Monthly Archives: March 2009

Halevi on chance to work with Israel

This morning, I read with particular interest the piece in the WSJ headlined, “Bibi and Barack Can Unite on Iran.” That’s because it was written by Yossi Klein Halevi, who made an impression on me when he was here to deliver the Solomon-Tenenbaum Lecture in Jewish Studies in 2002.

Here’s the main thing I remember about him: He said that he had always voted for the winner in Israeli elections. When he was feeling a little Likud, the conservative party won. When he was in more of a lefty mood, Labor won. Therefore, whatever Mr. Halevi is thinking, it’s going to come pretty close to expressing the Israeli mainstream at a given moment. I don’t know whether he voted Likud this time or not, but he speaks like a guy who still believes he has his thumb on his nation’s pulse when he writes:

The Israeli Jewish public that voted overwhelmingly for right-wing parties did so primarily for security reasons. The Israeli right of 2009 is a mood, not an ideology. And Mr. Netanyahu understands the expectations of his voters. During the election campaign, he spoke incessantly about stopping a nuclear Iran and the jihadist threat generally — not about settlement growth. However grudgingly, Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners will likely accept some limitation on settlement building. And the presence of the Labor Party in the coalition will ensure moderation on the settlement issue. Indeed, the small National Union party is the only right-wing party that places massive settlement building at the top of its agenda, and it will not be part of this coalition.

For all their differences over the nature of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu and Labor leader Ehud Barak have set those aside to focus on the most urgent issue facing the Middle East in the coming months: preventing the emergence of a nuclear Iran and the imposition of an irreversible blackmail on the region. Dealing with that threat will define this Likud-Labor coalition.

Mr. Halevi’s point is that Palestinian statehood and settlements aside, Israel and U.S. need to concentrate on the main strategic issue of the moment — preventing the emergence of a nuclear Iran. He sees the opportunity of working with Egypt and the Saudis, who don’t want Tehran to have that kind of clout, either. He also sees the chance to isolate Iran’s surrogates in the region by building up the economy and “civil society” in the West Bank, which “would present the Palestinians with a stark choice between their two territories: the beginnings of prosperity in a peaceful West Bank, or devastation in a jihadist Gaza.” Which makes sense.

Anyway, I recommend the piece.

McMaster confirms the worst

… or, at least, does so to the extent that a mere Attorney General’s opinion can do. Basically, Henry says the Clyburn amendment can’t bypass Gov. Sanford, on account of the 10th amendment.

There also seems to be some separation of powers stuff going on. Here’s a copy of Henry’s letter, which says “the General Assembly itself may not coerce the executive branch to act in accordance with the legislative will.

James Clyburn, meanwhile, is ticked:

WASHINGTON, DC—House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn today responded to an opinion released by South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster about the interpretation of the so-called “Clyburn workaround amendment,” Section 1607 in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Today the State of South Carolina added another chapter in its ongoing effort to maintain a standard of minimally adequate education.  For over 100 years, the last 20 in state courts, leaders in our state have fought to uphold that standard.  Over the last several weeks and without even going to court—the proper venue to determine constitutionality of federal laws—Attorney General McMaster, Governor Sanford and Senator Graham have gone out of their way to ensure that South Carolina continues its long history of providing a minimally adequate education.

“Rather than renewing the age old debate over States’ Rights and the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution our leadership should be seeking common ground to provide our schools the funds they need to retain teachers and maintain healthy, safe buildings in which our students can learn.

“What makes ‘state stabilization’ funding different from the funding Governor Sanford has authorized to rebuild highways or increase unemployment checks?  Why aren’t Attorney General McMaster and Senator Graham calling on Governor Sanford to use the very same pen to accept the state stabilization money—which our taxpayers are providing—to retain teachers and give our state’s schools the opportunity to move beyond their minimally adequate legacy?”


If you ask me, there’s a lot more going on here than some sort of Democrat-vs.-Republican tug of wills over “minimally adequate” schools. But then, Rep. Clyburn didn’t ask me.

Neither, obviously, did the governor. So what do we do now? I don’t know. Maybe y’all have some ideas.

Drowning time for state government

Maybe y’all can explain this to me, since I have no morning editorial board meeting at which I would ask Cindi and Warren to answer this question: “In what sense is this alleged ‘deal’ Mark Sanford is offering on the stimulus a compromise?”

Let’s see — he doesn’t want the $700 million spent to “grow government,” which is the phrase used on his home planet for what English speakers call “restoring some of the cuts to essential services.” He wants to devote the money instead to “paying down debt,” which means many things in Sanfordese, including paying “debt” that won’t even be incurred for a generation — anything, absolutely anything, other than spending the money on immediate needs.

And the Obama administration said no, then when he absurdly asked the same question again (the governor is not bothered by repeating himself; he doesn’t get bored), it said hell no with added language to the effect of, “what part of ‘stimulus’ don’t you understand?”

So now he’s offering a “deal” whereby the Legislature spends that money, but sets aside an equal amount from other sources — which means money that we taxpayers paid for state services we expect — to “pay down debt.” So he gets, let’s see, everything that he wants, and the state doesn’t get anything it needs from that part of the stimulus.

Oh, and by they way, you have to go ahead and make every cut in spending that HE wants, and you can take your deliberative process and stuff it down the oubliette.

That’s my understanding, anyway.

By the way, for those of you who don’t understand the governor’s thinking on all this, let me explain it to you. You’ve no doubt heard that the governor’s ideological ally Grover Norquist wants to shrink government “to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” (Oh, and if you follow that link and think, “Mother Jones! What do expect from a left-wing rag?”, allow me to explain that when Grover came to visit with our editorial board a few years back, he brought at copy of that article with him to make sure we’d seen it. He’s proud of what they wrote about him.)

The recent drastic cuts to state agencies are just catnip to the governor and Grover and their ilk. Once you get government down to where services suffer, they can point to it and say, “See how ineffective government is! What did I tell you?” That gives support to their argument that we “waste” even less money on gummint, thereby making it even less effective… and pretty soon, it’s drowning time.

Our governor isn’t about to let some meddling Obama administration drain the tub right when state government is going down for the third time. This is the moment he’s been waiting for.

How much is this foolishness costing us?

Just a quick reaction to this message received this afternoon:

Members of the Press – we just had a very important Senate Finance Committee meeting regarding the state budget and the federal stimulus money.

In an initial Finance Committee budget meeting today Chairman Hugh Leatherman instructed subcommittee chairmen to work into the night creating a budget without federal stimulus funds. He has instructed the chairmen to cut $370 from the House budget, including $161 Million from K-12 education and $44 Million from higher education.

The Finance Committee will reconvene tomorrow at 9:00 am to review the proposed cuts in Gressette Rm 105.

Please email me with any questions.

– Wesley Donehue
SC Senate Republican Caucus

I wonder how much this insanity of Sanford forcing the Legislature to do TWO budgets is costing us, in staff time and such? Drafting the budget each year is the biggest, hairiest lifting the General Assembly does. And they’re having to do it TWICE, because of the bizarre whims of one man?

Do you know what your sin is?

Yes, that’s a quote from “Serenity” — the Operative, in point of fact. Do you know, I once took a quiz online to find out “which “Firefly” character are you?,” and it said I was the Operative. Some of my libertarian friends out there will get a chuckle out of that, but I didn’t like it a bit. Then I took it several more times — going the other way on questions that had been close calls — and each time I was somebody else. Never did get to be Jayne, though, which was disappointing. I didn’t even get to be Mal (I was stuck with the doctor — my least favorite character — and Shepherd Book).

But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that I did the first reading in Mass today, which is a rare privilege. I much prefer doing the 1st reading (Old Testament, usually), but I almost always get scheduled to do the 2nd (usually Paul’s epistles). I really get into the Old Testament readings — they tell stories; they take you somewhere — while Paul is usually too dry and abstract to mean as much to me as it should.

So it fell to me today to do the 1st reading, and this was it, from Jeremiah 31:

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

One of the ways that my faith manifests itself is that I see meaning in my being chosen to read this to the people. And this reading seems particularly pregnant with meaning for me.

You see, I’m going through a rough patch in my professional life at the moment — what with being laid off and all. And it reminds me of when I went through a much worse one, almost exactly 22 years ago. And God delivered me and my house from that. I’ll tell you the story of it in greater detail another time, but suffice it to say that the four seemingly interminable days it took my wife and me to drive our two cars and (then) four young children out of the Western wilderness to the East Coast caused the 40 years of wandering in the desert to be much more immediate and real for me. And I have always thanked God for leading us out of there, to the land of my fathers, where we have been blessed.

So that part of the reading, about the earlier covenant when God took the people by the hand and led them out of Kansas — I mean, Egypt — is a reference I personally find applicable.

But God says through Jeremiah that that deal is now off, just as my time of being blessed in my job at The State is over.

So that leaves me with two questions:

  1. What was my sin, if indeed sin there was? Maybe there wasn’t one in particular, since I don’t feel all that much of a sense of loss. But if there was one, I should know what it was.
  2. What’s the new deal?

Mostly lately, my mind has been focused on the new deal, the new covenant that lies before me. As it has begun to take shape — just bits of it so far — I’ve gotten pretty excited about it. And the mind naturally turns to “What’s next?”

But this reading causes me to wonder: Is there a lesson yet to be learned from where I was? If so, I need to figure that out. I’m planning on going to the Lenten Reconciliation Service at St. Peter’s Monday night. So I’m reflecting upon this…

Too heavy for you? Well, then go to the mall, as Jack Black’s character said in “High Fidelity,” just to bring us back to the realm of pop culture, for those who are more comfortable there.

Higher education funding in S.C., by the numbers


For once, let’s start off with some numbers and dates:

· 17 percent – the amount of the University of South Carolina’s funding that now comes from state appropriations. Our state’s major research universities now get less than a fifth of their funding from state appropriations. In recent years, those in the know have stopped calling them “state institutions” and started calling them “state-assisted.” We’ve now reached the point at which even that seems like an overstatement.

· 1st – South Carolina’s ranking in percentage of higher education funding cut last year. South Carolina, before the December and March reductions, had cut 17.7 percent from higher education budgets. (After those cuts, it has slashed higher ed budgets 24 percent.) The second worst state was Alabama, at 10.5 percent.

· 38th – Our state’s ranking for higher ed funding before the past year’s nation-leading cuts.

· 1995 – The last year that state appropriations, as a dollar amount, equaled the current level, before adjusting for inflation.

· 1973 – The year that matches the current level of funding, once you adjust for inflation. (Think for a moment what North Carolina and Georgia have done in higher education since 1973, pulling light years ahead of South Carolina.)

· $29 million – The value of one grant (from the National Institutes of Health) brought in by a single one of the 13 endowed chair holders at the Medical University of South Carolina.

· 25 – New technology companies started by USC faculty in the years since the endowed chairs program started, which places the university 19th among public institutions in the nation in number of start-ups.

· 50,000 – S.C. jobs provided directly or indirectly by USC.

· 11 percent – South Carolina unemployment rate in February.

· 43rd – South Carolina’s national ranking for percentage of adult population with college educations.

Those are a few of the figures I picked up from the presentations that Clemson President James Barker, Medical University of South Carolina President Ray Greenberg and USC President Harris Pastides (joined by Garrison Walters, executive director of the state Commission on Higher Education) made to a joint meeting Wednesday of two Senate panels that deal with higher education funding, such as it is.

They were there to try to stop the bleeding, and to send the message that dealing a further blow to these institutions’ already last-in-the-nation funding by not accepting federal stimulus funds would be beyond insane (my wording, I hope you’ll note, not theirs).

In some cases, they had requests that bore specifically upon their respective institutions. For instance, Dr. Greenberg’s wish listed included a request that if tuition is capped, graduate and professional programs will be exempted. But in keeping with the extraordinary collaboration that has marked the interaction of the three presidents in recent years (which is no less than miraculous, given the petty, wasteful, tit-for-tat competition that characterized the decades that went before), he also cited priorities shared by all: Regulatory relief (which President Barker has explained as minimizing cost by requiring the schools to jump through two or three hoops instead of six every time they make a move); a state bond bill for capital needs; and passing the cigarette tax increase, with a major portion of the revenue going to Medicaid. OK, so maybe that last one has the most immediate effect on the medical university, but its benefits to the entire state are so obvious as to absolve it of parochialism.

And they had a sympathetic audience. “You’re number one in the country,” in budget cuts, Sen. Nikki Setzler noted. “If that isn’t a challenge to this committee to carry forward to the full General Assembly, then shame on us.”

Of course, Sen. Setzler is a Democrat, but that doesn’t count for as much of a difference in the S.C. Senate as it does in some venues. And when it comes to the federal stimulus upon which the GOP leadership is completely dependent for keeping essential state services running, there are only two sides – on one is Gov. Mark Sanford and a few allies to whom ideology is the only reality; on the other the vast majority of lawmakers.

Republicans don’t come more conventionally conservative than Senate Education Chairman John Courson, to whom Ronald Reagan was a demigod. And here’s what he had to say about the stimulus: “If we don’t accept that money, it does not go back to the Treasury; it goes to other states.” Which is just common sense, of course – nothing ideological about it. But this is a moment in South Carolina history when commonsense statements are in pathetically short supply, so every one uttered takes on added value. In an interview later, Sen. Courson explained the rationale adopted by most Republicans whose top priority is not posturing for national media: He opposed the stimulus bill when it was being debated in Washington. There’s a lot in it he doesn’t like; if he had been a member of Congress he would have voted against it. But that’s all over now. It’s a fact, and South Carolinians are going to be paying for it along with everyone else. Therefore, not taking the money makes no sense at all.

Tuition cost was on the senators’ minds, and well it should be, now that the bulk of higher education costs is on students and their families rather than state taxpayers. “I am pledging to keep any tuition increase for next year to a minimum,” said Dr. Pastides. “I’m keenly aware of the burden that a tuition increase would put on students and their families.”

But what happens with tuition depends upon the General Assembly’s actions – and the governor’s. “Will tuition and fees increase next year?” President Barker asked rhetorically. “The answer is: Almost certainly, but the level of increase is very dependent on what happens with state funding. Tuition is Clemson’s last-resort response….”

Mr. Barker pointed out that the effect of stimulus money on tuition is not direct, since he, like the other presidents, would use stimulus money for one-time, not recurring, expenses. But when asked by Sen. Harvey Peeler the expected effect upon the institutions of not accepting the stimulus money, the Clemson president said it “would be devastating.”

Other senators, seizing upon that word, asked other witnesses whether they agreed with it, prompting Dr. Pastides to oblige them by saying for the record, “It will be devastating, and it will have an effect on tuition” if the stimulus is blocked.

Normally, I’m not what you’d call a numbers guy; words are my thing. So I appreciate that the senators were groping for just the right word to describe the situation. But in this case, for once, the numbers impress me more. We are so far behind in our state. And if our governor has his way, we’ll take an additional giant leap backward.

This is my first weekly online-only column after leaving The State. Watch for more here on

Background materials for tomorrow’s column

Being a creature of habit, I’ve written a column for tomorrow. It won’t be in The State, but it will appear here at (I hope that makes y’all feel special).

It’s based on the joint meeting of the S.C. Senate Education Committee and the Senate Finance Committee Higher Education Subcommittee on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. The heads of the state’s three research universities and of the CHE testified regarding budget matters.

One of the cool things about being unemployed is that I actually have time to go out and do legwork, which I haven’t been able to do for years. I hadn’t even set foot in the Statehouse complex this year before Wednesday. And it’s been many years (perhaps going back to my reporting days in the late 70s) since I was able to sit all the way through a two-hour public hearing.

It was nice to be able to get that sort of perspective for a change. Anyway, I thought I’d provide y’all with some background material for the column. I don’t have electronic copies of CHE head Garrison Walters’ presentation, because it didn’t occur to me to request it, since I had a hard copy from the meeting. Likewise with MUSC President Ray Greenberg’s remarks, since he gave me his personal copy afterwards. But I did ask for USC President Harris Pastides’ and Clemson President James Barkers’ via e-mail, and here they are:

Let me know if you have any trouble opening those.

Is anyone looking into impeaching Sanford?

At the Verizon Wireless career fair.

At the Verizon Wireless career fair. (credit:

Just wondering. It’s not that I’m advocating it or anything. Yet.

It just occurs to me to ask whether, once lawmakers have asked him to reconsider and he’s brushed that off (as you know he will), they have a backup plan for making sure South Carolina gets the stimulus that we’re going to be paying for anyway.

The stakes are huge, and they’re way more important than Sanford or whether he continues to hold office. For years, we’ve held our breath at the notion of Andre Bauer becoming governor, but at least he would accept the funding that is essential to continuing such critical services as, say, keeping prisoners locked up or teachers in the classroom.

Did you see the piece in today’s paper about our 11 percent unemployment rate in February, and the projection that it’s going to be a long time before things get better? (By the way, I borrowed the above image from If that’s not OK, somebody tell me.) An excerpt:

More than 900 people showed up this week at a Verizon Wireless career fair in Forest Acres for 120 call-center jobs with $27,000-a-year starting salaries and full benefits.

Though not required, many applicants had college degrees —desperate for work in a state with an unemployment rate that rose to 11 percent in February.

South Carolina continues to have the nation’s second-highest jobless rate, as 241,000 people last month hunted for work, the S.C. Employment Security Commission reported Friday.

Yep, we have the second-highest unemployment rate, and a couldn’t-give-less-of-a-damn governor.

The problem with the Clyburn bypass on stimulus funds is that it might involve a 10th amendment violation, what with the federal government telling a state what it has to do. But the bizarre situation we find ourselves in is that we have a governor who couldn’t care less about our actual state or its needs, but whose every decision is guided by his own desire to strut upon the national stage.

So, this raises the question: Is anyone at the State House looking into what it would take for South Carolinians to seize control of their own fate, which could involve taking control back from this ideological dilettante?

I have no idea what the legal possibilities are. But surely someone does. And surely someone is considering this contingency.

Blogging is harder when you’re unemployed

You know, I thought I’d be posting more than ever once I wasn’t working. I was really wrong.

When I was working, I was at a computer all day, and could post while I was doing other things. Run across something interesting in e-mail? Post it. Waiting for somebody’s column to come in? Write that post you’ve had at the back of your mind all day.

By contrast, this week I’ve found myself running around town meeting with various people — working on getting employed again — and once I stop for a minute and find myself at a machine, I’m too tired to blog.

I seem to hit a wall about 4 p.m. each day — total exhaustion. Maybe it’s psychosomatic, but I don’t know. I mean, I was just as stressed those last two weeks of work, but I never felt tired. I’d work until 8 or so without batting an eye. Remember, I wrote three columns in three days, there at the end, and energy was never in short supply.

Now, suddenly, when I don’t have to put in the long hours at the office — I’m worn out at the time that I normally think of as midafternoon. I’m fine in the morning — full of pep, ideas and so forth. But by 4, I want to lie down.

Presumably I’ll adjust and stop doing that, I guess, but in the meantime I’m getting up earlier to make my productive time a little longer — which makes me even more tired when I hit the wall, but whatever.

Anyway, I was going to write a “column” — a column-length post that would go up on Sunday — about the Senate hearing I attended Wednesday at which the presidents of USC, Clemson and MUSC made their budget pitches. That is, I was going to write it today. But I’ve spent the afternoon babysitting the twins instead (which is more fun). Looks like I’ll have to write that tomorrow.

Sorensen on my last column

Former USC President Andrew Sorensen had the following to say about my last column in The State:

Dear Brad:

As one who has just embarked on a marked change in professional responsibilities, I wish you well in the next stage of your career, whatever that may be.

Thanks very much for your stimulating op-ed piece of March 22nd.  Although I was tempted to respond to each paragraph as well as the concluding suggestions, in the interest of brevity I’ll comment only on (1) “Improve our schools” and (2) “Let our colleges and universities drive our economy.”

(1)I couldn’t agree more with your recommendation that we “stop talking about nonsensical distraction, and fix the schools.”  We South Carolinians ought to be profoundly embarrassed by the quality of schools in our economically depressed communities.  It is imperative that all South Carolinians have an opportunity for the quality of education afforded at the many first-rate schools throughout our state.  Your suggestions for restructuring, if implemented, would do much to correct our current imbalance in facilities and human resources.

(2)During the past several years, the presidents of USC, MUSC and Clemson have made extraordinary progress in collaborating on the “cutting edge of wealth-creating innovation.” During this period of profound fiscal crisis the temptation is great to hunker down and look upon investment in this area as one of high risk that will yield principally future benefit, and is unlikely to be manifest in the next few weeks or months.  That admission will cause detractors to argue that investing in these programs in the midst of economic stringency is counterintuitive.  But the economic future of our state is heavily dependent on the highly skilled and scientifically sophisticated youth of today who will become the leaders of our state’s economy tomorrow.

All the best to you.


Andrew A. Sorensen

Leatherman’s letter to Sanford

Folks, here’s a copy of the letter that Hugh Leatherman wrote to Sanford about the stimulus. Don’t know what to add except that his point, that South Carolinians will pay for this stimulus whether we get the money or not, is one that I heard Republican senators making yesterday at the State House.

Hardly seems worth mentioning because it’s so painfully obvious. To everyone but Sanford. Did you read the short item in the paper today about what Bobby Harrell had to say?

COLUMBIA, S.C. — House Speaker Bobby Harrell said Wednesday South Carolina lawmakers should prepare a budget without using federal stimulus cash unless Gov. Mark Sanford reverses himself and decides to seek the money.

“We’re probably not going to have that money with the governor not requesting it,” Harrell, R-Charleston, said. “It is time to write a budget that does not include that money.”

But Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said it is time for legislators to sit down with the governor and come up with a budget plan that uses $700 million stimulus cash the governor will control during the next two years to pay down state debt or forgoes the federal cash altogether through budget cuts. “So far, they’ve not indicated a willingness to do so.”…

That comment from Joel really gets me. He might as well say, “The governor has invited lawmakers to poke every citizen of South Carolina in the eye with a sharp stick, but so far, they’ve not indicated a willingness to do so…”

Why didn’t I think of this?

Did you hear about the French 3M employees who took their boss hostage to try to get a better severance deal? (Apparently, they let him go last night.)

Now, why didn’t I think of that?

I’ll tell you why — I’m civilized, that’s why. Sure, I just got laid off, but I just can’t begin to identify with the kind of proletarian rage — or Gallic sense of entitlement, or whatever is being expressed here — that leads to this kind of lawlessness.

It wouldn’t even occur to me to resort to harsh words, much less violence. Not that this is violence, we’re told. Here’s an excerpt from a story during the standoff:

The stand-off, which isn’t violent, started on Tuesday when workers refused to allow plant director Luc Rousselet leave his office unless 3M sweetened severance packages being negotiated for the fired workers. Negotiations between the two sides are supposed to re-start late on Wednesday to try to find a solution.

Right. Maybe holding another person, physically, against his will isn’t technically violence, but it seems a prosecutor could make a good case for kidnapping, which in this country (to use a great Jack Nicholson line) is considered a more serious offense (I think; you lawyers correct me if I’m wrong) than simple assault. In fact, in some jurisdictions, doesn’t holding someone against his will constitute grounds for a lynching charge?

Apparently, after the workers let the boss go, negotiations on the severance were to continue. Seriously. Instead of everyone involved being hauled in and put under the jail, negotiations are to resume. What a country.

Meanwhile, workers are busting windows in Edinburgh to express their rage at a bank exec’s sweet retirement deal, so worker lawlessness is not restricted to France.

Of course, I will say that civil behavior cuts both ways. I’m parting with my newspaper amicably, and the paper is as responsible for that as I am. Robert and I received some nice tributes in the paper, and we were able to clean out our offices without armed guards standing over us. Robert tells me that another cartoonist laid off last week was told one day that he would lose his job the next, then when he came in the next morning to clean out his office, he was locked out.

As David Brent says, “Professionalism is… and that’s what I want.” Either you understand how to behave in a professional, civilized manner, or you don’t. Some companies, and some workers, don’t. Some do.

Asking Sanford to reconsider

So here is what we’re reduced to, after Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman raised the alarm that the Clyburn amendment notwithstanding, the Legislature might not be able to bypass him to get the stimulus funds: Asking Mark Sanford to reconsider.

Which, I’ve got to say, is not much of a plan.

The senator said, in the story in The State this morning, that he plans to ask the governor to reconsider his quixotic stand against common sense. And at a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing that I attended this morning (to hear the three research university presidents make their budget pitches — more about that later) several other senators urged the presidents, and their trustees, and students, and the small army of alumni attending Carolina Day at the State House, to make their concerns known to “the man downstairs,” as Sen. Darrell Jackson referred to him, even though he was speaking in the Gressette Building rather than the State House proper (and maybe he was talking about some “man downstairs” in the basement of Gressette, but I doubt it).

And what do you think the chances are that the governor will be moved by any of this? Essentially, zero. You have to understand that real-world consequences mean nothing to this governor, whose only reality is his ideological constructs. Especially when the consequences are felt by people other than Mark Sanford.

Maybe you can think of an argument that will cause him to see how nuts it is to refuse money that South Carolinians will have to foot the bill for later anyway. But I’m fresh out.

I’ll take the public sector queue, please

When I told my little tale of minor annoyance about having to get a new Social Security card a couple of weeks back (35 years I went without one, and the first time anyone asks me for it is when I find myself unemployed), some of my libertarian friends out there predictably pointed to it as a sign of the inefficiency and unaccountability of gummint. Which I expected, having handed you such a beautiful opportunity. (Don’t say I never gave you anything.)

But here’s the thing about that — it really didn’t take very long, and aside from the hassles from security guards, it all went pretty smoothly. My new SS card arrived in the mail sooner than expected. I gave it to Mamanem to put in a safe place.

Contrast that to my experience at my wireless phone provider, where I went to get my Blackberry wiped clean of stuff from the corporate server (how’s that for a band name: Corporate Server), and set up my new e-mail and such. An hour and a half. The young man who helped me couldn’t have been nicer (which is why I removed the actual name of my wireless provider, because I don’t want to get him in any trouble with his boss), and admittedly the transaction was somewhat complex. But what gets me is the wait before someone starts helping you. When I asked about whether there was a time I could come back and not find such a crowd, I was told there wasn’t. One employee mentioned that his wife calls the place “the DMV of wireless.” Which is a good joke, except for the fact that the DMV has figured out how to provide its services without making people wait forever. Maybe the cell phone companies should ask the DMV how they did it.

Finally, they took my red cells

The last couple of times I’ve tried to do the Alyx system at the Red Cross — it’s this deal where they take out a couple of pints of your blood, remove the red cells, then pump it back into you with a little saline — it didn’t work out. Once my iron was too low, the next time it was too late in the day or something. I gave whole blood instead both times, but it was a letdown, because Alyx is pretty cool (literally, since the stuff they pump back into you isn’t quite as warm as what they took out, which might be more than you want to know).

But today, I scored a 13.6 on the iron measurement, which requires a 13.3 before you can do this (the standard for giving whole blood is lower). So I feel a sense of accomplishment.

For months, I had been putting them off, because I just didn’t feel well, starting with that crud I got before Christmas. But I’m pretty healthy now, and I certainly have time on my hands. So I finally got it done.

You should, too. We need the blood here in the Midlands, where we almost never have enough for the community’s needs, and have to import from elsewhere. I mean, you don’t want me lording it over you with how good and fine and generous I am, and you not giving — do you? Because you know, I will do that — unless you stop me by donating.

I’ve given two-and-a-half gallons over the years, by the way.

By the book: Apparently, I’m doing everything right

You will not be surprised to learn that I took a particular interest in a book review, in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal this morning, of Martha I. Finney’s Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss.

And I was reassured that I seem to be doing the right things, just by instinct:

  • I didn’t blow my stack over losing my job. In fact, beyond some peevish moments while dealing with paperwork — y’all know how I hate forms and such — I haven’t actually felt anything like anger, much less acted out. That’s good, because according to the review, the book says “Throwing a tantrum is out. Not only can it get you an unwelcome reputation as a hothead, it could lose you what little you can hope to take away in benefits.”
  • I still get up at the usual time, shave, get dressed and go to the usual place for breakfast, thereby staying in sync with this advice: “Ms. Finney presents some basic strategies for depression- avoidance, including such simple tactics as getting out of bed and getting dressed as if for work.”
  • The reviewer disagrees with the book one on point, and so do I: “And downright unhelpful is Ms. Finney’s suggestion that one abjure such ‘stress hormone-inducing substances’ as coffee. The last thing an unemployed java junkie needs is to go job-hunting sluggish and glassy-eyed from caffeine deprivation.” Amen to that. I’m trying not to overdo the coffee, because it can cause anxiety (even in the best of times) — but I’m not about to go cold-turkey.
  • The reviewer also objects to the author’s advice that the job-seeker call attention to himself by starting a blog. “Exactly how many employers will be eager to grant you an interview if they think that it might become material for your blog?” wonders the reviewer. That might be a good point for someone who wants a job in banking. But this is what I do, folks. This is my way of staying in shape for work.

The very best thing about this review is that I don’t feel compelled to read the book itself. That’s good, because being unemployed is hard, tiring work, and it takes all your energy and time. I say that based on one day. But at least I can say that every day I’ve been unemployed so far, I’ve received a standing ovation. Here’s hoping the second day is that good.

Tell me which way you want the comments

After several days of getting confused, I realized that the comments were displaying with the most recent at the top, oldest at the bottom — which is the opposite of the way I was used to on the old blog.

So I switched it, to where the newest is at the bottom (at least, I think that’s what I did; I’m not fully at home with WordPress yet).

Please tell me which way y’all prefer it. I can adjust.

My standing ovation

Well, it wasn’t quite in Leon Lott’s league, but then I didn’t wear an Ellie Mae wig, either. And the standing ovation I received when I got up to speak to the Columbia Rotary Club today was pretty overwhelming. I was humbled, awed and bowled over. I had been pretty calm up until that time, taking all the kind comments I had received from so many readers with tremendous gratitude, but also with a certain equanimity. This came close enough to choking me up that I had a little trouble with my delivery, but I made it through.

And I got some laughs, which was my aim. See, it was my turn to do Health and Happiness. If you aren’t a Rotarian and don’t know what that means, it basically involves passing on items of personal news about other members (births, deaths, hospitalizations and such), followed by a few (preferably tasteful) jokes. I had been scheduled to do it today for some time.

Since everyone I’ve talked to over the last couple of weeks had shown a lot of interest in my being laid off, I decided to just talk about that, rather than read a bunch of one-liners lifted from the Internet.

Here’s the written text I worked from:

Did you ever hear the one about the guy who had to do Health and Happiness on the first working day after he got laid off?

For some reason, for the last few days a Saturday Night Live skit has been going through my head, and I’m wondering if I dreamt it because I can’t find any reference to it on the Internet.

It was one of those spoofs that Eddie Murphy did called “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood,” in which he was a down-and-out version of Mr. Rogers. It was a recurring skit. Anyway, I think I recall that one time he said something like this:

“The boys and girls in the park say, ‘Mr. Robinson, you’re so nice to us. You play with us, you tell us stories, you sing songs with us…’
“You ain’t got no job, do you?”

Anyway, I keep hearing Eddie Murphy’s voice saying that – whether he ever actually said it or not – and every time I hear it, I smile.

Which is not the reaction you might expect.

Friday was my last day at the paper. Robert Ariail and I had spent every moment we could find for the week before that cleaning out our offices. At about 7 p.m. Friday, we had been sharing the hand truck back and forth, and we finally got the last loads into our vehicles. Then we headed to Five Points to get a beer. Or two.

On the way in to Yesterday’s, out on the sidewalk, I turned to Robert and said, “Do you feel bad yet?”
He said “No. Do you?” I said “No,” and we just started laughing. Anybody seeing us at that moment, knowing the circumstances, would have thought we’d lost our minds. Mind you, we hadn’t had the beer yet. But we each knew what the other meant.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I dearly loved my job and worked with a great bunch of people, and I am very touched by the outpouring I’ve received from folks – friends and total strangers – who have expressed the sense of loss they feel now that Robert’s work and mine won’t be in the paper any more. And I wish the best for my good friends who remain behind, trying to keep putting out the paper in these difficult times. There’s just this thing where, perhaps selfishly, Robert and I are sort of glad they’re going to be struggling on without US.

So for the moment we’re pretty satisfied. But we realize, as do our 38 co-workers who also left the paper Friday, that sitting back and relying on unemployment checks is not the best long-term strategy.

For one thing, in South Carolina, the biggest unemployment check you can get amounts to $326 a week. If the job you lost paid a million dollars a year, that’s still the biggest check you can get. And don’t think oh, that’s OK, you can supplement it by flipping burgers a few hours a week until you get back on your feet. No. If you make $200 at a part-time job while you’re looking for full-time, that week you will only get $126 in your unemployment check. The $326 is a ceiling, not a floor.
Besides, you can’t even rely on the $326 a week in a state where Mark Sanford is the governor.

(What, did you think I’d stop expressing political opinions just because I’m not getting paid for it? … I can’t help it; it’s a compulsion.)

So anyhow, I figure I need a backup plan. So I’m working on a resume. One thing the employment security people said when they came to the paper to give us advice was that we should show our resumes to as many people as possible and get feedback. This seems like an excellent opportunity.

So tell me how this sounds:

Starts out with my name, e-mail address, phone number, etc. Then…

OBJECTIVE: A job, any old job, that pays more than $326 a week. And oh, yes – benefits, since we can’t seem to get our act together in this country on a National Health Plan, unlike the rest of the world.

JOB HISTORY: Assembled and led a highly skilled, motivated, effective team of 8 professional journalists who… No wait, that was several years ago, before cutbacks in our industry. Make that, “team of 7 people…” No, “6 people…” uh, 5… 4… 3..?

You know what; the number’s not important. Leave that out.

SKILLS: Writing, editing, pagination using QuarkXpress, general newspaper production, consensus building, interviewing, analysis of complex issues, blogging, photography, video production, community relations, and just generally going around acting like I know the answer to everything …

Is that too much information? Well, maybe it does need work. I’m open to suggestions.

Seriously, folks, I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness I’ve been shown by so many of you over the last couple of weeks as I prepared to leave a job that has meant so much to me, and, I’ve been gratified to learn, to many of you. I feel humbled to have had the opportunity to do that job for the past 22 years. And to have so many of you tell me how much you appreciated the job I did just means more than I can say.

And I’d tell you all that, instead of making silly jokes about it, except that, you know, I’m a guy, and we don’t like to talk about our feelings.

Thank you. You’ve been a wonderful audience.

South Carolina’s unfinished business


THE COLUMN I’d prefer to be remembered for — my fond reflection on how great it has been to work here with Robert Ariail — ran on Friday. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I close my career at this newspaper with a tough-love piece about unfinished business in South Carolina. Keep in mind, I say these things because I do love my state dearly, and I want the best for it. I always have.

None of these issues will come as a surprise to you. I’ve gone on and on about them for years. These are things we need to do if our state is to reach its potential — to put it more bluntly, to catch up with all those other states whose people are healthier, wealthier and (apparently, given our resistance to reform) wiser than we are.

Each of these items is interwoven with the others; each could be a book (one that I’ve written, on these pages). But here’s the short version:

Improve our schools. Stop talking about nonsensical distractions — such as our governor’s proposal to pay people to pull their children out of our schools — and fix the schools. The only way we will ever raise incomes and overcome the legacy of our economy having been built upon slavery is to make sure everyone has a decent education. And the only possible way to do that is through a statewide system of public schools, with the more affluent areas underwriting the more depressed ones. Public schools are the only ones we the people control, and they have to do whatever we decide they should do. Here are some of the changes we should implement: Pay teachers more for better performance, not for initials after their names; eliminate waste and reduce incompetence by cutting the number of districts from 85 to no more than one per county; empower principals to hire and fire. Let’s stop talking, and get these things done.

Restructure state government. Right now, most of the executive branch is fragmented into scores of tiny islands that answer to no one. Make the executive branch accountable to the elected chief executive, so that our next governor (and here’s another thing for our to-do list — elect a better governor) can pull our limited resources together and get state agencies working together to accomplish the agenda upon which he (or she) is elected. Our current system was designed, intentionally, to resist change. We have to replace it to move forward.

Restructure local government. To give you but one example — the real-world economic community that we informally name “Columbia” consists of more than a dozen municipalities, two counties, seven school districts and an absurd tangle of independent little jurisdictions such as fire, recreation, water and sewer districts. The technical, legal city of Columbia — a mere fraction of the real community — is “governed” in a way that is guaranteed to shield both city administrators and elected officials from accountability. Statewide, we need to make it easier for local governments to consolidate and annex, and get rid of the more than 500 special purpose districts that unnecessarily complicate governance on the local level.

Set local governments free. Let the people elected to run the governments closest to the people run them, without interference by state legislators. The ways that the people who should be minding state business (and you’d think they’d have enough on their plates) meddle in local matters are legion. In some communities they appoint school board members (in Dillon County, a single lawmaker — who happens to be an employee of the school system — determines who will be on the school board). In others, they set school budgets. Collectively, legislators put local governments statewide in a ridiculous bind, writing impossible rules for how and even how much they can tax. Local people know what their communities need; leave them alone.

Let our colleges and universities drive our economy. The presidents of our three research universities have made strides, cooperating to an extraordinary degree. It needs to become the focused policy of this state to use our public institutions of higher education to attract the best and brightest, keep them here and foster research that puts us on the cutting edge of wealth-creating innovation. That means funding the endowed chairs program at twice the level that we did when we were actually investing in it, and restoring support for the schools themselves. We are 40 years behind North Carolina and Georgia. We won’t catch up in my lifetime, but we need to start trying.

Overhaul our tax system. Figure out what state government needs to do, the things that only it can do, then determine what that costs, and devise and implement a fair, balanced and reliable way of funding it. That means scrapping our entire tax structure, and making it serve all of the people of this state, rather than overlapping, competing, narrow interests.

Some of these things are tough; others are less so. But they are all essential to getting our act together in South Carolina. To help us warm up for the harder ones, I suggest we do the following immediately:

Raise our lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by a dollar, bringing us (almost) to the national average, and saving thousands of young lives.

Remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

While those last two are easier to implement, they are essential to proving to the world and ourselves that we are serious about building a better South Carolina. The reasons that have been offered not to do those two, simple things are not reasons in any rational sense, but rather outgrowths of the mind-sets that have held us back since 1865.

Which is long enough.

Mr. Warthen was vice president and editorial page editor of The State through Friday. He worked at the paper for 22 years. Find his new blog at, or e-mail him at