Is South Carolina broke or morally bankrupt?

By Sen. Phil Leventis
Sumter, SC

With my legislative tenure coming to an end, I want to share something with my fellow South Carolinians. Our state is not broke, but we are teetering on the verge of moral bankruptcy in our failure to meet the needs of our citizens. That’s why I have introduced the TRAC Recommendation Act (S.1454) that eliminates or reduces many sales-tax exemptions. The nearly $1 billion this act will raise annually would be used to pay for education and local governments, which continue to be shorted due to lack of revenue.

During my 32 years as a legislator, I have been guided by the principle that government should invest in meeting the needs and aspirations of its citizens. This principle has been undermined by an ideology claiming that government is the cause of our problems and, accordingly, must be starved.

The real source of our problems is a government unwilling to invest tax dollars in itself and its citizens. When businesses strive to be competitive, they invest in their future. That is what we have to do today in South Carolina to ensure a more prosperous future.

We’re not broke. The problem is that narrow political ideology has trumped statesmanship. The lack of political will to fairly reform our tax code to meet our basic civic contracts for education and infrastructure leads our citizens to believe that “minimally adequate” is the best we can hope for.

In 2010, the Tax Realignment Commission (TRAC) was created to review the state’s tax code and recommend changes “designed to ensure that the state’s tax structure is balanced so that the system is adequate, equitable, and efficient.” The TRAC commissioners and staff did a thorough job of reviewing tax loopholes and inequities, and recommended reforms of sales-tax exemptions that could raise close to $1 billion the first year.

Sadly, ideology trumped common sense, and the Republican-created and -appointed commission’s goal was to use any new revenue to further reduce taxes and increase corporate subsidies, not pay our bills.

Our state’s fixation on being business-friendly is reflected in the Forbes ranking that puts South Carolina fifth in its “business friendly regulatory environment” but 44th in quality of life. Forbes ranks the quality of our labor supply at 22nd, far behind North Carolina (third) and Georgia (fourth). The message this sends is that South Carolina, with its lax regulations and unskilled labor force, is a cheap place to do business — but you might not want to live here.

To put the anti-tax ideology in perspective, consider that of all the industrialized nations, only Turkey and Mexico have a lower individual tax burden than the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The anti-tax National Tax Foundation ranks South Carolina 43rd among the 50 states in taxes as a percentage of income, and dead last in per capita state and local taxes. You begin to wonder why we need to further reduce taxes when we can’t pay our bills.

The House’s budget cuts mandatory funding for education by $665 million and local government funds by $71 million and robs $118 million from the general fund to cover the sales-tax shortfall of Act 388’s property-tax swap. These spending levels are set by law, but education and local government funding obligations are ignored annually by budget provisos because of a presumed lack of revenue and a clear shortage of political courage. These cuts mean larger classes, fewer teachers, police and firefighters and deteriorating infrastructure, all of which combine to make our state less competitive.

The TRAC recommendations on sales taxes would raise nearly $1 billion next year and more in coming years. This is what we need to meet these mandatory spending requirements, and more comprehensive tax reforms would meet and exceed them for years to come.

I’m sponsoring this bill because there is no real legislative debate — and little public understanding — about how we could raise the revenue to pay our bills with fair and broad tax reforms while also improving our quality of life and strengthening our economy.

The critical debate I hope to spark is whether the role of our government is shaped by the special-interest groups who make the majority of campaign contributions, or by the citizens who pay the taxes. I believe that citizens are willing to pay fair and equitable taxes when they get their money’s worth. It’s called democracy, and it’s past time for South Carolinians to reclaim it.

Sen. Leventis is a Sumter businessman; contact him at

Report: $70 million in SC workers’ taxes diverted yearly to pay corporate subsidies

Nearly $700 million a year in state income taxes withheld from worker paychecks in 16 states is being used to provide lavish subsidies to corporations rather than paying for vital public services. These diversions have gone to more than 2,700 companies, including major firms such as Sears, Goldman Sachs and General Electric. Few, if any, of the affected workers are aware, because no state requires they be informed on their pay stubs.

South Carolina’s Job Development Credits cost $70.3 million per year, the fourth-costliest diversion among the states. “Putting aside the question of this being a good investment of tax dollars, the immediate problem is a lack of transparency,” said Dr. Hoyt Wheeler, Co-chair of the SC Progressive Network.” Wheeler, a retired business professor, noted that the SC Department of Revenue does not reveal the credit amounts the 221 companies receive, or require the workers to be notified that their employer is pocketing their state income tax. “Individual workers at some of these companies can be donating as much as $1.25 an hour for years to the corporate bottom line, while thinking they are helping pay for schools and infrastructure,” Wheeler said.

These are the key findings of Paying Taxes to the Boss: How a Growing Number of States Subsidize Companies with the Withholding Taxes of Workers, a study published today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC. It is available here.

“Diversion of personal income tax revenues into subsidies violates how economic development has been defined,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “States are draining a revenue source that helps many of them address structural deficits.”

Paying Taxes to the Boss traces the rise of 22 subsidy programs derived from personal income taxes (PIT) that together cost about $684 million a year. “These programs are justified in the name of job creation, but they often end up subsidizing companies to move existing jobs from one state to another. In other cases, they go to employers that threaten to move unless they get paid to stay put,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report.

“We recommend that states seriously consider abolishing PIT-based subsidies. Short of that, we urge Truth in Taxation: that companies be required to disclose the details of how much money is going where on every pay stub of affected workers,” LeRoy added.

The report examines South Carolina’s PIT-based subsidy program, known as Job Development Credits, or “JDC”. The JDCs are considered by the state Department of Commerce to be the “most significant incentive created by the 1995 Enterprise Zone legislation. The programs work in various ways in different states. Some allow employers to immediately retain (and never remit to the state) a large portion of the withholding taxes generated by designated new or retained workers. Some provide cash rebates or grants calculated the same way. Others provide credits against corporate income taxes or other business levies, with the value of those credits based on the withholding taxes of new or retained workers. (Some of these credits are cash-refundable if the credit exceeds the company’s tax liability.)

The share of withholding taxes diverted into subsidies can be as high as 100 percent (such as EDGE tax credits in Illinois and Indiana) and the duration can be as long as 25 years (such as Mississippi’s Withholding Rebates). Twelve programs divert 75 percent or more of withholding, and 18 do so for 10 years or longer.

The most expensive program is New Jersey’s BEIP, which in FY2011 approved new grants worth up to $73.2 million over their multi-year terms and disbursed $178 million during the year for previously approved contracts. Among states with subsidy recipient disclosure, those with the largest number of participants in PIT-based programs are: Ohio (567), Kentucky (509), Illinois (315), New Jersey (306) and Indiana (283).

Network joins SC Small Business Chamber in screening new documentary “We’re Not Broke”

The SC Progressive Network‘s monthly movie night is changing time and location to co-sponsor the newly released 80-minute documentary We’re Not Broke. The public is invited to a free screening on Wednesday, April 25, 6:3-8:30pm at the USC Law School Auditorium, 701 S. Main.

After the screening, the film’s director, producer and writer—Karin Hayes—will be with us to answer questions. The evening will conclude with a discussion of the next steps to advocate for Congress to close corporate tax loopholes, end offshore tax havens and resist another repatriation tax holiday. This free event sponsored by the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

With the United States in the grip of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression and an unprecedented budget deficit, the conclusion that our country is broke seems unquestionable. At least that’s what politicians and pundits want ordinary citizens to believe as they call for massive spending cuts.

Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce’s searing exposé reveals that, strangely absent from this rhetoric, is the infuriating fact that multibillion-dollar corporations are based in the U.S., make money from American consumers, and often even receive lucrative contracts from the government, yet pay nothing in U.S. income taxes. By exploiting tax-law loopholes and spending millions on lobbyists to pressure politicians to protect their interests, corporations pocket billions while the less-connected middle class disappears, and the poor get poorer.

We’re Not Broke explores how the government has allowed this inequality to develop and the growing wave of discontent that it has fostered. Presaging the larger wave of protests that have arisen in recent months with the international Occupy movement, the film follows a number of activists who have had enough and are demanding that corporations finally pay their fair share.

The rotten Apple in the tax barrel

By Scott Klinger
Business for Shared Prosperity

Apple has gone on a very public tax strike. Months after reporting the second highest quarterly profits in U.S. history, America’s favorite company is refusing to bring home more than $60 billion of offshore funds in protest of the taxes it would have to pay.

Apple paints its predicament as unfair. Yet Apple’s funds did not build up offshore because its iPhones, iPads and Macs are so much more popular overseas than they are at home. Though more than two-thirds of its retail stores are in the United States and Apple sells more product in the U.S. than in any other nation, it reports to shareholders that it made 24 cents in pre-tax profit for every dollar of sales in the United States, compared to 36 cents profit on every dollar of sales abroad.

Apple’s profit margins are so much lower in the U.S. and billions of dollars of cash piled up offshore because Apple’s accounting and tax staff is as clever as its engineers and product designers. They take some of their profits earned in the United States and through accounting hocus pocus transform them into foreign profits that are not taxed in the U.S. until they are returned here.

Here’s how these tax avoidance strategies work. Apple conducts the bulk of its product and research development in the United States. This work is done largely by engineers educated in U.S. schools, often using basic research that was funded by U.S. taxpayers. Apple then takes the patents earned by its U.S. labs and registers them offshore in tax haven nations that impose little or no taxes on income on royalties from patents and other intellectual property. When Apple sells an IPod or Mac, it charges a lot for the use of the patents, telling the IRS that without this intellectual property, the product would be virtually worthless. By doing this, Apple transfers much of the profit from each sale to the tax haven, while retaining the costs of research, advertising and management in the United States.

Apple’s transfer pricing shenanigans are legal, but drew criticism from tax justice advocates, particularly in Europe. Since then, Apple’s tax disclosures are far more opaque, making it impossible to discern whether they have backed off from their aggressive tax management, or whether they simply don’t talk about it publicly anymore.

Tax haven abuse by corporations and individuals costs the U.S. Treasury $100 billion a year. One way to begin to solve this problem is to require improved corporate tax disclosure. If Apple’s customers and other taxpayers could see that Apple was booking the largest share of its sales in the United States, while it booked most of its profits in Ireland, the Netherlands and other tax havens, it would provoke important and necessary discussions. Another means of stemming the abuse would be to treat foreign subsidiaries managed and controlled from America as U.S. operations for tax purposes, a change proposed by Senator Carl Levin in the new CUT Loopholes Act.

When companies like Apple aggressively avoid their fair share of taxes, they shift the tax bill to their customers and other taxpayers. In the 1950s, corporate income taxes accounted for nearly a third of total federal government receipts. Last year, corporate taxes accounted for less than 8 percent of Treasury receipts, an all-time low.

The deficits that result from corporate tax avoidance has increased pressure for the government to cut spending, including spending on the very sort of basic research without which Apple, Google and Microsoft would not exist. The first modern computers and the Internet were not invented by people named Jobs, Wozniak, Hewlett, Packard or Gates, but by unsung scientists working on government-funded research, paid for by taxpayers. That taxpayer-funded government support continues today: Google co-founder Sergei Brin, for example, received a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship promoting digital libraries while laying the foundation for what would become Google.

Apple’s tax strike is shortsighted. By denying the government tax revenues, Apple is refusing to help plant the seeds from which the next great technological innovations will grow.

Scott Klinger CFA is Tax Policy Director for Business for Shared Prosperity. Reach him at Article courtesy of American Forum.

Progressive Network to create show featuring activists who changed South Carolina history

In March, the SC Progressive Network screened The People Speak, a documentary inspired by the book A People’s History of the United States, which chronicles the lives and experiences of ordinary Americans who, through their words and actions, changed the course of our history. The premise of the film is that change doesn’t come from the top, but rather from the bottom.

Author, historian, and activist Howard Zinn wrote the books and developed the film because he wanted Americans to recognize the power of protest in shaping their country’s history. Zinn, who died in 2010 at 87, said our textbooks present the story of America only through the eyes of its generals and presidents, giving “a distorted view of the past.”

The film got us thinking that we should take Zinn’s idea and apply it to South Carolina history. We’re inviting historians and activists to collaborate on writing, staging and filming a 45-minute or hour-long program documenting the work of some of the Palmetto State’s most important historical figures, in their own words. Like Zinn, we want to focus on those whose passion and commitment to social justice helped shape South Carolina’s story.

If you want to join this collaborative effort, please call us at 803-808-3384, email, or join our Facebook page. We’re shooting to debut the production in September. Between now and then, we’ll meet as needed at the Network’s office to brainstorm and issue assignments. If you have ideas for people to feature in the program, or are interested in performing, please contact us.

See additional resources at The People Speak web site.

SC AFL-CIO supports bill to repeal SC’s “stand your ground” law

As the country attempts to understand the shooting of 17-year-old Treyvon Martin, the SC AFL-CIO calls for justice for Treyvon’s family and supports Rep. Bakari Sellers’ proposed bill to repeal the “stand your ground” provision of South Carolina’s “Protection of Persons and Property Act” enacted in 2006.

“We have long had laws on the books that allowed for legitimate self defense,” said SC AFL-CIO Vice President Ken Riley. “These new laws are being used by vigilantes to excuse frontier justice against unarmed people. People of color have a deadly serious reason to fear that this law provides bigots an excuse to shoot somebody as their first option to resolve a problem.”

The state’s “stand your ground” clause was recently used in the defense of a white Spartanburg home owner who shot a homeless man who was squatting in a vacant house for sale. District Solicitor Barry Barnette said the shooting was justified under the “stand your ground” provision of the state law. “Obviously, your have a right to defend your property,” Barnette told the Spartanburg Herald Journal about the shooting.

The SC AFL-CIO believes these unnecessary laws conflict with its commitment to equal rights and due process for all citizens. “These new laws have no place on the books of a society that considers itself civilized,” Riley said.

The SC AFL-CIO supports Rep. Sellers’ bill that would strike the section of the statute that states, “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in another place where he has a right to be, including, but not limited to, his place of business, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person to prevent the commission of a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60.”

SC Progressive Network Movie Night to feature popular documentary “The People Speak”

For its March monthly movie, the SC Progressive Network will feature THE PEOPLE SPEAK, a documentary film inspired by the books A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History, which chronicles the lives and experiences of ordinary Americans who, through their words and actions, changed the course of our history.

The movie will be shown March 27 at Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St., West Columbia. Free entrance, free popcorn. A fine selection of beer, wine, and sodas will be available for purchase. Door opens at 6:30pm; film at 7pm.

The philosophy espoused in the film is that change doesn’t come from the top, but rather from the bottom, and that without those everyday citizens pushing for betterment, there would be no America. This film takes us on a journey from the founding of our country to the civil rights movement, all the way up through today.

Author, historian, teacher, activist, and now television producer Dr. Howard Zinn is a man on a mission. He wants Americans to recognize the power of protest in shaping their country’s history. Along with executive producers Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Josh Brolin, and Anthony Arnove, he is moving his message from high schools and college campuses to film and, later this year, to HISTORY.

Zinn, who died in 2010 at 87, has been a history professor for most of his professional career, and in the lecture hall and in his writings, particularly his very popular A People’s History of the United States, he espouses history “from the ground up” in an articulate and engaging way. If our textbooks present the story of America only through the eyes of its generals and presidents, Zinn argues, it gives “a distorted view of the past.” Certainly he provides a powerful counterbalance to the hero-centric approach of traditional textbooks. In 2004 Zinn joined with Dr. Anthony Arnove to publish a collection of primary source documents titled Voices of a People’s History of the United States, an academic bestseller on college and high school campuses. The materials range across the length of American history and feature letters, petitions, poems, speeches, and songs from “women and slaves, immigrants and youth, soldiers and students.”

Zinn and Arnove began to organize public performances of selections from Voices in 2003, before its official release, when A People’s History of the United States sold its 1 millionth copy (it has now surpassed the 2 million mark). Today, Voices brings alive the words and emotions of the past with songs and dramatic readings performed by well-established artists. At a presentation this past May celebrating the publication of A Young People’s History of the United States in New York City, seven performers gave new life to the words of famous dissenters — such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King Jr. — and lesser known, but equally stirring, voices from the past.

Bill requiring voters to register by party goes nowhere

The SC House Judiciary Committee today debated a bill to require voters to register by party to vote in party primaries. The SC Progressive Network opposed it, arguing it posed an unnecessary impediment to voting rights. South Carolina has more legislators chosen by primary than any other state.

Enough Republicans on the committee had concerns about limiting voters’ options in primaries — which are paid for by all taxpayers — to send the bill back to subcommittee, making it unlikely the bill will pass this session.

Network Director Brett Bursey pointed out to the committee that 20 of its 25 members had no opposition in the general election and they won their seat in the primary. This applies to both Republicans and Democrats; see memo below.

A majority of the committee members won 99 percent of the vote in their uncontested general elections.

“Sixty-five percent of South Carolina voters had only one candidate to vote for in the last general election for legislators,” Bursey said. “If you can’t vote in the primary, you don’t have a voice on who represents you in the State House.”

Due to partisan redistricting over the past 30 years, South Carolina has the least competitive general elections in the nation. The creation of “safe” legislative districts resulted in 80 of the states 124 House districts (65 percent) having only one major party candidate on the general election ballot. In these 80 races, the voters only opportunity to cast a meaningful ballot was in the primary.

As long as the majority of elections for the legislature are decided in the primaries, all voters must be afforded the opportunity to participate in open primaries. Until our general elections are competitive, restricting participation in the primaries effectively prohibits citizens from casting a meaningful vote for their representative.

Twenty of the 25 members of the House Judiciary Committee had no major party opposition in the 2010 general election. These members took office by winning their party’s primary, often with no opposition.

House Judiciary members with general election opposition (with percentage of general election vote)

Nanny 66% R
Bannister 75% R
Quinn 72% R
Peter McCoy 47% R (Anne Peterson Hutto 43%, Eugene Platt 8%)
Leon Stavinakis 55% D

House Judiciary members with NO general election opposition (with percentage of general election vote)
James Harrison 99% R
Alan Clemmons 99% R
George Hern 99% R
Jenny Horne 99% R
Dan Hamilton 87.92% R
Karl Allen 99% D
Derham Cole, Jr. 99% R
Eddie Tallon 99% R
Walton McCloud 98% D
Greg Delleney 99% R
Boyd Brown 98% D
David Weeks 99% D
Laurie Slade Funderburk 99% D
Thad Viers 99% R
James Smith 99% D
Todd Rutherford 88% D
Tom Young 99% R
Bakari Sellers 99% D
Seth Whipper 99% D
Mike Sottile 99% R

New bill against trespass troubles civil libertarians

By Adam Klasfeld
Court House News

A polarizing debate has erupted over a new anti-trespass law, with some saying it criminalizes protest and others calling it a harmless patch of a security oversight. The White House describes the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Act of 2011, or H.R. 347, as legislation that “makes it a federal crime to enter or remain knowingly in any restricted area of the White House, the vice president’s official residence, or their respective grounds without lawful authority.”

Though seemingly innocuous, civil libertarians took issue with the language of the bill, which defined “restricted buildings as grounds” broadly enough to include any place where Secret Service personnel are stationed. At the Lawfare national security blog, D.C.-based attorney Wells Bennett speculated that this could include demonstrators loudly protesting the Obama administration’s targeted-killing program. After the bill sailed through the House of Representatives in a 388-3 vote, John Tjaden, a board member with the American Civil Liberties Union of Sacramento, sounded the alarm in a blog post titled, “Goodbye, First Amendment: House Bill HR 347 will make protest illegal.”

President Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, signed it Thursday? A spokesman for Rep. Thomas Mooney, the Florida congressman who sponsored the bill, called the controversy “a whole lot of kerfuffle over nothing,” in an interview with Reason Magazine. “This doesn’t affect anyone’s right to protest anywhere at any time,” spokesman Michael Mahassey insisted. “Ever.”

Mahassey said the bill updates existing law, allowing the government to federally prosecute those who would climb over the White House fence. In that sense, the H.R. 347 controversy mirrors that of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), widely known as the Homeland Battlefield Bill for allowing the military to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without charge or trial. NDAA defenders say the government already claimed that power under the Authorization to Use Military Force, which courts have upheld in subsequent case law.

Civil libertarians countered that the NDAA took narrowly tailored legal opinions and expanded them to have global jurisdiction. ACLU policy advisor Gabe Rottman told Courthouse News that, in both instances, small changes to existing laws could have profound changes. One such change in H.R. 347 is the “intent standard,” which the law reduced from “willfully and knowingly” to “knowingly,” Rottman said. A federal appeals court parsed this difference in 2005 while considering the case of Brett Bursey, a South Carolina activist arrested for protesting then-President George W. Bush at the Columbia Airport. In the opinion, the 4th Circuit agreed that “willfully” had a stricter standard than “knowingly.”

“Divining the meaning of ‘willfully’ in criminal statutory mens rea terms has long bedeviled American courts,” the unanimous opinion states. A footnote continues: “We focus our discussion on whether Bursey ‘willfully’ violated the statute, because, generally, ‘[m]ore is required’ with respect to conduct performed willfully than conduct performed knowingly.”

Now the head of the SC Progressive Network, Bursey told Courthouse News that he did not “willfully” or “knowingly” break any law he could perceive.  He said he was standing in a crowd of people when singled out for arrest because his sign said “No more war for oil, no war against Iraq.”

“They told me that I would have to go to the Free Speech Zone,” Bursey said. “None of them were quite sure where it was.”

When police told him they would charge him with trespassing, Bursey said he had “a déjà vu moment” because he was arrested for state trespassing charges — at almost exactly the same spot — while protesting Richard Nixon in 1969.

Bursey said he fought the 1969 case all the way to the state Supreme Court, and won. Believing he would beat the charges again, Bursey refused to budge at the Bush protest until police hauled him into a corrections van.

“I watched George Bush get off Air Force One through the bars of the paddy wagon and go into this building to give this speech, where he actually used the words, ‘They hate us because we’re so free,'” Bursey recalled, adding, “And I’m hogtied to the van outside.”

Bursey said that he learned from local reporters about four months later that he had been indicted under a statute called “Presidential Assassinations, Kidnappings and Threats.” “I fell out of my chair when I read that,” Bursey said. This time, Bursey lost his appeals, which again went up to the Supreme Court. And he had to pay a $500 for the misdemeanor charge. Under a 2005 reauthorization of the Patriot Act, that offense would have counted as a felony. The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Act of 2011 uses similar language.

Bursey thinks that Occupy Wall Street and other protest movements might have caused legislators to boost the law. “Why was it necessary to pass this new statute?” Bursey asked. “Since ’05, under the Patriot Act, this same statute has been in effect replacing the one that I was arrested under. So it’s nothing new.”

Bursey believes he is the only protester to have been prosecuted under the laws in their earlier or subsequent forms. “They only arrested one person in 30 years,” he said. In a rhetorical question to legislators, Bursey asked, “What is the clamoring horde that’s trying to break down your bubble?”

Rottman also could not identify any other protester arrested under the former anti-trespassing statutes, but he hoped that H.R. 347 did not signal its expansion. “I hope this law will not be applied to make lawful protest a federal crime,” Rottman said. “Given the discretion, there is concern that it could be misused. The ACLU and other groups that track these regulations will keep a keen eye on any abuse.”

Progressive Movie Night to feature award-winning documentary “Inside Job”

The public is invited to a free screening Feb. 28 of Inside Job, a 2010 documentary about the late-2000s financial crisis directed by Charles H. Ferguson and narrated by Matt Damon. Ferguson says the film is about “the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry and the consequences of that systemic corruption.”

Inside Job was well-received by film critics who praised its pacing, research, and exposition of complex material. The film was screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival in May and won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The movie will be shown at Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St., West Columbia. Free entrance, free popcorn. A fine selection of beer, wine, and sodas will be available for purchase. Door opens at 6:30pm; film at 7pm. Event sponsored by the SC Progressive Network.

Governor’s union-bashing unwarranted, unfair

By Micheal Parrotta
Myrtle Beach, SC

I am a firefighter in South Carolina. I respond when the alarm goes off without the slightest hesitation, just like the men and women who work alongside me. Our job is to save lives and property. We do that job with pride. We are deeply committed to keeping our neighbors and communities safe, because we are proud citizens of the great state of South Carolina.

We are also union members.

In her State of the State address, Gov. Nikki Haley proclaimed my fellow firefighters and paramedics and I “are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in the state of South Carolina.”

Her rhetoric made it sound like she was talking about truly evil people. Or an angry invading force. Instead of me and tens of thousands of other hard-working citizens.

Does she really want to deny all of us a voice in our work lives, or drive us out of South Carolina?

That’s a lot of taxpayers, a lot of moms and dads, a lot of Little League coaches. Police officers, dock workers, mail carriers, paper mill workers, utility workers, UPS drivers and more, who work long, tough hours and help keep our state’s economy humming along, are also union members.

What does Gov. Haley have against us?

We are employed here and pay our taxes here. We live middle-class lives. We own houses, keep our yards up and spend money in the state we call home.

Maybe Gov. Haley doesn’t like that our membership in our unions allows us to advocate for such things as better equipment to make sure we can respond effectively and fast.

Maybe the governor doesn’t like that we are able to earn a living that gives us and our families a decent life and keeps us off public assistance.

Or maybe she is listening to the same politicians in Washington who are failing our country by doing the bidding of big corporations — the ones with headquarters well outside of our state that profit mightily from the hard work of South Carolinians.

In her address, Gov. Haley said the state of the state is “surging.” Really? Where’s it surging to? Our state’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. Our citizens are among the lowest paid in the nation.

We know that Wall Street profits have been surging in the past few years. But have you been surging? Are your wages surging? What about your home values?

Gov. Haley is not the only extremist politician pointing fingers at people who work for a living as the evil ones. Her agenda looks like it was written by national corporate lobby groups that just can’t seem to get enough profit and power, and don’t care a whit about the good people of South Carolina.

Firefighting is not the career to choose if you seek fame and fortune. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might try politics. We often refer to fire fighting as “the calling,” because most of us from an early age feel a call to serve our communities. It is tough but rewarding work. And for too many of my colleagues, exposing our bodies to dangerous, traumatic and physically demanding situations and carcinogenic fumes means our career won’t be a long one.

It’s time to stop treating the employees who provide our public services and those who keep our economy going as though we’re selfish demons. We are your neighbors. We go to work every day, just like you. We care about this state and its citizens.

We are not corporations with headquarters in other states or other countries that answer to profit-hungry shareholders on Wall Street. We are South Carolinians who have just as much of a right to have a voice in the workplace and a say in our futures as the folks writing Gov. Haley’s speeches.

Parrotta is president of the S.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, a member of the SC Progressive Network.

The lies that corporations tell

By Jeff Koob
Columbia, SC

Near the end of the 19th century the U.S. Supreme Court decided that corporations should have all the rights of people. In the latter half of the 20th century, it ruled that monetary contributions to political causes are a form of free speech and, since corporations are people, their investments in political decisions that favor them are covered by the First Amendment. And now in the 21st century, the court has ruled that there are no limits to the “right” of corporations and political action groups to sponsor advocacy advertising.

Thus has the Supreme Court opened the floodgate to an unprecedented barrage of propaganda, paid for by wealthy interest groups. More than ever, political office is up for sale to the highest bidder. To borrow from Orwell, all citizens have free speech, but some now have a lot more than others.

Propaganda aims to persuade, not inform, and one of its primary tactics is to present opinions as facts. That’s precisely what attack ads do. I’ll leave it to someone else to predict what left-wing propagandists may put forth this year, but we’ve already seen the unsubstantiated opinions that the right wing will represent as facts in the presidential campaign:

• Raising taxes on the rich or otherwise leveling the economic playing field is class warfare or envy of the rich.

• President Obama is an abject failure/the worst president ever.

•  Obama is a freedom-hating socialist with a hidden agenda. Only the most vehement Obama-haters believe this, but they’ll try to sell the notion that we have to “take back” an America that’s being “lost” under Obama.

•  The Republicans could have done a better job getting the economy back on its feet. This is pure conjecture. Obama’s plan seems to have prevented the Great Recession from turning into a second Great Depression; nobody has the facts to prove otherwise.

• Obamacare (sic) is socialized medicine, and therefore bad. In fact, many of the reforms are viewed favorably by a majority, but the propagandists have demonized the whole package as “Obamacare.”

Sad to say, the electoral process is no longer a matter of civil discourse, and the glut of money from corporations and interests groups is largely to blame. The only solution I see is public funding of elections.

Jeff Koob is a longtime supporter of the
SC Progressive Network.

Anti-union bill threatens Charleston port

SC Progressive Network

One of South Carolina’s largest economic engines, the Port of Charleston, is threatened by an anti-union bill (H-4652) now making its way though the state legislature. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Sandifer (R-Oconee), it would require unions to disclose every single financial transaction, publicize membership lists, and would raise the fine for violations of the state’s Right to Work Act from $100 to $10,000.

Sandifer, who chairs the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee that is hearing his bill, stated at a Feb. 2 subcommittee meeting, “We do have one of the toughest right-to-work laws in the country; my goal is to have the toughest.”

The bill was passed out of subcommittee, and is scheduled to be heard by the full committee in the next two weeks.

Ken Riley, President of the Longshoreman’s union that works the Charleston port, questioned why punitive laws were being directed at the 5 percent of the state’s workers who belong to unions and make decent wages and benefits. “This unwarranted attack is political grandstanding intended to shift the blame for our economic problems from policy makers to workers,” Riley said.

Ken Riley, President, ILA Local 1422

According to the State Ports Authority, trade through South Carolina ports facilitates 280,600 jobs and provides an overall economic impact of $45 billion each year. The per unit cost of containers handled by Charleston Longshoremen is the lowest of all US ports.

“Ninety-five percent of all containers shipped out of East Coast ports are required by contracts to be handled by union labor,” Riley said. “If you bust our union, you close the port of Charleston.”

“It’s ironic that the same politicians who decry government intrusion in business affairs want to force more government regulations on productive businesses that use union labor,” said SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey.

Bursey warned that if the bill becomes law, citizens who believe that workers’ rights are equal to those who profit from low-wage jobs will picket the port of Charleston.

“My guys won’t cross a picket line,” Riley said.

The truth behind Gingrich’s false food-stamp claims

Institute for Southern Studies

Date on which Republican presidential candidate and former Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich, speaking during a debate in South Carolina, claimed that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history”: 1/16/2012

Number of days later that the Gingrich campaign unveiled a TV ad making the same claim: 1

Number of people who have joined the food stamp program — known since 2008 as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — under President Obama: 14,200,000

Number of people who became SNAP beneficiaries under President George W. Bush: 14,700,000

Number of people added to the SNAP rolls in the 12 months before Obama took office in January 2009: 4,400,000

Percentage by which that exceeds the number added in 2007, when the economic downturn began: 300

Number by which the SNAP rolls declined in October 2011: 43,528

Number of people receiving SNAP benefits, according to the latest figures available: 46,224,722

Proportion of U.S. residents that represents: 1 in 7

Proportion of residents receiving SNAP benefits in Mississippi, the state with the highest poverty rate: 1 in 5

Under the economic stimulus bill President Obama signed in 2009, increase in monthly SNAP benefits for a family of four: $80

Income limit for a family of four to be eligible for SNAP: $29,000

Percent of SNAP beneficiaries who are white: 36

Percent who are African-American: 22

Percent who are Latino: 10

Percent who are children: 47

Percent who live in a household where someone has a job: 41

Percent of SNAP households that also received cash welfare benefits in 1990: 42

In 2010: 8

SNAP’s annual cost to taxpayers: $75,000,000,000

Percentage by which that cost has increased since 2008: 200

Value of economic activity generated for every $1 spent on SNAP benefits: $1.84

(Click on figure to go to source. To comment on this index, click here. Image of Gingrich during the Jan. 16 GOP debate is a still from Fox News video via

The real meaning of “self-deportation”

By Wendy Sefsaf

Immigration Policy Center

The term “self-deportation” has found its way into the GOP presidential primary race, with candidate Mitt Romney outlining a vague immigration platform which includes “self-deportation,” or the idea that unauthorized immigrants will voluntarily choose to leave the U.S. if life here is made unbearable enough. While “self-deportation” may be a new idea to some, those who monitor immigration policy understand that it is code for “attrition through enforcement” – a plan pursued by extremist immigration-control organizations in Congress and state houses across the nation.

Mr. Romney explains how he thinks “self-deportation” would work by saying “if people don’t get work here, they’re going to self-deport to a place they can get work.” However, as described in a forthcoming report from the Immigration Policy Center, “self-deportation” – or, more accurately, “attrition through enforcement” – goes far beyond denying unauthorized immigrants work. The strategy is currently embodied in state laws that include provisions denying education, transportation, and even basic services like water and housing to anyone who cannot prove legal immigration status. So far, the states that have attempted to roll out this plan have done little more than undermine basic human rights, devastate local economies, and place unnecessary burdens on U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.

There is little evidence that “attrition through enforcement” is causing unauthorized immigrants to leave. In fact, a July 2011 study from the RAND Corporation found that, despite improved economic conditions in Mexico and worsened conditions in the United States, fewer Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico in 2008 and 2009 than in the two years before the recession.

The Urban Institute’s Juan Pedrozo has also pointed out that “it’s tough to tell whether (and how many) immigrants have left a community if you are looking right after a state passes a law. It can take years of evidence to test claims of a mass exodus.” Moreover, “growing evidence suggests that most immigrants (especially families with school-age children) are here to stay, except perhaps where local economies are particularly weak.”

Furthermore, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, “nearly two-thirds of the 10.2 million unauthorized adult immigrants in the United States have lived in this country for at least 10 years, and nearly half are parents of minor children,” most of whom are U.S. citizens. There is no reason to believe that they are going to “self-deport” as their ties to the country have grown much deeper.

Whether you call it “self-deportation” or “attrition through enforcement,” this is a policy that offers no genuine solution to the growing instability of our immigration system. Relying on a strategy conceived by immigration restrictionists and pursued by opportunistic politicians is no game plan. This country deserves to hear more detailed and thoughtful approaches from politicians and policy makers—ones that will offer a way forward, rather than ones grounded in divisive and punitive approaches to unauthorized immigration.

The Immigration Policy Center, established in 2003, is the policy arm of the American Immigration Council. IPC’s mission is to shape a rational conversation on immigration and immigrant integration. Through its research and analysis, IPC provides policymakers, the media, and the general public with accurate information about the role of immigrants and immigration policy on U.S. society. IPC reports and materials are widely disseminated and relied upon by press and policy makers. IPC staff regularly serves as experts to leaders on Capitol Hill, opinion-makers and the media. IPC is a non-partisan organization that neither supports nor opposes any political party or candidate for office.