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Building a better decade

Step 1: Turn that frown updside down

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When the New Year's Eve ball dropped in Times Square 10 years ago, the mood was like nothing before. We'd been hearing for months that computers responsible for everything from our term papers to our banking system couldn't handle flipping from "1999" to "2000." Instead of worrying about who to make out with at midnight, we were stressing over global commerce and what the hotties at the bar would look like in those post-apocalyptic Beyond Thunderdome outfits.

It was quick relief when the world didn't end. And what followed was 10 years of embracing the very technology that put us on the precipice of disaster. For examples, see your iPhone, your iPod, you MacBook, your GPS unit, your TiVo, your HDTV, your BluRay player, and your Kindle.

Yes, Jan. 1, 2000, was the start of something good in consumer technology. It was everything else that went straight to hell over the next 10 years.

Now, every election is suspect, every war is a quagmire, every investment is a risk, every athlete is a cheat, every Muslim is a radical, every white powder is a toxin, every priest is a pedophile, every flu is an epidemic, every immigrant is an illegal, every house is a money pit, and every Alaskan can see Russia from their backyard. And that's without mentioning Hurricane Katrina or Britney Spears.

But it does no good to look back (just ask George Bush). In these pages, we're laying out a blueprint to make the Teens the best they can be. Step 1: Turn that frown upside down. Step 2: Please keep those clippers, and any recording device, away from Britney. Thanks.

Install mandatory tracking devices on elected officials

Nearly every bad decision we've ever made came when we didn't think anyone was watching: be it stealing a cookie from the cookie jar or watching the new Melrose Place. So it's not surprising when our politicians make boneheaded decisions in the dark of night via personal e-mails they assume will stay personal; we need to attach tracking devices to our elected leaders.

Think about it! We could have stopped former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel before he started handing out drugs to his friends. We could have solved the mystery of Gov. Mark Sanford's whereabouts before it became a global manhunt of Carmen Sandiego proportions.

Step 1: Install a C-SPAN camera at the Columbia airport.

No more than four Arthur Ravenels on a school board

As reporters who make a living writing about governmental catfights, we can assure you that it's no fun having an elected board with nine people who feel the same way on every issue. There's got to be a Joe Wilson in the bunch, ready to challenge every decision. So, it was with some pleasure that we saw Arthur Ravenel put his well-polished retired folksiness to good use as a member of the Charleston County School Board.

The former Congressman and state legislator ran for the board in 2006 with a slate of five candidates called the "A-Team." The alliance fell apart, with only Ravenel and one other "team" member getting elected. But being in the minority has made Ravenel a better board member — honest. He doesn't get his way that often, but he gets his say. We don't mind the questions, Cousin Arthur, we just usually disagree with you on the answers.

Step 1: Ravenel has said he will not seek reelection in 2010.

Find a low-cost airline — again

Earlier this month, AirTran ended a two-year run providing cheap flights out of town and driving down the costs at other airlines. The company said it saw good business in the Lowcountry, but most of the seats were sold in vacation packages at deep discounts. Vacation travelers to Charleston? That must have really snuck up on them.

Travel Management Group told ABC News 4 at the time that roundtrip flights from Charleston to New York City had gone from $300 when AirTran was here to $800 after it left.

Step 1: Lobby Wal-Mart to get into the air transportation business.

Make anger management classes available on public healthcare plans

Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst at a presidential address to Congress on healthcare was a shock to everyone including his wife.

"Who's the nut who just hollered out, 'You lie'?" she asked her husband.

This kind of uncontrollable rage needs to be addressed, because we here in Charleston know where this is heading.

Former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg was well known for drawing attention to himself with a sharp tongue. He retired after a roadside outburst in 2005 after allegedly hitting a woman's car four times with his fist after she called 911 due to his erratic driving.

Step 1: A donkey-shaped stress ball for Wilson and other sour Republicans. They'll have their chance soon enough.

Pass gay marriage already

Over the past 10 years, we've seen individual states begin offering same-sex marriages (and a few take the right back). South Carolina overwhelmingly supported an amendment to the state constitution that banned gay marriage, but many Charleston voters disagreed.

While this hasn't been the decade for wedded bliss, the momentum has grown toward broader rights for gays and lesbians. The conservative argument is that the will of the majority should stand. It will be a unique social experiment when the majority turns against them.

Step 1: Give gays and lesbians the rights associated with marriage and call it marriageé. Very metropolitan — and totally different.

Let real clowns watch Wall Street

Bernie Maddoff may have been the biggest crook of all time, but Charleston knows the same con was done with a lot more panache right here at home. Al Parish drove around town in a purple convertible with a leopard print top. He idolized clowns and wore eccentric jackets to prove it. He collected jewel-encrusted pens and a lot of yard gnomes. When caught, he claimed amnesia.

Sure, local investors lost more than $60 million in Parish's scheme, but they've got quite a story to tell their grandkids when they're standing in the line at the soup kitchen.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kevin Bacon were not so lucky.

Step 1: Somebody put a clown nose on Jim Cramer, where it belongs.

Hold a game of capture the flag on James Island

The municipal boundaries on James Island can reasonably be described as a patchwork mess. Nothing but a dog's invisible fence and the occasional ceramic frog separate the Town of James Island from the City of Charleston.

This is how the battle has gone so far: James Island Mayor Mary Clark and her people say they're a town. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and his people say they're not. The court finds specific reasons to rule against the town. State legislators supportive of Clark's plight change the law to address the legal concerns. Rinse and repeat.

Let's put a flag at each end of Folly Road and see which one of these municipal leaders can prove their mettle and wrest the opponent's flag from the ground.

Step 1: Um, let's get the road fixed so that one could actually safely get from one end of Folly Road to the other.

Require a geography class for all students

YouTube certainly proved its value in 2007, with the help of beauty queen Lauren Catilin Upton. We don't know anyone who was actually watching the Miss Teen USA pageant when she made it to the final round and couldn't put three words together in response to a question about kids and maps. But, through the magic of the internet, everyone has seen her blonde moment, including a reference to "the Iraq" — like one might refer to The Rock. Come to think of it, The Iraq does sound like a wrestling move.

Step 1: Upton is allegedly going to be a contestant on the next season of The Amazing Race. Let's hope she brings a map.

Clone Stephen Colbert

Just as Dick Cheney has been the pride of his hometown, up on the hill just north of Who-ville, so too has Stephen Colbert been the apple of Charleston's eye.

The faux conservative was shining a light on the farce that is right-wing TV hosts long before Glenn Beck came along to prove his point.

Colbert even came back to South Carolina to shake up the political process in 2008, making a failed run for either party's presidential primary. He didn't get on the ballot, but, unlike the Sanford affair, voters felt like they were in on the joke.

Step 1: We're just waiting for the week of The Colbert Report broadcast live from Argentina.

Pull your pants up

To those who have a problem with young men who show off their boxers, we suggest you visit Myrtle Beach. There, you're sure to find more than one 300-pound woman on the back of a motorcycle, splitting a healthy side of ham with nothing but a thin piece of dental floss.

We don't want to see your Joe Boxers either — that's what we have the internet for. But legal efforts that have surfaced in the last decade to penalize the droopy drawers among us have gone a step too far. President Barack Obama knows what we're talking about.

"There are some issues that we face, that you don't have to pass a law," he told MTV in 2008. "But that doesn't mean folks can't have some sense and some respect for other people and, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear — I'm one of them."

Step 1: Tax rebates for people who shop for pants that actually fit their asses.

Bury the Confederate Flag in the Hunley

The fight over the fate of the Confederate Battle Flag is kind of like this year's American Idol finals. There's a good 10 percent of the population on either side of the issue, while the other 80 percent are wondering who that drag queen is screaming on television.

Sure, the issue is a yawner for most of us without something at stake in this — be it a lifetime battling prejudice or an arguably misplaced passion for heritage. But the flag was hoisted in the midst of the civil rights era. That alone is reason to pull it down and put it in a museum with the rest of the relics that some of us will treasure and the rest will ignore.

Step 1: Raise a Civil War-era Union flag on the other side of the street and see what the lost causers have to say about that.

Fund more municipal makeovers

It's been a bright spot over the last 10 years: Seeing a dusty, dingy disappointment in the municipal landscape get a makeover. Marion Square, Memminger Auditorium, White Point Gardens, and the Dock Street Theatre are entering the next decade looking like sparkling new capital investments. Several spaces are itching for a fix, including the Gaillard Auditorium, Colonial Lake, and Cannon Park.

Step 1: Use them or lose them, folks.

Sprinklers. Period.

Charleston had its share of tragedies in the '90s, with the economy struggling to bounce back after Hurricane Hugo and the closing of the Navy base in North Charleston. But the past decade will be remembered for only one Lowcountry tragedy. When nine firefighters were lost in the flames as they bravely battled a blaze in the Sofa Super Store on Savannah Highway in the early evening on June 18.

Money has been set aside for their families, first responders have received new equipment and training, and there are ambitious plans for preserving the site of the fire. The memorials mean nothing if they don't come with a shifting in our collective consciousness; we need to recognize that sprinklers preserve more than four walls and a roof. It's about people.

Step 1: Educate businesses on the value of sprinklers.

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