but in rebuilding them economically and installing democratic governments. The result has been one of the most remarkable transformations in history, assuring more than 60 years of relative peace and stability. Likewise, Western Europe was secured against Soviet Communism by the aid and good will of the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift, as much as the presence of the Third Army and the Strategic Air Command.

Those lessons seem to have been lost 20 years later, as America blundered into Vietnam, fighting an enemy we never understood. The mistake cost us 58,000 lives and untold wealth and prestige.

There is the expression that, when the only tool in your box is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If America's military leaders had more tools in their collective box, perhaps they would have more ways of promoting American interests in an increasingly complex world. Many observers feel that too many times in recent decades U.S. leaders have reached for the hammer in making critical strategic decisions, when a more subtle tool might have served better.

Right now the CIA and the Army are engaged in a program to peel off layers of Taliban resistance in Afghanistan through economic and political initiatives. Of course, such an approach requires seeing the Islamic militia not as a monolithic enemy, but as a collection of groups and individuals who come to the cause out of different motives, with different levels of commitment.

This is not the kind of thinking that some political and military blow hards like to engage in, but sometimes asking questions first can prevent shooting later. Understanding why people fight and why they cooperate could be a valuable part of military training, Johnson said.

“We are beginning to understand that sometimes success is not so much survival of the fittest,” Johnson said, “but survival of the fittest within a helping and cooperative scenario.” Considered in that light, the problem of promoting national interest may be one of identifying and framing the right scenario, rather than identifying and bombing targets. Johnson understands that not all challenges can have a peaceful resolution, but none will have a peaceful resolution unless it is sought. It may take a special sensitivity and training to see that possibility.

There are three students in Johnson's trial class and he is pleased with the results as the semester winds down. There are no immediate plans to teach the class again, but he hopes to have another chance to teach it in the future. It would be a good investment for The Citadel and for the U.S. military.

See Will Moredock's blog at www.charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.

Monday, November 23, 2009

RISE OF THE YOUNG CODGERS

a.k.a., Return of the Generation Gap

rall mugI'm a cartoonist, columnist, writer and editor. So most of my friends are cartoonists, columnists, writers and editors. And a few publishers. One topic towers all over all others in my circle of friends: the future of journalism. Print media is in trouble; online media is ascendant. But consumers don't pay for online content and online advertisers pay much less for x readers online than they do in print. As NBC CEO Jeff Zucker famously warned last year, the media is "trading analog dollars for digital pennies."

But not everyone is worried. Many aspiring journalists and cartoonists in their twenties have embraced the Web. They don't dread a future without print--they welcome it. If newspapers and magazines are going under, say these e-vangelists, they have no one to blame but themselves. "Considering most political journalism is editorializing disguised as reporting, what would be the big deal," asks Shawn Mallow, a blogger at Wizbang.com. "Does anyone have any illusions as to which way the New York Times leans in its political reporting?"

At Techcrunch.com Erick Schonfeld adds low quality to the list of old media sins: "The newspaper industry wants to go back to the world before the Web, when each newspaper was a small media bundle packed with stories, 80 percent of which sucked…News sites can no longer capture reader’s attention with 20 percent news, and 80 percent suck."

Remember the "generation gap"? In the 1960s and 1970s, it described the cultural chasm between rock 'n' roll-loving hippie Baby Boomers and their stodgy Lawrence Welk-watching parents. It came back in the 1990s, when snotty twentysomethings wrote books like "Generation X" and "Revenge of the Latchkey Kids," deriding their Boomer elders as sentimental, selfish and unaware.

Generational détente has prevailed since then. Gen Xers born in the 1960s and early 1970s are now in their 40s, America's culturally dominant age group. Sure they're inheriting the country just as it's collapsing. But whining is unbecoming when one of your own has just been elected president. Laid-off Xers (many of them canned by media companies) are coming to grips with failure, causing them to go easier on Boomers, whom they'd previously blamed for everything from global warming to blowing the chance for a revolution back in 1968. Stuff happens. We get that now. How's that alimony payment working out for you?

Besides, we Gen Xers get along with Gen Y types, who are roughly 25 to 35 years old these days. We're both cynical, distrusting of authority, pessimistic about our economic prospects, and dig a lot of the same music and movies. Generation gap? We're too cool for that.

Now here come the Millennials to wipe that smug we-still-listen-to-the-Dead-Kennedys look off our faces. Generational demographic gurus William Strauss and Neil Howe define the Millennials as Americans born after 1982--at this writing, people under age 27. Gen X never saw them coming. Now they're challenging Xers--and the generation gap is back.

This generation gap is the opposite of previous versions, in which young insurgents attacked their elders for being too arch and moralistic. Like Mulder in "The X Files," they desperately want to believe: their leaders, their government, their corporate executives. And they really want to believe in technology. In my little world of journos, they toil on blogs like the Huffington Post for pennies or nothing at all, perfectly happy because they're sure it will pay off someday. How? They don't know, but "someone"--some tech company, some entrepreneur--is bound to figure it all out. When those of us in our 40s point out that there's no evidence to support contentions such as theirs--my favorite is that online ad rates are bound to go up someday, just because--these Young Turk Millennials mock us as washed-up has-beens.

Young people mocking old people for being too cynical is weird.

According to Mssrs. Strauss and Howe, however, this clash was inevitable. Xers are one of four recurring generational archetypes in American society and in Great Britain before the colonies. (They trace these cycles back to the War of the Roses in 1459.) Gen Xers, they argue convincingly, are a "nomadic" generation. According to Wikipedia: "Nomads are ratty, tough, unwanted, diverse, adventurous, and cynical about institutions. They grow up as the underprotected children of an Awakening, come of age as the alienated young adults of an unraveling, become the pragmatic, midlife leaders of a crisis and age into tough, post-crisis elders…" Serious columnists aren't supposed to quote Wikipedia, but I'm Gen X. I'm ratty. I break rules.

Millennials are a "heroic" generation. They "are conventional, powerful, and institutionally driven, with a profound trust in authority"--i.e., perfectly programmed to be intensely disturbed by Xers. If you're the gullib--er, trusting--type, what could be more threatening than to have a generation that doesn't believe in anything be your elders?  "They grow up as the increasingly protected children of an unraveling, come of age as the heroic, team-working youth of a crisis…" That last part is dead on. When U.S. society came apart at the seams in the 1970s and 1980s, Millennials' Boomer parents smothered and coddled them. Now they're working for Teach for America. Or at a paid internship. Something will work out. Someone will think of something. Besides, with Boomer parents, money isn't a big worry.

A recent blog post at DailyCartoonist.com brought it home for me. "I'm starting to not comprehend Ted Rall's politics at all," wrote Jesse Levin, almost certainly under age 27. "His current slate of strips basically targets Obama's lefty ineffectuality. His blog rails against Bush...Things may not be black and white, but where on Earth do ya stand as a political cartoonist? Unless you're just an independent spraying hateful buckshot at all authority figures, I think Ted's logic centers are failing on several levels."

"An independent spraying hateful buckshot at all authority figures." Sounds like the perfect definition of a Gen X pundit to me. And perfectly calibrated to piss off up-and-coming Millennials.

(Ted Rall is the author, with Pablo G. Callejo, of the new graphic memoir "The Year of Loving Dangerously." He is also the author of the Gen X manifesto "Revenge of the Latchkey Kids." His website is tedrall.com.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Myrtle Beach Goes to the Polls

And voters show some good judgment for a change

moredockmug The motorcycles will not be roaring in Myrtle Beach again any time soon. In an ugly off-year municipal election that was largely a referendum on the Grand Strand's traditional motorcycle rallies, voters sent the bikers a clear message that they are not welcome.

The election was also a referendum on a controversial former mayor and voters have sent him a message, as well.

In a state famous for its dysfunctional politics (and about to become more famous when the General Assembly impeaches Gov. Mark Sanford in a few months) Myrtle Beach has enjoyed the reputation as being its most dysfunctional city. Yes, there are municipalities where officials are more corrupt, eccentric or just plain stupid. But Myrtle Beach is one of the largest cities – and surely the most famous – in our state. People in Europe, Canada and Ohio, who never heard of Greenville or Columbia and think Charleston is in West Virginia, these folks by the millions have “Myrtle Beach” scrawled boldly on some page of their calendars and dream giddily of the day when they will load up the SUV or board a jet for the Carolina coast.

Yes, Myrtle Beach is South Carolina's gateway to the world, the destination for 14 million golfers, snow birds, sunbathers, spring breakers, country music fans and pole dance connoisseurs. And some of those tourists have been motorcyclists – hundreds of thousands of them – arriving in two enormous rallies each May. Their numbers, the sounds of their machines and their generally rowdy behavior have become such a problem in recent years that local residents demanded something be done. Last year, Myrtle Beach City Council took action with a series of ordinances – including the state's only helmet law – designed to throw cold water on the biker parties. And it worked. This past May the bikers stayed away in droves, leaving some hotels, restaurants, bars ands strip clubs hurting.

In a town where everything is taken to excess, there was a backlash and it was hard and mean. Many local business people, as well as hardcore bikers, banded together to fight City Hall. Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism (BOOST, to its friends) sued Myrtle Beach over the helmet law and alleged nefarious and unholy alliances between city council and Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. There were charges of slander and libel. Lawyers held news conferences and posted nasty letters on the web.

Into this storm of acrimony strode a familiar figure, one who surely felt right at home in such an atmosphere. Mark McBride was first elected mayor of Myrtle Beach in 1997, defeating a 12-year incumbent in a campaign that set new standards for sleaze and duplicity in local politics.  (See my account of that campaign from my 2003 book, Banana Republic – A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach atwww.charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.)

In eight divisive, vitriolic years as major domo, McBride got into fisticuffs with a council member in an executive session, came up on the short end of dozens of 6-1 votes, and never accomplished a single important reform or initiative. In those years he established himself as a family-values crusader and gay basher, willing to use thinly veiled racist rhetoric and to stand on both sides of several critical issues as he felt the political winds change.

One of those changes was his attitude toward motorcycle rallies. He even called for banning  them altogether in 2005, when anger against the spring rallies was at fever pitch. That year he famously made the statement that he felt at times like “nudging” a motorcycle with his car. The remark flashed through the biker community via the internet, causing some 80 bikers to show up at a city council meeting in what they called a Ride Against McBride. A few weeks later the voters replaced McBride with the more seasoned and stable John Rhodes. It was under Rhodes' leadership that city council finally took action to tame the motorcycle rallies.

All the while, McBride had been waiting in the wings, and with the support of BOOST he jumped into the recent fray to regain his old office and make Myrtle Beach safe for bikers again. Nobody commented on the fact that only four years earlier he had called for shutting down the biker rallies. The bikers needed a candidate and he needed a constituency. It was classic Mark McBride.

In the end, Myrtle Beach voters decided they had seen enough of McBride and motorcycle rallies. In the recent municipal election and November 17 runoff, they re-elected John Rhodes with 55 percent of the vote and rejected the BOOST city council slate. It was a good day for clean government and quiet streets.

Now is the time for courage

statehouseheaderBy Andy Brack

Now is the time in our state and nation for courage - - for leaders who will stand up for what’s right for the state and nation, regardless of how it will impact them personally.

What do we have instead?

  • Blowhards like Sarah Palin who are more interested in soundbites, making money  and getting on TV than actually doing any work.

  • Weaklings like Mark Sanford, who drag out the release of a public report of a public investigation by a public body about his failings as a public servant.

  • Scoundrels like three Democratic U.S. senators who are holding out voting for health care reform because they are scared they won’t be re-elected.

  • Partisan boobs like the infotainers Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann.

  • Political lemmings, like many in the state House and Senate who aren’t able to make up their minds without consulting the polls, lobbyists and special interests.



Where are the Martin Luther King Jr.s of today?  Where are the crusading editors, such as the Atlanta Constitution’s Ralph McGill, who wrote about kicking the Klan in the teeth from the 1940s until his death in 1969?  Where are more leaders like Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who marched on Columbia earlier this decade in protest of the Confederate flag on the Statehouse?

In 1955 when then-Senator John F. Kennedy published “Profiles in Courage,” he recognized that all sorts of forces seek to dampen the spirit of courage in our elected leaders – the influence from political peers in office, the desire to be re-elected and the pressure from constituents and lobby groups.   In the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, he recognized the increased impact of mass media, which has exploded since Kennedy’s day with the Internet, faxes, Blackberries, Twitter, Facebook and cable television.

But in the end, he concluded that political courage and the ability to compromise without giving up principles remains important for America to remain America:  “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality,” Kennedy wrote.

Eleven years later, respected U.S. Sen. William Fulbright wrote in “The Arrogance of Power,” that it was important to criticize one’s country.  “Criticism is more than a right:  it is an act of patriotism, a higher form of patriotism, than the familiar rituals of national adulation.”

So when there’s news that Republican county parties in South Carolina are censuring U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for diligently working with others to come up with a national solution on carbon pollution or immigration, we think of Graham’s courage and others’ callousness and cowardice.

When we read how Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mullins McLeod of Charleston wants the Confederate flag taken off the Statehouse grounds, we easily can predict the firestorm of hatred his campaign will get.  And while he may have been trying to kickstart his campaign, at least he had the courage to take a stand unpopular to many.

When we see President Obama trying to fix health care, get better options on Afghanistan and move the economy forward, we know we’re seeing flashes of courage, and not grandstanding.  These are tough decisions.

More of our leaders need to take a political lesson from the daily, unheralded experiences of our police, firefighters, soldiers, sailors and airmen – sometimes it’s just time to say, “Damn the torpedoes … full speed ahead.”  These elected officials need to ignore pollster politics and stand up for what’s right.

More in our media need to stop the hype, ask hard questions and do the real stories that highlight what’s going on in America and our state.

It’s time for political and editorial courage – for people to look into their hearts to do what’s right – to work on big challenges in the economy, education, health care and poverty.  And if not now, when?

Andy Brack, publisher of S.C. Statehouse Report, can be reached at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Regional Briefs

Compiled by Todd Morehead


HONEA PATH


Tax Dollars at Work

The Anderson County EMS Advisory Commission has voted to withhold county funding for the Honea Path rescue squad while an investigation into suspicious credit card charges moves forward.

Officials are investing the squad after county officials discovered an EMS credit card was used for such dating services as Singlesnet.com, eHarmony.com and Match.com.

Honea Path Police Chief David King said he didn’t know who had the card at the time of the purchases, according to the Anderson Independent Mail. Authorities are also exploring the possibly that the charges could be linked to identity theft and credit card fraud by a person not associated with the rescue squad. The squad receives about $25,000 per year in public funds, according to one report.


CAMDEN


Honey, I Don’t Have HIV

A Camden man has been sentenced to six years in prison for not disclosing his HIV infection to his ex-wife.

Prosecutors said Joel Bedenbaugh, 47, told his wife he took medicine for a blood disease throughout their five-year marriage, but never disclosed that the medication was for HIV. A jury found Bedenbaugh, a former teacher, guilty of exposing others to HIV. His wife was not infected.


CHARLESTON


If She Scooped, You Must Acquit!

Dorchester County Council wants Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein to stop bringing her dogs to work. According to one media report, the council has asked the county attorney to write a letter asking that only service dogs be allowed in the court building.

Goodstein told the Charleston Post and Courier that her dogs, an Airedale and two spaniels, are housebroken and haven’t soiled the courthouse floors. The judge said she believes the rumors started when she was witnessed on her hands and knees cleaning mud tracks left by a construction worker, according to the report.


OUCH! Naked Reverie Ends with Taser

A Charleston man’s naked escapades in an apartment complex parking lot came to an abrupt end after residents reported the disturbance to police.

According to the Charleston Post and Courier, police responded to reports of a naked man jumping on cars and running around the Ashley Shores apartment complex. The man was reportedly yelling, “He was the sun, the moon and that he was all-knowing,” according to the report.

When authorities arrived on the scene, the man jumped into a nearby marsh and made his way toward the Jenkins Orphanage. Police later Tased the man and transported him by EMS to an area hospital for psychiatric evaluation.


ORANGEBURG


Porn: Entertainment While You Wait

An Orangeburg man on probation for burglary has been arrested for allegedly breaking into a woman’s home and watching Internet pornography while waiting for her to return.

Jaquetin Fox, 18, is charged with armed robbery, first-degree burglary, grand larceny and kidnapping. Police found four knives and lengths of cord that had been cut from the blinds and appliances that were placed strategically around the house.

“All that stuff wasn’t positioned around the house so he could talk about the weather,” Capt. Mike Adams of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Adams told the Orangeburg Times-Democrat. “It certainly takes on the appearance of more than a simple burglary.”


ROCK HILL


Ah, Sheee-it! That’s Just Low, Man!

Police are seeking information about a stolen golf cart that belongs to a woman with cerebral palsy.

According to the Rock Hill Herald, Haley Christmas, 27, enjoyed parking the golf cart in her yard to smile and wave at passing cars. Christmas reportedly named the cart “Bye-Bye” and has worn an oval shaped track in the grass from driving in a large circle.

When someone stole the golf cart earlier this month, Christmas’s father told the Herald, they also “stole [Haley’s] soul.”

An officer working the case said that in all his years on the force, he’s never seen a crime as rotten as stealing a golf cart from a disabled person. The Christmas family said they hope the thief simply returns the cart on their own.

Worst of Awards 2009

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POLITICS


Worst Part of State Government

South Carolina State Legislature

We’ve been riding DHEC for five years now and with good reason. But let’s not forget our horribly underfunded public schools — 11 out of the 25 worst schools in the United States are in South Carolina. Plus, there are all the usual reasons that make most sane residents of this state wake up screaming in the shadow of the Confederate Flag.


Worst Representation of South Carolina A five-way tie:

Leon Lott vs. Michael Phelps

Henry McMaster vs. Craigslist

Mark Sanford’s affair

The guy who had sex with a horse

Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” outburst


Worst Political Counter Move

Andre Bauer on Homosexuality

Blogger Mike Rogers, who outed both Larry Craig and Mark Foley, recently cited male sources who claimed to have had sex with Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Instead of letting the rumors die, Bauer brought up the subject himself during an interview with the State and then allowed state Sen. Jake Knotts to distribute a letter that blamed the rumors on Sanford staffers.

What a drama queen!




[caption id="attachment_480" align="aligncenter" width="250" caption="Bauer: No, not gay."]Bauer: No, not gay.[/caption]


Worst Use of Taxpayer Money

Hospitality Tax Funding

Since 2003, the Columbia City Council and the state Department of Revenue have been overcharging local restaurants to assist their buddies. Here’s what the racket seems to be: They use the tax revenue to create business guilds that charge members dues and then the organizers lobby for additional tax dollars with which to line their own pockets. The scam is so great, we’re ashamed we didn’t think of it ourselves.


Worst Moonlighting Gig

Erotica Authoress

Well, it’s the worst gig if you’re the chair of the State Board of Education, anyway. Kristin Maguire, also a former Republican committee member, allegedly authored erotic fiction under the pen name Bridget Keeney. Nothing against writing smut — especially coming from us — but it’s just another example of the conservative GOP hypocrisy. Here’s a quick excerpt from Keeney’s story “Continental Cuisine:”

“The rhythmic sway of the train car added to the bobbing of my head as I sucked deeply. [...] My hands were braced on Erik’s hips to keep us in synch. [...] His friend Joren was watching us. I gazed at him in the dim light from the moon as I slid my hands under Erik’s balls. [...] I had come to Europe for new experiences. Sucking off two strangers in a train car would definitely count as one.”





Worst Good Ol’ Boy Hire

Charles Austin

The former city manager accidentally misplaced $30 million in city reserves yet apparently is the perfect candidate for a deanship at Benedict College.



MEDIA/ENTERTAINMENT


Worst Local TV Show

Lion of Judah Worship Center’s “Miracle Service” on Cable Channel 4

This is a spectacle so bizarre it’s good. Watching a West Columbia faith healer claim to speak for God and then dupe a mentally deficient congregation is somehow fun, enraging and sad all at the same time.


Worst Advertising Scheme

Best Of Awards

A Best Of Award from corporate media is the equivalent of your nephew’s Little League trophy: They get one just for showing up. Or, in the case of some local Best Of Awards, advertisers get one just for having a checkbook and a pen. Here’s the trick: To read a Best Of issue properly, you must insert some language — you know, like putting “in bed” at the end of your fortune-cookie fortune. Next time, when you read “Best Bar,” instead read “Best Bar Who’s Giving Us Money.”




Worst Print Publication

Carolina Panorama

Carolina Panorama is Bizarro Columbia City Paper. It prints only positive news! And that makes sense for a state like South Carolina, where the official unemployment number hovers around 10 percent, the illiteracy rate is the third-highest in the nation, and crime is beating in your back door. Finally, as much as we love positive news, we must deliver a negative message for Carolina Panorama’s publisher: Stop putting your awful newspaper on the top portion of our racks.


Worst Local Advertisement

COF Columbia Office Furniture

Last year, we had no trouble making fun of the $99 office chair guy. But this year, the old man has outdone himself, holding up his granddaughter in what seems to be a desperate plea for you chain-loving bastards to think of small family-owned businesses this holiday season.


Worst Editorial Playbook

The State

Columbia’s daily fishwrap ran 359 anti-Sanford articles but was the only major newspaper in South Carolina not to call the international playboy’s resignation.


NIGHTLIFE


Worst Karaoke Song

(No such thing.)


Worst Pick Up Line

“Excuse me, haven’t I seen you in a Bang Bus video?”


Worst Shot

The Discombobulated Sasquatch

... Or: anything mixed on the fly during the interview segment of Drinking in the Morning with Aaron and Grant.


Worst Bathroom

St. Patty’s Day Festival Port-a-John

There hasn’t been this much fecal matter concentrated in one spot since the Five Points Association opened its visitors center.


Worst Rock Scene Trend

The Whole Friggin’ Thing

Put down the xylophones and synthesizers, get Lasik, and bring some danger and bravado back to rock ‘n’ roll. Just because you walk around the club with your shirt off after the show doesn’t excuse the fact that your band sounds like REO Speedwagon.


Worst Hip-Hop Scene Trend

Auto Tune

Why not buy an Alvin and the Chipmunks R&B album and be done with it?




[caption id="attachment_479" align="aligncenter" width="150" caption="Thug Life!"]Thug Life![/caption]


Worst Thug Fashion

Spongebob Squarepants Ganstawear

According to the cops, Spongebob clothing is related to a street gang — and believe us, fellas, we mean no disrespect here — but maybe y’all could find a scarier cartoon character related to the number five?


Worst Place for Public Sex

Elmwood Cemetery

This is a popular spot for cops to bust teenagers and Republican legislators to engage in sex acts (sometimes with each other).



LEFTOVERS


Worst Place for a Picnic

West Columbia River Walk

By this, we’re talking specifically about the Columbia Farms chicken plant side of River Walk. It comes with  a truly Biblical stench. Add the hobos bathing on the rocks and there’s just no way to salvage your picnic.


Worst Fashion

Fluorescent 1980s throwbacks

Why do fashion boutiques these days look like K-Mart in 1986?



Worst Shame in Local Sports

No South Carolina IWFL team

We had a brief semi-pro tease with the Columbia Stingers indoor football league a couple of years ago. But what this town needs is a semi-pro women’s football league. North Carolina has three! We’re talking women with crew cuts and missing teeth. Think we could convince a local roller girl or two to test their mettle, put on some shoulder pads, and go full tackle with a 200-pound nose guard from High Point?


Worst Tattoo Parlor

Richland County Detention Center


Worst Marketing

U.S. food labeling

The liberties the Food and Drug Administration allows in the promotion of food products are not only getting out of hand — they’re becoming a national security issue. Earlier this month, the Pentagon reported that more than one-third of Army recruits aged 17 to 24 are too fat for service.


Worst Sign

No Turn On Red

These signs are misplaced throughout the city.  Our favorite is the one at Main and Gervais where there isn’t even a cross street. As for Five Points, packed with pedestrians and drunken drivers, no need for any signs there!


Worst Homeless Hotel

RCPL Downtown

Or: Five Points Post Office

THE REPUBLICAN DEATH WISH

moredockmugEverything about the modern            conservative movement looks like lemmings headed for the cliffs. The fact that Republicans picked up a couple of governorships in the off-off-year election two weeks ago means very little.

The GOP lost two U.S. House races that same day amid the healthcare debate. One of those seats, in Upstate New York, had been in Republican hands since 1872! If voters were as outraged about healthcare reform as Republicans like to pretend, it looks like they would have handed those seats to the GOP. Instead, the seats went to Democrats, who flew to Washington and were sworn in just in time to vote for the healthcare overhaul on Nov. 7. The historic bill passed by five votes. With victories like these, the Republicans don’t need any defeats. But I predict that they will be seeing a lot of them in coming years.

The GOP lost New York District 23 because the Republican candidate was moderate — too moderate for the Club for Growth, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and other far-right wing, out-of-state players, who threw their considerable weight and resources behind the more conservative candidate. The Republican candidate withdrew, handing the election to the Democratic challenger.

Something like that is going to happen on a massive scale in Florida next year. There, the teabag fringe of the conservative movement has organized and registered a new political party. Yep, they call themselves the Tea Party! And if they run candidates in next year’s elections, as they say they intend to do, they will split the conservative vote and make the Republicans an endangered species in the Sunshine State.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Republicans in South Carolina are following a similar road to extinction.

The Charleston County Republican Party last week voted to censure Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham for being too reasonable and pragmatic. Or as the county GOP said in its resolution, “U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the name of bipartisanship continues to weaken the Republican brand and tarnish the ideals of freedom, rule of law, and fiscal conservatism.”

Since he was first elected to the Senate in 2002, Graham has shown a fiercely independent streak — something for which the southern GOP has no patience. Two years ago, he outraged state and national Republicans for working on immigration reform with Sen. John McCain and Democrats. Last year, he supported the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, a massive federal bailout to get the financial industry back on its feet. And last month he reached across the aisle to work with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Not only does the Republican orthodoxy reject the science of climate change, but it also rejects the reality of global and national problems that cannot be solved by individuals and county councils.

“There have been a lot of things over the years that people have been dissatisfied with the senator for doing, but I think the cap-and-trade issue is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” county GOP chairwoman Lin Bennett said. “We have a state platform that if you want to run as a Republican in our state, part of that platform includes ideals and goals we would like to see, and one of them is smaller and less government intrusion into people’s lives.”

Bennett said she expects a similar censure resolution at the state party convention next spring. Two years ago, the GOP executive committee in Greenville County censured Graham for his stance on immigration reform.

Graham is one of the most respected members of the U.S. Senate and, succeeding to the seat of the late retrovert Strom Thurmond, has brought favorable attention to this state. Of course, that it not the way South Carolina Republicans see it; indeed, if Thurmond’s 48-year Senate career proved anything, it was that the white people of South Carolina would gladly humiliate themselves to make a point.

Now they are at it again, and it seems they will not be satisfied until Graham is eliminated or intimidated into towing the party line. And in South Carolina, they may get away with it. Jim DeMint, Joe Wilson and Bob Inglis prove there is plenty of room to the right of Graham in the state GOP — enough room for a challenger to stake a position and attack. And you can bet some Republican yahoos are queuing up to take a whack at Graham.

The GOP might be able to purge Graham from their ranks and still win, but in more mainstream states, such tactics will only divide the Republicans and hand elections to Democrats. I will be pulling for them to do just that. Go, Sarah! Go, Rush!


talkback@columbiacitypaper.com

MEASURABLE VISIONS FOR THE SOUTH

statehouseheader

Opinion by Andy Brack


When President John F. Kennedy proposed putting a man on the moon, he didn’t say it should be done “someday.” He put a time frame on his big vision — that it should be done by the end of the 1960s.

Such a big vision statement linked with a date for completion is something you might call a “measurable vision.” Last weekend, a group of more than two dozen southern leaders and thinkers set out to identify such visions for the South at a major conference at Davidson College in North Carolina.

The nonpartisan Center for a Better South called the conference to develop a new Agenda for a Better South — a pragmatic and progressive set of visions that southern leaders could seek to accomplish in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. (Disclosure: I am the chair and president of the center.)

Too often, southern leaders, particularly those in a legislature, are sidetracked by policy red herrings — things that are really non-issues compared to generational southern problems involving education, poverty and health care.

Many seem to find it easier to deal with gay marriage, abortion or gator-hunting rules than serious reforms that would change an unfair tax system or generate new and better jobs or fix health care. Instead of solutions for addressing big problems, many southern leaders today seem to kowtow to increasing partisanship and offer small sound bites for big problems to fill the media’s daily craving for more.

Participants at the center’s conference included elected officials, corporate executives, newspaper editors, policy analysts and academics. They sought to look at these continuing problems in new ways that include measurable and attainable goals.

For example, instead of just saying southern states should improve education — and every one of them can stand for some improvement — participants linked improving education to jobs. As former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings touted more than 50 years ago, you can’t get good jobs if your workforce isn’t educated. And today, it’s more important than ever before. Here, for example, is how the group challenged leaders to move forward in education:

“To compete in a 21st century global economy, each southern state must increase its high school graduation rate and have 60 percent of native southerners and new residents with post-secondary degrees, including associate’s degrees from technical colleges, by 2020.”

Wow. Sixty percent would be huge. The international goal is something like 55 percent.

The Agenda for a Better South, which is in a draft stage for another week as participants hone their measurable visions, also calls for southern leaders to strive for these improvements:

Boosting wellness: Each southern state should increase life expectancy to levels on par with Canada.

Improving energy efficiency: Each southern state should develop a state energy plan that improves per capita energy efficiency by 20 percent in 2020.

Reforming taxes: Each southern state should adopt or change tax structures by 2015 that expand the tax base while lowering the rate to ensure revenue sources match or exceed the growth rate in the state’s overall economy.

Investing in infrastructure: Each southern state must invest 90 percent of its capital budget spending on priorities identified in its infrastructure capital planning process.

Cultivating governance: Each southern state should develop and implement a benchmark citizen trust survey by 2011. By 2015, each state’s levels of trust in state government should increase by 20 percent over the benchmark.

Ensuring opportunities: Southern states should reduce disparities in the treatment and well being of different groups to foster a more inclusive, creative, productive and prosperous South. By 2012, each southern state should adopt measures to drive significant reduction in identified disparities of at least five major categories.

Fostering safe communities: Each Ssuthern state should reduce the rates of violent crime to below the national average by 2020.

The South has come a long way in the last 50 years. It no longer is a showcase for segregation. It is home to major American businesses and millions of new residents who are thriving in the Sunbelt.

But the region remains burdened by its past in multiple measures of quality of life. It’s time for our leaders to think big by embracing a new Agenda for a Better South so our region is the envy of the world.


Andy Brack, publisher of S.C. Statehouse Report, can be reached at:  brack@statehousereport.com.

13 VS. 2,000,000



[caption id="attachment_461" align="alignnone" width="150" caption="Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army doctor identified by authorities as the suspect in a mass shooting"]Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army doctor identified by authorities as the suspect in a mass shooting[/caption]

By Ted Rall

American lives are worth a lot. So when Americans get killed, it’s a big story. There are lots of editorials. Congressmen call for investigations. We want to find out what happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it never happens again.

The lives of foreigners, on the other hand, are pretty much worthless. Even when they die because Americans killed them, news accounts marking their deaths are short, sweet, and short-lived. Congressional investigations? No way. To the contrary! If anyone is inconsiderate enough to mention the killings of people overseas in a public forum, they get shouted down or simply ignored.

The massacre of 13 soldiers at an Army post in Texas earlier this week places this dichotomy in sharp relief.

The FBI is already helping Army investigators. In addition, Senator Joe Lieberman has announced that his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will launch a full investigation into “every angle” of the shooting, including the motives of the suspect and whether or not government eavesdroppers could have prevented it by notifying Army officials of his contacts with a radical Muslim cleric. Over in the House, Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, has summoned national intelligence director Dennis Blair to answer questions about Fort Hood before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

But wait — there’s more. “Other committees may also launch investigations into how the Army missed warning signs about the accused,” reports The Politico.

All sorts of hands are being wrung.

Major Hasan, an army psychiatrist, ministered to victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome who told him terrible stories about combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Should someone have helped him cope too?

Ordered to deploy to the war zone, he asked not to go--and was refused. Should the Army be more flexible?

Is it reasonable to ask a religious Muslim to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq, wars where he would be asked to kill his coreligionists?

Then there are the phone taps. “U.S. military officials said intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington suburb,” reported CNN. “Al-Awlaki, who left the United States in 2002 and is believed to be living in Yemen, was the subject of several federal investigations dating back to the late 1990s, but was never charged.” As jihadis do at the start of an attack, Hasan reportedly cried “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire. Shouldn’t someone have noticed that the nice shrink with the dopey smile had become a radical Islamist?

The shock, grief and soul-searching are all reasonable reactions to a brutal and tragic event. But it’s not hard to imagine how it looks to the outside world. While the media and public obsess over the deaths of 13 fellow Americans, they ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of foreigners.

The American military has killed roughly two million people in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Those attacks were illegal--no declaration of war, no UN mandate--and are largely recognized as such by the American public. Many of the victims were killed with chemical and radioactive weapons, and some while under torture. In other words, these are crimes--some of the biggest mass murders in human history.

So where are the Congressional investigations? Don’t we want to find out what happened, how it happened, and make sure it never happens again? Apparently not.

President Obama has chosen to “move forward” instead. No one--not George W. Bush, nor his advisers, nor the military officers who carried out his illegal orders, is being held accountable.

There are no angry editorials. The illegal wars, instead of being brought to an end, are being ramped up. The crimes — yes, including the torture — continues. But it’s OK — as long as it doesn’t happen here in the United States. It’s OK to rain death on Pakistanis using drone planes...gotta spare those precious American lives!

Mass murder is shocking when the victims are Americans; it’s doubly shocking when it happens in America.

Thirteen soldiers die in Texas and it’s all we talk about. Two million die in Afghanistan and Iraq and we don’t notice and we don’t even want to hear about it. Only 12 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 can find Afghanistan on a map.

The punk band T.S.O.L. wrote the soundtrack to this attitude a quarter-century ago: “We live in the American zone/Free of fear in our American home/Swimming pool and digital phone.”

Still wondering why they hate us?

SPICY DAMA PARTS

askamexicanhead Dear Mexican: Whenever I see an ad for a Mexican ramera, they always describe themselves as “spicy.” Are Mexican women hiding habaneros in their panochas?

Concha Curious


Dear Gabacho: “I wish I could say that ‘Mexican Spitfire’ Lupe Velez was to blame for the ‘spicy’ epithet so often associated with Mexican femme pulchritude,” says William Nericcio, author of Tex(t)-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the ‘Mexican’ in America, “or that ersatz Latinas Rita Hayworth or Raquel Welch had conspired with the intrinsically hot movements of their netherworlds to have forever etched the ghosts of their hot pudenda into the semantic pantheon of ‘spicy’ DNA. However, I think its far simpler: Adjective-challenged ’Mericans merely borrowed the epithet from Brit views of Spanish gals and their cuisine — namely paella, which would never give a Mexican a sweat, but might make a West End wonk spit fire and cry out for a bloody glass of water.” The Mexican agrees with the loco professor of English at San Diego State, but ratchets up the gabacho-bashing by also blaming Protestant frigidity and its eternal efforts to dismiss Catholic cultures (French, Hispanic, Italian, Irish and the like) as intrinsically, sinfully hot-blooded. So the answer, Concha Curious, is yes: mexicanas have habaneros in their hoo-hahs that make them spicy, just like all women. It’s called the clitoris.


Dear Mexican: I have a question regarding the legitimacy of Spanish as the predominant language of Mexico. In regard to the future reality of a United States overrun by Mexican people, I realized that the language spoken there is a European language, the same as Dutch, French or Euskadi. Shouldn’t there be a Mexican national movement to bring back the Nahuatl language, sort of on the same level as the Irish bringing back Gaelic? Just curious if I should go out and purchase a Mixteca-to-English dictionary.

El Boludo


Dear Big-Balled Gabacho: Go ahead and buy that bilingual dictionary, but don’t count on speaking like the Aztecs — Mixteca is an Oto-Manguean tongue, while Nahuatl is a branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Besides, you’re wrongly assuming that all Mexicans have Aztec roots when that’s not el caso. Nahuatl might be the most-spoken indigenous language in Mexico, with an estimated 1.38 million speakers, but that figure is less than a quarter of the more than 6 million people whom the Mexican government says speak an Indian idioma. (Maya is the second-most-spoken, while about half a million speak Mixteca’s many dialects.) You’re right to assume a mini-movement of learning Nahuatl in Chicano circles, but that’s based more on their lionization of Aztec culture and Nahuatl’s influence on Mexican Spanish than the tongue’s practicality or its place as Mexico’s rightful lingua franca. To say Nahuatl should be brought back and function as Mexico’s official language is the same imperialistic mierda that brought on the dominance of Spanish and the suppression of so many languages in the first place. That said, the Mexican is in favor of other Mexicans relearning their ancestral tongues, if only to further confound gabachos who are just beginning to grasp the language of Cervantes.


Ask the Mexican at themexican@askamexican.net or myspace.com/ocwab. Or write to him at: Gustavo Arellano, P.O. Box 1433, Anaheim, CA 92815-1433. Find him on Facebook and Twitter!

DITHERING WHILE AMERICA SNEEZES

rall mug America’s scandalously lame (non-)response to the swine flu pandemic isn’t a big deal. Not compared to, say, the melting of the polar ice cap. It isn’t torture. Or war. It pales next to giving hundreds of billions of dollars to wealthy bankers and nothing to homeowners facing foreclosure. But it sure is interesting.

First the Obama administration committed the classic mistake of governance: they overpromised and underdelivered, failing to ensure Americans had enough H1N1 vaccine. Summertime estimates of 120 million doses fell to 40 million and then 28 million. In fairness to Obama administration officials, vaccine production is an inherently unpredictable business; the swine flu antigen simply grew slower than that of other flus.

But here’s what’s weird: Even after the feds learned there wouldn’t be enough vaccine to go around, they urged everyone to demand it from their doctors. Lines reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1970s sprang up outside clinics.

At many locations, hundreds of people were turned away. Hint to Secretary Sebelius: they won’t go back.

More telling was the White House’s inability to see the crisis coming coupled with its knee-jerk reliance on free markets. With the air out of the capitalist balloon since September 2008, why on earth would Obama & Co. trust private pharmaceutical corporations to do the job? A pandemic calls for a sweeping response such as temporary or permanent nationalization of drug companies.

Moreover, the decision to outsource most of the production overseas baffles the mind. Four out of five of the vaccine makers hired by the U.S. government were in other countries. CSL Ltd., one of the four and based in Australia, met its own country’s needs first.

Now there’s an idea.

Also indicative of America’s “can’t do” spirit in the Age of Obama is the government’s unwillingness to impose commonsense on the cheapest of the cheap: employers.

A hundred years after the rise of unionism, nearly 40 percent of private-sector workers get no paid sick days. Add that to employees at other firms who have already used up their meager allotment, and those who are afraid to take a day off lest they get targeted for layoffs, and you’ve got trouble: tens of millions of people mixing it up at work, many of them carrying a highly contagious, potentially lethal virus.

Nina G. Stillman, a lawyer with a New York law firm that advises companies on sick-leave policy, told The New York Times: “Employers who do not offer sick days are not prepared to offer them now, and they recognize that this may result in not achieving what they say they would like, which is that people who are sick stay home.”

Translation: employers don’t give a damn about health of the country. Well, maybe a damn. Not a nickel.

One of the nation’s largest employers actually threatens to fire workers who get sick. Reports the Times: “At Wal-Mart, when employees miss one or more days because of illness or other reasons, they generally get a demerit point. Once employees obtain four points over a six-month period, they begin receiving warnings that can lead to dismissal.”

Note to firing squads of the future: see above paragraph.

A country with a strong, well-run government would order employers to give all employees with flu-like symptoms paid time off from work. But Barack Obama, in thrall to and in the pockets of big business, hasn’t lifted a finger to spare us from misery — and deaths  — that are totally unnecessary.

One of the most reliable indicators of a country’s political and social viability is its ability to respond to an emergency. Are leaders able to react quickly and forcefully, like JFK during the Cuban missile crisis? Or do they get caught flat-footed? Is the government dysfunctional, with each branch waiting for some other agency to act?

The United States has faced four major challenges in this new century: the stolen election of 2000, 9/11, Katrina, and the Depression that began a little over one year ago. Each crisis metastasized within a different medium (politics, military, domestic governance, economy), each essential to maintaining a successful nation-state. Tellingly, the U.S. failed each test.

Will the H1N1 pandemic rises to those events’ status as signal catastrophes? I don’t know. But it highlights what many of us have suspected for years: the U.S. has entered an irreversible decline.


Ted Rall is the author, with Pablo G. Callejo, of the upcoming graphic memoir The Year of Loving Dangerously. He is also the author of the 2002 graphic travelogue To Afghanistan and Back.