Nel's New Day

May 31, 2012

ALEC Continues Downhill Slide

ALEC used to be the secret right-wing group that provided millions of dollars to write conservative laws such as “stand your ground,” voter repression in the name of identifying fraud, and unconstitutional anti-choice laws. I say “used to be” because  the American Legislative Exchange Council was forced out of the closet into the light of media’s day last month. Until today the list of corporations running away from ALEC had included 19 large corporations such as amazon.com, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have dropped from ALEC. Nonprofits like the gigantic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also separated themselves from the far-right Koch-sponsored organization. Today both retail giant Wal-Mart and Medtronic, a medical device company, dumped ALEC.

ALEC has more than 2,000 legislative members, primarily Republican, from all 50 states, nearly one-third of all sitting legislators and more than 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or former governors who are considered “alumni.” Approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector groups are other, higher paying, members. ALEC’s chair, currently David Frizzell (IN)  rotates with a new legislator appointed to the position each year.

Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker is the poster-child for ALEC with its anti-consumer, union-busting, voter-repression laws while giving huge tax cuts for corporations and the richest of its citizens. Of the 132 legislators, 49 are ALEC members, including top leadership in both houses.  Walker began his devastation with an ALEC “omnibus” tort bill, making it harder for Wisconsin residents to hold corporations accountable after dangerous products injure or kill people.

Another poster-child, albeit much quieter than Wisconsin, is Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal used ALEC bills that advocate for the privatization of traditionally public services, like health care, prisons and education based on the misguided conservative belief that the results will be more efficient and competitive. Privatization is far more costly and less efficient as seen by the replacements in the military and prisons.

In Louisiana, laws were rushed through without any thought, for example the “parent trigger” law that allows a majority of parents connected with one school to change it into a charter school. There is no evaluation for the converted school, either before or after, and no way for failed charter schools to be “re-triggered.” Student placement is also limited. ALEC advice is to push a large quantity of bills very fast, to get them passed before people notice.

One influential trade association staying with ALEC is the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) that represents companies providing water services to almost 73 million people in the country. That’s almost one-fourth of the population. The goal of NAWC and ALEC is to legislate loopholes for water protections and federal oversight of fracking, a method of extracting oil that forces millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground. This practice not only puts drinking water resources at risk but also may be the reason behind the increasing number of earthquakes in the Midwest.

Another powerful corporation—and ALEC member—pushing for fracking is ExxonMobil. Model legislation from ALEC, based on a Texas law, gives guidelines for the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through fracking. The model bill has loopholes allowing energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, meaning that companies—like ExxonMobil—are then allowed to use any contaminants that they want without anyone knowing what these are.

One organization dropping ALEC last month is the national certifying body for teachers in the United States, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Supposedly a non-profit organization focusing on teacher certification, NBPTS also takes positions on political positions affect teacher certification.

Some legislators seem incredibly naïve about how ALEC truly lobbies. For example, state Rep. Paul Bandy, co-chair of the New Mexico branch of ALEC, said in an interview that he didn’t solicit donations from ALEC, that money just appears in his mailbox from ALEC-connected corporations. I guess he considers himself really lucky. He did understand that the ALEC laws might not pass if people know their origin. Bandy opposes the use of tax-deductible money for political purposes but didn’t seem to object using ALEC’s tax-deductible money for political purposes.

The South Carolina legislature is so supportive of ALEC that it has created a special ethics exemption for the organization. Lobbying rules that govern how public officials can interact with lobbyists prevent legislators from having their lodging and transportation provided by lobbyists—with the exception of ALEC—because “the outings that ALEC organizes for politicians are essential to its influence. At these retreats, ALEC officials work with state lawmakers to craft new legislation.” They certainly do!

When ALEC’s activities became widely known last month, there seemed to be a slight bit of hope after the organization announced that they would eliminate its Public Safety and Elections task force. Hope was short-lived, however, after the task force’s chair, state Rep. Jerry Madden (R-TX) said many of the issues would be transferred to other committees. ALEC’s definition of “public safety” is passing laws allowing people to go after others if they “feel threatened” and kill them if necessary, as happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida a year ago.

Disturbed when ALEC dropped its voter suppression arm, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) stepped in and formed a “Voter Identification Task Force.” The NCPPR also criticized ALEC for withdrawing the voter-oppression task force after losing only 11 corporate sponsors. Part of NCPPR’s past activities have been to help Jack Abramoff launder millions of dollars and to raise funds by “bombarding senior citizens with ‘fright mail,'” money used to do things like help Exxon Mobil oppose efforts to address climate change.

One organization is fighting back against ALEC through its fraudulent tax-exempt status. The watchdog Common Cause has obtained hundreds of pages of documents and shared these with the New York Times. They are also using these documents and public records to support its Internal Revenue Service complaint, stating that ALEC does not deserve its tax-exempt status because it is a lobbying organization. ALEC denies that it is writing laws, but its membership brochure bragged that the group introduces over 1,000 bills annually and passes about 17 percent of these.

ALEC also sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama’s health care law. Alan P. Dye, a lawyer for ALEC, acknowledged that the group’s practice of communicating with lawmakers about specific bills could meet the federal definition of lobbying. His justification is that these communications were a result of “nonpartisan research and analysis.” Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy disagreed, stating that as of last August, all but one of 104 leadership positions within the organization were filled by Republicans and that the policies ALEC promoted were almost uniformly conservative.

Common Cause has made progress in at least one state. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will investigate ALEC for lobbying violations in that state. The board will likely address the complaint in July. In Minnesota, Common Cause also filed a complaint with state Attorney General Lori Swanson alleging that ALEC has misrepresented its role by filing as a 501 (c) (3).

The icing on the cake is within the IRS procedures: According to IRS policies, an analyst in the Whistleblower Office must consider the information provided by Common Cause. Common Cause could receive between 15 and 30 percent of any taxes, penalties and interest collected, if certain requirements are met. Only the IRS can challenge a nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status because of court rulings.

The only thing better than ALEC having to pay taxes is for a watchdog organization to get some of it!

May 29, 2012

Getting Facebooked – Borowitz’s Take

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:38 PM
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Facebook stocks are still going down–down  almost 10 percent just today to $28.84 today from a high of $45 a few days ago.  The $35 billion loss debacle has even resulted in a verb–Facebooked–probably meaning investors’getting screwed over and then suing everybody involved.

A few days ago, Andy Borowitz wrote this satire, a serious problem because the entire situation is a satire. What he has to say may be prophetic. (But it is still funny!)

A Message about Facebook

From Founder Mark Zuckerberg

MENLO PARK, CA (The Borowitz Report) – The following letter to Facebook users was issued today by Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg:

Dear Facebook User,

Hi, it’s Mark.

As you may have heard, our IPO last week didn’t go quite as well as expected.  How badly did it go, exactly?  If you live in a major city, you’ve probably seen homeless guys huddled around bonfires of Facebook stock.  More ominously, I just received a call from my attorney telling me that I probably didn’t need a prenup after all.

If you’re a Facebook investor, you already know what this means: it sucks to be you.  But what if you’re one of the billion Facebook users in the world?  Well, it also sucks to be you, because I am writing to you now to ask for your financial support to help save Facebook.

It’s only fair.  Since its founding in 2004, Facebook has totally revolutionized the way you waste your life.  Without it, you would find yourself in the unpleasant and awkward position of having to speak to your family.  And so, to keep Facebook alive, I am instituting the following new usage charges:

— $1 per poke

— $5 for every ex you crop out of a profile picture

— $10 for every time you stalk someone from high school, college, or job you were fired from because of that HR “incident”

— $15 for every “friend” you have never met (no charge for friends you know, if any)

— $20 for every sheep, bird, or the Scrabble letters Z, X or Q

With your financial help, Facebook should be around for many years to come, providing you with hours upon hours of pointless and isolating activity.  Without your help?  I’ve just got one word for you: Friendster.

Help me,

Mark

 

 

May 28, 2012

Teacher Unions Get a Bad Rap

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:32 PM
Tags: , , , ,

The minute that Scott Walker took over Wisconsin as governor—literally took over—the issue of unions, frequently teacher unions has been front and center in the national discussion. Conservatives believe that the right to collectively bargain is the spawn of the Devil, and that teachers (1) are lazy; (2) are overpaid; (3) don’t teach the kids; and (4) have a really easy job. The last one was disproved in Arizona 30 years ago when parents decided to substitute during a Tucson school district strike. Many of these people didn’t last even 30 minutes, and the strike was soon over with the public voting in their raises. But the other myths are still prevalent, especially as government gives corporations and the wealthy even more money while eliminating funds for education.

The teacher union battles have now arrived in my backyard. In both the Portland (OR) area and southern Oregon, teachers in four districts voted this past spring to strike, the most recent in the Reynolds district. They have since settled although the terms for Reynolds has not yet been revealed. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: other school cuts have been so devastating that they may go the same direction as these four districts.

The local mainstream media has left out a great deal information in their reporting. They did point out, as an afterword, that the Reynolds teachers have not had a contract for the past year, but they kept working. They have also pointed out that there was a gap of $5 million between the teachers’ proposal and the school board’s decision. What they left out is that the district claiming a budget crisis has $20 million in reserves and saw fit to increase salaries in the superintendent’s office, including the assistant, by 10 percent this year. Administrators’ pay increased by 2 percent last year while the number of certified and classified staff has been cut during the past two years.

Apart from the fiscal concerns, the board wants the right to fire teachers based on one anonymous written or verbal complaint, eliminate all planning time from student contact hours and professional development days, and add instruction days with no additional compensation. The board also wants to keep teachers from seeing student information concerning past safety, behavioral, or criminal reports. Other board demands would use biased student test scores in teacher evaluations, forbid teachers to take emergency leave days around holidays, and ignore seniority as a factor in layoffs. The icing on the cake is that the officials want the power to reopen the contract any time they say they are suffering financial constraints. Right now Reynolds has declared fiscal problems with its $20 million in reserves, three times the budget carryover recommended by the Oregon School Board Association.

Earlier contretemps between teachers and school boards in bargaining show support for the unions. The Gresham-Barlow strike lasted little more than three hours after hundreds of community members came out the night before in support of the teachers.

In their bargaining, teachers have shown a willingness to compromise. Parkrose reached an agreement just one day before a planned strike because teachers accepted 21 furlough days for no pay over three years and got no cost-of-living increases and only half their experienced-based step raises during the three-year contract. Gresham’s new contract also freezes teachers’ cost-of-living adjustments while preserving step increases.

The Eagle Point Education Association, representing not just teachers but also most classified staff, was pushed into big concessions.  Teachers are forced to work from 8 am to 3 pm with no prep time; a new pro-rated insurance plan reduces benefits for part-time employees. And like other districts, teachers get no cost-of-living adjustments, in this district for the fifth consecutive year.

Despite what lies the school board and politicians told, a starting salary at Eagle point is $34,277 and tops out at $66, 412 per year. Yet robocalls claimed, “Teachers only have to be in school for six-and-a-half hours a day. Teachers only work 190 days a year. On average, a teacher makes $68 an hour with benefits, four times more than the community average. Does that sound like overworked and underpaid to you?” Substitutes covering the strike were paid $330 daily, with no preparation needed for classes, a total of $62,700 for inexperienced, sometimes untrained “babysitters.” One of the most vigorous opponents to fair pay for teachers is Republican state Rep. Dennis Richardson, an attorney who specializes in business and real estate, a position that probably has a hefty hourly pay.

Portland teachers saved 110 teacher layoffs by delaying step increases. The district also cut $2.5 million from the central office, and the city gave the district $5 million out of the city budget. This saved the school district for the current year, but next year will see a much larger budget hole.

Meanwhile Beaverton’s second-largest union signed a two-year contract with pay cuts and nine furlough days. The district office still plans to lay off 344 people. Sports giant Nike is located in Beaverton; for the years 2008 to 2010, the huge corporation paid 4.9 percent average in state income tax. Co-founder and CEO Phil Knight, the 60th richest person in the world, has a net worth of $13.1 billion. The other Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in Oregon, Precision Castparts, paid 2.9 percent in state income tax. The state of Oregon has passed laws lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy by 12 percent; schools lost 5 percent funding.

Conservatives who have never taught believe that anyone can do it, that it’s so easy that they can walk into the classroom and do a better job than trained, experienced teachers. Conservatives who begrudge teachers $20-$30 per hour cheerfully pay plumbers and electricians over $100 and lawyers up to $500.

When teachers strike, conservatives think that this is inappropriate behavior for “professional” people, that instead of protesting that teachers should just accept whatever they are given. Conservatives wrongly state that teacher unions are only for the teachers and don’t protect the students. Without these unions, huge class sizes would be far more extreme than they are now.

An example of the conservative approach comes from Mitt Romney, who told experts that class size doesn’t make any difference. Recently he selected ten educator advisors from George W. Bush’s administration including Bush’s Education Secretary Rod Paige, known for being Houston superintendent when the dropouts were vastly underreported. Paige has referred tothe NEA as “a terrorist organization.” Another Romney advisor, Idaho state superintendent Tom Luna, pushed bills protested by community leaders, parents, and educators to increase class sizes, reduce the teaching force, replace teachers with mandatory online classes, and eliminate educator rights.

Unions encourage teacher training and further education that betters the quality of teaching while protecting good teachers. When some administrators develop vendettas against good teachers because of differences of opinion, unions use due process to protect these teachers. Unions also keep salaries high enough that schools can have a quality staff.  Without unions, teachers can be fired after a few years without cause so that the school district can bring in new, cheaper teachers, resulting in poorer education.

In Forbes, Erik Kain wrote about the need for teacher unions:

I support teachers unions because they are the best chance this country has to improve and strengthen public education for the long haul. No other organization will step in to protect teachers from political blowback and the reform-trend-of-the-moment. The Gates Foundation may have its heart in the right place, but the big foundations can’t protect teachers from slashed budgets or political retribution. Charity-propelled education reform may very well be a sincere effort, but in the process its leaders have offered up a lot of bad choices for teachers. Too often charity reform translates into little more than corporate reform.

Teachers are on the front lines of the fight to keep America’s egalitarian system of public education public. Faux privatization schemes and for-profit schools threaten to undermine the system itself in the name of choice. But what about democracy? What about a system built around the ethic of society rather than that of the individual? Teachers are one of the last bastions of workplace democracy left in the country, and once they’re out of the picture anything goes. Including public education.

Conservatives are determined to destroy education for young people while complaining about badly educated students are. These conservatives are the same people who display ignorance about history, economy, languge, etc., who make fun of people who speak a foreign language, and who want to get rid of all the arts because they believe it has no value. These conservatives want students to be funneled through a cattle-shoot with a few of the basics, taught in a private school that focuses on Christianity and keeps everyone from  broadening their foundation of knowledge.

The old saying, “You get what you pay for,” applies here.

May 27, 2012

Churches Should be Taxed for Their Political Positions

Today is Sunday, and in the United States thousands of pastors, many of them in fundamentalist churches, are telling people how they vote. The most recent egregious display of hate and ignorance came from Pastor Charles L. Worley who was videotaped telling his Providence Road Baptist Church congregation in Maiden (NC):

“I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn’t get it past the Congress. Build a great big, large fence–50 or a 100 miles long–and put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals, and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. Feed them. And you know in a few years, they’ll die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce.”

Within two days, the video got 250,000 hits. It’s since been taken off the church’s website, but nothing ever escapes the web once it’s out there.

A follower of Pastor Worley has since appeared on Anderson Cooper to say that she supports what her religious leader has said. The wonderful thing about this country is the freedom to say what you mean. But the bad thing about this country is that taxpayers have to pay for where they are exhorting people to keep all the people in the nation from having equal rights.

Because of the separation of church and state, local, state, and federal governments have decided not to tax institutions of faith although the Constitution does not give any guidance in this area. The basic premise behind the tradition of not taxing churches is the their profits go to the public good, caring for the poor and sick, projects that help the community.

The government, however, has no idea where churches allocate their profits, gleaned from donations from usually well-meaning people.  Any non-church organization with tax-exempt status must file a 990 statement each year that itemizes where all the group’s money has gone. Yet the IRS automatically waives the 990 requirement for all churches.

“Televangelism” permits corrupt religious leaders to live in luxury, without paying taxes. Megachurches buy cheap land for buildings and then take advantage of all the services that other residents support, without paying taxes. Their businesses such as coffee shops and bookstores, all pour profits back into the church, without paying taxes. And it’s all legal. Wisconsin alone has at least $4.2 billion in tax-exempt religious property, including hotels, pay parking lots, farms, and communion wafer bakeries. Think Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry.

For over two centuries, those of us who think that the wealthy should pay taxes, to quote some conservative legislators, to “have some skin in this game,” just sighed and moved on. As churches become more and more involved in politics, usually with the acceptance of the parishioners, the concern is growing about letting politically associated organizations go untaxed. Fifty years ago, voters worried about the influence of the Catholic Church on a presidential candidate. Now many voters want the fundamentalist churches to control the government. Conservative political figures hold the Constitution in one hand and the Bible in the other, showing where they receive their leadership.

Moving beyond just advocating for social issues, “family values” religious organizations have developed 501c4s that let them advocate for candidates. Supposedly donations for these organizations are kept separate from those to the churches, but with no 990 requirement, the IRS—and the taxpayers—will never know. Pastors and priests invite candidates to “give testimony” during services and claim that this does not violate their tax-exempt status.  Some religious leaders actively endorse candidates, and the law does nothing about this.

The Mormon Church spent as much as $20 million to pass Proposition 8 in California, the law that prevents marriage equality. Initially, they reported spending less than $3,000, then said that they had really spent 99 percent more, and finally admitted spending even more, possibly up to half the funding for passing Prop 8. Last year on Father’s Day, as many as 150 to 200 Maine churches passed the collection plate twice, the second time to collect money to defeat the marriage equality measure.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops has become a political force to be reckoned with, telling priests how they should preach to the congregations about the evils of the Affordable Care Act and other issues that benefit the Catholic leadership. The idea that the Catholic Church should be tax-exempt is totally hypocritical, especially because of its vendetta against the nuns for just helping the poor.

Church leaders demand nuns  fight marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights, both political issues, instead of helping the poor as their tax-exempt status requires. While Catholic leaders sue the government for requiring birth control from these tax-exempt institutions, they shelter priests who have sexually abused children, going so far as to shred lists of “problem priests,” as Cardinal Anthony Beviilacqua did.

By 1971, U.S. churches owned approximately $110 billion in real and personal property. In just New York City, the amount was $3 billion in 1989. A 1986 estimate showed religious income for just that one year of about $100 billion, five times the income of the five largest corporations in the U.S.  All tax free, all using services that taxpayers pay for.

The writers of the Constitution saw how religion devastated countries and worried about the same tragedy with the new country. “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries,” wrote James Madison.

Religion is fundamentally unjust. LGBTQ people pay taxes to support institutions that want to put us behind fences with the only food dropped by planes. Women pay taxes to support institutions that restrict clergy to men or preach that women should be subservient to men. If churches really wanted to help the poor, they would willingly pay taxes that provide a safety net for the most vulnerable of people in this country.

“Unique among the nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. We have no king but Jesus,” wrote former Attorney General John Ashcroft. “[I]ntentional governmental advancement of religion is sometimes required by the Free Exercise Clause,” said Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia.According to the Constitution, the United States should not be a theocracy. Yet many of the legislators, both federal and state, are religious zealots, and the Republican presidential candidates this year have followed suit.

Imagine how much better off you would be if you didn’t pay taxes. That’s where the churches are. At this time, Italy is thinking about requiring churches (that would be the Catholic Church) to pay taxes. It’s time that the United States considered this too. If churches are determined to control politics, they should pay the taxes.

May 26, 2012

Dems Drop the Brass Ring

Every time the Democrats almost reach the brass ring, they just quit. That’s the case with the recall on Wisconsin recall of Gov. Scott Walker. Debbie Wasserman Schulz doesn’t like his “attacks on workers” and recalling the governor on June 5 would “[send] a powerful message to the far-right extremists.” But she said that nationally, “there aren’t going to be any repercussions” if the recall fails, perhaps justifying the fact that the Democratic National Committee has put very little money into the fray.

Let’s hope that it was just a CYA attempt if Walker actually walks away with the election. But it’s definitely a tragic comment for the morale of the country. In paraphrasing a famous speech from Martin Niemöller about the refusal to stop the Nazis during World War II, “First they came for the people of Wisconsin, and I did not speak because I’m not from Wisconsin.”

From my limited perspective in the balcony watching the comedy called “American Politics 2012,” I see that two decisions in June will direct this country: the Walker recall and the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, one decision from the voters of a state and the other from the nation’s top court.

The Koch-purchased governor has received three times the money for his opposition to the recall as his opponent with most of Walker’s money coming from outside the state. His win would show that money buys political figures (which is mostly true) and that other states should go full force ahead to control the country with far-right conservatives.

Conservatives in charge of state legislatures cause the middle class to disintegrate and women to lose any rights they might have had while most Republicans demand that every citizen bow down before the bible—or at least their personal interpretation of the bible. Even worse for the country, however, they will continue to gerrymander the legislative districts, sending more and more conservative wingnuts to Washington, D.C. to push all of us in a corner with no rights.

As Rachel Maddow proclaimed, “Democrats should be fighting like the existence of their party depends on it. Because it does.”

The loss of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) not only kills many people because they won’t have insurance but also impacts all the other safety nets, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Conservatives don’t like any of these, and they may decide to void everything that the New Deal and President Johnson provided for people in the country.

I just read a newspaper article about a woman who voted against President Obama in 2008 and opposed the ACA but said that she would be dead without it because of the insurance that she was able to get after some of the provisions went into effect. Either she’s suicidal and resented the ACA because she didn’t die, or she’s so mentally challenged that she doesn’t understand the logic of what she said. By now that describes the majority of the Republican party.

A friend traveling in England for a month used the country’s health care, going to the emergency room first because of a prior injury to her knee and then for a broken wrist. The latter took three hours from being admitted to leaving with a cast. Name me the one place in the United States where she would get that kind of treatment—free!—unless she were one of the very wealthy top 0.1 percent.

Researchers have found that most people opposed to ACA are just afraid that there won’t be enough doctors, nurses, and hospital rooms for them if “they,” meaning the people without insurance, have health care rights. The Republicans are unbelievably selfish, thinking they they deserve all the resources of the country with the rest of the people allowed to occasionally glean the chaff.

May 25, 2012

Conservatives Display Ignorance

While some authors are writing about how conservative minds are hard-wired to believe the way that they do (a really scary thought!), Eric Alterman writes about their ignorance. He doesn’t claim that conservatives are stupid; they just refuse to believe facts and reality. Maybe call it a “war on knowledge.” His position matches the survey last year that Fox watchers, known to be largely conservative, are not only much less knowledgeable but also more misinformed that those who get their news from other media.

Most of the people I know (other than a few family members) agree that global warming is a serious problem caused by human activity; 97 percent of climate scientists with credentials have the same opinion. Yet every one—yes, every one—of the 21 Republican candidates who ran for Senate in the last election deny any global warming. They call it “fraudulent science” (Sharon Angle – NV) or “sunspot activity” (Ron Johnson – WI). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), on the short list for Mitt Romney’s vice-president said, “The climate is always changing.” Some claim a global “conspiracy,” although they may be closer to the truth of a conspiracy to not believe in it because most of them received lots of oil money for their campaigns.

Conservatives starting building this monumental ignorance when the Reagan administration considered defunding government support for social science through the National Science Foundation. People who formed the Consortium of Social Science Associations saved it, but conservatives are currently trying to eliminate all government funds for political science research. Newt Gringrich did manage to destroy the Office of Technology Assessment that provided Congress from 1972 to 1995 with nonpartisan analyses of complex scientific and technical issues.

Recently the House tried to abolish the American Community Survey—a crucial government data collection that has existed in various manifestations since 1850. As Catherine Rampell of The New York Times Economix blog explains, it “tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.” The government uses this source to annually appropriately allocate $400 billion in government funds.

Showing the swelling ignorance of Congressional legislators, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) said, “This is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.” He obviously has no idea that scientific surveys are “random surveys.” Nor does he understand that law enforcement relies on this data to predict such crimes as meth production and private industry uses the results of the American Community Survey. In addition, the money that legislators think would be saved is then spent on the census because the annual survey makes the ten-year survey much cheaper.

These issues are far more serious than the ignorance shown by past potential presidential candidates such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who thinks that the shot supposedly beginning the American Revolution was fired in Concord, New Hampshire, not Massachusetts. According to Bachmann, the authors of the Constitution in the late 1700s “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States” despite the fact that these were the men who agreed, in that same Constitution, that slaves were equal to three-fifths of free men for the purposes of a voting population. She also declared that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s passage of the “Hoot-Smalley Tariff” caused the Great Depression despite the fact that Herbert Hoover passed the Tariff, and the Depression started three years before FDR was elected. And on and on, including Bachmann’s declaration that global warming is “all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”

Congressional conservatives don’t understand how computers work, as shown by the questions that they ask when considering blocking rights to websites. They don’t even understand how “babies are made,” as shown by their explanation of why they want to pass a “personhood” amendment to the Constitution.

The conservatives’ ignorance just doesn’t stop. “Asking a conservative pundit for advice on race is like asking an ayatollah for advice on preparing the Christmas ham,” said Leonard Pitts. Lawrence Krauss said, “It is not too late for the public to turn their back on candidates that turn their back on empirical reality and scientific progress.” (I really hope so!) Conservatives’ total ignorance this spring about women’s policies has inundated the media. Their only solution is to keep women from making any decisions.

Conservatives want others to be ignorant too. Although they sometimes talk about the importance of education, as Romney has done recently, they don’t want youth to have any sex education. They want teenage girls to get pregnant  and then force them to have the child in the conservative world where the government refuses to help the uneducated pregnant teens and the young mothers.

As for college, Santorum finally backed down on his comment about what a snob Obama is to want all young people to have some sort of higher education. Romney, on the other hand, sticks to his suggestion that young people who can’t afford college should join the military. He also goes along with the rest of the conservatives to make the interest for federal student loans twice as much as the interest on mortgages is at this time.

The ultimate ignorance that will destroy this country is the conservatives’ denial of the reasons behind our poor economy and the answers to solving it. Lack of regulations and far lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations have led to extremely high income inequity between the top 1 percent and the rest of the people in the country. This in turn has led to increased polarization between political views with the far-right refusing to compromise. The nation is moving toward the far-right because the wealthy can now afford to buy the deniers and the ignorant who make the economic situation worse by eradicating the middle class through their attacks on unions.

According to economists, austerity is not the answer, but conservative legislators refuse to recognize this fact. They stick to their misguided belief that lowering the taxes and make massive cuts to the safety net–certainly not the defense, though–will save the country, the same way that global warming will go away if people just ignore it.

The ignorant conservatives who refuse to recognize expert knowledge have one goal: to undermine government programs and move more taxes into the hands of the wealthy.

“Wherever people sacralize something, there you will find ignorance, blindness to the truth, and resistance to evidence.”—Jonathan Haidt. That’s the movement we have in the United States.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College. This column won the 2011 Mirror Award for Best Digital Commentary. His most recent book is The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.

May 24, 2012

Investors Upset about Facebook IPOs

Almost everyone I know seems to belong to Facebook; worldwide the number of members is up to 900 million. I belong only because I had to join in order for a conference get-together four years ago and I can’t get off after losing my password. Occasionally the desire from someone to “friend me” wanders into my email, and I just delete it with the resolution to get rid of my Facebook relationship.

There’s also been lots of discussion within the past year about whether teachers and students can be “friends” and whether employers can demand applicants and employees’ restricted Facebook passwords. Some schools are even asking students for their passwords. (They can look at my Facebook page if they’ll only take me off!)

Last week, however, media attention surrounding Facebook ratcheted up after the company decided to go public. As many people know, it began with the company belonging to the 28-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg providing something called “initial public offering” (IPO) and continued with the brouhaha surrounding the Brazilian co-founder Eduardo Saverin giving up his U.S. citizenship to take his $67 million—tax free—to Singapore where he maintains residency. Singapore doesn’t tax capital gains.

Initially Facebook stock soared from $38 per share to $45, before shooting down to $31, losing $2.9 billion for investors. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg walked off with over $1 billion dollars in his pocket before he got married last weekend.

The investment loss resulted in lots of finger-pointing. Facebook’s CFO David Ebersman decided to increase the number of shares offered to investors by 25 percent just days before the IPO. NASDAQ’s computer systems failed on the morning of the deal; investors couldn’t place orders or cancel orders or find out if their orders had been placed or canceled. A modest stock “pop” probably caused some institutional investors to immediately dump their shares, causing a greater price decline.

The biggest problem, however, may be that estimates developed by the underwriters to determine a fair price were cut partway through the debacle. Facebook told the underwriters, but not the investors, that its business outlook had deteriorated. Institutional investors were okay; individual investors weren’t.

Investors are not happy about the loss, but they’re really not happy about finding out that underwriter Morgan Stanley had cut revenue forecasts before the offering, an action that investors didn’t know until after the stock was listed. Underwriters JPMorgan Chase (of the famous multibillion-dollar losses this spring) and Gold Sachs also “selectively” changed their estimates early on, letting special clients know earlier than the others.

Yesterday, riled investors filed a proposed class-action suit in federal court against not only Zuckerberg but also Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and other underwriters of the IPO, arguing that they were not informed of the trim in revenue expectations. The state of Massachusetts issued a subpoena to Morgan Stanley for documents related to the IPO. Investors also sued the Nasdaq OMX Group because the exchange struggled to process orders during the first half hour of trading.

SEC is trying to figure out what to do: Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said that regulators are “looking into” the “issues.” Congressional lawmakers have raised questions about the deal. Chairs of both the Senate Banking and the House Financial Services committees are getting information about what happened  to see if they should have hearings.

Morgan Stanley has a history and a culture of tricking their own clients into making lousy investments. CNBC reports, “Morgan Stanley may have spent billions of dollars to support the [Facebook] stock price by buying shares in the market.”

Before losing up to $4 billion—so far—in its botched derivatives scam, JPMorgan Chase gave up billions more to settle charges stemming from its rampant foreclosure fraud, which involves mass perjury and forgery, and its bribing of public officials.

Goldman Sachs lied to prospective investors about mortgage-backed securities and illegally shared confidential information with its preferred clients.

Conservatives like to talk about the virtues of a “free market,” but the lack of regulations gives the entire game to the financial corporations. Investors can’t know until it’s too late what the banks are doing to take all their money. In summary, the Facebook IPO demonstrates how shady traders make money by hyping stock while secretly betting against it.

These huge financial corporations can break any law that they want. When they get caught, they just pay a fine that they can afford because they have stolen so much money that it isn’t a problem for them. Maybe losing money will teach Republican investors that their party doesn’t benefit them as individuals.

May 23, 2012

Bad Apologies Show Weakness in Leadership

It’s the year of apologies. Rush Limbaugh claimed to apologize for his cruel, vicious comments about Sandra Fluke after she was so outrageous as to defend free birth control for women. Hilary Rosen made the mistake of saying that Ann Romney didn’t work without adding the three words “outside the home.” In contrast to Limbaugh’s weak comments, she gave a heartfelt apology about seeming to negate the value of Ann Romney’s work in rearing children. This week brought two more from Colorado and Arizona, both related to the “birther issue,” that President Obama may not have been born in the United States.

When Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) spoke to a group at the Elbert County Fairgrounds, “[Obama’s] just not an American.” Caught in this statement, he said, “I misspoke and I apologize.” He didn’t say he was wrong; he just misspoke. Six days later Coffman gave a longer apology in print that seemed more sincere, but caught by a reporter, he could only repeat–five times, “”I stand by my statement that I misspoke and I apologize.” That was his answer to even the question of whether he was going to say anything to the reporter, Mike Littwin.

After two months of declaring that he might not include President Obama on the Arizona general election in the fall because he didn’t have proof that the president is a U.S. citizen and over a week of national ridicule for this action, Secretary of State (AZ) Ken Bennett has apologized to the people of Arizona for embarrassing them. Instead of saying that he was wrong, he blamed the angry emails that people sent him about the issue, probably because the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has flamed the fires of birtherism in the state. Arpaio has gone so far as to use taxpayers’ money to send two men to Hawaii to “investigate” the problem. President Obama posted a copy of the long version of his birth certificate on the White House website over a year ago, but Bennett wouldn’t settle for anything less than a statement from Hawaii. The document shows that Hawaii is probably rather disgusted with the whole issue.

Mitt Romney may have issued the weakest apology of the year after The Washington Post released a story about his bullying behavior in prep school. Between chuckles, Romney told Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade that he didn’t remember that he “tackled him and pinned him to the ground,” according to the Post report, before he hacked off his hair with scissors while the crying boy screamed for help. Romney, however, was positive that his behavior couldn’t have been motivated by the John Lauber’s sexual orientation.

“The thought that that fellow was homosexual was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. But as to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all, but again, high school days, I did stupid things. … And if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.” So his position is that he was cruel just on general principles and is only sorry if someone was hurt or offended.

Tom Jacobs, a writer about types of apologies, would probably classify Romney’s apology as a fake one, one or more of five types of non-apologies described by Zohar Kampf in his 2008 article published by the Journal of Pragmatics. The pseudo-apology that downplays the transgressor’s degree of responsibility has five variations: (1) apologize while undermining the claim that he offended someone; (2) apologize for the outcome but not for the act; (3) apologize for the style but not for the essence; (4) apologize for a specific component of the offense but not for the entire occurrence; and (5) apologize while using syntactic and lexical means to downgrade his responsibility, for example referring to the person’s action as a “mistake.”

After the Post article was published, Romney passed up the opportunity to decry bullying and its affect on young people, including a growing number of teenagers who have killed themselves, while still claiming a bad memory. The reference to “stupid things” and the indication that people might not have been hurt (the term “if”) makes him look indifferent to psychic scars caused by any bullying that young people experience.

According to a 2009 survey, 85% of kids who identify as LGBT have been verbally harassed at school, 40% physically harassed, and nearly 20% physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. Those who suffer this abuse are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal and are five times more likely than those not bullied to try and take their own lives.

Romney could have shown himself a leader by sending a strong message than any bullying, including anti-gay bullying, must be considered unacceptable. Instead, he chuckles his way through his weak non-apology. In a 2011 paper in the journal Psychological Science, David De Cremer of the Rotterdam School of Management, wrote that the value of contrition “may lie in convincing observers–and not victims–that the transgressor is a good person.” That’s Romney. He even managed to convince some of his followers that he should not have been criticized for his actions.

Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard who was tortured and killed in Wyoming because he was gay, said it best: “While this may seem like an innocent prank to some, it was an act of torment against a child for being different.  We expect the people we elect to be leaders in the charge against bullying so that all students are afforded the right to learn and grow in an environment free of fear.  This incident calls into question whether Mitt Romney can be an advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable children.”

May 22, 2012

Brewer’s New ‘War on Youth’

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:25 PM
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If you Google the name ”Jevin Hodge,” you’ll find the accomplishments of this graduating senior from McClintock High School (Tempe, AZ) in academics, athletics, and community service—over 800 hours, in fact. As co-chair of the Governor’s Youth Commission, he’s so sold on this service that he talked to state Sen. David Schapira who brought a bill to the Arizona senate which would create an award for high school students who complete more than 200 hours of community service.

The bill passed through the senate unanimously, a major miracle in the Arizona legislature these days with its constant anti-immigrant and anti-women laws. Gov. Jan Brewer supports community service. She has challenged high school students and everyone else to each complete 100 hours of community service to celebrate the state’s Centennial this year. Toward that end, the state Commission on Service and Volunteerism has tracked more than 35,000 volunteers with 2.3 million service hours.

Hodge wanted this award help students’ opportunity to be accepted into college. He said, “Colleges aren’t looking for just a high GPA anymore; they’re looking for student leaders. This award would reassure colleges that a student has the qualities they are looking for.”

It’s all very positive, right? A teenager wants other teenagers to contribute to their society and receive an award for doing this. Very simple.

Brewer disagreed, however. She vetoed SB 1066 because it was “unnecessary, redundant and a violation of constitutional separation of powers.” The letter to Hodge also stated, “In this bill, one branch of government is obligating another branch of government to do something it already can do.” This is the same governor who ignores the federal Constitutional separation of church and state in requiring taxpayers to pay for private religious schools.

A disappointed Hodge said, “I thought that when she saw a piece of good policy, she would have instantly jumped on it. It’s very disheartening to see that she doesn’t want to award the youth that are serving her state. Arizona would have been the first state to formally recognize youth for their community service…it could have possibly persuaded other states to follow suit.”

Hodge probably learned more from this experience that from his formal education. The question is whether Brewer, who is thinking about running for governor again, learned anything. After alienating women and minorities in her state, she has started to drive young voters away from herself and her party.

Brewer’s running for governor, by the way, is against the state constitution, but she thinks that she can serve a third term by challenging the terminology passed in 1993: “No member of the executive department shall hold that office for more than two consecutive terms. No member of the executive department after serving the maximum number of terms, which shall include any part of a term served, may serve in the same office until out of office for no less than one full term.” That’s okay, governor—just skip the part about “any part of a term served.” Maybe no one will notice.

May 21, 2012

Republicans Set to Destroy Country

The Republicans have repeatedly stated that they have one purpose, to stop the reelection of President Barack Obama. From their actions they are so focused on this outcome that they are willing to destroy the country.

Last year, they nearly destroyed the economy with their manufactured crisis over raising the nation’s debt ceiling. The spending cuts from that compromise slowed the economy and lost people in this country hundreds of thousands of jobs—over one million in the government sector alone. The Economic Policy Institute, a top nonpartisan think tank, estimated after the deal settling the debt ceiling that it would cost the economy 1.8 million jobs by 2012.

Polls have showed that half of the people in the nation agree that Republicans are sabotaging the economy only to damage the president’s chances of reelection. Last fall three separate polls found that half the people agreed with this statement: “Republicans are intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy to insure that Barack Obama is not reelected.”

Perhaps that conclusion came from what Republicans have said. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Last week House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) continued the vendetta by claiming that Republicans will take the economy hostage again in order to get their way at the time of raising the nation’s borrowing limit.

Even the right-leaning Associated Press agreed about the Republicans’ attempt to sabotage the economy and that it seems to be working. An article published two days ago included this statement: “There’s evidence that unceasing partisan gridlock and the prospect of big tax increases and spending cuts in January are causing some companies to postpone expansions.”

At the same time that Boeher made his threats, The Washington Post published a list of military contractors, hospitals, and universities that are delaying hires and bracing for cuts because of the Republicans’ mean-spirited actions. As Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein wrote, “partisan gridlock” is code for Republican extremism and intransigence. “Republicans are the problem,” they added.

The budget according to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was bad enough, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has come up with one that is far worse. According to Dana Milbank, “The tea party darling’s plan would, among other things, cut the average Social Security recipient’s benefits by nearly 40 percent, reduce defense spending by nearly $100 billion below a level the Pentagon calls ‘devastating,’ and end the current Medicare program in two years–even for current recipients, according to the Senate Budget Committee staff. It would eliminate the education, energy, housing and commerce departments, decimate homeland security, eviscerate programs for the poor, and give the wealthy a bonanza by reducing tax rates to 17 percent and eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends.” And that’s the position of the Republican party.

Republicans have a two-pronged attack, however. If they don’t actually destroy something, they claim that Republican administrations are far better than those with a Democratic president. Take for example, the way that they have continually attacked the president on the unemployment rate despite the methods that Republicans have used to decrease employment.

A Bloomberg Government analysis shows that during the last half century job growth was twice as much with Democratic presidents than with Republican ones: non-government payrolls have grown by almost 42 million jobs under Democratic presidents as compared to the 24 million jobs for Republican presidents.

President Obama has continued the trend. Job loss during his first 3.5 years is far less than the same period of time during George W. Bush’s first term. From January 2001 through March 2004, the country lost more than 1.6 million jobs overall, and more than 2.4 million jobs in the private sector, meaning that Bush made up for part of the total job loss by adding 800,000 jobs to the government. Meanwhile, from January 2009 through March 2012, the country lost an estimated 740,000 jobs in total with about 161,000 jobs in the private sector. By last month there were more private sector jobs than when the president took office despite the horrible recession that he inherited as well as the gridlock from the obstructionist Congress.

And this plan to destroy the country is not a recent endeavor.  Robert Draper, contributing writer for The New York Times, gives some of the background in his new book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the book, top Republicans met at the same time as President Obama’s inauguration to destroy the economy so that they could portray the president as a failure.

The four-hour private, invitation only, meeting was attended by Republican propaganda expert Frank Luntz and twelve leading congressmen: Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Pete Sessions, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, and Bob Corker. Newt Gingrich also attended, the only attendee other than Luntz who was not a legislator.

Luntz is well known as a speaker at Republican meetings, teaching how to use terminology that helps turn public opinion to their advantage. Because of Luntz, Republicans always use the term “job creator” when they actually mean people who will fleece the bottom 99 percent by getting lower taxes for the wealthy. He moved the term “Orwellian” from its original meaning of totalitarian state to “speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct.” “Oil drilling,” no; “energy exploration,” yes. “Healthcare reform,” no; “government takeover,” yes. And that’s the Republican party approach.

Fortunately, more and more people in the United States, both Democrats and Republicans, are learning the that the current federal conservative approach is not ideological; it is evil. Conservatives continue to strip everyone in the country of their meager earnings to give to the wealthy while increasing the deficit so that they can destroy all parts of the government except the Department of Defense. And people notice.

“A system designed to govern through compromise stops working when an entire political party refuses to make concessions. Policymakers have honored certain norms for generations, but once those norms have been abandoned–filibustering every bill of any consequence, for example–institutions begin to break down.”—Rachel Maddow

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