Thursday, March 31, 2011

Greenville County silences its harshest critic

Opinion by Dan Ruck

Greenville, SC – Greenville County's most prominent critic, the colorful and outspoken former county councilman Tony Trout, is in jail again, but not for as long as he might have been.

Trout was convicted in state court in Greenville March 31 on charges of attempting to influence a grand jury. A judge sentenced him to six months behind bars, but the defiant Trout was found not guilty of misconduct in office – a misdemeanor for which he could have served 10 years – and his lawyer said after the trial that with good conduct Trout might be free in three months.

Although the state might not have muzzled this rebel for as long as it wanted, it appears to have accomplished its objective because Trout told the judge while appealing for a reduced sentence, “I've learned my lesson. You'll never hear from Tony Trout again. I'm going to spend the rest of my life quietly with my son and family.”

Despite that appeal, 13th Circuit Court Judge  D. Garrison “Gary” Hill sentenced Trout to a maximum of six months. He probably will spend most of that time at the South Carolina Detention Center in Columbia, according to Trout's lawyer, Ken Gibson.

Hellraiser

Trout's current legal troubles began Feb. 15, 2011 when a state grand jury in Columbia indicted him on charges of misconduct in office and attempting to influence a (grand) juror, but the former policeman and security company owner's whole feisty, five-year term as a Greenville County councilman, 2005-2010, is rife with stories of feuding with higher-ups and charges of corruption and misconduct in public office.

The embattled councilman-elect entered office in January, 2005 near the end of a lengthy, bitter fight to establish a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in Greenville County. Citizens crowded county council chambers in protest at the height of that row, but councilmen, led by county administrator Joe Kernell, dithered over the idea, citing cost considerations. Then, after the International Olympic Committee decided that the Olympic Torch should not be carried through Greenville because the county was one of the few, if not the only, counties in the country which had not created a King holiday, Trout along with current county council chairman H.G. “Butch” Kirven was elected and one of their first actions in office was to provide the deciding votes in favor of  the holiday.

So Trout's tenure as a county councilman started off on an adversarial basis with Kernell and bitter King holiday opponents former councilman Scott Case and current council vice chairman Bob Taylor.

Things quickly went downhill from there. One of Trout's 2004 election campaign issues had been the state of Greenville County's $11.6 million roads program, and feuding over that might well be why Tony Trout is in jail today.

Road Czar

In Greenville County, road paving is the province of one company, Ashmore  Brothers,  Inc. The 80-plus-years-old company  provides 90% of the county road paving under terms of a 10-year contract, Judy Wortkoetter, one-time county engineer, testified at Trout's trial.

Trout testified during his trial that citizen complaints about the state of county roads was a chief reason he made it a 2004 campaign issue and, in fact, rumors of corruption were rampant then.

The  Beat, a defunct Greenville free newspaper, tried for months then to confirm rumors that one reason Ashmore Brothers had such a tight hold on road paving was that one Ashmore family member was having an affair with a county employee with oversight over the road program.

David Smith, a Greenville County contractor, close friend of Tony Trout and critic of the road program, took Beat reporters on tours of roads Ashmore Brothers had billed the county for paving but in fact were little more than cow paths. Other roads that were freshly paved led to dead ends and had no lived-in houses along them.

Trout said in court that the reason Ashmore Brothers paved the roads to nowhere was because “no one would complain because no one lived along them.”

The embattled ex-councilman infuriated Kernell and some county council members when he published on a Web site once-every-four-years assessments of the conditions of the roads and then charged those assessments were altered so roads in which some councilmen had an interest were paved while other roads perhaps in greater need of paving were left in disrepair.

“That's just the way things were,” Trout testified. He said he first learned “how things were” when as a young policeman in Mauldin, SC he noted that all the roads in front of city councilmens' houses were kept freshly improved.

Road blocks

The rebel with a cause charged that his work as a councilman was frustrated by Kernell and other county employees. The county administrator in particular, Trout complained in court, would let information the councilman had requested “sit on his desk for two or three weeks” before turning it over.

Much of that requested information concerned the roads program and Trout voiced his impatience at the time in e-mails and telephone conversations with Smith and Beat reporters. Eventually he resorted to sharing, or placing, computer spyware on a computer used by council chairman Kirven.

Meanwhile, animosity between Trout, Kernell  and fellow council member over various issues had  reached the  point where Trout during one open council meeting angrily told Kirven to shove his council gavel up a  body orifice.

The computer spyware, to which Trout retained contact, eventually found its way to the county computer of county administrator Kernell,  and through that contact Trout has asserted he found out that Kernell had on his county computer tapes of supposedly secret county grand jury proceedings and private e-mails with sex-for-hire women in Georgia.

Asked by attorney Gibson during his most recent court appearance how the spyware got on Kernell's county computer, Trout testified, “Kirven did that.”

After  Trout began publishing on the Web suggestive e-mails and photographs he claimed came from Kernell's county computer, he was indicted and a federal jury found him guilty in April, 2009 of four counts of computer spying and wiretapping. The Greenville county council admonished Kernell for his supposed conduct but Trout was sentenced by his federal judge to a year in a West Virginia prison.

The former councilman's February indictment and March, 2011 trial stem from attempts he made to carry his complaints of alleged county corruption before the county grand jury. His sentencing March 31 came less than a year after his release from the prior jail term.

Justice done?

Trout's four-day trial in Greenville March 28-31 before circuit court judge Hill was highlighted by a tearful, two hours of testimony by Trout in his own defense. That rambling monologue, supported by stacks of documents the defendant said supported his position, followed three days of prosecution in which state assistant attorney general Creighton Waters carefully documented how incriminating evidence had been obtained from telephone records and computers confiscated from the homes of Trout and Smith.

Remarkably, Waters raised no objections during Trout's two hours on the witness stand. After the trial he said there had been points to which he might have objected but he did not because he was offended  by suggestions by defense attorney Gibson that Trout's prosecution had been a politically-motivated “treasure hunt.”

“They want Tony Trout's head,” Gibson said at one point, suggesting that a second jailing of the former councilman would discourage other rabble rousers. “They want to shoot the messenger  because they want to prove a point,” Trout testified,  but Waters countered that the matter was an issue which the state “could not overlook.”

Still, he told  Judge Hill in a pre-sentencing statement seeking leniency that Trout “is not the worst person in the world,” and Gibson asked the judge to allow Trout to at least remain free long enough to take his ailing father to a doctor's appointment in Columbia.

Hill denied that request, as he had denied every motion made by the defense in Trout's four day trial.

Was justice served? “Absolutely not,” said a teary-eyed, long-term Greenville county councilwoman Lottie Gibson, who sat through much of Trout's four-day trial. The former councilman “wasn't committing a crime, he was trying to prevent crime,” she lamented. “You try to do what's right (in Greenville County), and look what it gets you.”

GOPers have more job security than any union

The Arrogance of the S.C. Republican Party

By Will Moredock

Ultimately, we get the government we deserve. The cynicism with which white people go to the polls and vote Republican in this state is matched only by the cynicism with which those elected Republicans betray the voters who put them in office. The Nikki Haley administration is barely two months old and the pattern is clearly repeating itself.

Mark Sanford was the most recent GOP wonder boy, twice elected governor with overwhelming majorities. He mouthed the Republican platitudes of small government, low taxes, family values. But as the world now knows, he also had a mistress in Argentina and he abandoned his office – abandoned his state – to visit her there in 2009, while lying about his whereabouts, and authorizing no one to act for him in case of an emergency.

When the ruse was exposed, both the governor and the state were reduced to punchlines in the national media. Yet the GOP-dominated Legislature took only the mild measure of censuring him; no serious effort was made to remove him from office. It has been suggested that one reason the solons did not bring impeachment charges against Sanford was that the person in line replac him was Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, another GOP whiz kid, an amazingly callow and self-indulgent young man, now remembered primarily for his reckless driving and flying.

But the white people of South Carolina demonstrated that they had learned nothing from the experience. They were ready to elect to the highest offices in the state anyone who recited the GOP mantra of small government and low taxes. And so they elected Republicans down the line, putting GOPers in all nine statewide executive offices, and extending the Republican majority to more than 60 percent of the General Assembly. Most significantly to many observers, they turned out 28-year congressional veteran John Spratt from his House District 5 seat, replacing him with a York County real estate developer who had a record of sleazy and questionable dealings. Spratt was chairman of the powerful House Committee on the Budget and one of the most respected members of Congress. But he was a Democrat and that wasn't good enough for the white folks of South Carolina.

Now we have Gov. Nikki Haley. Even before she was elected there were serious questions about her marital fidelity and her business practices. But when Sarah Palin swept into town to anoint her at a rally on the steps of the Statehouse, white people got the message. They gave her the gubernatorial nomination over four male opponents, and elected her governor over an appealing and moderate young Democrat. Palin's own ethical and intellectual failings were never an issue for the majority of white voters.

Since taking office, Haley has already found herself in two messy pieces of business. Columbia journalists obtained Haley's application for employment from her last job and tax records from the job prior to that. In applying for the new job at Lexington Medical Center, she claimed to be making $125,000 a year at her old job and expected as much at Lexington Medical. In fact, tax records showed she claimed only $22,000 a year in that previous job.

Was this a crime? No. An impeachable offense? Hardly. But it does say something about her character and if she was hiding income from the IRS, she might have much bigger problems.

More recently, she removed from the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees one Darla Moore, the greatest benefactor in the history of the school, having given $70 million over the years. She replaced Moore with a friend who had donated $9,000 to her gubernatorial campaign. Her only explanation was that she wanted “fresh eyes” on the board.

Again, nothing criminal or impeachable, but the behavior certainly puts Haley's judgment in question. So far the General Assembly has no reason to consider removing her, but if it should, who is standing by to replace her?

Lt. Gov. Ken Ard was elected overwhelmingly last November in the GOP sweep. He brought little experience to the job: two terms on Florence County Council. But he has brought a lot of baggage.

The Associated Press reports that the state Ethics Commission has accused Ard of 92 ethics violations, including using campaign funds to pay personal expenses. Ard has hired an attorney.

His friends and former colleagues in Florence County defend his integrity, saying any shortcomings were errors and oversights, but it should make reasonable people wonder if a man who could not run his campaign for lieutenant governor is ready to run the office of lieutenant governor – or even the office above that. But the white people of South Carolina are not losing any sleep over this question. They know there is a Republican in office and that is all they want to know. Any further information would be irrelevant.

 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Appeals Court Makes it Easier for Gov’t to Hold Gitmo Detainees

by Dafna Linzer ProPublica,


In a decision that will likely make it more difficult for Guantanamo prisoners to win release, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today reversed a lower court’s ruling in the pivotal case of a Yemeni detainee.

In a 14-page decision [1], the appeals court rejected the lower court’s ruling to release Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman [2], who has been held at Guantanamo without charge since 2002. Uthman’s case and the government’s attempts to classify the legal opinions it generated were the subject of a ProPublica story [3].

The appeals court standard for detention has been laid out over the last year in a number of significant cases, and as with today’s case, each time in the government’s favor. The results have been a boon for the Obama administration’s efforts to keep certain Guantanamo detainees in custody.

Today’s decision further clarifies that standard by declaring that the government doesn’t need direct evidence that a detainee fought for or was a member of al-Qaeda in order to justify a detention.

Much was riding on the Uthman case because he is among several dozen prisoners the Obama administration plans to hold indefinitely without charge. For other detainees, it will likely alter the way they can present their cases for release.

In 2008, Guantanamo detainees won the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court. The first challenges were largely successful for detainees, but a number of significant cases have been pushed back at the circuit court.

Uthman filed a challenge, and in February 2010, District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. ruled that he was being improperly held and that the United States had failed to demonstrate that he was a member of al-Qaeda. As ProPublica detailed, the government censored Kennedy’s decision [3] and quickly appealed the case to a court that was already lowering the government’s burden for proving a prisoner’s detainability.

In another case [4] last year, known as Salahi, the appeals court rejected a lower court’s standard that the government show direct evidence the detainee was a member of al-Qaeda. In that case, the court sent the detainee back to the district court to have his habeas corpus petition reheard.

In today’s opinion, written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the appeals court went further by reversing the habeas win outright. In doing so, the court determined that circumstantial evidence, such as a detainee being in the same location as other al-Qaeda members, is enough to meet the standard to hold a prisoner without charge.

That standard, the court wrote in its decision today, “along with uncontested facts in the record, demonstrate that Uthman more likely than not was part of al Qaeda.”

Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution and the national security blog Lawfare attended Uthman’s appeals hearing in February and predicted that the government would prevail [5]. Noting the circuit court’s emerging standards, Wittes wrote that if the appeals court ordered an outright reversal of the Uthman decision “a lot of other Guantanamo detainees are going to share his pain. His case could end up lowering the substantive bar for the government to prevail in these habeas cases.”

Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who has represented a number of Guantanamo detainees including Salahi, said today’s opinion significantly favors the government in ways the Supreme Court did not intend when it granted detainees the right to challenge detentions.

“The Uthman case cements the trend in the D.C. Circuit's decisions toward a broad and malleable definition of who can be considered ‘part of’ al Qaeda, combined with a highly deferential view of the government's interpretation of the facts,” Hafetz said, “In many cases, the result is indefinite detention based on suspicion or assumptions about a detainee's behavior.”

Hafetz argued that today’s decision conflicts not only with the approach taken by the district courts but also with the Supreme Court. Hafetz said the Supreme Court “mandated a meaningful judicial process in which the government would be called to account; Uthman says judges should not require much in the way of an answer.”

Wittes embraced [6] today’s opinion, writing on his blog that the court’s opinion reflects the complex reality of Guantanamo Bay. Today’s case asks “whether a relatively spare string of incriminating facts can get the government over the hump. The answer now is clear: It can,” Wittes wrote.

“Many fewer detainees will prevail under this understanding of the government’s evidentiary burden than would prevail under one less tolerant of a mosaic of incriminating facts,” he wrote.

Follow on Twitter: @dafnalinzer [7]


 

In Praise Of Dissent


Diversity is good. We know that. Despite the screams of terrified conservatives, science tells us that diverse biological environments are healthier than biological monocultures; genetic diversity makes a species healthier and more resistant to disease.

And wise people have long suspected that cultural and intellectual diversity make for a stronger and healthier society. Now it seems we have scientific evidence of this, also.

In a recent issue of Ode magazine, journalist Jeremy Mercer describes research at the University of Virginia and elsewhere, research which demonstrates the value of dissent to groups and to society at large. He writes of a study of jurors trying to reach a verdict: “When there was friction and fighting among jurors, the jury engaged in a better decision-making process than when it arrived smoothly at a unanimous verdict.

“As a rule, the dissent resulted in more information heard at the trial being taken into consideration and a greater variety of perspectives voiced by jurors.”

Mercer quoted psychologist Charlan Nemeth, the lead researcher at the University of Virginia: “Dissent makes the group as a whole smarter and leads to more divergent thinking, but the people who stand up with those sorts of opinions often get beaten up for it.”

Said Carsten De Dreu, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam, “Without dissent, society would come to a halt. We wouldn’t change or create or innovate.”

Change, creation, innovation – three things which have been sorely lacking in the South for the last 200 years. Something else which has been absent in the South – and especially in South Carolina – is dissent.

Southern society has begun to open up in the last half-century, but anyone who has lived a long life here can attest that this was a closed and mean society before the triumph of the civil rights movement and the rise of modern media. And, of course, the force that kept minds closed was racism and the fear of blacks. In this state and throughout the Deep South, there was no discussion of the possible abolition of slavery. It was simply not tolerated. Abolitionists were driven out of the South; abolitionist editors were murdered; abolitionist books and pamphlets were ferreted out and burned. Silence was the only dissent tolerated on the issue of slavery. The tools of enforcement were ostracism, economic sanctions and, ultimately, violence.

The fate of the Quakers in South Carolina provides an example of how the system worked. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were thousands of Quakers in the state, but their pacifism put them in conflict with the hardening ideology of the slave economy. Ultimately, they had to abandon their faith or abandon their homes. The vast majority left South Carolina and settled in the lower Midwest. By 1860, there was not an active Quaker congregation left in the state.

In that year, the Secession Convention met in Charleston and voted unanimously to leave the Union. No one dared speak against, even in the face of impending disaster. Imagine how different the story might have been if a lively public debate on the future of slavery had been allowed in the South and in South Carolina. Of course, it didn’t happen – it couldn’t happen.

After the war, the same attitudes reigned as whites sought to control former slaves and a changing culture. Ostracism and economic pressure were still used, but now violence was more overt as terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan used rope and gun and torch to enforce political and social  homogeneity.

In October 1874, The New York Times editorialized against the treatment of northern businessmen in the South: “A Northern man with northern principles cannot settle in any town or city within the South without being subjected to a system of business persecution and social ostracism such as no spirited man can submit to.... (A)fter the close of the war, there was a strong disposition on the part of many enterprising men from the North to move to the South. If those who went had been kindly welcomed and decently treated, and if judicious means had been used to encourage others to follow, who can undertake to say how different the conditions in the South might have been today. Instead of that, however, a system of inhospitality, excommunication and ostracism was adopted, perfectly intolerable to self-respecting persons....(W)e are forced always to the same conclusion, that the slow progress of reconstruction in the South, and the present prostration of the Southern States are owning mainly to the folly, the malignity and the bad faith of the Southern people.”

Progress is still slow in the South. And in South Carolina, white people march in lockstep with the firm and fearless determination of lemmings rushing toward the proverbial cliff. Dissent is still not fashionable here.

 

Budgeting For The Conservation Bank


After weighing the benefits of the Conservation Bank, the House Ways & Means Committee approved $750,000 to cover not only operational expenses to keep the Bank open, but also a portion of the $3 million dollars in outstanding grants.  Funding for the Conservation Bank is one of the most broadly supported priorities of the Common Agenda.  We encourage Representatives to support the Committee’s recommendation.  The Bank is vital to South Carolina’s future growth because it leverages public and private revenues to protect our natural resources and protect farms and forests and rural communities threatened by sprawl.


In the House

Natural Resource Agency Funding- PRIORITY
Forestry, agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism account for $54 billion, or about one-third, of our economy. That’s over 450,000 jobs, or 25% of all jobs in South Carolina. However, the combined budgets of South Carolina Agriculture Department, Forestry Commission, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism account for less than one percent of the state budget. The budget debate is in full swing on the House floor this week. Email your Representative today and ask him or her to support Conservation Bank and natural resource agency funding.

Conservation Bank Sunset Clause Removal (
H.3083, Rep. Mike Pitts/S.138, Sen .Chip Campsen) PRIORITY

H.3083 removes the Sunset Clause that would end the Bank in 2013. The House Ways and Means Property Tax Subcommittee (Rep. Liston Barfield- Chair, Bill Clyburn, Chip Huggins, Jim Merrill and B.R. Skelton) gave this bill a favorable report last week, and sent the bill to the full Ways and Means Committee which will meet on the bill when it returns from furlough the week of March 28th.

Phosphorus Bill (
H.3470, Rep. Mike Pitts) PRIORITY

H.3470 would prohibit the use, sell or manufacture of dishwashing detergents containing phosphates, a harmful chemical found in our lakes and rivers. Phosphorus is already banned in 15 states because it kills fish and lowers recreational revenues and home values. Last week the Agriculture Environmental Affairs II Subcommittee gave this bill a favorable report and sent it to the full Agriculture Committee for consideration at its next meeting, not yet scheduled, as the House will be on furlough the week of March 22nd.

Chronic Sewage Polluter Bill (H.3617 by Rep. Mike Pitts) PRIORITY

H.3617 would require any wastewater utility with two spills over 5,000 gallons each in a 12-month period (per every 100 miles of pipe) to undergo a comprehensive audit of what caused the spill and fix the problems identified. This compromise language is supported by the conservation community and the 30 largest South Carolina wastewater utilities as a means of bringing the most chronic violators into compliance. The aforementioned Agriculture Environmental Affairs II Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Paul Agnew, also gave this bill a favorable report last week. The full Agriculture Committee will discuss H.3617 at its next meeting.

Solar Tax Credits (H.3346, Rep. Dwight Loftis) SUPPORT
This bill establishes a 35 percent state tax credit for the installation of solar energy equipment for both residential and commercial purposes placed in service in taxable years after 2010. This legislation not only promotes renewable energy; it encourages solar installations and creates new jobs. It will be considered by the full Ways and Means Committee at its next meeting, which will be the week of March 28th.

In the Senate

Alcoholic Beverage Container (ABC) Recycling (S.461, Sen. Ray Cleary) PRIORITY

The recycling industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the American economy.  In 2009 the recycling industry created 1,354 new jobs, $6.5 billion in economic impact, and over $300 million in capital investments in South Carolina alone. Our state needs strong legislative policies that provide a consistent and sustainable stream of recycled material to promote recycling industry growth, increase jobs and reduce the need for landfills. S.461 calls for establishments that have a permit for on-site consumption of alcohol to implement a recycling program in the next two years for plastic, corrugated cardboard, aluminum and glass. (The bill provides establishments without access to glass recyclers, 3 years to implement glass recycling.) The bill also calls for these establishments to develop recycling plans guided by DHEC. Minimal funding would come from 0.5% of the accommodations tax, which is approximately $200,000 - just a fr! action of the $42 million collected by this tax in 2009. A Senate Agriculture Subcommittee (Sen. Paul Campbell- Chair, Ray Cleary, Floyd Nicholson and Kent Williams) will meet a second time to discuss this bill and allow additional testimony, Wednesday, March 16 at 9:00 am in Gressette Room 209. Email your Senator to ask him to support this priority bill that creates South Carolina jobs.

Natural Resource Agency Funding- PRIORITY

(A description can be found under the House section.) We thank the Natural Resources and Economic Development Subcommittee (Sen. Yancey McGill- Chair, Ralph Anderson and Larry Grooms) for its positive response last week to budget requests from the Department of Natural Resources, Forestry Commission and Conservation Bank office. This week, the Subcommittee will hear budget requests from the Department of Agriculture and the office of Parks, Recreation and Tourism on Thursday, March 17 at 8:30 am in Gressette Room 307. The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Services (Sen. Tom Alexander- Chair, Billy O’Dell and Clementa Pinckney) will hear budget requests from the Department of Health and Environmental Control, Wednesday, March 16 at 9:00 am in Gressette Room 207.

Prescribed Fire (H.3631, Rep. Jim Harrison/S.501, Sen. Ronnie Cromer) SUPPORT

Prescribed burns are the most efficient and cost effective tools for managing healthy forests. These bills provide greater protection for landowners who choose to burn responsibly on their property. Tuesday, the full Judiciary Committee gave H.3631 a favorable report, and Friday it received unanimous passage from the House. It will now go to the Senate Fish Game and Forestry Committee for consideration.

Marsh Canal Dredging (H.3587, Rep. Tracy Edge/S.497, Sen. Dick Elliott) OPPOSE

These bills would bypass OCRM/DHEC and allow the U.S. Corps of Engineers to permit counties or municipalities to dredge manmade recreational use canals conveyed to the State before 1970. Although the bill is aimed at Cherry Grove, it could open the door for increased dredging of wetlands across the entire coast that are now under the protection of the Coastal Zone Management Act. H.3587 passed the House unanimously the first week of March. S.497 was debated by a Senate Agriculture Subcommittee two weeks ago, but debate was adjourned on the bill to allow more time for testimony. We recommend that DHEC’s recently appointed Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management investigate the ramifications of this proposed bill and seek to remedy the specific situation in Cherry Grove.

Pier Bill (H.3586, Rep. Nelson Hardwick/S.520, Sen. Ray Cleary) MONITORThese bills give local planning and zoning boards the authority to approve pier related amenity structures seaward of the OCRM baseline. H.3586 passed the House unanimously the first week of March. S.520 received a favorable report from the full Agriculture Committee last week, and will be discussed this week by the full Senate.

Waste Flow Control (S.514, Sen. Danny Verdin) OPPOSEThis bill would undo Horry County Council’s “flow control” ordinance that requires that waste generated within Horry County be disposed of at the County’s own state-of-the-art disposal site. Waste disposal has traditionally been considered a local government function and we are concerned that S.514 would weaken home rule. In addition, funding for the County’s aggressive recycling and educational programs would be reduced because almost 25% of the tipping fees support those programs.

Provided by Conservation Voters of South Carolina

 

The Vocal Booth


By Kingpin


Peace and blessings.  Hope you have been good out there.  March is here, spring is fast approaching and summer is right around the corner. Is it just me, but has gas prices starting to become more than an accepted nuisance.  Be patient.  2011’s music season keeps rolling on. Last issue we covered a few treats from one of the greatest singer of all time (Aretha Franklin---go grab some of her great music).  Today we’ll delve a little deeper into an artist from the ‘Windy City’, but definitely not a fly by night kind of artists (sans American Idol), Lupe Fiasco. Let’s get it.

 

REVIEW

Splashing on to the scene with the very innovative and celebratory record about rhyming and skate culture, “Kick Push”, back in 2005/2006, Lupe Fiasco used his musical opportunity wise and carved a niche out for himself.  Upon the release of his debut album, Food & Liquor (1st & 15th/Atlantic), Lupe Fiasco was heralded as the heir apparent to the musical foundations laid by the Native Tongue Collective (Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest) and literally helped to remind fans that Hip Hop isn’t just a monolithic genre of music, but does contain people who actually choose to rhyme about more than simple material items.  With songs like “Just Might Be OK”, “Daydreaming”, “The Pressure”, and “American Terrorists”, Food & Liquor did much to allow not only fans, but even record companies to have an open mind in terms of what should be considered ‘good’ and ‘marketable.’  From the success of his 1st record, Lupe was coaxed (as with any and every artist who has ever had a hit) by make another album similar to Food & Liquor. This schemed has worked in certain instances (think Jay-Z or Lady Gaga), Lupe decided to do what many have artists have done to their detriment, buck the system.

To the surprise of many, and the satisfaction of many more, Lupe Fiasco’s sophomore record, The Cool, was extremely better lyrically, musically, conceptually, and is considered by most to be his best record.  It is personally the best example of Lupe Fiasco’s capability.  Fueled by the massive ‘Superstar’ and the middle-finger themed “Dumb It Down”, Lupe continued to carve his niche even further.  Concepts of love, struggles, death, success, and elevation were all intertwined to create an album unlike any other released since the new millennium began.

March 8th, 2011 marked the release of Lupe Fiasco’s third and most current album, Lasers, with the rising single “The Show Must Go On” and “Words I Never Said”, Lupe is poised to release the next outstanding record of 2011 (Joell Ortiz, Adele, Amos Lee, Saigon, and Marsha Ambrosius have jump started this year).  Please go support great music!!!


WORDS OF WISDOM


Catch you next issue.  Enjoy your days!!!!

 

DJ KINGPIN-Villain of Vinyl (kingpinvillianofvinyl@gmail.com)

 

 

This weekend at The Nick

QUEEN OF THE SUN


MARCH 25-26 & 31, Friday, Saturday and Thursday
FRIDAY, March 25 at 3:00, 6:00 and 8:00
SATURDAY, March 26 at 3:00
THURSDAY, March 31 at 6:00 and 8:00


From the director of The Real Dirt on Farmer John comes a profound, alternative look at the tragic global bee crisis. Juxtaposing the catastrophic disappearance of bees with the mysterious world of the beehive, Queen of the Sun weaves an unusual and dramatic story of the heart-felt struggles of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world. Featuring Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk and Vandana Shiva, Queen of the Sun reveals both the problems and the solutions in renewing a culture in balance with nature.

 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Live Music This Week

Wednesday March 30

New Brookland Tavern

Ms. Chevious / Yung Fresh

C.O.B. / Kasper / Jump Off Boys

Tisa Lee (That’z It Band) / Big Cheeze

 

 

The White Mule

Open Mic w/ Greg Rue & Nikki Lee

The Tin Roof

Adam Cross and Eric Causey

 

Utopia

The Kickback

 

Thursday March 31

 

New Brookland Tavern

Morning Teleportation

Nicus Gun

TBA

 

 

The White Mule

Matrimony w/ The Getaway

Utopia

Open Mic w Keith Bates

 

Friday April 1

New Brookland Tavern

Brass To The Future &

Lovecrafts

Jonas

After Show Dance Party

Hosted By WUSC

The White Mule

Haley Dreis EP Release w/ Emily Hearn

Utopia

The Vince McKinley Band

Saturday April 2

Art Bar

Outervention, The Restoration, Death Is A Dialogue (formerly The Drownout)

 

New Brookland Tavern

Sequoyah

The Riverwinds

Wylie

Utopia

Woyate West African Drummers

 

 

Sunday April 3

Monday April 4

The White Mule

Wade Matthews w Kevin Green

 

Tuesday April 5

The White Mule

Dr. Sketchy

 

 

Wednesday April 6

 

Thursday April 7

The Tin Roof

Chuck Wicks

 

Friday, March 25, 2011

As Mideast Lashes Out Against Corruption, Chamber of Commerce Lobbies to Weaken Anti-Corruption Law




[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Hundreds of oil ministry workers demonstrate against the corruption in the ministry during a protest in Firdos Square, in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 9, 2011. (Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images)"][/caption]

by Marian Wang ProPublica,

Even as anger over governmental corruption [1] has exploded into protests across the Middle East, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been working to weaken the law that bans companies from bribing foreign officials.

That effort, which has been going on for months [2], recently got ratcheted up when the Chamber hired former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to lobby specifically on “possible amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [3],” according to Mukasey’s lobbying registration document. The FCPA, passed in 1977, prohibits U.S. companies and foreign companies whose securities are traded on U.S. exchanges from paying bribes to foreign officials.

The U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, in a report last fall [4] [PDF], said that both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission had become “increasingly aggressive in their reading of the law” within the last decade, bringing more FCPA enforcement actions than ever, netting higher fines and filing more cases against individual company employees.

That’s something the Justice Department has trumpeted as an achievement: “Our FCPA enforcement is stronger than it’s ever been—and getting stronger [5],” Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department’s criminal division said at a conference in November. In the 2010 fiscal year, half of all penalties won by his division [6] were from foreign bribery cases. (The Washington Post just yesterday published a rundown of some recent actions [7].)

The Chamber of Commerce argues that aggressive enforcement of the anti-bribery law makes U.S. businesses less competitive than their foreign counterparts, though the law also applies to some foreign companies. The Chamber is pushing for Congress to make changes to the law, such as defining “foreign official” and requiring “willfulness” for corporate criminal liability.

Butler University Assistant Professor of Business Law Mike Koehler [8] used to represent clients facing FCPA charges. He told me he agrees with some of the Chamber’s objections, but doesn’t think it needs a legislative fix.

The law is fine, Koehler told me. But the Justice Department and SEC “are continuing to push the envelope” with enforcement, applying the law in ways that Congress didn’t originally intend. One example of that, he said, is that about 60 percent of current FCPA cases involve payments made to employees of state-owned or state-controlled companies. Those people shouldn’t be considered “foreign officials,” he said.

Koehler said his main issue with FCPA enforcement is that the allegations are almost never subject to judicial scrutiny because these cases always settle [9]. Asked why this is, given that most defendants are giant multinational companies with enough resources to take the corruption charges to court, Koehler said that the “the cost of aggressively mounting a legal defense based upon the statutes, elements, and facts of case are too risky.”

However, a few FCPA challenges are currently making their way to court, some accusing the Justice Department of using too broad a definition for "foreign official [10]."

Mark Mendelsohn—formerly the Justice Department’s chief FCPA enforcer and now in private practice—told the Wall Street Journal last week that he expects current enforcement trends to continue [11]. He cited the Mideast protests as part of a “growing recognition of what people commonly call the corrosive effects of corruption on development and democracy and democratic institutions.”

The U.K. is currently finalizing its own anti-bribery law [12], which would seem to address the Chamber’s objections about an uneven playing field. The Chamber, however, writes in its report that U.S. authorities may try to apply even more pressure to companies “so as not to be outdone” by Britain in the area of anti-corruption enforcement.

Follow on Twitter: @mariancw [13]


 

Morning Teleportation at NBT March 31!

If you are an idiot and miss Morning Teleportation at New Brookland Tavern on March 31st, you could always drive to Atlanta on All Fools Day or take a Palin Proof road trip to Chapel Hill on April 2.  These guys aren't missing a beat and have a  22 shows scheduled in the next 23 days from Tampa to Washington, D.C.
Their debut album, Expanding Away was produced by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse.  This is a chance to see an up and coming band and you'll brag for years that your saw them at New Brookland Tavern and bought them a drink after the show.
Based out of Portland, Oregon,  Morning Teleportation has a unique sound and use a variety of instruments from banjo and trumpet.  Its like folk indie rock but my description just sounds lame and escapes their awesomeness.  Just don't miss this show.  Mark your calendar, touch your iPad, obnoxiously use your Google phone at a restaurant,  and listen to the full album on spin.com before the show!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

GOP uses false poverty to make war on America

False Motives, Real Consequences

By Will Moredock

The New York Times spoke a mighty truth in a recent editorial, when it called out Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Wisconsin on their hollow claims of being broke. The Times might have mentioned Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and of course dear old South Carolina, while they were naming names.
“It's all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends,” the Times editorialized. “Though it may disappoint conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies.”
The Times went on to accuse Republicans of manufacturing the current “debt crisis” with years of reckless and irresponsible governance. Part of the current situation was caused by excess spending,
“But a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican leaders like (House Speaker) Mr. Boehner and (Wisconsin Governor) Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years....Many Republican governors are employing the same tactics.”
The Times said that congressional Republicans were so hypocritical as to try to force through “more than $61 billion in ruinous cuts over the next seven months, all under the pretext of 'fiscal responsibility.'”
As an example of just what the Times was editorializing about, it's useful to recall that the first bill Gov. Scott Walker presented to the Wisconsin legislature upon being sworn in last January – and the GOP-dominated assembly passed it happily – was a $115 million tax cut for industry. In retrospect, we can see this Republican largess as something more insidious than just thanking their corporate sponsors.
In Wisconsin, the GOPers are trying to bust the public service unions. In Washington, they have their sights on bigger game. Using these scare tactics, congressional Republicans want to roll back 80 years of social programs intended to provide a social safety net beneath our capitalist economy. But more than a safety net, these programs are part of our social infrastructure: environmental protection laws, Head Start for under-privelaged children, Pell grants to send young Americans to college, programs to hire and equip police officers, funding for NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts, funding for national parks, and scores of other programs that have been woven into the soul of American society.
One target offers a particularly vivid example of the GOP scorched-earth policy. The Republicans have hated Planned Parenthood for decades, branding it “America's largest abortion provider” – even though it uses no federal funds to provide that medical procedure. Last month the GOP budget-cutters voted overwhelmingly to eliminate funding for PP, including its contraception, cancer screening, sex education,  prenatal care and other health services for women.
Writing at Salon.com, Rebecca Traister described the GOP war on Planned Parenthood this way: “But this isn't simply about the question of abortion itself. What ... the House of Representatives did today was devalue women's lives, women's rights and women's ability to participate fully in the democracy.”
In their ideological war against government the Republicans have declared war on women, on the poor, on children, on the environment, even on the Internal Revenue Service, the federal agency responsible for funding the government.
What is happening in D.C. has been going on in South Carolina for centuries, but now it is happening with a righteous vengeance. This state has always been poor and undeveloped because the people who run it refuse to fund the kind of infrastructure and education system necessary for a modern, developed society. What was once a quirk of southern culture has now become part of the Republican anti-government ideology. For the past decade Republican Governors and Legislature have been cutting taxes heedlessly, recklessly, insanely, until today we rank 49th in the nation in the level of taxation per capita, according to the Tax Foundation. And we have the schools and the roads to prove it!
So how did South Carolina get itself into the worst budget crisis in memory? David Slade of the The Post and Courier did an excellent analysis of the situation on February 27. Our current $700 million short fall can be traced to $815 million in tax cuts the state has handed out in recent years in property tax reform, elimination of sales tax on groceries, a tax cut for small business and other  cuts. Economists warmed that this would happen, but our “leaders” paid no heed. Now we reap the wind as our state lays off teachers, closes parks, cuts medical services and slowly goes out of business.
Take a good look at what is going on. This is the world the Republicans want for us.

Regional Briefs


CHARLESTON

Sailors fall asleep during “Vampire Diaries,” Navy charge results

Navy Petty Officer Stephen Jones is contesting a dereliction of duty charge stemming from a night on which he and a friend fell asleep together in the same bunk.

According to Jones, he and sailor, Brain McGee, were watching the “Vampire Diaries” on DVD together at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command near Charleston when they both dozed off in Jones’ bunk. Jones’ roommate, Tyler Berube, says he returned from an out-of-town trip that night and found the two sailors asleep together in boxer shorts on the same rack. Jones said he was wearing pajamas and that McGee often dropped by the room to watch DVDs.

While there is no official rule against sailors sharing the same bunk, and though Jones maintains that nothing sexual transpired, the Navy is seeking to discharge him.

“The subterfuge is, they believe this kid is a homosexual, but they have no proof of it,” Gary Myers, Jones's attorney, told the Charleston Post and Courier. “So what they've done here is to trump this thing up as a crime. This is not a crime.”

A spokesman for the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command told the Post and Courier that the charges don’t stem from anything related to Jones’ sexual orientation –whatever that may be. Instead they said the sailor’s actions exhibited a “willful failure to exhibit professional conduct” in his bachelor enlisted quarters.

FLORENCE

Man fakes death on fishing trip to avoid child molestation charges

U.S. Marshals in Florida have captured and extradited a Florence man after he allegedly staged his own death and fled South Carolina to avoid criminal sex charges.

Harvey Legrand Cox, 58, had been on the run since Jan. 17 when he told relatives that he was going on a fishing trip to Murrell’s Inlet. Later that day he called his daughter and said that his boat was having mechanical failure and his radio batteries were dead. After a brief search was initiated, authorities found the empty boat and Cox’s truck and boat trailer abandoned at a nearby boat ramp.

Cox’s story began to fall apart, however, when a credible witness reported spotting the man in Florence County. Investigators later found evidence than Cox caught a cab from Murrell’s Inlet after his alleged staged disappearance.

Authorities believe Cox was fleeing an arrest warrant that was issued shortly before his fishing trip. The Florence County Sheriff’s Dept. has accused Cox of committing lewd acts upon a 10-year-old starting in 2008.

GEORGETOWN

Deputy charged in animal cruelty case

A Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office deputy and his wife have been charged with cruelty to animals.

In a news release, the sheriff’s office stated that Deputy William Baxley and his wife, Miranda, face four counts of the cruelty charge. Earlier this month, the department responded to a complaint about three dead dogs at an Orangeburg residence. Deputies found three dead dogs in fenced kennels in varying stages of decomposition and a fourth dog with a litter of puppies, according to the report. The investigation later uncovered that the dogs belonged to Baxley.

Baxley has been placed on administrative leave without pay.

ORANGEBURG

Clinginess costs woman relationship, license tags

An Orangeburg area woman called police following a domestic dispute stemming from accusations that her boyfriend didn’t want to start a family with her.

The unidentified woman told police that she and her boyfriend began arguing after he told her that he did not want a commitment. According to a police report, the man said he couldn’t take the arguing. The woman then demanded the license tags from the man’s car. When she tried to remove them, the man reportedly sped away, crashing into a row of garbage cans as he fled.

The woman told police she only wished to start a family with the man. When they asked where he lived, she said she didn’t know.

SPARTANBURG

Meth bust uncovers dead baby

Following a meth bust, Spartanburg County deputies used bolt cutters to force open a locked toolbox in the bed of pickup truck. Inside they found the body of a 2-month-old baby. The child’s parents, who were the primary suspects in the drug bust, admitted that the child was theirs and that they had placed his body in the toolbox.

According to authorities, toxicology tests are being performed on the baby’s body and, depending on the findings, additional charges against the parents may be filed.

On an initial search of the residence of Chuck Edward McCullough, 34, and Carissa Charla McCullough, 21, police found evidence related to methamphetamine trafficking. After finding meth-making evidence such as batteries and gas generators in the house, police searched the vehicles on premises. That is when deputies uncovered the child’s body in a truck toolbox.

During a bond hearing, the couple asked about the fate of their child’s body. The judge simply referred them to the jail director, according to the Spartanburg Herald Journal. The couple’s other two children have been taken into custody by the S.C. Dept. of Social Services.

Behind Administration Spin

by Paul Kiel ProPublica

The administration has been on a PR offensive [1] in recent months to tell the good news about the TARP. As the Treasury Department official in charge of the TARP is saying at a congressional hearing this morning [2], the bailout won't cost anywhere near the full $700 billion Congress authorized. In fact, many of its investments have turned a profit, and some of its most infamous bailouts -- such as the rescue of AIG -- won't end up being the tax dollar black holes [3] they once seemed sure to be.

But the true picture isn't so rosy.

At ProPublica, we've provided a comprehensive bailout database [4] since TARP's launch. It shows not only how much money has gone to each recipient [4], but how much each has paid in interest and dividend payments. With all this data, we're able to clearly show how deep in the hole the program remains [5]. And the answer as of today is $123 billion.

Add that to the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- which our site also tracks and is separate from the TARP -- and taxpayers are $257 billion in the hole [5].

Although the bailout has extended to nearly a thousand institutions, just a few are primarily responsible for the continued deficit: Fannie and Freddie [6], of course, AIG [7], and the auto companies (GM [8], Chrysler [9], GMAC [10]).

As for Fannie and Freddie, no solution seems imminent. They're currently $134 billion in the red (counting their dividend payments) -- more than the entire TARP. Congress and the administration are in the initial stages [11] of discussing how the companies should be wound down and how much of the investment could be recouped.

AIG [7] is a different story. It has started repaying the taxpayers' investments. So far, about $9 billion has come back, leaving the amount outstanding at $58.7 billion. The government holds a 92.1 percent stake in the company, which will be sold off over time. The process could take anywhere between six months and two years, Treasury officials told the Congressional Oversight Panel [12], and there's a strong possibility that the government could recoup its entire investment.

The country's largest banks (Bank of America [13], Citigroup [14], JPMorgan Chase [15] and Wells Fargo [16]) have also all paid back their TARP investments with a profit for the government.

But the government's rescue of the auto industry (specifically, GM [8], Chrysler [9], and GMAC [10]) almost certainly won't ever make its way out of the red. As of today, the hole is $47 billion.

How much will the TARP end up costing when everything's said and done? The short answer is that it's anyone's guess. The Congressional Budget Office put the toll at about $25 billion [17] in November. Part of the reason the projected cost is so low is actually the poor performance of the administration's foreclosure prevention programs [18], which seem likely to spend far less than the $50 billion initially set aside for them.

Hundreds of smaller banks also haven't paid the money back, and many are struggling. According to SNL Financial, 154 banks that received TARP money are delinquent on dividend payments to the government. That's about 22 percent of the 707 banks that received money through the TARP, but because the banks are generally quite small, the government's total investment in all these struggling banks only amounts to about $3.9 billion. So far, six banks that received TARP funds have failed, and one more, CIT, went bankrupt, according to research from Keefe, Bruyette and Woods.

We update our bailout database [5] regularly -- so check back to see the progress.


 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Can U.S. Nuclear Plants Handle a Major Natural Disaster?

by John Sullivan,ProPublica

As engineers in Japan struggle to bring quake-damaged reactors under control, attention is turning to U.S. nuclear plants and their ability to withstand natural disasters.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has spent years pushing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission toward stricter enforcement of its safety rules, has called for a reassessment. Several U.S. reactors lie on or near fault lines, and Markey wants to beef up standards for new and existing plants.

"This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release caused by earthquake related damage," Markey wrote NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko in a March 11 letter.

Specifically, Markey raised questions about a reactor design the NRC is reviewing for new plants that has been criticized for seismic vulnerability. The NRC has yet to make a call on the AP1000 reactor, which is manufactured by Westinghouse. But according to Markey, a senior NRC engineer has said the reactor’s concrete shield building could shatter "like a glass cup" under heavy stress.

The New York Times reported last week that the NRC has reviewed the concerns raised by the engineer, John Ma, and concluded that the design is sufficient without the upgrades Ma recommended. Westinghouse maintains that the reactor is safe.

Boiling water reactors, like the ones hit by the Japanese earthquake, are built like nested matroyshka dolls.

The inner doll, which looks like a gigantic cocktail shaker and holds the radioactive uranium, is the heavy steel reactor vessel. It sits inside a concrete and steel dome called the containment. The reactor vessel is the primary defense against disaster -- as long as the radiation stays inside everything is fine.

The worry is that a disaster could either damage the vessel itself or, more likely, damage equipment that used to control the uranium. If operators cannot circulate water through the vessel to cool the uranium it could overheat and burn into radioactive slag -- a meltdown.

Reports say a partial meltdown is suspected in two of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, which was hit by the 8.9 magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami.

Reactors have multiple layers of equipment to make sure this never happens. But last year, Markey asked Congress's investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office, to look into a long list of nuclear safety issues, including earthquake and flood protection.

Markey cited the 2007 Chuetsu earthquake (6.6 magnitude) that hit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant. The quake started a fire, spilled some low-level radioactive waste and damaged equipment that was not critical to the reactor. It led Japanese regulators to reassess earthquake danger near the plant, and Markey wanted GAO to see whether NRC had been on top of earthquake risk in the U.S.

As seen here, Hurricane Gustave damaged the River Bend Nuclear Generation Station in St. Francisville, La. (NRC photo provided by Union of Concerned Scientists)

He also listed a few cases in which other natural disasters had damaged nuclear plants, like a 1998 tornado that knocked out power to the Davis-Besse plant outside Toledo, Ohio, or Hurricane Andrew, which knocked out power to the Turkey Point plant south of Miami site for five days in 1992. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav damaged the River Bend Nuclear Generation Station in St. Francisville, La.

At both Davis-Besse and Turkey Point, the plants' emergency diesel generators kept the equipment running until crews fixed the power lines.

News reports have said the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station went to backup diesel power after the quake but lost it, along with the ability to keep cooling water flowing.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters that U.S. reactors don't have adequate backup power. "We do not believe the safety standards for U.S. nuclear reactors are enough to protect the public today," he told the news agency.

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said the agency was not granting interviews about the Japan quake. He pointed to the agency's website, which does have a lot of information on the seismic issues.

For instance, NRC regulations require that every plant is built to survive an earthquake larger than the strongest ever recorded in the area. The agency says it periodically updates earthquake estimations as more detailed information becomes available.

Most recently, the NRC spent five years reassessing earthquake risk for nuclear plants in the Midwest and eastern United States. The results of the study, which were released last September, confirmed that the plants were built to withstand the heaviest quake likely for their area.

However, the NRC found that the risk of earthquake was greater than expected in some areas, so the agency plans further research.

In an NRC meeting on earthquake safety last September, Torrey Yee, an engineer for the San Onofre nuclear plant near San Diego, said designers evaluate two levels of earthquakes: the maximum possible quake for a site; and an "operating basis" quake, usually about half of the maximum strength.

The critical structures and equipment at the plant are built to withstand the maximum quake, and the plant has to shut down for inspection if it sustains a quake higher than the operating basis.

The 104 commercial reactors in the United States produce 20 percent of the nation's power.

Inform our investigations: Do you have information or expertise relevant to this story? Help us and journalists around the country by sharing your stories and experiences.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Unions Have a Place, Even in Fiscal Conservatism

Opinion by Harvey Elwood Jr

Not surprisingly, following the recent major Republican electoral victories, federal and state budget deficits and shortfalls are a top political priority everywhere we turn. As a solution, several Republican-controlled Midwestern state governments (Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana) are attempting to restructure the way business is conducted with public service workers and the unions which represent them.

Whatever happens will have a dramatic impact on educators, firefighters, public safety officers, hospital workers, sanitation workers, and all those who do the heavy lifting in the public service sector. Not to say that most other average hard-working men and women are not doing their share; after all, only seven percent of employees in the private sector are represented by unions.

The idea being generally proposed by Republicans leaders in these Midwestern states is that state government should save taxpayers money and repeal some of the benefits of public service workers during these hard economic times, including the power of unions to bargain collectively on behalf of public service worker benefit packages.

For many of us, this issue is beyond our experience. Most of us have never directly known the benefit of a union fighting for our worker rights. However, we can very well imagine walking into a courtroom without a lawyer to speak on our behalf.

Many of these Republican leaders rightfully are asking why the community at large should bear the cost for public service employee benefits . No matter your position on the political spectrum, it’s a question worth answering. Here’s my answer: business (the private sector) is about profit and not people. It’s hard to imagine many companies would willingly hand out profit shares, benefits, medical or pensions to employees without some type of collective action or group support on their behalf—even if the standard was set in another sector and sometimes even decades prior.

Here’s an amazing quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that helps defend my answer: “Less than a century ago, the laborer had no rights, little or no respect, and led a life which was socially submerged and barren. The children of workers had no childhood and no future. They, too, worked for pennies an hour and by the time they reached their teens they were worn-out old men, devoid of spirit, devoid of hope and devoid of self-respect.”

I’m no socialist and am not in favor of a welfare state, but I am very much for giving every working person a fair share and protection from corporate greed. Perhaps unions and public workers need to do a little bending in tough economic times—and this is exactly what the Midwestern public service unions have offered by way of concessions to the likes of Governor Walker of Wisconsin. But it would be absolutely wrong to do away with organizations that have long defended the rights of the working class. Let us not forget that unions gave us the five-day work week, vacation pay and the concept of retirement and workplace health insurance. In fact, it can be argued that without unions there would be no middle class of which to speak.

In the end, this is still America, and everyone has the right to work themselves out of poverty and attain a higher standard of living for themselves and their children. But no man or woman is an island. At times, everyone needs an advocate, a voice.

The author is a semi-retired civil servant and educator who now resides in Orangeburg.

"For charity" festival commissions report



Opinion and lies by Paul Blake

About this time every year, I attempt to find out the St. Patty’s Day commissions from Five Points Association Executive Director Merritt Mchaffie.  But as this has become an exercise in absolute public records futility, I also spend some well-wasted FOIA time trying to find out what the U.S. military really had to do with the assassination of Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and whether the European Union will ever fess up to ruining the career of new age musician Yanni.

Every year, the Five Points Association goon squad dodges basic public records requests for information any non-profit organization staffed by semi-literate gerbils should be able to provide to a newspaper within minutes.

This year, I was told that FPA would present me with the information I desired if I would kindly bring them $118 to pay for “reproduction costs.”  How stupid do they think I am?  In five minutes, I could be trolling Two Notch Road and forking out no more than $15 for all the reproduction costs a man could ever need!

I am asking for information that can be limited to one solitary piece of paper.  I want to know the commission amounts for the St. Patrick’s Day festival.  That’s it.  I don’t want a ream of paper.  I don’t want to know any of the other corrupt acts enacted by this group the other 364 days of the year.  Merritt, I just want several numbers with names.  And I won’t even waste my all-time worst pickup line on you:  “Baby, I’m not Fred Flintstone, but I can make your Bedrock!”

Anyway, surprise, surprise!  The cost of that one sheet of paper from FPA is still $118.  I hope to God some FBI agent in the Strom Thurmond Federal Building is reading this article!!  Help!!  I am being extorted!!  This is worse than Wisconsin!!

In previous years, City Paper has resorted to getting attorneys involved to threaten suit against FPA for the St. Pat’s commission information.  Last year, however, I decided to crash the beer server training event at Sharky’s Bar prior to the St. Patty’s event.  First, I didn’t have to pay attorneys.  Second, I figured I’d be able to sneak a couple of pints of Guinness for my trouble.

I tracked down each individual making hefty commission checks from the festival.  Again, what a surprise:  the same people were benefiting AT TAXPAYER’S EXPENSE, and the same ol’ “Five Points Mafia” behavior still existed.  At least one small business, Disorderly Conduct, had been told it could not sell beer at the event.

[Editor’s note:  “Five Points Mafia” is a term used by numerous Columbia merchants and was not invented by a writer of the advertising-addicted mainstream media.  See last year’s “Cut Off” story at http://stpatsfivepoints.com)

When I approached Kelly Glenn, owner of Village Idiot, she was by far the most friendly and forthcoming corrupt merchant.  She admitted to making an eight percent commission on beer sales for organizing a mostly volunteer staff.  Depending on beer sales, that figure may have been well over $10,000.

Skip Anderson was not quite as forthcoming and denied making very much—although records show he received at least $8,000 for his action on wristband sales from 2009.  I don’t know about you, but $8,000 is “very much” to me.  Hell, that could buy me—I mean, my delivery guy—about 300 blowjobs on Two Notch!

“[My pay out] is not percentage based,” Anderson told City Paper.  “I’m just here to help out and see what happens, man.”  My impromptu interview with Mr. Anderson came to an abrupt halt when Duncan MacRae, the co-owner of Yesterday’s and a co-founder of St. Pat’s in Five Points, interrupted us.  “Get off my ass,” MacRae demanded.

Mr. MacRae, I have two statements for you.  One:  As a taxpayer, how about you stop ripping off my ass with $15 at the gate, and I’ll get off yours?  And, two:  everyone knows your meatloaf is made from fox squirrel road kill.

Especially benefiting financially every year from the Five Points Leprechaun Carnival is Jack Van Loan, FPA’s economic development director (AKA expert extraordinaire at butt-fucking taxpayers).  Van Loan receives what can be described as a “fat Al Roker fee”:  if God doesn’t make it rain in Columbia during the festival, he gets a guaranteed $5,000.  Talk about luck of the Irish!

Year after fucking year, Van Loan gets monthly fees and expenses from FPA that total near $30,000—and the guy doesn’t even have to spend one minute walking the asphalt and playing with his nipples in a miniskirt.  In addition, FPA has flipped the bill for meals for Jack and prominent politicians, but there’s no telling to the extent of the misallocation of funds due to the secrecy of FPA and the lack of city oversight.  PEOPLE, THE GUY’S NAME IS “VAN FUCKING LOAN”!!

In 2010, FPA received $280,000 in taxpayer funding from the city’s hospitality tax fund.  This fiscal year, FPA requested $455,000 of the $2.5 million fund, but were only allocated the same $280K figure as last year.  Thank God; otherwise, Five Points traffic would probably be clogged with oversized limousines driving back and forth between Speakeasy and Sharky’s.

Hey, by the way, did I mention that FPA board member Richard Burts chairs the city’s Hospitality Tax Advisory Committee?  Yo, G-Man in the Strom Thurmond Building, are you reading this?!?!

This is all old news, though, so what about the figures for 2011?  I guess I’ll have to break into the FPA office (again) to save myself the $118.

Oh, what the fuck.  Every year, our fair city ignores the Hospitality Tax funding problems and writes blank checks without any required certified audits from corrupt mafiosa organizations like FPA.  City Council turns a blind eye, and taxpayers don’t seem to care that they’re being anally raped by a splintery old mop handle.

All I have left is a famous quote by Emma Goldman:  “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”  (And based on Will Moredock’s column on page 7, who’s to say your vote will even be counted?)

In the spirit of our fake democracy, this year I have decided to invent the commission figures and FPA takes.  After all, in previous years, they’ve always accused me of exaggerating.  Why not cut to the chase?

Yes, that means put away your red pen, Debbie McDaniel!  (Five Points business owner Debbie McDaniel was voted back on the FPA board last year despite the fact that she failed to show up to the actual meeting when the vote occurred.  In fact, none of the candidates running for the FPA board showed up at that meeting.  Can anyone say ‘hubris’?  The transparency of McDaniel, self-proclaimed queen of Five Points, can be seen from the monitors of Five Points’ security cameras in the back of Revente.)

So without further ado, here are last year’s St. Patty’s Festival commission amounts not provided by FPA Executive Director Merrit Mchaffie:

Beer Sales Commissions to Kelly Glenn for 2010 = estimated $10,000 (plus the pleasure of a goat’s anus smothered in peanut butter for three hours)

Wrist Band Commissions to Skip Anderson to date = >$85,000 (Have you ever seen the gold-plated, four-leaf clover cock ring they give to Skippy each year?)

Fees, Commissions, and Act of God bonuses to Jack Van Loan to date: >$150,000 (And as an added bonus, a local Baptist minister comes and gives him a lap massage.)

Dennis Hiltner buying an “electric car” probably for the tax refund and then reselling it to FPA. = PRICELESS!


[Editor’s note: Everything in this column is completely made up and not based on facts—except the fact that FPA is as corrupt as a Sicilian funeral parlor.  Before anyone decides to sue my ass, listen loud and clear:  THIS IS SATIRE!!  Everyone knows Dennis Hiltner doesn’t fuck goats on the city’s dime.  He prefers sheep.  Also, there isn’t any truth to the rumor that the FPA Executive Director once eloped with a Delaney’s bartender while drunk in Vegas.  Any-whoo, feel free to email merrittamchaffie@yahoo.com and ask for the actual St. Patty’s Festival commission figures or call her cell phone at 446-8929.  She especially likes calls around 5 a.m.  If you feel this column is handling the violation of records laws immaturely, please visit  http://www.fivepointsASSociation.com for more information.]

 

Dear St. Patrick’s Day costume guy,

Dear Four Loko ban,
Sipping what very well may be the last Four Loko in town, I can’t help but wonder why, when it comes to tightening the screws on grown folks’ personal freedom, our policymakers can pass laws virtually overnight. Yet, legitimate legislation (i.e. the stuff voters actually want and need) gets deadlocked for years. Makes one wonder what kind of political sleight of hand you’re up to. Maybe if you pass these headline-grabbing morality laws with one hand, you can slip in the more nefarious legislation for your corporate bosses under the table with the other. Like the clown who is wasting valuable time and ink during a state budget crisis to soapbox about the need for tougher laws against soliciting prostitution. Who cares? Why not talk about the massive tax cuts you’re giving Amazon for their new distribution warehouse?
Look, at the end of the day, I don’t need some stuffed suit to tell me what I should or shouldn’t ingest. If you ask me, you should drop these “for the safety of the children” witch-hunts, sashay that little bowtie back to your office, and do some real work. When we need a highway repaved, we’ll let you know.
Columbia City Paper

Dear St. Patrick’s Day costume guy,
We see scores of you guys at the St. Patty’s Day festival every year. Shirtless with green body paint smeared by the spilled beer dripping down your sunburned fish belly, rainbow wig jerked askew, glazed eyes staring from behind cheap novelty sunglasses, you stagger through the trash-strewn streets calling out for a ride that left you two hours ago. “So what now?” you mumble aloud to a stranger. Our answer: man up and rally, dude. The sun is still out. You might as well funnel another beer, take a quick dump in front of Sid n’ Nancy and hit a bar. Your night is just getting started!
Columbia City Paper

Dear S.C. state employees who voted for Haley,
We have been puzzled for years by middle class and working poor voters who continue to vote Republican. At first, we thought it was the classic conservative/morality swindle they used to trick you with back in the day. But, even baboons have the capacity to realize when they’re being hoodwinked. We’re starting to think it’s more of a weird South Carolina sadomasochism thing; you know, the type of people who get erections while being punched in the face. So, you state employees who voted for Haley must really be titillated from the news that your employee benefits and pension plans are up on the budgetary chopping block next. (Of course, being state employees themselves, you won’t see a cut to benefits for state legislators.)
“Ooooewwww, yeeah, you like me taking your children’s insurance coverage? Huh? Mmmm. Now, bend over and take that extra furlough week. Yesss! Just like that. We’re gonna keep those tax cuts in place for big business and pound you like a Wisconsin school teacher! And you’ll continue to vote for us reptiles forever because you’re a baadddd little lackey, aren’t you?! Yessss you are.”
Columbia City Paper

Dear lady with eight-inch long fingernails,
Those nails are certainly exotic. (Well, in the same way a hissing poisonous centipede is exotic). But, at what price? You just had to ask a stranger to open that can of soda for you. I shudder to think what it’s like to try to dress yourself. And, on the flip side of that disturbing coin, your love life has to be like something out of Ripley’s. I can only imagine them clacking, bug-like, until whatever male is in the room quickly covers his Johnson and backs out the door.
Well, I guess at least they work as chop sticks in a pinch. Can’t really think of what else they’d be useful for.
Columbia City Paper

Dear Governor Haley,
We hope you enjoyed the round of Guinness City Paper bought for you a few weeks ago at Thirsty Fellows.  Now let’s talk about some possible legislation we would like you to introduce.  Bill H. 777 would require all local businesses to advertise exclusively in  locally-owned newspapers.  (We haven’t denounced our citizenship yet; we are saving that for your presidential bid.)  Bill H. 666 would make the stealing of newspaper racks punishable by lethal injection. We would also like a special clause to address the racks purchased by City Paper from Greenville’s The Beat when they went out of business.  Most of these ended up with “Free Times” signs on them, and we would like the punishment for this offense to be a curse placed on the children of anyone employed by Portico Publications—with an exception for eight employees who were fired in Augusta by chicken-shit administration via speaker phone last week.  Finally, Bill H. 6969 would require central registration and mammogram of all single women aged 22-30 at City Paper offices on Main Street.
Columbia City Paper

Dear Belinda Gergle,
I am sitting at a “bia hoy” in a small town called Nihn Bin, Vietnam.  I have had 15 beers since I woke this morning and stumbled through busy streets with no traffic signs.  I had an open container and walked into the street where 150 mopeds, cars and bikes passed without hitting me, one of which had 300 live ducks and a goat on the handle bars—although I was pretty drunk; that goat could have been State Senator Knotts.
Should I be drinking another beer right now?  I am not sure it’s a good idea.  (Thank God someone else edits these letters for me!)  But Columbia City Council does things that are pretty stupid practically every council meeting so, who are you to judge?  Futhermore, if a communist regime allows me such freedoms, what’s my incentive to return to Five Points to be harassed by homeless and police.  I’ll take my chances in this third-world country.
It is my body…keep your paws and laws off my liver!
Columbia City Paper