CONDON'S COUPCiting a "disturbing trend of gangs taking root in South Carolina," state Attorney General Charlie Condon has proposed legislation that ignores the Bill of Rights.
Gangs "now pose a growing threat to the safety of our children, particularly our youth," Condon said upon announcing a bill that would allow police to arrest suspected gang members without a warrant. The bill would make it a crime to belong to an organization if any of its members are suspected of committing a crime, and allows for the warrantless arrest of any member of such an organization.
A conviction for "criminal gang activity" could bring 10 years in prison. Lost Causers Sen. Glenn McConnell and Rep. Ron Fleming are sponsoring the proposed legislation.
Steve Bates of the state's ACLU cautioned, "The bill clearly violates at least three fundamental principles of liberty: our First Amendment rights of association and assembly, our Fourth Amendment right to freedom from arrest without probable cause, and the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process."
The law does have one redeeming feature. The definition of a "criminal gang" is so broad that it could include the General Assembly.
CONSTITUENT SERVICEThe debate about the Strom Thurmond monument is over and, like the version of Elvis the Post Office trotted out for its commemorative stamp, we are getting a younger Strom than most of us can remember.
We're not in any hurry to bid the old guy a final farewell, not with Carroll Campbell waiting in the wings. But, given the recent public spectacles generated by the death of Famous People, we can't help but reflect on the inevitable upcoming funeral. Can you imagine the crowds that would attend Thurmond's final public appearance?
To accommodate the masses that will no doubt want to get a last glimpse of their hero, maybe Thurmond could meet the public demand by getting an early start. He could be outfitted for a glass casket like Vladimir Lenin's, and instead of checking into a hospital every few weeks, the senator could just crawl into the casket for some rest. His staff could wheel the box around for public appearances, eliminating a mad rush when Thurmond -- if Thurmond -- actually dies.
PREJUDICE ON PARADESupporters of the anti-affirmative action bill now making its way through the legislature puff up at any suggestion that the bill may be racist. Greenville Republican Hunter Limbaugh championed the bill last session. Limbaugh argued that the playing field in South Carolina is level and that government has no business factoring race or gender into its decisions.
He has since resigned his House seat to provide legal council to the governor.
We hope that Limbaugh was embarrassed by the crowd that turned out to support his bill on the opening day of the legislative session. The Council of Conservative Citizens waved Confederate flags and carried signs that read, "End affirmative action now."
The Council has erected "Keep the Flag -- Dump Beasley" signs across the state. One of the Council's supporters in Colleton County recently shot a black kid for trying to pull the Confederate flag off one of the signs.
The picketers supporting Limbaugh's bill are David Duke's "equal rights for whites" crowd. Some of them are at least honest about being racist. That's more than can be said for the House members who support this bill.
CLASS CONFLICTA bill that would require students and schools to take standardized performance tests was introduced the opening day of the legislature. It passed the House the next day.
South Carolina's continued last-place performance in national educational rankings prompted legislators to take quick action to identify schools not performing to standard.
But the bill does nothing to standardize the amount of money school districts get to meet the requirements. Poor districts will be required to educate their kids to the same standards as the wealthier districts.
While many states have passed laws to more equitably distribute student funding, South Carolina schools exhibit the class bias of their neighborhoods: rich children have better schools with more resources. It is a pattern that is likely to be perpetuated. Poor kids are more likely to be tomorrow's poor people.
Until the legislature gives students and schools the same resources, we can't expect standardized testing to improve the results.
GIVE IT AWAY NOWWhen a study last October by the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson concluded that tax breaks to big businesses were costing the state more than they were worth, corporate fat cats nearly gagged on their profits.
That anyone, much less a group named after Thurmond, would dare to suggest that South Carolina's bumbling brand of capitalism might be flawed got their backs up. Rather than come to grips with the notion that some folks are getting rich at the expense of taxpayers, the legislature leaned on the Institute to revise its conclusion.
The October version of the report noted, "there is considerable debate over the effectiveness of such incentives, in particular over how much actual growth results from giving up potential tax revenue."
After the fit pitched by corporate crybabies, the new version of the report says, "the state enjoys more jobs and a higher income than it would in the absence of such incentives." It makes this claim in spite of the fact that the study stuck with its original numbers that indicate business incentives will cost state and local governments more money than they bring in over the next decade.
"I still get the feeling that there is an attack on the system we have in South Carolina, and that worries me," said Florence County Council Chair Herbert Ames at a special legislative committee hearing on the study last month.
TEARING DOWN THE WALLThe wall between church and state was breached by a last-minute amendment by Rep. Terry Haskins (R-Greenville) to the LIFE scholarship plan approved by the House. Prior to Haskins' amendment, the bill would have provided students with a B average and 1000 on their SATs to $2,000 yearly to attend the accredited South Carolina college of their choice.
Haskins' amendment added Bob Jones University -- an unaccredited religious college in Greenville -- to the list of schools that could cash in on the scholarships. "They choose not to be accredited in the same way Harvard chooses not to be accredited," Haskins, a BJU graduate, told reporters.
BJU's ban on interracial dating and its refusal to supply minority enrollment data didn't stop the House from agreeing to include the school in the state's scholarship program. The bill now goes to the Senate where, with any luck, more members believe in the U.S. Constitution.
MORE JOBS, LESS MONEYThe corporate media headlines touted a growth in employment in 1997. What was hidden in the statistics was that most of these jobs are in the service industry, along career paths at places like Sonic. Manufacturing jobs are down and the state's hourly wage is the lowest in the Southeast. Employment is up, but with the kind of jobs that you have to work two of to make ends meet.
If nearly everyone is working yet one in four of South Carolina children are living below the poverty level, there is something wrong. Rather than fighting for more tax incentives to bring in low-paying and often hazardous industries, our politicians should be fighting to increase the wages of this state's working poor.
UP THE RIVERSome employes at SC-ETV are complaining that Henry Cauthen's golden parachute has deployed early. Cauthen is retiring in July after 30 years as president of ETV, but he reportedly seldom comes to work.
Cauthen is drawing his $100,000 salary for staying out of the way. During his tenure, Cauthen was the first and last word on what happened at ETV. Since Gov. David Beasley appointed John Rivers chairman of the ETV board, things haven't been the same.
Cauthen's main job was ensuring that ETV didn't broadcast anything that offended the legislature. His replacement, Paul Amos, is coming from the "commercial side of the industry" as a CNN executive. We can hope that Amos will unleash the creative forces that Cauthen kept in the closet, but we fear that Rivers and Beasley have other plans for the agency.
Rivers has already let it be known that there is no money for creative programing. Amos is expected to carry out Rivers' plan to make ETV operate more like a business. It may not be long before we look back on the good old days of ETV.
NAME THAT SLEAZEBALLThis month's sleazeballs are the four representatives who voted this month to keep the interracial marriage ban in South Carolina. Three of them claimed some religious reason.
The fourth, Rep. John Graham Altman of Charleston, said he voted to keep the ban as a reminder of the "brutality of our past." Altman is known in Charleston as the school board member who fought to ban dragons in children's books because he considers them to be mystical symbols. Perhaps Altman's present support of the Confederate flag and opposition to affirmative action are his reminders of the brutality of our present.
Be the first caller to identify the other three representatives and win a free trial subscription to POINT.
Last issue's sleazeballs were the corporate polluters Union Pacific and DuPont, who along with WIS-TV and DHEC sponsor the Champions of the Environment award, an example of corporate "greenwashing" at its best.