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Friday, April 29, 2011

Donald Trump's Lunacy Reveals Core Truth About the Republicans

Published on Friday, April 29, 2011 by The Independent/UK

Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has proved that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. It has long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals – and it turns out it was on to something. Every six months, the party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.

Sarah Palin told cheering rallies that her message to the world was: "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way!" – but that wasn't enough. So the party found Michele Bachmann, who said darkly it was an "interesting coincidence" that swine flu only breaks out under Democratic presidents, claims the message of The Lion King is "I'm better at what I do because I'm gay", and argues "there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas."

That wasn't enough. I half-expected the next contender to be a lung-fish draped in the Stars and Stripes. But it wasn't anything so sophisticated. Enter stage (far) right Donald Trump, the bewigged billionaire who has filled America with phallic symbols and plastered his name across more surfaces than the average Central Asian dictator. CNN's polling suggests he is the most popular candidate among Republican voters. It's not hard to see why. Trump is every trend in Republican politics over the past 35 years taken to its logical conclusion. He is the Republican id, finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and all reality.Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

The first trend is towards naked imperialism. On Libya, he says: "I would go in and take the oil... I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff." On Iraq, he says: "We stay there, and we take the oil... In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation's yours." It is a view that the world is essentially America's property, inconveniently inhabited by foreigners squatting over oil-fields. Trump says America needs to "stop what's going on in the world. The world is just destroying our country. These other countries are sapping our strength." The US must have full spectrum dominance. In this respect, he is simply an honest George W Bush.

The second trend is towards dog-whistle prejudice – pitched just high enough for frightened white Republicans to hear it. Trump made it a central issue to suggest that Obama wasn't born in America (and therefore was occupying the White House illegally), even though this conspiracy theory had long since been proven to be as credible as the people who claim Paul McCartney was killed in 1969 and replaced with an imposter. Trump said nobody "ever comes forward" to say they knew Obama as a child in Hawaii. When lots of people pointed out they knew Obama as a child, Trump ridiculed the idea that they could remember that far back. Then he said he'd "heard" the birth certificate said Obama was Muslim. When it was released saying no such thing, Trump said: "I'm very proud of myself."

The Republican primary voters heard the message right: the black guy is foreign. He's not one of us. Trump answered these charges by saying: "I've always had a great relationship with the blacks."

The third trend is towards raw worship of wealth as an end in itself – and exempting them from all social responsibility. Trump is wealthy because his father left him a large business, and since then companies with his name on them have crashed into bankruptcy four times. In 1990, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston studied the Trump accounts and claimed that while Trump claimed to be worth $1.4bn, he actually owed $600m more than he owned and you and I were worth more than him. His current wealth is not known, but he claims he is worth more than $2.7bn.

Johnston says that in fact most of Trump's apparent fortune comes from "stiffing his creditors" and from government subsidies and favours for his projects – which followed large donations to the campaigns of both parties, sometimes in the very same contest. Trump denies these charges and presents himself as an entrepreneur "of genius".

Yet for the Republican Party, the accumulation of money is proof in itself of virtue, however it was acquired. The richest 1 per cent pay for the party's campaigns, and the party in turn serves their interests entirely. The most glaring example is that they have simply exempted many of the rich from taxes. Johnston studied four of Trump's recent tax returns, and found he legally paid no taxes in two of them. In America today, a janitor can pay more income tax than Donald Trump – and the Republicans regard that not as a source of shame, but of pride.

How are these tax exemptions for the super-rich paid for? Here's one example. The Republican budget that just passed through the Senate slashed funding to help premature babies to survive. The rich riot while the poor shrivel. Trump offers the ultimate symbol of this: he won't even shake hands with any ordinary Americans out on the stump, because "you catch all sorts of things" from them. Yes: the Republican front-runner is a billionaire who literally won't touch the poor or middle class.

The fourth trend is to insist that any fact inconvenient to your world view simply doesn't exist, or can be overcome by pure willpower. Soon, the US will have to extend its debt ceiling – the amount of money the government is allowed to borrow – or it will default on its debt. Virtually every economist in the world says this would cause another global economic crash. Trump snaps back: "What do economists know? Most of them aren't very smart." Confront the Republicans with any long-term social or economic problem, and they have one response: it would go away if only we insisted on our assumptions more aggressively.

This denial of reality runs deep. So Trump says "it's so easy" to deal with rising oil prices. He says he would call in Opec, the cartel of oil-producing nations, as if they were contestants on his show The Apprentice, and declare: "I'm going to look them in the eye and say, 'Fellows, you've had your fun. Your fun is over.' "

It's the same, he says, with China. He will order them to stop manipulating their currency. When he was informed that the Chinese had some leverage over the US, he snapped: "They have some of our debt. Big deal. It's a very small number relative to the world, ok?" This is what the Republican core vote wants to be told. The writer Matthew Yglesias calls it "the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics". It's named after the Marvel comics superhero the Green Lantern, who can only use his superpowers when he "overcomes fear" and shows confidence – and then he can do anything. This is Trump's view. The whiny world simply needs to be bullied into submission by a more assertive America – or the world can be fired and he'll find a better one.

Trump probably won't become the Republican nominee, but not because most Republicans reject his premisses. No: it will be because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone. The nominee will share similar ideas, but express them more subtly. In case you think these ideas are marginal to the party, remember - it has united behind the budget plan of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. It's simple: it halves taxes on the richest 1 percent and ends all taxes on corporate income, dividends, and inheritance. It pays for it by slashing spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and basic services. It aims to return the US to the spending levels of the 1920s – and while Ryan frames it as a response to the deficit, it would actually increase it according to the independent Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Ryan says "the reason I got involved in public service" was because he read the writings of Ayn Rand, which describe the poor as "parasites" who must "perish", and are best summarized by the title of one of her books: 'The Virtue of Selfishness.'

The tragedy is that Obama needs serious opposition – but not from this direction. In reality, he is funded by similar destructive corporate interests, and has only been a few notches closer to sanity than these people. But faced with such overt lunacy, he seems like he is serving the bottom 99 per cent of Americans much more than he really is.

The Republican Party today isn't even dominated by market fundamentalism. This is a crude Nietzscheanism, dedicated to exalting the rich as an overclass and dismissing the rest. So who should be the Republican nominee? I hear the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were considering running – but they are facing primary challenges from the Tea Party for being way too mild-mannered.

Johann Hari is a columnist for the London Independent. He has reported from Iraq, Israel/Palestine, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Peru and the US, and his journalism has appeared in publications all over the world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meet the Religious Right Charlatan and Liar Who Teaches Tea Party America The Totally Pretend History They Want to Hear


David Barton is a Republican Party activist and a fast-talking, self-promoting, self-taught, self-proclaimed historian who is miseducating millions of Americans about U.S. history.

Photo Credit: Empowered From Above
Newt Gingrich promises to seek his advice and counsel for the 2012 presidential campaign. Mike Huckabee calls him America’s greatest historian, says he should be writing the curriculum for American students, and in fact suggested that all Americans should be “forced at gunpoint” to listen to his broadcasts. Michelle Bachmann calls him “a treasure for our nation” and invited him to teach one of her Tea Party Caucus classes on the Constitution for members of Congress. State legislators from around the country invite him to share his “wisdom” with them. Glenn Beck calls him “the most important man in America.” Who is this guy?

This guy is David Barton, a Republican Party activist and a fast-talking, self-promoting, self-taught, self-proclaimed historian who is miseducating millions of Americans about U.S. history and the Constitution.

Barton has been profitably peddling a distorted “Christian nation” version of American history to conservative religious audiences for the past two decades. His books and videos denouncing church-state separation have been repeatedly debunked by respected historians, but that hasn’t kept Barton from becoming a folk hero for many in the Religious Right. His eagerness to help elect Republicans has won him gratitude and support from national as well as state and local GOP leaders. Former senator Sam Brownback, now the governor of Kansas, has said that Barton’s research “provides the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today -- bringing God back into the public square.” Indeed, Time Magazine named him one of the nation’s 25 most influential evangelical Christians in 2005.

Barton broadened his audience when Fox News’ Glenn Beck became a fan. Last year, Beck invited Barton to appear regularly on his “Founders’ Fridays” broadcasts, sending Barton’s books up the bestseller lists. And when Beck brought his messianic road show to Washington, D.C. in August 2010, Barton shared the stage with him. At America’s Divine Destiny, the kick-off event on the eve of Beck’s Lincoln Memorial rally, Barton waved copies of old books and sermons and argued that the nation’s founding documents were essentially cribbed from colonial-era sermons.

While Barton is best known for his claims about the religious intentions of the nation’s founders, he has become a full-service pundit for the far-right in Tea Party America. He pushes predictable positions on abortion, gay rights, and the judiciary. But he is also attacking environmentalists working to combat climate change. And he is a key figure for conservative strategists who would love to forge an even stronger political merger between the Tea Party and Religious Right movements between now and the 2012 elections. Barton’s contribution: claiming that a radically limited role for the federal government was God’s idea, and that Jesus and the Bible are opposed to progressive taxation, minimum wage laws, collective bargaining, and “socialist union kind of stuff.”

Why Barton Matters

Barton’s growing visibility and influence with members of Congress and other Republican Party officials is troubling for many reasons: he distorts history and the Constitution for political purposes; he encourages religious divisiveness and unequal treatment for religious minorities; and he feeds a toxic political climate in which one’s political opponents are not just wrong, but evil and anti-God.

Scholars have criticized Barton for presenting facts out of context or in misleading ways, but that hasn’t stopped him from promoting his theories through books, television, and, yes, the textbooks that will teach the next generation of Americans. He promotes conspiracy theories about elites hiding the truth from average Americans in order to undermine the nation from within. Last summer, he declared that liberal and media attacks on the Tea Party were just like attacks on Jesus. In February, Barton spoke at the Connect 2011 Pastors Conference, where he said that Christians needed to control the culture and media so that “guys that have a secular viewpoint cannot survive.” Said Barton, “If the press lacks moral discrimination, it’s because we haven’t been pushing our people to chop that kind of news off.”

Barton’s work is not just an academic exercise. It is meant to have a political impact. For Barton, “documenting” the divine origins of his interpretations of the Constitution gives him and his political allies a potent weapon. Barton promotes a false reality in which anyone who opposes any element of his political agenda stands in opposition to both the Founding Fathers and to God. He believes that everything in our society -- government, the judiciary, the economy, the family -- should be governed according to the Bible, and he promotes a view of the Bible and Jesus that many Christians would not recognize. Opponents, even Christians, who disagree with Barton about tax policy or the powers of Congress are not only wrong, they are un-American and anti-religious, enemies of America and of God.

President Obama is a particularly frequent target of Barton’s. In January, one of his WallBuilders Live radio shows was titled “Why is Obama Trying to Remove God from the United States?” In March, right-wing “news” service WND quoted Barton accusing Obama (falsely of course) of being “engaged in a pattern of ‘willfully, deliberately’ repudiating America's Christian heritage.”

Those are the kind of accusations long favored by the Religious Right, and they are destructive. Claims that political opponents are evil and are actively trying to destroy Americans’ freedoms poison the public arena, make constructive civic discourse nearly impossible, and have the potential to incite acts of violence.

Elected officials who endorse Barton give his claims credibility they do not deserve. He in turn gives cover and a veneer of legitimacy to right-wing politicians interested in putting their notions of a nation created by and for Christians into public policy. Both Barton and his backers are undermining understanding of, and respect for, vital American values and constitutional principles like separation of church and state and equal treatment under the law.

Barton 101

Barton is a largely self-educated historian whose academic credentials are a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oral Roberts University and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Pensacola Christian College. His WallBuilders enterprise, through which he publishes books and videos and travels the country to promote his ideas and campaign for Republican officials, includes both nonprofit and for-profit arms.

WallBuilders, which promotes the belief that the Founding Fathers were Christians who wanted the country ruled according to biblical precepts, organizes religious leaders to get involved in politics, and pushes to enact education policies and laws that reflect Religious Right values and priorities. WallBuilders describes its mission as: “(1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.” A 2005 profile of Barton in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram concisely summarized his goals this way: “Barton is working toward an America where students invoke the name of Jesus in morning prayers, where the Ten Commandments occupy a place on state Capitol grounds, where so-called activist judges are impeached for their decisions.”

Barton says the Christian America he wants to create is not a theocracy, but it would clearly be an America in which religious minorities would have to settle for schools and other governmental institutions promoting Barton’s version of Christianity in every realm of life. As Barton has told Focus on the Family:

The Bible clearly teaches that the way people view their own history affects the way they behave. God wants us to know our history and learn its lessons. At WallBuilders, we present American history, and we do so with a Providential perspective. In short, history not only shows God’s workings and plans but it also demonstrates the effectiveness of biblical principles when applied to church, education, government, economics, family, entertainment, military or any other aspect of life.

Barton argues that the Bible and 150 years of sermons by colonial preachers inspired the nation’s founders. The constitutional form of government, he says, was based on a biblical model: early Hebrew government was a “federative republic,” with God having identified the three branches of government, and with councils of elders functioning like the Senate.

Barton, like other Religious Right leaders, has been increasingly embracing Seven Mountains Dominionism, which teaches that certain kinds of Christians are meant by God to dominate every sphere of society. Barton quotes Jesus telling his followers to “occupy till I come.”Although that quote comes from a parable, it’s a favorite of dominionist speakers who believe it affirms their belief that Christians are meant to be running the nation and the world. Barton serves on the board of the dominionist Providence Foundation, which claims to have trained tens of thousands of leaders on behalf of its mission, which is “to spread liberty, justice, and prosperity among the nations by instructing individuals in a Biblical worldview.” The foundation says that the notion of Divine Providence “expressed a basic link in the Founders' thinking between God and history,” and gives this definition:

"Providence" is defined as the preservation, government, guidance, and direction which God exercises over all creation, including the civil affairs of men and women. The Scriptures contain a theology of the family, the church, and the state. Principles in God's written Word that relate to civil government, politics, economics, and education are timeless and universally useful for the benefit of any culture on earth today.

Barton has been deeply involved in recent battles over the content of textbooks in Texas and the nation. The Texas State Board of Education notoriously redesigned the state’s social studies curriculum to have it conform more closely to a right-wing view of American history, even though somechanges sought by Religious Right activists like Barton were inaccurate and dismissive of the civil rights movement. The Religious Right activist who had chaired the Board of Education named Barton an “expert” and backed efforts by Barton and preacher Peter Marshall to purge figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez from the curriculum. Barton’s involvement with the textbook controversy also provided evidence of the naked partisanship behind much of his work: he demanded that because the founders hated and feared democracy, and created a republic instead, that textbooks should not refer to “democratic values” but “republican” ones.

Sloppy Scholarship

Credible historians, writers, and even religious groups have denounced Barton’s shoddy, misleading, and politically-motivated “scholarship,” which misquotes and misleadingly portrays historical figures and documents. Here is a sampling of Barton’s critics:

  • Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute on Church-State Studies at Baylor University, said Barton “can be very convincing to an uninitiated audience. He’s intelligent. He’s well-spoken. But a lot of what he presents is a distortion of the truth.”
  • John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, has criticized Barton and Peter Marshall, who worked with Barton to influence Texas textbooks: “I’m an evangelical Christian, and I think David Barton and Peter Marshall are completely out to lunch. They are not experts on social studies and history. Neither of them are trained in history. They are preachers who use the past and history as a means of promoting a political agenda in the present.”
  • J. Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee, argues in a critique of Barton’s teachings on church-state issuesthat Barton’s work is “laced with exaggerations, half-truths and misstatements of fact. As more individuals, congregations and elected officials are influenced by Barton's claims, the threat of his campaign becomes more real...”Baptist blogger Don Byrd said “having Barton lecture the House of Representatives on religious liberty issues and the Constitution is a bit like having the fox lecture the hens on proper coop construction.”
  • Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter wrote in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy that Barton’s “pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.”
  • Mark Lilla, a scholar who has taught at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, has publicly criticized the “schlock history written by religious propagandists like David Barton, the author of the bizarre pastiche The Myth of Separation, who use selective quotations out of context to suggest that the framers were inspired believers who thought they were founding a Christian nation.”
  • The Anti-Defamation League found that Barton’s “ostensible scholarship functions in fact as an assault on scholarship: in the manner of other recent phony revisionisms, the history it supports is little more than a compendium of anecdotes divorced from their original context, linked harum-scarum and laced with factual errors and distorted innuendo. Barton's ‘scholarship,’ like that of Holocaust denial and Atlantic slave trade conspiracy-mongering is rigged to arrive at predetermined conclusions, not history.”
  • Historian Richard V. Pierard of Indiana State University has called Barton’s claims that the Founding Fathers were mostly evangelical Christians “ridiculous” since the term was not used at the time, contending that “to try to take a later definition and impose it on these people is a historical anachronism.”

Barton is undeterred by such criticism. Instead, he insists that he is revealing to Americans the inspiring truth about their country that has been hidden by academic and media elites, who have conspired to keep Americans in the dark about the religious intentions of the nation’s founders.

In his interviews and television appearances, Barton talks fast, like a man who has so many stories to tell he doesn’t know where to start or stop. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories Barton has told about the founders and American history simply aren’t true.

One of those stories is about Peter Muhlenberg, a colonial-era pastor who supposedly ended a sermon in early 1776 by shucking off his robe to reveal a military uniform and challenging the men in his congregation to join him in the fight for freedom. As noted by Rob Boston in Church & State, German American history expert Friderike Baer called the story “an invention” on a broadcast of PBS’s “History Detectives” show. Boston also cites research by Chris Rodda of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation refuting one of Barton’s favorite claims -- that Congress printed an official Bible for use in schools in 1782 (you can see Barton making that claim on one of his Capitol tours here)and that Jefferson added the phrase “in the Year of our Lord Christ” to official documents.

Rodda has produced a number of articles and videos tackling Barton’s claims by checking Barton’s descriptions of historical documents. (Barton has a massive collection of original documents from the founding era, which he uses to give a veneer of historical accuracy and drama to his presentations.) One of the most damning fact-checks concerns a letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush from 1809. Barton cites a long section of the letter in which Adams says, in part, “There is no authority, civil or religious -- there can be no legitimate government - but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it -- all without it is rebellion and perdition, or, in more orthodox words, damnation.” But Barton does not include the sentence which immediately follows, which is “Although this is all Artifice and Cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their Lives under the Ax or the fiery Fagot for it. Alas the poor weak ignorant Dupe human Nature.” In other words, Adams was mocking the very point that Barton claims he was making.

Barton and his son Tim appeared last December on Kirk Cameron’s show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. In that interview, the younger Barton inaccurately described the correspondence in which Thomas Jefferson used the phrase “wall of separation” between church and state. Tim Barton said Jefferson told the recipients of his letter (the Danbury Baptists) to “imagine” that there was such a wall; in fact Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” David Barton has also mischaracterized that letter, claiming (wrongly) that Jefferson described a “one-way” concept of church-state separation more to Barton’s liking. Like father, like son.

While Barton is seemingly undeterred by the evidence he knows most of his supporters will never see, Barton has not been able to simply ignore all questioning of his errors and misstatements. He edited and renamed one book (The Myth of Separation became Original Intent) after critics pointed out false material. He has publicly admitted that a dozen supposed quotations about the nation’s origin and purpose that he and others have attributed to founding fathers simply can’t be verified. But those quotations continue to be used by others.

Good Timing for Bad History

Barton’s long years of promoting a vision of a non-secular American government created by and for Christians prepared him well for the current political moment, in which right-wing pundits, leaders of the Tea Party movement, and increasingly, the Republican Party, are turning the idea of a divinely ordained “American exceptionalism” into a political weapon against President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, and liberals in general.

In the hands of Barton and his ideological compatriots, American exceptionalism is more than the idea that America plays a unique role in the world. They insist on a version of American exceptionalism that is grounded in divine inspiration of the founders and a divine blessing on the country. Barton says America’s unique commitment to individual rights is grounded in colonial pastors’ belief in individual salvation. If it weren’t for that divine origin, America would be more collectivist, like France, he argues

Barton also insists that the U.S. Constitution was not meant to be a secular document. The First Amendment prohibits an establishment of religion and the Constitution includes an explicit ban on religious tests for public office, and its authors did not include any assertion of divine origin or blessing, but Barton has a theory. At the end of the text of the Constitution, its authors write that the Constitution’s crafting was “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.” Barton claims that this passing reference to the Declaration of Independence incorporates that document and its reference to rights endowed by a Creator into the U.S. Constitution, making the Constitution a religious document that reflects and requires a national acknowledgment of God’s hand in our founding, history, and prosperity.

Barton’s Bible = Tea Party Platform

Barton is one of many Religious Right figures who are challenging socially libertarian strains within the Tea Party movement and arguing that one cannot legitimately be an economic conservative without also being a social conservative. And he is working hard to give the Tea Party movement, its view of the Constitution, and its anti-tax and anti-welfare economic policies a divine stamp of approval.

On a conference call with pastors in the wake of the November 2010 elections, Barton asserted that the Bible “absolutely” condemns the estate tax as “most immoral,” and said Jesus taught against the capital gains tax and opposed the minimum wage. Barton went even further, declaring that taxation is theft and in particular that the Bible condemns progressive taxation, which he insists is “inherently un-biblical and unfair.” He echoed those themes during a three-part broadcast on limited government in January 2011, saying “Money does not belong to the government, it belongs to individuals, and to steal money from individuals through whatever government spending program is taking private property and you’re not supposed to do that.”

In Making the Constitution Obsolete: Understanding What is Happening to America’s Economic and Cultural Heritage, a DVD marketed by the American Family Association, Barton repeats his claims for biblical opposition to progressive taxes. “ Biblically, Jesus says the sun shines on the just, the unjust, the rain falls on the wicked, the righteous, God treats everybody exactly the same, whether you’re rich or poor you pay a ten percent tithe…everyone’s treated the same, so you don’t have any kind of a class warfare, you have equality under the law.” Says Barton, “The concept of justice goes out with the progressive income tax which is why the Bible is opposed to it.”

Barton claims a biblical basis for other Tea Party notions such as a call for a return to the gold standard (floating exchange rates reflect moral relativism applied to economic policy) and opposition to welfare programs (he says the earliest American colonies survived only by enforcing the biblical injunction that if a man will not work he will not eat). The Federal Reserve System, he says, violates biblical principles of competition and transparency. He argues that the kind of government social programs undertaken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt were wrong from a biblical standpoint, because the Bible says taking care of the poor is the job of the church and the individual, not the government.

And he promotes a Tea Partier’s radical view of the Constitution, key constitutional amendments, and limitations on federal authority to address issues facing the nation.“ Congress can do 18 things and that’s all,” he says. He decries the way that post-Civil War amendments have been used to alter the relationship between state and national governments. On the DVD Making the Constitution Obsolete he decries the “perversion of the 14th Amendment” by the courts, meaning their application to any issue other than slavery. He says the south was wrong on slavery but right on states’ rights. He complains that the courts have “abused the process” and thus “completely revolutionized America.”

Barton on Politics:GOP = God’s Own Party

Barton is an unabashed partisan. He was vice-chair of the Texas Republican Party from 1997-2006 and has recently helped Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Religious Right favorite, peddle his book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington.

Barton tells pastors that the GOP is their “logical home if you’re concerned about Biblical issues” since “it’s very clear in the party platforms that one party does support traditional marriage and opposes abortion and supports school prayer -- and the other opposes that.”

Barton excoriates Christians who don’t share his enthusiasm for politics, saying that Jesus’ admonition to render under Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s requires Christians to take responsibility for their government. And Barton warns that God will hold them accountable for choosing the wrong candidate, consistently telling voters that they will “answer to God” for their votes, saying “righteousness must be the issue.” In 2006, he told conservatives at a political rally in Ohio, "Take your Sunday school class to vote, and you’ve got to start breaking fingers if they don’t.”

On the other hand, Barton understands that in politics you don’t often get perfect candidates. When it comes to elective politics, Barton argues for incrementalism rather than ideological purity or third party politics. He tells voters that it makes sense to support a candidate you agree with 70 percent of the time if the alternative is someone you agree with only 20 percent. Barton claims biblical authority for this principle by quoting God telling the Israelites in Deuteronomy that he would not give them the Promised Land all at once.

National GOP leaders have in increasingly tapped his proven ability to excite conservative evangelical voters with his attacks on church-state separation, liberal judges, and the like. In 2004, Barton traveled across the nation to help George W. Bush’s re-election bid:

"He could take a crowd that wasn't particularly political, that didn't understand how they could make a difference, that didn't understand how the issues that mattered to them played a part in politics, and motivate them to go out and work in their communities," said Blaise Hazelwood, who served as the Republican National Committee's political director during the campaign. "He's incredibly talented at doing that."

Barton also campaigned for the McCain/Palin ticket in 2008. That year, he cited four factors he considers when deciding how to vote in presidential elections in a Fire Away Friday conversation sold by the American Family Association as a DVD entitled Christianity and Politics: Do they Mix?:

  1. What are you going to do on judges?
  2. What are you going to do on right to life?
  3. Where are they on homosexuality -- do they understand absolute moral rights and wrongs or put the Bible on the back shelf?
  4. Acknowledgement of God. If we keep religion at church and out of the public arena we’re going to miss blessings that come from the acknowledgment of God

Because Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had voted wrongly, in Barton’s eyes, on all those factors, and McCain had voted correctly, Barton said he wasn’t bothering to listen to any speeches because he knew who to vote for.

Before the 2010 elections, Barton said: “If we stand before God and He says ‘why did you vote for a leader who’s attempting to redefine my institution of marriage and who wills the unborn children that I knew before they were in the womb?’ If He asks us that and our answer is ‘Because that leader was good on jobs and the economy,’ He’s not going to accept that.” After the many conservative victories in the 2010 elections, Barton praised the number of Americans involved in Religious Right-organized prayer and fasting efforts leading up to the elections. “Historically it’s irrefutable” that those efforts had an impact on the election, he said. “There’s no way from a biblical or historical standpoint you can do that and not see God intervene or move.”

Barton’s use of political data is no more reliable than his interpretation of historical documents. Right Wing Watch’s Kyle Mantyla, in a piece aptly titled David Barton's Utter Disregard for Fact and Accuracy,” exposes and debunks Barton’s deceptive manipulation of polling data to make literally unbelievable claims about the 2010 elections, including the claim that the number of voters who considered marriage an important issue jumped from one percent in 2008 to 53 percent in 2010.

Barton on Environmentalism: Green = Evil

Barton is closely associated with a movement among conservative evangelicals to resist the rise of environmental activism in church communities and to portray the environmental movement as not only un-Christian but actively anti-Christian. He is among the many Religious Right leaders who signed the 2009 Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which asserts:

We believe Earth and its ecosystems -- created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence -- are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.

The Declaration claims that efforts to reduce carbon dioxide would be economically devastating, particularly to poorer nations, and that such policies therefore fail to “comply with the Biblical requirement of protecting the poor from harm and oppression.”

Barton was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2007. In that testimony, he promoted the Cornwall Alliance, a Religious Right group opposing action on climate change. An excerpt from the “Cornwall Declaration” follows:

And while science is still debating the causes of Global Warming and trying to decide where the ocean waves will end up, religious conservatives rest in the many promises of the Scriptures. For example, in Genesis 8:21-22, God promised that the natural cycles would continue (“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”); and Psalm 104:9 declares: “You set a boundary that they [the waters] may not pass over, so that they will not return to cover the earth”; and in Jeremiah 5:22, God asks: “Will you not tremble at My presence, Who have placed the sand as the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree that it [the sea] cannot pass beyond it? And though its waves toss to and fro, yet they cannot prevail.” To date, neither science nor experience has disproved the promises of those Scriptures.

But Cornwall and Barton go well beyond criticism of the science on man-caused climate change. Barton is actively involved in the “Resisting the Green Dragon” project, which attacks efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, and which portrays environmentalism as “deadly to human prosperity, deadly to human life, deadly to human freedom, and deadly to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Barton appeared on Glenn Beck’s October 15, 2010 television show along with Cornwall Alliance founder and spokesman Calvin Beisner. The show was largely devoted to attacking “And Let There Be … Stuff?” a pro-environment curriculum designed for use by religious congregations. Beck asserted that “environmentalists are now worshiping the ancient god of Babylon, the god of weather.” And Barton took to the blackboard to demonstrate visually his claim that, while the traditional religious view places mankind as the pinnacle of creation, the “secular religious view” actually places mankind at the bottom, as less important than plants and animals. He complained that environmentalists are therefore willing to “inconvenience man” in order to save other animal species. Beisner and Barton agreed with Beck that the environmental movement is “anti-human” and that the environmental curriculum designed for use in churches was more evidence that “the progressive left is coming for the kill on religion.”

Barton on Religious Minorities

When Rep. Keith Ellison was elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota in 2006, Ellison -- the first Muslim in Congress -- chose to use a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson for his private ceremonial swearing-in (the actual swearing-in takes place on the floor of the House of Representatives in a group). Some conservative Christians reacted with anger to that decision; Barton defended those reactions by citing 19th-century history as a reason Americans are right to be worried about a Muslim in Congress.

In January 2007, Barton penned “An Historical Perspective on a Muslim Being Sworn into Congress on the Koran,” which generously quoted two of Ellison’s most vocal critics. Radio show host Dennis Prager said the use of the Koran “undermined American civilization” and said, “Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book: the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.” Barton also approvingly quoted Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, who said Ellison’s election was evidence of the need to restrict immigration.

In the article, Barton argues that the U.S. conflict with the Barbary pirates in the early 1800s provides “useful background in addressing the issue of a Muslim being sworn into Congress.” Barton refers to the Barbary pirates as “Muslim terrorists.”He wrote that Ellison’s use of a Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson was “perhaps not as noble” as Ellison portrayed, saying the reason Jefferson owned the Koran was to “learn the beliefs of the enemies he was fighting.”

Ellison may not have the same beliefs as the Muslims who openly decry and even attack America; nevertheless, their behavior reflects on him. It is therefore understandable that citizens outside his district are highly concerned. This concern was heightened by the fact that Ellison himself publicly flaunted his abrogation of American precedent by making his swearing-in on the Koran a national issue.

After a litany of historical examples of human rights abuses by Muslim leaders, Barton concludes:

Keith Ellison may be the one to break this pattern and start something new with Islam, but in the meantime, he should not be surprised that there is widespread concern over his decision to publicly flaunt American tradition and values and replace them with Islamic ones.

In the article Barton also promotes the books of Robert Spencer, a right-wing author whose vehemently anti-Muslim books have been criticized by scholars of religion and civil rights advocates.

In September 2010, Barton devoted several WallBuilders Live broadcasts to critics of the cultural center that opponents describe inaccurately as the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Barton criticized media coverage of the issue, saying, “When they’re claiming it’s a freedom of religion issue, and that’s all they’re talking about, that’s great proof that’s not the issue.”

Debra Burlingame, the sister of a pilot killed in the 9-11 attacks, was a guest one day. She said promoters of the cultural center want to build a Muslim presence at a site of conquest that would “be seen in the Muslim world as the hand of Allah basically ratifying what happened on 9-11.”She called it “an overt and audacious history grab.”Barton co-host Rick Green agreed that it would be “a beachhead for Sharia law.” Barton referred to Feisel Abdul Rauf, the imam promoting the cultural center, as “this nut” and argued that he is “trying to provoke a nuclear incident with Israel and with Iran.”

The next day, WallBuilders continued the conversation with Walid Shoebat, a self-described former PLO terrorist and convert to evangelical Christianity, who said that Rauf wants to do the same thing Osama bin Laden wants to do, which is to see America subjugated to Sharia law. Shoebat said that liberals are supporting the project because “liberals always agree with Muslims,” an “insight” that Rick Green called “brilliant.” Barton and Green agreed that the worldviews of liberals and Islamicists “fit together.”

Barton also complained when a Hindu priest was invited to give the invocation before Congress that “the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto ‘One Nation Under God.’”

Not surprisingly, Barton is seemingly unconcerned about the impact on religious minorities of his efforts to re-install Christian prayers in public school classrooms. The Star Telegram writes:

Barton's views on school prayer illustrate one of the tenets of his belief system: an abiding faith in majority rule.

Students of all religions should be able to pray in the classroom, during graduation or at football games if the majority of a community wants it, Barton argues.

"I fully understand if New York City doesn't want prayer in schools, but Pampa, Texas, may," he said.

Barton says other faiths should be able to pray, too, but only according to their representation in a given community. Christian prayers, then, would dominate in most places.

Smaller faiths are owed no more by the majority, he believes. Above all else, Barton believes that America was founded on Christianity.

He has written and spoken approvingly of early state constitutions that required officeholders to profess "faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son."

But secularists still top the list of Barton’s enemies. For all his criticism of Islam, and his defense of those concerned about the election of Muslim public officials, Barton says nonreligious public officials would be even worse:

From a societal standpoint, there should be more concern over elected officials who are secularists and will swear an oath on no religious book, than for Muslims who swear on the Koran. After all, secularism presents a greater threat to American traditions and values than does Islam.


Barton brings his trademark style -- claiming God’s blessing for all the Religious Right’s political positions -- to the issue of immigration as well. Last summer, Barton argued against immigration reform, saying,

…it is God and not man who establishes the borders of nations. National boundaries are set by God. If God didn't want boundaries, he would have put everyone in the same world and there would have been no nations; we would have all been living together as one group and one people. That didn't happen. From the Tower of Babel, he sent them out with different languages, different cultures. God's the one who drew up the lines for the nations, so to say open borders is to say ‘God, you goofed it all up and when you had borders, you shouldn't have done it’ ... And so, from a Christian standpoint, you cannot do that. God's the one who establishes the boundaries of nations.

Barton and WallBuilders Live co-host Rick Green have also featured William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, whom Right Wight Watch has described as “ the viciously anti-immigrant activist” who made news when he “demanded that Sen. Lindsey Graham admit that he is gay, saying that his refusal to do so was allowing President Obama and others to blackmail him into supporting immigration reform.”Gheen said of the Department of Homeland Security, “they don't care about the death and suffering illegal immigration is causing the American public” and called immigrants’ advocates enemies of America.

Racial History

As part of his tireless efforts to promote the Republican Party, Barton has peddled a one-sided “documentary” called Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White, which is designed to help the GOP reach out to black voters by blaming the Democratic Party for slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow. That documentary was a focus of People For the American Way Foundation’s 2006 report on Barton, Propaganda Masquerading as History. Barton’s film credits the GOP with the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Not so surprisingly, his history stops there, ignoring the decades of GOP power-building in the south based on fanning racial resentment among conservative white voters. Barton continues to promote his ideologically blinkered history of race in America, devoting his WallBuilders Live radio show in the first week of March 2011 to a recap of Setting the Record Straight.

Barton also offers a revisionist take on the history of slavery in America, which among other things portrays the Constitution’s treatment of slaves as three-fifths of a person as evidence of the Christian founders’ anti-slavery sentiments.“ Barton accuses historians of hiding the truth about slavery and racism from the American people, a charge that fits the larger conspiracy-oriented worldview of Beck and other leading conservatives,” says religion scholar Julie Ingersoll, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida, who notes that Barton’s revisionist view is now showing up in Tea Partiers’ talking points.

Ingersoll summarizes Barton’s strategic revisionism:

David Barton, Glenn Beck’s favorite history “professor,” is the creator and purveyor of a revisionist history of race in America that is rapidly gaining traction in conservative and Tea Party circles. That history, drawn in part from the writings of Christian Reconstructionists, recasts modern-day Republicans as the racially inclusive party, and modern-day Democrats as the racists supportive of slavery and post-Emancipation racist policies.

Barton frames the details for maximum impact on contemporary politics, to an increasingly growing audience. Like Barton’s larger revisionist effort to develop and perpetuate the narrative that America is a “Christian nation,” the “Republicans-are-really-the-party-of-racial-equality” narrative is not entirely fictive. Some historical points Barton makes are true; but he and his star pupil Beck manipulate those points along with false historical claims in order to promote their political agenda.

Barton’s involvement in recent controversies over the treatment of American history in Texas textbooks was another outlet for his efforts to shape the next generation’s understanding of American History. As Mariah Blake of the Washington Monthly wrote of Barton and Marshall:

They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.” Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them by whites -- in his view, mostly white Republican men.

The Courts

Barton has been an active participant in the long-running Religious Right campaign to impose ideological domination on the federal judiciary. He has published Restraining Judicial Activism, a book calling for the impeachment of federal judges who don’t interpret the Constitution the same way he does. And he has argued that members of Congress should use the threat of impeachment as a way to intimidate federal judges into falling in line. Barton has celebrated Iowa voters’ rejection of pro-equality state Supreme Court justices last November as a signal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In fact, Barton says judges are his number one voting issue when it comes to electing a president, citing the prophet Isaiah saying that the righteousness of a land will be based on its judges. Before the 2008 election, he praised the progress that conservatives had made with Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court and urged people to “just think what we could do with all aspects of the culture war” if they got a fifth or sixth justice. Looking ahead to 2012, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are a powerful motivator for Barton.

Gay Equality

Barton believes the government should regulate gay sex, relying on bogus claims about gay people to make his case, such as “homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals.” Barton has also maintained that countries that “rejected sexual regulation” have inevitably collapsed. He has griped that “if there’s a group in America that is hypersensitive, it is homosexuals. I mean, they got a short fuse on everything.” Not surprisingly, Barton opposes marriage equality and has campaigned for state restrictions on legal equality.

In an article defending exclusion of gay servicemembers from the military, Barton happily cites a litany of harsh condemnations of homosexual “sodomy” from the 18th and 19th centuries, including state laws calling for the death penalty. Among those he cites is an author who in 1814 “outlined why homosexuality must be more strenuously addressed and much less tolerated than virtually any other moral vice in society.” Barton’s quotes include this section:

If we reflect on the dreadful consequences of sodomy to a state, and on the extent to which this abominable vice may be secretly carried on and spread, we cannot, on the principles of sound policy, consider the punishment as too severe…. Whoever, therefore, wishes to ruin a nation, has only to get this vice introduced; for it is extremely difficult to extirpate it where it has once taken root because it can be propagated with much more secrecy . . . and when we perceive that it has once got a footing in any country, however powerful and flourishing, we may venture as politicians to predict that the foundation of its future decline is laid and that after some hundred years it will no longer be the same . . . powerful country it is at present.

Barton also made inaccurate statements about the Hide/Seek exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, which aroused the ire of Religious Right groups. On his radio show Barton falsely suggested that Hide/Seek, which examined through portraiture the visibility of gay and lesbian Americans and their impact on modern art, was actually a “Christmas exhibit” designed to lure children into seeing shocking images. Barton and his co-host Rick Green wrongly maintained that the exhibit was “taxpayer funded,” even though Hide/Seek only used private funds and did not receive any taxpayer money.

Enlisting Jesus in the War on Unions

Religious Right activist David Barton promotes his version of American exceptionalism (America was created by its divinely inspired founders as a country of, by, and for evangelical Christians) and biblical capitalism (Jesus and the Bible oppose progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes, and minimum wage laws). Claiming divine backing is a long-standing Religious Right technique with a powerful political edge: if God supports radically limited government, then progressive policies are not only wrong but evil, and liberals are not only political opponents but enemies of God.

On a conference call with pastors two days after the November 2010 elections to celebrate conservative victories, Barton asserted a biblical underpinning for far-right economic policies: Taxation and deficit spending amount to theft, a violation of the Ten Commandments. The estate tax is “absolutely condemned” by the Bible as the “most immoral” of taxes. Jesus had “teachings” condemning the capital gains tax and minimum wage.

Barton also enlists Jesus in the war against unions and collective bargaining. According to Barton, a parable from the 20th chapter of the book of Matthew about the owner of a vineyard making different arrangements with workers was about “the right of private contract” -- in other words, the right of employers to come to individual agreements with each employee. Jesus’ parable, he said, is “anti-minimum wage” and “anti-socialist-union kind of stuff.”


David Barton is in many ways emblematic of politics in Fox News-Tea Party America, in which facts are distorted in service of a right-wing ideological agenda, and in which political opponents are denigrated as enemies of faith and freedom. Barton’s work has repeatedly been debunked by historians and scholars, yet conservative political leaders and pundits continue to promote his manipulations in order to help Republicans get elected and in order to advance the Religion.

What’s this I hear about a plan to privatize Medicare?

Consumer Reports Health logo

What’s this I hear about a plan to privatize Medicare?

Q. Republicans in the House of Representatives just voted for a plan to cut Medicare to help reduce the budget deficit. What exactly do they have in mind?

A. The Republican plan, conceived by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee and passed last week by the House on a party-line vote, would eliminate the government-run Medicare program that’s been around since 1965 and replace it with private insurance that would push more costs onto Medicare recipients. It would also increase the Medicare eligibility age by two months a year starting in 2022 so that by 2033 it would be 67 instead of the current 65.

The plan isn’t law yet and won’t be unless the Senate also passes it—unlikely, given that President Obama and the Democrats who control the Senate say they’re opposed to it.

When fully phased in, in 2022, the Ryan plan would give people on Medicare a voucher that they could use to buy private health insurance on a special exchange similar to the exchanges to be set up for working-age adults under the Affordable Care Act. The size of the voucher would vary according to the person’s health, age, and income. Plans couldn’t turn people down on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

The problem, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan and authoritative Congressional Budget Office, is that the Ryan plan would be more expensive overall than traditional Medicare, and individuals would have to bear almost all of that extra cost themselves. The nonpartisan, nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation (no relation to the HMO) estimates that in 2022 the average 65-year-old Medicare recipient would be personally paying $12,500 of the typical plan’s total cost of $20,500. Out-of-pocket costs would be even higher in the years beyond, because the Ryan plan is set up so the value of the vouchers won’t increase as fast as the price of health care.

By contrast, if the current Medicare system stays in place, in 2022 that same 65-year-old will be paying $5,630 of the plan’s total cost of $13,530, according to the Kaiser analysis.

The Ryan plan says that people who make it to age 65 before 2022 can still get traditional Medicare and keep it as long as they want. But their benefits would decline, mainly because the Ryan plan would repeal most of the Affordable Care Act, including the part that eliminates the notorious Part D “doughnut hole.” Younger people would have no Medicare option other than a voucher and private plan.

And, of course, the 32 million uninsured Americans under 65 who were expected to get coverage under health reform would continue to go without it if it were repealed.

So, would the plan help reduce the deficit? Yes. According to the CBO analysis, if the Ryan plan were to be adopted, by 2030 the government would be spending only about 6 percent of our nation’s Gross National Product on health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. If the current system stays in place, government spending on health would total between 8.75 and 9.75 percent of GNP in 2030, the CBO said.

But overall health spending, both public and private, would be higher—and more of it would come out of your pocket.

Congressional Budget Office analysis of Ryan plan

Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of Ryan plan

—Nancy Metcalf

Monday, April 25, 2011

Shameless GOP Lies: Is There Any Limit to What Republicans Will Say -- And What People Will Believe?


If it were in the interest of the ruling oligarchs to convince a majority of the public that the earth is flat, could they succeed?

Photo Credit: ajagendorf25

"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -- George Orwell

Is there any limit to the outrageousness of the GOP lies?

Is there any limit to the capacity of a large number of our fellow citizens to accept these lies?

If it were in the interest of the ruling oligarchs to convince a majority of the public that the earth is flat, could they succeed?

This is, after all, a public almost half of which refuses to accept evolution -- the central coordinating concept of modern biology. And approximately half of the GOP primary voters believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

These unsettling thoughts came to my mind when I heard Michael Steele remark that "not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job." This from a man who held a government job as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. That remark was echoed by Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana and Sarah Palin and I can testify that I have heard it elsewhere.

Michael Steele's comment is more audacious even than the claim that the earth is flat. (After all, the earth looks flat, doesn’t it?). To say that government never created a single job flies in the face of ordinary, everyday experience. What are police, firefighters, teachers, judges, prosecutors, postal workers, military personnel, etc engaged in if not “government jobs.” What is the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, the certification of the safety of our food and drugs, air traffic control, if they are not “government jobs.”

The claim that government never creates jobs is so preposterous that it seems pointless even to bother to refute it.

Yet somehow, some GOP politicians freely utter this absurdity without fear of being laughed off the stage of public debate. And apparently some people, failing to give the claim even a moment’s critical reflection, believe it. Otherwise, why would Steele and others say such nonsense in the first place?

And this is only the most egregious of a long string of Republican lies thrown at the public by right-wing politicians and pundits and largely unchallenged by a compliant corporate media. Among them:

  • Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet and to have discovered the toxic contamination of Love Canal.

  • John Kerry’s allegedly heroic war record was fraudulent.

  • Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret Muslim.

  • Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

  • Global warming is a gigantic hoax, perpetrated by thousands of deceitful scientists.

  • Obama has raised taxes.

  • “Obamacare” is a “socialist government takeover of health care.”

  • Ninety percent of Planned Parenthood funding is for abortion services.

  • Elections in the United States are always accurate and fair.

These are not “matters of opinion,” they are flatly and demonstrably false. Clear and decisive refutation of all these claims are available to anyone who cares to examine the evidence. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously remarked, while we are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts.

Then there are the contradictions:

  • Teachers, police officers and firefighters are greedy. But billionaire CEOs and hedge-fund managers are not.

  • Wall street banksters are entitled to their million-dollar bonuses because these bonuses are contractual obligations with their firms. But the states are not required to honor their contractual obligations to public workers, obligations such as pensions and health coverage.

  • Federal revenues are increased by cutting taxes (i.e., revenues).

  • During the Bush administration, “Reagan proved [that] deficits don’t matter.” (Dick Cheney) In the Obama administration, the GOP tells us that the federal deficit is the Number One economic problem today.

  • “Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job.” (Michael Steele, etc.). “Since President Obama has taken office, the federal government had added 200 thousand new federal jobs.” (John Boehner. Also false, by the way. The correct number is 56,000).

And finally, there is the “dogma” -- a priori “first principles” too sacred to be doubted or subjected to rational analysis and confirmation:

  • “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” (Ronald Reagan).

  • Market fundamentalism: “A free market [co-ordinates] the activity of millions of people, each seeking his own interest, in such a way as to make everyone better off.” (Milton Friedman)

  • Privatization: "Whenever we find an approach to the extension of private property rights [in the natural environment,] we find superior results.” (Robert J. Smith).

  • “There is no such thing as society.” (Margaret Thatcher)

  • “There is no such entity as ‘the public.’” (Ayn Rand)

These last two dogmas bear significant implications. For if there is no such thing as “society,” it follows that there are no social problems or “social injustice. Poverty is the fault of individuals who are sinful and lazy. And if there is no “public,” then there is no “public interest,” and thus no need for government to promote same.

A large portion of the American public believes these lies, accepts these contradictions, and embraces these dogmas, not because of supporting evidence (there is none) or cogent arguments (there are none), but out of sheer unquestioned repetition in the corporate media.

Students of propaganda methods call this “The Big Lie” -- a term that has its origins in the Nazi Regime.

Congressman Steve Cohen (Democrat, Tennessee) correctly observed that when the GOP claimed that “Obamacare” was “government takeover of health care,” they were engaging in a “Big Lie.” Yet when he said this on the floor of the House of Representatives, he was so mercilessly hounded by the media and his colleagues, that he felt obliged to apologize.

So now the corporate media has, in effect, ruled the expression, “The Big Lie,” out of bounds of polite political discourse, despite the fact that the term precisely describes the successful method of the right wing propagandists. In short, those who wish to complain against this practice have been effectively disarmed.

So where is the bewildered citizen to go if that citizen is to avoid the big lies and to encounter a fund of verifiable facts and informed opinion? Rule One: stay clear of the corporate media. Even The New York Times, once regarded as “the newspaper of historical record,” can no longer be trusted to deliver “all the news that’s fit to print.”Remember the hullabaloo about Bill Clinton’s “Whitewater” deal? Remember Judith Miller’s breathless disclosure of Saddam Hussein’s nefarious “aluminum tubes”? All promoted by the New York Times. All false.

So where do we find authentic news? Try National Public Radio (while it lasts) and, of course, the internet (until it is privatized and sold to the media conglomerates) where one can find a multitude of independent progressive websites. Also deserving honorable mention is the evening contingent of MSNBC -- O’Donnell, Maddow and Schultz. Even so, along with the entire corporate media, these worthies never question the integrity of our elections and only rarely discuss the size of the military budget, now approximately equal all the other military budgets in the world combined, including those of our allies. It should be noted that NBC, the parent company of MSNBC, is half owned by the world’s largest military contractor, General Electric.

In addition, some of the best sources of news are foreign -- and all available on the internet. They include the BBC (England) and the CBC (Canada), The Real News (broadcast from Toronto, Canada), Al Jazeera English, and, amazingly, Russia Today. The Russians, it seems, are returning the favor that we bestowed upon them during the Soviet Era, when the U.S. and Western Europe sent accurate news across “the iron curtain” via The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. Yes, it has come to that!

But these are all pathetically weak voices accessed by thousands, arrayed against the corporate media that is devoured by millions. And as long as this remains the case, and those millions accept uncritically the lies, myths and dogmas fed to them by the mega-corporations that own our government, there appears to be little hope of a return to economic justice and democratic government that we once enjoyed in the United States of America.

But all is not lost. As the folk tale of the boy who cried “Wolf!” reminds us, liars tend through time to lose their credibility. We should strive to accelerate this process as it applies to the corporate media by exposing the lies and boycotting the sponsors of those who tell the lies.

The experience of the Russians is instructive. My Russian friends tell me that after decades of unabashed lying by Pravda, Izvestia and Gostelradio, fewer and fewer Soviet citizens believed the state media. The facts bear them out, as history discloses that Russians instead sought out foreign sources of news such as The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. (See my “What if America Loses its Voice?”). Some Russians were so desperate for authentic news and uncensored opinion that they risked arrest and prison by producing and distributing underground manuscripts, "Samizdat," hand to hand. In the United States today, a comparable "American Samizdat" can be found on the internet.

When the Soviet government lost control of the hearts and minds of its citizens, its days were numbered.

In the United States, the corporate media, unlike the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, is sensitive to market forces. As ever more Americans refuse to believe the lies served up by the corporate media, the media will either reform or become politically irrelevant, and more and more attention will be directed to responsible sources of news, both foreign and domestic. The fate of Glenn Beck’s TV show and the diminishing audience of Fox “News” may be harbingers of such reform.

Whatever the outcome, Thomas Jefferson’s warning remains enduringly true: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

The restoration of sanity in our public discourse is essential to the restoration of our democracy. Necessary, but not sufficient. In addition, the liars in public offices must be removed from those offices. And that will only happen if official election returns can once again be trusted to reflect the will of the voters, and not the output of secret software written by right wing partisans.

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Madness: Right-Wingers Are Serious About Trying to Undermine Child Labor Laws


Madness: Right-Wingers Are Serious About Trying to Undermine Child Labor Laws

Yes, they are trying to roll back the 20th century.

Photo Credit: Lewis Hine

The fact that we're debating the social benefits of child labor laws in the second decade of the 21st century casts the madness that's gripped our right-wing in sharp relief. It took a hard-fought, century-long battle to get compliant kids working for slave-wages out of American workplaces, and that battle was supposedly won 73 years ago during the New Deal.

But according to Ian Milhiser, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has “called for a return to a discredited theory of the Constitution that early twentieth century justices used to declare federal child labor laws unconstitutional” in three separate decisions. In January, Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, said that children's employment was a states' rights issue, and their regulation by the federal government is unconstitutional. Milhiser noted that “many GOP elected officials have embraced rhetoric suggesting” that they agree, but have stopped short of coming out and saying as much.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) announced this week that it is diverting attention from its primary task of advocating for the 14 million Americans without jobs to run ads in Maine against two measures that would significantly undermine the state's limits on child labor. A NELP spokesperson told AlterNet that the organization is spending “significant resources” to run the ads on local CNN and Fox affiliates in an effort to educate Mainers about what their new Tea Party-endorsed governor and his GOP-controlled legislature are trying to enact.

The state senate is considering two bills that would weaken existing workplace protections for minors. L.D. 1346 would allow employers to pay anyone under 20 a six-month “training wage” that falls more than $2 per hour below the minimum wage, eliminate rules establishing a maximum number of hours kids 16 and over can work during school days, allow those under 16 to work up to four hours per school day, allow home-schooled kids to work during school hours and eliminate any limit on how many hours kids of any age can work in agriculture (with a signature from their parents or legal guardians). L.D. 516 would allow teens to work longer hours and later into the night than is allowed under current law.

The bills appear to be headed for easy passage in the state senate, but may face some resistance in the lower chamber. While it's controlled by the GOP, several members have broken with leadership on this issue to side with Maine Democrats.

Both bills, as you might imagine, are being championed by various industry groups, notably the Maine Restaurant Association – think fast-food. They argue that Maine's restrictions on child labor are more strict than those imposed by federal law, yet that's long been the point of the state's code, as the Brunswick Times-Record notes, “Under the existing state child labor laws in Maine, when there’s a difference between state and federal law, 'the law that provides the most protection to the minor takes precedence.'”

Maine was a leader in establishing limits on the work children could do and the hours in which they could perform it. It passed its first child labor law in 1847, 91 years before the first such legislation was enacted at the federal level (and only a short time after Massachusetts passed the country's first limits on child labor in 1836).

Child labor laws attempt to strike a delicate balance: often, they affect teens from low-income families that rely on the extra cash from the jobs they work after school and on weekends. The problem is that the short-term economic benefits to those families are often great enough that they have an incentive to sacrifice the long-term economic benefits of getting a decent education. The state has a “compelling interest” to make sure tomorrow's workforce is getting the skills it will need to thrive.

Maine appears to have struck that balance, allowing young people to put in significant work hours, but preventing them from working long hours on school days or past 10 pm. The state doesn't exactly have a labor shortage – its unemployment rate stands at 8.5 percent – but the legislature is trying to water down the existing laws to expand its low-wage workforce. It's a classic move in the race to the bottom.

And it's part of a larger assault on the working class. Maine's new governor, Paul LePage, is a Tea Party darling best known (after his “brazen” nepotism) for ordering the removal of a mural that depicted workers in a positive light.

Child labor laws and the growth of the American labor movement have gone hand-in-hand. According to the Child Labor Education Project, “Union organizing and child labor reform were often intertwined, and common initiatives were conducted by organizations led by working women and middle-class consumers, such as state Consumers’ Leagues and Working Women’s Societies.”

In 1876, the Working Men’s Party fought to ban the employment of children under the age of 14. These grassroots organizations would fight for better conditions for all workers, and for limits on children's labor, until the first federal child labor laws were passed in 1938.

Organized labor doesn't have the same clout it did in the 1930s – 13 percent of Maine's workforce belonged to a union last year. And that is an integral part of the widespread assault on workers' protections, from public employees' right to bargain collectively to the insidious “right to work” laws that result in the average working person taking home $1,500 less in pay each year. And now the wisdom of child labor laws are once again subject to debate in the American mainstream.

Last month, a measure far more extreme than that being considered in Maine was introduced by Missouri state rep. Jane Cunningham, R-West County. According to the St. Louis Waterfront Times, if her bill, SB 222, were enacted:

Children under the age of 14 would no longer be barred from employment. They'd also be able to work all hours of the day, no longer need a work permit from their school and be able to work at motels and resorts so long as they're given a place to lay their weary heads each night. Moreover, businesses that employ children would no longer be subject to inspections from the Division of Labor Standards.

Charles Dickens would feel right at home.

You can watch the ad NELP is airing in Maine below: