The transparency of ‘mandatory’

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The term transparency is thrown around a lot these days in reference to government officials, as in how easy do elected leaders make it for the public to see what they’re doing with tax dollars.

A second use of the term transparency might be that the actions of many of our politicians are so very easy to see through. 

Take Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who plans to introduce the Paid Vacation Act — legislation that would be the first to make paid vacation time a requirement under federal law, according to Politico.

“The bill would require companies with more than 100 employees to offer a week of paid vacation for both full-time and part-time employees after they’ve put in a year on the job,” according to Politico. “Three years after the effective date of the law, those same companies would be required to provide two weeks of paid vacation, and companies with 50 or more employees would have to provide one week.”

Rep. Grayson’s brilliant reasoning: More vacation will stimulate the economy through fewer sick days, better productivity and happier employees.

“There’s a reason why Disney World is the happiest place on Earth: The people who go there are on vacation,” Rep. Grayson was quoted in Politico.

And there’s a reason Rep. Grayson is shilling for mandatory vacation time and Disney: Orlando, the home of Disney, is part of his home district.

The fact is, most employers offer paid vacation, particularly those whose organizations value their employees and want them to stick around. 

For Rep. Grayson to attempt to use the federal government as a cudgel to boost his constituents’ coffers is inane and draconian, and one that’s startlingly easy to see through.

(Hat tip: Cafe Hayek)

Confederacy easy target for pious press

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Nothing seems to get the modern-day journalist riled up like the Confederate States of America.

Nearly 150 years after South Carolina became the first of 11 southern states to secede, journalists and former journalists today are falling all over themselves to take on the Confederacy, whether it’s attacking Confederate monuments, the Confederate flag or, as here, Confederate Memorial Day.

The reasoning for such brave assaults on a cause that ended nearly 15 decades ago are simple: it’s for the good of mankind:

“You have to marvel at the power of the mythmakers for the Confederacy,” according to former Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Keith Graham at blog Like the Dew. “They really have convinced some people, even all these years later, that there was something noble about the Southern cause in the Civil War, even though that cause happens to have been one of the most ignoble imaginable: the right to enslave other human beings.”

Unfortunately, with most of these self-righteous scribes it’s fruitless to try and discuss the myriad causes of the War Between the States, which included federal economic policy such as the Morrill tariff, taxes that were seen as unfairly burdening Southern citizens, States’ rights, expansionism, and, yes, slavery.

But to say the Confederate States of America existed solely to ensure the continuation of slavery is inaccurate.

As historian Thomas DiLorenzo has pointed out, “In 1861, Southern slavery was secure, although not perfectly so. The 1857 Dred Scott decision had just ruled that slavery was constitutional and that the document would have to be amended in order to end slavery. (Abraham) Lincoln announced in his First Inaugural Address that he had no intention to disturb Southern slavery, and that, even if he did, there would be no constitutional basis for his doing so.”

So, while it would be incorrect to say that slavery played no role in the War Between the States, it would equally incorrect to say that the war was waged by Southerns solely for the right to enslave other human beings.

However, attacking the Confederacy is an easy target for liberal journalists and other like-minded folks. After all, it’s easy to take a stand on an issue (especially if one doesn’t make the effort to fully understand it) that was settled nearly a century and a half ago.

This is not unlike the great upswell in civil rights support that’s taken place at many Southern newspapers over the past 30 years.

Today’s modern journalist is completely convinced that had they been of age 45 years ago, he or she would have gladly walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and faced down the tear gas and billy clubs on the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, or spoke truth to power following the events at Orangeburg, SC, in February 1968.

In reality, they would have almost certainly have done just what nearly all their counterparts at Southern newspapers in the 1950s and ’60s did: either ignore the issue or blame them on radical influences.

Right or wrong, we’re all products of the periods we grow up in, which is something these self-proclaimed Gandhis either don’t realize or don’t want to realize.

Historical revisionism to boost one’s own ego is the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty. If you don’t like the Confederacy because some of the folks who wave the battle flag today aren’t as educated as you, don’t speak as well as you or don’t share your same sophisticated views, then just say so.

But don’t use a simplistic interpretation of one of the most complex periods of American history as a soapbox to brag about how enlightened you are.

B-24 pilot remembers fallen comrades

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Jack Oliver of Naples, Fla., piloted 35 missions during World War II. He was one of the fortunate ones – the B-24 Liberator he flew had a couple of rather unflattering nicknames: the Flying Boxcar and, worse, the Flying Coffin.

On this Memorial Day weekend, The Naples Daily News has a nice profile of Oliver, recounting his service during “The Big One.”

Oliver, now 91, lost two of his crew and many of his fellow pilots in the fury of Hitler’s last stand during World War II. He remembers the intimate terror of German fighters streaking by his plane, one “so close I swear I could see the octane rating in German,” Oliver told the paper.

In the story, Oliver recalled his most harrowing mission, over Odertal, Germany, on Dec. 17, 1944:

“Nazi fighters began coming at their group a half hour before they reached their target. A report by Oliver’s engineer gunner, Charles Keller, tersely recounts seeing three B-24s go down.

‘Didn’t see any chutes, but was too busy to watch for them,’ it mourns.

The mission was disastrous; 12 of 28 bombers had been shot down.

‘They didn’t tell me until we arrived back at Toretta. They knew I’d be a little disturbed,’ Oliver says grimly. ‘No — terribly disturbed.’

His voice wavers when he speaks of the deaths of two of his own crewmen, navigator Peter Konapaka and nose gunner John Reiser. Neither died from enemy fire.

Oliver remembers most that he had just given Reiser permission to fly on another pilot’s plane for a final mission — the magic number that would earn Reiser a 30-day leave to go home and see his newborn son. The plane collided with another in a routine maneuver.

‘It was a milk run,’ Oliver says grimly.”

Oliver won the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 3 bronze oak leaf clusters, the European theater, the American theater; World War II victory medal, and the Distinguished Unit Citation with 7 Battle Stars.

Sanford exclaims interest in hockey, salmon

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Wagering between elected officials from different states on the outcome of sporting events has a bread-and-circuses mentality to it, but given the media’s increasing addiction to the superficial, one might as well accept it as part of our political landscape.

However, a recent bet between South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin seems to be even more contrived than usual.

The two Republican leaders have placed a friendly wager on the finals of the Kelly Cup. For the uninitiated, the Kelly Cup goes to the champion of the ECHL, which used to be called the East Coast Hockey League. This year, the South Carolina Stingrays and the Alaska Aces are in the Kelly Cup Finals.

The East Coast Hockey League is roughly equivalent to Double-A minor league baseball, except that it probably gets even less media attention than Double-A minor league baseball.

One can speculate as to why Sanford and Palin decided to place a wager on minor league hockey, for while Palin is a known hockey aficionado, Sanford doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a sports fan and it’s not certain how many minor league hockey games he’s actually been to.

However, one thing appears almost certain: Sanford did not come up with the quotes that appeared in a recent story on the bet.

In a piece on Columbia, SC, television station WIS’s website, Sanford was quoted as saying: “We’re awfully proud of how well the Stingrays have done this year, and we’re excited not only for the opportunity to show off a first-class sports franchise, but for the opportunity to show off the Charleston area as well. But personally, I’m most excited about the king salmon that Sarah is going to be sending my way when the Kelly Cup is decided!”

The last sentence is a dead giveaway that someone other than Sanford crafted the comment, for it’s hard to imagine the SC governor ever using an exclamation point.

State publisher tries to avoid Chapter 11

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Standard & Poor’s on Friday cut its rating on McClatchy Co.  further into junk territory, saying its debt exchange is tantamount to a default because of the newspaper publisher’s distressed financial condition, Reuters reported.

McClatchy, publisher of The State, Charlotte Observer and five other newspapers in the Carolinas, on Thursday proposed exchanging $1.15 billion of outstanding debt for cash and new debt in a bid to stay afloat.

The plan offered some hope that McClatchy will be able to ride out the worst recession since World War II without resorting to Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – a refuge already sought by at least seven U.S. newspaper publishers since December, according to The Associated Press.

If the exchange is successful, “McClatchy would have greater capacity to weather the current downturn over the next several quarters,” S&P said in a statement.

Still, the investors participating in the exchange will take a “substantial discount” in comparison to the original value of their debt, S&P said.

The move by S&P comes a day after Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service downgraded McClatchy, saying they considered the exchange offer a default.

S&P cut McClatchy’s rating to CC from CCC-plus. The rating will be cut to SD, or selective default, when the exchange is completed, S&P said.

S&P considers debt exchanges as “distressed” and counts them as defaults when bondholders receive less than the original value of their debt and the company would likely face a conventional default without the exchange, according to Reuters.

McClatchy shares were trading for around 82 cents a share early Friday afternoon. The company’s 52-week high is $9.31.

Breaking news: Trees are good

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In one of the more gutsier opinion pieces in recent memory, Greenville News columnist Jeanne Brooks takes a brave stand for … trees.

Her Pulitzer Prize contender, titled “Trees do lots of work,” comes in response to the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville removing 14 oaks trees from its parking lot recently to give folks attending last weekend’s outdoor Crawfish Boil audiences an unobstructed view of a stage.

In prose that would put Hemingway to shame, she takes the Bi-Lo Center to task for their actions by highlighting the unseen good trees do. From her piece:

“What we don’t see is the leaves of trees remove pollutants and particulates from the air.

“That work is invisible to us.

“But also absolutely vital, teetering as we are in the Upstate on the edge of violating the Clean Air Act.

“Particulates are the tiny particles of soot from vehicle exhaust and other sources that you breathe in, and they aggravate your lungs and breathing passages.

“Among other things, breathing particulates can provoke episodes of asthma in some people.

“The tiniest particulates have been linked to heart attacks and other cardiac problems by a number of studies.”

Trees are good for cleaning the air? Who would have thunk it?

Fortunately, we have the sophisticated analysis of Brooks to both illuminate us and berate the Bi-Lo Center for their selfishness.

The only thing missing from her piece was how many humans will ultimately die because Bi-Lo choose to cut down those 14 trees.

Sarcasm aside, columnists are certainly free to write about whatever topic they choose, no matter how inane.

But in this period of declining newspaper readership, publications such as The Greenville News might do well to focus their scribes’ attention on matters of slightly more significance than the fact that “trees do lots of work.”

South Financial settlement questioned

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A group of shareholders of The South Financial Group has challenged the proposed settlement of lawsuits between two shareholders, the company, the board of directors and former chief executive Mack Whittle, The Journal Watchdog is reporting.

In a filing May 7 in the Court of Common Pleas in Greenville, the objecting shareholders said they were prevented from being heard in the case because of the lack of timely notice, the publication reported.

“They said the settlement, if approved, would prevent them from ‘bringing an action of a similar nature in the future,’ would negate checks and balances on the board and enrich attorneys at their expense in depleting the value of their shares,” according to The Journal Watchdog.

“They allege that the deal to settle the case ‘is highly suggestive of overcompensation, self-dealing and excessive executive and board benefits, all to the detriment of these stockholders, and all shareholders of the company …'” the publication adds. 

Asking to be heard in objection to the settlement are family members and shareholders who received or inherited stock in TSFG as a consequence of the sale of First National Bank of Pickens County of Easley to TSFG in 1998.They represent more than 800,000 shares, according to The Journal Watchdog.

Representing the most stock from the Easley bank are Richard Jones and his family and James (Jim) and Patricia Grantham of Greenville, it added.

In March, South Financial announced it had reached an agreement in principle to settle suits filed Nov. 7, 2008, by Vernon A. Mercier, and Nov. 26, 2008, by John S. McMullen.

The suits were filed in the weeks after Whittle “stepped down” from South Financial, the company he began in 1986, but not before taking a golden parachute estimated to be worth at least $18 million.

The suits alleged that South Financial’s board “improperly accelerated the retirement of and approved excessive compensation” for Whittle.

Whittle had originally been scheduled to retire by year-end, but that date was moved up to October 27, in order that South Financial might get $347 million in federal bailout money and Whittle would still be able to retain his lucrative buyout. Whittle’s payout would have been in excess of federal guidelines if he’d not left the company before South Financial received the government money.

South Financial lost $569 million in 2008 and saw its stock price fall from $15.67 a share to $4.31 by year end. It closed Thursday at $2.03 a share.