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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Arizona conservatives now want government in your face. Literally.


Arizona conservatives now want government in your face. Literally.

by David Waldman for Daily Kos


Here's a new twist on health care financing, courtesy of the nutbags who run Arizona:

Like many states, Arizona faces a serious budget crisis. But unlike other states, Arizona public officials have shown a remarkable skill for finding ways to address their projected $1.6 billion deficit that are unfair, unjust and cruel. Their latest bright idea is to balance the state budget on the bodies of poor Arizonans who are unlucky enough to be fat or addicted to tobacco.

Gov. Jan Brewer has now proposed levying a $50 fee on state Medicaid recipients who are obese and who don't follow a doctor-supervised slimming regimen. She also wants to charge those who smoke.

The plan, if approved by the Republican-dominated legislature, would mark the first time a state-run but federally subsidized health-care program for the poor has charged people for unhealthy acts.


This noodle-headed idea comes from the same governor and legislature that last year decided the way to balance the budget was to rescind coverage for Arizonans waiting for organ transplants. Not new cases, mind you, but people to whom coverage had been promised. Now in its wake comes a "sin tax" for the smoking, trouser-splitting poor.

Interesting, especially in the wake of all the conservative complaints about how unfair it is to tax sodas and sugary juice drinks, etc. Somehow that's monumentally unfair and intrusive, tantamount to yet another "government takeover," and spurring lobbying ads (at least in the bubble-ized DC market) saying, "now the government is trying to tell me what to feed my kids!"

But if you're poor, well, screw you. Eat what the government says, or we'll cut you off.

I guess the theory is that if the state pays your medical expenses (through Medicaid), it gets to impose this kind of control. Which of course, and by no means coincidentally, "proves the point" about socialized medicine. Ta-da!

And somehow, it's beyond all reason to point out that obese people with private insurance cost the rest of us with private insurance more of our private money just as surely as the obese poor cost the state more, thanks to risk pooling. That's crazy to point that out! Because that's socialism, too! And everyone knows rich, fat people are at all times pulling themselves up—with considerable effort, presumably—by their own severely strained bootstraps.

It's a great play, isn't it? All the negative impact socialism supposedly produces is forced on the guinea pig poor, to prove how miserable life under socialism is. But obese people (Or if you prefer, name your alternative poison here. This is not to pick on obesity.) who can "afford" private insurance get to keep their socialist subsidies from their neighbors at healthier weights who underwrite the risk pool. Nevermind that the whole concept of insurance and risk-sharing is socialistic to begin with. Except for the part where the insurance companies skim off the top of the pool to pay themselves, of course. That's pure capitalism. And we're keeping that part, thank you very much.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Hypocrisy Now

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Hypocrite of Day Award Goes to


Newt Gingrich and his third wife Callista

When it comes to hypocrisy, few can keep pace with Newt Gingrich, ace “fiscal conservative.” He maintains a $500,000 Tiffany account for his pompadour-styled third wife, whom he married after a secret six-year affair when he was married and she was a Congressional underling.

The Tiffany revelation includes $500,000 owed on all his past wives wedding rings. Plus the 23-year-older man had to shower the younger women with diamonds to get her attention.

In this Republican-midgets-for-President season, Gingrich may become an also ran, brought down by his high living, expanding waistband and oversized ego. Others suffered similar falls: “hockey mom” Sara Palin was caught spending $150,000 on a wardrobe paid for by the Republican Party, and Democratic working class hopeful John Edwards was cut low after revelations about his $400 haircuts.

An anachronism trying to make a comeback, Gingrich authored “Contract on America,” a mafia-style hit list capitalizing on middle-class anger at Democrats for assisting minorities. Gingrich used their support to phase out the middle class, in favor of the rich and well-connected.

Known in Washington as a compulsive loudmouth, Gingrich cherished goals of shrinking the government to maintaining roads and a strong national military, promoting buyer-beware free enterprise, and reducing the country with a Victorian Age morality.

As Speaker of the House, Gingrich said he wanted to make people take care of themselves without any help from the government. He thought people should have to suffer. “That’s the way it should be,” he told voters in Georgia. He believed that the wealthy should be able to enjoy their luxury homes, their foreign cars and high-priced jewelry without having to help anyone else or give a penny to government, except for minimal services.

Newt Gingrich told young Republicans: “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty.”

True to his word, Newt Gingrich and a group of his right-wing cronies reshaped the Republican Party, gained control of Congress in 1994, and pursued a mean-spirited extremist agenda aimed at issues like eliminating Federal nutrition standards for public school meals and stymying a meat inspection system designed to protect the public from deadly E. coli bacteria. He led the Republicans in attacking Medicare and Medicaid and attempted to overturn clean air, clean water, and all environmental regulation. He denounced the Environmental Protection Agency as the ‘”Gestapo,” drastically cut taxes for billionaires, and refused to raise the minimum wage to $5.25 an hour.

Gingrich played an important role during President Clinton’s impeachment trial, when he pledged, “I will never again, as long as I am Speaker, make a speech without commenting on this topic.” Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas, Gingrich’s minority whip at the time, praised Gingrich for “doing the Lord’s work in the Devil’s city,” evidently Washington, D.C.

While Speaker, Gingrich fought with other ultra-conservatives who insisted on radical cuts in the federal budget. He called them “perfectionists” who didn’t understand political compromise. Nevertheless, he’s credited with shutting down the government because the president made him ride in the back of Air Force One. Later, he played a key role in designing and implementing commercial radio ads against President Clinton and promoting his impeachment, while Gingrich himself was conducting a six-year-long illicit affair with his current wife.

One political scientist from the University of Richmond said, “He thought he could take over Western civilization because he was Speaker and the Republican Party was his army.” By the time Gingrich stepped down from the speakership of the House, 18 percent of voters saw him favorably while 43 percent gave him an unfavorable rating.

Besides pioneering nasty politics in Washington, Gingrich also pioneered unethical elections by using tax-exempt groups as a private piggy bank. The House Ethics Committee fined him $300,000 for promoting Republican Party goals with taxpayer funds and lying about it. Gopac, Gingrich’s former Republican political action committee, gave him money for his 1990 Congressional campaign and he used Gopac consultants to develop his legislative agenda, while yet another consultant was his main political strategist. Former Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, offered to loan Gingrich $300,000 to pay his fine, interest free.

Additionally, Gingrich angered small business owners, who were targeted by a National Republican Congressional Committee telemarketing campaign to extort $1000 donations in exchange for “national leadership awards” from Speaker Newt Gingrich’s office. The speaker’s promises of fame, influence and power are not illegal per se in politics, but they would be investigated if done by a private company.

At the time same he was violating the law, Gingrich was promising to cut taxes in half and capital gains to 15 percent, goals since achieved by Republicans, who are unabashedly calling for even lower rates as a goal in the coming election. Now Gingrich is back on the campaign trail, accompanied by a wife draped in diamonds, and claiming he’s fiscally conservative. He pays his bills because he’s become rich promoting himself among reactionary, right-wing groups. If you’ll only elect him president, he promises to increase his Tiffany account to $50 million.

Don Monkerud is an California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He can be reached at: monkerud@cruzio.com. Copyright © 2011 Read other articles by Don.

This article was posted on Saturday, May 28th, 2011 at 8:01am and is filed under Neoliberalism, Right Wing Jerks.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ayn Rand U? Rich Conservatives -- Not Just the Kochs -- Buying Up Professors and Influence on Campus



Ayn Rand U? Rich Conservatives -- Not Just the Kochs -- Buying Up Professors and Influence on Campus

Conservative activists have a good-cop, bad-cop approach to the university. In either case, the same right-wing foundations pay the bill.

Photo Credit: Introvert
These days, rich conservatives want a lot more than their names on university buildings in exchange for big donations. The Koch brothers recently endowed two economics professorships at Florida State University in exchange for a say over faculty hires. Banker John Allison, long-time head of BB&T, has donated to 60 universities in exchange for their agreeing to teach Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged--some agreements even include the outrageous stipulation that the professor teaching the course “have a positive interest in and be well versed in Objectivism.”

The economic crisis has opened American universities to ever more brazen--and at times decidedly strange--attacks on the hallowed principle of academic freedom. Conservative efforts to shape hearts and minds on campus, however, are far from new. Like anything in a capitalist society, academia is a place where people with money fight for power, and take their advantage where they can. Indeed, the effort to mold higher education--which the Right has long caricatured as a hotbed of revolutionary agitation--in the image of the establishment has been central to the rise of modern conservatism.

“Conservatives have been funding such efforts for a while, but usually fairly quietly and without the rough touch of the Koch brothers,” says David Farber, a professor of history at Temple University and author of The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism.

Inside academia and out, the conservative movement has prioritized young people and intellectuals since the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater and the 1968 youth rebellion, endowing professorships alongside a plethora of on-message think tanks. (The arms manufacturer John Olin, 78, was particularly appalled by the 1969 occupation of the student union at his alma mater, Cornell, by armed black activists.)

During the 1950s, the Volker Fund funded economist Friedrich von Hayek’s position at the University of Chicago and other professorships. But in the 1970s, a new breed of foundations known as the "four sisters"--Bradley, Scaife, Smith Richardson and Olin--began to aggressively cultivate conservatism on campus.

Olin funded faculty fellowships for the writing of conservative books, the funding of major conferences and colloquia, and the establishment of conservative “law and economics” programs at law schools nationwide. There are now John M. Olin Programs in Law and Economics at elite universities including Harvard, Yale, Berkeley and Chicago. The foundation funded the Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy at the University of Chicago. (The Center's first director, Allan Bloom, went on to write The Closing of the American Mind, the classic 1987 attack on liberalism in the academy.) An Olin-funded conference in 1982 led to the creation of the Federalist Society, the preeminent organization of conservative lawyers and jurists.

While funding from older foundations like Ford may have reflected liberal sensibilities, they did not directly subsidize the development of liberal thought. Conservatives understand what’s at stake, from curriculum to university funding and faculty labor conditions. As historian Jennifer de Forest writes, Olin embraced the now fashionable conservative moniker, “ideas have consequences.” And to ensure that the foundation was never taken over by the Left, it planned to close up shop once Olin’s successor died, preventing some hypothetical leftist granddaughter from ruining everything. (The John M. Olin Foundation officially disbanded in 2005.)

“Free markets could not be defended without reference to the rule of law, religion, the family and the evolution of our political institutions. This task required a full-blown engagement with the world of ideas -- a world traditionally dominated by the left,” James Piereson, then the executive director of the Olin Foundation and now director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University, wrote in a 2004 Wall Street Journal farewell op-ed titled “American Conservatism: You Get What You Pay For."

“There exists today, in contrast to the 1970s, an impressive network of think tanks, journals and university programs supported by conservative foundations, which are engaged in different ways in promoting the cause of liberty and limited government. As a result, there is now a robust debate in American intellectual life between conservatives and liberals. The one-sided debate, dominated by the Left, is a thing of the past.”

Interestingly, others on the Right--including groups funded by the very same upstanding and seemingly well-mannered conservative foundations--take a far less rosy view. Despite their successes, they loudly decry a vast left-wing conspiracy, firmly entrenched and set to turn the young against America and capitalism. After 9/11, a re-energized right-wing movement emerged to attack a supposed left bias in academia, particularly in Middle East studies departments.

Daniel Pipes founded Campus Watch, a Web site that continues to denounce offending professors by name for anti-Americanism or for daring to criticize Israel. David Horowitz, never a shrinking violet, launched a campaign against a “fifth column” of “tens of thousands of active sympathizers with the enemy's anti-American cause” within academia.

The targets of vilification change with the times. Two decades ago, the Olin Foundation funded David Brock, the one-time conservative who went on to found Media Matters, to write his attack book The Real Anita Hill. More recently, right-wing saboteur Andrew Breitbart went after labor studies professors at the University of Missouri. And the Wisconsin Republican Party demanded the e-mails of University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon after he wrote about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s role in crafting conservative bills in state legislatures. The open records request specified e-mails containing words like “Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining.”

Conservative activists have a good-cop, bad-cop approach to the university. In either case, the same right-wing foundations pay the bill. This is the way the conservative movement works across the board: a collaboration between country club manners and the issuing of position papers on the one hand, and frothing-at-the-mouth questioning of the president’s birth certificate and allegations of communist infiltration on the other.

The Bradley Foundation is the largest funder of Middle East Forum, which runs the "traitor"-denouncing Campus Watch. They also fund the more upright American Council of Trustees and Alumni, founded by Lynne Cheney and Joseph Lieberman (who has since distanced himself) to promote the Western canon and bash leftist professors. Two months after 9/11, they issued a report titled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It." Bradley has also given millions to the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, and has bankrolled pro-charter and voucher organizations nationwide seeking to privatize American public schools.

Bradley funded a right-wing alumni association to attack Dartmouth College-- the same university where foundations (including Bradley, Scaife and Olin) funded a pathbreaking and sometimes vilely offensive conservative student newspaper called the Dartmouth Review. Such papers, with the support of the foundation-funded Institute for Educational Affairs (which in turn funded the conservative college newspaper Collegiate Network), began to pop up around the country in the 1980s. Newspaper alumni range from Dinesh D'Souza to Ann Coulter. Student groups like the Young America’s Foundation also benefit from foundation largesse.

Laying down its spear and putting on a tie, the Bradley Foundation also gives out a $250,000 Bradley Prize to a handful of conservative intellectuals like Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Bradley throws a big Kennedy Center gala every year.

Asset manager Roger Hertog is another conservative--actually, a neoconservative--who moves easily between street-fighting and high-minded philanthropy, bomb-throwing activism and establishment propriety. Hertog funded pro-Israel journals at three universities, including Columbia, where conservative students launched a massive smear campaign against the Middle Eastern studies department. Hertog also funded the New York Sun, a small, right-wing daily that attacked Columbia professors in tandem with on-campus activists.

In recent years, Hertog has busied himself founding secretive and select “grand strategy” programs for budding military and political leaders at elite universities. Students practice giving Oval Office-style presentations, enjoy "intimate dinners" with people like former Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, and take up jobs in the national security establishment after graduation. (This article provides a good description of the Yale prototype.) Hertog also funded the New Republic, is chairman emeritus of the Manhattan Institute, and has funded fellowships at the Council on Foreign Relations and American Enterprise Institute.

The campaign to privatize and corporatize American education is a top-to-bottom effort. The casualization of academic labor gains inspiration from the ongoing and often successful movement to privatize secondary education; the watchwords in both cases being “end tenure.” As a recent New York Times article disclosed, the Gates Foundation has funded thinkers inside and outside of academia, including $3.5 million to Harvard to “place ‘strategic data fellows’ who could act as ‘entrepreneurial change agents’ in school districts in Boston, Los Angeles and elsewhere." The campaign to bring Atlas Shrugged to colleges mirrors a vast effort in American high schools, to which the Ayn Rand Institute has distributed hundreds of thousands of free copies.

“The degree to which public education fell so easily gives the Right more confidence to go after higher education,” says Henry Giroux, professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University.

The movement to buy conservative beachheads within academia and vilify leftist professors is clearly not new. What’s new today is that universities are incredibly vulnerable to conservative encroachment and attack. A debilitating economic crisis has dried up state revenue amidst a long-term move to casualize academic labor so that part-time adjuncts scurry from school to school with no hope of tenure, while tuition continues to rise while household incomes plummet. Those professors lucky enough to land full-time jobs are not very often eligible for tenure. Students shut out of enrollment-capped community colleges are forced to try their luck at for-profit “colleges” like the University of Phoenix, where record numbers of students accumulate record debt with few job prospects.

“The neoliberal attack on the university is now backed by so much money and so many resources that it’s almost overwhelming,” says Giroux. “You couple that with deficits, and it’s a perfect storm.”

The university is increasingly modeled after a corporation; presidents are CEOs set to raise money, and professors are judged by the “value” they produce in the classroom. Students are consumers, expecting well-manicured lawns, fully equipped athletics and a high grade point average.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry recently forced out the chancellor of Texas A&M, his former chief of staff, allegedly for moving too slowly to implement corporatization plans. The university already makes public a list of the pay and benefits of all faculty members compared against the number of students taught and the amount of funds they attract through research.

There is a growing effort to stigmatize the study of the humanities as a pedantic waste of time, and narrow the focus of academia down to a vocational school for corporate America. Today’s political class does not, to be sure, readily accept the idea of the university as a public sphere for the critical working out of the ideas necessary in a functioning democracy. Ironically, the Olin Foundation and its peers were able to accomplish what they did precisely because they invested in abstract ideas, taking the long view instead of demanding immediately measurable results.

There are signs that academics are pushing back against the corporate encroachment. For one, faculty members have resisted being forced to teach the 1,000-page free-market romance novel Atlas Shrugged as serious political philosophy (though political philosophers of any political hue do regularly assign serious conservative texts like Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom). And in the first major breakthrough of a joint campaign by the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors to organize major research universities, a majority of faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago signed cards to form a union. Adjunct professors not only lack job security, they lack a real say over a university’s governance. Without a strong corps of tenured faculty, higher education will not be able to withstand the corporate onslaught.

“The most powerful forces against the university are coming from outside,” says Giroux. “The most powerful forces to defend the university will come from inside. If the people who work inside the university can’t defend it, no one will. “

Daniel Denvir is a journalist in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Herman Cain and the GOP keep misquoting the Constitution


Republican Party

Why Herman Cain and the GOP keep misquoting the Constitution

Why Herman Cain and the GOP keep misquoting the Constitution
Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann

Republican 2012 front-runner and former pizza mogul Herman Cain invoked America's founding document at length in his campaign speech this weekend. Unfortunately, he also misidentified it:

And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

That, of course, is not from the Constitution. It's from the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration is the inspiring one with the stirring rhetoric. The Constitution is basically a very dry series of instructions for organizing a government. You can understand why speechwriters would gravitate toward the non-legally binding one. ("Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same," has never been a great applause line.) As Republicans learned when they read the thing out loud, the Constitution is archaic and boring and lots of it no longer applies anymore. The Declaration, though, can't be superseded or amended. It's an idealistic statement of principles, not the result of painful deliberation between competing interests. It's the nation America's founders aspired to be, not the messy one those guys actually created. The Declaration is "all men are created equal," the Constitution is the three-fifths compromise. And that's why Republicans sometimes like to "mistake" the Declaration for the other one, the one they recently all started carrying pocket copies of.

John Boehner himself made this same mistake last year:

Michele Bachmann is the most egregious proponent of the "the Constitution prohibits what I don't like and says what I wish it said" school of analysis. If you believe the Constitution to be a divinely inspired statement of of America's perfection, you basically have to also believe that "founders" (like John Quincy Adams) "worked tirelessly" to end slavery, instead of specifically writing the document to accommodate it.

Herman Cain may wish, as he said, that "we don't need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America," but we did, and we rewrote it more than two dozen times so far. Even those mostly very nice amendments, designed to fix flaws that were baked into the government by our wise founders, aren't particularly poetic. But the Constitution is a work in progress, despite the wishes of the conservative movement that it specifically prescribes a perfect, right-wing America, unchanging and timeless. It contains essential (and oft-ignored) checks on legitimate tyranny -- the tyranny of a police state, not the tyranny of "a welfare program I dislike" -- and the First Amendment is one of the craziest, best ideas a government ever came up with, but if you go to it searching for "the ideals ... your parents believed in," you'll come back disappointed. Unless your parents had a lot of opinions on who has jurisdiction over criminal cases involving ambassadors.

Of course, even the Declaration drags a bit, when it lists King George's many crimes. But you form a more perfect Union with the rhetoric you have.

  • Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon. Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene More: Alex Pareene

GOP has an extremist problem

Make no mistake, the Republicans have an extremist problem. This is the weakest GOP field in decades. Republicans would be well-advised to say goodbye to the nutcases and stop advocating torture, denying science and trying to destroy Medicare.

May 23, 2011 at 18:54:35

GOP has an extremist problem

By Brent Budowsky (about the author)

Now Rick Santorum attacks John McCain on the issue of torture. It is amazing -- a major party has a pro-torture wing. Santorum has the audacity to attack a war hero who knows more about torture than he will ever know. Now Santorum backs off, but we know what he really thinks.

This is revealing. The president who made excuses for torture allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora. The president who opposed torture ordered bin Laden's death.

Besides the pro-torture wing, the GOP has a global warming denier wing and a birther wing. The denier wing denies science, the birther wing denies the citizenship of the president.

Then there is the racist wing, a minority of the GOP that recently had its own candidate, who is a former bankrupt being sued in multiple states who ran for the Republican nomination questioning the president's birthplace and school grades.

Now we have the destroy-Medicare wing, which might be a majority of House Republicans, who want to eliminate one of the best and most popular programs in American history and replace it with windfall profits for insurers and devastating higher costs for seniors.

That wing was recently attacked by the Newt Gingrich wing. Gingrich said, correctly, the destroy-Medicare wing is radical, then backed off, though we know what he thinks.

Perhaps there is a secret Republican conspiracy to make Sarah Palin, who could not tell Katie Couric what newspapers she reads in the morning, look qualified.

What's worse? A torture advocate who attacks a war hero and former POW? A party that wants to destroy Medicare? A faction that denies science? A radical who calls a Republican plan radical? A former bankrupt who wants to run the nation's finances and then attacks China while he sells Chinese-made ties? A faction that denies the president's American birth?

There are some impressive Republicans, such as Jon Huntsman and Mitch Daniels, though the weirdo factions and hyper-partisan wings attack Hunstman for serving his country in a diplomatic post, and slime the wife of the most electable Republican to prevent him from running.

Even Mitt Romney, who once said he was more liberal than Ted Kennedy, who was claiming credit for the health-care mandate before claiming credit for being against it, is qualified to be president.

Make no mistake, the Republicans have an extremist problem. This is the weakest GOP field in decades. Republicans would be well-advised to say goodbye to the nutcases and stop advocating torture, denying science and trying to destroy Medicare.

Brent Budowsky is a regular columnist on thehill.com. He served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one (more...)

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.

The 'Christian' Dogma Pushed by Religious Schools That Are Supported by Your Tax Dollars



The 'Christian' Dogma Pushed by Religious Schools That Are Supported by Your Tax Dollars

If you live in a state with a voucher or corporate tax credit program funding "school choice," your state's tax dollars are funding the teaching of religious supremacism.

Are your state’s tax dollars funding the teaching of religious supremacism and bigotry? What about creationism? The answer is undoubtedly yes, if you live in a state with a voucher or corporate tax credit program funding “school choice."

Religious schools across the nation are receiving public funds through voucher and corporate tax credit programs. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of these schools use Protestant fundamentalist textbooks that teach not only creationism, but also a religious supremacist worldview. They offer a shocking spin on politics, history and human rights.

In 12 states and the District of Columbia, almost 200,000 students attend private schools with at least part of their tuition paid with public funds. The money is taken from public school budgets to fund vouchers or by diverting state tax revenues to tuition grants through corporate tax credit programs. An interconnected group of non-profits and political action committees, led by the wealthy right-wing school privatization advocate Betsy DeVos and heavily funded by a few mega-donors, is working to expand these programs across the nation. The DeVos-led American Federation for Children hosted Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Michelle Rhee at a national policy summit earlier in May.

Take a look at what growing numbers of students are being taught with taxpayer funding. The textbook quotes are followed by a description of the Florida tax credit program, the largest of its kind in the country.

The Textbooks

In 2003, Dr. Frances Paterson, a specialist in education law, published Democracy and Intolerance: Christian School Curricula, School Choice, and Public Policy, summarizing her extensive study of the curricula of the three most widely used Protestant fundamentalist textbook publishers in the nation: A Beka Book, Pensacola, Florida; Bob Jones University Publishing, Greenville South Carolina; and Accelerated Christian Education, Lewisville, Texas.

Her research included surveys in Florida, including one of private schools receiving public funding in the Orlando area. Of those that responded, 52 percent used A Beka textbooks, 24 percent used Bob Jones and 15 percent used ACE. A Beka publishers reported that about 9,000 schools nationwide purchase its textbooks.

In 2003, the Palm Beach Post conducted its own survey of Florida’s voucher schools, and of the religious schools that responded, 43 percent used either A Beka or Bob Jones curriculum. The percentages may be higher in Florida than some other states; however, these three curricula series are used by thousands of private schools across the country.

Unsurprisingly, the textbooks are fiercely anti-abortion and virulently anti-gay, similar to the ideology of Religious Right organizations (heavily funded by Betsy DeVos and family) that have been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A Bob Jones current events text argues against legal protection for gays, stating, “These people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” The text uses an often-repeated phrase that homosexuals and abortion-rights supporters are “simply calling evil good.”

They also teach a radical laissez-faire capitalism. Government safety nets, regulation, minimum wage and progressive taxes are described as contrary to the Bible. Many of these textbooks were first published in the 1980s, evidence that the merging of Religious Right ideology with extreme free-market economics predates the Tea Party movement by many years.

The textbooks exhibit hostility toward other religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and traditional African and Native American religions, and other Christians are also targeted, including non-evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics.

All three series include biblical creationism in their science curriculum.

The following textbook quotes about social issues, science, history, government, economics, and religion, are taken from Dr. Paterson’s documentation or directly from my own collection of textbooks from the three publishers.

Social Issues

The term liberal is associated throughout all three series with moral decline. For example, under the subtitle “A Liberal Supreme Court,” an A Beka eighth-grade text reads, “The Supreme Court made several liberal decisions in the 1970s, indicating the moral decline of the nation as a whole.” Another A Beka text states, “Modern liberalism has had many tragic consequences -- war, tyranny, and despair -- for mankind.”

An A Beka government text describes Roe v. Wade, “Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality, and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person but rather the 'property' of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford).”

Both Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education are described as social activism by the Supreme Court. The Bob Jones high school civic texts states, “While the end was a noble one -- ending discrimination in schools -- the means were troublesome.” The text continues, “liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.”

History and Government

These texts are less militantly Christian nationalists than some other homeschooling and private school textbooks, such as the popular America’s Providential History. Nevertheless they present a view of the nation’s history and government that closely hews to that of the Religious Right.

The A Beka civics text states, “God’s original purpose for government was to punish the evil and reward the good.” The same text describes the ideal form of government. “All governments are ordained by God, but none compare to government by God, theocracy.”

Predating today’s “tenther” movement, the texts consistently accuse the federal government of exceeding its constitutional authority as described in the 10th Amendment and taking powers that belong to the states. The 14th Amendment, passed during Reconstruction to give citizenship to African Americans, is criticized as taking away state’s rights.

Concerning slavery in America, a Bob Jones high school text states, “To help them endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave Christian slaves the ability to combine the African heritage of song with the dignity of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is from the bondage of sin.”

In an A Beka high school history text, American education is described in glowing terms until the 1920s, when damaging influences of liberalism began to sweep the nation. Under the heading “Liberalism in American Life” these influences are described as the social gospel, socialism, secular psychology, progressive education, and secular humanism. The “most destructive idea to sweep the nation in the 20th century was Charles Darwin’s doctrine of evolution,” according to the text.

Under the subtitle “Socialist Propaganda” the Great Depression is described as having been exaggerated so that Franklin Delano Roosevelt could pass New Deal legislation. The text states, “Perhaps the best known work of propaganda to come from the Depression was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. [...] Other forms of propaganda included rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the number of unemployed and homeless people in America.”

Ironically, the same A Beka text claims the New Deal prolonged the Depression. The purpose of the Taft-Hartley Act, which began to unravel New Deal legislation, is described as “to remove certain labor abuses and to curb the growing power of labor unions over individuals and employers.”

Commentary on the Vietnam War states that it divided the country into the “hawks who supported the fight against Communism, and doves, who were soft on Communism.”

Throughout these texts the tone of despair changes as President Ronald Reagan’s presidency is celebrated. A fourth-grade A Beka text announces the administration of Ronald Reagan under the heading “A Return to Patriotism and Family Values.”

Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the textbooks continue to promote fears of communism invading American life. An A Beka text states, “It is no wonder that Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism.” The same text claims “history shows socialism gradually opens the door to Communism.” The terms socialist and socialism are used repeatedly in references to Democratic presidents.

The A Beka high school text describes President Bill Clinton’s administration. “The First Lady announced that she would personally lead the effort to implement a plan for socialized medicine in the United States. Bill Clinton’s running mate, Al Gore, a senator from Tennessee known for his radical environmentalism, became the new Vice President.”


These textbooks provide a window into a worldview that has recently impacted the political scene -- the merger of social conservatism with radical free market ideology.

Global warming is presented as a theory that is “simply not supported by scientific evidence,” and is supposedly promoted by environmentalists for destructive reasons, according to the A Beka economics text. ““Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.”

In the same text a graphic of Bruegel’s famous painting of the biblical Tower of Babel is followed by a presentation of globalism in conspiratorial “one-world government” terms. This chapter on globalism describes the forces behind a one-world government as the United Nations, European Union, trade agreements (because they take away sovereignty), peace organizations and environmentalists.

A sidebar in the chapter on globalism explains that many Christians believe that that this “drive toward a one-world government fits in with prophecies” about the Antichrist and the end times. “But instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God’s Word. The Anti-christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell.”

The authorship of this text is credited to the late Russell Kirk, an economist awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Ronald Reagan. The edition from which I took the above quotes was published after Kirk’s death, but still lists him as author.

The text includes lessons in the form of fictional accounts of companies. For example, the fictitious Gray Iron Fabricating is described as failing due to the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and lawsuits: one brought by the widow of a man electrocuted on the job (he failed to follow safety instructions), and a second by a female junior executive who was passed over for a promotion in favor of a man. This section of the text is followed by a cartoon and the story of “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs” -- implying that government and greedy workers are destroying businesses.

Sweden and Canada are portrayed as “unwittingly snared in the command policies of socialism.” Based on the text, a reader might conclude that these nations are failed states.


The A Beka Web site advertises its fifth-grade text, Observing God’s World, as, “This teachable, readable, and memorable book presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the idea of man-made evolution.” A section on the origin of the universe retells the Genesis story of creation and states, “Throughout history there have been people, even scientists, who have thought up their own stories of how things came to be.”

A quiz in the teacher’s guide for the A Beka eighth-grade text Matter and Motion asks, “Why did superstition take the place of science during the Middle Ages?” The answer key tells us, “People did not have the Bible to guide them in their beliefs. Many looked back to the false ideas of Aristotle.” The next question is, “Why did modern science begin so suddenly in the 1500s?” The answer given is, “As people returned to the authority of the Scriptures during the Protestant Reformation (1517), they started learning the truth about God and His creation.”

A three-page section in this A Beka text leads with a headline “Two Faiths: Creation and Evolution” and states, “Creation, not evolution, is based on a reasonable faith.” A Bob Jones science text includes a chapter titled “Biblical Creationism,” claiming that evolution cannot be a part of science, since it can not be observed and must be accepted by faith.

The same Bob Jones text explains, “From a Christian standpoint, there are only two worldviews from which to choose -- a Christian worldview or a non-Christian worldview. The most important beliefs in a Christian worldview are the beliefs that the Bible is the Word of God and the only completely reliable thing in this world.”

The text suggests that sedimentary fossils were formed in Noah’s flood. One and a half pages are dedicated to the possibility that the Bible refers to dinosaurs and closes with the warning, “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.”

Religion and Ethnicity

Paterson described the texts as “having an arrogance and hostility toward non-Western religions that is truly breathtaking.”

An A Beka grammar school text states that traditional African religions are “false religious beliefs” from the Egyptian descendants of the biblical figure Ham. A fifth-grade text tells a narrative of a great chief who was a Christian convert, although his subjects were “ruled by witchcraft,” and drank corn beer that made them “lazy and wicked.” The claims of witchcraft are ironic given the fact that many of the schools using these textbooks are associated with churches that have joined the current wave of obsession with witchcraft and expelling demons.

All three publishers stress the need for missionary work and reject religious pluralism. Non-Christians are described as living in “spiritual darkness,” which is credited as the source of poverty and societal ills.

The teacher’s edition of a A Beka geography text describes “Modern Africa’s Needs” as follows. “Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel. Many people have gone there as missionaries but the continent is so vast, and spirit worship and the Muslim religion so strong, that only a small percentage of Africans claim to be Christians. [...] Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government....”

These statements are not factual and were not in 2004, when this text was published.

One of the more shameful episodes in American history, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, is apparently mitigated by the fact that “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ,” according to an A Beka text.

Paterson points out that several textbooks claim that Chinese ideographs indicate that the Chinese people once had access to “biblical truth” but later embraced false religions including Confucianism. I’ve seen this curious and factually flawed argument in a number of other sources that claim, for example, that the Chinese character for boat indicates that ancient Chinese knew of the Noah story.

Islam is also portrayed as a false religion and Hinduism is described as “devastating to India’s history.” Followers of Shintoism are described as being “very similar to the Jewish Pharisees whom Jesus condemned for putting outward cleanliness above inward purity.”

Although the texts repeatedly use the term “Judeo-Christian,” Jews are also considered to be in need of conversion. An ACE text states, “Not realizing that he is already come, Orthodox Jews continue to look for their Messiah. As the end time prophesied in the Bible draws near, many Jews are now turning to Jesus Christ and accepting him as Messiah.”

Non-evangelical and non-fundamentalist Protestant denominations are described as liberal, a dirty word in these texts. Paterson dedicates an entire chapter of her book to examples of anti-Roman Catholic bias, which is taught to students beginning around the fifth grade. Catholicism is described with terms such as "distorted," "false," and "error." A Bob Jones high school text states, “The seed of error that took root during the fourth and fifth centuries blossomed into the Roman Catholic Church -- a perversion of biblical Christianity.”

An A Beka text reads, "The doctrines and practices of the Roman church had digressed so far from Scripture that the church was compelled to keep its members from reading the Bible and discovering the truth." The A Beka text also repeatedly uses the term Romanism, which has pejorative connotations and has been used as a slur against Catholics for generations. It is still used by apocalyptic televangelists, like John Hagee, claiming that “Romanism” is the biblical “Whore of Babylon” in his descriptions of the destruction of Rome and the Catholic Church in the end times.

In a perverse irony, the pro-voucher proponents working to remove the clauses in state constitutions that prevent public funding of religious schools, claim that this must be done because these “no aid” clauses, also known as Blaine Amendments, are a vestige of historic anti-Catholicism.


The worldview of these textbook publishers impact areas you might not suspect, including choosing phonics over whole language reading instruction and rejecting the teaching of set theory in mathematics, both on religious grounds. The A Beka publishers advertise the math curriculum as, “A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.”

Florida’s Corporate Tax Credit Program: Do They Know What They're Funding?

Florida has the largest “school choice” program in the country, followed by Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Over 54,000 tuition recipients are enrolled in private schools in Florida, with the majority of these students in a corporate tax credit program that allows businesses to divert their taxes, dollar for dollar, up to 75 percent of taxes owed to the state.

Florida currently has a voucher program limited to special-needs students, since the state’s Supreme Court struck down a more expansive program in 2006. The Florida House and Senate have approved a ballot initiative for the 2012 election to try to remove the “no aid” clause in the state’s constitution that would open the door to Gov. Rick Scott’s vouchers-for-all scheme.

Florida’s corporate tax credit program disbursed the full amount allowed last year -- $140 million dollars for tuition to students in 1,092 schools and has a cap of $175 million for 2011. These funds are handed over to private non-profits for distribution, with the vast majority since 2002 disbursed through Step Up for Students, also a recipient of funding from the DeVos family foundations.

This is one of several names used by the Florida School Choice Fund, Inc. a 501(c)(3) headed by John Kirtley, a venture capitalist who is also vice chairman of the Betsy DeVos-led American Federation for Children and a director of the James Madison Institute, one of many right-wing think tanks that promote privatization of public education. (The institute’s founding vice chairman, J. Stanley Marshall, has signed a proclamation calling for the end of public education.)

As of February 2011, 83.8 percent of the students in the Florida tax credit program were attending religious schools, approximately the same rate as Milwaukee’s voucher program. However, unlike Milwaukee, hundreds of the Florida schools fall into the category of right-wing evangelical or fundamentalist, with many using A Beka, Bob Jones, or ACE curriculum.

The Step Up For Students reports describe the typical student in the tax credit program as a minority from a one-parent home. Currently 35.6 percent are African American and 27.5 percent are Hispanic. The organization's glossy reports tout the improved opportunities of the students provided with tuition grants to private schools.

The Florida tax credit program is voluntarily supported by corporations including AT &T, Burger King, CVS, Lowe’s, Marriott, Sysco Food Services, and others, described in the Step Up For Students annual reports as “receiving a high rate of return on their investments.” Do these corporation know what they are supporting? The Step Up For Students reports and other pro-privatization propaganda openly report the participating private school’s use of the curricula series quoted in this article, without revealing what that means.

The Step Up For Students reports also fail to include the fact that some American universities refuse to accept high school credit for courses taught from several textbooks quoted in this article. University of California specifically cited several A Beka and Bob Jones textbooks and, although challenged in court, won the case.

Some of the glowing testimonies in the Step Up for Students annual report include this 2008 description of Bible Truth Ministries Academy. “Students are divided into multi-grade learning groups and taught with the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, which is self-paced and has allowed some of the students to advance well beyond their grade level.”

The 2007 annual report features Esprit De Corps Center for Learning in Jacksonville. Next to a photo of smiling African American children, smartly attired in uniforms and berets, the curriculum is touted. “Using an A Beka curriculum designed to challenge students to reach their full potential, the school offers outstanding academic programs that provide its students with the skills and knowledge to become active, productive members of society. [...] EDC has partnered with Step Up For Students since its inception.”

When the Palm Beach Post conducted its survey in 2003, the Potter’s House Christian Academy was one of the major recipients of voucher funding and reported using both the A Beka and Bob Jones curriculum series. The school is affiliated with the politically influential Jacksonville mega-church, the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship, led by Bishop Vaughan McLaughlin.

In February 2005, an estimated 2200 people attended a rally at the church in support of Step Up For Students, led by Governor Jeb Bush and the state’s attorney general at that time, Charlie Crist. This June, the Potter’s House will be a host of the Global Day of Prayer, led by an international Charismatic network, which includes Apostle Ed Silvoso, Bishop McLaughin’s spiritual mentor. This network teaches that Christians must take control or “dominion” over government and society. (Silvoso is the brother-in-law of evangelist Luis Palau, whose ministry has received at least $3.5 million from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.)

This tax credit program money could have been used to improve Florida’s urban public schools, but that would not serve the purpose of indoctrinating the largely minority recipients of the tuition grants with the right-wing religious worldview found in these textbooks. As Frances Paterson states in her research, Americans absolutely have the right to send their children to schools that use these fundamentalist curricula. But she adds, “The public policy makers can and should ask whether the alternative system of Christian education for which they seek public approval and support is ideologically driven in ways that run contrary to the best interests of a diverse, democratic society.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

6 Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Right-Wingers Are Blowing Your Money On



6 Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Right-Wingers Are Blowing Your Money On

Despite promising to slash government spending, conservatives are apparently willing to break the bank defending their fringe policies in court.

They rode into power on a wave of conservative populism, vowing to rein in spending, slash deficits (remember how the Tea Partiers swore they weren't focusing on those “wedge” social issues anymore?), and above all, restore our fealty to the Constitution, a document they claim to hold an almost religious reverence for.

Then, in a development as easy to predict as the sun rising in the east, they set themselves to passing outrageous legislation designed to appeal to their far-right base – much of it legislation that, on its face, is blatantly unconstitutional. And passing gimmicky, unconstitutional laws isn't free – under federal law, states can be ordered to pay the fees of the lawyers who bring winning civil rights suits against them, so they usually end up picking up the tab for both sides of the litigation when they lose.

Arizona has already spent $1.5 million defending SB 1070, the so-called "papers, please" law, but with several suits ongoing, that's just the beginning. According to the Arizona Capital Times, "more than 251 attorneys have worked on more than a half dozen lawsuits against the bill, and the federal courts hearing the cases have received more than 2,000 filings and 56 amicus briefs." Arizona may face a huge legal bill at the end of the road, but the good news for Governor Jan Brewer is that anti-immigration hardliners across the country have donated millions to a special fund to help defray the state's costs.

But that's not the case in South Dakota, which had raised less than $20,000 through the end of March for a similar fund to defend its latest abortion restrictions, according to the Rapid City Journal. The state's Attorney General estimated that defending the law could cost South Dakota up to $4.1 million if it loses, including $1.7 million in legal fees for Planned Parenthood. That's nothing new; according to RH Reality Check, "the state is still in the process of defending its last unconstitutional anti-abortion bill...The 2005 law, which is still being heard in the 8th circuit, has currently run up $1.7 million just in attorney’s fees for Planned Parenthood..."

The costs of violating citizens' rights can really add up. And yet, after promising to slash government spending, conservatives in a dozen state houses across the country are apparently willing to break the bank defending their fringe policies in court. In some cases, they believe they might get an activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn decades of precedent and support their laws, but in others they're simply prepared to waste millions of tax dollars to litigate wacky legislation that has zero chance of being upheld.

Here then are six seemingly unconstitutional state laws proposed or passed in recent months. You might want to don a tricorner hat while enjoying them.

1. Anti-Sharia Laws

According to Mother Jones, five states have banned “Sharia law” and another 11 (!) are “working on it.” Aside from the fact that, for the non-crazy among us, there is no discrete legal code known as Sharia law, the other problems with these measures are the establishment and free exercise clauses of the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.

There are various schools of Sharia, but all represent a code of personal conduct followed by Muslims. That makes it extra sticky to define a “Sharia organization,” as evidenced by a proposal in Tennessee that would have criminalized two or more Muslims joining together for prayers. After coming under ridicule in the national media, Adam Serwer reports that the bill's sponsors “altered” their proposal, “eliminating all references to sharia from the bill.” It is now, ostensibly, an “anti-terrorism” measure, which, according to Serwer, remains just as constitutionally sketchy.

For starters, the bill would authorize the Tennessee governor and attorney general to unilaterally designate purely domestic entities as "terrorist organizations," freezing their assets and criminalizing interaction with those groups as "material support for terrorism." Designated groups are offered no opportunity to challenge designations prior to them being made. Violent domestic groups such as the mob, the KKK, or the Aryan Nations are typically dealt with through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. Tennessee already has its own RICO bill. The new Tennessee bill doesn't require criminal charges as part of designation. For that reason, not only is the bill unnecessary in terms of neutralizing genuine criminal activity--it raises serious First Amendment and due process issues.

2. Abortion Bills Conflicting with Roe

Less humorous are a spate of anti-abortion bills that fly in the face of the Supreme Court's longstanding view that the Constitution grants a “right to privacy” pertaining to such matters as abortion. These are not designed merely to pander to the base, but to restrict abortions to a degree that they become effectively impossible to obtain.

Those pushing the bills understand that the pro-choice community is rightly apprehensive of trying these cases before a Supreme Court with five conservative Catholic justices. So, they are designed to put their opponents in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation; they can accept ever greater limits on women's access to reproductive health services, or they can try their luck in front of the Supreme Court and risk seeing Roe v. Wade overturned altogether.

According to Roe, states can regulate – and even ban – abortions after “viability” (with exceptions for cases in which the mother's life is at risk), which the court has established at 23-24 weeks into a pregnancy. But last week, based on some awful junk science suggesting that non-sentient clumps of cells experience “fetal pain,” Minnesota's legislature banned abortions after 20 weeks. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton is expected to veto the measure, but similar bans have been passed in six other states, according to Melissa Harris-Perry.

3. Nullification Laws

We've seen truthers, birthers, deathers and then there are the tenthers, who believe that states can simply opt-out of any federal law that isn't explicitly included in the Constitution. They've used it to pass – or propose – laws opting out of everything from hate crimes legislation to health-care reform. Yes, they're partying like it's 1861!

The big problem here is that the Constitution grants the power to mediate conflicts between the states and the federal government to the Supreme Court, and on all of the issues tenthers are focused, the court has ruled that the federal laws are indeed the law of the land.

In a nutshell, the 10th Amendment reserves powers not spelled out in the Constitution to the states, but the "supremacy clause" in article 6 and the "necessary and proper" and commerce clauses in article 1 have been interpreted to give the federal government the power to regulate just about everything the tenthers don't like!

More detail can be found in this analysis by Ian Millhiser.

4. States Regulating Immigration

Again, the courts have long held, under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, that when a state law conflicts with a federal law, the former is, in the words of Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the majority in a 2008 case, “without effect.” The federal government has argued, and won, a whole slew of cases based on federal immigration laws trumping competing legislation passed by the states.

In fact, as I noted last year, the courts have held that the government has exclusive domain over immigration law dating back to the 1880s. The National Immigration Law Center summarized those early decisions like this:

In a series of cases in the late nineteenth century upholding provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, the Supreme Court described the federal immigration power in sweeping terms, as a plenary power not subject to normal judicial restraints. In subsequent decisions the Court has repeatedly confirmed Congress’s full and exclusive authority over immigration. State and local laws that attempt to regulate immigration violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and are therefore preempted by federal law.

Later, in the 1940 case Hines v. Davidowitz, the court struck down a Pennsylvania law that would have criminalized “aliens” who failed to carry state registration cards. The Supreme Court held that “Whatever power a State may have to restrict, limit, regulate and register aliens as a distinct group, is subject to the national legislative and treaty-making powers.” The justices found that the federal government had enacted “a comprehensive and integrated scheme for the regulation of aliens,” which “precludes the enforcement of state alien registration Acts such as that adopted by Pennsylvania.”

Arguably the most definitive decision came in the 1976 ruling in De Canas v. Bica. In that case, a California law that prohibited employers from knowingly hiring undocumented workers was upheld by the court specifically because they found it was aimed not at regulating immigration, but at setting employment standards within the state. The case resulted in three tests to determine whether a local ordinance was preempted by federal law:

1. Constitutional preemption: Is the state or locality attempting to regulate immigration?
2. Field preemption: Did Congress intend to occupy the field and oust state or local power?
3. Conflict preemption: Does the state or local law stand as an obstacle to or conflict with federal law, making compliance with both the state and federal law impossible?

A state statute or local ordinance that fails any one of these three tests is unconstitutional, and therefore invalid. Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, is the subject of multiple suits costing the cash-strapped state millions to defend. SB 1070 explicitly states that the purpose of the law is to make “attrition through enforcement the public policy” of Arizona. “Attrition by enforcement” is the preferred policy of the xenophobic Tom Tancredo wing of the conservative movement, but it clearly contradicts federal immigration policy. Right-wing lawmakers tried and failed to make it the law of the land in 2005.

Florida, Georgia and Alabama are all considering copy-cat laws, according to the New York Times.

5. Don't Say This or That Laws

Guess what? Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say, you have the right to free speech, “except for those living in the deep South.”

Yet Florida's legislature has passed a law barring physicians from asking patients if there is a firearm present in their home. An earlier version of the bill, subtly called “Don't Ask,” would have made it a felony, but that was apparently too crazy even for Florida.

Not to be outdone, the Tennessee Senate passed a law this week that “would forbid public school teachers and students in grades kindergarten through eight from discussing the fact that some people are gay.” The “Don't Say 'Gay'” law prompted George Takei, of Star Trek fame, to offer his own name to be used as a proxy.

6. Financial 'Martial Law'

Also in the less funny category is Michigan governor Rick Snyder's “financial martial law” legislation, which allows him to appoint “emergency financial managers” authorized to take over local municipalities. It empowers them, among other things, to “reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement.”

Typical war on unions stuff, yet as Think Progress noted, it's also pretty obviously unconstitutional:

There’s a pretty serious problem with this power grab, however — invoking it would violate the Constitution. The Constitution forbids state laws “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” This provision provides a robust limit on a state’s ability to dissolve contracts between the government and a private party. As the Supreme Court explained in United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey, state laws impairing such contracts must be “reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose.”

The consequences of Snyder’s actions could be stark. If a state is free to break contracts whenever they feel like it, than no one will agree to do business with the state. Investors will refuse to buy the state’s bonds, and state contractors will demand all payments upfront out of fear that the state will accept their work and then tear up the contract requiring the workers to be paid. Creditors will charge the state enormous interest rates to secure against the risk that the state will just waive its hand and make its obligation to repay go away.

Bad, Costly, Ideologically Driven 'Governance'

As I've argued in the past, conservatives have come to use the word “unconstitutional” to mean any policy they don't like. One might argue that progressives have ceded that ground to them, but all of these issues speak to the beauty of that document, which places a hard limit on what ideologues can do when they get a little bit of power.

Of course, these are all pathetic exercises in “governance,” but, barring some very egregious judicial activism – not out of the question with this Supreme Court – these silly and dangerous laws will not stand.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

3 Fatal Flaws in Ayn Rand's Perverse 'Moral Philosophy' (the Voice of the GOP)


3 Fatal Flaws in Ayn Rand's Perverse 'Moral Philosophy'

Ayn Rand lived in a world of fiction, and it shows in her social analysis.

It is astonishing that a 54-year-old book, based upon three patently false premises, has suddenly been resurrected. The Chair of the House Budget Committee requires his staff to read Atlas Shrugged. On April 19, 2011 it ranked 17th on Amazon’s list of best sellers. It is said to be a favorite among Tea Party activists. It’s even been made into an independent movie, albeit omitting some of the steamier sex – one woman and three men?

The first error is the assertion that we humans, at least the best of us, are autonomous individuals who have no need for other human beings other than as useful tools. The second error is to perpetuate the libertarian idea that no social goal justifies “forcing” an individual to be a resource for others. In other words, taxation is theft from “producers” to benefit “parasites.” The third error is that markets are “free” in the sense of operating best without any rules or regulation.

Humans Are Social Creatures

It is easy to counter the argument that humans are autonomous, isolated entities with no need for relationships with other humans. To the contrary, we are, and always have been, social creatures, reliant on others for our lives, our development and our survival. When our species started to evolve in Africa, about 300,000 years ago, the world was filled with predators that had sharper teeth, stronger claws, could run faster and overall physically outmatch our tiny, hairy ancestors. The question is, how did our predecessors survive and procreate allowing me to write this essay and you to read it?

If we observe herds of, say, antelope today, we observe that predators go after the slowest and weakest member of the herd, who quickly becomes a meal. Antelopes survive because they procreate rapidly, and the loss of a single animal does not threaten the herd.

Humans, however, take considerably longer to bear a child, and that child requires considerable care over several years in order to survive. It is obvious that a pregnant female would, in the later stages of gestation, be the slowest member of the herd. Later her infant or toddler would also be slow and neither mother nor child would long survive without the support of a family or clan. Thus humans would not have survived as a species had they not been able to cooperate with each other and to form and maintain social groups. Humans had to evolve as social animals.

As social animals we needed (and still need) a way that allows us to function as productive members of a social group. Without such a method, the species will fail. This is true of all social species. For example, the social insects have specific complex chemicals that allow individual insects to function as productive members of a very coherent social group (beehive or ant colony). These chemicals are their operating methodology.

To function as a productive member of a human social group, we rely on six core values that bind human beings one to another. Based on our evolutionary development, all people, societies and organizations actually share the same set of core values. You can argue if these are the “real” core values, but these six appear to encompass what is necessary for the continuing existence of human social groups. Each of these can be thought of as being on a scale from positive to negative. Behavior at the positive end of the scale strengthens the social group; behavior at the negative end weakens, and eventually will destroy it.

Most of a member’s behavior must be at the positive end of the scale in order for him or her to be accepted and relied upon by others. Without such positive reliable behavior social groups must fail. The following table shows the core values on which all societies are based according to research conducted with Ian Macdonald and Karl Stewart in the U.S., England, Australia, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, and Denmark.

Table 1 Universal Core Values

The basic propositions are:

  1. If a group of people are to maintain a productive relationship that lasts, then the members of that group must demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the positive end of the scales of the core values.

  1. If a member of that group demonstrates behavior that is judged by the other group members to be at the negative end of the scales of core values, the person will eventually be excluded (although attempts to change the behavior may be made prior to exclusion).

  1. If several people exhibit behaviors that are similar but judged by the rest of the group to be at the negative end of the scales of core values, then the group will break into factions or separate groups.

Values, per se, cannot be observed and therefore cannot be determined directly. We can and do observe what people say and how they behave. All of us interpret behavior and draw conclusions about the values that an individual's behavior demonstrates. Often we have to wait for confirmation that our conclusions are correct, and sometimes we may be left in doubt. In some cases we may disagree with others as to how particular behavior should be interpreted. In general, however, within a coherent social group, agreement is gained in time, often very quickly.

In essence, values are the ground against which we assess our own worth and the worth of others. We argue that because humans evolved as social animals, all humans use these values as the basis for judging the worth of others as they observe and interpret their behavior.

Consider a situation that might happen in any group. Imagine a group of people of which you are a member and that you believe one of the other members has behaved in at least one of the following ways: told lies, stolen something, made fun of a less attractive member, has been indifferent to another’s serious misfortune, regularly failed to keep promises, demanded more than his or her share, or consistently avoided difficult situations. Is it possible for this person to maintain membership of the group if he or she fails to change their behavior?

We cannot maintain a productive relationship with someone we cannot trust, or someone who is dishonest, cowardly, disrespectful, indifferent to our feelings or unfair. It is likely that we and other members of the group will seek to point out the negative behavior, but if it persists, the person will be actively excluded from the group. This reflects the basic need of any group or society.

This basic requirement for a social group to continue is that members must demonstrate their ability to understand “the other.” That is, to be able to see the world from another’s point of view. This differentiates the adult world from the egocentric world of infancy and early childhood where the other’s needs are not seriously considered except to satisfy the self. It is also a classic condition of psychopathy where others are manipulated for personal gain. It is the antithesis of productive co-existence.

Rand states that the superior individual can live and work only for him or herself. Although on casual reading her characters are initially attractive, they actually are sociopaths who do not recognize their use of others to achieve their power and riches. They are indifferent to their impact upon others as they pursue their own selfish interests. Rand glorifies selfishness and sociopaths, yet her heroes and heroine succeed as much because of the work of others as of themselves. They had schooling, and even if it was private, the teachers had to be schooled, probably in a school provided by society. They rely on an educated workforce, on pilots, nurses, mechanics, plumbers, doctors, most of whom learned their skills in a public school.


From prehistoric times until the present, human beings have had to find ways to cooperate and work together in order to survive. Today, much of this cooperative behavior is supported by public services. Consider our need for education from kindergarten through universities, a stable monetary system, laws that protect property, courts to adjudicate disputes, rules to provide an even playing field in markets, hospitals, roads, airports, bridges, defense from predators whether criminal or military, development costs for technological innovations such as the Internet and modern medicines, libraries, parks and clean beaches.

None of the goods provided through government come free. They must be paid for, and the fairest way we have found to pay these costs is to tax everyone at a “reasonable” rate. I realize there are great differences regarding what is “reasonable,”and that our existing tax system has many injustices, but that does not mean we can simply say no more taxes, or suggest as Rand does that taxation is theft. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

Rand puts forward the libertarian principle that no social purpose justifies forcing an individual to be a resource for another. In other words, taxation for the public good is wrong. There is no recognition that her heroes in Atlas Shrugged are rich and powerful and thus are able to dictate the terms on which others work for them; in other words they can “force” their workers to become a resource for them. Thus libertarianism has, at its core, a fundamental contradiction. Coercion by government is bad; but coercion by the rich and powerful “producers” is good.

The rich and powerful also rely on society for many of the goods of civilization, which are created through the cooperative efforts of all. Despite the arguments of Rand and the libertarians none of us can opt out of our need for society and its governing institutions.

Although most people agree that certain items such as airports, roads, bridges, armies, a legal system, must be socialized because no individual could buy these items due to cost and the requirement that their uses be shared, there is often disagreement as to what goods should be paid for by the public at large, socialized if you will, and what goods should be purchased by individuals in the market, e.g. privatized. Clearly many things are best handled in a market where individual buyers and sellers agree on goods and prices, for example, groceries, iPads, an automobile, the latest in fashion shoes or suits.

There is also a middle ground where sometimes we provide a good privately and sometimes publicly depending upon the area served, for example electric power. It is provided by shareholder owned, though heavily regulated utilities, as well as municipal utilities which, interestingly, are far less regulated.

We are still debating the best way to handle health care. We don’t even agree if everyone should have access to adequate health care. Most of our health care is provided through a market-like system that is largely controlled by insurance companies. If you are rich or well-insured, you get access to the best care the world can offer. If you lack money or insurance, you may get government supported Medicaid or emergency services at a public hospital. You are also more likely to die from a treatable illness.

In addition to the private system, we already provide two types of “socialized” medicine. There is single-payer health care with private hospitals and doctors through Medicare similar to the Canadian system where the term Medicare was coined. It provides care to the disabled and elderly who were refused coverage by the insurance industry – too costly, not profitable. There is also government-run health care as in Britain (for which the dreaded term “socialized medicine” was created) through our military and veterans facilities.

The services that can only be provided by society as a whole, must be paid for. These payments are called taxes. They are not “theft” -- they are essential for our long-term survival.


Rand and other libertarians argue that markets are, and must be, “free.” Yet no market has ever existed without rules and referees, any more than you can have a football game without rules and referees. In the earliest markets in small, lightly populated villages, the rules were usually set by social custom. Someone who cheated would be ostracized, even exiled, if they did not pay back the person they had cheated and promise not to do it again.

As markets became larger and more regional, for example in the Middle Ages in Europe, guilds of tradesmen were organized to set rules regarding quality and prices. As the modern industrialized world emerged, a variety of abuses threatened its development. The muckrakers of the early 20th century exposed dreadful practices in food, meat-packing and patent medicines. Monopolies in railroads threatened the livelihoods of farmers and small towns. Other monopolies threatened competition and the market itself. Financial panics and depressions demonstrated the need to regulate banks and the stock market. Thus regulations at the state and federal level were instituted, not to destroy the markets but to make them viable and acceptable.

Granted, some of the rules were badly drawn; some gave special advantages to powerful interests; there was conflict among competing regulations and some of them were plain silly. None of this, however, negates the need for “rules of the road,” though ongoing reform is essential. Technical innovations, new knowledge, better ways of organizing production may require adjustments, but without regulation the thieves and thugs take over – witness the end of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Even what appears to be the most unregulated market today –street corner sales of heroin – has its own rules and regulations. These are largely informal, but the rules are strictly enforced, largely with guns. Violators face severe punishment, often death.

What This Means

Rand and her acolytes seem not to have looked at the human condition. Every business is a social system, and the values that bind humans together are necessary if the business is to thrive and prosper. Every community is a social system that requires humans to work together and cooperate.

Some would argue that, contrary to what I have proposed, it is clear among different social groups that we have quite different values. This confuses, for example, the underlying value of fairness, with the behaviors we perceive as fair. Different social groups will see the same behavior as either fair or unfair depending upon the stories (mythologies) embedded in that group. Mythologies are stories that may or may not be factually true, but they demonstrate a fundamental truth about human behavior – what is courageous and what is cowardly, what shows respect and what shows lack of respect, what is fair and what is unfair. People who share common mythologies are said to have a common culture.

In some groups telling lies to outsiders is not dishonest; it simply reflects the group’s lack of concern for others. Telling lies within the group is, however, punished. There are other groups where telling a lie indicates dishonesty, no matter to whom one lies. Thus both groups accept the core value of honesty, but the behavior that demonstrates honesty is different.

When it comes to taxes, some groups believe a progressive system where everyone pays the same up to a certain amount, then more for earnings above the base, and so on until the rate on earnings, say over a million dollars, is taxed at the highest rate. Others believe everyone should pay the same percentage of their income in taxes.

However we demonstrate the core values, human beings are not, and cannot be isolated and survive. We are moral beings with a strong sense of what is fair, honest, trustworthy, courageous, loving and respectful of human dignity. Our survival and continuation as a species depends upon others. As David Brooks has written, cooperation is built into our DNA. Rand is wrong, and those who follow her have created policies that have been destructive of our economy and our nation.

Catharine Burke is an associate professor at USC's School of Public Policy and Planning.