Archive for category News

Former journalism professor’s new  novel touches a nerve with many an  editor working in the community press

If the gruesome slaughter of five people happened in the newsroom of a paper in Annapolis, Maryland, could it happen in South Carolina?

What exactly could occur when a group of angry citizens have a festering gripe with their hometown community newspaper?

And how would the newspaper respond if this irate group of people seemed only to get angrier and more demanding by the day?

Even the community’s high sheriff—under seige himself by that same crowd of complainants—seems to have no answers.

These are a couple of uncannily timely themes in a new novel—“Unlikeliest Witness”—published earlier this summer by Larry C. Timbs Jr.

Timbs is a former community newspaper editor and retired Winthrop University journalism professor now living in the mountains of East Tennessee.  He says that the big story of the recent newsroom shooting in Annapolis is something that all-too-many community newspapers can relate to.

“All it takes is one deranged or mentally ill person to bust into a newsroom and vent his spleen.  Tragedy can quickly ensue,” Timbs said.  “If you’re a journalist working in a small town in South Carolina, you can definitely relate to what I write about in my new book.”

Unlikeliest Witness, published by Doggy Dog Press, is available on Amazon.



Greenwood music legend, Swingin’ Medallions founder John McElrath dies

John McElrath

By Richard Whiting, Index-Journal

Greenwood’s “Songbird” has gone silent.

John Grady McElrath, founder of the Swingin’ Medallions, succumbed to his long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He died at home Saturday at age 77.

McElrath was more than the founder of the Party Band of the South. He was the glue that kept the band together through its many iterations for more than 50 years since that day a handful of kids listened to and began to emulate rhythm and blues they heard while sitting in McElrath’s yard in the early 1960s.

Drummer and original Medallion member Joe Morris recalls fondly just how integral his friend was to the Swingin’ Medallions, from the band’s birth to its current lineup, which includes McElrath’s sons, Shawn and Shane.

“We used to sit out in John’s front yard and listen to rhythm and blues music, coming from the back door of a local, little club there in Ninety Six,” he said Monday during a phone interview.

“That’s where we sorta got our love for rhythm and blues music. That formed the type music we did. Over the years there’s been quite a few guys come and go through the band. … I left the group after college, around ’68. The amazing thing is that John kept it going for all those years.

“I remember when I left the group, he said, ‘Man, I wish you wouldn’t leave. We can do this the rest of our life.’ It’s always stuck with me,” Morris said while holding back tears.

Original members of the Swingin’ Medallions pose for a photo during a reunion concert at Chastain Park in Atlanta, in the early 1980s. From left are Charlie Webber (deceased), John McElrath, Jimmy “Jimbo” Doares, Joe Morris, Brent Fortson, Steve Caldwell (deceased) and, placing bunny ears over Caldwell’s head, Carroll Bledsoe. In 2016, original and current members of the band came together in Uptown Greenwood to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the band’s national hit song “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love).”

But Morris, like any member of the band through the years, never really left. He and others have continued to play with the Medallions through the years at reunion concerts and remain friends to this day, a testament to what McElrath liked to say: “Once a Swingin’ Medallion, always a Swingin’ Medallion.” Or, as “The Heeey Baby Days of Beach Music” author Greg Haynes put it on his tribute to McElrath on the band’s Facebook page, “Wear the scripted tee-shirt on stage once, ‘Swingin’ MEDALLIONS,’ wear it for life.”

So true.

Original member and trumpet player Carroll Bledsoe, who now lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina, performed with the band on Sunday night in Sandy Springs, Georgia, in an outdoor venue, as a tribute to his bandmate.

“If it hadn’t been for him, there wouldn’t have been any Swingin’ Medallions,” Bledsoe said during a phone call Monday.

Bledsoe has nearly wrapped up a book he had hoped to have out while his friend and bandmate was still alive. “The History of The Swingin’ Medallions — an Insider’s Viewpoint,” is expected to be out sometime in July.  Read the rest of this entry »

S.C. House candidate is running to abolish his own job

Michael Stewart
Carolina News and Reporter

John Crangle, Democratic candidate for S.C. House District 75, has spent much of his adult life advocating for reforms in government, giving him a unique perspective on how to make the legislature better serve the people.

John Crangle is a Democrat running for the South Carolina House of Representatives, but he is already planning to wipe out his own legislative chamber if elected.

After spending decades rooting out corruption in the State House, the longtime face of the watchdog organization Common Cause in South Carolina, has seen first-hand what he considers to be incompetence at the highest level.

“I’ve been going over there since 1987 and most legislators don’t know anything about the actual process,” Crangle, 77,  said. “Whatever the majority leader tells them to do, that’s what they do.”

Crangle plans to tackle the problem with a radical solution. He wants to abolish the South Carolina House of Representatives and establish a full-time Senate as a unicameral legislature. He believes the House has become a training ground for future senators.

“Quite frankly, the quality of senator on average is higher than in the House,” Crangle said. “It’s kind of like the difference between Double-A baseball and Class A baseball, though in this case it may be more of Double-A to college.”

According to Crangle, combining that inability to perform the job, with what he says is a continued culture of corruption in the State House, results in an inefficient and wasteful legislature.

Adopting a unicameral legislature would mean South Carolina. would join Nebraska as the only other state with one legislative body. In 1934, Nebraska approved a constitutional amendment abolishing the House of Representatives and in 1937 “the Unicameral” met for the first time.

Nebraska’s legislature is made up of 49 senators, each chosen by a single-member district or constituency a nonpartisan election. What this means is the top two vote-getters in each primary are entitled to run in the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

John Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that Nebraskans, on the whole, are happy with their form of state representation.

“It works pretty well and the differences are maybe less than they would appear to an outsider,” Hibbing said in a telephone interview. “I think if there was a proposal to change back to two-house legislature, it would probably fail.”

The Nebraska Legislature differs slightly from what Crangle hopes to accomplish in South Carolina. Nebraska senators still spend only 60 to 90 days a year in the capital, Lincoln, performing legislative duties, far from the full-time scenario Crangle envisions.

And the different demographics of the two states make it hard to project whether voters would be as pleased as they are in Nebraska.

“There’s a strong populist tradition here,” Hibbing said. “I think Nebraskans are a little bit proud of it, something unique as the only one in the union.”

To get to a one-house general assembly, Crangle will have to navigate the complicated process of amending the South Carolina Constitution. Scott Huffmon, professor of political science at Winthrop University, says that may look easier than it actually is.

“We do have one of the most amended constitutions of all the state constitutions in the United States of America,” Huffmon said. “But that is because we have one of the oldest, still functioning ones. It’s not technically among the easiest to amend.”

John Crangle’s proposal would dissolve the South Carolina House of Representatives, getting rid of what he considers as simply “a stepping stone” to becoming a Senator.

Phil Cheney, the only Independent candidate for governor, thinks Crangle’s idea is very interesting but he isn’t completely on board.

“A unicameral legislature sounds like a good idea to me, but I think the Senate was designed to be a part-time job in South Carolina,” Cheney said. “It was for those who were retired or had other sources of income, and I really think we need more retired folks to hold seats.”

Crangle’s reforms don’t stop at just abolishing the House. He’d also limit the influence of money on elections by banning campaign fundraising in non-election years. He says this would reduce a number of conflicts of interest within the legislature.

“It’s like an auction house over there when you have leadership that’s taking money from their own campaigns,”  Crangle said. “They’re taking caucus money too. It’s very easy to corrupt from the top down.”

While Crangle’s proposal has precedence in government, there is skepticism that it will get any traction.

“Oh, I don’t think the House is really going to like that very much,” Gov. Jim Hodges, who held office from 1999-2003, said in a phone interview. “Maybe John wants to get the idea out there so people will talk about it.”

Crangle may find that his plan to abolish the House of Representatives has resistance even inside the Democratic Party. Don Fowler, former national chairman of the Democratic National Committee doesn’t think it’s viable.

“I think there is wisdom in having two bodies,” Fowler said. “Every state but Nebraska has two, the U.S. Congress has two and I think the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 was wise in creating a House and Senate with different tenures, different geographical areas and people that they represent.”

Don Fowler thinks John Crangle’s proposal of a unicameral legislature in South Carolina is interesting, but says that the history in America of a bicameral system points that it is the better way.

Just getting seated in the State House will be a challenge for Crangle. District 75 is solidly Republican, voting in Rep. Kirkman Finlay III, R-Richland, the last three election cycles. Crangle is also severely out-funded by his opponent.

“It’s an uphill struggle for me,” Crangle said. “It’s a gerrymandered, Republican district and I’m going up against a guy who is worth $50 or $60 million, so it’s a David-versus-Goliath situation.”

He’s not interested in mudslinging to get ahead.

“My campaign is not personal attacks,” he said. “I know Kirkman’s mother and I knew his father for years as well. This is strictly about reform ideas that I think have been needed for a long time.”

And his campaign is solely focused on those reform ideas. While he may have an opinion on other issues, Crangle believes the government must be fixed to streamline solutions to other problems.

“I’m not going to talk about distracters, like the Confederate flag or abortion,” Crangle said. “We’re spending $22 million in excess on the House a year, that’s money that could be used to solve things.”

That attitude is unsurprising to many of the people who are familiar with John Crangle’s past work.

“You can use any frank metaphor you want along the lines of an uphill battle to describe this election,” Huffmon said. “My guess is that he views this as a chance to get a broader platform to try and force those in power to acknowledge issues he cares about.”

But Crangle wants it to be clear that he is not running a sideshow campaign. He wants to win, but in order to do that he knows the political climate must be right.

“I think I have a chance because you don’t have a presidential election going on,” he said. “I’m going up in a year where I think the governor’s race is up for grabs more than most years and that will motivate a lot more Democrats to vote. It’s an uphill struggle, but if God’s on your side then it works miracles.”

For Crangle, this election is, hopefully, the culmination of a lifetime of work boring into the deep roots that corruption has taken in politics. He is the author of “Operation Lost Trust: And the Ethics Reform Movement.” It’s a 607-page magnum opus on the 1989 FBI sting operation in the South Carolina General Assembly, that saw multiple legislators indicted for accepting bribes.

After wading through that political dirty laundry and witnessing a similar scandal almost 30 years later, in which almost half a dozen current or former legislators were indicted in a special prosecutor’s investigation, Crangle knows that it’s one of the most difficult tasks to fully accomplish.

“The nature of the corruption has changed,” he said. “Corruption is like bacteria. You can treat it with an antibiotic, but eventually it builds a resistance.”

, , ,

Feared elsewhere, tariffs might find a home in Georgetown

By Mike Woodel
Carolina News and Reporter

GEORGETOWN – As a union man, James Sanderson represents a faith in organized labor unshakeable as steel.

Sanderson has held the presidency of United Steelworkers of America Local 7898 in Georgetown, South Carolina, since 1988, supervising union members as they rode out three closures of the local steel mill. All of these closures, he said, have been forced by imports of cheap foreign steel.

United Steelworkers of America Local 7898 was founded in Georgetown in 1971 following a six-month strike by workers at the local steel mill. Cheap steel imports are largely to blame for the mill’s three closings since 2003, says Local 7898 president James Sanderson.

But the mill’s purchase in December by London-based Liberty House Group and impending re-opening take on a different optimism with President Trump’s plan to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports from all countries excepting Canada and Mexico.

“It will definitely be beneficial to our plant, Liberty, and it would be beneficial to all of the people who work for a living in the United States of America,” Sanderson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind, 100 percent, that the tariffs that Donald Trump announced and, hopefully…  are implemented will be a shot in the arm for all the industries in this country.”

Despite Sanderson’s enthusiasm, the tariffs and South Carolina’s role as a manufacturer of cars for foreign companies could still put the state in a precarious position. BMW employs 9,000 workers at its factory in Greer, and construction is underway on a Mercedes-Benz van factory in North Charleston and a Volvo factory in Berkeley County.

At the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland earlier this month, BMW CEO Harald Krüger said tariffs would affect his company’s hiring of American workers.

James Sanderson was elected president of Georgetown’s USWA Local 7898 three decades ago. He is hopeful that federal tariffs on foreign steel will protect American steel manufacturers.

Speaking before the state Senate on March 13, S.C. Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt warned lawmakers of the impact obstacles to a free market might have.

“Uncertainty always brings concern in business,” Hitt was quoted in The State.

Steel is a crucial byproduct of Georgetown doing business. Perched on the near northern half of South Carolina’s Atlantic coast, the city holds a population of 9,000 and a spot in the census-designated Myrtle Beach metropolitan area. Its economy makes it an outlier on the Grand Strand, a seaside, industrial city in a region built on tourism. There are no cloudless days, as the stacks rising from the International Paper plant just off downtown belch white clouds into the sky even on clear spring afternoons.

Standing at the intersection of Hazard and Butts streets in Georgetown, USWA Local 7898 is decorated as a shrine to past union successes. On a wall behind a raised stage, a plaque presented to Sanderson holds gavels used by USWA presidents to open three national conventions – next to it, framed photos of Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Under new ownership and only a year separated from its 50th birthday, the Georgetown steel mill is expected to resume production this summer according to Sanderson.

Outside Sanderson’s office hangs a framed copy of the October 13, 1967, Georgetown Times – a special edition announcing Korf Industrie und Handel’s intent to build the mill that now sits, vacant but waiting, along South Fraser Street with its back to Winyah Bay.

As an ardent support of the Trump tariffs, Sanderson has seen the effect an influx of cheap steel can have on American manufacturing. Following a previous closure, the U.S. Department of Labor found that mill workers qualified for Trade Adjustment Assistance. The TAA is a program established by the Trade Act of 1974 to provide aid to workers whose employment status is directly affected by imports.

This in mind, Sanderson has much to say on the topic of American companies with foreign interests.

“Look at the businesses in this country that have business interests overseas,” Sanderson said. “If the media was to try to do an analysis of all the companies in this country that have… all kind of interests in these other countries, then they will be able to connect the dots and realize why they are so against these tariffs. Because they are over there making money on the backs of the American people. They’re not investing in America.”

Sanderson also railed against American companies’ use of cheap labor overseas while steelworkers in his own union approach the end of their third mill closing since 2003.

“They’ve been over there in these other countries exploiting children, labor laws; they don’t have no OSHA standards over there, they don’t have no environmental laws, they don’t have no wage laws over there,” Sanderson said. “How can you compete with that?”

The stepson of an International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers member, Sanderson came to the Georgetown mill in 1974 to work as an electrician. Though his USWA position is full-time, he also spent 13 years as a training coordinator with the mill’s Institute for Career Development until his layoff by previous mill owner ArcelorMittal in December 2017.

Local 7898 also has members organized at the International Paper plant, two local nursing homes and Georgetown Memorial Hospital. Sanderson forecasts a growth of 250 workers when the mill begins rolling steel again, which could be as early as this summer. If correct, this would double the local’s current membership.

Of Liberty House Group, Sanderson said there is no sign the tariffs affect the deal finalized in December. He also adds that LHG’s intent is not to use the mill as an exporter to the UK, but to keep the mill’s products domestic.

“They’re here for the long haul,” Sanderson said. “They want to use this as a stepping stone for building a much bigger footprint in this country.”

Before the mill shut down in August 2015, Sanderson said, the steel rolled by the mill was shipped to companies in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Indiana.

In addition to the tariffs, Sanderson is always open to talk about 7898. He and his financial secretary, Latonia Green, both find members of their local to be faithful, staying on even through three closings of the mill in the past 15 years. But the union hall still can seem almost lost in deep-red, right-to-work South Carolina.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 78,000 of South Carolina’s nearly 2 million workers were represented by a union in 2017. Of those 78,000, only two-thirds were union members. As a percentage of total workers, the state ranks dead last in the nation in both categories.

Georgetown resident Melvin Cohen has worked at the local steel mill since 1973. He plans to return to work to train new workers when the mill is re-opened by British company Liberty House Group.

The push for a union began when Georgetown steelworkers struck in August 1970, at the same time as a satellite wire company in nearby Andrews. Six months into the strike, Local 7898 was born. A May 1971 story on the strike published in USWA periodical Steel Labor hangs under glass by the door.

A lifelong Georgetown resident, Melvin Cohen remembers the picket lines. Still two years from taking a job with the mill himself, he marched with his father.

“They went through some things to get that union here,” Cohen said. “People got locked up, workers got locked up, beat up by the law and different things and I seen it when I was younger what they went through to get the union here. So I take pride in having it here.”

A guard for 7898, Cohen has been with the mill since his hiring in the fall of 1973 as a furnace operator and operations technician. He worked as a truck driver during a previous closure.

After the 2015 closure, Cohen removed slag on the mill grounds until being laid off last February. The union contract allowed him to receive 85 percent of his previous wage for a year, then 65 percent the year after.

“When you look back at that, what the union represents is a whole lot for fairness in mills,” Cohen said.

At 63, Cohen plans to return to the mill when it re-opens to help train new workers. But he still worries about the effect a fourth mill closing would have on his hometown.

“It’s not only going to affect the steel, it’s gonna be a trinkle-down thing,” Cohen said. “When they first shut the mill down we had some people in Georgetown, they said, ‘well, what y’all gonna do when the mill shuts down?’ I said, ‘No, not what are we gonna do, what’s the town gonna do?’”

In December, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce estimated Georgetown County’s unemployment rate at 5.7%, just above the state rate of 4.3% and nearly half again the national rate of 3.9%. And in 2016, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimated the city of Georgetown’s poverty rate at a staggering 38.4%.

“For the future, I think if they don’t do something about the imports, that, yeah,” Green said. “It could lead us back to another closure.”

Sanderson believes the tariffs to be a sign of things to come as far as trade policy is concerned.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Sanderson said. “Time will prove that [Trump] was right.”

Thirty years later, Greenwood still grieves over a school shooting

By Kristen Schneider
Carolina News and Reporter

GREENWOOD — Ellie Hodge smiled at the shooter as he walked in.

The first-grade teacher sat across from one of her students, keeping a watchful eye on the bustling cafeteria. A hundred students sat at their tables, eating their lunches that September afternoon in 1988.

“I thought he was a parent,” Hodge said, still incredulous years later at her naivete.”A young parent, but I was new.”

It was her sixth week at Oakland Elementary School. She didn’t know all the parents yet. So, she smiled.

That’s when 19-year-old James William Wilson Jr. opened fire.

Hodge doesn’t remember the gun; she only remembers being shot. The bullet entered the side of her hand. The student across the table looked at her, wide-eyed. Hodge, confused, thought the little boy had thrown a ketchup packet at her.

Back then, the term “school shooting” didn’t exist. It was unimaginable, which is why it took Hodge a moment to realize the situation.

Editors at Greenwood’s paper, The Index-Journal, compare the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida to their community’s tragedy 30 years ago. The paper’s front page op-ed calls for action regarding gun laws.

Then she started to scream for students to run.

Lashonda Burt sat on the other side of the room when the chaos began. The 7-year-old was shot and immediately blacked out. When she came to, she searched for her teacher.

“I remember Miss Hodge waving at me to come to her,” Burt-Reeder, now married and still living in Greenwood, said. “She was actually shot again in that moment.”

The second bullet entered Hodge’s right shoulder and lodged in her left, bypassing her spine by millimeters.

A cafeteria employee pulled Hodge, Lashonda, and another student into a cafeteria freezer. Hodge told the children to run. Lashonda fled out a side door with other kids, not realizing she had been shot until someone saw the blood on her clothing.

“When I looked down at my arm and my shirt, I saw all the blood,” she said, recalling the moments before she passed out again.

Inside the building, Wilson reloaded the handgun – a nine-shot .22 caliber revolver he stole from his grandparents – in a bathroom down the hall from the cafeteria.

He soon moved to a third-grade classroom and began shooting, killing eight-year old Shequila Bradley and injuring six others, including Tequila Thomas.

Tequila would never regain consciousness.

Shots, then panic

Across town, Chief Jim Coursey sat in his office at the Greenwood Police Department. The scanner crackled as he spoke with a SLED agent. The chief’s ears perked up.

“I remember telling him, ‘I got to go, there’s been a shooting at one of my schools,” Coursey said.

Maj. Urban Mitchell heard the same call in his car as he drove around town. He arrived within seconds on the school grounds, which had filled with dozens of cars and frantic parents.

Three decades later, Maj. Mitchell marvels at how quickly ordinary people arrived at the scene.

“Believe it or not, word had still gotten out, and there were parents arriving just immediately after I got there,” he said.

Mitchell rushed around the back of the school where he found another investigator holding Wilson at gunpoint. The officer had captured the shooter after he climbed out a bathroom window. The police chief drove up as the two took Wilson into custody.

Both describe the scene as chaotic; sheriff’s deputies and SLED agents rushing in, teachers and children bleeding, parents screaming for answers.

Telephone calls heightened the madness; parents who didn’t make it to the scene frantically called the school. A secretary from SLED, along with Coursey’s personal assistant, came to Oakland Elementary and helped answer the calls.

“To hear that panic,” Mitchell said, trailing off in thought. He then summed it up in one word: “Unbelievable.”

A close-knit community that still remembers

The names of Shequila Bradley and Tequila Thomas are etched into granite markers in a small memorial garden behind the school, which now bears the name Eleanor S. Rice Elementary in honor of the principal who guided the school out of the tragedy.

The town renamed the school in her honor after she died in 2010. A plaque outside the school’s front office describes Rice’s leadership in the shooting’s aftermath as “heroic.” Coursey doesn’t know what the town would have done without her guidance.

September 26, 2018, will mark 30 years since Wilson opened fire and took Shequila and Tequila from this world. Wilson had no ties to Oakland Elementary. He lived with his grandparents, and relatives described him as a “hyper-recluse” to The State newspaper. He is incarcerated on death row at Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia.

In those three decades, not much has changed about the city of Greenwood. It currently has 23,222 residents and counting, with major chains and stores in its center, up from its 21,613 population in 1980. Tiny shops line Main Street in an renovated arts and culture district now known as Uptown Greenwood. Their owners remember customers’ names, their food orders and family ties.

Residents of Greenwood, South Carolina, will never forget the shooting that changed their town–even if the rest of the world has moved on.

“It’s a close-knit community,” Mitchell said.

It’s a community that still remembers the two youngsters who lost their lives and those who still carry psychic wounds from that day.

One Greenwood business owner teared up as he talked about Kat Finkbeiner, the physical education teacher who confronted Wilson as he reloaded in the bathroom. When she tried to stop him, he shot her in the mouth and hand.

Finkbeiner survived and was hailed as a hero.

Even three decades later, those who witnessed the aftermath of the shooting continue to live with the effects.

“This was a bad day,” Coursey said. He took a moment to collect himself before he admitted, “I still dream about it.”

Coursey, now retired after six years on the force, calls himself “a big Second Amendment person,” but he isn’t blind to the issue of guns in American society.

“What’s happening now…we’ve got to make some changes,” he said.

Hodge said she struggles to listen to news about the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida that claimed the lives of 17 students. She has physical reminders: her left hand that fails to make a closed fist, and her PTSD that overrides her senses from time to time.

For the most part, however, Hodge can remember the tragedy without issue.

“It helps to talk about it,” she said.

Burt-Reeder flinches every time there is a call from her children’s school in the middle of the day. Her shoulder aches from time to time, but she views it as a reminder; if she hadn’t been eating at the time of the shot, the bullet would have gone through her neck.

Emotions run high whenever another school shooting leads the national news. There is a sense of being forgotten, the name of Oakland Elementary School lost in the modern wave of school shooting tragedies.

Even if the rest of the world forgets, Greenwood can’t.

“I forgive him for it, but I will never forget that he did that to me,” Burt-Reeder said.

, ,

Bitcoin owners: Get ready to pay taxes this April

By Bill Rizzo
Carolina News and Reporter

Bitcoin owners will no longer be able to avoid paying capital gains tax on cryptocurrency gains for their 2017 tax returns due to the new rules in the 2018 tax law. The new tax code closed a loophole that allowed tax write offs by exchanging bitcoin for another cryptocurrency.

Prior to the latest tax bill, that process called like-kind exchanges allowed bitcoin owners to avoid paying a capital gains tax. Under the new tax code, like-kind exchanges only apply to real estate.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital currency with a limited supply, similar to gold – where the market sets the value. It started as an idea by someone using the name Shatoshi Nakamoto, who’s true identity is unknown. Nakamoto wrote a paper about Bitcoin and sent it out to cryptographers in 2008. This was during the housing crisis when more people began to distrust the U.S. dollar’s value and the Federal Reserve’s banking policies – which allow the Federal Reserve to reduce the value of the dollar by printing money. Bitcoin was first coined in January 2009.

“I think when people got more skeptical about government and financial institutions, they get worried about inflation and the government being basically in charge of the money,” said Colin Jones, a USC finance professor who has been researching cryptocurrencies for over 5 years.

Before 2017, the price of bitcoin had risen at a slow and steady rate. On Jan.  1, 2017, one bitcoin was valued at $983.61. By December 2017, it reached $19,165.42 and took the world by storm.

“I think it was originally popular because it has a very interesting value proposition as a stateless currency that is incredibly liquid and transferable,” said Jones. “Then once the price went up, people started paying more attention.”

He says the steep rise in price caught the eye of investors. “Buying a little bit of bitcoin has a place in a lot of people’s long-term portfolios because it’s uncorrelated to the stock market,” said Jones. He called it an alternative to gold.

The blockchain

This idea of Bitcoin at its root was a distributed ledger called a blockchain where all users record every transaction publicly. The blockchain creates security for the investor because the government and others cannot modify the blockchain.  The only way the blockchain can be updated is through the process of data mining.

There are hundreds of thousands of mining computers all over the world owned by companies and individuals. The breadth of these mining networks makes it virtually impossible to hack, since you need 51 percent of the network to gain control.

Andrew Wright, a USC student who has attended blockchain conferences and works with the technology daily, says the blockchains are the most secure form of transactional record keeping and data exchange, which is the reason they have become so sought after.

“Blockchain is the pinnacle of military grade encryption software that is being used in a commercialized market,” said Wright.

Andrew Wright, a USC student majoring in advertising, works with blockchain technology daily. The image on the computer screen is his self-created visual representation of blockchain.

There will never be more than 21 million bitcoin in circulation. Each year half of the remaining bitcoin will be released from new blocks to prevent all of the supply being used up. The algorithm will not allow more than the year’s supply to be released. At the end of 2017 there were 16.78 million bitcoin in circulation. The total will not reach 21 million in over 100 years.

“At its root, cryptocurrencies are a hedge against fiat currencies,” said Wright.

2018 decline in price

Following the 2017 surge, a big crash scared a lot of investors. By Feb. 2, 2018, the price of bitcoin dropped to $7016.39. Jones says this drop is due to government regulation.

Jones says South Korea and China have banned cryptocurrencies, causing drops in prices. Both countries are major players in the market.

Now, America has even threatened regulations on bitcoin.

“America was kind of waffling on it,” said Jones. “Although recently the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) has softened on it saying there might be a little bit of regulation, but they are not going to stop it,” said Jones. He points to regulation as the main cause of the price drop.

With the like-kind exchange tax loophole closing, the crytptocurrency market might be even less attractive to American investors, who until now have been able to get around paying taxes on their gains.

Cryptocurrencies and taxes

Before 2014, the IRS did not specifically require cryptocurrency owners to declare their gains and pay taxes. Then, as the market became more popular, the IRS decided it was time to clarify the issue. In 2014, the IRS asked Coinbase – the most popular website to store, buy or sell digital currencies – for all of its users’ records.

“I don’t think anything changed, but I think bitcoin just got on the radar,” said Donna Schmitt, a USC accounting professor.

This new policy treated cryptocurrencies as a property, similar to stocks or gold. This meant owners would be required to declare their gains and pay a capital gains tax on their digital currency.

Schmitt says the U.S. dollar is the only currency that does not require a capital gains tax. “Any other currency is property that can change in value and you can have a gain or loss in selling it, which means you have to pay a capital gains tax,” she said. “Capital gains tax rate is dependent on your income.”

But this new 2014 rule set by the IRS did not stop cryptocurrency owners from finding loopholes. Due to the like-kind exchanges rule, bitcoin and other owners of digital currencies were able to get tax write offs by exchanging one digital currency for another.

To declare digital currency gains or losses, owners will now have to report them on a Schedule D form. This is where taxpayers report all of their capital transactions.

Colin Jones is a professor in the finance department at the University of South Carolina. He first learned about bitcoin from his students and continued to research and study blockchain technology.

Donna Schmitt is an accounting professor at the University of South Carolina and a certified public accountant in Florida.

A “spiritual awakening” on climate change

By Mike Woodel
Carolina News and Reporter

Former Republican congressman Bob Inglis (at right) now works to convince the GOP of climate change and free-enterprise solutions to address the problems. Photo courtesy of Price Atkinson and Northwestern University

Bob Inglis had an excellent reason for not buying climate change – Al Gore was selling it.

Now as he leads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a conservative group he founded promoting free-enterprise answers to climate change, Inglis finds the environmental views he held as a congressman in the 1990s “rather ignorant.”

“It was the end of the inquiry; Al Gore was for it, so I was against it,” Inglis said.

Inglis was elected in 1992 to represent South Carolina’s District 4, covering Greenville-Spartanburg, “the reddest district in the reddest state in the nation,” he said. From then until 1998, his environmental views were shaped in direct opposition to the Democratic vice president, whose “An Inconvenient Truth” book and film changed the way the world viewed global warming.

Inglis was re-elected to Congress in 2005. Not long after, Inglis’ son told his father to re-think his views on the environment, or else he might not get his vote.

That millennial admonition was the first step in the re-education of Bob Inglis. His second was a trip to Antarctica with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; the third was another committee journey snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.

There, Inglis made a connection with an Australian climate scientist which he deemed a “spiritual awakening.”

“I could tell that he and I shared a world view even though no words had been spoken,” Inglis said. “I could see that he was worshipping God in what he was showing me.”

On returning home, Inglis introduced the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009 to the House. The bill sought lower Social Security taxes to be offset by greater taxes on fossil fuels. It did not sit well with a Republican Party in the midst of the Tea Party wave of 2010.

“Note to self: Do not introduce carbon tax in midst of Great Recession in reddest district in reddest state in nation,” Inglis said with a laugh.

Inglis lost the District 4 primary in a landslide to Trey Gowdy, who suggested he and a majority of the 4th district constituents did not believe in climate change. (Gowdy recently announced his retirement from the House.)

As far back as 1998, the EPA found that sea level near Charleston was rising at a rate of 9 inches per 100 years, and predicted that the cost of sand replacement to protect the S.C. coastline from a 20-inch rise could reach nearly $10 billion. And given the impacts felt around the state by Hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew and Irma in consecutive years, those costs are only headed upwards.

Rouzy Vafaie, second vice chair of the Charleston County Republican Party, once discounted global warming. But after becoming friends with Inglis and listening to his initiatives, he came to accept both the scientific evidence and the Energy and Enterprise Initiative’s solutions.

“One argument I bring up with my climate change-denying friends is ‘Well, you know, if you guys are right and nothing changes, well, then great,’” Vafaie said. “‘We’re in perfect shape. But if you guys are wrong, by the time we can actually do anything about it, game’s over.’”

One of the main pillars of Inglis’ initiative is a carbon tax similar to the one he proposed in the 1990s, which he believes could sell well with conservatives if it lowers the necessity of some environmental regulations.

“Slightly smaller government means that once you put the carbon tax on, you can eliminate some Clean Air Act regulations,” Inglis said. “Not the entirety of the Clean Air Act, obviously, but some parts of Clean Air Act regulations can go away because by the pricing of carbon dioxide, it’s a proxy for those regulations.”

Inglis also supports a border adjustment tax, which he believes is necessary to keep trade competitive while still charging for carbon emissions.

“If we price carbon dioxide by ourselves and it didn’t have that border adjustment, then manufacturers would pick up and move from the United States to China,” Inglis said. “Once they got there, they’d emit more CO2 than they’re emitting here because China is less energy efficient than we are…if you can’t make this worldwide, it’s really fruitless to attempt it.”

Of course, to get such policies in place, Inglis still needs a larger party-wide acceptance of climate change. Both he and Vafaie said there is growing agreement among Republicans of the human impact on the climate. But both also agree that some sectors of the party are harder to sway than others.

“When I speak in the Young Republican circles, I think it’s unanimously believed that there is [a human] impact,” Vafaie said. “As the age groups go up, I find it extremely difficult to convince people.”

Inglis said he believes conservatives are responsive to his solutions but that “populist nationalist” voters, especially those believing the narrative of a “war on coal,” are a different story.

“I think we got a good shot with conservatives,” Inglis said. “We got a hard, hard road to hoe with populist nationalists.”

Matt Moore chaired the South Carolina Republican Party from 2013 to last May. Now the chairman of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, Moore works to make it easier to establish a free market for solar energy in South Carolina. Like Vafaie, he sees growing acceptance of climate science within his party’s young people.

Before taking the chairmanship of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, Matt Moore served as chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party from 2013 to 2017.

“For millennials, anyone with a brain can see that humans contribute to environmental emissions,” Moore, a graduate of Georgia Tech’s industrial engineering program, said.

Moore said solar energy is very much on the rise in South Carolina since the state adopted net energy metering in 2014. Under net metering, residents owning solar panels receive reimbursements on their electric bills for the energy their panels return to the grid. The deal also allows producers to avoid fees from state utility companies through the end of 2020.

“Conservation is conservative,” Moore said. “My job as chairman of the PCSC is to go out there and tell the story that Republicans can actually lead on conservation through innovation.

“Conservatives don’t want extreme government intervention, we in fact believe that market forces can drive innovation to create change,” Moore said. “And that’s what Congressman Inglis has been focused on now for a number of years. If we removed all subsidies on energy and created a true free market, then maybe these policies actually begin to make sense.”

, , , , , , , ,

Senate bill could boost budget for underfunded Ethics Commission

By Larissa Johnson
Carolina News and Reporter

Lobbyists fill the second floor lobby of the State House while the Legislature is in session. Relationships between legislators and lobbyists, especially when money is involved, is a key focus of the State Ethics Commission.

The South Carolina State Ethics Commission, responsible for enforcing ethics laws for more than 24,000 elected officials and candidates, has been without a lawyer since October, a vacancy that could hamper enforcement of ethical  conduct laws.

“Having a general counsel is vital,” said Meghan Walker, who became executive director of the commission two weeks ago. With no other lawyers among the 11 staff members left, the commission is essentially unable to process any cases.

Michael Burchstead left the position in November to practice at Collins and Lacy P.C., and the vacancy could remain for as long as two months. The salary at the ethics commission isn’t competitive with private practice or even other state agencies, he said.

The State Ethics Commission ensures that lobbyists and state officeholders follow ethics laws by investigating and prosecuting violations, but it also serves an educational and advisory role.

From legislators to lobbyists, pretty much everyone seems to agree that the commission is underfunded. But almost every South Carolina department could make the same claim — infrastructure, education, health care. With additional money from the state’s general fund uncertain, one legislator is looking to create an alternative source of revenue for the agency.

Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville, was inspired by a system every state Bar Association uses to raise money for nonprofit work. Lawyers place money they have to temporarily hold for clients into special accounts, and the earned interest goes to the Bar Association.

Timmons wants candidates and elected officials to place their campaign donations into accounts that would earn interest for the ethics commission. It’s a program that hasn’t been tried anywhere else, according to the national Campaign Finance Institute.

“I think it sounds like a terrific idea,” University of South Carolina associate professor of law Greg Adams said. The trust accounts have been a “massive benefit” around the country, he said, adding that it makes sense to fund services for a specific group by drawing money from that group.

In addition to raising about $100,000 for the Ethics Commission — about 6 percent of its current budget — the bill would make income and expenditures from campaign accounts available to investigators and journalists.

“I could allege that I raised a whole bunch of money and didn’t spend any money and nobody would know unless they looked at my bank records through a subpoena,” Timmons said. Under current law, candidates and elected officials submit their own ethics filings.

The bill has 18 co-sponsors, enough to bring it out of committee and to a vote. Timmons is working with the South Carolina Banking Association to iron out the implementation of the interest-on-campaign accounts.

John Crangle, the governmental affairs director for the S.C. Progressive Network, is considered one of the top ethics watchdogs in South Carolina.

The timing for a renewed dedication to ethics couldn’t be better, according to John Crangle, the S.C. Progressive Network governmental relations director. South Carolinians are upset about the SCANA scandal, and legislators are campaigning on bringing ethics and order to state politics.

“Now we have a younger crop of legislators, like Bill Timmons, and I think they’re going to be much more aggressive about reform,” Crangle said.

While the increase from Timmon’s bill would be less than the increase requested by the commission, it would still allow for some much needed changes such as upgraded software and new personnel, according to Crangle.

The commission received $1,643,051 from the state general fund for the current fiscal year, and has requested an additional $364,689 for next year. That would be a 22 percent increase, while Gov. Henry McMaster has asked every agency to cut budgets by 3 percent.

The commission is requesting money to add four additional positions to the 12 it currently has, including an investigator and paralegal.

When Burchstead came into the commission in 2015, there was only one full-time investigator. Now, there are four.

“For a number of years it got so bad that they had to rely on fines and fees and penalties just to pay salaries,” he said. “While the money could certainly be better, as of 2015 or so they’re not doing that any more.”

As the House Ways and Means Committee considers agency requests for funding and prepares the first draft of the 2018-2019 budget, likely to be presented in early March, the Ethics Commission is settling into new, larger offices to accommodate additional staff.

“When an agency like ours isn’t fully funded, like any other government agency, you try to do as much as you can with the resources that you have,” Walker said.

While Timmon’s bill is the only that would create revenue for the commission, others in both the S.C. House and Senate would introduce additional powers and access to information.

“There’s low public trust everywhere,” Timmons said. “We’ve got to make sure that citizens in this country have trust in their public institutions.”

Unique Valentine’s Day themed events happening in Columbia

By Lexi Hill
Carolina News and Reporter

Valentine’s Day is no longer a holiday celebrated by couples only. In fact, the holiday has become a favorite for everyone, often times expanding to include Galentine’s Day (a celebration for friends), or Single Awareness Day (made popular by an iconic “Parks and Recreation” episode). As a result, date night options aren’t the only promotions and deals going on to attract V-Day celebrators. Now, you can stop by Grill Marks for a special cheesecake milkshake or Wildflower boutique for celebratory discounts. Or, you could stop by FIT Columbia for a one-of-a-kind couples acro class, where owner Angie Sellers says participants can, “expect to accomplish the unexpected, to laugh, to play games and step outside of the ordinary.” For a full list of events and promotions everyone can get involved with, keep reading.

If all you really want to do is eat, go to these restaurants:

Grill Marks in the Vista

For Valentine’s Day, Grill Marks is offering a special deal including two Grill Marks burgers, a three-way, and milkshake to share– all for only $25. If you’re feeling fancy, you also have the option to upgrade your milkshake to their V-Day FreakShake. Although this special is only available on Wednesday, the Freakshake is around until the 18th.

Urban Cookhouse

Knownlocally-sourced, fresh food options, Urban Cookhouse is adding something sweet to their menu. From 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, you can decorate your very own custom cookie for yourself or that special someone. Who doesn’t want a cookie made with love?

The Food Academy

If Valentine’s Day is your favorite holiday, or you’re just looking for an excuse to get a drink everyday this week, The Food Academy has you covered. Stop by on Monday for couple’s wine and dine, Tuesday for couple’s cooking class, Wednesday for valentine date night, Thursday for ‘single’s mingle’ event, Friday for date night dinner-for-two or Saturday for a cocktail tasting. Prices vary depending on event.


Opting to stay in on Wednesday instead? Kaminsky’s has the perfect dessert, so make sure you pick it up before starting your movie marathon. The chocolate-covered strawberry small-plated dessert consists of a brownie bottom, a strawberry mouse middle and chocolate mouse top. The dish is the perfect treat for yourself or you and your partner, and costs $7.

If you’re more into #treatingyourself, stop by these shops:

Wildflower Boutique

Sweet-tooths beware, Wildflower Boutique’s sale will keep you coming back for more. On Wednesday, all shoppers will have the opportunity to choose a “conversation heart” from a jar. Here’s the V-Day spin though– all hearts will have a discount on them, ranging from 15 to 50 percent. So, bring your Galentines and buy some new outfits for a night on the town.


If you need a necklace or bracelet to finalize your Valentine’s Day look, you’re in luck. Vestique is hosting a “Complete Her Look” sale event where customers who buy a clothing item will receive 25 percent off accessories. While you’re at it, participate in their Share the Love promotion on Instagram. All you have to do is take a picture while wearing a Vestique item with your Valentine, or Galentine, and tag @vestiquecolumbia for a 20 percent off coupon code. This promotion ends Thursday, and the coupon is valid until February 28th.


In celebration of Galentine’s Day and the store’s 8th birthday in Five Points, Bohemian is having a party on Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. featuring the work of artist Anne Herlong. There will be food, drinks and, of course, plenty of opportunity to shop.

If you’re looking to get your heart rate up before your celebration, book one of these classes:

Sweat’s Valentine’s Day Ride

Jamie Scott Fitness is known for their tough spin classes, that also doubles as dance parties on bikes. Dance into this holiday with Sweat’s V-Day ride on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. with instructor Allen Derrick. Grab your partner, or a group of friends and get ready for a spin party. For first time riders, the class is free. The drop-in fee is $25.

Pure Barre’s Date Night at the Barre

Looking for a date idea that doesn’t involve going out to dinner? Bring your partner to Pure Barre’s Date Night at the Barre event this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the studio’s Five Points location. Book your tickets beforehand through email (, $30 per couple, or sign up at the studio. While you’re there, you can also buy a pair of Valentine’s Day Pure Barre sticky socks for $15.

FIT Columbia’s Couple’s Acro Class

Make this Valentine’s Day one to remember. FIT Columbia is hosting a partner acro class with LunaTrix Arts this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. consisting of exercises that focus on building trust and finding balance. There will also be chocolates and champagne after to celebrate. You won’t find a class like this anywhere else, so don’t miss out! Tickets are $30 per person, or $50 per couple, and can be purchased online.

Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day blend romance and reflection

Frank W. Anderson

Lutheran pastors Frank W. and Mary W. Anderson will spend Valentine’s Day leading Ash Wednesday services at separate congregations. They celebrated Valentine’s on Saturday. Courtesy of Frank W. Anderson

By Larissa Johnson
Carolina News and Reporter

Forty-three years ago on Valentine’s Day, they went on their first date. This year, four days before Feb. 14, he gave her a brand new pair of diamond earrings. The Revs. Frank W. and Mary W. Anderson chose to celebrate on the Saturday before for an unusual reason — both of them are Lutheran pastors.

With Valentine’s Day falling on the same day as Ash Wednesday this year for the first time since 1945, religious couples around South Carolina are making special accommodations. The Andersons will barely see each other on Wednesday. They’ll be leading services at separate churches.

The special demands of the dual holiday can go beyond physical separation. Some Christians practice fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, throwing a wrench into the typical Valentine’s dinner plans. Ash Wednesday begins the 40-day season of Lent in the Christian calendar, which focuses on piety and contemplation about the life and death of Jesus.

“The Ash Wednesday requirements and disciplines must take priority,” said Msgr. Richard Harris, the pastor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church doesn’t include Saint Valentine in the Vatican-issued calendar, although many churches still celebrate a Valentine’s feast.

But feasts can be moved around to accommodate more important holidays, such as the beginning of Lent. Harris suggested that Catholics celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday — Mardi Gras — or Thursday.

For Lutherans and other Protestants, there’s nothing wrong with a Valentine’s dinner after an Ash Wednesday service, said Frank W. Anderson, who leads the University of South Carolina campus ministry. He suggested going for a simpler meal, though.

“In some ways, there’s kind of a connection that we are celebrating simplicity in Ash Wednesday, and I think in some ways, Valentine’s Day is celebrating the simple act of being in a relationship,” he said.

The Bible says that “God is love.” And yet there’s a stereotype that religious people are against relationships or romantic activity. Anderson says that simply isn’t true. And according to Harris, Saint Valentine was a Roman Catholic who fell in love with his jailer’s daughter before his beheading.

“Isn’t all of life about our mortality?” Frank W. Anderson said. “Isn’t every day a reminder that we are both immortal and mortal at the same time? I think any day is a good day to celebrate a good relationship.”

And the Andersons have a lot to celebrate. When Frank first asked Mary out on Valentine’s Day in 1975, they walked for hours on the grounds of Newberry College and picked daffodils. Coincidentally, they both already knew they wanted to be pastors.

“Dating at Newberry was basically carrying her books around,” he said.

Then she broke up with him — twice.

“I just thought he was immature,” she said. “But then, I realized I’d be better with him being dead than him walking around with us not together.”

At the time, Frank was part of the Missouri Synod, a Lutheran denomination that doesn’t allow female ministers. His pastor even told him that that God would end their relationship. Forty-three years in, they’re still going strong.

“When you do it for the long haul, there’s a lot of up and down,” said Mary W. Anderson, an interim pastor at Mt. Hermon Lutheran Church. The contrast of solemnity and sadness for Ash Wednesday with romance and love for Valentine’s Day is similar to relationships in everyday life, she said.

With a fried steak dinner and candles, Frank Anderson brought the romance Feb. 10. And the diamond earrings, of course.

“I got her the best present that I’ve ever gotten her in our 40 years of marriage,” Frank Anderson said. “It’s just really nice to be able to surprise somebody.”

While Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s, the end of Lent — Easter — also falls on a secular holiday: April Fool’s.

In Columbia’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, a figure of Jesus incorporates imagery of love.
Photo by Larissa Johnson

SC Humanities Receives Democracy Programming Grant

SC Humanities has been awarded a $35,000 grant to support its 2018-19 “News Literacy and the Future of Journalism” initiative.  This important seven-month series will be planned and presented in partnership with Winthrop University and the S.C. Press Association.

Events begin with a public “kick off” in September 2018 in Rock Hill featuring a headline speaker launching Winthrop’s interdisciplinary examination of this important topic.  This plenary event will be presented in collaboration with the North Carolina Humanities Council. Other plans include:

  • Public programming highlighting Constitution Day and News Engagement Day 2018;
  • Four public humanities lectures or moderated forums utilizing scholars and professional journalists examining specific subject areas. Topics are: First Amendment 101, which includes a discussion of John Stuart Mill, the Federalist Papers and the duty of citizens to be informed; discerning fake news from real news; the role of opinion writers; and why investigative reporting matters;
  • Development of a Media and Politics class at the University;
  • At least four additional learning opportunities for students, including internships and volunteer involvement;
  • A portion of SC Humanities’ re-grant funds will be set aside to support programming that relates to the theme; and
  • The series will conclude with another public “headline” event in March 2019 at the SC Press Association annual meeting in Columbia.

This program is part of the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” Initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils. The initiative seeks to deepen the public’s knowledge and appreciation of the vital connections between democracy, the humanities, journalism, and an informed citizenry.   SC Humanities thanks The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous support of this initiative and the Pulitzer Prizes for their partnership.

SC Humanities is a statewide non-profit  that reaches more than 250,000 citizens annually in both urban and rural settings with its support of exhibits, festivals, book discussions, literary initiatives, films, lectures and more.  It is not a government agency and receives no support from the state of South Carolina. Its mission is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians.

For more information, contact Judy B. Bynum,; Karen Kedrowski,; or Guy Reel, Stay tuned to the SC Humanities at website at for programming details.

New cameras could lessen the congestion of Lexington traffic

By Kenneil Mitchell

A typical morning commute for Lexington drivers.

For such a little county, Lexington has major city traffic. Lexington County traffic officials have installed new traffic cameras to reduce congestion for drivers navigating rush hour.

Lexington County Police Chief Terrence Green drove through U.S. Route 1 and immediately noticed the difference the cameras made when he paused behind a car and the light turned green right away.

“It read that, hey we got people at this light, we need to let these people come across,” Greene said. “The other system, you would sit here two to five minutes before you’d get the green light.”

Greene says the cameras give him more time to respond to emergencies.

“This has knocked a lot of time off our response time, which is keeping our response time under 10 minutes right now,” Greene said. “This system helps out with trying to move the traffic freely and flowing through the town.”

Steve MacDougall is the mayor of Lexington.

Steve MacDougall, Lexington mayor and general manager of Hudson’s Smokehouse, says it took two years to get the cameras working at the intersections.

He worked with the Lexington County Transportation Division for weeks to test the strength of the cameras by leaving them on only to monitor the traffic and count the cars.

MacDougall says the cameras didn’t control the signals during that period, in order to see if the cameras reduced traffic without it.

“We did that for two weeks and then we turned the system back on,” MacDougall said. “Once we turned it back on, we saw a 20 percent reduction of traffic congestion.”

This reduction results in drivers saving five minutes on the road. The new system was not paid for by the Lexington citizens, but from other sources.

“We got funds from the Council of Governments, which issues funds for traffic improvement,” MacDougall said. “We got some through funds through the county, and we pitched in as a town and put some money up as well.”

MacDougall says he’s proud of the results and hopes to make history with the cameras.

Lexington officials plan to install new traffic cameras in all intersections.

“Once we have all the cameras installed throughout town, we’ll be the first city in America with every traffic light tied together, talking to each other, eliminating traffic congestion,” MacDougall said.

The Lexington Transportation Division has created two phases for the adaptive system of the traffic cameras. Phase 1 is already completed, with 19 intersections having functional cameras. Phase 2 includes 16 intersections being installed, which traffic officials state will be completed by the end of 2018.

Randy Edwards, Lexington transportation director, works with the Lexington traffic committee to keep the cameras functional. He explains the system as a means to provide a green pathway for cars to move more efficiently on the road.

Randy Edwards is the Lexington director of transportation.

“We have pre-programmed alignments that essentially will be green for that higher volume of traffic,” Edwards said. “It does provide some better free flow through the town itself when you’re pushing that additional doubling the volume of your normal, daily traffic.”

His mission is to make the cameras adapt to traffic to make the technology more natural.

“It operates a lot the way you and I would think,” Edward said. “Like, hey, there’s not many cars coming, why can’t I go? And so the cameras detect, sense how long you’ve been there and then will shut down when it’s appropriate.”

Terrence Green is the police chief in Lexington.

Green says he’s very proud of the cameras as he believes the technology helps move cars in a timely fashion.

“To use technology in a way to help our citizens, but people who are just traveling through our city, is, I think it’s great,” he said.

Study finds major health benefits of owning a real Christmas tree

By Kenneil Mitchell

A HortTechnology study found that real Christmas trees can offer mental and health benefits.

Christmas trees have been a long-standing tradition to celebrate the holidays, but many don’t know the power they hold to better your health.

A study from HortTechnology looked into the health benefits real Christmas trees can give to those that aren’t allergic. The study found that owning a real Christmas tree can increase your mood, lower anxiety and decrease chances of getting a cold or flu.

Alberto Maydeu-Olivares, a USC psychology professor, says he agrees with the findings of the study, conducted by two Kansas State University professors. He pointed out the psychological impact of caring for plants, which like Christmas trees, lighten people’s spirits.

“It may help us improve our mood,” Maydeu-Olivares said. “Feel more relaxed and act warmer towards other human beings.”

Alberto Maydeu-Olivares is a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina.

He believes owning a real Christmas tree is more mentally healthy for people than an artificial tree.

“I think that having an artificial tree is very sad,” Maydeu-Olivares said. “After all, it’s plastic and you can tell it’s plastic. So maybe you feel that your life is not real.”

Bryan Price is the owner of Price’s Christmas Tree Farm in Lexington, South Carolina.

Bryan Price, who has owned Price’s Christmas Tree Farm for 34 years, says being around real Christmas trees has had a lasting positive impact on him.

“It creates a better mood in the house,” Price said. “Anytime that you feel better, you’re in a better mood, your blood pressure is good and everything. And that right there, is good for your health.”

Jonathan Garris is an employee at Price’s Christmas Tree Farm.

Jonathan Garris, an employee of Price’s Christmas Tree Farm, has felt the health effects of being around real Christmas trees for years.

“I think it’s awesome because the trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen,” Garris said. “I haven’t taken a flu shot in probably 5 to 6 years.”

Tim Barnett, his wife Ashley and their 4-month-old son, Eric own a real Christmas tree.

Tim Barnett of Columbia says that he and his wife, Ashley, family love the feeling that a real tree brings. “We’ve always gotten a fresh tree ever since I was a child,” Barnett said. “I think it’s just more real.”

Barnett said his 4-month-old son Eric is celebrating his first Christmas, and is already intrigued by the big Christmas tree and its ornaments.

“He wants to grab it of course because that’s his natural instinct,” Barnett said.

Barnett says he loves having the real thing in his living room as it brightens his family’s day every time they see it.

“You can smell it when you wake up in the morning,” Barnett said. “I think it just fills the air, just makes you feel great. Like you’re walking through the woods.”

If you want to know more about live Christmas trees, go here.

, , , , , , , ,

Worries about South Carolina’s old buses spark replacement effort

By Kenneil Mitchell
Carolina Reporter & News

Rhonda Watson, a Dutch Fork Middle School bus driver and driving instructor, has driven her 27-year-old bus for more than 10 years.

To Watson, the bus is more than just a vehicle. It’s a longtime friend, a friend she calls Nelly.

“I named her after my grandmother’s favorite pet cow,” Watson said. “Always there, always dependable.”

But Watson will soon be putting Nelly out to pasture and hopping aboard a 2018 school bus. A series of bus fires and other maintenance issues has focused attention on the aging South Carolina fleet.

Out of 5,582 buses running in South Carolina, 1,347 buses are older than 15 years and need to be replaced.

The 2016-17 South Carolina’s School Bus Fleet Report found that since 2012, 24 buses have caught on fire, causing $157,000 in damages.

The average age of the state’s buses ranges from 15-to-30 years old. The South Carolina Department of Education has purchased 855 buses since January.

This older South Carolina school bus caught on fire early this year.

Watson said the old buses are easy to drive, but there are problems with maintaining a 27-year-old bus.

“It is disappointing that the maintenance of them cannot be achieved a little quicker and a little more efficient,” Watson said.

Watson says her bus only had two maintenance issues that were quickly taken care of by mechanics of the S.C. Department of Education. She believes it’s the driver’s responsibility to take care of the bus, no matter how old they are.

“I really think it comes down to a driver being aware of their vehicle,” Watson said. “Turning in a maintenance write up on it as soon as they find an issue. Letting the supervisor and the state determine if that puts that bus out of service.”

Mike Bullman is the director of school bus maintenance for the S.C. Department of Education.

Mike Bullman, assistant director of School Bus Maintenance,says he is committed to fixing the buses while adding new models to the fleet.

The wiring becomes old and securements can break, which is why Bullman says inspections should happen more often to prevent that from happening.

He is working alongside S.C. Schools Superintendent Molly Spearman to gain more funds to purchase new buses and says she has been really committed to making sure the bus fleet is at the highest standard possible.

Bullman says they’ve been able to get funding from the General Assembly and use internal funds intended for maintaining older engines to buy new buses.

Bullman is confident in  his plans to create a safer fleet.

“It is the safest form of ground transportation in the world,” Bullman said. “If we can get on our 15-year replacement cycle, we’ll go a long way to making the fleet as safe and efficient as possible.”

Rhonda Watson drives her 17-year-old bus Nelly to transport students to Dutch Fork Middle School.

Watson still drives Nelly to pick up students, but she’s willing to make the transition to the new 2018 model of school buses.

“I thoroughly enjoy driving these,” Watson said. “They handle wonderfully, they hold about the same number of students, which doesn’t interfere with the routes already put in place.”

As far as which one she prefers to drive, the old Nelly or the new Nancy, both buses have their strengths.

“From just a driver’s point of view, I like that old beauty cause it’s what I knew,” Watson said. “For the safety of the students, these are better. Because these newer buses offer additional safety equipment that Nelly doesn’t have.”

Watson says she’s open for a change of buses, which means leaving her friend Nelly in the past, and driving forward to ensure the safety of the students.

“Absolutely,” Watson said. “I’d be very happy to make the change. Yes, I’d give up my old bus!”

Why your Christmas tree could cost more this year

By Taylor Estes

If you usually buy a real Christmas tree to celebrate your holiday season, you might be out of luck this year.

Tree farms across the nation are reporting that they don’t have enough supply to meet the rising demand for live Christmas trees. According to Steve Penland, secretary of the South Carolina Christmas Tree Association, this is the biggest shortage he has seen in a few years.

“The popularity of the live, or real, Christmas tree has started evolving. We’re seeing that generation Y is looking to go back to tradition and do things like they did when they were young, like pick out a tree with the family. Demand is going up,” Penland said.

Bryan Price, owner of Price’s Christmas Tree Farm in Lexington, has also seen an increase in the demand for his trees in the past few years.

“We now open before Thanksgiving to meet demand every year, it’s what the customers expect,” Price said.

Price’s Christmas Trees is a family-owned business that was started by Bryan Price’s father in 1984. Bryan Price and his wife, Leah Price, grow their own trees on their family property, but they normally order their Fraser fir trees from North Carolina to be sold at their lot.

“We were warned by the company that sends our Fraser firs back in the summer that supply was going to be short and prices were going to go up,” Bryan Price said. “I suspect it is due to rising demand, as well as a few other reasons like wildfires, storms, and the lack of business back in the 2000s.”

Live Christmas tree sales were at all time lows then and the industry is still feeling the effects of the shifting change in demand.

“Back in the early 2000’s many Christmas tree farms went out of business because no one was buying the trees,” Penland said, agreeing with Price. “After that, farmers began planting less trees to stay even with the low demand.

“Prices are up 10 to 20 percent in some locations and certain tree types will probably be more expensive than others due to higher demand,” Penland said. “I just hope prices stay affordable for those wanting a tree.”

It takes five to seven years for a tree to reach maturity, and fir trees, which tend to be the most popular, take even longer. The combined higher demand and lowered supply of trees from the effects of previous years have people buying their trees earlier than usual.

“Already in North Carolina, which is the number two producer of Christmas trees in the nation, we’re seeing trees selling out,” Penland said.

The number one producer of Christmas trees is in the Pacific northwest, with Oregon and Washington producing the leading number of trees. Tree farmers in both states have reported similar shortages in tree supply.

“It’s unfortunate to see, and we hate to have to raise the prices on people for the Fraser firs from North Carolina,” Price said. “However, I can’t say I’m not happy to see more people buying real Christmas trees. I think our farm would make my dad proud if he was alive today.”

Click here to see more about Christmas trees.

Take a walk on the B-side: Increase in vinyl sales not surprising to Scratch n’ Spin owner


Customers can bring in their new or used vinyls, CDs, movies and other items to sell or trade in. Rare finds like old Beatles and Jimi Hendrix records can be found at Scratch N’ Spin as well as newer albums by Taylor Swift and Drake.

By Caroline Davenport

Vinyl albums are expected to become a billion-dollar industry by the end of 2017.

It could seem counter-intuitive that a decades-old way of listening to music is making a resurgence in our digital, hyper-portable music era driven by the newest singles.

But vinyl never really went away, according to Eric Woodard, owner of Scratch n’ Spin record store in West Columbia. He said while mainstream retailers like Walmart, Sears and Target stopped carrying vinyl, it was still being produced in smaller quantities. Smaller mom-and-pop shops like his kept the format alive, and for some bands, producing vinyl has always been a staple.

     Woodard believes the increase in record sales ultimately comes down to value. When people spend money on music, they want something they can enjoy for years.  A vinyl album with its intricate artwork fits that bill.

“I think it’s inherently a part of the human experience. You want to have that shelf with your collection on it, and you want to be able to have a party or have friends over and show off your collection of books or have friends flip through your album collection,” he said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Traveling postcards workshop creates healing, recovery through art


By Debbie Clark

Caroline Lovell started the Traveling Postcards workshops in 2009

On a recent weekday, Caroline Lovell transformed a second floor room in USC’s new Center for Health and Well-Being into a place where healing and art come together.

As participants trickled in one by one and filled every seat, Lovell opened her Traveling Postcards workshop with an introduction exercise and gentle words.

Lovell, founder and executive director of the Women’s Wisdom Initiative, began Traveling Postcards in 2009 as a way to use the healing arts to address trauma caused by sexual and domestic violence and other types of oppression. Workshop participants decorate postcards to be hand-delivered to survivors around the world.

“We give you the opportunity to settle into that space and into your heart to have a communication with a survivor that is genuine,” she said.

So far, more than 4,000 postcards have traveled all over the world, from Costa Rica to Afghanistan. The organization works with worldwide aid agencies as well as military and domestic violence shelters on college campuses. Lovell said the stop at USC is the last in a month-long college tour that started in Boston a month ago.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bucking millennial trend, USC sweethearts ready to say “I do”


By Janelle Buniel

University of South Carolina graduate students Elizabeth Rogers and Nick Doyle have been dating for six years, and people are already asking, “Why don’t you just get married?”

For many of their generation, it’s not that simple.

Recent polls have suggested that fewer members of the millennial generation – those born after 1980 who came of age at the turn of the new century – are getting married compared to Generation X, the generation that precedes them. A Gallup poll showed that 59 percent of millennials are single and have never married, as opposed to 16 percent of Generation X.

Read the rest of this entry »

The play’s the thing: Three SC theaters connect communities to stage with contemporary, creative works


By Debbie Clark

When Jim and Kay Thigpen founded Columbia’s Trustus Theatre 33 years ago, they had the radical notion that the city was hungry for contemporary theater. They were right.

Now, Trustus and other playhouses across the state provide settings where theatergoers can settle in to be challenged, informed and sometimes shocked, into thinking of critical issues of the day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scout’s honor: This Scoutmaster says admission of girls will strengthen youth organization and families



By Caroline Davenport

The public’s response to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to accept girls into its iconic Scout and Cub programs was swift and fierce, and the debate is expected to continue.

Opponents put forth a simple argument: the Boy Scouts program is for boys, and the Girl Scouts program is for girls. But the scouting organization as a whole is much broader, and not exclusive to boys only, officials said.

“The Boy Scouts of America has a larger umbrella than just ‘the Boy Scouts’,” said Columbia resident Chris Jordan, who has served in many positions within Boy Scouts of America, including Scoutmaster for 14 years. He is also the father of two Eagle Scouts. He says the only groups within the organization that aren’t already co-ed are The Boy Scouts and The Cub Scouts.

Families will be allowed to enroll both boys and girls into Cub Scouts in the 2018 program year.  In a statement Oct. 11, the non-profit organization said existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack.  Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls.

Other Scouting groups like Explorers and Venturing have been open to boys and girls since 1971. Both the Sea and STEM Scouting programs are also co-ed.

“The shift and change taken by BSA is one that brings the whole organization together utilizing the same joining criteria for all branches of the tree,” Jordan said. Read the rest of this entry »