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Briefly Noted: March 2014

Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s tax-exempt division, orchestrated a crackdown on Tea Party and conservative groups and then attempted to scapegoat those nonprofits during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, blaming them for the harsh treatment they received at her instigation, according to an official report released last month by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Many questions remain, including the identities of others at the IRS and elsewhere who may have known about key events and decisions she undertook,” the report stated. “Americans, and particularly those Americans who faced mistreatment at the hands of the IRS, deserve the full documented truth that both Lois Lerner and the IRS have withheld from them.” President Obama has said that there was not even “a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS affair.

After Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai revealed that the Obama administration was planning to do a study and “send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run,” People for the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch” blog shrugged off civil libertarians’ concerns about the disturbing plan. On Feb. 20, PfAW blogger Kyle Mantyla tried to spin the story by claiming that the FCC was “not going to be stationing agents in local news stations all over the country in order to monitor their reporting, as the Right has been frantically proclaiming.” But after a fierce backlash, the very next day an FCC spokeswoman said the agency was withdrawing the plan after its chairman determined “that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required.” She added, “Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.”

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Another Pew survey, another fake

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and policy.]

Pew—the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press—has published another poll showing people’s opinions on the Keystone XL pipeline. The results are highly favorable to the construction of the pipeline, which I support. I wish the results were true. But they’re fake.

Here’s how the survey was reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Nearly half of Democrats favor granting a permit for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. . . .

The Pew poll showed that, despite the work of anti-pipeline activists, support for the project has remained solid, especially among Republicans and independents. Backers of the pipeline have argued that it would create jobs and secure more oil from a friendly, democratic country.

Overall, 61% of respondents favor building the pipeline, while 27% are opposed, a proportion that has held steady for the last year or so, according to Pew. About 49% of Democrats back the pipeline and 38% oppose it. The remaining 13% said they did not know.

The poll was conducted from Feb. 27 to March 16 among 3,335 adults.

So, according to Pew, 88% of respondents are either in favor of the pipeline or opposed. That’s an incredible result, truly unbelievable—and I mean that literally.

Here’s why: No one in his or her right mind should believe that 88% of people in the surveyed group have ever heard of the Keystone XL pipeline. That means that the Pew survey responses were to the wording of the question, not to the matter of whether  the pipeline should be built.

It’s like that recurring bit on the Jimmy Kimmel late-night show, in which Kimmel staffers conduct man-on-the-street interviews with questions like “What was your reaction when President Obama pardoned the sequester?” …and people respond as if the questions make sense. Often, the participants elaborate on their answers, providing additional information such as what they were doing when they watched the broadcast of the President’s announcement of his pardon of the sequester.

In the Pew survey, the wording of the question was “Do you favor or oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s oil sands region through the Midwest to refineries in Texas?” I’ll give the Pew researchers the benefit of the doubt; I’ll assume that they put a lot of effort into the wording of the question, to make it as fair as possible, but such a result—showing a vast majority of people with an opinion on a complex issue that doesn’t affect them directly—is inherently flawed. People who have never heard of the Keystone XL pipeline do not have an opinion on the Keystone XL pipeline, and no clever wording of the question can get around that problem.

Assuming that the Pew survey was conducted in the manner that it sponsors claimed, and that it followed standard procedures for polls that are conducted scientifically, it is nevertheless fatally flawed because the result makes no sense.

How do I know that fewer than 88%, probably a lot fewer than 88%, have heard of the pipeline? Because, based on more than 40 years experience analyzing public opinion polls, I know that most people simply don’t have opinions on issues that are more complex than “For whom will you vote, Obama or Romney?” and that don’t affect them directly, such as “Have you had a favorable or unfavorable experience with recent changes to healthcare laws?” I don’t mean this as an insult to the average American. Most people are reasonably smart, but they have real lives and they don’t spend a lot of time reading up on complex matters of public policy. To their detriment, they rely on political leaders to make public policy and on journalists to provide analysis of public policy.

I first noticed this problem with polls back in the 1980s, when 80% of respondents in one poll had an opinion on the proposed Nuclear Freeze, but the number of people who had any idea what the Nuclear Freeze was, was close to zero. Same thing in the 1990s, with the chemical weapons treaty that was then under consideration, and polls “showed” that most regular people had an opinion on the issue, at a time when most Capitol Hill staffers didn’t.

Consider the following:

►At any given point, fewer than 70% (probably, fewer than 60%) of U.S. adults can name the Vice President.

►In 2011, Newsweek gave a group of American citizens a version of the test that’s given to immigrants seeking citizenship. Only 62% passed. The magazine reported that “Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.” The Newsweek story referenced a 2009 study by the European Journal of Communication  in which only 58 percent of Americans managed to identify the Taliban, against which the U.S. had been fighting a war for more than seven years.

►A 2013 Reuters/Ipsos poll had 27% selecting the correct definition of “quantitative easing” from a list of five answers. That’s compared to the 20% who would have picked the correct answer at random.  (If as few as eight or nine percent actually knew the answer, and the rest guessed blindly, you’d get around 27% answering correctly.) No wonder that, when politicians like Sarah Palin talk about the issue, it flies right over the heads of most voters.

►Left-wing columnist rosa Brooks wrote in 2006:

Last spring, one survey found that although 52% of Americans could name two or more of the characters from “The Simpsons,” only 28% could identify two of the freedoms protected under the 1st Amendment. Another recent poll found that 77% of Americans could name at least two of the Seven Dwarfs from “Snow White,” but only 24% could name two or more Supreme Court justices.

In September, the Annenberg Public Policy Center released a poll showing that only two-thirds of Americans could identify all three branches of government; only 55% of Americans were aware that the Supreme Court can declare an act of Congress unconstitutional; and 35% thought that it was the intention of the founding fathers to give the president “the final say” over Congress and the judiciary.

►In a 2008 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Professor Ted Gup of Case Western Reserve Universuty, wrote about his experience with some of his students: “Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries—China, Cuba, India, and Japan—not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses – half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975.”

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Green Watch: A Strategy Built on Nervous Moms: Fearmongers seek to block technology that could feed multitudes

A Strategy Built on Nervous Moms
Fearmongers seek to block technology that could feed multitudes (pdf here

By Julie Gunlock

Summary: In a very real sense, genetically modified food has existed for millennia. Recent scientific advances in the field are decreasing starvation, helping the world’s poor, and lowering food costs at your neighborhood grocery store. Unable to counter these advances for mankind, environmental activists have taken to scaring mothers that such food will poison their children, in the hope that nervous moms will pressure government to suppress “frankenfood,” even in the absence of any scientific evidence that it is harmful.

In politics, fear is a powerful weapon. Throughout human history, politicians and activists have exploited fear—fear of people who come from other places or who look different from oneself, fear of other religions or systems of belief, and, as in the case of genetically modified foods, fear of changing technology. Read all »

Labor Watch: Scott Walker, Indian Casinos, and Unions: Will the Wisconsin governor greenlight a controversial casino deal that’s a golden opportunity for unions?

Scott Walker, Indian Casinos, and Unions
Will the Wisconsin governor greenlight a controversial casino deal that’s a golden opportunity for unions? (pdf here)

By George Landrith

Summary: For years, a Wisconsin Indian tribe has tried to open a new casino hundreds of miles from its reservation. The controversy over the casino has encouraged the tribe to cut deals with labor bosses in which the unions trade their political support for the tribe’s agreement to help coerce casino workers into joining unions. Now Gov. Walker must decide whether to approve the proposed casino.

Indian casinos make fertile ground for controversy. They mix identity politics involving a long-oppressed group; heavy government regulation, which leads to wheeling and dealing, favoritism and corruption; and the involvement of the gambling industry, labor unions, and other elements often considered shady.

In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker must now choose whether to approve a new casino in Kenosha that would be owned by the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin and managed by Hard Rock International, a company owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that Walker, a possible presidential candidate in 2016, is up for re-election this year. Walker, who pushed through labor reforms in his state, famously survived a recall effort led by unions (which are currently pushing government “investigations” of people who advertised in support of Walker’s reforms). Union officials relish the prospect of making an example of Walker by defeating him in November.

Meanwhile, union officials are greatly interested in the proliferation of Indian casinos, which they see as targets. They typically pressure the Indians to use unionized labor in building the facilities and to agree that, once the casinos open, their Indian owners will help the unions organize their workers. Read all »

Should foundations grovel before government?

Over at PhilanthropyDaily.com, I have a piece on philanthropy maven Rick Cohen’s back-and-forth views of whether foundations should boss government around or be bossed around by government.

Perhaps this doesn’t entail Rick contradicting himself after all. On the one hand, Rick likes it when federal welfare programs are expanding. On the other hand, he and Ravitch dislike the way the current U.S. Department of Education has shown some willingness to move (very slightly) in the direction of education reform favored by the Walton and Gates foundations. These foundations have supported education reforms (charter schools, for instance) that provide more freedom to parents and students, rather than leaving them at the mercy of existing, government-run schools.

If we combine these two inclinations into what we could call “Rick’s Rule,” it seems that foundations are supposed to acquiesce to government if it is expanding itself at the expense of the private sector, but foundations are to confront government and compel it to change course if it is pursuing policies that would expand the freedom of citizens to operate outside narrow government control.

Somehow I don’t think that’s a path to a flourishing charitable sector.

Read the whole article here.

Lies, damned lies, and government statistics (cont’d): HIV and the CDC

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and policy.]

From fake statistics such as the “poverty” rate, which bureaucrats set at whatever level they want, to categories such as “endangered species” that aren’t species, to “races” of mankind that exist only in the imagination, to totally bogus pretend-calculations such as the “social cost of carbon” that is used to justify countless destructive regulations, government bureaucrats use techniques of deception to increase their own power and promote the causes they believe in. Left-wing politicians love their work, mainstream/conservative politicians are generally clueless about what they do, extremist pseudo-intellectuals on college campuses provide them with fake rationales, and members of the out-of-the-mainstream media swallow their fakery hook, line, and sinker and pass it along unedited to the American people.

Just last week, Americans saw an example that appeared in virtually every major news outlet in the country. Among the participants were reporters for such outlets as the New York Times and the Washington Post–reporters who are too dumb to use simple math and who lack the basic ethics to check out the stories they report.  I’m referring to the stories promoting the absurd claim that Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program, designed for schoolchildren and in effect for four years, had caused a 43% drop over the past 10 years in obesity among children age 2-5.  Despite the fact that the story was preposterous on its face and unsupported by any evidence, Read all »

Briefly Noted: March 2014

Conservative grassroots groups FreedomWorks, Club for Growth Action Fund, Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Tea Party Patriots, raised $20 million last year, according to news reports. “This is by far the biggest nonelection year we’ve ever had,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “It shows how committed people are to electing true conservatives and to advancing conservative principles.” The three groups run by GOP consultant Karl RoveAmerican Crossroads (super PAC), Crossroads GPS, Conservative Victory Project (super PAC) — took in a combined $6.1 million in 2013. In the 2012 election cycle, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS together raised $325 million.

Republicans are fighting back against proposed new IRS rules that they say would make formal the tax agency’s infamous crackdown on Tea Party groups that oppose the Obama agenda, stripping them of their free speech rights during election cycles. The new rules, first unveiled around Thanksgiving when no one was paying attention, would prevent so-called 501(c)(4) social welfare/advocacy groups from participating in certain kinds of political activity. Such nonprofit organizations would be prevented from communicating with voters about candidates or political parties within 60 days of a general election. “Every American needs to know about this abuse of power,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said in a recent speech on the Senate floor. Although new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said he did not participate in drafting the rules, he has refused demands to block their implementation. Senate Democrats such as Mark Begich (Alaska) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) are demanding that the IRS crack down further on right-leaning nonprofits like Americans for Prosperity.

Some groups on the left don’t support the proposed IRS regulations. The American Civil Liberties Union said that “[s]ocial welfare organizations praise or criticize candidates for public office on the issues and they should be able to do so freely, without fear of losing or being denied tax-exempt status, even if doing so could influence a citizen’s vote.” Such advocacy is “the heart of our representative democracy” and if social welfare groups influence voting, they do so only by “promoting an informed citizenry.”

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Dubious Mayors Against Legal Guns: The not so pretty story behind Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Dubious Mayors Against Legal Guns:  The not so pretty story behind Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns

By Barbara Joanna Lucas, Organization Trends, March 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  Former New York City mayor and donor extraordinaire Michael Bloomberg has hit a number of speed bumps in his efforts to restrict the Second Amendment.  Scandals and political reversals have recently plagued his group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

James Schiliro, the one-time Mayor of Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, has been a proud proponent of gun control, a member of Michael Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and one of 600 mayors to sign a letter to Congress demanding more gun control laws at the federal level. And so it was embarrassing when in January the mayor was sentenced to as much as 20 months in jail following what a news report described as “an alcohol-fueled episode … in which he had a police car bring a former neighbor—a 20-year-old to whom he said he was attracted—to his home, made him drink wine, and refused to let him leave for 3 1/2 hours.”

After the young man rejected the mayor’s sexual advances and tried to leave, the mayor threatened to shoot himself with one of three guns. He discharged one weapon into a stack of papers. The victim, though anxious to leave, still managed to talk the mayor out of killing himself by reminding him of his daughter asleep upstairs. The young man got out of the home and called police.

Schiliro was convicted of recklessly endangering another person, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, official oppression (i.e., abusing his mayoral powers), and furnishing liquor to a minor. On top of the jail time, Schiliro received five years of probation, 50 hours of community service, and was ordered to pay a $1,300 fine. He is reportedly eligible for work release and time off for good behavior. (Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 15, 2014)  Marcus Hook, with fewer than 3,000 residents, was rocked by the sordid political scandal in February 2013. Before handing down the sentence, state Judge James F. Nilon said, “I don’t think you appreciate the seriousness of the nature of the behavior that you engaged in.”

It’s unlikely Nilon was making any type of statement beyond the case, but the reprimand about the mayor’s personal responsibility for his own actions is notable because of Schiliro’s membership in a group that blames, not criminals, but the tools they use in committing the crimes.

After the incident, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) removed Schiliro’s name from its list of signatories demanding action from Congress (Breitbart News, March 23, 2013). That’s an interesting call, because as we’ll see, he’s hardly the only member of the more than 1,000-mayors group to engage in felonious behavior.

MAIG was founded in 2006 by then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on the theory that mayors have a closer, more direct understanding of the problems of violence. But Bloomberg, with his willingness to use his vast personal fortune to attack the Second Amendment, quickly became the face of the organization.

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Philanthropy Notes: March 2014

Activists marching in North Carolina last month were asked to bring valid photo identification in order to participate in an NAACP-hosted protest against voter ID laws in Raleigh. Although the NAACP and other left-of-center groups argue that voter ID laws are racist and discriminate against poor and minority voters, the ID the NAACP was insisting upon was exactly the kind of ID that they would be required to present at a polling place.

As Hillary Clinton seems to be gearing up for a 2016 presidential run, Bill Clinton’s presidential foundation is clamping down on public access to papers from Mr. Clinton’s term as Arkansas governor, Washington Free Beacon reports. The former president donated his gubernatorial papers to the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) in 2003, and they are located at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock. But the foundation, which owns the papers, is now denying all public access requests. “The documents could provide new insight into the early chapter of the Clintons’ political careers, as reporters take a second look at Hillary Clinton’s past in light of the information contained in the public materials of the Diane Blair collection. Hillary Clinton played a key role in her husband’s health care and education initiatives during his time as governor, from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992.”

Kriss Deiglmeier has become the San Francisco-based Tides network’s fourth CEO in four years, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports. She replaces Gary Schwartz, the interim president of Tides who will return to his previous post as senior vice president at Tides. Deiglmeier comes to the extreme-left philanthropic network after serving as executive director of Stanford University’s Center for Social Innovation. She refused to disclose her salary but her predecessor in 2012 earned $634,434 in total compensation from Tides Foundation and Tides Center, according to publicly available tax filings. Tides founder Drummond Pike left the network in 2010.

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Building a Radical Foundation: The Glaser Progress Foundation makes no bones about its focus on far-left activism

Building a Radical Foundation:  The Glaser Progress Foundation makes no bones about its focus on far-left activism

By Matthew Vadum, Foundation Watch, March 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  Although the Glaser Progress Foundation was made possible by the great wealth its benefactor garnered from a mere decade’s work at Microsoft, it aims to change the country radically.  To that end, it works with left-wing agitators at such groups as the Democracy Alliance, Media Matters for America, and Demos.

Often when wealthy left-wingers endow an eponymous foundation, they fade into the woodwork, preferring to let their money do the talking. Not so with software magnate Rob Glaser, a well-connected high-dollar Democratic donor best known for founding RealNetworks, a prominent Internet company. Glaser has been a supporter of Barack Obama since Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate run, according to DiscoverTheNetworks. In 2010, Glaser and his wife hosted a $10,000-a-plate lunch event with President Obama at their Seattle home, the same year Glaser attended a White House forum on technology and government.

Glaser had previously donated $50,000 to Obama’s 2009 inauguration fund. But Glaser did still more in the 2008 electoral cycle; he also helped Al Franken (D) procure his Minnesota U.S. Senate seat by first “maxing out” to the candidate with $4,600 for his regular campaign, and then contributing $12,300 after the election to the Franken Recount Fund. During the bitter recount battle for this Senate seat, Franken’s team used means so outrageous that the Wall Street Journal declared that Franken’s opponent, Norm Coleman “didn’t lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.”

In the 2004 electoral cycle, Glaser reportedly gave more than $1 million to defeat George W. Bush. So it’s no surprise that Glaser is an ally of George Soros, who poured tens of millions of dollars into the fight against Bush in 2004. Nor is it surprising that Glaser is also a leading member of Soros’s Democracy Alliance, an invitation-only donors’ collaborative for rich left-wingers. Created in the aftermath of the 2004 elections, which brought stinging defeats to the Left in battles for the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, the Alliance is a financial clearinghouse for those who want to move America farther to the left.

Clinton administration official Rob Stein founded the Democracy Alliance with the aim of creating a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups—a kind of “vast left-wing conspiracy” to battle the conservative movement. The donors group has channeled its members’ funds to fairly well-established pressure groups, watchdogs and think tanks, get-out-the-vote operations, and political action committees (PACs). It is intensely secretive. Members of the group meet twice a year to decide which causes to support with their checkbooks. (For more on the Alliance, see Foundation Watch, December 2008.)

Other ways that Glaser battled for the Left in the 2004 electoral cycle include his early support of America Coming Together (ACT), a large, ambitious Democratic get-out-the-vote operation created to affect the 2004 elections. Glaser donated $750,000 to ACT and talked his friends into donating as well. ACT folded in 2005 with little to show for the millions of dollars it raised and spent—with the exception of a $775,000 fine from the Federal Election Commission for illegally using unregulated “soft money” to support John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

In the previous presidential election of 2000, Glaser donated both to Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign and also, less generously, to Al Gore’s campaign on the Democratic ticket.

Early Years
When Glaser studied at Yale, graduating in 1983, his politics were “slightly to the left of Che Guevara,” according to Bruce Jacobsen, a former RealNetworks executive who knew Glaser at the Ivy League school. Glaser once considered becoming a labor organizer, but instead he became a multi-millionaire thanks to his decade at Microsoft, where he worked on the Windows operating system and the word-processing program MS Word.

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