Questionable Motives

February 15, 2012

What is the Heartland Institute and why should we care how it gets its funding?

The Heartland Institute is supposedly a non profit think tank whose self-described mission is to “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” Finding solutions for problems? That sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? The problem is, that simply isn’t quite true; it’s goal is to lobby for corporate concerns regardless of the problems caused by these activities.

It’s major area of activity is to influence the The United States’ 8,300 state and national elected officials and approximately 8,400 local government officials in ways agreeable to its sponsors over issues it deems important… such as sustained criticisms against legitimate climate science and public education that attempts to deny parents the right to public money to pay for private schooling… schooling that includes altered curriculum to favour the corporate message.  As they explain:

people devote time to learn about subjects only if they believe acquiring specific knowledge will benefit them personally. Often, this seems unlikely. Consequently, most people choose rationally to remain ignorant about many public policy issues. The Heartland Institute has overcome the problem of ‘rational ignorance’ by inventing publications busy elected officials and the public will actually read and come to trust. Our publications are highly effective and inexpensive vehicles for communicating messages on public policy.

One might be tempted to think that a non profit doesn’t have any major sponsors so it would be less likely to follow a corporate, for profit, mission against governmental oversight and regulation wherever it may be found. One might be right… except this certainly doesn’t pertain to the Heartland Institute. It’s funding has been revealed at desmogblog to be very much a public relations arm of specific corporate interests.

According to its website, its mission is “to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems”. Sourcewatch tells us that the Institute campaigns in support of:

  • “Common-sense environmentalism”, such as opposition to the the Kyoto Protocol aimed at countering global warming
  • Genetically engineered crops and products;
  • The privatization of public services;
  • The introduction of school vouchers;
  • The deregulation of health care insurance;

and against:

  • What it refers to as “junk science” (science that that could indicate a need for regulation);
  • Tobacco control measures such as tobacco tax increases (the Institute denies the health effects of second-hand smoke);

Regarding its current funding and responding to that assigned mission, Heartland’s central concerns are about disseminating anti-climate science messages and funding anti-climate science contrarians:

We expect to push up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to their network of philanthropists, if our focus continues to align with their interests. Other contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.”

Heartland’s influence can be heard in misleading soundbites issued by legislators over climate science findings, which explains why it is commonly referred to as a global warming denial machine working hard to find funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the ‘alarmist’ AGW (anthropomorphic global warming) message.

Forbes Business magazine and other business press are favored outlets for Heartland’s dissemination of climate denial messages, and the group is worried about maintaining that exclusive space. They note in particular the work of climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick:

Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out.”

The Heartland Institute has a corporate sponsored agenda to fool people into supporting bad public policies by undermining good science to promote short term, short-sighted, unsustainable, harmful corporate interests. That – and not solutions to social and economic problems – is its real mission.

(h/t Cedric)

October 21, 2011

Is Newt Gingrich anti-American?

Of course not. He is a patriot (of the New and Improved kind!). But what that means to you now isn’t quite what you may think it means by the time you reach the end of this post.

I think he is the antithesis of a patriotic American because he is intentionally undermining both the Constitution, to which he has sworn to uphold and protect from enemies foreign and domestic, and the Bill of Rights using cherry-picked bits of history to revise it in a way that makes up seem down, left seem to be another kind of right, and American history to support the delusion that religion –  rather than the Enlightenment values of reason, liberty, science, and free enterprise – was responsible for these founding documents.

Gingrich quoted from OpEdNews:

I think if the question is Does faith matter, absolutely. How can you have a country which is founded on truth, which begins, “We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights” — how — how can you have the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which says religion, morality and knowledge being important, education matters? That’s the order: religion, morality and knowledge.

Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God. And I think that all of us up here, I believe, would agree. (Cheers, applause.) But I think all of us would also agree that there’s a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment — how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray? (Applause.)

Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God. But the notion that you’re endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America. (Applause.)

Gingrich is a slippery one and vile in his abuse of history to serve his pro-religious anti-Americanism. And it is anti-American.

He is trying to make it appear that the country’s governance and public education has a religious foundation. This is what we call historical revisionism… a polite way of saying someone is approaching the line children and other plain speakers call lying. In Gingrich’s case, clearly he is attempting to use his knowledge of history to support that which is not historically accurate. The polite can call this historical revisionism. I call it anti-American.

Hamilton and Madison, who explained the Constitution clause-by-clause in the Federalist Papers, did so totally without scriptural references. Funny, that. Gingrich avoids these vital documents presumably because they do not support his revisionism nor the intention of his revisionism. Note that it would have been good politics for Hamilton and Madison to argue that the Constitution was based on scripture, but there was no scriptural basis for concepts like a decentralized federal republic, a two-house legislature, limited government with enumerated powers, representation based on population, checks and balances, prohibiting religious qualifications for holding office, allowing secular oaths, and providing that a man-made Constitution was the supreme law of the land, which derived power solely from the consent of the governed and not by god. This shows just how carefully Gingrich picks what he does: he has a religious agenda to serve and it is not to in the protection of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. His agenda is to undermine them in the name of promoting religious piety.

Gingrich would have us believe that this revolutionary Constitution recognized the supremacy of god, whereas in fact it removed god entirely from government of the people, by the people, for the people. As a historian, Gingrich is cherry picking only those quotes which seems to support the importance of religious faith in government, whereas in historical fact this revisionist claptrap is unequivocally and patently false. He is trying to claim black is white… always a good indication of an agenda-driven sleight-of-hand. In my mind, Gingrich has joined up with the movement I call lying for Jesus.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 occurred under the Articles of Confederation, not the Constitution. Gingrich knows this but pretends the cherry-picked bit was part of the founding intentions for promoting religion in the public domain when it was no such thing. The national government wasn’t constrained by what became the Bill of Rights, but many of those rights were specified in the Ordinance (jury trial, habeas corpus, protection of property rights, sanctity of contract, prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments, etc.). Section 13 said:

And, for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected; to fix and establish those principles as the basis of all laws, constitutions, and governments, which forever hereafter shall be formed in the said territory: to provide also for the establishment of States, and permanent government therein, and for their admission to a share in the federal councils on an equal footing with the original States, at as early periods as may be consistent with the general interest.

Gingrich’s cherry-picking becomes obvious here when he ignores the context that highlights religious liberty as one of the central founding principles and chooses only those words from Article 3 that only gives the appearance of supporting religion in the education:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Note that it doesn’t require religious education — or any education; it merely encourages schools. So why did Gingrich mention this line alone, devoid of context in which it means the opposite of what he is trying to convey? Perhaps it’s because it gives the appearance that there’s some kind of founding authority that government schools should teach religion. This is bunk and Gingrich knows it is bunk. Any second year American history student knows this is bunk. Heck, even I know this is bunk and I am neither a university grad in history nor even an American. What’s Gingrich’s excuse for this gross misrepresentation?

Gee, I wonder.

What is clear is that he is prostituting his knowledge of history by cherry-picking bits and pieces he can reassemble into what amounts to a blatant misrepresentation of historical fact in order to appeal to the ignorant biases of his uneducated audience for his own political gain. That it comes directly at the expense of upholding the intentions of nation’s founding documents seems not to matter to him or his audience. Such historical revisionism contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and Bill of Rights smacks to me of sedition for political gain. This is what Gingrich actually means for America, although he does his best to paint non believers as the enemy, those who are morally suspect for their lack of faith who will abuse the public power they are granted by the electorate unless they have religious faith, yet we see just how willing Gingrich is as a believer to use that highly touted faith to increase his chances to win public power by undermining support for the those founding documents! With patriots like these, who needs enemies?  But under the skirts of religious piety, Gingrich and the other whack-a-mole religious nutjobs that front the Republican party are doing their level best to undermine their Constitution and Bill of Rights and call the endeavor patriotic. But hey, what’s revising a few words to mean their opposite when you are already willing to revise history in order to reverse the intentions of your country’s founding documents to mean what they don’t mean? That’s why I think Gingrich and his ilk are indeed the new and improved version of an American patriot.

June 14, 2011

Why does knowledge of history matter?

Filed under: Canada,Education,History,Ignorance,United States — tildeb @ 8:46 pm

History, one of my favourite subjects when I was in school, is a dying subject. And this carries with it a cost played out in ignorance.

In the latest national testing in the States, Americans are losing knowledge of their history, which means their are losing their ability to understand how things were and why things came to be they way they are today. This failure to teach to proficiency in history for public school students is akin to setting them adrift into the world armed only by ignorance of their historical roots.  For example, over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This trend is revealing. Proficiency is one of three categories:  “basic” denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient” represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced” means superior performance. Shockingly, only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, probably the most important Supreme Court ruling ever made. I studied it in high school and later at university… in Canada! And to add a revelation of just how apathetic American students are – without blaming parents and school boards and the internet for this failure to educate, although obviously there is great deal here to go around – only9% of fourth-graders could identify the man on the five dollar bill as Abraham Lincoln. Who he was and why he was an important historical figure pales when one considers the fact that the most basic curiosity of why a picture of this guy is on the five dollar bill is lacking from the start.

And this is the country whose leadership keeps lying to the public that it can produce students who will compete successfully against those from the rest of the world… omitting from the proposition that ignorance – whether in history or science or math – is hardly a solid foundation upon which to build its shining future. Yet that is exactly what it is doing: producing students with little knowledge and even less curiosity. The situation reminds me of the wisdom of Edmund Burke (no, I won’t tell you… go look it up) who said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

That’s a bad thing, by the way.

March 2, 2010

Atheists: anti-religious zealots or merely hate filled?

From Ed over at Dispatches From the Culture Wars quoted in its entirety:

The religious right has reacted with a predictable freakout to the Obama administration holding a meeting with the Secular Coalition for America last week.

“It is one thing for Administration to meet with groups of varying viewpoints, but it is quite another for a senior official to sit down with activists representing some of the most hate-filled, anti-religious groups in the nation,” said Council Nedd, chairman of the religious advocacy group In God We Trust.

And once again we see the religious right making a lame attempt to coopt the language of liberal causes that involve real oppression in order to strike the martyr pose and paint themselves as victims. When someone else disagrees with and criticizes their ideas, it’s just like when blacks had fire hoses, police dogs and lynch mobs unleashed at them. Because both are “hateful.”

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the meeting provided a “definitive answer” about the administration’s stance towards religion.”People of faith, especially Christians, have good reason to wonder exactly where their interests lie with the Obama administration,” Donohue said in a statement. “Now we have the definitive answer. In an unprecedented move, leaders of a presidential administration are hosting some of the biggest anti-religious zealots in the nation.

Riiiight. President Obama shows up at every prayer breakfast anyone can schedule within 1000 miles of the White House, has a team of spiritual advisers on retainer and talks incessantly about his religious faith, but he lets his underlings have one meeting with a non-religious group and it just proves how he’s really anti-religious and probably a gay-loving atheist…I mean terror-loving Muslim…oh, whatever. He’s obviously a terrible person now.

One has to wonder: Is there any claim so idiotic that the religious right won’t make it? I have yet to find a limit to their absurdity. I doubt I ever will.

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How sadly true. And from Comment #4 by Sadie Morrison comes an excellent question in response: Is there any claim the religious right can make that is so idiotic and repugnant that mainstream America finally stops giving it the attention and reverence it craves?

I can’t think of any.

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