Last night, People For’s Andrew Gillum went on the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss PFAW Foundation's new report on ALEC, the group that helps corporate donors get legislation they like placed in statehouses.
Last night, People For’s Andrew Gillum went on the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss PFAW Foundation's new report on ALEC, the group that helps corporate donors get legislation they like placed in statehouses.
After more than a dozen years out of office, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich jumped into the GOP presidential campaign this week, rolling out his candidacy via social media and a friendly interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity. Gingrich thinks he's just what is needed to save America from itself and its flirtation with Barack Obama and the rest of the evil of what he calls the "secular-socialist machine."
Much of the media attention of Gingrich's candidacy has centered around his role in the 1995 government shutdown, which Gingrich alone seems to think was a great success for the GOP, and his more recent urging of congressional Republicans not to fear a repeat. The implication seems to be that if you're the kind of voter who wants a more combative conservative willing to take down the federal government in order to bring down deficits, Newt may be your guy. But that kind of discussion -- and the crazily early poll-watching "which tier is he in?" stories -- miss something more important. Let's remind ourselves what kind of person Newt Gingrich is, and what kind of impact he has had on our public life.
Gingrich hasn't exactly been in hiding. In fact, he is at the center of his own machine, a 24/7 festival of self-promotion that includes an emailed "Newt and Callista Weekly Recap" courtesy of Gingrich Productions. If self-promotion were the top trait Americans were looking for in a president, Gingrich would be a shoo-in. But the job requires a bit more than that. People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch, Mother Jones and Media Matters have already posted compilations of Newtonian 'wisdom' from a long and dishonorable career. Once you start to consider characteristics like honesty and integrity, it becomes clear that Gingrich is unfit to lead our country.
The Newt McCarthyism
Gingrich is an enthusiastic participant in the right wing's divisive and destructive McCarthyism, portraying his political opponents as enemies of America's very existence. In To Save America, Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, he warns, "America as we know it is now facing a mortal threat... The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did... It's up to those of us who love our country to save America from the destructive, irreversible transformation that the Left have in store for us." In Real Change: The Fight for America's Future, he claims that the Obama administration (that would be the Faith-Based Initiative-continuing, National Prayer Day-celebrating, Easter Breakfast-sponsoring Obama administration) "has shown an unprecedented hostility to Christianity." He promotes ridiculous Religious Right claims about religious persecution in America, saying that Christians are threatened by "gay and secular fascism."
Gingrich spoke this spring at the Texas church led by John Hagee, whose support proved too controversial for John McCain in 2008. Newt combined two of his favorite threats, secularists and Islamists, into one memorable, if intellectually incoherent, sentence, declaring that he feared that his grandchildren could grow up "in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." He told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, "In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion."
Newt is also placing himself at the forefront of the concerted conservative campaign to turn "American exceptionalism" into an attack on the patriotism of their political opponents. Candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio made American exceptionalism into a campaign theme in 2010, and hope to continue to smear Democrats as unbelievers in America's divinely-blessed founding and mission in the world. Gingrich has teamed up with Citizens United's David Bossie for a new "documentary" on American exceptionalism, A City Upon a Hill, The Spirit of American Exceptionalism, which features, among others, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Andrew Breitbart and Phyllis Schlafly.
Gingrich, an old hand at politics-by-smear, is responsible for much of the venomous state of our politics. In the mid-1990s, his GOPAC distributed to Republican lawmakers a memo titled "Language: a Key Mechanism of Control." The memo urged Republicans to use a set of denigrating words to describe their opponents and the Democratic Party: "decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, 'compassion' is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor...) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage."
Religious Liberty: Hypocrisy and Bad History
Gingrich, like other Religious Right political figures, postures as a defender of Americans' religious liberty against a deeply hostile elite, the "secular-socialist machine." Yet he joined with gusto the opponents of the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan, which right-wing activists vilified as the "Ground Zero Mosque," saying, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." In his book, Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich declared, "A steadfast commitment to religious freedom is the very cornerstone of American liberty." Regarding the Islamic center in New York, he said, "No mosque. No self-deception. No surrender."
Gingrich, like other Religious Right leaders, justifies his attacks on Islam by suggesting that it is not really a religion, saying radical Islam "is a comprehensive political, economic, and religious movement that seeks to impose sharia -- Islamic law -- upon all aspects of global society... Radical Islamists see politics and religion as inseparable in a way it is difficult for Americans to understand. Radical Islamists assert sharia's supremacy over the freely legislated laws and values of the countries they live in and see it as their sacred duty to achieve this totalitarian supremacy in practice." Yet while Gingrich decries radical Islamists' goal of achieving "totalitarian supremacy," one of his own organizations, Renewing American Leadership, is run by an advocate of the 7 Mountains Mandate, a dominionist theology that argues that Christians are meant to control the levers of power in every aspect of government and society.
Gingrich is ideologically joined at the hip to "Christian nation" pseudo-historian David Barton. In Barton's worldview, the First Amendment is not about protecting religious pluralism, but was only meant to keep the federal government from siding with one group of Christians over another. Barton believes the First Amendment should not apply at all to the states, but that states should be free to pose religious tests for office, and local religious majorities should be free to use public schools for proselytizing prayer. On Barton's radio show, Gingrich promised that if he ran, he would be calling on Barton for help, presumably the way Barton helped turn out evangelical voters for the Republican Party during George W. Bush's reelection campaign. It seems to be a mutual admiration society. When Barton and other right-wing activists were pushing for changes in Texas textbooks, they urged that Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall be dropped, but that Newt be added.
Gingrich shares Barton's view of the federal courts as evil usurpers of the founding fathers' religious intentions. "There is no attack on American culture more destructive and more historically dishonest than the secular Left's relentless effort to drive God out of America's public square," Gingrich wrote in Rediscovering God in America. In a recent speech to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Gingrich said the courts have been "especially powerful engines of coerced secularization," and that "From the 1962 school prayer decision on, there has been a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization." While in Congress, Gingrich promoted the Religious Right's false claims that courts had somehow banned students from praying, and repeatedly supported efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to return organized prayer to public schools.
Politics over Principle
In addition to intellectual arrogance, a shameless lack of principle may be Gingrich's most identifying characteristic. When the popular uprisings in the Middle East spread to Libya, Gingrich denounced President Obama for not immediately imposing a no-fly zone: "We don't need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening." Less than two weeks later, when the U.S. joined other nations in imposing a no-fly zone, Gingrich attacked Obama, saying "I would not have intervened" and declaring that "it is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity." Newt clearly knows a thing or two about opportunism and publicity-seeking; getting some coverage for an attack on Obama was clearly more important to him than questions of U.S. policy in Libya.
For all the far-right's charges that President Obama harbors anti-democratic tendencies -- Gingrich vowed to Hannity that he would abolish all the White House "czar" positions by executive order -- Gingrich's own behavior has made it clear that he sees himself as so superior to others, such an essential treasure for the nation, that the rules he would apply to others should not apply to him. When his second wife asked Newt how he could give a speech about the importance of family values just days after he admitted that he was having an affair, he reportedly told her, "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live." That is a breathtaking level of hubris, even by presidential candidate standards. And when the CBN's Brody lobbed him the fluffiest of softballs by asking him to talk about his affairs in the context of his experience of God's forgiveness, Newt blew it by blaming his cheating on his love of country: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."
So Right and So Wrong
Gingrich's policy positions are pretty much standard fare in today's far-right Republican Party, including anti-worker, pro-corporate economic policies and support for criminalizing abortion. He has demonstrated his new-found commitment to the sacred nature of marriage by trying to buy the support of Religious Right activists in presidentially important Iowa, where he funneled about $200,000 into an unfortunately successful campaign to punish and purge three state Supreme Court justices who had voted to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples in the state.
America is grappling with a set of deeply serious challenges at home and abroad. Americans would benefit from a substantive discussion of those problems and the policy choices that face them. What they're most likely to get from Newt Gingrich is toxic McCarthyism, petty and unprincipled partisanship, and preening self-promotion. Thanks but no thanks.
Cross posted on The Huffington Post
The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is once again in the news, as a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments yesterday on the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Lawyers for Virginia struggled to explain how the state had the legal standing to challenge the healthcare mandate on behalf of its citizens. The judges said precedent did not permit states to sue on behalf of their citizens to contest federal laws.
But standing was not a problem in a second case, where lawyers for Liberty University sued on behalf of several individuals. Both lawsuits said a requirement in the new law that everyone purchase healthcare was a violation of the Constitution. ...
By their comments, members of the panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals sounded as though they would reverse that decision and say Virginia Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli had no standing to challenge the law.
Liberty University lost its lawsuit in federal District Court and appealed to the 4th Circuit. Mathew Staver, their lawyer, said Congress could regulate commerce but not "idleness." In this instance, he referred to the refusal of his clients to purchase health insurance.
But the judges didn't sound persuaded. They noted the Supreme Court had said Congress had broad power to regulate a national market, and the mandate was an attempt to regulate insurance. It is a "practical power," Judge Davis said, to regulate effectively.
Perhaps the judges did not sound persuaded because the far right's legal argument is so weak. It cannot be repeated too often that many of those caterwauling most loudly that the healthcare law is unconstitutional were expressing the exact opposite opinion before the corporate-funded Tea Party arose. In fact, the individual mandate was a Republican idea and originally championed by many of those who now claim that it is an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal government. Senators Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley – who co-sponsored legislation during the Clinton Administration that featured an individual mandate – are among the many who have shamelessly flip-flopped on the issue.
Adding to the shamelessness, Mat Staver was one of the attorneys arguing before the court today that the law is unconstitutional. His extremism has long been reported in Right Wing Watch.
It’s been a big couple of days for the Right’s favorite self-declared historian, David Barton. Last night, he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to try to defend his shoddy scholarship to a national audience – which he did, mostly, by flatly denying things that are demonstrably true.
And this morning, Barton was the subject of a profile in the New York Times, mildly titled “Using History to Mold Ideas on the Right.” The problem, of course, is that Barton’s version of history is not one that most Americans, and most historians, would recognize:
“The problem with David Barton is that there’s a lot of truth in what he says,” said Derek H. Davis, director of church-state studies at Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Waco, Tex. “But the end product is a lot of distortions, half-truths and twisted history.”
Mr. Barton says it is his critics who cherry-pick history by underplaying the religious dimension. Over the years, he has only dug more deeply into his documents, filling out books like “Original Intent” (published by WallBuilders, his organization here).
One of his most contested assertions is that the Supreme Court has misconstrued Thomas Jefferson’s statement that the First Amendment erected a “wall of separation between church and state.” According to Mr. Barton, Jefferson meant that government should not interfere with the public exercise of religion — not that public spaces should be purged of prayer. He also cites biblical passages that, he says, argue against deficit spending, graduated income taxes, the minimum wage and costly measures to fight global warming.
People For explored Barton’s history of twisting the bible and historical documents for political purposes in the recent report, “Barton’s Bunk.”
We’ll also be posting fact-checks of Barton’s interview with Jon Stewart throughout the day at Right Wing Watch.
In case you missed it, here’s People For’s Peter Montgomery giving a Barton primer on the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell:
Religious Right and pro-corporate groups failed today to block President Obama’s nominee for U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, John McConnell, from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The Senate invoked cloture on McConnell’s nomination in a 63-33 vote, defeating the filibuster against McConnell. Filibusters against district court judges are extremely rare—only a handful of District Court nominees have ever faced cloture votes, and none have ever been blocked—and many Republicans previously vowed they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.
Today’s vote came after a long wait for McConnell: according to The Providence Journal, the delay caused by the concerted right-wing effort to block McConnell forced Rhode Island’s chief federal judge to “take the unusual step of reassigning more than two dozen civil cases to judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”
Why the tough fight? McConnell faced virulent opposition from the Chamber of Commerce over his role fighting big tobacco companies and lead paint manufacturers. The Chamber and other groups that oppose corporate accountability found allies in the Religious Right groups that decided to fight McConnell as well.
The Conservative Action Project made McConnell a top target of their efforts. The group includes pro-corporate organizations like the 60 Plus Association, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Limited Government, Citizens United, and American Tax Reform, along with social conservatives such as the Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, Heritage Action, American Values, Liberty Counsel Action, and Eagle Forum. The Conservative Action Project’s Memo to the Movement [PDF] claimed McConnell was unqualified to serve in the judiciary because he was a trial lawyer with a history of challenging big business.
Eagle Forum derided him as a “pro-choice, anti-business, pro-judicial activism nominee” who “has made numerous anti-business statements.” The Family Research Council slammed McConnell for his ties to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the country’s most prominent civil rights organizations, and Phillip Jauregui’s Judicial Action Group said that his link to the SPLC and the American Constitution Society shows he “supports organizations who support homosexual marriage and oppose conservative politicians.”
While the Corporate Right and the Religious Right filibuster of the McConnell nomination failed, many of these organizations will continue to work together to block other qualified judicial nominees and aggravate the country’s burgeoning judicial vacancy crisis.
Proponents of California's Proposition 8 are making another assault against the trial court decision they lost and have appealed. This time, instead of addressing the merits of the case, they are attacking the judge who wrote the opinion. As reported in SCOTUSBlog:
Arguing that the judge who struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage was not impartial, because of his failure to disclose his own long-term gay relationship, the sponsors of Proposition 8 asked a federal judge in San Francisco on Monday to throw out all parts of the ruling and any earlier orders in the famous case. The motion to vacate the ruling by now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker can be read here.
Since Walker retired, the case has been taken over for any further action in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the chief judge there, James Ware. The new filing by the Proposition 8 backers said they would seek permission from the Ninth Circuit Court — where Walker's ruling is now under review — for Judge Ware to rule on their new challenge. With the case pending in the Circuit Court, that judge may not have the authority to act without permission. ...
The motion asserted that the opponents were "not suggesting that a gay or lesbian judge could not sit on his case." Rather, they argued that Judge Walker had a personal interest in the outcome of the case, because he may wish to marry his partner if Proposition 8 no longer exists. At a minimum, the motion argued, he should have disclosed that relationship and whether he has any interest in marriage so that the parties in the case could evaluate whether to formally demand that he step aside under federal laws governing such disqualifications.
Right Wing Watch reported last week on The National Review’s Ed Whalen making this same argument.
The claim that Judge Walker had a personal stake in the case that warrants throwing his decision out adds yet another illogical inconsistency to the far right’s arguments against marriage equality. Under this reasoning, since traditional marriage is designed to show societal favor toward monogamous opposite-sex couples, any judge in an opposite-sex relationship has a personal stake in the case that warrants disqualification.
And if same-sex marriage genuinely threatens opposite-sex marriage as the far right claims, then married heterosexual judges (or ones in long-term relationships who might want to marry someday) have a personal stake in the Prop 8 case that could disqualify them from hearing the case.
If anti-equality advocates actually believe the legal principles they espouse, they should apply them across the board, not only when it suits their political agenda. Otherwise, one might be forgiven for thinking that their real goal is to hurt gay people, rather than to protect the integrity of the law.
On Saturday in Madison, some of the right wing’s favorite puppets rallied along with an estimated 1,000 Americans for Prosperity “Patriots” and 5,500 counter protesters at the Capitol.
As the former Governor of Alaska took the stage to chants and drums and counter protesters respectfully turning their backs, sleet turned to snow, the wind from Lake Mendota whipped through the crowd and the protesters’ chants and drums grew so loud that it was impossible to hear the loudspeakers.
Palin called for the crowd to support Governor Walker’s strong armed maneuvering, saying “...you saw these violent rent-a-mobs trash your capitol and vandalize businesses. You held your ground. Your governor did the same thing. And you won.” It isn’t clear what violent mobs or vandalized businesses she was referring to. Fox News and fringe right-wing websites have tried to make similar claims about the protesters in Wisconsin, even resorting to using misleading video footage from unrelated protests in other states. But as anyone without a dishonest, far-right agenda who has been following the events of the last 62+ days can tell you, the protests -- and the protesters -- have been peaceful.
While Palin spent the majority of her speech blasting President Obama for energy saving and job creating programs such as consumer solar panels and high speed rail, Andrew Breitbart cut right to the point at hand, leading a chant of “go to hell” aimed at the thousands of counter protesters.
Despite the miserable weather, PFAW members and a whole host of progressive and labor allies were out in force in support of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public workers, not only at the Tea Party’s rally but on the other side of the Capitol, where thousands gathered for songs, slam poetry and speeches by those leading the fight.
After 62+ days of protests in Madison transitioning into weeks of recall efforts across the state, it’s clear this is truly what democracy looks like.
Wisconsin PFAW Supporters were out to greet Ms. Palin on Saturday:
Last night, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell had an exclusive on People For's new Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the Right's favorite sham historian, David Barton. People For Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery went on the show to discuss Barton, and what he means for American politics. You can watch the clip here:
If you were negotiating in good faith in order to make budget cuts for the current year – cuts that were so important to the nation's welfare you were willing to shut down the entire federal government over them – then what sort of provisions would you insist on, regardless of the opposition from the president and the other party?
Surely not a provision adding $100 million to the deficit for a five-year period that won't start until after the current fiscal year ends. Yet that's exactly what Republicans demanded be inserted into the 2011 budget bill. In addition to reviving the discredited private school voucher program for the District of Columbia for the rest of this year, it separately authorizes the program for five years beginning in 2012.
This has nothing at all to do with the 2011 budget or deficit reduction. It has everything to do with advancing a right wing ideological agenda to funnel taxpayer money to churches and to privatize public education.
Republicans were willing to threaten Americans throughout the country with the crippling shutdown of our federal government just to advance their right wing agenda however they could.
That's not deficit reduction; that's integrity reduction.
Cross-posted from Right Wing Watch
A few weeks back, we captured video of Mike Huckabee being introduced by David Barton at the Rediscover God in America conference in Iowa, during which asserted that he wished every American would be forced - at gunpoint - to listen to Barton's teachings.
Last night, Huckabee appeared on "The Daily Show" and Jon Stewart ended up dedicating nearly the entire interview to questioning Huckabee about his support for and praise of Barton and his pseudo-history:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Mike Huckabee Extended Interview Pt. 1|
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Mike Huckabee Extended Interview Pt. 2|
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Mike Huckabee Extended Interview Pt. 3|
During the discussion, Stewart mentioned a few of Barton's more outrageous claims by name, which we first reported here - specifically Barton's claims that Jesus opposed the minimum wage and the Estate Tax and that God set the boundaries of nations.
For more examples of Barton's absurd statements and intentional misuse of history, take a look through our archive of posts about him.
Welcome to Ohio 2011, the state that has become the new laboratory for various right wing bills aimed at destroying Ohio’s middle class, and communities of color. And it just got worse for Ohio workers. Last week, Governor John Kasich, ignoring the overwhelming majority of Ohioans, signed into law a bill that all but eliminates collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers across Ohio. This law, couched as a way to close the state’s budget gap, is nothing more than an outright attack on working families. Kasich even predicted this day in March 2009 when telling a Republican audience on the campaign trail, “we need to break the back of organized labor in the schools."
Ohio’s new law, SB 5, will:
Also, in a burst of equal-opportunity gay-bashing to accompanying its union bashing, the bill also includes provisions prohibiting the state from passing marriage equality legislation, including, apparently, the recognition of marriages in other states and possibly even the enactment of domestic partnership laws.
This politically driven law is very unpopular in Ohio. According to a poll released by Public Policy Polling on March 15, 2011, 63% of registered Ohio voters believe that public employees in Ohio should have the right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working environment rules.
However, Ohio voters will have the last word in protecting the state’s working families. Ohioans from all corners of the state are already gearing up for our upcoming ballot battle. We will gather approximately 231,000 Ohio voter signatures for a November 8th referendum to overturn this legislation. And we will be victorious!
We must move quickly. Stay tuned for weekly updates on how you can become involved in helping to overturn this law!
Wisconsin Republicans have been using the threat of legal action this week to suppress dissemination of a video that they are, quite justifiably, embarrassed about. As reported by Talking Points Memo:
First the Republican Party in Polk County, Wisconsin, pulled the tape of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) fretting about making ends meet on his $174,000 a year salary from its own website. Now they want it gone from the whole Internet.
For a couple hours, the local county GOP was successful. But we've put an excerpt of the video back up.
A day after TPM posted the video we obtained of Duffy talking about his salary at a Polk County town hall meeting earlier this year, the Polk County GOP contacted the video provider we used to host the video, Blip.tv, and demanded the video be taken down. ...
The county GOP took down the video from its blog after the Washington Post posted a short clip of it yesterday morning.
An official with the Polk County GOP, which posted many other clips of the town hall on its YouTube channel, told TPM yesterday that the video was taken down because it was "was being republished without our consent."
Duffy and his supporters are right to be embarrassed. However, they are not right to use copyright law to keep Americans from seeing and hearing Duffy's words for themselves. Copyright exists to encourage and protect intellectual property. It does not exist to allow an elected official to avoid accountability for his own embarrassing political speech. Nor is it intended to be used as a tool to harass those who criticize you, particularly when dissemination of portions of the video for news and commentary most likely falls within the fair use doctrine - an exception to the exclusive right of copyright holders.
How many bloggers out there without a team of lawyers to represent them are now worried about legitimately posting this video or others like it in the future? How much political speech is being intimidated this way?
Use of the law to squash criticism - particularly when there is a legitimate fair use claim - is not new. For instance, the National Organization for Marriage had Rachel Maddow take down her clip of a NOM audition tape that made viewers heap scorn upon the organization and its latest advertisement.
Molly Ivins once noted how then-Governor George W. Bush used the threat of a lawsuit to shut down an embarrassing parody website:
The parody, run by a 29-year-old computer programmer in Boston named Zack Exley, annoyed Bush so much that he called Exley "a garbageman" and said, "There ought to be limits to freedom." (That's not a parody -- he actually said that.)
Bush's lawyers warned Exley that he faced a lawsuit. Then they filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission demanding that Exley be forced to register his parody site with the FEC and have it regulated as a political committee.
In just the past few days, we have seen right wing groups use the law on public records as a weapon to intimidate academics who criticize them. But in a country whose freedom depends on robust and open political debate, the law should be used to protect political discourse, not to prevent it.
This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a bill to resurrect private school vouchers in the District of Columbia.
While Tea Party Republicans are claiming to take the high ground on government spending, they vote to throw millions of dollars at reviving a program that the Department of Education has shown is ineffective. After studying the program for four years, the Department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same when the Department looked only at students who had applied from schools in need of improvement. As the Obama Administration stated in opposing the bill: "The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement."
So if the program doesn't educate kids effectively, what exactly does it do?
For one thing, it helps religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. While Congress is slashing government spending on public education in communities across the country, the House decided to throw a few million dollars to keep religious schools afloat. This raises significant First Amendment concerns.
It also insults the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia. The mayor opposes this program, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.
Finally, it furthers the right wing's drives to privatize core government functions and get around First Amendment restrictions on government-funded religion.
For some people, those are apparently good enough reasons to support the bill.
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.
This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.
I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”
Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:
Like a lot of people, he feels the financial system got off too easy in the crisis. They created the mess, but unlike the millions of foreclosed homeowners and newly unemployed workers, they’ve come out mostly unscathed. It’s still very, very good to be a banker in this country. It’s not good at all to be underwater on your house. And he’s got a plan for changing that.
Union types are always looking for “leverage.” Leverage is what I have that gives me power over you. And Lerner thinks he’s identified the point of leverage that workers and homeowners and students have over the financial system. “What does the other side fear most?” Lerner asked. “They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich.” To do so, he wants to see a campaign of disruption and strategic default led by community-activist groups and aimed at J.P. Morgan Chase.
As Lerner sees it, once there’s leverage, once the banks are scared, there can be a settlement. What sort of settlement? Lerner gives a couple of examples in his talk. “You” — meaning banks in general, and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular — “reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We could make them do that.”
You may or may not agree with the wisdom of Lerner’s idea. But would you call it “terrorism”? Glenn Beck would, and has now chosen Lerner to be the newest anchor point in his vast liberal conspiracy theory, saying that the labor leader is plotting to commit “economic terrorism" by “collaps[ing] the system.”
People For’s legal department looked into what our laws actually say about domestic terrorism and, needless to say, it's not even a close question. There’s no danger to human life involved here. And there’s certainly no effort to intimidate the civilian population or the government.
In fact, under Beck’s definition of terrorism as advocating for peaceful economic disruption, he himself should be investigated. As Media Matters has pointed out, Beck himself has more than once advocated “taking down” or “resetting” our entire financial system—a much more sweeping economic action than the targeted protests Lerner is advocating.
The corporate-funded right wing has made it clear in the last few months that they will not tolerate working people who want to take on big corporations. In Wisconsin and Ohio, teachers and police officers and other public workers have been demonized for fighting to their right to organize, while corporations continue to get massive tax breaks and hold a huge amount of sway over elections.
In their world, the millions of Americans who suffered from the financial crisis—people like Charlie Engle—are the criminals, and the people who try to organize working Americans are “terrorists.” That topsy-turvy view of justice and power is unsettling, to say the least.
UPDATE: Lerner responds to Beck in The Nation:
So that was it: Beck, right-wingers and Wall Street sympathizers went ballistic because they knew the ideas I talked about are far from being a secret leftist conspiracy; in fact, they’re in sync with the thinking of most Americans. In my talk, I raised a very simple yet powerful idea: that homeowners, students, citizens and workers should make the same practical decisions Wall Street and corporate CEOs make every day—they should reject bad financial deals.
An organization that backs private school vouchers is campaigning against the recall of the eight Republican Wisconsin senators who backed Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation. The so-called American Federation for Children (AFC) is an ardent supporter of the voucher scheme in Milwaukee, the unsuccessful voucher program which Walker and his GOP allies want to export to other parts of the state as part of bolstering the Republicans’ attacks on public schools and teachers.
Listen to their robocall defending GOP Senator Sheila Harsdorf:
At the same time that Walker and the Republicans proposed a massive $834 million cut to public schools, endangering the state’s esteemed public education system, they seek to spend more taxpayer money on a wasteful voucher program that has been unable to improve the education of Milwaukee students. A comprehensive study in 2009 found “no overall statistically significant difference between [voucher school] and [public school] student achievement growth in either math or reading one year after they were carefully matched to each other,” and that fourth graders in the voucher program were actually performing worse than comparable public school students.
While the private school voucher scheme did nothing to improve education, it did funnel taxpayer dollars to religious schools: of the 120 schools receiving vouchers examined in the study, 95 were religious and 7 operate within a religious tradition.
Renowned education scholar Diane Ravitch, once a proponent of the so-called “school choice” movement, told OnMilwaukee.com that the voucher program “has not worked”:
Milwaukee is indeed the nation's laboratory for assessing the value of school choice. The advocates of school choice predicted that academic performance in choice schools would not only soar, but that the competitive pressure would cause achievement in the regular district schools to improve. None of this has happened. The latest studies show that students in voucher schools and in charter schools do not perform any differently from those in the regular public schools.
"Reformers" in Milwaukee have been pursuing strategies that we now know are ineffective. The more time and resources devoted to ineffective strategies, the less attention there is to finding useful improvements. Choice got the support of foundations and business leaders, but it has not worked.
Even the state schools superintendent Tom Evers agreed that “choice schools have proven to be no more effective and in some cases less effective than Milwaukee Public Schools.”
But organizations like the AFC ignore and dismiss the clear findings that the Milwaukee voucher program is a wrongheaded and ill-designed effort to improve education, and instead want to expand the program to more school districts and tear down the public education system. Now, they want to make sure that Republican legislators keep their jobs and continue to support vouchers and bust unions representing public school teachers.
Last month, Right Wing Watch looked at the historical revisionism, lack of legal logic, and indifference to practical results endemic in the movement to change the Constitution’s definition of citizenship. Following last week’s defeat of a law challenging constitutional citizenship in the Arizona senate, the Arizona Republic took takes an extensive look at the arguments for and against Constitutional citizenship. Their analysis of the pragmatic pros and cons is telling. While denying citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants might save some money on social programs in the short term, the paper reports, the long-term costs of creating a huge American-born undocumented underclass—with up to 400,000 new children each year—could be huge. In addition, implementing a system to discriminate against children based on the citizenship status of their parents would be burdensome:
Limiting birthright citizenship could create costs and challenges for the government at various levels while potentially saving money in other areas.
At some level - local, state, federal or even at the hospital - someone would have to determine whether a newborn's parents were legally in the United States before the infant could be processed for a Social Security number.
Regardless of how the process worked, it would require governments to spend money creating and running an agency to verify the citizenship of parents at a time when the public is calling for less government spending and bureaucracy, said Margaret Stock, a retired Army Reserves lieutenant colonel and immigration attorney specializing in military cases.
She is concerned too that limiting birthright citizenship could hurt the nation's armed services because immigrants, and the children of immigrants, have a higher propensity to join the military than other citizens, she said.
Denying citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants could save taxpayers some money.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the children of undocumented immigrants are more likely to live in poverty and lack health insurance than children of U.S. citizens. As citizens, many of those children qualify for public benefits.
By denying them citizenship, those children would not be eligible for most public-assistance programs, so some of the costs to taxpayers would be less, Van Hook said.
In the long run, however, without citizenship, those children would not be able to work legally and would probably earn less money, pay less in taxes and cost the public in other ways such as emergency medical care, she said.
PFAW’s Right Wing Watch in Focus report, “Previewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform,” identified nine strategies employed by right-wing pundits and politicians to demonize immigrants and derail comprehensive reform. Among those strategies were to portray immigrants as criminals, invaders, and disease-carriers. It’s time to add a new category: blaming immigrants for environmental degradation.
At last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) distributed a beautifully photographed report decrying the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay, blaming the failure of clean-up efforts on immigration, and slamming environmental groups for not joining FAIR’s anti-immigrant crusade.
If you find it confusing that FAIR, whose political allies are among the most far-right members of Congress, is professing deep concern for the environment, there’s a simple explanation. FAIR and its anti-immigration allies believe that appealing to environmentalists concerned about the impact of sprawl and other growth-related issues can be an effective wedge issue to divide progressives.
For more about the blame-immigrants-for-environmental problems strategy, and a progressive response, see this article by People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery on Alternet
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has released a disturbing video of about one hundred anti-Islamic protesters heckling attendees a fundraiser for a Muslim charity last month. The protestors, some with bullhorns, shout at attendees to “go back home,” “no Sharia law,” and “one nation under God, not Allah.” The hecklers were part of a larger group gathered to protest the event, which was treated to speeches by several local Republican elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Gary Miller and Ed Royce. Royce told the crowd that multiculturalism has “paralyzed too many of our fellow citizens”:
The Orange County Register spoke with the organizers of the event, the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA:
ICNA spokesman Syed Waqas said the protesters "should know the facts. We have no links to any overseas organization. We absolutely denounce violence and terrorism."
He said the group started in Southern California about eight months ago and is trying to raise $350,000 to start social programs such as women's shelters, fighting hunger and homelessness in the area.
Among the activists who worked to spread the word of the protests was Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam activist who was largely responsible for turning a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan into the nationally controversial “Ground Zero Mosque.” Geller has become a leader in the effort to conflate all practicing Muslims with a tiny splinter of extremists—an effort that has born fruit in ludicrous state-level “Sharia law bans” and even in congressional hearings aimed at pinning all Muslims for the actions of a few. (For more on the congressional hearings, read Michael Keegan’s recent op-ed on the “new McCarthysim”).
While some protesters said they objected to previous remarks made by some of the speakers at the fundraiser, the protests instead consisted of hurling blanket anti-Muslim slurs at the people in attendance.
Islamophobia often comes out in subtle ways in mainstream political discourse—take, for instance, Mike Huckabee telling the virulently anti-Islam Bryan Fischer that President Obama’s childhood hears in Indonesia made him fundamentally different from Americans who grew up with “Rotary clubs, not madrassas,” or the opposition of many elected officials to the Geller-branded “Ground Zero Mosque.” These elected officials aren’t out on the streets heckling Muslims—but by condoning Islamophobia, however subtly, they’re helping this kind of outright racism to take hold.
Last night, as the House debated an amendment from Rep. Mike Pence that would strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, some women in Congress responded with personal stories.
Rep. Jackie Speier of California revealed that she had had an abortion for a troubled preganancy, telling her anti-choice colleagues: "I lost the baby. And for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous":
And Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin spoke of her own experience with unplanned preganancy and raising children in poverty. "The public policy has treated poor children and women who have not had the benefit of planned parenthood with utter contempt," she said:
Earlier this week, People For President Michael Keegan called efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and similar organizations "a blatant attempt to play politics with women's health"
“This is a shameless attempt to stir up a Right Wing “culture war,” whatever the collateral damage-- in this case, critical healthcare for millions of low-income women. If the House GOP is really interested in preventing unintended pregnancies, it should embrace organizations that provide affordable contraception. If it’s interested in public health, it should be interested in helping women defend themselves against disease. If these bills become law, millions of American women will lose access to critical family planning and reproductive health services. This move is not fiscally responsible or socially responsible—it’s a blatant attempt to play politics with women’s health.”