One of the most absurd things to come out of American politics in recent months is the allegation that the president’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans – bringing them back to the levels they enjoyed under Clinton -- amounts to “class warfare.”
In the Huffington Post last week, PFAW’s Michael Keegan called the GOP’s renewed cries of “class warfare” both “ironic and cynical.”
If you want to see what class warfare really looks like, you need look no further than Texas, where a group of oil companies has successfully lobbied to have a government panel re-examine a very large tax break that they were previously denied, and are now on the verge of receiving a $135 million gift from the state. Who’s paying for that gift? Public schools.
Here’s how the oil companies, led by Valero, are wrangling the refund from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to the AP:
Valero first asked for the refund for six of its refineries in 2007, and wants payment retroactive to that year. Since then, at least four other companies have asked for the same retroactive refund.
Valero argues the units should be exempt under a Texas law that says industrial plants don't have to pay taxes on equipment purchased to reduce on-site pollution. The law saves companies millions, and is meant to encourage investment in new technology.
At first, the request was denied. The commission's staff said the hydrotreaters reduce pollution in diesel and gas, not necessarily at the plant. In fact, staff said, the hydrotreaters actually increased sulfur dioxide pollution near the refineries because the toxic gas is now burned off in a flare.
Valero appealed, and the panel's chairman, Bryan Shaw, said last April that the Legislature likely intended a broader interpretation of the law. He instructed his staff to research whether they could award partial exemptions to Valero. Shaw declined to be interviewed for this story, saying it could present a conflict because the issue will be brought before him again.
Shaw, the environmental commissioner who encouraged the panel to take a new look at the oil company tax refund, was hand-picked for his post by Gov. Rick Perry. He’s an odd choice to head an environmental quality panel – as Mother Jones reported last week, he’s a climate change skeptic who has a long history of siding with industry over environmental groups.
But Gov. Perry’s ties to the oil industry run deep – since 1998, he’s raked in $11 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, including $147,895 from Valero, the company that’s leading the effort to get the $135 million tax refund.
While oil companies enjoy expensive access to the governor and an ally at the top of one of the committees charged with holding them accountable, it’s the state’s children who are breathing polluted air and whose schools are being asked to pay for new corporate tax breaks. From AP:
Now, the AP's analysis shows, the Pasadena Independent School District may have to refund $11.3 million to two refineries if commissioners grant the request.
Early Monday, Gonzales and others handed out fliers, collected petition signatures and offered $10,000 cookies and brownies at a mock "bake sale" designed to raise awareness about the money at stake. Eight Houston schools planned similar mock sales for later in the day.
The mom-turned-activist said she learned about the refineries' requests while unsuccessfully lobbying earlier this year to convince Perry and the Legislature to dip into the state's so-called rainy day fund to ease cuts to the schools.
Gonzales lives near a miles-long stretch of refineries, where massive pipes and stacks light the night like skyscrapers do in other cities. An intense, burnt chemical scent hangs over the town.
"You smell it. That's what we're known for. Stinkadena because of the refineries," Gonzales said. "There are days when we can't go out because our children's asthma is that bad ... and then they want money back?"
Just who is Jon Huntsman? At this stage, he is whatever anyone hopes that he will be. As he prepares to officially join the gaggle of GOP presidential candidates, his campaign strategists seem to have adopted an "all-things-to-all-people" approach: play up his conservative credentials for Republican primary voters while courting general election voters by promoting his media image as the only moderate in the race. A CNN commentator, for example, calls him "the lone standard-bearer of the center-right in a crowded GOP field." Katrina Trinko, a reporter at the conservative National Review Online, sees this all-things-to-all-people approach as a potentially winning strategy:
It remains to be seen whether Jon Huntsman can successfully be all things to all men. But if, by stressing different parts of his record, he can successfully sell himself as a moderate to centrists and a conservative to hard-liners, he could be difficult to beat.
An analysis of Huntsman's record shows that, faced with the reality that he must appeal to the increasingly far right Republican base, he is quickly trying to jettison formerly held "moderate" positions. We agree with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who has publicly rejected the notion that Huntsman is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), saying "there's no question he's a conservative."
It's worth noting that many Americans first met Huntsman when he introduced "my friend Sarah" Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention, exulting that "history will be made tonight!" He praised her strength, tenacity, authenticity and originality, calling her a rebel and a renegade who is "not afraid to kick a few fannies and raise a little hell." Said Huntsman, "We are looking for a beacon of light to show us the way. We are looking for Sarah!"
Huntsman and the Religious Right: Ralph Reed's 'Great Friend'
There are plenty of reasons that former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed recently introduced Huntsman to a group of right-wing activists as "a good conservative and a great friend."
In 2009, Huntsman told a reporter that he has little patience for traditional "culture war" issues, saying "I'm not good at playing those games." That sounds like a promising and refreshing break from the norm of Republican presidential candidates, but in reality he has played those "games" devastatingly well. He made his efforts to make abortion completely unavailable to women a centerpiece of his address to Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" summit:
"As governor of Utah, I supported and signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk," he said. "I signed the bill that made second-trimester abortions illegal and increased the penalty for doing so. I signed the bill to allow women to know about the pain an abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for an abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions in Utah if Roe v. Wade were overturned."
Huntsman has also appealed to the public school-hating wing of the Religious Right. In 2007, he signed a statewide school voucher bill that provided up to $3,000 in taxpayer funds for students attending private schools. That was too much even for voters in conservative Republican Utah, who rejected the attack on public education and overturned the plan through a referendum.
At Reed's recent confab, Huntsman also joined the chorus of speakers warning Tea Party conservatives not to abandon social conservatives. The Republican Party, he said, should not focus on economics to the detriment of the fight to make abortion unavailable, saying that would lead to "a deficit of the heart and soul."
Huntsman and the Economic Right: A Full Embrace of the Ryan Budget
Huntsman, who is making his tax-cutting record as governor of Utah a major campaign theme, has praised Rep. Paul Ryan's radical budget proposal as a "very, very good one." Even though Republicans have been abandoning the Ryan plan in droves, Huntsman has said that he would have voted for the Ryan budget if he were a member of Congress. He has specifically embraced the Ryan budget's plan to essentially abolish Medicare, saying the size of the national debt required drastic policy changes. However, unlike some other Republican governors, Huntsman's concerns about the debt did not prevent him from welcoming federal stimulus funds.
He embraces the Tea Party's warnings about the economy and the suggestion that the nation is being destroyed by internal enemies. He says that America is "buying serfdom" with its deficit spending. Invoking Ronald Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater, Huntsman says America is at a crossroads, with voters needing to choose "whether we are to become a declining power in the world, eaten from within, or a nation that regains its economic health and maintains its long-loved liberties."
As governor, Huntsman proposed abolishing corporate taxes altogether; campaigning in New Hampshire recently, he suggested that he would cut federal corporate taxes. The 2012 campaign, he says, will determine whether the nation will endure an economic "lost decade" or "unleash the economic magic."
Moving Right on Climate Change
This month the Salt Lake Tribune examined Huntsman's shift on climate issues. Four years ago, he supported a regional cap-and-trade program, saying, "If we do this right, our citizens are going to have a better quality of life, we're going to spawn new technologies and industries, and we're going to leave our most important belongings in better shape for the next generation." That was then, as the paper noted:
But now, in a political environment rocked by recession and a rowdy tea party, and with Huntsman's eyes on a possible presidential run in 2012, his position has evolved. He's still defending the science of climate change, but he has ditched his support for cap-and-trade.
Given that most of the GOP field is in full denial on climate change, Huntsman has gotten some credit for simply acknowledging reality. "All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring," he told TIME magazine. "If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we'd listen to them." But, he says, now "isn't the moment" to deal with climate change.
That led the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen to comment:
This is, in general, the worst of all possible positions. Much of the right believes climate change is a "hoax" and an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy America's way of life. These deniers have a simple solution to the problem: ignore it and pretend there is no problem. Much of the left takes the evidence seriously, is eager to address the crisis, and has a variety of possible solutions to the problem, including but not limited to cap-and-trade plans.
Huntsman apparently wants to split the difference -- he accepts the evidence and believes the problem is real; Huntsman just doesn't want to do anything about it.
To borrow his analogy, Huntsman has heard the collective judgment of 90% of the world's oncologists, but believes it'd be inconvenient to deal with the cancer or what's causing the cancer anytime soon.
Moderate Image, Conservative Reality
Huntsman's moderate image is based in large part on his 2009 endorsement of civil unions for gay couples. Five years earlier, when campaigning for governor, he had supported a state constitutional amendment that bans marriage and "other domestic unions" for same-sex couples. Huntsman's rhetorical shift did not find its way into any policy that offers legal protection for gay couples in Utah; he still opposes marriage equality, calling himself "a firm believer in the traditional construct of marriage, a man and a woman."
Huntsman has taken some heat from far-right activists who cannot tolerate the slightest sign of heresy against right-wing dogma. But former George W. Bush official Michael Gerson thinks Huntsman's moderate media image could actually help him by setting initial expectations low among GOP activists:
The media have often covered Huntsman as a liberal Republican -- a Rockefeller reincarnation. After all, he supports civil unions. He made it easier to get a drink at a bar in Utah. This easy press narrative gives Huntsman an odd advantage in a Republican primary: He is more conservative than his image. For many Republicans, he will improve upon closer inspection.
Huntsman's campaign is just getting under way, but his positioning is already clear. Tell Religious Right activists you're one of them by emphasizing your support for the most draconian anti-choice measures. Tell the Tea Partiers you're one of them by backing Paul Ryan's radically anti-government and anti-middle-class budget. And encourage more moderate Republicans to believe you're one of them by calling for civil discourse and offering rhetorical support for short-of-equality measures for same-sex couples. It's a calculated strategy that might make some sense politically, but it seems unlikely that trying to be all things to all people provides a path to victory through the restrictive gauntlet of the Republican primaries.
Cross posted on The Huffington Post
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty officially launched his presidential campaign today in Iowa. Although he has been campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire for a couple of years now, you may not know much about him. He has low name recognition and low poll numbers, and his book Courage to Stand is not selling that well. But journalists from The New Republic and National Review think he could well be the GOP candidate. So it's worth taking a good look at his record and his far-right ideology.
Part of Pawlenty's appeal is supposed to be that he is from Minnesota, and was elected as a conservative in a bluish-purplish state. Some people wrongly assume that being from Minnesota automatically makes him some kind of moderate. In fact, Pawlenty is campaigning as a hard-core, across-the-board conservative.
He makes appeals to Religious Right voters by talking up his faith and appearing on even the most offensive radio shows, like that of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who is surely one of the most extreme, hateful and bigoted personalities in Christian radio. Pawlenty helped raise money for Ralph Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" in Iowa. And he appointed an education commissioner who equated teaching of evolution with teaching of creationism but thought teaching sharing in kindergarten was "socialist."
Pawlenty's attacks on reproductive rights please anti-abortion advocates. A National Review Online blogger says Pawlenty "may be the strongest pro-life candidate" in 2012. As governor, Pawlenty signed legislation erecting barriers to women seeking abortions, including a required waiting period and anti-choice lecture. He has spoken at anti-choice rallies, looking forward to a day when Roe v. Wade would be overturned, saying: "We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored."
Pawlenty has also fine-tuned his campaign and his record to be more attractive to the far-right Republican Party of the Tea Party era. He once actively supported regional action to address climate change and even filmed an environmental commercial. But now he apologizes, calls his former position "stupid," and has joined the ranks of climate change deniers. Pawlenty once voted for a gay rights bill as a state legislator, but then disavowed it and embarked on a journey that Think Progress described as "evolving homophobia." And he is a vocal supporter of the current effort to amend Minnesota's constitution to ban gay couples from getting married.
Pawlenty doesn't even support legal protections short of marriage, like those that could be provided by civil unions. He went so far as to sign an Orwellian letter defending the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and other anti-gay groups against criticism that they were promoting hate.
Pawlenty appears at Tea Party events and appeals to Tea Partiers with his opposition to health care reform. He denounces "Obamacare" as unconstitutional and one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the country. He compares the health care reform law to drug dealing and has joined legal efforts to prevent it from being implemented. In 2006, Pawlenty, in what opponents called election-year politics, pushed a wide array of proposals to crack down on immigration. Last year, he advocated amending the Constitution to deny citizenship to the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. Speaking to a Hispanic Republican group in January, he fudged his position, but said, "We can't have wide swaths of the country nodding or winking or looking the other way to broad violations of the law," rhetoric that echoes the "anti-amnesty" language used by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform.
And Pawlenty works hard to appeal to the economic and corporate right. He wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal last December slamming government employees and decrying a "silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions." The nonpartisan PolitiFact rated the column and its claims about government workers "Pants on Fire" -- its most-lying "Truth-o-meter" rating.
Pawlenty's self-portrait doesn't always mesh with reality. He rails against the "immoral debt" and touts his record as a governor of holding the line on growth in government. But in fact, as governor, he used short-term budget tricks that "left the state with a $5-billion projected deficit, one of the highest in the nation as a percentage of the state's general fund." He railed against the Obama administration's stimulus bill but then asked for $236 million from it.
He portrays himself as an anti-tax champion, but that's not how many Minnesotans experienced him. A state revenue department study in 2009 found that Minnesotans earning less than $129,879 saw their tax rates increase under Pawlenty. "Don't let anyone tell you Governor Pawlenty didn't raise taxes," said Sen. Al Franken. "It's about whom he raised them on. He raised them on lower- and middle-income families all across the state in order to pay for our kids' education."
Pawlenty promises right-wing groups that as president he will appoint "strict constructionist" judges -- code for judges with an 18th-century view of Americans' rights and interests. Last year he bypassed his state's Commission on Judicial Selection to appoint to a judgeship an attorney with strong Religious Right connections who served as counsel for the Minnesota Family Council in an anti-gay marriage case.
Back in 2008, when Pawlenty was frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, he was criticized for being too boring on television, maybe a bit too "Minnesota nice." So the 2012 Pawlenty has learned how to make himself sufficiently aggressive for the GOP zeitgeist. In speeches at conservative conferences, Pawlenty denigrates President Obama, accusing him of appeasing the nation's enemies. In his campaign launch message, Pawlenty said President Obama lacks both understanding of the nation's problems and the courage to address them.
While these may all be traits that will help Pawlenty win the Republican nomination, it's hard for me to imagine that a majority of American voters would agree that what we really need in the White House is a trash-talking, flip-flopping, science-denying, abortion-criminalizing, gay-rights-bashing, Religious Right-embracing politician who is so eager to get elected that he'll promise the far right just about anything. He even faked a southern accent when speaking to conservatives in Iowa, provoking well-deserved mockery back in Minnesota.
Pawlenty's backers are convinced that his polling numbers are low only because Americans haven't gotten to know him yet. But as Nate Silver noted back in November, Pawlenty was not that popular among those who know him best of all:
... a survey of Republican primary voters in Minnesota -- where Mr. Pawlenty is the governor and where his name recognition is near-universal -- showed him getting only 19 percent of the Republican primary vote there (although this was good for a nominal first place with Ms. Palin placing at 18 percent). Mr. Pawlenty's approval rating in Minnesota is also a tepid 47 percent.
Cross posted on The Huffington Post
Probable GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are both doing damage control today the disclosure of shocking past brushes with non-extremism.
Romney, who has come under fire from his fellow Republicans for shepherding through a universal health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts, has been shying away from his pro-health care past, and today wrote an op-ed rolling out a plan that wrests control of health care regulations away from the federal government. Unfortunately for Romney’s attempt to remake himself as a Tea Party Republican, a liberal Massachusetts group chose today to dig up the former governor’s former support for a national health care plan that included an individual insurance mandate – the very part of health care reform that the Tea Party despises the most.
Then there’s Gingrich, who will be announcing his presidential candidacy tomorrow, who is coming under fire from a right-wing group for his previous acknowledgement of climate change and support for being kind to the environment. (Here he is advocating for the cause with Nancy Pelosi). While far-right leaders seem to be ready to forgive Gingrich for his history of marital infidelity, his history of tree-hugging may be a bridge too far.
As the GOP’s potential presidential candidates rush to endear themselves to leaders of the fringe right, we can expect to see a lot more instances of candidates disowning their previous brushes with centrism.
Recently a group of climate change skeptics released a list of “900+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of 'Man-Made' Global Warming (AGW) Alarm." But where did those 900+ papers come from? GOOD reports that of the ten authors cited most frequently in the list, nine have financial ties to ExxonMobil.
It’s hardly news that the oil and gas industry is pouring money into research dismissing the threat of climate change. But the extent of its influence continues to be staggering. Last month, we reported on the oil industry’s wildly successful underwriting of the Religious Right’s embrace of climate change denialism. In response to some prominent evangelical leaders joining the “creation care” movement, which see environmental protection as an imperative for those who want to protect God’s creation, energy company-backed groups are joining with prominent Religious Right leaders to push a gospel that mandates human exploitation of our natural habitat.
In a relatively short amount of time, the oil and gas industry has managed to buy both its own body of questionable scientific research and its own gospel of environmental exploitation.
Here, for a refresher, is the Religious Right’s response to climate science and creation care:
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a high-profile global-warming case: American Electric Power v. Connecticut. At issue is whether and how courts can hold corporate polluters accountable for the planetary climate damage they are causing.
Several states have sued power producers on the basis that they are creating a public nuisance. Instead of being tied to a specific federal statute or regulation, their claim is based on the common law of nuisance, which has been part of our legal system for centuries. (Common law is law developed over time by the courts in the absence of specific legislation or executive rules.) The Second Circuit ruled that the lawsuit could proceed on this theory, and the power companies appealed. However, as the Wall Street Journals reports:
The Supreme Court appeared deeply skeptical Tuesday about allowing states to sue electric utilities to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Both conservative and liberal justices questioned whether a federal judge could deal with the complex issue of global warming, a topic they suggested is better left to Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency.
An additional factor arising since the lawsuit began several years ago is a change in the EPA’s stance. When the lawsuit began, the EPA claimed it lacked the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Now, having been corrected by the Supreme Court, the agency is deciding whether to adopt rules affecting facilities like the ones at issue in this case. Such regulations would, if adopted, trump the common law.
Why let the lawsuit go forward, when "the agency is engaged in it right now?" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The lawyer representing the states acknowledged that the case was before the high court at a "peculiar moment," but said the court should block the lawsuit only if the EPA actually issues regulations. ...
Lawyers for the companies and the administration focused on the enormity of the climate change issue to argue against the lawsuit.
"You have never heard a case like this before," Neal Katyal, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, said. The term global warming, Katyal said, "tells you all you need to know."
The Justices seem likely to rule that the legislative and executive branches should address the issues raised in this case. That will serve the interests of giant corporations with a financial stake in the status quo, who, due to Citizens United, have an undue and growing influence over who populates those branches.
In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.
Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.
Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.
Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.
It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.
This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.
Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.
People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.
Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.
That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.
So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.
The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."
That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:
The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.
We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.
That is the American Way.
Last week, we wrote about the negative reaction some local chambers of commerce have had to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s $75 million spending spree on campaign ads. It turns out small businesses aren’t the only ones upset by the Chamber’s political spending and wary of getting involved in national politics. Eliza Newlin Carney of the National Journal reports that many business leaders are questioning the wisdom of contributing to political campaigns, and especially of keeping those contributions secret:
In a Zogby International poll of more than 300 business leaders commissioned by the CED, fully 77 percent said that they “strongly” or “somewhat” support disclosure of the political money corporations spend, both directly and indirectly through third-party groups that run campaign ads. Two-thirds supported the statement that “the lack of transparency and oversight in corporate political activity encourages behavior that puts corporations at legal risk and endangers corporate reputations.”
Caught in the crossfire is the U.S. Chamber, whose pro-GOP spending and advertising blitz was underwritten in part by seven-figure corporate contributions. A trio of Massachusetts investors last month filed shareholder resolutions at some half-dozen corporations that sit on the chamber’s board, urging them to take a more active role on what they called the trade group’s “passive and compliant” board.
Shareholders object to the chamber’s aggressive and partisan midterm spending, its recent lobbying push to challenge or stall recently-enacted financial reforms, and to its policy positions on issues such as climate change, said Timothy Smith, senior vice president at Boston-based Walden Asset Management, one of three investor groups that issued the challenge. Shareholders have also approached close to two dozen companies that do not serve on the chamber’s board, Smith said.
And it seems that many business leaders took to heart the lesson that Target learned the hard way this summer when it spent money to help the campaign of far-right Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer and met with a strong backlash:
“I think there are real counter-pressures developing,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that advocates better corporate governance. Business leaders are increasingly sensitive to the risks that their campaign expenditures pose, said Freed. The uproar over Target Corp.’s indirect backing for a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate opposed to gay rights was a wakeup call, he added: “Companies are recognizing that we really need to protect ourselves.”
When 77% of business leaders join 84% of Americans in agreeing that their political spending should be disclosed to the public, it makes you wonder just who Republicans in Congress are looking out for by refusing to pass disclosure legislation.
More and more Americans have noticed the Roberts Court's habit of twisting the law in order to benefit powerful corporations over the rights of individuals. As recently as a year ago, the national dialogue on the Court rarely touched on this issue. But last January's Citizens United decision was so outrageous that it made people see both the Court's previous decisions and its current work through a new lens. Evolving press coverage reflects the changing paradigm in how Americans view the Supreme Court.
For instance, earlier this week, the Supreme Court announced that it had agreed to hear a case of sex discrimination against Wal-Mart and a separate case involving global climate change. Press coverage recognized the common factor in the Court's decisions to hear these very different and unrelated cases.
The Los Angeles Times wrote:
The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear two major appeals from corporate America that seek to block mass lawsuits, one involving a huge sex bias claim against Walmart and the other a massive environmental suit that seeks to hold coal-fired power plants liable for causing global warming.
In both cases, the justices agreed to consider stopping these suits before they can move toward a trial.
Monday's move is only the latest sign that the Roberts Court is inclined to rein in big-money lawsuits against business. The conservative justices have been particularly skeptical of sprawling suits that could run on for years and lead to enormous verdicts.
Under a headline reading "Two Supreme Court Cases to Test Corporate Interests," the Washington Post reported:
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two major challenges brought by corporate interests, ...
In both cases, corporations are challenging decisions by federal appeals courts that the suits can go forward. They come before a court that traditionally has been sympathetic to business interests, but is sensitive about recent criticism from the left that it favors corporations over consumer and environmental groups.
Two federal courts have ruled that their suit can proceed as a class action on behalf of between 500,000 and 1.5 million women, but on Monday the Supreme Court announced it would review that decision. It looks suspiciously like another case in which the court's conservative majority will twist a procedural rule to prevent victims of discrimination from getting a fair chance at justice
As Jeffrey Toobin observed in the New Yorker this week:
This is the rule in the current Supreme Court. If there is a human being on one side of the "v." and a corporation on the other, the corporation wins.
The Roberts Court is learning that if you look like a duck, walk like a duck, and quack like a duck for long enough, people will eventually realize that you are, indeed, a duck.
This morning, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case affecting whether and how corporate polluters can be held accountable for the planetary climate damage they are causing. Several states have sued power producers on the basis that they are creating a public nuisance. This is federal common law, not tied to any specific federal statutes or regulations. The Second Circuit ruled that the lawsuit could proceed on this theory, and the power companies appealed.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
The global warming case will decide whether judges and courts can put limits on carbon emissions on the theory that this pollution is a public nuisance. Eight states, including New York, California and Connecticut, joined with environmentalists and launched a lawsuit against the power producers in the Midwest, arguing that their coal-fired plants were contributing to climate change.
Environmentalists said they took the issue to court because Congress was not likely to take up the climate change issue and set limits on greenhouse gasses. They won a significant preliminary victory when the U.S. appeals court in New York cleared the suit to proceed.
But the power industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Obama administration joined in urging the high court to stop the lawsuit. They argue that the global warming issue and limits on carbon emissions should be decided by Congress and the White House, not by judges acting on lawsuits.
Justice Sotomayor has recused herself, since at the time she was nominated to the Supreme Court, she was a member of the Second Circuit panel considering this case.
People For the American Way has produced four new videos showing the extreme far-right views of four Republican candidates for US Senate: Ken Buck of Colorado; Rand Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Paul of Kentucky, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. These candidates promise to bring their dangerous agenda into the US Senate, and our videos show the candidates in their own words revealing their radical views on topics such as civil rights, LGBT and gender equality, climate change, the economy, and Social Security. You can find more information about all of the GOP’s extreme candidates for US Senate in People For the American Way’s The Rogues’ Gallery.
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?
Last week, we wrote about a voter suppression plan concocted by GOP and Tea Party-affiliated groups in Wisconsin meant to keep young and minority voters from the polls this November.
Think Progress dug further into the issue, and traced much of the plan—both the sinking of a proposed Wisconsin law that would have prevented voter caging efforts like this, and the coordinated caging effort itself—back to the network of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have provided the money behind much of the Tea Party movement. (The Kochs are also the main funder of Americans For Prosperity, one of the groups cited in the voter caging plan):
[I] appears that a network of Koch-backed groups killed a proposed Wisconsin law to protect voters, which then cleared the way for an overlapping set of Koch-backed groups to move with an alleged voter suppression plan. What’s more, Koch-funded AFP is currently attempting to further influence the outcome of the election by airing millions of dollars in attack ads targeting Democratic U.S. House and Senate members in Wisconsin and other states.
Laurence Lewis at Daily Kos reminds us of the motivation behind the Kochs’ generous political spending:
The Koch machine also is a leading financier of climate denialism, which must make sense to oil industry billionaires who clearly don't care about the science of climate change. Of course, ending regulation, taxes, and campaign finance laws would make the brothers effective royalty, with no possible means for those interested in the public good to check their dangerous and rapacious greed. And as Mayer points out, the 1980 Libertarian platform on which David Koch ran for vice president called for the abolition of Social Security and the minimum wage. After all, who cares about the tens of millions of people that rely on one or both when you're a billionaire who doesn't have such a need and apparently doesn't care about the needs of others?
Koch Industries has essentially declared war on the Obama administration. In Wisconsin, Koch-affiliated groups have essentially declared war on democracy. And all Wisconsin voters should know about it. And they should consider why a couple of oil billionaires who are not from Wisconsin seem to want to use any possible means to control Wisconsin's election. And Wisconsin voters should consider why organizations affiliated with these brothers are so determined to defeat Wisconsin Democrats, this November. After all, there is no evidence that these oil billionaires care about the general well-being of the general public, and there is particularly no evidence that they care about the well-being of the people of Wisconsin.
Well-funded corporate interests like the Kochs, who want to avoid government regulation, resist funding essential social services, and pretend that climate change doesn’t exist, have a lot at stake in keeping progressives like Russ Feingold out of the Senate. So much so, apparently, that they’ll do what it takes to drive progressive voters away from the polls.
God is speaking through Glenn Beck... or so he and many other Religious Right figures would have us believe. Despite an historical animosity towards Mormons like Beck from the evangelicals who control the Religious Right, his efforts to become the leader of a "spiritual awakening" are being aided by Religious Right figures like David Barton, Jim Garlow and Ralph Reed.
Photograph taken this morning by PFAW Foundation at the Kennedy Center. This is a tee shirt worn by a crowd member who showed up for tickets to the "Divine Destiny" event.
Beck's "Restoring Honor" event tomorrow will be preceded by a warm-up event at the Kennedy Center tonight called Divine Destiny. At tonight's event, Beck and others will present some good old fashioned revisionist history on "the role faith played in the founding of America." Tickets were to be distributed at 10am this morning, but so many people were already in line by 8:30pm on Thursday that tickets were gone far ahead of schedule -- talk about a "hot ticket!"
We need to seriously examine how Glenn Beck is perceived by the Right. According to a recent Democracy Corps study, among the Tea Party crowd, Beck is one of the most revered and highly regarded figures. According to the same study, Beck is more than a trusted commentator: he's an "educator." That's a chilling reminder that the hate-drenched right-wing propaganda Beck passes off as "history" is being swallowed whole by his millions of viewers and radio listeners. In Beck, the Right has added an atomic bomb to its arsenal in its war on science, history and reason. Beck insists that "progressives" -- whom he calls a "cancer" on our country -- "control the textbooks." He's an avid climate change denier. And with his attempt to "reclaim the civil rights movement" this weekend by holding a rally in the same spot as and on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, he is twisting our nation's history to serve a scary agenda.
Just the other night Glenn Beck aggressively attacked President Obama's Christianity -- fanning the flames of bigotry at a time when a whopping 18% of Americans think the president is a Muslim and some on the Right are trying to start a new "Birther-style" movement demanding proof of Obama's baptism. Is this the spirit of Dr. King's movement Beck is talking about reclaiming?
One would think that as someone whose own faith has come under attack, Beck would be more careful about attacking others' religion. But in the messianic light in which he sees himself, he can do no wrong and commit no hypocrisy.
Stay tuned. People For will be covering Beck's self-aggrandizing events in Washington, DC this weekend as well as Sunday's "early 9/12" Tea Party event.
Ron Johnson, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin running to unseat Sen. Russ Feingold, has been on a tear lately, apparently trying to out-crazy himself at every turn.
Yesterday I read that he was pushing an absurd theory of global warming being caused by sun spots -- part of his personal war on climate science. See, Johnson is a pro-corporate extremist who wants no regulation on polluters or protections for the environment that might get in the way of short-term profits for his corporate buddies. So, naturally, he has taken the view, "I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. It's not proven by any stretch of the imagination."
In the same TPM post by Eric Kleefeld, Johnson is quoted downplaying global warming by saying, "There's a reason Greenland was called Greenland, it was actually green at one point in time. And it's been, since, it's a whole lot whiter now." Ugh... *smacks forehead*
Now, Johnson's jumping into the Cordoba House/Park51 fracas.
From Steve Singiser at DailyKos:
"Those folks are trying to poke a stick in our eye," Johnson said. "I just hope the zoning officials and the city, the state revisit that, rezone that piece of property."
The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate continued: "If they don't do it I hope the construction workers in New York show their outrage and say we are not going to do that."
Pretty cheeky of a multi-millionaire to demand that an industry where unemployment is as high as 20 percent should voluntarily refuse work in order to buttress a right-wing talking point.
Right now the polls have Johnson running neck and neck with Sen. Feingold... One more example of just how real the threat is of right-wing extremism on the march in this year's elections.
The day Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, Senate Republican leadership vowed to obstruct the confirmation of whoever was nominated to replace him. Today, Republican Senators who had previously praised nominee Elena Kagan’s intellect and qualifications have become strikingly less supportive.
And now we have evidence that the obstruction of Obama’s Supreme Court pick, as a way of delaying progress on policy initiatives like climate change regulation and immigration reform, has been the GOP’s explicit strategy all along.
Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler obtained a recording of an April 22 RNC strategy call led by right-wing activist Curt Levey:
The crux of the GOP's strategy is to use Obama's nominee to wedge vulnerable Democratic senators away from the party, and drag the confirmation fight out until the August congressional recess, to eat up precious time Democrats need to round out their agenda.
"[I]t wouldn't take much GOP resistance to push a final vote into early August," Levey advised. "And, look, the closer we could get it to the election, frankly, the better. It would be great if we could push it past the August recess because that forces the red and purple state Democrats to have to go home and face their constituents."
Levey acknowledged that a filibuster likely won't last--that Obama's nominee, now known to be Solicitor General Elana Kagan, will almost certainly be confirmed. But he hammered home the point to Republicans that there's value in mischaracterizing any nominee, and dragging the fight out as long as possible, whether or not Obama's choice is particularly liberal.
This is frustrating, but not surprising, from a party that has recently displayed an unparalleled mastery of the Senate’s rules for delay. If they’re willing to stall the confirmation of one of their own party’s most prominent spokespeople, why would they not draw out the confirmation process for an obviously qualified Supreme Court nominee?
As discussed in a number of previous posts, the Roberts Court has demonstrated its conservative ideological bent, striking down laws passed by Congress and demonstrating a willingness to ignore long-standing precedent. It reached out last term in the Gross age discrimination case to decide an issue that hadn't been briefed and changed the law in a way that will make it much harder for older workers to prove that they were discriminated against in the workplace. In the Ricci fire fighters case, the Court reached out to decide the case on the merits - even though no employee had actually been injured -- so that it could reach the merits and change the law with respect to proving discrimination in so-called disparate impact cases. And, in the recently argued Citizens United case, the Court re-opened the briefing in the case to re-visit what had been a settled question about whether regulating corporate expenditures in candidate elections is constitutional.
Will this trend continue? And what does this mean for President Obama's initiatives on health insurance reform? Climate change? Financial regulatory reform? Asnoted in Adam Liptak's article in yesterday's New York Times, the Court's docket this term includes a number of cases likely to signal its future willingness to support government intervention to address structural problems in our economy. In Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a case growing out of the Enron debacle, the Court will consider the scope of Congress' power to delegate regulatory responsibility to independent regulatory boards. The issue in Jones v. Harris Associates, concerns the role of courts in regulating executive compensation for mutual fund investment advisers. And in Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States, the issue concerns the scope of a federal law concerning lawyers' advice to clients considering bankruptcy. Dry? Perhaps. But what we learn in these cases, may well signal how far the Court is willing to go in supporting or, perhaps more likely, frustrating, efforts by the Administration and Congress to address serious structural problems in our economy.
You think Justices' legal ideology matters? Stay tuned.