More Bad News From The Class War Front

As if we needed any more examples of how the middle class has been on the wrong end of the class war over the last generation or so, a disturbing story on NPR this morning began like this:

As companies have been moving away from traditional pension plans, they have been shifting employees to new retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, that transfer the cost — and the risk — to workers.

The reason for the shift, according to the companies themselves, is because the traditional pension plans were “unsustainable.”

Except that it turns out they weren’t unsustainable.  Ellen Schultz, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and author of, Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder And Profit From The Nest Eggs Of American Workers, says that those companies that had pension plans for their employees “were well-prepared” for the increasing cost of not only the pensions but of “high health care costs for the retirees.”

Schultz told NPR:

The plans were in fact significantly overfunded. They had more than enough to pay every dime for every person currently employed and already retired.

What happened?  Hey, we’re talking about corporations here.  We all know what happened. In order to increase profits and bump up executive compensation to more-money-than-God levels, the companies “used assets in the plans to pay for other things.” And thus:

Schultz says there was a massive transfer of wealth over the past two decades, from a multitude of retirees to a small number of executives. But while she calls her book Retirement Heist, she concedes that nothing that happened was illegal.

“When you have a properly funded plan, it doesn’t matter how many retirees you have or how long they live,” Schultz says. “It’s not the fact that you have a lot of retirees; it’s the fact that you have abused the pension plan.”

If you want to learn how some of this abuse has taken place, check out an article Schultz wrote three years ago for The Wall Street Journal  that goes into detail about how some companies screw their would-be pensioners. 

Think about it: You work many years for a company, deferring justly-earned compensation until retirement, and when you are ready to pack it in, voilà, you find your pension has been devalued because the honchos in the company have used the pension fund to supplement the benefits of—who else—other honchos.

Read all about it and then come back and tell me how Obama is starting a class war.


Conservative “Journalism” And NPR

In yet another sad example of how conservative “journalism” is ruining real journalism, we now know that “several influential journalists” “regret” giving the fraudulent James O’Keefe’s video sting of NPR “wider circulation without scrutinizing them.”

That bit of melancholic news was reported today in a story broadcast on NPR, which finally got its act together and did some digging into the raw, unedited two-hour footage of the O’Keefe operation.  And to no one’s surprise this side of Bill O’Reilly, O’Keefe has been exposed—again— for the miscreant he is.

I saw O’Keefe on CNN’s Reliable Sources yesterday, where he claimed he was a real journalist and where he said, as NPR quotes him,

The tape is very honest. The tape cuts to the core of who these people are.

Never mind that O’Keefe, who ran afoul of the law in Louisiana trying to conduct another unprofessional sting on Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, attempted to judge an entire news organization by the words of a fundraiser. 

But one would think O’Keefe would at least present what that fundraiser said honestly, if what he said was so egregious.  But nope. He couldn’t even do that.

NPR reporter David Folkenflik quotes former broadcaster Al Tompkins who now teaches journalism at the Poynter Institute:

“What I saw was an executive at NPR expressing overtly political opinions that I was really uncomfortable with,” Tompkins said. “Particularly the way the video was edited, it just seemed he was spouting off about practically everything.”

But Tompkins said his mind was changed by watching that two-hour version.

“I tell my children there are two ways to lie,” Tompkins said. “One is to tell me something that didn’t happen, and the other is not to tell me something that did happen. I think they employed both techniques in this.”

Many of the same dishonest techniques used to distort what ACORN employees said and did—which led to the death of that organization and made O’Keefe famous on Fox—were used to distort the picture of what NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller said to whom he thought were potential Islamic donors.

O’Keefe’s point was to taint NPR by portraying Schiller (and his associate who was present) as typical representatives of the news organization who were sympathetic to sharia-loving Muslim donors who also saw “Zionist influence” in our news coverage. Except Schiller—six times—made the following point on the unedited tape:

There is such a big firewall between funding and reporting: Reporters will not be swayed in any way, shape or form.

NPR asked a digital forensics consultant to review the tapes, who personally said he found some of Schiller’s responses disturbing. But the story continues:

But by analyzing time stamps, Menz concluded that many of Schiller’s remarks in that shorter video are presented out of sequence from the questions that were posed.

“For me, in my background, it immediately puts things into question,” Menz said. “You really don’t know what context these were in, what was going on in the 20 minutes before and after this question was asked.”

Take the political remarks. Ron Schiller speaks of growing up as a Republican and admiring the party’s fiscal conservatism. He says Republican politicians and evangelicals are becoming “fanatically” involved in people’s lives.

But in the shorter tape, Schiller is also presented as saying the GOP has been “hijacked” by Tea Partiers and xenophobes.

In the longer tape, it’s evident Schiller is not giving his own views but instead quoting two influential Republicans — one an ambassador, another a senior Republican donor. Schiller notably does not take issue with their conclusions — but they are not his own.

Today’s NPR story characterized Al Tompkins’ assessment of O’Keefe’s video as “repeatedly and blatantly unfair.”  He also said,

I think that Ron Schiller actually did a fairly remarkably good job of explaining how NPR works and what you can and cannot expect if you contribute money to the NPR Foundation.

And none other than the editor of Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, Scott Baker, told NPR that he had what must have been a rather grudging respect for the professionalism of the two NPR fundraising executives:

I think if you look at two hours in total, you largely get an impression that these are pretty — they seem to be fairly balanced people, trying to do a fairly good job.

Well, it’s much too late for that accounting, given that mainstream media ran with the phony story and NPR’s board overreacted and handed heads to O’Keefe and his Fox supporters.

But maybe, just maybe, next time real journalists won’t be so quick to act on the word of a conservative activist pretending to be a muckraker.

Juan Willliams Plays The Race Card, Why Isn’t Rush Limbaugh Outraged?

I haven’t noticed any criticism of Juan Williams from the right-wing since he indicted NPR as “an all-white operation,” which had “more success with white women” than black or Hispanic journalists.

Hmm. Usually, any African-Amerian who points out the pale-faced composition of an organization and accuses them of color bias is excoriated by conservatives for “playing the race card.”  But not the Right’s favorite black “liberal.”

Not that Mr. Williams offered any other evidence for his charges than his messy termination by NPR, after the comments he made on his real home, Fox “News.”  That firing, of course, had nothing to do with his pigmentation, but the company he was keeping. And for some of the things he was saying while he was with that company.

If Mr. Williams has other evidence of discrimination, let’s hear it. NPR is not exempt from accountability for any uncivil actions.

But the wisdom of that decision by NPR to fire him seems to be confirmed by Williams himself, who told HuffPo:

What you see is there a real reluctance to, despite 10 years of success…deal with me as a journalist,” Williams said. “For them, I think the fact that I was a journalist who was not being pigeonholed as just a black journalist, but something larger and sometimes even conservative in a point of view, made them have great difficulty with me.”

Not being pigeonholed as just a black journalist, but something larger and sometimes even conservative in a point of view.”  That reference to his employment at Fox is perfect. Because that’s exactly the kind of “liberal” commentator Fox “News” wants on its payroll, black or white. One with a “sometimes” conservative point of view or one who will softly spar with Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, so as not to land any damaging blows.

NPR was right to can him, because obviously now he can say anything he wants on the network that hires only people—pale faced or not—who don’t stray too far from the Fox Nation Reservation.

The Case Against Mitch Daniels, Part 1

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is running for president.

Oh, he hasn’t said so for sure, but he is.  I watched him on the Fox-Republican “News” Channel yesterday and you can just see it in his nervous eyes. 

But one of the real reasons I am certain he is running is because he took the trouble to downplay his time serving as a W. Bush official. Unfortunately for him he was Bush’s first Budget Director. He served the administration for almost two and a half years, when drunken conservatives were spending Clinton surpluses on millionaires and billionaires and two wars and a Homeland Security behemoth and a new entitlement program, Medicare Part D.

As the Indianapolis Star reported in 2005:

Bush gave Daniels the nickname “The Blade,” but the administration’s tax cuts combined with an economic downturn put Daniels in the awkward position of watching a $236 billion annual surplus turn into a $400 billion deficit during his 29-month tenure.

Whoops!  But don’t worry. It wasn’t his fault.  He told Fox,

…nobody was less happy than I to see the surplus go away, but it was going away no matter who was the president.

Ha. That’s funny. But it gets better. He said to NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning:

DANIELS: Look, I was proud to serve in that administration, but that surplus was going away, and it wouldn’t have mattered who was president, let alone in the supporting role of budget director. We had the collapse of the bubble, the recession…

INSKEEP: After 9-11.

DANIELS: Then 9-11, with all the costs that came with that, the whole new category we call Homeland Security and two wars — so, I mean, that deficit [sic] was going away and it wouldn’t have mattered who was in any of those jobs.

Another laugher. But this time with a twist. That “[sic]” NPR had to insert in the transcript tells a tale. A nervous tale.  He meant surplus, obviously, but deficits and his role in creating them are on his mind. The man is a little worried about how his role in the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the economy will play in Peoria.

I want to note that Inskeep should have asked him why, with all the massive government spending the Bush administration believed was necessary, didn’t Daniels advocate actually paying for some of that stuff?  Maybe someday out on the campaign trail we’ll get an answer to that question.

But Inskeep did get close:

INSKEEP: Would you not have, would you not have approved of those tax cuts?

DANIELS: I did approve of the tax cuts. And by the way, they were widely credited — and still are, by honest people, with the shallowness and the swiftness of recovery from that recession.

Like a good conservative, he did approve of the tax cuts. But what about that business about the “shallowness…of recovery“?  I, for one, won’t argue with that anxiety-induced admission.  But he’s clearly nervous talking about this issue.  That’s not good for  a man George Will claims has the “charisma of competence.”

But I want to continue on with what he said next:

That was lucky by the way, it’s only fair to say, President Bush never proposed those tax cuts as a stimulus as we now see matter, ’cause nobody knew we had a recession starting up. But the timing was somewhat lucky.

Now, let’s look at what Bush’s budget czar is saying here:

1) The Bush tax cuts had a positive effect on the economy: “they were widely credited…with…the swiftness of recovery from that recession.” 

There is a dispute whether those tax cuts had anything to do with the recovery. But let’s move on:

2) The tax cuts, which have deprived the treasury of at least $2 trillion and counting, were not intended as government stimulation of economic growth: “That was lucky by the way…President Bush never proposed those tax cuts as a stimulus.”

Hmm. Just lucky?  Doesn’t Mr. Daniels know that the First Law of conservative economics is that tax cuts = economic growth?  And if he thinks they weren’t designed to enhance economic growth, what was their purpose?  To destroy our fiscal health?  Huh?

And surely he knows that George Bush did in fact sell the 2003 tax cuts as stimulative. Bush said the following, when he was signing into law the final phase of the Bush tax cuts:

By insuring that Americans have more to spend, save and invest, this legislation is adding fuel to an economic recovery. We have taken aggressive action to strengthen the foundation of our economy so that every American who wants to work will be able to find a job.

It’s obvious Governor Daniels wants to run for president and wants us to forget his time and part in the previous mismanagement of our nation’s finances.  I don’t blame him for that. But the Bush tax cuts were a big piece of that mismanagement and are responsible for a big chunk of our debt, and their legacy continues.  Yet Daniels, who sees the debt problem as the new “Red Menace,” has learned exactly nothing from his previous role in the mismanagement of the economy:

INSKEEP: Uh, is the problem grave enough that those tax cuts should be allowed to expire? They’ve now been extended through 2012.

DANIELS: I think it’d be a catastrophic mistake…I think raising taxes right now in a very fragile economy, still, would be a real mistake.

Let’s see here.  Back in 2001, when we had budget surpluses, Republicans, including Daniels, argued that was the time to cut taxes. “Give Americans their money back,” they insisted.  Now, when we have enormous deficits, we must keep the cuts in place.  “We can’t afford to raise taxes,” they insist.

Perhaps you guessed by now that there is never—never—a time in which conservative Republicans believe taxes should be such that they pay for the size of government Americans have come to love.  And Daniels, who is widely praised as the best hope to defeat Obama in 2012, represents everything that got us to this point of unsustainable debt.

He also represents everything that is wrong with conservative thinking on today’s hot topic, public sector unions.  As NPR pointed out this morning, it didn’t take Daniels long to establish himself as a full-tilt conservative union-buster:

In 2005 on his first day in office, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed an order ending collective bargaining with public employee unions. He said it freed him to turn over some state jobs to private contractors.

If that doesn’t energize the labor movement against him, nothing will.

But beyond that, should Daniels decide to run, as I believe he will, Democrats need to hang the Bush tax cuts around his Bush-administration neck and make him defend them again and again, even while he hypocritically tries to convince voters that a deficit menace is our nation’s biggest threat.

You just can’t claim you’re serious about the debt problem and take taxes off the table.

A View From The Far Left

I thought it would be good, just for a little perspective, to look at what a genuine and disgruntled lefty had to say about President Obama’s speech the other night, courtesy of today’s broadcast of NPR’s Morning Edition.

Chris Hedges is an award-winning, world-traveling journalist and war correspondent, who has written several books on topics ranging from a critique of pop-atheists to a critique of “fascistic” American fundamentalism to an experience-driven book on war.  If you saw The Hurt Locker, then you saw the following quote, which opened the movie and is from Hedges’ book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning:

The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.*

In short, if you are a fan of Ralph Nader, you will be a fan of Chris Hedges. For him, the entire liberal establishment has sold out to “status and privilege,” neglecting “justice and progress.” Nobody, it seems, is liberal enough for Hedges, but he particularly doesn’t like Barack Obama.

Here is just one sentence from a piece he wrote for Truthdig, a progressive website, titled, “Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama“:

Obama lies as cravenly, if not as crudely, as George W. Bush.

Now, I remind you, that was from a progressive website.

In any case, Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep interviewed Hedges to get his reaction to the State of the Union speech:

It was clearly a speech meant to mollify Wall Street. It had a great deal of hypocrisy in it, condemning what he called the parade of lobbyists for rigging government just after he appointed the top Washington representative of JPMorgan Chase [William Daley] to be his new chief of staff…

One of the things that disturbed me most was this idea that somehow we are failing—the economy is failing—because of a lack of education.  It was a failure of regulation.  A failure of government control, which unleashed rapacious forms of human greed and fraud.

Inskeep asked him about Obama’s use of language regarding, “increasing the competitiveness of America“:

He quite consciously uses the language of the business community to indicate that he’s pro-business…[but]government is not a corporation.  Government is not about competition. Government is about addressing the necessities of citizens: health, education, housing, security, jobs, living wages, protections so that people have clean and safe water and food.  It’s not about business programs. And that of course is the ideology of the right wing: To not only make government serve corporations but essentially reduce government and cut citizens loose.

When Inskeep prompted Hedges about our debt and the need for a strong economy, including strong businesses, so that people can make money and pay taxes to support the kind of things Hedges mentions, he responds by acknowledging that obvious truth, but then says:

But who’s responsible for the debt peonage?  It’s not those people working extra shifts in Wal-Mart…That’s the fault of Wall Street. They’re the people who ratcheted it up. They’re the people we had to bail out.  It’s not the person working on the minimum wage job.  But they’re the ones who are going to be made to suffer.

Hedges was asked to comment on something he wrote in his book, The Death of the Liberal Class, which suggested that the communists have “the right analysis of the economy” in the sense of “it’s the workers against the bosses” :

In that sense, we no longer speak in the language of class warfare. Everybody has become middle class. Although, of course, what we have done through the acceleration of NAFTA and the outsourcing of jobs is disempower or disenfranchise our working class. I’m not a Marxist and I’m not a communist and I’m not an anti-capitalist. 

But there are different forms of capitalism.  There is the penny capitalism in the farm town where I grew up, where farmers bring their products in and sell it. There’s the regional capitalism of the local factory owner, hardware store owner, who lives in the community, invests in the community, sits on the school board.

And then there’s corporate capitalism, which is something else.  Corporate capitalism is supra-national; it has no loyalty to the nation state. It’s hollowed our country out from the inside.  It’s a kind of global, neo-feudalism and it’s corporate capitalism that frightens me.

You can see that from a liberal perspective, Hedges certainly has made some good and powerful points. 

But lacking any appreciation for the difficulty of getting things done in Washington these days, some leftists like Hedges and Nader—both good men—are willing to shoot their own soldiers for what they perceive as disloyalty to or improper fealty to leftist-liberal ideology.  In that way they mirror the fanatics on the Right, who are trying to purge from the Republican Party any politician who doesn’t sound like Michele Bachmann.

The point of all this is that I can assent to much of what Chris Hedges believes, but I don’t have to accept his critique of the “traitorous” liberal establishment—some of whom have moved right—in general or his excessive criticism of President Obama in particular. 

Many of us wish the President would articulate a much more robust liberalism than he does.  But we have to face a truth:  If he did so, he would not likely succeed in getting much done. And we have to acknowledge another truth: That despite his failure to always live up to our expectations, Obama is ultimately on our side.

I have argued that America is not a center-right country; it is a center-left country.  Which is to say that America has accepted a brand of liberalism—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid—that is also tempered by a sober realization that government can’t and shouldn’t control all possible outcomes; that government has its limitations.

And while I am glad there are people out there like Chris Hedges—who keep passion alive for liberal ideas—they do not control the debate these days.


* The full quote from the book is:

The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years.

Television And The Iraq “Victory Myth”

What American could forget the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad on that triumphant day— in what seems now like ancient history—April 9, 2003? 

No matter our opinion of the war, the television images made us feel good, proud.  After all, Saddam was a bad man and we were the liberators and the liberated seemed to appreciate their liberation.

In an 8,800-word article for The New Yorker, here is how Peter Maass described the television coverage:

Live television loves suspense, especially if it is paired with great visuals. The networks almost never broke away from Firdos Square. The event lived on in replays, too. A 2005 study of CNN’s and Fox’s coverage, conducted by a research team from George Washington University and titled “As Goes the Statue, So Goes the War,” found that between 11 A.M. and 8 P.M. that day Fox replayed the toppling every 4.4 minutes, and CNN every 7.5 minutes. The networks also showed the toppling in house ads; it became a branding device. They continually used the word “historic” to describe the statue’s demise.

Obviously, bringing down a statue of a much-despised dictator is pregnant with symbolism, and coupled with non-stop television coverage, it would help to solidify public opinion on the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq.  In fact, as Maass points out, the statue idea wasn’t new: 

A few days into the war, British tanks mounted a raid into the heart of Basra, in the south of the country, where they destroyed a statue of Saddam. The Brits hoped the locals, seeing a strike against a symbol of regime power, would rise up against Saddam. As the British military spokesman, Colonel Chris Vernon, told reporters, “The purpose of that is psychological.” The statue was destroyed, but the event wasn’t filmed and drew little attention. Similarly, on April 7th, after Army soldiers seized the Republican Palace in Baghdad, their commander, Colonel David Perkins, asked his men to find a statue that could be destroyed. Once one was found—Saddam on horseback—a nearby tank was ordered to wait until an embedded team from Fox News got there. On cue, the tank fired a shell at the statue, blowing it up, but the event had little drama and did not get a lot of TV coverage. No Iraqis were present, and just a few Americans, and the surrounding landscape was featureless.

By now, you may know where this is going. 

Although it wasn’t exactly a staged event, the Firdos Square moment—which seemed like such a spontaneous and joyous occasion for viewers of television news—was not what it appeared.  As Maass reports: 

The media have been criticized for accepting the Bush Administration’s claims, in the run-up to the invasion, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The W.M.D. myth, and the media’s embrace of it, encouraged public support for war. The media also failed at Firdos Square, but in this case it was the media, rather than the government, that created the victory myth.

Maass writes about the “powerful words” that went with the “powerful pictures” that constituted that victory myth: 

On CNN, the anchor Bill Hemmer said, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history . . . indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” Wolf Blitzer described the toppling as “the image that sums up the day and, in many ways, the war itself.” On Fox, the anchor Brit Hume said, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen. . . . This speaks volumes, and with power that no words can really match.” One of his colleagues said, “The important story of the day is this historic shot you are looking at, a noose around the neck of Saddam, put there by the people of Baghdad.”

Even NPR got caught up in the television-created exuberance: 

Anne Garrels, NPR’s reporter in Baghdad at the time, has said that her editors requested, after her first dispatch about marines rolling into Firdos, that she emphasize the celebratory angle, because the television coverage was more upbeat. In an oral history that was published by the Columbia Journalism Review, Garrels recalled telling her editors that they were getting the story wrong: “There are so few people trying to pull down the statue that they can’t do it themselves. . . . Many people were just sort of standing, hoping for the best, but they weren’t joyous.”

In his article, Maass gives similar examples, but none more egregious than this one:

Robert Collier, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, filed a dispatch that noted a small number of Iraqis at Firdos, many of whom were not enthusiastic. When he woke up the next day, he found that his editors had recast the story. The published version said that “a jubilant crowd roared its approval” as onlookers shouted, “We are free! Thank you, President Bush!”

In many ways, first-class journalism is a lot like science.  It is self-correcting.  A reporter may get something wrong and along comes another one to set the record straight.  Maass reports what really happened at Firdos Square:

Very few Iraqis were there. If you were at the square, or if you watch the footage, you can see, on the rare occasions long shots were used, that the square was mostly empty. You can also see, from photographs as well as video, that much of the crowd was made up of journalists and marines… Closeups filled the screen with the frenzied core of the small crowd and created an illusion of wall-to-wall enthusiasm throughout Baghdad. It was an illusion that reflected only the media’s yearning for exciting visuals… The journalists themselves, meanwhile, were barely photographed at all. The dramatic shots posted on Web sites that day and featured in newspapers the next morning contained almost no hint of the army of journalists at the square and their likely influence on events. One of the most photographed moments occurred when the statue fell and several dozen Iraqis rushed forward to bash the toppled head; there were nearly as many journalists in the melee, and perhaps more, but the framing of photographs all but eliminated them from view.

Maass also discusses the effects of the cameras themselves on the behavior of Iraqis:

At key moments throughout the toppling, the level of Iraqi enthusiasm appeared to ebb and flow according to the number and interest of photographers who had gathered.

Any veteran television viewer understands the dynamics of camera-plus-people.  We’ve all seen how otherwise normal folks act when the television cameras are turned on.  But we expect professional journalists to report not the artificial distortions but the reality of what is going on.  And apparently many journalists tried to do just that regarding the events in Firdos Square in 2003, but were frustrated by the bosses back home, who wanted to be part of the exhilarating historic moment, no matter what the facts on the ground were.

And as it often does, television was framing the story and driving the broader coverage, as its cameras were capturing “history.”

Maass writes:

At the square, I found the reality, whatever it was, hard to grasp. Some Iraqis were cheering, I later learned, not for America but for a slain cleric, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, whose son Moqtada would soon lead a Shia revolt against American occupation… The subsequent years of civil war, which have killed and injured hundreds of thousands of people, have revealed the events at Firdos to be an illusional intermission between invasion and insurgency.

And today it appears we are in an illusional intermission between the so-called success of the counter-insurgency and the long-term stability of an independent, democratic Iraq.  Who knows what the future entails, but one thing we do know: The pictures we see on our televisions—a profit-motivated medium—never tell the whole story and often tell us the wrong story.

Here is a short video summarizing the story:

Corporations Will Be The Big Winners Tomorrow

On the eve of an election in which it appears that Americans are ready to turn part of our Republic over to corporate interests, the Joplin Globe reported today on the efforts of a local family member to extract some semblance of justice from one of those corporations, as well as from government officials in the state of Arizona:

A Joplin woman is among the relatives of an Oklahoma couple, allegedly slain by two escaped prisoners from Arizona and an accomplice, who are seeking $40 million in damages, according to notice of claim letters the family’s attorneys have mailed to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other officials in that state.

The Oklahoma couple, Gary and Linda Haas, lived in Tecumseh, Ok., but grew up in McDonald County, Missouri, to where they were planning on returning, after losing their jobs due to the closing of a GM plant.

The Haas’ were on a camping trip, when the two escapees from the Arizona State Prison in Kingman—which is operated by a private corporation—along with their accomplice targeted the couple on Interstate 40 in New Mexico, “because they had grown weary of traveling and sleeping in their car and wanted the couple’s camping trailer.”


Authorities said the Haases were taken to a remote ranch near Colonias, N.M., where they were shot and the trailer was set on fire.

The Haas family is seeking damages not only from the state, but from Management and Training Corp, based in Utah.  MTC is a private prison company that operated the Kingman facility from which the prisoners escaped. 

Jacob Diesselhorst, attorney for Haas family members, said,

The state of Arizona failed to protect the safety of the public. The state of Arizona cannot avoid its overriding duty to protect public safety by outsourcing prisons to a private, for-profit company.

He alleges that prison officials failed to adequately supervise the prison, failed to adequately train prison workers and security staff and, according to the story,  that they “ignored ongoing problems with its perimeter security alarm system and that the system had not been checked or calibrated for more than two years before the escapes.”

Now, when I read this story today in the Globe, I remembered that the private prison company, Management and Training Corp, was also mentioned in a two-part story I heard last week on NPR. That story, Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law, reported the unseemly connection between the private prison industry and Arizona’s draconian immigration law, which has caused so much controversy nation-wide:

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

The “behind-the-scenes effort” involved a right-wing group called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.  ALEC describes its original vision as,

A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.

ALEC organizes meetings in which corporate lobbyists and sympathetic state legislators can find ways to work together to push a decidedly right-wing agenda. It appears that the private prison industry used an ALEC meeting to persuade state lawmakers to introduce and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Then, of course, came the follow-up cash:

Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.

There it was: Management and Training Corporation was part of the push to pass legislation in order to facilitate for-profit incarceration of illegal immigrants.

NPR also reported that Governor Jan Brewer, darling of tea partiers everywhere, is deeply connected to the private prison industry:

State lobbying records show two of her top advisers — her spokesman Paul Senseman and her campaign manager Chuck Coughlin — are former lobbyists for private prison companies.

So, there you have it. This is what a Tea Party America would look like.  Corporations using groups like ALEC* to push (and sometimes write, according to NPR) legislation that is designed to make money for the corporations, not to make a better America.

And although we don’t know for sure, it’s possible that Gary and Linda Haas were not just the victims of three thugs, two of them escapees from a privately operated prison, but were also the victims of a philosophy that places too much faith and power in the hands of corporations.


*ALEC has also been instrumental in the nation-wide attempt to roll-back or abolish the health care reform law passed by Democrats this year.  In fact, here in Missouri, a statewide ballot measure—Proposition C—designed to prohibit the enforcement of the federal health insurance mandate, passed with around 70% of the vote. Proposition C was spearheaded by Jane Cunningham, a state legislator and ALEC board member, and had help from a well-known Joplin family. 

According to The Nation:

Cunningham says a grassroots movement pushed the measure over the top, with more than 70 percent of voters approving it. But it also attracted some large donations. Ethelmae Humphreys, who sits on Cato’s board, gave $25,000, more than 20 percent of all the money raised. Humphreys and her husband [sic] have also given at least $100,000 over the past few years to the libertarian Mercatus Center, based at George Mason University in Virginia. On the board of that group is another prominent donor to the Missouri initiative, Menlo Smith. “This is what the right does,” Sinema tells me. “They take an issue or two, test it in a state to see how it does, and then take it around the country.”

A key player in this campaign is the “Kochtopus,” the political machine created by Charles and David Koch and detailed in a recent investigation by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker. The Kochs, who run the oil and chemical giant Koch Industries and who together are worth $35 billion, have spent the past few decades building a conveyor belt for right-wing and libertarian policies. Mostly through various charities, they have showered more than
$100 million on dozens of think tanks and advocacy groups—including the Goldwater Institute, the Pacific Research Institute, Cato, Mercatus and ALEC—which push antiregulatory policies that coincide with Koch Industries’ and other large corporations’ financial interests…

As I said, corporate America, under the guise of grass-roots activism, is poised to have its way with all of us, if Republican dreams come true tomorrow and in 2012.

It’s About Time NPR Fired Juan Williams

The buzz this morning on Morning Joe was over National Public Radio’s firing of Juan Williams.

The consensus was that NPR acted irresponsibly and with great political correctness over Williams’ comments to Bill O’Reilly regarding O’Reilly’s spat with a couple of The View girls over his statement that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”  Billo had asked Williams what he thought about that statement, to which Williams replied,

I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Williams went on to try to explain to the hard-headed O’Reilly that it was dumb to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few extremists and it appeared that Williams, a regular on the Republican “News” Channel, was trying to “reason” with the unreasonable host.

Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, and other Morning Joe regulars were beside themselves over NPR’s reaction, spouting the usual conservative line about political correctness and other nonsense and suggesting that NPR should hire him back.  They blamed left-wing bloggers (who, by the way, blog in their “underwear,” according to someone on the show) for starting the wave that ended in Juan Williams’ departure from NPR.

But while I agree that Williams’ comments in this case weren’t in themselves worthy of dismissal, the truth is that any regular listener to NPR, no matter one’s political affiliation, recognizes that NPR is merely protecting its brand of journalism, a brand that has behind it a steadfast commitment to the profession, as opposed to some of the stuff one witnesses on cable news channels day in and day out. 

Juan Williams, while still affiliated with NPR, decided to forsake his credibility as a journalist and associate himself with the mostly faux-journalism practiced on the Republican “News” Channel.  Good for him.  I’m sure he is paid well for his trouble.  NPR’s problem was that it didn’t fire Williams when he first made his move away from NPR’s brand.  NPR waited too long to cut him off and the exchange yesterday with O’Reilly was just a way to do something it should have done long ago.

Just recently, NPR issued a directive to its employees not to participate in Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” or Stephen Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive.”  Participation in those events, which NPR will cover as a news outlet, would violate NPR’s Ethics Code.  Here are just two restrictions from the code:

1. NPR journalists may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics. Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist’s impartiality.

2. NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them.

The point is that journalism is a profession and journalists ought to act professionally.  News reporting should be as free from personal prejudice as possible, even if a reporter does have strong feelings about the issue on which he or she is reporting.  Prohibiting its employees from associating with the Stewart-Colbert rallies is an important example of NPR protecting its reputation as producing reliable journalism.

On the commentary side, NPR listeners, me included, who have listened to Juan Williams’ contributions to NPR  for years, were dismayed by his moonlighting at the Republican “News” Channel, particularly his association with Bill O’Reilly, where he has sometimes filled in for the blowhard.

In fact, in 2009, after Williams said some things about Michelle Obama that were right out of the right-wing nut playbook, NPR asked the Republican “News” Channel to stop identifying Williams as an “NPR news political analyst,”  even though many long-time NPR listeners believed, rightly, that he should have been fired for that appearance and those comments.

It’s been a long time coming, but NPR has finally done the right thing by getting rid of Juan Williams, who with every appearance on O’Reilly and other right-wing shows, tainted NPR’s brand name.  I know most conservatives believe NPR is a “liberal” news source, but then again those same conservatives think the Republican “News” Channel is “fair and balanced,” so it really doesn’t matter what they think. 

What matters is that NPR doesn’t succumb to the tendency these days of abandoning real journalism in favor of what passes for journalism today on cable “news” networks, particularly one that has an unapologetic and symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party.

Women Of Color Way Behind White Women

I heard a story on NPR this morning discussing a report released this past week by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development on the personal wealth gap between white women and women of color in America.  The news release announcing the report began:

Single black and Hispanic women are particularly hard hit, owning only a penny of wealth for every dollar owned by their male counterparts and a fraction of a penny for every dollar owned by single white women, according to the report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development at a Capitol Hill symposium on the economic security of women.

That “fraction of a penny for every dollar owned by single white women” translates into a median of $5 of wealth or net worth for black and Hispanic women under 50 years of age compared to $40,000 for white women. “Wealth” is simply defined as “assets minus debts.”

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I was shocked by that $5 to $40,000 wealth disparity between women of color under 50 and white women.  I know there are several reasons for this inequality, including historical, structural, and cultural, but the report argues that “structural inequities are the primary cause of the gap for women of color.”  Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but there isn’t any doubting the fact that in America in the 21st century, it matters what color you are (in addition to what sex you are) in terms of both your income and your ability to accumulate wealth. Here is a graph that demonstrates it (click on it for a better view):

Now, my point is this: even if some white folks are not interested in this untenable disparity, or not interested in figuring out how to begin to fix it, here is something that should interest such otherwise disinterested white folks, from an AP story last week:

Minorities make up nearly half the children born in the U.S., part of a historic trend in which minorities are expected to become the U.S. majority over the next 40 years.

The AP points out the potential political ramifications of the inevitable fact of white minority status:

The numbers highlight the nation’s growing racial and age divide, seen in pockets of communities across the U.S., which could heighten tensions in current policy debates from immigration reform and education to health care and Social Security.

Does anyone doubt that the politics of communities change when, as the story highlights, Gwinnett County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, goes from a 16% minority population in 1990 to a 58% minority population in 2008?  Do you think Republicans who run for office in that county can get away with sounding like Tom Tancredo at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this year?

And can anyone doubt that no matter what success the pale-faced party of conservatives, also known as the Republican Party, has this November or in 2012, that rapidly changing demographics will eventually dictate a change-or-die attitude among Republicans?

In other words, by 2050*, the date most cited when whites will lose their majority status, it won’t matter too much if white teabaggers at de facto “whites only” rallies are still saying, “We want our country back!” 

Our country” will have a whole new meaning by then.


*Here is a table on the projected population of the U.S. up to 2050, as provided by the Census Bureau (click on for better view):

UPDATE:  On Monday, according to Sam Stein, Dick Armey, the hard-core conservative and “corporate personification of the Tea Party movement,” told the National Press Club that his party had some problems to overcome:

Armey noted earlier that the GOP had “frustrated [him] to tears on immigration” noting that leadership was alienating the “fastest-growing voting demographic in America.”

Armey also said that he saw “how destructive” Tom Tancredo was and that the issue of immigration should be handled “with some sense of compassion and some sense of civility.”

…these guys are trying to blow it. Just do it right… There is room in America. If you love America, if you love freedom, love work, are willing to pay your way, pay your taxes and obey the law, you should be welcome in America.

Good luck, Dick, reining in the monster you helped to create.

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