Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This Is Spartanburg

By the way, did I mention that I was in Spartanburg, South Carolina today?

Spartanburg is located in the Piedmont Province, the rolling foothills of the Southern Appalachians, and comprises the eastern end of the Greenville-Spartanburg district. It's a pleasant enough town, but in 2002, Spartanburg County ranked among the worst 10% of all counties in the U.S. in terms of releases of air toxins, primarily toluene and styrene.

But that's not why I'm here. It's also the corporate headquarters of a former client of mine, a company for whom I consulted from 1984 through 1986, and again from about 1998 through 2003. I've switched firms twice since then, but always wanted the chance to represent them again. These are hard economic times, and I've been aggressively trying to re-capture as much of my former market share as I possibly can.

With its pleasant climate and low cost of living, Spartanburg is blessed with several corporate headquarters. This includes Extended Stay Hotels, Denny's restaurants, and textile giant Miliken. BMW opened a plant here in 1996 for manufacture of luxury SUVs, part of the migration of automobile manufacturing in the United States from American firms in the Detroit area to foreign firms with plants in the mostly non-unionized South. Yet despite all of this, South Carolina still has the third highest unemployment rate in the country. As I said, these are hard economic times.

Spartanburg is also the home of southern rockers The Marshall Tucker Band and of blues musician Pink Anderson (1900-1974). Pink Floyd came up their band's name by juxtaposing the first names of Anderson and North Carolina bluesman Floyd Council. According to legend, founder Syd Barrett noticed the names in the liner notes of a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller album, which read, "Pink Anderson or Floyd Council - these were a few amongst the many blues singers that were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys."

I had no time to meander through the wooded valleys of the Piedmont today, however, as I was out here with several of my colleagues to try to win back the work from our former client (many of my present co-workers also used to be at my previous firm, and also consulted with our Spartanburg client). Yesterday's four-hour conference call was part of the planning process for today's meeting. We left the office in a rented van this morning, drove the three hours up I-85 from Atlanta, and headed back to Georgia after the meeting.

Despite the state's economic hardships, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whose name was widely floated as a potential VP prospect for John McCain last year and is considered a possible prospect for president in 2012, has warned that the new stimulus package recently passed to help turn the economy around risks taking the U.S. from a free-market economy to a "savior-based economy," where businesses rise or fall depending on whether they are in the good graces of Washington, D.C. He and a few other Republican governors have voiced concern that the stimulus program will deepen the national debt without dramatically improving the economy. Last week, Sanford said, “I think the problem that was created with too much debt will never be solved by adding yet more debt. I think there are a number of wrinkles that have caused a number of us to say ‘Wait a minute, let’s take a look — a long look — at whether or not this really makes sense for our state.’”

But on further questioning, he said he still might accept at least some of the funds. “Being against it doesn’t preclude taking the money,” Sanford explained.

"You say you're against it but you still might take the money. Do you realize how some people might think that you're putting ideology ahead of the interests of your constituents?" he was asked. "If you're so against it, why take the money?"

Sanford replied, "Because ultimately I represent more than, um, almost 5 million people in South Carolina."

So Gov. Sanford appears to know that the funds are actually good for his state's economy, but is still taking a partisan stand against it, just like the Republicans did during the creation of the bill. This is disappointing, because governors are typically more pragmatic and less partisan then Congressmen, and it should be noted that some Republican governors, like California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida's Charlie Crist, have been outspoken in their support of the stimulus.

But Alaska's Sarah Palin has said she may turn down stimulus money and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal announced Friday that he would only use a portion of the stimulus funds directed toward his state. The possible 2012 presidential candidate said that while he would accept money to increase unemployment benefits, he would not accept another part of the stimulus which he said would result in an unemployment insurance tax increase on Louisiana businesses. What with Louisiana's inadequate levees and New Orleans' vulnerability to floods, it would be particularly outrageous if Jindal were to also turn down funding to repair and upgrade his state's infrastructure. And if another Hurricane Katrina were to come along, wouldn't the resulting loss of life then be on Jindal's conscience?

Mississippi's Haley Barbour said, "There is some (stimulus money) we will not take in Mississippi. If we were to take the unemployment insurance reform package that they have, it would cause us to raise taxes on employment when the money runs out, and the money will run out in a couple of years. Then we'll have to raise the unemployment insurance tax, which is literally a tax on employment. I mean, we want more jobs. You don't get more jobs by putting an extra tax on creating jobs."

What this means, in all practically, is that Mississippi is trying to lure jobs to their state and incentivize industry to move there by creating a low tax structure. Fair enough, but their cuts in taxes come at the expense of those who need the new jobs the most - the unemployed and the poor. In essence, what they're saying is "Come to Mississippi, where you don't have to worry about paying benefits for the workers you toss away." Federal environmental standards were set to keep states from competing for industry by allowing more pollutants (like toluene and styrene) to be released to the air and water than their neighboring states, thereby lowering operating costs and bringing in money, although at the expense of their residents' health. Why then should they compete on the basis of lower unemployment benefits?

For this and other reasons, there's language in the 1,000-page stimulus legislation to ensure that Republican governors of states — particularly in the South — don’t hijack the funds for other purposes, or simply block the funds. This provision has even come to be called the "Sanford Amendment." One of my more reactionary co-workers, who fortunately wasn't along on today's trip, is particularly incensed about this aspect of the stimulus package. He feels that the provision is an inappropriate imposition of the Federal government on States' rights, and cites it as yet another example of what he believes to be President Obama's "contempt" for the Constitution, and further "proof" of what he thinks is Obama's ultimate goal - to transform the country into a Communist dictatorship.

Not only that, but he's predicting that the inevitable outcome of the so-called Sanford Amendment - as well as the rest of the transformation of American society into a Bolshevik state - will be an all-out civil war, ultimately leading to the dissolution of our society into chaos and anarchy and countless numbers of deaths. Based on this belief, he's buying guns and ammo as fast as he can so as to "protect" his property and family in this coming Armageddon.

All across the American South, there are a lot of bitter, white males like him who have not accepted the outcome of last year's election. Heavily armed and very angry, their hatred fanned by demagogues on AM and satellite radio, they represent an increasingly dangerous and unstable element to the current situation.

This is not a good thing.

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