Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Checks Are Here!

by Rod Shealy, Sr.

This is the week that our economy is supposed to start turning around.

Just in the nick of time, because I’m pretty sure I’m getting ready to start paying $4.00 a gallon for gas in the not-too-distant future, since I have to pump Premium when I fill up the Bat-Mobile. And, of course, when the price of gas goes sky-high, so does the price of everything else.

But this week, things will start getting better, because the first of the Federal Government’s Economic Stimulus checks will be arriving, with more coming every week for the next few months.

Lots of extra dough will be available for the spending. So… I want to take this opportunity to remind you again to help stimulate our LOCAL economy. (Consider this column a Public Service Announcement. I’m admitting my bias here, because I’m openly pulling for our local economy!)

A couple of months ago after we got the news about the economic stimulus package, I first suggested using your check to boost our own backyard by remembering the hundreds of smaller, local retailers and service-providers who are the backbone of our community. Actually, I found myself “sermonizing” a bit.

Well, this week, it’s time to re-hash that sermon, because the checks are here!

As I now understand it, many families will receive $600 or more, depending on the number of kids and other factors. It’s designed to pull America out of the “slow-down” which our economy has suffered. The government is giving you back your own money so you can spend it, and by spending it on your choice of goods or services, you are providing jobs and income for other Americans. That’s the way the economy works, except the part about the government giving you back your own money, which I won’t get into right now.

“Support those local businesses that support our community” is a theme I’ve harped on for years, and now, with the extra cash coming soon, I’m at it again.

When I pulled out my calculator to try to figure how much money would be coming back, I estimated that approximately $50 million of this money will be coming back to taxpayers in our small community… right here, our own community, where we live and work and read this weekly newspaper!!!

That amount of money -- $50 million -- if even partially spent with local merchants, professionals and other service-providers, will have an enormous impact on our community which will be felt for many years to come. For some small businesses, it could mean the difference between surviving and closing… which means, for many small business employees, it’s the difference between having a job and not having a job.

The giant multi-national chains have launched massive marketing plans to capture as much of that money as possible.

One large grocery chain, I’m informed, is offering a special gift card: If you use your check to buy a $300 card now, they’ll let you buy $310 or so worth of groceries with it later.

Other big corporations have their own schemes to get as much of your money as possible. I don’t fault them for it. I’m sure that their investors will profit handsomely, before sending on a share of our economic stimulus funds to the manufacturers of their products in China and beyond.

There is little question that Wall Street and China will benefit nicely from this infusion of our cash. So be it. The world IS flat, I guess.

But… I want to do my part to make sure that OUR little corner of the world also does okay. I want our community’s economy to be stimulated along with Wall Street and China! And I am especially interested in rewarding those struggling, smaller businesses who, despite their own challenges, always help support our community.

Before you spend your new money, ask yourself these questions about the business you’re spending it with:

Do they help support our community by sponsoring youth sports teams, band-boosters, and cheerleader camps? Do they participate in the local chamber of commerce or other civic organizations? Do they help underwrite the high school year books and sports program books with their advertising dollars?

Or do they simply take from the consumers in this community, without giving anything back? Are they really a part of our local economy, with local owners and well-paid employees, or do they just make all the profit they can, and then wire our money off each week to a home office a thousand miles away?

Everyone who knows me knows I’m a boundless, unrelenting optimist, full of patriotic fervor. As always, I’m pulling for America, and I’m confident that better days are ahead!

And while we’re saving the nation, I’m also unabashedly encouraging you to “Shop Local” in your own backyard community. Whether you’re using your extra check for a new car, new furniture, as part of a down-payment for a new house, to fix up your old house, or just pampering yourself with lots of smaller items or services, you should pay attention to make sure the company you’re spending with is a good-neighbor to our community.

And let’em know you’re pulling for them!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nostalging about 1962

This weekend, I realized – once again – that my world is changing A LOT. Frankly, I’m not happy with it. I want my old world back.

First, I went to the post office, where I got a notice that the postage rate is increasing again next month. Then, I went to pump gas, and noticed that it had reached a new high: $3.50 per gallon. (Actually, it was several cents over $3.50, but when the price is that high, rounding off to the nearest 10-cents seems reasonable.)

Later in the weekend, I was watching cable TV, and I saw an ad about “digital TV” coming next year. The ad said if you have an old-style analog TV, you will need to get a “converter box”. (I couldn’t figure why they would be airing that ad on cable TV, since anybody with cable already has an updated TV.)

Finally, most frightening of all, I realized that my clothes are tattered and no longer fit me, meaning I will soon need to shop for new duds. This brings to mind the change which disturbs me most: fashion!

Since I only shop for clothes once every 20 years or so, the mere prospect causes culture shock. And since I do most of my shopping at Goodwill, I’m typically about 30 years behind the fashion trends… which was a REAL problem back when I wore neckties, because the neckwear trend seemed to shift from “thin” to “wide” and back to “thin” and back to “wide” about every six months. It was really hard to keep up.

Anyway, these impending changes – postage, gasoline, TV, and fashion – caused me to start daydreaming about the good old days again.

Postage, for instance. The first letters I ever mailed cost me 4-cents for the stamp. I think I still remember the design of those stamps. They were purplish, with a likeness of Lincoln. When postage increased to 5-cent later in the 60’s, George Washington appeared on the stamp. I believe the price went up shortly after the invention of the Zip Code in 1963. For the first few years, the zip code was optional. I think it was a trick by the federal government.

Gasoline in the good old days was great! I remember 25-cent a gallon… and for your quarter, you got a small army of guys washing your windshield, checking your oil, and filling your tires with air while the gas was being pumped. By the time I myself started driving in the late 60’s, it had risen to a whopping 30-cent a gallon.

Incidentally, I pumped that gas into a green and white 53 Chevy that my dad had bought me for $60. It was straight drive – three speed on the column – so after a few weeks of driving it, I decided to learn what a “clutch” was.

Prior to the Chevy, I rode a bicyle… anywhere I wanted to ride it. At 10 or 12 years old, I could ride as far as I wanted to, and nobody thought anything of it. It wasn’t unusual for me to take off on a 10 or 15 mile ride, to the country, or the city, or the lake.

I remember a battery-operated engine-noise toy they came out with called the V-Rroom. Rich kids had them on their bikes to make them sound like motorcyles. (I had cards with clothespins that made noise when they hit the spokes.)

There were some really great toys back then. I didn’t own them all, but I KNEW them all, because they were all advertised during Saturday morning cartoons. Starting with Mr. Potato Head in the 50’s, Hasbro and Mattel learned the power of TV advertising on kids… and they churned out toy after toy for our Baby Boomer generation… like the Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Easy Bake Oven, and G. I. Joe. Today, I’m happy to say that I never owned a G.I. Joe… or an Easy Bake Oven, for that matter… but I did have a Johnny Seven – seven weapons in one!!! Also, I had a Twister and a Slip and Slide. I personally loved the Slip and Slide. What’s not to love about diving head first onto a wet strip of plastic?

Then there were Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and Etch-a-Sketch… artistic design-and-build type toys that gave me my first indications -- at a very early age -- that I did not, in fact, possess any particular talent. (At about the same time, the nationwide Yo-Yo and Hula Hoop fads were hinting to me that I also seemed to lack skills that required any type of coordination. While I was feeling good about getting the yo-yo to come back to my hand, my four-year younger friends were doing “Walk the Dog” and “Around the World”.)

Until I was a teenager, our family’s only TV was a black and white which received only one channel: WIS, the only VHF station in the market. Of course, I didn’t know what “VHF” meant, until years later when we got a black and white TV with a circular UHF antenna. And suddenly, we had THREE different channels to choose from.

I still remember seeing my first color TV, which had been purchased by a rich relative. This same relative also was the first to have a home with…. AIR CONDITIONING!!! And, I think probably that’s where I saw my first telephone that had push buttons instead of a rotary dial on it.

Do you remember 19-cent hamburgers? Lot’s of places had them back then. Hite’s Dairy Bar in Lexington sold 19-cent hamburgers, milkshakes and French fries. I think McDonalds and Hardees did, too… but there weren’t any around until a little later.

Is it just my imagination, but did all of the original Hardee’s have roofs on them that were shaped sorta like upside down umbrellas?

While I’m nostalging (a word I made up right now, for this column), how about… Dime Stores? Fallout shelters? Diet Rite and Tab? Slinky and Super Ball? Grocery stores before super markets? You know, the kind that had the giant cookies on the counter that you could buy one cookie at a time? Ah, the good old days!

Which brings me to fashion styles I can relate to: like clam-diggers. And shirts with loops on the back of the neck. Crew cuts and flat tops. Letter sweaters. Keds. Penny-loafers. Saddle-oxfords. I liked the looks of Bermuda shorts and pedal pushers. Pants had cuffs. Socks were white. Belts were black. And so were the rims of eyeglasses.

These were the fashions I could relate to. Then, all of a sudden, things changed: Bell-bottom pants. Tie-dyed shirts. Granny glasses. Go-go boots and platform shoes. Love Beads. Mini-skirts. (Okay, mini-skirts were actually okay with me. But not the others.)

And now, its tattoos and piercings, to go along baggy pants hanging down around the knees and inflatable shoes.

I’ve completely lost track. I miss the good old days.

Next week, I’m going shopping for some “new” clothes. I hope they have white socks and black belts.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Happy 50th, Mom and Dad (reprinted from June 1997)

In addition to celebrating Father's Day this weekend, the Shealys will be observing another occasion: the 50th Wedding Anniversary of our parents, Ryan and Elsie Shealy.

Ryan and Elsie Shealy -- who we usually refer to as "Mom & Dad" -- have been fairly well-known here in the local community… he with a political career which began in the 1950s and lasted into the 90s, and she with a successful career that led her to travel the nation as a motivational speaker. They are not only well-known, but well-liked and well-respected (leading to the obvious question which you, the reader, are probably struggling with in your mind right now: "So what happened to YOU?"

But that's a whole 'nother story.) As the second-born of their five children, I am understandably proud of my folks on this occasion. But as a newspaper writer I have an additional reaction: Hey, this is a GREAT story!

The truth is, I got both my political and my newspaper roots from my parents. Many times I've told the story of Dad's first run for the State House of Representatives in 1954, when I was first exposed to political campaigns. Since Mom attended all the political stump meetings to support Dad, and I was only six months old at the time, they came up with the very creative idea of putting "Vote for Pop" sign on my diapers, making me a political advertisement, of sorts. At six-months-old, I was cute…and Dad won the race!

It was my first experience in political campaigns. My newspaper roots probably took hold even before that. While they were still a struggling young couple, Dad worked three jobs to help put himself through college. One of those jobs was newspaper carrier. And when I was born in December 1953, Dad went out and collected his delivery route a little early to scrape together enough money to get me out of the hospital. I figure that episode was my earliest involvement in the newspaper industry.

That's when MY story began, but the Ryan and Elsie story started long before that. Growing up at the site of the still-under-construction Lake Murray, Elsie Porth was the youngest of five children in her family, and the first to go to college. She graduated from Columbia College and immediately took a job teaching high school.

Ryan, on the other hand, grew up plowing behind a mule to help support his family, his adoptive father having died when he was very young. He quit Batesburg-Leesville High School to get a job at the Charleston Naval Yard, later enlisting in the Navy during World War II.

Returning from the war, he decided to return to high school to prepare for college. It was there that Ryan met Elsie… his high school math teacher. But when the teacher and student began to date, the school administration was not amused. Elsie gained her soon-to-be husband, but lost her teaching job! She quickly found another teaching job, but the early years continued to be a struggle for the young couple as he completed his education.

In addition to his other jobs, he found that he could earn $25 to $100 per fight as a boxer, a talent he had discovered in the Navy. So once or twice a month, they would drive to various cities around the Southeast to engage in the sport of Professional Boxing. He ended his career after 33 pro fights with a record of 22 and 11.

In the early fifties, a sales manager for an encyclopedia company wanted to hire Ryan as a door-to-door salesman. Learning that Elsie was a teacher, he invited her to come along to the training class. Reluctantly, she attended but sat in the back of the room so she could slip out the door and leave. But something she heard in the class caught her attention! The sales manager mentioned a program which guaranteed earnings whether you sold any encyclopedias or not…just for showing books to 50 people!

Knowing she had several dozen aunts and uncles, she took the job selling World Book Encyclopedia. Now its 50 years and five children later. Things have changed. The couple which had to scrape together money to get their first son out of the hospital is now able to afford to take the entire family on a 50th Anniversary Cruise to the Bahamas… and pay for everyone!!!

The job Elsie took with World Book turned it into a career. When she retired several years ago, she was one of the top five officers in the organization: Senior Vice President for Sales for the North American continent. She was a sought-after motivational speaker, and in the late 1980's was selected as the South Carolina Mother of the Year.

After retiring from World Book, she spent five years speaking to various groups and organizations around the nation and in several other countries.

Ryan left newspaper delivery and pro boxing in favor of politics, serving 12 years in the S.C. House, leaving office for 12 years, then serving 12 years in the S.C. Senate. During his recent Senate years, he was best known for his unsuccessful one-man crusade to bring a lottery to South Carolina, and his successful efforts to block various tax increases. (Long forgotten are the earlier efforts during the 1950's and 60's, which led to the creation of such institutions as the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Lexington Medical Center, Riverbanks Zoo, and Midlands Technical College.)

If I sound like a proud son… well, I am. But, of course, this is a newspaper column, not an Anniversary Card (although it may save me the 50 cents I would otherwise spend on a card).

And since it is a column, not a card, I thought I would tell you a few of my personal favorite highlights from Ryan and Elsie's First 50 Years:

We lost on Family Feud… TWICE! During the 80's our family appeared not once, but twice, on the TV game show. We were really not very good, but apparently the producers enjoyed watching the way we lost, so they flew us back out to California to watch us lose again!

In 1959, Dad waterskiied from Columbia to Charleston… while Mom was out of town. I was five at the time. He told me not to tell Mom. Guess he didn't realize it was going to be printed in every newspaper in the state!

A few years later our family -- three kids at the time -- took a two day adventure down the river from Columbia to Charleston in a cabin cruiser. We got lost in the rice fields, and ended up ten miles from the river. Nowadays, I think about it every time I see "African Queen."

In addition to Family Feud, Dad also once appeared on "The Price is Right." He won some furniture. The whole family was in New York City at the time. Being about seven years old, I was a lot more impressed with (A) the Auto-Mat (B) sitting in the audience for "Concentration," and realizing that there were APPLAUSE signs telling the audience when to clap!

Mom likes to talk, and she's really good at it. Her company asked her to be the keynote speaker at her own retirement program. It was at some really big theatre in Atlanta. They had Zig Ziglar to speak before her, and singer Lee Greenwood to close the program after her speech. She's a really good talker.

In 1965 our family took a vacation by car to California… right through the desert. The day before we left, Dad bought a new car for the trip… well, new to us, anyway. It was a three-seater station wagon with the fold-down door in the back. We folded down the back and stacked the luggage on it. Then I rode in the back seat while Mom and Dad rode in the front and my two sisters rode in the middle. It was hot going through the desert. It wasn't until a few days after we returned from the two week trip that I discovered this car had something I had never seen before… air conditioning. (The front and middle seats had it for the whole trip… but the cool air never made it to me with the back open. I didn't have a clue!)

At a campaign speech in Pelion in 1956, Dad did something which had never been done by a Southern politician before: He publicly denounced the Ku Klux Klan.

It made headlines. It cost him votes. He knew it was not a politically wise thing to do. But he knew it was the right thing to do. And so he did it.

That was the principle which guided him through four decades of politics. He didn't really worry about what people said or what newspapers wrote. He just always tried to do the right thing.

I happen to know that is also the principle that guided Mom and Dad through the 50 years of marriage, and 48 years of being parents. And that, more than anything else, is why I am immensely proud of them.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

(Note from Rod: This column was original written in 1997... probably before I had even heard of "The Internet"... but I wanted this long forgotten column to be available on my blog. We lost Dad to cancer in March, 2001. Mom is the same great mom she's been for my entire life. I was blessed with the two best parents I could imagine.)

Shining a touch of light on politics

Last week may have been a significant milestone in the history of the Palmetto State. On April 10th, a little-known provision of law took effect which could have major long-term implications to ensure good government.

For the first time, all candidates for state office are required to file financial disclosures for their campaigns online, and, for the first time, the public has real access to information about who contributes how much to politicians in our state.

That’s potentially useful information for the public to have. It allows anyone to “follow the money” to determine whether candidates and/or elected officials are being unduly influenced by campaign contributors.

Let me state clearly my belief that political campaign contributions are positives, not negatives. For most Americans, making a financial donation to a campaign or cause they support is the quickest, easiest way to be involved in the political process. Since few people have enough spare time anymore to go door-knocking through their neighborhood in support of their favorite candidates, writing a check is a good way to try to make a difference.

There are instances, however, when the positive act of making a contribution is abused, and becomes a negative. When an individual or group, or even an entire industry, sets out to “bankroll” a candidate in order to circumvent the will of the people, then it’s a problem.

Here’s a hypothetical for instance: Let’s say Candidate Smith has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the insurance industry. Once he’s in office, there’s a new law proposed to help keep insurance rates affordable. Candidate Smith – who is now elected official Smith – works to kill the new law. We might become a little suspicious -- wondering if Smith is standing up for his constituents, or for those giant insurance companies that funneled $47,000 into his campaign fund.

You probably will NOT be surprised to learn that situations such as this occur all the time. Trouble is, you can’t really put your finger on which candidates and which contributors… because you don’t happen to have that information available.

Actually, the information has been available since the mid-1970’s when our state enacted its first Campaign Disclosure laws. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available on the Internet, so the only people who were aware of these contribution patterns were the people who could take time away form work (Monday-Friday 8:30 til 5:00 pm) to drive down to the State Ethics office and pay 25-cents per page for copies of campaign disclosure reports. That meant the only people who ever looked at the reports were the news media and campaigns who were trying to dig up dirt on their opponents, or perhaps just trying to find out what their opponents were up to. (Being in the business of politics, I actually paid 25-cents per page for these reports on many, many occasions.)

But, back in 2002, under the leadership of former House Speaker David Wilkins, the state legislature passed a major reform requiring all state officials to file their campaign disclosures online.… and, starting last week, on April 10th, that information is now available to the whole world via the new-fangled Electronic Internet. It’s a very good thing.

Now, every member of the public can find out a little more about the candidates vying for their support, and have the information needed to make better voting decisions. And… the public will NOT be dependent on the news media or opposing campaigns to interpret the information.

I encourage you to visit the website -- -- and do a little checking up for yourself.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Excuses, excuses...

If you were paying attention, you may have noticed the absence of my weekly column from the newspaper last week. (If you did NOT notice, disregard the remainder of this column. Have a great week. See you next time!)

My January, 2007, New Years Resolution to pen an article each week made it all the way up to April, 2008 without skipping a beat. Keeping score? I made it 60 weeks straight… significantly better than I did with any of my other resolutions: go on a diet, exercise regularly, and quit being such a bonehead.

Yes, the streak is over. I missed a week. BUT… it’s not my fault.

The reason it’s not my fault is because I am an American… and one of the things we Americans seem to do best anymore is make excuses (...and place blame.) As an American, I feel its my patriotic duty to offer a few excuses as to why my column failed to appear last week.

Here they are. Take your pick.

Excuse 1: Writers block. That would be a really good excuse, except that you probably know I’m really not much of a writer – mostly just random drivel and rambling- clutter claptrap.

Excuse 2: The dog ate my column. In elementary school, this was one of my favorite excuses. My classmates used it a lot, too: “Rod’s dog ate my homework”. It didn’t work back then, probably still won’t work.

Excuse 3: My car wouldn’t start. This, I think, is the adult equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”. In the American workplace, it’s the gold standard. And if you’ve seen my car… well, you know I’m a great candidate for “my car wouldn’t start”. I can use it three or four times a week, and still be credible.

Excuse 4: Overslept/alarm clock didn’t go off. A very solid excuse. And timely, because of the Daylight Savings thing that happened a few weeks ago. Who’s to say I didn’t “spring back” by mistake? That would have put me TWO HOURS off.

Excuse 5: Random Drivel Block. How do we know those of us who are virtual prodigies in the art of Random Drivel can’t suddenly go blank, just like our second cousins, The Writers? What makes them so special?

Excuse 6: Rain. Ballgames are rained out all the time. So are parades and festivals. Painters and roofers can’t work on rainy days. My column could have been rained out. Could’ve! Could so! Could, too! Could’ve! Could’ve! Could’ve! I said it first. A million times. You’re it! I’m on base.

Excuse 7: Global Warming. Since NOBODY thinks rain was a good excuse for not writing a column – never mind the fact that there might have been lightning, and since I write my column on an ELECTRIC laptop computer, I would have to shut if off during the lighting storm, or else electricity could come up through the power cord and electrocute me!!! – let’s go for a really, hip, with-it biggie: Global Warming. Everybody respects Global Warming as an excuse.

Excuse 8: My column was censored by the authorities. Not a bad one. Very plausible, knowing some of the rambling clutter claptrap I sometimes publish.

Excuse 9: The dog ate my computer power cord. An updated version of my third grade favorite.

Excuse 10: It was there… you just missed it! Did you check page 64?

Excuse 11: It’s not my job. While this may sound lame, it could really work. Since I’m the publisher, I could just assign the job of writing my column to someone else… at the very last minute. Then, when it doesn’t appear, it’s not my fault, it’s their’s!

Excuse 12: What I wrote last week, you didn’t WANT to read.

Excuse 13: I forgot. I’m old. I’m feeble-minded. Has it been a week already? What day is it? Where am I? Who am I?

Excuse 14: APRIL FOOLS!!! My column for the first week in April was NO column – ON PURPOSE, as an April Fool’s Gag. It’s the all-time greatest April 1st Scam. My column was NO column… which means, technically, I haven’t really missed a week after all.

So I’ll see you next week, for my 63rd column in a row!