Thursday, December 26, 2013

Global Warming Vignette

The drought had lasted for years, water was rationed and tanker trucks were set up at strategic locations where men and women queued in long lines holding containers whose capacity was regulated by the water authority. Armed men walked up and down the line checking the containers and the ID of their bearers. Cattle lay dead in the fields, or pirouetted wildly in their thirst-driven madness. Brush fires burst out spontaneously; entire hillsides were blackened and smoldering, and the air was acrid with smoke and ash that burned throats and reddened eyes. The people in lines looked like bandits, wearing dampened handkerchiefs and cloths over their mouths. Some collapsed and lay where they fell, like the cattle in the fields. The states bordering Texas had set up road blocks to prevent people abandoning the Lone Star state and potentially overwhelming the water and other resources of their states. Pitched battles broke out between unofficial militias and the national guards of several states. Thirty-six states had declared disasters. The United States was threatening war with Canada over its curtailing of Columbia River water.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Dark Money" Funds Climate Change Denial Effort: Scientific American

A Drexel University study finds that a large slice of donations to organizations that deny global warming are funneled through third-party pass-through organizations that conceal the original funder

By Douglas Fischer and the Daily Climate

The largest, most-consistent money fueling the climate denial movement are a number of well-funded conservative foundations built with so-called "dark money," or concealed donations, according to ananalysis released Friday afternoon.
The study, by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, is the first academic effort to probe the organizational underpinnings and funding behind the climate denial movement.
It found that the amount of money flowing through third-party, pass-through foundations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funding cannot be traced, has risen dramatically over the past five years.
In all, 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010.
Meanwhile the traceable cash flow from more traditional sources, such as Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, has disappeared.
The study was published Friday in the journal Climatic Change.
"The climate change countermovement has had a real political and ecological impact on the failure of the world to act on global warming," Brulle said in a statement. "Like a play on Broadway, the countermovement has stars in the spotlight  – often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians – but behind the stars is an organizational structure of directors, script writers and producers."
"If you want to understand what's driving this movement, you have to look at what's going on behind the scenes."
Consistent funders
To uncover that, Brulle developed a list of 118 influential climate denial organizations in the United States. He then coded data on philanthropic funding for each organization, combining information from the Foundation Center, a database of global philanthropy, with financial data submitted by organizations to the Internal Revenue Service.
According to Brulle, the largest and most consistent funders where a number of conservative foundations promoting "ultra-free-market ideas" in many realms, among them the Searle Freedom Trust, the John Williams Pope Foundation, the Howard Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.
Another key finding: From 2003 to 2007, Koch Affiliated Foundations and the ExxonMobil Foundation were "heavily involved" in funding climate change denial efforts. But Exxon hasn't made a publically traceable contribution since 2008, and Koch's efforts dramatically declined, Brulle said.
Coinciding with a decline in traceable funding, Brulle found a dramatic rise in the cash flowing to denial organizations from Donors Trust, a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation, the assessment found, now accounts for 25 percent of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations promoting the systematic denial of climate change.
A call and e-mail Friday night to Donors Trust was not returned.
Matter of democracy
In the end, Brulle concluded public records identify only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars supporting climate denial efforts. Some 75 percent of the income of those organizations, he said, comes via unidentifiable sources.
And for Brulle, that's a matter of democracy. "Without a free flow of accurate information, democratic politics and government accountability become impossible," he said. "Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square."
Powerful funders, he added, are supporting the campaign to deny scientific findings about global warming and raise doubts about the "roots and remedies" of a threat on which the science is clear.
"At the very least, American voters deserve to know who is behind these efforts."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One Cold December Day

One cold December day one year ago twenty kids aged 6 - 7 were shot dead by a twenty year-old severely disturbed young man whose mother thought she could bond with her son through guns and shooting. He shot and killed her on that fateful day, then went to Sandy Hook elementary school, shot his way in with the Bushmaster semiautomatic his mother taught him to shoot, and then, moving inexorably down the hall and into classrooms, shot the kids and their teachers multiple times using the semiautomatic and its extended magazine. Then he shot himself in the head with his mother’s Glock 20 pistol.

One year since that cold Saturday morning, December 14th, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when an unimaginable tragedy was visited upon parents and loved ones preparing to celebrate a blessed holiday. One year ago, and every year after, the shock, the pain, the grief, the loss will be felt again, and again, and again, forever. 

One year ago an outpouring of shared grief and sympathy was followed by outrage and  angry calls for more effective gun control measures. Ninety-percent of Americans favored tougher gun control measures, but a Senate bill, co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat, that would have strengthened the background check system was met with strident opposition by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and other gun rights organizations. It was blocked by Senate Republicans -- all but 4 voted against the bill -- joined by 4 Democrats. They voted “nay” because they were afraid -- not afraid that the bill didn’t do enough to protect more kids from gun violence, but afraid that voting for the bill would hurt their chances of being reelected.

Fear is the lingua franca of the NRA and the gun lobby at large. They have demonstrated their power at the ballot box, most recently when they successfully orchestrated a recall of two Colorado legislators who voted to strengthen Colorado’s gun laws. Their threat is explicit and credible; go against us and we’ll throw you out of office.

More disturbing perhaps than the gun lobby’s campaign of intimidation towards lawmakers is their campaign to change the very core of America’s culture of openness and generosity of spirit. The NRA and its ilk have convinced their adherents that we live constantly under threat -- threat of rape, robbery, and murder; threat of natural disasters that turn into bloody anarchy; and the threat that a tyrannical government is bent on wresting their treasured guns from their “cold, dead hands.”

The NRA has made manifest this dystopian view of America in the laws it sponsors. Teaming with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), it crafted the infamous “stand your ground” law that allowed George Zimmerman to go free after he followed, confronted, and shot 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. Not to be confused with Castle Doctrine, this law allows individuals to use deadly force if they feel threatened anywhere they have a legal right to be without any attempt to retreat. It’s the embodiment of the “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude, and it has resulted in a significant increase in homicides across the 26 states that have enacted such laws. Some of the other cases in which the stand your ground defense has been used successfully beggar the imagination.

As of this writing, 11,413 gun deaths have been reported since Sandy Hook. The toll is undoubtedly much higher, close to 33,000, largely because suicides by gun are rarely reported. As a nation, we have done nothing to stop the mayhem. But we Washingtonians can do something to at least demonstrate our commitment to stem the tide here in our own backyard -- pass Initiative 594, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s background check proposal (

The gun lobby will fight this with lots of money geared towards feeding the paranoia of gun rights activists, fearful of losing their guns, and legislators afraid of losing their elected office. The rest of us, afraid of losing our children, must fight back by ensuring I-594 gets on the ballot and then voting it into law.

One year ago, and every year after, the shock, the pain, the grief, the loss will be felt again, and again, and again, forever. Let us do this small thing, take this small step to say, We are with you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Would Someone Just Shut That Pope Up?

Posted By Patrick J. Deneen On December 5, 2013 @ 10:03 am In Conservatism,Religion | 82 Comments
Pope Francis not sufficiently appreciating Ronald Reagan
Since the release of Evangelii Gaudium [1] there have been countless articles and commentary about the economic portions of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation. Some of the commentary has been downright bizarre, such as Rush Limbaugh denouncing [2] the Pope as a Marxist, or Stuart Varney accusing [3]Francis of being a neo-socialist. American conservatives grumbled but dutifully denounced a distorting media when Pope Francis seemed to go wobbly on homosexuality, but his criticisms of capitalism have crossed the line, and we now see the Pope being criticized and even denounced from nearly every rightward-leaning media pulpit in the land.

Not far below the surface of many of these critiques one hears the following refrain: why can’t the Pope just go back to talking about abortion? Why can’t we return the good old days of Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI and talk 24/7/365 about sex? Why doesn’t Francis have the decency to limit himself to talking about Jesus and gays, while avoiding the rudeness of discussing economics in mixed company, an issue about which he has no expertise or competence?

There are subtle and brash versions of this plea. At “The Catholic Thing,” Hadley Arkes has penned [4] a characteristically elegant essay in which he notes that Francis is generally correct on teachings about marriage and abortion, but touches on these subjects too briefly, cursorily and with unwelcome caveats of sorts. At the same time, Francis goes on at length about the inequalities and harm caused by free market economies, which moves Hadley to counsel the Pope to consult next time with Michael Novak. The upshot—be as brief as the Gettysburg Address in matters pertaining to economics, and loquacious as Edward Everett when it comes to erotics.

On the brash side there is Larry Kudlow, who nearly hyperventilates [5] when it comes to his disagreement with Pope Francis, accusing him of harboring sympathies with Communist Russia and not sufficiently appreciating Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II. (R. R. Reno, who is briefly allowed to get a word in edgewise, wisely counseled Kudlow not to fight the last war—or, the one fought three wars ago, for that matter.) Revealingly, Kudlow counsels the Pope to concentrate on “moral and religious reform,” and that he should “harp” instead on “morality, spiritualism and religiosity,” while ceasing to speak about matters economic. Similarly, Judge Napolitano, responding to a challenge from Stuart Varney on why the Pope is talking about economics, responded: “I wish he would stick to faith and morals, on which he is very sound and traditional.”

These commentators all but come and out say: we embrace Catholic teaching when it concerns itself with “faith and morals”—when it denounces abortion, opposes gay marriage, and urges personal charity. This is the Catholicism that has been acceptable in polite conversation. This is a stripped-down Catholicism that doesn’t challenge fundamental articles of economic faith.

And it turns out that this version of Catholicism is a useful tool. It is precisely this portion of Catholicism that is acceptable to those who control the right narrative because it doesn’t truly endanger what’s most important to those who steer the Republic: maintaining an economic system premised upon limitless extraction, fostering of endless desires, and creating a widening gap between winners and losers that is papered over by mantras about favoring equality of opportunity [6]. A massive funding apparatus supports conservative Catholic causes supporting a host of causes—so long as they focus exclusively on issues touching on human sexuality, whether abortion, gay  marriage, or religious liberty (which, to be frank, is intimately bound up in its current form with concerns about abortion). It turns out that these funds are a good investment: “faith and morals” allow us to assume the moral high ground and preoccupy the social conservatives while we laugh all the way to the bank bailout.

The right’s contretemps with Pope Francis has brought out into the open what is rarely mentioned in polite company: most visible and famous Catholics who fight on behalf of Catholic causes in America focus almost exclusively on sexual issues (as Pope Francis himself seemed to be pointing out, and chastising, in his America interview [7]), but have been generally silent regarding a century-old tradition of Catholic social and economic teaching. The meritocracy and economic elite have been a main beneficiary of this silence: those most serious about Catholicism—and thus who could have brought to bear a powerful tradition of thinking about economics that avoids both the radical individualistic presuppositions of capitalism as well as the collectivism of socialism—have spent their energies fighting the sexual/culture wars, even while Republican-Democratic ruling machine has merely changed driver seat in a limousine that delivers them to ever-more exclusive zip codes [8].

In the past several months, when discussing Pope Francis, the left press has at every opportunity advanced a “narrative of rupture,” claiming that Francis essentially is repudiating nearly everything [9]that Popes JPII and Benedict XVI stood for. The left press and commentariat has celebrated Francis as the anti-Benedict following his  impromptu airplane interview (“who am I to judge?”) and lengthy interview with the Jesuit magazine America. However, in these more recent reactions to Francis by the right press and commentariat, we witness extensive agreement by many Catholics regarding the “narrative of rupture,” wishing for the good old days of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

But there has been no rupture—neither the one wished for by the left nor feared by the right. Pope Francis has been entirely consistent with those previous two Popes who are today alternatively hated or loved, for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke with equal force and power against the depredations of capitalism. (JPII in the encyclical Centesimus Annus [10] and Benedict XVI in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate. [10])  But these encyclicals—more authoritative than an Apostolic Exhortation—did not provoke the same reaction as Francis’s critiques of capitalism. This is because the dominant narrative about John Paul II and Benedict XVI had them pegged them as, well, Republicans. For the left, they were old conservatives who obsessed with sexual matters; for the right, solid traditionalists who cared about Catholicism’s core moral teachings. Both largely ignored their social and economic teachings, so focused were they on their emphasis on “faith and morals.” All overlooked that, for Catholics, economics is a branch of moral philosophy.

I think it is because of the left’s “narrative of disruption” that the right is panicked over Francis’s critiques of capitalism. These Vatican criticisms—suddenly salient in ways they weren’t when uttered by JPII and Benedict—need to be nipped in the bud before they do any damage. Of course, all along Catholic teaching has seen a strong tie between the radical individualism and selfishness at the heart of capitalism and liberationist sexual practices, understanding them to be premised on the same anthropological assumptions. (If you don’t believe Catholics about this, just read Ayn Rand.) While Hadley Arkes laments that Pope Francis did not speak at more length on sexual matters, if one reads his criticisms of the depredations of capitalism with care, one notices that he uses the same phrases with which he criticized abortion—namely, that abortion is but one manifestation of “a throw-away culture [11],” a phrase as well as in Evangelii Gaudium in his critique of capitalism (Section 53 [12]). If one attends carefully to Francis’s criticisms of the economy’s effects on the weak and helpless, one can’t help but perceive there also that he is speaking of the unborn as much as those who are “losers” in an economy that favors the strong.  Like John Paul and Benedict before him, Francis discerns the continuity between a “throw-away” economy and a “throw-away” view of human life. He sees the deep underlying connection between an economy that highlights autonomy, infinite choice, loose connections, constant titillation, utilitarianism and hedonism, and a sexual culture that condones random hook-ups, abortion, divorce and the redefinition of marriage based on sentiment, and in which the weak—children, in this case, and those in the lower socio-economic scale who are suffering a complete devastation of the family—are an afterthought.

The division of the fullness of Catholic thought in America has rendered it largely tractable in a nation that was always suspicious of Catholics. Lockean America tamed Catholicism not by oppression (as Locke thought would be necessary), but by dividing and conquering—permitting and even encouraging promotion of its sexual teachings, albeit shorn of its broader social teachings. This co-opted the full power of those teachings, directing the energy of social conservatives exclusively into the sexual-culture wars while leaving largely untouched a rapacious economy that daily creates few winners and more losers [13] while supporting  a culture of sexual license and “throw-away” children. Without minimizing the seriousness with which we need to take issues like abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty, these are discrete aspects of an overarching “globalization of indifference” described by Francis. However, we have been trained to treat them as a set of autonomous political issues that can be solved by one or two appointments on the Supreme Court. Francis—like JPII and BXVI before him—has upset the “arrangement.” Rush and the gang are not about to go down without a fight. If only they could get that damn Marxist to talk about sex.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Scummy Telemarketer Taken to Court

At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a U.S. district court has temporarily shut down a Brooklyn, New York-based operation that allegedly used deception, threats, and intimidation to induce elderly consumers to pay for medical alert systems they neither ordered nor wanted.

In its complaint, the FTC charges that telemarketers for Instant Response Systems call elderly consumers – many of whom are in poor health and rely on others for help with managing their finances – and try to pressure them into buying a medical alert service that consists of a pendant that supposedly allows them to get help during emergencies.  In numerous instances, Instant Response Systems allegedly has falsely claimed during sales calls that consumers who did not order the medical alert service have, in fact, bought the service and owe the company money -- often hundreds of dollars. 
The company also allegedly has shipped bogus invoices and unordered medical alert pendants to consumers without their consent, has repeatedly threatened consumers with legal action in order to induce and coerce payment, and has subjected them to verbal abuse.  In addition, the FTC contends that Instant Response Systems has illegally made numerous unsolicited calls to consumers whose phone numbers are listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.
According to the FTC’s complaint, consumers who tried to contact the company to dispute the false charges or find out how to return unopened packages often were unable to reach anyone.  If they did reach a representative, they allegedly faced threats, verbal abuse, and demands that they pay for the product.
Based on this alleged conduct, the FTC charged the company and its principals with making illegal misrepresentations to consumers, violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by calling phone numbers on the DNC Registry, and violating the Unordered Merchandise Statute by sending consumers pendants they did not order.
The defendants charged in the case are Instant Response Systems, LLC, also doing business as Response Systems, B.B. Mercantile, Ltd., Medical Alert Industrial, and Medical Alert Services; and Jason Abraham, also known as Yaakov Abraham, individually and as an officer of Instant Response Systems.  Abraham was previously sued by the FTC in 2003 for selling international “drivers’ licenses” and phony university diplomas.
The Commission vote approving the complaint was 5-0, with former Chairman Jon Leibowitz and former Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch participating.  It was filed under seal in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn Division, on February 25, 2013, and the seal was lifted on March 7, 2013.
The FTC appreciates the assistance of the New York State Office of the Attorney General in helping to investigate and bring this case.
NOTE:  The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.  The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law.  The case will be decided by the court.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.  Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
Mitchell J. Katz,
Office of Public Affairs
Arturo DeCastro,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
(FTC File No. 122-3041)

Is this the headquarters of the medical alert telemarketer that's