... IRREVERENCE, INSTITUTIONALIZED ...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Sanford to Receive Taxpayer Watchdog Endorsement

Incumbent Republican Governor Mark Sanford is set to receive another big endorsement this week, this time from National Taxpayer Watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste.

Sanford, who was endorsed earlier this month by the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, will receive the CAGW endorsement this Wednesday, according to a source helping organize the announcement who spoke with FITS last week on condition of anonymity.

CAGW is one of the nation's top fiscal conservative advocacy groups, and three times rated Sanford #1 in the entire U.S. Congress for his votes to lower taxes and reduce government spending ('95, '97 and '99).

CAGW has frequently praised Sanford since his election as governor in 2002, and has even gone so far as to criticize big spenders in the S.C. Republican ranks who oppose his brand of fiscal conservatism.

In June 2004, CAGW named the entire South Carolina General Assembly as its "Porker of the Month" following its override of nearly all of the governor's budget vetoes.

That was the same year Sanford infuriated legislators (but endeared himself to the public) by carrying two live piglets into the State House to protest the General Assembly's wasteful pork barrel spending.

It's a big week for Sanford. In addition to the CAGW endorsement, he'll be hosting the nation's governors this weekend in Charleston at the annual meeting of the National Governor's Association.

Stay tuned to FITS for more breaking political news ...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Heard in the Echo Chamber - Laffer Gets Last Laugh

Who is this man? And more importantly, what's up with his curve?

Well, it's no secret that we FITS gals get all hot and bothered at the mere mention of Keynesian economics or supply-side theory -particularly when accompanied by a warm bubble bath, a bottle of Kendall Jackson and the soothing sounds of Jack Johnson playing softly in the background.

Hmmmm. Sounds like a perfect Sunday night to us ...

And yes, we know that former Reagan economic advisor and Keynes' disciple Arthur B. Laffer is sixty-six years old, happily married and probably dyes his hair more often than Glenn McConnell, but there's just something inherently sexy about a man who, for a time at least, succeeded in convincing America that it's excessively high tax rates were actually costing us revenue.

That, and we just like the way he says "elasticity."

Anyway, Arthur's big theory was called the Laffer Curve, and its basic premise is this: When tax rates - particularly marginal income tax rates - are too high, you can actually create additional tax revenue by cutting them.

How, you may ask?

Well, cutting taxes means business can grow, expand and create jobs, while at the same time allowing consumers to spend more of their own money on the products and services that businesses offer. Growth spawns additional growth, which feeds government coffers and allows us to fund all the do-gooder social programs liberals are so fond of.

Of course, in addition to fueling growth in tax revenue, prosperity also helps reduce the number of people who rely on those social programs to begin with.

Sound like common sense to you? Of course it does.

It is common sense, which is why Dr. Laffer and his curve are routinely dismissed by simple-minded, status quo politicians (Bobby Harrell, Dan Cooper, Hugh Leatherman, Tommy Moore, etc.) who, like Karl Marx, would rather put the excess money our economy generates into more growth-draining, dependency-breeding, government-funded socialism.

But Laffer's getting the last laugh lately, at least among those who actually care about looking at hard data as opposed to swallowing the decades-old talking points proferred by the education lobby and other blind backers of big government.

Maybe you recall FITS referring you recently to New Mexico, where Democratic Governor Bill Richardson's supply-side income tax cut (currently in its third year of implementation) has resulted in soaring, double-digit income tax revenue growth, fueling an economic renaissance in that state.

Well now we've got some numbers from right here in South Cackilacky that we're sure Mr. Laffer would be pleased to see.

Turns out Gov. Mark Sanford's small business income tax cut - you know, the one he settled for when Tommy Moore, Hugh Leatherman, Jakie Knotts, Luke Rankin and other big spenders in the State Senate wouldn't pass a real economic stimulus package - is having precisely the same positive effect on our state's coffers.

Signed into law in early 2005, Sanford's small business tax cut has resulted in a twenty-one percent increase - that's right, a twenty-one percent increase - in small business revenue this fiscal year. Individual income tax revenues, comparatively, are up 7.7% and our sales tax revenues are up 7.9%.

As a result of these surging revenue numbers, the BEA recently added another $100 million on top of our state's already rosy revenue report, money the governor is wisely urging be refunded back to the taxpayers in the form of - you guessed it - income tax cuts.

The small business income tax cut remains to this day the lone example of an otherwise recalcitrant and backward General Assembly actually stopping to think for a few seconds, agreeing to put pork aside and trusting the governor's supply-side wisdom and handy-dandy charts and graphs.

Given the data now available, wouldn't it be common sense to add a little more fuel to our state's economic engine right about now? Particularly when our unemployment rate still ranks second in the nation? Shouldn't we pass the broader income tax cut the governor's been asking for these past four years and engage the economic recovery that's staring us in the face?

Democrats in Oklahoma and Rhode Island have recently done just that, following New Mexico's lead and injecting their surplus revenue back into the economy. Unfortunately, Republicans here can't seem to run out of new reasons to spend your money - and as a result have grown government by 22% in just two years.

Laffer's going to be laughing someplace, people. It might as well be here.

WARTHEN HOUSE RULES

As if his incessant whining in support of the endless expansion of nanny-state government wasn't enough, now Brad Warthen wants to be your daddy ... in the blogosphere, anyway.

The State's editorial page editor devoted his Sunday column today to the lack of civility presently residing in South Carolina's little corner of Blogworld, and for reasons surpassing understanding somehow neglected to mention us here at FITS.

According to Warthen, nasty anonymous posts are the scourge of the new medium, and their persistent vitriol renders said medium "unsafe" for many readers.

By now you've no doubt realized we post just about anything you want to say here, even highly pernicious comments about members of our own staff. Sic Willie is usually the most frequent target, but one particular waste of sperm and eggs (to borrow an insult from the late Kurt Cobain) even called sweet little Heather S. an "airhead" last week.

So why do we allow all these posts? Why do we let these petty people say pretty much whatever the hell they want?

Because in the spirit of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, we believe in the marketplace of ideas, civil or not.

Truth is its own virtue, and it has a way of sooner or later rising to the top on the strength of its own merits. Stupidity, on the other hand, will always sink under its own crass, self-demeaning weight.

We don't need censorship to make us smarter, we just have to want to be smarter ourselves.

CHILLIN' AT 'DA NGA

The FITS gals will get an up-close-and-personal look later this week at a number of potential Presidential candidates, all of whom will be in town for the National Governor's Association (NGA) Annual Meeting in Charleston, S.C.

NGA Chairman Gov. Mike Huckabee (Arkansas), Gov. George Pataki (New York) and Gov. Mitt Romney (Taxachusetts) will all be there, among others, so keep your browsers pointed right here for what we're sure will be a week of "good goobernatorial scoop."

BAAAACKWARDS BANDITO

Lee Bandy's Sunday column exposing the extreme wear apparent on the SCGOP's "tax-and-spend liberal" branding policy was right on the money, but "Bandito" missed the boat completely in singling out GOP Treasurer nominee Thomas Ravenel as one of the offending parties.

Ravenel has definitely landed some solid, issues-based jabs against incumbent Democrat Grady "Grandpa Simpson" Patterson, but they've all been specifically focused on his record of managing (or rather, mismanaging) our state's investment portfolio or his statutory failure to effectively communicate between our state's leaders and credit rating agencies in New York.

On the other hand, Patterson's campaign (now that Trav Robertson has quit campaigning on our dime from his perch in the Treasurer's Office, anyway) has repeatedly attacked Ravenel for - gasp - being single and - gasp, again - entertaining the possibility of a political future beyond the office he's currently seeking.

The bozos managing the campaigns of Ralph Norman and, regrettably, Mark Sanford are clearly the ones deserving of Bandito's thinly-disguised scorn on this front, not T-Rav, who to his credit is sticking to the issues and handling the attacks that have come his way with discipline and class.

Until next week ... be heard.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Attention, Do-Gooders: Your Help is Needed

We FITS gals find it pretty difficult - if not impossible - to unglue ourselves from the sofa on the weekend for anything, let alone "giving a little back for the greater good," but this Saturday night we're making an exception.

Why? Because we like kids, because Leukemia is the #1 killer of kids in our country, and because some good local folks right here in South Carolina are teaming up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to raise money and awareness in their ongoing fight against this disease.

Saturday, July 29, the local Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is holding a silent auction from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. at the Garden Bistro - a great little Sandwich Shop/hangout in the Vista in downtown Columbia (right next to the Art Bar on Park Street right off Gervais).

In addition to the auction, which will include prizes from dozens of local merchants (including an adorable Beagle puppy that Heather S. has her eye on), there will be food, beverages and music from the Black Bottom Biscuits, tunes you can really sink your teeth into!

A tax deductible $20 donation is requested, which is less than you'd probably spend on your bar tabs anyway, folks, and besides - all of that money goes directly to fund research, patient services, public and professional education and marrow donor registry to help combat Leukemia and Lymphoma.

For more information on tomorrow's event, contact Ed Schafer (803-609-5961 or ejschafer@hotmail.com) or Anna Jacobs (803-682-1529 or ajacobs0271@yahoo.com) here in Columbia.

We look forward to seeing all of our loyal readers there! We may even decide to chip in something REALLY special and auction off a date with our own infamous Sic Willie!!!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

FITS Exclusive - The T-Rav Interview

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of exclusive FITS' interviews ... stay tuned for additional one-on-ones throughout Decision 2006)

FITS’ girl Heather S. had the rare opportunity earlier this week to conduct a telephone interview with Thomas Ravenel, a.k.a. T-Rav, the GOP nominee for State Treasurer and the undisputed hottest man in S.C. Politics (sorry, Sanford).

Armed with a laundry list of hardball questions from Sic Willie and others, we were worried initially that Heather might have a little trouble popping off the more challenging questions.


Turns out she actually popped THE question, right off the bat.

So much for subtlety.

Anyway, in its entire, unedited glory, here is Heather S.’ inaugural FITS' Exclusive Interview with one of the GOP’s rising stars here in South Carolina:

Heather S. – So … my first question. Will you marry me?

Thomas – What’s that?

Heather S. – You heard me, Thomas. I’ve read all the articles about you, I’ve seen your TV commercials and I’m down with it. I mean it. And I don’t care if they do think I’m a trophy wife, I really don’t. I can cook, clean, do the laundry, you name it. So will you marry me?

Thomas – What? (Laughs) How old are you?

Heather S. – Twenty-one.

Thomas – Ahm (Pauses) … I really don’t know what to say to that.

Heather S. – Just say yes.

Thomas – This is a joke, right? Who is this?

Heather S. – Fine, Thomas. Play hard to get. But I’m telling you, you’re missing out.

Thomas – Do I have the wrong number?

Heather S. – Whatever, Thomas. Your loss. You had your chance. Anyway, how’s the campaign going?

Thomas – It’s going great. We had a tremendous response from people all over the state during the primary and the runoff. That’s a testament to the fact that South Carolinians really do want change in this position, and they support the vision for change that we outlined in our campaign. I think the taxpayers are looking for somebody who’s going to bring a business perspective to the Treasurer’s Office, somebody who’ll cut the pork and make sure we’re getting the maximum return on our investments as a state.

Heather S. – We’re not getting that right now?

Thomas – No. We are below mediocre. We are among the worst-performing states in the nation because our assets are undermanaged and poorly diversified. We are getting substandard returns because we’re not properly assessing risk and engaging the market’s potential.

Heather S. – Can you say that in English, Thomas? I’m a little bit blonde.

Thomas – Sure, we aren’t managing the taxpayers’ money very well right now and that’s something I’m going to fix as Treasurer.

Heather S. – By putting more money into the stock market?

Thomas – That would be one part of it, but what I’m talking about is a broader diversification - one that would include other investments like commercial-backed mortgages, global funds and real estate investments, to name a few. Historically, even during economic downturns you get a much higher rate of return out of well-diversified investments than you do out of bonds. South Carolina was the last state in the nation to get into the equity market, and we happened to get in right when the technology bubble was bursting. Some people feel that is an excuse to stay out, but I like to look at the numbers because my experience in business has been that numbers don’t lie. Well-diversified investments simply outperform more narrow, static investments.

Heather S. – So what’s wrong with what we’re doing now again?

Thomas – Well for starters it isn’t working. South Carolina’s pension fund - which includes everybody - teachers, police officers, government workers, everybody - we rank 97 out of 100 among the nation's large pension funds. We are seventy percent below the national average. If we could just get up to mediocre, that would mean literally billions of additional dollars. If we were just average, I mean, not even good let alone great at getting a return on our investment, we could solve our unfunded liability problem. We have to diversify and manage for success, we can’t continue to take the same old, short-term approach to the problem and keep making reactionary decisions, we have to make smart decisions that are in the long-term best interests of the people of South Carolina with the money they have entrusted us to manage.

Heather S. – So our retirement system basically sucks. Is that what your saying?

Thomas – We have billions of dollars right now in unfunded liability in our retirement system. It’s an actuarial disaster. Part of the solution I support is reforming that system in a way that keeps the promises we’ve made to retirees but doesn’t make any additional promises our wallets won't be able to keep. But, another part of the solution is actually moving more of the money we do have in the system into better, more diversified investments where we see a higher rate of return. That’s what business does, why shouldn’t government?

Heather S. – But wouldn’t that actually be weakening the power of the Treasurer’s office?

Thomas – It would reduce the amount of money over which the Treasurer has direct investment control, but it would strengthen the earning potential and help ensure the long-term solvency of our retirement fund. I’m perfectly willing to make that tradeoff.

Heather S. – This isn’t the only area where you want to diminish the Treasurer’s role. Don’t you support making this an office that would be appointed by the governor instead of elected independently by the voters every four years?

Thomas – I think doing that would actually strengthen the office, not diminish it, because it would make it a part of a coordinated Executive Branch that’s working together and not one that is working at odds with itself. What if President Bush, for example, walked into a Cabinet meeting one day and found Ted Kennedy as his Secretary of Treasury, or say John Kerry as his Vice-President, or Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State? That is what we have in South Carolina right now, and it isn’t doing the taxpayer any good. It’s no way to run a state in the 21st Century.

Heather S. – But people like to vote. I like to vote. Why are you going to disenfranchise me?

Thomas – This would make the offices you do vote for count for something, and if anything went wrong you would know exactly who to call. That’s accountability, someplace where the buck actually stops. The way we spread all of these elected offices around right now, we make it next to impossible for them to do the people’s business efficiently.

Heather S. – Well aren’t you just a restructuring freak. Don’t you also favor doing away with the Budget and Control Board?

Thomas – We are the only state in the country that has a Budget and Control Board and it basically means where we need accountability the most, we don’t have it. Instead of someone who can stand up and say ‘the buck stops here,’ we’ve got this five-headed monster that answers to nobody, is accountable to nobody and just happens to be in charge of most of the administrative functions of government. Who is Frank (Budget and Control Board Executive Director) Fusco's boss? He doesn't even know that. That’s not real accountability in my book.

Heather S. – But isn’t it kind of cool that we’re the only state that has one? I mean, isn’t it like we can say to all of the other states, ‘Hey, we’ve got one and the rest of you don’t?’

Thomas – I don’t think it’s ever good to waste the people’s money, and the Budget and Control Board as it is configured right now results in a lot of waste, inefficiency and duplication in government.

Heather S. – You sound a lot like Mark Sanford when you say that. Come to think of it, wouldn’t you just be another rubber stamp on the Budget and Control Board for the governor’s limited government agenda?

Thomas – Absolutely not, although I do believe in limited government. I’ll tell you who I would be a rubber stamp for, though, and that would be the average taxpayer who’s basically sick and tired of getting jerked around by government. I agree with Mark Sanford on a lot of things, and when he’s right, I’ll vote with him. I agree with our State Comptroller General, Richard Eckstrom, on a lot of things, and when he’s right, I’ll vote with him. I also agree with Hugh Leatherman and Dan Cooper on a lot of things, and when they’re right, I’ll vote with them. I care about protecting the taxpayers, and I’ll do that whether I’m voting alone or voting unanimously with the other board members. It has to be – I mean – for me it will be about the issues in front of me and how they affect the taxpayer and the bottom line, not the politics or the personalities behind the issue.

Heather S. – Of course it really doesn’t matter all that much how you’ll vote, does it, because you’ll only be there two years, right? I mean this is a stepping stone, isn’t it? Everybody knows you’re going to run against Lindsey Graham for the U.S. Senate in 2008, aren’t you?

Thomas – You know, what I find to be really interesting about all of this, you know, talk, is that one of the only people – maybe the only person in politics - that isn’t talking about what Thomas Ravenel might do in the future is Thomas Ravenel. I read the papers and I’m serious when I say that. Practically the only person who is focused on the issues on the table with respect to this job - not all the political talk and speculation - is me. Look, if I don’t do a good job as Treasurer, if I don’t do what I say I’m going to do or if I turn around and do things I said I wouldn’t do - what happens? Nothing. Because I would have nothing to run on in the future. I wouldn’t be able to run for dogcatcher, let alone U.S. Senate, or the Governor’s Office or anything else that might be on the horizon.

Heather S. – But will you finish your term, if elected? That's the question.

Thomas – I’ll finish the job.

Heather S. – But don’t you think it costs you politically by not committing to a full term? Don’t you think Grady will use it against you?

Thomas – Well I promise I won’t serve eight out of the next nine terms, how’s that?

Heather S. – Okay, fair enough. But since we’re on the subject, let’s talk about you and Lindsey Graham. What’s your problem with him? He’s a nice guy, isn’t he?

Thomas – Sure he’s a nice guy, and I don’t have a problem with him at all on a personal level. We have some major policy disagreements, though, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking about those disagreements because it helps advance the debate.

Heather S. – You know, I think you and Lindsey should just ‘hug it out,’ like they do on the TV show Entourage. Have you ever seen that show? It’s fabulous.

Thomas – I’ve heard of it. I don’t get to watch as much TV these days as I used to. Campaigning and everything, down-time is a lot harder to find.

Heather S. – You obviously worked hard. You nearly won the primary vote outright, in fact the second and third place finishers in the GOP race, Greg Ryberg and Rick Quinn, backed out because they knew they couldn’t beat you. But then a funny thing happened, the fourth-place finisher, Jeff Willis, decided to stay in the race and you not only didn’t attack him for it, you actually debated him. Why? I mean, politically wasn’t that kind of stupid?

Thomas – I don’t think so. I have a lot of respect for all three of those guys but especially for Jeff. He got into the race for the right reasons, you remember, his family had been burned by the Carolina Investors scandal, so I felt he had a right to stay in it and a right to have his voice heard.

Heather S. – But why debate him? You didn’t have to do that. You were going to win anyway.

Thomas – Well, politically, it probably was not what most people would have done, but it was the right thing to do. People deserve debates, and I’m looking to forward to a vigorous debate of the issues now that we are in the general election.

Heather S. – Thomas, are you kidding? A debate against Grady? He’s Grandpa Simpson! There’s no way in hell they’re going to let him debate! Trav Robertson they might let debate, but not Grady.

Thomas – Well, maybe I would debate him. We’ll have to wait and see.

Heather S. – You’d debate Trav Robertson? Would the media even let him do that? And if they did, would he even be able to see over the podium?

Thomas – We’ll see. I don’t know if I would debate him or not. I haven’t decided yet. I do know that the voters deserve a fair and full debate of the issues between Mr. Patterson and myself, in some form or another.

Heather S. – Ah, we see that Thomas, we notice you called him Mr. Patterson. That’s nice. You’re showing respect. Did it ever occur to you that showing respect might not be the best campaign strategy? Didn’t the guys who showed respect to Thurmond and Hollings for their “years of service” all get their butts kicked on election day? How are you going to keep that from happening to you? What if he starts messing you around like Reagan did to Dukakis? What if he calls you a whippersnapper?

Thomas – Look, Thurmond and Hollings were getting things done for South Carolina, right up until their last day in office. I don’t think Mr. Patterson is getting it done for South Carolina, whether it’s (seen) in our meager return on investments, our unfunded liabilities, our addiction to new spending or the loss of our Triple-A credit rating. It has nothing to do with age, it has everything to do with performance - or in this case, a lack thereof.

Heather S. – You’re saying our losing the Triple-A credit rating was his fault?

Thomas – He’s statutorily responsible for communicating between the agencies and the state. One day he tells the General Assembly, the Governor, the Comptroller General, everybody – hey, everything is just peachy, then all of a sudden we lose the rating. What happened? And why did he criticize Richard Eckstrom for communicating with the agencies and trying to figure out what was really going on? He’s the Comptroller General, that’s his right.

Heather S. – So the Treasurer is statutorily responsible for the credit rating?

Thomas
– The Treasurer is statutorily responsible for managing that communication. It’s in the code.

Heather S. – So if you win, then all of a sudden it’s your responsibility?

Thomas – Correct.

Heather S. – But, I mean, wouldn’t that suck? What if you lost it?

Thomas – We already lost it. I'm going to try to help get it back.

Heather S. – Okay (pauses), now don’t get mad. I have to ask you this. What on earth were you thinking when you said “That’s how I roll. That’s how Thomas Ravenel rolls” to a newspaper reporter? I mean first of all, isn’t it odd to refer to yourself in the third person and second of all, and again please don’t get mad, but are you running for State Treasurer or auditioning for a Snoop Dogg video?

Thomas – (Laughs) I’m not mad. And that’s pretty funny, actually. Well (pauses), I was really - I was just trying to draw a contrast - trying to distinguish between how I handled myself in 2004 by rallying around the winner and how some of the people in the other campaigns handled things this time around, basically doing the opposite. I think I’ll just let that comment stand on its own.

Heather S. – Well, the kids in the blogosphere loved you for it. They ate it up. Some of them even made T-Shirts.

Thomas – This is where everything is happening these days.

Heather S. – The blogosphere? You read political blogs?

Thomas – Sure.

Heather S. – Which ones?

Thomas – Well, I read FITS. That’s why we’re talking right now, isn’t it?

Heather S. – That works for us. In fact, we’re going to have to cut you off right there before you show any love to the competition. But going back to the end of the primary, Ryberg’s campaign manager Terry Sullivan attacked you pretty hard, didn’t he?

Thomas – You know, I guess so. It comes with the territory. I respect the fact that the guy was having a bad day. I don’t hold it against him.

Heather S. – So would you be willing to “hug it out” with Terry Sullivan like you’d be willing to hug it out with Lindsey Graham?

Thomas – Ah (pauses) … No. A handshake, sure. You know, his boss called and apologized the next day, and I even told him, ‘Hey, it's not necessary, I understand' - but that was classy of him. I accepted it and moved on.

Heather S. – So what’s next for your campaign?

Thomas – A lot. We are very busy. At some point I’m going to take a trip up to New York to talk to some different people at the ratings agencies, but for the most part we are just staying focused - getting the message out there and talking to as many different people as we can across the state. I really do believe in this state. We can - I mean, with change - be very competitive. We have the resources, hard-working people - we have everything we need - but we don’t have enough people in positions of influence right now who are looking out for the best interest of the taxpayer. I’m going to be one of those people.

Heather S. – Last question - Will you pretty pretty pretty pretty please marry me?

Thomas – (Silence)

Heather S. – I’m kidding. Thomas, thanks so much, really, for taking the time to chat with us and good luck in November.

Thomas – My pleasure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"They'll Like Us When We Win"

It's normally not in FITS' purview to comment on issues of international import. We pretty much adhere to Tip O'Neill's legendary "All Politics is Local" maxim and try to stick to what we know ... or at least what we think we know.

But recent events in the Middle East have forced us - and many of you - to briefly shift our focus, even if the underlying modus operandi is more about cheap oil for our gas-guzzling SUV's than it is about the humanitarian pipe dream of "peace in the Middle East."

We were underwhelmed, to say the least, by the local Democratic take on the issue by blog newcomer Elizabeth McHugh - which basically consisted of an eighth-grade social studies rehashing of recent American foreign policy in the region, a bunch of rhetorical questions (conveniently left unanswered) and a "war is not the answer" conclusion that was noteworthy only because it reminded us of the fact that Marvin Gaye was indeed one hell of a singer, and we've missed his vocal stylings immensely since his untimely death.

Anyway, in case you didn't recognize it right off the bat, the picture above is what was left of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon after Palestinean terrorists blew it up with a truck bomb on October 23, 1983 - killing 241 Americans and forcing a U.S. withdrawal from the region a few months later.

Well last week, American soldiers were back in Lebanon for the first time in over two decades, evacuating embassy personnel and other essential-type folks as a brutal Israeli-Hezbollah conflict continued to escalate - threatening lives, regional stability, international relations, gas prices, liberal sensibilities, you name it.

Which leads us to the two fundamental questions Ms. McHugh and millions of others have been asking for decades - What the hell is going on in the Middle East? And what is the role of the big, bad (yes they think we're very bad over there) USA?

Simply put, nobody's got a clue.

Some say the problems in the region stem from America's blind support of Israel and the collapse of Cold War alliances, others say it's a rise in militant, Islamic fundamentalism. Still others say it's all about oil - who owns it, who sells it and how much they can make off of it.

There are nation-versus-nation spats, religion-versus-religion spats, tribe-versus-tribe spats and dictator-versus-dictator spats. When you get right down to it, it's a lot like watching The Bold and the Beautiful or Beverly Hills 90210, except it's set outside in a hot desert, chicks don't usually get starring roles and all the guys have beards, funny-looking hats, seemingly limitless stockpiles of conventional and non-conventional weaponry and itching inferiority complexes.

And here's how it plays out ...

As soon as one Middle Eastern nation attacks another (which happens often), there's retaliation, which leads to the gradual escalation of even deadlier violence and awful pictures of starving, naked kids on the streets, or bleeding, dying kids in hospitals, or (for contrast) semi-clothed kids carrying AK-47 assault rifles.

Once these pictures get beamed back over to our network and cable newscasts, they're neatly packaged and mainlined into American living rooms, followed by not-so-subtle reminders that "Oh yeah, when these people start shooting each other, your gas prices go up."

Boom.

All of a sudden, bleeding heart liberals (who love kids) and die-hard conservatives (who hate high gas prices) are united in purpose, if not motivation, and before long the air is filled with the sound of the five most dangerous words in American foreign policy:

"We've got to do something."

Of course, let's be honest, that's the one-tenth of Americans who qualify as informed. The rest of the country is scratching its collective head and saying, "Who cares if these people shoot each other?"

But like Mighty Mouse, we're off to "save the day" again, with Secretary of State Condi Rice shuttling back and forth between all the various and sundry warring factions, ironically condemning the "shuttle diplomacy" that was practiced for decades by Warren Christopher and other former U.S. negotiators, all of whom failed to get to the bottom of the rabbit hole.

Let's face it people, the Middle East is like a Rubik's Cube. And America and the rest of the world are like one of those geometrically-challenged people who, no matter how hard they try, will never be able to solve a Rubik's cube - without peeling off and replacing the stickers, that is.

Oddly enough, perhaps the best policy wisdom we've heard yet on Middle Eastern diplomacy (other than just bombing the whole subcontinent back to the Paleolithic Era, which probably wouldn't go over too well at the U.N.), came from, of all places, an episode of The West Wing.

Seldom regarded as a bastion of geopolitical wisdom, the show nonetheless featured a provocative debate once between communications director Toby Ziegler and his ex-wife, a sitting U.S. Congresswoman, over some tough, anti-fundamentalist language Ziegler wanted to include in a Presidential speech addressing escalating Mideast tensions.

Ziegler wanted his stern words of warning to stay, but his ex-wife, adopting a more conciliatory approach to the crisis, wanted the language taken out.

In defending his rhetoric, Ziegler dismissed its potentially adverse repercussions with one, brilliant sentence:

"They'll like us when we win," he said.

Well right now, we're not winning. And until we've got a real plan - not this Oprah Diplomacy of flying around and talking to everyone involved about their "feelings" - we should, quite frankly, keep our people the hell out of there.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's Like Deja Vu, All Over Again

Seriously, what is it about Katherine Jenerette that sends the anonymous blog commentary surging into the stratosphere? We're telling you, this woman is pure blogosphere crack, and the natives can't get seem to get enough of her.

For the second time in a row, a post about Katherine (actually this latest one was predominantly focused on her presumptive GOP primary challenger, Tracy Edge) has generated a slew of mostly anonymous comments.

Some of these people question Jenerette's chances. Others are anonymous hacks who are obviously affiliated with her prospective challengers, and accordingly are looking to discredit her and her campaign.

Which leads us to ask: If you're not scared of her, why are you acting like you're scared of her?

FITS has learned that Jenerette and her husband, Van - as well as representatives of her campaign - have already been approached by multiple Columbia political consulting firms and multiple Columbia insiders in an effort to get her to run for the State House of Representatives, ostensibly freeing Edge up to run for the State Senate.

Her response? A polite, but firm "Thanks, but no thanks."

Anyways, this race is clearly shaping up as one of "the ones to watch" for 2008 ...

FITS Exclusive - Edge to Seek Senate Seat in 2008

According to multiple sources who spoke with FITS on the condition of anonymity, Horry County Rep. Tracy Edge will be a candidate for the State Senate in 2008, setting up a high-profile and potentially costly GOP primary with Katherine Jenerette for the seat currently occupied by Democrat Dick Elliot, who is rumored to be retiring.

Jenerette, a Gulf War veteran and mother of four, ran a remarkably close race against the powerful and entrenched Elliot in 2004, very nearly overcoming his sizable fundraising advantage and a costly editing error by the Myrtle Beach Sun News just before the election (the paper's Voter Guide mislabeled Elliot as the Republican candidate, and Jenerette as the Democrat).

Elliot, incidentally, received the endorsement of Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in his race against Jenerette, one of several Senate Democrats Bauer either openly endorsed or covertly supported.

Edge, who was returning from the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual meeting in San Franciso today, was not immediately available for comment. Political consultant Richard Quinn, Sr., one of Edge's close friends, also did not immediately respond to FITS' request for comment.

Jenerette, who is currently serving on the North Myrtle Beach planning commission, has not publicly announced her 2008 Senate candidacy, but a recent Election Day advertisement in the Sun News and her comments today to FITS leave little doubt - she's running.

"The more the merrier as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll be the first to welcome Tracy to the race if he’s actually running," Jenerette told FITS. "People need to know that I’m not your typical politician who worries about whether she has primary opposition or not. It doesn’t change what I’m about and what my goals are for the people of this district. My campaign is going to stay focused on the regional economic and quality of life issues that resonated so well with voters two years ago, and that’s going to be the case no matter who is or isn’t running."

State Rep. Jim Battle (D-Marion) is rumored to be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination if Elliot does as expected and retires.

Stay tuned to FITS for more on this developing story ...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Heard in the Echo Chamber - A Store For SC, Finally

We've got to hand it to FITS' girl Amy H., she not only sends us the best pictures, but she's also a living, breathing human being (and a damn fine one to boot) as opposed to being part of Will Folks' universally diagnosed yet still untreated schizophrenia.

So while former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry made the headlines this week with his health care-themed visit to the Palmetto State, we think our girl Amy appropriately captured the pernicious realities confronting the Massachusetts Senator and his fellow 2008 Presidential hopefuls in South Carolina with just one photograph.

Kerry's idea is pretty simple - repeal a portion of the Bush tax cuts so that the top 1% of income earners in America can finance a massive expansion of federal health care to poor people, thus freeing up historically low-income states like South Carolina to expand coverage further up the ladder.

Kerry is the second 2008 contender to hitch his wagon on a big health care idea - fellow Bay Stater Mitt Romney having recently rolled out a slightly left-of-center "Hillary-care lite" universal health care plan for his home state that he hopes will evolve into a national model.

What these good folks from Taxachusetts don't seem to get is that South Carolina's problem has as much to do with a government structure that's wasteful and inefficient (we have 8, count 'em 8, state agencies currently providing health care) as it does with a lack of resources given our lowly, non-competitive economic status.

As it turns out Gov. Mark Sanford - in addition to championing pro-growth economic policies and pushing for a massive streamlining of the current health care delivery system - is well ahead of the curve when it comes to advancing a more user-based cost structure, one that would finally open the door to personal health savings accounts.

Of course to hear the bozos in the S.C. General Assembly talk, what the hell does he know? he's just a damn libertarian, right?

And besides, like all of South Carolina's centuries-old problems, why dam up the creek and actually solve the problem when we can keep buying increasingly expensive paddles with other people's money?

WALLACE, TEXAS RANGER GETS OFF

Like those damn Earps, who never met a problem that couldn't be solved with cold steel, Lowcountry Rep. Wallace "Cool Hand" Scarborough will not be prosecuted for a July 15 incident in which he is alleged to have shot at (or near) two SCE&G utility employees working on his parents' property in a Charleston suburb.

Scarborough, who famously told the Charleston Post and Courier that if he had wanted to shoot the two employees "they'd be dead," appears to have now dodged a bullet himself with Solicitor Ralph Hoisington's announcement that he will not prosecute the case. Laurin Manning recently pointed out Hoisington's cozy relationship with Scarborough attorney Bart Daniel, and even hinted not-so-subtly that a Wallace walk was what was in the works. (Damn, that's good alliteration if we do say so ourselves).

Well, while Wallace walks (sorry, we did it again), the incident remains yet another reminder to the rest of the nation that yes, we'z still be a buncha' dumass gun-totin' reyyud-necks down hee-yure.

WE CAN'T TIE OUR OWN SHOELACES BUT ...

... South Carolina will nonetheless remain the "First in the South" Presidential Primary for both the Democratic and Republican parties, according to news reports published today.

In other words, we will continue to have the opportunity every four years to showcase for the rest of the nation our unwavering pride in the Confederate Flag (not to mention our very own $100 million Confederate submarine), our worst-in-the-nation school system, our third-highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate, our 1895 system of government, our Marxist port management philosophy and our militant hatred of homosexuals and anything that remotely resembles economic, educational or social progress.

Of course, political observers like us will continue to laugh all the way to the bank, but ...

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SADNESS

He hates us, and to be fair, we probably hate him a little bit, too.

But that doesn't change the fact that Ross Shealy's "Barbecue and Politics" website was one of the funniest, best-written blogs South Carolina will ever see - just as anything that devotes so much original content to our very own Sic Willie must be.

Ross' decision to hang up the mouse and keyboard is a sad one, and as his longtime antagonists we stand humbly and reverently in awe of his talent, his humor and his creativity.

We wish Mr. Shealy Godspeed in all of his future endeavors, and hope to have the opportunity to sample more of his "exquisitely-smoked witticisms" in some form or fashion in the very near future.

Thanks for the laughs (particularly those at our expense) and best wishes, Ross.

Until next week ... be heard.

Friday, July 21, 2006

On the Gay Marriage Amendment

We're never ones to back down from a challenge here at FITS.

Over the past few days, a particularly incendiary commenter (someone we're praying has been checked for rabies within the last year) has all but dared us to publicize our views on the subject of gay marriage.

In case you're new to FITS, here's how it works. If somebody throws down the proverbial gauntlet, we pick it up.

Like the Outlaw Josey Wales (or the "Outlaw Wallace Scarborough," for that matter), if our presence is requested outside the saloon at High Noon, we'll be there.

So, without futher adieu, let's get down to it ...

Q: Do we support gay marriages? A: No, we do not.

Q: Do we believe the Holy Scriptures specifically forbid gay marriages? A: Yes, we do.

But finally ...

Q: Do we believe a government based on individual liberty has any business telling people who they can and cannot marry? A: HELL no.

Look people, we've been to the Florida Keys. We've seen flamboyantly homosexual couples walking around together in rhinestone-studded "I'm With Him" T-Shirts and purple assless chaps.

Did we like it? No. Did we almost lose our lunches? Absolutely.

But it simply isn't our place - and it certainly isn't the government's place - to judge people because they're different or because they don't look, think or act like we do.

The great thing about America is that a neo-Nazi skinhead, a militant Black Panther, a Free Will Baptist preacher, a long-haired hippie communist, a seer-sucker suit-wearing lobbyist and a Confederate-clad Glenn McConnell can all walk down Main Street together singing "We Shall Overcome" if they want to.

We're a free country - and thousands upon thousands of Americans who subscribed to vastly divergent and often-contradictory beliefs died to keep it that way.

That's why we can wear our Swastikas, our dreadlocks, our nipple rings and our Rebel flags in public if we want to. It's why we can read what actually happened in the morning paper and not what a handful of government censors want us to believe happened. It's why we can receive a fair and speedy trial, bear arms to protect ourselves, own property free from the threat of unlawful seizure, peaceably gather to petition our government for a redress of grievances and do pretty much as we damn well please within the confines of our homes provided we are not infringing on the inalienable rights of our neighbors to get a decent night's sleep.

Simply put, we are heirs to the legacy of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Reagan - not Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Mussolini.

But in a world of Kelo, primary seat belt enforcement, knee-jerk anti-Second Amendment laws, domestic wiretapping and yes, anti-gay marriage amendments, in which direction are we really headed as a state and as a nation?

South Carolina has one of the most aggressive anti-gay ballot initiatives in the nation. It would, in effect, deny thousands of South Carolinians certain civil rights based exclusively on their sexual orientation, which we think is wrong. Never mind the fact that there's already a law on the books in South Carolina outlawing gay marriage.

But guess what, the referendum's going to pass.

There's nothing we could write on this blog that's going to change that, and right-wing sycophants like Mitt Romney - obsessed with exploiting ignorance for their own short-term political gain - will continue issuing statements and stroking checks to the Palmetto Family Council in exchange for a stamp of approval from the so-called "moral majority."

We're just curious as to what Mr. Romney will say when the next amendments prohibit Catholic, Jewish or yes, even Mormon marriages in South Carolina?

Now some people would say we've got a bit of a libertarian streak to us. Maybe so. We believe what we believe, but you can damn sure bet that we'll defend to the death your right to keep believing whatever it is that you believe.

To us, limited government is as much about prosperity and putting more money into the economy as it is about individual liberties, but we strongly suspect that without liberty, prosperity inches ever closer to a "here today, gone tomorrow" proposition.

But that's just us crazy libertarian FITS gals for ya. When we asked Sic Willie to give us his thoughts on the subject, all he said was that he'd fight to the death for his right to watch Madonna and Britney Spears kiss each other ... again and again and again ...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Devil Goes Down in Georgia

A hearty congratulations is in order to voters on the other side of the Savannah River this week.

On Tuesday, Georgia Republicans chose political unknown Casey Cagle as their nominee for Lt. Governor by a 56-44% margin over Ralph Reed, former Chairman of the Georgia GOP and ex-hatchet-man for the now-toothless Christian Coalition.

Reed, whose candidacy was largely undone by links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, personifies the ongoing fall from grace (pardon the pun) of religious right candidates in the deep South.

Candidates who stake their campaigns exclusively (or whose reputations exclusively focus) on social conservative issues are dropping like flies, alienating independents and Republican voters who care more about "Fiscal Values" than where politicians think they should worship on Sunday.

Of course, this becomes political purgatory once an already narrow-minded campaign is tainted by the mere whiff of a scandal, as happened to Reed in Georgia on the ethics issue and Treasurer candidate Greg Ryberg here in South Carolina on the gambling issue. Voters are already less-inclined to vote for right-wing panderers, God forbid they be hypocrites.

The resounding defeats of candidates like Reed and Ryberg (and Bob Peeler four years ago, for that matter), should send a strong message to the panderers-in-chief of the 2008 Presidential Primary field here in South Carolina - Mitt Romney and George Allen.

The message?

Right-wing red meat just ain't what it used to be down here.

For the record, all of us FITS girls are dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists who love us some fire-and-brimstone, predestination and the old, non-P.C. Presbyterian hymnbooks. But we also remember what we learned in Sunday School, that its Jesus' job to judge others, not ours.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Open Letter From Will Folks

Dear Friends,

In 1953, when television was still in its infancy, legendary journalists such as Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly emerged as the conscience of a new, dynamic and uncharted medium. Courageously taking on entrenched politicians, institutions and corporate sponsors, they sought not only to hold the instruments of power accountable to the truth, but to elevate the level of debate among the American public.

Of television, Murrow once famously said “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”

Fifty years later, another contraption of wires and lights is emerging, one that isn’t confined to our living rooms or bound to our workspaces, one that we can hold in the palm of our hand. This "contraption" holds the potential to wield even greater power and influence – and it holds the certainty of inviting larger, much more complex challenges.

Simply stated, the proliferation of new political media on the Internet holds the key to limitless change and dramatically enhanced accountability, and as such it will require the same mixture of courage and responsibility Murrow and his colleagues demonstrated fifty years ago. Only then will it be a force for truth and for the advancement – not for the spin and appeasement – of humankind.

All of you who participate in reading, commenting or discussing the events transpiring even as we speak in the political blogosphere are well ahead of the curve. You are informed, you follow issues, you actively participate in the political process and you care passionately about the ideas, ideals, candidates and campaigns that you support.

You are, in essence, the front line of perception in an ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the rest of us who inhabit this curious little upside down triangle known as the State of South Carolina.

Over the next few months, FaithInTheSound will be changing dramatically. We will be launching a new, enhanced and interactive website, which you will be able to find online at www.fitsnews.com, as well as offering a wide range of advertising options and free and paid subscription-based services that you’ll be reading more about in the weeks to come.

In doing so, our goals will remain simple – first, to keep you informed, second, to make you think and finally, to make you laugh.

We will continue to be irreverent, continue to be controversial, continue to be humorous and at times inappropriate, and yes, in some circles, continue to be alternately dismissed and hated.

But we will continue nonetheless.

A few days ago, a reporter friend of mine called and asked about a piece of information she had stumbled upon while reading this blog.

“I didn’t think you reporters looked at the blogs,” I told her.

“I’ve been told I have to now,” was her reply.

And that's precisely the point. Political blogs are for real, and their impact is only going to grow in the months and years ahead both here in the Palmetto State and beyond.

We look forward to providing you with more details on the soon-to-be-released FITSNews, but in the meantime I thank you personally for your continued patronage to this small corner of the web. Visit early, visit often and by all means, please continue to say whatever floats your boat or vents your spleen about me or anybody else that graces or disgraces the small stage that is our state’s unique and constantly-evolving political soap opera.

All of it may indeed have been said before, but not quite like this.

Take care,

W

William R. Folks III
Viewpolitik, LLC
w@viewpolitik.com

Wallace, Texas Ranger

It wasn't exactly the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but property owned by Charleston Rep. Wallace Scarborough's clan probably won't be among the most sought-after Trick-or-Treat locations in the Lowcountry this coming Halloween.

According to news reports, Scarborough (a.ka. "irate utility customer")spent a night in the tank after firing his 9mm at two SCE&G line employees working in his parents' back yard Monday evening. Scarborough claims the gun went off accidentally, adding "if I wanted to shoot 'em, they'd be dead."

Wow.

Who exactly is Scarborough's political consultant these days, Clint Eastwood?

We do know that one of his attorneys is none other than Rep. John Graham Altman, a colleague of Scarborough's in the General Assembly who decided not to run for re-election after a controversial domestic violence interview in which he called WIS-TV reporter Kara Gormley stupid.

Without knowing exactly what happened down there in Tombstone between Scarborough and the two SCE&G employees, we'll reserve judgment for now while Wyatt Earp and the rest of the local authorities sort things out.

However, the real question here is not who fired what, when and how, it's why on earth Scarborough, upon finding himself neck-deep in a potential public relations disaster, called walking P.R.-debacle John Graham Altman for help.

Talk about pouring gasoline on a fire.

Stay tuned for more details in the days to come ... this story has Sic Willie blog potential.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Knotts Would Have HURT Moore, Polls Say

According to polling information obtained exclusively by FITS, the now-defunct Jakie Knotts for Governor campaign - had it continued - would actually have benefitted incumbent Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and hurt Democratic nominee Tommy Moore.

The polling, which sources close to Knotts indicated was the determining factor in his decision to drop out of the race, showed that at least 2 out of every 3 Knotts' voters favored Moore over Sanford, and that a Knotts' candidacy would accordingly have taken more votes from the Democratic nominee than from the governor.

No word yet on whether Sanford's internal polling showed the same dynamic, but given how ridiculously off Sanford's numbers were throughout the Lovelace primary challenge, there's a good bet they could have missed this boat as well, which would explain the massive behind-the-scenes effort to keep Knotts' name off of the ballot.

Just about every political scientist in the state as well as this idiot have opined on how badly a Knotts candidacy would have hurt Sanford in a general election.

Turns out Jakie got the truth just in time to do what he always does - whatever he thinks will hurt the leader of his proclaimed party the most.

Update - Thanks to all of you for pointing out our "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline. A little too much Kendall Jackson amongst girls can be bad.

Jakie Sigs ... Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em

It's all about the signatures, baby.

John Hancocks, that is ...

Please tell us though, because if this blog starts resembling the Green Acres theme song, you must forgive us ... we honestly weren't sure for awhile there whether Boss Hogg was serious about running for governor or not ...

Turns out he wasn't.

Serious, that is.

Jakie's (a.k.a. Oscar's) Army claims to have collected more than 13,000 signatures - or plenty enough to put the Earl of Hazzard on the goobernatorial ballot come November - but according to the Shealy-ites, that "amount" wasn't quite an "elegant sufficiency."

Any more, it turns out, would have been a "superfluity" (God bless you, Fred Chappell) ... but to hear Rod Shealy tell it those words (a.k.a. numbers) rang even truer when cold hard cash in the amount of $2 million was concerned.

Dollars, that is.

Now, how that fundamental political reality is any "diff'rent" (Lexington-speak) from the fundamental political reality which existed two weeks ago - i.e. before this fat man's Miguel de Cervantes' imitation commenced - well, that's anybody's guess.

Of course, if you can answer that question correctly, you probably know how much it costs to rent out the Boar's Nest (a.k.a. Kermit LaForce's Strip Club) for a Tommy Moore victory party.

Anyway, if you happen to be one of the twelve people who'll read the soon-to-be-released (a.k.a. non-daily) Lexington Chronicle, you'll hear from Jakie's own lips that the gubnah's campaign (a.k.a. "Miller Time") hired somebody to make a list and check it twice ...

Of Jakie's sigs, that is.

Apparently, the ratio of legitimate signatures to actual registered voters - at least according to the girl Sic Willie slept with at the State Election Commission Saturday night - wasn't looking so hot.

But, then again, neither was she (Ba-doom-ching).

So was Jakie serious?

Or not serious enough?

Honestly, we think the whole charade was typical S.C. politics.

An overbearing fat ass got his name in the paper for two weeks. Jeffrey Sewell wrote a nice oped and banked a little coin for the SC Hotline. Team Sanford got to do its best impersonation of "not commenting" and the rest of us .... well, the rest of us just got jerked around.

Or Jakied around, that is.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Jakie Not Running

Jakie Knotts, South Carolina's preeminent redneck politician, announced through his consultant this morning that he's not running for governor, meaning incumbent Republican Mark Sanford and Democratic challenger Tommy Moore are all alone on the November 2006 ballot.

According to consultant Rod Shealy, Knotts isn't making the bid because he wouldn't be able to raise the $2 million needed to be competitive.

That's a pretty convenient excuse, and one we'll be delving into a bit more deeply here in the days to come. We're sure the real reason has nothing to do with money, but stay tuned ...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Heard in the Echo Chamber - Miller Time, Etc.

Just when we thought Gov. Mark Sanford's campaign manager Jason Miller couldn't be any dumber, we were treated to another doozy in State columnist Lee Bandy's Sunday morning evisceration of the SCGOP and its amatuer hour online attacks against Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tommy Moore.

After Bandy had thoroughly debunked the Republican Party's disco-themed anti-Moore website (and included Moore's brilliant, funny and high-road response to the site's cherry-picked charges), Miller piped up and took credit for his role in the B-grade shenanigans:

The Sanford campaign says it was not involved in creating the site, although Jason Miller, campaign director, said he coined the phrase, Moore, “a Columbia Insider since 1979.”

Wow. Congratulations, Jason. We've got a copy of the Smashing Pumpkins hit single "1979" off of the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness CD as your door prize.

We're not sure what Miller and Sanford consultant-in-chief Jon Lerner have been "up to" lately, but it sure as hell hasn't been running an effective reelection campaign.

A year ago today, the governor's reelection was a universally-acknowledged formality - even among his harshest critics. Today, it's careening headlong into the "toss-up" category.

The governor's 2006 campaign has been a stumbling, bumbling case study in the same kind of inept, voter-alienating "politics as usual" tactics that Mark Sanford made a living eschewing four years ago. As a result, a "nothing" general election opponent has been elevated to legitimate contender status, and all the Sanford folks can talk about is how much money they've raised and how they're going to stay up on television through November.

Seems like we heard that one back in 2002 from a now ex-Governor.

It's game time, Mark. Your ideas desperately need you to come back.

HAPPY B-DAY TO THE "CUZ-WAY"

The Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge turns one year-old this weekend. Affectionately known by those in the loop as the "Cuz-Way" for its namesake's famous moniker, "Cousin Arthur," the Post and Courier ran an excellent front page article this morning by reporter Robert Behre on its first anniversary, which included the following excerpt:

Charleston and Mount Pleasant police have written 858 traffic tickets (on the bridge), including one in which a Mount Pleasant cop cited a motorist for going 105 mph.

FITS has learned that the motorist stopped was, oddly enough, not S.C. Lt. Governor Andre Bauer, although the city of Mount Pleasant suppressing police reports involving our state's second-highest elected official is a story that's bound to surface at some point.

NOT FOUR INCHES BUT ...

The National Federation of Independent Business, which for years had thrived in South Carolina as a positive force for change under the leadership of Michael Fields, recently announced the hiring of former SCGOP thumb-twiddler J.W. Ragley as its new State Director.

Talk about replacing a Great Dane with a Pomeranian.

Ragley is precisely the kind of partisan status quo insider blowhard that the NFIB didn't need to hire, unless of course its objective is to abandon its traditional support of job-creating tax cuts and start bending over for big-government RINO's like Hugh Leatherman and Bobby Harrell.

Bad dog, NFIB, bad dog.

PEOPLE WE LIKE

We get a little grief here at FITS every once in awhile from people who think we're too "tough" on certain folks. One reader even inquired the other day, "Is there anybody you do like?"

It's a good question, and one we felt compelled to answer.

In addition to liking everyone mentioned in R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" songs (as well as our entire fantasy baseball roster, the staff at the Back Porch and the entire casts of Bull Durham and Jerry Maguire), let the record reflect that we find singer/songwriter Anna Nalick positively riveting.

Until next week ... be heard.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Rolling Up the Coast


After an all-nighter in downtown Chuck the FITS girls were back on the road again bright and early this morning, arriving in Georgetown County just in time to do a spot of boutique shopping at the famous Pawleys Island Hammock Shops.

A still-wired Sic Willie briefly entertained the locals with his Austin Powers-esque "That's not Vida Miller, that's a man, Baby!" spoof - a reference to their hometown Representative - before suddenly passing out stone cold in one of the town's famous hand-woven cotton rope hammocks (above).

While Willie snoozed (and snored), the rest of us picked up delicious root beer floats from Pawleys' famed "Creamery" and started poaching bargains - as well as political gossip.

It turns out nobody up Georgetown way has heard of Jakie Knotts, either. Nor did anyone particularly swoon when we showed them his picture.

As it happened, the talk of the town was Steve Jordan, the new pastor at Wayne Methodist Church. We're just going to take it on faith that he pronounces his last name "Jor-dan," you know, like the river and not some crazy Upstate kook that Rod Shealy probably got into the Lieutenant Governor's race as "Plan A" for his flagging candidate.

For those of you who were wondering, Andre's plane crash was "Plan B."

Other than that, not much was going on. The checkout girl at Whitmire's Jewelry, who was thumbing through the book "He's Just Not That Into You," did tell us she was not voting for Jim Hodges again this go-round, but that she was still very proud of the public schools her five daughters currently attend.

One thing we've noticed throughout our travels this week is how packed the coast is this year with out-of-state license plates. Sure looks like a good year for South Carolina's $15 billion tourism industry, so let's keep our fingers crossed that all stays quiet on the African (Hurricane) front between now and Labor Day.

Tomorrow, we'll venture further Northward to Myrtle Beach, the undisputed heart and soul of the Redneck Riviera, dropping our bad boy off at the strip club so the rest of us can enjoy some sun, seafood and - of course - outlet shopping!

Oh, and maybe a little politics.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Breakfast at Billy's Back Home

From the barrier islands over to bustling Mount Pleasant, the FITS gals shook off their hangovers, tied up their brand new Espadrilles and ambled over to Billy's Back Home Restaurant for a little breakfast this morning ... and of course a peek over everyone's shoulder to see what newspaper articles were catching the locals' interest.

And while Sic Willie wouldn't shut up about a Burke Middle School story written by Post and Courier reporter-babe Diette Courrege, most folks seemed fixated on Lindsey Graham's latest display of political duplicity.

In fact, we think the front-page, above-the-fold headline in this morning's Charleston paper, "Faking Speeches Typical for Lawmakers," almost got it right. We'd have written, "Faking Anything Typical for Lindsey."

Oddly enough, nobody at Billy's Back Home seemed at all concerned about The State newspaper's front page, above-the-fold headline this morning on State Sen. Jakie Knotts, even when we showed it to them.

"Who's he?" said Marie, our waitress. "Boss Hogg?"

The State did feature a remarkably astute critique of the Knotts' candidacy by the Hotline's Jeffrey Sewell in this morning's opinion page, but FITS hears that once again D. Bradley Warthen and his "Up With People" brothers and sisters on the editorial board left a little something-something out of the original draft.

Hmmm ....

ANOTHER TEAM SANFORD MISSTEP

Of course the most interesting political news of the day was the fact that Sanford's former Co-Chief of Staff Tom Davis took to the road yesterday to poor-mouth Sen. Tommy Moore on ethics issues, vowing that "Operation Lost Trust" would play a "big" role in the 2006 campaign.

While we are sure there are any number of people within Sanford's organization who felt like this was a good idea, it wasn't.

Predictibly, Davis' multi-city tour became a "process story," one in which the media cared less about the substance of the allegations against the Democratic nominee and more about the fact that Sanford was attacking him, perceiving it not only as a sign of weakness but also as standing in stark contrast to the kind of positive, issues-based campaign the Sanford ran in 2002.

We could go on and on (and on) about this but here's the nickel tour: Dumb move, governor.

POLITICAL SUCK-UPS OF THE WEEK

We've got two winners here, whoever wrote Ralph Norman's open letter to Congressman John Spratt about the controversial new DCCC ads and the party responsible for Rep. Lewis Vaughn's press announcement praising outgoing Sen. Verne Smith.

First, Ralph Norman. If there is a more pedantic, pathetic, pandering campaign for public office in the State of South Carolina, we sure as hell haven't seen it. The only thing more integrity-deficient than running ads exploiting the memory of fallen U.S. soldiers is trying to score political points by calling somebody else out for doing it.

In case you miss our point, both are examples of exploiting the memory of fallen U.S. soldiers for political purposes.

We had high hopes for the Norman campaign, we really did. And we like Ralph, we really, really do. He's a great fiscal conservative and would be a champion for the taxpayer in D.C. the same way he's been a champion for the taxpayer in Columbia. It's too bad he went out and hired the cookie-cutter GOP goon squad to run what otherwise could have been a credible campaign.

Speaking of cookie-cutter, next we have Rep. Lewis Vaughn's press release announcing his candidacy for the seat of departing Senate Democrat - er Republican - Verne Smith, a veritable tour de force of the English language that includes the following hard-hitting insights into the mind of the man:

"Making certain that the hard-working families of our communities continue to have proven, experienced leadership that gets results will be my top-priority. We need a leader who can deliver, and that’s precisely why I am running."

Again, we love Lewis Vaughn. He's great on school choice and tax cuts, but whoever wrote this meaningless drivel might as well have copied and pasted it from every other press release that every other candidate sends out from every other campaign. I'm sure Dan Hoover at the Greenville News was rubbing his eyes and yawning at least a little bit when he had to type that gem of a quote into his story yesterday.

Lewis is going to win the race, to be sure, but if he really wants to "deliver" something, he should start by sending his campaign manager a thesaurus and a copy of his stellar legislative voting record.

By the way the smoked sausage links at Billy's Back Home are downright deeee-lish! Try 'em with some eggs and grits next time you're headed Mount Pleasant way ...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The World is Indeed Flat ...

... and the great thing about that is you can make money (off imaginary clients, no less) from anyplace that's got a half-way decent WiFi connection.

So keeping our restaurant theme going for just a little bit longer, the FITS gals are pleased to give you a shoutout from Poe's Tavern on Sullivans Island, a half-block off the beach and a stone's throw from the former basement campaign headquarters of S.C. Governor Mark Sanford.

The breeze is nice and cool, the beer is ice cold, the Pit and Pendulum burgers are cooked to perfection, Don Henley is kickin' from the stereo and yes, everybody down here is tan and beautiful.

Oh, and nobody within a radius the size of Lexington County has ever heard of Jakie Knotts.

We'll be checking in from various locales up and down the S.C. Coast the rest of this week, so stay tuned ...

Monday, July 10, 2006

The "New" Back Porch

The Back Porch on Gervais has been a South Carolina political mainstay in its own right for some time now, popping up almost daily on the soap opera that is our beloved blogosphere, and occasionally dipping its toes in more mainstream venues like Lee Bandy's "On Politics" column in The State newspaper.

Of course the Porch isn't a stranger to front page news either, like the time DOT lobbyist "Covey" Covington sparked a statewide firestorm from the Back Porch in 2004 with his accoustic performance of the clever anti-Sanford ballad "You're Not Too Bright," or when our favorite bad boy Sic Willie selected the restaurant for his infamous domestic violence interview with WIS-TV's Kara Gormley ... you remember, the one where he actually wore a Caterpillar hat and First Presbyterian Basketball Camp T-Shirt on statewide TV.

The Porch has been the site of three consecutive lobbyist Sine Die parties, numerous late night legislative dinners and has been graced by such big-time politicos as Gov. Mark Sanford, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, former Gov. David Beasley, Attorney General Henry McMaster and former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn, who joins House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison as one of the Porch's celebrity benefactors.

Not too shabby for a burger-and-fries joint with a unisex outhouse, right?

Well, in case you haven't been to the Porch lately, the term "burger-and-fries joint" no longer applies.

Thanks to the culinary stylings and big city saavy of new Chef Bill Shine, the Porch has undergone an extensive aesthetic, image and menu makeover that would make Joan Rivers blush - including the addition of a long side porch with six tables overlooking Gervais Street and major modifications to the now-famous "back porch" that gave the suddenly upscale eatery its name in the first place.

Inside, even its famed multi-colored "Romper Room" chairs are on the way out, enjoying "a life expectancy of two months," according to Chef Bill.

"Even at lunch I want people to have that dining experience," Bill says. "I want to feed sophisticated people good food in an upscale environment, and that's what we're doing now. I'm all about satisfying my guests. My job is to feed you, make you feel good and make you want to come back ... with several friends."

Mixing Lowcountry favorites such as his famed pork tenderloin dish with California-inspired classics like the Malibu Salad, Bill's influences run the gamut - Southern, Carribean, Asian, you name it. There's a delectable Seafood Risotto and Cornish Game Hen on the dinner menu, and lunch features six signature salads, the must-have Seafood Pizza, two shrimp dishes and Chef's self-proclaimed "other-worldly" pimento burger.

And for you red-meat diehards, FITS can speak from personal experience when we say Chef Bill cooks tender New York strips and melt-in-your-mouth filets with the best of them.

"The Fall menu will be a lot more Lowcountry," says Bill. "I'm constantly looking to update it and try new things."

Trying new things is certainly nothing new for the Chef, who not long ago shed his three-piece suit after fifteen years working mergers and acquisitions for Wall Street behemoth Goldman Sachs, a career that saw him cut multi-million dollar deals in faraway lands such as Japan, Thailand, Austrailia and Korea. After "damn near losing my sanity," however, Bill returned to his roots - taking early retirement and entering culinary school.

"(This) is what I always wanted to do in the first place, but my parents weren't having it," he says.

A plain-spoken New Yorker, Chef isn't fazed by the political proclivity of his new digs, saying "I'd cook for the Devil if he spent enough money in my restaurant." Nor did he particularly care when his new menu rubbed some of the Porch's regulars the wrong way initially.

"I expected and received some resistance," he says. "Vindication in this is that all the 'naysayers' still eat with me every day."

Of course, a big part of that is undoubtedly the Chef's skills in the kitchen, but we suspect another reason may be the Back Porch's strict adherance to the Albert Chen school of staffing - which means hiring a bevy of unbelievably attractive servers.

For example, take the pride of Richmond, Va., Emily Elizabeth Heatwole - a classic antebellum beauty who pursues a Masters in Social Work by day and effortlessly dodges the amorous intentions of Will Folks and many others by night. We hear Ms. Heatwole - who incidentally loves NASCAR and Bud Light - already has an agent in L.A.

"Nora, Sara, Emily, Taylor - they're all very good at what they do," Bill says.

But Emily?

"Yeah, she's 'da bomb' as we would say back in the hood."

Whatever your motivation may be, we strongly recommend giving the "new" Back Porch a visit the next time you're in downtown Columbia. It's located on Gervais Street, directly across from the Clarion Town House Hotel, roughly between the Vista and Five Points, and is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Heard in the Echo Chamber - The McConnell Conspiracy

On the surface, he appears to be one of Gov. Mark Sanford's allies, championing a long-overdue restructuring of state government and urging State Sen. Jake Knotts to back off of his anti-Sanford gubernatorial bid.

But where does Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn F. McConnell really stand? And more importantly, what's with the dyed jet black hair, Civil War phallic obsession and Morrisey-esque asexuality?

By far and away the most powerful, secretive and eclectic politician in South Carolina, McConnell has proven with the Hunley that when he wants something, he gets it. He's also proven that when he doesn't want something, such as port expansion on Daniel Island, you can bet your bottom dollar it isn't going to happen.

In 2004, McConnell surprised many political observers by offering two massive government restructuring bills that together included nearly all of Sanford's sweeping campaign objectives - a proposal which would have dramatically shifted the power balance in Columbia from Legislative to Executive. No sooner had the ink dried on the thousand-page tome, however, did conspiracy theorists within the Echo Chamber begin accusing the Charleston Senator of paying lip service to the governor, hoping in secret that the gargantuan pieces of legislation would die under their own weight.

Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.

Citing "legislative resistance," McConnell couldn't even get the bills out of his own committee, and accordingly South Carolina forfieted its best chance to move government out of the 19th Century since Operation Lost Trust.

Emboldened by the public perception that he was a Sanford ally, McConnell quickly followed up on this coup by showing his true colors when it comes to Executive-Legislative relations, sponsoring a bill to rob Sanford and future governors of their appointment powers at Santee Cooper and methodically pushing it through the General Assembly.

In doing so, McConnell showed once again that he not only gets exactly what he wants when he wants it, but that his goal is clearly to further weaken - not strengthen - what is already the 47th weakest Chief Executive Office in the entire nation.

On top of all of this, McConnell has presided over not one but two of the largest biannual expansions of government South Carolina has ever seen - 1999-2000's 25% increase and the current 22% spending orgy of the last two fiscal years.

Many insiders from previous administrations also point to McConnell's "let him hang" attitude towards the last Republican Governor - David Beasley - and to the fact that McConnell was secretly "the happiest man in Columbia" when Beasley was ousted by former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges in 1998.

And why not? Beasley's fall restored his position as the highest-ranking Republican in state politics.

McConnell also not-so-secretly backed Democrat Dick Elliot in 2004 as he staved off GOP challenger Katherine Jenerette by a mere 4% of the vote, and is known to have an especially cozy "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationship with longtime Charleston Democratic Sen. Robert Ford.

There's also McConnell's "thick-as-thieves" status with Clemson University, a group that has consistently done battle with Sanford over excessive funding for its multi-million dollar PSA programs.

The reality that gradually comes into focus after a careful study of Sen. McConnell's record is that his so-called opposition to a Jake Knotts' gubernatorial bid may be precisely that, "so-called."

While publicly opposing Knotts' prospective bid in the newspapers, McConnell has yet to threaten him with the loss of his Senate committee positions, write a letter to the Republican Party urging that the Lexington Senator be unceremoniously jettisoned from the GOP, or gone on the record pledging to publicly and financially support a GOP primary challenger to Knotts in 2008.

Why not? Therein lies the mystery.

Because McConnell is handled with kid gloves by Columbia insiders, approached with negligent naivete by the Governor's Office and routinely given a hall pass by the mainstream media (with the notable exception of The State newspaper's John Monk), the truth behind his real motivations with respect to Mark Sanford's re-election remains amazingly well-concealed.

We here at FITS, however, suspect that McConnell - while remarkably similar to every other "say one thing, do another" politician in Columbia - just happens to be a lot better at hiding it than the other big-spending guardians of South Carolina's failed status quo.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sanford Receiving Major Environmental Endorsement Monday

Incumbent Republican Gov. Mark Sanford is set to receive a major environmental endorsement at a press conference Monday on Daniel Island, sources familiar with the announcement told FITS late Saturday.

While the identity of the group remains a secret and Sanford staffers and campaign representatives declined to provide any details, many believe it could be the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, a group that is already endorsing 15 House candidates (8 Republicans and 7 Democrats) in contested 2006 races.

Other possibilities include the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust or The Conservation Fund.

"It's a group that's going to be perceived as a little more mainstream than the Sierra Club or the Coastal Conservation League," said a key Sanford confidante who spoke with FITS on the condition of anonymity.

Whatever the group, Sanford's campaign and the SCGOP are doing their best to make the announcement look like the second coming, which makes sense given that environmental voters by and large choose Democrats over Republicans in general elections.

Sanford has a stellar environmental record for a candidate of either party, however, a record that is likely to be on full display at Monday's announcement.

Whether fully funding the Conservation Bank for the first time in its history, playing a pivotal role in the Bonneau Ferry project that has preserved over 10,000 acres in the Cooper River Historic District, consistently urging the replenishment of environmental trust funds or standing up to Rep. Jim Clyburn's environmentally-insensitive "Bridge to Nowhere" over Sparkleberry Swamp - Sanford has stuck to his 2002 campaign promises and repeatedly gone to bat on conservation and environmental issues.

The governor has also named high-profile environmental leaders like Mike McShane and Elizabeth Hagood to key Chairmanships at the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health and Environmental Control, respectively.

Stay tuned to FITS for more on this breaking Campaign 2006 story ...

It Didn't Take Sherlock Holmes

... hell, John Holmes could have figured this one out.

Thanks, Fletch.

Not that this will come as a shock to anybody, but the Shealys are indeed behind State Sen. Jakie Knotts' possible third party challenge to Gov. Mark Sanford.

According to the Blogland of Earl Capps, an e-mail was sent Friday to an undisclosed list of recipients urging them to collect diet recipes ... er, signatures ... for the Jakie Knotts for Governor campaign.

FITS has confirmed today that the e-mail was sent by none other than Rod Shealy, Jr.

So much for the theory that downballot Republican races like those of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Treasurer candidate Thomas Ravenel (both of which Rod Shealy, Sr., is running) would be hurt by a weakened governor at the top of the ticket.

We'll have a lot more on the Jakie factor and its contribution to the further disintegration of an utterly clueless Republican Party in tomorrow's "Heard in the Echo Chamber," but for now it's safe to say that the Shealy assualt on the Governor's Office continues.