April 22, 2005

Lawmakers must vote down PPIC, whatever its form

LAWMAKERS IN the state House of Representatives have an easy choice to make now concerning the bill known as “Put Parents in Charge.” They should abandon any pretense that this idea is worth foisting off on even a couple of school districts in our state, and vote the bill down.

The measure that would have given widespread tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools has been amended into a small-scale, long-term experiment that would operate in two South Carolina school districts.

It is very clear what is going on here, politically. A measure has emerged to give cover to the few lawmakers who remain cowed by the prospect of attacks by the pro-tax credit lobby. Those lawmakers can vote for the greatly watered-down bill, hoping that will protect them from challengers next primary day. (Those affected by this issue are Republicans; pick another day and another issue, and this same message might be directed at Democrats.)

Any lawmakers with a notion left in their minds that they need to vote for this bill, or fear the consequences if they don’t, should abandon those thoughts. There is no credible evidence the people of South Carolina — whatever their party affiliation — are clamoring for this idea. “Put Parents in Charge,” whether in its larger form the Ways and Means Committee considered or its “pilot” form the panel adopted, is a bankrupt proposal. The people of South Carolina don’t want it and don’t need it. What they need is full, consistent support of our state’s public schools..

Consider how some groups potentially affected by “Put Parents in Charge” have acted. Private schools have not rushed to endorse this measure in great numbers. If tax credits offered private schools more students, in a number of instances it would not be the type of students many private schools seek. The business community has not rallied behind the proposal — far from it. Chambers of commerce in greater Columbia, Anderson and Charleston specifically went on record as not supporting “Put Parents in Charge.”

Proponents of the bill tried to sell it as something that helps poor people and cited the support of African-American clergy. The truth is that truly poor people would likely see zero benefit from income tax credits. The one group of black pastors who supported PPIC was funded by the national movement’s South Carolina face, “South Carolinians for Responsible Government.” A group of black pastors speaking independently — some of whom have private schools at their own churches — quickly moved to oppose the bill.

House Speaker David Wilkins told The State’s Jennifer Talhelm there will be a full House debate on the measure. That shouldn’t take too long — a full, honest debate, one that gets past advocates’ misrepresentations and lawmakers’ fears, would quickly make it clear that this is a lousy idea.

As it has been from the beginning — and remains in its present form — “Put Parents it Charge” is an unnecessary distraction from the real work that needs to be done on public education in South Carolina.

No lawmakers — Republicans or Democrats — should fear to pursue the infinitely superior alternative: unwavering support of our public schools and of the successful reforms already under way inside them.

April 19, 2005

Erwin Blasts Sanford for Deception

Governor Sanford attends news conference

Today at the State House in Columbia, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin and Democratic legislative leaders were sharply critical of Governor Mark Sanford's deceptive planning to privatize the South Carolina Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper) which supplies power to over 625,000 South Carolinians. For months Sanford has denied claims that he has been planning to privatize Santee Cooper, but recent published reports reveal that Sanford and his administration have been working behind the scenes with Wall Street investment bankers to begin the privatization process.

"It is extremely troubling that Governor Sanford would repeatedly insist that privatization is off the table when the truth is that he's secretly hired a Wall Street investment bank to figure how much cash he can get for it," Erwin said. "The people of South Carolina
deserve to know the truth and they deserve a Governor who will never mislead them."

According to published reports, consumers could be forced to pay as much as 30-40 percent more in utilities if Santee Cooper is privatized. Reports also suggest that many of the state's largest industrial plants would flee for better rates. "People already have to pay more than $2 a gallon for gas - now it turns out that Sanford wants them to pay up to 40% more for basic utilities and that's just not fair," Erwin said. "It seems that two dollars a gallon for gas and 40% higher utility rates isn't enough for the Governor. Apparently he wants good jobs to leave the state too."

Erwin announced that he has filed a Freedom of Information request with the Governor's office asking that any and all written documents, including emails, about the future of Santee Cooper be made public. Erwin personally handed the FOI request to Governor Sanford who attended the news conference along with several members of his staff.

"Governor Sanford should not have misled us and now he needs to come clean."

April 18, 2005

Public School Privatization & Commercialization

From MediaTransparency.org:

"The conservative movement, being thoroughly anti-union, has at its heart a desire to rid the United States of the two remaining unionized sectors of the national economy: Public Education (teachers unions), and Public Employees. In service of these goals, the movement has moved aggressively against both public schools and public school teachers.

Of course, the movement is also interested in converting to private profit the estimated $300+ billion annually spent on public primary and secondary education."

OK, with that opening shot fired over the bow of our right-wing opponents, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Read the full text of the Media Transparency section on public education to get some more insights on the nationwide attack on public education by the Bush Administration and the far-right:


April 17, 2005

I Love The Irony: REPUBLICANS Under Attack By Pro-Voucher Group

Below is an Email between a fellow Democrat and Vida Miller, Democratic House Member. Vida's comments are a sharp "inside line" on how power politics work in South Carolina. The fight for public schools is JUST BEGINNING, friends. We've always known the pro-voucher bunch were aggressive and well-funded enough to put money in the campaign of DOZENS of Republican politicians.

I don't think the Republicans realized how WIN ORIENTED these fanatics are. s you'll read in Rep. Miller's Email, the wolves who once guarded the gates for the Republicans are now circling the camp. I say, chow down.

PPIC = Put Parents In Charge Act
SCRG = South Carolinians For Responsible Government. Political Action Committee funded by backers of Gov. Sanford and the pro-voucher crowd.

From Rep. Vida Miller:

Thanks for the update. FYI - PPIC passed out the the Ways and Means sub committee this week. Will be on the full Committee agenda Monday - Word is that it will pass and reach the House for debate the following week. South Carolinians for Reponsible Government-
the 527 organization financing this effort ran a full page ad in a Republican House member's local newpaper this week blasting him for not supporting PPIC. This is getting ugly. The talk is that some R's have been assured major opposition by the SC's for RG with financial support, if they do not vote for PPIC. Thanks, Vida


I think this documentary, if well shot and narrated, could be our greatest resource in fighting against the private school voucher whackos. I'm planning on attending the screening. KC

The Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools

CLEMSON - Pat Conroy knows the problems teachers face in rural schools suffering from a lack of funding. The Southern literary celebrity addresses these issues in the lead segment of the documentary "Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools." The film will be shown Tuesday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the Self Auditorium of the Strom Thurmond Institute. The event is free and open to the public.

The 58-minute documentary (www.corridorofshame.com) tells the story of challenges faced in rural school districts and how these systems struggle with the effects of reduced funding from South Carolina state leaders. Additional declines in support from local governments are also addressed.

Produced by Bud Ferillo, the documentary gained the support of many of South Carolina's leading foundations and community leaders while tracking the evidence presented on behalf of eight school districts in the Abbeville County School District v. The State of South Carolina.

Conroy, who struggled to overcome school system inadequacies in order to be an effective teacher in the 1980s, understands all too well the premise of the documentary that details funding disparity in rural school districts of South Carolina. One of his earliest novels, "The Water is Wide," draws on these past experiences.

Bush Administration Eliminating 19-year-old International Terrorism Report

Washington - The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.

Several US officials defended the abrupt decision, saying the methodology the National Counterterrorism Center used to generate statistics for the report may have been faulty, such as the inclusion of incidents that may not have been terrorism.

Last year, the number of incidents in 2003 was undercounted, forcing a revision of the report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism."

But other current and former officials charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's office ordered "Patterns of Global Terrorism" eliminated several weeks ago because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush's administration's frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism.

"Instead of dealing with the facts and dealing with them in an intelligent fashion, they try to hide their facts from the American public," charged Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert who first disclosed the decision to eliminate the report in The Counterterrorism Blog, an online journal.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who was among the leading critics of last year's mix-up, reacted angrily to the decision.

"This is the definitive report on the incidence of terrorism around the world. It should be unthinkable that there would be an effort to withhold it - or any of the key data - from the public. The Bush administration should stop playing politics with this critical report."

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Ill-equipped for war

George W. Bush will go down in the history books, for having led the country into war on false premises, jeopardized individual liberties, made America an international bully in the eyes of long-time allies, wrecked the federal budget, deserted conservative principles of governance, savaged the regulatory system, set back environmental progress and polarized the country even further.

It's hard to choose, but perhaps Mr. Bush's most dangerous sin is his embrace of bully boy tactics in international relations. The Defense Department last month confirmed that it's now official U.S. policy to threaten pre-emptive, unilateral strikes against nations thought to pose a threat.

The wisdom of that approach will be argued. But it should be obvious to Mr. Bush and his troll under the political bridge, Karl Rove, that it's dangerous to strike a warlike pose if you don't back it up with properly equipped warriors. That just invites potential enemies to test us, risking an international setback that will cost lives and resonate at the polls.

For example, the question for Kentucky, whose sons and daughters in the National Guard are at risk in the Bush war, is whether they were properly equipped for their dangerous assignments. Only in the face of extraordinary, courageous, open complaint from Staff Sgt. Brad Rogers of Paducah's 2113th Transportation Company, after the fatal shrapnel injury to Sgt. James Sherrill of Meade County, did the Army say it would provide the unit better trucks and armor.

The good news is that the 2113th has been reassured, by Adj. Gen. Donald Storm. The lingering question is why the issue ever had to come up.

The most powerful Kentuckian in Washington, Sen. Mitch McConnell, says he'll have the Department of Defense look into it. Let's hope he and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld don't play Alphonse and Gaston. Every Kentuckian with a "We Support the Troops" bumper sticker will be waiting to see.

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The Credit Card Industry Protection Act of 2005

Today a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives will pass a bill making it more difficult for Americans suffering from financial misfortune to file for bankruptcy. The credit card industry-which stands to benefit enormously-has pushed the bill relentlessly, blaming rampant consumerism for most bankruptcies. In fact, studies show that 90 percent of all filings are caused by loss of a job, high medical bills or divorce.

Average Americans will be hit hard. The new bill will make it harder for people to recover from financial misfortune. Those seeking to file for bankruptcy will be forced to pay for credit counseling before they do so and the bill will raise filing fees, require more documentation and trips to court and will likely result in higher attorney fees for filers.

The sick and recent war veterans will also suffer. An amendment allowing those who became bankrupt due to illness to be exempt from the new rules failed. Similar amendments that would have protected veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were also voted down.

Credit card companies will win big. Although the bill creates new hurdles for Americans in debt, it does nothing to rein in the credit card industry. According to the National Consumer Law Center, the bill does not address companies' high fees or deceptive promotions. It also shields these credit card companies from liability and weakens legal protections from predatory interest rates.
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Congress's Deepening Shadow World

When it comes to lobbying Congress, Washington is now a $3-billion-a-year company town. The influence industry is multiplying so fast that no one really knows how many lobbyists are at work these days. Ten years after a law was passed to register and track lobbyists, the Capitol staffs charged with the task are woefully short-handed and lack proper auditing and investigative powers, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

It found the industry doubling in size in just the past six years. At the same time, government's revolving door has ratcheted up to warp speed: an estimated 240 former members of Congress and federal agency heads, as well as 2,000 other senior officials, are now lobbyists, earning salaries only fantasized about in their public service days to gain an entree for major corporations and interest groups.

The some $13 billion spent on lobbying since 1998 is more than twice the amount spent by candidates for federal office, yet campaign financing is vetted far more closely for possible abuses than lobbying. Thousands of required lobbying disclosure documents have not been filed, the center found, with no one making a fuss.

Lobbying has now become an established part of representative government. But that doesn't remove the need for far better disclosure rules and regulation, as should be obvious from the tale of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist-insider being investigated because of allegations that he gulled Indian tribes to collect scores of millions of dollars.

A few lawmakers, like Representative Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, have proposed stronger restraints on the Congressional alumni who so quickly turn around to lobby their old committees. He would also require disclosure by the murky, mushrooming world of "grass roots" lobbying via outside pressure groups and television ads. Such good ideas, of course, don't draw the attention of Washington's power lobbyists.

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