Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More stimulus spending? Hold your horses!


The Democrats on Capitol Hill are talking about rushing through a stimulus package in the hundreds of billions of dollars for incoming President Obama to sign into law in January. Those Democrats cite the bad economy and the efforts outgoing President Bush made in regards to the financial industry.

It all sounds good. But, frankly, we need to tap the brakes on any more huge spending and make sure we are getting our money's worth. We need to hold those spending horses. I made a mistake in supporting the Bush bailout plan this past fall. I actually believed that the hundreds of billions that were assigned to be spent would shore up the banking industry for homeowners, small borrowers and small business. That is a a mistake I will never make again.

instead the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars when to financial institutions who responded by paying millions out in bonuses and severance packages to executives who were rewarded for not getting the job done. Further, the Treasury Department fights disclosing where the money went to and what the federal government got in return for the money. Democrats and Republicans both seem to ignore that. Simply put, if the people of the United States, through their federal government, are giving billions to financial institutions, the people ought to be able to know how every penny was spent and what the government got in return. No other investor in any business would be asked to give a huge sum of money and then not know what it went for and what it got in return.

It is for that very reason that Phase II of the stimulus bailout package proposed by the President-elect and the Democratic leadership should be produced more carefully. The Congress needs to take the time to make sure that the people can know how every penny is spent and what they can expect in return for their investment. Throwing money to the people with the best high paid lobbyist will not do one thing to get the American economy moving again. We learned that with the first phase.

In addition to stimulus fund accountability, I think the Republicans in Congress should fight for things like an elimination of the capital gains tax and tax breaks for small businesses. There are things to be done at the state level as well. After the new year holiday, Voting under the Influence will outline the conservative approach to economic recovery. As for now, the entire crackerjack staff of VUI hopes that the Republicans in Congress, especially in the Senate, will slow down the Obama Stimulus Train long enough to make sure that that the people's money is spent wisely and with accountability. Republicans, hold those spending horses!

Thank God we are not Illinois


The late Lewis Grizzard once wrote in one of his books that he was held prisoner of war in Chicago in referring to his short stint as a sports editor there. While South Carolina certainly has its own problems in that we have a Governor so self centered on his ideals and so detached from real life that he plays with the lives of those on unemployment for politics; South Carolina’s problems pale in comparison to Illinois.

Illinois has given the United States some good things. There is Chicago style deep dish pizza, the Cubs, the old Bears, and political giants like Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Illinois, and especially Chicago, is also known for its corrupt machine politics ran by a handful of pols that have a tight grip on political life in Illinois. It is the latter that is get attention from the American public now and setting up a potential problem for President-elect Obama.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich kicked the issue into high gear by appointing former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill the remaining Senate term of President-elect Obama. Blagojevich was arrested recently in part due to allegations that he tried to “sell” the Senate appointment. Blagojevich’s appointment of an elder pol like Burris was a bold move and about the best move the Governor could make. The act outraged the Illinois political and media machines. Even if the charges against Blagojevich lead to him being convicted of crimes, the Governor’s moves puts the Democrats in the United States Senate and President-elect Obama in the awkward position of fighting the appointment of what even Illinois Republicans call “an honest and decent man” who would happen to also be the only African-American Senator in the United States Senate if seated. It is a play right out of the Clinton playbook of political boldness. (Remember how everyone thought when the Lewinsky scandal broke that Clinton would resign?)

There are three things that really stood out as the days events unfolded. First, there was the press conference by Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn. Illinois politics certainly does not follow the humble precedent set by then Vice President Gerald Ford when President Nixon was hounded by Watergate. Ford measured his remarks and did not want to appear indecent in being too ambitious for the job. Quinn did not have that problem. The Lt. Governor blasted the Governor, seemed angry he did get to make the appointment, and basically called for himself to become Governor as soon as possible. From what I have read and seen, the Illinois political and media machines jumped on the ambitious Lt. Governor’s bandwagon.

That bandwagon brings up the second thing that comes to my mind on the Illinois events. I have a gut feeling that all the pseudo outrage in the establishment circles in Illinois, Chicago and Washington has less to do with looking out for the people and more to do with defending President-elect Obama. A lot of those condemning Blagojevich have done things pretty close to what he has done. It is just a hunch that the almost hypocritical passion on the matter is an effort to destroy and discredit Blagojevich before Blagojevich does damage to the President-elect or members of his incoming administration.

The third issue that comes to mind is that Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he and the Democratic Caucus can decide who sits in the United States Senate. The constitution lays out the requirements, 30 years of age, 7 years a citizen, and residency in the state represented. It is likely Blagojevich is corrupt. However, he is the duly elected Governor of a state who made an appointment to fill a United States Senate seat as provided by his state’s laws. Tinkering with the constitution to match the political winds of the day is dangerous. Such tinkering led to the landmark decision of Marbury v. Madison by the Supreme Court in which the court staked its claim to determining the constitution. Further, in the 1960s, the House of Representatives refused to seat a member on “political” grounds and was forced to seat that member in the decision Powell v. McCormick.

Suppose Reid and the Democrats are successful in not allowing Burris to be seated in the United States Senate. The door will then be open to future United States Senates to not seat members for political reasons. Again, that brings back the second issue about today in that such extraordinary measures are not for the people’s protection but to create an atmosphere that protects the powerful from some sort of wildcard revelation.

I still say, “Thank God we are not Illinois.” But, I believe Illinois politics will be talked about a lot in 2009. The politically smart thing for the Democrats in the Senate would be seat Burris but leave him without committees, as the Republicans did with Larry Craig. The smart thing for the President-elect would be to not say one more word on the subject. The only reason to not do that is that if destroying anything related to Blagojevich somehow protects Obama.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Keep the college bowl system

This time of year is college bowl season. It is a time for the sports fan to overdose on college football bowl games and for critics to cry out for major college football playoffs. Even President-elect Obama has weighed in in favor of a major college football playoff system.

There are several reasons to keep the bowl system as it is.

First, there are the players. The kids who actually do the job on the field to entertain the college football fans of America are the only ones associated with the sport not to get paid something for their efforts. NCAA rules even forbid giving a player a ride home. However, if a team makes a bowl, the rules are relaxed, and the young men who play the game can receive travel expenses, gifts from the team and gifts from the bowl. It is doubtful such a relaxation of the rules would occur in a playoff system.

Second, there is the integrity of the game of college football. No major sport in the United States has every regular season game mean something like major college football. In other sports, when a playoff bid is secured, a team just coasts through the remainder of the regular season. Imagine what would happen to rivalry games like Carolina Clemson if one or both teams had a playoff spot secured and chose to rest its starters for the playoffs instead of play fulled forced in the regular season finale.

Third, there is the economic impact of bowls to the cities that hose them. Even in these hard times, cities are thrilled to get thousands of fans to come into town, buy hotel rooms and buy meals and entertainment. Smaller bowl venues, such as Shreveport, Louisiana, which hosts the Independence Bowl, depend on that bowl crowd revenue to keep some businesses open year round.

Fourth, bowls give fans an excuse to take an interesting vacation. Fans who can afford to support their teams with money and follow their teams to bowls get rewarded with trips to venues they would otherwise not travel to and usually have a choice of entertainment options provided by the bowl to get the most out of their visit. Having traveled to a few bowl games, I can testify to how fun and interesting such trips can be, beyond the football. Bowls are major events for the hosting city, and the visiting fan benefits from that in ways beyond just the ball game played.

Fifth, the bowl system creates a lot of winners and leaves people talking about college football. The media and the President-elect apparently do not care for the great water cooler debates surrounding college football when the season is over. However, those water cooler debates keep the game alive in the average man's mind and the fact that there will be 18 teams whose fans will be happy with a bowl win means something as well. No other major sport ends with so many winners. That large amount of winners helps teams with recruiting and helps fans decide to shell out more bucks towards the next season. Further, the arguments about this or that team being better are fun. It keeps the game interesting.

President-elect Obama will have a lot to deal with when he takes office on January 20th. Here is hoping that the President-elect realizes that tinkering with the college football bowl system is not worth his time. Whatever its faults, the college football bowl system works better than most government agencies and does it job of providing rewards for the young men who play the game and entertainment for the fans who follow the game.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Olin Phillips's sincerity will be missed

Former Dukes of Hazzard star and Congressman Ben Jones, who played, “Cooter” on the iconic television program and served several terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, once said that old conservative Democrats wanted to keep your taxes low, let you keep your guns and take care of mama and them and the kids. It was a remark that summed up what used to make up the old conservative Democratic line in Southern politics.

South Carolina Representative Olin Phillips upheld that old line until his passing this past week. Phillips served South Carolina and Cherokee county well in his years in the House, always seeming to put the people who elected him before anything else. That is about all one can ask from an elected official, regardless his party.

Phillips’s passing reminds us how few the members in both parties are who worry about their constituents first. Instead, they seem to be beholden to this or that group that helped them get elected, and look to those respective groups to “educate” them on legislation. Gone are the days of the straight talking honest guy who did his own homework and served his home as best he could.

The Phillips family lost a dear loved one. For that they have sympathy from the entire crackerjack staff of VUI. However, the rest of us in South Carolina lost an elected leader who could not be bought by any group and did what he thought was best for those who sent him to Columbia, agree or disagree with his conclusions. Rep. Phillips’s voice of sincerity and wisdom will be missed.

Prayers and sympathy go out to the Phillips family.

Video Poker raises its ugly head again


Hard economic times bring out all sorts of ideas from politicians. The harder the times the more the more eccentric ideas get attention. The Charleston Post and Courier recently had a columnist all but endorse State Senator Robert Ford’s proposal to bring back video poker to South Carolina and tax it for revenue. Ford is one of the more interesting characters of the General Assembly, always eager to back gambling and to have a colorful quip for the media to latch on to.

The fact that serious journalists are considering Ford’s video poker plan is troubling. It seems Ford and those who support his plan forget why video poker was banned in South Carolina.

First, video poker is not true gambling. Players sit at computer terminals programmed for the house to win. There is no human element. While casino poker and other gambling certainly are set up for the house to win, there is always a human element. The dealer could make a mistake. Other players could make a mistake. Even in sports gambling, a team could have a key player more worried about his girlfriend’s pregnancy test than the next play. Such endeavors with a human factor are true gambling, in that the outcome is not certain. In video poker, there is no human element, and the outcome is certain if a player plays day in day out: he will lose his money to the house. Forget the false arguments about whether video poker is a game of chance or skill. It is neither. It is simply feeding in money for the machine owner.

VUI agrees with Senator Ford and his supporters that standing against true gambling is hypocritical when the state sponsors gambling via a lottery game. However, as stated above, video poker is not gambling. It is simply paying the machine owner for the illusion of gambling.

Let us also not forget the rather seedy elements that video poker brought into South Carolina politics. If you think the Howard Rich money has influenced South Carolina politics, let me remind you of 1998, when big video poker money toppled a sitting Governor and gave various legislative members election grief.

People have the right to spend their own money as they see fit. But, the state has a duty to let people know just what they are paying for. If video poker is somehow brought back, it should be made clear that it is for entertainment only and that long term play results in a big house win.

If gambling taxes are to be the revenue South Carolina chooses to make up its deficits, the least South Carolina could do is offer real gambling choices. Forget the scam and false gambling that is video poker. Bring on real gambling via casinos and sports betting if gambling taxes are to be real revenue.

While VUI does not particularly care for gambling, if there must be gambling, the people of South Carolina deserve a chance to win. Casino and sports betting bring the human element that creates true games of chance. Bringing back video poker will only bring back the social problems South Carolina faced from the seedy endeavor a decade or so ago, in that it creates an illusion of gambling, with no human element involved that makes a real game of chance.

If Senator Ford and his supporters want to be credible in seeking gambling taxes as revenue than they ought to support real gambling and give the people of South Carolina a chance at actually winning a true game of chance in exchange for the taxes that they pay. South Carolina will never be the next Las Vegas or the next Atlantic City in revenue generating gambling if the false gambling of video poker is brought back. If Ford and ilk think gambling is the answer, then they had better have the courage to stand for real gambling.

Friday, December 26, 2008

American business needs to get back to business


The United States economy is experiencing a deep downturn that has people from Main Street to Wall Street anxious and some fearful about the future. Those feelings are justified. The American business structure is inefficient and awards deception and lack of real achievement.

The stage was set for American business decline with the weakening of the role of shareholders in major corporations. Management is supposed to work for the shareholders and make money for the shareholders while providing the customer with goods and services that are inline with market supply and demand.

Under that principle, the American economy became the strongest in the world by far. Abandoning that principle has hit the economy hard.

In today’s American business world, it seems that shareholders and customers end up working for management. Complex employment contracts negotiated for management allows top leaders of American businesses to receive billions in bonuses for leading failing businesses. Shareholder power is thwarted by the bundling of shareholder interests into large hedge and mutual funds. Such funds allow a handful of people to make stock decisions about the majority of stock in major businesses. Thus, the power of the shareholder to vote his stock or move his investment from company A to company B based upon performance is diluted.

All of the above is made more influential by the new standards of success in American business. This blog has commented before about the American business nobility of college degrees. Even lower management jobs are denied to people who can make money for the company if they do not have a college degree. Upper management jobs often require a Master’s degree, usually from some prestigious business school that teaches the latest business models.

Those modern business models often amount to little more that financial gamesmanship. So called financial artists create schemes to increase bonuses for management and shift numbers around to reward top management instead of the shareholder.

When American business was at its best, it was led by people who did not try to fool shareholders into investing and who did care about the people who worked for them and bought from them. It never crossed the minds of the likes of Andrew Carnegie, or Henry Ford, or even South Carolina’s James Self, to take huge bonuses and then leave employees, stockholders, banks and customers in the lurch. Not one of the giants who laid the groundwork for the American economic superpower status would have a chance to be in top management in American big business today.

Instead American big business today is like a big government. It is controlled by relatively few people who have standards that reward practices and create a culture that ranks actual performance down the list of priorities. Further, the financial artists take the role of the big government propaganda operative, finding ways to confuse to convince. Indeed, in previous eras in American history, a good many of those getting multi million dollar bonuses would be in a courtroom instead of an elite cocktail party.

We, the people of the United States, are kidding ourselves if we believe that a trillion dollar bailout of big business can create a recovery. It might in the short term, but in the long term, unless American business shifts its priorities back to rewarding achievement and being open and straight with investors, the bailout will eventually make things worse.

There are those who loudly contend that free trade did this to the American economy. In one way, those who contend such are correct. Most international businesses reward success in their managers and do not care about what college they went to or their use of the financial arts. Those international businesses simply use the old American business model in using the people who get the job done to provide goods and services to the market and returns for the shareholders. Even in nation-states with big governments, businesses act like a business.

Of course, there are ethical concerns such as child and forced labor and environmental degradation to be considered and addressed. However, American business would be better positioned to address those issues of its competitors if it did not operate in its current culture. (Even Ebenezer Scrooge did not operate like American big business today. If he had, Bob Cratchit would not have worked for Scrooge unless he had a Masters from Harvard and the ability to make Scrooge’s company look good right up until the day it filed for bankruptcy. Perhaps the Ghost of Christmas Future should have worked that in.)

In this current crisis, the only thing government can do is foster a return to traditional American business values and then be a bully pulpit for confidence in American business. The two go hand in hand and one without the other will not do. In short, it is time American business got back to doing business. That is a simple way out of the crisis, and frankly it also the hardest way with the American business culture as it is today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas


The crackerjack staff of Voting under the Influence took some needed down time this week to spend time with family and friends. As you gather with family and friends remember Christmas is not about getting the perfect gift or about spending a lot of money. Christmas is about honoring the birth of Jesus Christ and through that honor showing the people around you love, compassion and consideration.

Several things come to mind as Christmas 2008 occurs. First, we are in hard times. It was evident recently to one of our crackerjack staff members as he stood in line at a midlands department store behind a couple arguing about the amount of money being spent. The dutiful clerk ignored the arguing couple, checked out their goods and said, "Thank you and Merry Christmas." To that, the man in the couple replied, "F&@$ you." Those in line behind the couple that had been somewhat amused at their arguing were shocked. The clerk, to his credit, ignored the insult and simply said, "next."

One wonders if the guy who said the rude remark was just a jerk or was feeling the pressure that comes with a holiday in which spending money is expected and money is short. Who knows?

What we do know, whether are not some of you out there believe in Christ, is that the story of Christmas shows that God did not worry about money. It is an incredible story. An all powerful God sends his only begotten Son on Earth to birth in a manger. It was a birth that was below that of most poor people. The only begotten Son of God was denied a birth in a comfortable inn by man. Instead, he came into this world in the poorest of beginnings. Jesus Christ was born in what we would call a barn, amongst the livestock of the day. If God worried about money and power, his Son would have been born in a palace, not a manger.

In today's world, a child born into such a setting would be an outrage. Political groups would cry out. Government agencies might get involved. The so called influential classes would dismiss the child at birth for his humble start. If one thinks about the humble beginnings of Christ, even if you are not a believer, it has to make one think about the conventional wisdom of this world and how the little baby boy born defied that conventional wisdom to have a huge impact upon the world.

That to me, is what Christmas is about. It is about not judging people because of their lack of money and material goods. Christmas celebrates to us Christians the birth of our Savior. But, to others, and to us, it should be a story about how those who we think can have the least of effect upon this world by the world's standards can have the greatest of effect. To the believer, it should be celebrated as a triumph for God. For those who do not believe, they should have the sense to recognize the story of the birth of Christ and his impact on the world at the least as a story about how human beings can have impact despite ever how humble their start in this world.

Knowing the above, it makes is easy to get along with the aunt who is always difficult or to forgive someone for not getting you the perfect gift. Christmas is a time to recognize that all of us can have within us great worth, and thus, all of us deserve basic human respect and compassion.

All that said, VUI wishes each and every one of you a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The word gets out about Lake Hartwell


Those who live and work in the Anderson County area have known for over a year now that Lake Hartwell is dying. Finally, the AP ran a widespread story on the situation.

A full and healthy Lake Hartwell provides water for various towns along the South Carolina Georgia border and is an economic engine for the counties of Anderson and Oconee. The dying version of Lake Hartwell is little more than an eyesore and saps more out of the life of the local economy.

There are several factors at play that created the Lake Hartwell mess.

First, there is Mother Nature. For nearly two years, the area has been in a severe drought. Even recent rains can not begin to make up for the water lost over the past two years. Water is not coming in, but it still is going out to supply water systems and generate electricity.

Second, the Army Corps of Engineers have mismanaged Lake Hartwell. The Corps did cut its use of water from the lake by 15 percent recently, but over the past two years, it has been business as usual for them, despite the drought. The Corps correctly contends that it has ran Lake Hartwell by federal guidelines. However, questions about Corps management need to be raised when Lake Hartwell’s sister lakes on the Savannah River Basin, Lakes Russell and Thurmond, are relatively healthy and full.

That brings up the third reason Lake Hartwell is in trouble. The Lake Hartwell region, on both sides of the state border, lacks political clout. The members of the United States House for the area are relatively new in office and have not established a Washington power base that can make an agency such as the Corps of Engineers move. The local governments, at least at the county level, have had serious issues that diminish their credibility with members of Congress and others outside of the region. Sensational stories about local government officials make people just not care about what those local officials ask for. Again, add to that the fact that for us in South Carolina, a call or letter from Congressman Gresham Barrett does not strike fear in a bureaucrat’s heart.

It is a sad situation for Anderson County and other counties in South Carolina and Georgia that have depended on Lake Hartwell for so much for so long. The bureaucrats and the politicians will blame the weather. However, the lack of political clout and the bureaucratic mismanagement of Lake Hartwell worked with the weather to create the mess that Lake Hartwell is today. It is good that someone finally noticed on a big scale what is happening.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

State Senator Sheheen is right: SC needs a Department of Administration


Looking over the South Carolina Senate's bills recently filed, several caught VUI's attention. One by Senator Knotts of Lexington County to create 2nd amendment rights tags is certainly interesting. It will be certain to get widespread support and bring in revenue if it comes to fruition.

However, it was Senator Vincent Sheheen's proposed Senate Bill 128 that really grabbed the attention of the crackerjack staff of VUI. Sheheen, a Democrat from Kershaw County, proposes moving most of the functions of the Budget and Control Board to a Department of Administration under the Governor. If Governor Sanford and his folks do not take an all or nothing approach, Sheheen's proposal might get something done about the Budget and Control Board.

Let it be clear. Something needs to be done about the Budget and Control Board. The crackerjack staff has heard troubling things from various sources about the Budget and Control Board. Some of what we have heard will be listed below. What is even more troubling, is most of what we heard comes from different sources. In other words, different people with different agendas report the same thing.

There are various tidbits about nepotism, racism and pay inequity within the staff of the board. There are reports of people at the highest levels running their own private business operations out of their office. There are reports of lawyers being paid at the state government lawyer level for non lawyer jobs. There are reports about people sleeping in their offices and being heard snoring. There is even one report we have about an employee who would sneak down to their car to watch the Oprah Winfrey show on their car television. This list can and does go on.

Never has VUI received one positive comment or email about something related to Budget and Control Board. Indeed, the deeper VUI dug into the Budget and Control Board the more VUI realized that the Budget and Control Board is the most powerful entity in state government and is in dire need of reform. The system of having such powerful force in state government answering to a five headed leadership does not work. No one is accountable and it shows.

Sheheen is right to propose some reform. While VUI thinks Sheheen should have went further and called for the abolition of the Budget and Control Board, at least his bill is a good start. One person needs to be held accountable for the operation of the government entity that makes the day to day operations of state government run. It makes sense that someone be the Governor with a Department of Administration. Regardless of the particulars something needs to be done about the Budget and Control Board and done now. The five headed monster just will not work for the people of South Carolina any more. We compete for every penny in the global market and having the most powerful entity in state government being a cesspool of cronyism, dirty inside politics and inefficiency just will not do. Here's hoping Governor Sanford and his folks abandon their all or nothing approach to the problem and embrace Senator Sheheen's proposal and actually get something done about the problem.

The Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas: a talent showcase for a good cause


The 72nd annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas will be played 1 PM on Saturday at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg. The game has been a long time tradition in high school football to reward talented players and coaches in both states for good cause. Proceeds from the game to to Shriners Hospital charities.

We at VUI are especially proud that one of the small schools we cover, Christ Church Episcopal will be represented by lineman J.K. Jay, who is headed to Clemson. The South Carolina team's coaching staff will be led by Anderson County's own Ted Lucadoo of Westside HIgh School. The North Carolina coaching staff will be led by Gary Fowler of Clayton High School.

The only drawback to this year's Shrine Bowl game is the new rule imposed by the NCAA that forbids college coaches from attending practices and the game. The NCAA missed the mark on that rule. Whatever its reasoning, it hurts potential college players. For years, high school players who got little attention in the recruiting process were discovered at the practices and the Shrine Bowl game. Those players got scholarships from NCAA football programs and went on to successful academic and athletic careers. It is shame that the NCAA saw fit to deny this year's participants the same opportunity to prove themselves. Hopefully, the NCAA will come to its senses when it meets early next year and reverse the rule.

Despite that rule, the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas is a great game and is played for a great cause. If you have the chance Saturday, go over to Gibbs Stadium and watch some good football and contribute to an even better cause.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Former President Clinton should give up some fund raising


Former President Bill Clinton has raised over 400 million dollars for his Presidential Library and his Clinton Global Initiative. The aims of the two charities are good and the former President has performed good works through those two groups.

However, the recent disclosures of the source of the funds for the two charities raise some serious questions.

Those questions should not disqualify Senator Hillary Clinton from being the next Secretary of State. The United States has never had a Secretary of State whose spouse was the former President of the United States. Thus, we are in an unprecedented situation. Former Presidents often look to foreign governments and international businesses for contributions to their charitable endeavors. It could be argued that neither former President Clinton nor the donors to his charities had any idea that one day Mrs. Clinton would be shaping foreign policy as Secretary of State. Thus, all donations to date do not disqualify Mrs. Clinton.

However, future donations need strict scrutiny. If Senator Clinton and President-elect Obama are sincere about transparency in government then they should both encourage former President Clinton from accepting money from foreign governments and those with business interests in United States foreign policy for his charities.

Again, the United States is in an unprecedented situation and that demands unprecedented voluntary restrictions on charitable donations to a former President. Suppose Secretary Rice or Secretary Powell or Secretary Baker had a spouse who had a charity that received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments and international business interests. The media would raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the shaping of American foreign policy.

In the case of the Republican Secretaries of State, the media would be correct to raise questions, as they should if former President Clinton continues to raise funds from foreign governments and international business interests for his charities. Politicians are human beings. Hillary Clinton is a human being. A human being has a hard time making a hard decision against someone who gives tens of millions to a loved ones pet causes. Sure there are exceptions. But, those exceptions just prove the rule, so to speak.

It takes an exceptional human being to stand up against an individual or entity who is generous with a loved one. Hillary Clinton might be exceptional. But, why put her to the test when we do not have to? Why should the former President put her in an awkward position as Secretary of State when he does not have to?

Indeed, the former President could secure his role as an elder statesman and spare his wife and President-elect Obama grief by coming out and stating that as long as his wife is Secretary of State, the Clinton charities will not accept any donations from foreign governments or businesses that have an interest in American foreign policy. It would be a good move for the Clintons, for the new President of the United States, and more importantly, for the people of the United States.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who are the real RINOs?


Governor Mark Sanford relishes the role of RINO maverick. The Governor seems to really enjoy picking fights with fellow Republicans and with embracing ideas and stands that appear to not be thought out.

The Governor's recent decision to pick a political fight with the Employment Security Commission over whether or not the Governor should ask for federal assistance so unemployment benefits can be paid to the over 70,000 South Carolinians who are unemployed and depending on those meager checks to put food on the table while they look for work, is the Governor's latest RINO maverick move.

The vast majority of those on unemployment were not born to some trust fund that buffers them from the realities of economic hardship. They do not have a billionaire ready to pay them to spew out his political points. I understand that for the Governor, and for the politicos around him, it is difficult to understand the realities of today's economic hardships when they do not have to worry about whether or not the groceries get bought or the electricity stays on. I also understand how from inside that bubble, it seems okay to play politics with such benefits.

However, the Governor is not Governor of South Carolina inside that bubble. The two conditions the Governor contends for are not thought out very well. First, the Governor wants a fresh audit of the Employment Security Commission in addition to the regular audits of the ESC. The Governor offers no plan on how he would pay for that audit in this current budget crisis. The Governor offers no source of funding for his other condition, information sharing about the unemployed with the Department of Commerce.

Those are perhaps two good ideas that have their time and place. However, the Governor and his people severely underestimate the political costs if the Governor does ask for the federal help and the benefits stop over his conditions not being met. First, there will be a media firestorm against the Governor and nationally, against SC. Howard Rich might write another check or two, but when some family is on some media outlet showing how they eat pet food to make ends meet because Sanford was too stubborn to get help for them, the Sanford movement is over. Crime will rise in South Carolina. Their could be social unrest. It would be devastating for the reputation and the people of South Carolina.

I am sure some of those pundits around the Governor who live in that insulated bubble do not understand what I am talking about and probably never will. They dismiss such points as from a RINO!. Well, if agreeing that petty politics should be set aside to support a basic safety net for people that preserves social order and a sense of decency, than I will join, by that definition, RINOs like Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush and so forth. Indeed, who are the real RINOs?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Every now and then, the good guy wins


It is not about something in South Carolina, but people in South Carolina love college football. There is no college football icon more known than Penn State's Joe Paterno. Paterno is the grandaddy of them all when it comes to coaches. He has has won more games than anyone who ever coached the game at the big time college level. This year's Penn State team is 11-1 and Rose Bowl bound.

Yet, due to his hip injury, caused by showing players how to act on a kickoff, rumors have had old "Joe Pa" ready for retirement. Penn State waited a long time to determine what to do with the living legend. Paterno's current contract expires at the end of the year.

Penn State recently stood up and gave the old legend a resounding vote of confidence. The 81 year old Paterno has a contract to coach through the 2011 season. The old guy with the thick glasses and high water pants will stay on for at least three more years at Penn State.

Paterno staying on at Penn State is not only good for that institution, but for America. It is good to see an old guy who has always played by the rules get a chance to keep on winning by the rules. Paterno's teams have always been free of NCAA rules violations and he and his wife have given tremendous amounts of money to Penn State. Paterno did that while winning. Let that sink in. Ole Joe Pa played by the rules his entire life, gave back to his community and still won. It is good to see one of the good guys in life win one. The entire staff of VUI will be rooting for Jo Pa and Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Hooray for the administration of Penn State for giving the living legend a three year contract.

SC Legislative Silly Season


We NASCAR fans call this time of year the silly season. Not for the holidays, but because it is a time when fans and teams dream about the new season to come early next year. and pass along the latest racing rumors with a fury. In the South Carolina House of Representatives, it is silly season time as well. It is a time when individual members file bills for the next session outlining their dreams for the next session.

There are several bills that caught the attention of VUI.

The first is Lexington County's Kit Spires's proposal to bring back the tax on groceries. To a government insider, it makes sense. The money that needs to be made up from the deficit we face could come from the grocery tax being brought back. People have to buy groceries even if they are broke. So, to the government type or someone who does not struggle to get by and eat, taxing groceries seems like a good idea. A tax increase is the last thing people barely making ends meet need. Tis the compassion and logic of a Howard Rich backed RINO.

Speaking of RINOs, there is no bigger RINO than Governor Mark Sanford when it comes to allowing people more health care choices. The Governor's administration's refusal to certify a heart center at Lexington Medical Center shows Sanford for the RINO he is. I understand the frustration of those in Lexington County. It does seem Sanford believes in choices only if big money backs him. If big money backs limiting the choice, it seems Sanford suddenly takes on RINO status on an issue. Yet, I am still not comfortable with Rep. Mac Toole's proposal to do away with DHEC certification so that the heart center can go forward. What the people of Lexington need, and the state for that matter, is a vigorous press looking into to why the Governor is so hellbent to deny people health care choices.

Rolling on down the line we come to Seth Whipper's proposed bill about trains and intersections. (First, we at VUI express our sympathy to the entire Whipper family as they deal with their tragic loss. The Whipper family are in our prayers.) Rep. Whipper has good intentions with his proposed bill to ban trains from blocking traffic more than five minutes on four lane roads during morning, lunch and evening rush hours. Having lived in Columbia for nearly fifteen years and going there for work and visiting on a regular basis now, I know how frustrating the trains in downtown Columbia can be. Trains have made me late for class in the my days at USC, late for work and late for appointments. However, the hard cold truth is federal law supersedes state law in such matters and the federal railroad laws allow trains to have the right of way, regardless of how it inconveniences people.

Another well intentioned bill is the one proposed to abolish parole in South Carolina. Attorney General Henry McMaster pushed for this last year and is pushing for it again. You got love ole Henry. He wants to lock 'em away and throw away the key. On the surface, abolishing parole sounds good. It sounds really good, until one realizes the cost to the taxpayers for extra prison space. The parole system is in need of serious reform. However, abolishing parole is not the answer. Of course, bringing needed parole reform involves hard work on an issue most people don't care about. The Attorney General and his house supporters are correct in that the parole system is broken. However, abolishing parole will only clog up the courts and prisons and cost the taxpayers more money.

There are other interesting items that make one wonder what is on legislators' minds. There is a proposal to limit the number of certain species of turtles that can be taken outside of the state. There is a proposal to allow schools to have a four day week. There is a bill to make the marsh tacky the official state horse.

Other proposed bills are sound and deserve support. Rep. Jim Merrill's proposal to eliminate the Ports Authority Board and allow the Governor to appoint a Ports Director is one of them. South Carolina needs one clear voice and agenda on governing its current and future ports. That should be in the hands of an elected Governor.

Chris Hart's proposal to make nursing homes carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance makes sense as well. Other professional groups have to carry at least that much insurance to just do business. The market usually demands such, with or without a state law. However, with our aging population and the gut wrenching process families go through in placing a relative in a home, perhaps the state should step up and make sure nursing home providers have the most basic of ability to remedy any negligent harm done to a patient. It is one less thing for families to worry about. It also presents them with a fair marketplace to choose within.

There are a list of other bills in the House and Senate that could go on an on. That is the nature of the silly season. Come June we will know if any of these silly season dreams become law.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A vigorous energy plan is still needed


The pain at the pump has been eased dramatically over the past several weeks, with gas prices as low as a 1.35 a gallon for regular in some locations in South Carolina. The relief is nationwide.

While that relief at the gas pump is one of the positives signs about the current United States economy, I fear it will lead to complacency with the status quo as lower gas prices did in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Now is not the time for such complacency. Now is the time to act in the interests of our national security.

OPEC meets today to remind us of that. The OPEC cartel controls nearly half of the world’s oil reserves. It is a hodgepodge group of nations made up of despots, fanatics and others who do not have the interests of the United States in mind when they meet to discuss oil production. The OPEC cartel is expected to make dramatic cuts to oil production in an attempt to raise the price of oil. They plan to act so despite the fact it is the last thing that a world in recession needs.

For far too long, the OPEC cartel has literally held the world’s economy over a barrel. As the biggest consumer of oil, the United States can declare independence from the cartel by making bold moves to become energy self sufficient.

It starts with more drilling in the United States and offshore of the United States. The technology is present today to do just drilling safely. The nation that created the Internet and sent a man to the moon certainly can find a safe and clean way to drill for more oil.

However, drilling is not the only answer. The United States must have a long range plan to find alternative fuel sources to power its automobiles and its electric plants. There are several alternatives out there, such as compressed natural gas, long term batteries, flex fuels for automobiles and wind and solar power to create electricity. It is ironic that with all the advances made by the United States in so many areas over the past 30 years, the massed produced gasoline combustion engine from the 1920s remains the dominant way in which to power automobiles.

The irony is easily understood, however. In a truly free market, chances are the gasoline combustion engine and old styles of electricity production would be things of the past. However, the energy market is among the most regulated by government at all levels. As such, it is subject to the non-market influence of lobbyists from the energy companies and even the automotive industry. Those lobbyists have for decades convinced the Congress and other elected officials that a dramatic change in how the nation powers itself is not affordable or doable.

Imagine if the computer industry and Internet had been regulated so heavily and influenced so. Innovators like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would have been discouraged from moving the computer from machines that were expensive and weighed thousands of pounds to the current models that are lighter than a briefcase. The Internet would likely be a network that a handful of people in academe and in the Pentagon had access to. The old typewriter would still hold its place as the dominant machine to communicate with.

Without the heavy hand of regulation and influence of self interested lobbying, the free market moved out the typewriter and replaced it with the personal computer. For a nominal access fee through a provider, people can access all sorts of information, good and bad, via the Internet.

Certainly a society that had within it innovators in information exchange like Jobs and Gates has within it energy innovators. At the least government should get out of the way, and let the energy innovators flourish. The hundreds of billions of dollars paid out each year to the OPEC cartel demand that the United States move on energy and move now. It is far past time we took back control over such a big part of our economic security.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The evolution of Andre Bauer


Perhaps it was Lt. Governor’s Bauer’s brush with death in a spring 2006 plane crash. Perhaps it is the natural growth that comes with more years on the Earth. Whatever the reason, Lt. Governor Andre Bauer has turned from a guy that had Republican bigwigs shaking their heads to now being a real force in South Carolina politics.

From the start of his political career, Bauer has been hard working, ambitious and unafraid to take on a challenge. His career started when he defeated incumbent David Wright for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives. From there, Bauer went to the state senate and then the Lt. Governor’s office in 2002, defeating well known people along the way.

Despite that success, Bauer’s lead foot, youth and ability to attract so many from the fairer sex gave Bauer the undeserved reputation of being a lightweight “pretty boy.” When Republican bigwigs were not openly criticizing Bauer for his lead foot, they were whispering about his ability to attract the ladies. The Governor, and especially the First Lady, did not care for the Lt. Governor and they put their power behind discrediting the Lt. Governor whenever they could.

It reached a fever pitch in 2006, when the Old Guard Republicans joined with the Sanfords to support Mike Campbell against the Lt. Governor in the primary. The Sanfords and the establishment Republicans rarely agree on something. So, with the lead foot, the plane crash, all the other nonsense, it seemed Bauer was doomed to defeat. Bauer won. Then, he won the general election with lackluster support from both Sanford and the old guard.

During Bauer’s first term, the legislature moved the Department of Aging under his office. Some of the old guard Republicans thought that would be the undoing of the Lt. Governor. They believed that if Bauer had to run an agency, he would show himself to be a lightweight and be dismissed away.

That was a mistake. Bauer has done good work with that agency, and has received praise from the media and from senior groups. As such, along with his maturity in office, Andre Bauer has created an opportunity to be a real contender for Governor of South Carolina.

That opportunity is ticking some folks off. The Sanford crowd seems to like Gresham Barrett for the job. The establishment folks like Henry McMaster for the job. Andre Bauer has the chance at the role of the “people’s” candidate. The conventional wisdom of the pundits found that impossible a few years ago.

Bauer works hard and connects with people. He seems to be a type not to check his fundraising list before answering a phone call. He does not call Howard Rich to see if this or that stand is okay. That still means a lot to South Carolinians. The Lt. Governor has the intangibles that has led him to be an outstanding Lt. Governor and that make him a formidable candidate for Governor.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A few starting points to reform Anderson County government


There is a new council coming in January to Anderson County. There are probably a couple of hundred things the new council should do to reform Anderson County government and make it more conservative and Anderson a better place for economic development. I will start by offering 15 points.

1) Forget Joey Preston. The Boss Hogg of Anderson County rode off in his Cadillac. It is over. Wasting one moment of the taxpayer's time on Preston will only reinforce to the outside world considering investing in Anderson County how crazy its politics were. The new council should be thankful the Preston Era is over and move on to make sure such a situation never happens again.

2) Only have a special audit if there is extra money left in the budget to have one. Bill Clinton showed us on the federal level how more money can be spent on trying to save money than the actual savings found. Spending taxpayer money to find out how taxpayer money was spent before compounds the problem. Where does the spending end? If council spends millions to find out this or that point, they will be no better than their big spending predecessors. The new council will be simply spending big money on different things.

3) Hold the line on taxes. Three out of the four Republican members who supported increasing taxes were soundly defeated in last June's primary. The fourth, Ron Wilson, won a close race against an inept candidate. General election voters soundly defeated the penny sales tax increase. Thus, it is clear that not the Cindy versus Joey saga, but taxes, are what is on the minds of voters. No matter how many audits are held, if the new council can not hold the line on taxes or cut them, they will be voted out.

4) Fund first things first. Public safety, infrastructure and other essential services should be funded first. Then, if there is any money left over, money for this group or that group can be doled out.

5) The best way to fund first things first, at least symbolically, is to eliminate the paving and recreation funds each council member has. Those funds are nothing more than re-election funds. Council members should have to include their requests in the general budget, after of course, first things are funded first.

6) Strictly enforce the rule that all appointees to boards and commissions by a member of council come from within that council member's district. Representation from each district on such boards and commissions is the why members are allowed to appoint such. Allowing a council member to appoint a political pet from outside his or her district silences the voice of the people of the district that member represents.

7) Eliminate the mileage payment to council members for attending council meetings. While this will not save a large amount of money, it will send a message that council lives in the real world. Council meetings are where council does it work. The vast majority of the people living and working in Anderson County do not get paid to drive to their plant or office.

8) Limit access to county credit cards. There should be no more than 5 county credit cards. Those employees who wish to have a county credit card used should have to put in writing why they need a credit card used and have it used by an official in finance for what they requested. For the Administrator and those in economic development who are in a situation in which they must use a credit card with short notice, they should have to issue monthly reports on their usage and reimburse the county for any personal expense. The remainder of county government, including the county council, should not be given possession of a county credit card, but instead file a request for an agreed upon county official to approve their request and use the credit card on their behalf or file a traditional expense report afterwards for reimbursement. All such requests should be available to the public, with the names of potential economic development targets simply redacted.

9) Create a volunteer "citizen's voice committee," made up of three members from each district. The committee should be charged with reporting to council the concerns of the citizens of the county. It would be a great outlet for those who feel that their voices are not heard.

10) No county employee outside of public safety shall be allowed to regularly drive a county vehicle home. The county employee who gets in at one in the morning should not be made to drive to the county carpool to turn his car in at that time, but he should the next day. The vast majority of county employees, including the administrator, should simply "check out" a county vehicle when it is needed on county business and turn the vehicle back in as soon as practicable after that business in concluded.

11) Eliminate the Park Police. While I am sure the Park Police is made up of dedicated employees, I believe that their talents would be better used elsewhere, such as the Sheriff's Department. A county Anderson's size has no business with a Park Police. The Sheriff should have the duty of protecting the county's parks and other properties.

12) Move to privatize the county museum. I am a huge fan of history. The folks who run the county museum are dedicated and have done a good job. However, after years of giving the museum county funded seed growth, it is time for the museum to stand on its own.

13) Instruct the economic development operation to work with the SC Department of Commerce on targets. There have been some big economic developments busts for Anderson County over the past couple of years. Some of it can be attributed to how people outside the county see politics within the county as a bit petty and nutty. Most of it can be attributed to the fact there is a lack of coordination with the state operation.

14)Revise the schedule of county council to include one "town hall" meeting every quarter. Instead of having the comments portion of every council meeting that ends up in little more than the same handful of people complaining, scrap that and have a meeting once a quarter that opens up all council for not only comments but questions. I believe such sessions would go a long way in making people from all sides of the issues in Anderson County feel better about having their voices heard. I also believe that it will make council members think about each and every thing they do, in that they have to face questions in an open meeting from the public about their actions.

15) The new council should work to make sure that they or no candidate for council in the future, accepts campaign funds from outside Anderson County. Further, all current members of council should pledge not to have any or sort of legal fund or any other personal agenda fund. This policy gives true transparency in that what you see is what you get with your member of council.

I realize there are more issues to be dealt with. However, I believe that if the new council took those 15 first steps it would go a long way to creating an atmosphere in which a conservative government committed to true open government could begin taking on the other problems.

Tell me what you think. Let's start the conversation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Merry Christmas without apology

Tis the season to be jolly, or really pissed off and cause your community and co-workers to walk on eggshells. In today's world, the harmless wish of "Merry Christmas" will either get you praise from the right or a lawsuit from the left. Anti-social behavior now has a new word, "political correctness." As a result, far too many businesses and local governments are afraid of the word "Christmas." It is even difficult to find a decent Christmas card that says "Merry Christmas" or even "Season's Greetings." Instead, the conventional wisdom of the day goes with "Happy Holidays" or "Happy Winter Vacation" to not provoke the malcontents into lawsuit mode.

So, as I light up a good cigar, I say, "have a good Christmas season." I also offer this video from MAD TV that makes fun of how afraid of Christmas so many of us have become.

Time to be positive about the economy


As in most matters, politicians and media types are playing catch up to what is happening in the American economy. Analysts state that the recession we are currently in is real and that it began about a year ago. Traditionally, that would mean that the American economy is nearing the end of the down cycle and about to tick upwards again.

However, there is a problem. Conventional wisdom in the media and political circles are just catching up to how bad things were or are and are now telling the American people how bad it is and how bad it going to be. No American pundit or politician seems willing to have the courage to say things could actually be looking up for the American economy. Instead, they are swept up in the wave of conventional wisdom that is reinforcing fears among businesses, governments and the people. The more our media and our leaders tell us how bad things are, the more we believe it and act accordingly, creating the dreaded self fulfilling economic prophesy.

I am not offering some Pollyanna view of the economy. There are good signs out there. Foreclosures tumbled to their lowest rate in seven months in November. Energy prices tumbled to their lowest levels since Bush took office, giving Americans an unofficial “tax cut” that put money in their pockets. American banks who weathered the storm are coming out lean and efficient. The dollar is stronger against other currencies than it has been in months. Refinances of mortgages are actually up.

The only thing that is missing is confidence. From the President-elect to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, there seems to be a message resigned to economic disaster. Stories are written to present numbers in such a light. Politicians are afraid to utter one positive word. As a result, state governments, such as South Carolina’s assume the worst and make deep cuts in anticipation of disaster. Major businesses do the same. The average consumer holds back on the next purchase which could keep things rolling.

It is a vicious cycle that is unnecessary. What is needed now is not more talk of doom and gloom but some good ole fashioned optimism. Optimism got Barack Obama elected President of the United States. It is time he used it.

Ronald Reagan faced a similar crisis of confidence when he took office and when the stock market fell dramatically in the fall of 1987. Reagan found a way to communicate to the American people that America was still strong and that confidence in America and in each other would keep the economic wolf from the door.

That sense of optimism and communication is needed now more than any bailout measure. Americans have to be made to believe again in how strong America actually is and how the future is bright, not bleak.

The only fear I have is that our leaders want to exploit economic fear to worsen the situation to create an atmosphere in which their big government measures are welcomed. It is time we take what the media and our political leaders tell us with the proverbial grain of salt. Indeed, it is time we demand that our strengths are reported more than our weaknesses and that our business leaders embrace the future optimistically.

Believing in ourselves is the only real way out of this economic mess. The longer we buy into the idea that we can’t have a strong economy, the longer we will not have one. Before we recover, we have to believe we can recover, and that duty falls upon our leaders in politics and the media.

President-elect Obama can do more than any other American to shift the thoughts of the American people. All the President-elect has to do is be positive and talk up the positive signs, such as fewer foreclosures and lower energy costs. If the President-elect takes the conventional wisdom route and dwells upon the negative, the American people will be led to do worse, and President-elect Obama will only serve one term.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Charity challenge to SC Bloggers

In these difficult times it is natural to have self interests first. Even those among us with means or modest means are nervous about the future as bad story after bad story seems to fill the news. Fear has gripped far too many of us. Greed has gripped some.

There is a perception among some that conservatives believe that people who need charity are weak or lazy. I can not speak for everyone, but in my case, I don't believe that is true. Not always favoring government solutions to social problems does not excuse one from duties to his fellow man. Despite how the left wants to portray conservatism, political conservatism and charitable acts can and do often go hand in hand.

As with everyone else out there, it is has been a tough year for me and the entire crackerjack staff of VUI. However, between now and the end of the year, I challenge every political blogger and every reader of this and any other blog to give at least $50 to a charity that feeds the hungry or houses the homeless or gives a toy to a child.

I choose the low figure of $50 because I know know some folks out there are nervous. But, $50 to a food bank or a homeless shelter from hundreds of people will make a difference. I hope other political bloggers will issue the same challenge. From the left and right, we can really make a difference if we all pony up just $50 each. I encourage you to give more if you can.

I issue this challenge to show how the political bloggers on the right and left can come together and lend a hand to people who need it the most. I ask all bloggers and readers to join me, regardless if you think I am a RINO or right wing nutjob or whatever. Answer the VUI challenge and show the state that there is more to the blogging community then just words.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Governor, what were you thinking?











Just when you thought the circus of the South Carolina House clash had all its clowns, Governor Mark Sanford arrived. Not wanting to be left out of the embarrassment that is the clash between the Howie Rich kids and the cool kids of the House, Mark Sanford had to weigh in. Sanford had a chance to just express disappointment in the House conflict and state how South Carolinians deserved both factions to work together to find conservative coalitions to solve problems. He chose to do otherwise.

Sanford did so in a recent article in The State. His first remarks about Speaker Harrell sending one of his staff to deliver the letter moving a house member to another committee being cowardly I actually agree with. It was cowardly for the Speaker to act that way. If the Speaker really wants to be a blunt force in the House, he ought to know great legislative leaders have the guts to look you in the eye and tell you where to go, so to speak.

The irony is that Mark Sanford correctly condemns Bobby Harrell for a style of politics that Mark Sanford has brought to the forefront of South Carolina Republican politics. Sanford goes after his enemies just a viciously as Harrell and just as cowardly, using Sanford's own standard. Instead of coming straight after them, Governor Sanford uses his network of out of state fund raisers to create virtual front groups and paid bloggers. Those groups and bloggers attack the Governor's enemies with true issues, personal issues, and whatever they think of that they think sounds witty and clever. Vote against one of the Governor's pet issues, and those folks will hound you. All the while, Governor Sanford gets to pitch his clean image to the public.

Whoever advised the Governor to go ahead with the "cowardly" remarks did not see that potential opening. But, it was the Governor's remarks in the second half of the story that makes one ask that old Southern saying, "Governor, what were you thinking?"

Governor Sanford compared the Speaker of the House to running the House like the Soviet Union ran its operation. Let that sink in. The Governor is comparing the Speaker moving two members around on committees to gulags, Stalin's purge, the Siberian exiles, and dissident voices fearing jail or death. Either the Governor misspoke or has a marked ignorance of world history. The Governor's response is especially insulting to any survivors of the old Soviet system who now call South Carolina home.

No defense of Bobby Harrell will be offered. The Speaker's acts were indefensible. But to compare those acts to the Soviet Union is not acceptable.

The Governor of South Carolina should clarify his remarks regarding the Speaker of the South Carolina House. Governor Sanford talks a good bit about making the economic soil rich for economic development in South Carolina. Such is impossible when the major leaders seem like melodramatic children. Citizen Mark Sanford can call Bobby Harrell "Hilter," if he chooses, but Governor Mark Sanford should have a better sense of the dignity of his office. The Governor of South Carolina speaks for all South Carolinians, within and outside the state. As such, a Governor's words should be measured and without hyperbole. That is what a leader has to live with to be a leader.

By his remarks, Governor Sanford showed that there is a real vacuum of leadership in South Carolina. Neither the Governor or the Speaker are truly fit to lead in these trying times. The Democrats offer no real alternative. It appears that the people of South Carolina face two years of petty and personal bickering instead of solutions the state's problems. Last week VUI dubbed the conflict in the SC House the best financed childhood game of king of the hill. It seems now to have lowered to a well financed urinating contest. South Carolina deserves better. Hopefully in two years, South Carolina gets the leadership it deserves.

The story in The State can be found at http://www.thestate.com/statewire/story/616053.html

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A song for the bailouts of the auto industry

We have all read how the automotive manufacturers of America claim they need billions of tax payer money to stay alive. They claim, with some support from economists and pundits, that the survival of the American automobile industry is key to the survival of the American economy. President Bush and the current Congress seem eager to work President-elect Obama and the next Congress to find some sort of bailout for the automakers. We have certainly moved a long way from the simple horseless carriage Henry Ford offered in mass production. The late Jerry Reed summed it in song better than I can write it. "Lord Mr. Ford, what have we become."

Time between Election Day and Inauguration Day is not wasted


Several media outlets and pundits have languished about the amount of time between the election of President-elect Obama and his Inauguration. Even's South Carolina's own Spartanburg Herald got into mix with its editorial on Monday. Read the editorial at http://www.goupstate.com/article/20081207/opinion01/812070285

On first glance, the remarks of the Spartanburg paper and others make sense. It is natural in this age of the internet and instant gratification that arguments would be made that the people should get their choice for President as quickly as possible. On the surface, those calling for a shorter period of time between Election Day and Inauguration Day make sense.

However, a look below the surface shows that such a change is not wise, despite how the popular media culture views it. Indeed, it is extraordinarily short sighted to contend for such a change just because one's pet candidate is not in office yet.

The actions and powers of the Presidency of the United States and the Executive Branch are too often defined by what appears about such in the media. However, there are mundane yet crucial duties performed by the thousands that make up the executive branch that have no media appeal. It is in those duties that the government runs.

Government experts and academics have spent their lives learning the ins and outs of the Executive Branch, and still most of them would admit that they do know every aspect of it. The Presidency alone is filled with executive agreements and compacts that need to be learned about, executive orders that need to be reviewed and examinations of how various acts of Congress empower or deny power to the President. National defense intelligence has to be reviewed and decisions made on the smallest of detail that could have dramatic consequences.

Further, the United States is one of the few democracies in the world in which its leader and those he appoints can come out of nowhere. (That is a good thing, but we must allow the learning time on the basics.) Other democracies employ the parliamentary system of government. In that system, the opposition's leader picks fellow party members to act as a "shadow cabinet" to the executive offices. The shadow cabinet members devote their time to learning about the office they would take come electoral victory while their opponents hold power.

Such is not the case in the United States. The people of the United States do not know who the next candidates for the office will be when a new President takes office, much less the people likely to work in the cabinet. When a new President is elected, he has a relatively short time already compared to the most of the world in choosing the members of cabinet and having them brought up to speed.

Putting together the team to run the world's most complicated executive branch of government is daunting enough for a new President now. Shortening the time will only add to the difficulty of a new administration starting off strong.

One has to only go back to the Clinton to Bush transition to see the consequences of a shortened transition. Bush's late and disputed victory shortened his official time as President-elect in half. (It also created rancor that did not make the transition as smooth as possible.) Various analysts, including the 911 Commission, point to the shortened transition and the confusion it caused with some lower level intelligence decisions as part of why the 911 attacks were allowed to happen.

Former President Bill Clinton stated earlier this year that no one was truly prepared to be President until one is elected President. Clinton did not elaborate on his reasoning for that statement. However, I have to believe it is because only when a candidate becomes President-elect does he truly know what is going on beyond media outlets.

As such, the time between Election Day and Inauguration Day is not wasted. It is a valuable time for the President-elect and the people around him to analyze the situation with full knowledge and decide how they want to approach their duties.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Remember Pearl Harbor


By all accounts it was a beautiful morning in Hawaii on December 7th, 1941. It was also a beautiful afternoon in Washington, D.C.

The government of the United States knew the Japanese Empire was up to something, but with communications so slow during that time and analysis even slower, the United States was apparently caught off guard that beautiful December day.

The morning met Hawaii with a United States military totally at ease. Those naval and army personnel not recovering from the previous night’s partying were relaxed and just going through the motions of an “off” day like a Sunday morning. The same was true in Washington. While a handful of staffers were scurrying to find out what was going on, others were relaxing. Army Chief of Staff Marshall was out riding his horse. President Roosevelt attended church and was taking an afternoon nap. In Hawaii, an entire organization seemed to have no idea about what was happening.

The forces of the Japanese Navy knew what was happening. Those forces had prepared for months and their operation, dubbed “Tora Tora” hit hard. Several American battleships were sunk in Pearl Harbor. Wheeler Airfield was all but destroyed. Thousands of sailors and soldiers were killed. The attack would fuel American fury against Japan and still invokes the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

The attack was on the surface a great success. However, one Japanese admiral saw the attack for what it turned out to be. Admiral Yamato said, amongst all the shouts of success, “I am afraid we have awoken a giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”

That Japan did. The unprovoked attacked upon Pearl Harbor proved to be exactly what was necessary to galvanize the American public to support war against both Japan and Germany. The rest is history.

However, I still think about some of those guys on Hawaii that day that showed up for duty expecting a ho-hum day. I think about those hungover fellas who found rifles and fired them at attacking airplanes and the junior officers of naval ships who did what they could to save their men. There were a lot of heroes who rose up after Pearl Harbor, but history should not forget the people who found a way to be a hero when least expected to when the attack happened.

Just like in our generation’s great attack upon us, September 11th, 2001, there were people who stood as heroes at a moment’s notice on December 7th, 1941. For those people, we should always say, “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

SC High School Football’s Weekend of Champions



For the first time, Clemson University’s famed “Death Valley” aka Memorial Stadium and Frank Howard Field played host to the larger portion of the South Carolina High School League football championship games.

The Divison A-I and A-II games were decided last Friday at Dawson Stadium on the campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.

Despite the fact that by all reports, Clemson played the gracious host to the games, there was some rumbling from fans and others about the long drives teams from the eastern part of South Carolina had to Death Valley to play. Take for example the eventual AAA champion Myrtle Beach Seahawks. The Myrtle Beach team and its fans had to make a five hour drive to Death Valley. Such long drives will likely come up when the SCHSL decides whether or not to move the title games back to Columbia’s Williams-Brice stadium, a more centrally located venue.

Travel issues aside, it was a weekend filled with great football. Dillon won its first championship since 1947 when it beat Central 7-6 for the Class AA crown.

South Pointe took the AAAA-II title by defeating Northwestern in a match up of Rock Hill area rivals played a couple of hours or so away.

Byrnes proved again its dominance of South Carolina High School football with a 31-21 win over Sumter for the AAAA-I title. That game was perhaps the most interesting game played over the weekend. The Byrnes Rebels faced a stiff test from the Sumter Gamecocks in winning their 6th state title in 7 years. However, Byrnes just found a way to stay ahead. Sumter deserves a lot of credit for playing their hearts out against perhaps one of the greatest high school football teams in the United States. However, in the end, it is the scoreboard that determines the champion, and by that measure, Byrnes got the job done.

The last game to note was the Myrtle Beach Seahawks’ win over Chester for the AAA title. It was by far the most sentimental victory of the season. The Myrtle Beach team was playing in honor and memory of a longtime assistant coach was recently killed in a car crash. The Seahawks traveled over five hours and played a good football team in unusually cold weather to win the state title. Their story is one that makes it easy to be a fan of high school football in South Carolina.

That it is. The high school football season is over in South Carolina. It was a great year. Congratulations not only to the state champions, but the region champions and all the players and coaches who coached and played at their best in the true spirit of competition. There is such a rich tradition and sense of sportsmanship in South Carolina high school football at all levels. It is a pity we are at the season's end. It leaves one eager for August 2009, when it all starts again.

You sure those guys did it this a way?

When I started in politics, I was told how Atwater done things. When I attempted to write commentaries, I was told how Robert Novak and Lewis Grizzard done things. When I tried my hand recently at writing lyrics for country music, I was told how Hank done it.

Well, eventually, I guess, a guy gets tired of hearing how it was once done. I did live over ten years on the roads, going to the all those living rooms in South Carolina. I did see every corner of this state, for better or worse. I spent more money than I should and lived a great bit harder than I should.

The following video begs the question. I am not sure those old guys did it this a way. God bless them if they did. For, I know first hand living that real ain't an easy thing to do. I will let Waylon ask the question.
The good lord knows none of those hired hand from the Howard Rich crowd ever lived life so. If they had, they might have a real legislative victory to their credit by now after six years of getting highly paid to do so.

As for me, I earned my dues and my right to call it like I see it. I spent those years on the road and those living rooms. I learned a lot about the people along the way, and I learned I am man who can not be bought. When I look at all the high paid believe in nothing unless paid for politicos around us, well, I know Lee did not do it that way. You can bet your ass Hank didn't when he wrote the truth. Being bought is easy. Telling the truth is not. Take it away Waylon....

Friday, December 05, 2008

President Sanford? Nope

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has been making himself heard around the nation recently as he vies to be the leader that can return the Republican Party to power. On various national news outlets the South Carolina Governor is showing his folksy approach to conservative politics that got him elected to two terms as Governor.

Behind that lurks the Sanford personal wealth from his and his wife’s families and the money from the Howard Rich network. Sanford has the type of money backing him that can make a big difference in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. His “awe shucks yet educated” persona would play well in early primary states. Thus it is only natural that big media types look at Sanford as one of the possible rising stars of the Republican Party.

Sanford’s problem is his record. While first term Republican Governors like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sarah Palin of Alaska already have reform victories that they can claim, Governor Sanford is mired down in a seemingly egotistical battle with members of the his own party that control the South Carolina General Assembly. Indeed, though outgoing President Bush is not popular with the American people today, ten years ago, when then Governor Bush was being looked at a contender for the White House, his strongest asset was his ability to work with Democrats, like the late Texan Lt. Governor Bob Bullock, to reform education and other aspects of government in Texas.

Frankly, Governor Mark Sanford is no Governor George W. Bush. Sanford can not even get along with the members of his own party on a personal level; much less find bipartisan coalitions for needed government reforms. The Governor’s handlers and the well paid group of politicos funded through the Howard Rich network do not even attempt to work out differences civilly. Instead they attack on nasty and personal levels, and then wonder why no one wants to sit down and broker a deal with them.

Governor Sanford can claim independence from those hired political hit men all he wants, but in the end, it is leadership that gets results, not sound bites or blog postings. When it comes to results, Mark Sanford has failed. The hands hired to defend the Sanford agenda go after the General Assembly and blame it for Sanford’s failure.

However, a real leader finds a way to convince those who share power with him to join him in reforming government. A real leader finds a way to get along with people and to compromise on minor things to get the big things done. Mark Sanford does not do that.

Ronald Reagan once said about the tax reform he agreed to in 1986, “a half of loaf is better than none.” That mentality was leadership. Governor Sanford would burn down the bakery if he did not get the full loaf. Then the Governor would have his hired protectors tell people how bad the bakery was. That is why, despite the big money and the campaign operation that elected him twice, Mark Sanford has little to show for his time as Governor. It is also why Mark Sanford will never be President of the United States.

A good many of Governor Sanford’s ideas are right. However, somewhere along the way, Sanford and his people forgot how to deal with other human beings, especially those who share power with them in elected office. A politician can be inept at such and rise high, even to the level of Governor. However, the race for the Presidency is on another level. People demand someone who can get results. Throughout his years as a Congressman and as a Governor, Mark Sanford has proven he can talk well about his ideas, but can not work with people to get the job done. Borrowing a line from President Bush, Sanford is like the guy who was “all hat and no cattle.” Such will not play well on the national stage. Sanford should enjoy the prominence he is getting now, for it is about as high as he will ever get in the eye of the American public.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Obama Day


The county commission of Perry County, Alabama recently voted, by a 4-1 vote, to designate the second Monday of every November as "Obama Day" and close county offices in honor of the President-elect.

I realize that Obama mania is at a fever pitch. However, it seems a bit far fetched to honor the President-elect with a holiday before he even takes office. There is no doubt that the residents in the tiny Alabama county that voted overwhelmingly for Obama are excited about his election. Yet, such an act by a county just makes one feel a bit uncomfortable. It is typically dictators and monarchs who have holidays recognized in their honor while they are in power or living, not leaders of democracies.

Indeed, I have always been uncomfortable with naming anything after a sitting politician. There is always the chance that politician can do something boneheaded. I even felt uncomfortable with all the things named after Strom Thurmond while he was in office, even though I consider Strom Thurmond to be the greatest South Carolinian I have ever met. At least Thurmond had years upon years of public service behind him before the honors came in.

The President-elect has a short stint in the Illinois state senate, three years and ten months as a United States Senator, and his election to the post of President of the United States. Like it or not, Obama fans, the President-elect's resume is thin and his mark on history is yet to be determined.

I admit that the election of the nation's first biracial President is historic. However, looking past race, as we all should, whether or not Barack Obama deserves a holiday should be determined on what he does as President of the United States, not because he won an election.

Suppose back in 1968, a county council or commission was so excited about the election of Richard Nixon that they designated a permanent "Richard Nixon" holiday. Imagine the embarrassment such a county would have faced when Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.

I do not contend that President-elect Obama will resign in disgrace. However, in a democracy, where a free media and people interact to hold its elected leaders accountable, something like that is always possible. That is why democracies wait to honor a politician after that politician's body of work is completed or so well proven it is beyond dispute.

We live in the United States of America, not some third world dictatorship or old style monarchy. As such we should show respect to the President of the United States while he is in office, but honor him only after he proved himself in office worthy of such honor.

We do not have huge posters of our "great leader" hanging in city streets. We do not close our businesses and government to honor the current President, as dictatorships do. The leaders of Perry County, Alabama ought to consider that before they declare any more county holidays.