Why demonizing ‘the fringe’ hurts us all

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One of the downsides of our essentially two-party political system is that it tends to devalue individuality.

People with ideas too far outside the mainstream platform of either major party tend to be viewed somewhat suspiciously (until at some point down the road their ideas are sometimes co-opted, that is).

For all the talk about the Republican and Democratic parties being “Big Tents,” or what have you, both are still pretty rigidly defined organizations that don’t sway too much from the official line. 

And that’s okay; Freedom of Association is a good thing. 

But that does leave a sizable number of folks whose thought process doesn’t quite mesh with either party either uncomfortable grouped with the Dems or GOP, or outside what would be commonly referred to as the “mainstream” – on the fringe.

This political fringe often overlaps with what many in the mainstream might also describe as the societal fringe.

These individuals are outliers, holding views on any number of subjects that are seem radical to larger group as a whole: the guy who keeps a small arsenal of guns, not because he’s plotting a revolution but because he likes guns and worries that some day someone in power may think him untrustworthy of having such weapons; the businesswoman who rides a Harley and thinks it’s time to return to the Gold Standard; the guy who isn’t for or against gay rights per se, but instead simply wishes everyone to be treated equally, et cetera, ad finitum.

The Delaware Libertarian has an illuminating post about said “fringe,” and how it not only makes up a lot more of society than some people want to believe, but also how demonizing the fringe points to something disturbing among the non-fringe that feels the need to devalue those considered outside the mainstream: 

“The Fringe has a very unsavory connotation today; it’s a term used to marginalize and demonize – mostly out of fear rather than vindictiveness, but that doesn’t change the effects of the process.

“People worry about fringe elementsinfiltrating rightwing political groups; just the mention of the word brings out the calls for government surveillance, extra care, politically correct denunciation.

“It has become impossible in these days of 24/7 MSM rectal examinations, YouTube, and blogs for many of us to see those with social and political views way off the beaten paths as … well … people.

“Here’s the thing: I’ve grown up with, lived with, worked with, joked with, even deployed to foreign countries with so many people that were so fringe in so many different ways that it is often the supposed mainstream that worries me more.”

As the Delaware Libertarian points out, most of the folks classified as “fringe” are too busy struggling through their own lives that even if they did secretly dream of something as grandiose as overthrowing the government – which 99.9 percent don’t – they wouldn’t wouldn’t have the time, energy or resources to do so. 

His view is that there are bigger threats to each of us than those on the fringe:

“The Fringe doesn’t scare me, but I will tell you what does. I also spend hours and hours with suited bureaucrats who raise perfectly manicured children, give to the United Way, and routinely screw over the people they are supposed to be helping/educating/supervising.

“The little Eichmanns scare me…”

“The problem with Adolf Eichmann, as Hannah Arendt discovered in Jerusalem, is not that the bureaucrat who administered the Holocaust in any way belonged to The Fringe, but that he was terrifyingly banal, disturbingly normal.”

The fact is, this country was built by “the fringe,” and it’s one of the the things that’s made it unique for 230-plus years.

The folks in power today certainly have no obligation to pay heed to every “fringe” idea that comes down the road, nor are they required to pay attention to people who see the world differently than they do.

But they do themselves and the country no favors by demonizing those that see things differently than the majority.

(Hat tip: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal)

South Financial coy on $100 million HQ

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Tucked inside the abomination that The Greenville News tried to pass off as a story on The South Financial Group’s recent annual meeting was this nugget: Chief Executive Lynn Harton has made a preliminary recommendation to company directors about whether South Financial will retain or sell the $100 million corporate campus it’s developing along Interstate 85.

Harton declined to reveal his decision to shareholders during the company’s annual meeting, held week in Greenville, and The Greenville News’ report didn’t say when Harton would make the company’s intentions known.

In January, Harton, told investors during a conference call that he saw three options for the corporate campus: occupying it as planned; occupying part of the space and leasing the rest; or selling the property.

South Financial began drawing up plans for its corporate campus in 2005, to serve as the primary headquarters for its banking operations.

According to information filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, South Financial “had invested approximately $75 million in the project (which is included in premises and equipment on the consolidated balance sheet as construction in progress) and had entered into additional contractual commitments of approximately $13 million,” as of March 31, 2009.

Three years ago, The Greenville News practically did handstands when it revealed details of the project, writing that it could initially bring 600 well-paying jobs and $100 million in investment, according to a March 12, 2006 story.

“The decision will carry enormous consequences for the local economy, carrying the potential of thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions of investment dollars,” the paper wrote.

The News said at the time that, “The publicly traded company is evaluating inducement packages. The Greenville County Council voted last week to provide $12 million in incentives. The City Council approved $3 million in tax breaks and $2.75 million for a new road and other infrastructure.”

“South Financial has been one of the state’s brightest business stars since (Mack) Whittle and a group of mostly local investors started the company with one Carolina First branch, a dozen employees and $19 million in total assets in 1986,” the paper added.

Of course, that star has dimmed considerably in the past year, when the banking industry, and South Financial, tanked hard.

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s what’s taken place in the past year or so:

  • Whittle figured it was time to get while the getting was good and took a lucrative golden parachute worth at least $12 million, even though the company was bleeding hundreds of millions in losses and its stock was going down the toilet;
  • Whittle “retired” earlier than he’d originally planned so that South Financial could get in on $347 million in federal bailout money, funds the company might not have been eligible for if he’d gotten the rich payout after the application had been received;
  • As part of a settlement involving a pair of shareholder lawsuits related to Whittle’s golden parachute, South Financial was forced to enact significant corporate governance reforms and Whittle had to resign from the company’s board;
  • Its stock price fell from $15.67 a share to $4.31. It’s traded below $1 this year, although it closed Friday at $2.19.
  • South Financial lost $569 million in 2008, along with another $90 million during the first quarter of 2009.

One suspects that given South Financial’s new focus on cost efficiency, the corporate campus may be a luxury it can no longer afford. But with the corporate real estate market in its current condition, the company isn’t exactly sitting in the catbird’s seat when it comes to bargaining power.

Of course, South Financial has already got a heck of a lot of money already plowed into the project, so the board may feel they’re damned if they hold onto it, and damned if they decide to go ahead and sell it.

But either way, that decision would probably be a little easier if they hadn’t let Whittle walk away with all those millions of dollars.

Trying to rebuild struggling Haiti

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If you were to compile a list of the world’s most unenviable jobs, serving as prime minister of Haiti would probably rank up there with handling public relations for Osama bin Laden and serving as a border guard on the Israeli West Bank.

It’s difficult to imagine a more foresaken country in the Western hemisphere than Haiti. As The Wall Street Journal described it, it’s “not a run-of-the-mill, low-income nation but one so destitute that last year the Associated Press reported that children were being fed cookies made of “dried yellow dirt” to relieve their hunger.”

After decades of oppression by dictators on both sides of the political spectrum, Haiti is the poorest of the poor, even in a region beset by poverty and lack of infrastructure.

“There are few roads connecting markets; electricity and potable water are luxuries; gang violence, corruption and drug trafficking have overwhelmed the justice system and crimes go unpunished,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “To make matters worse, remittances from the U.S. have been hard hit by recession.”

Yet, the Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady seems to hold hope that new Haitian Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis may be cut from a different cloth than her predecessors.

“Last month, Ms. Pierre-Louis joined Journal editors for lunch in New York to explain her government’s priorities. I expected to hear a plea for foreign aid. But the PM surprised me by talking about the sanctity of contracts, the importance of attracting investment, and the woes caused by a broken judiciary.”

While Pierre-Louis realizes the foreign aid is necessary if Haiti is going to get back on its feet, she also understands that money won’t come if there’s no confidence that things haven’t changed.

That’s why she’s stressed public safety and attempted to confront what O’Grady terms “drug-trade corruption in the judiciary and politics.”

Rebuilding Haiti is a tough row to hoe to be sure, but it certainly beats the alternative. Whether it happens remains to be seen.