Monday, April 20, 2015

Will Coggin: Another Oily Cog in Dr. Evils Big Greasy Land Stealing Machine of Deception

By Bob Ferris

Above are side-by-side pictures of Will Coggin—one with a beard and one without.  None but the most unobservant would think that these are two different people, but Richard Berman (AKA Dr. Evil) hopes that folks will fall for a similar deception as he rolls Mr. Coggin out in his various “disguises” to fool the public into believing that people—rather than the corporate interests his PR and lobbying firm represents—want our federal lands to be sold, our waters to be more polluted, our food to be less protected, and our air less breathable as well as more likely to speed climate change and ocean acidification.

This deception of the American public is painful to observe because our media are often complicit in the trickery through failing to properly steward their opinion or letters pages (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) through adequately disclosing the qualifications and affiliations of the authors of op-eds and LTEs.  It is painfully material, for instance, when Mr. Coggin argues that the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (1,2,), Trout Unlimited (1,2,3,4) or Backcountry Hunters and Anglers are groups supported by “outside” interests that the Western reader understands that he is doing so fueled by a salary derived from corporate interests at a keyboard near Washington, DC.   Irony dipped in hypocrisy should always leave us angry.

I suppose that some would argue that I should cut the publications some slack but information sources are by definition supposed to be informed and Mr. Berman is anything but subtle in his actions.  Granted he and Mr. Coggin try to bury their deception through a legion of front groups, aliases, projects and the like, but it really does not take much to unravel this awkward non-profit construct (see Source Watch).  And it has been publicly exposed repeatedly from a 60 Minutes piece (above) to a cautionary note on Charity Navigator. It is all on the extreme side of hinky.

Mr. Coggin characterized on Heartland Institute site.
Normally someone or something so bad, notorious and amateurish would not be a credible threat but this threat is acting synergistically with a highly compromised Congress, a nearly lethargic regulatory environment and a crisis of monumental proportions unfolding across the nation and around the world.  And like climate change it is a lot of little things that lead up to a huge impact.   It is this move to sell or divest federal public lands.  It is the push to get rid of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  And it is the tax-break and associated anonymity recently granted by the House to mega-donors bent on making our politic system more like a game of Monopoly rather than the democracy free of corporate influence envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

From Mr. Coggin's LinkedIn profile.
So what can you do?  You have three choices.  The first is that you can buy into the deception, don a hat festooned with tea bags and watch your public lands become wastelands and your country go back to being a resource colony.  You could also understand all of the above and do nothing.  Or you can get active by supporting the groups under attack above, calling out these newspapers for facilitating this deception and do as much as you can to get candidates elected that think that people and the quality of our lives—including clean air and water as well as access to healthy public lands—matter.

Money passing to Mr. Berman's firm from non-profit organization where he is the president (see 990).  

(Note: Mr. Coggin's conservatism-at-all-costs and regardless of the consequences runs deep as evidenced from two episodes during his college days at William and Mary: one involving opposition to affirmative action (1,2) and the other involving the public release of information about a young woman who claimed to have been raped.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Selective Hearing of Selfish Earholes

By Bob Ferris

Gouverneur Morris
I have been waking up lately in poor humor.  I suspect a lot of it has to do with what I am seeing in the news of late.  For instance, I grow so very, very weary of the attacks on science and scientists whether those scientists are tracking climate change, unraveling the complexity of predator-prey relationships or speculating on the dangers of herbicides such as Round-Up.   This is particularly exacerbated by the cognitive dissonance demonstrated by those who say “I am not a scientist” and then think that simply adding a “but” to that wholly complete statement licenses them to pontificate on phenomenon scientific.  Amazing.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Preamble of the US Constitution written by Gouverneur Morris
I cringe too when I watch elected officials taking actions such as gutting or dismissing environmental protections (1,2,3), proposing the selling off of public lands for exploitation (1,2,3), and gleefully creating tax structures and budgets that benefit a few while ripping the guts out the support systems and prospects for the vast majority of citizens they supposedly represent.  How through any twisted manipulation can any of these actions pass through the simple and innovative elegance of the Preamble of the US Constitution—the essence of what makes the American experiment exceptional—without bursting into flames?  Certainly these elected officials are doing the bidding of their wealthy donors, but they are just as clearly failing in their oath to uphold the document that governs us all.

Words that do not appear in the US Constitution: God, Jesus, Christianity, Bible, and Corporation.  

My blood pressure rises also as I see the too few and the too greedy investing millions to reshape a country they have gained too much from and sacrificed far too little for to grant them the right meddle on this scale.  While I suspect it is natural to resent environmental regulations when your wealth and power depends on your ability to externalize the cost of your operations at the expense of your fellow citizens, but this hardly demonstrates virtue or makes you a patriot.  Similarly it is likely easy to push elected officials to sell public lands with pen strokes when you and your family did not fight the battles or shed blood in order to bring those lands into the federal estate.  And those few, fortunate souls who have climbed to the top of the heap financially should understand that they need to invest in America and Americans to continue to enjoy their prosperity.  Their happenstance was not made out of whole cloth but rather because they disproportionately benefited from our shared infrastructure or resources.

Although I am not a fan of Ayn Rand’s, I will admit that laying this all on her doorstep is perhaps an overstatement because the warp and weft of the above cloak of selfishness seems woven from equal parts of irony and hypocrisy rather than from the guiding principles of reason she espoused.  How else could the profoundly religious who advocate the above in Ms. Rand’s name ignore that she also did not believe in God?  Why that would be kind of like calling yourself a devout Christian while supporting a platform of hatred, intolerance, and selfishness.  Right?

These Rand-ites also seem to forget that Ms. Rand was pro-choice, not that fond of Ronald Reagan and that her character Howard Roark played by Gary Cooper in the movie The Fountainhead drew distinctions between the positive nature of achievement and the negative connotations of plundering (see above video clip).   She also denigrated those who sought power rather than contributing creativity.  But it seems to be the nature of extremists worldwide to take iconic figures such as Ms. Rand, Jesus, Mohamed or the Founding Fathers and use them as excuses to commit atrocities that would never be condoned or endorsed by these cultural touchstones.

I suspect it is human nature to hear what you want to hear so that the words that come through your earhole support your own narrative.  But at some juncture—generally at a crisis point—honesty has to prevail and we must look deeply at ourselves, our rhetoric and actions.   For Americans the Preamble of the Constitution (see note below) is a wonderful place to start this process, because our exceptionalism springs from that single paragraph in that iconic document that told the world that we were different.  (This is a little like looking at your marriage vows when going through relationship counselling.)

Moreover, we should remember that the Founding Fathers were extremely smart and principled people who embraced learning including science.  They were also individuals who risked and sacrificed much to establish this mode of governance.  And our elected officials should therefore reflect those exemplars and those values.

The examples at the beginning demonstrate that we have drifted far from these founding ideals of governance by individuals who are un-bullied by church, state or financial entities.   We have to find our way back or risk becoming once again the very beast we rebelled against (1,2).

(Note: I have always felt a great connection to the Preamble as it was written by my seventh Great Uncle Gouverneur Morris who was half-brother to my sixth Great Grand Father Lewis Morris who signed the Declaration.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Tale of Three Rain Barrels and What They Mean to Us

By Bob Ferris

The simple, no frills barrel.
I finally installed the last of our three rain barrels this past weekend before the recent rains came tumbling down in earnest.  These are three different set-ups from three different sources all with the same purpose of capturing water and putting it in the ground rather than shooting it down some hard-scape during a time when it is needed less.  Three down and a couple of drain pipes left to go.

65-gallon barrel.
Our barrels range from the very simple, no frills, re-purposed 55-gallon plastic drum we got at a discount from the City of Bellingham to the screen topped, flip-lid, 65-gallon Cadillac of water barrels we got for free from that city for volunteering to install a water meter and paying for what we used rather than getting a bill based on some community average that further enables some aquatic “tragedy of the commons.” And the last one we got was a well-plumbed barrel from BRING Recycling here in Eugene. My point is that rain barrels are a little like automobiles in that they come in a variety of models and sizes with as many or as few accessories as wanted.

Well-plumbed barrel from BRING.
At just short of 175 gallons our rain barrel kingdom it is not really very much in terms of standing capacity particularly when you consider that even in the water-conscious West this is generally less than 2 days’ worth of water for a single person (see chart from California below).  Of course use varies with locale (see Portland too) and with season (Carlene and I each use about 33 gallons a day when our garden’s drip irrigation system is not working and 75 for the four months when it is) but my point is these must be looked at as small steps of progress in a much larger effort.

Sink-side water pitchers  

The rain barrels are more than just about storage they are visual string-around-the-finger reminders when it comes to water use and consumption.  When it rains we think of them filling and when it does not we feel them emptying as we tap the sides and track their levels down to the bottom. We feel them and our stewardship of these barrels connects us with our water and makes us more likely to fill our sink-side pitchers as we wait for the water to warm for dish washing, wear “clerty” clothes (i.e., not quite clean and not yet dirty) and be less inclined to flush the mellower yellow parts of our lives.   And we are hell on leaks and have become much more comfortable with dirty cars.

Per capita water use in California.
As we look at our Western water prospects (1,2,3,4) folks who behave like Carlene and I have to move from being considered anomalous outliers to being thought of as not doing enough.  And we have to look at the big picture too because low flow shower heads, waterless urinals and gray water systems can only go so far.

Where the water goes in Portland.
In terms of this big picture we really have to look at our approach to agriculture. What crops are being grown where and at what cost to our overall and diminishing water budget?  We also have to stop doing stupid stuff like being tricked into thinking that “fracking” made any sense when we were pumping ancient water from deeper and deeper(1,2).  How this last idea of dumping “secret” chemicals where  our water lives so that we could burn even more carbon ever gained any traction anywhere is testimony to the ability of the fossil-fuel industry to pee on our heads and tell us it is only raining.

In some sense we are desperately in need of water heroes and teachers to lead us.  The good news is that they already exist and we only need to gain the wisdom to finally listen to them on a broader scale. Three that immediately come to mind are Art Ludwig, Brad Lancaster and fellow UCSC banana slug and biologist Brock Dolman (see above video).  They have all been speaking and writing for decades to get us prepared for our current happenstance and now we are at a point where we have no choice but to heed their advice.

Our choice seems such a simple one but it will take courage and supreme effort to accomplish the needed changes because we have drifted so, so far from a system governed first and foremost by logic and public good.  The first two "taps" we will likely need to address in our quest to fix our water woes are those connected to political contributions and orchestrated misinformation.  And those might be the toughest to turn off.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Duck, Duck, Goose, Goose

By Bob Ferris

Snow geese in Washington by Walter Siegmund
via Wikimedia Commons
Recently in Idaho more than 2000 snow geese dropped out of the sky…dead.  The likely cause is avian cholera, but it might not be.  In this some people are blaming Idaho for the happenstance, but my mind is reeling at this point with possible culprits or gangs of causes.  I am reminded in all of this of that rather Pogo-like saying about finger pointing: When you point you must remember that three of the fingers and the thumb are generally pointing right back at you.

Where does one start to unravel something such as this?  We would not have had avian or fowl cholera in the US—if that is what it is—if it had not been brought here from Europe in the 30s or 40s. We would not have had these concentrations of snow geese (see below video from near Klamath Falls, Oregon) or the problems at the northern breeding grounds had we not mismanaged habitats. The problem too might not have been as pronounced if we would have dealt early with resident Canada goose issue in several flyways.  And who knows the impact of our diminishing or wiping out our native swans or being slow to act on non-native mute swans?

Certainly habitat quantity and quality are at the core of this in some manner.  Issues like draining wetlands, agricultural conversion and urban sprawl are major actors.  The century old refuge system—no matter how well designed—tends to concentrate a lot birds in relatively small spaces stressing the birds and making disease transmission all that much more likely.

And climate change.  Who knows?  Is it climate change triggered?  Is the drought contributing though further critter concentration or better viral conditions? And how much of the drought’s severity can be attributed to climate change?

In addition, how much of all this is linked to or peripherally tied to what is happening with sea stars and sea butterflies (pteropods) or honey bees for that matter?   And elk hoof rot could also be thrown in here as just another problem with an undetermined cause or collections of causes.

My sense is that the geese and other critters are the warning and service lights on the dashboard of our ecosystems in the Northwest.  A prudent driver faced with multiple flashing lights would slow and find out what is going on.  So what does that say about those in leadership roles who want to export coal, oil and LNG essentially revving the engine or speeding up?  What does that say about those who what to turn off the warning lights and proceed blindly by hindering the ability of regulatory agencies to regulate or freely get information from scientists?    And what does it say about us if we allow them to do so?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Of Climate Change, a Kardashian, Academic Funding, the Wham-Bambulance and Finding a Future Path in the Past.

By Bob Ferris

Exhibit A: 1995 industry science advisers' statement on climate
change from New York Times article (click photo to enlarge).
Over the past month I have written much about climate change and the phenomenon of climate denial (1,2,3,4).  These actions have afforded me the rare “privilege” of engaging in dialogues with folks who want to roll out their favorite links from denier sites as “proof” that the well-documented changes are not happening, are actually natural, so minor to be ignored, or certainly not our fault.

I try to educate as well as engage, but I am extremely troubled by the notion in this country that opinion has somehow become fact and that critical thinking skills are dying along with our global leadership in science and engineering as well as our nation’s general reputation.

In a lot of these conversations I try to use analogies because they are often easier to grasp.  One that I am using a little of late is comparing the so-called climate change “debate” to a high-profile murder trial where the prosecutors are the scientists who have documented climate change from a number of angles as well as established—beyond a reasonable doubt—our role in that phenomenon.

And the denier camp is the defense team who are engaged in creating chaos in the trial and throwing out any and all hypotheses to create doubt.  For this one might think about the late Robert Kardashian and his "dream team" during the OJ Simpson murder trial, back when Robert was the reason for the Kardashian clan notoriety rather than the escapades of his four daughters.   He and his team successfully created doubt.

But what about the judge, jury, bailiffs and court reporters?  Here is where the climate change dialog as a murder trial analogy falls apart.  In the Simpson trial there were rigorous attempts to insulate all of these other players from influences that would compromise the integrity of the trial and ultimately the verdict.  In the climate change scenario these parties, likely represented variously by the Administration, Congress, Judiciary, Media, general public and many others have been left absolutely unprotected from a constant, boundless onslaught of a defense lawyer-style, spaghetti throw of nonsense that has made even some of the most logical among them doubt that they once saw the dead body with an initialed dagger covered with incriminating fingerprints sticking out of the victim's chest.  Not only that but due to the wonder of money and the magic of Citizens United many of these actors in different positions are becoming increasingly beholding to the defense table financially.
“Yet in real dollars, the United States was among only five nations in the study that cut education funding. The average nation increased education spending on average by 5 percent between 2008 and 2010; the United States cuts its education spending by 1 percent during that time.” (see here
“The U.S. was slotted between the Slovak Republic and Lithuania in the overall results, two spots behind Russia. But the PISA assessment notes that there are few statistical differences between the scores of the U.S. and those countries.”  (see here
Now some will proclaim optimistically that truth will win out and justice will prevail, but I wonder because the truth is buried so deeply beneath a mountain of misinformation and the collective ability of the US to think critically is being purposely compromised by the same folks who are piling the myths higher and deeper.   Why would I say something like this? When I was a child, California had the best schools in the nation.  A generation later California has four cities on a Forbes list of the 10 least educated cities (see here) and only one city in the top ten most educated.  Moreover, the US leadership in educational achievement is slipping mightily as our elected officials seem more concerned with helping Wall Street and holding taxes low for the upper registers than with making sure we invest in the next generation (see here).  Our country’s real wealth has forever been its people and we should remember that always.

One of the discussions I engaged in during this time involved the above post by a friend on Facebook. This post and comment hinting that the growth of sea ice in Antarctica casts doubt on the idea of climate change is not dissimilar to the "evidence" offered up by Senator James Inhofe with his infamous snowball in the Senate.  That either offering is accepted without considerable consternation or eye-rolling by anybody is both troubling and telling.  Why for instance would anyone with a basic education or minimum of experience not understand that we have two poles in play and that sea ice and land ice are not the same and all these factors need to be examined collectively to draw any conclusion about a global phenomenon (see here for a discussion of what is happening with polar ice)?

Perhaps more problematic in this discussion and others is what passes for reliable information and credible sources. During this specific discussion above one person kept posting arguments from put out by a person who identifies himself as a concerned citizen named Justin Credible as in "just incredible."  His real name is Justin Prang and he runs this site as well as a sister climate denier site called  CO2CoolsYouFools. Okay, but what is Mr. Prang's background and what does he do for a day job that sets him up as an authority on atmospheric physics and climate change?
"Are you confident and LOVE to show off your hotness? Wanna be part of the raddest, most unique promo team on the planet? Then #GETINTHEVAN and show us what you got! No rules, no prudes, all styles welcome." Sales pitch from Wham Bam Babes owned by Mr. Prang who often travels around BC in what he calls the Wham-Bambulance.  
Turns out that Mr. Prang (pictured at left) writes a blog about living in an RV but also is the CEO of Wham Bam Promotions that appears to be a modeling entity of sorts for alternative models (not of the mathematical sort). While he seems like a charming guy doing good for the world and rocking a purple zebra pattern bed spread in his RV, it is hard to see why he would think himself the logical choice to educate folks on climate change.  Moreover, why would folks gravitate to him in this role (see his professional profile here) ?

Now granted there is a little facetiousness going on here and this is an extreme example, but really not all that extreme in terms of what we are seeing in the denier world. How, for instance, is this that much different from Friends of Science or Marc Morano's Climate Depot site?

Now I am ending with the ridiculous here because I want to drive us back to where many of us were in the 1990s when the industry science advisers made the above statement and many of us in the environmental and conservation communities were having productive discussions with industry leaders about solutions and remedies.

I am not alone in these sentiments because Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz recently wrote a piece called A Reagan approach to climate change and environmental writer Mark Lynas wrote We must reclaim the climate change debate from the political extremes both of which argued for a coming together in the middle, an acknowledgement of the situation as well as challenges and then moving forward with solutions.  Now I would and have argued that an extremely damaging stance is more harmful in the long run than an extremely cautionary approach, but I could just walk away from that if those in the other camp would step up as George Shultz has done and call for science-based rationality and a disassembling of the denial machine.

Given what has been invested in this effort to discredit the science and what the core players are willing to invest in the future, this last part promises to be a tall, tall order.  But someone, somewhere has to ask themselves what happens if the nearly $1 billion strategy being orchestrated for the 2016 election is truly successful?  What happens to us all and this country if environmental regulations are largely removed, taxing structures hugely demolished and funding for infrastructure such as education, health care and transportation are totally Tea-Partied?  Will this still be an America where we will all want to live or rather a Libertarian dystopian construct where smiles are few and unrest widespread?

In times of important decisions and critical changes I think it is always good to do some visioning
and honest recollection.  For me this starts with an old and tattered T-shirt (pictured at right).  In the late 1990s I worked on a project to teach trumpeter swans how to migrate behind ultra-light aircraft. Because of this I was invited to be on the Eastern Shore's answer to "Lake Wobegon" a live radio show recorded in a theater in Easton, Maryland and called "Radio from Downtown."  I was on the show once or twice but the one I remember most was the one where I talked about swans and Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest played the piano and sang a very credible "Danny Boy." In the green room Wayne and I had some opportunities to talk which led to him being on a promotional video for the swan project and later conversations about the Endangered Species Act and even about UC Santa Cruz because one of his children was interested in attending my alma mater.

My point is that we talked and had a respectful interchange that led to progress for both of us.  In
point of fact it was enjoyable.  Moreover, it was not unusual as I was having similar discussions with other Republicans like John Turner about economic incentives for endangered species. Mr. Turner a former Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service under Bush I cited my work in these areas as well as the Keystone dialogues (of which I was a member) repeatedly in his own work with Jason Rylander on economic incentives contained in "Private Property and the Endangered Species Act: Saving Habitats, Protecting Homes."  But there were other efforts on issues like habitat conservation plans and safe-harbor agreements happening at this time too (see here).

So when we look at the true "gains" of the post-Gingrich era conservative revolution or whatever you call what has moved us more towards an oligarchy over the last 20 years there are two that standout: Acrimony and divisiveness.  My sense is that our system has been wildly manipulated to become more interested in defending ideologies than representing people or solving problems.

So our options moving forward are either becoming more acrimonious and divisive or talking a bold move in an old direction because it is best for our nation and others.   As suggested by Shultz and Lynas climate change may be a good place to start this transition, but I would also urge others in leadership positions who remember times when we used to work together to chime in as well.  We need to move past the ridiculousness of the circus portrayed above and back to a state where science and scientists are respected and understood and American once again becomes a symbol of visionary progress rather than far too fertile fodder for political cartoons.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Climate Deniers Sorry and Sordid Shell Game

By Bob Ferris

The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) and workshop. 
I was recently doing some research on this silly legend that the anti-wolf crowd is pushing about Echinococcus granulosa and wolves when I stumbled onto some materials posted by a group called Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).  Who the hell are they and why would they be posting this crap about wolves?

One of my first steps in trying to get a handle on this was to visit CFACT’s website and get a sense of them.  I looked first at their advisory board and a couple of names jumped right out at me.  The first was James Beers the infamously ousted US Fish and Wildlife Service employee and rogue biologist who is the darling of the anti-wolf and property-rights crowds (1,2,3). Suffice it to say anyone who adds Mr. Beers to any committee or board anywhere is not looking for a high level of credibility.
"...they [polar bears] can grow a little bit more if it's slightly warmer."  Dr. Willie Soon (at 26:23 minutes) during a July 13, 2008 talk entitled "Endangering The Polar Bear: How Environmentalists Kill" based upon research supported by the State of Alaska ($9,998.00) and used by then-Governor Sarah Palin in her unsuccessful efforts to block Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear (see also 1,2). 
The second name that popped out was Dr.Willie Soon.  Dr. Soon has been in the news lately because of his less than ethical approach to disclosing the funders of his climate change research (1,2,3,4,5). He evidently did not think it germane to disclose all sources of funding from the fossil fuel industry for his controversial studies and Senator Ed Markey is currently calling him out on this ethical lapse.

Beyond Beers and Soon the CFACT advisory board is largely a who’s who from the climate denier camp—some of whom are also on Congressman Raul Grijalva’s list to be investigated for not disclosing funding sources such as Robert Balling Jr.  And the rest are from conservative think tanks around the nation such as the Hudson, Heartland and Cato Institutes.  (It is so hard for me not to call these "stink tanks." And, yes, I did get distracted by what I found and so I changed course.  So hold on as we travel through this morass--some of it old news and some of it new.)

The picture of what is happening here becomes clearer when you look at the CFACT staff.  Right in the middle of the page is Marc Morano.   Well now, that is a familiar name indeed to those working on the climate change front.  To say that Mr. Morano is notorious seems inadequate.  His efforts to undermine progress on emissions reductions—first with Rush Limbaugh and latter with Senator James Inhofe—are the stuff of denier legend.  In fact, Mr. Morano is featured in the upcoming documentary “Merchants of Doubt” that, in part, explores the links between campaigns to discredit the the relationship between second-hand smoke and cancer and what we see in terms of manufactured confusion on the climate change front.

When I think of Mr. Morano I remember the WC Fields’ quote:  “If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”  It seems kind of funny in theory but not so hilarious in practice particularly when you look at the totality of the deception and the cataclysmic implications for all of us.  It is impossible to pull on any thread of this without running into connections and purposeful confusion.
“Established to safeguard the charitable intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise, Donors Trust is the sole donor-advised provider dedicated to promoting a free society and serving donors who share in that purpose.” Donors Trust mission from website and Guidestar Profile
“Trust is working to help alleviate, through education, research, and private initiative, society's most pervasive and radical needs, including those relating to social welfare, health, the environment, economics, governance, foreign relations, and arts and culture; and to encourage philanthropy and individual giving and responsibility, as opposed to governmental involvement, as an answer to society's needs.” From Donors Trust program activities on IRS form 990
How convoluted?  In 2011 CFACT gave conservative think tank funding funnel Donors Trust $303,000.00 followed in 2012 by a grant of $115, 000.00 and another $50,000.00 grant in 2013. Donors Trust gave the aforementioned Willie Soon’s climate change project $64,935 in 2012 and $49,864.00 in 2013.  OK, but Donors Trust gave CFACT $1,295,754.00 in 2010, $989,780.00 in 2011, $3,383,760.00 in 2012  and $305,000.00 in 2013 representing 45.5 percent, 33 percent, 61 percent and 15 percent respectively of CFACT’s annual budgets for those years.  Confused yet?

The above is suspicious to say the least particularly when you consider the greatly increased “need” to fund an organization spreading confusion about climate change and this set of actors during an election year.  Coincidence?  Probably not.  For me it brings to mind the old fundraiser’s saying that goes: People give money to people to help people.  Donors Trust seems to have turned that notion on its head with their own credo of: Rich greedy people give money to ethically compromised people to help rich greedy people.  It is really hard to find the charitable purpose or public good served by investing in organizations bent on confusing established science to delay needed action to protect the health and welfare of the nation.  Try as I might, I cannot see the broad benefit of this.

But Donors Trust is not the only complex web associated with this crowd.  Consider all that happens at 1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 for a moment.  This single suite houses:

1. American Legal Health Foundation
2. Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (1,2,3)
3. Association of American Physicians and Surgeons Education Foundation
4 Southwest Institute for Science
5. Southern Arizona Association for Play Therapy
6. Physicians for Civil Defense (1,2)
7. Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (1 ,2,3)

All of these ultra-conservative organizations have a common connection in the person of Jane Orient MD.  (As someone once commented, it must be one crowded office.)  Between her salaries at ALHA and AAPS Dr. Orient pulls in at least $364,600.00 annually in compensation as both those entities’ sole paid employee.

And as evidenced by the excerpt from the ALHA’s 2012 990s (at left), the board seems unaware of the messages sent by Sarbanes-Oxley.  Even the least aware board member should understand that it is probably not a wonderful idea for the treasurer to be the sole paid employee and then also not have an independent board salary or audit committee—nearly all the money raised by that non-profit goes directly to Dr. Orient.  That is probably good because her attempts as a novelist on books such as Neomorts where her characters try to bring down the obviously evil "Federal Transplant Registry" or Moonshine where she points out the dangers of "ecophiles" loving the earth are likely not putting a lot of food on her table.

Doctors for Disaster Preparedness Board: Jane Orient MD - Claud Boyd MD - Art Robinson MD - Donald Miller MD - Howard Hayden MD - Howard Maccabee MD - Norbert Rempe MD - Robert J. Cihak MD - John Kasch MD - Paul Morris MD - Steven Hatfill MD

Of the seven groups housed at that locale in Tucson two are most relevant to this piece: the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) and Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (DDP).  AAPS has been around for a long time since it first opposed government health care in the mid-1940s.  Since then the group has opposed an amazing number of reforms and measures favored by other doctors such as gun control, Social Security, and comprehensive testing of drugs.  They also are against abortion or emergency birth control and believe that there is a link between abortions and breast cancer.  Both Ron and Rand Paul have been associated with this organization in the past (see here for a more complete listing of their policies and practices).

Now while AAPS members are dyed-in-the-wool ultra-conservatives that, like the Koch Brothers, have historic ties to the John Birch Society (1,2), Doctors for Disaster Preparedness is just simply strange.  When you visit their less than professional website it is really difficult to see a theme that is consistent with their name or mission.  There are, however, some familiar names like Dr. Orient and also Art Robinson MD who heads up the Republican Party in Oregon and recently lost a race to Congressman Peter DeFazio in 2014.

From OISM website
Dr. Robinson also runs a group in Oregon called the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine that shows Dr. Orient as a faculty member as well as board member and which, incidentally, wants your urine (see above).  In addition, Dr. Robinson is famous for being part of the team that organized the so-called Oregon Petition of scientists opposed to climate change that was widely circulated and then widely discredited on many different levels (1,2,3).  Dr. Robinson also periodically publishes something called Access to Energy which he took over from Petr Beckmann  when Dr. Beckmann died.

And Dr. Petr Beckmann (not Dr. Peter Venkman, that is the guy from “Ghost Busters” played by Bill Murray) brings us back to DDP because their top award is called the Petr Beckmann Award which in the last 20 years has been given eight times to leading actors in the climate deniers camp and most recently to Marc Morano (see below list and above video).  (I am not exactly sure how opposition to climate change helps doctors be more prepared for disasters.)

Petr Beckmann Award Winners

1995 - Jane Orient
1996 - Robert Jastrow
1997 - Sallie Baliunas
1998 - Arthur B. Robinson
2000 - S. Fred Singer
2003 - Sherwood B. Idso
2004 - Willie Soon
2012 - Marc Morano

It is interesting to note that four out of these eight Beckmann Award winners also got awards at a Heartland Institute ceremony in 2014 as follows (see also Note at bottom):

2014 Frederick Seitz Memorial Award
Presented to Sherwood B. Idso
Presentation made by Fred Singer

Voice of Reason Award
Presented to Arthur B. Robinson
Presentation by Joseph Bast

Courage in Defense of Science Award
Presented to Willie Soon
Presented by John B. Sheldon

Lifetime Achievement in Climate Science Award
Presented to S. Fred Singer
Sponsored by The Heartland Institute
Presentation by Joseph Bast

(Note: In the above it is important to remember that Frederick Seitz founded the George C. Marshall Institute and collaborated on the Oregon Petition with Art Robinson.  Fred Singer founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project.  Willie Soon worked for the George Marshall Institute and co-authored papers with Sallie Baliunas. And on and on...circles within circles)

Now certainly the Heartland Institute (that has also received funding from Donors Trust) was quick to jump to Dr. Soon's defense with paid ads on Google (see above) so that anyone who searched for their 2014 conference's honoree would see this advertisement first rather than the 416,000 other results many of which talked about his non-disclosure, the conflicts of interest and problems with his research.  Heartland was also offering up a page with a defense of sorts.  It included a statement by Heartland's president that basically backed Dr. Soon, in part, because he was a repeated speaker at a conference organized by...wait for it...Heartland.  In fact the list of speakers for the Heartland-hosted ICCC-10 in 2015 contains a fair overlap of the awardees and players mentioned above.  And if you take time to read the list of pro-Soon opinion pieces provided by Heartland you will also find a high overlap between the authors and Heartland staff, experts, honorees and speakers at the ICCC events.

In Heartland's Soon defense materials, I particularly liked the above statement by Dr. Christopher Essex about the funding at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center where both Dr. Soon and Dr. Sallie Baliunas hold positions.  Not only is his characterization incorrect as these funds were often restricted specifically to certain works, projects and deliverables, but who is Dr. Essex to be making authoritative statements about anything at "the Smithsonian" and why would Heartland think Dr. Essex was the go-to guy in this instance or that we would buy it?  Particularly when the Smithsonian had already made a statement that basically contradicted the statement by Dr. Essex (see below from Smithsonian's Facebook page).

As evidenced above and throughout this piece and the associated links, the Heartland Institute, like many others of their ilk, follows a fairly simple model.  When there is no platform for your viewpoint, create one.  When your position is not supported by experts, recruit and promote your own set of experts. When there are difficulties getting your research published or in the public's eye, develop your own publications such as Environment and Climate News.  When legitimate professional conferences fail to provide podium time for your people, put together your own conference.  And constantly hand out lofty sounding awards like popcorn to your own experts.

In digging through all of this it is difficult not to think in terms of shit-stacked-on-shit (pardon me, but really).  The degree of connectedness bespeaks smallness and the mutual self-reinforcement is purposely meant to give all the denier players more stature than they rightfully deserve and the denier movement the appearance of larger size and more credibility.  It fails because what you continually see is a small group of politically-homogeneous actors who seem to have more connectedness within their movement than Kevin Bacon has within the movie industry.

A Facebook friend of mine recently stated: At some point, the strangle hold that the fossil fuel lobby has on our government will have to be broken.  I agree with this and more, but in order for that to happen this whole tangled web above and the allied structures must be exposed, seen for what they are and disassembled. Institutes need to become institutes again rather than fronts for industry-sponsored science or thinly disguised political machines such as Heartland which is happy to co-sponsor CPAC events (see above video) and push the Tea Party nonsense.  The money issues too need to be dealt with from Citizens United's influence on our political system to better tracking and reporting of the sources of donations over $100,000.00 so it becomes obvious when players like the Koch Brothers with billions in fossil-fuel interests invest more than $67 million since 1997 to discredit the concept of climate change and in efforts to forestall regulation.

For the above changes to happen legitimate media need to tell this story and investigative reporters need to tug hard on the threads introduced here and elsewhere. This needs to be called out for what it is: An elaborate shell game meant to benefit a few while digging us deeper into a course that will ultimately sink us all. But there also needs to be public outrage over this overt deception and an understanding that needed change is unlikely to come from the very people put in office by this increasingly oligarchic system.

This piece opened with a life-threatening but cryptic parasite so in a sense we have come full-circle. I look forward to seeing whether the American public will wake up and take steps to reclaim our democracy or succumb to this money and greed-driven infection which compromises us so much and jeopardizes our future and that of our children.  Time will tell.

[DISCLOSURE: I received no funding or assistance in researching and writing this piece.  And I am not affiliated with any entity other than a family that has lived on this continent for nearly 395 years, contributed materially to the founding of this experiment in democracy, and has consistently defended this great nation from threats, both internal and external, for more than two centuries]

If you need more to make you understand the seriousness and pervasiveness of this situation and the need to take action, here is more to ponder:

Congress as Viagra Gone Bad

Koch-backed network aims to spend nearly $1 billion in run-up to 2016

Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher

Meet the Network Hiding the Koch Money: "Donors Trust" and "Donors Capital Fund"

Secret funding of climate sceptics is not restricted to the US

Actions to Take:

There are many, many actions to take and petitions to sign from a number of groups with a number of differing perspectives and agendas.  Rather than point people in certain directions, I would rather suggest that folks find groups that feel comfortable to them and then work with those groups on these issues.  My sense is the core messages and, therefore, the solutions are three: 1) Science needs to be conducted openly, honestly and without undue influence by entities with vested and significant interests in the outcomes; where this is not happening safeguards need to be established; 2) Some corrective solution must be implemented to solve the representational inequity created by the Citizen's United Decision; and 3) Additional reporting and transparency requirements need to be established on contributions to non-profit organizations or foundations exceeding $100,000.00 individually or in sum.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

We Should Stand with Chinese Pollution Activists Because They are Standing for Us

By Bob Ferris

Screen capture of CNN broadcast of  amateur video of Chinese
protesters and pollution.
When I worked in DC, I had a number of opportunities to meet with people working on environmental and conservation issues in other countries.  One that sticks out in my mind was a meeting with a Chinese activist who wanted to talk with me about saving panda bears.  He came to me because he thought that I was successful and he wanted to know how to be successful too.

He and I talked first in terms of professional toolboxes.  What did each of us have in terms of approaches we could apply towards our own issues?  My toolbox was embarrassingly full with environmental laws and regulations, activist lists, media and a whole host of options that I could use alone or in concert with others.  His toolbox was absolutely empty.  Not only that, but if he tried to use his empty toolbox the lid would likely slam down on his hand.  The meeting ended well but awkwardly and I remember feeling tremendous admiration for the gentleman and at the same time thinking: Dude, you are so screwed.
Chinese factory by High Contrast (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons

Through the years I have followed some of what has been happening in China particularly as it applies to the shipment of coal and other fossil-fuels eastward as we, Wal-Mart and others supposedly externalize the environmental costs of our hyper-consumerism and continue our own march towards being a resource colony once again.

In this I remember the Panda man, because while we in the US and Canada stand up to the utter ridiculousness of coal trains, pipelines and tar sands, there are those in China who are doing the same thing at much, much greater personal risk (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10).  We may not hear about it or see but that does not mean it is not happening.

There are many catalysts for this column but the most recent is a documentary called "Under the Dome"  which in many ways is the Asian equivalent of "An Inconvenient Truth."  Taking nothing away from Al Gore, but this is really the same act performed “without a net” and therefore deserves a thumbs-up on the YouTube video (above) as well as supportive comments that demonstrate worldwide support for this undertaking.  Their courage also challenges us to do more and show more courage in our own campaigns.

There are many, many reasons for wanting to stop coal from the Powder River Basin, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) derived from fracking and tar sand (or shale) oil from being shipped to China. But if your only reason for doing so is to salute the courage of these protesters and activists in China who are fighting their fight (and through extension ours), that would be more than enough rationale. Perhaps through this collaboration we can also demonstrate the true promise of globalization which is not the shipping of products that many of us do not need from place to place but rather the establishment of some collective consciousness and the coming together to identify and solve our shared problems.