Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Money and Ideology

A couple of weeks ago I was driving home from a conference and had the radio on the Houston public radio station. I know… but I’d had it on earlier for Prairie Home Companion and hadn’t thought to change it. Plus, there aren’t many better options on a Saturday evening. The show was called Living on Earth; I hadn’t heard of it before. My expectation, naturally, was that there would be a liberal perspective, and probably “green” thinking—pro-government intervention to limit use of fossil fuel energy technologies. No surprises there, but there was a segment that got me arguing back to the radio, even though I knew not to take it seriously.
Logo from here
There were a couple of things that were interesting in this segment, called “Secret Cash for Climate Denial.” One is that the interviewer, Steve Curwood, whom I would assume would have an agenda or he wouldn’t do this job, asked questions that helped us see the truth and kept his tone unbiased. The other is that the interviewee, Suzanne Goldenberg, was honest in ways liberals are only when they assume everyone listening agrees with them.
It was a bit like a Dilbert cartoon, where everyone actually says what they think. Her complaint was that there are nonprofit organizations that send money to organizations seeking to argue against “climate change” legislation—“climate denial” is the phrase used, as a comparison to holocaust denial.
Goldenberg admitted that what these organizations do is lawful. She also admitted that there is a corollary on the left—the Tides Foundation.
So, she knows it’s legal, and she approves of whatever the Tides Foundation does. But the reason it’s wrong for the conservative organizations is because she disagrees with them. Yes, she was that clear about it. A little background, and then I’ll quote her.
Her complaint is that organizations called Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund give exclusively to conservative causes. (They are apparently closely aligned and can be considered essentially a single entity; their mission statements, here and here, are nearly identical.)
According to the story, the amount has been $400 Million over the past decade, with a quarter of that, $100 Million, going, as she puts it, “to about 100 different organizations that have worked to undermine the science behind climate change, or have worked to block action on climate change.” Personally, I wouldn’t use the term “undermine the science,” but simply presenting the opposing scientific view, because, despite her belief, proof that humans are causing catastrophic climate change is anything but settled. So I would see this use of money as a positive. If I had oodles of cash to hand out to chosen nonprofit projects, I might look into these.
To clarify, looking at the decade as a whole looks bigger, so let’s simplify to annual numbers: total annual intake by these two or more groups: $40 Million; total going toward discussion over climate science: $10 Million. I know to most of us $10 Million is a lot of money. But it could probably support only about a dozen or so employees plus capital expenses such as office space, technology, and some travel.
For comparison, I went to the one liberal organization she mentioned, which gives almost exclusively to liberal causes, the Tides Foundation. A simple Google search took me to a summary from a couple of years ago. The Tides Foundation intake in 2009 was $115,887,921. There’s also an additional Tides group called the Tides Center, which took in $60,111,511 that year. Putting the two together, Tides takes in about $176 Million, about 4 ½ times Donor funds.
This source shows a hint of disapproval toward the liberal agenda, but the information seems to be accurate. They say the Tides Center specializes in helping new organizations, so that, under their umbrella, new organizations can put off getting their own tax-exempt status right away, and also receive help with running a business, applying for grants, and running PR campaigns. In addition, the Tides Center serves as a firewall protecting the Tides Foundation from lawsuits from people harmed by Foundation-funded projects.
The Tides Center’s board chairman is Wade Rathke, who is also a member of the Tides Foundation board, as well as a leader in SEIU and what was ACORN. A year or so ago, Glenn Beck went into detail about these organizations and the incestuous connections with myriad socialist organizations, and close ties to George Soros. I’ll let his research suffice. But Tides undeniably promotes a surprisingly large number of leftist agenda projects. From 1996-2010, the Center (in addition to whatever the even larger Foundation did) supported 677 separate projects (200 just in 2010), with a total of $522.4 Million—for an average of $34.8 Million per year (counting 1996 and 2010 inclusively, making 15 years). Am I making it clear that just the Tides organizations dwarf in size the Donor funds?
A particular favorite Tides project type is radical environmentalism, but I don’t have a specific amount going for that, so we can’t do a direct comparison. Other favorite causes are anti-war, anti-free trade, anti-firearms ownership, anti-death penalty, pro-government-funded abortion on demand, and LBGT promotion. It would be difficult to come up with a project I did not strongly oppose, based on what I know to be true, and what I believe is right. I don't believe they promote anything that leads to political freedom, economic prosperity, and thriving civilization (maybe the occasional classical music program, perhaps).
So that puts me in an opposite but parallel position to Suzanne Goldenberg. Here is the exchange where she discloses her actual complaint:
CURWOOD: Conservatives aren’t the only ones that use anonymous donor mechanisms; liberals do as well. What's, what's the problem here?
GOLDENBERG: To me that the main difference is the causes they’re supporting. When you're talking about science—when you're talking about the facts of climate science—the two sides aren't equivalent. And I don't think that it's legitimate to say putting out information about science is one thing and putting out information that is factually wrong is just as valid. Because they clearly aren’t. I think as a society we’d be concerned if organizations were taking secret money to go out and say, hey, smoke as many cigarettes as you like, it won't hurt you; hey, be afraid when you use a public washroom, you can get HIV aids from toilet seats. I think it's a very different thing when you're talking about putting out information that is factually incorrect, and you're doing that in a secretive fashion.
I am amused when she says she disagrees that “putting out information about science is one thing and putting out information that is factually wrong is just as valid,” because I agree with her. I do think it’s wrong to take in secretive money with the specific purpose of putting out information that is factually incorrect. It’s just that she believes things to be facts that are not, and I am skeptical of what she calls “consensus,” which is anathema to scientific discovery.
If I were like Suzanne Goldenberg, I would say that we should keep the laws for conservative organizations, because I agree with them, but I think we should refer to the liberal ones as nefarious secret cash being laundered into harmful causes, and should therefore be outlawed. That’s what I would say if I didn’t believe in free speech and I trusted the government to scrutinize the beliefs of any organization so it could ban what it disagreed with.
But, then, free speech is one of those “outré” concepts of us “extremists” who believe in that old Constitution. Not something the liberals take seriously. There are a lot of things liberals claim are true, and they believe they can make it true by saying it loudly, over and over and over, and attacking any source of opposing views. What we need is better awareness, better questioning. And more truth telling is also good. What we definitely don’t need is a government stepping in to police our beliefs and ban dissent.

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