- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


March 31

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on military budget:

Short-changing defense would be a misguided approach by budget makers in Washington, D.C. The U.S. is facing too many threats abroad, especially from groups such as the Islamic State, which, in turn, have created a legitimate increase in concern toward domestic threats.

However, the Pentagon funding approved by Republicans last week effectively uses a budgetary gimmick to circumvent mandatory spending caps and boosts spending for the military with no real long-term vision.

The budget plan essentially leaves the spending caps that were instituted through the process known as sequestration in place while simultaneously upping military spending - seemingly only a trick politicians in Washington, D.C., could pull off. These caps were put in place through a 2011 agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling, which imposed limits on both defense and non-defense spending. Instead of doing the hard work to cobble together a compromise and repeal the sequestration process, lawmakers seem complacent with simply using budgetary gimmicks.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter slammed the proposal by the Republicans, indicating the plan merely wedged funding into the upcoming budget rather than instilling any kind of long-term vision. While other, non-defense spending is kept in check, the Republicans opted to effectively fatten up the Pentagon’s war-fighting account by about $90 billion through an “overseas contingency operations account,” which isn’t subject to the budget limits.

“Current proposals to shoehorn (the Pentagon’s) base budget funds into our contingency accounts would fail to solve the problem, while also undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible, long-term planning,” Carter said.

The GOP has long liked to say that they’re hawkish on both defending the nation, as well as balancing budgets. Those sentiments, though, are increasingly in competition in a time of significant global unrest.

Democrats, though, don’t deserve a free pass here either. As it stands, they would have to reach an agreement dealing with about $1 trillion in spending cuts to non-defense spending. So far, Democrats have shown no indication they will come to the negotiation table.

Even President Barack Obama has blinked and said military spending should be boosted above the caps set in 2011. He added, though, he would want domestic spending increased, as well. That’s not the right way forward either, as every year our country’s deficit and debt continues to balloon.

With control of Congress, Republicans have already put negotiations on a wrong footing by exempting defense accounts from mandatory spending caps while effectively squeezing non-defense spending. This spending plan was strongly supported by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. He noted that sequestration budget cuts are “going to give you the smallest army since 1940, the smallest navy since 1915, one contingency Marine Corps, 30 fighter squadrons grounded without the enemy firing a shot by the end of the decade. … If we’re not willing to stand up and fix that, then what good are we (the Republican Party) to the nation?”

Graham isn’t totally irrational in his point. Gutting spending can create a slippery slope toward national security, especially in an increasingly dangerous world. However, the Republicans have basically altered the way our nation funds wars by turning it into annual, multi-billion-dollar slush fund that’s subject to even less congressional oversight than any regular military budget gets.

Carter has wisely urged lawmakers to make compromises on tax and spending reforms in order to lift the sequestration caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. That’s the right way forward.

The message right now, however, is that back-door budgeting makes sense because it’s the easiest way out. Republicans were supposedly handed the reins of Congress to lead. This isn’t leadership. It’s a mere showing of smoke and mirrors.




April 1

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on cockfighting:

Cockfighting has a long, if inglorious, tradition in South Carolina. Maybe that explains why lawmakers haven’t been willing to make the penalties on cockfighting as tough as those related to dog fighting. But Saturday’s raid in Marlboro County, in which 27 were arrested, has properly renewed the debate.

At the least, the Legislature should make a second offense for cockfighting a felony.

At present, all offenses are misdemeanors, though there is a rising scale of penalties. Only eight other states are as lax when it comes to cockfighting.

Cockfighting is almost always accompanied by gambling, which also is illegal in South Carolina. And like its counterpart of dog fighting, drugs are sometimes involved.

“The fights themselves are inhumane for the animals involved, but so many crimes come about at these events,” Marlboro County Sheriff Fred Knight said, citing gambling, drugs and associated violence.

Even so, some cockfighting fans view a day at the cockpit as a family affair.

In the Marlboro raid, for instance, it was reported that three children were present.

A bill pending in the House would make it a crime to bring a child to a cockfight - a reasonable penalty for exposing a youngster to such a cruel “sport.” Gamecocks typically fight to the death.

That bill also would make it a crime to possess cockfighting paraphernalia, such as the metal gaffs that are attached to roosters’ legs to make them more deadly.

Sheriff Knight said it was the second cockfighting ring his department has broken up in the last 10 years. Seven of those arrested on Saturday were from North Carolina, where cockfighting is a felony.

Clearly, South Carolina’s comparatively lax penalties work as an incentive for cockfighting in South Carolina.

“It takes a lot of planning, manpower and hard work to successfully complete this type of case,” Sheriff Knight said. That’s another good reason to make South Carolina’s laws against cockfighting tougher.

Cockfighting has a history in this state, and the Legislature should work with law enforcement to relegate it permanently to the past.




March 24

The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on Gov. Haley’s stance on proposed nuclear waste disposal plan:

Gov. Nikki Haley’s forceful opposition to more toxic waste in South Carolina is well founded and much appreciated.

A private operator wants the state to undo a hard-fought compact reached long ago to stem the tide of nuclear waste brought into South Carolina.

Haley’s stand is consistent with long-established policy. She correctly called the new proposal a “huge step backward.”

“We don’t sell our soul for jobs and money,” Haley said last week. “I’m not willing to go in and take in nuclear waste that our kids and grandkids are going to have to deal with.”

The 235-acre Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility opened in 1971. Tons of radioactive trash from 39 states was buried there before South Carolina lawmakers started to push back about three decades later. It holds 28 million cubic feet of material that leaks radiation, and now the Utah-based company that operates the site wants to bring in material that is more highly contaminated from more states.

On the face of it, the proposal is absurd.

But EnergySolutions, operating in Barnwell as Chem-Nuclear, started a public relations campaign to undo the Atlantic Compact limitations put in place in 2000 under Gov. Jim Hodges after years of work. The compact was agreed to by the state, Chem Nuclear and Barnwell leadership. As a result, the landfill was closed in 2008 to all states except South Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Haley’s strong stand reflects the resolve it will take to keep South Carolina from being the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.

“I don’t know how many times we have to fight this battle,” Hodges told the Aiken Standard. “In my legislative career, which spanned from 1986 to 1999 and four years as governor, we dealt with this issue three or four times. We finally reached a long-term solution.”

EnergySolutions argues it must bring in higher-level waste from around the country to help pay for environmental management of the site.

“Using a pro-environmental argument for taking higher-level waste to pay for environmental degradation that’s taken place there over time — that’s pretty unique and creative,” Hodges said.

Thankfully, Haley is not falling for it, and neither should the state legislature.

South Carolina has borne well more than its share of the nation’s nuclear-waste problem. Besides the Barnwell County site, tons of nuclear waste remains at the Savannah River Site, a Cold War nuclear weapons producer near Aiken. That problem was made worse when the Obama administration negligently halted work on a national nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Utah.

When Hodges was governor, he threatened to lie in the road to halt tons of plutonium being trucked to the Savannah River Site. A federal court stopped that specter, but the point was clear.

Haley’s stand against the new Barnwell scheme honors the past and serves as a model that will doubtless be needed in the future.



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