Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stake in the Heartland #1

GlaxoSmithKline Implicated in Massive Global-Warming-Denial Scheme
Are Vampires People, Too?
Yesterday afternoon, I noticed three fat robins in our crabapple tree, picking off the fermented fruit the waxwings inexplicably never came for. That’s been one of several odd things I’ve noted this winter. The waxwings usually get most of the crabs before the robins arrive. It’s usually quite a party, but almost March and no waxwings. The shriveled red raisins still beckon all comers.
I watched the robins for a minute, and then another flew down to imbibe, and then another and another, like leaves falling from the tall green ash by the driveway. I looked up and there was the whole community, about twenty birds, huddled against the wind in the old tree’s unkempt branches. Gossiping, I suppose, like we do at our parties.
 But unlike our parties, dreams of worms were in these fat kids’ eyes. They weren’t just winter-overs. They were part of the migrant horde, and they’d settle for fermented crabs now and have some fun, but they were expecting the ground to thaw sooner rather than later, the worms to wriggle out of the wet, warming soil. They knew, even if we can’t quite wrap our heads around it through gossip or by other means, that spring’s coming weeks earlier than usual.
Notwithstanding gossip, a big part of why we’re behind the robins in understanding our beautiful, fragile world is Heartland Institute (1) , probably the most well-heeled and well-funded Reality-Denial factory (“conservative think tank” in the vernacular) in the world. With a projected 2012 budget of almost $8 million, they promote scientific ignorance, misrepresentation of facts and good ol’ American naked political expediency. Among several other anti-science canards which, if they can sell them to the public will make them richer than Zeus, is a program to promote a money-cooked curriculum to our public schools which will teach K-12 kids that global warming (or climate change if you’re squeamish) is a liberal hoax.
How do we know this? Not from Corporate Media that’s for sure. But rather from extrapolating Reality out of grade-B horror movies. We’ve always known, for example, that while vampires aren’t really alive, they are possessed of certain anti-social personality disorders that animate and mobilize them for the sake of their own bottom line at the expense of Life itself, and that we as a society reward this kind of behavior at our extreme and scary peril. So it goes for corporations, and for Heartland Institute.
A creature of giant energy companies, the tobacco industry, the Koch brothers and the Bitterroot’s own GlaxoSmithKline, Heartland was recently exposed about its secret plans to corrupt society for the sake of profit (surprise!) in an internal document  leaked by the Pacific Institute(2). According to the leaked document (3) Heartland proposes to manufacture a “global warming curriculum for K-12 Schools” that “isn’t alarmist or overtly political”, and then they plan to buy the politicians to stick this high-priced garbage to us and our kids.
This “curriculum” is being developed for Heartland by Dr. David Wojick, a scientist who has worked for the Dept. of Energy and has no degrees in climate science. For about $1 million, Dr. Wojick is slated to produce the step-by-step educational tools our teachers will need to teach our kids to pony up to corporate ideology regarding global warming that essentially goes like this:
·         Global Warming isn’t happening.
·         Well, there’s no evidence it’s happening.
·         Well, if there is evidence, then it’s not due to people.
·         Well, if it’s due to people, then it’s beneficial.
·         Well, if it’s not beneficial, our C.E.O.s have the right to make obscene profits, so too bad.

Just as we know that vampires aren’t living people, we also know that corporate cynicism isn’t genuine scientific skepticism.  You don’t need a degree in science or cinematography. It’s visceral. To point: Heartland Institute cut its teeth—or fangs if you will-- back in the 80s and 90s funding “studies” disputing the overwhelmingly and patently-obvious evidence that cigarette smoke was bad for you. Anyone who remembers the tobacco industry’s—and Heartland’s-- sleazy tactics during the long battle to get lawmakers to admit the obvious then will recognize the tactics used by Heartland now, in its campaign to attract vast amounts of capital from what it self-defines as its “affluent libertarian” donors. These tactics can easily be boiled down to the following:
·         Any reality-based situation that is in danger of being regulated by the government to the detriment of the “affluent libertarian’s”  bottom line will be denied and opposed by well-funded junk science and junk arguments with paid-for “scientists” who behave more  like defense lawyers trying to save a mafia boss’  skin than technical professionals promoting a truly-alternative view.
·         Conversely, any government actions or regulations that will pad their bottom line, like War for instance, will be supported to the point of destroying our kids’ and grandkids’ health and ecosystems up to and including the point of their possible extinction.
In other words, Heartland and its “affluent libertarians” fundamentally believe: that they bought this government and it is theirs, not ours, that they will do with it what they want, thank you, and that we and our kids and grandkids can simply go to hell. Is it a coincidence that this is the same philosophy adhered to by the 18th century despots America’s “founders” overthrew? I don’t think so.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and, more to the point, the average Bitterrooter, has a level of responsibility in all this. I certainly don’t blame you if you count yourrself with the majority of Bitterrooters who cherish the notion that our little community is too small-potatoes to make any difference in the Big Bad World so the best thing to do is go skiing or fishing. Of course it is—on  the surface. But here’s a few things to think about that might bring this train wreck of a social disease home a bit: Heartland’s budget is up 170% from their 2011 $4.6 million budget .  A single “Anonymous Donor”—probably David Koch—has contributed $13 million between 2007 and 2011. Nineteen corporate donors, including GSK, contributed almost $1.5 million last year alone.  While GSK’s  contribution of $50,000 appears small to Koch’s $13 million infusion, consider that General Motors (remember that company that got billions of taxpayer-funded bail-out money?) kicked in only $30,000. Microsoft contributed $60,000. For all you good ol’ boys out there, put $5,000 from Anheuser-Busch in your boilermaker and pound it down for perspective. GSK’s $50,000 will buy 50 of the 70 “elected officials” Heartland intends to purchase with a plane ticket, a party and steak and eggs for breakfast. For perspective, when was the last time you had $1000 spent on your head that wasn’t a criminal background check? How much does your local Democratic Central Committee have in its bank account? For a clue, most Democratic organizations in Western Montana operate on less cash than the price of buying off just one of these corrupt politicians. In other words, GSK is a major player in this death-wish fa├žade our kids will have to pay for and live with, and it wants to be. And part of their massive profit-base that enables such bad-boy corporate behavior is generated right here in Ravalli County. That should be of significant concern to Bitterrooters who care about robins and suchlike.

So what to do? Well, first of all, contact GSK and ask them what the hell?! Bearing in mind, of course that those who work at GSK are our friends and neighbors, which also begs the question. Do we Bitterrooters really believe that we have to drink the libertarian Kool-Aid, mixed up for us by ethically-challenged Big Pharma companies and equally-challenged commissioners, faux preachers and anti-environmentalists who would dope us into believing we have to teach our kids that Reality is a Liberal Hoax in order to keep jobs in the Bitterroot? That, in my opinion, is the core question we all have to deal with before we can make any headway against this Tea Party/libertarian “populism” that is threatening to turn our county into a theocracy.
If you think this chain-of-thought is simple-minded to the extreme, you’re right. If you think it’s just plain false, then first of all please download and read the document  (2), and then consider how simple it has been for these “corporate persons” to bald-facedly buy and pedal enough influence within our corrupted political and media systems to stall the United States, and therefore the whole world, against acting on any meaningful policies to avert the unprecedented human-caused ecological disaster we affectionately refer to as Global Warming.  

As for robins and other Bitterrooters, inevitable life dramas shrink up even normal winters for us mere humans. That can’t be helped. In a way we’re too smart for our own good. Sometimes we can’t find our seasonal bearing because we just have more mental clutter than a robin. But notwithstanding our limited capacity to comprehend life cycles as well drunken birds do, we all know spring is coming earlier and earlier. We don’t need a Big Pharma company to tell us different. The snow’s on the ground for less and less days.  Short season with no real cold weather. Bark beetles molly-coddled through light frosts lurking in the lurch, along with early runoffs and rumors of drought. Blamers waiting in the wings, already deploying accusations of treason against those who have been fingered by our corrupted politicians—local and national-- to be the easy targets of their unexamined anger. The conclusion of that drama, of course, is for us to decide. I won’t name names here, but history is unkind to societies who allow thugs and snake-oil salesmen to flush them violently down the collective toilet bowl. Even rational minds, for all their faults, can grasp this. It could get bad for those of us who consider ourselves rational. The least we can do is speak up.
Contact GlaxoSmithKline (553 Old Corvallis Road, Hamilton, ) , and tell them to quit funding junk science with their Bitterroot profits.   

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Fundamental Inferred Constitutional Parental Rights" vs. Real-World Family Planning

 Turning the Constitution on its Head---Literally

In the Fall of 2009, I was staffing the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance booth at the Ravalli County Fair. Our theme that year was “Health Care Is a Human Right”, because B.H.R.A. had spent a lot of time and energy that year advocating for a Universal Health Care model to replace the so-obviously broken one we still suffer from today. We had had some early success in the Winter and Spring, when most public health care discussions were overwhelmingly pro-single-payer or at least pro-public option. It was obvious and heartening. It looked like we were finally going to go somewhere, get something.
Most of the serious health care discussions pre-dated the April 15th coming-out party for the teabaggers (and yes, they started out proudly calling themselves “teabaggers” and I don’t see any reason to contradict them now).  That was the date that Constitutional Literalism and a whole raft of other old and discredited Militia/sovereign-citizen tenets caught fire among adherents to the newly-minted, well-funded “Tea Party” movement throughout the country as well as in the Bitterroot. Mostly white, mostly middle-to-upper-class people were suddenly awakened to the fact that a non-white person could actually be elected president, and they were upset. They got religion. They repented, all of which was not such a hard transition since many of the faithful were already leaning towards biblical literalism (fundamentalism, reconstructionism etc.), essentially a branch from the same literary tree. A lot of Big Money, it turned out, was also behind the push to get the faithful to climb on board the Sovereign Citizen/ Militia bandwagon of claiming that anything that wasn’t literally written in what they claimed was the divinely-inspired constitution, including over 200 years of case law and amendments, was null and void unless it passed the test of their self-appointed “sacred” scrutiny. Attaching this ready-mix right-wing populism to Sovereign-Citizen/ Militia dogma also had the obvious advantage for Big Money, like the Kochs, of allying their economic interests with a large segment of poorly-informed, well-armed “2nd Amendment” warriors of the lower economic rungs who were also worried about the future status of their white privilege and were not shy of openly wearing their racism on their sleeve (1). Point made, they figured, without having to stick their own necks out. The Ron Paul model of political obfuscation, also a product (or at best a by-product) of Big Money. A perfect fit, I guess they figured.
The first ones I noticed were small knots of 2-3 at our Single-Payer rallies, with weird signs like “Govt. Out of My Health Care”, or single abusive drive bys, making (at the time) incomprehensible statements like “If you can’t afford it, then you don’t deserve it, you retrograde hippie”, and other savvy sayings very similar and heartfelt. By summer these folks were rolling into Belgrade airport, where Obama had landed to make a speech, on Koch Bothers “Hands Off America” luxury buses(1), claiming they’d bought and paid for the “free-speech zone” we’d been shunted to when we showed up, telling us to “get off their private property” (a true story) and, when we incredulously didn’t, trying to start a riot with us pro-single payer and/or public-option elderly people and students.
In Ravalli County, the new grouping of an old, old problem here, Celebrating Conservatism, started attracting hundreds of the above-mentioned repentants to the Fairgrounds, with revival-style chile feeds and extremist-hit-parade guests like notorious anti-Semite Red Beckman who lectured the good folks on how the Jews deserved the Holocaust because they killed Jesus and on the salubrious effects of Sovereign Citizen snake oil labeled “Sacred Constitution Elixir”.
So by Fall, with Health Care reform looking like the wreck it was destined to become, we figured we’d run our banner up the pole anyway, and there I sat at the 2009 BHRA fair booth, defending our posters proclaiming health care as a human right to all comers. About three days in, I was growing weary of challenging absurd constitutional notions half-baked for resale by the likes of..well..the Koch Brothers, of course, but also of Red Beckman, Richard Mack and Chuck Baldwin (2008 Constitution Party candidate) and eaten whole by those who apparently didn’t pay attention in high school government class. On that third day, a tall, cowboy-bedecked gentleman stopped briefly and stared at our posters with his arms folded and a deep frown on his face. I waited politely for what I knew was coming, which it did when he finally half-shouted at me, “That’s not in the Constitution!”
Quickly assuming he was referring to the human rights aspects of medical treatment, I took this as my cue. I uttered the phrase “living documents” and watched his back predictably stiffen. But this time, before allowing him a response, I quickly added, “And that’s where we part company.” Which, fortunately, we did, by his eliminating his presence in a huff. I certainly wasn't going to say anything more, and I learned something useful right then. You just can’t argue with them when they get like that. Better just to say what you mean up front, hope for the best and save your breath.
So here’s what I have to say:
Article Six of the U.S. Constitution literally says that “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”.
It reads that way because the so-called founders knew from first-hand experience the evils perpetrated on individuals and society in the name of “God” by the various theocracies known as “states” before the revolution. They wanted no semblance of theocracy in their new experiment, and in fact a good few of them didn’t even identify themselves as “Christian”.
So the far-right fad of “constitutional literalism”—or “legal fundamentalism” if you mix fundamentalist dogma with constitutional law as Commissioner Kanenwisher happily does (2)—has always surprised me. How, I wondered, can a “constitutional literalist” whose staunch supporters demand that everyone else accept the literal interpretation of the constitution as “holy writ” find “inferred fundamental constitutional parental rights” in the same “holy writ” constitution you find Article Six in? Article Six is in black-and-white. Article “Kanenwisher” could—literally—be referred to as “black-and-blue” if carried to its logical conclusion. Demanding that the constitution be taken as a sacred, infallible document that must be taken literally and then turning around and ignoring nine-tenths of what doesn’t suit you used to be labeled, in the good All-American sense, snake oil, wasn’t it?
The roots of modern literacy and its apparently-unavoidable corollary—the  snake-oil salesmen--go at least as far back as the first printing of the Gutenberg Bible, and maybe some folks can get farther than me in understanding these inscrutable mysteries by examining why God allowed all those “f”s in the original document when He really meant “s”. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not qualified to take the tangle straight on in a thousand words or so.
But I can try.
(1)From cover page of Koch Brothers Hands Off America website: “Dear President Obama, Get your hands off my America! I can no longer sit by and watch you intrude on our freedoms, our faith, and our family values. You want to take the money from our pockets and the guns from our hands. You’ve tried to replace our doctors with bureaucrats. Don’t you realize Americans have the right to make choices from their house-not take orders from the White House? Enough is enough—I’m taking my country back!  Sincerely, America”

(2) As far as I know, within the religious/legal framework I’m using them, I’m either making these phrases up whole-cloth, or I’m shamelessly stealing them.  If it’s found that I’m making them up; remember, you heard it here first!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ravalli County Family Planning Update

Dear folks,

Let’s declare Victory, but let’s not go home. We still got a lotta work to do.

Yesterday the commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of signing a letter-of-interest informing the Montana Dept. of Health and Human Services that they would accept the Title X grant this summer when it’s time to renew. The grant, just below $40,000 this year, has funded our Family Planning Clinic for almost 40 years. Hundreds of low-income people, overwhelmingly women, have depended on this service to meet their most basic health needs they could not otherwise afford, for decades. In Commissioner Iman’s own words, "This is the very lowest level (of heath care) at the very least cost." Simply signing an agreement accepting this longstanding federal grant would seem, to any reasonable person, the least our commissioners could do for their constituents.
Not so according to two commissioners, and a couple others wavered in their comments before voting in favor.
Let’s admit up front that it’d be a good thing to call and thank commissioners Iman, Chilcott and Foss for ultimately supporting our Family Planning Clinic (this year). But it would be equally as good a thing, and probably a more productive thing, to recognize yesterday’s vote for the critical reminder that it was. In terms of reproductive issues, our Ravalli County government is just one vote short of becoming a theocracy, and on many other “social” issues not even that. And that’s with five commissioners. Imagine how it would have gone if the two nay-sayers were sitting on a three-person board.
Commissioners Stoltz and Kanenwisher voted their religious dogma, which in these days of willful intellectual carelessness combined with unchecked anti-democratic recklessness also passes as their politics. Let’s look at that. But before we do, let’s remember that Chilcott made sure we heard that he was also concerned with what he called "the state appearing to assert itself between a parent and a child", and that Foss made sure we heard that part of her decision was based on our (corrupt, venal, spineless?) Congress’ banning the distribution of the “morning after” pill for women under seventeen. In other words, at least four out of our five sitting commissioners believe at some fundamental level that a society can’t have too many kids born to parents who don’t want them. Why? Because then these unwilling parents can turn around and assert what Kanenwisher continues to insist on calling their “fundamental inferred constitutional right” to “parent”. I guess.
Kanenwisher has used the phrases “parental rights” and “fundamental inferred constitutional right” interchangeably at least ten times in my hearing. After about the fifth time I started doing a little research as to what planet this concept comes from, and here’s a thumbnail of what I came up with, and what I think is in store for Ravalli County—and our country-- if this theocracy trend continues. is an organization founded in 2006 by Michael P. Farris, who also founded the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Both are well-connected far-right organizations (are we tired of those yet?) and both predictably take a fundamentalist approach to both “parental rights” and home schooling, insisting in both cases that their narrow, biblically-based definition of “parental rights” is “inferred” in the U.S. Constitution and is therefore inviolable. Farris’ has been one of the main pushers of the so-called “Parental Rights Amendment” to our constitution since it was first introduced in 2008. This proposed amendment is largely a reflection of the traditionally-allergic reaction the American Far-Right has to the United Nations in general, and to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in particular, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1989. Proponents of the amendment, which apparently include theocratic aspirants like Commissioner Kanenwisher, assert that the “state” should never be allowed to get in between the “sacred” bond between parent and child.
Sacred?  Let’s connect a few dots here and then draw our own conclusions. Michael Farris, one of the main influential far-right cheerleaders of the “Parental Rights Amendment”, can claim positive results to many religious-extremists litmus tests. One significant example is his signing onto the Coalition on Revival’s 1986 COR Manifesto. In fact he sat on its steering committee for several years. Here’s, in part, what the COR Manifesto says:
"We deny that anyone Jew or Gentile, believer or unbeliever, private person or public person is exempt from the moral and juridical obligation before God to submit to Christ's Lordship over every aspect of his life in thought word and deed." Another COR requirement is that one be "willing to submit to the hierarchical order that God has created in which we are willing to submit as to Christ to employers, civil government, and church leaders, and within families, wives to their husbands, and children to their parents."
This document, as are many other far-right religio-political documents and tenets, is a classic reflection of Christian Reconstructionism, a theological movement whose leadership has also been represented on the COR steering committee.
Reconstructionism, for its part, is a truly dangerous, over-the-edge-of-the-world movement that has been incorporated into political movements such as the Montana Constitution Party and other so-called “libertarian” political movements, although few admit to the charge because Reconstructionism is so demonstrably extreme. Nevertheless, all you have to do is look at most far-right religio-political movements in America these days and find reconstructionist dogma either whole-hog or in bite-sized installments, that (for instance) assert that the laws of Old Testament Israel should apply today, providing a biblical blueprint for society. Pure Reconstructionism embraces a wide use of the death penalty — not only for such crimes as rape and murder, but for blasphemy, heresy, astrology, and homosexuality — in accordance with what they call "biblical law" — a notion which largely grows out of biblical accounts of the judicial application of the Ten Commandments.*
So, does Commissioner Kanenwisher’s truly-bizarre tenet of “inferred fundamental parental constitutional right” have a direct DNA link to the truly-bizarre, openly-promoted and well-financed tenets of fundamentalist Christian Reconstructionism? Well, here are a few dots. Throw them in a glass of water and go get some litmus paper.
Commissioner Stoltz, who rarely says anything in public, ironically said it best yesterday in summing up this constitutional crisis of disingenuousness: “It's like putting poison in our cookies. How much poison will we eat until we've had enough?" Unfortunately, he was talking about his perceived constitutional right to interpret the constitution as a hairdryer that would make the founders’ powdered Rosicrucian wigs stick straight out in a friz, which same hair dryer he further feels constitutionally-entitled to beat us all over the head with just for good measure. I’m talking about the real constitution, and the real Rosicrucian founders who inserted Article 6 in that document as a hedge against the fundamentalist/ theocratic tendencies they recognized in our national darker nature even way back then. Duh.
So yes, we can breathe a sigh of relief for the hundreds of low-income folks who will not have the rug pulled out from under them this time. We can also see this whole farce as a classic example of why, at this point in time for Ravalli County, we need five commissioners, because this, folks, was a close call.