March 04, 2005

Shame On Joe Biden

Say it ain't so, Joe! In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say the Joseph Biden is a hero of mine. For him to vote with the Republicans and the credit card industry on this bill is a crushing blow to the high level of respect I have for him. SHAME ON YOU JOE. SHAME ON YOU, SIR! Ken.


[JONATHAN CHAIT]

Not long ago, I was listening to Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) being interviewed, and I was struck at how intelligent and morally serious he was. Biden is justly viewed as a smart foreign policy hawk, but he also expressed his opposition to Social Security privatization in a particularly lucid way.

All in all, he came across as just the sort of person you'd like to have as president.

There's just one issue that's the exeption. And that's what's wrong with most of the Democrats: There's always one issue that's the exception. But before we get into that, let me explain Biden's particular problem.

Biden supports a bill in Congress that would make it harder for people to declare bankruptcy. This is one of those abysmal pieces of legislation that exists only because businesses with a vested interest in it have lobbied hard for its passage and that would have no chance of success if more than a tiny fraction of the public were aware of its existence.

Bankruptcy filings have risen slightly in recent years. Credit card companies argue that it's because people are gaming the system, going on irresponsible spending binges and then using bankruptcy to stick their creditors with the bill.

The more likely explanation is that the rise in health insurance costs has driven more people into bankruptcy. A recent Harvard study found that half of Americans who declared bankruptcy did so because of illness or medical bills. Regardless of why you go bankrupt, though, the new bill would make it easier for creditors to seize your assets. Nice, huh?

Full Story

March 03, 2005

"Put Parents In Charge" - NOT An Education Bill

[By Nina Brook, Associate Editor]



“PUT PARENTS in Charge” is not an education reform proposal. It’s a tax cut proposal.

The bill seeks to amend Title 12 of the South Carolina Code. That chapter deals not with schools, but with taxation.

The legal language is right in line with the bill’s practical effect. It is, at its heart, a tax break. This is despite its stated three-part purpose: Restore parental control of education; improve public school performance; and expand educational opportunities for children in poverty.

All three aspects of that statement are misleading. Especially troubling is the false promise that this bill is aimed at poor children. The bill offers nothing directly to children living in poverty, who are found in great numbers in South Carolina — and who can most benefit from an adequately funded system of public schools.

Despite the bill’s stated purpose, it offers little to nothing for truly poor families. The income ceiling with two deductions to qualify for the tax credits is more than $90,000 — that makes 96 percent of the tax returns in South Carolina eligible to take the credit — theoretically. But while generously including the middle and upper-middle classes, it leaves out the actual poor.

Full Story

March 02, 2005

Introducing CHOOSE CHILDREN FIRST

I attended our first press conference today in Columbia. Standing room only! Our group and marketing efforts have been backed by ALL the pro-public education players in the state. Representatives of former Governor Richard Riley's group, Education First were there to offer their endorsement, as well as Inez Tenenbaum and her network of supporters. Ken.



COLUMBIA, S.C. – A broad coalition of business and community leaders, parents and educators today announced the formation of Choose Children First, a statewide group dedicated to educating the public about what’s really in the tuition tax credit bill known as “Put Parents in Charge” and its impact on all South Carolinians if enacted.

Representatives from Choose Children First joined together in the interest of all children in South Carolina and to stand up against an idea that is unproven, unaccountable and unaffordable.

“We come from every corner of South Carolina united with a common goal: to stop a predator in its tracks,” said Frank Willis, City of Florence Mayor and chairman of Willis Construction. “It’s time to respond to the noise created by supporters of this predator,” Willis continued. “It’s time to respond to the vicious attacks on education and educators. It’s time to look underneath at the wolf in sheep’s clothing that’s stalking our children.”

Representatives from Choose Children First believe the wolf is a backdoor voucher program that will take South Carolina’s tax dollars to fund private and religious schools.

“The ‘Put Parents in Charge Act’ is just a fancy name to cover up what the bill actually does. It should be called the ‘Let’s Abandon Education Act’,” said Willis.

Rick Ott, co-chair for Choose Children First and senior executive vice president of MB Kahn Construction said, “There’s almost zero accountability in this voucher experiment – no accountability for how millions of dollars will be spent by voucher schools; no way to ensure that a single child gets a better education out of it; not even a way to make sure there’s a real live teacher in the classroom.”

Full Press Release

Web Site

March 01, 2005

Express Yourself To Oconee Media



Our colleagues at Democracy For America sent out a Call For Action today. They want to compile a petition using stories about how Social Security has impacted your life, or the life of a loved one.

It is time we expressed ourselves LOCALLY as well. Click "Comments" below to post your story. Be sure to include your name and hometown.

In a few days, I will print your stories and deliver them to all the Oconee County media outlets. (Daily Journal, Courier, West. News, WGOG, Anderson/Greenville Papers)

Maybe you lost a parent when you were young, and Social Security gave crucial support to your surviving caretaker.

Maybe your grandparents were able to retire with dignity and independence because Social Security guaranteed it. Or maybe someone you know suffered a disability that--if not for Social Security--would have destroyed their livelihood.
The debate over the Republican plan to dismantle Social Security involves a lot of big numbers and far-off dates. But Social Security impacts lives every day in a deeply personal way.

By telling those stories publicly we can shore up support for the most successful social policy in history. Tell your story now:

Democrats Learn to Frame Debate



[By Jeni Lewis, Marshfield News-Herald (Wisconsin)]

Across the nation, Democrats want voters to understand their side of issues.

So, they're working to change their language.

"If we're going to change the message, we need to have consistency from amongst the people," said Linda Melski of Marshfield, who organized a grass-roots meeting Saturday at Wildwood Station in Marshfield. "It's one of those issues changing the style in which you present an issue. Changing your language structure takes time and practice."
Groups are being organized across the nation as part of Democracy for America, a political action committee inspired by Howard Dean's 2004 campaign for president. Several meetings have taken place in Stevens Point and Marshfield, and organizers hope they will grow in size and popularity.

George Lakoff, a University of California-Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, has a video and book that address how to win elections by changing the message.

"One of the problems progressives have is, they are divided, and we must unify," Lakoff said on the video, "How Democrats and Progressives Can Win."
Democracy for America chapters are using his four rules of engagement to restructure their responses on local, state and national issues. Those rules are: Show respect; reframe the issue in context of progressive values; think and talk at the level of those values; and say what you believe.

Lakoff calls it framing the message.

"I know 'framing' is a big word. I'm hearing it everywhere now," said Charlene Figge, meet-up coordinator for the Stevens Point Democracy for America chapter.

"We had a very animated discussion afterward," said Lois Lawler, chairwoman for the Democracy for America chapter in Stevens Point. "Everyone was so discouraged after the November election and looking for ways the issues didn't make sense. It gives an insight where to go with this mess."
Marshfield's chapter took a look at the Marshfield School District building referendum, up for election on the April 5 ballot. The group spent about two hours discussing how to use a phrase like "investment for children" instead of "tax increase."
The group used phrases like "new buildings," "healthy buildings" and "safe buildings" in positive letters to the editor and conversations about the referendum.

"You have to start putting all these words together in the same sentence," said John Melski, who attended the Marshfield meeting.

"Tax relief" is a phrase used by President Bush in many of his speeches. Lakoff used the phrase as an example in his book, "Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate - The Essential Guide for Progressives."
"You can get up and argue against tax relief until you're blue in the face, but all the person hears is 'tax relief,' Lawler said.

February 28, 2005

Behind Those Medical Malpractice Rates



Speaking before hundreds of doctors and medical workers in a St. Louis suburb last month, President Bush called attention to a neurosurgeon on stage with him in the small auditorium. The doctor, the president said, was paying $265,000 a year in premiums for insurance against malpractice claims.

Such high prices, "don't start in an examining room or an operating room," the president declared. "They start in a courtroom."

Indeed, at many recent appearances, Mr. Bush has complained about the "skyrocketing" costs of "junk lawsuits" against doctors and hospitals.

Lawsuits against doctors are just one of several factors that have driven up the cost of malpractice insurance, specialists say. Lately, the more important factors appear to be the declining investment earnings of insurance companies and the changing nature of competition in the industry.

Full Story

February 27, 2005

Letters Opposing Sanford Voucher Plan

Here are a couple of "Letters to the Editor" opposing the Sanford voucher scheme. The first is from a good progressive thinker down on the coast, Dwight Fee. He's a member of the growing Waccamaw Democrats down at Myrtle Beach. The second letter, written by yours truly, was inspired by Dwight's precise, passionate appeal. Enjoy.

Dear Editor

The Republican proposal to provide tuition tax credits for private school education will take $235 million out of our public schools, according to the SC Department of Education.

The campaign to “put parents in charge” may be only the first step toward crippling the public school system. And the so-called "nonpartisan" attack against our schools is not helpful to the resolution of an issue that is of vital importance to our kids.

South Carolina schools are ranked by the Princeton Review as the 11th best in the nation. Our schools are implementing rigorous standards for every student, and every school receives annual report cards to report its progress toward improvement to parents and communities.

Children in underachieving schools are already allowed to transfer to a better public or charter school, while the Department of Education works with under achieving schools to improve their performance.

With additional funding the State could do even more to provide a quality education to every child and to meet the requirements of those who have special needs.

Look at the record: the number of first-graders "ready" for school is at an all-time high, SAT scores have made the largest gains of any state in the country, and many of the most dramatic gains on the PACT, the annual test to monitor progress, have been made by low-income and minority students.

Why is Governor Sanford working so hard to undermine and underfund our schools? Because he has the backing of the most extreme elements of his party and the "non-partisan" front group South Carolinians for Responsible Government, whose primary purpose is to privatize and dismantle public education.

In the words of our Superintendent of Education,Inez Tenenbaum, “The plan Governor Sanford is promoting is, disastrous public policy - more comprehensive than any voucher or tax credit plan in any state in the nation."

Perhaps worst of all, the Governor’s plan completely avoids the accountability requirements for private schools that account for many improvements in public education.

It seems to me the best way to improve the education of our kids is to strengthen the partnerships between parents, teachers and the community, not by deserting the very concept of free public education in America.

Dwight Fee
Murrells Inlet


PUBLIC SCHOOLS CANNOT SURVIVE SANFORD/BUSH TAG TEAM

Public schools are under attack by Sanford and his out of state, pro-voucher friends. Independent estimates of this program’s effect on the general fund put the price-tag at well over $200 million dollars, with no caps and no public accountability. Interestingly, that is roughly the same amount the SC Legislature has underfunded the base student cost every year since 2000. Hopefully progressive demands to fully fund education in the 2005 budget will succeed.

Along comes the Bush Budget. Steeped in family values, it proposes deep cuts to every program that helps the working poor and the middle class. A recent report by The Center On Budget and Policy Priorities (www.cbpp.org) projects the federal cuts will strip over $224 million from South Carolina schools from 2006 – 2010. No Child Left Behind compelled South Carolina schools to spend millions meeting new federal requirements, but provided no funding. Now the Bush Administration is proposing to make matters worse by slashing what current funding we receive.

It is time the citizens of South Carolina take stock of what Republican leaders mean when they promise smaller government and less taxes. The infamous leader of the Club For Growth, Grover Norquist, is quoted as saying that he wants a government, “small enough to drown in a bathtub.” Half of Republican legislators in S.C. have signed the C.F.G. pledge. Is this concept of government that people are voting to support? A bankrupt government that provides no quality services? What will we do in 2010 if the plans of these powerful leaders succeed? How will South Carolina schools make up a half-BILLION dollar shortfall in the education budget? What some Republican politicians say to win votes doesn’t necessarily make for good public policy.

Ken Campbell
Walhalla, SC

Proof Social Security privatization Won't Work

Reading this article made me realize how hard a fight we will have convincing rank-and-file citizens that privatization is the wrong fix. Even the most simple explanation bends my brain! Someone tell me if I read Kinsley's article correctly: He's saying that to invest $1 dollar in private accounts, that dollar must be replaced in the Social Security Trust Fund... because the account must continue to pay benefits while we gamble on the market. This creates a situation where private accounts, even if performing well through strong economic growth, could not mathematically outperform the current bond system. Help me out people... am I reading his argument correctly? KC



[By Michael Kinsley]

MY CONTENTION: Social Security privatization is not just unlikely to succeed, for various reasons that are subject to discussion. It is mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless.

The usual case against privatization is that (1) millions of inexperienced investors may end up worse off, and (2) stocks don't necessarily do better than bonds over the long run, as proponents assume. But privatization won't work for a better reason: It can't possibly work, even in theory.

The logic is not very complicated:

Full Story

How liberal is CBS, really?

If the ultimate conservative talking point is TRUE, then surely CBS, the network of accused "Bush Hater" Dan Rather must be pushing the liberal agenda, right?



A Media Matters for America analysis of CBS Evening News broadcasts since the November 2, 2004, presidential election found that the program featured Republicans and conservatives more often than Democrats and progressives.

CBS Evening News segments on political topics broadcast between November 3, 2004, and February 17, 2005, featured 65 clips of Democratic officials or commentators representing progressive organizations and 83 clips of Republican officials or commentators representing conservative organizations. These figures do not include clips of President Bush, which were featured on 40 Evening News episodes.

Figures & Full Story