Loose Lips

Crusading for Clean Elections

Loose Lips

Bill Kreml is running for president of the United States. He may not be in the news, but he will be on the ballot for Democrats to consider when they hold their state caucuses on March 9. Kreml sees his candidacy as "an opportunity for South Carolinians to send a positive message to the nation for a change."

Kreml is a retired political scientist who is running to expose and challenge the inequities of campaign finance laws. "What I am doing," Kreml said, "is creating a test case on campaign finance laws by refusing to disclose my contributors and refusing to file reports."

Kreml has been fined by the Federal Election Commission for not following the rules, and has refused to pay the fine. "The FEC can turn this over to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution," he said.

Kreml wants to be arrested in order to challenge the campaign finance rules in court. "People like Steve Forbes can spend as much as they like as long as they report their expenditures," Kreml said. "We won't have true campaign finance reform until the constitutional question of limiting expenditures is addressed, either through a constitutional amendment or a court case."

Kreml wants to use his outlaw candidacy to challenge the "privatized electoral system that operates on the highest-bidder principle." What sets Kreml's proposals apart from other presidential candidates like McCain and Bradley is that he favors strict limits on contributions and expenditures as well as public financing of elections. While Bradley and McCain are pushing reforms within the existing campaign finance framework, Kreml "wants to change the framework."

Will Kreml follow in the steps of Eugene Debs, the 1920 Socialist Party candidate for president who won nearly a million votes from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary?

"I've stuck my finger in [the FEC's] eye as much as possible," Kreml said.

Nuclear Slight of Hand

The Governor's Task Force on Nuclear Waste recently concluded what passed for deliberation, and their conclusion soon will be presented to the legislature.

While Gov. Jim Hodges is touting his proposal to join a compact with New Jersey and Connecticut as an "environmental victory," real environmentalists are disgusted with the process and its conclusions.

"Basically, all they are doing is changing the license tags on the trucks and claiming victory," said Columbia environmental attorney Bob Guild. "There is nothing in the Task Force report that will ensure the reduction of the volume of waste, lower the amount of radiation or eliminate the outdated and unsafe method of shallow land burial."

Since the Task Force never honestly considered closing the radioactive dump in Barnwell, the real winner in the process is ChemNuclear, the dump's operator. Collateral winners are the company's McNair firm lawyers and lobbyists. The McNair gang, with help from Democratic bigwig Don Fowler, consistently collect the largest lobbying fees in the state on behalf of ChemNuclear.

Don't Break The Law; Change It

The hazardous waste dump formerly know as Laidlaw may have been dealt a fatal blow by a state appeals court in January. Currently operating as Safety-Kleen, the dump on the shores of Lake Marion is one of the largest in the nation. Many of its neighbors and environmental groups have been fighting for 15 years to close the dump.

The toxic landfill was a kitty litter mine in the 1970s that DHEC allowed to become a dump without public hearings. The court found that DHEC erred in allowing the company to bury a greater volume of waste and post a promissory note, as opposed to cash, to pay for future clean up.

The dump, a cash cow for its owners and a threat to present and future South Carolinians, has little chance of getting the ruling overturned. This leaves them with the option of getting the legislature to pass a bill that allows the company to continue to trash the environment and leave the taxpayers holding the bill. Don't laugh. One of the company's lawyers was overheard at the last DHEC board meeting speculating that getting a special-interest bill passed to keep the dump open, during an election year, might be tough.

Not to be deterred by a tough fight to preserve huge profits, the company has added Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the state Democratic Party, and the Republican, anti-union Ogletree firm in Greenville, to beef up its stable of McNair firm lawyers.

The company, by whatever name, has been one of the state's high rollers in spending for lobbyists and contributions to politicians. Pay attention to ensure that your legislators aren't under the toxic spell that keeps the dump open.

Workers' Plights

If it's not a conspiracy, it's a timely coincidence. Days before an anti-union bill is due to go to the floor of the House, 600 cops turned out at a picket of 200 Longshoremen in Charleston.

The Longshoremans' Association has been unloading freight at the Holy City's docks for 60 years. There are third-generation workers in the union. They take care of their own and are active in their communities.

The Longshoremen deserve credit for making the port profitable. In fact, Charleston's docks have the world's best "on time" record for handling freight. Unionized dock workers handle over 90 percent of container freight moving through the port.

The scab outfit trying to lower the standards on the docks, Winyah Stevedores, doesn't offer health insurance to its workers or death benefits to the families of the four who have been killed in the past two years. In contrast, no union Longshoremen have been killed during this time and they get health coverage, death and retirement benefits.

The Jan. 20 picket of the Nordana Lines ship was the fourth in a series of protests against the Danish company's use of nonunion labor to unload their ships.

It was after midnight when things turned ugly. The state used everything but live ammunition to break the picket line. It depends who you ask as to what precipitated the violence.

Some rocks and bottles were thrown, and some arrests were made, "but we were cooling things out and moving our people out," said one of the Longshoremen's officers. "Then somebody got on a bull horn and started announcing 'this is an illegal assembly,' and it got worse."

The government and media quickly deemed it a "riot," brought on by the rock and bottle throwing Longshoremen. Union sympathizers argue that the police were prepared to break the picket line at any cost, and that the state's heavy-handed response encouraged violence. Punish those guilty of violence, they say, but don't turn this into a campaign to bust unions.

Labor's fears were realized when Attorney General Charlie Condon saw an opportunity to make headlines and called for the heads of the "rioters." The eight Longshoremen who were arrested at the event for misdemeanors were later charged with felonies, with bonds running up to $100,000.

The City of Charleston is running newspaper ads offering rewards for "the identification and whereabouts of individuals" involved in the "riot."

The Chamber of Commerce and political lackeys, from Gov. Hodges to Rep. John Graham Altman, can be counted on to use the incident to strengthen our state's anti-union laws and biases. South Carolina already has the nation's most repressive workers rights laws and a smaller percentage of unionized workers than any other state (around 3 percent).

We have the lowest corporate taxes in the Southeast, the lowest wages, and employers can fire workers "at will."

"My God," said Dennis Bolt, a Columbia attorney, "these folks won't be happy until slavery is brought back." Bolt is representing a worker at Tennaco Packaging Co. in Aiken who was involuntarily packed off to a mental hospital last July for expressing union sympathies.

Mysterious Red Rain

After three years of study, DHEC has been unable to find the source of the rusty yuck that covers almost everything in Georgetown. Local residents who have been complaining about the pollution from the Georgetown Steel Mill for years think they have a clue.

DHEC's announcement that the mysterious substance was "a type of iron oxide," but that there was no evidence that it came from the mill, was met with laughter from the crowd at the public hearing last November in Georgetown.

DHEC has done nothing to reduce the emissions from the steel mill, and the mysterious red rain keeps falling.

Name That Sleazeball

Sleazeballs are in no short supply in this state. By virtue of power, most of them are white males. But sleazeballs can be found across party, class and race lines.

To ensure equal opportunity, this issue's sleazeball is a national organization that pretended to be part of a local coalition to host the march on MLK Day. This organization confounded the will of the coalition at every turn, ensuring that it was up front and in control at all times. Hint: the group demanded that a quote be stricken from the printed program, apparently because the person quoted, one Martin Luther King Jr., never belonged to said organization.

Be the first reader to identify this group and win a free subscription to POINT.


© Copyright by POINT, 2000