Saturday, December 31

Top 9 Most Powerful SC Politicians

As the New Year begins, we take a look at who really run things in South Carolina.  Here is our take on the 9 most powerful politicians in South Carolina. 

9) SC State Representative Brian White, (R- Anderson). As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, White was the handpicked successor to former Chairman Dan Cooper.  With that he has the support of establishment Republicans.  He also has the support of the Haley crowd at a level.  White has youth and power together, which makes him a man people in Columbia have to deal with.

8) SC State Senator Hugh Leatherman, (R-Florence). Leatherman is Chairman of the State Senate Finance Committee, which, with his old boy ties and knowledge of finance and of the rules of Senate makes him a formidable political force to reckon with.  Call Leatherman names, call him too old, call him whatever, but in the end a state budget has to get by him. 

7) United States Congressman Tim Scott (R-1st District).  Few freshmen Congressman have had the chance to influence power the way Congressman Scott has.  Further, Congressman Scott seems situated nicely with all the shuffling around that involved adding another Congressional District to South Carolina.  Tim Scott is a real player in South Carolina politics and will be for some time to come.

6) Congressman Jim Clyburn. Clyburn is known for his personal touch and his famous fish fries. Clyburn also has the safest Congressional seat in South Carolina and the ear of the President of the United States. Congressman Clyburn is simply the most powerful Democrat in South Carolina.

5) Congressman Joe Wilson. Joe Wilson’s outburst of “you lie” seemed to define him. Some could have argued that would be in a bad way.  But, back in SC, he touched a nerve.  And, he hit a home run with people around the nation, both right and left, when it comes to Obama’s health care plan.  Add to that Wilson’s incredible constituent service and the fact his oldest son is Attorney General.  Congressman Wilson toiled for years in the shadow of his mentor, the late Congressman Floyd Spence.  But, now is Joe Wilson’s time.  Joe Wilson is the powerful old timer in the room.

4) Senator Jim DeMint.  DeMint is the darling of the more libertarian elements of the Republican Party in South Carolina and around the nation.  DeMint has almost a cult following that is bolstered by a great constituent service program in his office.  Do not be shocked if DeMint is offered the Vice Presidential nomination of the GOP this year.  If Romney is the nominee, DeMint would be a perfect fit as VP.

3) Senator Lindsey Graham. Sure, some GOP activists loathe the guy. However, Senator Graham has respect in both parties in the United States Senate.  And, his all too easy election and re-election have to be noted as well.  Everyone seems to want Graham out until it is time to put him back in.  His clout in the Senate insures his mark, and thus South Carolina’s, is on every major issue that the nation deals with. As such, he is often the go to guy in the federal delegation South Carolina politicos go to for federal help. Look for Graham to be considered for either Secretary of Defense or the Supreme Court should a Republican defeat President Obama in 2012.  Even if President Obama wins re-election, do not be shocked if Graham’s name comes up for nomination to high office.  That is the kind of respect Graham has in D.C.

2) South Carolina House of Representatives Speaker Bobby Harrell. Government at the state level often impacts our daily lives much more than government at the federal level. With such a weakened Governor, the General Assembly is now where the action is. Speaker Harrell made sure of that and will push his agenda fully this session as he has before.  The Speaker will tolerate Governor Haley giving a State of the State speech, but have no doubt; the agenda of the General Assembly Session will be his.

1) South Carolina State Senator and State Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell. There is one member of the General Assembly who knows the rules and the ends of out of Columbia better than Speaker Harrell: Glenn McConnell. Even “reform” he proposes seems to take care of him, and no one seems to have the guts to call him on it. Like the legendary Edgar Brown of old, McConnell remains and Governors and other statewide officials come and go. Nothing in Columbia gets done without him. Frankly, Glen McConnell is the reason Governor Haley can feel safe in her job, despite the scandals, and that Lt. Governor Ken Ard can feel safe in his. McConnell does not want to be “elevated” to a position of lesser power. As the most powerful President Pro Tempore of the SC State Senate in history, McConnell seems content to let others appear to play at power while he actually wields it

Tuesday, December 27

Again we offer things not to say on New Year's Eve

New Year’s Eve is a mixed time.  People who are glad to throw out the old year and welcome the new one often celebrate to extremes.  They often get drunk and out of control and say things that are inappropriate.  As a public service, we at VUI will offer the Top 9 things that you should not say on New Year’s Eve.  At least they are the things we hope are never actually said.  Here we go.

9) Governor, you need to be blogged by someone who knows how.  You will want to write a book after you have been blogged by the best.

8) Hey, ya’ll watch this. Junior is gonna launch my sparkler bomb right from my own hand.

7) Look Uncle Will, Dick Clark talks like you and Rick Perry do.

6) Will you guys put me on You Tube if I launch a bottle rocket from between my butt cheeks?  I will scream “Sarah Palin forever!”

5) Look at this picture of me, baby.  Forget Congressman Weiner or Herman Cain, I got your politics right here, baby. Occupy this!

4) All I am doing is drinking beer, deputy. Wal-Mart ain’t got any signs about me having to wear clothes.  I am a customer, and the customer is always right. Naked is right to me. 

3) Come on baby, nobody gets pregnant on New Year’s Eve. It’s a law.  I used to be in Congress, I know.

2) Newt is your real name?  No wonder you are such a jerk, dude.  You are the guy with one wife at a time, right?  You’re good, dude. Drink up.

1) Trooper whatever your name is, I can’t stand on one leg sober.  How in the Hell do you expect me to after all I had to drink? Walk a line now?  Do I look like Johnny Cash?

Monday, December 26

My First Christmas in Paris

Christmas tree made of lights on Champs Elysees

Since moving here in 2008, we have never spent Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s in Paris, preferring to go back to the U.S. to spend them with family and friends. 

In November, as we were readying to leave for our holiday hajj, we decided, since we’d been “flying” so much lately, let’s take it easy this year, and actually see what Christmas in Paris is all about. So, here we are.

I’ve asked friends who are from Paris or who’ve lived here a while about Christmas.  Interestingly, all say that it’s changed, that it’s become more “commercialized” and my American ex-pat friends also say, it’s become more “Americanized.”  

These are my personal impressions of Christmas in Paris: 

Lights along Rue de la Convention

The streets are quite festive. Usually, starting the end of November, each arrondissements (districts), have different festive lights strung high above the streets. I’ve been told that the merchants all chip in and pay for stringing of the lights etc.  Maybe it’s just me, but I found that in the more affluent neighborhoods such as the 16eme, they didn’t have as many lights as in the more residential working class neighborhoods.  None-the-less, they are a beautiful sight to see.

Trees being sold with log stand

Christmas trees start to go on sale in December. They are extremely expensive. My best friend bought one about 7-feet tall for 75€ about $100. Typically they hollow out a log to fit the bottom stump of the tree, and that log is used as a tree stand.  Unfortunately, because of this, the trees dry out faster.  So, you really have to be careful if the tree gets too dry. And, if you are moving here, bring your tree stand with you, as far as I can tell, they do not sell Christmas tree stands.  Also, Christmas ornaments are sold throughout the city, and they are absolutely beautiful. Some can be extremely expensive.

As you walk along the streets you will notice stores decorated as well with festive lights, Christmas trees, all the usual Christmas decoration trappings we have in the U.S. But being a “foodie”, what impressed me even more are all the different "Bûche de Noël" the bakeries have. They have them in all different sizes, and even have individual servings.  And, some are simply works of art.  "Paris by Mouth" has wonderful photos of these pieces of art.

One of many photos from "Paris by Mouth" of a Bûche de Noël

What they do different than the U.S., in Fance they have the "Marché de Noël" the Christmas Markets. They have them throughout the city; however, they’re pretty much all the same. I actually find them boring and uninspiring. They’re usually filled with tacky “tchotkes,” stands selling hot wine drinks and, of course, the proverbial French scarves. 

Marché de Noël, very quaint looking
Another thing I noticed, there are American/English Christmas carols playing all over the city, especially in the department stores and malls, and even in the small boutiques. I was told that this is a relatively new development influenced by travels and U.S. movies etc., since the French have a very small collection of Christmas carols, I heard less than 10, whereas English carols there are about 50. I have to admit, it does put you in the holiday spirit.

Interestingly, my best friend and I went out to the mall and I was expecting it to be packed as in the U.S. It was pretty empty by American and even French standards. I was told that the Parisians prefer to buy Christmas gifts of e.g., perfumes etc. in the downtown area like "Galeries Lafayette" or  "Printemps" or smaller boutiques, preferring to buy everything else (e.g., clothes) during one of the 2-annual sales, which is January followed later by July, at which time the malls will be packed.

Galeries Lafayette

Karl Lagerfeld (Printemps)
Speaking of the downtown department stores, I have to say, they were quite festive with all the lights, and each department store will have their own window display with special designers, designing each window.  This year Karl Lagerfeld decorated the Printemps windows.  Interesting, to say the least.  And, Galerie Lafayette’s building was displayed with lights all over the building, which they do each year. It was actually quite pretty. It sort of reminded me of Las Vegas, with all the lights. 

And, speaking of lights, I personally do not like the Champs Elysees because I find it too touristy and crowded; however, I made an exception this year and visited it to see the lights. The Champs Elysees had beautiful lights along the boulevard and displays worth seeing, if you can handle crowds and like playing “bumper shoulder” or “chicken” with the cars.  Three new stores opened up this Christmas season on the Champs Elysees: Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Marks and Spencer.  As a result, people were queuing in to get into the stores, which also created pedestrian traffic jams. The streets were so packed; they had to have police to control the traffic as well as the pedestrian sidewalks. It was worth my sore shoulders, but doubt I’ll do it in the future. Once is enough for me.

Champs Elysees

Eerily, Christmas Eve was really quiet in a lot of residential areas of Paris. It appears that many people either left for their country homes, or to their hometowns to spend Christmas with their family. Plus its Christmas break and many have vacation.

Hanukkah this year is December 20-28. In San Francisco where I’m from, they always have a Hanukah lighting ceremony in Union Square.  As I wandered through the city, I did not see many menorahs displayed, except in the old Jewish quarters, "Le Marais".  I had heard last year, they had a huge menorah lighting ceremony at the Eiffel tower, and they also had a free concert. I did not see one this year, but I’m sure they had ceremonies in various parts of the city, I just wasn’t aware of them.

Now onto the Christmas meal. In itself, it was quite an eating marathon.  My best friend Steve hosted a Christmas Eve party. Of course there are some regional differences, but this menu is quite typical:

Appetizers: we had oysters on a half-shell with a vinaigrette dressing. We also had canapés of caviar and salmon atop crème fraiche.  In some households, shellfish such as shrimp or langoustines are also served.  And, of course you have to have champagne.  After this first round of appetizers, then we had foie gras with toasted brioche, and served with a special sweet sauterne.

Oysters on a half shell
 Entrée:  We had “Coquilles St. Jacque” lightly poached in butter, served with a dry white wine e.g., sancere.

Plat: We had Cornish game hens, served on a bed of wild rice and haricot vert. Traditionally, fowl is served, such as capons, goose, and even turkey.

Cornish game hens with wild rice and haricot vert
Our featured wine of the evening

Salad and cheese:  Salad and it can be accompanied by cheeses, or cheeses can be served after the salad. 

Buche de Noël

Dessert:  Of course we had the traditional “Buche de Noel”, and a little bit of Americanawe had a huge selection of cookies baked by Steve.

Then after all is said and done, more champagne followed by a digestif.

My special Parisian family

After all the food and drinks, it was time to head on home. We actually live in walking distance of Steve’s apartment, but I was feeling a bit tipsy, so I took the tram.  FYI,  public transportation runs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Interestingly, the streets and public transport seemed really deserted.  We live next door to a Church, and I noticed as I got closer to home the only people wandering the streets were people leaving Church after midnight mass.  Although France is a predominantly Catholic country, not many attend midnight mass as in the past.

On Christmas day, Steve and Eric took Eric’s Mom on a visit along the Champs Elysee. Surprisingly, he told me some of the stores were actually open.  How Las Vegas is that?

All-in-all, I’m glad we have good friends to spend the Christmas holiday with. The "City of Lights" truly lived up to its name this holiday season, and it has been a great holiday season; the weather has been unseasonably warm.  I heard last year this time, it was cold and snowing!  I guess we brought the California sunshine and weather with us…

À votre santé. Je vous souhaite une Bonne Année! 

Note: In the U.S. if a holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is typically a holiday as well.  Surprisingly in a country that has more holidays and vacations than Imelda Marcos has shoes, banks, post offices, and most stores are open.

Saturday, December 24

Paul Harvey's Christmas Story

Enjoy and think about it. 

Friday, December 23

Thoughts about Christmas and the birth of Christ

Historical academics debate the actual time of the birth of Christ.  Some are certain it happened in the summer.  Others are quick to point out that that the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ was set by the early Church to coincide with already established Winter Solstice Celebrations. So be it. 

Whatever time we choose to celebrate the birth of Christ, it cannot be denied the impact He had or the nature of His birth  Christ was born in a manger of a second rate inn that would not have Him and his parents.  He was born of the Virgin Mary.  But, if one dismisses that as religious hyperbole, there are the teachings of Christ to consider. 

The teachings of Christ forever redefined man and the Western world.  Christ was the first to set value on women and children and the poor and the downtrodden.  Christ taught to treat women and children as human beings, not property.  Christ taught us to respect the poor and downtrodden.  

Jesus Christ never set foot in a great college.  Jesus never ran a big corporation. Jesus was a man who was the step son of a man who had people whisper about his heritage.  Today, the Department of Social Services and some Guardian Ad Litem would intervene and try to prove to us all this little kid named Jesus was not being raised right. 

But, God had other plans.  His only begotten son, born in the most humble of situations, would not only go on to remind us that humble birth has nothing to do with God's Will, but would go on to teach mankind how to relate to one another. 

The teachings of Christ have impacted the world like no other.  The good guys, such as Gandhi and Buddha, really can not compare in shaping the world in what it became.  The evils guys, like Bin Laden, Hitler and Stalin did their thing, but did not even come close to impacting the world as the boy born in a humble manger did.

Think on it.  A boy, born in the humblest of circumstances, forever changed the world and it how it dealt with so many things.  Truly, only a Son of God could do such a thing.  

That said, a lot is done, especially politically, in the name of Christ, that is nothing near what he taught.  Christ spoke against the rich and the lawyers.  (Gulp).  Christ spoke up for the downtrodden, the accused, the women and the children. Indeed, the birth, death and Resurrection of Christ created a New Covenant between humans and God, a New Covenant that was more understanding, more loving, more generous and called for us all to put aside hate.  

It is an indictment on humanity that so many of us will embrace Christmas, celebrate it, and then go on to do in our daily lives and in our political lives things that go against what Christ taught.  

We should be more aware of that.  The goodwill and cheer of the Christmas Season is what Christ wanted us to do all the time.  That is why the historical arguments about the birth of Christ do not really matter.  Christ was born.  He offered his teachings.  It is our hard hearts against those teachings and our fellow human beings that makes the world what it is.  God tried to help us.  Christmas celebrates that.  If we refuse the help, it is all on us. 

Tuesday, December 20

The US House says "Bah! Humbug!" to taxpayers

Just when it seems that President Obama might be in real trouble, the Republican leadership in the United States House give him a chance to win.  

This time they did so by acting like junior high student council members in refusing to compromise to keep the tax cuts for working Americans in place.  That is right.  Republicans virtually decided to raise your taxes with their actions in the House.  

Here is how it happened.  The United States Senate voted 89-7 to extend the payroll tax cut for working Americans for two months so the tax cuts would not expire during negotiations. Thirty-nine Republicans joined fifty Democrats in that vote.    That is strong bipartisan support.  Then, the House leadership decided to not agree to the two month extension, digging in their heels, and thus raising taxes on working Americans.  

The negotiations in the United States Senate on the extension were worked out with both parties talking to one another and to the House leadership.  But, as habit with the House lately, when the goal was met, it was suddenly moved again. 

It shows how out of touch the US House leadership really is with people.  In this economy, fifty dollars a month here or there makes a real difference in peoples lives.  But, when you have total healthcare coverage, make six digits, and have a paid staff that defers to you, well, it is hard to actually know anyone, I mean really know anyone, who might miss a credit card payment, or make arrangements on an electric bill because of the defacto tax increase.  

It is a growing problem.  Not only in politics but in business, law, and other endeavors, a divide is growing in the nation.  One that has not been seen in decades.  Increasingly, people who are in trusted positions choose gamesmanship over statesmanship or leadership.  They come up with verbal legerdemain to try to seem earnest about something such as "job creators," but the truth is that they care more about playing the game than serving the people.  

That is why Americans are so frustrated, even during the holiday season. But, with Republican Congressional approval ratings hovering in the teens, this act of "bah humbug" might be the first step in the re-election of President Obama.  

Monday, December 19

Why I love Christmas

Since I was a kid, I always loved Christmas.  Of course there are religious reasons to observe and celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, but more tangible for me as a kid growing up were other things. 
First, there were the big family gatherings.  Those were usually on Christmas Eve.  I remember we would go to the home of my father’s parents around lunch time, load up with food and gifts and then go to my mother’s parents’ home a few miles away for dinner and the same.  I remember things that seem silly to some.  I remember the year that my father’s parents gave me a radio.  I remember the year my mother’s parents gave me a set of little toy cars. I remember my father’s parents having a little electronic bell that played Christmas songs.  My grandmother found it to put up again this year.   I also remember my great grandmother and how she, when I was a boy, trimmed her tree with simple things like paper and stringed popcorn. I also loved Peanuts and Charlie Brown and Snoopy at Christmas. 

Most of all, I remember everyone being happy, jovial and full of life, including those who are now gone.  Everyone got a gift.  It might be cheap or small to some, but everyone, especially the children, was included.  I remember my father’s father giving us bags of candy, fruit and nuts, a tradition he continued for us grandkids on into adulthood.  That bag and the little electronic bell are seared into my memory forever.  So is the stringed popcorn that donned the natural Christmas tree at my great grandmother’s.

For my mom and dad, I also remember the role of Santa, not only for me, but my little brother, who is 13 years my junior in age.  My parents might have forgotten, but I have not, one particular Christmas when we lived at Fork Shoals. My dad had been laid off.  I had my doubts about Santa.  I was a rather intelligent boy.   I specifically remember Santa leaving me a hunting knife, a BB gun, and a toy Pepsi truck that had its trailer filled with packs of BBs.  That is heady stuff for a young boy.  I am sure Santa left other things, but those stand out. That particular Christmas morning came upon the heels of us finding where a fire was as we came home that Christmas Eve from the family festivities.  Again, that is heady stuff for a young boy.

My brother, who is now a deputy sheriff, might not appreciate this.  I remember, as a young college student, standing guard at his bedroom door so that if he awoke, Santa would not be interrupted in his delivery.  Now my little brother stands guard over all of us.  But, he is always that little brother to stand watch over to me. 

I am also proud of another man, another little brother if you will.  I remember how Christmas Day was spent with our neighbors, and a man who grew up like a brother to me who is a half world away this holiday season in Kuwait.  The families would gather, have a huge breakfast, and 
that man, who is like a brother to me, and I would check out one another’s presents and play with things like the Atari game until exhaustion.  And, yes, I still wonder how he managed to kick a 62 yard field goal to beat me in Atari 2600 football.  It had to be a glitch in the programming.

There is also the young person I watched grow up all too fast, at least for me and her mother.  One day she was all amazed at the lights at Riverbanks Zoo, the next it seemed she knew everything.  But, I remember the tot on my shoulders. I helped Santa out with her as well.  Now, I beam with pride over her college grades.  And, she probably will not like it, but she will always be my little buddy, all excited about Christmas. No one else would make me search all over for the best Princess Carriage for Barbi.  That young person and her mom gave me the greatest gift: the desire to be better. 

God help me, I remember it all.  Everything. 

I was asked recently why I loved Christmas so much.  Well, the above and more are why.  Not only do we that profess the Christian faith celebrate the birth of our Savior, but memories are brought back.  Things that really make us who we are deep down are remembered.  Some might be even saddened by such memories of such things.  But, I am not.  I feel blessed.  I lived those memories.  They are mine.  They are Christmas to me.  And, they are the reason I find myself of good cheer and sport the colorful lights this time of year.  They inspire me to make more memories. 

Merry Christmas. Be of good cheer.  Embrace the memories.  

Sunday, December 18

Top 9 things you don't want to hear at Christmas

VUI kicks off Christmas week with the Top 9 things you don't want to hear during the Christmas holidays. Here we go: 

9) “Hey baby, when’s the last time you got your stocking stuffed on Christmas Eve?”

8) “Sorry about that Santa, but it is deer season.” 

7) “Daddy, I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus, and Santa looked a lot like Herman Cain.” 

6) “Come down my chimney you commie fat ass, and you got a 12 gauge pump shotgun waiting on you. I will shoot the red off of your long haired, bearded hippie ass. I got a Tea Party waiting for you.”  Then former Governor Palin was moved away from the cameras. 

5) “Merry Christmas from your wife and her attorney, sir. You have been served.”

4) “Dear little Johnny, next year instead of cookies and milk, could you please leave bourbon and your mom’s oxycotin?” Santa

3) “Officer, I am drunk, but my reindeer are not.” 

2) “Just because you name your baby Jesus does not mean I am going to pay you child support.”

1) “But, Santa, that blogger told me being naughty with him was being nice. Besides, I am the Governor. ”

The 12 Days of Political Christmas in SC

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
12 Tea Partiers
11 Occupiers
10 Reps. Pipin'
9 scandals a leakin’
8 Dems a prancin’
7 staff as lemmings
6 donors  syawin’
5 wives for Mitt
4 Vodkas served
3 years for Ard in the pen
2 bloggers love
And a failed Guv named Haley

Thursday, December 15

Haley faces more scandal as she plans for the holidays

As we posted earlier this week, the political tigers are in the tall grass waiting to pounce on Governor Nikki Haley.  The pouncing is now commencing.  

There are now published reports about three different potentially scandalous activities by the Governor.  First, there is a report about the Governor letting T. Poone Pickens pay for her to travel to his Texas ranch and have a nice weekend there.  That brings back memories of the yacht ride.  Second, there are reports of the Governor's handpicked Department of Natural Resources Board members removing a DNR Director liked by sportsman and environmentalists but disliked by real estate developers.  Third, there is a damaging story about Haley's South Carolina Health Planning Committee and how she supposedly manipulated the committee's role in deciding whether or not South Carolina should have a health insurance exchange.  

The later story is especially damaging to Haley.  Reporter Renee Dudley from the Charleston Post and Courier paints an ugly picture inside the Haley Administration.   Here is the quote that stands out in Dudley's article published in The State: 

"In a March 31 email thread that included Haley, her top advisers and the committee member who eventually wrote the report, Haley wrote, “The whole point of this commission should be to figure out how to opt out and how to avoid a federal takeover, NOT create a state exchange,” which is eventually what happened."

That might not seem much until one realizes that the state of South Carolina took a one million dollar grant to form a commission to study the feasibility of the said insurance exchange.  The grant was conditioned on a non partisan commission looking independently at the idea.  That email shows that was not adhered to by the Governor.  Mayors in this state have went to jail for not spending grant money correctly.  

Also, the Governor's response to questions about the committee was just bad.  When pressed by a reporter after the South Carolina Budget and Control Board meeting about the issue, the Governor was silent, and let a security guard do the talking.  If someone advised the Governor to do that, they were wrong.  It just added to the sense more and more South Carolinians are having that Governor Haley is smug and aloof.  That adds to the feeling of betrayal.  See the video for yourself. 

To make matters worse, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey, in published reports, suggested that the Governor had responded to the questions but could not now because she was busy preparing for the holidays.  Just what holiday preparation was the Governor making when she was standing there waiting on an elevator while the reporter was brushed away by someone else? 

It is all troubling.  It is troubling that the Governor appeared to dictate to a board she took federal money for to be independent.  It is troubling that the Governor and her staff seem so inept, first by even emailing such things, and second, by a response that just invites more questions and even contempt from reporters and politicos.  Add to that the fact the State Senate is going to look into the DNR matter.  One expects that eventually, some Haley staffer will email "Look, Ken Ard ends up Governor if you keep this up, you want that?"

What a mess.  It makes one nostalgic for the days when a Governor simply went AWOL to meet a extramarital lover.  

Wednesday, December 14

Thoughts on state retirement changes

State employees are in an uproar.  A South Carolina House Sub Committee approved changes to the South Carolina State Retirement System.  There a reason that such was addressed.  The long running South Carolina State Retirement System, which has been benefits based instead of contributions based, is in long term financial trouble.  Thus, lawmakers are looking at how to save it.  

Those lawmakers are hampered by legal decisions involving state retirement.  When TERRI, a retired teachers incentive program meant to keep teachers who retire on the job, was implemented, the South Carolina Courts ruled it had to apply to all employees in the South Carolina State Retirement System.  Now, on the flip side of that, physically demanding jobs such as firefighters and police are lumped in with all other jobs in the South Carolina State Retirement System when elected officials consider ways to save the system.  

On a common sense level that makes little sense.  Other states and municipalities recognize that physically demanding and dangerous jobs such as firefighting and policing are separate from being a government clerk or dare we at VUI say, teaching school or the like.  Those in such demanding and dangerous jobs are justly rewarded in those other venues for their service with relatively earlier retirement plans.  

But, in South Carolina, we lump everyone together.  Thus, the changes proposed effect all members in the SC State Retirement System, from the State Trooper to the paper pusher. 

Here are the proposed changes that will be in force, if approved, for all SC State Retirement System participants who have 23 years or less of service: 

1) Participants will pay 7.5% of their salaries into the system instead of the 6.5% that they currently pay. 

2) The benefits based formula for retirement payments will consider the last five years of salary instead of the current three year salary consideration. 

3) Participants can retire after thirty years of service, but will not be able to collect any benefits until age 62.  Thus, a 22 year old State Trooper can work the roads for thirty years, but will have to wait ten years to draw a check. 

4) Those receiving benefits will not have the now automatic one percent cost of living adjustment, but instead the South Carolina General Assembly will determine the amount of, if any, adjustment that is made. 

All of that seems well and good for people who have jobs similar to those in the private sector.  VUI has contended for a long time now that such people should have a contribution based retirement plan supplemented with Social Security like the rest of us who work so called "normal" jobs do.  

But, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and first responders should be treated differently.  It might offend teachers and other government employees, but so be it. Those in law enforcement, fire fighting and first responding are at another level in the physical demand and danger that they face.  They are also at another level in the service that they give the state and local communities.  They protect lives.  They save lives.  They protect and save our very way of life on the front line.  For that, they should be rewarded with a retirement plan that recognizes what they do. 

Again, teachers and other government employees can and do make a difference in this world.  There is no arguing that.  But, they are not asked to protect us from the guy with a gun, rush into the burning building, or save our lives as we ride in the back of an ambulance.  There is a difference.  And, it is a travesty that South Carolina's leaders do not recognize that in their reform efforts of the South Carolina State Retirement System.  

Sunday, December 11

South Carolina's crush on Nikki Haley is over

A year ago, it seemed everyone in South Carolina had a political crush on Nikki Haley.  She had not even taken office yet, and politicos were wondering if she would be nominated for Vice President.  A book deal was done.  If a man had video and DNA about an affair with Haley, the South Carolina press would have ignored it.
34% approve of Governor Haley

Haley and her minions were in a strong position to really influence South Carolina.  For the better or worse, it appeared Haley would be a force in Columbia to be reckoned with.  That has not happened. 

Instead, Haley ranks as one of the most unpopular and ineffective Governors in the nation.  A Winthrop University poll has Governor Haley's approval rating at 34%.  Only 52% of Republicans surveyed support Governor Haley.  Another poll has President Obama's approval rating at 44%.

Those are dismal numbers for a Governor who has not finished a year in office and a drop of nearly 30 points.  

Ironically, Governor Haley is going through exactly what President Obama went through in sudden unpopularity.  Like the President, Governor Haley was the anti establishment candidate who had incredible good will from the press.  People were truly inspired to vote for her as they were for President Obama.  

Then, reality hit.  The Governor and her staff have proven to be typical politicians, with the pettiness and the selfishness that people were already fed up with.  Their confidence, outsider status and youth, once thought of as refreshing, is now seen as smug and inept.  

The drop began with a rather arrogant act by the Governor and her people.  Only a few months into office, they decided to issue "report cards" about members of the General Assembly.  Those report cards were based on how a member agreed with Governor Haley on a set of issues.  They made it clear from the start of the session that legislators would be punished.  Thus, Haley and her people tried to use political coercion instead of persuasion.  It smacks of the Chicago style tactics President Obama's former chief of staff used at the the start of the Obama Administration.

Such tactics, especially in the midst of a bad economy, will and did backfire.  The goodwill from the press and the chattering people around Columbia is over. 

Indeed, some of those people are angry and motivated.  Things that might have been once overlooked, such as questionable political ties to the Savannah port deal, the activities of the Mansion Chef, the First Spouse wanting a modern wine cellar, the free booze, the yacht ride, etc., get focused on. 

Such things have happened before under a South Carolina Governor.  Rumors about luxurious excess, affairs and defacto bribes have circulated before about a number of Governors.  People expect that from politicians.  

But, when a politician gets elected by playing the victim of dirty tricks and a promise to be open and clean in a time of great trial for the state, and opens up by attacking people who criticize or disagree with her without a real effort at persuasion and compromise, the political tigers start waiting in the tall grass, ready to pounce.     

The people pay attention to those political tigers because they are hurting and expected more from the Governor than politics as usual.  People feel fooled.  

People also do not like being told that the man or woman that they elected from their community is not worthy to serve because some person they never heard of who works in the Governor's office thinks so.  When a Governor who is attending "high roller" fundraisers in Atlanta and riding a yacht goes after a member of the General Assembly who people in his community know personally and like, the Governor loses goodwill.  And, the member of the General Assembly is actually empowered more not to do what the Governor wants.  

Some will argue that the economy is the reason.  It a reason in that people demand more from politicians.  However, it is more likely that a young Governor and her staff, elected with a modern marketing campaign in a time of trial, lacks the depth of experience to understand how things work with people, and further seems to lack the respect for people, elected officials and the state to actually try to learn instead of demand. 

Friday, December 9

Flounder floundering on his staff?

A couple of blogs in South Carolina, and our sources confirm, that State Rep. Thad Viers is having a campaign staff shakeup going on.  

Loyal readers know Viers.  We call him Flounder.  Because no one in South Carolina politics reminds us more of the Animal House character than Viers.  Not only does Viers look like the character, he has acted like him over the years.  Who can forget Viers having to get legal counsel after his nasty phone calls to his soon to be ex in laws?  And, his reputation in Columbia, well it is Flounder worthy.  

Now, South Carolina's Flounder wants to be a Congressman.  The newly drawn Seventh District of South Carolina gives him the chance.  And, really, who can blame the guy?  If getting loaded and calling people up is your talent, among other things, why not join those in Congress? 

The problem appears that Flounder's campaign is, in a word, floundering.  Despite some nice fundraising numbers, Viers can not get traction in the race.  So, South Carolina's Flounder is borrowing from the Dean and tossing out some political hands.  Good for him.  Now, if he will just say "Fat, drunk  and stupid is no way to go through life...," we might have some respect for him.  

But, for now, we at VUI will remain "fat, drunk and intelligent," and say the latest developments in the Viers campaign for Congress will likely keep him from joining his cohorts in D.C.  But, we do hope Viers runs for re-election in the SC House.  It would be boring to comment without him.   Who knows. "Fat, drunk and stupid," describes most member of Congress so Viers might just make it after all.

Thank you, Rep. Viers for the material.  

Wednesday, December 7

Top 9 things you might want to avoid giving as holiday gifts

It is the Christmas Season.  A time that people feel the need to give gifts to the kids, friends and loved ones in their lives.  It can be confusing.  We at VUI are here to help. We offer the Top 9 things you might want to avoid giving as gifts.  

9) The Lego Meth Lab set

8) Fruitcake and tea…it ends up in a Tea Party

7) Monopoly, the Chinese version…where the Chinese own all the mortgages on the streets and Board Walk is Board Wok, and when you land on it, you get a collection notice from the Chinese government.

6) Women’s wear from the Ken Ard Collection… but we hear it is discounted by campaign funds.

5) The conspiracy book named, “Why NASCAR always turns Left:  The Truth about how that ‘forergner’ Obama is trying to lure Rednecks to Think Left and Be Liberal

4) Cookies and milk for Santa.  Let’s face it the guy is overweight and probably has high blood sugar.  You really want to give an elderly overweight diabetic cookies and milk?

3) The video game named “Penn State Ball Boy Challenge”

2) The Nikki Haley action doll.  You squeeze it and it goes, “Give me some money and I will give you your port” and “I never messed around with bloggers” and “It is a great day in South Carolina.”

1) The “Herman Cain and Friends Very Special Christmas” DVD.  Trust us; it’s not for kids and most adults. 

Tuesday, December 6

Seventy Years Ago Today

Sunday, December 7th, 1941 started out as a typical Sunday morning in Hawaii.  United States Army and Navy personnel were either nursing hangovers or preparing to attend church.  But, as the sun rose on Hawaii, the Japanese Navy task force attacked Wheeler Air Field and Pearl Harbor Navy Base.  It ranked as one of the greatest surprise attacks in military history and dealt a solid blow to the United States. 

Yet, it turned out be a blunder.  For the surprise attack on the United States awoken a sleeping giant who would prove to be terrible in its resolve.  Japan would four years later be devastated.  The United States would take the stage as a world superpower.  

That said, there were sailors and soldiers lost that day.  Those who survived that day are now dwindling in their numbers.  But, we should never forget what happened that day and the spirit of nation awoken to defend itself.  

VUI offers Franklin Roosevelt's stirring speech on December 8th, 1941 below.  Never forget Pearl Harbor! 

Le Sot l'y Laisse -- Restaurant Review...

Address: 70 rue Alexandre Dumas, 75011
Nearest transport: Alexandre Dumas (2)
Hours: Dinner, Monday-Saturday; lunch, Tuesday-Friday; closed Sunday
Reservations: Book a few days in advance
Telephone: 01 40 09 79 20

Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on plats--main course)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)

  4 - Stars.............................................€ (pre-fix menu)..............................................2 - Bell

Our friend John of "John Talbott's Paris"  recommended that we try this restaurant in the 11eme.  Our other good friend  Marie Johnston, "The French Market Maven"  joined us as well.  This tiny restaurant with a capacity of maybe 25-seats has gone through several owners in the past couple of years, with Eiji Doihara, a Japanese chef with a classical French resumé holding the current reigns.  It's an extremely simple restaurant, and devoid of almost any decoration, save for the table of bottle wine displayed by the window, and the large billboard where their handwritten menu is hung prominently on one of two large walls. Despite the lack of decor, it's the food we wanted to focus on.

I was expecting French cuisine with a fusion of Japanese flavors, just because. I don't know, maybe wasabe flavored beets or something.  Instead, we got some excellent classical French dishes with incredibly simple and beautiful presentation. The Japanese influences were there, but very subtle.  For one, his Japanese aesthetics were quite evident when it came to his "plating." The balance of colors, textures, and taste was a hit with all of us.  As you will see from some of the photos, they're art onto themselves.

Pre-fix lunch menu

OK, let's start with the menu.  They had a pre-fix lunch: 2-courses for 18€, and 3-courses for 24€. 

We opted not to have the pre-fix lunch and go "a la carte."  Our wait-person, explained to us that ordering from the main menu would take longer.  Hmm, that's a good sign.  In my book anything that takes longer means, maybe they're actually cooking the food, or parts of it versus warming it up and plating.  

After we all made our decisions, two of the items we wanted: Crepinette de pied du porc au vin rouge et foie gras poélé, lentilles vertes (pig's feet), Pigeon ramier d'esossé aux champignons sauvages, sauce au sang (pigeon) were only served for dinner, not for lunch.  We had a discussion how we found it annoying that they don't put a star or asterisks next to the dish to say dinner only, rather then getting our hopes up, but that's the way they do in Paris, oh well. 

Foie gras with balsamic reduction

John and I had the "foie gras poêlé aus figues, réduction de viniagre balsamique" -- Oh my God, not only was it presented beautifully, but was nicely seared on the outside and melt it your mouth tender inside.  He probably was able to accomplish this by slicing the foie gras thin to avoid over and/or undercooking. 

Consommé of oysters and grilled winter vegetables

Jack had the "consommé, aux huîtres chaudes, légumes d'hiver grillés." When I first saw the dish, my first thought was what are those little balls? So, as I tasted it it was like little crackers of some sort.  We asked our wait-person and she said they were "puffed rice." Aha, so here's the Japanese influence, aside from the presentation. The broth was delicious, and the juxtaposition of the different textures came together fabulously. A definite hit. 

Leek terrine

Marie ordered the "terrine de poireaux au vert." Marie loved the dish. It was encased in a gelée to keep it's shape. Again, the presentation was beautiful, we're seeing a trend here. 

Roasted duck breast

For our entrées John and Marie had the "margret de canard rôti aux légumes, croquants de Thiebault, sauce aigre-doux."  John had asked that the duck breast be cooked as the Chef would want it to be eaten, so it was on the rare side. I tasted it, I loved it. It was very juicy. But I am a sucker for anything duck. 

Turbot fish

Jack and I had the "filet de turbot rôti, sauce Noilly Prat, purée de betterave poirée." this to me was the most beautiful dish of all. It had color, texture, and height.  Sounds like I'm talking about interior designing, but I loved the beauty of it.  And, the fish was absolutely mild and perfectly cooked.  The crispy purple potatoes and crispy parsnips brought me back to my childhood when I use to put potato chips in my tuna fish sandwich.  I've come a long way, n'est-ce pas?

Poached persimmons with white wine gelée

And, now for dessert.  The three had the "kaki poché à la gelée de vin blanc, coulis de fruits rouges."  Since I'm trying to cut down on my sugar intake, I had the "assortiment de fromages."  My companions were kind enough to let me taste their desserts.  Oh my God, loved the wine gelée and the poached persimmon was wonderful.  

Comté, chèvre, and brie

The cheese plate had comté, chèvre, and a soft brie.  I forgot to mentioned, we loved the bread that accompanied our meal. And, I especially loved it with the cheese. I swore the bread was from "Poilâne". We asked our wait-person, and she said, no she got it from a bakery in the 11ème.  I did some research and discovered that it was definitely from Poilâne, they have very distinctive breads that cannot be mistaken, but they get it from their neighborhood boulangerie that sell Poilâne bread, voila, my taste-buds have been redeemed!

Summary:  First of all "chapeau" (compliments) to John, excellent choice. If we had ordered from their pre-fix menu our bill would have been much, much less and it really is good deal. However, we went a la carte, so our bill came to almost 66€ for each person which included two bottles of wine, 2-glasses of white wine, and coffee.  it was worth every centime! Definitely go for the food, since decor is lacking.  I would go back in a heartbeat!

Note: The restaurant was filled to capacity, and people were being turned away, so reservations are highly recommended. 

Friday, December 2

Welcome to Newt Land

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has not held elective office since he resigned over thirteen years ago.  But, the former House Speaker is enjoying the political spotlight as he has become the new front runner for the GOP nomination in Iowa, Florida and South Carolina.  Gingrich is also gaining poll number ground in New Hampshire, long thought as Romney country.  

Gingrich was politically dead in June of this year.  Professionals were leaving his staff.  Pundits wrote Gingrich off.  Gingrich seemed too old, too Washington, too brainy for the GOP.  After all, politics has become the only profession in America were having the least experience and being the least knowledgeable is an asset.  It resulted in our past two elected Presidents, President George W. Bush, who had a little over five years as Governor of Texas, and President Obama, who had yet to serve a full term in the United States Senate.  

But, with two wars and a sagging economy, perhaps America is changing.  Maybe Americans, even Republicans, want someone who knows how to get things done in Washington.  At least that is what Gingrich is hoping for.  

But, the road to the GOP nomination and the White House for Gingrich has a big road block named Mitt Romney.  Romney is a private business man, whose only political experience is one term as a moderate Governor of Massachusetts and a stint heading up the Winter Olympic Games.  But, Romney has been running for President for five years now.  

There is not doubt that since the Herman Cain scandals, America has become Newt Land.  Gingrich is surging in the polls, on television, making news.  But, his baggage still remains.  Will Gingrich be just another failed alternative to Romney of will Gingrich get the nomination?  

Remember the previous alternatives to Romney.  Michelle Bachman had people all fired up, then America learned she was on prescription mood altering drugs.  Rick Perry came in with big money and then he came across as just flat dumb.  Herman Cain and his 9-9-9 plan captured the GOP nation's attention until woman after woman emerged and Cain was dubbed "Spermin' Herman" by comedians. 

Now there is Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich is the smartest man in the room when GOP candidates meet.  So was Richard Nixon.  Will Gingrich's personal baggage catch up with him?

Gingrich's two road blocks to the White House, Romney and the President of the United States, have sterling personal lives.  And, both are smart and accused of being computer like as Gingrich.  

Then, there are intangibles.  Romney is polished, fit, comes across as the local tv news anchor with a picture perfect family.  President Obama still has some of that rock star status that elected him in the first place.  And, even as the President seems inept at times, people like him, his wife and daughters.  Gingrich, full of ideas, still comes across as the chubby old college professor that made us think in the classroom.  Gingrich is a guy you might turn to for advice on something, but Romney and the President are the guys people are more likely to choose to see everyday on television.  

It is said that President Obama was a law school professor who got elected President.  But, in reality, the last professional academic who was a professor and academic solely for his living that was elected President was Woodrow Wilson in 1912.  Wilson benefited from former President Theodore Roosevelt dividing the vote with President Taft.  

There has never been a former Speaker of the House elected President.  Thus, an academic like Newt Gingrich has to know that history is against him.  

But, history was against a black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama being elected President of the United States.  So, who knows?  

Gingrich has showed the intelligence to embrace the 21st Century in his campaign and dwells on issues.  It is re-mindful of how Richard Nixon tapped into the fears of a nation tired of war in 1968 and tired of protests in 1972.  But, Nixon never had to deal with the instant visual and informational world we live in today.  

In the end, VUI believes that will end the quest for Newt Land.  Romney will win the GOP nomination and then be narrowly defeated by President Obama.  If somehow Gingrich is the GOP nominee, it will be good for the country, because those debates with President Obama will ones for the ages.  But, Obama still wins a close one.  

The GOP has to ask, Jeb Bush, where are you when we need you?  Bush would win Florida and have a big bank roll, and that would give him the win. 
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