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Opinion: Lack of Civility at Council Meeting Exposes Inhospitable Attitudes

By Greg Wilson/Publisher Anderson Observer

On Tuesday night, an unusually large crowd showed up at the Anderson County Council meeting, largely to speak out on the proposed hospitality tax.  

Proponents and opponents of the measure were equally divided in the opening citizens’ comments. During the public hearing several more spoke, with slightly more speaking against the tax. 

Council ultimately killed the hospitality tax for now. In full disclosure, I think this was a mistake, but respect those duly elected officials who made their decision. 

What concerns me is the level of incivility on display at Tuesday night’s meeting, particularly from the anti-hospitality tax camp.  

The actual issue of the hospitality tax was nearly lost in accusations and allusions to things which had less than nothing to do with the issue at hand.

There was ridicule and venom in the words and tone of many who chided council members, the same council members who had held multiple town halls, delayed the vote, and sought more public input on the tax than they did on the actual fiscal year budget for the county. Interesting that attendance and comment on the hospitality tax dwarfed citizen comments on the budget, which actually determines how the county will spend every single dime for the coming year. 

Many of the council members were attacked personally, or spoken to with great disrespect, and accused of collusive self-interest and worse. Many members looked a bit shell shocked, even those who opposed the hospitality tax, by the unsettling level of vitriol and accusation. They deserve better. 

Multiple times council was accused of attempting to “sneak” the hospitality tax by the public. This is patently untrue. The ordinance was placed on the public agenda, released the Friday before the meeting in which the first reading was held. This is exactly how every single proposal is put forth, and exactly what the law requires. The sad fact that most citizens neither attend county council meetings nor read the agenda, in no way suggests anything underhanded concerning the hospitality tax. 

During comments, there were repeated references to former Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston, who has been gone since 2008, references to violations of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (something the Patriot Act and NSA have essentially voided, but something that had nothing to do with the issue at hand), rehashing of other past events in county council history and a myriad of ramblings which had absolutely nothing to do with the hospitality tax. These folks owe council and our county leaders an apology. 

There were also a lot of financial figures put forth in these angry comments that were completely erroneous, again insinuating it was council members, not them, who were behind a campaign of misinformation. 

Is this where we have landed in Anderson County, a place where we cannot disagree on issues without resorting to playground-like attempts at bullying and catcalling? 

Council had already publicly shifted on the issue enough votes to kill the bill had already made that fact know before the meeting. 

In spite of this, someone or some group hired a company to make robocalls to many citizens received, mostly targeting older citizens with landlines, spreading misinformation and propaganda about the hospitality tax. It was so bad for Anderson County Councilman Tom Allen threaten to get an attorney in the matter. Councilman Francis Crowder, who is ill, was also targeted and finally recorded a message on his machine indicating he no longer supported the bill. 

Both Allen and Crowder voted in favor on first reading.

I am not going to get into the role of a council representative as steward, not proxy, here. I have made that clear in past columns. But clearly at least two councilmen heard enough loud opposition to change their votes without the need for the aggressive robocalls, which it is still unclear who exactly paid for last week. 

But I am going to ponder what happened to civility in public discourse. 

My family has been a part of Anderson County for at least seven generations. I was raised here, and manners were a huge part of my upbringing. “Sir” and “Ma’am” were the only way I was ever to address anyone adult. This is something still a part of my life. I was also taught to respect others, even those whom did not share my family’s worldview or opinions. I was taught that asking questions is fine, disagreeing is fine, but looking down on others, ridiculing others, is not. Name calling and high handed catcalling was surely not tolerated. 

My dad, who passed earlier this year, was well known for responding to those who put others down in his presence, including close friends, with the phrase: “Does that make you feel better?”

Such words of wisdom are in short supply these days, and obviously not just in our hometown. 

Just look at television shows, especially the cable news channels. Whether you are watching CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, or one of the networks, superficial pettiness and gossip have supplanted real news. They all put forth “experts” whose credentials are often as shaky as their opinions are uniformed. No former print journalists like Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley or David Brinkley types on the air any more. We now have pundits and scattered former politicians looking for a way to feed their need for attention and make a few extra dollars post real careers.

Bullying chefs, rude and disrespectful contest judges, attack-first talk show hosts, glib preachers, news program hosts and politicians, all seek to be among the ratings winners with their uncivil put downs of those who may not agree with their particular position.

In there better moments, most Americans are voicing concern over the erosion of civility in government, media and social media. One recent poll suggested that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe lack of civility is a major problem that has worsened during the the recent financial crisis and recession. More distressing is that nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said they were withdrawing from the basic tenants of democracy—government and politics—because of incivility and bullying. Giving up because of incivility is a sad indictment on our culture as well, and something that will not bring change.

Another survey found most Americans report they have been victims of incivility (86 precent). Their most common encounters with rude or disrespectful behavior come while driving (72 precent) or shopping (65 precent). Americans also admit to perpetrating incivility—approximately six in 10 (59 percent) Americans acknowledge that they themselves have been uncivil.

Approximately seven in 10 Americans have either stopped buying from a company or have re-evaluated their opinions of a company because someone from that company was uncivil in their interaction. Further, nearly six in 10 have advised friends, family or co-workers not to buy certain products because of uncivil, rude or disrespectful behavior from the company or its representatives. All of these reported buying behaviors are significantly on the rise. 

Nowhere is the problem of incivility more prominent than in politics with political discourse between candidates degenerating into attack ads and worse. On the eve of a presidential election, a casual look an how the two presidential candidates for 2016 are spending attacking each other than setting forth a detailed vision for America is one more sign of where we’ve come.

Which brings us back to county council. Despite all of the data, I still believe we are better than that in Anderson County. There are too many indicators that the this community to conclude that some of the venomous language of Tuesday night’s meeting reflects who we are 

But our duly elected representatives chose to vote down the measure for now. Those who disagree can privately meet with there council member with hopes of reviving the issue at a later time. Those who agree should thank them for voting in the way they preferred. This is how government should work. 

There were glimmers of hope. West Pelter Mayor Blake Sanders exhibited the kind of grace and civility and even humor. I was hoping for on both sides. Sanders explained why a hospitality tax had been good for West Pelzer and why the thought it would also be good for unincorporated areas of Anderson County. The result: the attackers turned on him and his town with snide and critical remarks.

This has always been a community that is looks out for one another. Look around any given day, AIM is helping single moms finish college and break the cycle of poverty; Meals on Wheels is serving nearly 500 seniors a hot meal; Clean Start is giving the working poor and homeless a place to wash their close, take a shower, write a resume and find clothes for job interviews; the Anderson Emergency Soup Kitchen is providing a hot meat and three to those who would otherwise go hungry; the Haven of Rest and Salvation Army are reaching out to those in desperate need; plus dozens of others including the United Way, Red Cross, Good Neighbor Cupboard, Lot Project, and numerous churches and individuals who as part of their daily life work hard to make Anderson better for their friends and neighbors. 

People are moving here from all over the world to be a part of this great community, and many of them are jumping right in to help make it a better place. 

We should all join them and these great local organizations as elements of positive change.  

Working together is one of the best ways to create more civility and understanding.

But this does not negate the truth that it is important for all to find ways to tone down the divisive rhetoric in our areas of disagreement. Such progress could lead to a new pool of qualified leaders in the years ahead who might want to serve in public office, and allow for legitimate discussion on debated issues. 

Issues which will impact our county deserve respectful, reasoned discussion from each side. That is not what happened Tuesday night, and we are all better than that. 


Healthcare Deserves More Attention in Campaign

By The New York Times

The reaction to opening a medical bill these days is often shock and confusion — for the insured and the uninsured. Prices and deductibles keep rising, policies are drowning in fine print, and doctors are jumping on and off networks. So why hasn’t the growing burden of health care gotten more attention in the presidential campaign?

One reason may be the sheer complexity of the system. Yet Hillary Clinton, if you look closer at her proposals, has a range of interesting ideas on how to tackle costs and improve care. Donald Trump, meanwhile, rarely ventures beyond his “end Obamacare” slogan.

With incomes for most Americans stagnant, individuals and families insured under the Affordable Care Act or through employers are bearing more of the cost of medical treatment.

Since 1999, premiums for family health plans have grown much faster than inflation and wages.

Deductibles for individual coverage increased 63 percent on average, to $1,221 per year, from 2011 to 2016 for people who gethealth insurance through their employers, according to a report released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. Workers’ contributions to premiums grew more slowly than in previous five-year periods but still jumped 23 percent, to $1,129 a year. By contrast, average incomes were up just 11 percent, which means many people are being forced to cut back elsewhere to pay for care. And some people are choosing to forgo or delay going to doctors and hospitals when they are sick.

The cost of prescription drugs is another big problem for people with or without coverage. The average price of brand-name medicines jumped 164 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to Express Scripts. And 24 percent of Americans find it very or somewhat difficult to afford prescription drugs, according to a 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

Mr. Trump seems oblivious to these trends. His sparse health care proposal is built around a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, without any regard for the millions of people who would be hurt by that change. Twenty million Americans have gained health care coverage in the six years since the law was passed, bringing the uninsured rate to a record low. The law has problems — for example, there are too few insurers offering coverage on the health exchanges in rural and suburban areas — that the next president and Congress will need to fix. But it is generally working effectively and has cost the government less than expected, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Mr. Trump says he would replace the law’s subsidies and Medicaid expansion with tax deductions for health insurance premiums paid by individuals and families. But that would primarily benefit the rich, not the millions of low-income and middle-class people who would lose coverage if the law were dismantled. Mr. Trump’s plan also includes several vague ideas for lowering costs. One of them is to increase competition among pharmaceutical companies, but Mr. Trump does not say how he would do that.

Mrs. Clinton clearly understands the issues and has someplans that could help. Deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs have risen for workers covered by employer-based plans as businesses have shifted more costs onto employees. Mrs. Clinton wants to provide a tax credit of up to $5,000 to help people pay out-of-pocket costs, including for prescription drugs. That’s a good idea, but it would be even better if people received assistance when they faced expenses rather than when they filed their tax returns.

Another proposal from Mrs. Clinton would lowerprescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. Drug makers, of course, hate this idea because it would reduce their revenue, and they would surely lobby Congress to defeat a bill. She has also suggested ways to lower costs by hastening the arrival of generic medicines. And she has promised to provide detailed policies to reduce needless medical procedures and to root out fraud and inefficiencies, moves that could prove effective in the longer run.

Health care is just the kind of difficult subject that presidential candidates ought to talk about more. If Mrs. Clinton were to speak regularly and in more detail about her health ideas, she could start building support for them with lawmakers and the public. She would also further expose the shallowness of Mr. Trump’s agenda.


10 Reasons I Left the Conservative Evangelical Project

By Brian McLaren

In evangelical families like the one I grew up in, conservative meant good and liberal meant evil. We conservatives were on “God’s side,” and “they” were of the devil. That’s what many of us were taught and that’s what we believed. Many still believe it. 

Brian McClarenKaty Perry comes from the same conservative evangelical background I do. That may come as a surprise to anyone who saw her singing in places like the Democratic National Convention and speaking in support of Hillary Clinton. (Attending such events is not on the bucket list of anyone from our background.)

I don’t know the details of Perry’s breakup with political conservatism, but I spent over 20 years as an evangelical pastor, and the more deeply I engaged with the life and teaching of Jesus at the heart of my faith, the less enamored I became with the political project to which evangelicalism was giving its soul. I felt increasingly out of sync with an evangelical community more concerned with conservative politics than the compassion of Christ.

How else do we explain why nearly 80 percent of white evangelicals currently embrace the candidacy of Donald Trump, whose way of life and values could not be more opposite to their own? How else can we explain their visceral disgust with Hillary Clinton who, whatever her flaws, is a committed Methodist Christian who grew up in Sunday school, started out as a young Republican, and was drawn into social justice concerns through the influence of a youth pastor?

Katy Perry and Donald Trump … They’ve got me thinking about 10 reasons I have had to part company with the Conservative Evangelical Project:

1. I want to associate with people who are respectful and treat others, even their opponents, with basic human decency and civility.

Too many conservative leaders have become increasingly disrespectful to the point of being rude, crude and mean-spirited. It’s become impossible to ignore — from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouting “You lie!” during the president’s State of the Union address to Donald Trump reaching historic lows with name-calling, crude insults, genital braggadocio, and violent rhetoric. 

2. I can’t support regressive thinking that longs for a time when life was worse for nearly everybody except people like me. 

Whether you like President Barack Obama or not, former religious right activist Frank Schaeffer told the ugly truth about contemporary conservatism: It has carried out a vicious “slow motion lynching” of our first African-American president. Today’s conservatives have been undermining voting rights for minorities, vilifying immigrants, scapegoating LGBTQ people, and resurrecting white privilege and white supremacy to maintain systemic injustice. One simple word in Trump’s campaign slogan — “again” – harkens back to a time of deep discrimination against everyone who doesn’t look like or pray like me. 

3. I won’t be pandered to or manipulated based on religious self-interest or bigotry.

Today’s conservatives support a frightening array of proposals that go against our Constitution’s call for “equal protection”: banning people from entering the country based on religion, mass surveillance of communities based on religion and creating registries of people based on religion. 

4. I am drawn to policies that support conquering poverty, not perpetuating it.

When I began to understand the complex causes and conditions that trap people in poverty, I better understood the need for quality education, nutrition, health care, child care, occupational safety, fair pay, racial equity, and public transportation. I became increasingly drawn to leaders who work to reduce poverty by reducing teen pregnancy, addiction, family breakdown, domestic violence, gangs, mass incarceration, and untreated mental illnesses. In short, the more I became committed to poverty reduction, the more I saw how conservatism keeps people trapped in poverty.

5. I cannot support the massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich.

Conservatives often complain that liberals want to transfer wealth, but the fact is, for decades conservatives have supported a massive transfer of wealth to those who need it least. They have long promised that if we just help the rich through tax cuts, deregulation, and undermining worker rights, the benefits would “trickle down” to the rest of us. When I was younger, I was naive enough to believe this kind of voodoo economics, but with age I’ve come to see that all that actually trickles down is a toxic slurry of pollution, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and economic inequality that is pummeling Americans, regardless of race or religion.

6. I have grown so tired of being misinformed and manipulated about abortion. 

Here are the facts: Abortion rates went up under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, then down under Bill Clinton, remained level during George W. Bush and have fallen about 13 percent during the Obama administration. There were 29 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 in the Reagan years, and the number has dropped to 16 today. As evangelical-born writer Rachel Held Evans has said, criminalizing abortion only reduces its safety, not its incidence.

The conservative culture war on abortion has failed. Its “baby-killer/women-hater” rhetoric has polarized and paralyzed us for decades. If we want to reduce abortion, we must focus on policies that have been proven to do so: better education, health care, and wages — which, it turns out, are policies that also improve women’s lives and strengthen families. 

7. I care about the health of the earth. 

My faith leads me to support environmental policies that build a cleaner, more sustainable and ultimately more profitable future. When I hear conservative candidates talk about shutting down the Environmental Protection Agency and getting rid of government regulations that protect the environment, I wonder how many more Flint-style water crises there will be, how many more Gulf oil spill disasters there will be, how many more inches (or feet!) the sea will rise, and how much national and global instability will result. I’m no fan of big government, but conservatives argue for shrinking government to a size that it can no longer hold big business accountable as it plunders our one and only beautiful planet earth for short-term profit and long-term disaster.

8. I won’t feed terrorism. 

Too few conservatives seem to understand the simple strategy of terrorism: use inexpensive, unpredictable, and highly visible attacks to instill fear among rich and powerful nations to entice them to bankrupt themselves financially and morally through endless and unwinnable wars. When conservatives advocate for “bomb the hell out of them,” “waterboarding” and “carpet-bombing” strategies to beat terrorism, they are foolishly marching us right into the trap the terrorists have set.

9. I am sincerely concerned about Trump’s base.

A good friend of mine, a Trump supporter, said this to me the other day: “Whatever you think of Trump, white men like me feel like we’ve lost a lot. We’re everybody’s whipping boy. We’re tired of being disrespected. Trump gets that.” I think there are millions of Americans, many of them white and working class, who feel like my friend. Their jobs were shipped overseas. They’ve been hurt by an economy that aggregates wealth at the very top. They’ve fallen between the cracks of a dysfunctional Congress so divided that it gets next to nothing done. Sadly, beyond stirring them up with angry speeches, once Trump gets what he wants from them — their vote — he’ll leave them even worse off and therefore angrier. We need actual policies that will help them build a better future, not vain promises about returning to the past.

10. I believe in the power of love, not the love of power.

I understand that millions of Americans are pumped up by Trump’s talk about being tough, his “punch him in the face” bluster, his disgust with a free press, and his glib praise of dictators and torture. But my faith leads me to see true greatness in service and true power in love, self-control, and neighborliness — not domination, reactivity, and revenge. Trump’s love of power may have served him well in business and entertainment, but in political leadership, it will be his Achilles’ heel, and his reactivity and lack of humility will make him chaotic and dangerous.

Not only that, but supporting a crude, angry, unaccountable and self-indulgent leader sets a terrible example for our children and grandchildren. And if conservatives reward Trump with a victory, can you imagine what the next generation of conservative politicians will be like?

Listen, I don’t always agree with everything that goes under the label of progressive, and progressives need to be way more effective at communicating and implementing their best ideas. But I cannot support any party or candidate — local, state, federal or presidential — characterized by mean-spiritedness, bigotry, unfairness, carelessness toward the poor, funneling wealth to the richest, undermining abortion reduction, destroying our fragile planet, playing into the hands of terrorists, exploiting the anger of suffering people, and being driven more by the love of power than the power of love.

Any one or two of these reasons would have been sufficient to lead me away from voting conservative. All of them together make me a consistent and passionate progressive voter in this election, win or lose … not in spite of my Christian faith, but because of it.  

To all who come from the conservative evangelical heritage Katy Perry and I share, I would say this: Your pastors, parents, or radio/TV preachers may not grant you permission to break up with conservatism, but you have it anyway. 

Permission is granted by your conscience.

(Brian McLaren is an author, speaker, and networker among innovative faith leaders. His fifteenth book, The Great Spiritual Migration, was just released. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow and board chair of Convergence Network.)


375 Top Scientists Warn of Immediate Dangers of Global Warming

Yesterday, 375 of the world’s top scientists, including 30 Nobel Prize winners, published an open letter regarding climate change. In the letter, the scientists report that the evidence is clear: humans are causing climate change. We are now observing climate change and its affect across the globe. The seas are rising, the oceans are warming, the lower atmosphere is warming, the land is warming, ice is melting, rainfall patterns are changing and the ocean is becoming more acidic.

These facts are incontrovertible. No reputable scientist disputes them. It is the truth.

Despite these facts, the letter reports that the US presidential campaign has seen claims that the earth isn’t warming, or it is only a natural warming, or that climate change is a hoax. These claims are false. The claims are made by politicians or real estate developers with no scientific experience. These people who deny the reality of climate change are not scientists. 

These claims aren’t new. We see them every election cycle. In fact, for the Republican Party, they are a virtual litmus test for electability. It is terribly sad that the party of Lincoln (the president who initiated the National Academy of Sciences) has been rebuked by the National Academy today. It is sad that the party of Teddy Roosevelt, who created the National Park System, is acting in a way antithetical to his legacy. It is also sad that the party of Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency, now is trying to eliminate that very organization.

What is perhaps most sad is that the party of “fiscal conservatism” is leading us on a path that will result in higher economic and social costs for all of us.

What we don’t know is what the future will bring. Will the warming be gradual or sudden? Will ocean rise increase at a faster rate or not? Will we continue to see major ice shelf collapse? Increased droughts and heat waves? Will we be able to adapt?

A rational decision maker would take action to manage the risks from climate change. This threat is to our health, our communities, and our economies. A changing climate with warming seas and an acidifying ocean will cause real economic losses for our generation and for the future.

In the letter, the scientists venture deeper into politics than scientists are generally willing to tread. They describe the inane Republican platform and the foolish position of the Republican nominee Donald Trump. Basically, Trump wishes to scrap our environmental agreements, which have resulted in reductions to our own emissions as well as very strong agreements to reduce global warming through international agreements. 

Despite the excellent work over the past 7 years, we have not seen the increase in energy prices that the denialists claimed would occur. Instead, we’ve seen huge reductions in the cost of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

We were right, they were wrong. We can deliver reliable energy to the USA at a low cost, with less pollution.

We scientists have warned the country and the world about the dangers of climate change for decades. We are now seeing our predictions come true. There are no longer any reputable scientists who disagree that humans are the major factor changing the climate.

We have also seen that real action can be taken to reduce pollution. That action will not hurt our economy, rather it has built the new energy economy of the future.

Despite this progress, some people want to take us backwards in time – they want to undo our progress. For those who vote in anti-science politicians who attack the scientific experts rather than our pollution problem, your legacy will be the climate change that you could have helped prevent. Those voters will own climate change.

What will that conversation be like with your kids?


Time for Full Disclosure on Candidates Health

New York Times Editorial Board

As President Obama’s graying hair suggests, the American presidency is perhaps the most grueling and stressful political job there is. This year, both major party candidates for that job are past the nation’s customary retirement age. And while submitting health records is not a requirement for the job, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would be doing American voters a great service by furnishing a much clearer picture of their physical health than the abbreviated and sunny reports provided so far.

What brings the health issue to mind, of course, is the video of a stumbling Mrs. Clinton being hustled away from the 9/11 memorial service in New York on Sunday. She reappeared some two hours later to say she felt great. Hours later, her doctor issued a statement saying Mrs. Clinton had been suffering from pneumonia — a diagnosis Mrs. Clinton had received two days earlier and which came as a surprise even to some members of her campaign team.

Mrs. Clinton had coughed her way through multiple appearances last week, insisting it was nothing more than “allergies,” while her campaign pushed back on reporters who noted her coughing, telling one to “get a life.”

Mrs. Clinton has released more information about her health than Mr. Trump has about his. Mr. Trump’s evaluation consists largely of a terse and bizarre report written by Dr. Harold Bornstein, his gastroenterologist, who, after a brief examination, said that if elected Mr. Trump, a self-professed fast-food addict, “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Mrs. Clinton’srecord, consisting mainly of a letter written by her personal physician, Dr. Lisa Bardack, on July 28, 2015, is more than a year old and, while acknowledging her problem with blood clots, could use some updating.

In recent years, presidents and presidential candidates have been more forthcoming about their health than their predecessors. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a polio survivor, was seldom photographed in his wheelchair, and in his last re-election campaign concealed the cardiovascular disease that would kill him within a year. John F. Kennedy struggled with a debilitating back injury and denied he had Addison’s disease, a serious adrenal gland disorder.

By contrast, in 1985 Ronald Reagan openly discussed the colon cancer that required doctors to remove two feet of intestine. In 2008, John McCain gave reporters access to hundreds of pages of records that ended questions about health issues, including melanoma, linked to his Vietnam-era captivity. In 2014, President Obama volunteered that he’d had a persistent sore throat checked out, and the diagnosis was acid reflux. The issue was addressed before anyone asked about it.

Now Americans are deciding between Mr. Trump, who is 70, and Mrs. Clinton, who is 68. Whoever prevails will have to deal with round-the-clock demands, so it seems entirely relevant to inquire about their medical histories and current health.

On Monday, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton said she would release additional health information in coming days. For his part, Mr. Trump said he would make public “very, very specific” records, a remarkable promise coming from someone who has resolutely stonewalled on his tax returns. Should both candidates honor these pledges, and provide plenty of detail, the winners will be the voters.


The Question That Could Define the Presidential Campaign

 Opinion writer/Washington Post

Frank Luntz, the Republican political consultant, is a master of the political epigram. Under his tutelage, the estate tax became the death tax and global warming became climate change. So Luntz, once again going to the heart of the matter, recently put an either-or question to a group of about 50 people: What would you rather see, Donald Trump’s taxes or Hillary Clinton’s emails? Upon that question hinges the election.

Luntz was speaking to an invitation-only gathering in the Hamptons. There was only one acknowledged Trump supporter in the room, yet when Luntz called for a show of hands, most of them went up for Clinton’s emails.

Luntz conducted his mini-survey more than a week ago. Had he done so after Clinton collapsed at the Sept. 11 memorial service in New York, the numbers would have been higher. Here, in a single episode, were the Good Hillary and the Bad Hillary in gripping and worrisome relief. The Good Hillary is the woman who shows up — no matter what. She is dutiful and responsible and determined not to be the woman Trump says she is — too frail for the physical challenges of the presidency. She would rather collapse than not attend the memorial service.

And yet the Bad Hillary is here, too, the one whose opaqueness is so troubling. She was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, yet she said nothing about it to her traveling press corps. On Sunday, she was forced to leave the commemoration ceremony and had trouble getting into her SUV. From the video, she seemed to buckle, her legs going wobbly, and she had to be lifted under her arms into the vehicle. The press corps was again not informed of what happened. Clinton was taken to her daughter’s apartment, where, among other things, she was rehydrated. When she emerged about two hours later, she looked fine. She waved to the crowd. “I’m feeling great,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day in New York.”

No! First of all, it was not a beautiful day. It was cloyingly humid. Second, while I am in no position to say she was not “feeling great,” I have had pneumonia myself, and it sure took me a while to get back to normal. Clinton had been diagnosed on Friday. This was Sunday.

Instead of issuing some anodyne statement, Clinton should have said what had happened — and how she actually felt. At the same time, she should have said that she so much wanted to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks that she attended the ceremony against her doctor’s orders. That would have been commendable, even a bit heroic. Instead, she turned the incident into yet another issue about transparency.

The paradox of Trump is that greater transparency will not teach us anything. There is nothing to learn from Trump’s taxes. It is a given that he pays very little, that he has donated next to nothing to charity and that he has reneged on his pledges. He is worth less than he claims, but so what? He is as he appears, a flamboyantly tanned liar who, some dislocated visitor from Mars might conclude, is a pumpkin running for president. The mystery is not Donald Trump. The mystery is the people who support him.

Luntz asked about Clinton’s use of a personal server for her emails. By itself this is mere piffle. Historians of the future will be baffled by what a to-do we’ve made of it and how we’ve allowed an epic liar such as Trump to constantly accuse her of committing a crime. What crime? Is it similar to the one Colin Powell committed when he was secretary of state and used a personal email account for government business? Apparently not. I don’t hear Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of what amounts to the Permanent Special Committee to Harass Hillary Clinton, vowing to go after Powell, as he has Clinton.

In 1978, the public intellectual Susan Sontag published “Illness as Metaphor.” Sontag herself suffered and died from cancer, which is the disease she originally had in mind, but she later expanded her thesis to AIDS, which some considered not simply a disease but (just) retribution for a gay lifestyle. That ugly metaphor still kicks around a bit, but the notion that we somehow earn our diseases causes us to look for the chink in someone’s armor to explain their death — ah, he smoked, ah, he was overweight, etc. In Hillary Clinton’s case, the metaphor is transparency. It could prove politically fatal.


Orlando Shootings Could Change U.S. Gun Laws


The Orlando mass shooting is different from the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino, California. Different also from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, or the multiplex movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or the Virginia Tech mass shooting in Blacksburg, Virginia. 

When Omar Mateen killed at least 49 people and wounded more than 50 others early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the victims were not a random group of people sharing the same physical space. They were all part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

With this, the Orlando massacre could prove to be a turning point in the gun-control debate. Mateen may have cemented an alliance between gun-regulation advocacy groups and the well-organized LGBT social movement. It could catalyze the mobilization of a united front that expands the political and social reach critical for passing meaningful gun regulations. 

As a criminologist, I have reviewed and written many studies on mass shootings, and Orlando stands out because of the convergence of four key characteristics.  First, it is the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history (the deadliest overall was committed in Norway in 2011, where 77 people were killed). Second, the crime was carried out with assault-type weapons (the AR-15). Third, the shooter, law enforcement authorities say, pledged allegiance to Islamic State during the attack. Fourth, and most crucial, the attack singled out a specific community and appears largely motivated by sexual prejudice, which, by definition, becomes a hate crime. 

These four characteristics have never before combined in any one U.S. mass shooting. The horrific 2015 attack at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for example, was categorized as a hate crime. But it was not connected to any jihadist ideology. The confessed shooter, Dylan Roof, did not use military-style weapons, and fewer than 10 people were killed. The same components apply to mass shootings that occurred in other religious sites,, such as the 1991 attack on a Buddhist temple in Arizona. 

The mass shooting in Orlando provides a unique opportunity to shift the burden of proof about the necessity for stronger gun-control regulation. First, it is critical to acknowledge that the majority of mass shooters have been marked by mental health issues, social alienation or work disgruntlement. They had a variety of personal motivations, often not aimed at weakening government legitimacy, which is what motivates groups like Islamic State or al Qaeda. The most frequent motivations are revenge or a quest for power. 

Orlando fits the pattern of Islamic State-inspired shootings that seek to spread fear and portray the U.S. government’s counterterrorism strategy as ineffective. In addition, Islamic State has pointed out to possible recruits that they should take advantage of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, which a majority of Americans view as a fundamental constitutional pillar.  

Yet, this right to bear arms could pose a serious national-security vulnerability because it provides violent extremists the same legal protections that American citizens enjoy. The result? The lack of tough gun regulations makes it easier for Islamic State recruits to kill Americans at home or stage mass shootings abroad with assault-type weapons bought legally.

After the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, the public could press Congress to acknowledge that weak firearm regulation is a serious breach in the protection of the homeland against domestic and foreign aggressors.

After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that U.S national security was used as a reason to restrict constitutional rights. After 9/11, the American people gave up more than a few constitutional rights when the Bush administration, under the USA Patriot Act and various presidential directives, weakened civil liberties for the sake of bolstering U.S. security.

One of the most controversial breaches of fundamental constitutional rights permitted the National Security Agency to turn its signal interception inward and spy on the American people without first obtaining legal warrants.

Public calls to regulate firearms for national-security reasons and possibly save more American lives – despite Second Amendment rights -- should not come as a surprise.

To improve homeland security, the argument goes, U.S. citizens would be better protected if more restrictive background checks were performed and if people were required to prove “good character.” This could include not belonging to any group “prohibited” from owning firearms -- the mentally ill, for example, or criminals or terror suspects (like Mateen). It should also include people deemed high risk for committing violent crime, such as individuals with a police record for threatening the life of another. 

In attacking the Pulse nightclub, a well-known LGBT gathering spot, Mateen took aim at a community with an estimated 9 million members across the United States. For more than 20 years, the LGBT community has mobilized into a powerful social movement that has demonstrated its ability to successfully advocate for a broad range of rights.

In previous mass shootings, because the victims and their families were not linked by any specific bond, such as identity or social-movement involvement, a cohesive mobilization to advocate for stricter gun regulations was often complicated and difficult. 

The unique characteristics of the Orlando mass shooting, however, could influence passage of meaningful gun-control reform in Congress. Something even the tragedy of 20 dead first-graders at Sandy Hook could not bring about. 

The LGBT community was targeted with unprecedented violence in Orlando. This media-savvy community led the 20-year cultural shift in how Americans view gay people and gay marriage, one of the most successful social-justice movements of modern times.

Combining the LBGT community with national- security demands for stricter control of gun sales well could create the momentum needed to propel Congress to act. 

(Frederic Lemieux is program director of the Security & Safety Leadership Master's Program, as well as cybersecurity strategy and information management master's degree and police and security studies bachelor's degree at The George Washington University.)


S.C. Leaders Failed Us All Over Past 10 Years

South Carolina’s state government is on life support.


Workplace Skills Keep Ex-offenders Out of Prison

By Bryan Stirling and Cheryl Stanton

Each year, approximately 10,000 people are released from South Carolina prisons. Far too often, however, ex-offenders are released into the same environment from which they came.

StirlingThey return to the same neighborhood and interact with the same acquaintances, lacking theStanton education or skills needed to succeed outside of prison. This can lead to individuals landing back in prison either by violating parole or on new convictions.

This week, April 24-30, is National Re-entry Week where we bring focus to the issues of returning ex-offenders into our communities and to the steps we’ve taken to reduce the rate of people returning to prison. An important part of the release process is preparing individuals to re-enter society and reducing the likelihood that they will return.

Here’s what we know: individuals with criminal records, particularly recently incarcerated individuals, face serious and complex obstacles to successful re-entry.  The long-term impact of a criminal record prevents many people from obtaining employment, housing, higher education and credit.

In South Carolina, nearly 90 percent of offenders are released from prison in five years or less. The state has a choice to make, prepare offenders for successful re-entry or continue the generational cycle of incarceration.

We have chosen to provide inmates with opportunities for education, skills training and work experience as part of a pre-release program, a leading factor in reducing the recidivism rate, which is nearly 25 percent in South Carolina.

Gov. Nikki Haley urged the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) and the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) to partner and find a solution to reducing this rate.

One effective effort in achieving this is the Work Ready Initiative, which is a partnership between the SCDC and the DEW. The program began in November 2014 as a “One Stop Shop” for employment services within prison walls.

Under this program, DEW provides a full-time employee, laptops and materials to assist qualified returning citizens with work-skills training at the Manning Correctional facility in Columbia. Specific requirements must be met by the participant, including a disciplinary-free record, non-violent offenses for incarceration and a GED or high school diploma, to be eligible to participate in the Work Ready Initiative.

Ninety days prior to release, offenders are taught employment and soft skills for one hour each day. During the last 30 days, offenders work directly with a DEW counselor to become registered in the SC Works system, craft a resume and apply for jobs online. Contacts are made with employers and if employment is not secured prior to release, returning citizens are transitioned to a representative at their local SC Works office for additional services, post release.

The skills they learn through Work Ready Initiative helps the critical skills they’ve acquired through the many work programs, including carpentry, welding and agriculture.

Today, 98 individuals have successfully completed the Work Ready Initiative and are currently employed, while 466 offenders are currently enrolled, learning the skills necessary to find employment after they are released.

SCDC and DEW also are registering returning citizens into the SC Works system. Once they have an account, they can start the process of finding work by searching the job database, uploading their resumes and accessing other services provided to jobseekers.

We provide programs and services, like the Work Ready Initiative, in hopes that our inmates will take advantage of them in order to better their lives after leaving prison.

We are seeing results from these programs with a lower recidivism rate. While the current rate for the entire S.C. prison population is 24.9 percent, the recidivism rate for people involved in the pre-release program is 22.6 percent; in the work program 18 percent; and the prison industry program is 15.3 percent.

SCDC and DEW have a duty to South Carolinians to help individuals become productive members of society and make SC a safer more prosperous place. Education, training, and employment play an integral part in safer communities, lower recidivism, and fewer tax dollars being spent on offenders.  

We are proud of the progress we’ve made and thankful to the businesses who are giving these individuals a chance, but there is still work to be done. Through collaboration, we can change more lives, reduce crime and protect our communities by giving these individuals the opportunity they deserve to succeed as they re-enter our labor force and rejoin our communities.

Bryan Stirling is director of the S.C. Department of Corrections which provides safety for the community and rehabilitation and self-improvement opportunities for inmates. Cheryl Stanton is executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and workforce which matches people to jobs and provides a bridge for individuals who find themselves out of work for no fault of their own. 


Reuters: Bill Gates Says U.S. Has Secret Weapon



This presidential election has the country captivated. As many commentators have pointed out, the primaries are more focused on personalities than policy. While the parties focus on who is going to represent them in the fall, I want to make the case for something that I hope every candidate will agree on in November: America’s unparalleled capacity for innovation. When the United States invests in innovation, it creates companies and jobs at home, makes Americans healthier and safer, and saves lives and fights poverty in the world’s poorest countries. It offers the next president a tremendous opportunity to help people in America and around the world.

Of course, America’s capacity for innovation is nothing new. We have been inventing for more than two centuries: think of Benjamin Franklin, Margaret Knight, Thomas Edison. By the end of World War II, the United States led the world in automobiles, aerospace, electronics, medicine, and other areas. Nor is the formula for success complicated: Government funding for our world-class research institutions produces the new technologies that American entrepreneurs take to market.

What is new is that more countries than ever are competing for global leadership, and they know the value of innovation. Since 2000, South Korea’s research and development spending (measured as a percentage of GDP) has gone up 90 percent. China’s has doubled. The United States’ has essentially flatlined. It’s great that the rest of the world is committing more, but if the United States is going to maintain its leading role, it needs to up its game.

I have seen first-hand the impact that this type of research can have. I was lucky enough to be a student when computers came along in the 1960s. At first they were very expensive, so it was hard to get access to them. But the microchip revolution, made possible by U.S. government research, completely changed that. Among other things it enabled Microsoft, the company I co-founded, to write software that made computers an invaluable tool for productivity. Later, the Internet — another product of federal research — changed the game again. It is no accident that today most of the top tech companies are still based in the United States, and their advances will have a massive impact in every area of human activity.

My favorite example is health. America’s investment in this area creates high-paying jobs at universities, biotech companies, and government labs. It leads to new treatments for disease, such as cancer therapies. It helps contain deadly epidemics like Ebola and Zika. And it saves lives in poor countries. Since 1990, the fraction of children who die before age 5 has fallen by more than half. I think that’s the greatest statistic of all time, and the United States deserves a lot of credit for making it happen.

The next few years could bring even more progress. With a little luck we could eradicate polio, a goal that is within reach because of vaccines developed by U.S. scientists. (Polio would be the second disease ever eradicated, after smallpox in 1979 — in which the United States also played an irreplaceable role.) There is also exciting progress on malaria: The number of deaths dropped more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2012, thanks in part to America’s support for breakthrough tools like drugs and bed nets. But to make the most of these opportunities, we need to invest more in basic health research and specific areas like vaccines.

Energy is another great example. American-funded research defines the state of the art in energy production. Early advances in wind and solar technology were developed with federal money. And this research offers a strong return on investment. Between 1978 and 2000, the Department of Energy spent $17.5 billion (in today’s dollars) on research on efficiency and fossil fuels, yielding $41 billion in economic benefits. Yet, until this year, the DOE’s research budget hasn’t seen a real increase since the Reagan administration.

If we step up these investments, we can create new jobs in the energy sector and develop the technologies that will power the world — while also fighting climate change, promoting energy independence, and providing affordable energy for the 1.3 billion poor people who don’t have it today. Some of the more promising areas include making fuel from solar energy, much the way plants do; making nuclear energy safer and more affordable; capture and storing carbon; and creating new ways to store energy that let us make the most of renewables.

There’s a lot of momentum right now on clean energy research. Last year, the leaders of 20 countries, including the United States, committed to double federal investments in this area. Complementing that crucial effort, I helped launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of private investors who will back promising clean-energy companies. The next president will have a chance to accelerate this momentum.

Investing in R&D isn’t about the government picking winners and losers. The markets will do that. It’s about doing what we know works: making limited and targeted investments to lay a foundation for America’s entrepreneurs. This approach has been fundamental to U.S. leadership for decades, and it will become only more important in the years ahead.

By the end of this summer, the political parties will have chosen their leaders and will start looking ahead to the November election. The nominees will lay out their vision for America and their agenda for achieving it. These visions will probably have more differences than similarities. But I hope we can all agree that, no matter how you see America’s future, there will always be an essential role for innovation.

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