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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

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:

How the Koch Brothers Indoctrinate Their Employees with Right-Wing Anti-Worker Propaganda



How the Koch Brothers Indoctrinate Their Employees with Right-Wing Anti-Worker Propaganda

Before the landmark Citizens' United ruling, the kind of corporate propaganda Koch Industries is using wouldn't have been legal.

The following article first appeared on the Nation.com. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its email newsletters here.

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens UnitedSupreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

The election packet starts with a letter from Robertson dated October 4, 2010. It read: “As Koch company employees, we have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. Each of us is likely to be affected by the outcome on Nov. 2. That is why, for the first time ever, we are mailing our newest edition of Discovery and several other helpful items to the home address of every U.S. employee” [emphasis added].

For most Koch employees, the “helpful items” included a list of Koch-approved candidates, which was presented on a separate page labeled “Elect to Prosper.” A brief introduction to the list reads: “The following candidates in your state are supported by Koch companies and KOCHPAC, the political action committee for Koch companies. We believe these candidates will best advance policies supporting economic freedom.”

What the Kochs mean by “economic freedom” is explained on the next page. As the mailer makes clear, Koch Industries tailored its election propaganda to the state level, rather than focusing on national elections. Of the 19 candidates that Koch Industries recommended in its Washington State list, 16 were Republicans. The three Democratic candidates approved by the Kochs included two members of the “Roadkill Caucus,” Washington’s version of the conservative Blue Dogs.

Only two of the 19 races on the list were for national office, and in both cases Koch Industries backed Tea Party-friendly Republicans: Dino Rossi, an antilabor candidate, who lost to incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray; and Jaime Herrera-Beutler, who ran in the Republican primary as a moderate, but who came out recently as a Tea Party radical, much to her constituency’s surprise.

After guiding employees on how they should vote, the mailer devoted the rest of the material to the sort of indoctrination one would expect from an old John Birch Society pamphlet (the Koch brothers’ father, Fred Koch, was a founding member of the JBS). It offers an apocalyptic vision of the company’s free-market struggle for liberty against the totalitarian forces of European Union bureaucrats and deficit-spending statists.

The newsletter begins with an unsigned editorial preaching familiar Tea Party themes, repackaged as Koch Industry corporate philosophy:

For more than 40 years, Koch Industries has openly and consistently supported the principles of economic freedom and market-based policies. Unfortunately, these values and principled point of view are now being strongly opposed by many politicians (and their media allies) who favor ever-increasing government…. Even worse, recent government actions are threatening to bankrupt the country…. And the facts are that the overwhelming majority of the American people will be much worse off if government overspending is allowed to bankrupt the country.

Further into the company newsletter is an article headlined “What’s a Business to Do?” It portrays corporate titans like the Kochs as freedom-fighting underdogs, modern-day Sakharovs and Mandelas targeted for repression by Big Government statists: “Citizens who are openly critical of the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels or the out-of-control government of the United States are being shouted down by politicians, government officials and their media and other allies.”

In this scenario, Big Government wants to muzzle the Kochs before they can spread their message to the people. That message comes down to preaching the benefits of lower wages:

If the government insists that someone should be paid $50 per hour in wages and benefits, but that person only creates $30 worth of value, no one will prosper for long…. Anything that undermines the mobility of labor, such as policies that make it more expensive and difficult to change where people are employed, also increases unemployment…. Similar policies that distort the labor market—such as minimum wage laws and mandated benefits—contribute to unemployment.

Easily the strangest and most disturbing article of all comes from the head of Koch Industries himself, Charles Koch, who offers an election-season history lesson to his employees. Koch’s essay sets out to rank the best and worst US presidents in terms of their economic policies. Charles—who with his brother David is worth $44 billion, putting them fifth on the 2010 Forbes 400 list—warns his readers that his history lesson may surprise them. And to his credit, Koch doesn’t disappoint.

Koch glorifies Warren G. Harding and his successor Calvin Coolidge for producing “one of the most prosperous [eras] in U.S. history.” Koch explains that what made Harding great was his insistence on “cutting taxes, reducing the national debt and cutting the federal budget,” all policies that Congressional Republicans are proposing in today’s budget negotiations. What made Harding so great, in other words, is what made radical Republican candidates so great in November 2010.

Koch’s pick for worst president is Herbert Hoover, whom he accuses of undermining “economic freedom” and thus precipitating the Great Depression. “Under Hoover,” he writes, “federal spending roughly doubled and personal income tax rates jumped from 25 percent to 63 percent. He raised corporate taxes, too, and doubled the estate tax. Hoover also pressured business leaders to keep wages artificially high, contributing to massive unemployment.”

According to most historians, the Harding and Coolidge administrations’ free-market romp was one of the key factors that led to the Great Depression. Their time in office was marked by obscene corruption, racial violence, unionbusting, feudal wealth inequalities and, shortly thereafter, the total collapse of the American economy.

* * *

Legal experts say that this kind of corporate-sponsored propagandizing has been almost unheard-of in America since the passage of New Deal–era laws like the National Labor Relations Act, which codified restrictions on political activism and pressure in the workplace. NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher, director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law, toldThe Nation in an e-mail interview that such overt politicking to employees is still rare. “I am not aware of it happening with many employers,” he wrote.

According to UCLA’s Stone, although Citizens United frees Koch Industries and other corporations to propagandize their employees with their political preferences, the same doesn’t hold true for unions—at least not in the workplace. “If a union wanted to hand out political materials in the workplace not directly relevant to the workers’ interests—such as providing a list of candidates to support in the elections—the employer has the right to ban that material,” says Stone. “They could even prohibit its distribution on lunch breaks or after shifts, because by law it’s the company’s private property.”

Stone points to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1915, Coppage v. Kansas, which protected employers’ right to draw up contracts forbidding employees from joining unions. Justice William Day’s dissent in that case pointed out that if the state was ready to enforce the employers’ contractual bans on union activity, then it was opening the way for the state to enforce employers’ legal right to control their employees’ political and ideological activities:

Would it be beyond a legitimate exercise of the police power to provide that an employee should not be required to agree, as a condition of employment, to forgo affiliation with a particular political party, or the support of a particular candidate for office? It seems to me that these questions answer themselves.

With Citizens United, it seems, the country is heading back to the days of court-enforced corporatocracy. Already, workers at a Koch subsidiary in Portland, Oregon, are complaining about being subjected to political and ideological propaganda. Employees at Georgia-Pacific warehouses in Portland say the company encourages them to read Charles Koch’s The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company and to attend ideological seminars in which Koch management preaches their bosses’ “market-based management” philosophy.

Travis McKinney, an employee at a Portland Georgia-Pacific distribution center, says, “They drill into your head things like ‘The 10 Guiding Principles of Koch Industries.’ They even stamp the ten principles on your time card.”

McKinney, a fourth-generation employee of Georgia-Pacific, says relations have sharply deteriorated since Koch Industries bought the company in late 2005. He and fellow employees at three Georgia-Pacific distribution centers are locked in a yearlong contract battle with the new Koch Industries management. Workers there, members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (an affiliate of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) recently voted unanimously to reject management’s contract and voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if management continues to try to impose cuts in benefits and job security in the new contracts.

Political propagandizing is a heated issue in Oregon, which passed SB-519 in the summer of 2009, a bill placing restrictions on corporations’ ability to coerce employees to attend political meetings and vote the way the corporation tells them to vote. In late December 2009—just before SB-519 was to go into effect—the US Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit with Associated Oregon Industries to block the bill from becoming law. A similar bill in Wisconsin was struck down in November in a federal court. However, the Chamber’s lawsuit in Oregon was thrown out in May 2010 by US District Court Judge Michael Mosman on procedural grounds, leaving open the possibility that it could still be struck down.

In the meantime, workers across the country should start preparing for a future workplace environment in which political proselytizing is the new normal.

Read more of Mark Ames at eXiledonline.com. He is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond. Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer and labor journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who writes for Campaign for America's Future. He previously worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

GOP Govs. Snyder & Walker Plan ‘Financial Martial Law’ in Michigan, Wisconsin

The Raw Story

Gov. Walker planning ‘financial martial law’ in Wisconsin

By David Edwards
Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 -- 5:05 pm

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is reportedly following the lead of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) by preparing a plan that would allow him to possibly take over municipalities that don't pass a financial stress test.

"[T]he Walker legislation would empower the governor to insert a financial manager of his choosing into local government with the ability to cancel union contracts, push aside duly elected local government officials and school board members and take control of Wisconsin cities and towns whenever he sees fit to do so," according to Forbes.

The reports first received public attention Monday when Madison, Wisconsin attorney and activist Ed Garvey made the claim on Wisconsin Public Radio.

In March, thousands showed up to protest the Michigan plan that gave emergency financial managers the power to terminate labor contracts and even dissolves or consolidate cities.

Republican Michigan state Sen. Jack Brandenburg has described his state's bill as "financial martial law," according to The Malcolm Daily Tribune.

Daily Tribune, local news, sports and weather serving southeastern Oakland County

Michigan Senate passes emergency manager bills

A day after facing hundreds of rowdy, pro-union protesters that filled the state Capitol, the Senate voted on Wednesday to grant broad new powers to emergency managers who oversee financially struggling cities and schools, including the authority to void union contracts and remove elected officials.

The controversial bills are expected to head to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for signature shortly, after the House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, work out some language differences.

The Senate passed the main bill in the package by a 26-12 party-line vote, drawing an immediate rebuke from union leaders across the state, who called it an assault on collective bargaining rights. In the Macomb County delegation, Republican Sens. Jack Brandenburg of Harrison Township and Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights supported the measure, while Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren was opposed.

Brandenburg said several urban areas of the state, especially Detroit, are in “bad shape” and will need a state-appointed emergency financial manager, or EMF, who can impose strong medicine.

“He has to have the backbone, he has to have the power, to null and void a contract,” Brandenburg said.

The senator also rejected claims by Democrats that the bill will destroy Michigan’s long history of local control by allowing the EMF to remove top administrators and elected officials, put millage increases on the ballot, lay off employees, slash services, and merge the city or school district with a neighboring government entity. Brandenburg said the EMFs will be deployed in communities that need “financial martial law.”

“Local control? I’ll tell you what, I think that in a lot of these places there is no control,” he said.

Snyder, a Republican, called for a substantially revised emergency manager process in January, warning that the current law doesn’t allow the state to act pro-actively, providing early intervention long before a city or school district faces financial collapse. In recent weeks, the governor has said that removing officials or altering or deleting contracts is a last resort.

In addition, an EMF can only be put in place if several preliminary steps to shore up a community’s finances fail.

An EMF would be appointed by the governor – in conjunction with the state school superintendent in the case of failing school districts. The Legislature could remove an EMF that was viewed as incompetent or overbearing.

Bieda said he’s disturbed that the Legislature is willing to put so much power in one person’s hands, someone who is not from the community and not elected by the people.

““I am very concerned for the powers this legislation would transfer to an emergency manager. Removing elected officials and overturning local ordinances shows no respect for the will or the rights of the voters. This draconian measure gives authority to an individual with no responsibility to the citizens of the community,” Bieda said in a statement.

Rocca could not be reached for comment.

The bills were approved after the Senate dealt with 29 amendments, mostly attempts by Democrats to soften the measure.

An amendment to the main bill that would have limited an EMF’s salary to the governor’s annual pay rate -- currently about $159,000 -- failed under unusual circumstances. Senators tied on a 19-19 vote, and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley broke the tie with a "no" vote, drawing some boos from protesters in the Senate gallery. One protester shouted "shame on you" after Calley's vote.

The atmosphere at the Senate was much calmer than on Tuesday, when hundreds of people angered by the bills’ content crowded into the Capitol rotunda and chanted loud enough to be heard in the Senate chambers, where the proposals were being discussed before a restless crowd in the gallery.

Only Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools have state-appointed emergency financial managers in place. But many more communities and schools might soon fall under the jurisdiction of the revised law. The state is training dozens of people with a background in municipal finance to certify them as a qualified EMF.

At the same time that municipalities and school districts are facing a dramatic decline in property tax revenues, state budget cuts have added to their woes and many experts say the additional deep cuts proposed by Snyder might push dozens of local governments and school districts over the edge.

Snyder has said that the state can no longer afford the level of financial assistance provided in the past, and he advised that officials at the local level must chop employee wages and benefits which are no longer affordable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Regressive GOP House Representatives Vote Genocide of U.S. Disabled and Retired

April 17, 2011 at 00:30:13

US House of Representatives votes to abolish Medicare

By Patrick Martin (about the author)

In the most reactionary social policy proposal in recent US history, the House of Representatives voted Friday afternoon to support the abolition of the Medicare program, the government health insurance system for tens of millions of retired and disabled Americans. The 235-193 margin was a near party-line vote, with only four Republicans opposing the bill and no Democrats supporting it.

The vote was to approve an overall budget resolution for fiscal year 2012, which begins October 1. The bill drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and backed by the entire House Republican leadership calls for $6.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years, with at least $3 trillion of this sum to be handed over to the wealthy in the form of additional tax cuts for the highest income bracket and for corporations.

The budget resolution serves as a framework for the bills that will actually authorize spending for FY 2012 by the various departments of the federal government. Even if passed by both houses of Congress, it is not legally binding and does not go the White House for the president's signature to become law. This House version, in any event, has little chance of being passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Nonetheless, from a political standpoint the House vote is of enormous significance. For the first time in modern American history, a major social benefit is being targeted by one of the chambers of Congress for complete elimination. Every US resident 65 years and older is eligible for Medicare, which pays the bulk of the cost of hospitalization and other health care.

The Ryan budget resolution phases out Medicare for all Americans now aged 55 or younger. Instead of guaranteed coverage when they reach the age of 65, they would receive "premium supports," or vouchers, to buy private insurance once they reach the age of 67. The value of the vouchers would be capped at a level that assures ever-rising health insurance costs for all those enrolled in the program.

Current Medicare recipients, and those over 55 who will become eligible for Medicare during the next 10 years, would remain under the preset program. However, the funding would be sharply cut, forcing cuts in coverage and reimbursement rates that would lead to more and more doctors and hospitals refusing to take Medicare patients.

The Republican budget also effectively eliminates Medicaid, the companion program to Medicare that provides health coverage for the poor, as well as paying for nursing home care for many seniors.

Medicaid is now a joint federal-state program, with the federal government bearing most of the costs and setting minimum standards for coverage. The Obama health-care legislation passed last year proposed to expand Medicaid as one means of providing health insurance for working people who cannot obtain it through their employers.

Under the budget resolution adopted Friday, Medicaid would become an entirely state-run program, with federal support limited to block grants that would fall steadily behind the pace of health-care costs, forcing states to continuously reduce benefits, eligibility or both. Total Medicaid spending would be slashed by $771-billion over 10 years.

The Republican resolution is motivated not by the desire to reduce the federal deficit, but by class hostility to the provision of any public social benefits. When Congressman Ryan outlined the plan in a speech two weeks ago to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, he condemned such benefits as encouraging laziness and indolence -- although the primary beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid are the elderly, poor children and the disabled, those who in any decent society should not be working.

The brutality of this proposal did not prevent an outpouring of praise from the corporate-controlled media and the Washington establishment. On the contrary, it was this characteristic that most recommended the Ryan plan, leading to effusions from pundits like David Brooks of New York Times hailing Ryan's "courage" and "realism."

The Democratic Party response to the proposed termination of Medicare and Medicaid is a mixture of demagogy and cowardice. President Obama, after stalling for a week to give the Ryan plan more traction, finally denounced it in his budget speech Wednesday. But the Democrats merely propose to accomplish the same social goals -- slashing spending for health care and other social needs -- using less strident rhetoric and more subtle tactics.

From a purely electoral standpoint, the Republican proposal to destroy Medicare and Medicaid might appear reckless, even suicidal. The policy they are proposing is deeply unpopular: a recent Gallup poll found just 13-percent supporting a complete overhaul of Medicare, and opposition was particularly strong among the elderly, who backed Republican candidates by a 21-point margin in the 2010 congressional elections.

However, the policies of the US government are not determined by public opinion, but by the class interests of the American financial aristocracy, which controls both parties and uses their largely stage-managed conflicts to delude the population and sustain the illusion of electoral "choice." The ruling class is determined to make working people pay the price for the Wall Street bailout as well as three wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The real attitude of the Democrats towards deficit reduction was demonstrated Thursday in the passage of the fiscal year 2011 budget resolution negotiated by the congressional Republicans and the White House. The bill cuts domestic social spending by $38.5 billion, the largest one-year cut ever enacted by Congress.

There was a last-minute hitch in the congressional approval process for the FY 2011 budget, after the Congressional Budget Office issued a report detailing the size and timing of the cuts and finding that the reduction in current-year outlays, as opposed to overall spending authorization, would be only $352 million. This prompted a group of the most right-wing Republicans in the House to declare their opposition to the budget deal.

The House Democrats stepped in to assure passage of the bill. According to press accounts, the Democratic leadership in the House held back the votes of some 75 Democrats, waiting to see how many votes would be needed to approve the bill. At one point, the vote tally stood at 211 for the bill and 140 against, with 66 Democrats and only 16 Republicans not yet voting. The final tally showed passage by 260 to 167.

The New York Times reported back-channel contacts between leaders of the two parties to finalize the parliamentary maneuver: "Realizing that the majority was going to need Democratic votes to pass the measure and avoid a [federal government] shutdown, aides said that Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican, reached out to Mr. Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat, for help on Thursday. Democrats initially did not have enough firm supporters of the measure, one official said, prompting Mr. Hoyer and his allies to reach out to lawmakers and round up what ultimately amounted to 81 Democratic votes, enough to provide a comfortable margin."

In the event, 22 of these 81 Democrats were allowed by the leadership to vote against the budget so they could posture in front of their constituents as opponents of the cuts. The remaining 59 Democrats voted for the budget, exactly offsetting the 59 Republicans who voted against the bill proposed by their own leadership. Without the Democratic votes, the deal would have collapsed.

No such horse-trading was required in the Senate, where the record cuts in domestic social spending had overwhelming bipartisan support. The budget passed by the House was approved by the Senate 81-19, with most of the opposition coming from the right wing of the Republican Party, including figures like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim DeMint of South Carolina who wanted even greater cuts.

Patrick Martin writes for the World Socialist Website (wsws.org), a forum for socialist ideas & analysis & published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

GOP State Govs Aim to Eviscerate Environmental Protections


by Leslie Kaufman

Weeks after he was sworn in as governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, announced a 63-point plan to cut environmental regulations, including opening three million acres of the North Woods for development and suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals that could be found in children’s products.

Fall on Mount Megunticook in Maine. Gov. Paul LePage wants three million acres of North Woods forests opened to development. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press) Another Tea Party ally, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, has proposed eliminating millions of dollars in annual outlays for land conservation as well as cutting to $17 million the $50 million allocated in last year’s budget for the restoration of the dwindling Everglades.

And in North Carolina, where Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 140 years, leaders recently proposed a budget that would cut operating funds to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources by 22 percent.

In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs.

But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.

Governor LePage summed up the animus while defending his program in a radio address. “Maine’s working families and small businesses are endangered,” he said. “It is time we start defending the interests of those who want to work and invest in Maine with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs and Canadian lynx.”

When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority.

Almost all state environmental budgets have been in decline since the start of the recession, said R. Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States, which works with environmental agencies across the country. What has changed this budget season is the scope and ambition of the proposed cuts and the plans to dismantle the regulatory systems, say advocates who are already battle-hardened.

“Historically, we’ve taken pride in being a leader in environmental quality in the Southeast,” said Molly Diggins of North Carolina, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club. “But there is now such fervor to reduce the size of the environmental agency. The atmosphere is the most vitriolic it’s ever been.”

David Guest, the managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national environmental law firm, said Governor Scott’s budget was “the most radical anti-environmental budget” he had seen in two decades of environmental work. Comparing Mr. Scott’s proposed changes with those of Florida’s previous Republican governors, including Jeb Bush, he called them “a whole new world.”

The strategies have been similar across the affected states: cut budgets and personnel at regulatory agencies, prevent the issuing of new regulations, roll back land conservation and, if possible, eliminate planning boards that monitor, restrict or permit building development.

In New Jersey, for example, Gov. Chris Christie, another favorite among Tea Party loyalists, has said the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, which preserves more than 800,000 acres of open land that supplies drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s residents, is an infringement on property rights. Mr. Christie has moved to shift power from planning boards and government agencies to administrative judges, political appointees who, environmentalists say, tend to rule more often in favor of developers’ interests.

In Florida, Governor Scott has asked to cut staff members to 40 from 358 at the Department of Community Affairs, which regulates land use and was created to be a control on unchecked urban sprawl.

Lane Wright, a spokesman for Governor Scott, said the cuts would enable businesses to grow again in Florida. The governor “does care about the environment,” Mr. Wright said, “but feels it is more important to get people back to work.”

In the first round of federal budget fights, Republicans appear to have won some of what they sought: $1.6 billion in cuts from the E.P.A. and $49 million from programs related to climate change. But they fell short in other areas.

Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington policy group, said that by his calculation the Republicans had sought nearly $10 billion in cuts related to efficiency and renewable energy but got less than $3.7 billion. “The Democrats successfully defended investments in clean energy,” Mr. Weiss said.

The eventual outcome at the state level is much less clear. Florida and North Carolina’s budget battles are in the early stages. In New Jersey, where Governor Christie has been in office since 2010, he has held up stricter drinking water standards, saying he is waiting for further research by the E.P.A.

And yet, in Maine, Governor LePage’s agenda has engendered such an angry response that the newly elected Republican majority in the State Legislature seems to be backpedaling from many of its strongest components.

Mr. LePage’s proposal to open the woodlands has not yet been introduced as a bill. And this month the Legislature made a point of enacting a ban on a chemical detected in sippy cups. All but three legislators voted for it. (Mr. LePage has questioned whether the science is strong enough to support such a ban.)

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, acknowledged that Mr. LePage had not gotten everything he wanted, but pointed to some victories. The governor just signed a law that will reduce restrictions for building on sand dunes, and his proposal to provide incentives to businesses to police themselves on a variety of environmental regulations is still in the Legislature.

“‘We will continue to move forward,” Ms. Bennett said.

Tea Party Jesus: Koch's Americans For Prosperity Sidles Up to Religious Right for 2012 Campaign



Tea Party Jesus: Koch's Americans For Prosperity Sidles Up to Religious Right for 2012 Campaign

David Koch's key operative, Tim Phillips, is moving to merge the religious right with the Tea Party movement -- just in time for the presidential race.

Jesus, it seems, is a fiscal conservative. Make that a tax-cut-loving, labor-union-busting, supply-side fiscal conservative. How else to explain the presence of Tim Phillips, president of the Koch-funded Tea Party astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, as a presenter at the Awakening conference sponsored by the religious-right group, Freedom Federation?

Now effectively in the employ of the libertarian David Koch, who founded Americans for Prosperity and chairs the board of its foundation, Phillips has deep ties to the evangelical Right, most notably with Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, who now heads a new entity, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Reed and Phillips go way back; the two were partners in Century Strategies, the political consulting group through which Reed played a role in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. Now, it seems Phillips is partnered with Reed and other Religious Right leaders in a much greater conquest: a merger of the Religious Right and the ostensibly secular Tea Party movement to create an electoral juggernaut that will determine the outcome of the 2012 Republican presidential primary.

It’s not new for Religious Right leaders to embrace conservative economics. Back in the 1990s, Ralph Reed, then at the Christian Coalition's helm, endorsed Newt Gingrich’s "Contract with America," calling taxes a “family values” issue. Reed shrewdly calculated that the Religious Right would gain more influence within the Republican Party if it set its sights beyond a focus on abortion and gay rights. Now Reed is back in the game with his Faith and Freedom Coalition, a kind of hybrid Religious Right/Tea Party get-out-the-vote operation.

Reed, who promises to mobilize a massive conservative evangelical vote in 2012, has been organizing in Iowa, whose party caucuses mark the opening of the presidential campaign season, for more than a year. According to David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Faith and Freedom Coalition has a database of 20 million evangelical voters. Last month, Reed's FFC hosted the first major Iowa gathering of a motley group of GOP presidential contenders, each eager to appeal to both religious and economic conservatives.

But there’s something more at work here than just good coalition politics. Movement strategists, such as Reed and Phillips, want to fully co-opt or merge the Religious Right, its organizing infrastructure, and its activists into the Tea Party wing of the GOP. So conservative Christian voters are being told that a radically limited federal government is God’s idea, and that right-wing economic policies are mandated by the Bible. That could be effective in places like Iowa, with its crucial early presidential caucus, where conservative voters are mobilized through evangelical churches and home-schooling groups. According to Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, “There is no comparable network for fiscal-minded or moderate Republicans.” Not even the impressive organizing prowess of Americans for Prosperity can match it.

This political strategy – claiming a biblical foundation for the anti-government agenda of the Tea Party and its corporate backers – was on full display last weekend at the Lynchburg, Va., campus of Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, where the Freedom Federation’s Awakening conference took place. In a video message, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a heroine in both movements and possible presidential candidate, hit all the Religious Right and Tea Party high points: abortion, gays, “anti-family” health care reform, and the “immoral” and “fundamentally evil” national debt. She praised Iowa voters for rejecting three state supreme court judges in a protest against the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples in the state.

“Do you see what we can do when we all work together?” asked Bachmann, who is also a popular speaker at Americans for Prosperity events. “It’s that kind of unyielding stand that I know each of you is willing to make,” she said, segueing immediately into one of her favorite Bible passages, “about a woman who also laid it all on the line.” Recounting the story of a woman who was criticized for pouring an expensive fragrant ointment over Jesus’ head, Bachmann said “[w]e should pour ourselves out for Jesus” and recounted, in what had the feel of a campaign speech, the many ways she personally has done so. Before the conference ended, Bachmann would win the Awakening’s presidential straw poll with 22 percent of the vote.

Bachmann didn’t make her scheduled appearance in person because Congress was consumed with the last-minute budget brinksmanship that ultimately averted a government shutdown. But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose presidential positioning is increasingly focused on appeals to religious conservatives, did make it to Liberty, where he spoke to an invitation-only “leadership luncheon” alongside prominent “birther” Joseph Farah.

The thrice-married Gingrich began taking up the God cause about five years ago, as he sought to reclaim his place in public life after he was forced to step down as speaker and his adulterous affair, with his current wife while still married to his second wife, was exposed. His 2006 book, Rediscovering God in America, makes the case that the nation’s founders intended the Christian God to occupy a central role in the work of the republic. In 2007, Falwell offered this justification for inviting the less-than-pure Gingrich to speak at Liberty University’s graduation: “Gingrich has dedicated much of his time to calling America back to our Christian heritage,” Falwell wrote in an op-ed.

Gingrich appears to derive much of his God-and-country rhetoric from the revisionist “Christian nation” history of David Barton, a Religious Right “historian” and GOP operative who has reached millions of Americans with his frequent appearances on Glenn Beck’s soon-to-end Fox News television show. According to Barton, Jesus himself is also opposed to progressive taxation, the capital gains tax, the minimum wage, and even collective bargaining.

That sounds like the kind of Jesus that David Koch, not known for his religiosity, could get behind. Koch, the billionaire who, with his brother, Charles, leads Koch Industries (the second-largest privately held corporation in the U.S.) recently gained additional notoriety for his role, and that of Americans for Prosperity, in fomenting the anti-labor actions of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

But long before the current battles over the budgets of states and nations, the strategists of the Right were plotting the merger of the Tea Party and the conservative evangelical movement. In 2009, the Freedom Federation, an umbrella group, was launched by a constellation of right-wing groups, and described as a collaboration among religious groups. Federation members include familiar Religious Right political groups like the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America, as well as dominionist “apostolic” groups that are increasingly being embraced by the Religious Right, such as Generals International and Morningstar Ministries. But also among the founders was Americans for Prosperity, which may account for the fact that the Federation’s "Declaration of American Values" not only proclaims the groups’ allegiance to the social agenda of the Religious Right but also to a system of taxes that “are not progressive in nature, and within a limited government framework, to encourage economic opportunity, free enterprise, and free market competition.”

Today, Republican officeholders in Washington and state capitals across the nation are trying to keep both economic and social conservative voters happy by simultaneously pushing attacks on government and on women’s access to reproductive choice, linking the latter to government spending on women's health programs.

During the weeks of public debate over various short-term continuing resolutions to fund the federal government -- leading up to the recent last-minute budget deal that kept the federal government operating -- Religious Right groups called budget cuts a moral imperative, so much so that Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service wrote in February that the debt had become the “new hot issue for evangelicals.”

“America’s growing debt is not just a financial issue, it’s a spiritual one," Jerry Newcombe of Coral Ridge Ministries told Burke. "The Bible is very clear about the moral dangers of debt.”

In Lynchburg, speaker after speaker at the Awakening conference pounded that theme. The Family Research Council’s Kenneth Blackwell argued that the debt is a moral issue because it amounts to “intergenerational theft.” Evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez, often regarded as the Right’s bridge to Latinos, equated “big government” with “the spirit of Pharaoh,” referring to the Egyptian ruler who enslaved the Jews in the biblical Book of Exodus before God sent Moses to deliver them to freedom.

AFP’s Phillips hosted a panel on what he claimed was a looming economic disaster. In introducing Blackwell, Phillips praised the Family Research Council as “one of the best organizations in the country,” saying FRC “does so much work, protecting our values, our faith, our freedom.” Also on the panel were former Reagan official Marc Nuttle, who serves on the board of the dominionist Oak Initiative, and Grover Norquist, the fiscal conservative who is one of the best-known figures on the secular right. Nuttle stayed to the weekend's script, calling big government an “idol” and warning that failure to get the nation’s fiscal house in order in the next two years could lead to “1,000 years of darkness” on the earth, while Norquist spoke in secular language.

Under normal circumstances, Liberty University would be a strange place to find Norquist, who last year joined the board of the right-wing gay Republican group GOProud, whose participation in the Conservative Political Action Conference led to a boycott by some religious conservatives. But his value as an anti-tax zealot -- best known for saying his goal was to shrink the federal government until it was small enough to drown in the bathtub -- appeared to win him a dispensation. (Norquist seems to have a drowning fetish: at Awakening he joked that an economic recovery plan would be to put all the trial lawyers in a bag and throw them in the river.) Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, according to a report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has received $60,000 in funding from the Claude Lambe Foundation, which is headed by Charles Koch.

Norquist was there to support Tim Phillips’ push for religious and economic conservatives to work together on “limited government” and electoral victories. Blackwell and Norquist engaged in a bit of indirect jockeying, with Blackwell warning that economic conservatives would not be able to win the future if they try to marginalize social conservatives.

Norquist did not address the point directly, but described the whole of the conservative movement as a coalition grounded in a desire to be left alone by the government -- a libertarian characterization that rankles many Religious Right activists. But under Phillips’ watchful gaze, they were on their best eye-on-the-prize behavior; when asked about their differences, they declined to criticize each other and instead talked of how their followers needed to work together to win.

Norquist suggested there are no major divisions among the conservative on “vote-moving issues.” But Blackwell struck a warning: “There is no way that we can win this battle, culturally or economically, if we don’t take a stand -- for marriage, for the family, and school choice and religious liberty,” he said.

Just a few days after Bachmann, won the Awakening straw poll, Ralph Reed tweeted an upcoming appearance of his own: “Can't wait to see Tea Party friends in Orlando & Tampa on 4/15 for tax day rallies!” In Orlando, Reed will share the stage with Tea Party favorites Marco Rubio, the freshman U.S. senator from Florida who is already being touted as a potential future president, and Herman Cain, the prospective presidential candidate with strong ties to AFP. As could be said of Bachmann and Cain, that Tax Day Rally is co-sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.

Peter Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way Foundation.