The E-Blast Returns!
January 5, 2006
The Letterman Meltdown
CBS's Late Show host David Letterman is supposed to be funny. He makes more than $20 million a year because he is funny. His Top Ten List is a brand unto itself. He was endearing when he did bits like his old Stupid Pet Tricks. I laughed when he ribbed Oprah and Uma.
But on Tuesday night's show, he acquitted himself as just another unhinged member of the liberal entertainment mafia when he interviewed Fox New Channel's Bill O'Reilly.
Even before O'Reilly walked on stage, Letterman acted like a spoiled brat when he used a pencil to stir O'Reilly's mug of water. (So the audience and Letterman were snickering as O'Reilly was oblivious when he went to drink.)
The most revealing exchange occurred toward the end of the segment.
Letterman: I'm not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling, I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap. [audience laughter] But I don't know that for a fact.
O'Reilly: Listen, I respect your opinion. You should respect mine.
Letterman: Yeah, but I think there's something, this fair and balanced [Fox branding]. I'm not sure that it's--I don't think that you represent an objective viewpoint.
O'Reilly: Well, you're going to have to give me an example if you're going to make those claims.
Letterman: Well I don't watch your show so that would be impossible.
O'Reilly: Then why would you come to that conclusion if you don't watch the program?
Letterman: Because of things that I've read, things that I know.
Novel concept for a comedian/talk show host: invite a guest on your show, then insult him based on second-hand accounts of his work.
O'Reilly: You weren't aware of the big giant controversy over Christmas?
Letterman: Well, I ignore stuff like that, it doesn't really affect me. I go ahead and do what I wanna do. Let it go. It will take care of itself.
I'll bet Letterman liked all those stories about President Bush living in a bubble, detached from the real world. But what about the blue-state-mentality bubble that Letterman lives in?
Other Letterman knee-slappers:
On Cindy Sheehan: "I am very concerned about people like yourself who don't have nothing (sic) but endless sympathy for people like Cindy Sheehan. Have you lost family members in armed conflict? [O'Reilly answers no.] Then you can hardly speak for her."
On the war in Iraq: "Why the hell are we there to begin with?"
Letterman deserves credit for having traveled both to Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain the troops. But does he stop to wonder how his pro-Sheehan, anti-Bush lines would go over there?
When Al Gore or Howard Dean or Al Franken sit down with Dave it's light and funny and cozy and friendly. With O'Reilly, Letterman was dismissive, condescending, and just plain nasty. He was more Carville than Carson. Actually, even James Carville is funnier than Dave these days. And nicer, too.
Why does this matter? Be cause for better or worse, many younger Americans get the bulk of their cultural and even political news from hosts like Letterman and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, who want us to believe that their humor is non-partisan. After all, they are quick to point out, let's not forget all the Monica jokes they told when Bill Clinton was president.
But Letterman's sit-down with O'Reilly, much like Stewart's petulant attack against Tucker Carlson on CNN (calling Carlson a male-private part), was notable for what it revealed. Underneath it all, Letterman is just another liberal frustrated at the very existence of guys like O'Reilly, and of men like President Bush. You look at his facial expressions when he's talking to O'Reilly and hear his tone and you know he's thinking -- how can Americans be so ignorant? How could they elect the buffoon in the White House and how could they watch this buffoon sitting across from me?
It is painfully obvious that many of the entertainment giants are making the same mistake the "mainstream" media giants made decades ago when they began staking out biased and "edgy" political positions that offended and alienated millions of potential viewers. Eventually, this drove people to seek out alternative media outlets -- such as the Fox News Channel. If the Letterman and his ilk don't drop the persistent disdain for red state America, we can expect to see the same thing happen to their industry.
Then we'll see who has the last laugh.
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Friday, January 06, 2006
The E-Blast Returns!
Posted by William N. Phillips, Jr. at 1/06/2006 06:47:00 PM
Grammy-Winning Singer Lou Rawls Dies
By JEFF WILSON, Associated Press Writer
3 hours ago
LOS ANGELES - Lou Rawls, the velvet-voiced singer and longtime community activist who started as a choir boy and went on to record such classic tunes as "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," died Friday of cancer. He was 72.
Rawls died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was hospitalized last month for treatment of lung and brain cancer, said his publicist, Paul Shefrin. His wife, Nina, was at his bedside when he died.
Rawls' trademark was his smooth, four-octave voice _ the "silkiest chops in the singing game," Frank Sinatra once said. Rawls' used it in a wide variety of genres, including commercials. For millions of television viewers and radio listeners, Rawls was the familiar voice that said, "When you've said Budweiser, you've said it all."
"He was one of the few singers that you knew without hearing more than a few notes, that it was him," Burt Bacharach told The Associated Press.
Rawls played a major role in the 1980s United Negro College Fund telethons that raised more than $200 million. In the '60s he often visited schools, playgrounds and community centers.
"What I really loved about Lou was how his voice was so unique," said Kenny Gamble, who with his partner Leon Huff wrote "You'll Never Find," released in 1976.
"The other thing was that he had a sense of community," Gamble told The AP. "Thousands and thousands of young kids benefited from his celebrity."
Aretha Franklin said in a statement that Rawls was a "memorable musical stylist ... who made a serious impact in the interest of historically black colleges and black folks."
"It is his work for the children, his voice for the poor, his creating opportunity for young Americans, who had to overcome odds, that he most wanted to be his lasting legacy," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a statement.
Rawls was raised on the South Side of Chicago by his grandmother, who shared her love of gospel with him. Rawls also was influenced by doo-wop and harmonized with his high school classmate Sam Cooke. The two friends joined groups such as the Teenage Kings of Harmony.
When he moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s, Rawls was recruited for the Chosen Gospel Singers, then moved on to The Pilgrim Travelers. He enlisted in 1955 as a paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Sgt. Rawls rejoined The Pilgrim Travelers three years later.
While touring with the group, Rawls and Cooke were in a car crash that nearly ended Rawls' life. Cooke was slightly hurt, but another passenger was killed and Rawls was declared dead on the way to the hospital, according to Shefrin.
Rawls was in a coma for 5 1/2 days and suffered memory loss, but was completely recovered a year later.
"I really got a new life out of that," Rawls said at the time. "I saw a lot of reasons to live. I began to learn acceptance, direction, understanding and perception _ all elements that had been sadly lacking in my life."
Rawls performed with Dick Clark at the Hollywood Bowl in 1959. Late that year, Rawls was singing for $10 a night plus pizza at Pandora's Box in Los Angeles when he was spotted by Capitol Records producer Nick Venet, who invited him to audition. He was signed by the label soon after.
The album "Stormy Monday," recorded in 1962 with the Les McCann Trio, was the first of Rawls' 52 albums. That same year, he collaborated on Cooke's hit "Bring It On Home to Me."
In 1966, Rawls' "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing" topped the charts and earned Rawls his first two Grammy nominations, and he opened for The Beatles in Cincinnati.
During that period, Rawls began delivering hip monologues about life and love on the songs "World of Trouble" and "Tobacco Road," each more than seven minutes long. Some called them "pre-rap."
Rawls explained that he had been working in clubs where the stage was behind noisy bars.
"You'd be swinging and the waitress would yell, 'I want 12 beers and four martinis!' And then the dude would put the ice in the crusher," Rawls recalled. "There had to be a way to get the attention of the people. So instead of just starting in singing, I would just start in talking the song."
His "raps" were so popular that 1967's "Dead End Street" won him his first Grammy for best R&B vocal performance. The singer won three Grammys in a career that spanned nearly five decades and included the hits "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)," "Natural Man" and "Lady Love." He released his most recent album, "Seasons 4 U," in 1998 on his own label, Rawls & Brokaw Records.
But his main musical legacy is "You'll Never Find," recorded after Rawls signed with Gamble and Huff, architects of the classic "Philadelphia Sound."
"That was the first record we put out on him," Gamble said. "It captured the best of his voice. It had all the dimensions, it had the low and it had the excitement. And plus the lyrics were something people could relate to."
Rawls also appeared in 18 movies, including "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Blues Brothers 2000," and 16 television series, including "Fantasy Island" and "The Fall Guy."
Rawls was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2004 and brain cancer in May 2005. Rawls told Shefrin he quit smoking 35 to 40 years ago. Asked about reports Rawls tried to treat his cancer holistically, Shefrin said: "He did try alternative methods. He used traditional and alternative methods."
Along with his wife, Rawls is survived by four children: Louanna Rawls, Lou Rawls Jr., Kendra Smith and Aiden Rawls.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete, Shefrin said.
AP Entertainment Writers Sandy Cohen and Jake Coyle contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Posted by William N. Phillips, Jr. at 1/06/2006 06:44:00 PM
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Brain Protein May Be Linked to Depression
By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer
27 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Scientists have discovered a protein that seems to play a crucial role in developing depression, a finding that may lead to new treatments for the often debilitating illness — and fundamental understanding of why it strikes.
Although problems with the mood-regulating brain chemical serotonin have long been linked to depression, scientists don't know what causes the disease that afflicts some 18 million Americans — or exactly what serotonin's role is.
The newly found protein, named p11, appears to regulate how brain cells respond to serotonin, researchers from Rockefeller University and Sweden's Karolinska Institute report Friday in the journal Science.
"We're all very excited about this discovery," said Nobel laureate Paul Greengard, a Rockefeller neuroscientist who led the research. "People have been looking for modulators of serotonin for a long time."
Said Oxford University pharmacologist Trevor Sharp, who reviewed the work: "This finding represents compelling evidence that p11 has a pivotal role in both the cause of depression and perhaps its successful treatment."
Most depression medications used today are members of the Prozac family that work by making more serotonin available to brain cells. They stem from a theory that depression patients might not have enough serotonin, a neurotransmitter, or chemical that carries signals between nerve cells.
Then scientists discovered the serotonin connection was more complicated, dependent on how well the neurotransmitter binds to receptors, or docking ports, on cell surfaces. Fourteen different serotonin receptors have been discovered.
The new research focuses on one of those receptors, dubbed the "1B" receptor, that seems to play a particularly big role in major depression.
Greengard and colleagues discovered that the p11 protein increases the numbers of these receptors on the surfaces of cells, mobilizing them so they're available for serotonin to do its job.
That led to a series of remarkable experiments, using mice as well as brain tissue saved from the autopsies of depressed patients, that found:
_Depressed people have substantially lower levels of p11 in their brain tissue than the non-depressed. So did a breed of mice, called "helpless" mice, that exhibit depression symptoms.
_Then the mice were given two older antidepressants — one known as a tricyclic, the other an MAO inhibitor — and electric shock therapy. Each treatment increased the amount of p11 in mice brains, even though each therapy is known to work in different ways.
_So the researchers bred mice that had no p11-producing gene. They acted depressed, and had fewer 1B receptors and less serotonin activity than regular mice. They also were less likely to improve with depression medication. Mice genetically altered to produce extra p11 acted in just the opposite way — no depression-like behavior, and their brain cells carried extra serotonin-signaling receptors.
"It's a very important finding," said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the research. "This gives us a new set of targets for drug development," but also "suggests a whole new area of investigation for trying to ... ultimately discover does this have anything to do with why some people get depressed and others don't."
The researchers don't yet know whether a genetic defect or some other factor is responsible for altering p11 levels.
"The p11 is upstream of the receptor, and now the question is what is upstream of the p11," Greengard said.
But Sharp noted that bouts of depression often are associated with serious stress, and that p11 is part of a protein family known to be sensitive to certain stress-related hormones.
Greengard's lab now is researching the potential for p11-related therapies.
But the discovery likely will aid research into other diseases that also depend on cell-based receptors.
"We're finding that other molecules control other receptors, so I think this may open up quite a major new area of approach to developing therapeutic drugs," Greengard said.
On the Net:
Government depression information: http://www.nimh.nih.gov
Posted by William N. Phillips, Jr. at 1/05/2006 08:29:00 PM
Thu Jan 5, 6:55 AM ET
World leaders on Thursday expressed hopes Ariel Sharon would recover from his massive stroke but made clear that the Israeli prime minister's dominance of Middle East politics was now over.
Only a miracle would allow the stricken general to take up the political reins again before end-March Israeli elections.
"This is very sad on a human level and totally negative on a political level," Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.
"There is very, very little hope (for his recovery). Let's hope for a miracle, a miracle which would be extraordinarily important," he said in a radio interview.
"Israeli sources tell us that even if he should live, there is no possibility he can stay in politics," said Berlusconi, a Sharon ally who shifted Italian foreign policy from its traditionally pro-Arab stance toward a pro-Israeli position.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also spoke of the need for a miracle.
"He's been a huge figure in the region for many years, but he has surprised, I think, everybody by the courage and statesmanship he has shown in recent years to work toward a long-term peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians," Straw said on BBC radio.
But he added "Ariel Sharon's office are saying publicly that they are praying for a miracle, so we hope and pray for that miracle."
French President Jacques Chirac hoped Sharon would "overcome the painful test that he is undergoing." But a statement from Chirac's office seemed to indicate that Sharon himself would not be able to pursue his efforts for peace in the Middle East.
"The President of the Republic hopes for the continuation of the brave initiatives undertaken by Mr Sharon which have the backing of the whole of the international community," the statement said.
Chirac also offered Ehud Olmert, who has taken over as interim prime minister, France's "support, friendship and solidarity."
"COURAGE AND PEACE"
U.S. President George W. Bush praised Sharon, who has been crucial to his hopes for Middle East peace, as a man of "courage and peace."
"We are praying for his recovery," Bush said.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who postponed a planned trip to Israel, also hoped Sharon would recover soon.
But he added: "I am worried about the Middle East peace process. Peace in the Middle East affects the entire world and therefore we have to think about what Japan should do."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana wrote to Olmert "offering his support and solidarity in these difficult and dramatic moments."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "My thoughts in these hours are with Ariel Sharon and his family. With my whole heart, I wish him a speedy recovery."
Some of Sharon's opponents were less charitable. The Islamic group Hamas accused him of "massacres and terrorism" and said, "The whole region will be better off with him absent."
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/05/2006 11:08:00 AM
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte $423,480
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Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/05/2006 08:58:00 AM
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Israel's Sharon Suffers Massive Stroke
By STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writer
23 minutes ago
JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke Wednesday and was on a respirator after falling ill at his ranch. Doctors operated to drain excess blood from his brain.
Powers were transferred to his deputy, Vice Premier Ehud Olmert.
Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, said Sharon suffered "a significant stroke," adding that he was "under anesthetic and receiving breathing assistance." A few minutes later, Mor-Yosef emerged to say that initial tests showed Sharon had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding in his brain.
Mor-Yosef said Sharon, 77 and overweight, had "massive bleeding and was being transferred to an operating theater."
Dr. Shmuel Shapira of Hadassah Hospital told Channel 10 TV that Sharon was taken to an operating room to drain the blood after suffering what he termed a "massive stroke." Israeli TV reported the operation had begun and that it would likely take several hours to complete.
Sharon was put in an ambulance at his ranch in the Negev Desert after complaining about feeling unwell. A doctor said the stroke developed while he was being taken to the hospital in Jerusalem, a drive of about an hour.
Channel 2 TV said Sharon was suffering from paralysis in his lower body. Analysts on Israeli TV stations said his life could be in danger.
The health crisis came hours before Sharon was to undergo a procedure to seal a hole in his heart that contributed to a mild stroke on Dec. 18. Since then, Sharon has been receiving blood thinners to try to prevent a recurrence of the clotting that caused the initial stroke.
Cerebral hemorrhages — bleeding in the brain — account for only about 10 percent of strokes and can result either from rupture of blood vessels or leaking due to too much blood thinner medication.
"It's among the most dangerous of all types of strokes," with half of victims dying within a month, said Dr. Robert A. Felberg, a neurologist at Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. "Any time they give blood thinners to prevent clots there is a risk" that too much can cause a hemorrhage, he said.
Sharon is about 5-foot-7 and weighs 250-300 pounds, but doctors checking him last month said he otherwise was in good health.
Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon said Sharon's authority was transferred to Olmert because the premier was under general anesthetic.
The dramatic decline in Sharon's health comes as Sharon runs for re-election on March 28 at the head of a new centrist party, Kadima. He enjoys a wide lead in the polls. The party's strength is centered on Sharon, and if he were forced to step down, Israel's political scene would be thrown into turmoil.
Sharon's office said his personal physician was with him at the ranch in Israel's south.
Shapira said the massive stroke "apparently developed during the trip, and it developed quickly, as these events do."
Security agents and police spread out around the Jerusalem hospital before Sharon arrived, setting up a security perimeter. Later, they surrounded Olmert's residence in Jerusalem. Under Israeli law, Olmert is to serve as acting prime minister until Sharon can resume his powers.
On Dec. 18, Sharon was taken to Hadassah Hospital from his office after suffering the mild stroke. Doctors said he would not suffer long-term effects, but they discovered a birth defect in his heart that apparently contributed to the stroke.
Sharon had been scheduled to check into Hadassah Hospital on Thursday for a procedure to repair a tiny hole between the upper chambers of his heart. Doctors said the blood clot that briefly lodged in Sharon's brain last month, causing the mild stroke, made its way through the hole and from there to a cranial artery.
Sharon first came to prominence as an army officer, setting up a unit that fought Palestinian infiltrators in the 1950s. Advancing through the ranks of the army, he served as commander of the Gaza region after Israel captured the territory in the 1967 war, launching punishing raids.
After serving in the 1973 Mideast war, Sharon left the military and entered politics, forging the hardline Likud Party, which came to power in 1977.
As defense minister, he directed Israel's ill-fated invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and was forced to step down by an Israeli commission of inquiry, which found him indirectly responsible for a massacre of Palestinians in two refugee camps by Christian Phalangist soldiers.
Sharon re-emerged as prime minister in 2001, and two years later he reversed his course of decades of support for Jewish settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank and Gaza, promoting a plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank. The pullout was completed in September.
The withdrawal fractured his Likud party, and he left it to form Kadima. He was putting together a list of candidates for the parliamentary election when he fell ill Wednesday.
Posted by William N. Phillips, Jr. at 1/04/2006 06:27:00 PM
The Real 'Energy Crisis': Big Oil is getting smaller--and that's bad for America by Holman W. Jenkins jr
Monday, January 2, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
Sen. Byron Dorgan, who keeps himself deliberately uninformed about the workings of the private sector lest it cast him into doubt about his easy demagoguery, recently castigated the oil industry for "buying back stock, hoarding cash and drilling on Wall Street." He is one of several who've backed legislation to confiscate the industry's "windfall profits" if companies don't reinvest the money in new energy projects.
In fact, the capital markets are in charge of deciding where money is best invested, and oil companies are in charge only of doing what corporate governance reformers insist all companies should be doing--being careful with their shareholders' money. That's why the six biggest oil companies, Mr. Dorgan's fury notwithstanding, are expected this year to allocate more than 60% of their profits to dividends and stock buybacks while reinvesting only about one-third in the oil business.
Manifested here is not pigheadedness or any need to be instructed by Congress about how to make money. Opportunity is what's lacking.
Mr. Dorgan perhaps hasn't noticed but Big Oil has become a pygmy. It accounts for less than 16% of the world's current production and less than 10% of the reserves that will supply our needs in the future. The industry doesn't reinvest more in energy development because, bluntly, most of the opportunities are off limits to it.
The real powers today are the Saudi state oil company, the Iranian state oil company, the Venezuelan state oil company, etc. Not only are governments in control of most of the world's oil and gas reserves, but increasingly they decline even to make use of the technical and management skills of Big Oil anymore.
This trend is worrisome not because we fear an axis of America haters might cut off our supply someday (these governments want our money even more than we want their oil). Rather it's worrisome because oil wealth empowers destructive elites and raises the stakes of political competition in states that, if you look closely, are all too ripe to earn the sobriquet "failing."
Down the road traveled by Saddam Hussein's Iraq now are headed Vladimir Putin's Russia, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran and perhaps the Bolivia of President-elect Evo Morales. The formula: By deliberately limiting their nations' development to the energy sectors under their control, politicians make themselves the source of all opportunity and wealth for their peoples. You heard it here: The world can expect to pay a price in instability for decades to come thanks to this phenomenon.
Foolish or worse, then, is the agenda of the Global Policy Forum, a tired leftist group that monitors and lobbies the United Nations and has taken recently to denouncing the new Iraqi government for contemplating "production sharing" agreements with international oil companies. Such deals are always and everywhere a rip-off, insists the group, never mind that Libya just signed a bunch that were distinctly favorable to Libya.
Alas, the corrupting politicization wished upon Iraq's oil industry is becoming a universal norm. Consider the perfected idiocy of Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, who bought her Senate seat with a now-diminished dot-com fortune and has reason to worry about whether voters will find her worth re-electing. This undoubtedly explains her sudden and shrill emergence as the most unhinged of oil-industry bashers.
Last month she was quick to confuse the filing of a lawsuit with proof of guilt, denouncing BP and Exxon because they were named in an antitrust complaint by the deservedly obscure Alaska Gasline Port Authority. Ms. Cantwell was likely impressed by the name of David Boies, celebrity lawyer, as counsel for the plaintiffs. In fact, the AGPA consists of three Alaska municipalities whose plan for a gas liquefaction facility in the port of Valdez was recently rejected by the state as lacking any means of financing.
The group has decided to blame its troubles on BP and Exxon for allegedly sitting on undeveloped natural gas reserves in Alaska in order to drive up prices in the U.S. domestic market. This overlooks the fact that the two companies supply just 12% of the natural gas in the lower 48, so any such manipulation would benefit mostly their competitors.
In reality, the AGPA nakedly exists to divert Alaska's untapped gas wealth into a local construction boondoggle, lacking any economic rationale. Indeed, the mere act of liquefying Alaskan gas and loading it aboard a ship would put the state in competition on absurdly unfavorable terms with far cheaper suppliers of liquefied natural gas in Qatar, Indonesia, Australia, Russia and elsewhere.
In contrast, a pipeline to the Midwest would deliver the gas, without the expense of liquefaction and refrigeration, directly to a large, landlocked market where supply is short and getting shorter. That's why Exxon, BP and a third leaseholder, Conoco, prefer this approach and are prepared to finance it, joined by Alaska's sane governor, Frank Murkowski.
This should be a no-brainer, but the little Putins of the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, cheered on by the silly Ms. Cantwell and the cynical Mr. Boies, are determined to politicize what should be a straightforward economic decision. This is not just bad economics for Alaska. It's an example of increasingly nonsensical policymaking by energy-consuming nations, promoted in the U.S. by knee-jerk oil industry critics on Capitol Hill.
Folks like Ms. Cantwell and Mr. Dorgan should look up from their polling data once in a while and take stock of the world, as statesmen are supposed to do. Their juvenile and myopic electioneering strategies are a big wet favor to the likes of Messrs. Putin and Ahmadinejad. Now is the time our leaders should be seeking to strengthen a profit-motivated global oil industry to balance the power of oil-controlling governments that don't have America's interests at heart.
Mr. Jenkins is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. His column appears in the Journal on Wednesdays.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/04/2006 08:54:00 AM
If we told you that an organization gave away more than $65 million last year to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington and dozens of other such advocacy groups, you'd probably assume we were describing a liberal philanthropy. In fact, those expenditures have all turned up on the financial disclosure report of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union.
Under new federal rules pushed through by Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, large unions must now disclose in much more detail how they spend members' dues money. Big Labor fought hard (if unsuccessfully) against the new accountability standards, and even a cursory glance at the NEA's recent filings--the first under the new rules--helps explain why. They expose the union as a honey pot for left-wing political causes that have nothing to do with teachers, much less students.
We already knew that the NEA's top brass lives large. Reg Weaver, the union's president, makes $439,000 a year. The NEA has a $58 million payroll for just over 600 employees, more than half of whom draw six-figure salaries. Last year the average teacher made only $48,000, so it seems you're better off working as a union rep than in the classroom.
Many of the organization's disbursements--$30,000 to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, $122,000 to the Center for Teaching Quality--at least target groups that ostensibly have a direct educational mission. But many others are a stretch, to say the least. The NEA gave $15,000 to the Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies for "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights." The National Women's Law Center, whose Web site currently features a "pocket guide" to opposing Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito, received $5,000. And something called the Fund to Protect Social Security got $400,000, presumably to defeat personal investment accounts.
The new disclosure rules mark the first revisions since 1959 and took effect this year. "What wasn't clear before is how much of a part the teachers unions play in the wider liberal movement and the Democratic Party," says Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, a California-based watchdog group. "They're like some philanthropic organization that passes out grant money to interest groups."
There's been a lot in the news recently about published opinion that parallels donor politics. Well, last year the NEA gave $45,000 to the Economic Policy Institute, which regularly issues reports that claim education is underfunded and teachers are underpaid. The partisans at People for the American Way got a $51,000 NEA contribution; PFAW happens to be vehemently anti-voucher.
The extent to which the NEA sends money to states for political agitation is also revealing. For example, Protect Our Public Schools, an anti-charter-school group backed by the NEA's Washington state affiliate, received $500,000 toward its efforts to block school choice for underprivileged children. (Never mind that charter schools are public schools.) And the Floridians for All Committee, which focuses on "the construction of a permanent progressive infrastructure that will help redirect Florida politics in a more progressive, Democratic direction," received a $249,000 donation from NEA headquarters.
When George Soros does this sort of thing, at least he's spending his own money. The NEA is spending the mandatory dues paid by members who are told their money will be used to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions. According to the latest filing, member dues accounted for $295 million of the NEA's $341 million in total receipts last year. But the union spent $25 million of that on "political activities and lobbying" and another $65.5 million on "contributions, gifts and grants" that seemed designed to further those hyper-liberal political goals.
The good news is that for the first time members can find out how their union chieftains did their political thinking for them, by going to www.union-reports.dol.gov, where the Labor Department has posted the details.
Union officials claim that they favored such transparency all along, but the truth is they fought the new rules hard in both Congress and the courts. Originally, the AFL-CIO said detailed disclosures were too expensive, citing compliance costs in excess of $1 billion. The final bill turned out to be $54,000, or half of what the unions spent on litigation fighting the new requirements. When Secretary Chao refused to back down, the unions took her to court, and lost.
It's well understood that the NEA is an arm of the Democratic National Committee. (Or is it the other way around?) But we wonder if the union's rank-and-file stand in unity behind this laundry list of left-to-liberal recipients of money that comes out of their pockets.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 1/04/2006 08:36:00 AM