Saturday, January 07, 2006

 

Follow the money

Beware of Astroturf!

I bring this up as a teacher, who a couple of days ago was helping one of my students look for a website to help him with a science project dealing with carbon dioxide. Googling CO2, our first hit was for a website from the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. Ah, a global warming site, I thought. But a quick glimpse of the site helped me realize that co2science.com had reached its conclusions about global warming before it ever even formulated a hypothesis. I didn't have the heart to tell my student that these scholars may not be completely faithful to the scientific method. If he knew, I'm sure my 11-year-old charge would be aghast, if not completely crushed.

The lead story on this informational site crows that the average temperature in Bastrop, La., has actually declined since 1930, somehow offering proof that global temperatures aren't rising. Other stories assert that global warming will actually benefit climbing nightshade, sugarbeets, canola and soybeans. Apparently the folks at co2science.com want it both ways: There is no such thing as global warming. Wait, but just in case there is, it's actually a good thing.
Already wary I followed Deep Throat's advice, I followed the money. A quick Internet search revealed that the Arizona-based center has received at least $65,000 from ExxonMobil, not exactly an unbiased party in the global warming debate.

And thus we return to my admonition to beware of astroturf. What is astroturf, other than that really tacky green carpet made here in St. Louis that adorned those '70s-era football stadiums? This kind of astroturf refers to a movement that can be seen as a fake version of grassroots activism.

There's nothing more American than the idea of an honest grassroots movement, fueled by average folks who want to change their community, even their country. Some of the greatest changes in American history have started from modest roots. Unfortunatlely, corporate America and partisan ideologues fully realize our collective soft spot for the underdog. Knowing this companies like ExxonMobil and Phillip Morris - whoops, I mean Altria - wish to influence our thinking by funding organizations that by appearances seem spurred by average concerned American or by dedicated, learned men in white labcoats. But really they do little more than spew corporate-sponsored propaganda and in some cases engage in outright lobbying. It's fake grassroots, hence the name "astroturf." It's possibly the most cowardly, dishonest way I can imagine to disseminate information, yet these organizations have had a huge, yet subtle, impact on swaying our political and social beliefs and ideals.
Some of these organizations come and go, depending on specific issues before Congress. Here are some examples of astroturf organizations that either currently exist or have impacted legislation or public opinion:
The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition - funded by ExxonMobil, 3M, Dow Chemical and Phillip Morris - whoops, I mean Altria - and others
Air Quality Standards Coalition - whose office happens to be in the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters.
Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care - funded by HCR Manor Care, Sun Healthcare Group, Tandem Health Care and Kindred Healthcare.
Business for Social Repsonsibility - funded by such beacons of corporate responsibility as ExxonMobil, Ford Motor Co. and Chiquita Brands Inc.
Citizens for Better Medicare - funded largely by such "citizens" as pharmaceutical corporations and their lobbying groups.
Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain - In this case, the "citizens" paying the bill include at least seven electric utilities and three coal companies.
I could go on and on. For a more lengthy list click here Do you really think Citizens for Better Medicare wants prescription prices lowered for old folks? Do you really think the Air Quality Standards Coalition really wants aggressive enforcement of the Clean Air Act? Probably not, but to look at their websites, you'd think we were dealing with height of reason and clear thinking.
Officially, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change states that it "was created to disseminate factual reports and sound commentary."
"The Center attempts to separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change," the center's website goes on to explaing.
Watch out for catch phrases like "sound commentary" and "common sense." They always come with the implication that the activist groups they seek to encounter are a bunch of sensationalists with no grasp of the facts. Of course, the above mentioned center never mentions on its site that it receives money from ExxonMobil, a company that apparently would prefer you not have truthful, honest information.
I say this because of a 1998 leaked memo from Exxon outlining its strategy for winning the PR battle over global warming with such statements as "Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom." In its efforts at "truthiness," Exxon has spread around a lot of money - $485,000 to the John C. Marshall Institute; $870,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute; $105,000 to the National Center for Policy Analysis. Really I feel kind of bad about beating up on the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change for the paltry $65,000 it received.
Now, does this mean that the "scientists" at these organizations believe what they believe only because of the payola they're getting from Exxon. Not necessarily, but it doesn't really pass the smell test either. And what I'm smelling - bsides the stench of burning fossil fuels - is something that starts with an M and ends with a Y.
Sources
Log onto SourceWatch if you come across the name of a bullshit-sounding think tank or grassroots organization and you want to check them out. Click here
Want to learn more about how ExxonMobil disseminates lies and propaganda about global warming? Then click here and here
Quote of the Day
"Sharon was personally a very likeable person. I am sad to see him in this condition. But I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, "divide my land." God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible, he says, "This is my land." And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he going carve it up and give it away, God says, "No. This is mine." And the same thing - I had a wonderful meeting with Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. He was tragically assassinated."
- Pat Robertson, asserting that those who seek peace in the Middle East meet with a bad end.
I know. I know. You probably already heard about it. And Robertson says so many stupid things that even quoting him here seems gratuitous and cheap. But his quotes are worth noting because Robertson is one of the leaders of a political faction our president holds dear and panders to at all costs. Meanwhile, the majority of conservative Christians who know Robertson is mean and hateful have once again remained silent, thereby condoning his hateful speech.

Comments:
Very timely blog, considering the Abramoff and DeLay investigations. It's really unfortunate that the agenda's that our congress pushes is influenced by the dollars they receive. So shady. I sometimes wonder if Washington, DC is not Mexico North.

Regarding Robertson, you are so right in lambasting the religious right for remaining quiet. If you want to know a good organization that wants to influence Washington with Christian values, visit Jim Wallis' organization, Sojourners, on the web.
 
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