IS IT STILL A CRIME IF YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH IT?
The recently released annual report of the corporate watchdog group INFACT inducted five giant corporations into its Hall of Shame "for exerting undue influence over political decision making, putting public health at risk."
Columbia/HCA, Waste Management, Dow Chemical, Phillip Morris and RJR Nabisco got slammed for using their enormous profits to buy political influence.
Columbia/HCA recently acquired half interest in Providence Hospital in Columbia and is waiting out a lawsuit to take over operation of the Medical University Hospital in Charleston. Waste Management owns the Chem Nuclear radioactive dump in Barnwell. In South Carolina, these companies have something else in common: lobbyists.
Helping spread the grease in our state legislature are: Warren Tompkins, the Lee Atwater wannabe of Republicans, representing Columbia/HCA; Fred Allen representing Chem Nuclear and RJR Nabisco; Paige Carlton represents Chem Nuclear and Columbia/HCA, as does Graham Tew; and Don Fowler works for Chem Nuclear to win over Democrats. Dwight Drake looks out for the interests of Phillip Morris.
When MUSC President Jim Edwards and Columbia/HCA lobbyists were twisting legislators' arms last year to get approval to lease the Medical University Hospital to the world's largest hospital chain, Edwards said the hospital would lose $37.5 million in 1996 and 1997.
In a lawsuit to stop the lease, the Medical Society of South Carolina revealed that MUSC now admits it will make a profit of about $67 million for the same period.
"We knew at the time it was a bunch of hogwash," said Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston). "That year they had a very big profit, they were able to sell that crap to the General Assembly."
"I may be guilty of what some are saying," Edwards admitted, "but I don't think so. I don't think I misled anybody."
Meanwhile, Columbia/HCA is under federal investigation for possibly paying physicians for patient referrals and for violating laws against Medicare bilking. Edwards said he has great confidence in Columbia/HCA Chairman Richard Scott.
"I'm not saying (Scott) hasn't made mistakes," Edwards said. "If he has made mistakes, it was because he was not aware of the way hospitals work and the way things are done in that world."
That Edwards would suggest that Columbia/HCA, with 348 hospitals in 38 states and a revenue of nearly $20 billion last year, doesn't know how hospitals work is revealing. Perhaps Edwards knows that Columbia/HCA has bought and closed 18 hospitals in the past two years to increase its profit at other locations. Edwards knows that you can't run a hospital like some bleeding-heart social service; hospitals are, in fact, big business.
"Do we have an obligation to provide health care for everybody?" Scott said in a recent interview. "Where do we draw the line? Is any fast-food restaurant obligated to feed everyone who shows up?"
It may sound calloused to some, but Edwards knows that in the quest for corporate profits you sometimes have to get your hands dirty. He sits on the board of Waste Management, Inc., which owns Chem Nuclear. Last year, Waste Management had 34 registered federal lobbyists, 197 lobbyists in 40 states, including six in South Carolina. His company has paid more than $150 million in fines and settlements for fraud and environmental crimes in the past 17 years.
NOW YOU SEE 'EM...It is a perverse sense of pride that has our state crowing over purging nearly 40 percent of welfare families from the rolls in the past two years. The drop is attributed to the stricter requirements resulting from passage of the state's 1996 Family Independence Act and federal welfare reform.
According to the state Department of Social Services, most welfare recipients are dropped for "not playing by the rules," not filling out forms, or failure to make appointments.
South Carolina met federal requirements for moving people off the welfare rolls, which means it won't have to provide any jobs for this year's crop of poor folks. In spite of meeting the federal quota, DSS will still hold recipients to job search requirements and will boot people after two years.
This bureaucratic fix for the poverty problem defies logic. We're not suggesting that layabouts should get a free ride, but this rush to reduce the welfare rolls overlooks one important thing: two-thirds of recipients in this state are children. The kids don't count in the numbers game. As of April 1997, DSS counted 32,868 welfare "cases," down from 46,525 in January 1996. The case load doesn't include the additional 63,446 children who now look to the state to provide for their basic needs, like food and a roof.
The Family Independence Act has seen about 36,000 children dropped from state subsidies in the past two years. While DSS admits that it has no idea where these kids have ended up, a spokesperson for the agency said, "They are probably not on the streets starving."
It's no secret that Gov. David Beasley has been steadily falling from grace with the Christian Coalition since his election. Some of the faithful are not amused with Beasley's idea of a good time.
Since the spread of rumors regarding the First Family's marital troubles, Beasley and wife Mary Wood have been seen more often together in public. Their recent appearance at the Tyson-Holyfield fight in Sin City, however, did little to soothe the ruffled feathers of the flock.
When Beasley showed up on a Harley at the recent opening of the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, you could hear the Bibles thumping all the way to Greenville. The governor, with a stogie in his mouth, wearing shades and a bandana around his head, was riding with a fast crowd from the City of Fallen Angels.
Christian conservatives around the state muttered that the governor's unseemly appearance wasn't in keeping with the family values image they elected him to project. Democratic cynics who knew Beasley when he was a dope-smoking, skirt-chasing liberal speculated that the born-again Beasley's second birth may not have gone full-term.
"I considered David a friend at one time," Christian Coalition organizer Rev. Ray Moore recently observed. "I think we got the wrong guy."
If you are one of the many who think that our state attorney general is a political whore, check out his latest progressive accomplishments.
Condon has created a Violence Against Women Program in his office to provide sensitivity training to solicitors and law enforcement officers involved in rape and domestic violence cases. Condon hired Dr. Dean Kilpatrick of MUSC and Scott Beard, director of People Against Rape, to develop protocol for law enforcement to follow in rape cases.
On July 11, before we could get all misty-eyed for misjudging him, Condon announced that he was pushing a bill for chemical castration of serial rapists. True to form, Condon announced his decision at a press conference without consulting the people he hired for advice.
"Rape is a crime of violence," Beard said. Chemical castration "offers the community a false sense of security; it doesn't take away (an offender's) ability to commit these type of crimes."
Mia Butler, director of the Violence Against Women Program in Condon's office, was blind-sided by his announcement. Part of the training she gives to cops is that rape is more about power and control than it is about sex.
Releasing rapists after chemical castration "may actually make their crimes more violent," said Susan Higgenbocken, director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. "I don't have a bleeding heart for rapists; I don't give a damn what happens to the perpetrators, but this bill would hurt those it's intended to protect."
It took an act of the legislature to make HIV home testing kits available to South Carolinians. The DHEC board had refused to allow the kits because the agency wanted to retain control of the numbers -- and the people they represent. One commissioner argued that if DHEC didn't know who tested positive for HIV, the public would risk exposure to "typhoid Marys," infected people maliciously spreading the disease.
Except for the home tests, state law requires that the name of anyone who tests positive be turned over to DHEC. Since you could not get an anonymous test in South Carolina, many people went to Charlotte or Atlanta to be tested.
DHEC's policy on home testing indicates the agency doesn't understand that it is part of the problem. The major reason that people leave the state or use home kits to be tested is that they don't trust DHEC. The agency requires the name of anyone who tests positive for HIV, and notifies their employer or school of their HIV status. DHEC also asks for the names of past sexual partners.
While it claims its AIDS policies are designed for accurate tracking of the disease in South Carolina, without guaranteeing people confidentiality DHEC will never have meaningful numbers.
CHASING ASH TRAYS
Attorney General Charlie Condon's last-minute entry into the Great Tobacco Money Grab seems to have spawned a new cottage industry. While the General is no friend of trial lawyers, he has apparently thrown them a bone, or butt, as the case may be.
Greenville lawyer Dick James has added a new twist to the old refrain in his TV ads, "If you've been injured in an accident, give me a call." His new ads advise smokers, "If you have a tobacco-related illness...give me a call."
Condon, who has pocketed more than $7,000 in campaign contributions from tobacco companies, has ironically created a lucrative new client base for his arch rivals: trial lawyers.
NAME THAT SLEAZEBALL
This month's sleaze, in a desperate play to the religious right, vetoed $125,000 for teen pregnancy prevention. Operating on the notion that saying no is all teenagers need to know about sex, he has forgotten his own past. Be the first caller to identify this sleazeball and win a free trial subscription to POINT.
Last month, the honor went to Commerce Secretary Bob Royall.