Happy Hogmanay

December 31, 2016 5:26 AM
Happy Hogmanay

Forty-three years ago, I was preparing to celebrate my third and last Hogmanay in Scotland, an event that is celebrated as widely as Christmas in that country.

For those of you not familiar with Hogmanay, it is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the New Year’s Eve celebration that lasts until the next morning. It is an experience you never forget nor never totally remember.

For a little perspective, four decades ago the western industrial world was still in the grip of an Arab oil embargo. Many Americans were still sitting in lines to buy gas and the price of that commodity was beginning its steady rise that led to the 1973-74 stock market crash. Prices of oil helped fuel hyperinflation for the remainder of the 1970’s.

However, the U.S. national debt was still below one trillion dollars and would not breach that benchmark until seven years later with the economic policies of Ronald Reagan and the total lack of fiscal discipline in Washington since.

Watergate was still much in the news and Richard Nixon was in his downward spiral which ended eight months later when he became the only American president to resign from office.

Scotland and the entire United Kingdom would shortly experience a second coal strike in three years, which would lead to a general election and the downfall of the government of Prime Minister Edward Heath, but also to the eventual rise of Margaret Thatcher five years later.

And the Soviet Union was still perceived to be a colossus threatening world peace while China was not far removed from its Cultural Revolution, its backyard steel furnaces and its ‘Great Leap Backward.’

Much has changed in the intervening forty plus years, but those changes are a mere microcosm of the changes in the world since the Scottish poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns wrote his Hogmanay and New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne” in 1788.

May you all have a blessed, prosperous and Happy New Year in 2017.

Read more ›

The Case of Skydive Myrtle Beach

December 27, 2016 6:00 AM
The Case of Skydive Myrtle Beach

New court filings could provide interesting revelations in the treatment of Skydive Myrtle Beach by the Horry County Department of Airports.

As county taxpayers will shortly hear of new court actions filed by Skydive Myrtle Beach against Horry County and others, a short historical perspective on the relationship between Horry County Department of Airports and Skydive Myrtle Beach follows:

Skydive Myrtle Beach is a tandem skydiving business owned and operated by armed services veterans.

It began operating its business in Horry County in 2012 after signing an eight year lease with Ramp 66, the county’s general aviation operator of Grand Strand Airport at that time.

After Horry County government bought out Ramp 66 in 2013, it appears that concentrated efforts were made by HCDA to close down the operations of Skydive Myrtle Beach.

Tandem skydiving is a recognized and approved use of publicly supported airport facilities by the Federal Aviation Administration.

It is illegal for an airport that accepts publicly funded grants to discriminate against one type of approved aviation activity, say helicopter operations, over another – tandem skydiving.

The only excuse allowed by the FAA for shutting down approved aviation operations is that those operations contribute to an unsafe environment at the airport.

Unsafe operations was the route taken by Horry County and its Department of Airports to justify shutting down Skydive Myrtle Beach on October 2015.

Read more ›

Local Reflections on 2016

December 22, 2016 5:14 AM
Local Reflections on 2016

Reflecting back on the year’s events in these last days of 2016, several local issues stand out that will carry over unresolved into the New Year.

The International Drive project is a perfect example of what many citizens find wrong in the country today. The project is highly popular with a vast majority of citizens because of the ‘back door’ ingress and egress it will give to Carolina Forest neighborhoods.

Horry County spent the year winning one court hearing after another over environmental groups trying to block the project. Some construction work was done in the fall after permits were issued by SCDHEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

However, a temporary stay issued by a federal court, since removed, and now a stay against the permits issued by the state court of appeals leaves the project once again stalled awaiting further court dates.

I first rode with General Vaught in his four wheel truck on what is now called International Drive when it was nothing more than a dirt track through the woods. There is no vast environmental disaster waiting to happen if construction of International Drive is completed.

Nevertheless, a small group of environmentalists continues to thwart the wishes of a vast majority of the citizens while completion of a much needed road continues to be delayed.

Staying with the county, much needed changes in the Horry County Police Department have begun with the hiring of a new chief in the fall.

After a year in which the county and its police department was hit with a series of lawsuits over the conduct of officers, notably those in the detective division, over a series of years, hopefully those transgressions will be ending.

Read more ›

Public Corruption and Southern Holdings

December 18, 2016 8:00 AM
Public Corruption and Southern Holdings

Public corruption is a hot topic today with politicians making illegal deals and other powerful interests using their influence to evade the law.

Too often the courts are also included in the process providing the final piece to the public corruption puzzle.

When this happens, the entire fabric of American society is torn and it’s difficult to see how it can be fixed.

Such is the story of the case of Southern Holdings et al v. Horry County et al.

In the Spring of the year 2000, Southern Holdings was a nice little corporation valued at $20 million, by independent analysts, doing business in South Carolina, North Carolina and Las Vegas, Nevada. It was owned by 75 shareholders, some of whom were residents of Horry County, with varying stock positions.

The corporation had recently gained the rights to contracts to be the exclusive marketer of cigarettes in areas of South America along with the rights to an offshore bank license and other contracts. The total value of these contracts and rights was $12-$15 million, according to corporate records.

After Southern Holdings gained the rights to these contracts, former Southern Holdings shareholder Ancil B. Garvin, III, a resident of Horry County at the time, attempted to get Southern Holdings President James Spencer to cut the remaining shareholders out of the profits.

What Spencer didn’t know then was that Garvin was selling cigarettes in the black market as well as with legitimate outlets.

In an e-mail from Garvin to Spencer in early May 2000, Garvin urged Spencer to agree to buy out the other stockholders. Garvin suggested he and Spencer could then “take the remaining $10 million of assets and retire.” Spencer refused.

Read more ›

Public Pension Fund Contribution Increase Approved

December 14, 2016 5:00 AM
Curtis M. Loftis Jr., South Carolina’s treasurer, has pushed to learn more about private equity fees. Credit Dale W. Ferrell for The New York Times

South Carolina government employees will be paying more into their public pension fund in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017.

This is a result of a 3-2 vote by members of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority to approve an increase of 0.5%, the maximum allowed by state law in any one year. Voting to approve the increase were Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Hugh Leatherman and Rep. Brian White.

S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom voted against the increase.

The increase will take employee contributions from their current 8.66% earnings to a new rate of 9.16%.

In addition, the state’s taxpayers will contribute more to government workers pensions. The current employer rate of 11.66% of an employee’s salary will increase to 12.16% for state and local governments and school districts.

The increased revenue for the pension fund will be little more than a finger in the dike of future liabilities. The total of 1% increase in contributions is estimated to bring in $100 million in new revenue for the Public Employees Benefit Association.

For the fiscal year completed June 30, 2016, the actuarial firm of Gabriel Roeder Smith and Co. estimated a shortfall of $1.4 billion in unfunded liabilities just for that fiscal year.

The overall future unfunded liability for the state employee pension fund is estimated at approximately $25 billion.

Read more ›

More Action Needed to Combat Community Violence

November 14, 2016 5:11 AM
More Action Needed to Combat Community Violence

Two different shooting incidents in Longs over the weekend again highlighted the need for a comprehensive plan to combat community violence in Horry County.

Horry County police have responded to numerous shooting incidents in the Longs community over the past year.

But, it isn’t just the Longs community that is suffering from this type of violence. Conway, Myrtle Beach, Loris, Carolina Forest and Socastee, to name a few, have also suffered from shooting incidents in their neighborhoods.

Horry County Public Safety Committee chairman Al Allen appointed a special Community Violence Subcommittee to investigate violence in our communities last spring.

At the time, Allen charged subcommittee members to identify the causes and influences that lead to violence in the community as well as visit with all public, private and church groups presently operating to reduce violence and crime in Horry County to rank their effectiveness.

To date, the subcommittee has been stuck with comparing Horry County crime statistics to similar counties in four other states. There has been no effort by committee members to have meetings with community leaders throughout the county as of yet.

Community violence is not a problem that can be cured just with policing and suppression. The root causes and solutions require efforts from parents, students, teachers, preachers and other community leaders to combat.

As one community leader has stated on numerous occasions, it takes a collaborative, coordinated, communicative effort from all segments of the population to combat the causes and find the solutions for violence in our communities.

Read more ›

Donald Trump Pulls Off Election Surprise

November 9, 2016 3:30 AM
Donald Trump Pulls Off Election Surprise

Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States after pulling out the biggest election night surprise since 1948.

Trump clinched his election victory with surprising strength in the “Rust Belt” states, an area where Hillary Clinton and the Democrats miscalculated their strength especially in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The presidential result emphasizes the deep dissatisfaction voters feel with Washington and what is called ‘politics as usual.’ Trump’s victory can be credited to his ability to sell himself as an outsider from the political establishment of both parties.

The Trump victory brought immediate uncertainty to financial markets as world stocks began tanking around 9 p.m. on election night and Dow futures dropped 650 points overnight. This is not the reaction of the stock markets that one would expect with a Republican candidate winning the presidency. The markets rebounded later to recover most or all of their losses.

This is not the reaction of the stock markets that one would expect with a Republican candidate winning the presidency.

However, voter rejection of politics as usual only extended as far as the presidential race. Most members of Congress seeking re-election were returned to their seats without a problem, some without an opponent.

So, if you’re expecting big changes in Washington with Trump as president, get ready for a disappointment. Congress still controls the domestic agenda as well as the purse strings.

Read more ›

H.L. Mencken Knocks Congress Out of the Park

November 5, 2016 4:30 AM
H.L. Mencken Knocks Congress Out of the Park

Occasionally you come across a piece of writing that is timeless in its message. The below column by H.L. Mencken is such a piece of work.

He expounds all the faults of Congress in his time, but his message is just as applicable to Congress today.

As everyone focuses on the presidential election in two days, many forget the elections of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 33 members of the U.S. Senate are at least as important to the future of the country.

For example, we wouldn’t have a 20 trillion national debt if Congress had not passed the funding legislation and continuously raised the debt ceiling to pay for all the wars, social programs, corporate welfare and pure pork that makes up the federal budget each year.

Congress is where most of our problems lie and where voters know very little of what goes on. Yet, 400 or so of these incumbent Congressman and 25 or more of the incumbent Senators up for election will be sent back to Washington with little thought by the voters.

The problem with Congress has been with the country for a very long time as the column below demonstrates.

H.L. Mencken was one of the most influential journalists of the first half of the 20th Century. I don’t know the date of the below column, but Mencken suffered a stroke in 1948 and did no writing thereafter. This would make the column nearly 70 years old at least.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

H.L. Mencken: Choose Legislators Like We Do Jurors

Read more ›

Chicago Cubs and Brexit on the Same Day

November 3, 2016 9:29 AM
Chicago Cubs and Brexit on the Same Day

The Chicago Cubs broke the “Billy Goat Curse” last night by winning the seventh and deciding game of the 2016 World Series.

Being a long-time fan of the Boston Red Sox, I understand a bit about what Cubs fans are feeling today. I felt the same mixture of happiness and relief when the Red Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 to win the World Series for the first time since 1918, a stretch of 86 years between championships.

For Cubs fans it was longer. The Cubs had not been champions since 1908, a stretch of 108 years, or 39,466 days if you prefer.

Theodore Roosevelt was president when the Cubs won their last championship and New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska were not yet states.

The Cubs opponents, the Cleveland Indians, have not won a world series championship since 1948, the longest stretch of non-winning after the Cubs.

But, big as news of the Cubs victory is, it may not be the day’s big story, outside of Chicago.

Remember when the British electorate voted in a June referendum to leave the European Union?

A three judge panel on the London High Court said not so fast. The court ruling said that the British Parliament must first pass legislation approving Brexit (British exit from the European Union).

“The most fundamental rule of the U.K.’s constitution is that Parliament is sovereign and can make and unmake any law it chooses,” the judges wrote. “As an aspect of the sovereignty of Parliament it has been established for hundreds of years that the Crown — i.e. the Government of the day — cannot by exercise of prerogative powers override legislation enacted by Parliament.”

Read more ›

SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County in Court This Month

November 1, 2016 7:25 AM
SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County in Court This Month

Skydive Myrtle Beach and Horry County are scheduled to face off in S.C. Court of Appeals November 3, 2016 for oral arguments in the case of Skydive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County (2014-002491).

The basic question in this lawsuit is whether Horry County acted fraudulently in stopping Skydive Myrtle Beach from operating its business at Grand Strand Airport.

A separate court ruling from a federal Administrative Law Judge is expected to be issued on or before November 18, 2016 addressing the actions of the Federal Aviation Administration in issuing a 73 page ruling against Skydive Myrtle Beach on the basis of very sketchy information provided by Horry County Department of Airports.

The case built by Horry County Department of Airports to evict Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport has more holes than Swiss cheese.

After Skydive Myrtle Beach reported HCDA to the Federal Aviation Administration in February 2014 for discriminatory actions, Horry County officials began looking to cover their tracks.

HCDA began an incident reporting system that logged 112 alleged safety violations by Skydive Myrtle Beach over the next few months.

None of the 112 alleged safety incidents HCDA insists Skydive Myrtle Beach committed were ever properly reported to the FAA, according to FAA reporting requirements.

A recent Freedom of Information Act response from the FAA to SkyDive Myrtle Beach officials goes further. It says there are no records of the alleged safety violations in the FAA reporting system.

Read more ›