Anderson County Taking Accomodations Tax Grant Applications

The 2014-2015 Anderson County Accommodations Tax Grant Applications are now available at the Anderson County Parks, Recreation & Tourism Division located at 101 South Main Street, Room 11, Anderson,  SC 29624. Applications are also online at http://www.andersoncountysc.org/forms/ATAX_application14-15.pdf  Applications are due on August 22 at 4 p.m. 

"God Gap" Between GOP, Democrats Important

The so-called "God Gap" between Republicans and Democrats continues to play an important role in partisan differences, according to a new Gallup poll.

Among very religious Americans, about half, 49 percent, identify as Republican or are likely to vote Republican. Among nonreligious Americans, also about half, 52 percent, identify as Democrats or are likely to vote for Democrats.


This God gap, sometimes called the "religious participation gap," has characterized party politics in the United States for at least the seven years that Gallup has been measuring it, Frank Newport, editor in chief for Gallup.

Religiosity was measured using two survey questions. One asked respondents how important religion is in their daily lives. The other asked how often they attend religious services. With the answers, Gallup created a three category classification — very religious, moderately religious and nonreligious.

Among the moderately religious, a plurality, 44 percent, supported the Democrats while 38 percent supported Republicans. Independents comprised a slightly greater proportion of the nonreligious, 15 percent, than the religious, 11 percent.

Looking at race and ethnicity, the God Gap persisted among whites, Latinos and Asians, but not among blacks. Blacks showed strong support for Democrats, about 75 percent, regardless of their level of religiosity.

"From a practical politics standpoint," Newport wrote, "Republicans face the challenge of expanding their party's appeal beyond the minority of Americans who are very religious, and appealing to Hispanics and Asians given that even the most religious of these growing groups tilt Democratic, albeit not as much as others in these groups who are less religious. Democrats face the challenge of attempting to broaden their party's appeal beyond the base of those who are moderately or nonreligious, a tactic that most likely will require effort to frame the party's positions on social justice and equality issues in a way that is compatible with a high degree of religiousness."

The poll of 87,023 American adults was taken from January to June. The margin of error is plus or minus one percentage point.


Tropical Storm Bertha Nears Barbados

Tropical Storm Bertha has formed, becoming the second named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and other nearby islands.

The U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said the tropical storm's maximum sustained winds Friday morning were near 45 mph, with no significant change in strength expected over the next two days.

Bertha is centered about 170 miles east of Barbados and is moving west-northwest near 20 mph.

In addition to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, tropical storm warnings are in effect for Babados, St. Lucia, Dominica, Vieques and Culebra. A tropical storm watch is in effect for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Bertha was expected to pass near Barbados on Friday afternoon and travel through the central Lesser Antilles on Friday evening.


S.C. Awarded $1 Million for Mental Health Services

The Federal Department of Health & Human Services announced today an award of $1,000,000 to the state of South Carolina to fund mental health services.

The million dollar award, announced today by Heath and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, comes from Affordable Care Act funding, and will support four health centers in South Carolina for the expansion or establishment of behavioral health services.

Currently there are nearly 20 health centers operating 165 locations to provide mental health services for over 315,000 South Carolina residents.

The Affordable Care Act is nationally funding 221 health centers with fiscal awards totaling $54.6 million. More than 450,000 people around the country are in need of behavioral services, substance use disorder, and mental health services.

Nationwide, health centers saw more than 1.2 million behavioral health patients in 2013, and the South Carolina health centers treated over 12,000 behavioral health patients.

HHS says the ultimate goal is to give Americans additional opportunities to access high quality care. The Affordable Care Act expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits for approximately 60 million nationwide, including over 866,000 South Carolinians.

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Most States Not Paying Required Doctors' Medicaid Increases

Just six states and the District of Columbia will use their own money in 2015 to sustain the federal Medicaid pay raise to primary care doctors, which was a key provision of the Affordable Care Act intended to make sure millions of low-income people enrolling in the expanding insurance program have access to a physician.

Interestingly, two of the states extending the pay raise are Alabama and Mississippi -- neither of which expanded Medicaid under the health law. The other states extending the pay raise next year are Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, and Maryland, according to interviews with state officials and the American Medical Association. Those four states expanded their Medicaid eligibility to cover everyone with incomes less than 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $15,900 for an individual.

Alaska and North Dakota paid primary care doctors in Medicaid the higher rates even before the health law's provision took effect in 2013.

The other 42 states will let the Medicaid pay rates revert back to their 2012 levels.

Under the law, Medicaid fees for primary care increased in 2013 and 2014 to the same amount paid under Medicare. While Medicaid fees vary by state, the change meant an average 73% pay increase nationally, according to a 2012 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Nationally, it's unclear whether the higher fees attracted more doctors into Medicaid or made doctors more willing to treat more Medicaid patients. The Obama administration is not collecting any data to show the impact of the higher fees, said a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. State Medicaid officials also have not studied the impact.

For years, some states have struggled to attract doctors to Medicaid, largely because of their low pay. About 69% of doctors nationally accept new Medicaid patients, but the rate varies widely across the country, according to a study published in 2012 in the journal Health Affairs. New Jersey had the nation's lowest rate at 40%, while Wyoming had the highest, at 99%, according to a survey of doctors by the CDC.

Physician groups, while pleased with the extra funding, have said for years that the 2-year cap would limit its impact on persuading more doctors to treat Medicaid patients. Still, they worry about what happens when the short-lived pay raise goes away in most states.


U.S. House GOP Stung by Border Bill Defeat

Facing a rebellion among their most conservative ranks, House Republicans were forced on Thursday to scuttle an emergency spending measure to address the surge of young Central American migrants at the southern border, in a major embarrassment to the new leadership team.

House Republicans, who have long called for strengthening security at the nation’s southern border, are now forced to head home for the five-week August recess with nothing to show for their efforts — something many Republicans fear will be an enormous political liability.

The blow to Speaker John A. Boehner and his new team — including Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California, the new majority leader, and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the whip — ensures that no legislation to address what both Democrats and Republicans call an urgent humanitarian crisis will reach President Obama’s desk before the August break. The Senate was also unlikely to pass its own border bill on Thursday.

The failure of even the most modest of Republican border bills also underscored how the prospects of a broad immigration overhaul — which at the beginning of the 113th Congress looked as if it could be the only real legislative achievement of the session — have ground to a final crushing halt amid more than a year of congressional infighting and dysfunction. On the Senate side, Democrats were expected to face a similar blow, as they were unlikely to clear a final procedural hurdle on their $2.7 billion immigration bill.

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Flash Flood Watch Extended Across Area Until Friday

Heavy rain led to flooding and evacuations across the Upstate Thursday, and more rain is expected overnight into Friday.

A flash flood watch is in effect through Friday morning for the Upstate, including Abbeville, Anderson, greater Greenville, greater Oconee and. greater Pickens.  In northeast Georgia, the watch area includes Elbert, Franklin, Habersham, Hart, Rabun and Stephens counties.

Water levels are expected to rise in streams and creeks across the warned area. Poorly drained urban areas and low lying areas near streams and creeks will be especially vulnerable to flooding.


S.C. Education Leaders Feud with Zais Over Standards

A dispute over how to rewrite South Carolina's math and reading standards pits leaders of South Carolina's two education boards against Education Superintendent Mick Zais, three months before voters replace him.

Zais has promised to use a new law to kill Common Core standards before he leaves office in January. The one-term Republican lacks the authority to do so. But he has influence over the review process.

The law directs educator panels to review current math and reading standards, which are the Common Core standards. Changes must be approved by both the state Board of Education and Education Oversight Committee. Zais has no vote on either board.

Board leaders say Zais' direction to ignore Common Core breaks the law.

A meeting among the three is set for late this afternoon.


Drone Crashes During Attempt to Smuggle Drugs into S.C. Prison

A drone being flown in a novel attempt to smuggle phones, marijuana and tobacco into a South Carolina maximum security prison crashed outside its walls, authorities said on Wednesday.

The contraband smuggling attempt has been under investigation since the wreckage was discovered in April outside the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stephanie Givens.

Officials believe it was the first time an unmanned aircraft had been used in an effort to breach prison walls in the state, Givens said. Most cellphones are thrown over walls.

"The technology is getting better, and we have to figure out different ways to fight back," she said.

Illegal cellphones, an issue in prisons nationwide, have drawn particular alarm in South Carolina. In 2010, a cell phone smuggled into the same prison was used to order a hit on a prison officer, who was shot six times at his home but survived.

Authorities have arrested one man in the drone incident and are seeking another suspect. Brenton Lee Doyle, 28, appeared in court on Wednesday for a hearing. He faces charges of attempting to introduce contraband into a prison and possession of the drug flunitrazopam, a muscle relaxant known as "roofies."

His case was continued until September.


Democrats' Future Depends on Reaching People of Faith

Within their coalition, the Democratic Party has both those who believe religion causes harm and those who find great value in their religious faith. Much of the party's future will depend on how party leaders navigate these opposing views.

Part one of this series pointed out that the Democratic Party represents well both the non-religious and racial minorities. In the future, however, the religious in America will be mostly non-whites and the non-religious will be mostly whites. To win elections, therefore, the party will need to manage the differences between these groups.

One can, of course, be non-religious without being anti-religion. A problem for Democrats, though, is that some of the loudest voices from the secular left in recent years have demonstrated suspicion or open hostility toward religiously motivated viewpoints. In such an environment, the more that liberalism becomes associated with secularism, the more difficult it will be for the Democratic Party to mobilize those for whom religion motivates liberal political beliefs.

In an April report on mobilizing religious progressives, Brookings Institution senior fellows E.J. Dionne and William Galston put it this way: "If the decline in religion's public standing hinders the Christian conservative movement, it also makes it difficult for progressive religious leaders to win the hearing they are seeking. It therefore hinders the creation of potentially fruitful secular/religious alliances on behalf of economic justice. This is a serious loss for justice advocates."

There have been many recent examples of liberals attempting to bully and silence conservatives and people of faith.

A party coalition that requires homogeneity amidst a sea of heterogeneity will not long stay together.

Dionne and Galston quoted Michael Wear, leader of the religious outreach for President Barack Obama's 2012 election campaign, who said that Democrats are "finding it increasingly difficult to include a diverse array of faith voices, particularly those who hold traditional positions on social issues. Some religious leaders who were able to be engaged four or eight years ago are now off the table for holding the same views that they have always held."

To maintain its broad coalition of both religious and non-religious, Democrats need to welcome diversity, condemn those who bully people of faith, and champion religious freedom.

Until recently, liberals have been strong supporters of religious freedom. This makes sense because religious freedom is consistent with the liberal values of tolerance and pluralism. In 1990, for instance, three of the Supreme Court's most liberal justices, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, dissented in a religious freedom case written by one of the court's most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia. The case,Oregon vs. Smith, involved the use of peyote, an hallucinogenic used as part of a religious ritual by the Native American Church but banned in Oregon.

Two Native Americans were fired from their government jobs and denied unemployment compensation after they failed a drug test because they ingested peyote while participating in a religious service. They sued the state, arguing that the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment protected their right to participate in their religion.

The Court ruled against the Native Americans. Scalia's opinion argued that Oregon did not violate their religious freedom because the law against the use of hallucinogens applies equally to all religious faiths and did not single out the Native American Church.

The dissenters noted that the Court's majority opinion was a radical departure from how the First Amendment had been interpreted. Prior toSmith, the Court ruled that a law could violate a person's religious freedom only if it passed "strict scrutiny," which means that the government has to have a compelling interest in passing the law, the law must be narrowly tailored to achieve its goal and the government must use the least restrictive means for achieving that goal. In other words, for the government to violate a citizen's religious freedom, it must have a really good reason for doing so and there must be no other way to achieve that goal without infringing upon religious freedom.

Scalia abandoned the strict scrutiny test and wrote that religious freedom can be infringed as long as the government action is generally applicable, or is not designed specifically to infringe upon religious freedom. The Court's liberal dissenters appealed to tolerance and pointed out that religious freedom would have little meaning if the state can infringe upon religious freedom simply by passing generally applicable laws.

The majority's "distorted view," Blackmun wrote, led it "to conclude that strict scrutiny of a state law burdening the free exercise of religion is a 'luxury' that a well-ordered society cannot afford, and that the repression of minority religions is an 'unavoidable consequence of democratic government.' I do not believe the Founders thought their dearly bought freedom from religious persecution a 'luxury,' but an essential element of liberty — and they could not have thought religious intolerance 'unavoidable,' for they drafted the Religion Clauses precisely in order to avoid that intolerance."

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Clemson Professor Says Video Games Can Help Social Skills

An English professor at Clemson University has been researching video games and found that there are big-time social and critical-thinking skills learned from playing video games.

He not only assigns his students homework to play, but they've discovered a whole slew of reasons why it's good to play.

In today's times, video games are a form of media, up there with television, movies and books.

To associate English professor Jan Holmevik, they're just another way to tell a story and communicate.

When playing a video game, versus watching a television show or a movie, Holmevik describes the gamer as "in control of the protagonist." He explained that choices made have consequences that the player must then handle.

He finds the problem-solving skills gained through this method of jumping into the action noteworthy.

"If you fail, i.e. If you die in the game, then you start over, you get right back at it. You continue to explore and probe and find solutions," said Holmevik.

He said that's the type of skills training that education today often misses.

"We need to start thinking about learning as a way of inventing knowledge rather that reproducing knowledge that has been passed down," Holmevik explained.

Through his research, Holmevik found that video games encourage exploration and allow freedom to learn from failures and move on. He said he hopes that scientists who are used to hypothesizing will learn from gamers. Holmevik said he believes a different approach to problem solving could lead to faster progress in the world.

Holmevik's students read The Walking Dead, watch the show and play the game.

He's published three books on gaming-related theories trying to understand the phenomenon. He's found that video games contribute to learning and invention.

Holmevik does acknowledge there can be not so good aspects of gaming, like the threat of addiction. But he said it's not any worse than any other form of media.


Liberty Man's Mushrooms May Be Fire Ant Killer

A Pickens County man is working to create an environmentally-friendly way to kill one of the  area's biggest nuisances - fire ants.

He is looking for a natural spray or powder to control fire ants.

Tradd Cotter, a microbiologist and mycologist, operates Mushroom Mountain in Liberty. His budding mushroom business produces hundreds of varieties of mushrooms. Some are for eating, others may be the key to doing everything from soaking up oil spills to killing pests.

Approximately four years ago, Cotter said he discovered a type of mushroom spore that is deadly to fire ants. He said it was located in the mountains and that he is currently working in his lab to study the effects of the spores on the ants. The spores are only deadly to that variety of ants, but are safe to people and pets. 

"You could eat it. I've eaten the stuff out of the bag and it actually tastes good," Cotter said.

He said he will present his findings to the Environmental Protection Agency. His hope is that the EPA approval will give him the green light to mass produce the fire ant spores so it can be sold to people in hardware and home improvement stores.

"Replacing an ant killer, specifically a fire ant killer with something of this nature which is more native is seen as a possible solution," said Cotter.


Petition, Ervin Says Don't Fight Gay Marriage with Tax Money

A South Carolina gay-rights group plans to start a petition drive Wednesday asking Attorney General Alan Wilson to stop defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriages in the wake of a federal appeals court ruling.

“All the arguments they could make (were) ruled unconstitutional,” said Ryan Wilson, executive director for S.C. Equality. “The state has more pressing issues than defending a law that will be struck down by the Supreme Court.”

S.C. Equality will start a petition drive asking South Carolina’s attorney general to follow the lead of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who said Monday his state would no longer oppose lawsuits trying to overturn that state’s gay-marriage ban.

Both Carolinas are in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled Monday that Virginia’s gay-marriage ban was unconstitutional. The ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

S.C. Attorney General Wilson and Gov. Nikki Haley, both Republicans, pledged Monday to uphold South Carolina’s ban, approved by voters in 2006. Haley’s office said Monday her administration “will continue to uphold the will of the people.”

However, a pair of statewide candidates called Tuesday for Wilson to stop fighting a lawsuit brought by a Lexington County couple who want South Carolina to recognize their wedding in Washington, D.C., where gay marriage is allowed.

Garden City attorney Parnell Diggs, Wilson’s Democratic opponent in November, said South Carolina should not spend taxpayer money to defend a ban that likely will be overturned by the Supreme Court. “We’re headed in that direction.”

Meanwhile, petition gubernatorial candidate Tom Ervin of Greenville, a former state lawmaker and judge, said while he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, the U.S. Constitution affords all people equal protection.

“Government does not belong in the bedroom,” Ervin said. “Anyone should be free to marry the person they love. ... Further action on this matter, such as an appeal by the state, is a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Wilson’s office said it has used staff attorneys, not more expensive outside counsel, to work on the lawsuit filed nearly a year ago by the Lexington couple, Katherine Bradacs and Tracie Goodwin.

The campaign for Democratic gubernatorial challenger, Vincent Sheheen, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Sheheen’s campaign said Monday only that the Camden state senator was monitoring court proceedings.

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