Sunday, April 17, 2011

On the elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood, NPR, and other pet programs by the Federal Government

 As the recent government budget compromise that narrowly avoided a federal shutdown included a promise by Democrats for an "up or down" Senate vote on funding for controversial "family planning" organization Planned Parenthood, see here-- preceded by Republican attempts to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's National Public Radio-- we thought it appropriate to take a moment to analyze the policy reasons in favor of (and/or against) continued public funding of such programs in this time of economic austerity.  Our conclusions-- which we reach regardless of the fact that the Senate has already rejected the measure, see here-- may assuage or enrage you, depending on your personal political biases. That, of course, makes no difference to us.  However, to fulfill our mission of encouraging full and robust debate on matters of import to the body politic that might otherwise evade searching review, we here offer our perspective on such matters generally.

 First of all, we begin with a seemingly non-controversial and common-sense premise: That in an age of governmental austerity when our federal government is running deficits in the trillions of dollars, a compelling case must be shown for continued funding of controversial pet programs and private interests that arguably don't benefit the majority of citizens or that run counter to their basic values.  One of those basic values that most Americans agree on is that one should not be forced by effect or rule of law to pay for something they find morally offensive or repugnant. 

 Moreover, it seems axiomatic to us that no private interest or organization is entitled, as a matter of law, to receive federal funding from the American taxpayers-- certainly not to receive such aid with no strings attached-- without any reasonable accountability and oversight for how such funds are expended.  And this is all the more so when the aims and goals of any such private organization are, (or could reasonably be interpreted), as contrary to already established and settled federal policy.

 Interestingly, this is something the progressive left (as well as some on the extreme right) often urged us was inappropriate when it came to federal funding for private charity or faith-based initiatives of the previous Bush Administration (say, religious-based ministries for the homeless such as soup kitchens run by the Salvation Army or to fund abstinence-based sex education in public schools). 

 Indeed, as those who are regular observers of politics know, when it came to federal support for so called "social programs" or outreach by clearly faith-based non-profit organizations, not a few on the progressive left went so far as to object on constitutional grounds, claiming such aid was a "violation of church and state."

 So it is with some mystification that we approach the change of heart by those who previously and publicly expressed such beliefs juxtaposed with the present issues at hand.  NOTE: As an aside, though as a philosophical matter we have no problem with an honest and principled stance on this matter, whatever your perspective, we do have a problem with the blatant hipocrisy and contradiction inherent in some of those very same groups now alleging that any cutting back or elimination of federal funding for the programs currently under discussion-- no matter how minimal or even necessary the public aid to their continued existence-- is somehow "unconscionable" (in spite of their previous support of just such elimination or cutting back of programs they personally didn't approve of).

 I mean, let's face it, although we are all entitled to our own political beliefs and constitutional opinions-- I personally vociferously disagree with extreme interpretations of law which would have found "unconstitutional" funding for public education under the compulsory education laws of our colonies and early Republic, including the "Massachusetts Act of 1647," (also known as the "Old Deluder Satan Act," which by its own terms was expressly intended for the explicitly "religious" purpose of aiding in the reading and spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ, see herehere and here)-- the fact remains that all such funding by the federal government of such private organizations as are herein referenced must ultimately be seen as funding for what are essentially "special interests," (no matter the organization or interest involved).

 Which is why we find ourselves here at the ACLP so perplexed at the hullaballoo over continued funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest for profit operator of abortion clinics, and, to a lesser extent, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, (which allocates the federal grants to National Public Radio, see here and here).  NOTE: We are not picking on the CPB and NPR; we also see no role for the federal government in ethanol subsidies, "green energy," and a myriad of other federally funded pet interests and programs, at least where the broad policy effects and benefits to the public are unclear or contrary to settled or sound public policy. We will deal with such matters next time).

 But in the case of Planned Parenthood, and regardless of the canard that they provide many valuable other "family planning" services to low income families-- which even if true does not assure that public funding for such services doesn't "free up" the use of other monies to promote abortion which many citizens find repugnant to have to pay for-- we are talking about an organization which operates the nation's largest chain of abortion clinics and was founded by eugenics promoter and arguable racist Margaret Sanger. Yes, the "women's rights" pioneer who referred to racial minorities and immigrants as "...human weeds,' 'reckless breeders,' 'spawning... human beings who never should have been born."  Margaret Sanger, Pivot of Civilization, see hereThe same Margaret Sanger who said, "The most merciful thing that a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it." Margaret Sanger, Women and the New Race (Eugenics Publ. Co., 1920, 1923, see here, ).

 Indeed, extensively documented quotes by Margaret Sanger, download pdf of them here, reveal that her efforts to provide birth control, sterilization and abortion to the "lower classes" were, rather than motivated by any genuine concern for those less fortunate, clearly motivated by her beliefs in darwinist eugenics thoroughly infused with a shocking level of racism and elitistism, to wit:  "We don't want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members." Margaret Sanger's December 19, 1939 letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, 255 Adams Street, Milton, Massachusetts. Original source: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, North Hampton, Massachusetts.

 Although the modern day Planned Parenthood would claim it disavows such beliefs now-- even if it is a matter hotly debated in light of almost 40% of the abortions Planned Parenthood performs being done on African Americans who make up only 13% of the broader American population-- these facts still should be enough to give pause to the status quo of unquestionably continuing to fund such an organization without at least considering the roots and potential effects-- if not of this controversial organization's motives-- in providing the other "services" they claim are so innocuous and deserving of federal funding, (something which we haven't seen broached in any congressional hearings to date, in spite of the seriousness and relevance of the issue).  I mean, can anyone seriously imagine the Federal Government funding, say, the charitable soup kitchen of the Klu Klux Klan just because they make "good soup" for the poor, (even if they expressly disavowed a current belief in white supremacy?).  We can't. 

 Indeed, such a concept would be laughable if it didn't show the Planned Parenthood sacred cow up for what it is: a thinly veiled and poorly justified demand (extortion?) for millions of dollars from the American taxpayer to help fund their private special interest which the vast majority of Americans, in the current circumstances and arguably more if they were fully informed, would find morally dubious and an unwarranted expenditure of increasingly scarce public funds. 

 In any event, we find the same argument the political left employed when criticizing federal funding of much less controversial programs-- such as the above-mentioned "pro-abstinence" based sex education in public schools or faith-based programs objected to under Bush 43-- apropos here, with one significant difference:  One cannot plausibly argue that, morally speaking, the ills warned of by the left re: Bush's social policies could possibly be considered as being on nearly the same moral plane or significance.  Indeed, one cannot possibly compare an asserted potential philosophical or constitutional harm with the irrevocable taking of a human life inherent in the abortion procedure, (even assuming that the left's constitutional view is correct, a rather large assumption).  

 Therefore, while the claims of the progressives/liberals that any decrease in federal funding for Planned Parenthood-- which gets 349 million taxpayer dollars, about a third of it's more than billion dollar budget from the American government-- would result in harming the presumably needful and less controversial "family planning" and other services oft cited for continued funding, (i.e. mammograms and cancer screenings, but see here and here), we find such claims, even if true, specious compared to concerns that continued funding for such services "frees up" other funds to be used to establish de facto tax-payer-funded abortion, (long illegal under settled federal law, e.g., the "Hyde Amendment").  Indeed, at least in our view, this is not even a close call. 

 After all, we aren't talking about tiddly winks or moral equivalents here by any stretch.  Abortion is a terminal act in which one individual (arguable a small and much less powerful one, but one nonetheless), whose DNA according to our most modern scientific understanding has established their sex, race, eye color, etc. from the moment of conception, is irrevocably destroyed.  

  As such, we feel it is a small price to pay if the nation's largest for-profit provider of abortions, (estimated at more then three quarters of their "business" in financial terms), is slightly inconvenienced to insure there is no chance federal funds can be used to enable such a procedure from occurring on the public dime.    

 On the other main focus of our post today, National Public Radio, we offer the following:

 While the same moral issues are obviously not in play in the same way (or to near the same degree) as with the abortion issue in the Planned-Parenthood-funding-debate, the continuing controversy and other considerations argue strongly that, again-- and going back to our original premise in an age of necessary governmental austerity-- a compelling case must first be made for the broad interest and acceptance by the taxpayers in order to justify continued funding of such pet programs and interests.  And just what is that interest here? (We already know that a large number of taxpayers do not accept government control/involvement in media conglomerations as a legitimate federal function, and see here).

 While supporters of NPR argue that their programming fills an important void in otherwise excessively commercial and low quality programming, an at least equal number of detractors argue that their programming is slanted towards the political left and that, in any case, the multiplicity of news and entertainment options available to the average consumer nowdays whether through internet, talk radio, or cable television is sufficient reason alone to pull the federal plug on NPR.  

  But don't get me wrong.  Even I myself have found myself enjoying on occasion the more in-depth reporting and programs like Click and Clack, (aka Car Talk), Fresh Air, or any number of other programs on NPR.

 But whether the programming is in depth, enjoyable, funny, or even, as NPR's supporters claim, fills a void in "quality" programming on the airwaves, these are subjective value judgments that have little to do with whether or not all public taxpayers should be forced to subsidize it.   

 Indeed, most Americans are happy not to follow a European "one-size-fits-all-and-the-government-decides-what's-best-for-you" paradigm, (in media as well as health care, see previous post last month "So what's really the problem with Obamacare?"), as they recognize that in our system, such value judgments are made by the marketplace, NOT by the government.  

  Along those lines, just as my neighbor should not be forced to subsidize my expanded cable television service if he is content with free over-the-air network programming, so it is wrong to force all taxpayers to subsidize a certain kind or brand of programming, any programming, they don't personally benefit from.  In fact, this is the whole basis of NPR's already established use of regular "telethons" to establish viewer "pledges" in support of their programming from those who enjoy it the most; and indeed, such telethons, often replete with regular appearances and/or testimonials by celebrities of all stripes in support of NPR has apparently been highly successful in voluntary fundraising to support their programs, click here to see.  To that end, even if public funding were cut for NPR, there is no rule that NPR, in line with its already established business model, can't expand such telethons if necessary for their business model to succeed or cut back in areas where viewers don't contribute significantly no different than every other private business must do, (would that government understood this also!) 

  Secondly, according to NPR itself, and as supporters of public funding often point out, the "taxpayer subsidized" portion of their operating budget only constitutes a small portion of their overall budget, (5.8% to be exact, see here), with the bulk of their support coming from private foundations and those individuals who "pledge" in telethons as stated above.  "Therefore," or so goes the argument, "why not continue this negligible level of public funding?" 

But to our way of thinking, if such funding constitutes only such a small portion of CPB and NPR's overall budget why is this expenditure of taxpayer resources necessary at all?  Indeed, not only is it highly probable that elimination of this public funding wouldn't have a substantial impact on the continuation of NPR programming, but with the incredibly popular (and profitable) marketing of programs such as Sesame Street, "Big Bird" and their spawn we fail to see why such negligible public funding would even be missed, (not to mention justify continuing to prop it up at taxpayer expense!). But again, that's just our view here, (you're welcome to register or use "open id" to either agree or disagree below, in fact, we encourage it!)  

 Finally, as alluded to above, in a free democratic republic whose founders referred to media as the "fourth branch of government,"
we find disturbing the very thought that the federal government should have anything to do with the dissemination of "official" news at all, (which even if NPR is not an official organ of the U.S. government, the very name "National Public Radio" gives an imprimatur that is at best, misleading, at worst, taken as "official" and more authoritative than other sources).  Indeed, rather than such a model being something associated with a democratic republic, we find it more akin to authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, (see here, also for Libya, see here, China, see here, and for resurgent Russia in modern times, see here, here  and here, click to download a report on China here).

 And this is true even if with our present Constitution and its long-enduring First Amendment we could not imagine our government ever attempting to actually censor any speech or control the news media, (although see concerns over a discussed re-implementation of the much-debated "Fairness doctrine" after being jettisoned by the Reagan Administration here, here and here). 

  Indeed, in light of that very same Constitution pledging that "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." U.S. Constitution, Article VI, par. 2, italics added for emphasis, we find it entirely legitimate to have concerns over potential erosion and/or encroachment of First Amendment freedoms for a couple reasons. 

 First, due to government's natural tendency to manipulate information for its own political interests, (especially when its funding of media outlets creates financial entanglements or "incentives" that could cause those same media outlets to be less than objective), there is a possibility that public funding of media outlets such as NPR could result in biased reporting of the news or efforts to "control" editorial content, (indeed, many would argue that this has already occurred with regard to National Public Radio reporting in the past, see here). 

  Secondly however, there is the erosion of our First Amendment freedoms that could possibly occur in the future via international treaty.  Lest that should seem far-fetched-- and though it may come as a shock to many of our readers-- as shown above it is already settled constitutional law that international treaties are as much the "supreme law of the land" under our constitution as the Bill of Rights, (a state of affairs attempted to be remedied in the 60's by the so-called "Bricker Amendment," which unfortunately failed by one vote in the Senate, see herehere or here).  And while the Supreme Court has indeed previously ruled that a treaty cannot override the Bill of Rights, see Reid v. Covert, as many judges and astute law watchers have noted, (see here and here), the court in recent years has showed a new willingness to embrace foreign law as a source for its decisions, (see here and here, also here for a 2005 debate at American University in Washington D.C. between U.S. Supreme Court justices Breyer and Scalia on the use of foreign law in American jurisprudence); In any event, the Supreme Court could at any time overrule its 1957 Reid decision.  It certainly wouldn't be the first time it has overruled one of its own decisions, (see here). Indeed, in handing down the high court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, supreme court justice Anthony Kennedy did so with specific reference to the European Court of Human Rights and other foreign courts in reversing the court's Rhenquist era decision in Bowers v. Hardwick approving a state of Georgia ban on homosexual sodomy. 

  It however should not come as a shock to anyone with a working knowledge of constitutional law or world politics that Europe has a more "evolving" and "flexible" understanding of constitutional freedoms guaranteed to its citizens than Americans do under our Constitution, (e.g., the original founding guarantee of freedoms to those in the U.K. is universally seen as the tradition of the Magna Carta, all of which except for three clauses has been repealed and still considered an "uncodified part of the constitution" in such places as Wales, see here.  In fact, it is one of the reasons our Founders carefully "enumerated" the powers of the Federal government and went through the trouble of writing out in detail our freedoms as American citizens under the Bill of Rights promptly after ratification of the U.S. Constitution; they simply didn't want to leave anything to chance with the oppression they had seen in Europe from Kings and Popes alike).  

  The "European tradition" also stems out of more of an emphasis on the continent on "community" (rather than the rugged individualism and according liberty that has been so much a part of the fabric of American political culture and traditions since its founding).  

  Even in modern times these cultural differences have manifested in such matters as criminalization of speech considered 'hateful' in many countries heavily influenced by Europe's model, including our friends to the North in Canada, (where one can be fined or even go to jail for something so innocuous as merely expressing one's sincere religious belief that homosexuality is not God's plan for human relationships, see here and here if this sounds extreme to you, see also here).   

 In light of this, and particularly for those who, as I, are avid followers of world news and current events, it is not beyond the pale to consider the possibility that in some future time or Administration, some financial or other proffered benefit by world bodies such as the United Nations might condition their "assistance" or aid to our country upon American leaders agreeing to this or that international treaty that might potentially impinge on our First Amendment freedoms, (particularly in the event of some natural disaster on the scale of Japan's Tsunami or in the event of a tumultuous financial meltdown if we don't get our financial house in order, one more reason many Americans are urging the government to more aggressively cut spending and promptly deal with our national debt before it's too late to do so).  Indeed, in so many other areas this has already happened or been attempted to the potential derogation of the rights of Americans under our Constitution, (consider the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children, see here or here, or on the Rights of Women, see here).  

 For all of these reasons, we think it better practice if the government stays out of the news and entertainment business entirely in favor of the American people's choices.  

 Indeed, if the American people, through individual pledges and the support of private foundations chooses not to sustain National Public Television's Big Bird and company, (as well as the news programs on its related NPR network), then perhaps it should be allowed to go the way of the dinosaur, (although as mentioned above, all indications are that that will never happen). 

 And that goes not just for NPR, but for other independent news outlets like ABC, Fox news, C-Span, Msnbc, etc.  If their programming cannot be sustained via advertising and/or sponsorship through the economic choices of the American people, if they cannot formulate an economically viable business model that will support their continued existence, it is simply not the federal government's job to prop it up at taxpayer expense.         

 In closing, and barring any earth-shattering news which necessitates our immediate attention-- e.g., we are awaiting with baited breath the Supreme Court's determination of whether to take the Obamacare legal challenges on an expedited basis-- next time we will examine a few other publicly-funded "pet programs" we think should properly not be the purview of the federal government in these trying economic times, (if at all), for many of the same reasons listed above.  

 NOTE: For all who have waited patiently for the third and final installment on the legality of Obama's military intervention in Libya begun some time ago-- we will finally get back to finishing Part Three in our series after that!    

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