Thursday, February 22, 2007

Form Letter From Congressman Joe Wilson

February 20, 2007

Mr. Todd Morehead
PO Box xxxx
Columbia, South Carolina 292xx

Dear Mr. Morehead,

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding
H.Con.Res. 63, a non-binding resolution opposing the President's
plan to increase troops in Iraq. I appreciate your taking the time to

I understand your concerns and welcome your interest in
this matter. H.Con.Res. 63 was introduced by Representative Ike
Skelton (MO - 04) on February 12, 2007. Since that time, it
passed the House on February 16, 2007 by a vote of 246 - 182. I
did not vote in favor of this resolution. H.Con.Res. 63 is a non-
binding resolution that only serves to undermine our efforts in Iraq.

I believe that defeat in Iraq would have disastrous
consequences for the United States. Instead of working to advance
our mission in Iraq and promote victory, there are some members
of Congress that are committed to opposing President Bush's
efforts but offer no substantive alternatives. This is a resolution
that provides no solutions for the war in Iraq. Debating war is
positive and a guaranteed right that is offered to all Americans, but
empty resolutions with no policy directions do not move this
country forward and are primarily political.

My convictions are deeply derived from personal
experience and a historical perspective. My concerns have been
developed as a member of the Armed Services Committee, through
which I have visited Iraq six times, as a 31-year veteran of the
Army Reserves and S.C. Army National Guard, and as the proud
parent of an Iraq veteran. President Bush has laid out his plan for
realizing victory and pledged the United States' continued support
- contingent upon the Iraqis' commitment to step-up their efforts
toward achieving stability. This plan will require more of our
brave soldiers to join with Iraqi Security Forces to quell the
violence in Baghdad. Through combat experience, Iraqi forces
will mature and will more quickly assume full control of Iraq's

The stakes in this war are too high and the consequences of
defeat too catastrophic. Al-Qaeda has openly stated Iraq is the
central front in the war on terror. As a member of the United
States House of Representatives, I have a responsibility and
obligation to the people of the 2nd District of South Carolina to
ensure that their safety is never compromised. Please be assured
that I will keep your views in mind as the debate on the War in
Iraq continues.

It is an honor to represent the people of the Second
Congressional District of South Carolina, and I value your input.

If I may be of further assistance to you, please do not
hesitate to contact me.
Very Truly Yours,

Joe Wilson
Member of Congress

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lounge Lizard Man Spotted Crooning in Columbia

By Coleman St-Genesius

Several months back, I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamed my partner was begging me to attend a Billy Joel concert. I emphatically declined, as I had no desire to spend two hours packed in an elevator, which is the only place I’ve heard Billy Joel tunes in the past decade.

However, my incubus was real: My partner had purchased tickets online for himself and several other Billy Joel fanatics at 6 a.m. on a Saturday. A week later I learned that the concert was on Valentine’s Day. Geez, if I had known the event was on our national day of love, I probably would have been willing to succumb to several hours of tepid lounge music just to be with my valentine sweetie. So I told my partner to get me a ticket, which he did: three sections away from his B.J. posse. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

If you took all the piano entertainers the world over, from John Tesh to Liberace, and put them in a blender, the result would be Billy Joel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’re not talking Kenny G-level entertainment. But it’s not Green Day, either.

Except for the Colonial Center staff, there wasn’t a single person of color in attendance. Being surrounded by 8,000 middle-aged WASPS is a rather odd sociological experience, especially when one witnesses thousands of Caucasians attempting to clap in unison.

Mr. Joel hardly strayed from his standard of collected hits, including the extraordinarily annoying, but historically-motivating, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “The River of Dream,” which has always struck me as plagiaristic knockoff of the ’50s hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

When the pianomeister fired up “The River of Dreams,” I found it necessary to leave my seat and wander the Colonial Center. (To be honest, I didn’t want to barf on the two teenage bimbos in front of me, whose banshee screams reminded me of something from The Simpsons’ annual Halloween episode.) Like a Dante in music Purgatory, I stumbled in circles, passing cotton candy booths and $50 T-shirt vendors, wiping the drool from my mouth that was caused from a barely audible rendition of “My Life,” when I heard the unexpected opening riffs of a truly classic rock-and-roll tune.

I rushed back to my seat and found myself shouting insanely for an unknown, fat Joel groupie named Chainsaw, who torched the stage with a white-hot cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” This was far and away the highlight of the night, but things quickly returned to their lukewarm state, as Mr. Joel followed with a ludicrous rap version of “Big Shot,” wherein he nearly decapitated his saxophonist with his microphone stand. (Joel might be a New York Jew, but he’s certainly no Beastie Boy.)

Actually, one has to give Billy Joel some credit. Most lounge lizards would slough their skins at the thought of being upstaged by a groupie. But Mr. Joel is impressively comfortable with himself: He spent half his concert making self-effacing remarks about his panus and balding pate. Of course, he made no excuses for his music.

Don’t get me wrong: How many pop musicians credit Aaron Copland, Beethoven and Chopin as inspirations? Billy Joel is an accomplished pianist, and despite the fact that he has some amazing musicians on the stage—especially the trumpeter, whose solo on the Joel attic song “Zanzibar” was pure music heaven—I’d have found the whole evening more tolerable if the stage was just a piano and piano man…and a wet bar.

As expected, the concert concluded with “Piano Man,” which, no matter what you think of Billy Joel, is an American classic lounge song. Of course, for my money I would have rather seen Sammy Davis Jr. belt out “Mister Bojangles.”

Did I mention Harry Connick Jr. is playing at the Township Auditorium in March?

Where have all the Sammy’s gone?

Billy Joel appeared in concert at the Colonial Center on February 14.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Breakfast with presidential candidate Chris Dodd

Analysis by Todd Morehead

Early Saturday morning Mac’s on Main is overflowing with local Democrats. Over at the buffet line people crack jokes, shake hands vigorously and slap each others backs while the major players in the local Democratic party hang to the side in blue suits sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups and talking among themselves. On the other side of the front window, a homeless man in low slung red sweat pants bends deeply to examine some form of detritus on the sidewalk before shuffling on, while a local television news affiliate prepares for a live feed.

Everyone is awaiting the arrival of Sen. Chris Dodd who, along with Sen. Joe Biden, recently called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House grounds. But when Dodd arrived and took the stage at Mac’s he stuck to the party line, calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq and stressing the importance of improving the country’s public education system. Barack Obama said the same thing at his Friday rally. So did John Edwards at a recent book signing in Columbia. Doubtless Hillary Clinton will echo those sentiments at her Allen University town hall meeting Monday.

But, Dodd did stray from the party line at least to address issues like predatory lending and President Bush’s recent abrogation of Habeas Corpus.

The current chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Dodd called for stricter regulations on predatory lending and vowed to “go after credit card companies, too.”

The senator’s Web site features a large banner calling for the reinstatement of Habeas Corpus and he announced to the breakfasting Democrats that on Tuesday he introduced a bill to restore Habeas Corpus protections to detainees that will also limit presidential authority to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.

After his brief talk, Dodd took a few quick questions before flying back to Washington, D.C. to attend a rare Saturday session with the Senate. Democrats, now in control of the Senate, called the emergency session for a procedural vote to advance a nonbinding resolution criticizing President Bush’s plan to boost the number of U.S. forces in Iraq.

“But I’ll be back soon,” Dodd said. “You’re going to be sick of seeing me down here

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The hidden destruction of the Appalachian Mountains

It’s called “mountaintop removal” mining. In West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, coal companies blast as much as 600 feet off the top of the mountains, then dump the rock and debris into mountain streams. Over 300,000 acres of the most beautiful and productive hardwood forests in America have already been turned into barren grasslands. Mountaintop removal mining increases flooding, contaminates drinking water supplies, cracks foundations, and showers nearby towns with dust and noise from blasting.

The Mountaintop Removal Road Show features a beautiful and thought-provoking 22-minute slide show with traditional Appalachian music and culture by Lexington, Kentucky environmental activist Dave Cooper. Discussion to follow the program.

Monday Feb 19 @ 4:00

Green Quad, Learning Center, the Lounge

The Green (West) Quad Learning Center is located at the corner of Wheat

and Sumter Streets. Call 777-1994 for more information.

Sponsored by SAGE, Students Allied for a Greener Earth, and Green (West) Quad Learning Series

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Project goes south on North Main

City council members to meet with North Main residents Feb. 15

By Todd Morehead

The Elmwood, Cottontown, and Earlewood communities of North Main Street house one of the greatest concentrations of middleclass residents in Columbia alongside Shandon and Rosewood. Many feel the historic area should be a feather in the cap of city officials who have invested themselves so heavily in the revitalization of downtown. Yet some homeowners in the North Main area worry that Columbia City Council may welsh on a streetscaping project they’ve been promising for years.
“Elmwood has long been neglected because it is located between two [city council] districts and not in the heart of a single member district,” says Elmwood area resident Chris Barczak. According to him, city council members should look at what is healthy for a city as a whole rather than district members attempting to pacify their individual districts.
“That’s the problem with single-member districts,” he said. “They should represent the city as a whole.”
City Council will vote soon on potential funding for the beautification of the 1.2 miles of North Main Street between Elmwood Ave. and Parkside Drive. The beautification plan could include landscaping, resurfacing the road, burying utility lines, putting in new street lights, traffic signals, crosswalks and sidewalks. Sam Davis and other council members will present an update on the status of the project and take questions from the community Feb. 15 at Reformation Lutheran Church on the corner of River Drive and Union Street. Residents of the area are encouraged to attend, they said.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

You Say Tomato...

Free Times staff writer, Ron Aiken, was quick to correct a reference in Todd Morehead’s article “Dirty Dancing” in the Jan 31 issue, in which Morehead referred to him as a restaurant reviewer.

Aiken, who coined the phrase, “Whigtastic Breakfast Sampler” in a December column, told City Paper, “I am not a restaurant reviewer.” City Paper regrets the error and would like to assure readers that Mr. Aiken’s following articles are also not restaurant reviews:

“Of Sin and Salty Nuts” Vol. 20, Issue 4 (Salty Nut Cafe)

“The Trouble with Truffles” Vol. 20, Issue 3 (USC Wine and Beverage Institute)

“Ten Course Dinners at Solstice Slam Dunk” Vol. 19, Issue 46 (Solstice)

“ ‘C’ is for Cookie” Vol. 19, Issue 40 (Jammin’ Java)

Al Gore Nominated for Academy Awards and for Nobel Peace Prize

By Judit Trunkos

This year started with great success for former Vice President Al Gore, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as well as an Academy Award for his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. In order to get his message about global warming across, Gore decided to try a different type of mass communication and as a result of the documentary, his message was heard this time.

After losing the presidency on a recount of votes in 2000, Gore stepped down from public life to spend more time on issues he felt were more important than his popularity. He teamed up with David Guggenheim to produce a documentary on global warming in order to shake people up and make them realize the consequences of pollution. In the film, Gore and Guggenheim demonstrate and explain the phenomenon of “Greenhouse Effect” and how the industrialized world is responsible for changing the temperature of the climate by increasing fossil fuel burning. An Inconvenient Truth makes the viewer realize the imminent danger and long-term catastrophe that our world will face if no changes are made to our environmental policies and restrictions.

So far, the documentary has garnered international attention and the two nominations—both in the worlds of entertainment and science— have undoubtedly increased the awareness of global warming and have also attracted attention to Gore. After viewing the sudden popularity of the former vice president, many feel that this is only the beginning of a well-planned presidential campaign for 2008. When asked, Gore did not confirm or exclude the possibility of trying one more time.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Brownback speaks, pounds pulpit in Columbia

Analysis by Corey Hutchins

“I’m down with the brown.”

That’s what one S.C. Republican operative campaigning for the Kansas senator, said in the buffet line prior to GOP presidential hopeful Sam Brownback’s luncheon speech Friday, Feb. 2 at the fairgrounds in Columbia.

The banquet room was packed with folks awaiting the senator’s announcement, which when it finally came sounded more like a sermon than the average campaign speech. For their part, members in attendance peppered Brownback’s more religious quips with the obligatory “amen.”

Knowing full well he was in the midst of a Republican stronghold and not an event at the Politically Correct Police Academy, Brownback opened his speech with anecdotes of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, calling him a “good man.” (Brownback spoke about Thurmond for three minutes before identifying himself or declaring his candidacy.)

From then on, the Midwest farm boy talked of how we can’t let God be run out of the public and how the United States needs to end cancer in the next 10 years. Reverting back to his days on the farm, Brownback pulled a piece of cloth from his pocket proclaiming that half of it was made with cotton and the other half corn. He used his prop to push for the use of ethanol and covered his “grass to gas” idea.

“I’m not talking about marijuana,” he joked.

While the senator insisted he did not have plants in the audience, those who asked questions following the speech lobbed them like helium balloons, which Brownback swung at as if with a road sign.

Abortion: “I will help to end abortion in America.”

“Amen,” said members of the crowd. “Amen.”

War: We’re in a “poorly named war” (war on terror) with a militant, fascist Islam and “we have to win.” He also does not think the troop surge is the right way to go.

Illegal immigration: “I supported the fence,” he said, and he wants Social Security to work together with the INS.

“Amen,” they said. “Amen.”

Healthcare: He’s for price transparency, for medical information being private and expansion of health savings accounts.

The last question, which Brownback said he feared would be a high-inside fastball, came out more like a knuckleball, both unexpected and tricky. How will the senator deal with the issue of gang activity in America? Brownback stared down the knuckleball and scanned the dugout for his favorite bat, the old standby, the one with the grips worn down until it shone like sun on a wheat field. The senator smiled and swung away.

“Have to involve faith,” he said.

“Amen,” they said. “Amen.”

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lunch at the Patio, Part 2

By Todd Morehead

City Paper recently revisited the best Cookin’ with Ass of 2006 which featured a review of The Patio Cafe at Patterson Hall, an all-female undergraduate dorm at USC. On a recent press day one of our more twisted associates was so inspired by the re-run that he invited the staff to lunch at The Patio (though not, we would later learn, on his tab).

Paul Blake, publisher of the City Paper, seemed particularly excited at the prospect and urged Sean Rayford and myself into taking lunch at 10:45 a.m. though we were already behind schedule on the issue.

“I think they open at eleven,” he said, breathing heavily.

“Is it cold out?” Rayford yawned from under a leather coat on the couch. He’d slept in the office again and until the lunch invitation arose, we hadn’t bothered to wake him.

“You’ll be warmed up once we get there,” Blake said. “Trust me.”

Ten minutes later, Blake jerked his car into a parking space on the far side of Pickens Street and exited the vehicle almost before the engine had time to shut off. He jogged toward the sidewalk, rubbing his hands together more from jittery excitement than from the cold. His zipped up his sport sweater against the wind and sped on ahead of us.

Rayford lit a cigarette as he walked. “Look at us. Three creepy old dudes heading to have lunch at an all girl’s dorm.” He still had red streaks on the side of his face from the seams in the couch cushion, a cowlick blowing lightly in the breeze.

“We’ll just play it off like we’re German grad students,” I said.

“Let’s go,” Blake yelled up ahead, “Trenholm’s already up there.”

“Is he back in school?” I asked, trotting to catch up.

“I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure he commuted downtown for this.”

We had to slow to a brisk walk up the Pickens Street hill before we veered into the park and crept up the back pathway toward the dorm. As we made our way around Patterson Hall, I found myself winded from trying to keep up with Paul. We passed a row of pink and purple bicycles chained to a rack and he began to pick up his pace.

After City Paper reprinted the original restaurant review for The Patio, we expected the place to be full of lecherous old men. But only Trenholm was there, waiting for us in the lobby. He grinned broadly when we approached. A few undergrad girls in Palmetto T-Shirts and flip-flops had begun to trickle in to wait for the cafe to open. A brunette chewed on brightly colored pen and blew an errant curl out of her eye while she made notes in the margins of her textbook.

Blake’s phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered, still panting from the walk.

A gaggle of blondes in low-slung jeans sauntered by, giggling to each other.

“Yeah,” he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side to take in the view, “we’re putting the finishing touches on the issue right now.”

He spent a few moments on the phone while the rest of us sat and made small talk and before long a Patio buffet attendant unlocked and opened the doors for business.

We were disappointed to find that they no longer offered chicken fingers on Wednesday and realized we’d have to make do with something healthy. The freshman girls had formed a long line at the salad bar, so Rayford and I grabbed our trays and made way for the pizza line. Trenholm and Paul had apparently discovered some type of stir-fry station across the room. Standing in line and gazing out the large windows, I realized that our original review was right; a middle-aged man on an upper floor of the Park Circle apartments could probably read the menu boards at the Patio with a high powered telescope. Though unlike the days when Paul used to live at Park Circle, the menu boards at the Patio now conveniently feature a calorie count next to each entree.

“Did you notice the calorie counters?” Rayford asked when he slapped his tray down at our table. I couldn’t tell if he was impressed or peeved by them.

We sat and pigged out on pizza and salad and traded stories about various jobs we’d been fired from while herds of coeds giggled quietly from nearby tables and slurped loudly on pink scrunchy straws. Before long, it was time to return to the office.

Stuffed to the gills from lunch, we found that we had to make slower progress through the park on the way to the car.

“That was pretty good pizza,” I said to no one in particular, zipping up my jacket against the chill.

“Yeah, we’ll have to come back when the weather warms up.”

“Mmm. For the fresh fruit?”

“No. The mini skirts.”

Bottom of the Barrel

Military Recruiter and Cheerleader Coach Engage in Sex-ploitation of Sixteen Year Old Student

By Tom Turnipseed

The Ware Shoals High School scandal is scorching the front pages of South Carolina’s newspapers with a sordid saga of alcohol, sex, and shady shenanigans involving a 28 year old married cheerleader coach, a 29 year old South Carolina National Guard recruiter and a 21 year old guardsman with 16 year old high school cheerleaders. It includes a sexual rendezvous at a local motel during school hours with the cheerleader coach/counselor and the military recruiter having sex in one room while the other guardsman had sex with a 16 year old cheerleader in another room. Two 16 year old cheerleaders went to the motel and both were given vodka by Jill Moore, their cheerleader coach.

Marjorie Riddle and Chuck Crumbo reported in the State that a male student had sex with Ms. Moore too, and that Moore also had sex at the National Guard Armory with the recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Fletcher.

According to law enforcement investigators, Sgt. Jeremy Pileggi, has admitted having sex with the 16 year old cheerleader but the local sheriff’s office said it would not file charges against him because the age of consent in South Carolina is 16.

Seanna Adcox of the Associated Press reported on Jan. 28 that some members of the South Carolina General Assembly think the investigation into the Ware Shoals High School scandal will spur the legislature to change the age of consent from 16 to 18.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell said, “We should certainly change that to 18. The fact that a 16 year-old can consent is not something I was aware of until this occurred. I suspect a lot of members of the Legislature and citizens of South Carolina did not know.”

However, Spartanburg prosecutor Trey Gowdy said he wished the legislature wouldn’t raise the age of consent. Gowdy feels the best way for lawmakers to respond to the problems presented by the Ware Shoals scandal is for the legislature to enhance sentencing against the adults violating and abusing their positions of trust. If the allegations are correct “Entrusting your children to a school system and military department the most troubling aspect”, said Gowdy.

Jill Moore has been charged with supplying alcohol and cigarettes to the female students and contributing to the delinquency of a minor for the motel sex-capades.

Meanwhile, Sgts. Pileggi and Fletcher have been suspended by the National Guard. The Guard said that if its investigation reveals what the Greenwood County sheriff’s office has concluded, the soldiers might be charged with: Failure to obey a military order; dereliction of duty; false official statement; accessory after the fact; and wrongful appropriation of government property The last charge would derive from sheriff’s reports that Moore and Fletcher had sex in the recruiter’s office at the Ware Shoals armory.

Army regulations, applying also to the National Guard, prohibit recruiters from having sex, dating and drinking alcohol with “all high school students.” Pileggi and Fletcher could be fined or jailed and kicked out of the National Guard if they are found guilty.

Maj. Gen. Harry Burchstead, the Guard’s deputy adjutant general and a former S.C. assistant attorney general and prosecutor said, “This type of misconduct is intolerable, and we are currently reviewing recruiting policies and procedures to ensure something like this cannot and will not happen in the future.”

Burchstead also said the Guard’s soldiers were “serving honorably in harm’s way," and, “the alleged actions of these individuals in no way reflect the standards of conduct of members of the South Carolina National Guard.”

Misconduct cases against military recruiters increased more than 50 percent to 630 in 2005, from 400 in 2004, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

On Saturday, John Hendren reported on ABC-TV’s World News that the new troop surge in Iraq and President Bush’s call to expand the ranks of the Army and Marines by 92,000 troops was putting pressure on standards for military recruits for the all volunteer army. Will there be enough high‑quality recruits to fill the expanding ranks? Eli Flyer, a former senior manpower analyst at the Department of Defense, points to a disturbing development: Army officials are giving more waivers for troops with medical conditions that might otherwise disqualify them, and more waivers for troops with criminal records.

"There is no question that standards will suffer if they have to, in order to meet the specific year goals," Flyer said.

Stephen Green, who is charged with raping and murdering a 14 year old girl and her family last year in the Iraqi town of Mahmudiya, had previous criminal convictions and mental problems that might otherwise have made him ineligible.

"The increases here," Flyer said, "will have the effect of giving more turnover within the Army, more behavioral problems, more psychiatric problems."

As President Bush pushes his escalation of the Iraq war we are scraping the bottom of the barrel to find the necessary manpower. The military recruiters like those who violated their public trust in the sordid scandal of alcohol and sex at Ware Shoals high school are examples of what we might expect as we hit the bottom of that barrel.

Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and political activist in Columbia, South Carolina.