Truth? You Can't Handle the Truth.

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By Maria Fotopoulos

Maria is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow who focuses on the impacts of growth on biodiversity. Find her on Twitter | in | FB.

The writer’s views are her own.


September 13, 2011

To see reason returned to discussion on policy issues would be so welcome – and so unlikely to happen anytime soon apparently. It turns out sometimes that debating on the facts and truth just isn't always actually conducive to groups that hold themselves out to support such ideals. The strange new world we live in.

Media Matters, a Web-based nonprofit which describes itself as "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media," took issue with MSNBC running a CAPS ad during last week's Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley. To support its opposition to the ad, Media Matters turned to the controversial and suspect Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that has taken to labeling any group it doesn't agree with as a "hate group." Whether there is any real basis in the accusations or not, this is a technique which draws a lot of attention for SPLC, the nonprofit with the schoolyard bully reputation. Truth? The SPLC can't handle the truth when it's so much easier to sling mud.

Put another way, SPLC engages in name-calling. And, the dirty names stick, because the organization has managed to build clout, use well-known celebrities such as actor Sam Waterston (The Killing Fields and Law & Order) to promote their efforts and grow a huge bank account, as described by Ken Silverstein in the March 2, 2007, Harper's Magazine article, Southern Poverty: richer than Tonga:

Back in 2000, I wrote a story in Harper's about the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Alabama, whose stated mission is to combat disgusting yet mostly impotent groups like the Nazis and the KKK. What it does best, though, is to raise obscene amounts of money by hyping fears about the power of those groups; hence the SPLC has become the nation's richest 'civil rights' organization. The Center earns more from its vast investment portfolio than it spends on its core mission, which has led Millard Farmer, a death-penalty lawyer in Georgia, to once describe Morris Dees, the SPLC's head, as 'the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement' (adding, 'I don't mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye').

When in 1978 the Center's treasury held less than $10 million, Dees said the group would stop fund-raising and live off interest when it hit $55 million. As he zeroed in on that target a decade later, Dees upped the ante to $100 million, which the group's newsletter promised would allow it 'to cease the costly and often unreliable task of fund raising.' At the time of my story seven years ago, the SPLC's treasury bulged with $120 million, and the organization was spending twice as much on fund-raising as it did on legal services for victims of civil-rights abuses – yet its money-gathering machinery was still running without cease.

It's still going. Last week, a reader sent me the SPLC's 2005 financial filing with the IRS, which is required by law for charities. In five years, the SPLC's treasury had grown by a further $48 million, bringing its total assets to $168 million. That's more than the annual GDP of the Marshall Islands, and has the SPLC rapidly closing in on Tonga's GDP.

Revenues listed for the 2005 filing came to about $44 million, which dwarfed total spending ($29 million). Of that latter amount, nearly $5 million was spent to raise even more money, and over $8 million was spent on salaries, benefits, and other compensation. The next time you get a fund-raising pitch from the SPLC, give generously — but give to a group that will make better use of your money.

More recently, Silverstein wrote that he believes "the Law Center is essentially a fraud and that it has a habit of casually labeling organizations as 'hate groups.' (Which doesn’t mean that some of the groups it criticizes aren’t reprehensible.) In doing so, the SPLC shuts down debate, stifles free speech, and most of all, raises a pile of money, very little of which is used on behalf of poor people." Read the full article. (And now their coffers are even more bloated at $175 million, quite an insulating number to hide behind as they continue their smear campaigns against legitimate nonprofits.)

So, Media Matters' SPLC source, a bully and free speech stifler, seems to lack an important feature of good debate – credibility.

Beyond SPLC's name-calling, Media Matters resorts to the old canard of "anti-immigration sentiment," rather than deal with facts about jobs in the United States. First, we've shipped off millions of jobs that aren't going to return (well, they might return if we ditched Davis-Bacon and beggared the majority of the populace so that our standard of living dropped as low as some of the countries to which we've outsourced jobs, and our workers could be hired at comparably low wages), so we need a smaller workforce, not a larger one (unless you think "Green" jobs will be saving America both environmentally and by creating an employment boom). Continuing technological enhancements drive workers out too, so, again, fewer workers are needed.

Further, aside from numerous studies that make the connection between lower wages and immigration, on the face of it, the simple concept of supply and demand is at work here. Deal with that, Media Matters! If there's an excess supply of labor, wages will go down. The U.S. has been operating for several years in a situation of very high unemployment. The data indicate that young and less-educated workers compete with illegal immigrants for jobs. Overall, there are nearly 29 million people in the U.S. of working age who aren't working and have no education beyond high school. We've got huge issues related to getting our citizens to work. And if one subscribes to the belief that immigration should be a tool – one used to bring workers in when there is a real need, then what we're continuing to do – by allowing the mass importation of both legal and illegal workers – is just really, really bad policy.

While shedding corporate workers doesn't make anyone happy (except maybe stockholders if it's taken as a sign that a company is moving in the right direction to get profitable), people seem to understand this concept. Why don't we get that we should shed the policy of importing workers when the country doesn't need them? Our policies are so inflexible that they can't adjust to market needs, and the immigration issue is so politically and emotionally charged that there's little reason or logic being applied to what's best for the country and its citizens. Then we've got a so-called media watchdog whose understanding of a complex issue is limited to what a radical and hateful SPLC thinks? Please! We're doomed at this rate.


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