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These are our editorials and columns.

Sunday
Sep162018

Opinion: Fizzled Storm an Opportunity for Generous Gratitude

Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

As Hurricane/Tropical Storm Florence continues to fall apart as it moves away from the Anderson area, there has been more wind from complaints about the poor forecast than from the actual drizzle event that arrived here. 

Instead of complaining, Anderson should recognize the events as an opportunity to give back and to say thanks to those who were preparing for the worst. 

Reacting to warnings earlier in the week to prepare for the worst, many of our friends and neighbors now have cupboards full of non-perishable snacks that they will likely never eat. This offers an excellent opportunity to fill the cupboards at AIM as fall races toward the holiday season. They feed roughly 800 families every month, and if everyone who stocked up on food expecting to be without electricity for days would bag those groceries and take them to AIM (it’s on South Murray Ave, here’s the map), the effort and money would not be a waste, but instead a blessing for those who need a little extra help.

And while you are boxing and bagging those groceries, take a minute to give thanks to those who spend endless hours this past week preparing for the worst. The team at Anderson County Emergency Management, led by Lt. David Baker (see Friday Observer interview here), was ready to act if the storm had wrought the destruction originally forecast. The offered up-to-date information on social media about the storm, which include lists of emergency supplies and contact numbers. Working with local first responders, Duke Power crews, state agencies and other local groups, Emergency Management had plans in place to shelter, feed and rescue those in need, as well as plans to get things back to normal as soon as possible. Since the storm missed Anderson, their preparations now allow them to assist those in other parts of the state hit hardest by the hurricane/tropical depression. As part of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, we owe them a debt of gratitude, a thank you card, and maybe a dozen or so doughnuts if you really want to show your appreciation. 

Hurricanes are just plain unpredictable, said John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist at NOAA's National Hurricane Center. “They're still somewhat mysterious," said. Cangialosi. "We can observe them, but we don't actually understand them to a large factor.”

What is more predictable is the way our community prepares and responds when there is a potential threat to the safety of our friends and neighbors. We have excellent people and systems in place, and for that we are blessed. 

The best way to respond is by being a blessing to others. So remember to pack up all that food you bought to weather to storm and take it to AIM this week. It’s too early to start holiday binging anyway. 

Monday
Sep102018

End the War to Honor Soldiers, Victims of 9/11 Legacy 

By Joe Quinn/NYTimes

Mr. Quinn is a United States Army veteran.

It has taken me a while to realize something.

Seventeen years ago, I saw a picture of Mohamed Atta for the first timeand my blood boiled from the sound of his voice emanating from the television, as he said over the airplane’s intercom system: “We have some planes, just stay quiet and you’ll be O.K. We are returning to the airport.” Instead, he crashed it between the 93rd and 99th floors of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

My 23-year-old brother, James, was on the 102nd floor.

Staring at that picture of Atta, I would have visions of what my brother’s final moments were like. I would envision my asthmatic brother slowly succumbing to smoke inhalation on the flat, gray corporate rug of his Cantor Fitzgerald office — trapped, climbing upward and afraid for the entire 102 minutes before the tower’s collapse. Glaring at Atta’s photo, I’d imagine my brother’s body buckling, falling, crumpling, burning, melting, and in that moment of imagination, my entire being wanted revenge against the people who did this.

So I joined the Army.

I joined the war. I deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

I learned many things but realized just one.

I learned that deploying for the second time was easier than the first, but each time it’s harder to fully come home.

I learned that I love soldiers. Nothing builds bonds more than living with a group of people in a war zone, getting shot at, not showering for months, roasting our own excrement in burn pits, cracking inappropriate jokes and serving something greater than ourselves.

I also learned how that love turns to heartache when one of those soldiers gets killed, and you pack his gear up in duffel bags to be shipped home to his wife and unborn child. I learned that another family’s losing a brother doesn’t bring my brother back.

I learned to try to live a life worthy of their sacrifice, but perhaps this is a false platitude. We’ll say, “Until Valhalla,” after hearing the news of another brother killed, but perhaps preventing more brothers from dying is just as worthy of their sacrifice.

I also learned to be father. As I hold my son Graham James in my arms tonight, I feel selfish because there are thousands of fathers who never came home to hold their children. I feel selfish because there was a father who came home from war 17 years ago to hold his child in his arms and now that child is going off to fight in the same war.

A hard lesson, but it’s still not the thing I realized.

I learned that Osama bin Laden’s strategic logic was to embroil the United States in a never-ending conflict to ultimately bankrupt the country. “All that we have to do is send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘Al Qaeda,’” he said in 2004, “in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note ….” Why are we continuing to do what Bin Laden wanted all along?

But that, ultimately, was not the thing I realized.

I learned that every part of me wanted to just stay quiet with my feelings about the war because I was afraid of what people might say. It’s easier to bask in the warm embrace of “Thank you for your service” without questioning what that service was for. One way or another, we were all affected by Sept. 11, which has caused us to view the war through a distorted lens. This is why most of us won’t comment or share or at least have a dialogue about the war.

But the main reason I wanted to stay quiet is because it has embarrassingly taken me 17 years to realize something, and what I realized was this: Seventeen years ago, staring at that picture of Mohammad Atta, I wanted revenge against the people who killed my brother. But what I finally realized was that the people who killed my brother died the same day he did.

I refuse to take Atta’s orders, or Bin Laden’s. I will not “stay quiet.” End the war.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion).

Tuesday
Sep042018

Just Do It: a Good Citizen's Response to the Nike Controversy

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

So Nike has has started a new advertising campaign with Colin Kaepernick, the ex-N.F.L. quarterback who inspired a player protest movement.

Kaepernich, sidelined for more than a year after failing to get an offer from any NFL team after his protest over the county's treatment of minorities during the pre-game national athem sparked a activist movement among other players, signed the multi-year contract with Nike that makes him a face of the 30th anniversary of the sports apparel company’s “Just Do It” campaign.

Nike is one of the NFL's biggest financial partners, and the ad features the face of the former quarterback emblazened with the words: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."

The move will obviously anger some and please others, but a disturbing reaction among those who oppose Nike's decision is emerging which is self-serving and narrow minded.

Anyone who is not pleased with the new face of Nike can boycott, express their feeings and encourage friends and family to join them in their own chosen form of protest. It's the American way, freedom of expression, just like an NFL player taking a knee in protest before a football game. Messages are delivered an no one directlly suffers from these actions. 

But there are already reports of people burning, shredding or otherwise destroying Nike shoes and apparel across the country. Meanwhile more than half a milion people are homeless and in this country. Millions more are in dire need of necessities, such as food and clothing. 

In Anderson, the number of requests for shelter among the homeless has more than doubled since 2016. The fastest growing demand is shelter for homeless families with children.

Our veterans homes are also full of those who served our country and are now living on thin shoestring budgets in their final years. Our community has, and conitues to do special drives to help these folks meet their basic needs for hygene, clothing and regular visits to show they are not forgotten.

So, if you oppose Nike's new campaign and wish to dispose of your branded shoes or clothing, consider donating it or selling it and donation the funds to your neighbors in need.

This could be a wonderful national campaign, and it could start right here in Anderson.

Below are local groups who see to the needs of our neighbors in need.

To donate clothing, consider one of the following:

The Haven of Rest, (864) 226-6193. The Haven has an almost endless need for the men and women at their shelters and the men at the farm. You can drop the shoes/clothes off at one of their donation bins or at the headquarters downtown. Call them if you have questions.

The Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home, 864-261-6734. These veterans would love to have your Nike apparel and shoes, and the need there is growing a well.

If you choose to sell your stuff, consider giving the money to one of these groups which serves the less fortunate in our community (see full information at their websites linked below):

AIM, which provides food, job training, education, financial counseling and more while offering "A hand up, not a handout."

The Salvation Army of Anderson, which provides shelter for the homeless, job training, Boys & Girls Club activities (which includes tutoring and a variety of other services), and more. 

Meals on Wheels of Anderson, which provides daily hot meals to more than 400 senior citizens across the county. 

Clean Start Anderson, which operates witn no paid staff and provides showers, laundry facilities and job counseling to those who live on the streets or who have no place to bathe or wash their clothes.

The Cancer Association of Anderson, which provides finanacial and emotional support to our neighbors who are facing cancer. 

There are many other groups and organizations doing good things in Anderson County, but these are perhaps reaching the most people. 

The subject of this controversy, no matter what you think of his politics, has given more than $1 million to charity. Perhaps if his detractors would outgive him, this could be a real opportunity for a flashy headline to turn into a movement to connect everyone with a place they can give back to the community.

So, if you're still pondering where you come done on this issue, or if you already have strong opinions, the best way to express yourself is by asking: "What am I doing to make life better for my friends and neighbors to make Anderson County a better place?"

Many are already deeply involved, but others are not.

So, in light of this news story, and with the holidays not far away, it's time, to paraphrase Nike, "Just Do Something" to make Anderson a better place.

Monday
Sep032018

America Owes Debt of Gratitude for Fruits of Labor Unions 

Dallas Morning News Editorial

For most Americans, Labor Day is little more than a barbecue-filled, three-day weekend that marks the end of summer, the start of the school year, and good deals at big-box stores. Alas, taking time to thank the American worker for the labor that made this country great doesn’t cross many people’s minds.

So, this first Monday in September, we’d like to do just that — give a heartfelt thanks to laborers across the country, without whom none of us would have a home to live in, a street or highway to get us to and from work, or the power and basic utilities that keep America working.

We’d also like to point out that today’s workers, like those a generation after the Civil War who first proposed a Labor Day holiday, are living at the dawn of an industrial revolution with just as much potential for economic disruption and opportunity as the transformation that gave us railroads, factories and eventually the electricity and automobiles that make modern life possible.

The first Labor Day celebration was Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, and was organized by the Central Labor Union, a predecessor to today’s AFL-CIO and other unions. According to the Department of Labor, there is still a question as to who proposed the holiday. Some say it was carpenter Peter J. McGuire, a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, who first proposed a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” Others say Matthew Maguire, a machinist, came up with it.

Either way, the idea took hold and was adopted by more than 30 states before becoming an official federal holiday in 1892. The workers movements that founded Labor Day, and later the May 1 International Workers’ Day, were instrumental in the establishment of the eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work week and overtime pay. Indeed, today’s demands for a $15 minimum wage, along with the large body of federal and state regulations to protect workers’ safety and rights, are the legacy of 19th- and early 20th-century labor activists.

Today, at the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with miraculous breakthroughs in wireless interconnectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D manufacturing, nanotechnology and biotechnology, many workers in all sectors fear that their jobs will no longer exist in the near future. And for good reason.

A 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that “by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 percent to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories.” To address this magnitude of disruption, private and public institutions alike have to start educating and training the students and workers of today for the jobs of tomorrow.

This requires far greater digital literacy; continued skills upgrades for all workers, especially those in midcareer; a more fluid labor market, which requires better health-care options not tied to employers; and new infrastructure to support the new economy. When it comes to AI and advanced robotics, it’s important to note that someone must manufacture, market and service the machines of the future. And that “cobotics” — robots working alongside people — is already a reality in sectors as varied as manufacturing, energy production and health care.

What’s most important for workers, management and government alike is to learn from the disruption and displacement of past industrial revolutions and, as the McKinsey report urges, “embrace automation’s benefits and, at the same time, address the worker transitions brought about by these technologies.”

Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your Labor Day weekend. And give thanks for the workers who have always — and will continue to — make America great.

Sunday
Aug262018

John McCain Leaves When We Need Him the Most

By Max Boot, Columnist/The Washington Post

Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the real thing, and that is why his reputation will cast such a long shadow over our politics for years to come.

McCain was the rare celebrity who was even more impressive in person than on television. I first met him after the publication of my 2002 book, “The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.” An avid student of history, McCain read the book and liked it, especially because, unbeknownst to me, it featured one of his ancestors — an army officer who had fought the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1916. His love of literature was not for show. I remember on a flight to the Munich Security Conference wandering to the front of the Air Force executive jet to find McCain engrossed in a lengthy historical tome. Imagine that — a politician who spent his spare time reading history. Or anything at all.

McCain’s studiousness may not have been part of his public persona, but irreverence certainly was. He was blessed with a caustic wit, a sense of irony and a healthy dose of self-awareness. As a result, he was free of the politician’s usual sin of boring interlocutors with stump speech outtakes. A good deal of his political appeal lay in his ability to avoid sounding like a politician — perhaps the only thing he and President Trump have in common. Unlike Trump, however, McCain did not establish his authenticity with ignorant or deranged statements. McCain could be politically incorrect (I remember how hard he laughed watching “Borat” on one flight) but he was never cruel or bigoted. He was, like Ronald Reagan, an idealist who believed in inspiring, rather than dividing, voters.

Working on McCain’s 2008 campaign as a foreign policy adviser was the easiest job I ever had, because McCain knew as much about foreign policy as anyone in Washington. He traveled incessantly to tend to America’s alliances. He was unshakeable in his conviction that America’s mission was to champion democracy and oppose despotism. Every U.S. president since the rise of Vladimir Putin in 1999 has engaged in naive reverie about working with the Russian strongman. McCain never had any such illusions. As he later said, “I looked in Mr. Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters—a K, a G and B.”

McCain wasn’t always right, of course. Who is? He was pilloried for being an avid supporter of the Iraq War — a stance that he, like many of us, came to regret. But he should be remembered not just for his misguided advocacy of the invasion but for his brave and lonely support of the Iraq surge in 2007 at a time when he was preparing to seek the presidency and other supporters of the war, such as Hillary Clinton, had turned dovish. McCain was vindicated when the surge led to a 90 percent reduction in violence. If only President Barack Obama had listened when McCain warned against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011 — a mistake that led to the rise of the Islamic State.

More than most politicians, of course, McCain was not simply a collection of policy positions — much less of poll-tested positions. Although a true conservative, he could transgress Republican orthodoxy on issues ranging from his support for campaign-finance limitations and immigration reform to his vote last year against repealing Obamacare.

McCain will be remembered, above all, for his character and courage. While other privileged young men were discovering ailments such as “bone spurs” to avoid the Vietnam War, McCain requested a combat assignment and spent more than five hellish years in the “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp. As the son of an admiral, McCain could have won early release, but he refused his captors’ offer because he honored the POW code: first in, first out. Years later, he displayed characteristic largess of spirit by advocating reconciliation with his torturers.

McCain’s support for normalizing relations with Hanoi was just one example of the character that he displayed not just as a prisoner of war but also as a politician. In 2008, he corrected a woman at a rally who told him, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and . . . he’s an Arab.” “No ma’am,” McCain replied. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.” How easy would it have been for McCain to traffic in conspiracy theories and demagoguery. But he refused — and his refusal, along with his own missteps (notably the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate) may have cost him the presidency.

McCain’s passing, tragic at any time, is all the sadder now. His dedication to America’s global leadership, advocacy for human rights, steadfast opposition to despots, devotion to bipartisanship, willingness to break with his own party, insistence on putting the nation’s interest above self-interest, and, above all, his unwavering sense of right and wrong — all are desperately needed at a time when his party has embraced an amoral, narcissistic demagogue who fawns over tyrants and flirts with isolationism and protectionism and white nationalism. Trump hated McCain and insulted him at every turn because McCain was everything Trump is not — and everything that we need in our politics today but tragically lack.

Thursday
Aug232018

Why Prosperity has Not Made Us Happy

By Jonathan Rauch/NYTimes

In 1990, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain was challenged by a Labour member of Parliament on the subject of growing inequality. “All levels of income are better off than they were in 1979,” she retorted. “The honorable member is saying that he would rather that the poor were poorer, provided the rich were less rich. … What a policy!”

That slap-down was an iconic formulation of a premise of the Thatcher-Reagan conservative revolution: Poverty is a social problem, but inequality, as such, is not. Governments should aim to increase the incomes and opportunities of all, especially the poor, but to worry about the gap between the rich and the rest is “the politics of envy.” 

Morally speaking, Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan should have been right. As long as I am better off, why should I begrudge your doing better still? Yet something was amiss with this consensus — something that goes far to explain why Reagan-Thatcher conservatism has caved in under pressure from the populisms of President Trump on the right and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the left.

In America (and also in other countries), an impressive postwar rise in material well-being has had zero effect on personal well-being. The divergence between economic growth and subjective satisfaction began decades ago. Real per capita income has more than tripled since the late 1950s, but the percentage of people saying they are very happy has, if anything, slightly declined.

Why? Researching happiness and age, I did a deep dive into the relatively new discipline of happiness economics and emerged impressed by two findings. One is that all happiness is local. According to World Bank data, the share of the world’s population living on less than $1.90 a day (inflation adjusted) declined to under 10 percent in 2015 from 44 percent in 1980, an astounding achievement. 

But ordinary people’s well-being depends mainly on their immediate surroundings. If you are an autoworker who loses your job in Massena, N.Y., when G.M. closes its local plant (moving some jobs to Mexico) and who spends years out of work and who watches as schools shut down and shops go dark and young people flee — for you, the fact that America’s big coastal cities are doing great, or that more than half a billion Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty, merely rubs salt in your wounds.

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Second, all happiness is relative. Although moral philosophers may wish Homo sapiens were wired more rationally, we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves.

According to the Brookings Institution economist Carol Graham, poor whites are far more unhappy and pessimistic than poor blacks, even though, in absolute terms, they are better off. That would not make sense if absolute standing determined subjective well-being. It does make sense, however, when we look at relative standing. Less-educated whites (especially men) have seen their relative standing decline sharply, both compared with their parents and with rising nonwhites. Blacks, by contrast, have seen themselves doing better than expected and closing the economic and social gap.

Absolute standing is not irrelevant, and people will tolerate and sometimes even embrace inequality if they believe the system is fair and lets them get ahead. Still, the witticism (frequently attributed to Gore Vidal) that “it is not enough for me to succeed; others must fail” is uncomfortably accurate. In a striking experiment, certain households in Kenyan villages were randomly chosen to receive large financial windfalls. The lucky beneficiaries were pleased, of course, but their increased happiness was much more than offset by the increased unhappiness of other households, which lost nothing in absolute terms but suddenly saw themselves falling behind. Pondering the accumulated evidence, the British happiness economist Richard Layard concluded, “These studies provide clear evidence that a rise in other people’s income hurts your happiness.”

Inequality, in short, is immiserating. One could cite more evidence in the same vein. Places in the United States with more inequality have higher stress and worry, more political polarization and lower social connectedness, even among the wealthy. Moreover, what counts for subjective well-being is not just reality but also perception. If social media and reality TV disproportionately depict millionaires and amazing homes, or if talk-radio pundits insist that government takes from hard-working whites to subsidize lazy minorities, resentment grows, never mind what the statistics may say.

In a poor country with low inequality, rising national income should make people happier, and of course reducing poverty is a good in and of itself. But in a wealthy, unequal country like today’s America, gains in national income can decouple from well-being. 

“Each person would become happier because he was richer, but less happy because other people were richer,” Mr. Layard writes. “The two effects would cancel each other out, because relative income would be unchanged.” 

Moreover, if inequality is growing (as is the case in the United States), economic growth pushes the rungs of the socioeconomic ladder farther apart even as it lifts the ladder. Because people tend to compare upward when gauging status, they perceive themselves to be losing ground.

In light of what happiness economists have had to say, the interesting question is not why the Reagan-Thatcher consensus finally failed but why it prevailed for two generations. Partly, I think, because its call to transcend envy is morally appealing, and partly because, in the 1980s and 1990s, pro-growth policies and free-market economics seemed to have turned around a troubled economy. But partly also because there was no viable alternative. Mainstream liberalism worried about inequality but offered only policies that much of the public viewed as discredited or unfair.

Now the Reagan-Thatcherist alternative has crumbled, too. In 2008, the economic meltdown made the system look rigged and ignited a populist backlash. In 2016, the backlash coalesced behind the populisms of Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders, each of whom had a compelling story to tell those suffering from real or perceived loss of status: We will de-rig the system with radical solutions like trade wars and socialized medicine. Those may be (as I believe) wrong answers to the problem of inequality, but they are answers, and their appeal is evident.

Today it is free-market conservatism that is voiceless. After insisting for two generations that inequality does not matter, the heirs of Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher — people like the House speaker, Paul Ryan — have neither a coherent program to reduce inequality nor a philosophical rationale to seek one. 

Like it or not, inequality in today’s America drives politics toward rage and polarization, and toward destabilizing and dangerous populisms of both left and right. Trumpism and Sandersism have something to say about inequality, but mainstream conservatism does not, and it will be no match for them until it does.

Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the author of “The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50.

Thursday
Aug162018

Newspapers Hold Up a Mirror to Make Our Country Great

Note: Today, the Anderson Observer joins newspapers across the country in repsonse to the president's continued attacks on the press.

Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer 

According to the president of the United States, I am both an “enemy to the people” of the United States and on the list of the nation’s “horrible, horrendous people.”

Having spent most of the last four decades as a journalist, it was a bit unexpected to be added to the enemy’s list of the nation’s top elected official. Then I realized I am in very good company on this list.

I have always approached my job with three goals: report the truth wherever it may be found, holding up a mirror to advocate for what is good in or for the community (state and nation) and hold up the same mirror to those who seek to do harm to others as part of their own actions or agendas. 

It is a simple path, though one which takes effort. To report the truth means carefully vetting sources and information, and holding a story until either or both of those can be properly verified. It also can be gratifying to see stories, editorials and even conversations with decision makers change because of my efforts. It can also be uncomfortable to challenge or confront, especially in my own community, when they are intentionally or unwittlingy involved in something which falls short of their position. 

It is gratifying to be a part of this process. I grew up in a family that subscribed to both a morning and evening newspaper. We were readers, and our expectation was that those local newspapers both kept us informed and those in power in check. They were our friends and neighbors. We trusted them.

The role is crucial for a free society, a fact recognized by every despot on the planet who makes a free press one of the first targets of wrath. 

Our current president, while not using the army to shut down the media, has rallied his own army of supporters to create an atmosphere of distrust and downright hostility towards those who are charged with reporting the news. 

His strategy seeks to delegitimize all media to create a climate in which nothing he says (or tweets) can be challenged and to gain sympathy from others who think the media goes overboard in holding him accountable. 

“Fake news” has become his rallying cry, and it has emboldened his core supporters and the far right to adopt his mantra in town halls across America. Any uncomfortable reporting, even if a direct quote on tape, becomes “fake news.” 

Coupled with this cry, the president has used deflection and trolling to advance his agenda. Disagreeing with, or pointing out a discrepancy in a statement or policy is met with “what about ….(Obama, Hillary, the Democrats, etc.). He also trolls the media on twitter and in public by being willfully provocative with no goal other than to stir up anger and unrest.

His approach is all the more dangerous since it has become a template for many other Republican politicians. 

Why does this matter? It’s because it’s dangerous to the core principles of our nation and dangerous to many reporters in the field. Some have been physically attacked, others received death threats, all because the president continues to fan the flames of hostility toward a group of men and women who are committed to seek truth where they can find it.  

It’s also dangerous because it’s working. I cannot count how many times at local meetings I have heard the “fake news” mantra tossed regarding stories clearly documented as true.

And so today more than 200 newspapers across the country stand together to remind Americans that we believe truth is still important. All of us will weather the onslaught of this president if we stay the course. 

Readers won't always like what they see in the mirror, but we are to hold it steady so at least the can wee what is there.

I hold out hope. Recently a local elected official pulled me aside at a meeting to discuss an editorial in the Anderson Observer critical of the political group on which he serves. 

“I don’t always agree with you, but I appreciate you do your homework and get the facts out there,” he said. 

Today I wish all my colleagues find such encouragement as we continue to get out there and “do our homework.”

Monday
Jul302018

Why 80% of Americans Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Robert Reich, for The Guardian

The official rate of unemployment in America has plunged to a remarkably low 3.8%. The Federal Reserve forecasts that the unemployment rate will reach 3.5% by the end of the year.

But the official rate hides more troubling realities: legions of college grads overqualified for their jobs, a growing number of contract workers with no job security, and an army of part-time workers desperate for full-time jobs. Almost 80% of Americans say they live from paycheck to paycheck, many not knowing how big their next one will be.

Blanketing all of this are stagnant wages and vanishing job benefits. The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Although the US economy continues to grow, most of the gains have been going to a relatively few top executives of large companies, financiers, and inventors and owners of digital devices.

America doesn’t have a jobs crisis. It has a good jobs crisis.

When Republicans delivered their $1.5tn tax cut last December they predicted a big wage boost for American workers. Forget it. Wages actually dropped in the second quarter of this year.

Not even the current low rate of unemployment is forcing employers to raise wages. Contrast this with the late 1990s, the last time unemployment dipped close to where it is today, when the portion of national income going into wages was 3% points higher than it is today.

What’s going on? Simply put, the vast majority of American workers have lost just about all their bargaining power. The erosion of that bargaining power is one of the biggest economic stories of the past four decades, yet it’s less about supply and demand than about institutions and politics.

 

Starting in the 1980s and with increasing ferocity since then, private-sector employers have fought against unions

Two fundamental forces have changed the structure of the US economy, directly altering the balance of power between business and labor. The first is the increasing difficulty for workers of joining together in trade unions. The second is the growing ease by which corporations can join together in oligopolies or to form monopolies.

By the mid-1950s more than a third of all private-sector workers in the United States were unionized. In subsequent decades public employees became organized, too. Employers were required by law not just to permit unions but to negotiate in good faith with them. This gave workers significant power to demand better wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions. (Agreements in unionized industries set the benchmarks for the non-unionized).

Yet starting in the 1980s and with increasing ferocity since then, private-sector employers have fought against unions. Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire the nation’s air-traffic controllers, who went on an illegal strike, signaled to private-sector employers that fighting unions was legitimate. A wave of hostile takeovers pushed employers to do whatever was necessary to maximize shareholder returns. Together, they ushered in an era of union-busting. 

Employers have been firing workers who attempt to organize, threatening to relocate to more “business friendly” states if companies unionize, mounting campaigns against union votes, and summoning replacement workers when unionized workers strike. Employer groups have lobbied states to enact more so-called “right-to-work” laws that bar unions from requiring dues from workers they represent. A recent supreme court opinion delivered by the court’s five Republican appointees has extended the principle of “right-to-work” to public employees.

Today, fewer than 7% of private-sector workers are unionized, and public-employee unions are in grave jeopardy, not least because of the supreme court ruling. The declining share of total US income going to the middle since the late 1960s – defined as 50% above and 50% below the median – correlates directly with that decline in unionization. (See chart below).

 

 

 Pinterest

Perhaps even more significantly, the share of total income going to the richest 10 percent of Americans over the last century is almost exactly inversely related to the share of the nation’s workers who are unionized. (See chart below). When it comes to dividing up the pie, most American workers today have little or no say. The pie is growing but they’re getting only the crumbs. 

Robert Reich graph

Over the same period time, antitrust enforcement has gone into remission. The US government has essentially given a green light to companies seeking to gain monopoly power over digital platforms and networks (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook); wanting to merge into giant oligopolies (pharmaceuticals, health insurers, airlines, seed producers, food processors, military contractors, Wall Street banks, internet service providers); or intent on creating local monopolies (food distributors, waste disposal companies, hospitals). 

This means workers are spending more on such goods and services than they would were these markets more competitive. It’s exactly as if their paychecks were cut. Concentrated economic power has also given corporations more ability to hold down wages, because workers have less choice of whom to work for. And it has let companies impose on workers provisions that further weaken their bargaining power, such as anti-poaching and mandatory arbitration agreements. 

This great shift in bargaining power, from workers to corporations, has pushed a larger portion of national income into profits and a lower portion into wages than at any time since the second world war. In recent years, most of those profits have gone into higher executive pay and higher share prices rather than into new investment or worker pay. Add to this the fact that the richest 10% of Americans own about 80% of all shares of stock (the top 1% owns about 40%), and you get a broader picture of how and why inequality has widened so dramatically.

Another consequence: corporations and wealthy individuals have had more money to pour into political campaigns and lobbying, while labor unions have had far less. In 1978, for example, congressional campaign contributions by labor Political Action Committees were on par with corporate PAC contributions. But since 1980, corporate PAC giving has grown at a much faster clip, and today the gulf is huge.

It is no coincidence that all three branches of the federal government, as well as most state governments, have become more “business-friendly” and less “worker-friendly” than at any time since the 1920s. As I’ve noted, Congress recently slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Meanwhile, John Roberts’ supreme court has more often sided with business interests in cases involving labor, the environment, or consumers than has any supreme court since the mid-1930s. Over the past year it not only ruled against public employee unions but also decided that workers cannot join together in class action suits when their employment contract calls for mandatory arbitration. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009, and is now about where it was in 1950 when adjusted for inflation. Trump’s labor department is busily repealing many rules and regulations designed to protect workers.

The combination of high corporate profits and growing corporate political power has created a vicious cycle: higher profits have generated more political influence, which has altered the rules of the game through legislative, congressional, and judicial action – enabling corporations to extract even more profit. The biggest losers, from whom most profits have been extracted, have been average workers. 

America’s shift from farm to factory was accompanied by decades of bloody labor conflict.

The shift from factory to office and other sedentary jobs created other social upheaval. The more recent shift in bargaining power from workers to large corporations – and consequentially, the dramatic widening of inequalities of income, wealth, and political power – has had a more unfortunate and, I fear, more lasting consequence: an angry working class vulnerable to demagogues peddling authoritarianism, racism, and xenophobia.

Robert Reich is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and was secretary of labour in the Clinton administration. His latest book, The Common Good, was published earlier this year

Wednesday
Jul252018

Hospitality Tax Deserves Better than November Referendum

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

For more than two years, the Anderson Observer has been an advocate for a two percent hospitality tax in the unincorporated areas of Anderson County. The idea has been kicked down the road by county council and squashed iby "town hall" meetings on the subjet, meetings which traditionally only attract the opposition to any topic. We all deserve better.

County Council has shown remakable leadership over the past decade. Their cooperative efforts have helped navigate the county into the enviable position of being among the nation's leaders in recovering from the Great Recession of 2008. Working with the Anderson County Economic Develoment team led by Burris Nelson and his staff, and Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns, the county has thrived. Unemployment is so low there are more good job openings than applicants available. The county has reduced debt, begun improving roads and set out a strategy for a airport terminal, better roads and sewers and instituted cooperative efforts with the schools to provide targeted job training to meet the needs of the county's growing high-tech industries. 

But last week, Anderson County Council announced it will ask voter to consider an two-percent hospitaiity tax in a non-binding referendum this November. Sadly, this is rare misfire by council, one which only serves to delay what council should have already put in place at least two years ago. It is a continuation of an unusaly blind spot, one fed by concerns generated by the small minority of loud "anti-any-tax" voices at the expense of Anderson County.

For some reason, council is frozen on this move which would clearly benefit all citizens without any real financial burden.

A two-percent hospitality tax on prepared foods sold in unincorporated areas of Anderson County would generate more than $3 million each year for county parks and recreation programs.

The county’s municipalities and townships already have this tax in place and are reaping substantial benefits. The tax generated more than $2.5 million last year for the City of Anderson alone. 

Opposition to this tax has been largely marked by misunderstanding and misinformation, largely driven by the hyperbolic voices of those who ignore the facts to fit their uniformed fear-based propaganda. Here is a sampling of the erroneous propaganda being circulated about the hospitality tax, along with corrections: 

1. The new tax would raise rates to four percent in some areas.

False.  It will not be added to the two percent already being charged, but will percent will only be in effect in places not already covered by the tax. So it is not four percent anywhere, it would just put the unincorporated areas of the county in line with all other restaurants. 

2. The hospitality tax will negatively impact business in local restaurants. 

False. None of the restaurants which I talked to, three dozen at last count, which already have the hospitality tax can tell any difference on business.  Hamid Mohsseni, who owns both Carson’s Steakhouse and Tucker’s - one of which is in the city and one in the county’s unincorporated areas even though their parking lots are adjacent - said he hasn’t seen any difference in business between the two, even though one currently has the tax and the other does not.

3. The hospitality tax would be a burden on those with fixed incomes.

False. Any argument saying the tax would be a burden on underprivileged residents is a little silly. It is hard to imagine anyone who can afford to dine out being unable to pay an extra two cents on every dollar spent on food. A $50 dining bill would bring an extra charge of only $1. In addition, more than half of the areas impacted by the new tax are places frequented largely by those who don’t live in the county. This allows the county to fund programs from funds paid largely by visitors.

5. Recreation in the county is best left to the private sector.

False, at least in the opinion of other counties. None of our neighboring counties see it that way, and neither do the companies from around the world looking for a place to locate or relocate - something essential to Anderson County since we have more international business than any other county in the state, 51 firms from 23 countries have brought good, high-paying jobs, helping us survive and pull out of the Depression of 2008. 

Even domestic companies rate recreation activities as very high on their punch list when choosing a location.

Here are some facts worth noting: 

 

  1. Anderson is already behind our neighboring counties in our approach to recreation, and it is time to catch up. The county’s recreation is currently largely the efforts of 18 non-profit groups in Anderson. The county does has facilities, the civic center, for example. But it is the YMCA, City Recreation Program and other local groups which fill the fields with sporting events and tournaments, putting us well behind Greenville and Spartanburg which fund recreation through a combination of general revenue from property taxes and hospitality taxes. We should be leaders, no lagging behind our neighbors.
  2. It is also important to note, not only would the civic center would be one of the biggest winners of the hospitality tax (along with the counties other parks), but the funds generated will save property owners money long-term. Why? Because as the civic center ages and the population grows, the facilities there are going to require funding, and that money will have to come from either raising taxes on property owners or the proposed hospitality tax. 
  3. It cannot be denied that both Greenville and Spartanburg counties are aggressively marketing their recreation opportunities in economic development. 

 

First and Foremost, the Hospitality Tax is About Economic Development

 The bottom line is, the hospitality tax is really about economic development. Without a vision for the future of recreation in the county, and a way to fund it without raising taxes on property owners, there could be trouble ahead attracting new investment of top firms. Hartwell Lake is an amazing resource, but one the county has only managed to take advantage in any meaningful way through federal settlement money, not taxes. Green Pond’s Phase One has been a good start, but there is more to be done, and not enough money to do it.

Then there are the local recreation needs. The Powdersville area has grown exponentially, too rapidly to keep up with the needs of the population in many areas. Being unincorporated, they have no other way to generate revenue. These residents deserve better, as do all the residents of Anderson County when it comes to improving and continuing to improve the quality of life here.

There are no legitimate downsides to a hospitality tax for Anderson County’s unincorporated areas. It is a crucial move for the future of economic development and for the quality of life of our citizens.

Many of the same opponents to this tax opposed the East-West Parkway, something most of them probably use every day. Anderson has a long history of missing or delaying progress. We let the railroad hub go to Greenville, for example, because in the past lack of visionary leadership could not look beyond the current fiscal quarter and seek a path providing for the long-term benefits for all of our citizens.

The current council has broken that streak, and for the last decade helped set the county on a solid course for the future, with a glaring exception - the refusal to approve a hospitality tax.

Funding the future without adding to the tax burden of property owners is a no-brainer. 

Giving more ammunition to Economic development and improving the quality of life for all citizens while keeping property taxes in check are two clear reasons for jettisoning the idea of a referendum and moving forward to fulfill the role of elected official and putting the hospitality tax in place now.

Unless those who oppose this tax can put forth a specific plan to accomplish the same goals, and so far no one has, all the town hall meetings and opinions in the county expressing opposition are worth little.

I encourage those who love Anderson and are invested in a great future will contact their council representative to express their concern that emotions and misinformation may mean the hospitality tax could be in jeopardy if put to a citizen vote. Council needs to hear from the overwhelming majority of reasoned citizens who support the hospitality tax, and now is the time for such contact.

Contact your council member here. 

Wednesday
Jul252018

Florida "Stand Your Ground Law" License to Murder

By Edward L. Queen/Emory University

Another killing. Another tragedy. And once again Florida’s “stand your ground” law is in the news after an unarmed man named Markeis McGlockton was shot to death on July 19 in front of his family during a dispute over a convenience store parking place. So far, the man who killed McGlockton has not been charged with any crime. Take a moment and think about that — a parking spot argument leads to a murder and no one is prosecuted. Is this where we wish to be as a country?

This question is asked, not rhetorically, but seriously. And it’s one that gets at the very basis of these laws, and of public policy generally. Why do we adopt the laws that we do? At best, Florida’s “stand your ground” law is a solution to a non-existent problem. At worst, it seems to have exacerbated the problem it ostensibly was designed to correct. Rather than improving the security of its citizens, it has actively lessened it. It has sown confusion among law-enforcement, prosecutors and the courts and its reach has extended to levels beyond the intent of at least one of the law’s primary sponsors, Dennis K. Baxley. 

This law has made Floridians less safe, and in fact encourages violence in a way that threatens everyone’s goal of a well-ordered and secure society.

This law has made Floridians less safe, and in fact encourages violence in a way that threatens everyone’s goal of a well-ordered and secure society.

First passed in 2005, Florida’s “stand your ground” law grants an individual the right to use deadly force if the individual “reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” In exercising this right, the individual has no “duty to retreat.” Additionally, as amended in 2017, Florida's version of the law requires the state to provide “clear and convincing evidence” proving the killer deserves to be prosecuted.

A couple of things must be stated. First, prior to the adoption of the law, Florida residents already had the right to defend themselves against attack. The new law did something unusual in that it removed the long-standing obligation to retreat. In other words, prior to 2005, Floridians had the right to defend themselves but also had an obligation to try and remove themselves from the threat if reasonably possible.

Additionally, the 2017 version of the law eliminated the centuries-old, common law position that the use of deadly force against another requires some semblance of proof. (English common law is the basis for the overwhelming majority of U.S. state laws on self-defense). Instead, the Florida statute now operates using the premise that an individual need only feel threatened to exercise deadly force. The bar for this claim remains low, requiring little adjudication or investigation.

This is be an alarming development for anyone, but it should especially worry conservatives. The revised Florida statute is a disturbing and distressing example of radical and extremist legislation that violates all the norms of conservative thought and policy.

A political conservative traditionally gives great weight to the wisdom of tradition and history as a guide to making decisions in formulating policy and establishing law. Preeminent among the conservative’s concerns is a structured and orderly society, one in which security in one’s person is privileged. A primary goal of public policy is to envision how society should be. Among those visions is a society that minimizes and discourages violence, particularly killings.

Unfortunately, as the evidence shows, "stand your ground" laws have had the opposite effect. Since the Florida law's adoption, for example, not only have “lawful” homicides increased by 75 percent, but overall homicides in Florida increased by 22 percent, according to a 2017 report. This, at a time when the overall murder rate in the United States has decreased to its lowest level in 40 years. If the goal is to make Floridians safer and more secure, this law clearly has failed to do so.

One should not be surprised by this fact. The law itself creates, in warped and perverse ways, numerous incentives for people in Florida to act, not only violently but lethally.

Preeminent among those reasons is that, in many instances, law enforcement and prosecutors are limited by the version of events alleged by the person who survives. Dead men tell no tales. The dead individual cannot provide a second version of what happened or contextualize it.

Then there's the issue of appropriate actions and reactions. Legally, Florida law allows someone to respond to a shove with a bullet to the chest. One need only examine the most recent case to see how this policy easily results in a cruel and unjust outcome.

In this incident, according to the publicly available facts as well as video footage from the scene, Michael Drejka approached a car in which Brittany Jacobs was a passenger and began berating her for parking in a handicapped space. As Drejka argued with her, the owner of the car, Jacobs' boyfriend Markeis McGlockton, exited the store and, seeing Drejka confronting his girlfriend, shoved Drejka to the ground. Although McGlockton does not appear to further escalate the situation, Drejka does, pulling out his gun and firing a single, fatal shot.

But what if McGlockton, instead of shoving Drejka, had instead pulled out a gun of his own and shot and killed him? Given the facts as reported, McGlockton could have claimed that he was the one acting reasonably by protecting not only himself, but also his girlfriend and young children. Drejka had approached the car unbidden, had acted aggressively and was armed. Under the principles of “stand your ground," it seems possible that McGlockton could have killed Drejka and successfully argued self-defense.

But is this what we desire — a society that encourages killing instead of simply pushing away an aggressive individual? Even more perversely, the law seems to reward individuals who do the provoking while placing almost no constraints on the aggressor. Instead, it protects the individual who initiates the conflict, as it seems to have done in this instance. Drejka was shoved to the ground because of his aggressive behavior and yet, even though he created the hostile situation, he walked away unharmed and McGlockton is dead.

There's one big caveat here. While the law may by blind, the people who implement and execute it are not. If McGlockton had responded to Drejka’s aggression by killing him, evidence suggests strongly that McGlockton would have been treated differently. Why? Because McGlockton is black and Drejka is white.

All of which is to say that “stand your ground laws” do not accomplish the purposes for which they were designed. This makes them bad laws, plain and simple. In light of this most recent shooting — the latest in a pattern of questionable situations and tragedies — one would hope that the Florida legislature would have the courage to scrap or amend the statute and return instead to the time-honored understanding of true self-defense. In doing so, Florida politicians would demonstrate that they actually do care about the wellbeing of their citizens, and are not simply acting as corrupt proxies for the gun lobby.

Edward L. Queen, Ph.D, J.D. is Director of the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at the Emory University Center for Ethics. He also serves as Director of Pedagogy for the Emory Integrity Project. Queen's work focuses on applied and professional ethics and the development and implementation of ethics programs in businesses, nonprofits and governmental agencies.