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Watchdog Group Could Soon Review S.C. Electric Cooperatives

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A new bill at the Statehouse would allow a state watchdog agency to review South Carolina's electric cooperatives for the first time.

The bill would allow the Office of Regulatory Staff to audit a co-op and let them know if they were spending their money properly and following state law. The agency could take concerns to the Public Service Commission, which could weigh in as well. Regulators couldn't change rates.

About 30 percent of South Carolina's residents — or about 1.5 million people — get power from the nearly two dozen co-ops in the state.

State Rep. Russell Ott said his bill was prompted after The State newspaper's reporting about Tri-County Electric co-op's board holding an excessive number of meetings that lasted just minutes to get paid $450 a pop and getting co-op workers to install power lines and do landscaping work for free.

"What we're trying to accomplish is just making sure these elected board members always know there's going to be a higher level of scrutiny. There's going to be multiple opportunities for people to look and be involved in the process, which was clearly lacking before," the Democrat from St. Matthews told The State newspaper .

The bill, which is scheduled to be heard in a House committee later this month, includes several other reforms.

The proposal would require co-ops to post how much their board is paid per meetings, their benefits and how much they spend on travel. It would also require co-ops notify customers about meetings 10 days in advance and publish minutes after meetings are finished.

Co-ops would have to allow early voting in boar elections and keep polls open at least four hours on election day. Co-op directors could not fill vacancies on boards by themselves, hopefully ending a practice of some co-ops of appointing relatives to replace board members.

Co-op directors would be banned from hiring their own relatives or from running a co-op where they also worked as a contractor or had another business relationship.

Many co-ops have told lawmakers they back the bill, said Republican Rep. Gary Clary of Central.

"It's an excellent sign," Clary said. "They realized they needed to take a closer look at the way things are being done, that so much of it was being done behind closed doors and without proper notice and without real transparency."


President's Day Good Time to See How Legacies Change

By Ethan Sacks/NBC News

Americans generally hold this truth to be self-evident: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were presidents who earned their places on monuments and on currency through exemplary leadership that united the country.

That reverence is celebrated every year on Presidents Day — a national celebration observed in one form or another since President Rutherford B. Hayes signed a 1879 law establishing a federal holiday on Feb. 22, the anniversary of Washington's birth.

That reverence now seems quaint, a phenomenon relegated to larger-than-life figures from a distant past when powdered wigs or stove-pipe hats were in vogue.

A closer look at history, however, shows that no president has managed to leave the position without alienating a large segment of the populace. Partisan bickering has been an American tradition since the flag had 13 stars, well before 140-character tweets.

"We look back without rancor at these guys, but Washington was bitterly denounced during his presidency and the language used against Lincoln makes what’s said against Trump very mild," Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, told NBC News.

"The partisan bitterness that we see today is not unprecedented by any means."

History suggests that with time and perspective, one or more recent presidents could find themselves, if not carved on Mount Rushmore, then at least mentioned in the same breath as those immortalized in granite.

And political biases aside, historians caution that it is difficult to gauge which presidents will go down in history as greats, because the true impacts of many of their policies and decisions aren't clear until later.

"Harry Truman left office with historically low ratings, but most historians would now rate him as one of the greats," said Barry Bradford, distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

"Historical legacy usually improves over time. But it takes time and space."

Washington is an example of how all the monument-making can sand down the less favorable or controversial legacies of a plantation owner who owned slaves.

Considered by many historians and lay folk to be the most influential figure in American history, Washington's reputation was buttressed by his role leading the Continental Army to victory over the British during the Revolutionary War.

It's a legacy that has been amplified over time, said best-selling author Brad Meltzer, whose latest book, "The First Conspiracy," chronicles a little-known assassination attempt on then-General Washington during the early days of the war.

"We love to tell the story of Washington the great general, but in his earliest battles he would routinely get out-generaled," Meltzer said. "He just didn’t have the experience of the British.

"We are a country that loves legends and myths, and the myths we love the most are our own."

Over time, Lincoln has become as heralded as Washington — at least in the parts of the country on the winning side of the Civil War.

That's probably why Lincoln's Feb. 12 birthday never became a national holiday, though many celebrate it as part of Presidents Day after the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971.

"In the South, there’s considerable reservation about Lincoln," Foner said. "While many associate him primarily with the emancipation of slaves, there is a neo-Confederate element that views Lincoln as a tyrant who suppressed states rights, introduced the income tax and suspended habeas corpus."

While it's hard to evaluate the future legacy of a president — including Trump or Obama — during their lifetimes, American history has shown certain patterns.

Presidents who are assassinated tend to be romanticized with an added mystique. "John F. Kennedy is widely admired by Democrats and Republicans nowadays, on rankings of the greatest presidents, Kennedy usually right up at the top, even though his presidency is rather short in length and accomplishment," Foner said.

Steering a country through a major war or crisis is also a selective legacy booster, which explains the popularity of Franklin D. Roosevelt despite his role in the internment of Japanese Americans at the time. Roosevelt presided over the U.S. during World War II.

Modern presidents, however, may have a tougher path to that level of popularity than their predecessors. And it comes back to those tweets.

"The advent of social media and blogging make it less likely that a consensus could be reached," Bradford said. "In an era in which we depended on the 'Huntley-Brinkley Report' or Time magazine to tell us what’s going on, we didn’t believe that every opinion is equal.

"In order to have that popular consensus, we have to rebuild trust in media and historical thinking generally. If we are told constantly that what we read is 'fake news,' how do we agree on what's real?"

Meltzer, though, believes that the past shows Americans can look forward to the future if they're not so bullish on the present.

"If history proves one thing, in our worst moments we get our best heroes," said Meltzer, who hosted the TV show "Lost History."

"Right now in a supermarket, there is a kid pulling the Cheetos off the shelf, and throwing a tantrum," he said, "and that kid one day will grow up to be president and do something amazing."


Study: Pushups Can Measure Men's Heart Health

If you're a 40-something guy and can't do 40 push-ups in a row, maybe it's time to do something about it.

A new study suggests the number of push-ups a middle-aged man can perform might be an indication of his overall heart health. 

Men who can do more than 40 at a time have a 96 percent reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease compared with men who could muster fewer than 10, according to findings published online Feb. 15 in JAMA Network Open.

"There was basically a dose response," said senior researcher Dr. Stefanos Kales, a professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. "The more pushups you could do, the less likely you were to have a heart disease event."

It appears that push-up capacity may be a "marker of general physical fitness," Kales said.

"As you can well imagine, there are people who are world-class marathon runners who can't do very many pushups, and there might be people who are bodybuilders that can do a lot of push-ups but can't run very well," he added. "But we found in this study and other studies we've done, in general, push-up capacity and aerobic capacity are pretty well correlated."

For the study, Kales' team tracked the heart health of just over 1,100 active male firefighters for a decade, starting in 2000. The average age of the participants was about 40 at the study's start, and the group had an average body mass index (BMI) of 28.7, which is overweight. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

The men's push-up capacity was measured at the study's start, and participants also underwent a treadmill test to check their aerobic capacity. Each man then underwent yearly physicals and filled out health questionnaires.

During the 10-year follow-up, 37 men developed heart health problems, the findings showed.

The researchers broke the men into five groups, based on increments of 10 push-ups, and ran the numbers to see if their push-up capacity accurately predicted heart problems.

Even after adjusting for age and BMI, the investigators found that the number of push-ups a man could perform predicted their risk of heart problems. Push-up capacity was more strongly associated with heart health than aerobic capacity as measured by a standard treadmill test, the study authors said.

Even so, doctors are likely to continue relying on stress treadmill tests as a measure of heart health, said Dr. Satjit Bhusri, a cardiologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"I agree with the authors that push-up performance can correlate with stress testing," Bhusri said. "However, the tremendous data and information accumulated with stress testing still makes it the gold standard."

According to Dr. Guy Mintz, push-ups might be a better assessment for "physical fitness and cardiovascular health in professions that require increased physical abilities, such as police officers, firefighters or sanitation workers." Mintz is director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. Fletcher suggested that people who want to protect their heart health should try to get in 25 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. Examples include walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, or working out on an elliptical machine.

Mintz recommends the "rule of fours" to his patients.

"This is 40 minutes of continuous aerobic activity at least four times per week to provide four benefits -- including improvement of blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and blood sugar -- leading to better cardiovascular health," Mintz said.


State Adds "Tall Pines" Area Along Saluda River for Recreation

CLEVELAND, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina has added land along the South Saluda River it plans to let people use for fishing, hunting and hiking.

The Department of Natural Resources said the 2.7 square-mile (711-hectare) parcel of land in northern Greenville County was bought for $4 million thanks to $3 million from the state Conservation Bank. The agency's Heritage Land Trust Fund and timber account paid for the rest.

The department said in a news release the land is called "Tall Pines" and it has two lakes, streams and both upland and wetland areas as well as a mile (1.6 kilometers) of river shoreline.

The agency says the land has deer turkey, quail and other small game. The stretch of the South Saluda River is also a popular fishing spot.


Supreme Court to Decide on Citizenship Census Question

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court will decide the fate of a fiercely contested plan by President Donald Trump’s administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, agreeing on Friday to an expedited review of a judge’s ruling blocking the plan. 

The justices, in a brief order, granted the administration’s request to hear its appeal of Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman’s Jan. 15 ruling even before a lower appeals court has considered the matter. Oral arguments will take place in late April, with a ruling due by the end of June. 

Furman’s ruling came in lawsuits brought by 18 U.S. states, 15 cities and various civil rights groups challenging the Republican administration’s decision to include the question. The plaintiffs said the question would scare immigrants and Latinos into abstaining from the census, disproportionately affecting Democratic-leaning states. 

Furman ruled that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had concealed the true motives for his “arbitrary and capricious” decision to add the citizenship question in violation of federal law. 

Opponents have accused the administration of trying to engineer an undercount of the true population and diminish the electoral representation of Democratic-leaning communities in Congress, benefiting Trump’s fellow Republicans. Non-citizens comprise an estimated 7 percent of people living in the United States. 

Time is of the essence in the case, as the official census forms are due to be printed in the coming months. 

The U.S. Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. The official population count is used in the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds. There has not been a census question about citizenship status since 1950. 

Ross announced in March 2018 that the administration would include a citizenship question, saying the Justice Department had requested the data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act that protects eligible voters from discrimination. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. 

Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said the administration is pleased the justices will review its “legal and reasonable decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census.”


S.C. Seeks New Ways to Deal with Increasing Storms

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The growing realization that ever-more ferocious storms are becoming more common as the result of global warming is forcing government officials to revisit how they respond to natural disasters.

In South Carolina late last year, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster created a special floodwater commission. The group will be tasked with figuring out how to better combat flooding unleashed by hurricanes, rising ocean levels and other rain systems upstream that send rivers and creeks over their banks on the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Larry Larson is a former director and senior policy adviser for the Association of State Floodplain Managers. He says officials need to start using forecast tools that predict several different scenarios depending on temperature rise, rather than relying on flood maps based on past events.



Market Theatre's "Our Town" Glows with Charm, Sincerity

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

“Our Town” works its gentle magic in a poignant production of this classic play at the Market Theatre Company.

Director Robert Fuson’s streamlined staging of Thornton Wilder’s drama glows with charm and sincerity.

Fuson’s production unfolds naturally, with no undue theatrical flourishes or razzle-dazzle. For scenery, there are only two tables and 10 chairs on stage. It’s a simple story simply told.

Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Our Town” finds the beauty and poetry in ordinary lives. At the heart of the story are two teenagers, Emily and George, tentatively courting and starting a life together.

The Stage Manager (Jessie Davis), foreground, tells the story of Emily Webb (Kellsey Cornnell) and George Gibbs (Noah Austin) during a rehearsal for “Our Town” at the Market Theatre Company. Photo by Noah Taylor. The play is set in a small town in the early 20thcentury, perhaps not so different from any small town in the early 21stcentury.

Grover’s Corners is the sort of community where most local folks believe that an evening stroll can be as satisfying – if perhaps not as thrilling -- as a trip to Paris.

There’s not much high drama in the small town, but there are compensations: the sunrise, birdsong in the summer, plants, trees and the change of seasons. For most of the town’s residents, that seems to be enough, and even more than enough.

Not everyone, of course, is “meant for small-town life,” one character says, and it’s probably true that the low-key “Our Town” is not meant for all theater-goers. Its humor is genial, its voice almost never shouts.

But it’s a profound play that wears its profundity lightly.

Fusion’s staging aims to be natural and earnest. It succeeds at that but, on opening night, the actors spoke so softly at the beginning of the play that I and some others missed some of the dialogue. 

“Our Town” is an ensemble show, and this production features 13 capable Upstate actors.

Among the standouts is Jessie Davis as the Stage Manager, the play’s narrator who occasionally becomes a character in the drama. The role is often played by a folksy grandfatherly actor, but Davis, a young actress, was an inspired choice for the part. She offers an emotionally engaged portrayal, sensitive and heartfelt.

Kelsey Cornnell and Noah Austin are appealing and believable as Emily and George, the young romantic couple. Cornnell’s Emily is sweet and gracefully articulated. Austin captures George’s youthful awkwardness and rambunctious energy.

Four actors offer solid contributions as the parents of Emily and George: Rob Gentry (Dr. Gibbs), Sarah Anderson (Mrs. Gibbs), Ken Thomason (Mr. Webb) and Casey Certain (Mrs. Webb).

Bree Green designed the excellent costumes.

Only two more performances, Saturday and Sunday, remain of this fine production of “Our Town.” For tickets, call 864-729-2999 or visit the website

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.


Measles Outbreaks Concern Medical Community

(Reuters) - A measles outbreak that has stricken at least 225 people in New York state since October began with a traveler who visited Israel during the Jewish high holidays and returned to a predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Rockland County. 

A similar pattern unfolded three months later and nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away when a person who visited Eastern Europe returned to a community with strong ties to a local church group in Vancouver, Washington. More than 50 people fell ill there. 

In both instances, U.S. travelers picked up measles in foreign countries where the highly contagious disease was running rampant and brought it back to places where vaccination rates were too low by U.S. public health standards, setting off the worst outbreaks seen in those states in decades. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says New York’s outbreak marks the highest tally of imported cases since measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000. 

The two outbreaks appear to be winding down, health officials say, after concerted efforts to pinpoint the origins and isolate and inoculate those who were exposed but unprotected and educate parents who had resisted vaccines. 

The disease has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated. Most cited philosophical or religious reasons, or concerns - debunked by medical science - that the three-way vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) could cause autism, authorities said. 

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said another key factor was mere “complacency” in an age where the potential ravages of measles are unfamiliar to parents who came of age after the vaccine was introduced in 1957. 

In Rockland County, the suburb north of Manhattan accounting for the bulk of cases, the state has vaccinated 15,000 children since the outbreak began there last autumn, Zucker said. The Brooklyn borough of New York City was another hot spot. 

Still, officials say the measles crisis in New York and Washington states offer a lesson about the importance of maintaining a minimum level of “herd” immunization against dangerous, preventable diseases such as measles. 

It also highlights the global nature of disease control, in which a hot spot of infection in one country can ignite a distant outbreak in an immunization-weak spot of another, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington’s top epidemiologist. 

Here are some key facts about measles and immunization, according to public health experts and the CDC. 

More on this story here. 


Lawmakers Push for Consolidation of Small Districts

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers and education officials say offering school districts incentives before moving to consolidate is best way to ensure positive public reception.

Members of a Senate subcommittee met Thursday to discuss legislation to require school districts within a single county that meet two of four criteria to consolidate beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. One of the criteria for consolidation includes a district with a student population of less than 1500.

South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said there are currently 13 districts that would qualify under this legislation, and said offering districts incentives like teacher salary raises, providing high quality student programs and building better facilities would hopefully get local administrators on board.

Lawmakers will continue their hearings next week. No action was taken on the bill.


Bipartisan Bill Expected to Avert Government Shutdown

Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Lawmakers introduced a bipartisan spending and security bill late Wednesday to prevent a second government shutdown.

With government funding to run out Friday looming, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, filed the 1,159-page bill that will keep money in federal coffers until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Following days of negotiations, the group of bipartisan lawmakers included $1.375 billion for physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, about one-fifth the amount President Donald Trump has requested. Democrats have repeatedly said they won't allocate that much.

This stalemate between congressional Democrats and Trump over his demand for $5.7 billion to fund the barriers resulted in a 35-day partial shutdown, which ended when Trump signed off on additional funds that run out Friday.

RELATED Trump: Not 'happy' with bipartisan deal, but doesn't expect shutdown


"We cannot repeat the disastrous government shutdown, so it is incumbent on Congress to come together to responsibly fund our government. This legislation represents a bipartisan compromise and will keep our government open while funding key priorities," Lowey said.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill early Thursday. Then it goes to the House for a vote Thursday evening, then to Trump for signing.

"If some choose not to sign it, that's their prerogative," Lowey said.

The $1.375 billion is allocated for the construction of about 55 miles of a physical barrier along the southern border in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, according to a summary of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

Homeland Security will receive $49.4 billion in discretionary funding, $2 billion more than Trump requested and, along with the 55-mile barrier, includes $100 million for "new border security technology," $113 million for "additional air and marine assets," and $77 million for "opioid equipment and staffing for use at international mail and express consignment facilities," the summary said.

It does not include funding for new Border Patrol agents.


S.C. House Bill Would Forbid Local Restrictions on Smoking

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House has given key approval to a bill that would keep local governments from passing any additional regulations on cigarettes or electronic cigarettes.

The House voted 69-37 on Wednesday on the proposal that prevents local bans on ingredients, flavors or the licensing of tobacco products.

Supporters say the ban would prevent a patchwork of regulations. The House has already passed a bill banning minors from entering vaping shops and other places that sell electronic cigarettes.

The House debated the bill for about an hour. Some lawmakers compared it to a proposal to prevent local governments from banning plastic bags.

The tobacco bill will move on to the Senate after a last perfunctory vote.


Senate Delays Bill on Mental Health Patient Transportation

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A bill overhauling how South Carolina transports mental health patients filed after two women drowned in the back of a police van needs some more work, a group of senators agreed Wednesday.

Sen Marlon Kimpson is pushing the proposal, saying the state needs to change the law as quickly as possible or there could be more tragedies like the deaths of 45-year-old Wendy Newton and 43-year-old Nicolette Green. Two police officers drove the van into a washed-out section of a highway covered by floodwaters in September during Hurricane Florence, authorities have said. The officers were able to escape as the van filled with water, but then said they were unable to return to rescue the women.

The bill would allow family members or others to move a patient who has been committed to a mental hospital if the patient isn't dangerous. Green's 19-year-old daughter had brought her to a regularly scheduled therapy appointment when she was committed and would have driven her to the hospital herself if allowed, Kimpson said.

The bill also would also require police agencies to create a "therapeutic transport team" of trained officers when law enforcement must move patients.

Both ideas had sticking points that stalled the bill in a subcommittee Wednesday.

Doctors want to make sure they have a say in whether it would be too dangerous to allow a family member to drive a committed patient. Mental health advocates think patients who have the ability should determine who moves them.

Law enforcement agencies worry about the cost — both in money and time — of having to create special units for transporting mental patients.

"Perhaps privatization of transportation is an option. Perhaps insurance can repay the taxpayer," said York Police Chief Andy Robinson, who was speaking as president of the South Carolina Police Chiefs Association.

Senators suggested maybe they could create regional teams of officers who are trained to move mental health patients.


Ford Recalls 1.48 Million F-150 Trucks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co said on Wednesday it was recalling about 1.48 million F-150 pickup trucks in North America due to a potential transmission downshift issue that could increase the risk of a crash. 

Ford said select 2011-2013 model year trucks with six-speed automatic transmission could experience an unintended downshift into first gear without warning, which could result in the loss of vehicle control. Ford is aware of five accidents, including one report of whiplash potentially related to the issue. 

The recall covers 1.26 million trucks in the United States and 221,000 in Canada. Dealers will update the powertrain control software and the company will notify customers next month.