A cursory look at the very public clash between the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and the Koch brothers, infamous oil billionaires and funders of right wing causes - leaves many people confused. The Cato Institute, originally called the Charles G Koch Institute when it was founded by Charles G Koch in the 70s – is in danger of a hostile takeover…by Charles G Koch? Why would Charles Koch try to take over his own think tank?
The short answer – power, of course. As it turns out, the Koch’s influence at Cato has waned over the last few decades due to a falling out between Ed Crane, the current president of Cato, and Charles Koch, who hand-picked Crane for the job shortly after founding the think tank. Starting in the early nineties, the Kochs all but abandoned Cato, exerting little control over the group’s activities and steadily reducing Cato’s Koch funding (down to $0 in 2011). Charles even left the board of directors (though he was replaced by David Koch).
Instead of running Cato, the Kochs poured their time and oil profits into front groups like Americans for Prosperity, their flagship astroturf organization. The Kochs' network of front groups gave them influence over (and close ties to) the republican establishment at large.
During this time, Cato became seen as a relatively independent think tank, willing to criticize both democrat and republican administrations. Real news organizations went to Cato for comment on topical issues, and legislators used Cato’s reports to inform policy.
Cato was seen as something more than a tool for corporate billionaires to accomplish their political agenda of deregulation. (For the record, Cato was still a tool of corporate billionaires: see their defense of tobacco while being funded by cigarette companies, or their adamant climate denial while being funded by Exxon)
Fast forward to today – the Koch brothers’ political agenda has been publicly outed (see airship), their front groups like Americans for Prosperity have little credibility with the mainstream press and the Kochs’ hope of unseating president Obama is looking slimmer by the day. Suddenly, Cato’s veneer of respectability is politically valuable to the Kochs.
Bob Levy, current chairman of the Cato Institute, recently wrote that the Kochs admitted needing Cato as a “source of intellectual ammunition for Americans for Prosperity – through position papers, a media presence, and speakers on hot-button issues.”
So, when one of the shareholders of Cato died leaving his shares to his widow (Cato has a strange system of governance involving controlling shares), the Kochs saw an opportunity to pounce. The brothers filed a lawsuit they hope will force the widow into selling her shares, giving the Koch’s majority control over Cato’s board of directors. This would give the Kochs the power over Cato they needed to fold it into their suite of other front groups, making Cato another Koch-controlled cog in the republican political machine.
However, after years of relative freedom Cato’s leadership was not keen on bowing their heads to Koch control and becoming a pawn of the republican party. In a letter to employees, Cato president Ed Crane wrote:
“Catoites, You are all probably aware by now of the unfortunate development with Charles and David Koch. They are in the process of trying to take over the Cato Institute and, in my opinion, reduce it to a partisan adjunct to Americans for Prosperity, the activist GOP group they control.”
Thus began the public brawl between the Koch Brothers and the Cato Institute.
The moral? The Koch’s are so ruthless in their pursuit of power that even Cato, a bastion of ‘every man for themselves,’ ‘only the strong survive,’ ‘no free school lunch,’ free-market capitalism, is crying foul. But don't feel sorry for Cato, perhaps they just need to re-read a little Ayn Rand…
But first, a dose of climate reality:
In a recent study, scientists found that climate change will decrease the number of seasonal flowers, leading to an overall decrease in the number of butterflies, who rely on flowers for a sustainable source of energy - no destruction required. Another recent study found that climate change will increase the number of Lyme disease infected ticks, parasites that drill into their prey and extract their blood, leaving sickness and suffering in their wake.
It’s almost poetic that continued reliance on puncturing the earth and sucking out the oil will lead to more parasites puncturing and sucking us in return…
Speaking of bothersome pests - Senator James Inhofe, staunch global warming denier and human prune, went on the Rachel Maddow Show to discuss his new book, "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future."
During the interview, the good Senator from Oklahoma repeated his belief that a global conspiracy of environmentalists and scientists (and global temperature readings) are colluding to create the illusion of a changing climate, just to justify taxes.
See the left portion of this graphic for a summation of Inhofe’s climate views:
Though Inhofe has said ludicrous things about climate science many times before, he rarely mentions why he initially became such a zealous climate denier.
As he revealed in the interview, Inhofe became skeptical of climate science once he found out solving the looming climate crisis might cost money. In the interview he said “I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.”
So, if Inhofe lets money dictate his policies, what does it mean that the top three contributors to his campaign are dirty energy companies (Koch industries being #1), or that he has taken well over $1 million from the fossil fuel industry since 1999?
Come on Inhofe, dont be such a tick.
PolluterWatch: Greenpeace Investigates Heartland Institute Leaked Documents -- click to see investigation and ongoing updates.
Some journalists have issues with reality.
Here at PolluterWatch, it's obvious when agents of the climate denial machine succeed in taking advantage of widespread scientific ignorance in our country and place stories in the news that misinform the public on global warming. While many have come to expect unscientific coverage of global warming on agenda-driven partisan fronts like Fox News, poor reporting pervades plenty of more respected sources of news.
In contrast, it's refreshing when you see a person really get it. Thanks to the Heartland Institute's recently leaked documents laying out their 2012 efforts to create doubt over climate science, [Missouri's] Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Ken Midkiff has publicly reversed his skepticism over global warming now that he has examined Heartland's dubious public relations. Reacting to a Greenpeace letter questioning Heartland payments to the University of Missouri's Anthony Lupo for climate denial work, Mr. Midkiff explains his change of heart:
Some recent revelations about the Heartland Institute have led me to correct my earlier statement about global warming. It now seems that the jury is in and has rendered a verdict: The Earth is becoming warmer, caused by the amount of gases that humans are sending into the upper atmosphere.
While we wish this had been clearer to Mr. Midkiff years ago (NASA's James Hanson told Congress this was a pressing global issue with a formidable human impact way back in 1988), his revelation and willingness to publicly explain it is a small win for both science and journalism. Even earlier this year Mr. Midkiff had been questioning aspects of climate research that the scientific community can easily dismiss with their tedious work.
Well-organized and -financed public relations shops like the Heartland Institute and many others (check out ExxonSecrets and DeSmogBlog) play a critical role in the effort to fabricate public doubt, politicizing the science of climate change by demanding journalists cover their "side" of the story, even though it carries no scientific relevance. Worse yet, they are expert projectionists, taking their very tactics of lying, misrepresenting, cherry-picking, bullying and politicizing and blaming their opponents for those very things.
It's like arguing with a child: "I know you are, but what am I?!"
And horrifyingly, it works and has worked for decades now, which is why the booming public relations industry in this country dwarfs the presence of true journalists whose job it is, ideally, to dig up an accurate story and present it to the public for final judgement. The Heartland Institute is a hired PR gun in this case, taking money from a few rich ideolgues and vested interests and packaging doubt over global warming to sell to the media and American people.
Luckily, we can see that the lastest exposure of Heartland's climate denial campaigns through their leaked internal documents is shining a light on this shadowy effort to deceive us all. May that trend continue as Greenpeace continues to investigate the Heartland Institute.
Today Greenpeace sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asking them to stop TransCanada Corporation from continuing to illegally mislead investors and the American public with wildly inflated job creation claims for its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
TransCanada and its allies in Congress (TransCanada has spent $1.3 million dollars on lobbying for Keystone XL) have routinely used deceitful jobs numbers in their support of the Keystone pipeline, claiming that it would create 20,000 jobs in America. In reality the pipeline will create less than 1/3rd that number, possibly far less according to studies by the EPA and Cornell University.
Furthermore, TransCanada knows its jobs claims are exaggerated. According to the company, the U.S. pipeline would create jobs at a rate 67 times higher per mile of pipeline than the rate given to Canadian officials for the miles of pipeline it would build in that country.
SEC rules forbid the use of "manipulative and deceptive practices" to directly affect the value of the company's stock. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling directly connected the pipeline’s approval with his company’s profits in an April 2011 earnings conference call, making his company’s manipulative and deceptive jobs data illegal according the SEC rules.
As Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace said in a recent speech, "It’s wrong for politicians and pundits to use these false numbers, but it’s illegal for TransCanada to lie to investors. The SEC needs to take immediate action to hold TransCanada accountable for misleading investors to boost its valuation,” "TransCanada needs to knock off the propaganda and level with people that they'd create a few temporary jobs just to move dirty oil through our country so it can be shipped to Europe for maximum Big Oil profits."
How great would it be if our elected officials had to follow a set of rules that created a fair playing field in politics? Mistruths and false promises would be seriously penalized by watchful referees and policy ideas could succeed or fail on their merit, rather than the checkbook of their supporters. Instead we have a system where industry and government collude to pass projects that are bad for people and bad for the environment, but increase corporate bottom lines and campaign coffers. Politicians repeat dishonest and twisted information, violating the trust between the electorate and the elected. A low blow to the American people, yet usually no one is there to blow the whistle.
This kind of poor sportsmanship was on full display at yesterday’s meeting of the House subcommittee on energy. The committee met in response to the rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a Canadian project that would pump the dirtiest and most carbon intensive crude oil in the world from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast.
(Picture of the tar sands)
Promoters of the pipeline were attempting a Hail Mary to save Keystone XL by stripping the ability to regulate it from the Obama administration and giving it to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). To make their case, Keystone XL’s congressional supporters (who have taken a whopping $41 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil) were willing to toss around all the falsehoods and industry talking points that have been polluting the debate from the beginning.
Fans of the Tar Sands pipeline, like Joe Barton, John Shimkus, and Fred Upton, claim the pipeline would provide 20,000 jobs, lower gas prices for Americans, and decrease our dependence on foreign oil. These claims are all false - in reality the pipeline would create less than 1/3rd of the jobs pipeline enthusiasts claim, there would be no cost savings on gas for Americans, and the oil will be exported from Port Arthur, Texas, so it would not even be used in America. To top it all off, Port Arthur is registered as a foriegn trade port, meaning the U.S government would not even recieve taxes from the tar sands oil shipped abroad.
(Activist referees calling a foul)
The deceptive claims made by fans of the tar sands are a violation of the American people’s trust in their elected representatives. That’s why a group of activist referees attended the committee hearing, and threw a penalty flag every time Big Oil’s congressmen tried to pull a fast one. Not used to playing by the rules, Congressional advocates racked up a ton of red flags as they repeated their inaccurate data and manipulative talking points over and over. Check out a video of the committee hearing for a taste of what these refs had to deal with.
Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
On January 16, the Los Angeles Times revealed that anti-science bills have been popping up over the past several years in statehouses across the U.S., mandating the teaching of climate change denial or "skepticism" as a credible "theoretical alternative" to human caused climate change came.
"Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom."
What the excellent Times coverage missed is that key language in these anti-science bills all eminated from a single source: the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
**Full Disclosure: At the time of the ALEC Exposed project's public release in mid-2011, Steve Horn was an employee of Center for Media and Democracy.
“I’m not a scientist, I’m an event planner,” explained Lisa Thrun when I asked her if she believed burning coal and oil contributed to climate change. Oh really, Ms. Thrun? If you’re just an event planner, what are you doing giving a presentation on the economic impacts of a regional plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? See the video:
January 21st marks the two year anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, the landmark Supreme Court case that removed limits on election spending by corporations and other moneyed interests, overthrowing 100 years of election laws.
The Citizens United case has already begun affecting elections. Spending on political television ads funded by anonymous donors is already five times what it was during the entire Republican primary season four years ago, according to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG.
An example of the kind of propaganda corporate polluters are flooding the airwaves with - thanks to Citizens United – is the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) new election cycle ad campaign, released last week.
The new advertising campaign is an attempt to hoodwink Americans into supporting Big Oil’s political agenda by faking grassroots support for the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, and offshore arctic drilling. Now that the Supreme Court has decided API can use Big Oil’s millions to influence elections, API, the Chamber of Commerce, and other industry fronts can relentlessly attack candidates that don't support the fossil fuel industry’s political agenda.
Greenpeace caught API in the act of creating this Astroturf campaign, when activists responded to a leaked casting email that invited “real people not actors” to share their views on energy. When the activists showed up to the shoot, API tried to use them as puppets, feeding them lines and strictly controlling what people could say on camera.
It is up to the people of America to beat back this corporate takeover of our government. As the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision approaches, a growing and diverse movement has been building to pursue the only remedy that can overcome the entrenched Supreme Court majority’s distortion of the First Amendment: amending the Constitution to reverse Citizens United and broadly ensure free and fair elections, uncorrupted by excessive corporate influence.
We need to tell corporate manipulators this is not over. Demand your right to democracy for the people and by the people by joining one of the many actions taking place to mark the anniversary of Citizens United, starting January 19. The People for the American Way have set up a website that can connect you to an event in your area. There are hundreds of events across the nation so get involved!!
Those interested in how pro-corporate forces have plotted to hijack democracy for more than three decades, check out the report on the Powell Memorandum, a blueprint for corporate takeover of democracy written by former Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell.
After years of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency is finally issuing safeguards that will protect Americans by reducing the amount of mercury pollution and other poisons emitted by coal plants around the country. It's good news for mothers, children, communities near dirty coal plants, people who eat fish - pretty much everyone, actually, so it's no surprise that Americans overwhelmingly support rules to reduce mercury pollution from power plants. So who isn't pleased? Well, lobbyists for the dirtiest utilities like Southern Company seem pretty down about it - Scott Segal, for example, called the upcoming rule "unfortunate."
You might remember Scott Segal from his appearance on The Daily Show, in a bit about how lobbyists kill legislation. Mr. Segal works for K Street lobby firm Bracewell & Giuliani, where he represents clients like Southern Company, Arch Coal, and Duke Energy, along with his colleague Jeffrey Holmstead. (Holmstead has worked for years against meaningful mercury protections, as a top George W. Bush EPA official and as an industry lobbyist - read our Jeff Holmstead profile and our new report: Jeffrey Holmstead: the Coal Industry's Mercury Lobbyist for much more). They’ve got the tough job of trying to weaken and delay these popular, life-saving rules so their clients can keep dumping mercury into our air and water without restriction.
To help hide this, Mr. Segal often represents himself as the director of a coal industry front group called the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council." For example, a few weeks ago Mr. Segal, writing as the director of ERCC, sent a letter requesting a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget as it was analyzing the Mercury Rule. And when Mr. Segal testified before Congress against the Mercury Rule in April 2011, he also used his preferred title of director of ERCC, instead of, say, a lobbyist for Southern Company.
But what exactly is this "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" that has spent much of the last year trying to weaken and delay these badly needed mercury safeguards? ERCC's website describes the group as "a broad-based coalition of energy companies committed to the continued viability of diverse, affordable and reliable electric power supply in the United States." But nowhere does its website list the member companies in ERCC's supposedly "broad-based coalition." When challenged in a debate on the Mercury Rule by John Walke of NRDC to disclose ERCC's full list of member companies, Mr. Segal declined after naming just four companies: Southern Company, Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and EFH (Energy Future Holdings, which owns Luminant).
It's no surprise for Southern Company and EFH - those companies have openly attacked the Mercury Rule, and were the second and third worst mercury polluters in 2010, after American Electric Power. But what about Duke Energy? Has it been using this front group to lobby against the Mercury Rule? After we sent Duke CEO Jim Rogers a letter asking if Duke was a member of ERCC, and whether the company supported the ERCC's efforts to delay and weaken the Mercury Rule, a spokesman for the company told the Charlotte Business Journal that Duke is a member of ERCC, “But, as with many organizations we are affiliated with, we don’t agree with them on every issue.”
So are ERCC's attacks on the Mercury Rule too extreme even for its coal industry member companies? Or is Duke Energy backing those attacks after all, and misleading the public about what exactly it has been doing with the $1.6 million it spent on lobbying in just the last three month period? Well as it turns out, Mr. Segal got that meeting he requested with the Office of Management and Budget. According to White House records, he was there with Jeffrey Holmstead, three executives from Southern Company - and Duke Energy's Vice President for Federal Affairs. It seems like Duke Energy has some explaining to do.