Showing posts with label beyond politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beyond politics. Show all posts

Orangeburg County: Not the poorest in America (but darn close to it)

Last Sunday's Post and Courier included an excellent article from James Scott, which discusses the dismal situation faced by Orangeburg County, ranked as the tenth-poorest county in the United States:

Robinson's struggle is mirrored by nearly one out of every three people who call Orangeburg County home. An hour west of Charleston's mushrooming suburbs, the county of 90,000 is 10th in the nation for the percentage of people living in poverty, based on the latest U.S. Census figures for counties 65,000 and larger. Poverty is defined as a family of four having an income of $20,614 or less or individuals making $10,294 or less a year.

Compounding Orangeburg's struggle is a lack of an educated work force — only one out of 7 people have at least a bachelor's degree — and a soaring unemployment rate of 10 percent, a figure higher than Argentina's rate.

... and it's also fueled, even if nobody will admit it, by community leadership which is far more concerned about their own enrichment than serving their community, as indicated by the staggering number of government figures who have been indicted and convicted in recent years, including:
  • Two members of County Council, including their last Chairman,
  • the last Sheriff,
  • a municipal Treasurer for Orangeburg, and
  • a Police Chief and Town Clerk in Santee.
That's a lot of political jailbirds from just one county.

It can't be easy to recruit good-paying jobs to a county whose last County Council Chairman pled guilty to offering a no-bid opportunity to buy the county hospital.

All the federal pork money intended to "prime the pump" won't help a community that doesn't want to clean up it's act first, and who has a number of key public officials that are out for their own benefit, instead of that of their community. We shouldn't be surprised to find that public corruption and governmental incompetence is far more prevalent in many impoverished communities.

While there are many problems confronting poor rural areas like Orangeburg County, few of them can be addressed as easily as public corruption. Working to stomp out corruption and help make sure their public servants are looking to put public service ahead of personal enrichment is a good first step.

Taking that first step is, in part a responsibility of watchful state and federal officials, who have done an admirable and patient job weeding the county of its crooked officials. But it's also the responsibility of the people of the county, who largely give incumbents a free pass at the polls in one of the state's most one-party counties (which hasn't elected a Republican to any office since 1992).

While this is not to say one party has a monopoly on virtue (we know that's not the case), the lack of effective political competition, both inside and between political parties, isn't healthy for any community. In the case of Orangeburg County, the willingness of voters to accept the status quo been a recipe for disaster.

Andy Brack makes points about environmental responsibility

Over at the Statehouse Report, Andy Brack talks about the importance of individual responsibility in addressing environmental concerns:

Bottom line: It's not terribly hard to be greener because there are numerous things you can do that save energy and money without dramatically impacting your day-to-day routine.

Governments have a major role to play in reshaping the South to be greener. But if everybody does just a little bit to conserve energy and cut down on greenhouse gases - without major impacts on the quality of their daily lives - the South would become a greener place.

He makes a number of smart, affordable and easy recommendations that can make a difference, some of which have been done around the Capps household.

  • I replaced the light bulbs in my house with CFL bulbs, which last longer, give off less heat (always a good thing), and save electricity.
  • I did a tune-up on my car recently, replacing the spark plugs, wires and distributor on my car, taking less than 30 minutes to increase my gas milage at least 10 percent.
  • To shade one side of my house that had no tree cover and give kids something fun to do next year, I planted an orange tree and a tangerine tree this summer (saves electricity too).
Politics aside, these are just smart ideas that pay for themselves, and reduce our impact upon the world around us.

Certified South Carolina: The best food in the world

Hugh Weathers and our friends over at the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (the dude with the really cool cow TV spots) has a new advocacy campaign for South Carolina agriculture - Certified South Carolina.

In the wake of the really bad weather earlier in the spring which dealt a heavy blow to our state's peach crop, this sort of campaign couldn't have come a better time.

When I talked to Commissioner Weathers at the MCASC event a couple of weeks ago, he had told me this campaign was getting ready to start and asked me to check it out. It looks like a good effort that has great potential - it certainly deserves our support.

Don't forget, when it comes to good eatin', there's nothing finer than grown in South Carolina:

The Certified South Carolina program is a new, exciting cooperative effort among producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers and the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA) to brand and promote South Carolina products. Our goal is for consumers to be able to easily identify, find and buy South Carolina products.

Public interest and perceptions, image and awareness, distribution, legislation, regulations all have an impact on the sustainability and growth of agribusiness. In order to tackle these issues, overcome obstacles and keep agriculture profitable, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture in cooperation with public and private partners has implemented the Certified South Carolina program.

Certified South Carolina is a call to action for South Carolina citizens as we ask you to Buy South Carolina because Nothing's Fresher. Nothing's Finer.

Starting now, farmers and processors from across the state are invited to be a part of this unique, industry-wide marketing and branding effort of the SCDA.

... and in case y'all missed last year's campaign TV spot
with Hugh, his dairy farm, and all the cows, here it is:

Lexington County program to reduce dropped CDV charges?

The Lexington County Sheriff's office is launching a program to use detectives to keep those accused of domestic violence from attempting to sweet talk their accusers out of dropping charges:

Some men just won’t stop beating women, and Lexington County is trying to block the blows in a novel way.

The Sheriff’s Department has a $1 million plan to hire specialized detectives to combat accused batterers who figure no one can stop them from intimidating or sweet-talking their partners to avoid prosecution.

It would be an innovative, expensive plan that no other police agency in South Carolina has, law enforcement agencies and victim rights advocates said.

Prosecutors hope it helps them convict more batterers when victims are reluctant to cooperate, like the Sheriff’s Department said has happened in 80 percent of its cases since mid-2005.
- The State, 5/27/2007

It's no small secret that some use this process, via bogus CDV charges, to wear down an adverse party during a divorce fight, but in those cases, the accused aren't following their ex-people around, trying to convince them to drop the charges or get them to come back - they usually WANT their accusers to go away.

The ones who are trying to harass the accusers into dropping charges are those who have no defense and therefore will do anything to get charges dropped and continue their abusive and predatory behavior.

Let's hope this program bears fruit.

S.C. Higher Education Tour: USC duplicates Technical college services?

The purpose of the Higher Education Tour is to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of higher education facilities in South Carolina, to promote discussion of how we can streamline the overall system and offer a broader range of overall education opportunities to all South Carolinians, which can help improve the incomes and quality of lives of individuals as well as help attract better economic development prospects in our communities.

As an aside to the tour, Wednesday's edition of The State discusses how the USC system is working to streamline the transfer process from those who start college in the technical college system. This begs the question of why USC needs to hold onto its two-year feeder campuses, duplicating courses and degrees which are offered by our state's excellent technical college system?

USC aims to boost transfers from Greenville Technical College from last fall’s 31 students to hundreds with a Bridge program university officials say will ensure a Greenville Tech student a seamless admission to the Columbia campus after one year of successful academic work.

USC president Andrew Sorensen said Tuesday he envisions a parallel academic experience between students who sign up for the Bridge program and those who begin their college lives on the Columbia campus.

If the USC people have an answer to why South Carolina needs to continue to have two duplicating junior college systems, as always, the Blogland is ready, willing, and eager to hear from them.

Rex gets it - PACT test on the way out?

A few months ago on this blog, I singled out the PACT test as a problem in South Carolina public education:

A year or so ago, I took my GRE exam - a two-hour exam which was my last obstacle to be an official graduate student (I had gotten in on a waiver since the program was new). It took me two hours and I got my scores on the spot (I even passed it, believe it or not). Many other similar tests are administered and scored via computer. If it's done for those seeking professional certifications and entry into graduate programs, then I have two questions:

  • So why does the PACT test have to be done the way it is?
  • Who stands to benefit/profit from the way it is presently being done?

The answers to these questions will likely tell us a lot about why they won't modernize the state's assessment tests.

About five years ago, when a friend of mine who was then on the State Board of Education was one of those who tried to stop local school districts from continuing to creep their start dates back to early August. Why the need for a change? They need more time to teach the PACT test ... to get the desired scores ... to rig the system.

- A Game of PACT Scam? (2/23/2007)

We won't claim credit for the idea, but it looks like State Superintendent Jim Rex is now sharing our position on the PACT test and agrees that it's time for this cumbersome and ineffective boondoggle to hit the road:

Students in South Carolina will no longer take the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test if the state education superintendent gets his way.

On Thursday, Superintendent Jim Rex proposed sweeping reform to the state testing system. His plan is to replace the standardized test for third- through eighth-graders with a new accountability test that would consume less time at the end of the school year and to devote more time to diagnostic tests.

Rex hopes to bring the plan to the state Education Oversight Committee and the General Assembly for approval in 2008.

Students could begin taking the new test in spring 2009.

-Myrtle Beach Sun News (5/18/2007)

We couldn't agree more.

It is past time we sought to better identify the accomplishments and needs of South Carolina school children, instead of guarantees employment for over-paid consultants. Our children should come first, and in this area, we're glad Rex is on board.

Investigating the Orangeburg Massacre

Representative David Weeks of Sumter has a bill in the House to call for a formal investigation of the Orangeburg Massacre. While this incident is by no means the only atrocity of our state's past, the fact that this incident involved public officials at the state level, via State Troopers, calls for a fuller understanding of what happened, and why:

Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter, has filed a bill to open a review of the shootings - known as the Orangeburg Massacre in which three people were killed at the predominantly black South Carolina State University in 1968.

Weeks' bill won't get very far with less than a month left on this year's legislative calendar, but it can carry over to the next session, which starts in January. In February, the state will mark the 40th anniversary of the event that Weeks says still causes "hard feelings" among some black South Carolinians.

"There are still a lot of questions - a certain mystery about what happened," he said. "We may not like what (an investigation) finds, but perhaps we can bring some closure to this."

The shame of it is that only one white legislator and one Republican, Jim Harrison of Richland County, put his name on the bill. He should not have been the only one.

It's not the first time that the Blogland has said something nice about Mr. Weeks, so he's on his way to becoming one of the Blogland's favorite Democrats.

While time in this session is short, I hope we'll see Weeks' bill back next year, with more support. The truth may not be pretty, but it's past time for us to get to it, and move beyond it.

The McCarty-Wilson debate: Racism in our society and political culture

In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln once framed the Civil War as a conflict centered around the question of what kind of nation this would be, or if would be a nation at all. While the issue of white supremacists in the GOP raised on Brian McCarty’s blog last week certainly does not have the same kind of world-changing impact, he does ask for some serious soul-searching with regard to asking if the Republican Party will embrace those who take part in radical white supremacist efforts.

For that, he has been the target of some serious criticisms and personal attacks, and now has been challenged to debate Mr. Wilson. I found it interesting to see the original challenge which was posted on Brian's blog avoided addressing the allegations raised on Voting under the Influence, instead, he simply chose to attack the credibility of Brian and his sources.

“Simple” is the right word here. Mr. Wilson’s rhetorical tactics are simple, and seem intended to avoid discussion of the allegations made about what role may be playing in the undermining of civility and rule of law in contemporary American society.

Brian and I were raised up in a South that was just a generation removed from the Jim Crow era where our communities were segregated and most political power controlled by small circles of “good ol’ boy” elitists that denied access and due process to minorities, and to a lesser degree, even whites of lower socio-economic standing.

What many of these radicals and bigots don’t realize that the elitists at the pinnacle of the social, economic, and political structure which they claim to miss was based on education, family, wealth and land ownership. They wouldn’t have made the “A” list back then any more than they've made it now. Today’s outcast white supremacists are the inheritors of a sad tradition where the in-town crowd treated them with disdain and disgust, except to use them as the bully-boy enforcers of their Jim Crow order when challenged by “uppity” civil rights activists, blacks, or social reformers.

Personally, I am of mixed feelings about a debate, because Mr. Wilson has already shown that he is not willing to address the issues which Brian raised, or the place such views have in the present-day Republican Party, which are the only legitimate issues for a debate. Such an event would likely have a low turnout, packed with many of Wilson's parrots, and filled with the same kinds of evasions and intellectual cheapshots that he has already taken. But Brian is a grown man, capable of making his own decisions. I'll let him decide if he wants to waste an evening on the matter, but if he does, I'll be in the front row, because history teaches us that vigilance is essential to the defense of liberty.

Mr. Wilson may say that he wants a debate, but from where I see it, the debate has already begun.

If you care about this issue, then please make your voices heard.

The Broad River at Lockhart: Not a good sight

Recently, on one of my rambling road trips across the Upstate, I decided to take a bit of a break in the town of Lockhart.

For those of you who don't know where Lockhart is, it's a small old textile mill town on the west bank of the Broad River, where SC Routes 9 and 49 cross from Union to Chester County. While the mill was closed many years ago, and eventually demolished, a canal which was constructed to divert water from the river to provide electricity for the plant, town and several thousand nearby residential, commercial and industrial customers. In fact, the two or three blocks closest to the canal sit behind a levee, while much of the rest of the town scales the side of the hill.

One way of coming into the town is to turn off SC 9 west of town at the turnoff to the Lockhart school complex, and a road makes a half-circle, descending into the town, and by a fishing area and the diversion dam.

I decided to get out and walk up the trail to the other side of the diversion dam, and the sight of trash that was floating in front of the dam was stunning. A lot of it was green soft drink bottles.

This is where trash goes if it's not properly disposed of, so keep this in mind and do your part to keep our state clean.

Grandparents' visitation rights? Hooray for David Weeks!

As this is the season for families to come together, the Blogland brings you news of a bill to be introduced in the State House by State Rep. David Weeks, a Democrat from Sumter.

Weeks' bill seeks to make it easier for grandparents who are denied time with their grandchildren to seek visitation rights through family court. This bill seeks to address a long-standing problem.

I know more than one grandparent who is jerked around by their adult children or in-laws over this issue, expected to be babysitters and providers of financial assistance, and then cut off on a whim. It's time to stop this abusive practice and put our children first.

Weeks' bill is a good idea, and it's a long-overdue sign that someone recognizes that grandparents should have rights too. Be sure to drop him an email and thank him for standing up on this issue.

Beyond Politics: Workforce Development

Beyond election year politics, one of the most critical challenges facing South Carolina is that of the quality of our workforce.

The quality of our workforce affects a lot of aspects of life in South Carolina. While the more obvious impacts are felt in terms of economic development and employment statistics, there are impacts on a wide range of other issues. This has a real impact upon the lives of the people of our state.

Unfortunately, too many areas of our state rely on low-wage, low-skill industry and distribution centers, where the pay is so low that workers require public assistance to meet their basic needs for housing, food, and health care, and the companies expect hefty tax breaks to provide these jobs. The real solution is to have a quality workforce which can attract a higher quality of industry that wants and expects a top-notch workforce, and is willing to pay to get it.

In a recent op-ed in the Myrtle Beach Sun News, Darla Moore, the Chairman of the Palmetto Institute, raises some valid concerns about the problems we face here in South Carolina:

S.C. counties can no longer only compete against each other for jobs and win. Our competitors are global.

A diploma no longer is enough; workers must have real-world technical skills to meet employer demands.

That's a big challenge for our state that, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, has as many as 600,000 workers who do not have a high school diploma or the literacy and technical skills to hold a meaningful job for three years. That's one-third of our work force.

That's a real problem that will keep our state from getting the good-paying jobs needed to raise household incomes, move families off public assistance, and bring much-needed economic stability to our rural communities.

In serving on the regional Workforce Investment Board, and doing HR work for my company, as well as others I've worked with before, I see these problems every day. Addressing these issues requires a team effort from all of us.

The recent move of Workforce Investment efforts to the state's Commerce Department was a step in the right direction. This recent report from the Palmetto Institute points the way for continued improvement of our workforce development efforts.

We don't have much time to lose ...

Beyond Politics: Five key South Carolina Issues

The website for The State outlines five key issues at which this state needs to address. While I disagree with some of their positions, I do agree that these are vital areas which deserve long overdue attention:

* We do need school choice. The State parrots the same uninformed mantra that it's taking away money from schools, while not mentioning that it is also reducing their cost of operation and giving parents less than the per-child funding, allowing the schools to retain "free" money with no costs associated.
* A Board of Regents or some centralization of higher ed policy making is long overdue.
* School choice offers competition, but only if we free public schools to compete on a level playing field. Freeing public schools from red tape and bureaucratic barriers has to happen, with or without school choice. This issue wasn't mentioned, but I'm throwing it in anyway.

Two South Carolinas:
* Addressing infrastructure, workforce development, and inclusiveness in governance - all good ideas.
* Governor Sanford was right about the Orangeburg Massacre. So long as one side ignore the other's points of view on racial and cultural issues, we'll never make progress. When Jakie Knotts ran his mouth about the apology being wrong, it said a lot about both him and Tommy Moore, as well as the challenges we face with this issue.
* This state cannot exist, as it does, in two very opposite worlds.

* I agree - we need to keep moving with this. Maybe not wholesale, but then again, the 1993 round wasn't wholesale. As in the private sector, restructuring should be a continual process to meet changing needs.

Economic Development:
* Hey Tommy, not chasing low-wage jobs, in the long run, is smart. Companies with low-wage jobs are the ones most likely to pick up in five years and move overseas. In the long run, our workforce needs to be able to do more than low-skilled, minimum wage jobs if we're to have a decent standard of living.
* South Carolina is becoming a key player in the automotive industry, and through companies like Santee Cooper, we're a major exporter of energy to other states. Clusters to build upon these strengths are smart, and in the long run, will draw more jobs and help educate and train South Carolinians for them.
* Commerce Department - spends less, recruits more. They're doing a good job. Let's work to build upon what they're doing right.

Taxes and Spending:
* Tax cuts aren't a bad idea, but let's face it - our fiscal house is shaky. In good years, collections outpace the economy and are squandered, and in bad years, they fall farther than the economy. Examining how to even out the revenue flow, and do a better job of conserving extra funds, is a good idea.
* Spending cuts can be good, but even better is a cost-benefits analysis. A lot of state programs would fail this test, but those that don't should be handled carefully.

Those are my thoughts ... now, I invite your thoughts and discussion on these issues.

While they are relevant in this year's election, I hope that come 2007, they're not thrown back into the basement until the next election. Our continued failure to address them has much to do with the problems that hold our entire state back.