Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The freaks and geeks at the Statehouse go ga-ga over Sharia law

The Statehouse Sideshow

Posted by Chris Haire on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 8:49 AM

It seems like just a week ago state Rep. Chip Limehouse was in the news for his tone-deaf proposal to move a revamped Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum to the Navy Yard, where it'd be paired up with the Hunley as part of, I don't know, a Lost Cause fun house of sorts.

As you know, the relic room is slated to be the new home of the Confederate Naval Jack that once flew on Statehouse grounds. The first proposal to turn the museum into a shrine to the Confederacy came with a $5 million price tag, an astronomical figure for a task that should have been no more arduous than tossing the flag into a display case and leaving it at that. The second proposal was a few million cheaper, but still in possession of a nearly religious devotion to those who fought for the Lost Cause.

Of course, it goes without saying that preserving history in its true historical context is probably the last thing on the minds of those who champion the Relic Room renovation. Instead, it's yet another instance of how a particular tenacious subset of the establishment refuses to let go of the twisted tenets of Confederate mythology, whereby the cause of the rebels was righteous and true, when it fact it was anything but. Which brings us back to Chip Limehouse's Relic Room proposal.

Limehouse didn't ask North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey if his administration wanted this particular Rebel flag-lovin' sideshow in his neck of the woods. If the representative had, he would have learned that Mayor Summey wasn't a fan of the idea. This was a smart decision on the mayor's part given the racially fraught nature of the Emanuel Nine and Walter Scott shootings. 

Meanwhile, the Friends of the Hunley, the group that oversees the submarine's restoration, also noted they didn't see a reason to pair the two properties. 

Now, sometime after the word got out about Limehouse's proposal, and the expected minor controversy had erupted, The Post and Courier's Brian Hicks wrote an uncharacteristic, aw-shucks defense of the Charleston representative. Hicks even went as far as to prove what a good guy Limehouse was in regards to all-things Confederate flaggy, noting that Chip had voted to remove the battle flag from the Statehouse dome in 2000 and again from the Confederate War Memorial on the capital's grounds. Unfortunately, Hicks, a writer I greatly admire, failed to put either vote in the proper context. The former was a compromise solution between Republicans and Democrats, white and black, while the latter received but a few paltry votes from the true-gray Johnny Rebs in the Upstate. Limehouse wasn't a trailblazer on either. Both moves were clearly in line with the wishes of the establishment, who wanted a change to the Statehouse status quo — if only for purely political reasons.

When it comes to proving he's a proper Heritage Not Hater, Limehouse even penned a fiery column bashing the NAACP's then-ongoing boycott of South Carolina, a move that forced the Atlantic Coast Conference to nix plans to hold a 2009 baseball tournament in the Palmetto State. For Limehouse, it was clear that any controversy over the Confederate flag was in the past. It was a non-issue. 

Given all this, I wasn't surprised to see Limehouse leading the charge last week to get his fellow legislators to pass an anti-Sharia law bill. This act was nothing more than a bit of xenophobic grandstanding since U.S. law already forbids some of the code's more horrific statues —  beheading anyone, infidel or otherwise, is illegal in all 50 states, at least as far as I know. And then there's the fact that foreign laws are more or less meaningless inside our borders. Limehouse knows this, but in order to appeal to the red meaters, he has to play the part of the reactionary rube who is afraid radical Islamists are going to sneak into the National Archives Building late one night and rewrite the Constitution when no one's looking — in permanent marker no less. Egads.

The point here is that Limehouse made a strictly political move. Although he's not running for re-election in 2015, the 53-year-old legislator has gone on record saying that his days as a public official are far from over. He ran for what is now Mark Sanford's U.S. House of Representative seat, and although he lost, it's clear that Limehouse has higher ambitions. 

Chip's not alone in his attempt to score political points by championing a doomed bill. Enter state Rep. Mike Pitts, of Laurens County.

A few weeks back Rep. Pitts introduced a bill requiring all South Carolina reporters to be registered with the state, a clear violation of the First Amendment. Now, Pitts would like you to believe that his bill was all a stunt to draw attention to how journalists of all stripes — TV anchors, big-time daily editors, and lowly alt-weekly columnists — have few reservations about emasculating the Second Amendment. I think that's giving Pitts too much credit.

If you ask me, Pitts actually thought the bill had a chance to pass, and you know what, there's no reason to think it didn't. The hatred of the press is high across the nation, but it's religious doctrine to the thug-y cult of conservative cretins in South Carolina who feast from the chum bucket of backward thinking and despairing disparity. 

But instead of simply mocking Pitts, the press took offense. And so we were bludgeoned with article after article about how this bill was a sin against the divine word of the U.S. Constitution. The press' reaction, in many ways, proved Pitts' argument: The Second Amendment is just as sacred as the First, and yet the Fourth Estate is quick to forgive Second Amendment transgressions, but quick to anger if the First is threatened. The latter affects them, the former, not so much. 

The press was on the right side, of course. The First Amendment is pretty clear in its intention, the Second Amendment not so much. However, the self-important indignation went too far. It was all just so unbecoming. 

Truth be told, when it comes down to it, bills like Pitts or Limehouse's are increasingly becoming the norm. Perhaps they always have been. The press knows that a good portion of bills introduced by our legislators are crafted solely to score political points with a particularly precious voting block. We look just as foolish as Limehouse and Pitts when we ignore that.

So my fellow members of the press, lighten up and enjoy the sideshow. The Statehouse is full of freaks and geeks and grotesques, and they should be treated as such.

Cover image by Flickr user: ironypoisoning


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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mayor Summey opposes proposal to move Confederate Relic Room to Hunley site

Throwing a flag

Posted by Chris Haire on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 at 5:10 PM

Mayor Keith Summey was recently sworn-in to his sixth term in office. - COURTESY OF CITY OF NORTH CHARLESTON
  • Courtesy of City of North Charleston
  • Mayor Keith Summey was recently sworn-in to his sixth term in office.
In one of the most tone-deaf moves of the new legislative year — and I realize that we're just getting started — Charleston's own Chip Limehouse floated a new bill to his fellow members of the House Transportation Committee to move the controversial state-controlled Confederate Relic Room from Columbia to the North Charleston site of the Hunley. 

The relic room is set to become the new symbolic home of the Confederate battle flag that was taken down from Statehouse grounds this summer, following the tragic deaths of nine African-American parishioners at Mother Emanuel in Charleston.

As you know, these nine dear souls died at the hands of a Confederate-flag lovin' trailer troll who hoped his actions would set off a race war. That didn't happen. Instead, we came together. And together, the vast majority of us demanded that the Confederate flag be taken down. And it was.

Since then, a committee, including two Confederate organization appointees, came up with the grand plan to spend $5 million on creating a brand-new relic room that would celebrate the Confederacy. That plan was roundly criticized, and for reasons that everybody who was affected by the Emanuel Nine and the shooting death of Walter Scott don't need explained to them.

Limehouse, apparently, forgot about the Lowcountry's most recent unpleasantness, and so he came up with the right spiffy idea to move the embattled relic room to the Hunley HQ on the Navy Yard grounds.

Well, if North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has any say in the matter, that ain't gonna happen. "I was unaware of Representative Limehouse’s proposed legislation to move the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum to North Charleston until I saw it reported by the Charleston area media. The legislation was introduced without discussion with anyone at the city," Summey says. "I certainly have no intentions of supporting this legislation or the idea of bringing the Confederate museum to North Charleston.”

Once again, the mayor has made a good call, proving that he's not going to stand for the same-old, same-old white vs. black crap we've come to expect in old-school Lowcountry politics. 

Yes, I know Summey's been the source of criticism from the local branches of the National Action Network and Black Lives Matter, and while his Election Day "retribution" comment was a serious misstep, the mayor and his staff have provided a case study in how a city should respond when an officer tragically kills an unarmed African American.

Even the most recent anti-Summey hullaballoo has centered around something neither the mayor nor the police department has any control over — the release of Walter Scott shooter Michael T. Slager. A judge did that, not the City of North Charleston, a fact that renders the repeated protests on the part of black activist groups against Summey and the city nonsensical. 

So, kudos, mayor. Maybe we can nip this silly proposal in the bud.


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'Radio host convinces Congressman to hold hearings into rock star deaths'

When in doubt, go with Hillary

Posted by Chris Haire on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 at 8:24 AM

Update: Just received a message from Trey Gowdy's press person about this post. Here's what she had to say: 

Hi Chris,

Amanda Gonzalez here, Press Secretary for Congressman Gowdy. Just tried to call you but it went to your voicemail.

I saw your piece this morning, "Radio host convinces Congressman to hold hearings into rock star deaths.” Since those quotes obviously did not come from Congressman Gowdy, I am requesting you clearly mark this as satire, which I did not see anywhere on your website or in your piece.

Feel free to give me a call back if you have any questions, and please let me know when this is fixed. Thank you.
Amanda Gonzalez
Press Secretary
Rep. Trey Gowdy (SC-04)

My response:

Amanda,

Thank you for writing. If you look underneath the Haire of the Dog logo you’ll see that it says, “Biting commentary and rabid rants,” indicating that it is a column/opinion. Also Knight-Rider is not a news service, Wyatt Duvall is a made-up character I use quite often, etc.

That said, I’ll include your email at the start of the post. Gracias.


(Knight-Rider) — Washington, D.C. For the much of the past week, listeners of the talk radio show "The Wyatt Way" have been bombarding Congressional offices urging them to form a special committee looking into the latest tragedy to grip our fair nation. One Congressman, South Carolina's Trey Gowdy, has heard them loud and clear and he's ready to launch an investigation into who is responsible for the deaths of some of America's most beloved rock stars.

According to media reports, all of the men died from natural causes, but radio host Wyatt Duvall isn't swayed. "The story the mainstream media is peddling is as bogus as tater tots on the tasting menu at the finest French restaurant in town," he says. "I just don't buy the theory that Bowie, Mr. Frey, and the esteemed Mr. Kilmeister died of the same thing, that is unless that same thing is a villain with murder on his mind — or, you know, a vast right-wing conspiracy."

Gowdy, for one, is more than up to the task. Thanks to his experience with the Benghazi investigation, the former solicitor knows how to milk a mic for all it's worth when the cameras are rolling. "It's as simple as this: the average life expectancy for a male living in the United States is 79, and each one of these musicians didn't even come close to that," Gowdy says. "Bowie died at 69, Lemmie 70, Glenn Frey at 67. And these men were rock 'n' roll royalty. For them, the best medical care was practically a birthright, so consider me suspicious when they passed away far too young."

By the time the special investigation ends, Gowdy believes the nation will learn not only who's responsible for these untimely deaths, it'll prove that the culprit wasn't limited to killing rock stars. "Alan Rickman, Dan Haggerty — I think we'll find that they were sadly wrapped up in all of this too," Gowdy adds.

As for who exactly may be behind the deaths, the Congressman says, "When in doubt, you go with Hillary. Right, wrong, she's always guilty."

Duvall, however, has a different suspect in mind. "The pants suit? Fuck no. Polyester doesn't need pressing," the radio host says. "My money's on Steven Avery. I think all the attention has gone to his head. Next thing you know he'll be demanding a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right next to Rin Tin Tin and Tobey Maguire."

Duvall is the founder of the Slumber Party, a group which tried to get state legislators to pass bills creating mandatory two-hour siestas during the work day. Although the effort failed, Duvall managed to launch a successful U.S. Senate campaign. Among his controversial bills was a proposal granting amnesty to illegal immigrants under the condition that they help construct a wall between the United States and Mexico. Eventually, Duvall resigned to launch a successful career in talk radio.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A wiser Nikki Haley is finally ready to take the national stage

The Education of Nikki Haley

Posted by Chris Haire on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 at 9:38 AM

It was not one of Nikki Haley's finest moments.

Standing before an elevator, staring straight ahead and silent while her handlers tried to deflect questions from former Post and Courier reporter Renee Dudley, Haley appeared less annoyed with the journalist than frightened.

It wasn't the first time that Haley and Dudley had been at odds, nor does it matter what triggered the strange elevator standoff between the two. There's really no point in revisiting the news article that Dudley had written which caused the then-first-term governor to call the reporter a "little girl." Every politician is faced with questions that anger them, and it's something that they all get used to. But at that time, Nikki Haley wasn't up to the task. 

In the early days of her time in office, Haley was notorious for avoiding the press. She issued press releases and posted to social media instead of holding press conferences or sitting down with reporters. The governor and her staff regularly deleted emails to and from their state accounts, a violation of South Carolina law and a clever way to sidestep the Freedom of Information Act, which allows the press access to the governor's emails. Heck, her staff was even caught on at least one occasion trying to physically block a reporter from speaking with Haley. 

Much of this was to be expected. At the time, Nikki Haley simply wasn't cut out to be governor, and her staff, largely comprised of twenty-somethings, didn't have the experience to manage a ravenous press and a thin-skinned governor who was prone to lashing out at her critics in passive-aggressive Facebook posts.

Haley's anger was understandable. She was no more corrupt than any other politician in Columbia, in particular the high-ranking men in the state House and Senate. Yes, she had used her position as a legislator to nab a cheery fundraising post at a hospital and a consulting job at an engineering and construction firm; the latter did business with the state while the former benefited from a vote Haley and her fellow legislators cast. The problem was that Haley was terrible at deflecting, much less hiding these connections. 

And then there were those affair allegations, allegations that she had apparently broken her marital vows with two political operatives. It didn't help that one of her alleged paramours was the most notorious political blogger in the state, Will Folks of FITSNews.

Haley wasn't the first Palmetto State politician to be accused of infidelity, but she was certainly the first one to benefit so profoundly from it. In fact, many will argue that the allegations themselves pushed sympathetic voters her way, leading some to speculate that the accusations were actually designed to do that very thing. Regardless of their purpose or veracity, the rumors dodged Haley at every turn during her first year in office. I'll be the first to admit that I was one of the last reporters to let them go. But we all did.

In part it was because finding an answer had become increasingly futile, and in part because Haley continued to bungle away her time in office. She removed powerful businesswoman Darla Moore from the Board of Directors for the University of South Carolina and put in a crony. Haley issued a bizarre edict that all state employees answer the phone with "it's a great day in South Carolina." She reportedly orchestrated a move that benefited the Port of Savannah over the interests of the state. She called a state Democratic legislator "the mayor of Five Points" after he complained about being denied entrance to a bipartisan barbecue at the governor's mansion. And she included several bizarre claims in her memoir, "Can't is not an Option," including one in which she claimed to broker a playground detente between white and black children during a game of kickball in the third grade.

But as Haley entered her second term, something happened. The bungling stopped. The mistakes disappeared. The governor's thin-skinned narcissism toughened up. She refrained from spouting unfounded Pollyanna pronouncements. She became more poised and dignified. Increasingly, Haley was absent from the news except to make an appearance in the sort of mundane stories that we expect our governors to wind up in.  

Then the massacre at Mother Emanuel occurred, and for the first time in Haley's political career she actually appeared compassionate. More than that, she finally abandoned the colorblind, post-racial BS that far too many members of the GOP subscribe to and to which far too many minority Republicans go along with. This was a Haley who acknowledged our state's racial woes and was willing to assert that the Confederate flag was a divisive and hurtful symbol. 

In the days after the Emanuel AME shooting, Haley attended every funeral for every victim. As an observer it was impossible not to see that something fundamental had changed inside her. 

And so we have the Nikki Haley of 2016, a potential GOP running mate and the deliverer of the Republican response to the State of the Union, bashing the angry rhetoric of Donald Trump and the politics of division that have long been the stock in trade of the Southern Strategy GOP and right-wing radio. It is this Nikki Haley that wants to show blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and other minorities that they have a place in the Republican Party.

Personally, I believe the transformation is genuine. And I choose to see the evolution of Nikki Haley as a sign that the GOP is finally willing to cast aside the fear and hatred that has guided it for far too long.

Friday, January 8, 2016

What, if anything, could exonerate Michael T. Slager?

A Reasonable Doubt

Posted by Chris Haire on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 3:54 PM

Like many of you, I watched the gripping docu-series "Making a Murderer" and found myself drawn in by the story of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, two men who were wrongly convicted of the murder of Wisconsin "Auto Trader" photographer Teresa Halbach, or at least that's what the Netflix show proposes. I too am incensed by what appears to a miscarriage of justice — and fascinated by the ways in which law enforcement and the court system not only failed, but seemingly conspired against these seemingly innocent men.

Slager - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Slager
But as easy as it is for us to view this criminal case through the skeptical, if not accusatory, lens created by filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, it was in all likelihood just as easy for the police, the press, and the public of Manitowoc County, Wisc., to view both Avery and Dassey as a particularly twisted pair of psychotic individuals who brutally beat, raped, killed, dismembered, and burned a young, vivacious woman.

After all, a considerable amount of evidence — whether planted or not — points the finger at Avery. Couple that with the fact that Dassey confessed to the crime — whether coerced or not. In that way, the facts of the matter don't change. The truth, as originally understood, remains the same. It's only in hindsight, and a 10-hour docu-series, that anyone sees the possibility that perhaps what they believed to be the real story was in fact a figment of their collective imagination, an illusion that they saw thanks to a sinister spell cast by the state.

In light of all the new attention brought to this crime by Ricciardi and Demos' exhaustive and exhausting and exasperating investigation, I can imagine that it's uncomfortable for the people of Manitowoc County to come to grips with the fact that they may have been trolled by the Manitowoc County Sherif's Department and a complicit prosecution. No one likes to be played, and it seems that in the case of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, that's what happened.

Which brings us to the Walter Scott shooting and the upcoming trial of North Charleston Police officer Michael T. Slager. 

This week, Slager was released on a $500,000 bond and placed under house arrest, much to the dismay of the community, not to mention the Scott family. After all, we have seen the video footage of Slager firing round after round into the body of Scott as he fled on foot away from the officer. It's crystal clear what happened. Or is it?

That's the question being proposed by Slager's attorney Andy Savage, a local superstar lawyer who also represents members of the Emanuel AME Church, an association that seems odd considering the racially charged nature of both the Slager and Dylann Roof cases. According to Savage, footage exists showing the moments leading up to the events in the heart-breaking video that will exonerate Slager, and while I doubt there’s anything truly there, the potential jury members in his trial must be open to the possibility.

And so the question arises: Exactly what new evidence will lead a jury to draw the conclusion that Michael T. Slager is innocent of murdering Walter Scott?

Let's start with the most obvious: Savage's heavily touted video must show Scott brutally assaulting Slager. It can't be a minor scuffle in which Scott wrestles with the officer, punches him a few times, snatches his tazer, and flees. It must be a berserker rage — Scott may or may not reach for the officer's gun — and there must be photos of the resulting cuts and bruises on Slager's body to prove it. Any verbal threats on the video from Scott directed to Slager must also be of a dramatically threatening nature.

Savage will also have to show that Scott posed a significant threat to the community at large in order to provide justification for Slager's need to shoot an unarmed man in the back. I'm not really sure how this will be demonstrated. Perhaps there is some recorded interaction that indicates such, verbal or otherwise, but if I had to bet, I would assume that Savage and company will argue that Scott was under the influence of drugs; after all, cocaine was reportedly found in his system. But then again, we're talking about cocaine here, not PCP or bath salts or any of a number of unholy concoctions that will turn a normal man into a drug-crazed zombie straight out of "28 Days Later." Added points if Slager has bite marks. And I say that not the least bit in jest.

While Slager will likely offer some sort of statement that he feared or even had cause to believe Scott had a gun, the officer must offer up some concrete reason why this was the case. And for that to happen, there must be some item in Scott's possession that, at least for the briefest of seconds, appeared to be a gun or which in the tussle on the ground felt to Slager as if it was a gun. The existence of an actual gun is irrelevant to Slager's case — especially since there is no indication that there was one around other than the one in the officer's possession. All that matters is that Savage can argue that there was a concrete reason — an actual object of some sort that jury members can visualize as being mistaken for a gun — to bolster any argument that Slager may put forth that he reasonably feared for his life and the lives of others. 

We also can't ignore the possibility that whatever information about Scott or his passenger that Slager retrieved indicated that the victim, or his passenger, was a either a threat or a potential threat. Maybe there is a comment over the scanner that we haven't heard or maybe information from the computer in Slager's vehicle states such a thing. It is conceivable that Slager was fed bad information, either unintentionally or intentionally. Murphy's Law affects us all.

And now, it's time to go down the rabbit hole. What if Michael T. Slager has been framed? What if there is bad blood between Slager and another officer with access to alter records or who had the ability to either provide directly or indirectly faulty information to Slager? What if there is an officer in the North Charleston Police Department or at county dispatch who had a grudge against Scott and/or Slager? What if this person or persons was motivated to frame not one, but two men, for crimes that only through careful orchestrations and manipulations he, she, or they put in place, and for no other reason then to cover up some previous misdeed or slight or embarrassment?

None of those are likely. But if "Making a Murderer" has taught us anything, absolute certainty is the most dangerous weapon in the criminal justice world while the power of suggestion is enough to cause seemingly reasonable people to dismiss all reasonable evidence that a guilty party did in fact commit the crime of which they have been accused.


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