It’s been about three months since I did a little browsing the Deep Southern news stories. And here’s a few of neglected odds and ends around the region to talk about.
In one of the bigger national news stories with Deep Southern ties, the major networks and news outlets did a reasonably good job of covering the matter of ricin-tainted letters sent to Mississippi judge Sadie Holland, to US senator Roger Wicker and to President Obama— for about a week, until they dropped the story out of the blue like a bored child whose cheap plastic toy just broke. Two Mississippi men have been arrested separately for the crimes. In a bizarre enough scenario, the first man arrested was an Elvis impersonator – his name was Kevin Paul Curtis – but he was soon exonerated and released. Subsequently, the story got even stranger, when the second man arrested was a martial arts instructor named J. Everett Dutschke, who Curtis claimed set him up.
The New York Daily News ran a report on April 30 about the case. It explained that Dutschke used to run a martial arts studio, and when the now-closed space was searched, traces of ricin were found there; their report also says that Dutschke had recently bought castor beans (the natural source of ricin poison) from eBay and that his computer’s internet history had ricin-related searches. As to possible motive, the report describes this:
Judge Holland dismissed a civil suit that Dutschke filed in 2006 against the witness, who accused him of making sexual advances toward the witness’ daughter, the affidavit said. In April, Dutschke pleaded not guilty in state court to two child molestation charges involving three girls younger than 16. He also was appealing a conviction on a different charge of indecent exposure. He told AP that his lawyer told him not to comment on those cases.
A day later, on May 1, Vanity Fair online ran a short, two-paragraph piece that contains a summation of the evidence against Dutschke, and also a link to a very poorly made video that features him trying to explain how he didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll just say that the writer, Juli Weiner, succeeds in very succinctly getting to the heart of how odd this story is.
Also from Mississippi, The Atlantic online reported on May 31 that the ACLU has filed lawsuit over conditions at one prison in the state. The article’s subheading reads: “Rapes, stabbings, and beatings are rampant, according to the complaint, and frequent fires cause some prisoners to ‘expel black mucous from their noses.'” The complaint lists allegations of rats and mices crawling over prisoners while they sleep, and staff shortages leading to men being left naked, wet and cold in showers for long periods of time. The ACLU’s Gabriel B. Eber quoted in the article says these are the worst prison conditions he had ever seen. This story of the ACLU’s efforts is just beginning . . .
In decidedly more uplifting news from Alabama: due the hard work and diligent effort an independent group called Free the Hops, Alabama’s beer-related laws are being modernized in a substantial way and quickly, and now al.com reports that “Alabama had nation’s fastest growth in number of breweries in 2012.”
Alabama ended 2011 with only seven breweries statewide, but nearly doubled that in 2012, adding five more. That change of more than 71 percent led the nation, followed by Kentucky at 61 percent (eight new breweries for 21 in 2012).
Back in 2009, the Alabama’s Gourmet Beer Bill was the first major step forward in craft-beer legislation when it raised the state’s maximum allowable alcohol by volume (ABV) from 6% to 13.9%, which allowed a significant number of previously outlawed American and European craft beers to be sold in the state. In 2011, the Brewery Modernization Act made it legal for Alabama’s brew pubs to sell their beers not only on-site but also to wholesalers for distribution beyond their own premises. In 2012, the maximum allowable bottle size was raised to 24.5 OZ. Most recently, in its last session, the Alabama legislature passed a bill, which was signed by the governor, allowing limited home brewing, up to 60 gallons per year.
Moving on, to South Carolina: Although the story has not received coverage from major news sources – I didn’t see anything from the AP or the major networks – the Huffington Post reported in May about calls for the removal of a man named Roan Garcia-Quintana from the re-election committee for South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, to which she appointed him initially, because of Garcia-Quintana’s ties to extremely conservative political groups. The Huffington Post‘s story explains that Garcia-Quintana is on the board of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which is the modern name of the White Citizens Councils, the openly racist anti-Civil Rights organization that served as one of the movement’s main opponents in the 1950s and 1960s. (The name was changed in the 1970s.)
Roan Garcia-Quintana’s own political action organization is called the Americans Have Had Enough Coalition, which is based in Mauldin, South Carolina. (Although I also found another website that served his campaign for a South Carolina state senate seat, I couldn’t tell if he was running now or had run in the past.) The stated positions of Americans Have Had Enough are typical enough planks in the Tea Party platform. However, regarding his appointment to Haley’s committee, there had been some concerns, mainly from the Southern Poverty Law Center, about his socio-political views. The Post and Courier online reported on May 26 that Haley asked him to “step down” from her re-election committee:
“While we appreciate the support Roan has provided,” [Haley’s adviser Tim] Pearson said in the Sunday statement, “we were previously unaware of some of the statements he had made, statements which do not well represent the views of the Governor.”