Tag Archives: Big Government

Pigford Bounces Around The Blogosphere

Daniel Foster at NRO:

On Jan. 5, 1999, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., approved a preliminary consent decree — essentially a seal of approval for a settlement — granting class-action relief for a wide swath of black farmers. Give or take an unseemly lawyer, it looked like the angels had won. It was a victory bipartisan in the making: Speaker Newt Gingrich had helped push through legislation waiving the statute of limitations for discrimination complaints, allowing the suit to clear a crucial legal hurdle. But the story was far from over, and Pigford v. Glickman would prove the settlement that launched a hundred thousand frauds.

The “Pigford class” — the range of individuals eligible to claim settlement money — originally was defined as

all African-American farmers who (1) farmed between January 1, 1983, and Feb. 21, 1997; and (2) applied, during that time period, for participation in a federal farm program with USDA, and as a direct result of a determination by USDA in response to said application, believed that they were discriminated against on the basis of race, and filed a written discrimination complaint with USDA in that time period.

Both sides acknowledged that the class size wasn’t likely to exceed 2,500. But the seeds of abuse were already sown. Despite the fact that the class was at first strictly limited to those who had “filed a written discrimination complaint” with the USDA, the settlement crucially allowed that most members of the class lacked any documentation of these complaints, purportedly owing to poor record-keeping by the USDA. So the resolution mechanism offered potential claimants two “tracks” toward settlement money. Track B required a higher bar for evidence — the “preponderance” standard traditional in civil actions, demonstrated during one-day “mini-trials” before court-appointed arbitrators — but it came with no cap on potential awards. Track A provided, in the words of the case’s judge, “those class members with little or no documentary evidence with a virtually automatic cash payment of $50,000, and forgiveness of debt owed to the USDA.” Track A claimants would also get their taxes on that debt paid directly to the IRS for them, and priority consideration on their next USDA loan application.

To get their checks, Track A claimants were required to show court-appointed facilitators “substantial evidence” that they had had “communication” with the USDA, a member of Congress, the White House, or any federal, state, county, or local official regarding a discrimination complaint. How “substantial”? According to the consent decree, “something more than a ‘mere scintilla’” — in practice, as little as the corroboration of one’s story by a single individual who was not immediate family. The definitions of “communication” and “complaint” were stretched as well: Under the agreement, even participating in a “listening session” with USDA officials was as good as filing a discrimination complaint. And in cases where there was no documentary evidence whatsoever of communication with the USDA, a popular defense was for claimants to explain that USDA officers would not even give them the forms and applications they requested — in one fell swoop both demonstrating the discrimination and accounting for the lack of a paper trail. Thus could blacks who had never cultivated land they’d owned or rented — who in point of fact might never have mown a lawn or tended to a shrub — claim that systemic racism thwarted their farming careers before they ever started. Such claimants came to be known as the “attempted to farm” class, and by some estimates as many as 92 percent of all Pigford filers marched under their banner.

Conor Friedersdorf at Sullivan’s place:

In the current issue of National Review, Daniel Foster has a long piece on Pigford vs. Glickman. As Wikipedia notes, the Pigford case is “a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), alleging racial discrimination in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1983 and 1997. The lawsuit ended with a settlement in which the U.S. government agreed to pay African American farmers US$50,000 each if they had attempted to get USDA help but failed. To date, almost US$1 billion has been paid or credited to the farmers under the settlement’s consent decree.”

As Salonexplains, the case is a matter of public controversy largely because Andrew Breitbart has become obsessed with it. His allegation is that the payout is rife with fraud and political corruption. I haven’t mentioned the matter before because having witnessed Breitbart’s carelessness with facts, the egregiously sloppy journalism he publishes on a daily basis, and his hubristic, immoral, “ends justify the means” approach to activism, I have serious doubts about his integrity and a strong conviction that his ethical compass is broken. More to the point, I just can’t trust a damn thing he publishes, and having discredited himself on a national scale in the Shirley Sherrod case, a lot of others agree.

But I’ve enjoyed Foster’s work for awhile now, and critical as I’ve been of a couple colleagues he works with at NR, the publication retains the ability to publish solid pieces, especially the ones prepped for print.

Although I can’t personally vouch for the facts in his Pigford story, having never reported on the matter myself, it reads like a solid piece – one that raises serious questions worthy of scrutiny. Alas, it is behind National Review’s paywall, and that presents a problem: As press coverage of the Pigford case increases – Breitbart is touting it singlemindedly at CPAC, and the stories are inevitable – the conversation is starting to focus is on the man whose heat-to-light ratio detracts from a cool-headed assessment of facts more than anyone in America. One purpose of this post is to suggest that we’d all be better off focusing the discussion on the NR piece, paywall or no. Certainly, liberal bloggers writing about the matter should acquire access to it. I’d be curious to see if they have a persuasive rebuttal. If so, I’ll air it here. And if not – if the Foster piece has everything right – the story definitely merits attention.

Here’s a very brief summary:

– Everyone agrees that between 1983 and 1997, the USDA discriminated against black farmers.

– The class action lawsuit made eligible for compensation farmers or aspiring farmers whose interests were harmed due to USDA discrimination. (There were other requirements too, but forget that for a moment.)

– According to Foster’s piece, a 1997 census study found a total of 18,500 black farmers nationwide.

– Yet there are nearly 100,000 claimants in the Pigford case.

There’s a lot more to Foster’s story, and this matter generally. But that gap between the number of claiments and the total number of black farmers in America is what struck me. If accurate it suggests widespread fraud.

A word about the bigger picture.

There are conservative bloggers expressing outrage that Americans haven’t been told more about this story. It’s worth pondering that reaction. It’s understandable: the misuse of public funds is always a legitimate story, and I hope this one gets reported out if that’s what has happened. But the fact that Americans have never heard of the Pigford case before now is most damning because it means we were utterly ignorant of the fact that the federal government was discriminating against thousands of blacks for almost 15 years, and as recently as the late 1990s! That is far more troubling than the possibility that private citizens perpetrated fraud on a poorly conceived settlement (though it doesn’t excuse it).

One narrative taking hold is that the Pigford case is about political correctness – that the fraud is “reparations in disguise,” and is enabled by a mainstream media willing to look the other way rather than inform the public about an injustice. Anyone spreading that narrative ought to remember that although the federal government’s racism against some Pigford claimants has been written about some in the media, it remains an obscure story known to very few people – and most of them didn’t show any interest in the story until it fit into the narrative of PC excess and the left buying off votes.

There’s nothing wrong or unnatural about political adversaries tuning into a story when their opponents may be guilty of corruption. A rare benefit of partisanship is that it creates an incentive to expose bad behavior. And the rest of us shouldn’t care about their motives insofar as it affects how we go forward– if fraud has been perpetrated on a large scale, better that we learn about it if only to prevent the same sort of thing in the future. Had the federal government discriminated for years against black farmers, however, then paid them off efficiently and without fraud, the vast majority of people in the conservative movement – and most of America along with them  – would’ve ignored the whole Pigford matter entirely. Is that the mark of a society overrun by political correctness?

Surely outrage is warranted for the initial discrimination.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

This is where you see “conservative” effectively becoming a synonym for “white populist.” You would think that the government discriminating against a class of farmers over 15 years, under three different presidential administrations, from two different parties, not in the distant, but recently, would be a pet cause for people disturbed by the overreach of government. In fact those who claim that banner, are disturbed by the remedy applied–not the problem, itself.

I’m reminded of David Brooks, lamenting the fact that Sonia Sotamayor didn’t go to school in the ’50s, while neglecting to mention that her alma mater (Princeton) didn’t even admit women until a decade later. The opportunistic rush to elide hard problems, in order to disparage imperfect, and perhaps even wrongheaded, solutions is an essential feature of modern conservative. In regards to blacks it shows itself in this sense that racism–even government-sponsored racism–isn’t actually a problem, people trying to fix it are a problem.

Mark Thompson at The League:

These concerns are poppycock – it is simply not the case that the discrepancy between the number of claimants and the number of black farmers in 1997 “suggests widespread fraud.”  As mistermix correctly points out, some very rudimentary fact-checking provides the answers to a lot of these concerns.*

For starters, this reporting elides the extreme severity of discrimination against black farmer, especially as perpetrated by the USDA: the average market value of a farm operated by a black farmer is only about 20% of the market value of an average farm operated by a white farmer, and even in 2007 black farmers applying for federal loans were able to receive loans of only about 1/3 of the amount of the average federal loan provided to white farmers.  Notably, in its settlement agreement in Pigford I, the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs.

Second, using the number of black-owned farms extant in 1997 as the sole baseline for comparison is absurd on its face, particularly in light of the fact that the number of black-owned farms declined by almost 50% between 1983 and 1997, and in light of the fact that the settlements cover discrimination over a 15 year period.  At the very least, then, the far more appropriate benchmark would need to be 33,250, the number of black-owned farms existing in 1983.

Third, the settlement quite appropriately covers not only actual farmers but also people who sought to acquire or start a farm and applied for a loan from the USDA.  These persons would never appear in statistics of “black farmers” since, by definition, they needed the loans to become farmers.

Fourth, until 2002, no statistical distinction was made between “black farmers” and “black-owned farms,” which is important in light of the fact that any farmer would have been eligible to apply for one of these loans.  We do know that when this distinction started to be made, in 2002, there were at least 50% more “black farmers” than “black-0wned farms.”  Assuming these statistics would have been similar in 1982, then the number of “black farmers” in 1983 would have been at least 50,000.

Fifth, these claims ignore the possibility of farms changing ownership during that 15 year period, thus creating multiple possible claimants.

Sixth, nowhere in Conor’s post or Breitbart’s original reporting is there a mention of the fact that just because a claim is made does not mean it will be granted; instead, both seem to believe that claims will be rubber stamped once made.  But to the contrary, 30% of claims that were made under Pigford I were ultimately denied, and there’s no reason to believe that the rate will be any lower under Pigford II; this is an abnormally high rate of denial for a class action settlement, suggesting that the USDA is in fact reviewing claims quite carefully.

Lastly, there are certainly going to be other legitimate claimants who would not fall into the categories outlined above.  But even if there are not, a quick look at the numbers I’ve put together here quickly reveals that we are well within the realm of reasonableness: if the remaining claims are all approved at the same rate as the Pigford I claims, there will be a total of between 60,000 and 65,000 approved claims.  We know that, at a minimum, there were 50,000 black farmers in 1983 who were eligible to apply for these loans.  Given that, is it conceivable that there were at least an additional 10-15,000 people who attempted to become farmers but were denied the needed loans from the USDA or who simply obtained their farms (whether through inheritance or otherwise) subsequent to 1983?  I think the answer to that is “absolutely.”

None of this is to say that there hasn’t been and will not be successful fraudulent abuse of these settlements.  Where such fraud is discovered, clearly it should be prosecuted.  And no doubt, given the stakes involved, it should not be a surprise if these settlements turn out to be more prone to fraud than most – we are talking about large sums of money readily available with a relatively low burden of proof.  Unfortunately, such a low burden of proof is probably necessary here – unless the overwhelming majority of claims are in fact fraudulent, it’s safe to assume that forcing them to be tried under a higher standard of proof would impose far more costs than they would save.

What is appalling here is the ease with which the information I’ve noted above is readily available, and the utter failure of both Breitbart and Conor (and, I assume, Foster) to cite any of it.  Increasingly, it seems that the role of more high-brow political journalism is simply to, consciously or not, provide intellectual cover for the base’s ill-supported memes rather than seeking truth or attempting to challenge the base.  Instead of talking to the base, they merely parrot it.**

[UPDATE: 1.  In the comments below, Conor acknowledges his error, for which he certainly deserves credit, and which is something that is certainly all-too-rare in the blogosphere.

Mistermix:

After Conor Friedersdorf was thoroughly “fisked”—to use a word he can understand—for pimping an error-filled National Review article that supported Andrew Breitbart’s attempt to start a race war out of a settled case of discrimination, he responded with a little humility:

All I can say is that it was an honest mistake, and while I wish I would’ve raised it in my initial post, I am at least glad that I blogged about this issue because a lot of folks who were wrong in the same way I was now have the benefit of understanding this controversy better. I’ll certainly deploy your arguments as this case gets covered elsewhere.

That lasted about as long as it took the author of the original National Review, Dan Foster, to put up a lengthy defense of his original piece:

The main thing you need to know about that defense is that, at many key points, Foster cites either Andrew Breitbart or Breitbart’s helper, Lee Stranahan, for factual evidence. He many have done independent reporting on his own, but when it comes down to the important facts, he’s citing a person Conor has acknowledged that he can’t trust. But Conor’s more than willing to pimp Breitbart’s story through an intermediary. How is that anything but useful idiocy?

Daniel Foster at National Review:

I think my piece largely speaks for itself (although there was certainly some stuff that had to be cut: the original draft was twice as long as what ended up in the mag), and so I hope Coates and Thompson will read it. But let me briefly try to answer their criticisms, in order. (Apologies: if you haven’t read it, some of this will lack context).Thompson has seven points. Here’s one:

. . . this reporting elides the extreme severity of discrimination against black farmer, especially as perpetrated by the USDA: the average market value of a farm operated by a black farmer is only about 20% of the market value of an average farm operated by a white farmer, and even in 2007 black farmers applying for federal loans were able to receive loans of only about 1/3 of the amount of the average federal loan provided to white farmers.  Notably, in its settlement agreement in Pigford I, the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs.

Okay, the story fully grants that there is statistical evidence of discrimination against black farmers in the relevant time period, so we’re not in disagreement there. To say, though, that “the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs” in the settlement is a bit off. It’s sort of a “when did you stop beating your wife?” question. The settlement meant that the USDA didn’t have to admit, in the legal sense, to discrimination (though we’ll see later that they fell all over themselves to admit it in the moral sense), and that they could avoid the messy process of investigating and adjudicating it. Like many (most, all?) settlements, the USDA traded cash for the risk of legal liability.

Here’s two, four, and five, and seven, which are related:

Second, using the number of black-owned farms extant in 1997 as the sole baseline for comparison is absurd on its face, particularly in light of the fact that the number of black-owned farms declined by almost 50% between 1983 and 1997, and in light of the fact that the settlements cover discrimination over a 15 year period.  At the very least, then, the far more appropriate benchmark would need to be 33,250, the number of black-owned farms existing in 1983.

[. . . ]

Fourth, until 2002, no statistical distinction was made between “black farmers” and “black-owned farms,” which is important in light of the fact that any farmer would have been eligible to apply for one of these loans.  We do know that when this distinction started to be made, in 2002, there were at least 50% more “black farmers” than “black-0wned farms.”  Assuming these statistics would have been similar in 1982, then the number of “black farmers” in 1983 would have been at least 50,000.

Fifth, these claims ignore the possibility of farms changing ownership during that 15 year period, thus creating multiple possible claimants.

[. . .]

Lastly, there are certainly going to be other legitimate claimants who would not fall into the categories outlined above.  But even if there are not, a quick look at the numbers I’ve put together here quickly reveals that we are well within the realm of reasonableness: if the remaining claims are all approved at the same rate as the Pigford I claims, there will be a total of between 60,000 and 65,000 approved claims.  We know that, at a minimum, there were 50,000 black farmers in 1983 who were eligible to apply for these loans.  Given that, is it conceivable that there were at least an additional 10-15,000 people who attempted to become farmers but were denied the needed loans from the USDA or who simply obtained their farms (whether through inheritance or otherwise) subsequent to 1983?  I think the answer to that is “absolutely.”

As to the number of black farmers, I mention both the 18,500 and 33,000 numbers in my piece; neither jibes with the number of claims that have poured in. The point about the difference between black-owned farms and black farmers isn’t really true either. Take a look at this table from the 1992/1997 Ag census. It does in fact distinguish between black-owned farms and black-leased or -rented farms, and it provides numbers for black tenant farmers. They hew closely to the 18,500 figure. But even if we take the biggest number that Thompson’s multi-step statistical conjecture produces — 50,000 black farmers — we’re still missing half the claimants. It’s also worth noting that the type of loans and assistance the USDA is alleged to have withheld from blacks were for farm operators, not agricultural workers broadly construed. So if that’s what Thompson had in mind in making his distinction then it’s not clearly relevant. Look, I — and parties on both sides of the case — yield that USDA record-keeping makes it difficult to pin down how many black farmers there were at any given time. In fact, much of my article is basically an argument that that problem is what opened the case up to fraud.

Doubling back now to Thompson’s third point:

Third, the settlement quite appropriately covers not only actual farmers but also people who sought to acquire or start a farm and applied for a loan from the USDA.  These persons would never appear in statistics of “black farmers” since, by definition, they needed the loans to become farmers.

Aye, there’s the rub. The original Pigford class contained a few hundred farmers, and while the settlement was being negotiated, both sides agreed that when it was all said and done, there would likely be no more than 2,500 or so potential claimants. But trial lawyers and a sympathetic judge wrote the claims process in such a way that almost no proof was required to collect $50,000. Not only did you not have to prove that you were actually discriminated against by the USDA — you didn’t have to prove by a preponderance of evidence that you had even applied for a loan. Again, this is all in the piece and I won’t rehearse it here. But ask whistle-blower Pigford claimants and even advocates for Pigford II about the category of “attempting to farm” claimants, which by some measures account for the vast majority of outstanding claims.

And lastly Thompson’s sixth point:

Sixth, nowhere in Conor’s post or Breitbart’s original reporting is there a mention of the fact that just because a claim is made does not mean it will be granted; instead, both seem to believe that claims will be rubber stamped once made.  But to the contrary, 30% of claims that were made under Pigford Iwere ultimately denied, and there’s no reason to believe that the rate will be any lower under Pigford II; this is an abnormally high rate of denial for a class action settlement, suggesting that the USDA is in fact reviewing claims quite carefully.

Once you’ve read the bit in my piece about the standards of evidence required to collect $50,000 under the settlement you’ll laugh out loud at that last sentence. And if you read Andrew Breitbart’s report, in which he interviews USDA workers who actually rubber-stamped the claims, you’ll see that approval was nearly automatic in a number of jurisdictions.

Now let’s deal with Coates. Here’s the meat of his criticism:

This is where you see “conservative” effectively becoming a synonym for “white populist.” You would think that the government discriminating against a class of farmers over 15 years, under three different presidential administrations, from two different parties, not in the distant, but recently, would be a pet cause for people disturbed by the overreach of government. In fact those who claim that banner, are disturbed by the remedy applied–not the problem, itself.

Indeed it would be extremely worrisome if the federal government under three different presidents and two different parties had discriminated wholesale against black farmers. But the queer thing about the USDA programs at the heart of the Pigford case is that they were locally administered. The USDA bankrolled these loan programs, but they were actually run by hundreds or thousands of county boards in dozens of states, virtually all of them elected by the local farmers. Centralized, top-down, discrimination by the federal government would be awful but plausible; the sheer number and geographic scope of the claims suggests a remarkable universality. Maybe it is the case that a thousand different county boards, independently, thought blacks didn’t deserve farm operating loans. But there are also anecdotes about claims coming out of the Washington, D.C., suburbs; out of Chicago; out of a county in Arkansas where the entire loan board was black. . . .

As to his point about what this case, and my story, says about racial politics in America, I can only reiterate: There was discrimination against black farmers, and it was shameful. But so too is the race-hustling, trial-lawyer greed and fraud that has come out of the settlements. I didn’t even include in the piece stuff about reparations activists and unsavory Nation of Islam types glomming onto Pigford as a proxy for their own goals. E.g. Gary Grant, President of the Black Farmers & Agriculturalist Association (BFAA), which played a pivotal role in expanding Pigford settlements, went so far as to tell Fox News in 2001 that he doesn’t care if all the claimants are really farmers. “If you are an African-American, you deserve $50,000 because your roots are in farming and your folks have already been cheated,” he said. “You are collecting what your grandparents didn’t have the opportunity to.” In 2003, BFAA vice-president Ridgely Muhammad, who moonlights as “minister of agriculture” in the Nation of Islam, wrote on a black nationalist web site that the Pigford settlement illustrated both promise and peril for the reparations movement: the promise of showing how to navigate the “legal flaws in current reparations lawsuits” and the peril of allowing “white ‘do gooder’ lawyers’” to profit from the proceedings. Faya Ora Rose Touré (Rose Sanders until she elected to step away from her “slave name”) is a Selma, Alabama civil-rights lawyer who won an appellate court ruling to extend the filing deadline for Pigford claimants. She has also long been a dogged fighter for reparations, having once gone to court alongside Johnny Cochran to seek compensation from corporations that profited from slavery. Today, she is Shirley Sherrod’s lawyer. And then there is Dorothy Tillman, a former (Obama endorsed) Chicago alderman who during her tenure in public life has made reparations her signature political issue, and who has been recognized by Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), Congress’s greatest champion of reparations, for her work for “Black farmers and for justice.” The list goes on.

Breitbart and documentary filmmaker Lee Stranahan, who is working on a Pigford project, tell me they have recently recorded evidence of a black activist giving what Breitbart called a “demented Princeton Review” seminar on how to game the settlement to a packed black church in the South. I haven’t seen the tape so I didn’t run with it and I’ll reserve judgment, but I do know (and again, it’s in the piece) that real black farmers who were really discriminated against are still hurting, because the settlements were structured to spread the money far and wide, and right quick, not to actually bring relief to struggling black farmers who are still working the land.

To paraphrase Coates, the point is this: You would think that a bunch of fraudsters and fringe ideologues using legitimate claims of past discrimination to bilk taxpayer dollars and propagate a divisive program of grievance politics, not in the distant or recent past, but today, would be a pet cause for people interested in overcoming the legacy of racism in this country. In fact those who claim that banner are disturbed by the exposure of that problem — not the problem itself.

Adam Serwer:

Pigford I

As the Congressional Research Service report notes, “as of November 2010, 15,642 (69%) of the 22,721 eligible class members had final adjudications approved.” Foster says you’ll “laugh out loud” at the necessary evidentiary standards for filing under Track A, but someone could have plausibly walked away from reading Foster’s piece believing none of the 94,000 claims would be dismissed, when 31 percent of those in the original settlement were.

The claimants were required to show “substantial evidence” that they were entitled to part of the settlement. This doesn’t fit neatly into an article, so it’s understandable Foster didn’t include it, but I’ll just blockquote it here:

• a copy of the discrimination complaint filed with USDA or a copy of a USDA document referencing the discrimination complaint;

• a declaration by a person who was not a member of the claimant’s family, stating that the declarant had first-hand knowledge that the claimant had filed a discrimination complaint with USDA and describing the manner in which the discrimination complaint was filed;

• a copy of correspondence from the claimant to a member of Congress; the White House; or a state, local or federal official averring that the claimant had been discriminated against (except that, in the event that USDA did not possess a copy of the correspondence, the claimant also was required to submit a declaration stating that he or she sent the correspondence to the person to whom it was addressed);

• a declaration by a non-familial witness stating that the witness had first-hand knowledge that, while attending a USDA listening session or other meeting with a USDA official (or officials), the claimant was explicitly told by a USDA official that the official would investigate that specific claimant’s oral complaint of discrimination.

In his response, Foster alludes to the Big Government report that claims to cite testimony from “USDA workers who rubberstamped the claims.” Adjudicating whether the claims have merit was not handled by the USDA; it’s handled by a court-appointed third party, who is backed up by another court-appointed monitor who double checks the claim. The USDA can provide evidence as to whether or not a particular claim is false, and I’m guessing that might be what he means.

Let me just point out, though, that if 31 percent of the claims are being denied, it literally means they aren’t being rubber-stamped. The reason the terms were so generous was that, as Media Matters points out, folks at the USDA were literally throwing complaints into the trash, making documentation on the government’s end difficult. There’s basically a choice here — you can make it easier to prove a claim and risk that some terrible people will try to defraud the government, or you can make it so difficult that a number of people with legitimate claims won’t be able to prove they were discriminated against. In either case, it’s possible, even likely, that some people who deserve money won’t get it and some who don’t will. But that doesn’t amount to “massive fraud,” nor do I think it discredits the entire process.

Fortunately, if you believe that the old terms were too generous, there are additional fraud protections in the Claims Resolution Act, that further empower the claims adjudicator and gives access to claims information, including the names and address of the claims filers, to the GAO. Not that you’d know that from Foster’s piece. Chances are if/when someone tries to file a fraudulent claim, both we — and Congress — will hear about it.

Around 74,000 people filed claims past the deadline, the vast majority of these were dismissed for not meeting the deadline. The large number of late claims prompted the Senate to pass — unanimously, I might add — a second settlement.

Pigford II

$1.15 billion was approved to address the claims that weren’t handled by Pigford I. The total number of dollars anyone has been paid from this is zero. Every single one of the late claimaints who didn’t squeak through under Pigford I will have to refile, and according to the USDA, not a single claim has been filed yet because the court hasn’t assigned an adjudicator. It’ll be another two to three years before any Pigford II claims are adjudicated.

That’s what makes the allegation of “94,000 phantom farmers” are getting payouts inaccurate. Foster never mentions that only around 16,000 have seen any money at all, while around 7,000 other claims were denied (“the gravy train shows no signs of slowing down”). He’s using the total number of claims filed in the past, leaving the reader with the impression that all of them will be approved, even though all the late filers have to refile. His original piece also leaves the impression, both in his discussion of the evidentiary standards being used for Track A, and the use of the 94,000 number in his conclusion, that everyone is just getting handed a check by the USDA. Just get your friend Carl to say you were a black farmer.

Foster finds the USDA’s widespread, systemic discrimination against black farmers to be inconceivable, because of the scale involved. “Centralized, top-down, discrimination by the federal government would be awful but plausible, the sheer number and geographic scope of the claims suggests a remarkable universality.” I find that to be an astonishing argument. Jim Crow was not a “centralized, top-down affair”; it was a matter of “local administration.” “Local administration” is how segregation worked; it’s how Southern Democrats did things like ensure the benefits of the New Deal would be restricted to whites.

I also had a really visceral emotional reaction to Foster’s original conclusion:

At a December 8 signing ceremony, President Obama heralded Pigford II as the close of “a long and unfortunate chapter in our history.” In a way, one hopes the president is right—that the credulity, or perhaps the shame, of the American government and its taxpayers cannot be strained to accommodate the petty greed of more than 94,000 phantom farmers, and that the con will finally have run its course. But that is unlikely. Two Pigford style class-action suits—one for Hispanic farmers, another for women—with the potential to dwarf current settlements are working their way through the courts. Like so many Pigfords to the trough.

Look, the genteel white populism of this paragraph can’t be explained away. Not only have those greedy black frauds stuck their snouts into your wallet, but the Messicans and womens are on their way. There’s simply no way to credibly pivot from a statement like this, which attacks the very idea of financial restitution for past wrongs, to genuine concerns about farmers who deserved money that didn’t receive it because of the settlement terms.

Historically speaking, according to the Congressional Research Service citing an internal USDA report tracking their practices between 1990 and 1995, the crowd at the trough actually looks considerably less diverse:

According to the commissioned study, few appeals were made by minority complainants because of the slowness of the process, the lack of confidence in the decision makers, the lack of knowledge about the rules, and the significant bureaucracy involved in the process. Other findings showed that (1) the largest USDA loans (top 1%) went to corporations (65%) and white male farmers (25%); (2) loans to black males averaged $4,000 (or 25%) less than those given to white males; and (3) 97% of disaster payments went to white farmers, while less than 1% went to black farmers. The study reported that the reasons for discrepancies in treatment between black and white farmers could not be easily determined due to “gross deficiencies” in USDA data collection and handling.

Shortly afterward, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman suspended farm foreclosures and ordered an investigation into the matter. Before then, no one had been particularly bothered by it, for obvious reasons. Some snouts are more welcome at the trough than others.

I have no doubt that some people will try to defraud the government out of money here, nor do I discount the possibility that some have. Frankly, I think the bigger worry is that some people who deserve money will be bilked out of it by people posing as agents or lawyers and promising to ensure, for a fee, claimants get their settlement money. A class-action settlement is a juicy target for con artists. Those people deserve to be in jail. The fact that some people will try does not invalidate the government’s effort to rectify past wrongs.

Finally, I just want to address Foster’s original nut graf:

And in finally securing justice for himself and the few hundred farmers who first joined his class-action suit, he’d unwittingly set off an injustice greater than the one he sought to rectify: one that would involve the waste of billions of dollars, systemic fraud implicating top federal officials, the unseemly electioneering of two presidential campaigns—even murder.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see how Foster has proved that billions were wasted or that there is systemic fraud in the Pigford settlement. It’s only “unseemly electioneering” if you pretend there wasn’t substantial bipartisan support for the settlement, or if you think the president is unmoved by racial injustice and merely spends his entire day thinking about how to get whitey’s money. The idea that the settlement itself is responsible for people who planned to defraud the government by making a false claim and murdered a witness they feared might talk is just stupid.  But this paragraph certainly reflects the ideological disposition of most conservatives — that efforts to rectify past racial injustices always create “more injustice” than the original crime.

Publius at Big Government:

At a press conference at CPAC featuring Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Steve King and Andrew Breitbart, black farmer Eddie Slaughter tells his impassioned story about how the Pigford settlement has actually hurt the original and actual victims of discrimination at the hands of the USDA.

Adam Serwer and Daniel Foster at Bloggingheads

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

This is going to get complicated quickly. My apologies. If you’ve never heard the word Pigford before this may be a post to skip. In my last stint guestblogging at The Daily Dish, I wrote a post about the Pigford controversy, where I basically argued that since it’s inevitably going to be an ongoing matter of dispute, the best way to talk about it is to focus on the reporting published in National Review by Daniel Foster, a writer whose basic integrity as a person I trust, rather than the stuff published by Andrew Breitbart, whose outspokenness on the matter is clearly outweighed by the numerous instances in which he has brazenly injected egregiously misleading information into public discourse.

So often, stories like this turn into conversational train wrecks. I see one coming – and an opportunity to do better. Let’s treat this like a complicated matter, one where even people writing in good faith can make mistakes, making it a perfect fit for the vetting function that comes from honest back-and-forths in the blogosphere.

The vetting started immediately. I’d noted an aspect of Foster’s piece that seemed particularly persuasive to me. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Serwer, and Mark Thompson pushed back hard. I quickly saw that I’d been mistaken in buying into that particular argument, and said so. As is their wont, the folks at Balloon Juice misunderstood and misrepresented my narrow apology.

Meanwhile, National Review posted Foster’s piece online, so that folks no longer had to rely on my poor summary. Foster pushed back against his critics. Serwer went another round. And then the good people at Bloggingheads arranged for a diavlog between Foster and Serwer, which can be seen here. Some of the conversation is tedious through no fault of the interlocutors. This is a complicated story to talk about, especially for an audience that isn’t initiated. Other parts are riveting. It isn’t often that you see two writers with wildly different takes on race in America willing to confront one another and converse in ways that make both of them uncomfortable.

The exchange that has played out is basically what I hoped for when I wrote that initial post urging engagement with Foster’s piece. I’d wager that Foster, Serwer, Thompson and Coates would all write things a bit differently if they could redo this whole exchange. On the whole, however, I think they’ve all conducted themselves rather well: more precisely, whatever their mistakes, they’ve all argued in good faith, with intellectual honesty and a desire to leave the public better informed about the matter at hand. Put another way, if everyone merely rose to the level of imperfect reporting, analysis and argument displayed here, American public discourse would be greatly improved.

But damn, this is a messy, maddening process. Among the writers I’ve mentioned, there were heated exchanges, hurt feelings, occasional suspicions of bad faith, tedious intervals that didn’t make for particularly entertaining journalism… and as a reader, one had to wade through all of it for the payoff of being a lot better informed on the other end… but even being better informed, there wasn’t the satisfaction of easy answers or resolution to all the disagreements.

What I find so wrongheaded about the Balloon Juice approach to this story – and the approach taken by folks who emailed me insisting that I should have never written my initial post – is the glib insistence that merely wanting a robust exchange was tantamount to being Andrew Breitbart’s useful idiot.

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Continuing With “The Koch Fight”

Christian Hartsock at Big Government:

I recently took a two-day trip down to Palm Springs to attend an event called “Uncloaking the Kochs” hosted by Common Cause. Accompanied by my dear friend, former assembly candidate Alvaro Day, I traveled as an independent investigative journalist, and not in any official capacity on behalf of Big Government or Breitbart.com (though I was pleasantly surprised to run into a familiar friend of mine on rollerblades jovially inviting everyone to Applebee’s).

[…]

We were then ushered outside to the parking lot across from the hotel in which the Koch brothers were holding a meeting, whereupon we were encouraged to yell at the building, decrying not only the Kochs, but Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia for their Citizens United ruling. Oh, and Fox News while we were at it.

We were joined by at least half a dozen busloads of public sector union members and common demonstrators from AFFCE, The Ruckus Society, 350, Greenpeace, Code Pink, and the Progressive Democrats of America, among others, without whose valuable contributions to the yelling, the rally would’ve been just a lousy bust. Video camera in hand, I purposely engaged them to get beyond their programmed talking points, only to find some rather colorful agenda items – particularly for Justice Thomas.

In post-Tucson America, where for the past few weeks a chorus of voices on the left have amplified their attacks on the “racist tea party,” “racist conservatives,” “racist Republicans,” and their “violent, irresponsible rhetoric” to the degree of accomplice-to-murder accusations, I figured a left-wing rally such as this would also be a demonstration of the left’s ideal, self-proclaimed rhetorical composure.

And having done extensive video coverage interviewing demonstrators in over fifty tea parties in forty-five cities in twenty-five states yet finding a total of zero instances of the “racist” and “violent” stigmas the left relentlessly assures us are true, I certainly didn’t expect to find almost every imaginable instance at one single “progressive” rally. But who was I to make presumptions?

So if on top of perpetuating the perennial narrative of the exclusively right-wing corporatist machine, “progressives” want to further their accusations of alleged predominant “racism” and “violence-baiting rhetoric” in the conservative movement, then game on.

Weasel Zippers:

This event was attended by public sector union members, demonstrators from AFFCE, The Ruckus Society, 350, Greenpeace, Code Pink, and the Progressive Democrats of America, among others. Here’s small sample of quotes about Supreme Court Clarence Thomas:

“Put him back in the fields, he’s a dumb-sh*t scumbag, put him back in the fields”

“String him up”

“Torture him”

“Bad things”

“Cut off his toes and feed them to him”

Bruce McQuain at Q and O:

Pretty much speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Moe Lane at Redstate:

I know, I know: there is something kind of disturbing about seeing people relaxed enough to express sick and twisted rhetoric like this without fear of consequences – and it’s definitely infuriating that you and I have to watch and filter every word we say or write, or at least be aware that if those words can be twisted, they will be.  But look on the bright side: if this crowd is any indication, being able to spout their racist filth freely has the side effect of gradually lowering their IQs to room-temperature levels.  Given that the Left generally likes to sneer at the Right’s collective intelligence, well… karma: it’s what’s for dinner.

Still, I want to show you the worst person in this video.  And let me tell you, she had some competition.

Ed Morrissey:

Granted, the cameraman is trying to get the people to say something outrageous, but he also doesn’t have to try very hard. He asks people at the rally what “we” should do after impeaching Clarence Thomas to get justice for Anita Hill, and he gets some mighty interesting answers:  Send him “back to the fields.” “String him up.” “Hang him.” “Torture.” One older woman wants his wife Ginny Thomas strung up as well. A younger and more creative woman wants Justice Thomas’ toes chopped off and forced-fed to him. Thomas isn’t the only one to get the necktie treatment; one protester wants Fox News executive Roger Ailes to get hung as well.

RB at The Right Sphere:

But let’s get right down to the brass tacks, shall we? Racism.

How long have we heard the steady mantra: “The Tea Party is racist”? Since day one. Nearly every Leftist pundit, columnist, and “journalist” on the planet has at some point or another implied or flat out stated that the Tea Party movement is racist. Congressmen have even accused Tea Party / Anti-HCR protesters of using the “n word” and spitting on them during rallies. To this day many still claim this happened despite the lack of evidence.

Are there racists who are also Tea Partiers? Of course. As the video proves, there are racists everywhere… even on the Left. Do those racists speak for the entire movement? Of course not. Do those racists represent even a significant portion of the movement? Only insofar as the racists in the video above represent a significant portion of the Left. But that has never stopped the Left from hurling their accusations against the entire conservative movement or the Tea Party, has it?

Let’s just imagine if the video above was taken during a Tea Party rally and several participants stated that a sitting US Supreme Court Justice should be sent “back to the fields” or “strung up”. Picture the news coverage. Predict what Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann (if he still had a show) would be saying right now and over the next few days. It would be non-stop. Democrat Congressional members would be using the tape as “proof” of what is really behind the opposition to ObamaCare or any other piece of legislation they want to get passed.

“The racist Tea Party.” That’s all you’d hear.

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Ring Around The Rosie

Publius at Big Government:

An anti-abortion group Tuesday released undercover video taken in its latest attempt to discredit an organization that provides abortions — footage of operatives posing as a pimp and a prostitute seeking health services at a New Jersey clinic.

The group releasing the video, Live Action, said it depicted a Planned Parenthood clinic employee offering to help cover up a sex ring so that its prostitutes could receive health services.

John Hudson at The Atlantic:

As with a lot Andrew Breitbart does, it’s wise to exercise a healthy dose of skepticism. The conservative media mogul who brought the world the Shirley Sherrod non-scandal, is now hosting a new undercover video about Planned Parenthood. In the video, a Planned Parenthood worker appears disturbingly eager to help two people receive abortions for 14 and 15-year-old girls without going through any legal provisions. When speaking with Planned Parenthood, the couple also suggests that the young girls are prostitutes. Despite that, the worker happily recommends an abortion provider that has less strict “protocols” regarding their age and identification

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

Watching this new video that Live Action is releasing this morning, the best-case scenario for understanding what the heck might be motivating this woman is: She knows this goes on and she wants to make these kids as safe as possible. But she could be part of the solution and actually report this crime. The Live Action senario before her presents criminal behavior –  sex trafficking. And yet she meets it with even more. She even calls a colleague an awful name for being more “anal” about the rules. About sex trafficking? About child abuse?

Talking about underage girls at one point, she even offers her philosophy that an underage girl is “still entitled to care without mom knowing what the hell is going on.”

And apparently even if mom is far out of the picture and she’s slaving away for a pimp, birth control should be provided, abortions should be provided.

This particular video was taken of a clinic visit on January 11 in Perth Amboy, N.J. The timing of the video comes as New Jersey governor Chris Christie – who has already said “no” already for some Planned Parenthood funding — has a bill before him he could veto that would be another Planned Parenthood entry for some state and federal funds.

The release of the video this morning has been “expedited” by recent media reports that Planned Parenthood is onto Live Action’s most recent routine and wants the FBI involved. There is nothing Lila Rose would welcome more. (She has yet to receive any notification from Planned Parenthood or the FBI. All she knows she’s read in the media.)

From her undercover work, it is absolutely clear, Rose says, that “the perfect partner for a pimp is Planned Parenthood itself.” This Perth Amboy clinic presents itself “a save haven for sex trafficking.”

She’s confident both in the transparency of her group’s undercover work, and enthusiastic in the prospect of a full review by the Department of Justice about how Planned Parenthood officials flagrantly violate mandatory reporting requirements of the sexual abuse of minors.

Rose believes that the innocent unborn need to be protected, but also has a great love for these women who find themselves in these clinics. “Every prostitute is a victim,” she says.

“Planned Parenthood could be the first line of defense,” Rose says, for an Asian girl smuggled into the country for sex. Instead, in this particular Pert Amboy clinic, a sex trafficker was coached into how to make everything “look as legit as possible.” Coaching. “For the most part, we want as little information as possible,” she explained. The Planned Parenthood worker’s only obstacle to providing him the full “streamlined” services he wants to keep his business running is some auditing details she’s worried they could get caught on for abortions of these girls, in the country illegally, under 14 and 13, needing abortions. Saying – laughing — “You’ve never got this from me. Just to make all our lives easier,” she hands the pimp the name of another, non-Planned Parenthood clinic, which can get away with more. “They’re protocols are not as strict as ours, they get audited differently.”

When asked how long a girl might have to wait to get back to the work of the sex trade after an abortion, two weeks minimum is the answer. He protests, “We’ve still got to make money.” The clinic worker understands his predicament and so advises that the girls can still work “Waist up, or just be that extra action walking by” to advertise the girls who are still at full-body work.

It’s chilling. It’s ridiculous to know that in the wake of catching onto Live Action’s fieldwork, Planned Parenthood has reportedly warned its clinic workers to know there could be cameras on them. Another kind of alert is called for.

Weasel Zippers:

And this woman’s salary is paid with your tax-dollars.

Rachel Slajda at Talking Points Memo:

In a statement, Planned Parenthood said Live Action visited two Central New Jersey clinics on Jan. 13, including the one in the video. A spokesman for Planned Parenthood said that, immediately after the visits, clinic employees told their managers and called local law enforcement. It was not immediately clear, however, whether the woman in the video notified management or police.

The statement says “appropriate action is being taken” into the woman’s actions.

Planned Parenthood insists on the highest standards of care, and safeguards the trusted relationship we have with patients, families and communities. What appears on edited tapes made public today is not consistent with Planned Parenthood’s practices, and is under review. Phyllis Kinsler, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey (PPCNJ), has stated that, “the behavior of our employee, as portrayed on the video, if accurate, violates PPCNJ policies, as well as our core values of protecting the welfare of minors and complying with the law, and appropriate action is being taken.”

Live Action has not returned calls for comment.

The unedited video is not available. Live Action said in a release that it is sending the full footage to the FBI and state investigators.

After eight clinics reported the same strange visit within five days, Planned Parenthood reached out to the FBI, via a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for an investigation into a potential sex trafficking ring. In the letter, Planned Parenthood notes that the visits had all the earmarks of a hoax.

The FBI reportedly opened an investigation, Planned Parenthood said.

A spokeswoman for the organization told TPM that at least some of the individual clinics also called local law enforcement when they received the visits.

At least one of Live Action’s campaigns against Planned Parenthood turned up actual wrongdoing. At a clinic in Indiana in 2009, an employee was fired and another resigned after Live Action released video of them saying they wouldn’t report it when Rose, posing as a 13-year-old, said her 31-year-old boyfriend impregnated her.

Ed Morrissey:

If Planned Parenthood objects to this method of investigative reporting, then perhaps they’ll press for tough inspection regimes.  After all, as we have seen in Pennsylvania, the political activism of the abortion industry has cowed public officials into inaction while the poor and underage get exploited, maimed, and sometimes killed.  Obviously, state agencies that exist to protect women and enforce the law aren’t doing their jobs — especially not when the Amy Woodruffs of the world feel comfortable in telling pimps how to keep their 14-year-old victims secret and working “from the waist up” for two weeks after an abortion.

Congress needs to act to cut off public funding of Planned Parenthood entirely.  They get around $300 million a year from taxpayers, and as Live Action has repeatedly proven, routinely flout laws voters have set for the protection of women and children.  I suspect that subsequent video releases will result in more sanctimony from Planned Parenthood, followed by more firings.

Jed Lewison at Daily Kos:

So another weirdo wingnut James O’Keefe wannabe has released a hoax video targeting “the left.” This one was created by an anti-choice activist named Lila Rose and it targets Planned Parenthood. Rose, who collaborated with O’Keefe in the past, aimed to produce a carbon copy of his ACORN/pimp hoax videos, this time substituting ACORN with Planned Parenthood and O’Keefe’s pimp outfit with actors and actresses claiming to be part of an underage prostitution ring.

Rose is just now releasing the videos in which she claims that Planned Parenthood conspired to cover up the prostitution ring. She only leaves out one detail: Planned Parenthood officials, who instantly realized they were probably being punked, nonetheless went to federal authorities on the off-chance that Rose’s actors weren’t part of another O’Keefe style hoax.

Planned Parenthood, a perennial protest target because of its role in providing abortions, has notified the FBI that at least 12 of its health centers were visited recently by a man purporting to be a sex trafficker but who may instead be part of an attempted ruse to entrap clinic employees.

In each case, according to Planned Parenthood, the man sought to speak privately with a clinic employee and then requested information about health services for sex workers, including some who he said were minors and in the U.S. illegally.

Planned Parenthood’s vice president for communications, Stuart Schear, said the organization has requested an FBI probe of the man’s claims and has already fielded some initial FBI inquiries. However, Schear said Planned Parenthood’s own investigation indicates that the man has links with Live Action, an anti-abortion group that has conducted previous undercover projects aimed at discrediting the nation’s leading abortion provider.

Even though Planned Parenthood went to authorities (despite their confidence that they’d been targeted by an O’Keefe-style fraudster), more than a week later, Rose still released the videos.

Rose isn’t going to get anywhere with her fraud. The only question is which is worse: falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of complicity in a child sex ring or forcing authorities to divert resources from pursuing real crimes while they investigate whether her hoax was, in fact, a hoax. Either way, the only thing her actions accomplish is to further discredit the playbook of clowns like Andrew Breitbart.

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Filed under Abortion, Families, New Media

Sorkin V. Palin: Carving Up The Caribou

Aaron Sorkin in The Huffington Post:

“Unless you’ve never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather chair or eaten meat, save your condemnation.”

You’re right, Sarah, we’ll all just go fuck ourselves now.

The snotty quote was posted by Sarah Palin on (like all the great frontier women who’ve come before her) her Facebook page to respond to the criticism she knew and hoped would be coming after she hunted, killed and carved up a Caribou during a segment of her truly awful reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, broadcast on The-Now-Hilariously-Titled Learning Channel.

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it’s hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting. I don’t think it is, and here’s why.

Like 95% of the people I know, I don’t have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don’t relish the idea of torturing animals. I don’t enjoy the fact that they’re dead and I certainly don’t want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn’t do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

I’m able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don’t watch snuff films and you make them. You weren’t killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I’ve tried and tried and for the life of me, I can’t make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing. I’m able to make the distinction with no pangs of hypocrisy even though I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face.

So I don’t think I will save my condemnation, you phony pioneer girl. (I’m in film and television, Cruella, and there was an insert close-up of your manicure while you were roughing it in God’s country. I know exactly how many feet off camera your hair and make-up trailer was.)

John Nolte at Big Government:

What’s worse for society? People throughout the world who enjoy the sport of hunting animals and have since the beginning of time. Or people who enjoy, say, years-long Hollywood drug binges that fund the same murderers who spread their poison on to our children’s playgrounds and schools? Has Sorkin ever lashed out so viciously at drug abusers? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no.Let me repeat the irony because it’s richer than the bullying bigot of a hypocrite serving it up: A degenerate drug addict is lecturing others on their habits and what they find pleasure from. Of course Sorkin thinks he’s cutting that criticism off at the pass with this pitiful disclaimer:

Let me be the first to say that I abused cocaine and was arrested for it in April 2001. I want to be the first to say it so that when Palin’s Army of Arrogant Assholes, bereft of any reasonable rebuttal, write it all over the internet tomorrow they will at best be the second.

The left’s favorite ploy: It’s okay for me to be a raging hypocrite because I admit to being one.

Furthermore, Sorkin acts as though no one watched last Sunday’s program and lies with the kind of shameless audacity only a reformed drug addict could. Comparing what we all saw Sunday evening on TLC — comparing Sarah, her loving father and their friend Becker to Michael Vick is nothing short of a lie. Hunting an animal is not torture. Enjoying the hunt of an animal is not torture. Watching the sanctimonious “West Wing” however…

Aaron Sorkin is nothing more than a bigot, no different than some smug loser who mocks what he sees while watching  another culture enjoy something foreign or different to them.

Gateway Pundit

Greg Pollowitz at National Review:

So as long as Aaron Sorkin has no idea how the animals are killed that fill his billy, cushion his buttocks, or shelter his feet, then it’s okay? I guarantee that caribou suffered far less than any of the farm-raised meat products Sorkin consumes every day. And his statement, “you enjoy killing animals” is ridiculous. She killed the animal for food. Again, Sorkin is happy to have someone else kill his animals for him, but those who actually do the killing are somehow “faux-macho s***heads?” If Sorkin is so against the actual killing of animals, he should grab a lettuce wrap and shut up.

And I also don’t remember any collective rage from the Left when then candidate Kerry decided to go bird hunting in Ohio just days before the election in 2004.

Dan Riehl

Jim Treacher at The Daily Caller:

Well, if there’s one thing liberalism has taught us, it’s that the angrier you are, the more truthful you are. Why merely whine about being reminded where food comes from, when you can throw a complete temper tantrum? Sure, Palin is like Michael Vick because… well, because Aaron Sorkin doesn’t like either one of them. And Sorkin’s not a hypocrite for railing against the killing of an animal and then going out for a steak dinner, because that would make him a bad person, and he’s actually a good person. You see?

You know what I do when I don’t like a TV show, Aaron? I don’t watch it. That’s how most people handle the problem, which explains what happened to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

That Aaron Sorkin isn’t a fan of hunting is no secret.  A powerful early episode of his too-short-lived “Sports Night” was devoted to the topic.  But his expletive laden rant on Sarah Palin’s exploits doesn’t do his cause any favors.  Especially this line:

I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face

Seriously?  I’m not a hunter and sympathize with his distaste of killing animals simply for sport.  But hunting is not only a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of mankind but a vital part of maintaining our ecosystem.

And by what moral calculus is killing lower mammals an outrage but the accidental death of one’s fellow human beings a source of amusement?

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Filed under Animal Rights, Political Figures

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

Jane Mayer in The New Yorker:

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

A few weeks after the Lincoln Center gala, the advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—an organization that David Koch started, in 2004—held a different kind of gathering. Over the July 4th weekend, a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a chilly hotel ballroom in Austin. Though Koch freely promotes his philanthropic ventures, he did not attend the summit, and his name was not in evidence. And on this occasion the audience was roused not by a dance performance but by a series of speakers denouncing President Barack Obama. Peggy Venable, the organizer of the summit, warned that Administration officials “have a socialist vision for this country.”

Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

Obama’s coordinated character assassination campaign against anyone who disagrees with him strikes of Soviet style politics. Saul Allinsky would be proud.

For perspective, the Koch brothers have been funding right-of-center and largely libertarian causes since the 1970’s. David Koch was the Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee in 1980. That’s right — against Reagan. This is nothing new for the Koch family. Through Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush the Koch’s have been politically engaged, sometimes even against Republican Presidents.

But Barack Obama is so used to demagoguing and is the first Democratic President to really believe the rich are evil, and not just preach it for the base, he needs an enemy. The Koch family will be that enemy.

The New Yorker has an eleven page, 6,000 word article on David and Charles Koch, who own Koch Industries. The article, “Covert Operations,” appears in the August 30, 2010 copy of the magazine. In other words, this article was being manufactured well before Mr. Obama launched the opening salvo on August 9, 2010.

Writing in yesterday’s Playbook, Mike Allen referenced the article, highlighting a passage that David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s advisor, is concerned about the Koch brothers. Mike Allen has more today.

Most troubling, the New Yorker cites as objective sources both the Center for American Progress and Media Matters without ever bothering to mention they are left-wing sources with biases and competing interests against those of the Koch brothers.

As the same time, Mother Jones is attacking the Smithsonian for taking Koch money, the Center for American Progress that the New Yorker relied on as an objective source, is attacking the Kochs in the Boston Globe, they are also attacking David Koch directly, and even Greenpeace is getting in on the act.

This is a coordinated character assassination against Koch Industries and the Koch brothers for daring to use their money to prevent the destruction of the American economy at the hand of a bunch of effete socialists in the White House.

Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator:

I’m not sure about Erickson’s speculation, but it’s hard not to notice that Mayer’s article paints an grim portrait of the Koch brothers without actually reporting anything objectionable that they might have done. For instance, here is how the article (headline: “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama”) describes the Kochs’ efforts to promote libertarianism:

In Washington, [David H.] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.

If that is how you describe peaceful, lawful activism, then what words are left to describe, for instance, the actions of al Qaeda, which funded an actual stealth attack on the federal government?

Later in the article, Mayer writes that “the Mercatus Center released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labelled Obama’s program ‘a slush fund…'”

Mayer is referring to Veronique de Rugy’s working paper. It is not accurate to claim that de Rugy was “forced to correct” the paper. A better description would be that she “voluntarily, in the spirit of transparency, improved the paper and found that her initial results still obtained.” You can read a less tendentious account of that episode here or de Rugy’s own explanation here.

Matt Welch at Reason:

I am a big admirer of Jane Mayer, and her article is worth reading for anyone who’s interested in the topic, but is seems a clear case of describing two apples with different adjectives because one smells funny (the George Soros paragraph in the article is a classic of the form). Whether the piece amounts to a kind of opening White House legal salvo against some of its biggest critics is something worth monitoring closely over the next two-plus months (and two-plus years). Given President Obama’s increasingly hysterical (and hypocritical) attacks against “the influence wielded by corporations and foreign entities,” it’s clear that the campaign will have rhetorical legs at the least.

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

Exactly how are the Koch brothers under the radar or underground? They show up every year in the Forbes super-rich lists. Charles Koch wrote a best-selling business book a year or two ago and makes no secret of his belief in free markets and limited government. David Koch ran for vice president of these United States on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 (where he helped Ed Clark pull over 900,000 votes, by far the highest total gained by the LP). Both are known for a wide range of philanthropic giving, whether to arts and medical outfits or think tanks or political action groups.

Full disclosure: David Koch has been on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the publisher of this website, for decades, and his name appears in the masthead of Reason magazine; I have also taught at various programs for the Institute for Humane Studies, which the Kochs fund, and will speak at an Americans for Prosperity event later this week. While I have never had more than brief interaction with either brother, I am perhaps overdue in thanking them on this blog for supporting my career at Reason, where I have argued in favor of gay marriage, drug legalization, non-interventionist foreign policy, open borders, sales in human organs, an end to corporate welfare, and a wide variety of other shamelessly libertarian policies.

While the Kochs are not publicity hounds, they certainly don’t hide their giving or their political agenda under a bushel basket. They are consistently in favor of smaller government (even if Koch Industries gave 15 percent of its political donations to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle). They may in fact be “out to destroy progessivism” but they are hardly using secret means to combat the growth and reach of government. You can argue whether The New Yorker story is “shameful,” but there’s no question that it is a great example of the demonization of opposing points of view (this happens on the right, too, where way too many liberals are labeled socialists or communists or whatever). It’s not enough that opponents believe different things, they must be cast as underhanded and duplicitous, acting out of only the most vulgar or awful of motives.

Frank Rich at The New York Times:

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.

Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.

Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”

Warner Todd Huston at Big Government:

First of all most of what Rich wrote was but rehashed words from Jane Mayer’s slam against the Koch Brothers of New York. Three quarters of what Rich penned really came from Mayer’s New Yorker piece on the philanthropists. So, big demerits for Frank Rich for simply appropriating Mayer’s piece.

But the real point of Rich’s piece was to pile onto Mayer’s slanted attack piece with some echoed slams against the Tea Party movement in order to discredit it all. Rich is desperate to make the movement seem like a marionette show with rich “sugar daddies” funding it and controlling it from the top.

“There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising,” Rich says of the Tea Party events, “the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the ‘death panel’ warm-up acts of last summer.”

Rich then rehashes Mayer’s examples of where the Koch brothers put their money in the form of Americans For Prosperity and Freedom Works, two nationwide, very active, and successful conservative advocacy groups.

Now, it is absolutely true that both AFP and Freedom Works have had the cash to put on large events in Washington D.C. and other cities. But it is not true that either of these groups controls and runs “the Tea Party” movement from above.

In fact, both AFP and Freedom Works were sort of caught unawares when the Tea Parties started forming spontaneously all across the nation in early 2009. Both had to rush to try and tap into that passion. Neither was initially prepared for the amazing energy that the Tea Party has unleashed.

Yes, these two organizations have held many events. But the number of evens that they have held, funded and had a hand in operating are but a small number compared to the hundreds if not thousands of Tea Party groups that started up all on their own, all with their own funding and members, all without the bankrolling of a “sugar daddy” named Koch.

To say that the Koch brothers, or Dick Armey, or Americans for Prosperity’s Tim Phillips control the Tea Party movement is simply a lie. In fact, these advocacy groups are like the 80-pound child taking his 200-pound dog for a walk. The kid may seem like the owner, but it is the big dog in control of where the walk ends up heading! The Tea Party is the 200-pound dog that neither AFP, nor Freedom Woks can control. These groups are the 80-pound kid holding on for dear life, trying to stay relevant in the minds of the Tea Party movement.

And Rich makes a second mistake — or calculation — in addressing the Tea Party movement. He keeps saying “the Tea Party” as if it is a single entity. It is not. I have been interacting with, writing about, and attending rallies with various Tea Party groups since the first days of the movement. There is one thing that holds true throughout. They are not connected one to the other in any meaningful way.

But you see, if Rich and his anti-traditional American ideologues can make it appear as if “the Tea Party” is run from the back pocket of the Koch brothers, it is easier to discredit as a false front set up by secretive, shadowy forces. If it were all a Koch enterprise, now that is a strawman that Frank Rich could knock down. But if the Tea Party is understood as millions of individual Americans following their patriotic hearts, that is an impossible image to discredit.

So you can see why Rich and his cohorts are desperate to make it “the Tea Party” instead of revealing the truth.

David Weigel:

Here’s more on the story I published this morning — a letter that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation is sending around arguing that Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile treated the Kochs unfairly.

“The New Yorker article, and those pieces that have echoed it, rely heavily on innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions,” writes foundation president Richard Fink, who is the public face of the brothers’ ideological work. “Unnamed sources and those with a strong philosophical opposition to the Kochs – many of whom have no current or first-hand knowledge of Koch Industries, Koch Family Foundations, Charles Koch or David Koch – go unchallenged. Supporters of the Kochs are largely ignored (as evidenced by the fact that the reporter chose not to include the vast majority of supportive comments made by a number of people familiar with the Kochs and the organizations they support). On the other hand, those who reinforce the reporter’s preconceptions are given a free pass.”

Fink argues that Mayer treated the Kochs unfairly despite the access she received, but Mayer reports that she didn’t get face time with David or Charles. That’s the point I’m making — these attempts to keep the brothers out of the political fray just don’t work anymore.

Reihan Salam:

All this is to say that I’m very comfortable with critiques of the rise of the right, including left-of-center critiques. Let’s just say I don’t think Rich is an authority on this subject. That said, I would never question his knowledge of the history of Broadway, Vaudeville, or theater more broadly.

I don’t doubt that a talented reporter could illuminate the worldview of the Kochs and the extent of their reach. But Mayer might be the most talented reporter writing today, and she’s written a piece that relies heavily on Gus diZerega, incendiary quotes from a wide range of scrupulously non-partisan but decidedly left-of-center think tanks, a credulous statement from a Soros spokesperson, a conversation with Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, references to Andrew Goldman’s article in New York and Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, and something else I’m sure I’m missing. One possibility is that Mayer’s editors pressed for early publication of the Koch story, spurred by the fact that New York had published its piece in late July and the prospect of more articles on the Kochs in other magazines. If that is indeed the case, I think Mayer’s editors have done her a disservice.

As someone who has benefited from left-of-center and right-of-center foundations, I definitely have a bias here: I don’t think it’s a bad thing for rich people to devote some of their money to spreading ideas, including bad ideas. The U.S. economy is vast enough that I can’t imagine even the largest fortunes holding undue sway over our national political life, which could be Pollyannaish on my part. I’m not even all that threatened by the influence of the Ford Foundation, which, as David Bernstein observes, is considerable:

According to Mayer, the Kochs have spent “more than a hundred million dollars” on “right-wing” foundations since 1980. Let’s be aggressive, and assume arguendo the figure, adjusted for inflation, is four hundred million dollars. That’s a whole $13 million or so a year since 1980. By contrast, the Ford Foundation, one of many well-endowed “mainstream” liberal foundations, spends over $500 million a year, a decent fraction of which goes to left-wing organizations and causes. Any given major American university employs far more liberal academics in the social sciences annually than can possibly be employed on a $13 million budget. Soros’ Open Society Institute annually spends over $150 million to “support individuals and organizations advancing a more open, just, and equal society in the United States.”

I am definitely open to strong arguments that suggest the Ford Foundation or the Kochs are a danger to our democratic freedoms. I’m still waiting for them.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias and Matt Welch on Bloggingheads

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And Now We’re Running Out Of Stamps, Too!

Fox News:

Some Democrats are upset and advocacy groups are outraged over the raiding of the food-stamp cupboard to fund a state-aid bailout that some call a gift to teachers and government union workers.

House members convened Tuesday and passed the multibillion-dollar bailout bill for cash-strapped states that provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won’t be let go before the new school year begins, keeping more than 160,000 teachers on the job, the Obama administration says.

But the bill also requires that $12 billion be stripped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to help fund the new bill, prompting some Democrats to cringe at the notion of cutting back on one necessity to pay for another. The federal assistance program currently helps 41 million Americans.

Arguably one of the most outspoken opponents on the Democratic side is Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has blasted the move as “a bitter pill to swallow” but still voted yes.

“I fought very hard for the food assistance money in the Recovery Act, and the fact is that participation in the food stamps program has jumped dramatically with the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year,” DeLauro said in an e-mail sent to FoxNews.com. “But I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid Draconian cuts to essential services for low income families.”

Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall:

The cynical political reasoning behind this move is the same as that which informs the Democrats’ position on school choice: Union members vote; poor people often don’t (and their children, trapped in terrible schools, can’t).

So much for the Democrats’ carefully cherished self-image as the “party of compassion”; let’s hope Americans don’t forget, when the rubber hit the road, where the Democrats’ first allegiance lay.

And I’d be willing to bet that a lot of those people collecting food stamps would rather simply get a job — that is, if they could, in the Obama economy.

Blue Texan at Firedoglake:

There was a study last year that showed half of all American children will at some point in their lives rely on food stamps.  Yes, 50%.

So how many children will have to go hungry because of a couple Republicans in the Senate?

Don Suber:

So Republicans hate children, do they?

The $26 billion stimulus bill to states — which included a $10 billion gift to the National Education Association and other teacher unions — came with a price: A curtailment in spending on food stamps.

Naturally, many of the robo-Democratic congressmen failed to read the bill as they flew in to D.C. to pass it, collect their sound-bites and fly back to vacation.

The public is reading the bill. It strips $12 billion from food stamps.

What is wrong with this picture?

SusanAnne Hiller at Big Government:

Same old rhetoric from Obama–punishing businesses–so it’s all ok.  States wouldn’t want to follow New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s lead, would they?  If the states could find the cuts, they wouldn’t need to pillage the American taxpayer, and then they wouldn’t need a bailout.  California is broke, yet their teachers are the highest paid in the nation.  So, private sector greed is bad, but public sector (taxpayer funded–as in, you are taking your neighbor’s hard-earned money) greed is good?

Everyone knows that what the Democrats passed is another bailout–but, while the Democrats help their teacher base and spin that it’s for the children during this election season, another segment of the Democrat base will eventually suffer–the poor and families on food stamps.   How will they explain that away?  Additionally, the military and other departments and programs will be hit hard as a result of this legislation.

Below is the list of budgetary rescissions compliments of the new “fiscal hawks” in Congress.  It’s interesting how Democrats can find budget cuts and have no problem hurting the poor, working families, middle class, defense, and military, when it benefits the teachers and the unions on the US taxpayer’s dime.

If the Democrats are so willing to make these cuts (some permanent), reallocate appropriated funds, and rescind funds from the original stimulus bill of 2009 to meet the pay-go requirement, then why did they use unemployed Americans as political pawns in June when a deficit neutral unemployment bill was introduced and reported here on Big Government?  They could have fast-tracked that bill so that millions of unemployed Americans could have continued to receive benefits without a break–all in a bipartisan manner.

David Poff at Redstate:

We’ve seen it splattered all across the front pages; more spending for jobs, more spending for bailouts, more spending for Unemployment, more spending for Teachers and Unions and special interests. We’ve also seen deficits rise and the National debt reach numbers that don’t fit on WalMart calculators.

America is bankrupt and they (the ruling Political class) don’t even know it…or they don’t seem to care anyway. What else explains why they’d happily starve the “least among us” or force them to trample each other to death, fighting over a paltry scrap from the Master’s table?

And for all that so-called “stimulus” money that promised jobs we still don’t have, homes we still can’t afford, and infrastructure improvements (that would keep America working for a generation) that remain undone, why are we paving roads that cars can’t drive on?? Why do I have to find out about it while skimming state news about National candidates instead of seeing it splattered all across the so-called Media?

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In The Name Of The Father, The Son, And The Holy Ghost… She Quits

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

Anne Rice is famous for writing crazy books about vampires, living in a spooky house, and , strangely, being a big Christian. UPDATE: Anne Rice is no longer a Christian.

Anne announced her religious renunciation on Facebook yesterday, because why not? First, this:

Anne Rice Quits Christianity 'In the Name of Christ'

Followed by this:

Anne Rice Quits Christianity 'In the Name of Christ'

There you have it. The vampire lady is no longer a Jesus lady.

David Goldman at First Things:

According to what we’ve heard, Rice’s post was heavily edited by her public relations team. The original reportedly went like this:

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-vampire. I refuse to be anti-werewolf. I refuse to be anti-zombie. I refuse to be anti-ghoul. I refuse to be anti-porphyria. I refuse to belong to a religion whose cruciform symbol is used to terrorize creatures of the night. I refuse to belong to a religion that drives stakes through the hearts of beings with whom I consanguinate. I refuse to be anti-undead. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Rod Dreher:

I’m sorry, but this is weak, and makes me wonder what really happened. Surely a woman of her age and experience cannot possibly believe that the entirety of Christianity, current and past, can be reduced to the cultural politics of the United States of America in the 21st century. Does she really know no liberal Christians? Has she never picked up a copy of Commonweal? Does she really think that if she asked a Christian on the streets of Nairobi or Tegucigalpa what they, as Christians, thought of Nancy Pelosi, they would have the slightest idea what she was talking about? And Christianity, anti-science? Good grief. Has she not noticed that Catholic Church, to which she did belong until yesterday, has affirmed evolution, and embraces science? How can a woman of her putative sophistication really think that Christianity is nothing more than a section of the Republican Party at prayer?

Andrew Sullivan on Dreher:

I tend to agree, but it does reveal the impact of Christianism in this culture to swamp and delegitimize actual Christianity. Dreher, of course, remains appalled by the neologism, regarding it as somehow anti-Christian. In fact, it’s precisely an attempt to save the message of the Gospels from the menace of Republican cultural politics.

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

As a relatively new member of the Catholic church, one of the things I’m learning, thanks in large part to my Parish Priest, is that an important pillar of anyone’s faith is the ongoing moral debate you have with yourself over what is wrong and what is right. Though I have many political differences with my church and even more with my Priest (one of the finest men I know), the church recognizes that a sincere inner-struggle regarding political and social issues, a struggle to come to a truly Christian decision, is something that should last a lifetime.

Rice, on the other hand, appears to have ended that inner-debate and come to all the conclusions. Among them, that same-sex marriage and voting for Democrats is what Christ would want. If she’s made a sincere effort to work her conscience through to that conclusion, that’s fine.

What’s not Christian, however, is her lashing out at those who disagree, and judging them from a moral authority she doesn’t possess as betrayers of what she obviously has decided is a kind of true Christianity.  There’s another word for this: Intolerance.

From where I sit, it looks at though Rice has “elevated” herself from a Christian to a narcissist.

The Anchoress:

Rice’s angry frustration with what she (and, let’s face it, many others) perceive to be a sort of Institution of No is interesting. She refuses to be “anti-gay,” but the church teaches that indeed we must not be anti-gay, that homosexual inclinations are not sinful in themselves, but that all are called to chastity, whether gay or straight.

So, what she is refusing is not so much church teaching, which she incorrectly represents, but the worldly distortion of church teaching both as it is misunderstood and too-often practiced. I do not know how anyone could read the USCCB’s pastoral letter, Always Our Children and then make a credible argument that the church is “anti-gay.”

But then, I do not know how anyone can read Humanae Vitae and credibly call the church anti-feminist or anti-humanist.

I do not know how anyone can read Pope John Paul II’s exhaustive teachings on the Theology of the Body and credibly declare the church to be reactionary on issues of sexuality or womanhood.

I do not know how anyone can read Gaudium et Spes and credibly argue that the church is out of touch with the Human Person or Society.

I do not know how anyone can read Fides et ratio and credibly argue that the church does not hold human reason in esteem.

I do not know how anyone can look at the Vatican supporting and funding Stem Cell Research, or the even the briefest list of religiously-inclined scientists and researchers and credibly argue that Christianity is “anti-science.”

Anne Rice wants to do the Life-in-Christ on her own, while saying “Yes” to the worldly world and its values. She seems not to realize that far from being an Institution of No, the church is a giant and eternal urging toward “Yes,”, that being a “yes” toward God–whose ways are not our ways, and who draws all to Himself, in the fullness of time–rather than a “yes” to ourselves.

E.D. Kain at The League:

This just seems horribly superficial to me. I suppose it’s possible that Rice never really understood her faith to begin with. I suppose when politics and the culture ware become everything – including how we’re received in our various social scenes – then God really does become little more than a piece of clothing, worn for a bit until it goes out of fashion, then easily discarded.

Certainly Christians can be terrible Christians. Certainly I disagree with much of what is said and done in the name of Christianity. Certainly I get a knot in my stomach every time the Catholic hierarchy bungles yet another sexual abuse crisis, and the more revelations of how un-Christian so many priests and pastors and others have been while peddling the words of Christianity the more angry and saddened I become over the whole state of affairs. But then I go to mass and everything is different. There are no politics. There is no divisive language, no hell and brimstone, none of this. There is the message of love and redemption and community and charity that drew me back to Christianity in the first place.

It seems to me Rice isn’t doing this in the name of Christ at all. It seems she’s given up on Him altogether. And if that’s the case, then why dress it up in the language of politics? Why kick sand in the eyes of all those Christians who are pro-science, pro-gay rights, pro-feminism, pro birth-control?

Everyone has moments, has their own crisis of faith. It’s always sad to me when that crisis is too great, the struggle too much, for someone to overcome.

The Anchoress has some worthwhile thoughts on all of this.

Update.

In response to some of the comments here…

Obviously being Christian doesn’t make you any better or more moral or any of that garbage. Being Christian means you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. And then hopefully you take that ball and run with it and do good works and all that jazz. But it isn’t really about what you’re for or against. Being non-Christian won’t make you more pro-gay or more pro-science, either. That’s a historical accident. If you were Christian or non-Christian two hundred years ago, it wouldn’t matter: you’d be anti-gay marriage. Likewise, some of the fiercest advocates of the abolition of slavery were religious zealots. In fifty or a hundred years we may not even be talking about gay rights any more (I hope gays will have 100% equal rights with straights and I hope it happens sooner than that!), but the questions of faith – the question of whether or not one believes, in this instance, in the divinity of Christ – will be questions that remains. The rest is transitory, the day’s politics, the day’s culture wars. Conflating one with the other seems to miss the deeper questions altogether.

Also, thanks to Anne Rice for stopping by!

John Cole:

I guess I found this odd because I never really thought of it as an organization you had to actively turn in a letter saying you were quitting. Most of us just sort of drift away and say to hell with it all.

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