Monday, November 29, 2010

Ceramics with an Attitude

By Judit Trunkos

McMaster Gallery at USC is proud to present Garth Johnson’s ceramic exhibition, “An Exhibition of Altered Vessels,” through November 24.  The show features the artist’s new works of reused and repainted ceramics.  Johnson’s art is a strong, narrative critique of popular culture, which he applies to objects one least expects, including tea pots and dinner plates.

Johnson was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and spent his formative years in a sparsely-populated area, where he learned to entertain himself.  He finished a BFA in Ceramics in 1997 and soon started working with the Pottery Liberation Front (PLF).  The PLF is an artistic movement with the goal of challenging art world attitudes toward clay, and more importantly, the attitudes of ceramic artists toward art.  Johnson completed an MFA at Alfred University in New York and currently teachers at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California.

Johnson’s website, Extreme Craft, is a “compendium of art masquerading as craft, craft masquerading as art, and craft raising its middle finger.”  (Not exactly the stereotypical ceramicist mantra!)  Johnson is the co-host of the DVD "Reconstruct" and author of the book 1,000 Ideas for Creative Reuse, which documents creative reuse-material projects.

Johnson uses plates—both commercial blanks and collector's plates—as foils for his computer-generated ceramic decals and china paint.  A pop-culture junkie, his plates serve as a vehicle for commentary on contemporary society.

His reuse teapot piece entitled “Made in China #2” is a classic representation of the Johnson style.  This elegant teapot is now a vessel of industrial criticism.  Small yellow hue factory smokestacks release an overwhelming, ornate cloud of pollution, which is the piece’s central design.   It takes several moments for the mind’s eye to determine the narrative of this ceramic delicacy:  what the art lover might perceive as pretty is, in fact, a polemic against pollution.

Johnson’s multi-message disc piece, “4 Plates,” is a collection of four former collector’s plates with several distinct narratives.  “Rugged Individuals” and “Snake Oil” both present a strong criticism of male-female human interaction—even if the subjects are anthropomorphic cats and dogs.  With the two other plates, “Retropollution” and “Practice,” Johnson especially pokes fun at the very idea of the layman collector plate.  With the former, the classic convertible becomes a symbol of industrial waste.  With the latter, a Norman Rockwell piano scene with would-be Dick & Jane flapper singers, Johnson finds an opportunity to comment on the vapid lyrics of popular song from any age.

Johnson explains his work, “I began china painting blank plates and using computer laser decals, combining them to bear larger images in tandem.  These works fell comfortably in the cracks between ceramics, painting, printmaking, and computers, boundaries that I find interesting.”

Indeed, modern art is as much about innovation as it is about commentary.  Johnson’s ceramics demonstrate the ongoing artistic dynamic to be freshly creative yet classically intellectual. He melds Rockwellian skills and images with serious social criticism that is embedded—or perhaps etched—in every niche of popular culture.

To discover Johnson’s narrative ceramics, visit USC’s McMaster Gallery.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The New Taxman

By Fred Schulte and Ben Protess, Huffington Post Investigative Fund

Nearly a dozen major banks and hedge funds, anticipating quick profits from homeowners who fall behind on property taxes, are quietly plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into businesses that collect the debts, tack on escalating fees and threaten to foreclose on the homes of those who fail to pay.

The Wall Street investors, which include Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have purchased from local governments the right to collect delinquent taxes on several hundred thousand properties, many in distressed housing markets, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund has found.

In many cases, the banks and hedge funds created new companies to do their bidding. They gave the companies obscure, even whimsical names and used post office boxes as their addresses, masking Wall Street’s dominant new role as a surrogate tax collector.

In exchange for paying overdue real estate taxes, the investors gain legal powers from local governments to collect the debt and levy fees. At first, property owners may owe little more than a few hundred dollars, only to find their bills soaring into the thousands. In some jurisdictions, the new Wall Street tax collectors also chase debtors over other small bills, such as for water, sewer and sidewalk repair.

Some states allow the investors to tack on as much as 18 percent interest and a passel of legal fees and other charges. When property owners fail to make full payment, the investors can sue to foreclose – in some states within as little as six months.

In June, Bank of America snatched up liens on properties in Florida owned by low-income residents and nonprofit public interest groups, including a Salvation Army shelter, a preschool and a wildlife rescue group involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup, the Investigative Fund found in its examination. Bank of America also bought liens on properties of the wealthy, including a professional basketball star with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lamar Odom.

Some observers of the financial services industry said they were surprised to learn that banks, some of which received billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailouts in recent years, were rushing to profit from homeowners having trouble paying their tax bills.

“This is not how I’d like to be making my money,” said James Cox, a Duke University School of Law professor who specializes in corporate and securities law. “I would find it personally distasteful to foreclose or press a claim against individuals, many of whom have lost their jobs and are in tight economic straits.”

The giant Bank of America, for instance, has bid in Florida tax lien sales using colorful names such as Bennu, LLC, named after a mythical bird said to be the soul of the ancient Egyptian sun god.

Five big banks involved in the industry, known as tax lien investing, collected a total of more than $106 billion in bailout money through the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP.

Over the last year, Bank of America, which received $45 billion in these taxpayer funds in 2008 and 2009, has bought liens on properties in scores of municipalities in at least a dozen states. Bank of America repaid the government in 2009.

Still, noted Cox: “There’s no bailout for people struggling to pay their taxes.”

Years ago, the big banks left the buying of tax liens largely to local real estate specialists and small-time investors. These days, banks and hedge funds, stung by the failure of many speculative investments, see tax liens as a relatively safe option that can yield returns of around 7 percent.

Some banks also are packaging tax liens as securities – in a similar way to how unpaid home loans are securitized – and selling them to investors.

If mortgage holders fail to pay overdue taxes, an investor could waltz off with a home worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the price of paying the owner’s tax bill. Most homeowners eventually pay their debt.

Put it all together and it is makes for a solid investment, said Lloyd McClendon, an owner of in Plantation, Fla., one of several companies that conducts online auctions in Florida and other states.

“There’s an awful lot of new, big money in the sales this year,” said James Powell, a longtime Florida investor who remembers a time when local investors flocked to live auctions at courthouses. Typically, they would bid for liens by holding up paddles. Powell is still one of the few in the liens business who makes purchases using his own name.

But the smaller investors, noted Powell, have been overtaken by well-heeled banks and funds that now bid online, and in volume.

Banks and hedge funds usually buy the liens through online auctions that permit them to bid in bulk, and they can use any name they want.

The giant Bank of America, for instance, has bid in Florida tax lien sales using colorful names such as Bennu, LLC, named after a mythical bird said to be the soul of the ancient Egyptian sun god.  It also has bid as Osprey, LLC, and Ecru, LLC, named after the French word for a pale brown color.

Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund run by former Fannie Mae chief Daniel Mudd, has bought tax liens under 17 different corporate names. Some evoke tranquil, bucolic settings, such as Pleasant Valley Capital, LLC and Travis Farm Investments, LLC.

Representatives of several prominent banks and hedge funds contacted by the Investigative Fund, from JPMorgan to Bank of America and Fortress Investment Group, declined to comment for this article.

Some banks purchased liens directly; others financed investment groups that did so. For example, Wells Fargo lends to a liens buyer. Deutsche Bank invests through a subsidiary. And BankAtlantic, based in Fort Lauderdale, is a longtime tax certificate investor in several states, buying liens under the names of several subsidiaries.

Though several mortgage lenders, including JPMorgan, recently suspended foreclosures amid concerns that some may have been done improperly, the slowdown is not expected to apply to foreclosures stemming from unpaid taxes.

The Investigative Fund identified major tax lien purchasers, many for the first time, through a computer-assisted analysis of more than 300,000 liens, municipal, corporate and court filings and other documents obtained from local government officials in four states and the District of Columbia. The Investigative Fund then traced these purchasers to the major financial institutions that oversaw them, invested in them, or lent money to their operations.

Business ‘Needs Scrubbing’

Local governments, faced with tight budgets and the challenges of collecting debt from property owners, strongly endorse online auctions because tax collectors can easily and rapidly recoup millions of dollars. Miami-Dade County, for instance, took in more than $374 million in June 2009 from the sale of about 60,000 local property tax liens.

Tax collectors defend the practice by pointing out that property owners can avoid added fees or the risk of losing homes by paying their bills on time. The threat of losing property often compels tardy homeowners to pay off just before the deadline; without severe penalties many people would simply ignore their obligations to pay property taxes, collectors say.

Some two dozen states and the District of Columbia allow tax sales, which spare the governments from added expenses of hiring their own debt collector, or foreclosing and becoming a landlord. Local governments generally require minimal identification – for instance, a Social Security number. They allow bidders to choose whatever names they wish, and don’t check to see if bidders are using multiple identities.

The few investors willing to talk about the tax lien business with the Investigative Fund argue that they are playing a vital role in helping cash-strapped local governments plug holes in budgets and, in some cities, helping rehabilitate older buildings. That returns the properties to the tax rolls, and can help revive beleaguered neighborhoods, they say.

“Budget-challenged cities are using the proceeds from their [tax lien] sale as an important source of funding,” said Gabriel Boehmer, a spokesman for Wells Fargo Bank, which lends to companies that buy tax liens.

Critics aren’t so sure. “If your only goal is to maximize your rate of return, this is a nice industry,” said Frank Alexander, a law professor at Emory University with expertise on tax sales. “The question becomes: Do you mind being a vulture and preying on people?”

Alexander argues that when local governments privatize tax collection duties they “wash their hands of all responsibility” for ensuring property owners are treated fairly.

In Cleveland, officials are beginning to express concern about the consequences of trusting the new tax collectors. Cuyahoga County canceled this year’s tax sale amid alarm that previous ones had contributed to an upsurge in home foreclosures and further decay in already marginal neighborhoods. “With the economy the way it is now, we won’t have a tax sale for at least one year,” said Robin Thomas, Cuyahoga County’s chief deputy treasurer. Her aim: To buy homeowners in Cleveland “a little more time” to get caught up with their property taxes.

Despite national reform efforts that have focused on debt collection, from credit cards and payday lenders to checking account fees, the fairness of tax sales to homeowners remains largely a local, unregulated matter. A new consumer protection bureau created by Congress has no explicit authority to watch over local tax sales.

“There is no oversight at all,” said District of Columbia Attorney General Peter Nickles, who is suing a tax lien investment firm for charging homeowners what he alleges are exorbitant fees to get their homes out of hock.

In a separate matter, the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division is investigating allegations of possible tax-sale bid rigging in two states. The ongoing probe began in Maryland, where three men pleaded guilty to criminal charges earlier this year. A federal grand jury in New Jersey has subpoenaed records from several major tax lien investors, including a JPMorgan subsidiary, and a Virginia company that serviced the Bank of America tax lien portfolio in Florida this year. No charges have been brought in the New Jersey investigation.

Said Nickles of the tax lien business: “This is one of the areas that really needs a good scrubbing.”

Small Debts Grow Fast

Tax sales routinely place home ownership in jeopardy over relatively small sums, sometimes just a few hundred dollars, the Investigative Fund data analysis of hundreds of thousands of liens records shows. For instance, more than two of every five liens sold earlier this year in 31 Florida counties and in Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix), were for unpaid taxes of less than $1,000; more than 90 percent were less than $5,000. Results were similar in Toledo, Ohio.

Some jurisdictions such as Baltimore toss in unpaid water bills and other municipal fees of $250 or more. In May, the Investigative Fund reported how an unemployed former mental health counselor with four children named Vicki Valentine lost her home even though the mortgage had been paid in full. She had owed $362 on an overdue water bill when investors took over and added thousands of dollars in legal fees she couldn’t afford. (In response, city officials are seeking statewide legislation that would prohibit the sale of tax liens of less than $750.)

To be sure, many debtors eventually pay the mounting bill rather than lose property of greater value. And some states such as Florida give homeowners up to two years to pay off the debt before investors can force the sale of their property. But in other states, those who fail to pay can quickly find themselves in a thicket of escalating debt and in a costly – and often losing – legal battle to keep a roof over their heads.

Barbara Carpenter, a 58-year-old disabled Ohio retiree, found herself in such a situation. The former worker for the American Red Cross struggled to save her Toledo home from a JPMorgan entity called Plymouth Park Tax Services, which in recent years has been among the nation’s top buyers of tax liens.

“It’s a great neighborhood and the house is in good condition,” said Carpenter, who paid $67,000 for the one-story home in 2004. But she fell behind in paying her taxes and a certificate for $1,500 in unpaid taxes was sold off to Plymouth Park, which is based in New Jersey.

Carpenter’s lawyer, Joseph Westmeyer, said Plymouth Park routinely charges an upfront fee of around $1,500 as soon as it buys the lien and 18 percent interest on the debt. If they don’t get paid, they foreclose.

“It’s not a good deal for poor customers,” said Westmeyer. Carpenter wound up selling the house in August for less than half what she had paid. Plymouth Park received about $12,000 in legal fees and other charges, including some additional taxes, Westmeyer said, quoting from court records.

Andrew Neuhauser, an attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in Toledo, said his group believes the Lucas County tax sale, which reached a peak of about $5.4 million in liens during 2006, has led to hundreds of foreclosures. That, in turn, has partly eroded the tax base and had a “devastating effect” on some neighborhoods, he said. “It’s a short-term gain for the county that in the long term does harm,” Neuhauser said.

Gail Michaud, a 71-year-old retired real estate broker who lives in a $60,000 home in Dania Beach, Fla., recently fell behind on the property taxes. In June, Broward County sold collection rights to her unpaid bill – only $782 – to Bennu, LLC, the Bank of America arm named after the mythical bird.

Michaud, who said she receives food stamps, resents having to pay interest charges to the nation’s mightiest bank – especially because when the bank was in trouble the government came to the rescue. “The taxpayers gave them their bailout money, and they are still doing the same thing they used to. They look their nose down at people and think they can do whatever they want,” she said.

Florida Boom

Florida, the nation’s largest tax sale market and one of the few states where large transfers of liens can be tracked, shows how the collapse of a once-buoyant real estate market can be a boon for tax lien investors, especially banks and hedge funds.

This year alone, counties have offered more than $1.9 billion in tax liens and found eager buyers for nearly all of them. Buyers from across the U.S., the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Panama bid alongside the banks and hedge funds that cater to wealthy investors.

In this year’s sale in Orange County, which includes Orlando, bank-affiliated companies or hedge funds gobbled up nearly 90 percent of the 24,000 tax liens sold. In the Fort Lauderdale area, officials sold more than a quarter of the liens to entities financed by Bank of America.

Bank of America made most of its purchases in Florida through four limited liability companies. LLCs can limit exposure to lawsuits and can shield the owner’s identity. In Florida, Bank of America’s LLCs had the names Investments 2234, Bennu, and Ecru, and all used the same post office box in Atlanta as their business address, according to records on file in Florida counties.

In several Florida auctions, Bank of America’s interests were managed by MTAG Services, one of the largest tax lien servicers in the U.S. The Vienna, Va., company has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in New Jersey that is investigating alleged collusion in bidding at tax sales.

MTAG’s president, James Meeks, said his company is “cooperating fully” with the federal investigation. He added that “everybody who bought any substantial amount of liens in Jersey was subpoenaed.” Meeks said that his company, like others in the industry, favors creative names like Bennu for companies that bid on tax liens.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to the names,” Meeks said.

Tax officials in several counties said they had no idea the companies were affiliated with the Bank of America.

“I know nothing about these companies. I don’t have any background on them,” said Juanita B. Sikes, tax collector in Hernando County, Fla., north of Tampa, where the numbers of liens sold earlier this year was nearly double those from 2005.  “It’s not on us to determine if they are a real person.”

Several hedge funds saw opportunity in the Sunshine state as well.

One was the Fortress Investment Group headed by Mudd, the former chief executive of Fannie Mae. While Mudd was at the helm, Fannie’s decision to take on more than $200 billion in risky loans crippled the mortgage giant and helped unravel the economy.

In only a few months, Fortress has purchased more than 30,000 tax liens in Florida counties using 17 different LLCs. Most registered for the tax sales using the 46th floor of an Avenue of the Americas skyscraper in midtown Manhattan – Fortress’ headquarters – as their address.

Fortress began competing for tax liens this year after joining forces with three former executives of JPMorgan’s tax liens subsidiary. The subsidiary, which bids under the names Xspand and Plymouth Park Tax Services, was among several companies subpoenaed in the grand jury investigation in New Jersey. Former New Jersey Gov. James Florio founded the company and has since sold his interest in it.

Neither JPMorgan nor Fortress would comment for this story. Repeated efforts to reach Mudd were not successful.

Anonymity Questioned

Although many local governments are pleased with the financial results of tax lien sales, D.C. officials question its fairness.

D.C. Attorney General Nickles criticizes Aeon Financial, LLC, a bank-financed investment group from Chicago that buys tax liens in some 10 states. Nickles asserts that Aeon has slammed homeowners, who sometimes owed just a few hundred dollars in back taxes, with $7,000 or more in legal fees.

In papers filed in a local D.C. court in late 2009, the attorney general’s office accused the company of “engaging in a pattern of charging and collecting impermissible or excessive legal fees.” In an interview, Nickles called that a “rip off.”

Aeon responded that the fees are reasonable, comply with the law and escalate because of improper management by the District’s tax collectors. Homeowners who consider the fees too high can challenge the charges in court.

Court papers show that after Aeon bought liens in the nation’s capital, property owners received notices from a Chicago law firm. The notices warn homeowners to  “act now or you could lose your property/investment.” An accompanying letter on the law firm’s letterhead states that “THIS PROPERTY IS IN FORECLOSURE” and demands payment of legal fees.

In April 2009, Nickles formally notified Aeon’s lawyer, Malik J. Tuma, that he had launched a preliminary investigation of Aeon. The company’s notices to homeowners appear “at least, to be deceptive and, at worst, potentially fraudulent,” wrote Assistant Deputy Attorney General David Fisher.

In 2008, when Aeon Financial paid the District $4.6 million for the right to collect on 400 liens, it was the single biggest purchaser of tax liens. Even so, Nickles said he still has no idea who the company’s owners are. He is hoping the court case will flush out their names.

An Investigative Fund reporter visiting the address printed on the letters from the Chicago law firm found it to be a mail drop at a UPS Store.

Reached by phone, Tuma declined to comment on Aeon’s business practices, citing the ongoing litigation with the District. He would not identify Aeon’s principals and said the mailbox at the UPS Store was used “for the safety of our employees.”

Tuma added: “There’s nothing deceptive about it...I’m in D.C. Superior Court every Wednesday. It’s not hard to find me.”

Aeon, which has received funding from TCF Bank for tax liens purchases, has an office in Chicago’s Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, once the world’s tallest building. Michael Wehenkel, who has identified himself as Aeon’s chief operating officer in presentations to D.C. officials, did not respond to numerous requests for comment by phone and e-mail.

A spokesman for TCF, a Midwestern bank, said: “We were doing business with [Aeon] and no longer are.”

Tax collectors in Florida don’t always know who they’re doing business with, either. Officials in Pinellas County want to know who exactly is behind a company called GL Funding Limited. Sales records show that GL Funding spent more than $10 million and dominated the tax sale in at least 10 Florida counties, most of them rural or smaller cities where interest rates tended to be much higher than in urban and resort areas.

GL Funding registered with several Florida tax collectors as a company with offices in the Cayman Islands. But other counties list a post office box in Philadelphia as its address. The person who registered GL Funding in Pinellas County’s tax sale provided Pinellas with a telephone number in Dallas, Tex. At that number, a man named Jess Weir declined to tell the Investigative Fund who is investing through the name GL Funding.

Said Sam McClelland, deputy tax collector in Pinellas County, Fla., where GL Funding acquired hundreds of liens earlier this year: “We’re still trying to sort this out.”

Lagan Sebert contributed to this article.

We don't need Derick Close in Columbia

[caption id="attachment_866" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="By Will Moredock"][/caption]

I had a jolt last week as I read the list of people who had signed up for Gov.-elect Nikki Haley’s transition team. There I saw a name I have not heard spoken or seen in print for more than a decade – Derick Close.

I have never met Close but our careers became strangely entangled in 1998 and I am wiser for the encounter. I was news editor for Creative Loafing, an alternative newsweekly in Charlotte, N.C., when I started digging on a story that came to my attention. In the blighted Westside of Charlotte were  the predictable problems: violence, poverty, poor schools, industrial pollution – and noise.

In December 1996, Sam and Patsy Gordon bought a 1,000-square-foot ranch-style house in the largely black Wandawood Acres neighborhood, and moved in with their three children. Only then did they realize they had a problem.

In an innocuous-looking brick building some 30 yards from their back door was a company called Panther Racing Engines, where NASCAR engines were built and tested. Anyone who has ever been to stock car track knows the ungodly noise these machines make. This was the racket the Gordons had to live with, day and night, in their new home.

The Gordons started making what turned out to be more than 200 calls to the police to enforce the city’s 60-decibel noise ordinance, and they made the first of dozens of trips to present their case to city council. At first the police were co-operative. They took a decibel reading of 92 and fined PRE $200. City Council was also enthusiastic in their support of the Gordons. When the city manager  argued that police could not take action without a specific complaint, Mayor Pat McCrory said, “With all respect, I disagree. I think we’ve been passive and I think we could have arrested people for breaking the law.”

The Gordons thought they had won the day. But then something curious happened. The city had agreed to sponsor mediation between the Gordons and the still anonymous owner of PRE. At the April 3, 1997, meeting, Sam and Patsy Gordon were introduced to a genial, well dressed young businessman named Derick Close.

The Gordons did not recognize the name, but the city officials in the room and up the political food chain certainly did.

Derick Close was a member of the Close family of Fort Mill, S.C., (17 miles south of Charlotte) and an heir to the Springs Industries textile fortune. At the time, his brother-in-law Erskine Bowles was President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff. (Since then he has twice been the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate from North Carolina. Today he is co-chairman of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.) His sister Crandall Close Bowles was in line to become CEO of Springs Industries and his brother Elliott Close had been the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate from South Carolina in 1996.

While Derick Close was the silent owner of Panther Racing Engines, he very publicly owned a NASCAR racing team, a part of the Carolina Panthers NFL team and part of the Charlotte Knights AAA baseball team.

Sam and Patsy Gordon knew none of this. All they knew was that their support on city council suddenly evaporated. More disturbing to me was the fact the Charlotte Observer was also cowed by the Close mystique. In the early months, they had written three stories on the conflict. After Close was ID’d as the owner of PRE, the Observer blacked out the story.

For a year Sam and Patsy Gordon continued to call police, continued to appear regularly at city council meetings and wondered why all their friends at City Hall had suddenly gone silent, wondered why the Charlotte Observer had lost interest in their plight. I picked up the story early in 1998 and quickly connected Derick Close to PRE.  On March 4, 1998, my story “Close Call” ran in Creative Loafing, publicly identifying Derick Close for the first time as owner of Panther Racing Engines.

On March 19, my editor received a threatening letter from Close’s attorney. He showed it to me and we discussed it briefly. Apparently he took it much more seriously than I did. He killed my next story on the Close-PRE-City Hall connection and shut down my investigation. I resigned in protest.

For me, it was a sobering moment. It meant that sometimes the bad guys really do win, that sometimes having the angels on your side and all your facts in order are just not enough.

Now I understand that Derick Close is bringing his special touch to Columbia. This bodes ill for all who believe in good journalism and open government.

See Will Moredock’s blog at

Vocal Booth: KANYE WEST (Mock Interview)

Peace and blessings.  Hope you have been good out there.  Congrats to Nikki Haley for becoming South Carolina’s first female governor. Get ready to work because this state really needs help!  Time has been breezing by; 2010 is almost coming to a close, but the music keeps rolling on. Lil Wayne is currently out of prison, T.I. & Gucci Mane both are back behind bars, Taylor Swift has sold over 1,000,000 copies of her new album in a week (not done this well since 50 Cent’s The Massacre), Speak Now, and the fourth and most busiest quarter of music is underway.  Let’s get to it.

The fall and winter music releases of 2010 (Fourth Quarter) are expected to be some of the most anticipated weeks in recent years.  Artists from Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, T.I., Black Eye Peas, Young Jeezy, Ke$ha, Akon, Chrisette Michele, Smif & Wessun, Jazmine Sullivan, Missy Elliot, Kings Of Leon, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, and many more are all expected to release (and re-release) something during these holidays.  An artist who is seemingly waiting in the wings to give his art to the masses is a Grammy winner, Producer, Emcee, Director, Writer, Trendsetter, and so much more.  His current single releases (“Power”, “Monster”, and “Runaway”) and subsequent Twitter testimonies have only added fuel to his fire.  Debuting in 2003 with The College Dropout and gaining huge success, this artists’ influence has only grown to gigantic percentages.  Continuing his chart-topping success with his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th albums (respectively Late Registration, Graduation, and 808’s & Heartbreaks), Kanye West, coming off a self-imposed hiatus due to the turmoil that became his public life about a year ago, is ready to get back into the spotlight.  After losing his mother, losing his girlfriend, and almost losing his mind after bombarding Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Video Of The Year, Kanye West returned to what he knows best; his music.  After listening to a few of the various songs floating the internet over these past few weeks; nodding to most, but scratching my head to some; I wondered what it would be like to truly interview Mr. West.  Here are the results from a few too many long nights.


“Runaway” is a movie that deals with love, loss, triumph, and an abundance of color.  Explain the concept & purpose behind it.

Well to be honest, I often make records about my own insecurities and with the extravagance of King Tut.  See my talent is so huge; that is why I wear this chain made of pure gold and outstanding charm.  Some of my records used to deal with very unpleasant subject matter (remember ‘Jesus Walks’) and I was taught that in this business that being a follower is worse than being an A & R.  See A & R’s can at least give a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to someone’s dream; but as a follower, all you can do is walk in the path of someone before you.  If this is what you choose to do with your talent; you might as well trail someone worth following.  Someone like…..umm (long pause)…Me.

Excuse me for a minute Kanye, but the question was about the movie you did with Hype Williams, “Runaway”.

This movie was one of those obvious times where I felt like doing what I wanted to do similar to the Taylor Swift bullsh*t. It just so happened that I was in the position to keep confusing people about my real intentions to take over the world through my art  Did you not see the ‘Power’ video.  Even Michelangelo couldn’t f*ck with my vision.

Many feel that Hip Hop is a violent art from.  Do you agree?  If not, then what is Hip Hop?

Actually, any form of art is a violent action.  Art is made to speak out and document the world around us and the world within.  This world is violent.  Around me is the best that money can buy.   Do you see how secure and confining my slacks are?  You can only get that look from having your own personal stylist who specializes in women’s garments.  Like Pimp C always said, ‘Smoke something B*tch’; If you did that, you’d be able to see how fresh and fly I am.

Let’s get to the music.  How is ‘Dark Twisted Fantasy’ coming?

Well my man Hype, who shot “Runaway”, was talking about doing another video for the project and that he wanted it to be something that was somewhat shocking. He had the idea of presenting me and my music in a way that was so different from “Runaway”.  He was feeling all the records and told me to ‘go ‘head and switch the style up.’  I got everybody on this record.  Think of somebody, anybody, and I bet I got them on this record.

Anybody? What about my man Wise Intelligent (from The Poor Righteous Teachers) or even Jim Morrison (from The Doors)?

You got to be out of your mind man; of course I got them on this record.  Wise Intelligent is on a track called ‘Hi-Liter’, where we talking about them freaks who do everything.  You just rub a ‘hi-liter’ over their teeth.  If they can’t brush the yellow off that means that they have a bunch of urine residue on those 32.  Jim Morrison is on my outro, ‘Break on Thru’.  Nobody has been able to upstage me from saying any acceptance speech for the thousands of awards I’ve won.  Due to that fact, I decided to draw a line in the sand of anybody willing to ‘Break on Thru’ to the other side.  Like Gucci Mane say, “I’m the sh*t b*tch.”

---Interview ended with his phone vibrating from his 11 minute reminders to update his University site and Twitter account.

Mermaids at The Whig

So Man or Astro-man? (not any of the clones, but the original lineup) got back together and recently played a limited number of dates on the East Coast...coming no closer than 3 hours to Columbia. So with surf on the brain, the pick of the week is another surf outfit, Atlanta’s Mermaids. BUT, it’s not really a surf rock outfit like Man or Astro-man? or Los Straightjackets.

Instead, Mermaids are more surf pop like the Beach Boys. So expect a whole lot of Beach Boys style vocal harmonies, and well, more pop than rock (with punk and indie influences mixed in). Oh and reverb...lots of reverb. Don’t miss it!

Movie times for Friday

Movie times listed are for the weekend of  November 19, please confirm with theater.

Nickelodeon 937 Main Street


Alex (Romain Duris) and his sister, Mélanie (Julie Ferrier), and her husband, Marc (François Damiens), earn money by breaking up relationships. But when Alex falls for a client’s (Jacques Frantz) daughter, Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), he has to decide if he’ll bust up her wedding to Jonathon (Andrew Lincoln), who’s truly perfect for her. Pascal Chau

NOVEMBER 19-24, Friday-Wednesday

Friday, Nov. 19 - 3:00 and 8:00

Saturday, Nov. 20 - 3:00 and 6:00

Sunday, Nov. 21 - 6:00 only

Monday, Nov. 22 - 6:00 only

Tuesday, Nov. 23 - 9:00 only

Wednesday, Nov. 24 - 6:00

THE BIG MO MONETTA DRIVE-IN 5822 Columbia Highway North, Monetta SC  29105 Gates open at 6:30pm and show starts at 7:45.

Nov. 19, 20, &21.

Screen 1

Mega Mind

Diue Date

Screen 2


Paranormal Activity 2

Regal Columbia Cinema 7

3400 Forest Drive Suite 3000, Columbia, SC 29204

The Next Three Days new! (PG-13)

DP (Digital Projection) Showtimes More Info

1:15 4:15 7:15 10:15

Morning Glory new! (PG-13)

1:10 4:10 7:10 9:50

Due Date (R)

1:30 4:40 7:20 9:40

For Colored Girls (R)

1:20 4:20 7:30 10:30

DP (Digital Projection) Showtimes More Info

1:00 4:00 7:00 10:00

Paranormal Activity 2 (R)

DP (Digital Projection) Showtimes More Info

1:50 4:50 7:40 9:55

Hereafter (2010) (PG-13)

1:40 4:30 7:25 10:20

Carmike Wynnsong 10

5320 Forest Drive, Columbia, SC 29206

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 new! (PG-13)

12:00 12:30 1:00 3:10 3:45 4:10 6:20 7:00 7:20 9:30 10:10 10:30

Skyline new! (PG-13)

12:15 2:40 5:05 6:50 7:30 9:20 9:55

Unstoppable new! (PG-13)

12:20 12:45 2:45 3:10 5:10 5:35 7:35 8:00 10:00

Megamind (PG)

1:10 3:45 7:20 9:50

Megamind 3D (PG)

Digital 3D Showtimes More Info

12:35 1:15 1:45 2:55 3:45 4:00 5:15 6:40 7:35 9:35

Red (PG-13)


AMC Dutch Square 14

800 Bush River Rd.,

Columbia, SC 29210

Regal Columbiana Grande Stadium 14

1250 Bower Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29212

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 new! (PG-13)

No Passes

10:30am 11:00am 12:00 12:30 1:30 2:00 3:15 3:45 4:45 5:15 6:30 7:00 8:00 8:30 9:35 10:05

DP (Digital Projection) Showtimes (Passes Allowed)More Info

10:00am 11:30am 1:00 2:45 4:15 6:00 7:30 10:35

The Next Three Days new! (PG-13)

10:15am 1:20 4:25 7:15 10:10

Skyline new! (PG-13)

10:40am 1:10 3:20 5:30 7:45 10:15

Unstoppable new! (PG-13)

11:50am 12:20 2:10 2:40 4:50 5:20 7:10 7:40 9:30 10:10

Morning Glory new! (PG-13)

11:40am 2:30 5:00 7:35 10:05

Megamind (PG)

10:25am 12:40 2:50 5:10

Megamind 3D (PG)

Showtimes More Info

12:05 2:20 4:40 6:55 9:20

Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (R)

Showtimes More Info


Red (PG-13)

11:20am 1:50 4:30 7:20 9:50

Life As We Know It (PG-13)

7:50 10:30

Carmike 14

122 Afton Court, Columbia, SC 29212

Due Date (R)

1:15 2:15 3:45 5:10 6:20 7:30 8:50 9:50

For Colored Girls (R)

1:00 2:00 4:00 5:00 7:00 8:00 10:00

Paranormal Activity 2 (R)

1:50 4:40 7:15 9:40

Hereafter (2010) (PG-13)

1:00 4:00 6:55 9:50

N-Secure (R)

1:30 4:10 6:45 9:20

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (PG-13)

1:35 4:05 6:40 9:20

Nowhere Boy (R)

1:40 4:20 7:10 9:35

Legend of the Guardians:The Owls of Ga’Hoole 3D (PG)

Digital 3D Showtimes More Info

1:15 3:50 6:35 9:10

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13)

2:00 5:20 8:45

You Again (PG)

1:20 4:15 6:45 9:25

Resident Evil: Afterlife (R)

1:10 3:35 6:30 9:05

The Other Guys (PG-13)

1:05 3:40 6:30 9:00

Regal Sandhill Stadium 16 450 Town Center Place

Jackass 3D new! (R)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 new! (PG-13)

10:00am 10:30am 11:40am 12:40 1:10 1:40 2:50 3:50 4:20 4:50 6:00 7:00 7:30 8:00 9:10 10:10 10:40 11:10

DP (Digital Projection) Showtimes More Info

11:00am 12:10 2:10 3:20 5:20 6:30 8:30 11:40

The Next Three Days new! (PG-13)

10:05am 1:00 4:10 7:15 10:20

Skyline new! (PG-13)

12:05 2:40 5:15 7:45 10:05 12:10am

Unstoppable new! (PG-13)

11:30am 12:00 2:00 2:30 4:30 5:00 7:10 7:40 9:45 10:15 12:05am

Morning Glory new! (PG-13)

11:50am 2:25 5:05 7:50 10:30

Due Date (R)

10:10am 12:25 2:45 5:30 7:55 10:35

For Colored Girls (R)

12:20 12:50 3:30 4:00 6:50 7:20 9:55 10:25

Megamind (PG)

2:05 4:40 7:05 9:30 11:50

Open Captioned & Descriptive Audio Showtimes More Info


Megamind 3D (PG)

Showtimes More Info

10:00am 12:15 2:35 5:10 7:35 10:00

Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (R)

Showtimes More Info

9:40 12:00am

St. Andrews Cinema 5 527 St Andrews Road Columbia, SC 29210 (803) 772-7469

Please call

Regal Pastime Pavilion 8 929 North Lake Drive, Lexington, SC 29072

Skyline review

Jerry (Eric Balfour, Six Feet Under) and his pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scotty Thompson, Trauma) fly to Los Angeles and are put up in the penthouse of Terry (Donald Faison, Scrubs), a childhood friend now living the high life, and his girlfriend (Brittany Daniel, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) for Terry’s birthday bash. They wake up the next morning when bright lights descend on the city, pulling people into the sky, and giant alien spaceships emerge from the clouds. The group hunker down where they are but their top floor penthouse perch makes them an easy target for the monsters who have declared war on everything around them.

Alien invasion films have a long history steeped in black and white camp. A good alien invasion movie celebrates this lineage as Independence Day - still the gold standard - did. Skyline is a more serious, somber movie that rejects it’s history in favor of emulating more recent monster/alien movies. It seeks to be a big budget thriller but it’s feet are cemented in low budget indie film constraints and unnecessarily dramatic pretension. Just show me some nasty aliens, cool space ships, have them blow things up and populate the film with strong characters willing to fight back and you’ve got me.

Skyline gets the first part right. The creature design is the reason to see the movie. The effects are terrific and are shown in all their glory early and often. We get war ships, flying squid-like drones and giant hulking beasts. And they’re nasty mothers too that can’t be reasoned with. And what they want from us humans, a bit of gore that pushes the PG-13 to the limit, is so deliciously ridiculous in a comic book type of way you read about but never really see on screen that it sold the aliens for me as characters able to stand up in their own franchise. They’re the nastiest, meanest things since Starship Troopers and the movie does a good job of bringing to life their human-snatching horror.

While we see a great deal of aliens, unfortunately Skyline spends a misguided amount of time on the humans as they bunker down in the penthouse and argue with each other. If you’re one of those people who always proclaims you’re smarter than the movie and that you would just stay put and let the danger pass, this is the movie for you. And it’s about as exciting as that scenario plays out. All of their attempts to escape end in disaster forcing them right back into the penthouse to watch the chaos out the window.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with confined cinema, some of the best monster movies ever have played out the drama over TVs and radios while people hunkered in place. But the hunkering can’t just be filler. It has to be part of the story, the characters need to be strong enough to hold up these sections and they need interesting things to say. Special Effects guys, the Strause brothers have no idea what to do with actors. Where to put them, what to have them say, how to have them relate to one another. This is the dumbest, most unpleasant lot you’d ever want to spend the end of the world with (save for John Cusack in 2012 that is). The men go on macho missions to check things out that end in failure and the women spend the time shrieking hysterically and cowering in fear. The Strause brothers have populated the film with TV actors (also including a Dexter’sDavid Zayas) who can’t carry the scenes with Balfour unable to get in the big shoes of hero and Faison unable to conjure up a shred of his Scrubs charm. I’m not even quite clear what Faison’s Terry does in the industry that got him the penthouse. The Strause brothers must think they’re circumventing cliched characters by not giving anyone a character or a backstory at all.

The Strause brothers come to this off of the atrocious franchise abortion Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. They’re an inept duo so even with it’s obnoxiousness, Skylineis a step up. The special effects are great and a few of the action scenes at least look great, even if the Strause’s still haven’t figured out how to create tension from them and the shots are so lens-flare heavy they might require donning sunglasses even on the midnight movie schedule the movie will play best on.

But it’s a bad sign when you’re watching a film and already re-editing it in your head. 10 minutes in and I had mentally lobbed off a pointless opening teaser. Viewers will have their mental edits on overdrive when the movie wobbles into home unable to decide on an ending. It presents us with a Night of the Living Dead somber ending, one that I could at least respect, and then cowardly backs away from it to end on a cliffhanger that is just head-scratching. A sporadically entertaining waste of time.

Written by Charlie

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weird Regional News


Man jailed for failing to mow grass

A North Charleston mobile home park owner was jailed last month following a string of tickets relating to yard maintenance.

Carlton Walker told the Charleston Post and Courier that one of his cellmates thought he had been arrested for being “high” on “grass.”

“No,” Walker told the inmate, “‘high’ grass.”

According to Walker, his battle with the city of North Charleston –which has led to close to $20,000 in fines—began when he trimmed his trees in 2008 without a permit. He also received citations for allowing the grass to grow too tall at the 65-lot mobile home lot he owns. He has received around 20 citations so far.

When Walker missed a court date recently, a city judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

“We wish we could feel sorry for him but we've got a duty to the citizens out there to make sure they've got appropriate living conditions,” City Attorney Derk Van Raalte told the Post and Courier.

Walker disagrees with the city’s intervention.

“No citizen in North Charleston, the state of South Carolina or the U.S. should have to be jailed for high grass, illegal tree cutting or any code violation with exorbitant fines so high as $1,092 per violation,” he said in the report.

Drowned paraplegic may have toppled from wheelchair

Authorities are awaiting autopsy results on a paraplegic man who apparently fell out of his electric wheelchair and into Charleston Harbor.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said the 69-year-old man’s death appears to be an accident. It is unclear how the man made it from the chair into the water. Investigators said there were no signs of foul play at the private James Island dock, but an investigation is ongoing until autopsy reports come in.

Canadian geese continue to outwit city officials

A group of over 30 Canadian geese are turning Hampton Park into their giant personal toilet and leaving some city officials at their wits end.

According to the Charleston Post and Courier city workers recently set up fake coyote decoys to scare the birds away, but to no avail.

“They're urban geese, they learn quick,” Mike Keating, a horticulturist with the city of Charleston, said in the report.

The city ultimately removed the fake coyotes fearing they would be stolen on Halloween. They are considering reinstalling the decoys after the holidays with the addition of coyote urine pellets for a more realistic stink.

One technique has worked at night, so far. The city has set up flashing yellow lights in the park’s pond. The lights are supposed to resemble the reflection from predator’s eyes. The only problem: once the sun rises, the geese return.

City officials are urging residents to resist feeding the birds in the hope that they will eventually move on.


Music minister arrested for groping child

Greenwood police have accused a Baptist music minister of groping the breast of a 13-year-old female parishioner.

Norman Henley Keesee, 57, is charged with committing a lewd act on a child. Keesee is an associate pastor at Emerald Baptist Church in Greenwood, according to the Rock Hill Herald.

Incident reports state that the girl told police she was filing papers at the church when Keesee approached her from behind a groped her under her shirt. She also accused the pastor of groping her during a piano lesson.

Keesee has been placed on administrative leave and is not allowed back on church property until the allegations are settled in court.

“We do practice a safe sanctuary policy,” Curtis Eidson, the senior pastor at Emerald Baptist Church, told the Herald. “If a child does not belong to you, hands off.”


Evangelical tent revival draws noise complaints, citation

A Dillon-based pastor has been issued a noise violation, which he intends to fight, stemming from a tent revival that sparked more than a dozen noise complaints from across town.

Pastor Larry Williams, of Tabernacle of God Church, held the revival in an empty lot near the K & M shopping center, according to the Florence Morning News. Police said they could hear the PA system from the revival at the police department and said some residents called in noise complaints from as far out as the city limits. Police responded to the site of the revival and asked Williams to turn down the volume.

“I told [the officer] sound travels more at night than during the day because of moist air at night,” Williams told the Morning News. “I told them, ‘You were called by the city, and you have a job to do and I was called by God. I had a job to do and that was to preach the gospel.’”

At 10:40 p.m. that night –40 minutes past the city’s deadline for use of loud speakers in public—police received another noise complaint, prompting them to return with more officers.

“We basically just tried to complete the service, because I knew at that point I was going to jail — especially when I looked up and saw the chief,” Williams said in the report.

The pastor wasn’t taken to jail, but was issued a $470 citation. Williams said he was concerned about the police breaking up a religious event. Mullins police said they were sensitive to the religious service, but also had to look out for citizens who were being disturbed.


Robbers lead police on low speed mo-ped chase

A Rock Hill teen has been accused of robbing a pizza delivery driver before attempting to flee police on a mo-ped.

Police have charged Do Juan Taurice Cherry, 18, with strong arm robbery, failure to stop for blue lights and underage consumption of beer.

According to the Rock Hill Herald, Cherry and an unnamed accomplice robbed a 33-year-old Domino’s Pizza delivery driver of three large pizzas and fled through a nearby park. A responding officer saw two people on mo-ped who matched the description of the robbers and said they fled when he attempted to pull them over. As the officer lightly accelerated to catch the fleeing moped, he said Cherry began to swerve recklessly. When the officer turned on his siren, Cherry and his accomplice leapt from the mo-ped and took off on foot. Cherry was chased down and apprehended.

No pizza was located, according to the report.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Alvin Greene’s Windmills

South Carolina Voters—and Alvin Greene—Live in a Fictional World

By Baynard Woods

No one expected Alvin Greene to win the election against DeMint. But of course, no one expected him to win the primary either. And somehow, inexplicably, he did. I’ve been talking to him relatively regularly since immediately after he won the primary and I still can’t tell if he thought he would win. Michael Lewis’ great book about the candidates who didn’t have a hope in the 1996 presidential campaign showed that not only are the fringe candidates more interesting people, but they often produce the ideas that the mainstream candidates later siphon up.

Not so with Greene. He was not motivated by ideas; he had no passionate issue that he could not stop talking about. Nor, however, was he motivated by a love for the political process. It is hard to think of a modern senatorial candidate who showed less aptitude for or interest in the process of campaigning. Alvin Greene does not have a wonkish bone in his body. He’s neither a policy nor a politics guy.

Yet, in the general election, he did surprisingly well—garnering over 358,000 votes—even though his own party was against him and his opponent never even acknowledged him.  Today, I talked to Greene and he said that DeMint never spoke to him at all. That he had no number to call to concede the race. This shows the lack of character that Senator DeMint generally displays. You should at least acknowledge that your opponent exists and is human. But I expect nothing more from the demented one.

On his website, Greene blames the Democratic party for sabotaging him. And so now, Greene claims that he is going to run for the President of the United States—but that he is not sure for what party.

“So you are running?” I asked.

“Yes, yes—still thinking about it—you know, because the economic situation is bad and the people behind the recession were rewarded and re-elected,” he answered in his somewhat hobbled baritone.

I asked him if he thought that President Obama was responsible for the recession. “Do you think he is doing a bad job?” I asked. “Because that’s who you’d be running against, not against DeMint.”

“I would ask Jim DeMint why he started the recession. He and others—Joe Wilson, Lindsey Graham, Sanford—started the Recession. But folks want to live in a make-believe world. They want to blame it all on Obama. That’s just make believe. They have to stop it. They just live in fiction. That’s the mentality of most voters in South Carolina. They live in fictition. They can’t handle reality. Look how they voted in this election. They live in make believe and can’t handle reality.”

When I asked him what was the reality—and why he would run against Obama if he thinks Obama didn’t start the Recession—he repeated himself. I asked if he was taking any lessons he learned from this race on to his new campaign. “No, no. I’m running on exactly the same issues. Because we still have this Recession.”

“Have you yourself been looking for another job?” I asked the unemployed Greene. He paused for a long time.

“No, no.” he finally answered. “I’m getting prepared for another one. Thinking about the election.” He was planning, he said, for the big job.

Richard Ben Cramer began his monumental book “What it Takes” about the 1988 Presidential campaign on the perception that neither he, nor anyone whom he had known, had ever thought they actually had what it took—deserved—to be president. So he asked, what makes a person feel like he or she should be President.  The people detailed in his book—H.W. Bush, Dole, Gary Hart, Joe Biden, etc—were all extraordinarily ambitious men who were touched by some event that made them feel in some ways larger than a mere mortal.

Alvin Greene lacks all the hallmarks of that ambition and yet, as far as I can tell, he actually believes that he should be the president. Greene says the voters of South Carolina live in a fictional world and can’t handle reality. I just have to wonder about the reality that Mr. Greene inhabits.  He now seems like no one so much as Don Quixote—a man made grandiose to himself not by the events, but by the media, of his day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If this is a new era, why does it feel so deja vu?

[caption id="attachment_866" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="By Will Moredock"][/caption]

Election 2010: Assessing the Damage

Today the Panama Canal is undergoing the greatest expansion in its century of use. When the job is completed in 2014, the canal's capacity will double;  it will carry larger ships and more ships than ever before.
Ports in the southeastern United States are preparing for the increased traffic with massive dredging projects to deepen and widen channels. Mobile, Ala., and ports in Florida have been awarded hundreds of millions of federal dollars for this purpose and their citizens and congressional delegations seem comfortable with the fact. It is how business is done in the USA in the 21st century.
But Charleston was recently turned down for a $400,000 federal grant to study its harbor needs, because the grant would be a legislative earmark and, as all the world knows, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has gone to war against legislative earmarks – even the ones that would help his state compete with other southeastern states for trade and industry.
That should be enough to cost any politician his job, but the good people of South Carolina just rewarded DeMint for his ideological mulishness with an overwhelming victory in last week's national elections. (And little would have changed had DeMint faced someone other than Alvin Greene.) As they have done for generations, the white people of South Carolina have chosen to follow the voice of anger and intransigence, no matter how self-defeating. Remember that Civil War thingy – to put it in the Sarah Palin vernacular?
Of course, South Carolina last week elected its first female governor (of Indian extraction, no less) and a black man to Congress from the 1st district. That Nikki Haley and Tim Scott are both Republican is all the more remarkable.
Yet, I take little comfort here. Neither Haley nor Scott won their elections by addressing the plight of women and minorities in South Carolina. This state has fewer women in its legislature than any other; it is the only state with no women in its senate. And at least two women lost House seats last week. Electing a woman governor is a milestone, but this is hardly the Year of the Woman in South Carolina.
So while it appears that white South Carolinians are overcoming their ancient racist and sexist impulses,  they have not learned how to function in a complex, economically integrated world.
Another defeat for common sense and self-interest was the victory of Mick Mulvaney over 28-year House veteran John Spratt in the 5th congressional district. As chairman of the Budget Committee, Spratt was revered in his delegation and in Congress as a statesman, a politician of  rare vision and character. With his chairmanship and seniority, he was in a position to get things done for the fifth district. And now he is gone.
He was defeated in large part by the flood of outside cash – much of it from unidentified sources – in the last days of the campaign. Ironically, the state that so resents any federal intrusion on its sovereignty, welcomes millions of dollars in “unmarked bills” from god-knows-where buying its politicians.
In 1994, I was writing a column for Free Times, a weekly newspaper in Columbia, when the GOPers took over the Congress in that historic landslide. I watched the woeful returns that night with Democratic friends. The next week I closed my column with the flip remark that he had joined hands at the end of the evening to sing “O Canada.”
In fact, none of us fled to the Great White North. We didn't have to. The Newt Gingrich-led GOPers badly overplayed their hand the next year, using their brash, unrestrained power to shut down the federal government in a temper tantrum against President Bill Clinton. Voters punished them by seriously diminishing their numbers and reelecting Clinton two years later. In 1998, Republicans actually lost five House seats in mid-term elections and Gingrich soon after resigned his seat and left the House.
I predict that something similar – though not as dramatic without Gingrich at the helm – will happen to the new Republican House majority. There are simply too many fissures and conflicts within this new GOP bloc. Problems facing this country are too complex and too numerous to be solved by cutting taxes and abolishing the Department of Education. But that's about all you heard the teabaggers talking about during the campaign. Now they have to actually govern. And they must get along with mainstream Republicans, who have their own priorities and a lot more pragmatism that these brash teabag upstarts.
Watching the GOP over the next couple of years could be like watching a slow-motion train wreck. I just hope they don't take the whole country on the ride with them.
See Will Moredock's blog at

Political Bigotry and The Tea Party

[caption id="attachment_2700" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="By Aaron Johnson"][/caption]

As an upstanding business man and as a Freemason I have a lot of friends who are very vocally conservative. As an artist and as a would-be counterculture revolutionary I have a lot of friends who are very vocally liberal. As a sane and rational human being I find all of these people annoying.

See, I have a big problem with rhetoric and doctrine that falls along party lines. To me, it is just as disconcerting and nauseating to hear someone say “Republicans are...” or “Liberals always...” as it is to hear someone say “Black people are...” or “Mexicans always...” Especially since the predicates to these sorts of sentences are invariably vial and demeaning.

Political bigotry, like all bigotry, is especially destructive when it dehumanizes the “other,” and this kind of mindset seems to be as contagious as that weird strep throat thing that everybody was getting that I caught three times over the summer. Groups of people just seem to love labeling and compartmentalizing other groups of people, when in reality individual humans are amazingly complex and seldom as horrible as they seem en masse.

If there's one thing that spreads around the germs of hatred and loathing it's a political election cycle, and this last one has been a doozey. What's been particularly polarizing and disgusting is the cesspool of rhetoric surrounding the Tea Party movement, and that's something I'd like to take the opportunity to address. Both sides have demonstrated more than their share of ugliness over the past few months, but the Tea Party won and liberals have suddenly become the underdogs.

Keep in mind throughout this article: I don't have a pony in this race. I dislike the Republican and Democrat platforms with equal intensity. But I do happen to like underdogs, so I'm going to give you lefties a free dose of bitter medicine.

Now, if your brain turned off and your eyes glazed over and you started seeing red after reading the words “tea party,” you're exactly who I'm talking to so I need you to calm down, think about kittens and universal health care for a little while and relax. Now focus.

Okay, ya with me?

You're all a bunch of freaking hypocrites and the fact that you've been spinning your wheels for so long complaining about how intolerant and backwards and stupid the Tea Party movement is is the same reason you all got your butts kicked so thoroughly in this election. In two years you've forgotten entirely the power of the message of inclusion and tolerance that Barack Obama engineered into an astounding victory.

Don't get me wrong – I think the Hope and Change crap was hollow marketing hype. But at least it was positive. At least, at the time, Mr. Obama stood up and said he was going to be your president whether you're Republican or Democrat. It kind of ticks me off that he has since jumped from that lofty platform into the mire of smug Big-D Democrat partisanship in the past few months, but on the other hand I think that's what pushed a lot of independents away from his message and into the arms of the Tea Party Republicans.

Never mind the fact that the Tea Party put more minorities into office than the Democrats this year. Never mind that the Tea Party was founded on the idea that we are spending ourselves into oblivion – which we are. Never mind the fact that most “Tea Baggers” are just grumpy old people who like going to things where you get to sit in lawn chairs.

Let's just focus on the seedy, racist, intolerant underbelly of the movement. The folks who bring the ugly misspelled signs to rallies and who are obsessed with Davinci Codesque conspiracy theories about Barack Obama.

How the Hell are you any different, with your violent Facebook posts about how much you'd like to do bodily injury to the “Tea Baggers?” What makes your rhetoric any more sophisticated or open-minded? When have you ever used the same intense lens to inspect yourself and your own values and behavior? And what good are you going to do in the world with your hatred of the Tea Party? Will hating them make them go away? Will patting your friends on the back and trading around smug articles around on Facebook solve any of our problems? In a word: No. It's just going to drive the wedge farther, divide us further and eat away the fabric that has held together our Grand Experiment for so long.

How's this for heresy? I think you should be inspired by the Tea Party. Who cares if you disagree with them? They've done something incredible. You can debate all day about whether the Tea Party is sincerely a spontaneous movement or whether it was orchestrated by the Powers that Be. None of that matters.

What does matter is that the Tea Party Movement has managed to develop a message that has energized people – not just to go out and party in Washington for a weekend, but to turn back the tide of the elections midterm, just two years into the term of a president who held all the right cards, just two years after nearly a decade of one of the most unpopular Conservative presidencies in history.

I get so angry when I hear my liberal friends tell me they're thinking about leaving this state because “we lost the election.” Are we really going to let the government define who we are as a people? Are we really going to let politicians make all of the decisions that affect our daily lives? One of the biggest problems with this country is the way we only pay attention during election cycles. If you give up and walk away the moment you lose an election, how will you ever build anything at all?

If you really hate the Tea Party, I challenge you to build your own. Start something bigger, better, and especially more inclusive. The sooner we can move past ideology and start fixing this f'ed up country the better. And most importantly of all, why not try opening your ears just a teeny bit? You might just find that there are some things the Tea Party has a right to be upset about. And you might even find that once you start listening, you'll begin engaging in these things called “dialogues” and suddenly your frustration will blossom into real life progress with a lower case p.

I've come to learn that we're not so different from one another. We all want the same things for the future. Safety, security, freedom to do as we please (even if sometimes it's hard to swallow the idea of allowing other people freedom to do as they please). I think, more than anything, we all just have different ideas about how to get there. Maybe we should spend more time treading the common ground, ideas like “politicians suck” and “baby otters are cute.”

In the words of “Mr.” Fred Rogers: “It's very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It's easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”

It has to start somewhere. Jack ass.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Future Islands at NBT

Sunday, November 7,

Future Islands
Lonnie Walker
Fat Camp

Future Islands is a minimalist new wave act hailing from Baltimore. Future Islands sets themselves apart with their amazing vocalist, Samuel T Herring. Herring has a dramatic, husky voice with a hint of roughness that reminds me of Nick Cave.  They recently put out a 7" with Lonnie Walker. Lonnie Walker is at its core an Americana band, but its sound is infused with indie and punk.

The connection musically? Not much, but I have recommended shows with bands much more divergent than these two. (I believe members of both bands went to East Carolina so I am guessing they are friends. I am sure someone will let me know if I am right).

And the opener Fat Camp? They were a reader's choice for Best New Charlotte Band in 2010. At first glance, one might think that just means they have a lot of friends who voted for them, but after a listen, one discovers they actually have a lot of entertaining songs. Check out "Reach Around" and "Making Love to the Ginger Jew!" But don’t take my word for it –  head over early to NBT to hear them for yourself.

A few rally photos

An estimated 215,000 attended Comedy Central's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" last Saturday.  While the D.C. Metro lines reported serving over 850,000 riders – an all-time record number, some riders never actually made it to the rally.

Chris Beattie of Columbia reported that he was stuck waiting "for hours." Campgrounds throughout Washington D.C. and Virginia were packed "way above" normal occupancy. All this testament to the crowd’s commitment to demonstrate our nation’s capacity for reasonable thought and civil discourse.