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Friday
Apr072017

Gorsuch Confirmed to Supreme Court

The U.S. Senate approved Colorado Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, maintaining a conservative majority there and handing President Donald Trump the biggest victory of his term thus far.

Gorsuch's conformation came after bitter partisan warfare in the Senate. Democrats filibustered his nomination, citing previous rulings they did not like, but the subtext went deeper than judicial philosophy. Democrats were furious Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the seat left empty by the death of Judge Antonin Scalia last February, was never granted a hearing by Republicans.

After it became clear Gorsuch would not win enough Democratic votes to pass the traditional 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Republicans used the so-called "nuclear option" and gutted longstanding Senate rules for Supreme Court nominees, clearing the way for a simple majority to approve his nomination.

Gorsuch, 49, will become the 113th Supreme Court justice in the nation's history and his ascension could have an immediate impact on several high-profile cases. Since Scalia's death, the court had been ideologically deadlocked, with four liberal justices and four conservatives.

Friday
Apr072017

Haley Tells Russians to "Act Responsibly"

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley called on Russia to "act responsibly" and drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a day after the United States launched a missile attack in response to Syria's use of chemical bombs on civilians.

The stepped-up diplomatic push came after the first major U.S. military action against Assad since the start of the bloody six-year civil war, during which his government has been propped up by Russian and Iranian military and financial aid.

"The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria," Haley said during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting Friday.

The meeting happened in open session after Haley rejected a request made on Russia's behalf by Bolivia to hold the meeting behind closed doors.

"The United States, as president of the [Security Council] this month, decided the session would be held in the open," Haley said in a statement. "Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full view of the public, for all the world to hear."

Friday
Apr072017

Parts of Anderson County Still Dealing with Severe Drought

While parts of South Carolina are cleaning up from severe storms and flooding this week, most of the northern part of the state, including northermost Anderson County, continues to deal with drought.

A few weeks of rain haven't been enough to make up for months of dry weather, according to the state Drought Response Committee, which met Thursday.

The worst problems are in the mountains, where the committee has Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties in a severe drought.

See S.C. Drought Monitor Here

"You have to understand that we have been very dry for a very long time, and wet for a short period of time," committee member Dennis Chastain said.

Reservoirs in the area are at levels typically seen at the end of a hot, dry summer and that is concerning with summer still two months away, Chastain said.

While Walhalla has had an inch above normal rainfall in the past month, the same Oconee County weather station is more than 20 inches below normal rainfall for the past year, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center.

Agriculture officials report soil moisture levels are below average, which is affecting planting.

And the Forestry Commission reported 70 percent more wildfires than the average March across South Carolina — another indication of how dry the weather has been.

Friday
Apr072017

Some Andersonians Still Without Power after Storm

Dozens of people in Anderson County were still without power for a second day Friday after severe weather and tornadoes battered the area.

Duke Energy was reporting 77 lingering outages Friday morning. The outages were scattered in the Honea Path and Craytonville areas, and along Due West Highway near Highway 28.

According to Duke Energy’s online outage map, the estimated restoration time for all Anderson County customers is Friday at 7 p.m.

The National Weather Service confirmed Thursday that two EF-0 tornadoes struck parts of Anderson County, in the Honea Path and Antreville areas.

Storm damage experts said wind speeds likely reached 85 miles per hour in the area, sending trees crashing down, sometimes into houses and onto power lines.

People living in the areas were still cleaning up the debris on Friday morning, some trees were still blocking roads, and deactivates power lines were still on the ground.

The Anderson County tornadoes, which whirled through the area late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, marked six confirmed tornadoes in the Upstate since Monday.

MORE: National Weather Service confirms 2 tornadoes in Anderson Co.

Friday
Apr072017

Fox Networks Threaten Charter Blackout of Channels

From Variety Reports

Fox Networks Group is preparing to warn customers of a possible blackout of its channels on Charter Communications systems this weekend as talks between the two companies on a new carriage agreement have stalled.

Sources tell Variety that Fox will begin running an ad campaign Thursday evening informing Charter’s Spectrum customers that they may lose access to Fox cable channels — including FX, National Geographic, and Fox Sports — as soon as this weekend.

“Fox and Charter Spectrum have an agreement to carry the Fox networks that Charter has chosen to ignore,” a Fox spokesperson said in a statement. “We are disappointed that despite our best efforts over many months to resolve the situation without disruption, Charter’s 16 million subscribers may lose access to a wide variety of programming, including telecasts of the St. Louis Cardinals and Blues, Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cincinnati Reds and many other MLB, NBA and NHL teams on Fox Regional Sports Networks, FX’s hit dramas ‘The Americans’ and ‘Feud,’ and National Geographic.” 

The dispute rises from Charter’s acquisition last year of Time Warner Cable. Beginning in May, when the acquisition was finalized, Charter began paying affiliate fees according to Time Warner Cable carriage contracts, which generally assigned a more favorable rate for the distributor. That move is the subject of lawsuits involving networks including Univision, Showtime, and Fox News, whose parent companies claim that the Charter contracts should remain in effect. Fox Networks’ deal with Time Warner expired March 31. The two companies have been in sporadic negotiations on a compromise deal for the last eight months.

But with no deal in place besides the legacy Charter agreement, Fox claims that Charter is in breach. The company is threatening to pull its channels Friday night.

Friday
Apr072017

S.C. to Get $79 Million from Feds for Road Repairs

South Carolina is getting significant funding for road repairs from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday approved more than $768 million for emergency road repairs in 40 states.to 

South Carolina is number three on the list, set to receive $79 million to help repair damage caused by Hurricane Matthew and other severe weather events in recent years.

At $124 million, Colorado topped the list among states to be reimbursed, getting money for flood damage.

California is second on the list at more than $105 million for a variety of storm, rain, floods and fire events over the last three years.

Thursday
Apr062017

Senate Budget has Less Money for Public Schools

The South Carolina Senate's budget plan cuts in half what the House proposed spending to upgrade K-12 schools but would send more money to colleges.

The Senate passed its roughly $8 billion spending plan for state taxes Thursday.

The State newspaper reports (http://bit.ly/2oOEQqe ) the budget would distribute $46 million to high-poverty districts to help refurbish dilapidated schools. The House plan passed last month would provide $100 million.

Legislators are under court order to improve opportunities for students in poor, rural districts. Issues cited in the state Supreme Court's 2014 ruling included decrepit buildings.

The Senate plan provides public colleges an additional $16 million. The House version gave colleges no new funding.

Other differences include $14 million the Senate allots for new school buses — $5 million more than the House.

Thursday
Apr062017

S.C. Lawmakers Leave for Spring Break

Both chambers of the South Carolina Legislature are taking a break the week before Easter.

The House and Senate started their spring break when they adjourned Thursday.

When lawmakers return April 18, just 12 legislative days will remain in this year's regular session. The General Assembly generally meets Tuesday through Thursday.

Their to-do list will include wrapping up work on the state budget that takes effect July 1.

The session began in January with legislators pledging to find a long-term solution to fix South Carolina's highways. But a bill that would raise fees and increase the state's 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax is again stuck in the Senate.

A law passed last year shortened the session by three weeks, so that it's scheduled to end the second Thursday in May.

Thursday
Apr062017

"Mr. Warmth," Don Rickles, Dead at 90

Don Rickles, the acidic stand-up comic who became world-famous not by telling jokes but by insulting his audience, died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 90.

The cause was kidney failure, said a spokesman, Paul Shefrin.

For more than half a century, on nightclub stages, in concert halls and on television, Mr. Rickles made outrageously derisive comments about people’s looks, their ethnicity, their spouses, their sexual orientation, their jobs or anything else he could think of. He didn’t discriminate: His incendiary unpleasantries were aimed at the biggest stars in show business (Frank Sinatra was a favorite target) and at ordinary paying customers.

His rise to national prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s roughly coincided with the success of “All in the Family,” the groundbreaking situation comedy whose protagonist, Archie Bunker, was an outspoken bigot. Mr. Rickles’s humor was similarly transgressive. But he went further than Archie Bunker, and while Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie, was speaking words someone else had written — and was invariably the butt of the joke — Mr. Rickles, whose targets included his fellow Jews, never needed a script and was always in charge.

One night, on learning that some members of his audience were German, he said, “Forty million Jews in this country, and I got four Nazis sitting here in front waiting for the rally to start.” He said that America needed Italians “to keep the cops busy” and blacks “so we can have cotton in the drugstore,” and that “Asians are nice people, but they burn a lot of shirts.” He might ask a man in the audience, “Is that your wife?” and, when the man answered yes, respond: “Oh, well. Keep your chin up.

Recalling the first time he saw Mr. Rickles perform, Mr. Poitier said: “He was explosive. He was impactful. He was funny. I mean, outrageously funny.”

Mr. Rickles got his first break, the story goes, when Sinatra and some of his friends came to see him perform in 1957 — in Hollywood, according to most sources, although Mr. Rickles said it was in Miami. “Make yourself at home, Frank,” Mr. Rickles said to Sinatra, whom he had never met. “Hit somebody.” Sinatra laughed so hard, he fell out of his seat.

Mr. Rickles was soon being championed by Sinatra, Dean Martin and the other members of the show business circle known as the Rat Pack. Steady work in Las Vegas followed. But he was hardly an overnight success: He spent a decade in the comedy trenches before he broke through to a national audience.

In 1965, he made the first of numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show,” treating Johnny Carson with his trademark disdain to the audience’s (and Carson’s) delight. He also became a regular on Dean Martin’s televised roasts, where no celebrity was safe from his onslaughts. (“What’s Bob Hope doing here? Is the war over?”)

Mr. Rickles’s wife, who he said “likes to lie in bed, signaling ships with her jewelry,” was not immune to his attacks. Neither was his mother, Etta, whom he referred to as “the Jewish Patton.” But off the stage, he didn’t hesitate to express his gratitude to his mother for unflaggingly believing in his talent, even when he himself wasn’t so sure.

“She had a tremendous drive,” he recalled in “Mr. Warmth.” “Drove me crazy. But she was like the driving force for me.”

He shared an apartment with his mother and did not marry until he was almost 40. After marrying Barbara Sklar in 1965, he saw to it that his mother had the apartment next door. His wife survives him, as do a daughter, Mindy Mann, and two grandchildren. Mr. Rickles’s son, Lawrence, died in 2011.

Donald Jay Rickles was born in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens on May 8, 1926, to Max Rickles, an insurance salesman, and the former Etta Feldman. During World War II, he honed his comedic skills while serving in the Navy. (“On the ship that I went over to the Philippines,” he told The New York Times in 2015, “out of 300 men I was the class comedian.”) After being discharged, he followed his father into the insurance business, but when he had trouble getting his customers to sign on the dotted line, decided to try acting.

He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, an experience that he later said gave him a greater sense of himself. But he found it difficult to get acting jobs and turned to stand-up comedy.

For a while, he pursued acting and comedy simultaneously. He did his stand-up act at Catskills resorts and in strip clubs, and his movie career got off to an auspicious start with a small part in the 1958 submarine drama “Run Silent, Run Deep,” starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. But the bulk of his film work in the 1960s was in low-budget beach movies: “Bikini Beach,” “Muscle Beach Party” and “Pajama Party,” all in 1964, and “Beach Blanket Bingo” in 1965.

By that time, his comedy career had begun gathering momentum. Focusing less on prepared material and more on interaction with his audience, he had found his voice. He was not the first insult comedian — and in fact an earlier master of the comic insult, Jack E. Leonard, was known to complain that Mr. Rickles’s act was too similar to his — but he soon became far and away the most successful.

Bookings in the late 1950s at the Slate Brothers nightclub in Hollywood and the lounge of the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas spread the word. During his Slate Brothers engagement, Carl Reiner recalled in “Mr. Warmth,” the biggest names in show business felt that “if they hadn’t been insulted by Rickles, they weren’t with it.”

His appearances insulting celebrities on the Dean Martin roasts and his sparring matches with Carson cemented Mr. Rickles’s reputation, but his unscripted brand of humor proved an uneasy fit for weekly television. A variety show in 1968 and a situation comedy in 1972, both called “The Don Rickles Show,” were short-lived, as was “Daddy Dearest,” a 1993 sitcom in which he and the comedian Richard Lewis played father and son. The closest thing to a hit show he had was “CPO Sharkey,” a Navy comedy, which aired from 1976 to 1978.

Critics were often not sure what to make of Mr. Rickles. John J. O’Connor of The Times wrote in 1972 that for some his humor “will always remain tasteless,” while for others “it has its delicious moments of madness.” Tom Shales of The Washington Post, 26 years later, was more enthusiastic, praising him as “mythic, timeless, fearless — endowed by the gods with some absurd miraculous gift.”

No critic, however thoughtful, could quite explain Mr. Rickles’s durability in show business, given that until the end of his career he was peppering his act with slurs and stereotypes long out of favor. And yet he not only got away with it, but he also flourished.

His own theory was that he was being rewarded for saying things others wanted to say but couldn’t. “I’m the guy at the Christmas party,” he said more than once, “who makes fun of the boss on Friday night and still has his job on Monday morning.”

Although Mr. Rickles sometimes expressed regret that he did not have more of a career as an actor, he did enjoy unexpected cinematic success late in life. In 1995, Martin Scorsese cast him in “Casino,” with Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, and that same year he found a new audience as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the hugely successful animated feature “Toy Story,” a role he reprised in its sequels. “Toy Story 4” is scheduled for release in 2019, but it is not known whether Mr. Rickles had done any recording for it before his death. In 2011, he was the voice of a frog in the movie “Zookeeper” and played the long-lost husband of Betty White’s character on the sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”

In 2007, Mr. Rickles published a loosely structured memoir, “Rickles’ Book,” and was the subject of Mr. Landis’s documentary, shown on HBO, which was built around a performance at the Stardust Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas shortly before it was torn down.

In 2014, he was the subject of an all-star tribute (inevitably, it turned out to be more like a roast) broadcast on the Spike cable channel. That show included appearances by David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and Bob Newhart, whose soft-spoken style of comedy could not be further removed from Mr. Rickles’s, but who he often said was his closest friend in show business.

Health problems inevitably slowed Mr. Rickles down, but even after a leg infection in 2014 affected his ability to walk, he continued performing, making occasional concert and television appearances. In May 2015, he was one of the last guests on “Late Show With David Letterman.”

As recently as 2007, the year he turned 81, Mr. Rickles had been working, by his count, about 75 nights a year.

“The only way I would stop is if my health goes, God forbid, or the audience isn’t with me anymore,” he told The Times that year. “Besides, I got to keep going. My manager told me he has to put his kid through college. His kid is 10 years old.” 

Thursday
Apr062017

S.C. House Sends Open Carry Bill to Senate

The House has approved legislation allowing adults to openly carry a handgun in South Carolina without a permit.

Thursday's vote sent the bill to the Senate, where similar proposals have died.

This year's bill goes further by allowing people to carry their handgun openly, rather than concealed. It maintains state law on where guns are banned, such as schools.

Its Republican supporters argue the government shouldn't require a permit for a constitutional right.

GOP Rep. Phil Lowe of Florence says whether people can shoot accurately should not factor into their ability to defend themselves.

Republican opponents included Clemson Rep. Gary Clary, a retired judge, who called it a "bad bill."

Law enforcement officials have long opposed the idea of letting people carry a gun in public without training.

Thursday
Apr062017

Gowdy Joins Group Replacing Nunes in Russia Probe

Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Thursday that he is temporarily recusing himself from his panel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. Nunes has been embroiled in controversy since holding press conferences on Capitol Hill and at the White House last month to disclose that members of Donald Trump's transition team were included in intelligence officials' "incidental collection" of foreign surveillance.

Notably, he held the press conferences shortly after FBI Director James Comey confirmed his department is investigating the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia and said he did not have evidence to support Trump's tweet that President Barack Obama had wiretapped him. According to The New York Times, two White House officials provided the congressman with the intelligence reports he cited.

Nunes said in a statement Thursday that he made his decision to step down in light of "left-wing activist groups" filing complaints against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics, dismissing the claims as "entirely false and politically motivated." Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, along with GOP Reps. Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney, will assume leadership from Nunes, who will remain as House Intelligence Committee chairman.

Thursday
Apr062017

Study: Smoking Causes 1 in 10 Deaths Worldwide

One in 10 deaths around the world is caused by smoking, according to a major new study that shows the tobacco epidemic is far from over and that the threat to lives is spreading across the globe.

There were nearly one billion smokers in 2015, in spite of tobacco control policies having been adopted by many countries. That number is expected to rise as the world’s population expands. One in every four men is a smoker and one in 20 women. Their lives are likely to be cut short – smoking is the second biggest risk factor for early death and disability after high blood pressure.

The researchers found there were 6.4m deaths attributed to smoking in 2015, of which half were in just four populous countries – China, India, USA, and Russia.

Major efforts to control tobacco have paid off, according to the study published by the Lancet medical journal. A World Health Organisation treaty in 2005 ratified by 180 countries recommends measures including smoking bans in public places, high taxes in cigarettes and curbs on advertising and marketing.

Between 1990 and 2015, smoking prevalence dropped from 35% to 25% among men and 8% to 5% among women. High income countries and Latin America – especially Brazil which brought in tough curbs on tobacco – achieved the biggest drops in numbers of smokers.

But many countries have made marginal progress since the treaty was agreed, say the authors of the study from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the US. And although far more men smoke than women, there have been bigger reductions in the proportions of men smoking also, with minimal changes among women.

Senior author Dr Emmanuela Gakidou said there were 933m daily smokers in 2015, which she called “a very shocking number”. The paper focused only on those who smoke every day. “The toll of tobacco is likely to be much larger if we include occasional smokers and former smokers and people who use other tobacco products like smokeless tobacco. This is on the low end of how important tobacco is,” she told the Guardian.

There is much more that needs to be done, she said. “There is a widespread notion that the war on tobacco has been won but I think our evidence shows that we need renewed and sustained efforts because the toll of smoking in 2015 is much larger than most people would think, so we absolutely have a lot more to do. We need new and improved strategies to do it and a lot of effort and political will.”

Traditionally there have been far fewer women smoking around the world than men, but it was a huge problem for both, she said.

“There are some really worrisome findings – for example in Russia female smoking has increased in the last 25 years significantly. There are also some western European countries where about one in three women are smoking. So it is true globally that a lot fewer women smoke than men but there are some countries where it is a big problem for women,” she said.

Dr Kelly Henning of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is committed to tobacco control and co-funded the study with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “I think the study highlights the fact that the work is not finished on tobacco. The good news is the decline in daily smoking among men and women ... however there are still many smokers in the world and there is still a lot of work to do. I think we have to keep our eye on the issue and really do more.”

Countries with some of the highest death tolls such as China and Indonesia “really don’t need those health problems - they have so many other issues they are trying to address. But tobacco control is critically important in those places,” she said.

“China has more than a million deaths a year from smoking related diseases and China is only beginning to see the effects of their high male smoking rate. That is only one instance of what is expected to become an extremely major epidemic,” she said.

Writing in a linked comment, Professor John Britton from the University of Nottingham said: “Responsibility for this global health disaster lies mainly with the transnational tobacco companies, which clearly hold the value of human life in very different regard to most of the rest of humanity.” British American Tobacco, for instance, sold 665bn cigarettes in 2015 and made a £5.2bn profit.

“Today, the smoking epidemic is being exported from the rich world to low-income and middle-income countries, slipping under the radar while apparently more immediate priorities occupy and absorb scarce available human and financial resources,” he writes. “The epidemic of tobacco deaths will progress inexorably throughout the world until and unless tobacco control is recognised as an immediate priority for development, investment, and research.”

Wednesday
Apr052017

Gallup Poll: Most Americans Support Obamacare

A Gallup poll shows 55 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which represents a 13 percent increase from five months ago and the first time a majority of Americans approve of former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.

The poll comes as Republicans engage in efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. The GOP's most recent effort -- the American Health Care Act -- failed in late March after House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled the House vote on the bill when it became clear it would not pass a House vote.

"Republicans, Democrats and independents are all more likely to approve of the ACA now than in November, a few days after Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election left Republicans in control of the legislative and executive branches," Gallup wrote in a statement. "Independents have led the way in this shift toward approval, increasing by 17 percentage points compared with 10-point changes for both Republicans and Democrats."

When Gallup first asked Americans whether they approved of the ACA in 2012, 48 percent said they approved while 45 percent said they disapproved. The ACA's lowest approval was in late 2014, when 37 percent approved and 56 percent disapproved.

Though a majority of Americans approve the ACA, 26 percent want to maintain the legislation as it stands. About 40 percent of Americans want to keep the law in place but make significant changes, whereas 30 percent want to repeal and replace the ACA.

Forty-four percent of Democrats want to keep the ACA largely as it is while 47 percent of Democrats want to make significant changes. Sixty percent of Republicans want to repeal and replace the ACA.