In the heart of the reddest county in the state of Florida, a small band of progressives work tirelessly to get their message on the national air waves. Mike Papantonio and his Ring of Fire staff have been doing this since 2003, when the Pensacola attorney partnered with his good friend Robert Kennedy Jr. and set out to challenge conservative talk radio.
Their program is one of the few that has thrived since the demise of Air America Radio. Papantonio’s role on Ring of Fire was featured in the movie, “Jesus Camp,” which was nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News Channel and Fox Business Channel.
While some may consider me a “bleeding heart liberal,” I’m a moderate when stacked up against the attorney, who has won some the largest mass torts cases in the nation—asbestos, breast implants, pharmaceutical drug litigation and the Florida tobacco litigation. Papantonio is a progressive WMD challenging not only the political right, but also Pres. Barack Obama, who he believes isn’t firm enough in dealing with the Republicans in Congress.
Recently, I spent four days with Papantonio as his sidekick on the Ed Schultz Show, a nationally syndicated radio show that has over 4 million listeners. For three hours, I sat in and tried to keep up with one of the brightest people in Pensacola as he interviewed writers and experts from the political left.
The topics covered don’t make mainstream media and rarely reach our local news outlets. Here are highlights from three of the interviews from our 12 hours on the Ed Schultz Show:
Few have ever heard of it, but the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the ultimate smoke-filled room, according to Cliff Schecter, author of the bestseller “The Real McCain.”
“ALEC sets secret meetings with corporate chieftains with right-wing legislators and craft model legislation,” said Schecter. “It would be crafted from corporate groups and certain right-wing groups, including Big Tobacco and NRA.”
On the surface, ALEC is mostly comprised of thousands of state legislators, each paying a nominal fee to attend ALEC retreats and receive model legislation. In reality, corporate money dominates the organization. Public sector membership dues account for only around one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues.
“This is so typical of these types of groups who claim to represent the little guy, but do anything but that,” said Schecter.
Both Republicans and Democrats are members of ALEC, which claims more than 2,000 of the nation’s state-level lawmakers as members. The corporate members include ExxonMobil, the American Bail Coalition, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Corrections Corporation of America, AT&T, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, PhRMA, TimeWarner Cable, Comcast, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the National Rifle Association, Koch Industries, the Heritage Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline and Phillip Morris International.
“ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but in fact its free-market, pro-business mission is clear,” said Schecter. “The result has been a consistent pipeline of special interest legislation being funneled into state capitols.”
According to Schecter, ALEC operates by placing thousands of state legislators in closed back rooms with corporate executives. Legislators pay a pittance in membership fees, and in return are wined, dined and golfed. At the end of their retreats, the legislator can go back to his or her capitol with legislation passed on by ALEC. In 2009, 826 bills were introduced in the states, and 115 were enacted into law.
“(ALEC) is basically writing the legislation for every state where you have a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature,” said Papantonio. “They are writing this pre-packaged, model legislation. The guy takes it home and says it’s his legislation.”
JUDICIAL INSIDER TRADING
Brad Friedman, an award-winning investigative journalist and publisher and executive editor of bradblog.com, reported that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas appears to have broken the law on his financial disclosure forms by hiding nearly $700,000 in income that his wife received from the Heritage Foundation over the last 20 years.
“Clarence Thomas said that he didn’t understand these financial disclosure forms, which if you have seen them, they are incredibly simple,” said Friedman. “Either he is lying or we should have very serious concerns that a man this daffy is sitting on our Supreme Court.”
The financial disclosure has a legal warning in bold and all caps that reads: “NOTE: ANY INDIVIDUAL WHO KNOWINGLY AND WILLFULLY FALSIFIES OR FAILS TO FILE THIS REPORT MAY BE SUBJECT TO CIVIL AND CRIMINAL SANCTIONS (5 U.S.C. app. § 104).”
Once the omissions were pointed out, Justice Thomas filed amended disclosure forms.
However, his problems may be more severe, according to Friedman.
Thomas and his wife Virginia “Ginni” Thomas may be been doing what’s known as “Judicial Insider Trading,” by profiting from the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Citizens United case, which said that corporate funding of 501(c)(4) non-profits cannot be limited.
Ginni Thomas created a 501(c)(4) organization, Liberty Central, just after the oral arguments before her husband in the Citizens United case and managed to raise some $550,000 in about two months’ time before the end of 2009. On Jan. 21, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its ruling.
“That timeline is very troubling,” said Friedman. “Did she have inside information that she was about to get unlimited corporate money to a 501(c)(4) so-called non-profit organization?”
Adding more fuel to the controversy is that Citizens United had bought $100,000 in ads 20 years ago to support his confirmation to the court by the U.S. Senate. Freidman said that common sense suggests Thomas should have recused himself from the Citizens United decision, which was decided by a 5 to 4 vote.
Ironically, the one Congressman willing to look into these issues was Anthony Weiner, who has since resigned over tweeting photos of his “package.”
The conservative Heartland Institute was holding its annual climate change summit while we were on the Ed Schultz Show. Its goal was to convince those in attendance that climate change is just a liberal hoax. Brendan DeMelle, executive director and managing editor of desmogblog.com, says that it should come as no surprise because Heartland was founded and is funded by some of the biggest polluters in America.
The theme of the conference, “Restoring the Scientific Method,” asserts that claims of scientific certainty and predictions of climate catastrophes are based on “post-normal science,” which Heartland says substitutes consensus for the
“This is their sixth annual conference,” said DeMelle. “We call it ‘Denialpalooza’ because it’s a gathering of all the best climate confusionists, front groups and slick PR firms in the world, and they get together to conspire and create their own little echo chamber to confuse the public about climate change.”
According to news reports, the conference, billed as the “Sixth International Conference on Climate Change,” was attended by such conservative groups as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and the Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow.
DeMelle blasted the so-called experts that the Heartland Institute presented at the conference. One was Willie Soon, a physicist at the Solar and Stellar Physics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who has received over $1 million in funding from Big Oil and coal industry sponsors over the past decade, according to a new report from Greenpeace.
The documents obtained from the Smithsonian Institute show that Soon has received at least $175,000 from Koch family foundations, $230,000 from Southern Company, $274,000 from the American Petroleum Institute and $335,000 from ExxonMobil.
According to DeMelle, the Heartland conference is designed to define climate change skepticism as the right “science,” and the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which was established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change—and the National Academy of Sciences as the “wrong” science, or not science at all.
“This has had terrible consequences for science and society,” said DeMelle. “Abandoning the scientific method led to the “Climategate” scandal and the errors and abuses of peer review by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”
RING OF FIRE RADIO
ED SCHULTZ SHOW