WHYY Duped by Fake Research Director at Fake Think Tank Citing Fake Poll

No one takes the Employment Policies Institute seriously

I grew up in Philadelphia, so I’ve got a ton of respect for WHYY, the local NPR and PBS affiliate (perhaps best known nationally as home to Terry Gross’ award-winning Fresh Air). Which is why I was so sorely disappointed to see WHYY’s “Newsworks” website give op-ed space to fake-think-tank anti-minimum wage shill Michael Saltsman: “Op-ed: Raising minimium wage won’t flip the Senate.”

I mean, for chrissakes, why not just print a goddamn press release?

Saltsman claims to be the research director at the mendaciously-named Employment Policies Institute, which likes to describe itself as a “non-profit think tank” while in fact being neither. Indeed, Saltsman’s faux-think-tank is actually just one of several profitable front groups run out of the DC-offices of lobbying and PR firm Berman and Company. And if the editors at WHYY think I’m exaggerating, they might want to listen to this 2014 interview with Terry Gross, in which the New York Times‘ Eric Lipton explains how this scam works:

LIPTON: Yeah, I was – you know, set up an interview with the research director. I got the address of his office. I went to the eighth floor of the building on Vermont Avenue, like four blocks from the White House. The elevator opens, and it’s Berman and Company. And I go in and, you know, there’s a bunch of awards on the wall, advertising awards, public relations awards that Berman and Company has won for its work, you know, doing ad campaigns on behalf of various industry groups.

And so I didn’t see any evidence at all that there was an Employment Policies Institute office. And in fact when I started to interview the people there, they explained that there are no employees at the Employment Policies Institute and that all the staff there works for Berman and Company, and then they sometimes are just detailed to the various think-tanks and various consumer groups that he operates out of his office.

And he bills them, sort of like a law firm would bill various clients.

Wow. What a great scam. And it has been from the Employment Policies Institute’s start. (Note: I refuse to refer to the organization by its three-letter abbreviation, EPI, because it was obviously named to sow confusion with the real EPI, the pre-existing and pro-minimum wage Economic Policy Institute. Hell, not-EPI even apes EPI’s favicon, causing me to repeatedly click on the wrong browser tab.)

A Tale of Two EPIs

What a bunch of shameless trolls.

Legally, not-EPI is registered as a tax-exempt 501c3 (or, illegally one might reasonably argue), so it doesn’t have to report the names of its funders—though it’s safe to assume its money mostly comes from the restaurant, accommodations, and retail industries. As for how it spends its money: “more than half” of its multi-million dollar budget is paid to for-profit Berman and Company for staffing and operations, an “atypical” arrangement that prompted Charity Navigator to issue a “Donor Advisory.”

For WHYY to allow Saltsman to misrepresent himself as a “research director” at an “institute” is just out-and-out irresponsible. He’s a PR flack, period. And as for the content of Saltsman’s op-ed, well, that’s just as bullshitty as its author.

Saltsman argues that Republicans shouldn’t run away from their longstanding opposition to the minimum wage, based on the thesis that opposing the minimum wage didn’t hurt them 2014. Oh please. First, even without Trump tearing apart the fragile Republican coalition, 2016 was always going to be an entirely different electorate than 2014; Democrats simply turn out in far greater numbers during presidential elections than they do during the midterms. Second, there has been an undeniable and dramatic shift in public opinion over the past couple years in favor of substantially raising the minimum wage.

Those are just facts. There’s no disputing them. Which perhaps explains why Saltsman felt forced to resort to inventing a poll:

This matters. My organization used Google’s consumer survey tool to survey 500 Pennsylvanians who plan to vote this fall. Over 40 percent of respondents said they were no more or less likely to vote for a candidate based on their opposition to minimum wage.

Well, if his PR firm conducted an online poll, I guess we should just take his word for it. It’s almost as ridiculous as his anecdotal citation of a single business closure in booming Brooklyn as evidence that a higher minimum wage is wreaking havoc on the New York economy.

I can sum up Saltsman’s “research” in six words: No data. No methodology. No credibility.

Saltsman is nothing more than a fake “research director” at a fake “institute” citing a fake “poll.” WHYY and other media outlets should be ashamed for allowing him to present himself as anything other than what he really is: a paid spokesperson for the hospitality and retail industries.


Louis CK’s Call For ‘Balance’ Is A Position of Privilege and Fantasy

louis CK trump hitler

As you probably have heard, over the weekend, comedian Louis CK called Donald Trump “Hitler.” Literally, he wrote in an email (which was to promote his new show, but it was the addendum that’s gotten all the attention), “the guy is Hitler.” Immediately, the email was dubbed “epic” and “compassionate” and “scathing” and myriad other things.

What it was not, however, was a.) revolutionary or b.) inclusive. In fact, I’d argue that CK’s email—which few people seem to have read past the “Hitler” part—is actively harmful to a whole lot of people in this country.

CK had a lot of not-nice things to say about Trump—calling him “an insane bigot” and some other things that probably sound a lot like what you’ve said about Trump with your friends—but none of them were actually particularly new or novel. People have been comparing Trump to Hitler for months. Seriously, it’s a very populated Google search.

louis ck trump hitler

Not exactly leading the conversation, then.

Beyond the lack of novelty in CK’s critique, though, is a much more dangerous problem: That he seems to believe the right is a lot less harmful than it actually is. From the email:

I’m not advocating for Hillary or Bernie. I like them both but frankly I wish the next president was a conservative only because we had Obama for eight years and we need balance. And not because I particularly enjoy the conservative agenda. I just think the government should reflect the people. And we are about 40 percent conservative and 40 percent liberal. When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren’t enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while. But it only works if the conservatives put up a good candidate. A good smart conservative to face the liberal candidate so they can have a good argument and the country can decide which way to go this time.

First of all, that’s not how democracy works; just because the country is divided, doesn’t mean we necessarily need to have equal representation within our elected officials—that’s pretty obvious from the blatant gender and racial imbalances in almost every office and governing body across the country.

Sure, it would be great if our electorate were perfectly representative, but as long as conservatives are in power and keep drawing congressional lines to ensure that doesn’t happen that’s just not a reality.

On Salon, Scott Timberg explained it as such:

People on the left, the center, and the center-right may agree that Trump is nasty, hateful, and all the rest. But voting for a “reasonable” conservative candidate is not going to make reactionary extremists any less likely.

These reasonable conservatives brought us the gerrymandering that has strengthened the Republican infrastructure, squashed minority voting, and allowed extremism to thrive. They’ve led to a relaxing of media ownership laws that allowed the right-wing echo chamber to grow and flourish. Non-crazy, pro-Wall Street Republicans helped destabilize the middle class and fueled Trump’s rise. Regular old conservatives opened the door to the appointment of judges that gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000; and with Scalia’s death, the next president is likely to shape the Supreme Court profoundly.

You can’t just decide that maybe four or eight years of someone who’s in opposition to Obama would simply move along, carrying the torch in a slightly different direction—instead, what every candidate on the right is promising to do is undo the work of the Affordable Care Act and the Family Leave Act and other hard-fought wins, effectively driving us backwards in a war of attrition every election season.

Second, it’s not just the reactionaries who are bolstering Trump’s success—to look at the primary numbers as they stand, there simply aren’t that many dyed-in-the-wool racist bigots in the country. Instead, Donald Trump’s rise should signal to anyone who’s watching that he’s not a fluke, he’s actually very much speaking to many, many voters. He’s not an aberration—he’s what they’ve got.

As much as we love the idea of “balance” in both politics and the economy, the truth is that there is one party in the United States where our Presidential debates contain salient conversation about race and gender equity, about economic stability and relief for the lowest earners, and another where the topic of penis size and carpet-bombing have been featured highlights.

Trump is the party’s “good candidate” according not to just to members of the KKK—he’s the favorite with the exact kind of “moderate” Republicans CK is dreamily getting nostalgic about. He’s also got the support of many of the “moderate” conservatives who have already been elected.

The reason the conservatives haven’t put up “a good candidate” is because the candidates they’ve put up, Trump included, actually do represent their party. It’s the party of believing the South should have won the war, of pushing for the deportation of Muslims, of passing laws that require doctors to lie or are based in lies. Trump is not some “outsider,” much as he’d like to claim—he is exactly the product of years of those “moderate” Republicans quietly whispering lies about “welfare queens” and “dangerous terrorists” and “lazy people” and “drug dealers” into the ears of voters.

If you plant Racism Seeds for decades, can you really be surprised if one day you walk outside and your garden is ripe with Racism Fruit?

Assuming that having a conservative in the White House would somehow restore balance is something that literally only someone who feels 100% comfortable regardless of the political climate can do. It is a position of privilege, pure and simple, because anyone from any kind of vulnerable population knows that it’s not just Trump who’s scary—it’s everyone on the GOP side.

This apparent oversight didn’t go unnoticed by everyone, though; writer Lauren Hoffman quickly responded with a necessary criticism: That the idea of giving “each party their turn” is actively detrimental to a whole lot of vulnerable people, particularly women.

Access to reproductive care certainly hangs in the balance, particularly considering the Trump alternatives. CK’s letter refers to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who currently hovers around third or fourth, depending on how much the media has decided Marco Rubio can pull out the world’s greatest comeback.

“I mean that guy seems okay,” writes CK “I don’t like any of them myself but if you’re that kind of voter please go for a guy like that. It feels like between him and either democrat we’d have a decent choice. It feels like a healthier choice.”

Healthier for who, the women of Ohio may ask? After all, Kasich just weeks ago voted to defund Planned Parenthood, a move which would do little to nothing to cut spending on abortion (Planned Parenthood already can’t use most government money on abortion services). What it will do, however, is make it much harder for people of all genders to get necessary medical care, ranging from cancer screenings to STI treatment to general health counseling.

And it’s not just reproductive rights that Kasich has been anything but “balanced” on; his record on education is decidedly not good when it comes to poor schools and districts, his history on LGBTQ issues is abysmal, and as recently as a few weeks ago, he’s a union-buster. And despite touting his record on criminal justice reform—where, to his credit, he did champion addiction treatment services as a prison diversion—he’s still staunchly anti-marijuana legalization, a policy that is basically entirely rooted in racism. He was also instrumental legislation—both in DC and as the Governor of Ohio—which make it harder or impossible for families to qualify and access social services like food stamps.

All of which sounds great to Republicans, who are overwhelmingly represented by people a lot like Louis CK: Already in positions of economic, racial, gender, and generational power. However, to people who are disproportionately impacted by the laws passed by “moderates” like John Kasich—laws which restrict health care access and funding, which gut the funding for public schools in poorer areas, which reduce the collective bargaining power of unions (whose memberships are often more diverse than non-unionized private sector jobs), which make social services more difficult to get—know that “balance” simply means “policies that don’t benefit me and in fact may be detrimental to me.”

Calling out Donald Trump for being dangerous is important, because, well, he is. A Trump presidency would be a disaster for the economy, national security, and most of the residents of the country. And honestly, there’s a really good chance that CK’s audience has some overlap with conservative voters who may actually see Trump as a viable option, and this warning could be somewhat compelling.

What is not good, however, is throwing women, LGBTQ folks, poor folks, people of color, and basically any other vulnerable group of people under the bus in the name of “balance.”

If the GOP wants to field a “good candidate,” they need to clean up their own house and collect their own people—which will only happen when “moderate” conservatives stop supporting candidates who, in addition to tightening the purse strings, are actively limiting the rights of voters. Until then, there’s no such thing as balance—there are just two parties, one of which is only out for wealthy white guys.

The Media Obsesses Over Jeb Bush’s Diet Tips

"Mister President! Mister President! How many calories are in that turkey?"

“Mister President! Mister President! How many calories are in that turkey?”

Look, I’ve worked in the media during a presidential campaign. I know what it’s like. You get swept up in the craziness of it all, and sometimes your good sense goes out the window. You forget that these politicians are trying to be leader of the free world and you start to think of it as some sort of weird sport. The next thing you know, you’re cranking out one thousand words about Rick Santorum’s love of sweater vests and you haven’t thought about a real issue in a week and a half.

But it’s a little early for this kind of zaniness to seep into presidential coverage: the New York Times‘s Michael Barbaro has written a long story about Jeb Bush going on the Paleo diet.

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