Earlier this month, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) vetoed a bill that would curb the ability of asbestos-exposure victims to recover losses from some of the companies that are legally responsible for their suffering. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) approved a similar bill last week, joining Arizona, Idaho, and Utah, which all passed laws limiting corporate liability for asbestos-related claims in March. In recent years, these kinds of laws have passed in fifteen other states as well.
The rash of eerily similar bills appearing everywhere at once is not a coincidence. The legislation is a product of teamwork between the now-infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Crown Holdings, Inc., a Fortune 500 company that has spent the better part of the last decade trying to legislate its way out of compensating cancer and mesothelioma victims who were exposed to asbestos by a company they purchased in 1963.
Despite this remarkably successful multi-state campaign to absolve a single corporation of liability to the detriment of thousands of suffering Americans, the ALEC/Crown crusade has been a quiet one, thanks to state media institutions that have failed to provide meaningful coverage of the issue (or, occasionally, failed to cover it entirely). As a result, important laws that profoundly affect the lives of many voters are being approved without serious public consideration.
Philadelphia-based Crown Holdings began its campaign to eliminate its asbestos liabilities through legislative action as early as 2001, when it spent $100,000 to influence legislators in its home state of Pennsylvania. Despite originally failing early in the year, the asbestos measure was resurrected successfully in late 2001 as an amendment to another bill. The move was led by State House Republican leader Rep. John Perzel, who has subsequently received tens of thousands of dollars from Crown Holdings over the past decade.
Perzel was awarded "State Legislator of the Year" from ALEC at the end of 2001. ALEC's executive director hailed Perzel as "a leader who truly personifies the Jeffersonian principles of liberty, limited government, and free-markets." But Perzel is now in state prison, after being convicted this year of helping to divert $10 million in public funds toward Republican campaigns for re-election.
Perzel's 2001 sleight-of-hand maneuver to resurrect the defeated asbestos liability provision is still being felt. With the momentum of a Pennsylvania victory under its wings, Crown Holdings, with ALEC's help, would successfully push identical legislation in 19 other states while employing a strategy of spending big on lobbyists and political contributions.
Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) approved a bill that curbs the ability of asbestos-exposure victims to recover losses from some companies that are legally responsible. The bill was pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Crown Holdings, Inc., a Fortune 500 corporation trying to legislate its way out of compensating cancer and mesothelioma victims who were exposed to asbestos by a company it purchased. According to a Media Matters analysis, Michigan's two largest newspapers, the Detroit Free Press and the Grand Rapids Press, have been utterly silent on the bill from introduction to its passage.
CORRECTION: Media Matters has identified a serious error that resulted in the omission of several Charlotte Observer columns and articles discussing municipal broadband during the time of this debate. We cannot support our earlier conclusion that the Charlotte Observer did not inform its readers on the issue of North Carolina's "digital divide" over the past two years. Media Matters prides itself on a long history of accuracy in its media studies, and we apologize for the error.
In a March 22 column, Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Kevin O'Brien commenced a pedantic cheerleading session in support of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) controversial new budget plan. After glibly comparing Senate Democrats to preteen children, O'Brien argued that Ryan's infamously austere cuts "would not cut government far enough fast enough." Unfortunately, O'Brien's slash and burn philosophy of congressional budgeting ignores the real-world impact those cuts would have on fellow Ohioans.
If [Democrats] admit that entitlements are devouring revenues at an alarming and ever-increasing rate, they won't be able to demagogue Social Security and Medicare anymore.
If they admit that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that they passed all by themselves isn't going to do the main things they promised -- save money and insure the uninsured -- they open themselves to accusations that they knew all along that it was a scam. And the accusations would be true.
If they admit that they fully intend to just keep packing the nation's bedroom closet with debt until it explodes, the voters might punish them.
So, no honesty, no discussion, no vote, no budget.
Of course, O'Brien ignores the realities of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (PPACA) successes and the harsh human element of Ryan's plan. The PPACA is two years old, and according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, plenty of previously uninsured Ohioans are now covered as a result of the law. More than 2,000 Ohioans with pre-existing conditions are now covered, and more than 80,000 young adults in the state have gained coverage. The health care security of more than four million residents is no longer threatened by lifetime caps on their coverage.
And as for entitlements, O'Brien doesn't tell his readers that under Ryan's budget (which again, he doesn't think goes far enough), more than 1.8 million vulnerable Ohioans will be at risk of losing food stamp benefits and slipping into hunger. This is according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which yesterday released a detailed look at how Ryan's budget would devastate children, seniors and people with disabilities. From the CBPP:
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan includes cuts in SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) of $133.5 billion -- more than 17 percent -- over the next ten years (2013-2022). [...]
The overwhelming majority of SNAP households are families with children, seniors, or people with disabilities. Almost three-quarters of SNAP participants are in families with children; more than one-quarter are in households that include senior citizens or people with disabilities.
By ignoring this grim picture, O'Brien hasn't simply missed the significance of the cuts. He's revealed volumes about where his priorities lie. As he noted:
[A] budget isn't just a statement of spending and income expectations. It's also a statement of beliefs -- a numerical representation of what is important.
A true statement, to be sure; and Mr. O'Brien's budget proposals reveal just what -- and who -- is important to him.
Dozens of voter ID laws have been introduced in state legislatures over the past two years, including particularly strict measures passed in seven states in 2011 -- Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. There is widespread evidence that this surge of voter ID laws stems from model legislation crafted in 2009 by a conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But a Media Matters analysis has found that the largest newspapers in the seven states that enacted voter ID laws in 2011 have largely ignored ALEC's influence. Indeed, of the newspapers examined, only Rhode Island's Providence Journal mentioned any connection between the state's voter ID bill and ALEC.
In Sunday's Cleveland Plain Dealer, Statehouse Bureau Chief Reginald Fields penned a 1600+ word article describing Ohio Governor John Kasich's (R) new proposal to impose a modest tax on fracking and give a personal income tax reduction that would be tied to the amount of natural gas production. Fields cited seven conservative or Republican sources, framing the controversy around a largely manufactured conflict between Kasich and the anti-tax conservatives of his political base. Meanwhile, Fields entirely ignored any discussion about the public health and environmental costs of Kasich's plan. Fields also failed to acknowledge ethical concerns over linking Ohio citizens' financial well-being with the potentially dangerous industry practice of fracking.
Fields summarized the bill:
Ohio Gov. John Kasich will propose a new tax on a form of oil and gas drilling known as horizontal fracking and then use the fresh revenue to give a personal income tax cut to Ohioans, The Plain Dealer has learned.
The complicated plan also would make changes to various existing taxes petroleum companies pay for pumping out oil and natural gas from beneath Ohio. And it even contains a tax break for some smaller operators, according to documents obtained by The Plain Dealer and confirmed by the governor's office.
The revenue would go into a newly created fund requiring legislative approval, which would be used to support the tax cut. The income tax cut would apply when there is annual growth on revenue of at least one-third of 1 percent. If there isn't sufficient growth, Ohioans wouldn't get the tax cut, but the pool of money would carry over to the next year.
The governor's office is projecting the first income tax cuts could come in calendar year 2013, but they are more likely to start in 2014 -- the year Kasich is up for re-election.
So, the amount of the income tax cut would be tied the amount of oil and gas extracted and according to market prices for those products.
Fields claimed that Kasich's plan is "expected to get a heap of criticism from conservatives who see it as nothing more than a tax hike," but the sources he used to back this up don't bear out that narrative. He quoted a spokesman for Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder (R), who is reserving judgment until he can "see what the actual language of the bill is," and briefly noted that Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) is "said to have" concerns about the plan. Meanwhile, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, which was "consulted" about the proposal, is tentatively approving the tax plan and giving Kasich the "benefit of the doubt" regarding any potential concerns about increased taxation. This lukewarm reaction to Kasich's proposal hardly qualifies as "a heap of criticism."
Fields did note real criticism coming from the Oil and Gas Association, whose members would face a slight increase in the cost of drilling in Ohio. But this predictable position adds little to a serious policy discussion.
Fields gave little attention to voices who believe that a policy discussion on fracking should be a little broader than the question of 'a nominal tax vs. no tax at all.' The article gave a cursory nod to two House Democrats proposing an alternative plan to tax the industry at a higher 7%, but was entirely devoid of any discussion about the external costs of fracking that will be borne by taxpayers. The practice of fracking may be responsible for toxic drinking water and increased earthquakes. If Ohio's taxpayers are footing the bill for public health hazards and infrastructure damage, among other costs, then a couple extra bucks off their income tax won't mean much.
Nor did Fields give any attention to the ethical dilemma behind the policy Kasich is proposing. By tying the natural gas industry's output to income taxes, he would provide the Ohio electorate with a perverse choice: accept the risks that fracking poses to the environment, public health and worker safety -- or pay higher taxes.
Ohio is just beginning to address the impending explosion of fracking in the state. Hopefully, the Cleveland Plain Dealer will provide a more balanced discussion of the facts in the months ahead.
Thursday, infamous Maricopa County, AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference to reveal the results of a 6 month-long "investigation" into the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate, which he accused of being fraudulent. The birther pageant was a new low for Arpaio, who – along with his deputies – was recently found by state law enforcement agencies to have failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes and is currently under federal investigation for alleged "discriminatory practices" that include profiling Latinos.
Phoenix's major local news affiliates approached their coverage of the spectacle in different ways. The CBS affiliate (CBS 5) dedicated over nine minutes Thursday to a series of straight-faced (and apparently ongoing) segments they titled "Investigating the President." Despite the far-out, conspiracy-laden claims made at the birthers' presentation, CBS treated the participants and their assertions in an unduly serious fashion. The network's segment served primarily to amplify the arguments and opinions of Arpaio's "lead investigator" Mike Zullo, who is featured in a softball interview and in lengthy clips from the press conference.
Furthermore, the extremely limited sourcing of counterpoints used by CBS in the segments (anonymous detractors, a year-old Obama quote, and a brief, almost neutral, statement from an AZ congressman) gave the impression that vocal critics of the birth certificate circus were hard to come by -- a scenario that seems improbable at best, given the birther movement's rich history of making false claims.
Watch the CBS report:
In contrast, the Phoenix FOX affiliate (FOX 10) reported on the absurdity of the day with a responsible degree of scrutiny, making the story about the reasonableness of the county sheriff's involvement in the charade. The segment begins with an incredulous anchor throwing to some brief interviews highlighting opposing viewpoints on the issue. It continues with a one-on-one interview with Arpaio and FOX anchor John Hook, in which Hook questions the legal standing, fiscal responsibility and political sanity of the decision to, as Arpaio puts it, take the birthers' investigation "into another atmosphere."
The FOX report:
J. Christian Adams must feel like his star is fading. The former DOJ attorney hired under President Bush's politicized regime was once a favorite fear-monger of the right. Sixteen months ago, Adams was bursting onto the national scene with appearances on Fox News to hype the phony New Black Panther Party controversy, and now he's muttering George Soros conspiracies in the obscure back pages of PJMedia.com. In what must be a desperate last gasp for attention, Adams is now resorting to the worst of the forbidden rhetorical devices: Nazi comparisons.
For Adams, a speaker's use of the phrase "God is on our side" at a civil rights rally in Florida apparently evokes Nazi imagery. From his November 10 post at PJ Media, describing a small rally of African American community members protesting the arrest of some elected community officials on suspicions of election fraud:
The rally begins by singing revered hymns such as "We Shall Overcome." The speakers claim the accused were arrested because of "racism." Like the German Army belt buckle, the speaker says the accused will be victorious "because God is on our side." The bloody shirt is waved - "they thought they forever would be in charge." The criminal accusations are "nothing but mud thrown on the wall," followed by a disturbing call and response evidencing genuine lawlessness beyond just the speakers.
The "German Army belt buckle" Adams links to bears the Nazi iron eagle with swastika and the German phrase, "Gott mit uns" - God with us.
So to clarify for the record, J. Christian Adams sees a small gathering of African American civil rights activists citing their commonly-held belief that God is present and supportive in their lives during a protest, and Adams immediately thinks they resemble Nazis. It's tempting to delve into a Freudian analysis of Adams' psychological associations, but instead it's probably sufficient to note that his flawed simile doesn't even begin to scratch at the realm of rational thought.
Yes, it's true that the Nazis engraved "God with us" on their belt buckles; but the sentiment that "God is on our side" is no more symbolic of Nazism than eating sauerkraut or driving a Volkswagen. The belief that a particular culture, activity or way of life is favored by divine interests is prevalent everywhere from the pre-game prayers by local high school football teams to the governing philosophies of American presidents like George W. Bush. The notion that it's some unique and recognizable Nazi chant being invoked by black community members on the steps of their local church is absurd.
What's more appalling is the failed judgment by Adams' editors at PJ Media. Either they didn't read the post before applying their stamp of approval, or they agree with the assertion that these civil rights activists are comparable in any respect to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
J. Christian Adams is truly struggling for attention and relevance now that his book is receiving little fanfare and his voice is drowned out within the ranks of the other faceless ideologues at PJ Media. Otherwise, why go through with such a despicable race-baiting Nazi comparison in just his second column?
The Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky has been on the media circuit this week in a desperate effort to convince the American people that expensive and unnecessary voter ID laws are necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud from corrupting our democracy. After appearing on CNN Saturday morning, von Spakovsky was hosted on C-SPAN Tuesday morning to debate the matter with Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. His misrepresentations about the prevalence of voter fraud in America began almost immediately.
When pressed about the claim that there is very little evidence of voter fraud in America, von Spakovsky cited as the perfect example of why Mississippi and other states need to pass voter ID laws the case of U.S. v. Brown, a lawsuit prosecuted by the Justice Department against Ike Brown, the Democratic leader in Noxubee County, MS. But it's hard to see how the voter ID laws could have prevented Brown's crimes.
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, let's talk about Mississippi where they're voting today in a referendum about voter ID. Anyone who has any doubts about this can pull up a case called U.S. v. Brown, it's a lawsuit that was won under the Voting Rights Act in 2007 by the Justice Department, and the defendant in that case was convicted of all kinds of violations of the Voting Rights Act, discrimination, also he was engaging in voter fraud. And there was testimony in that case, cited in the court decision, by a former deputy sheriff, an African American, about how he witnessed the defendant in that case outside a polling place, telling a young black woman that she should go into the polling place and vote, that she could use any name, no one would question her about it. And how could she do that? Because Mississippi doesn't have a voter ID law.
One woman trying to vote under another name (and there's no evidence in the judgment against Brown that she either attempted this or was successful at it) is the least of their problems in Noxubee County. The complaint against Brown and the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee accused the parties of, among other things, recruiting unqualified African American candidates from outside the district to run against white candidates, excluding white people from participation in Democratic Executive Committee activities/decisions, manipulating voter rolls, prohibiting white people from voting, and rejecting valid absentee ballots.
The Mississippi law being supported by von Spakovsky would require voters at the polls to present a government issued photo ID before being permitted to vote. The former DOJ attorney suggests that a voter ID requirement would prevent Brown's crimes. But how? Brown was running the polling operations in the voting district - he seemed to have no trouble picking and choosing which laws to follow, so why would von Spakovsky expect him to honor the voter ID restrictions? In fact, it stretches the boundaries of reason to believe that any laws on the books would have prevented Brown from committing the crimes of which he was found guilty.
Based on the attention paid to the over-hyped threat of voter fraud in the 2012 election cycle, observers of Fox News, the right-wing blogosphere, and Republican state legislatures might believe that double-voting, fraudulent absentee ballots and undocumented aliens casting votes on Election Day is such a frequent phenomenon that the very foundation of our democracy is being pulled out from underneath us. As many states look to pass controversial voter ID laws that make it more difficult to vote, right-wing commentators like the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky and The American Spectator's John Fund are pushing the voter fraud agenda to the public. When questioned about the vote-suppressing effects of these laws and the absence of any evidence of widespread voter fraud in America, however, voter ID proponents slip on their dancing shoes.
Von Spakovsky, in a November 5 segment on CNN Saturday Morning, was pushed by host T.J. Holmes to explain the justification for these laws, given the lack of evidence that any widespread voter fraud exists. Spakovsky, who last month admitted that there is no massive voter fraud problem in America, dodges answering twice and argues that whether voter fraud is widespread or not isn't important.
HOLMES: What evidence do you have that that's happening on a widespread level?
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, you don't need it on a widespread level. As the U.S. Supreme Court said when it upheld Indiana's voter ID law, that kind of fraud can make the difference in close elections. And you know, in Missouri, where Ms. Lieberman is from, we had an election just two years ago that was decided by one vote. And if I may say, what's said is Ms. Lieberman has been misled by her attorneys. She is exempt from the voter ID law that Missouri is going to have go in place if it is approved in a referendum. That law, which was passed a couple of years ago, specifically says anyone born before 1941, and that includes her, is exempt, as are people with physical and mental disabilities.
HOLMES: Well sir, a lot of people don't feel that way. And they feel like a lot of people just throw up their hands and say, 'ok, I can't deal with this and can't do this.' And you talked about the Supreme Court case with Indiana - yes, they ruled for Indiana, but also Indiana couldn't come up with a single case of voter fraud there, so I guess where do you see the voter fraud taking place that justifies states changing laws like this?
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well look, I can't give you an inventory here today. I've written about a lot of case studies on various kinds of voter fraud.
John Fund, editor of The American Spectator, was questioned by Media Matters at the Americans for Prosperity's "Defending the American Dream Summit" in Washington, DC where he defended von Spakovsky and struggled to rationalize the voter suppression laws he supports.
MEDIA MATTERS: Hans von Spakovsky was quoted in The New York Times saying that there isn't massive fraud in American elections. Do you agree with him?
FUND: Well, depends on how you define "massive." In some places, it's enormous. In some places, it's not a problem. In some places, it's minor. So it depends. Is there massive fraud throughout all 50 states? No. Is there massive fraud in many states where the elections are close and can decide the presidency? The answer is yes.
MMFA: So you sort of agree with him, sort of don't?
FUND: Well, you know, I think - remember, I talked to him. He was quoted out of context. Now, he did say that, and I would agree with that, but I think the context is important.
While Fund claims that "enormous" fraud is taking place in some states, the record suggests. The Justice Department, for example, prosecuted only 17 individuals for casting fraudulent ballots from October 2002 through September 2005. During that period, DOJ charged a total of 95 individuals with "election fraud," convicting 55. Even Fox News, who has consistently over-hyped the menace of voter fraud, suffered a blow on the issue when America Live host Megyn Kelly was forced to admit that the problem of voter fraud is "not overwhelming."