March 31, 2005

God Bless Terri Schiavo

A long ordeal is now over for Terri Schiavo and her grieving parents. Her soul's imprisonment in her earthly body has reached its end, and for that, I am grateful.

Now that Terri is in a better place, my heart goes out to Michael Schiavo. Those of us who have actually take the time to read the TIMELINE and GUARDIAN AD LITEM reports on this case know the truth: Michael Schiavo spent years clinging to the hope that his wife would awaken from her slumber. When he finally accepted the fact that her brain no longer had the capacity for conscious thought, he set things in motion to save her from a horrible existence. Ignorant people have called him terrible names. He will likely spend the next few years under tight security, targeted by the "right to life" whackos who love life so much they'd put a bullet in your head to prove it.

National poll after national poll indicates people recognize that this whole media circus was created by manipulative Republican leadership. By interjecting Congress into a family affair they may have energized elements of their religious base, but they betrayed the core principles of conservatism, showed hypocrisy regarding the "sanctity of marriage", and scoffed at the US constitution. Not to mention grandstanding and shameless opportunism.

When Republicans of GOOD FAITH are ready to REALLY talk about how we can preserve life, Democrats will be ready to talk about the 7 million children living in poverty in the United States... or the 45 million citizens lacking access to healthcare... or the deadly illnesses cause by industrial pollution... or... well, you get the point.

Why is the White House Scrubbing Its Social Security Privatization Events?

March 30, 2005

The deception and misinformation efforts of the White House are starting to catch up with the president and his band of merry privatizers. Bush is now on day 28 of a 60 day taxpayer-financed Social Security privatization tour, and the results are not pretty. With the president's Social Security job approval numbers in the red zone, the White House is now resorting to comical, politburo-designed "town hall" events to prop up his ill-conceived plans for dismantling the system.

*The White House is forcibly removing dissenters from public, taxpayer-funded Social Security events.

Three Denver residents report "they were forcibly removed from one of President Bush's town meetings on Social Security because they displayed a bumper sticker on their car condemning the administration's Middle East policies," according to the Washington Post. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan claimed the person who removed them was a volunteer staffer who was concerned "they might try to disrupt the event." The three individuals "said nothing and did not sport T-shirts or signs criticizing the president or his policies." McClellan added, "There is plenty of opportunity outside of the event to express their views."

**The White House is blacklisting Americans who disagree with the president's efforts to privatize Social Security.

The Denver purge was not an isolated incident. Before a February event in Fargo, North Dakota "more than 40 residents were placed on a "black list" of people who were not to receive tickets because they had expressed opposition to Bush's policies," according to the LA Times. The White House also blamed this incident on "an over-eager volunteer."

***Why is the president going to such lengths to suppress dissent?

Because Americans don't buy his plans to privatize Social Security. The White House's modus operandi since the Iraq war has been to spin a thick web of lies and misinformation about intended policies with the hope of steamrolling the opposition before the public catches on. Not this time. Americans have wisely avoided the president's den of deception and have spoken loudly: "Don't privatize Social Security!"

Full Story

March 30, 2005

A Party Inverted

Bill Bradley makes some strong points about the future of the Democratic Party in the op-ed below. I recently read a book called "America's Right Turn" - written by Richard Viguerie, the man who poineered the Republicans use of direct mail to raise money in the 1980's and 90's. Viguerie details how everything Bradley describes in the "conservative pyramid" was built. So Bradley is providing accurate analysis of their side.

What do you think, people? Is he on the right track or not?

[By Bill Bradley]

FIVE months after the presidential election Democrats are still pointing fingers at one another and trying to figure out why Republicans won. Was the problem the party's position on social issues or taxes or defense or what? Were there tactical errors made in the conduct of the campaign? Were the right advisers heard? Was the candidate flawed?

Before deciding what Democrats should do now, it's important to see what Republicans have done right over many years. When the Goldwater Republicans lost in 1964, they didn't try to become Democrats. They tried to figure out how to make their own ideas more appealing to the voters. As part of this effort, they turned to Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and soon to become a member of the United States Supreme Court. In 1971 he wrote a landmark memo for the United States Chamber of Commerce in which he advocated a sweeping, coordinated and long-term effort to spread conservative ideas on college campuses, in academic journals and in the news media.

To further the party's ideological and political goals, Republicans in the 1970's and 1980's built a comprehensive structure based on Powell's blueprint. Visualize that structure as a pyramid.

You've probably heard some of this before, but let me run through it again. Big individual donors and large foundations - the Scaife family and Olin foundations, for instance - form the base of the pyramid. They finance conservative research centers like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, entities that make up the second level of the pyramid.

The ideas these organizations develop are then pushed up to the third level of the pyramid - the political level. There, strategists like Karl Rove or Ralph Reed or Ken Mehlman take these new ideas and, through polling, focus groups and careful attention to Democratic attacks, convert them into language that will appeal to the broadest electorate. That language is sometimes in the form of an assault on Democrats and at other times in the form of advocacy for a new policy position. The development process can take years. And then there's the fourth level of the pyramid: the partisan news media. Conservative commentators and networks spread these finely honed ideas.

At the very top of the pyramid you'll find the president. Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine.

To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate.

Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on. Unlike Republicans, they don't simply have to assemble a campaign apparatus - they have to formulate ideas and a vision, too. Many Democratic fundraisers join a campaign only after assessing how well it has done in assembling its pyramid of political, media and idea people.

There is no clearly identifiable funding base for Democratic policy organizations, and in the frantic campaign rush there is no time for patient, long-term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas. Campaigns don't start thinking about a Democratic brand until halfway through the election year, by which time winning the daily news cycle takes precedence over building a consistent message. The closest that Democrats get to a brand is a catchy slogan.

Democrats choose this approach, I believe, because we are still hypnotized by Jack Kennedy, and the promise of a charismatic leader who can change America by the strength and style of his personality. The trouble is that every four years the party splits and rallies around several different individuals at once. Opponents in the primaries then exaggerate their differences and leave the public confused about what Democrats believe.

In such a system tactics trump strategy. Candidates don't risk talking about big ideas because the ideas have never been sufficiently tested. Instead they usually wind up arguing about minor issues and express few deep convictions. In the worst case, they embrace "Republican lite" platforms - never realizing that in doing so they're allowing the Republicans to define the terms of the debate.

A party based on charisma has no long-term impact. Think of our last charismatic leader, Bill Clinton. He was president for eight years. He was the first Democrat to be re-elected since Franklin Roosevelt. He was smart, skilled and possessed great energy. But what happened? At the end of his tenure in the most powerful office in the world, there were fewer Democratic governors, fewer Democratic senators, members of Congress and state legislators and a national party that was deep in debt. The president did well. The party did not. Charisma didn't translate into structure.

If Democrats are serious about preparing for the next election or the next election after that, some influential Democrats will have to resist entrusting their dreams to individual candidates and instead make a commitment to build a stable pyramid from the base up. It will take at least a decade's commitment, and it won't come cheap. But there really is no other choice.

Bill Bradley, a former Democratic senator from New Jersey, is a managing director of Allen & Company.

March 29, 2005

Perpetuating More of the Same

[The following is from an article written by Gary West, a Greenwood school teacher and author. He is one of the best writers in our state on issues pertaining to education. Below is just a sampling of Gary's work - but I think you'll agree, in just one example, he dismantles any myth that the Governor's voucher plan would help low income families. Full text, including research and endnotes at: Full Article]

Allendale As a Good Example

Two months after he cited them for being bad, Governor Mark Sanford visited Allendale County Schools. At least one version of the Governor’s “Put Parents in Charge Act” would permit students in those schools to attend the private school of their choice, using tax credits to their parents to pay for the private school tuition.

Within 60 miles of the center of the town of Allendale, there are nine private schools. The closest is Patrick Henry Academy in Estill – about 20 miles from Allendale. Andrew Jackson Academy is about 26 miles away in Bamberg. Jefferson Davis Academy is about 27 miles away in Blackville. There are others in Orangeburg (45 miles), Ridgeland (46 miles), Walterboro (52 miles), and Aiken (54 miles).

Allendale County has a median household income of $20,898, which is the lowest of the state’s 46 counties. The average Allendale County taxpayer’s family with two school-aged children pays no state income tax – with or without a tuition tax credit under the “Put Parents in Charge Act.” The state tax codes indicate the average Allendale County family does not make enough money to survive and pay taxes.

Yet, the “Put Parents in Charge Act” assumes that these families would be able to pay for tuition and travel to one of the “nearby” private schools using a tuition tax credit that will not cover the entire cost of private school attendance.

And, even if the money thing could be worked out, the nine private schools within 60 miles of Allendale have admission requirements that would exclude virtually all of the Allendale students. And most of the nine academies within 60 miles of Allendale have limited space for additional students – even if tuition, travel, and admission standards could be worked out.

The fact remains that private school opportunities are extremely limited for students in Allendale County.

The same is true in every other area of the state where the Governor and his political action group (South Carolinians for Responsible Government) contend that poor students can benefit from the “Put Parents in Charge Act.” Like the name of the Act itself, the idea sounds good. In reality, those opportunities simply will not exist.

Current private school students will be the only students from Allendale County – or anywhere else in the state – who will benefit from the tuition tax credits generated by the “Put Parents in Charge Act.” Those are the students whose families can already meet the admission requirements and who can afford to pay the tuition, the travel, and the additional costs of participating in private school activities.

Allendale County is a prime example why the “Put Parents in Charge Act” will not do what the Governor says it will do. In fact, Allendale County was an example of what the “Put Parents in Charge Act” will perpetuate – long before the Governor thought about it. Allendale County is an excellent example of what white private schools will do to a community – and what those schools have been doing for more than 30 years.

Full Article

March 28, 2005

Thought-Provoking Images

Film examines S.C. schools

I have an idea. Below is an article detailing a new documentary about the audaciously poor conditions in many of out state's "poor school districts". We know that rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans share the same values on public education. I've seen that first hand during my recent speaking engagements at local schools on behalf of Choose Children First.

I think the Democratic Party of Oconee County should take part in an aggressive outreach program to all the churches in our county. I would like to propose that we raise money to purchase enough of these DVD's to provide one to the pastor of every major congregation in our county. If you follow the link below to The State website, you can view a clip of the documentary. Anyone who claims to follow the teachings of Christ will surely find their heart burdened by the thought of the conditions these children endure every day.

In addition, we ask them to join us in signing a petition of unity, calling on our state legislature to correct these horrific conditions and abandon any further attempts to pass school voucher legislation. Your thoughts?

Poor, rural facilities focus of documentary

[By JOHN MONK, News Columnist]

As a judge deliberates whether to order the state to spend more money on public schools in poor counties, supporters of those schools are taking their case to the court of public opinion.

Alarmed by crumbling walls, leaky roofs, faulty fire alarms and unheated classrooms, some of the state’s biggest philanthropists — Republicans and Democrats — put up more than $75,000 to produce a 58-minute documentary film on conditions in schools in poor, rural counties.

“We want to catch the conscience of the king,” said Columbia lawyer John Rainey, the film’s initiator.

Rainey uses the quote from Shakespeare to say that conditions in some rural schools are so potentially harmful that the state’s politicians need to be shocked into action. The film’s footage — of school officials talking of poisonous snakes and sewage in hallways, and photos of unsafe conditions in schools — will do that, he hopes.

“When you have children in gloves and jackets in classes where the temperature is 50 degrees, that’s not acceptable,” Rainey said.

DVDs and videos of the film, called “Corridor of Shame,” will be given within a few weeks to the state’s 170 legislators, Gov. Mark Sanford and community leaders across the state. The $75,000 from the philanthropists includes the distribution costs.

Full Story