First Amendment Alliance: Energy Industry Front Group

The First Amendment Alliance is a 527 “Super PAC” that can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals for independent expenditures on the election, and the group is currently smearing Democratic candidates for Senate with negative ads in competitive races. So far, the First Amendment Alliance has spent over $800,000 running attack ads against Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Harry Reid of Nevada. 

On its website, the organization says “we communicate instances of waste, fraud, hypocrisy, and general disregard for standards of civility in society,” and its contact information only lists a mailbox in Alexandria, Virginia. Its President, Anthony Holm, works on the campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry and was tied to a GOP scheme to place a Green Party candidate on the ballot for governor in order to take away votes from Rick Perry’s Democratic opponent. But Holm is also a representative for GOP mega-fundraiser Bob Perry, who contributed $4.45 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and recently donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association.

According to a review of the group's recent FEC filings, it's clear that the First Amendment Alliance is a sham group for the energy industry whose office is a mailbox. Nearly every single donor, including businesses and individuals, has links to the energy industry. Of the 73 contributors, 39 are businesses and 34 are individuals, and 70 of the donors are clearly tied to the oil and gas industry. The group raised close to $1.1 million, and of that amount more than $300,000 came from businesses tied to the energy industry and over $600,000 came from individuals with energy connections.

Here is just a sampling of some of the group’s most generous donors: Oilman Russell Gordy contributed $150,000, Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy and Earl Rodman of Rodman Petroleum both donated $100,000. The Anschutz Corporation donated $50,000, and Melange Associates and Chisos LTD, which are both involved in oil and gas exploration, gave $25,000 each.  And of course, Bob Perry gave the group $50,000 this year.

The First Amendment Alliance has to disclose its donors according to FEC rules for “Super PACs,” but many political organizations that are 501(c) groups, like Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce, never have to disclose the sources of their funding. As a result of such disclosure rules, we now know who is behind the First Amendment Alliance’s attack ads in Senate races across the country.

Using those funds, the group launched an aggressive, and sometimes plainly dishonest, campaign aimed at defeating Democratic candidates for the Senate.

In addition to attacks against Senators Bennet and Reid, the First Amendment Alliance’s ad against Jack Conway was so misleading that one TV station pulled it from the airways. In the ad, the First group used information showing the increased numbers of meth-labs shut down by police officers as evidence that the number of meth-labs increased while Conway was Attorney General. In essence, it used statistics pointing to increased effectiveness by Kentucky law enforcement to deceptively claim that Conway was unsuccessful in fighting drugs. Conway actually presided over the largest drug-bust in state history, and the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police cited Conway’s achievements in cracking down on drugs as one of the reasons the group endorsed him. The Glasgow Daily Times reports that “Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton says law enforcement ‘would be lost’ in the war on drugs if it weren't for federal help, funding assistance opposed by Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.” Paul, Conway’s Republican opponent, also asserted that drug abuse was not “a pressing issue” in the state.

In its Delaware ad, the First Amendment Alliance accuses Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons of “bankrupting New Castle County,” even though the county under Coons’s leadership received a triple-A bond rating, which Moody’s Investors Services said “reflects the county’s strong financial operations bound by conservative policies.” Despite such proof of sound fiscal leadership, the First Amendment Alliance falsely claims that Coons is responsible for an “economic train wreck.”

With enormous backing from the energy industry, it is no wonder why the First Amendment Alliance wants to defeat progressives running for the US Senate.  Find out about the other pro-corporate groups spending tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to influence the election in People For the American Way's report, "After Citizens United: A Look Into the New Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics."



Right-Wing Group to Nevada Latinos: “Don’t Vote”

Republican-affiliated groups have been getting less and less subtle in their attempts to prevent those likely to be Democrats from voting. There was the voter-caging operation in Wisconsin that sought to scare young and minority voters away from the polls in the name of preventing the proven non-problem of “voter fraud.” There was Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk suggesting that poll watchers be sent to predominantly black districts, “where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers.” But enough of the dog whistle. A Republican-affiliated group called “Latinos For Reform” has made an ad simply telling Latinos in Nevada: “Don’t Vote." Here's the English transalation:

 The organization’s president, conservative Unavision pundit Robert Desposada, has acknowledged that Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle would do nothing to advance immigration reform. "I can't ask people to support a Republican candidate who has taken a completely irresponsible and bordering on racist position on immigration," he told Politico.

For someone who thinks Angle’s positions are “irresponsible” and “bordering on racist,” he seems awfully interested in getting her elected.

Update: Univision has refused to air the ad.


Justice Department Files a Brief Confirming that Islam is a Religion

To the litany of public safety threats resulting from anti-Muslim fear-mongering, add the fact that Justice Department officials have had to spend time writing a brief explaining that Islam is, in fact, a religion. TPM reports on the DOJ’s amicus brief supporting the expansion efforts of the Islamic Center of Mufreesboro, TN. Opponents have claimed that the Islamic Center can’t get a religious permit to build a new mosque because, they say, Islam isn’t really a religion. The Justice Department did a little research:

"To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous. Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world," Martin said in the press release.

The brief painstakingly cites proof, from the Oxford English Dictionary, Supreme Court rulings, presidential proclamations by Clinton and George W. Bush and the writings of Thomas Jefferson, that Islam has long been recognized as a major world religion.

It also notes the definition of religion set forth by other federal courts, including that a belief system must address "fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters" in order to be considered a religion.

In the brief, the DOJ argues that the lawsuit implicates two federal civil rights statutes, the Religious Land Use Act and the Church Arson Prevention Act, which fall under the DOJ's purview. The county, the brief argues, would be in danger of violating the land use act were it to deny building permits for the mosque.

A concerted right-wing misinformation campaign has succeeded in making denial of the scientific consensus about climate change a politically acceptable position. Will denying the existence of one of the world’s largest and diverse religions be next?


Supreme Court to Hear Ashcroft Appeal

The Supreme Court today agreed to decide if former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be personally sued for alleged abuse of his authority in the days after 9/11 attacks. According to Bloomberg News:

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider reinforcing the legal immunity of top government officials, agreeing to decide whether a man can sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft after being detained without charge for 16 days.

The justices will review a ruling that allowed a suit filed by Abdullah al-Kidd, a Muslim U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2003 and held as a material witness in a terrorism probe. Al- Kidd says the government classified him as a material witness because it lacked enough evidence to hold him as a suspect.

A panel of the Ninth Circuit held that Ashcroft was not immune from being sued personally for the illegal abuse of authority that was the subject of al-Kidd’s claim. Ashcroft, with the support of the Obama Administration, asked the Supreme Court to reverse this decision and not allow the lawsuit to go forward. In his brief urging the Supreme Court not to hear Ashcroft’s appeal, al-Kidd claims that:

The impetus for arresting [him and other] individuals was not to secure their testimony for a criminal proceeding. Rather, these were individuals whom the government viewed as suspects and wished to detain and investigate. But because the government lacked probable cause to arrest these individuals on criminal charges, it had them arrested as material witnesses, thereby circumventing the Fourth Amendment’s traditional probable cause standard and distorting the basic purpose of the material witness statute.

The Court will likely hear arguments in the case next year and issue an opinion by summer. Justice Kagan has recused herself.

This case is a reminder that in the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them. With Bush’s popularity at its height and few willing to oppose him and his administration publicly, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department’s multifaceted threats to liberty.

It will be interesting to see if all of those Tea Partiers who claim to oppose big government encroaching on individual liberties will take a stand against the excesses of the Bush years - and explain why they were silent at the time.


Americans Still Oppose Court’s Citizens United Decision

Nearly ten months since the Supreme Court drastically expanded the ability of corporations to influence the political process, the public is still greatly troubled by the Court’s ruling in Citizens United. The majority Americans do not buy the absurd arguments of Congressional Republicans that Citizens United was as significant a step forward as the Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, as most people believe that corporations should not be allowed to spend unlimited sums from their general treasuries to fund political efforts. A Hart Research poll conducted on behalf of People For the American Way found that 77% of Americans want Citizens United to be overturned, and that corporations already have too much political power.

A recent “Constitutional Attitudes Survey” by Harvard and Columbia University professors found that while self-described liberals and conservatives all found Court decisions they agree with, Citizens United stands out as the most unpopular among all respondents:

One notable decision that stuck in respondents' respective craw, however, was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the January 2010 opinion that struck down a federal law prohibiting corporations from airing advertisements endorsing a political candidate.

Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents disagreed with the statement, "Corporations ought to be able to spend their profits on TV advertisements urging voters to vote for or against candidates." Only 40 percent agreed with the statement.

Additionally, an overwhelming 85 percent of respondents answered yes to the question, "Should corporations be required to get approval from their shareholders for expenditures related to political campaigns?" Indeed, Persily told the Spokane, Washington-based Spokesman Review that the Citizens United opinion is "very out of step with public opinion."

The survey's results are consistent with those of a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in February, shortly after the case was decided. A full 80 percent of respondents in that poll disagreed with the court's holding, and 65 percent labeled themselves "strongly" opposed. Surprisingly, that poll found that views of the decision did not split along party lines -- fully 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents, along with 85 percent of Democrats, disagreed with the decision.

Alaska’s New Super PAC: Brought to you by Federal Government Contractors

After extremist Republican Joe Miller upset incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, many Alaskans panicked over the prospect of having a Senator that wants to greatly diminish the federal government’s role in Alaska. After Senator Murkowski announced a write-in bid to take on Miller and the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, a new organization emerged to back the incumbent: Alaskans Standing Together.

Alaskans Standing Together is a “Super PAC” which can raise unlimited amounts of funds from individuals and corporations, and must disclose its donors to the FEC. The group is solely dedicated towards supporting Senator Murkowski’s reelection campaign and criticizing both of her opponents. So far, Alaskans Standing Together has reported having nine donors: Native American Corporations that have contributed over $800,000 to the group. But these Native American Corporations are also federal contractors, and many of them openly claim that they receive much of their federal money as a result of the legislative efforts of Lisa Murkowski. The corporations say that such money is needed since outside organizations like the California-based Tea Party Express are running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads promoting Joe Miller.

But as the Miller and Murkowski squabble over the non-party groups backing their campaigns, only Scott McAdams directly pointed to an important reason for the massive downpour in campaign cash:

The Democrat in the race, Scott McAdams, took a different approach, blaming the U.S. Supreme Court for opening up politics to unlimited corporate donations. If he's elected, McAdams said, he'd move to pass a campaign finance law backed by Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Barack Obama. He also seized on a claim the White House has been hammering in recent weeks: that unlimited corporate money has the potential to give foreign-owned corporations a say in U.S. elections.

"As a small state, Alaska can't afford to allow its elections to be overtaken by corporate spending," McAdams said. "Unfortunately, Sen. Murkowski has voted to allow corporations, including foreign corporate money, to continue to influence elections."

Outside independent expenditure groups are playing a major role in the Alaska Senate race -- and those across the country. In previous elections, such contributions wouldn't have been legal, but the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows corporate and union donors to inject unlimited amounts of money into politics.


Extremely Extreme Extremism Update

With Election Day fast approaching, tens of millions of dollars from corporations flooding the airwaves each week and seemingly endless news stories about apathy in the Democratic base, right-wing candidates are getting more brazen -- advancing ever more extreme positions and spreading outright lies.

Sharron Angle, the Republican running to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, told a crowd that Dearborn, Michigan and a town named Frankford, Texas are under Islamic Sharia Law. Utter nonsense. The statement earned her a strong rebuke from the Mayor of Dearborn and it turns out that Frankford, TX doesn't even exist!

Rand Paul, running for Senate in Kentucky, now supports ending the income tax in favor of a more regressive national sales tax that would hit the poor and middle class far more harshly than the income tax. After saying a few months back that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and making controversial statements about mining and the BP oil spill, Paul's handlers have tried hard to keep his extremism under wraps. But for someone as "out there" as Rand Paul, that's hard to do for very long.

In a debate on Wednesday night, Tea Party favorite and Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, perpetuating an attack that has been thoroughly discredited, accused her Democratic opponent Chris Coons of being a Marxist, based on Coons' tongue-in-cheek comment in an article he wrote as a student. On a roll, O'Donnell launched into a rant that included attacks on Coons for things he never said and completely fabricated declarations about the "tenets" of Marxism.

These are just some of this week's salvos from the right-wing Rogue's Gallery of Senate candidates -- let's not forget some of the past gems from Tea Party candidates. Sen. Russ Feingold's opponent in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, is such an extreme pro-corporate ideologue that he tries to push the notion that global warming is caused by sunspots in order to cover for corporate polluters... he also wants to drill for oil in the Great Lakes and even fought against protections for victims of child abuse on the grounds that it would be bad for business.

But the worst of the bunch has to be Colorado's GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck. When he was a county D.A., he refused to prosecute a rape that the accused essentially admitted he had committed. Instead, Buck chose to blame the victim, calling her charges a case of "buyer's remorse." Perhaps most disturbingly, it appears his statement and inaction might have been retribution for what some claimed was an abortion the victim had a year before (despite the victim's claim that she had a miscarriage). Keep in mind this is a man who is against legal abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and apparently agrees with Sharron Angle that rape victims who become pregnant as a result of their assault should make "lemonade" out of "what was really a lemon situation."

If this weren't enough, this week an interview from March reemerged in which the "get rid of government no matter what the cost" Buck actually came out in favor of privatizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Imagine the CDC privatized -- the profit motive being the sole determination for whether the Center might act to save millions of lives... or let millions suffer or even die.

This is what extremism looks like. These could be the new people making our laws.

But it's not too late. We can Stamp Out Extremism. Please, this election, dig deep, speak out and get involved.

The latest poll numbers have progressive Democrat Joe Sestak ahead of pro-corporate extremist Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race for the first time... Colorado is a very tight race and our endorsed candidate Michael Bennet is in position to defeat Buck with enough of our help... the progressive Senate candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, is running very close and could actually beat Republican Rand Paul because of his extremism... and we are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate and stop the radically right-wing Ron Johnson. We are in the process right now of producing ads for all of these states and more, and finalizing our field plan to get out the vote.

Please stay tuned for more on those products and activities, and, in the meantime, help spread around our resources, like our "Rogues Gallery" report, which calls out the GOP's extremist Senate candidates, and our "After Citizens United" report, which exposes the corporate front groups that are trying to buy this election for the Republicans.

UPDATE: Jed Lewison at Kos highlights right-wing candidates attacks on the miminum wage:

As Joan McCarter (here, here, and here) and DemFromCT (here) have documented, in the past few weeks leading Republican candidates have come out against the minimum wage, either calling for it to be lowered or for eliminating it altogether because they think it's unconstitutional. And now West Virginia GOP Senate nominee Joe Raese is once again vowing to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act which established the minimum wage.

The key thing about the GOP position is that it's not just the minimum wage that they want to get rid of. They want to nuke virtually every law and regulation that protects workers. And that includes another provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act: overtime pay.

UPDATE 2: Tea Party House candidate in California's 11th Congressional District, David Harmer, wants to abolish public schools. Sharron Angle and others want to do away with the Department of Education, but Harmer's position could be an even more extreme attack on public education. Harmer is leading progressive incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in the polls...


Americans Care About Secret Corporate Election Funding. A Lot.

Greg Sargent reports the results of a new MoveOn poll that shows that yes, Americans really do care that secretive corporate money is funding elections. A lot:

The poll finds that two thirds of registered voters, or 66 percent, are aware that outside groups are behind some of the ads they're seeing. This makes sense, since the issue has dominated the media amid the battle over the huge ad onslaught against Dems funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's groups.

What's more, an overwhelming 84 percent say they have a "right to know" who's bankrolling the ads. And crucially, the poll also found that the issue is resonant when linked to the economy. A majority, 53 percent, are less likely to think a candidate who is backed by "anonymous groups" can be trusted to "improve economic conditions" for them or their families. People don't believe these groups are looking out for their interests.

These numbers send a pretty clear message. But this is nothing new—for months, poll after poll has shown that large majorities of Americans are fed up with the control corporate money has over politics, want political spending to be disclosed, and are more likely to vote for candidates who will work toward passing a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.


Survey Shows Obstacles to Justice in U.S. Courts

Dan Froomkin is reporting on a depressing new report that paints a frightening picture of just how difficult it is for ordinary Americans to receive justice in our courts. He discusses:

the finding[s] of a world-wide survey unveiled Thursday morning that ranks the United States lowest among 11 developed nations when it comes to providing access to justice to its citizens -- and lower than some third-world nations in some categories.

The results are from the World Justice Project's new "Rule of Law Index", which assesses how laws are implemented and enforced in practice around the globe. Countries are rated on such factors as whether government officials are accountable, whether legal institutions protect fundamental rights, and how ordinary people fare in the system. ...

But the most striking findings related to access to justice for ordinary people. ...

[The study] found a significant gap between the rich and the poor in terms of their use and satisfaction with the civil courts system.

Froomkin quotes from a World Justice Project news release:

[O]nly 40% of low-income respondents who used the court system in the past three years reported that the process was fair, compared to 71% of wealthy respondents. This 31% gap between poor and rich litigants in the USA is the widest among all developed countries sampled. In France this gap is only 5%, in South Korea it is 4% and in Spain it is nonexistent.

Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the wealthy and powerful are happier with our court system than are the rest of the American people. This is consistent with the analysis contained in a People For the American Way Foundation report released earlier this year. Citing Citizens United and numerous other cases, The Rise of the Corporate Court: How the Supreme Court is Putting Business First exposed the undue deference the Supreme Court has too often paid to corporations at the expense of the legal rights of individuals.

Making it even harder for average Americans victimized by powerful corporations to seek justice, one in eight seats on the federal bench is vacant. In fact, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared judicial emergencies in numerous circuits and districts where the vacancies have reached the crisis point. Yet Senate Republicans refuse to allow floor votes on qualified and unopposed judicial nominees to help relieve the overburdened federal judiciary.

The integrity of the entire judicial branch of the United States government is at risk.


Members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network Honored in Time’s “40 Under 40”

Four members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network have been included in Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list of “the rising stars of American politics”.

At 36, Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, is the youngest mayor of a Top 50 American city. He’s been a member of the YEO Network since it’s founding, when he was a city councilman—he was elected mayor last year. In his first year in office, among other accomplishments, he sealed a multimillion dollar deal for alternative energy research in the city. You can read more about Julián in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile from May.

Hannah Pingree, 33, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, was also one of the original members of the YEO Network. Here’s what she had to say to Time about why she’s in politics:

"I love politics. Even in these times, politics is hard, the word 'politics' isn't popular, and politicians aren't the most poplar people. But being able to serve in the stage legislature, where a lot of the work we do is bipartisan, there are decent people on both sides of the aisle. You can make a difference. I've been able to pass a lot of bills or make an impact on the people I grew up with: fishermen in my district, people who need good housing, environmental policy that impacts kids' health. If I hadn't been able to do that in politics, I would have given up a long time ago. All the challenges and, sometimes, meanness and frustration you encounter in politics is worth it, if you can make good things happen."

Bakari Sellers became the youngest member of the South Carolina General Assembly at the age of 22. Now 26, he’s earned a law degree and continues to be a voice in the legislature for the ‘have-nots’ in his community. He told BET last year, "My goals again are relatively simple, representing a very poor and rural district. I want to ensure all South Carolinians access to a first-class education and ensure access to quality health care.”

Kyrsten Sinema, 34, is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Board of Directors as well as the YEO Network. A member of the Arizona House of Representatives, she’s running for a seat in the State Senate this fall. Kyrsten’s been a leader in Arizona on gay rights, responsible immigration policy, and economic development. Here’s her debate with Sherriff Joe Arpaio about Arizona’s draconian immigration law in April:


Beck Asks Fans to Give Money to Big Business

As I mentioned earlier today, Glenn Beck has started asking his listeners and viewers to donate money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—yes, “populist” leader Beck is asking his fans to give their money to the Chamber of Commerce, the national association of large corporations that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to lobby Congress and support the election of candidates who will prioritize corporate interests. Jamison Foster at Media Matters sums up the absurdity:

Now, the Chamber of Commerce is not simply an advocacy organization pursing an ideological agenda, like the National Rifle Association or the National Right to Life Committee. It is a trade association representing some of the largest corporations you can think of. Its board of directors counts among its members executives from Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, US Airways, JPMorgan Chase & Co., IBM, and Verizon. It is The Establishment incarnate.

And Glenn Beck is calling on his hardworking listeners to donate money to the Chamber. He is literally asking American workers to give their hard-earned wages back to their employers, so their employers can use that money to advocate a public policy agenda that benefits the rich at the (again: literal) expense of everyone else. It’s incredible. It’s such a twisted scheme that it’s easier to believe as a piece of performance art meant to mock right-wing pseudo-populism. Though if it was art, it would be dismissed as overly broad and heavy-handed.

Beck tried to put a populist spin on his plug by conflating the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a national lobbying organization—with local chambers of commerce, many of which are members of the national organization but have little control over its policies. Last year, the Chamber got in trouble for making the same conflation, claiming that it had 3 million members (10 times as many as it really did), when that figure included the members of local chambers that have no role in shaping the national chamber’s agenda. Giving money to the lobbying efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a far cry from donating to a local chamber’s economic development programs. And Beck’s claim that the U.S. Chamber is pushing for a populist agenda is one of his most audacious deceptions yet.

UPDATE: Several days after Beck made his pitch, Chamber of Commerce ads appeared all over his web site... Beck asked his fans to give money to Chamber, then the Chamber gives a chunk of the money back to Beck in ad revenue. How sleazy.


The Funding Disparity Grows

In late September, the AP reported that political groups favoring Republicans were outspending those favoring Democrats 6:1. Now, the disparity has grown to 9:1.

It must be that all the small contributions from Glenn Beck viewers to the Chamber of Commerce are adding up.

Either that, or corporations can now for the first time in decades spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, funneling it through shadowy front groups to buy millions of dollars worth of factually suspect advertising to help elect candidates who will look out for the corporate bottom line.

I think my money is on the latter.



The Regressive Agenda

Is public education a sign that government is too big? That’s what a front-running GOP congressional candidate in California thinks. Nick Baumann at Mother Jones reports that David Harmer, who hopes to defeat Rep. Jerry McNerney in California’s 11th congressional district, has advocated for eliminating the public education system altogether:

[I]n 2000, he published a lengthy op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle titled, "Abolish the Public Schools." In that Chronicle piece, Harmer argues that "government should exit the business of running and funding schools." He contends that would allow for "quantum leaps in educational quality and opportunity" and notes that he's simply pushing for a return to "the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood." Here's how he describes the wondrous world of early American education:

“[L]iteracy levels among all classes, at least outside the South, matched or exceeded those prevailing now, and... public discourse and even tabloid content was pitched at what today would be considered a college-level audience. Schooling then was typically funded by parents or other family members responsible for the student, who paid modest tuition. If they couldn't afford it, trade guilds, benevolent associations, fraternal organizations, churches and charities helped. In this quintessentially American approach, free people acting in a free market found a variety of ways to pay for a variety of schools serving a variety of students, all without central command or control.”

Yet historians say the early American education system was nothing like that. Back then, even high school was a luxury. "The high school at that point is a kind of elite form of education pretty much limited to the inner cities," says John Rury, an education historian at the University of Kansas. The rest of the system was far from comprehensive. What early schools taught, Rury says, were "very basic literacy and computational skills." Many schools only met four or five months a year, and their quality varied widely. "To get to a higher level of cognitive performance, you needed to have more teachers and longer school years, and that drove costs up," he explains. That led to modern taxpayer-supported schools. "Look around the world," says Rury. "Do we have an example of a modern, well-developed school system that operates on the model this person is advocating? We don't."

Granted, Harmer is the only one of this year’s batch of far-right candidates who has wanted to go so far as to eliminate public education (though pleas to get rid of the standards-enforcing Department of Education are common). But his argument does illuminate the Tea Party movement’s enthusiastic embrace of radically regressive policies. For instance, there’s Rand Paul’s plug for replacing the income tax with a flat national sales tax (ensuring that the poor are disproportionately hit by taxes and the rich are home free), there's Ken Buck's proposal to privatize the Centers for Disease Control's public health work, there’s Christine O’Donnell’s insistence that non-citizens with serious injuries should be turned away by hospitals (which, as Adam Serwer points out, flies in the face of both decency and a law signed by Ronald Reagan), and then there’s the gleefully righteous reaction on the Right to the absurdly symbolic incident of the pay-for-play fire department that stood by while a house burned down.

These aren’t instances of opposition to further expansion of government. They’re examples of a backwards-looking ideology taken to its logical, and disastrous, extremes.


Naming Rights for Republican Candidates

In the world of sports, corporate sponsorship has increasingly become associated with naming rights. That's why we now have the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Discover Orange Bowl, and the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.

But why limit this to the world of sports? Perhaps it's time for Americans to recognize the corporate sponsorship of Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail by using corporate sponsorship names.

The only catch, of course, is that the megacorporations that are spending unprecedented amounts of campaign cash are hiding their identities in the shadows. Fortunately, though, we know the organizations who are laundering the money for them.

So if the elections go as the Republicans and their corporate sponsors hope, we may well soon be talking about Sen. Club For Growth Buck of Colorado and Sen. Club For Growth Johnson of Wisconsin.

For those who appreciate a little foreign influence in their elections – and on their elected officials – perhaps the people of Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois corporations will see their interests represented by a Sen. Chamber of Commerce Blunt, Sen. Chamber of Commerce Coates, and Sen. Chamber of Commerce Kirk.

Of course, we shouldn't forget the hard work that Karl Rove has been doing to hide the unprecedented deluge of corporate campaign cash from the American public. So we may soon be welcoming Sen. American Crossroads Fiorina of California, Sen. American Crossroads Paul of Kentucky, Sen. American Crossroads Portman of Ohio, and Sen. American Crossroads Ayotte of New Hampshire.

As any sports fan knows, the fights over naming rights can be quite expensive. So should Harry Reid lose his race for reelection, there may well be a bidding war over whether Nevada will be represented by Sen. American Crossroads Angle, Sen. Club For Growth Angle, or Sen. Americans For New Leadership & Liberty Angle.

Alternatively, Americans can show up to the polls to fulfill the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


National Bullies

Today, Kyle at Right Wing Watch reported on the unsurprisingly hate-filled reaction of the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer to a rash of suicides by young people have been bullied for being gay. Fischer puts the blame for these deaths not on hate-mongers like himself who spend their lives stirring up anti-gay sentiments, but on support groups like GLSEN that try to make life easier for gay teens:

If we want to see fewer students commit suicide, we want fewer homosexual students. What all truly caring adults will want to do for a student struggling with his sexual identity is to help him resist dangerous sexual impulses, accept his biological identity as either male or female, and help him learn to adjust his psychological identity to his God-given biological one.

Along that path lies psychological, spiritual, mental and emotional wholeness. Along the path of sexual depravity lies loneliness, self-torment, disease, and even death. It is a cruel thing to help a sexually confused student walk down a path that leads to darkness rather than urge him to choose a path that leads to light.

Fischer, as we’ve noted, is an unapologetic extremist on issues from gay rights to whale-stoning, but his response to this issue is essentially the same as that of much more prominent right-wing leaders. Fischer boils their “solution” to anti-gay bullying down to its head-in-the-sand conclusion: gay kids wouldn’t be bullied if there weren’t any gay kids. This is essentially what Family Research Council president and occassional Fischer buddy Tony Perkins said in a largely fact-free (not to mention compassion-free) op-ed in the Washington Post’s On Faith section yesterday:

However, homosexual activist groups like GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) are exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda of demanding not only tolerance of homosexual individuals, but active affirmation of homosexual conduct and their efforts to redefine the family.

There is an abundance of evidence that homosexuals experience higher rates of mental health problems in general, including depression. However, there is no empirical evidence to link this with society's general disapproval of homosexual conduct. In fact, evidence from the Netherlands would seem to suggest the opposite, because even in that most "gay-friendly" country on earth, research has shown homosexuals to have much higher mental health problems.

Within the homosexual population, such mental health problems are higher among those who "come out of the closet" at an earlier age. Yet GLSEN's approach is to encourage teens to "come out" when younger and younger--thus likely exacerbating the very problem they claim they want to solve.

Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal--yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are "born gay" and can never change. This--and not society's disapproval--may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.

Glenn Beck University “professor” David Barton also embraced this causality-reversed view of these tragic suicides when he offered up the higher rate of suicides among gays and lesbians as proof that homosexuality is inherently unhealthy—and should therefore be eliminated.

These illogical public health pronouncements would be laughable if they weren’t contributing to a very real tragedies. The mother of a boy who committed suicide after falling victim to anti-gay bullying, wrote a response to Perkins in the Washington Post today:

If schools perceive addressing anti-gay bullying as a controversial issue, then they'll continue the status quo of putting their heads in the sand and hoping the issue takes care of itself.

It won't. And we need to be clear on one thing - addressing anti-gay bullying is not a controversial issue. If you move through the smoke screen organizations like Family Research Council try to create, you realize addressing anti-gay bullying is simply the right thing to do if we care about all of our young people.

Fischer may be an extremist’s extremist, but right-wing leaders echoing his harmful message are no less dangerous. And when future presidential candidates gather with people like Fischer and Perkins, they ensure that their messages of hate will keep on trickling down to vulnerable, ostracized kids. If what Fischer, Perkins, and Barton are doing isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is.