Watching the worthless watchdog

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Former newspaperman Jim Hopkins does an outstanding job of keeping tabs on the evil empire of journalism, aka Gannett Corp., through his Gannett Blog.

Gannett is the largest US newspaper publisher based on circulation and its properties include USAToday, the Greenville (SC) News and WLTX-TV in Columbia, SC.

Long before other media chains began putting profits before journalism, Gannett was gutting franchises, chopping jobs and making a mockery of the established traditions of the Fourth Estate.

Hopkins, however, has been shining a light on the nefarious workings of Gannett since January 2008, much to the displeasure of the chain’s bigwigs, used to doing as they pleased without interference. 

One can just picture the addle-minded corporate bean counters at Gannett clenching the fists in impotent rage as they peruse Hopkins’ reports, unable to quash the flow of bad news his blog uncovers on a daily basis.

One of Hopkins’ secrets is his strikingly strong network of Gannett employees, willing to feed him information and documents, reminiscent of Cold War-era Russians willing to subvert the hated Soviet regime by passing secret information to the outside world.

In this post here, for example, Hopkins does an outstanding job of assessing Gannett’s current and future position, and it ain’t pretty.

The sad thing is, Hopkins’ blog is necessary because Gannett has long made a career of utterly obfuscating any negative news about itself. Bad circulation numbers? Sweep them under the rug. Accused of questionable advertising practices? Bring in the lawyers and have everything sealed. Wholesale employee turnover? Ignore it completely.

The watchdogs need a watchdog and that’s what’s Hopkins is doing, and doing well.

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People unclear on the concept

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Here’s a marketing concept that may not have been thought out completely.

AAA Carolinas is expanding its ad campaign warning drivers of the dangers of distracted driving with …. billboards!

In fairness to AAA Carolinas, the organization is focusing on warning drivers about the possible consequences of driving while using a cell phone or texting, but wouldn’t throwing up a giant billboards that seeks to catch a driver’s eye also prove distracting?

Perhaps the idea is to add more realism, as in, “Hey, look at that dolt over there. He just looked away from the road at one of our billboards, lost control of his car and plunged down a ravine, to a fiery death. Don’t be like him!”

Subtle, yet effective.

Remembering the 1915 Pan-Pacific Expo

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The San Francisco Chronicle has a fascinating collection of photos from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

The Pan-Pacific Expo was a world’s fair held in San Francisco to both highlight both the completion of the Panama Canal and to showcase the city’s recovery from the devastating 1906 earthquake.

For many of the millions of visitors from around the world who attended, the fair represented their first opportunity to see such technological marvels as the airplane.

The fair was constructed on a 635-acre site in San Francisco, along the northern shore now known as the Marina.

Among the exhibits at the Exposition was C. P. Huntington, the first steam locomotive purchased by Southern Pacific Railroad. A telephone line was also established to New York so people across the continent could hear the Pacific Ocean.

The Liberty Bell traveled by train on a nationwide tour to and from Pennsylvania to attend the exposition. After that trip, the Liberty Bell returned to Pennsylvania and would not be moved again.

What we don’t need – more government help

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What is about legislators that when they get together they have to “do something?”

Cafe Hayek has an excellent post that ponders four different provisions – one, two three, four – that individually are each bad in and of themselves, and collectively disastrous.

All are part of the stimulus bill passed by the House Wednesday.

As Russell Roberts puts it so eloquently: “Any one of these would be a bad sign. All four in the same day? As each legislator and Congressional committee and the Fed and the President try to help improve the economy (or bail out a favored constituency) the stress on the whole system grows. Every once in a while I think we can come out of this mess. On a day like today, I start to think we’re going to have a profound economic collapse.”

If Congress wants to do something good for this country, it ought to quietly sit on its hands. If Americans knew the real cost involved when their elected leaders got involved with “fixing things,” they’d gladly pay them to do as little as possible.

Some banks opting out of bailout program

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While the list of banks participating in the federal bailout program continues to grow, a small number have reconsidered, concerned about what they perceive as hidden strings and potential government interference, The Associated Press reports.

About 20 banks so far that applied for or had been approved to receive about $1 billion combined in taxpayer money have reversed course in the past month and refused to take the money, according to The Associated Press.

“The government’s going to own a good portion of these banks,” David Heintzman, president of Stock Yards Bank & Trust in Louisville, Ky., told The AP. Heintzman’s bank recently turned down $43 million in approved bailout money.

In SC, a number of institution’s have received bailout money, including The South Financial Group, SCBT Financial Corp., Congaree Bancshares, Tidelands Bancshares, Security Federal Corp., First Financial Holdings and First Community Corp.

A complete list of institutions that are participating in the US Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program can be found here.

Congaree shares fall 80 percent, to $1

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Apparently, shareholders of Congaree Bancshares didn’t take the news of founder and CEO Hank Ray’s departure as a good sign.

On Thursday, just a little more than a full day after Ray’s resignation from the Cayce, SC, bank company became public, Congaree’s stock fell 80 percent, to $1 a share. In fairness to the company, only 200 shares of stock were listed as being traded on Wednesday.

That’s a precipitous decline from the $10 per share investors paid to buy into the company during its inital offering, in 2006.

Congaree State Bank, like most financial institutions, has had a rough go of it in recent months. For the quarter ended Sept. 30, the most recent available, it lost $430,533, compared with $482,990 for the same period in 2007, according to Securities & Exchange Commission filings.

However, it’s not unusual for new banks to post losses during their first couple years of operation.

Earlier this year, the bank received $3.3 million in federal bailout money.

Ray’s last day with the bank was Jan. 21, but the departure wasn’t announced until Tuesday. No reason was given for the change. Ray was replaced on an interim basis by Charlie Lovering.

Charleston Harbor to be mapped for war wrecks

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One of the nation’s last great unexplored battlefields will soon be a little less mysterious.

The SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina has been awarded a grant from the National Park Service to map the wrecks hidden beneath Charleston Harbor, according to The Charleston Post and Courier.

State archaeologists will use a $28,000 grant, part of the American Battlefield Protection Program, to begin mapping the shipwrecks and torpedoes left behind after the War Between the States.

The information will be used to protect the wrecks from dredging and development, and give historians a more complete scope of the site where the conflict began, a harbor that endured a years-long blockade, the paper reported.

Among ships in the harbor

  • The Keokuk, a 677-ton Union ironclad allegedly buried in the sand off Morris Island;
  • The blockade-runner Mary Bowers, a side-wheel steamer that sank off the Isle of Palms late in the war; and
  • The Patapsco, a Union Monitor-class ironclad, sunk by a Confederate mine in the channel between Forts Sumter and Moultrie in the final months of the war.

Interestingly, the Confederates at one time knew exactly where the Keokuk lay. Working at night over the course of three weeks, they managed to extricate the ship’s dual 15,700-pound Dahlgren guns.

Once ashore, one Dahlgren was mounted at Fort Sumter and later moved to Battery Ramsey at the eastern end of White Point Gardens in Charleston. It was either destroyed somehow or sold as scrap after the city’s evacuation.

The other was mounted at Battery Bee on Sullivan’s Island and was used to guard the harbor until the evacuation. It was eventually abandoned by the Confederates and one day overturned, where it was buried in the sand near the beach.

In 1898, the gun was found by troops stationed at Fort Moultrie and a year later it was mounted on The Battery, where it can be seen today at the corner of East Bay and South Battery.