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Wednesday, 25 January 2017 07:44

The Heritage Foundation: A Heritage of Propaganda as News

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Heritage 0125wrp opt(Photo: Amantio di Nicolao)During the Trump transition, staffers from The Heritage Foundation were quite active developing policies and pointing out potential nominees for government positions. That was only foreplay. Not since those halcyon days of the George W. Bush administration have folks at the Heritage Foundation been this giddy. If you are looking to understand where the underpinning of the Trump Administration's deregulation, tax breaks for the wealthy, Obamacare repeal and replace alternatives, climate change denial, and privatization agenda will be coming from, look no further than the Washington D.C. based Heritage Foundation, America's most influential right-wing think tank.

Almost every day for eight years, The Daily Signal, Heritage's e-mail newsletter, sounded the alarm about the Obama administration's misdeeds and the wrongheadedness of liberal policies.

Now Heritage, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, has pivoted to providing a broad-based agenda for Team Trump. Take Monday morning January 23rd for example. The Daily Signal's "Morning Bell's" headlines are bountiful and revelatory: "Trump Nominees Face 'Unprecedented' Democrat Obstructionism"; "Relief Is on the Way: What Trump's Obamacare Executive Order Will Do"; "Obama's Legacy Is a Weaker and More Divided America"; "How Obamacare Will Cost Native American Tribes Millions of Dollars"; "EPA's Top Priority Should Be to Eliminate Bogus Global Warming Models"; "Trump Should End Government Funding of NPR's Biased News."

Although Trump never seemed to be The Heritage Foundation's candidate of choice, nevertheless it appears that it has embraced him seamlessly. Perhaps most attractive to the Foundation was that Trump was an empty slate; devoid of political convictions or policy prescriptions. As the Huffington Post's Matt Fuller pointed out in August, "[F]or the Heritage Foundation ― and its cousin political operation, Heritage Action for America, which can more actively engage in political activities ― Donald Trump presents a rare opportunity: a politician without policies."

In May, Trump took a look at Heritage's eight suggested Supreme Court justices and "put five of them on his list of 11 potential replacements," Fuller reported.

In a pre-inaugural piece for Salon, Sophia Tesfaye pointed out that "Although the Heritage Foundation initially branded Trump as a big-government liberal in conservative's clothing, his pick of Mike Pence as his running mate pleased the anti-tax and anti-spending group that has since emerged as one of the most influential forces shaping the president-elect's transition team."

Tesfaye reported that Team Trump will be relying heavily on The Heritage Foundation's "blueprint budget" in order "to deliver the most extremely right-wing restructuring of the federal government in decades."

According to The Hill's Alexander Bolton, two former Heritage Foundation staffers, Russ Vought, a former aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the former executive director of the RSC, and John Gray, who previously worked for Pence, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) when Ryan headed the House Budget Committee, laid "the groundwork for the so-called skinny budget — a 175- to 200-page document that will spell out the main priorities of the incoming Trump administration, along with summary tables. That document is expected to come out within 45 days of Trump taking office."

Heritage also has provided prescriptions to completely alter the focus over at the Department of Justice. Programs aimed at eliminating violence against women, providing legal aid for the poor, community-oriented policing may all be on the chopping block in the days to come. According to Tesfaye, these programs has been characterized by Heritage as a "misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that are truly the province of the federal government." The denial of resources may also severely impact the Justice Department's ability to investigate hate crimes and police misconduct.

Team Trump has also aimed its ax at eliminating or severely restricting funds for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the possible privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – which provides funding for National Public Radio -- all items in sync with Heritage cost cutting priorities.

In a recent edition of Heritage's The Daily Signal, Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at Heritage, maintained that "NPR has done nothing to counter its persistent liberal bias, despite years of complaints from conservatives — including us — that its patent lack of diversity of thought was unfair and misguided for a tax-funded entity. "[T]he new conservative administration and congressional majority coming in have a responsibility to the conservative base not to continue to fund a 'public broadcaster' that leaves half the nation feeling ignored."

A Heritage Foundation Primer

In a November 2015 BuzzFlash piece headlined "Conservatives Bashing the Liberal Media Aided by Think Tanks," I provided a short history of the Foundation:

When the Heritage Foundation opened its doors in 1973, the Vietnam War was finally winding down, Vice President Agnew had been shown the door and President Richard Nixon would soon follow, victories for civil rights and women's rights had been won, and the arc of justice seemed to be bending towards greater economic fairness. Belief in a social safety net was still strong, and privatization was not yet the clarion call that it has become. The "culture wars" were still a few years off.

In his 1979 book, A Time for Truth, William Simon, Nixon's former energy czar and Treasury Secretary, and the then-president of the conservative Olin Foundation, understood that the conservative movement would only grow if it could slap back against the liberal establishment's belief in "equality" and of being "possessed of delusions of moral grandeur." A year later, the award-winning journalist and investigative reporter Robert Parry reported for consortiumnews.com that Simon published A Time for Action, "which demanded that the 'death grip' of the Liberal Establishment and its 'New Despotism' be broken. Simon saw the news media as part of the enemy camp. He especially targeted journalists who, Simon charged, 'have been working overtime to deny liberty to others.'"

Simon and other wealthy benefactors were able to mobilize a number of right wing foundations, including the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch brothers' foundations, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Scaife family foundations, and the transformation of the country's political landscape was under way.

In his 1986 book, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, Sidney Blumenthal wrote: "The Bastille to which they [conservative foundations] laid siege was the fortress of liberalism, the hollow doctrine of the old regime. These intellectuals impressed their thoughts on public activity, staffing the new institutes, writing policy papers and newspaper editorials, and serving as political advisors, lending the power of the word to the defense of ideology."

The Heritage Foundation essentially made its bones during the presidential campaign of 1980 when it produced "Mandate for Leadership," a 3,000-page, 20-volume set of policy recommendations that would be a blueprint for the so-called Reagan Revolution. "Mandate for Change" advocated trickle-down economics, called for massive cutbacks in social programs, and the Star Wars Defense Strategy.

While it would be vastly overstating the case to attribute the gains of the conservative movement and the changing political landscape in the country over the past forty years solely to the Heritage Foundation, the growth of Heritage definitely parallels the growth of the movement.

These days, the Heritage Foundation's influence extends far beyond Team Trump,

as mainstream media articles about Trump's transition, his cabinet nominees and staff appointments, and his actions during the first few days of his presidency, contain comments from Heritage Foundation staffers.

From Trump's transition team to his list of Supreme Court nominees, from eliminating – or severely cutting -- funding for the NEA, NED and CPB to populating the EPA transition team from oil industry groups, from a Justice Department that cares little about violence against women and minorities or voting rights to already signing an executive order barring federal funds from organizations that promote abortion around the world, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation, The Heritage Foundation is back in the game.