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You’ve got to hand it to the Pope-Civitas Institute. The group is not afraid to do whatever it takes to advance the right-wing message — even if it means setting new standards in gall and hypocrisy.

The latest exhibit: It was announced yesterday that the keynote speaker as this year’s “Conservative Leadership Conference” will be right-wing activist and convicted election law felon Dinesh D’Souza. This is from a September 2014 Huffington Post story describing D’Souza’s deeds:

“Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was sentenced on Tuesday to spend eight months in a community confinement center during five years of probation after pleading guilty to a campaign finance law violation.

The defendant, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan. He was also given a $30,000 fine and ordered to do one day of community service a week during his probation.

D’Souza, 53, admitted in May to illegally reimbursing two ‘straw donors’ who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a Republican he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.

‘It was a crazy idea, it was a bad idea,’ D’Souza told Berman before being sentenced. ‘I regret breaking the law.’

Prosecutors had sought a 10-to 16-month prison sentence, rejecting defense arguments that D’Souza was ‘ashamed and contrite’ about his crime and deserved probation with community service.”

You got that? An organization that regularly rails about “soft-on-crime” policies and politicians and a supposed epidemic of election fraud in the country is nonetheless turning over its podium to someone who was sentenced for committing an election law felony less that a year a half ago. The guy just got out of jail last year and is still on probation for heaven’s sake.

Maybe the point is to have him come and hold forth on second chances for those who’ve been convicted of crimes after having made stupid mistakes in life. If that’s so, well then, good for him and the Civitasers.

But the email promoting the event gives no indication that this is the case. Instead, it’s the usual hard right vitriol. And indeed, the “about” section from the website promoting D’Souza’s new post-jail book, “Stealing America” includes this doozy of a summary: “Why Hillary, Obama, and the entire Democratic Party are no better than a gang of thieves.”

All in all, it sounds like ol’ Dinesh may be a case study in likely criminal recidivism rather than rehabilitation and second chances. Stay tuned.

Commentary
Bank of America

Image: Wikimedia Commons

A few years back, as you may recall, a nonprofit conservative Christian group co-founded by North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest made some waves by releasing a Christmas shopping guide in which it purported to rate retailers for their adherence to the values of “faith driven consumers.” The guide, which downgraded companies for, among other things, including lingerie models in their catalogs, sought to convince corporations to alter their business practices in order to cater to conservative Christian shoppers. (Forest, who has not yet filed for re-election this year, resigned from the group shortly after its founding, but has made it plain since then on multiple occasions and in multiple venues that he remains a loyal soldier of the religious right).

This year, the organization (which calls itself Faith Driven Consumer) is back with a new attempt at rating corporate America which it has entitled, somewhat amusingly, the “Faith Equality Index.” In it, the authors grade more than 100 companies on a 100 point scale for their “commitment to full equality and inclusion of the Faith Driven Consumer market segment” (which appears to translate to how closely the companies toe the values and political lines laid down by the religious right).

According to the index, Charlotte-based Bank of America tied for the lowest rating given to any company with a score of 11. Only the consumer goods producer, Unilever, received as low of a score. Meanwhile, the fast food chain Chick-fil-A received the highest overall score of 63. Craft store Hobby Lobby, of anti-Obamacare fame, came in second with a 62.

Company scores were constructed by compiling ratings in several categories. For instance, companies could earn up to five points for:

  • “use of the word ‘Christmas’ in seasonal advertising,”
  • “philanthropic support of biblically (sic) orthodox faith-driven organization(s) or event(s) (e.g. financial, in-kind or pro bono support)” and
  • “targeted recruiting efforts for both faith-driven employees and suppliers.”

Ten points were available to companies that demonstrate “respect for, acknowledgment of, and compatibility with a comprehensive pro-life view on abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia.”

The ratings are, in short, an absurd mishmash of items from the religious right’s political agenda with no real explanation in most instances as to how or why points were awarded. Car maker General Motors, for instance, gets two out of five points for its “Use of the word ‘Christmas’ in seasonal advertising,” but there is no explanation as to why. Similarly, the hotel chain Residence Inn by Marriott gets six unexplained points out of 10 for its performance on sexual morality issues.

The bottom line: Though the authors have spared us the laugh-out-loud details that accompanied the 2012 guide, the new “Faith Equality Index” appears to be, on the whole, just as ridiculous. Fortunately, there are at least a couple of encouraging takeaways:

First, none of the companies rated — not even even Hobby Lobby, Cracker Barrel or Walmart, for crying out loud — scored very highly, with marks of 62, 53 and 51 out of 100, respectively.

Second, the guide would seem to provide at least some consolation to caring and thinking progressives who worry about patronizing large and frequently predatory mega-corporations. After all, if businesses like Microsoft and Pfizer are ticking off the religious right, they can’t be all bad.

Commentary

Doug Clark of the Greensboro News & Record adds his name this morning to the growing list of observers who have detected a hard and unpleasant truth about terrorists and North Carolina — namely, we’re just as likely to produce them as import them from elsewhere. Here’s Clark:

“Our ugly secret is out.

‘Forget Syria. The most dangerous religious extremists are migrants from North and South Carolina,’ a headline in the online magazine Slate proclaimed Monday.

Author William Saletan noticed a pattern with the arrest of Robert Lewis Dear, the alleged gunman responsible for last week’s shootings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. Dear lived in the North Carolina mountains before moving west.

‘For two decades, the Tar Heel State has been a hotbed of religious extremism, fueled by clerics who preach holy war,’ Saletan wrote. ‘The result is a stream of interstate terrorism.’”

Clark goes on to point out that Saletan’s list of North Carolina grown terrorists is actually incomplete, leaving out as it does, the 1979 Klan murderers in Greensboro. But Clark also pivots from this observation to raise a larger and more important point:

“Do these examples prove Saletan’s premise that North Carolina is a ‘hotbed of religious extremism’? No. I don’t think significantly more of these dangerous extremists have come from North Carolina than from other Southern states. I also don’t consider these people to be “religious,” no matter what they might claim. They certainly aren’t all Christian….

Yet Saletan is making a larger point. North Carolina political leaders almost universally reacted to last month’s Paris terrorist attacks by calling for the government to stop the Syrian refugee program until assurances are made that no terrorists will get into the country and our state by that route.

Yet these examples show there are very dangerous people already here — apart from the routine criminals, of whom there are far too many.

Read More

Commentary, News

As reported in this space two weeks ago, administrators at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee are considering a proposal by the controversial fossil fuel magnates, the Koch Brothers, that would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The proposal would make Western one of the largest university gift recipients in the country out of the scores of campuses currently receiving Koch money.

Monday, in an email to faculty, the chancellor at Western, David O. Belcher, announced that he is endorsing the proposal. Here is the text of the email:

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share with you my decision to endorse the recommendation of the Provost and Provost Council to establish the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE). Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees will consider this recommendation at their meeting scheduled later this week.

I have appreciated the healthy, robust conversation that this proposal has generated and which informed my own contemplation. It is my firm belief that the university, of all places, is and must be the locus of civil discourse and debate on the worthy issues and ideas of our time. I am grateful that, as demonstrated in this case, Western Carolina University is such an institution.

I trust you had a good Thanksgiving holiday and wish you well in these last weeks of the fall semester.

Yours,
David Belcher

As we also also reported previously, the proposal (which is being spearheaded by an arch-conservative economics professor) is opposed by Western’s Faculty Senate, which drew particular attention in an October statement to the fact that the Koch proposal is contingent upon the university matching the gift to the tune of $1.4 million. Unfortunately, the faculty opposition, which also highlighted the fact that other campus programs with outside funding could benefit from $1.4 million in matching university support, appears to have fallen of deaf ears.

As Chancellor Belcher noted in his email, Western’s Board of Trustees (which includes, among others, conservative firebrand and former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer), will consider the proposal later this week.

Commentary, News
Koch brothers

Charles and David Koch – Image: www.thinkprogress.org

As multiple news outlets have reported of late, the controversial and conservative fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have spurred a rising tide of controversy in recent years with dozens of gifts to universities around the nation. Moreover, as The Atlantic reported last month in “Spreading the Free-Market Gospel: What’s new and interesting about the Koch brothers’ approach to funding academics” there is clearly a method to their largess:

“Last year, a staffer for Charles and David Koch’s network of philanthropic institutions laid out the billionaire brothers’ strategy to spread their views on economic freedom.

Political success, Kevin Gentry told a crowd of elite supporters attending the annual Koch meeting in Dana Point, California, begins with reaching young minds in college lecture halls, thereby preparing bright, libertarian-leaning students to one day occupy the halls of political power.

‘The [Koch] network is fully integrated, so it’s not just work at the universities with the students, but it’s also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities and integrating this talent pipeline,’ he said.”

Click here to check out a database that demonstrates just how broadly their tentacles have already spread.

Edward Lopez

Prof. Edward Lopez

Now, comes word that the Kochs have offered to make a UNC system school — Western Carolina University in Cullowhee — one of their largest university gift recipients. Under a proposal currently under consideration by WCU administrators, the Charles Koch Foundation would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The faculty member driving the process appears to be Economics Department Professor Edward Lopez, who also boasts the title of “BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism.” Lopez, who gave the “Friedman Legacy Lecture” this summer at the John Locke Foundation, is a graduate of the Kochs’ largest university grantee, George Mason University, and an energetic proponent of “free market” economic theories.

While accepting one of the Kochs’ largest gifts in the country to promote conservative economic theory is, for some, controversial in and of itself, what has added extra impetus to the debate at WCU in recent weeks is the fact that the grant is contingent upon the university kicking in another $1.4 million of its own. Read More