WASHINGTON: Defense contractors owe $3 billion in taxes

While swilling at the Pentagon trough of contracts, 27,000 private companies, or 14 percent of the total, did not remit their workers’ federal taxes (deducted from their paychecks), Social Security or Medicare payments to the U.S. Treasury. They defaulted on their payments even as they collected taxpayer-financed checks from the Pentagon.

According to an investigation by the General Accounting Office, the estimated $3 billion in taxes the companies owe is only for one year. The GAO found cases of abuse and potentially criminal activity where companies diverted payroll deductions for personal gain or to fund their businesses.

MONTGOMERY, Ala.: No charter schools in Alabama

Legislation that would have legalized “charter schools,” the third leg of the Republican education reform stool which includes privatization and vouchers, failed to get out of committee Feb. 11 in the Alabama Legislature.

There are 3,000 charter schools operating in 40 states. All Southern states have approved legislation to establish charters except Kentucky and, now, Alabama. Across those 40 states, there are 700,000 students attending charter schools, a student population just a little smaller than 730,000 children enrolled in Alabama public schools.

Susan Lockwood, a representative of Alabama school superintendents, said the track record for charter “experiments” is abysmal. Data shows, she testified, that charters do not deliver on their promises and take desperately needed funds from the rest of the school districts.

The Alabama teachers union, the Alabama Education Association, led the fight in the Legislature to keep public schools public. The union is also in a pitched battle to increase funding for the state’s schoolchildren.

NEW YORK: Librarians, booksellers launch petition drive against Patriot Act

Backed by 40 organizations representing libraries across the country and 81 publishing and distribution companies, including Barnes and Noble, Borders, Random House, Simon and Schuster and International Publishers, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and PEN American Center, announced Feb. 17 a campaign to gather 1 million signatures to support legislation to restore the freedom to read. Such freedom was stripped away by the Bush administration’s 2001 USA Patriot Act.

Librarians, writers and booksellers cite Section 215 of the Act as most onerous. Section 215 allows the FBI to search library and bookstore records, secretly, without probable cause, and bars the library or bookstore from telling anyone that their records were requested or searched.

“Booksellers are deeply concerned about the chilling effect of Section 215 and President Bush’s plan to seek blanket reauthorization of the Patriot Act,” said ABA Chief Operating Officer Oren Teicher.

Larry Siems, a spokesman for PEN, said, “This isn’t about stripping law enforcement of the power to investigate terrorism. It’s about confidence that our reading choices aren’t being monitored by the government.”

In his Jan. 20 State of the Union speech, Bush announced that he would seek reauthorization of the entire Patriot Act, unchanged. As of Feb. 4, 253 states, counties, cities and towns, representing over 43 million residents, have passed resolutions opposing the Patriot Act.

ARLINGTON, Va: Int’l panel says ‘give D.C. a seat’

In the land of the brave and the home of the free, 340,000 registered voters in Washington, D.C., have no representative in the U.S. Congress. They can be taxed, sent to war, have commerce regulated, but residents of the District of Columbia have no say.

In a largely symbolic ruling Dec. 29, 2003, by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS) that the U.S. belongs to and finances, found the U.S. violated international law by denying residents of the nation’s capital a seat, vote and voice in the U.S. Congress. “No other federal state in the Western Hemisphere denies the residents of its federal capital the right to vote for representatives in their national legislature,” the ruling said.

“The decision represents America’s Achilles’ heel,” said Tim Cooper, a human rights activist and capital resident who brought the complaint. “It might shame the Congress into action. It strips the king of democracy of his robe.”

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr69@aol.com).
Julia Lutsky and Betty Smith contributed to this week’s clips.