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Brian Powell

Author ››› Brian Powell
  • Detroit Free Press Overlooks Guest Writer's Ties To Right-Wing Activists

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    In a June 19 Detroit Free Press opinion piece, guest writer Gary Wolfram advocated for the privatization of Michigan's prison system. The Free Press editors provided a rather innocuous description of Wolfram's credentials: "Gary Wolfram is the William Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College." An honest description of Wolfram, however, would also note that he is an adjunct scholar at the right-wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the "largest conservative state-level policy think-tank in the nation." While the Free Press has in the past identified Mackinac connections to their contributors, Wolfram's affiliation appears to have been overlooked.

    Accurately describing Wolfram's credentials is vital to a reader's ability to judge whether Wolfram's opinions are academically objective and trustworthy or tainted by an agenda and background that should temper expectations of accuracy. Here, the latter is certainly the case -- the Mackinac Center has been described as "tied at the hip with the Republican Party establishment," and its donors include the hyper-conservative Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Mackinac was integral to Michigan's controversial Public Act 4, which "lets the governor name appointees to take over financially troubled cities." (In fact, the Republican governor appointed a former Mackinac scholar to one of these "emergency manager" positions in Pontiac, MI.)

    In a 2001 study, the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice found that Mackinac's research is unreliable and "often of low quality":

    Mackinac Center research is often of low quality and because of this it should be treated with considerable skepticism by the public, policy makers and political leaders. Indeed, much of the work of the Mackinac Center may have cause more confusion than clarity in the public discussion of the issues that it has addressed by systematically ignoring evidence that does not agree with its proposed solutions.

    On the issue of prison privatization specifically, the Mackinac Center has been pushing a privatization agenda for years, hand in hand with ALEC and the private incarceration industry. Mother Jones highlighted some of Mackinac's conflicts of interest (emphasis added):

    A cause underlying much of the [Mackinac Center's] work is privatization. Its scholars have called for privatizing Amtrak, prisons, and even the state's flagship university, the University of Michigan. The center publishes the Michigan Privatization Report, and offers how-tos on privatizing school districts and suggests local contractors available for hire to replace existing public services.

    The Mackinac Center is also connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the private organization that allows corporations and lobbyists to craft legislation for use at the state level. For instance, as NPR reported last fall, Arizona's draconian immigration bill was based on a "model bill" written by private industry, including the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's leading private prisons company that operates corrections facilities around the country.

    In other words, Wolfram is part of an extensive network of right-wing ideologues pushing an agenda for the benefit of their private industry funders. But as far as the Free Press readers know, Wolfram is just a professor of economics and public policy at a small, local college.

  • Are Our Newspapers Normalizing Anti-Immigrant Hate Groups?

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    As anti-immigrant legislation has flooded state houses from coast to coast over the past two years -- culminating most notably with the Supreme Court's review of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 -- the nation's print media have given voice to the anti-immigrant special interest groups cheerleading (and in some cases orchestrating) these initiatives. Many of these groups have ties to white nationalist organizations and racists, and at least one has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These extremist ties have not prevented the nation's most respected newspapers, as well as the Associated Press and Reuters, from citing the institutions as authorities on the immigration debate.

    In fact, a Media Matters analysis of news coverage since SB 1070's introduction in January 2010 has discovered that the nation's top five newspapers (New York Times, L.A. Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post), the Associated Press, and Reuters have cited these groups over 250 times. Over that period, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia, among other states, have introduced strict immigration bills that -- by their introduction alone -- have been met with a measure of success.

    If print media plays a part in shaping public opinion, isn't it fair to ask whether the normalization of these extremist groups in the pages of America's daily papers has advantaged the ability of anti-immigrant measures to reach fruition?

    For details on the methodology and other information in the Media Matters report, click here.

  • Schieffer Lets Romney Slide On His 2009 Support Of An Individual Mandate

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    On CBS Sunday morning, Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer gave a free pass to Mitt Romney's on his changed position on whether an individual mandate should be part of federal health insurance reform.

    Schieffer's interview was the first Sunday morning interview Romney has done this campaign cycle with a show other than Fox News Sunday.

    Schieffer asked Romney to respond to the assertion that the federal Affordable Care Act enacted by Obama is essentially the same as the plan that Romney enacted in Massachusetts. Romney responded that he believed an individual mandate at the federal level is "unconstitutional."

    However, in a 2009 USA Today op-ed, Romney advocated for a federal individual mandate, expressly stating that the federal government follow his Massachusetts law as a model, a fact Schieffer did not bring up.

    As TPM explained:

    In July 2009, Mitt Romney called on President Obama to require Americans to buy insurance as part of his health care plan, using "tax penalties" as a backstop -- in other words, the individual mandate that Republicans virulently oppose.

    In a USA Today op-ed titled "Mr. President, what's the rush?," which is also available on, Romney urged Obama to "learn a thing or two about health care reform" from his Massachusetts plan that contained the same policy, and touted it as effective.

    "First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance," Romney wrote. "Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others."


    The revelation could damage the GOP presidential frontrunner, who has been attacked by conservatives for enacting a similar law as "Obamacare," but has defended himself by saying such an approach is acceptable on a state level, not a federal level.

    Watch the interview from CBS's Face the Nation:

  • The Oklahoman Bemoans The "Information Vacuum" It Helped Create

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    On Sunday, The Oklahoman's editorial board ran to the defense of the conservative State Chamber of Oklahoma's forthcoming effort to politicize judicial retention races in the state. The State Chamber has created the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council, which will sponsor a controversial "zero-to-100 rating system for judges" based on how friendly, in the council's view, they are to business. Legal experts have called the judicial ranking plan "inappropriate" and an "attempt to slant...the judiciary, in favor of big business and away from the common person."

    The Oklahoman staunchly defended the system on grounds that it would inform voters about judicial races, even while noting that the information the State Chamber and its "partner organizations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa" plan to provide would be biased. From The Oklahoman editorial:

    The chambers' plan would give non-lawyers at least some information before casting a ballot. The rating plan is an informational campaign, just like any other in politics. Is there bias in the chambers' rating system? Sure. Just like there's bias in any report evaluating lawmakers. And just like there's bias in campaign contributions: Attorneys and businesses don't give money equally to all candidates in all races.

    Furthermore, citizens who don't agree with the chambers' agenda are free to ignore their rankings -- or even determine candidate selection based on who the chambers rank as being the worst.

    Too often, Oklahoma citizens must vote on judicial races in an information vacuum. The chambers' efforts would fill part of that void. We hope the information provided is relevant, credible and in context. The chambers' ratings system must be a serious and deliberative effort that doesn't criticize judges for merely upholding the law as it's written. Otherwise, they shouldn't bother with the project.

    This is a curious argument for the largest newspaper of public record in the state to make. After all, if there's an "information vacuum" with regard to judicial races, The Oklahoman ought to be the one filling it. Instead, Nexis news records prior to the 2010 election indicate they've failed resoundingly at informing the Oklahoman electorate about judicial races.

  • "Drone"-ing Out The Truth

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Right-wing media outlets have been in full freak-out mode this week, fabricating a myth that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been using drones to spy on Midwestern ranchers. In fact, the EPA has been utilizing manned flyovers -- not drones -- to investigate potential polluters since the Bush administration, in an effort to save money and enforce clean water regulations efficiently.

    For the past ten years, the EPA has conducted intermittent flyovers "to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds," as Reuters reported:

    "EPA uses over-flights, state records and other publicly available sources of information to identify discharges of pollution," said a statement issued by the EPA's Kansas City regional office. "In no case has EPA taken an enforcement action solely on the basis of these over-flights."

    EPA has for 10 years used flyovers to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds as a "cost-effective" tool to minimize inspection costs, according to the statement.

    The Lincoln Journal Star has reported the EPA uses four-seat Cessna airplanes -- not drones -- as even the John Birch Society's New American acknowledged in a correction to its report:

    This article originally said that the EPA was using drones to monitor feedlots, but a representative from Senator Johanns office has alerted us that in actuality manned aircraft have been used to monitor the feedlots. We apologize for the error.

    Nevertheless, right-wing commentators began falsely throwing the word "drone" into their reports about the EPA's enforcement mechanisms. For example, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly:

    KELLY: You know, you gotta picture yourself, right, as one of these Midwestern farmers, because what's been in the news lately? The fact that President Obama's killed more terrorists with drones than any other president. That President Obama has a so-called "kill list." And that on that kill list, sometimes civilian casualties go as well, because if you're near an al-Qaeda terrorist, they assume if you're of an adult male age in a certain community, you also are a terrorist.

    Even an American terrorist, an American al-Qaeda, was killed by a drone. So now you're in the Midwest, and you know you're not a terrorist, but nonetheless, you gotta get a little squeamish when you see a drone going overhead.

  • Right-Wing Wisconsin Radio Host Charlie Sykes Defends The King Street Patriots

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    In the midst of Wisconsin recall election, Wisconsin right-wing radio host Charlie Sykes took to the airwaves to fearmonger about voter fraud and defend the presence of the King Street Patriots -- a Texas-based Tea Party group that was accused of voter intimidation during the 2010 elections -- at Wisconsin polling locations.

    The King Street Patriots and their anti-voter fraud effort "True the Vote" boast ties to notorious voter fraud hucksters like James O'Keefe, Hans von Spakovsky, J. Christian Adams (who served as an attorney for True the Vote), and John Fund. The group promised to "man each and every polling location" in Wisconsin to "ensure the integrity of the election." As Talking Points Memo reported of the King Street Patriots' activity in 2010 (emphasis added):

    Poll watchers in Harris County, Texas -- where a Tea Party group launched an aggressive anti-voter fraud effort -- were accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway yesterday.

    Now, TPMMuckraker has learned, the Justice Department has interviewed witnesses about the alleged intimidation and is gathering information about the so-called anti-voter fraud effort.


    Harris County, the biggest county in the state, is where a Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots launched an anti-voter fraud initiative called "True the Vote," which recruited poll watchers and amped up fears over groups like the community organizing group ACORN.

    Sykes attempted to whitewash the spotty history of the group, describing their work as "outstanding" and casting them as merely a "citizen group" comprised of "Americans who are concerned about voter fraud." His commentary also had the effect of ginning up the threat of voter fraud, which experts agree is not a significant problem. From his June 5 radio show on 620 WTMJ:

    SYKES: In the city of Milwaukee, we have the mayor of Milwaukee, who's running for governor, who's made it absolutely clear how seriously he takes voter fraud.

    TOM BARRETT [audio clip]: Well, name the name. Name the name. I'm waiting for the first name.

    SYKES: There is a group that in fact would provide that name. You might remember the "Verify the Recall" folks -- this was a group, the headquarters is in Texas. They did an absolutely outstanding job of coming up and making a database that allowed people to find out who signed the Walker recall petitions. Right, remember all of that? Well, they're affiliated with a group called the King Street Patriots.

    This letter, this came out yesterday. What shocked me the most, I think, about this, is that it came from Phil Walzak, Barrett for Wisconsin. It's the kind of thing that you would expect from some demented extremist like Graeme Zielinski.

    "Steve, the King Street Patriots, a group of Texas extremists" -- they are, they are Americans who are concerned about voter fraud.

    "Have arrived in Wisconsin. They believe that voter registration for the poor is un-American" -- flat-out lie -- "and would destroy the country." Flat-out lie.

    "They have already come to Wisconsin once and intimidated recall petition signers" -- lie -- "and now they've dropped so-called election observers into poll locations across the state."

    Yes, Mayor Barrett, because they are doing the job that you refuse to do. And the mayor of Milwaukee, instead of saying, "Hey, we've got nothing to hide, come in and observe," puts out a letter on his own campaign stationery smearing this citizen group.

    "Our voter protection team is on alert. We need an additional $100,000 before tomorrow to make sure every last vote is counted. After emailing threats and racial slurs ahead of the 2010 election failed to stop courageous voters from turning out to vote in Houston, the King Street Patriots showed up at the polls and intimidated voters directly."

    Tom Barrett is lying.

  •'s Fool's Errand: Comparing ALEC To NCSL


    The right-wing website is promising to "shine a light" on the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) in the coming days, a campaign that comes as corporate sponsors and lawmakers flee the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Media should be cautioned that any efforts to compare the two organizations is without validity, given their contrasting missions, standards of transparency, degrees of corporate influence, and ideologies.

  • NY Daily News Defends NYPD's 'Stop-And-Frisk' Policy, Warns 'The Body Count Will Start Rising'

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    "You think rising cell phone thefts are bad? Wait till car thefts soar back over 100,000 a year. Wait till you start hearing about mushrooms and learn that the word refers to children who have been struck by stray bullets."

    So opined the editorial board of the New York Daily News in response to public scrutiny of the New York Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" policy -- a controversial program that last year alone resulted in over 685,000 stops of primarily black and Latino residents (only 12% of persons stopped were charged with a crime). This week, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin granted class action status to a group of victims of the policy who are bringing suit against the city for what they argue is a discriminatory and unconstitutional practice. The Daily News, as well as the New York Post, viewed the ruling -- which they inexplicably believe risks the existence of the "stop-and-frisk" practice altogether -- as nothing less than life-threatening.

    In the aforementioned editorial, titled "How to kill New York," the Daily News editorial board ominously predicted that If the program is reformed, 'the body count will start rising.'

    The NY Post's editors weighed in as well, attacking outspoken critics of the program whom the editors say "won't rest until the murder rate skyrockets":

    They're playing with fire -- all of them.

    Indeed, if they do manage to weaken the program, the blood of new crime victims will be on their hands.

    So: Will the city once again become the Crime Capital of the World?

    Alas, so it seems.