Saturday, January 31, 2009

These old boys get it right in making fun of Obama's stimulus package

Jackie and Dunlap are just two good ole boys from Tennesse with some political sense. They get it right in making fun of the so called stimulus package the Democratic House passed and the President seems all to eager to embrace. Get 'em fellas.

Restoring the economy: what the federal government can do

The first thing that should be noted is the so called stimulus package passed by the House this week is a political sham. It is not a stimulus package. As the details are examined, it is a left wing political payoff package. It is short on tax cuts and infrastructure spending, and it should be scrapped. If the federal government is hellbent on spending over a trillion dollars, Voting under the Influence offers another way.

First, to help those most in need, eliminate the payroll taxes for two years. That gives the working men and women more money in their pockets and helps the businesses who employ them keep them on the payroll. The relief to both would be dramatic and immediate. The money would hit the economy directly without the government middle man involved.

Second, to shore up investments, there should be an immediate elimination of the capital gains tax for two years. Keep income tax rates where they are. Those who have the money to invest will sink their money into investing in tax free endeavors that could shore up business investment and the markets. Frankly, part of the reason that we are in the situation we are in is that we seem to punish via taxes those who make capital investmetns that can spur the economy. It makes no sense. Give Americans the incentive to invest their money and watch things grow.

Third, the government spending aspect of the stimulus package needs to be strictly limited to legitimate infrastructure projects. There is little debate that America's roads, bridges, major sewer and water systems, and even some key buildings need an overhaul. Fine. It is good to do that, as long as the money designated for that is just for that. There should be no provisions for political pet projects or to make unions get more dues. Frankly, we live in times that just can not afford that sort of political luxery. We compete with the world now economically, and the rest of the world is not burdened by our politically laden burdens such as bloated labor unions wanting their dues.

Of course, there are various state governments who want money to bail themselves out of their binds. The federal government should deny such. It should issue them funds strictly for infastructure matters in block grant fashion, and that is that. If a state chooses to devote its resources to paying for some matter that does not have anything concrete to do with the general commerce and security of the United States, so be it. However, the other states in the union should not be required to pay for that choice.

The last matter is perhaps the least to be expected. The Democrats in Congress and the Obama Admininstration need to put the brakes on their pro labor union measures. Of course, Obama and the Democrats and the unions will go on about they look out for the working man and woman. That is a bunch of bunk. What modern unions do is look after themselves, often charging union dues that are about as big as Uncle Sam's cut from a paycheck. Further, they deter competiveness in American business. They will tell you it is all about higher salaries and benefits. That is not true. Businesses like Toyota pay higher than union wages in their plants just to keep the unions out. Why? Because, beyond salaries, unions often asks for cuts and for rules that making competing in the global economy of today impossible. VUI will write more about the shocking nature of pro-union stands of Obama, but for now, we simply state it is hampering American business from being competitive and shipping jobs overseas.

In short, the stimulus package we are being asked to embrace or face to wrath of being against Obama is no stimulus package. His acts as President so far are not those of a President who wants business to succeed. The above ideas are suggestions of another way. There are more. One thing is for sure, as Herbert Hoover once proved, government spending and punishing business will not work in these sort of times.

Restoring the economy: What the state government can do

Editor's note: First, let me be clear that this post and the subsequent post about what the federal government can do are overviews. Each aspect proposed deserves individual posts, and will get so over the next few weeks. That said, enjoy, comment, criticize and condemn as you will. At the least the crackerjack staff of Voting under the Influence is offering something to talk about on perhaps the most important issue of our time.

While is seems from major media reports that the state are helpless as the economic crisis unfolds, there are some things that South Carolina can do to make itself more economically viable in these times.

First, South Carolina has to restructure its state tax system. First, South Carolina has to move towards a more consumption based tax. That might seem unwise in these times, but it is feasible if several points are considered. First, there is a considerable amount of people who do not pay any tax, be it through their illegal status or through their accountant's careful moves. A shift to a sales tax based income removes that. It does included bringing back the sales tax on food, but that is offset by other tax cuts that would benefit those who people think things like the food tax would hurt.

To counter the consumption tax increase, South Carolina should first eliminate corporate income taxes and begin a plan to phase out individual income taxes. The elimination of corporate income taxes would bring businesses here to South Carolina to operate and make it easier for businesses already in South Carolina to say open. That puts money in the working folks pockets via jobs and with a job, the average working man can pay the consumption tax. As it stands, if a business is ran out of or stays away from South Carolina due to the corporate income tax, workers have no jobs, and have no money to pay any taxes. Instead, the state has to spend money on them. It is simple math. The more businesses operating in South Carolina, the more jobs. The more people with jobs, the more they can buy things and pay a consumption tax. It is fair, it is workable, and it is needed.

However, tax policy alone will not get the job done. South Carolina has a problem in that its work force is not skilled. Of course there are pockets of skilled workers in this or that region, but the problem areas can not draw any jobs until their workforce is better skilled. That is why South Carolina should invest in adult education. Things like getting a degree in art history are not what is to be considered. However, real training in how to run a respectable high skilled job with relative high pay should.

It's not popular. Both the "choice" side of the education argument and the pro-establishment side argue about children. However, to get jobs now to South Carolina that pay a living wage, it is adult education that matters.

Indeed, if the legislature saw fit to fund all the private tuition tax credits available or all the money available for public schools, it would not have near the effect of a relatively well educated parent in the home who is proud of his or her high labor skills. That parent could actually help his or her child with homework and make choices. That parent could provide that child with a decent home. Without that skilled or educated parent, neither sides proposals make a difference in the long run.

That said, educating the workforce and reform tax policy is not enough. South Carolina needs a coordinated voice in economic development. The Department of Commerce has its detractors and rightfully so. However, to be fair to the folks at Commerce, they operate in a mishmash system. In South Carolina, there is the Department of Commerce on the state level, county level economic development efforts and municipal level economic development efforts. Far too often political considerations at all three levels lead to mixed communications with potential employers. The problem is easy to see, and the solution is admittedly hard to see. However, for South Carolina to survive this economic crisis and begin to find a way to thrive, there has to be some coordination of communication in economic development pitches. There are some in local government who wish that there was no Department of Commerce to get in their way. There are some who blame local efforts for the failure. Who knows who is right? But, one thing is certain. The constant miscommunication hurt South Carolina and keep jobs from coming here that otherwise would.

Other ideas such as tort and worker's compensation reforms are making their way through the legislature. That is a good thing. But, without the above three matters being addressed, such measures are likely not to do much to stimulate the economy. Of course, any moves towards making South Carolina better for business calls for something that might be impossible. To do the things necessary, both the Governor and the legislative leaders will have to grow up a bit, check their egos, and work for South Carolina instead of their pet agendas. Of course that is a lot to ask for them, but in these times, the people of South Carolina deserve no less.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Another state agency head appointed by Sanford faces questions

The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has within it one of the best parts of state government: the state parks and recreation areas. The department oversees the preservation of history and natural beauty in South Carolina and offer South Carolinians and visitors from outside the state outstanding recreational opportunities. It's dedicated employees showcase South Carolina at its best.

However, The Department of Park, Recreation and Tourism is the lastet agency in Governor Sanford's cabinet to face serious scrunity from the legislature. According to published reports, Rep. Brian White of Anderson grilled Director Chad Prosser for his lack of in the office hours, among other issues. Add that to the mess in the Department of Social Services and the question some business leaders and local government officials are raising about the operation of the Department of Commerce, and well, it has been a rough couple of months for Governor Sanford and his efforts to put more power under a Governor.

While Director Prosser might have a valid point in how he can work from outside the office in this era of instant communication, his travel record points to him being out of touch. Nearly 80 percent of Prosser's travel expenses last year were out of state. Further, after nearly six years as Director, he admits he has only visited about half of the state parks in South Carolina. How can you lead people if you do not get out and meet them and see where they work?

Prosser could have easily visited each state park, historical site or recreational area within his first two years in office. He should be on the third round of such visits. While I am sure Prosser is a decent man, his apparent hands off management approach is the same style that apparently got DSS in such a mess.

It is ironic. Governor Sanford has spent nearly every bit of political capital he has on arguing that Governors should be able to have more authority over agencies in state government, yet, it appears, in the agencies he does have power over, he has appointed people who take a laid back approach to their duties.

While Rep. White's call for Prosser to give up his salary to pay the salaries of lower paid state workers in the agency seems a bit melodramatic, White's point is well taken. One can bet if a commissioner or director of an agency elected by the legislature acted so laid back, Governor Sanford and his people would pounce. Perhaps the Governor would bring a basset hound to the State House to show is disapproval. (As a basset hound owner, I know how laid back those dogs are.)

That said, watch out for some posts from bloggers in the Governor's corner against Rep. White. It is how they operate. While most successful people in politics and business go to their critics and try to listen to them and understand them and find a way to placate them, Governor Sanford and his people simply declare war on their critics. Perhaps in their last two years in power, they should rethink that approach. Perhaps that approach is why the agencies the Governor has under him are under so many questions and why his proposals have little chance of coming to fruition.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Atlantic Beach's Mayor arrested


The Atlantic Beach, SC saga continues. Back on January 4th, VUI wrote about how the town of Atlantic Beach had no mayor. Well, the town finally got a Mayor when Mayor Pierce was sworn in a week ago. However, according to various published reports, the drama continues in Atlantic Beach.

The Mayor was arrested by local police for trespassing at town hall and disorderly conduct. You read right. The Mayor of Atlantic Beach was arrested for trespass for being in the town hall she supposedly was elected to lead. You can see the arrest via a video from the Myrtle Beach Sun Times at

http://videos.myrtlebeachonline.com/vmix_hosted_apps/p/media?id=2978492&item_index=1&all=1&sort=NULL

The Mayor has been arrested before by the local police. Back in 2007, the Mayor, then a town council member, was arrested at a traffic stop for resisting arrest. Her case ended in a mistrial.

The entire crackerjack staff of Voting under the Influence are scratching our heads over this. The Grand Strand area is supposed to be the showcase of South Carolina to potential tourists. Perhaps part of the tourist attraction now includes soap opera style politics.

At any rate, the local prosecutors will have an interesting task pressing a trespassing case against a Mayor for being at her own town hall. Anytime you think your local government leaders are in disarray and melodrama, you could always be living in Atlantic Beach.

UPDATE: VARIOUS NEWS OUTLETS ARE REPORTING THAT MAYOR PIERCE HAS BEEN TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL THIS MORNING, THE MORNING OF HER RE-TRIAL ON HER PREVIOUS CHARGES. THE MAYOR WAS HAVING CHEST PAINS. THE RE-TRIAL HAS BEEN CONTINUED, AS ATLANTIC BEACH'S POLITICS TURN INTO A LIFETIME NETWORK MOVIE.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The bad SC jobs news should wake us up


According to the South Carolina Employment Security Commission, South Carolina’s statewide unemployment rate rose to 9.5% in December, compared to the national average of 7.2%. That number is bad enough on its own. However, looking at the complete set of numbers paints a picture it is difficult to be optimistic about. The numbers are telling of seriousness of the situation and the weaknesses that could lead to more unemployment.

When the lob losses are broken down by types of jobs, it seems the so called “new economy” jobs are holding steady in areas such as information, education and health services and government. However, the traditionally higher paying “working man and woman” jobs in manufacturing and construction continue their months long decline.

While some economists claimed a few years ago that shifting away from making and building things to service based jobs was economic evolution, the numbers suggest it might be the opposite. People who made their livings in other areas other then services used their wages to pay for services rendered.

Take for example a man or woman who was a welder and made a decent wage. They would use the money that they had left over after the essentials to pay for things like going out to dinner, going to the beach for vacation, hiring a lawyer to write a will and so forth. The business that they worked for would hire business services such as accountants or people to ship their products.

The December numbers show that decline of manufacturing and construction jobs is beginning to hit the service industries. Jobs in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and transportation all declined. The essential services mentioned above held their ground, but for how long? As job losses grow, less people will be able to pay for even for essential services that most used to take for granted. An unemployed worker without health insurance will be less likely to go to the doctor, and without his tax dollars, education and government will have less money to operate.

The numbers also show there are two very different South Carolinas at this time. One South Carolina is in depression. The five counties with the highest rates of unemployment are Allendale at 19.7%, Marion at 19.0%, Chester at 17.3%, Marlboro at 16.9%., and Barnwell at 15.89%. Let the size of those numbers sink in. Those are depression like numbers. If you factor in independent contractors out of work, people who have given up looking for work, those numbers could hit around 30%. Sociologists and economists have argued since the Great Depression that numbers at that level for a sustained time could lead to social chaos.

The numbers are recession level, but much better in places like Lexington at 6.5%, Charleston at 6.9%, Beaufort at 7.0%, Saluda at 7.8%, and Greenville at 7.6%. Those numbers are not good, but they are not depression level and are not numbers that suggest a full collapse at any moment. However, those counties do have a large number of essential services jobs, and again, if things continue as they are, it will be no shock of one of more of those areas hits double digits.

What is perhaps more interesting, or disturbing, take your pick, is how middle counties like Anderson, Greenwood and Florence are doing. Those three counties over the years did not rely heavily upon essential services but had investments and jobs from companies like Michelin (Anderson), Fuji, (Greenwood), and Honda (Florence). Those counties had remarkable growth in the past decade or so. However, they are suffering heavy job loses now. Greenwood hit the double digits with unemployment spiking to 11.4% from November’s 9.3%. Anderson hit 9.6% from November’s 8.0%. Florence hit 9.1% from November’s 8.0%.

Across the board, things look grim. Frankly, thing are grim. There is simply no way to honestly spin the numbers to make things look good. There, is however, a potential silver lining. Perhaps the harsh reality of this crisis will wake up the people of South Carolina and the United States to turn off the American Idol and tune in to what their elected leaders are up to. South Carolina is in trouble. We don’t need a Governor bringing pigs to the State House or a Speaker hellbent to let his ego punish those who dare question him. We don’t need politicians finding pork barrel projects for those who just happened to give money to their campaigns. (Herbert Hoover proved in the early 1930s that government can not tax and spend its way out such a crisis. ) We do not need paid political hacks carrying out narrow agendas or plotting the next campaign.

What we do need is leadership. The kind of leadership that is honest and frank and open. We need leaders who respect one another and work with one another and put the people, not their egos, their financial backers or their next election first. We the people also have to show some leadership. Instead of worrying about what entertains us or what can “get us paid,” we need to concern ourselves with paying attention to what is going on in our governments. There has be a sense of responsibility among us. We have to look out for ourselves and one another, and keep a careful eye on those who shape the policies that determine a big part of our lives.

Not doing that got South Carolina to this point. While there is sympathy for those out of work and suffering, there is more frustration in that so many for so long have just tuned out the actions of those who have so much effect upon us all. The above numbers are the people's wake up call.

For our part, Voting under the Influence will, in the next few days, outline a plan for economic renewal for South Carolina and the United States. Who knows who will read and take our plan into consideration, but at least we won’t be saying “woe is me,” or sitting around saying “if only we had this or that power to do things.” VUI is going to do what it can: offer a plan to be talked about and considered.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great Falls schools should remain open


About 45 minutes to an hour north of Columbia is the little town of Great Falls, SC. Around Great Falls are beautiful natural scenes and places rich in history from the Revolutionary War. Great Falls is also the hometown of the late legend Banks McFadden, the Clemson standout who was an All-American in both football and basketball. The current boy's basketball coach of the Great Falls Red Devils, John Smith, is the winningest coach in South Carolina, with over 800 career wins, six state championships and fifteen championship game appearances.

There is a lot of pride that the people of Great Falls take in their high school teams, but that pride does not seem to be enough. Like many small former cotton mill driven towns around South Carolina, Great Falls has fallen upon hard times. The times are so hard that the Chester County School Board is considering closing the legendary high school and busing its students to Lewisville High School.

While on the accountant's books, such a move might make short term sense, it makes no sense in the long run. Great Falls has little to hold onto to keep itself together. Taking away its beloved Red Devils high school teams will only compound the economic problems there and send the town deeper into community despair. Add to that fact that students in the Great Falls area will face up to an hour longer on school buses to attend Lewisville, and it seems very shortsighted of the Chester board to consider such a move.

While it appears true that a good many of the people who live in Great Falls have to work elsewhere, those people at this time still have pride in their community through the proud tradition of their high school. There is something in such small towns that others just do not get. A father or grandfather who played sports takes pride in his son or grandson carrying on the tradition. A local merchant who gives money to the local high school takes pride in knowing it makes a difference in young peoples lives. That pride keeps the community from disintegrating into chaos.

If the Chester County School Board closes the Great Falls schools, they will in essence condemn a legendary South Carolina town and historically important region to a community death sentence. As such, they should find a way to keep the Great Falls schools open, not only for the people of Great Falls, but for all the people who live in little towns and take pride in their small high schools and traditions.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Taking the risk to oppose President Obama


With the bailout ushered in by former President Bush and the proposal of nearly a trillion dollars in so called economic stimulus from President Obama, one thing is for sure, big government is alive and well.

Gone are the days of risk and the acheivements and failure that went with risk. As former President Bush's bailout showed, and now President Obama's proposed bailout shows, the rich guys who for so long lived the risk and reward life no longer have risk as two Presidents of two different parties stand ready to make them whole for their losses.

Let it be clear. While average working folks in America and in South Carolina suffer through this economic downturn, big business executives are using bailout money through both Presidents to pay themselves bonuses for failure. There is little if any accountability of how taxpayer money is spent and certainly no strings attached. It is big government welfare at its worst.

If we must, and I stress, if we must, give hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to the big financial institutions to keep them afloat it should come with some strict requirements. Things like earmarking the money for loans to consumers and small businesses should be at the top of the list. Fat cat bonuses and so called golden parachute retirements should be banned.

I realize that there are some that contend that a business should do whatever it wants. I agree, as long as taxpayer money is not supporting the decisions of said businesses. If taxpayer money is in play, then there should be clear public policy objectives and strict accountability.

President Obama and his team talk about such, but when one takes even a cursory glance at their 815 billion dollar stimulus package, it is hard to believe the President or his handlers when it comes to accountability,. Does $18 million really need to be spent in the next year to maintain the capitol grounds? Do the hundreds of millions to be spent on sex education really spur the economy? Does the multimillion dollar statue and park project in Miami do such? Does subsidizing union jobs mean more than working to keep non union jobs?

In this new era of politics, daring to question President Obama and his handlers is all but considered treason. However, the policies of President Obama are leading the United States down the road of socialism. From what the polls say, the vast majority of Americans embrace that. That just shows marked ignorance of American history.

What made the United States of America great on the world stage was the accomplishments by those who flourished under its freedom. That freedom allowed for people to take risks and fail. That's right, fail. The freedom to fail spurred giants like Henry Ford and Sam Walton (Wal-Mart for those of you in Belton), to achieve in the midst of their failure and spur achievement for those around them. Even a great innovator like Thomas Edison failed hundreds of time with his simple light bulb until he got it right.

Imagine Edison today. Upon his first failure, Edison would appeal to President Obama and Congress for relief from the bailout funds. Edison could argue that his project was one of national importance and deserved a bailout. Of course, with that bailout, Edison would have to hire people to work for him of certain distinction and also hire someone who made sure he was diverse. Edison would not have to produce a working light bulb, but only produce the proper government documentation to show he was working on such. The longer Edison and his people could show that they were working on the project, the more money they could get year in year out. The government funds would go away if the Edison folks accomplished their goal.

Thus, if the Obama approach to government had been in place at the turn of the Twentieth Century, we would be likely reading by oil lamps. There are some basic safety nets government can provide to the most vulnerable among us. However, the American public is living in delusion if it believes that President Obama and his cohorts in Congress can create a big government system that can achieve what nearly two hundred years of freedom to achieve and fail accomplished.

It is a risk stating this, in that President Obama is so popular. But, it is arrogance on the part of the President and his handlers to think that they know better than two hundred years of economic freedom that made America the most powerful nation on the planet. It is freedom, not big government action, that spurred the United States to greatness. Let's hope the Republicans in Congress remember that notion of freedom an do not succumb to an Obamagasm.

RIP Coach Kay Yow


I know some of you are wondering who is Kay Yow and what does she have to do with life in South Carolina? Kay Yow was the longtime coach of the North Carolina State women’s basketball team. Yow picked up over 700 wins in her time as a coach and several conference titles and NCAA tournament bids.

However, it is not the success on the court that Yow will be most remembered. Nearly 20 years ago, Yow learned she was facing that dreaded enemy, cancer. For twenty years, Yow fought that disease with dignity and grace and achieved goals with cancer in her profession that most healthy folks never see.

Cancer finally got Yow. Yow died recently from complications related to cancer. However, cancer did not defeat Yow. Like her men’s basketball coach predecessor from years ago, Jimmy Valvano, Yow lived a life that made sure that cancer never touched her soul. Not only to her players she coached, but to us all, Coach Yow showed us how to face the evitable end with grit and grace.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Notes from the SC Road: Part 1


For over ten years, I spent every day working on the road in South Carolina. It allowed to me to see South Carolina in ways that few have. I saw its towns, its scenes and the living rooms of its people. I will be writing about some of the things I saw and learned over the next few weeks. Brian--head of the crackerjack staff of Voting under the Influence.

When I went to work for a law firm to provide in home legal consultations in the fall of 1997, I needed a job. I had no idea of the journey I would begin to learn about South Carolina. I thought I knew South Carolina and its natural beauty, but seeing it up close and personal gave me a new perspective. South Carolina's natural beauty is surreal.

I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is the most obvious about South Carolina. There is nothing quite like being on one of South Carolina's low country islands after dusk and seeing the crescent moon over a real palmetto tree. It can be a breathtaking scene.

However, the breathtaking scenes of South Carolina do not end there. There is the simple beauty of places like Fishdam Creek around Great Falls. There are the lighted scenes of the Grand Strand. There are Sumter's Iris Gardens and Orangeburg's Edisto Gardens. There is downtown Greenville with the rocks of the Reedy River in the midst of the city. There are the long and lonely roads of the Pee Dee that have dotted among them simple churches that are a century old. There is the beauty of Jones Gap up around Ceaser's Head. There is the quite dignity of downtown Charleston. Speaking of Charleston, there is that long road from Charleston to Georgetown that still has reminders of Hurricane Hugo . There is the beauty of the Congaree Swamp. There are the high pines amongst the sand in places like Jefferson and Chesterfield and Cheraw. There are the Christmas lights hung across the street in places like Camden and McBee. There are the green rolling hills of the Savannah River valley just outside Beech Island. There is the majesty of the Calhoun Plantation in Pendleton and the way one can see the Blue Ridge Mountains on a clear day from Anderson and Spartanburg.

There is so much more in addition to what I mentioned above. Over ten years on the road in South Carolina taught me how beautiful South Carolina is. Every region of South Carolina has well celebrated natural beauty. From the mountains to the sea, to all points in between, South Carolina proves itself as one of the most naturally beautiful places on the planet. If you doubt that, just take the time to travel to every part of her and learn the beauty she offers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

DSS situation needs more attention

Governor Mark Sanford and his handlers talk a lot about giving the Governor more authority so the Governor can hold state agencies more accountable for their actions. The Governor and his handlers make a compelling argument about how state agencies need the accountability that only come with working directly under the Governor.

However, the Governor loses credibility on that issue every day he and his handlers stay all but silent about the mess in the Department of Social Services.

It is understandable that the excitement some of the Governor’s handlers could have felt about learning it was Tommy Moore’s brother who was arrested by the feds for allegedly embezzling millions of taxpayer dollars could left those handlers too giddy to think straight for a couple of days.

However, the Department of Social Services is under Sanford. Sanford and his appointed director, Kathleen Hayes, had millions of dollars snuck out from under their leadership. That came on the heels of a little girl dying in the custody of a person DSS placed them in.

One would think that a reform minded Governor who actually had to power to do something about DSS would be demanding resignations or at least some of sort of public inquiries. The major media in South Carolina seems to join the Governor in relative silence.

Instead, the handlers for the Governor have shifted the conversation away from the woes of a department Sanford is responsible for directly and moved the media to focus on the conflict with the Employment Security Commission.

It is a shame on South Carolina. There are families, children and vulnerable adults who needed those millions lost. There are children in the DSS system that deserve a Governor and a media that holds accountable the agency that makes life determining judgment calls on children’s behalf. There are employees who do their jobs who deserve to have management that is accountable. The taxpayers need to know how their money is spent. Indeed, the serious issues with the Department of Social Services are not issues that should just pop up in a story or two and then be forgotten by the chattering classes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

RIP Willie Varner


While this a week full of politics, the entire crackerjack staff of Voting under the Influence takes a moment to pause and reflect upon the passing of Willie Varner. Varner was a longtime legendary coach of Woodruff high school football. Varner's tenure got him ten state championships. Varner's career also resulted in landing him among the top ten in all the coaches of high school football in the United States in career wins.

In short, Coach Wilie Varner was an icon in the upstate who shaped the upstate culture and the lives of hundreds of young men who played under his coaching. The crackerjack staff members of VUI recognize the achievement of Willie Varner and offer sincere prayers and sympathy to Varner's family and friends and players who called him "coach." Willie Varner was a South Carolina legend.

obamagasms

The media erupted into obamagasms, espeically those guys over at MSNBC. it happened before. On the campaign trail, women appeared to faint at just the sound of Obama's voice. If you think you are a lady's man and can make women feel faint at the power of your love, watch out for the President of the United States. From making MSNBC's Chris Matthews's leg go tingly to making women on the campaign trail faint, we have a President who seems to create obamagasms. However, chances are the terrorists who mean us harm and leaders like Russa's Putin won't have such feelings up their legs. Welcome to the Presidency of a man created by the folks who brought us reality television.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The perhaps suicidal Inaugural Address


At age 68, President William Henry Harrison was at the time the oldest man ever elected President. He was among the last hope of the now defunct Whig Party. Harrison was a former Governor and a war hero who won election in the middle of a great economic crisis.

Historians and medical experts are divided as to whether it was the cause of his death, but William Henry Harrison stood outside, without an overcoat, in a cold pouring rain on March 4th, 1841 to deliver the longest Inaugural Address in history. Harrison's remarks, even after being edited by his friend Henry Clay, were two hours long.

Not long after the Inauguration Day marathon, President William Henry Harrison would become ill with a cold, and then pneumonia. Harrison succumbed to his illness on April 4th, 1841. As such the President who gave the longest Inaugural Address in history had the shortest Presidential tenure in history.

William Henry Harrison was also the first President of the United States to die in office. His Vice-President, John Tyler, set the precedent of a Vice-President actually becoming President upon the death of a President. The constitution now spells that out, but at the time, Tyler's precedent was groundbreaking to some and irritating to others. Tyler would pay a steep political price for his stand that he was in fact the President. However, his precedent became accepted upon the deaths of other Presidents until the constitution directly stated the issue.

Though William Henry Harrison led a remarkable life, it was perhaps his death that was his greatest contribution to American political life. His death set into motion the mechanics of a Vice-President actually becoming President upon the death or removal of a President that we now all accept as normal.

Just thought you might enjoy that little tidbit of Inaugural history.

The worst Presidential tv ad of all time

With all the talk about history going on right now, and references being made to historical Presidential elections and speeches, the crackerjack staff of VUI thought they might offer for your amusement the worst Presidential tv ad of all time. It was in the infancy of tv ads in 1952. when General Eisenhower won and had to endure a Truman temper fit on Inauguration Day. However, that does not take away from this, the worst Presidential ad ever. Enjoy and get a laugh.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best Wishes, President Obama


The entire crackerjack staff of Voting under the Influence offer best wishes and prayers to President Obama, and his family and his incoming administration. In this current crisis, it is paramount that Americans who believe in their country first try to find common ground to work with the new President, and indeed with all incoming elected officials, to tackle the huge problems we as a nation face. President Obama faces a daunting task, and as such, dissent and criticism should be limited to the relevant not the trivial.

However, let it be clear that on relevant matters of the times, there should be open dissent and criticism of President Obama. They is a disturbing chilling factor when it comes to the new President. Pundits and even comedians seem hesitant to criticize or lampoon the new President. Some even go as far as saying that they are leery of criticizing or making fun of the new President because it might appear as racial discrimination. Others tend to be afraid of bucking the mainstream cultural trend that has Obama has some sort of larger than life symbol.

While the above fears are understandable, they are not what democracy is all about. The ability of the people to have the freedom to criticize and even make fun of its leaders not only holds those leaders accountable, but it is, as Justice Holmes once wrote about the freedom of speech, a great safety valve that prevents the explosion of civil unrest.

Further, for those worried that harsh criticism or jokes about the nation's first biracial President are discriminatory, that is impossible. The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the United States. Some would argue he is the most powerful person in the world. Such a powerful person can not be discriminated against by a pundit or comedian who is merely just commander in chief of his own words or routine. The fact that so many pundits and comedians feel compelled to hold back on the new President is troublesome. That is not how things are done in democracies.

So, while Voting under the Influence sincerely wishes President Obama all the best, we will be watching him. If the President does something of substance that deserves criticism, he will be criticized. When President Obama does something to be laughed at, he will be made fun of. If President Obama does something praiseworthy, he will be praised. It is that simple. Obama is the President of the United States and as such, deserves no better or worse treatment than any other President of the United States.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The dream comes true

On Monday, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He preached about how we could all live together in harmony and he preached non violent resistance to the politics of his time. On Tuesday, we will see his dream come true, as the son of a white woman and black man takes the oath of office as the nation's first biracial President. In tribute to Dr King's legacy, VUI offers the following video of Dr. King's most potent speech.

From the archives: an essay about the Thurmondator


This essay was first published on August 27th, 1996, about Senator Strom Thurmond. I was honored to work on his last campaign in 1996, but even way back when I had a political future to worry about, I still I called it like I saw it. I admit when I put this essay out, it was a hit against Tony Deny and those at the top of the Thurmond team. I thought they were lost in their thinking. I don't think they ever read it, as the internet was not what it is now, because they still had me putting out signs all over the place. I ladmired and respected the old man. They worried and laughed about him. That said, I miss Senator Thurmond and his type of public service. When you think about what he did and how he approached things, well, we just do not have that today in politics. Enjoy.


Back in March I found myself searching the Greenwood County Courthouse in Greenwood, SC, for a lectern. This was no ordinary search. I had five minutes to find a lectern for Senator Strom Thurmond.

I was in the Greenwood County courthouse to observe a Republican party function, when a friend of mine who works for Thurmond had me search the place for a lectern. After all, a 93 year old man with a hectic schedule needs one to read his speech from, and even to lean against, some would argue.

Even after calls to the county sheriff we did not find a lectern, a dapper Senator Thurmond made his way up to the front with note cards in hand. His head handler from Washington looked pale. Others who were doubters were anxious.

Then, the Thurmondator took his place. Thurmond, once a trial lawyer, spoke with clarity without the use of the notecards and without the lectern. The crowd was led to cheers by him. The old man moved them. The Washington handler had the color back in his cheeks.

But, the doubters there should not have been shocked that the old man still had it. And, if there is anything that stands between Senator Thurmond and another term, it is not his opponent, but his friends that constantly want to protect him, and think he has little to run on.

Two friends whose behavior strikes me as odd are the South Carolina Republican party and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Recently, both have chosen to talk about what they could dig up on Thurmond's opponent and his family. They recently chose to put their spin on the closings of several plants in Springs Industries, a company which Mr. Close's family began.

Springs Industries is South Carolina's biggest employer. It is a Fortune 500 textile company whose stock is traded on the New York stock exchange. It has thousands of employees in the state, and is regarded as a popular business with community leaders, and is active in the communities were its plants are located. It is as much a part of South Carolina life as Senator Thurmond.

El Close, Thurmond's opponent, is the grandson of the company's founder. And, as such, holds a considerable amount of stock in Springs. However, he has had little to do with the management of the company, and has run his own real estate business, among other ventures, since leaving Springs in his young adult years. As much as he would like to, Close can make no claim to any success Springs has had.

Recently, in a suprising move, Springs announced it would close three plants, and lay off hundreds of workers. Springs claims it is doing this to survive the changes coming in the future and to save the other jobs in South Carolina.

One of the plants, Olympia-Gramby, in Columbia, SC, is unionized. And, union leaders have made a point of bashing Democratic nominee Close for the closings of the plant. Those activities baited the South Carolina GOP and the National Republican Senatorial Committee to comment on the Springs plant closings.

By even mentioning the plant closings in press releases, the GOP is making a mistake. First, though most businessmen and women run from poltics, there are several in the managment of Springs who support Thurmond. By playing with those press releases, the GOP runs the risk of alienating folks who are on their side.

Further, the press releases about plant closings and the talk about Close's family show that the GOP does not have enough confidence in Strom to not get into some mudslinging. That can be partially blamed on the presence of politicos who sit around and find ways to "ruin" people. But, coventional wisdom shows that the underdog attacks, not the favorite. Further, it shows that when favorites attack, or even acknowledge the other campaign, it pulls them down. So, unless the GOP thinks Thurmond is an underdog, I can not imagine, save for the polticos, why they are doing such things.

After all, they have the Thurmondator--as The State newspaper dubbed him--as their candidate for Senate. The man is a living legend, a walking piece of history. Indeed, to many South Carolinians, Strom Thurmond is above politics. He is the man who called when their mother died. He wrote to their child to explain a bill, and then followed it up with a phone call. He is the man who embodies the ideas of duty, honor, and country. His name is on the high school their children attend, or lake they recreate on. He is a war hero, a former candidate for President, and a friend to so many. His fitness amazes people. He still holds himself with dignity and purpose. His convictions and stands are still clear.

And, that is why I am concerned by the good intentions of the GOP. In a race like this, the GOP should stay out of commenting on business decisions made by a company an opponent holds stock in. If they go negative on Close, then a living legend will turn into just another politician. And, then, he can lose.

It has happened so many times in politics. Most recently, it happened with George Bush. He was a hero after desert storm, but the GOP attacked his opponents and now President Clinton instead of showcasing Bush. It also happened to Winston Churchill, just weeks after he led Britian to victory over the Germans. He was above politics until his party spent time attacking the oppostion. Then, Churchill became just another poltician and found himself defeated.

Strom Thrumond deserves better. He has earned living legend status and the Republican party should let him keep it by letting the media and the people comment on the events in Springs Industries and El Close's ties to it. That may hurt some egos of polticos who think their spin is essential, but so be it. They are not the Thurmondator. They were not even around when the legend began.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

History will be kinder to President Bush


Throughout political history, there have been those who worked relentlessly to protect the people they represented only to be turned out at the polls or have low approval numbers. The most famous example of that phenomenon is Winston Churchill. After leading the United Kingdom through the darkest days of its history in its war with Hitler's Germany, Churchill was quickly defeated for re-election after the war against Germany concluded. In local politics, late McNairy County, Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser, of Walking Tall fame, would be defeated at the polls in his bid to re-take the Sheriff's job due to people tiring of the publicity around his methods that cleaned out the alleged "Dixie Mafia" from his county. President Harry Truman left office as the most unpopular President to date via polling, only to have his "Truman Doctrine" become the blueprint to win the Cold War with communism and ensure Truman near great status in the eyes of historians. In short, elected officials who decide to take on the big problems in protecting the people that they serve by every ounce of the power that they have often end up lampooned and condemned by the people that they serve and the political classes. Even Abraham Lincoln was called an ape and a tyrant.

Enter the case of President George W. Bush. After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, President Bush made it clear that he would dedicate the power of his office to protecting the American people from further terrorist attack. It can be argued that Bush's focus on such limited his vision on other pressing issues. However, as President Bush leaves office, he can claim success on the one thing he promised early on in his tenure as President of the United States. President Bush did keep the nation free from another homeland terrorist attack.

Seven years removed from September 11th, 2001, such does not seem to be a big deal. But it is. With all the doomsayers promising us more attacks on September 12th, 2001, no one in politics, and I mean no one, would have wagered their careers and reputations that another attack would not happen on Bush's watch. President Bush took that wager, and used every bit of his legal and political powers to keep the American homeland safe from attack.

Does that choice by President Bush make him a great President? No. However, it does fly in the faces of those who say the Bush Presidency was a complete failure. There are legitimate questions about the things President Bush decided to do. However, President Bush did do exactly what he told the American people he would do after the 2001 attacks. President Bush used every means at his disposal, even when it pushed to the edges of the law, to keep the American people safe from further terrorist attack. President Bush did so without regard to political conventional wisdom. President Bush kept his word on that issue and got the job done.

President George W. Bush made big mistakes. For those mistakes, he should be criticized. However, President Bush should also be applauded for his integrity and his success in keeping the War on Terror away from the American Homeland. President Bush made the hard calls in perhaps his most important role as President: protector of the American people from attack.

It is part of the beautiful irony of democracy that those who live within it reject or chastise leaders who exercise extreme power to protect it. That old and ironic truth should not prevent those of us with any sense of history and the threats our nation faced from thanking President Bush for doing what he said he would do above all else: keep the United States safe from further terrorist attack on his watch.

Thank you, President Bush. God Bless you as you move to your retirement. May we all pray that President-elect Obama has the same integrity and sense of mission in protecting the American people over the next four years.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The VUI Response to the State of the State and the Democratic Response


Wednesday night, Governor Mark Sanford spoke the General Assembly and the Supreme Court of South Carolina to deliver the 2009 State of the State Address. As he has for most of his six years in office, Governor Sanford offered up a warmed over leftover of the Club for Growth after dinner speech he has been giving for years. As has been the case over the past six years, there are some things the Governor proposes that are sensible, there are some things that just will not happen, and there are some things that show the Governor to be narrow and rather self centered in his vision.

First, the issue of transparency in government will be addressed. Both the South Carolina Senate and the South Carolina House made recent rule changes to allow for more recorded votes. However, Sanford calls for the rules changes to be codified.

Sanford does not realize that he and his allies actually won on the issue. Codification could create some problems. The House can not tell the Senate how to operate and vice versa. Thus, legislation that was passed by both houses about the operation of one another might not hold up. Further, rarely do legislative bodies engage in legislation that deals with minutia of legislative process. That is was the rules of legislative bodies are for. The independence of the rules of those bodies is at the heart of the ideal of checks and balances that form the notion of republican form of government. The other legislative entity in a bicameral system and the executive have no business telling an entity how to run its process.

Sanford’s ideas about openness in legislative income and in disclosure by political groups have appeal. However, Governor Sanford has credibility problems on the issues.

First, lets look at public officials benefiting for their service and the things that they get done in government. Sanford all but accused those against worker’s compensation reform of being against such reform because they made more money outside the General Assembly under the old system. Fair enough. However, Sanford’s private school tuition tax credit serves him. A $3000 per student tax credit will not make private school an option for the lower middle class or the poor as Governor Sanford alluded to by talking about families who could not afford to live in good public school districts. Most private school tuitions are at least twice that amount per child, some four or five times. A family barely making ends meet can not come up the additional thousands of dollars needed to put their kids in private school. However, someone like the Governor, who can afford private school, will get a big tax decrease. In the Governor’s case, it would be around $12,000 this year if it were in place. Thus the Governor has a credibility issue on his notion of stands on public policy being self serving.

Second, let’s look at the openness the Governor calls for in contributions. The various groups that support the Governor’s causes and his pet candidates do not have to wait on the legislature to act. The Governor does not have to wait either. He simply can call on those groups to release their donor lists and show who gave to them and in what amount. Again, the Governor’s actions speak louder than his words.

There are more agreeable things to be found in the Governor’s ideas when it comes to the economy. The Governor is right on legislative spending caps, not funding recurring expenses with one time money, and on starting to deal with the looming state retirement program problems. On the latter, there is an economic train wreck coming in about five to ten years. The Governor is correct to call for action now.

The Governor’s idea to raise the tobacco tax is solid. However, instead of having the money pay for the Governor’s alternative minimum income tax proposal, the money would be better spent to deal with soaring health care costs as South Carolina deals with an increasingly aging population. Though VUI is usually opposed to any tax increases whatsoever, if a tax must be raised, the tobacco tax is the best one to be raised. Further the Governor’s notion that an alternative minimum state income tax would raise incomes and bring in more retirees to South Carolina is doubtful. If there is a large influx of retirees into South Carolina, that presents local government funding issues in that local governments will have to provide more services but be limited by the Homestead Exemption Act on property taxes. Further, it is doubtful that the vast majority of retirees in South Carolina pay income tax.

The Governor’s notion of paying for an elimination of the corporate income tax by eliminating economic development tax break and incentives is also questionable. Given the ability to pay for it, both measures would be preferred in these times. Perhaps suspending corporate income taxes for small or new businesses for a limited amount of time would be a better way to go.

As usual, the Governor went to his old lines about the need to restructure government and eliminate many of the elected constitutional offices and put them under the Governor. The Governor is correct about the need to eliminate the Budget and Control Board. The basic administrative functions of state government should be under the executive, not under a hybrid board.

However, again the Governor has a credibility issue on whether or not a Governor can run the constitutional offices better than an elected official. The Governor already has a cabinet with various agency heads. On that, his record is mixed. Six departments stand out. The Department of Social Services is South Carolina’s dirty secret in that no one talks about it, but the DSS is at times inept and that ineptness has an impact on the lives of those who often have no voice of advocacy in Columbia. The Department of Commerce did do well in working on the Jasper port deal, but by and large it does not work with or communicate well with the local economic development efforts around the state. The Department of Insurance has saw health insurance companies charge higher rates and fight most folks for every dollar paid out in claims under Sanford. The Department of Corrections is managed by a good man in Jon Ozmint who is given little attention and even less money to protect the state from the worst among us. The Department of Transportation looks over some of the most dangerous roads in the United States. The Department of Public Safety endured the recent South Carolina Highway Patrol scandals on Sanford’s watch.

Those departments are not mentioned to criticize them directly or those who work within them. They are used as examples to show the Governor has not done with the power he does have the things to right the course of so many things as he asks for a Governor to have more power. The Governor would have more credibility he had done things he could do well, instead of dwelling on what he could not do.

There are some more points the Governor is correct on. Charter schools should have equity in local public school funding. Funding of public schools should be more equitable. People should be allowed to buy health insurances policies that are limited if they so choose.

Overall, it was the same ole Sanford in a different year. His delivery was inappropriately informal for such an occasion. Sanford’s animosity for the legislature showed as he twice compared the General Assembly to children, in comparing the lack of transparency to his children not having their mother check their home work and asking the legislature to come together as the kids did in the movie “Remember the Titans.” Further, Sanford showed a lack of depth into the impact of the national and international recession on South Carolina, (you can not blame the state constitution of 1896 for the failures on Wall Street.)


As for the Democratic response, my fellow Republicans had better watch out for Vincent Sheheen. I knew him personally in law school. He was the smartest guy in the room and among the best liked as well.

Sheheen is no Tommy Moore. If Sheheen runs and he appears to be the smartest and hardest working Democrat to appear on the statewide scene in years it will be because he is. Sheheen’s response was not a statement of where Democrats stand in 2009 as much as it was where he will stand in 2010. Sheheen’s points about the eccentricities of Governor Sanford and the battle between the Governor and his fellow Republicans might play well to the public in 2010. The so called big three Republican contenders for Governor in 2010 need to take note that with Sanford looking to 2012 and with the General Assembly worried about itself, Vincent Sheheen could become very dangerous to their gubernatorial ambitions.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SC Senate GOP Leader Peeler teaches the SC House a lesson


The South Carolina State Senate passed rules to allow for more on the record votes for higher accountability to the people in their first day in session. While some still criticize the compromise measure that was a big step forward in open state government, even Governor Sanford praised the measure.

How did such happen? It is simple. Majority Leader Harvey Peeler worked with various state senate factions to work quietly on a measure that could pass without opposition. Peeler’s quiet legislative diplomacy stands in stark contrast to the controversy in the South Carolina House over similar measures. Instead of quiet diplomacy to get something done, the House debate about such measures erupted into media gamesmanship and retributions from the House leadership.

Legislative bodies are a clash of egos. All of the egos involved have equal stakes per the votes of the people who elected them to their posts. A real leader recognizes that fact and works to prevent high profile clashes based upon ego when it comes to passing important measures. A real leader shows respect for those who have equal footing per elections by dealing with them quietly and looking for consensus. Finding common ground on important measures is the essence of legislative leadership.

Simply put, State Senator Harvey Peeler taught the House of Representatives a lesson in leadership. When an important legislative measure needs to be passed, a true leader in a legislative body does not play media games or offer heavy handed retributions. Instead, a leader quietly works out differences and finds a way to get something done. South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell and members Nikki Haley and Nathan Ballentine would be well advised to learn from the lesson in politics Harvey Peeler offered them. It is how real leaders get things done.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

GOP in the wilderness

Richard Nixon might have been a disgraced President, but he was an excellent observer and analyst of politics. In his nook In the Arena, Nixon wrote about the political wilderness that politicians are excommunicated to. Nixon suffered his on wilderness in 1962 when he lost the California Gubernatorial election, only to be elected six years later. Nixon suffered a second trip to the political wilderness in 1974 when he resigned in disgrace, only to end his life as a relatively respected elder statesman. Winston Churchill achieved great early success in his political career only to be banished to the wilderness. Indeed, during his time in the wilderness, Churchill was actually lampooned for his fear of the Nazi menace in his writings and public speeches. Churchill went on to become one of the few prime ministers ever given a state funeral by the United Kingdom.

The Republican Party in the United States has been in the wilderness several times before. The first was in 1936. Republican nominee Alf Landon was crushed by then President Franklin Roosevelt. Congress became overwhelming controlled by the Democrats. Ten years later, the Republicans would take back control of the House temporarily and see Dwight Eisenhower elected to two terms.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater and the Democrats won Congressional seats widely. Two years later Republicans would gain seats. In 1968, the once embarrassed Nixon would be elected President.

Nixon’s resignation in 1974 started another period in the wilderness for the Republican Party. The Congressional elections of 1974 had pundits calling for a death watch of the Republican Party. Jimmy Carter seemed to put a nail in the GOP coffin with his election in 1976.

However, four short years later, Ronald Reagan, created out of the debacle of 1964, was elected President and the Republicans took control of the United States Senate.

In 1992, when Bill Clinton soundly defeated President George H.W. Bush, again the pundits predicted dire consequences for the GOP. However, just two short years later, the Republican Party gained control of both the House and the Senate and forced Bill Clinton to run his re-election campaign on Republicans ideas at the time such as welfare reform. Democrat Clinton even pronounced, “The era of big government is over.”

Now, it is 2009, and the Democrats have solid majorities again in both houses of Congress and a very popular Democratic President is about to be inaugurated. Pundits are again talking about the weakness of the Republican Party and how it faces potential disaster. There is discussion of divisions and leadership vacuums.

The Republican Party has been in the wilderness before. A good many politicians who ended up rising to the highest levels have been there individually. The common threads in the return to power by parties and by individuals has been tenacity, being for ideals instead of merely opposing the other side, and having a clarity of message and purpose that hits the people.

There is no doubt that the Republican Party is in the political wilderness right now on the national level. It can be a time of needed reflection. We must find a way to communicate those ideals our party has that connect with the majority of the American people. In the current political climate, we do not have the luxury of communicating first those ideals that are narrow to specific groups, however well funded that they might be. Those groups can be thrown a political bone or two, but the central message must be one about our ideals that hit the people as a whole.

The Republican Party not only needs to distance its message from narrow agendas, it must make the case to average Americans how its agenda will work for them. I believe issues like at least holding the line on taxes, if not outright tax cuts, being watchdogs over pork barrel Congressional spending, standing for national defense and real immigration reform, and providing real alternative solutions to average folks on health care, education, and social security safety are needed. If our party’s message moves more libertarian, it will be soundly defeated again by the Democrats and our country will move more towards socialism. If our party’s message does not offer real reforms, we will be seen little different than the Democrats, and chances are the people will vote for “the devil that they know.”

Make no mistake, the current GOP banishment to the wilderness was of its own doing. When Republicans ran Congress and the White House, they spent money like drunken sailors on shore leave and lined up deals and money for their contributors. Our party never truly offered a limited and reformed government. Thus, the perception was created that the Republicans would still have big government, but it would be for the fatcats. That allowed Democrats to claim that their big government would be for the little guy. Historically, in such a conflict, Americans always go with the little guy.

If we Republicans want to get out the national political wilderness we are in, we have to show that we will be for a limited federal government that will help the little guy by getting government off his back. We have to be for less pork barrel spending, less unnecessary regulation, less taxes, and stronger accountability for the acts of our elected officials.

In the Book of Proverbs, there is a passage, in Chapter 20, Verse 30 that speaks of how blows that wound clean the soul. In 2008, the Republican Party got one of those blows. Let’s hope the leadership and activists of the party know the wisdom to gain from it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Jimmy Carter speech to give us perspective

Most of us today think of Jimmy Carter as some kind old man who works with Habitat for Humanity. While his work with such charities as an ex-President are admirable, President Jimmy Carter was inept at the helm of America in crisis. The media will lead you to believe that the times we now live in are the worst ever, and that our leaders have never been more inept. That is not true. Just watch this clip of then President Jimmy Carter and you get an idea of how bad things were about 30 years ago. Carter was soon soundly defeated at the polls in favor of Ronald Reagan, who led an American revival. However, in those days of the late 70s, America was in woe and its leaders more inept than now. Watch the video and think how the media of today would pounce on President Bush if he delivered such remarks. For that matter, the media would probably pounce on President-elect Obama. Americans, especially those who seem to shape public opinion, have a profound ignorance of history. We are in bad times, but no hardly the worst of times.

Peanuts lampoon of academia

Academia at all levels, from elementary school to graduate school, has it absurdities. Those absurdities often inspire absurdity from the students. There is the student who gets things like the minimum number of words for a paper, the student inspired to make the simple stories of life complex and of course, the student who gets things done at the last minute and creates pressure on himself for whatever reason. It is in that absurdity that academia departs from the real work world we all must survive in after we leave the academic world. Such absurdity leaves so many of us unable to compete and perform in the real world. Though I admit I am a fan of the Peanuts cartoon series, perhaps you will join me in finding this peanuts cartoon a great lampoon of the absurdity that is modern American academia.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

From the Old Archives: a post about Mother Teresa

I was writing commentaries back in the 1990s for a couple of now defunct websites. A friend of mine was kind enough to send me most of those commentaries that he had saved. Reviewing some of them, I came across a number of commentaries that seemed to be better than most VUI posts on this blog. So, I thought I would offer, from time to time, a blast from the past that can make readers think. The following commentary was initially published on September 10th, 1997. Enjoy. Thanks always for reading. It is the hope of not only me but the entire crackerjack staff of VUI that we at least make you think about the world around us.

While the world poured out its grief over the death of Princess Diana in an almost infatuated manner, one of the giants of the Twentieth Century died quietly in her Calcutta home. Mother Teresa, 87, passed away as the world mourned for Diana. The news of Mother Teresa's death was a distant second to the continuing coverage of " A Death of a Princess." Perhaps that is the way Mother Teresa wanted it.

In life, Mother Teresa gave every praise she received to God and to those who were around her. Yet her faith and will brought comfort and love to thousands upon thousands of lives. Her work in Calcutta brought love and some comfort to those she called " the poorest of the poor." She lived the words of Christ.

Yet, Mother Teresa was an 87 year old woman without charming looks. Though she and Diana may both be hailed as humanitarians by the media, it is the differences in them that will make Mother Teresa's death less covered than Diana's.

Mother Teresa led a simple, if not boring personal life. She made a vow to God and kept it. People, especially those making mega-media decisions, can not identify with that. Further, she found no excuse not to exercise her faith. As a result, she butted heads with pro-choice activists and humanitarian relief agencies that provided more hype than relief.

Mother Teresa worked among the miserable and diseased in Calcutta, and then around the world. People who suffered from the last stages of AIDS and other horrible diseases knew they were loved by someone with the help of Mother Teresa and her order. She wanted no personal wealth or gratitude. She did not care who said what about her. She was committed to doing things most of us can not imagine doing--such as changing bloody and soiled clothes, and bringing love to hopeless children who lay dying from diseases. Even old and in poor health, she continued to do God's work for those in need. She would not use old age as an excuse.

While most of the world complains about what they can not do for others, Mother Teresa touched thousands. While people wondered about God, Mother Teresa decided to find Him and be close to Him. She did so with the humility few in the Christian community, much less the rest of the world, can honestly claim to have. It's only fitting that this simple woman die while the world is obsessed with the passing of one of the most complicated characters of the latter Twentieth Century.

The lingering questions after Diana's death revolve around the British monarchy and the tabloid press. People are quick to add their opinions on both and what should be done. But, there is not much reaction on how to carry on the works of Mother Teresa, or of Diana for that matter.

Perhaps discussing how to carry on what Mother Teresa done in her life is not discussed roundly because it shames us. It would force our world to face what we are. How many of us would give up wealth? How many of us would bathe an AIDS patient? We simply can not identify with that. It is beyond us, not like us. It shames us when we gripe or complain about our lives. Most of us can not comprehend what the thought process of total commitment to God and good is all about. For that reason, the world will mourn Mother Teresa, but not mourn her the way it did Diana. For in Diana, the world lost one of its own tragically. In Mother Teresa, God decided to call due our loan of one of His.

Palin Strikes Back at the Bubbleheads

Sarah Palin was treated unfairly by the media and the cliched elite intellectual circles. While those types do not care for conservatives, they especially look down on a middle class conservative who dares to shop for her own groceries. Even the Republicans don't get Sarah Palin because she is more like most Americans than the vast majority of those

It is the America we live in. You can have an IQ of 175 and be in MENSA, but if you are not from the right part of the country and have the right amount of money and are not cliched in your thoughts, you will have the women of The View, who probably have a combined IQ of less than 175 deem you backwards, ignorant and laugh at you. The bubbleheaded Katie Couric will join in as will the rest media and dreaded conventional ignorance will follow.

What is worse is that Americans buy into the bubbleheads version of what is what in the country. If you wonder why we are in such trouble as a country, it is because the vast majority of Americans now make decisions on politics and business that are based on factors irrelevant to achievement. Both parties do it. Politicans at all levels and people at all levels do it. I will leave my rant about that for another post in the future

As for now, at least Sarah Palin is trying to strike back. You can find some of her remarks in the video below.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The melodrama that is Anderson County Council


Tuesday night ended any hope of Anderson County Council moving on and addressing a real conservative agenda to bring the county through the current economic hard times. Most normal political activists would assume that a new conservative county council would have first on its mind things like tax relief, economic development incentives for businesses to invest or to provide some sort of budget reform that would allow for infrastructure needs to be addressed and wasteful spending cut.

However, Anderson County Council's brand of conservatives are not normal. The first thing on their minds in their first meeting Tuesday night was to spend tens of thousands of tax payer dollars hiring a lawyer and an accountant to investigate the previous council and administrator. That is what seems the most important thing to them. They seemed not concerned with cutting taxes, or getting jobs for the people they serve. Instead, they want to get even with old political opponents at the taxpayer's expense. Their actions are right out of the liberal playbook and smack of the melodrama usually reserved for daytime soap opera programming.

The Anderson County Council did hire two upstanding individuals with the tens of thousands of taxpayer money in attorney Billy Wilkins of Nexon Pruet and accountant Robert Daniels of Greene and Company. However, even if those two fine men find wrongdoing, it is telling about how much the current council actually cares about the county's people in that their first priority in an economic crisis is to spend money going after old enemies.

If no major wrongdoing is found, than Cindy Wilson, Bob Waldrep Eddie Moore, Tom Allen and Tommy Dunn will see the end to their political careers. Rarely does any politician so quickly ignore the evident concerns of his constituents in exchange for favor from a narrow base. One would think Cindy Wilson would want to do something about how Honea Path's only recent economic development is parked train cars. One would think Tom Allen would find a way that an important economic development project like the recent ICAR bolt to Laurens county does not happen again. This list goes on. The only people more politically tone deaf than the current council are the ones that were defeated in June.

Do not misunderstand me. It was time for Joey Preston to go as Administrator. Every council member who lost re-election last June had it coming to them for their vote for a tax increase. However, I had hoped, for my home county's sake, and for the sake of the thousands of people who live and work in Anderson County, that the new council would focus not on their old enemies but on showing how conservative local government can work even in trying times. The first meeting of the new council showed my hopes were in vain. The current county council is just as bitter and vain as the last and just as determined to spend taxpayer money going after their enemies as the last. What a sad melodrama. Maybe the county can make up for the money they will spend going after their enemies by turning county government into some sort of reality show.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Upstate tragedy demands real answers

According the Greenville News, 29 month old Samuri Mayes died last Friday as a result of injuries she received while living in a home that South Carolina Department of Social Services had placed her in. The child had been removed from her parents’ home due to drug issues and placed with a relative. It is in that relative’s home that the child sustained injuries that led to her tragic death.

I hesitate criticizing the Department of Social Services because I know firsthand that there are a lot dedicated people who work in that agency that do thankless jobs for low pay. However, the death of a child in a home that DSS deemed as a safe place has to give pause and demands accountability beyond the usual bureaucratic games played by government agencies. While I do not doubt that the DSS employees involved, the Guardian ad Litem and the attorneys involved are all stricken with sincere grief, again the death of a child in such circumstances deserves answers.

One man can make a call for those answers like no other. Governor Mark Sanford appointed the head of the Department of Social Services and it is within his cabinet. Governor Sanford can demand answers and resignations. For six years, Governor Sanford has told us that giving a Governor more power over state agencies will bring more accountability. If the Governor really means what he says, he should use the power he does have to make people accountable for the death of a child.

I realize that the true person accountable was the person who allowed the child to be harmed in the home. However, the state had its role in the tragedy, in that DSS recommended the child be placed in the setting. I do not know what the answers to such a tragedy are, but I do know than any Governor worth a hoot would at least force the questions.

Again, I state that folks who work for DSS are often hard working and sincere. I know that many attorneys and GALs appointed to such cases are. However, perhaps the Governor should look at the funding and the system that they work within. Something is not working. I realize it is not politically sexy. I realize there are not high paid lobbyists for little kids who are in the DSS system. But, at some point, we have to put all those things aside and just be decent human beings. This tragedy haunts me and reminds me of what Jesus said, “what you did to the least of my kingdom you did to me.”

Those words should haunt the Governor and the high management of DSS and provoke them to getting real answers as to why the agency charged with protecting children failed so.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Atlantic Beach: the town with no mayor that reminds us to pay attention

If you think your vote does not matter or that local municipal politics are not as intense as the big time, take a look at what has been going on in Atlantic Beach, SC.

In November of 2007 Retha Pierce appeared to defeat Irene Armstrong by the vote of 71-70. However, the Atlantic Beach Municipal Election Commission found that four voters had been wrongly denied to the right to vote in the election. The courts found that constituted a new election.

There is where things got interesting. The South Carolina Supreme Court clearly stated in its opinion in Armstrong-Pierce v. Altantic Beach Municipal Election Commission that the new election should only be between Armstrong and Pierce. The circuit court had called for a new election, but the Supreme Court cited a case from Atlantic Beach that set the precedent that the courts could not consider information for new elections that was not presented to the election commission in question.

Nevertheless, an election was held on December 2nd between now “suspended” Mayor Armstrong and Retha Pierce. The election results were Pierce 37, Armstrong 2 and write-in candidate Charlene Taylor 25. The Atlantic Beach election commission set up a runoff between Pierce and Taylor. Before that runoff could occur, the South Carolina Supreme Court intervened to re-state that the election was not in line with its previous ruling. Taylor and two other residents seem ready to challenge that.

A new election between Pierce and Armstrong only has been set for January 13th. Between now and then, expect some legal maneuvers by all involved. Passions often run high and hot in local races. However, having read the SC Supreme Court’s decision on the matter, the court is on firm ground. Perhaps the good people of Atlantic Beach should let the January 13th election decide their mayor and move on. If the fight goes on, Atlantic Beach will continue to be the town with no legitimate mayor.

Whatever happens, the Atlantic Beach situation shows that local politics matters. After all, those local government officials decide your local ordinances, your local property taxes, and represent your town to the world in economic development. And, every now and then, local leaders end up setting election law precedents. Atlantic Beach reminds us all to pay attention to local politics.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

Voting under the Influence wishes you a safe and happy 2009.

Here's a word of motivation from some guys who obviously are highly paid consultants to some political group. Ah, the new years celebrations of those who think they are masters of the universe.....