PNN - Secular, Petroleum & Peace
Ruddy Everglades EarthFirst
Karen Dwyer Clamshell Alliance
Joe Beck - Treasure Coast Humanists
Steve Horn- DeSmog Blog Fellow
Dave Petrovich- Peace and Economic Justice Activist
1 U.S. Inspector: Billions in failed programs wasted in Afghanistan --
U.S. has spent $120 billion on 'reconstruction' in Afghanistan [Too bad Detroit isn't in Afghanistan.]
12 Sept 2014 The top U.S. official for monitoring aid to Afghanistan painted a grim portrait of the country's future Friday, saying it is riddled with corruption and graft.
With most Americans' attention riveted on [purposefully distracted] Iraq and Syria, John F. Sopko, the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan, said the United States' unprecedented 120 billion reconstruction investment there is at risk. "The country remains under assault by insurgents and is short of domestic revenue, plagued by corruption, afflicted by criminal elements [CIA] involved in opi-m and smuggling, and struggling to execute the basic functions of government," Sopko said in a speech at Georgetown University. [Start reading.].
Israeli intelligence veterans refuse to serve in Palestinian territories 12 Sept 2014 Forty-three veterans of one of Israel’s most secretive military intelligence units -- many of them still active reservists -- have signed a public letter refusing to serve in operations involving the occupied Palestinian territories because of the widespread surveillance of innocent residents. The signatories include officers, former instructors and senior NCOs from the country's equivalent of America's NSA or Britain's GCHQ, known as Unit 8200 -- or in Hebrew as Yehida Shmoneh-Matayim. They allege that the "all-encompassing" intelligence the unit gathers on Palestinians -- much of it concerning innocent people -- is used for "political persecution" and to create divisions in Palestinian society. The largest intelligence unit in the Israeli military, Unit 8200 intercepts electronic communications including email, phone calls and social media in addition to targeting military and diplomatic traffic.
3. LET ME SPY-BOYS FREE
Spy court renews NSA metadata program 12 Sept 2014 With a surveillance reform bill stuck in the Senate, the federal court overseeing spy agencies on Friday reauthorized the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of Americans' phone records. Reauthorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) allows the NSA to continue to warrantlessly collect "metadata" in bulk about people's phone calls.
4. Harvard Business School's Role in Widening Inequality
By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog
13 September 14
No institution is more responsible for educating the CEOs of American corporations than Harvard Business School – inculcating in them a set of ideas and principles that have resulted in a pay gap between CEOs and ordinary workers that’s gone from 20-to-1 fifty years ago to almost 300-to-1 today.
A survey, released on September 6, of 1,947 Harvard Business School alumni showed them far more hopeful about the future competitiveness of American firms than about the future of American workers.
As the authors of the survey conclude, such a divergence is unsustainable. Without a large and growing middle class, Americans won’t have the purchasing power to keep U.S. corporations profitable, and global demand won’t fill the gap. Moreover, the widening gap eventually will lead to political and social instability. As the authors put it, “any leader with a long view understands that business has a profound stake in the prosperity of the average American.”
Unfortunately, the authors neglected to include a discussion about how Harvard Business School should change what it teaches future CEOs with regard to this “profound stake.” HBS has made some changes over the years in response to earlier crises, but has not gone nearly far enough with courses that critically examine the goals of the modern corporation and the role that top executives play in achieving them.
A half-century ago, CEOs typically managed companies for the benefit of all their stakeholders – not just shareholders, but also their employees, communities, and the nation as a whole.
“The job of management,” proclaimed Frank Abrams, chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, in a 1951 address, “is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly affected interest groups … stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large. Business managers are gaining professional status partly because they see in their work the basic responsibilities [to the public] that other professional men have long recognized as theirs.”
This view was a common view among chief executives of the time. Fortune magazine urged CEOs to become “industrial statesmen.” And to a large extent, that’s what they became.
For thirty years after World War II, as American corporations prospered, so did the American middle class. Wages rose and benefits increased. American companies and American citizens achieved a virtuous cycle of higher profits accompanied by more and better jobs.
But starting in the late 1970s, a new vision of the corporation and the role of CEOs emerged – prodded by corporate “raiders,” hostile takeovers, junk bonds, and leveraged buyouts. Shareholders began to predominate over other stakeholders. And CEOs began to view their primary role as driving up share prices. To do this, they had to cut costs – especially payrolls, which constituted their largest expense.
Corporate statesmen were replaced by something more like corporate butchers, with their nearly exclusive focus being to “cut out the fat” and “cut to the bone.”
In consequence, the compensation packages of CEOs and other top executives soared, as did share prices. But ordinary workers lost jobs and wages, and many communities were abandoned. Almost all the gains from growth went to the top.
The results were touted as being “efficient,” because resources were theoretically shifted to “higher and better uses,” to use the dry language of economics.
But the human costs of this transformation have been substantial, and the efficiency benefits have not been widely shared. Most workers today are no better off than they were thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation. Most are less economically secure.
So it would seem worthwhile for the faculty and students of Harvard Business School, as well as those at every other major business school in America, to assess this transformation, and ask whether maximizing shareholder value – a convenient goal now that so many CEOs are paid with stock options – continues to be the proper goal for the modern corporation.
Can an enterprise be truly successful in a society becoming ever more divided between a few highly successful people at the top and a far larger number who are not thriving?
For years, some of the nation’s most talented young people have flocked to Harvard Business School and other elite graduate schools of business in order to take up positions at the top rungs of American corporations, or on Wall Street, or management consulting.
Their educations represent a substantial social investment; and their intellectual and creative capacities, a precious national and global resource.
But given that so few in our society – or even in other advanced nations – have shared in the benefits of what our largest corporations and Wall Street entities have achieved, it must be asked whether the social return on such an investment has been worth it, and whether these graduates are making the most of their capacities in terms of their potential for improving human well-being.
These questions also merit careful examination at Harvard and other elite universities. If the answer is not a resounding yes, perhaps we should ask whether these investments and talents should be directed toward “higher and better” uses.
5. Alaskans want'm all out
Alaskans Turn Against Both Parties as Local Democrats Embrace an Independent Candidate
Posted: 13 Sep 2014 12:00 PM PDT
The number of Alaskans who identify with either major party has reached a new low. From Gallup:
Alaska: Self-Reported Party Identification
This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that recently Democrats in the state abandoned their own bid for governor to instead back an independent Bill Walker. That move turned what should of been a easy victory for a relatively popular incumbent Republican governor in a red state into a serious competition.
I think it also speaks to a broad point about the current political climate. This election will likely be framed as a victory for Republicans but it should probably be more accurately described as a loss for Democrats. Both party’s brands are in very bad shape. It is only because our two party system creates a zero-sum game that simply doing less horribly can make one party look like winners.
In the few big races this year, like the Alaska Governor and Kansas Senate, where the Democrat dropped out the Republican candidates are under performing against their independent challengers. These independents aren’t being brought down by the national Democratic brand so the Republicans are in trouble.
Similarly, one of the thing really helping Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is that Libertarian Sean Haugh is on the ballot giving people who want to vote against Hagan but also dislike Republican Thom Tillis an alternative.
One of the best thing Republicans have going for them is that in most elections this year is they are basically the only choice for people who don’t want to vote for a Democrat. That is not really victory, just losing less badly.
5a. Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics – Book Salon Preview
Posted: 13 Sep 2014 10:40 AM PDT
A major, surprising new history of New York’s most famous political machine—Tammany Hall—revealing, beyond the vice and corruption, a birthplace of progressive urban politics.
Hosted by Phoenix Woman, join us this afternoon at 5PM EDT, 2PM PDT to talk with Terry Golway about his new book.
For decades, history has considered Tammany Hall, New York’s famous political machine, shorthand for the worst of urban politics: graft, crime, and patronage personified by notoriously corrupt characters. Infamous crooks like William “Boss” Tweed dominate traditional histories of Tammany, distorting our understanding of a critical chapter of American political history. In Machine Made, historian and New York City journalist Terry Golway convincingly dismantles these stereotypes; Tammany’s corruption was real, but so was its heretofore forgotten role in protecting marginalized and maligned immigrants in desperate need of a political voice.
Irish immigrants arriving in New York during the nineteenth century faced an unrelenting onslaught of hyperbolic, nativist propaganda. They were voiceless in a city that proved, time and again, that real power remained in the hands of the mercantile elite, not with a crush of ragged newcomers flooding its streets. Haunted by fresh memories of the horrific Irish potato famine in the old country, Irish immigrants had already learned an indelible lesson about the dire consequences of political helplessness. Tammany Hall emerged as a distinct force to support the city’s Catholic newcomers, courting their votes while acting as a powerful intermediary between them and the Anglo-Saxon Protestant ruling class. In a city that had yet to develop the social services we now expect, Tammany often functioned as a rudimentary public welfare system and a champion of crucial social reforms benefiting its constituency, including workers’ compensation, prohibitions against child labor, and public pensions for widows with children. Tammany figures also fought against attempts to limit immigration and to strip the poor of the only power they had—the vote.
While rescuing Tammany from its maligned legacy, Golway hardly ignores Tammany’s ugly underbelly, from its constituents’ participation in the bloody Draft Riots of 1863 to its rampant cronyism. However, even under occasionally notorious leadership, Tammany played a profound and long-ignored role in laying the groundwork for social reform, and nurtured the careers of two of New York’s greatest political figures, Al Smith and Robert Wagner. Despite devastating electoral defeats and countless scandals, Tammany nonetheless created a formidable political coalition, one that eventually made its way into the echelons of FDR’s Democratic Party and progressive New Deal agenda.
Tracing the events of a tumultuous century, Golway shows how mainstream American government began to embrace both Tammany’s constituents and its ideals. Machine Made is a revelatory work of revisionist history, and a rich, multifaceted portrait of roiling New York City politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Terry Golway was a journalist for thirty years, writing for the New York Observer, the New York Times, and other venues. He holds a PhD in American history from Rutgers University and is currently the director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy in New Jersey. (WW Norton)
5B. John Brennan, Dianne Feinstein, and the Soon-to-be-Released (?) Torture Report
Posted: 13 Sep 2014 09:20 AM PDT
CIA Director John “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Overseers” Brennan and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (i.e., the aforementioned “Stinkin’ Overseers”) have been having a nasty little spat, revolving around both the CIA’s use of torture as an interrogation technique, and also the CIA’s spying on SSCI staffers who are trying to investigate and report on the CIA’s use of torture as an interrogation technique. The roughly 6800 page report has been completed for quite a while, but the administration and SSCI have been arguing since April over what must be redacted before an unclassified executive summary can be released.
The latest meeting between Brennan and SSCI took place behind closed doors on Tuesday (more on this below), and two days later, on Thursday, SSCI chair Dianne Feinstein came out and said her committee is almost done and the torture report will be out soon:
The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee is confident that her panel’s declassified review of the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” will be out by the end of the month.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday that the panel is working with the Obama administration to finalize which of a series of controversial redactions that officials made will stay and what information can be made public. . .
The so-called “torture report” is an unclassified summary of the committee’s 6,800-page analysis of the detention and interrogation methods used by the CIA under President George W. Bush. It is expected to detail harsh and brutal methods that were more widespread and less effective than the public has been led to believe.
Wow — a meeting on Tuesday between Brennan and SSCI, and on Thursday it sounds like everything’s peachy. That must have been quite a meeting, given how hard the two sides have been fighting over the past year.
It certainly was, but not in a good way:
Tensions between the CIA and its congressional overseers erupted anew this week when CIA Director John Brennan refused to tell lawmakers who authorized intrusions into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a damning report on the spy agency’s interrogation program.
The confrontation, which took place during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, came as the sides continue to spar over the report’s public release, providing further proof of the unprecedented deterioration in relations between the CIA and Capitol Hill.
After the meeting, several senators were so incensed at Brennan that they confirmed the row and all but accused the nation’s top spy of defying Congress.
“I’m concerned there’s disrespect towards the Congress,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy. “I think it’s arrogant, I think it’s unacceptable.”
I’m intrigued by the timeline on this. The meeting was on Tuesday, but McClatchy’s report on it didn’t come out until yesterday — the day after DiFi’s confident statement that the torture report would be out shortly. There are two possible ways that you can read this. . .
(A) Feinstein’s comments were a signal that SSCI is tired of waiting, tired of being lied to, tired of being spied on, and tired of being treated like dirt, so they are finally growing a spine and are ready to defy Brennan et al. and put out the report they want to put out, and all the anger at Brennan in yesterday’s report on the Tuesday meeting was put out in public to lay the groundwork for the release. In this scenario, Brennan’s intransigence on Tuesday was partly fueled by realizing that he wasn’t going to win the fight over the redacted version of the summary, and he had nothing more to gain by trying to be seen as cooperating. Feinstein’s Thursday comments then are a bookend to her public comments last April in response to Michael Hayden’s insults. “We’re done trying to negotiate — it’s coming out.”
(B) Feinstein’s comments were yet another edition of her usual “I’m sure we can work this out soon,” signalling that she was ready to cave to the CIA’s demands and redact more of what the SSCI wanted to release, in order to calm John Brennan down, keep the intelligence community happy, and get some watered-down, limited version of the report off her desk and out in public. In horror and disgust, other SSCI members began talking in great detail (and at least some of them on the record) to reporters about the Tuesday meeting, to try to stiffen Feinstein’s spine and get her to hold firm.
So which is it: Option A or Option B?
I’d like to believe this sequence of events points toward Option A, but I’ve watched Feinstein for too long to underestimate her willingness to cave to the people she is supposed to be overseeing. As Marcy Wheeler noted in a “Hate to Tell SSCI I Told Them So” piece on the McClatchy story, Brennan has been lying to SSCI for a long time, and even when his lies were known, they went ahead and confirmed him to head the CIA anyway.
But before we pick between Option A and Option B, there’s one more wrinkle to this discussion. It appeared as a little throwaway line in the account of Feinstein’s comments on Thursday:
“We might be able to get it done in a week or so,” Feinstein said. “It will take time to make all the changes, so it’ll probably take another week” until the document is publicly released.
It would certainly be out before the midterm elections on Nov. 4, she added.
That, my friends, is a threat. While it is the democratic Obama administration that has been fighting with SSCI over executive privilege, the underlying conduct being investigated is that of the republican administration of George W. Bush. Feinstein is bluntly saying “torture *will* be in the public discussion, right before the midterms.” It’s not clear from the story whether the reference to the midterms was in response to a question about the midterms from a reporter, or if Feinstein raised it herself without prompting, but either way, that’s not good news for John Brennan and those he’s trying to protect from public scrutiny.
There’s never a good time to have your agency’s very very dirty laundry brought out in public, but some times are much worse than others. Right before an election is one of those times, as those who are opposed to what your agency has done will be sure to give it the most publicity they can when they are out on the campaign trail, when all the cameras are on them and the microphones are live.
So where are we on this — Option A or Option B?
I feel like Charlie Brown running toward Lucy to kick a football here, but I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m going with Option A.
On the other hand, I’m not so blindly optimistic to think that this will come to pass any time soon.
h/t to Joe Loong for the image of the “Lucy Pulling the Football Away” mural at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, and used (lightly cropped) under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.o Generic license. The museum is a great place, and well worth visiting.
6. NRA Hosts "Killer Cop" Competition Amid National Outcry Over Police Violence
n previous years the National Rifle Association's (NRA) National Police Shooting Competition (NPSC) included events with names like "Head Shots Only," in which the event's course description contends that police officers need to practice shooting directly at people's heads.
Courses like this are only one of the many reasons why, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, activists and family members of police shootings victims call the annual NPSC the "killer cop contest."
The competition is set to begin September 15 at Shooting Range Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The contest brings together more than 500 officers from various law enforcement agencies across the country to judge who's best at using lethal weapons. A similar regional shooting competition has already begun.
The NRA's law enforcement division has organized the NPSC annually since its first competition in Iowa in 1962, actively reaching out to officers and inviting them to the contest. This year law enforcement officers from as far away as Germany and Venezuela are expected to attend, according to NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide.
Long-time organizers against police violence in Albuquerque who have attended previous tournaments describe the competition as a celebration of the heavily militarized policing tactics and practices that have been at the center of a national firestorm in the aftermath of the militant police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
"These are events that celebrate the efficiency in coordinated use of lethal force, using high-powered military weaponry," said David Correia, a University of New Mexico American studies professor and local organizer. "This is not some sort of municipal police conference ... if it were just about municipal policing it wouldn't just be about the use of high-powered weaponry; there would also be events about community policing or ways for officers to show their proficiency in community engagement."
Dalseide told Truthout the events have been held in Albuquerque since 2007. Dalseide said the competition will also include "armory schools" in which arms manufacturers send gunsmiths to teach officers how to maintain their weapons.
Dalseide said he was not authorized to answer Truthout's inquiries about the NRA's decision to continue to host the conference in spite of a national outcry over police violence, deferring to the NRA's policy and legislative public relations staffers, who have not responded to Truthout's request for comment.
The "Tactical Police Competition" begins this weekend, September 13 and 14, and includes events designed for both individuals and teams, in which officers compete on obstacle courses modeled after "a hypothetical law enforcement encounter," according to the NRA's description of the competition.
One shooting game called "Drunk Buddies" runs officers through a scenario where they attempt to arrest a drunken man for public intoxication when the man's friends approach yelling "police brutality." The officer just decides he will use pepper spray on the group when the drunken men charge while waiving knives and yelling, "kill the cops." Another course, "Accurate, Fast & Fun" challenges officers to kill as many "targets" as possible while firing from unusual positions in the shortest amount of time.
In another imaginary scenario, officers are at home when intruders suddenly break in. When a "start signal" is given, the officers retrieve their handguns, load them and "engage Threat Targets." This scenario is not unlike what many civilians undergo after local police department execute routine "no knock raids," many of which have resulted in police shooting civilians who believed they were being robbed.
Anti-police-violence activists and family members of police shootings victims in Albuquerque plan to protest the weekend's events by holding a rally in the parking lot of Shooting Range Park and dropping banners inside the upscale hotels where the officers attending the games will be staying.
The activists have created a banner depicting the mock image of the typical silhouetted target that officers shoot at during the contest - only the target is James Boyd, who was brutally shot by Albuquerque officers in the Sandia foothills, sparking a series of protests.
The NRA lists the New Mexico Police Pistol Combat Association and Albuquerque Police Department (APD) as hosts of the NPSC. Current and former Albuquerque officers and commanders will compete in this year's shooting games along with officers from around the country, according to a roster of registered entrants.
Albuquerque officers have shot 37 people since 2010, more people per capita than the New York Police Department. They will be joined by representatives from various law enforcement agencies across the United States, including from the FBI from US Customs and Border Patrol.
The roster includes names of officers and former officers, such as Sean Wallace, who have been named in a lawsuits alleging excessive use of force. Wallace pulled over and beat a man without probable cause in 2003, resulting in an excessive force suit. Wallace subsequently shot-and-killed Leo Lopez in 2004, shot-and-wounded Wayne Cordova in 2010, and shot-and-killed Alan Gomez in 2011. The roster includes names of other controversial figures, such as former Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz.
Gomez's father, Michael Gomez, plans to be at this weekend's protests at Shooting Range Park and has delivered a letter to Mayor Richard Berry demanding cancellation of the shooting games.
Family members of police shootings victims like Gomez are outraged that Albuquerque city leaders continue to embrace the annual competition even after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a scathing report earlier this year which found the APD engages in a systematic pattern or practice of excessive use of force.
According to Correia, out of the 76 contenders who competed in the NPSC last year, more than a third represented law enforcement agencies under investigation by the DOJ's Civil Rights Division for systematic violations of citizen's civil and constitutional rights, often through institutionalized excessive use of force.
Janet Blair, a spokeswoman for the APD released the following statement from Mayor Berry to Truthout:
The City of Albuquerque hosts and welcomes numerous events per year, including the shooting championships. We welcome the opportunity to host law enforcement professionals from around the world here in our beautiful city and we thank them for their commitment and service at the local, state and federal levels to keeping our communities and nation safe.
However, Breanna Anderson, spokeswoman for Mayor Berry told Truthout, "we will not be able to accommodate your media requests" in a text message.
"[City leaders] are either one of two things: They are either completely tone-deaf to what their reaction or lack of reaction has been to the spate of killings in Albuquerque, or they don't care," Correia told Truthout. "I think the more likely answer is really that they don't care. They honestly don't see what's been happening in Albuquerque as a problem."
7. Behind Yahoo's Surveillance Battle With the Government
By Cora Currier, The Intercept
13 September 14
ore than 1,000 pages documenting a secret court battle between Yahoo and the government over warrantless surveillance will soon be released, the company said Thursday afternoon.
In 2007, Yahoo fought back against the government’s demand for information on certain overseas customers, saying that the request was over-broad and violated the constitution.
Yahoo’s challenge ultimately failed, knocked down by both the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, which oversees secret government spying) and its review court. The company then became one of the first to hand over information to the NSA’s PRISM program, which allowed the government access to records of internet users’ chats, emails, and search histories, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The targeted user was supposed to be foreign, but U.S. communications could still be swept up in the effort. Google, YouTube, AOL, and Skype were also among the companies that provided communications data to PRISM. According to the Washington Post, the government used the FISC court’s decision in the Yahoo case to pressure those others to comply.
In a statement on the company tumblr, Yahoo’s general counsel wrote that the government at one point threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 per day if it did not release the data. That revelation is among the 1,500 pages of documents that the company plans to post shortly, he said. Also included is the original FISC opinion from 2008 forcing Yahoo to acquiesce to the government’s demands.
The legal fight has mostly been hidden from view, with the heavily redacted exception of the review court’s order upholding the FISC decision. Yahoo’s name was even blacked out in that order, and not revealed until 2013. Yahoo asked for declassification of the court materials, and in August, the government finished its redactions. The FISC review court ordered the declassified material be released today—but it’s still mostly documents from the review, not the original challenge. Yahoo said it is still pushing for the rest of the case to be made public.
8.The Global Frackdown is just under a month away, on Saturday, October 11.
Actions are being planned in communities all across the world for this massive day of mobilization against fracking — and we want to make sure you're plugged in to your local movement.
To stay updated on events near you, text "FRACKDOWN" to 69866.
You can also check the map for actions in your area. Don't see one? We're still looking for volunteer event hosts — sign up here!
Actions for the Global Frackdown can be anything from a march or rally, a film screening or simply meeting up to collect signatures against fracking in your community. The important thing is that you plug in and take action to let your local decision makers know that fracking should be banned. Sign up here to join in and host an action in your community!
Whether you join an existing event or plan your own, we hope you'll stand with us against fracking on October 11.
Please get in touch with any questions!
Activist Network Coordinator
Food & Water Watch
9.Crist on PALM BEACH TV TODAY - I never left the Republican Party
It left me - THANKS for the TOP CHUCKLES
10. ELECTORATES RESPONSE TO TWEEDLE DUM, TWEEDLE DEEE CANDIDATES
WHATEVER - crowbar them to the polls or offer REAL DIFFERENCES
11. The Kochs' College Takeover Scheme
By Dave Levinthal, The Daily Beast
12 September 14
It seemed like a generous gift to a university that needed it. Then came the demands for ideological purity—and hand-picked staff.
n 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.
First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.
Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.
And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman—even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after a single three-year term.
The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson—a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector”—in place.
“As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs,” Benson at the time wrote to economics department colleagues in an internal memorandum. “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”
Benson concluded, “If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”
Such details are contained in 16 pages of previously unpublished emails and memos obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
While the documents are seven years old—and don’t reflect the Charles Koch Foundation’s current relationship with Florida State University, university officials contend—they offer rare insight into how Koch’s philanthropic operation prods academics to preach a free-market gospel in exchange for cash.
In 2012 alone, private foundations controlled by Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch, combined to spread more than $12.7 million among 163 colleges and universities, with grants sometimes coming with strings attached, the Center for Public Integrity reported in March.
Florida State University ranked a distant second behind George Mason University of Virginia as a recipient of Charles Koch Foundation money. In a tax document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation described its Florida State University funding for 2012 as “general support.”
Some schools’ professors and students were aghast at the funding, arguing that such financial support wasn’t widely known on their campuses and could threaten schools’ academic freedoms and independence. Others argued that colleges and universities—long bastions of liberal academics—would be well served by more libertarian courses of study.
Separately, Charles Koch is the financial force behind a “curriculum hub” for high school teachers and college professors that criticizes government and promotes free-market economic principles. He’s also funded programs for public school students.
At Florida State University, Benson noted in a November 2007 memorandum that the Charles Koch Foundation would not just “give us money to hire anyone we want and fund any graduate student that we choose. There are constraints.”
Benson later added in the memo: “Koch cannot tell a university who to hire, but they are going to try to make sure, through contractual terms and monitoring, that people hired are [to] be consistent with ‘donor Intent.’”
A separate email from November 2007 indicates that Benson asked Charles Koch Foundation officials to review his correspondence with Florida State associates about potential Koch funding.
Trice Jacobson, a Charles Koch Foundation representative, did not respond to questions, although Benson and Florida State University spokesman Dennis Schnittker each confirmed that the emails and documents are authentic.
But Benson noted that the documents were meant for internal use and reflect the “early stages of discussion” well ahead of a 2008 funding agreement signed by the university and the foundation.
That agreement, initiated in 2009, has earned Florida State $1 million through April, according to the university. Until it was revised in 2013, an advisory board would consult with the Charles Koch Foundation to select faculty members funded by the foundation’s money.
Benson also said that while he continued serving as Florida State’s economics department chairman until 2012, Charles Koch Foundation money wasn’t a factor.
While the foundation initially discussed providing money to help fund Benson’s salary, “that idea was taken off the table very early in negotiations,” he said. “I continued as chair because I felt I could still make a valuable contribution to the department.”
The 2008 agreement between the school and the foundation nevertheless faced harsh criticism from some professors and students who argued it indeed gave the foundation too much power over university hiring decisions.
The school and foundation revised their agreement in 2013 “for clarity” and to emphasize the “fact that faculty hires would be consistent with departmental bylaws and university guidelines,” Schnittker said. “Our work with CKF [Charles Koch Foundation] has always upheld university standards.”
Those guidelines, spelled out in a Florida State University statement about the foundation from May, say the money will not compromise “academic integrity” or infringe on the “academic freedom of our faculty.”
Ralph Wilson, a mathematics doctoral student and member of FSU Progress Coalition, doesn’t buy it.
Florida State University “willfully and knowingly violated the integrity of FSU by accepting funding meant only to further Koch’s free-market agenda,” said Wilson, whose student group works to “combat the corporatization of higher education.”
The Charles Koch Foundation, meanwhile, “is using our universities solely to further their own agenda and plunder the very foundations of academic freedom,” Wilson said.
At the end of 2012, the foundation reported having almost $265.7 million in assets, according to its most recent tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
In his 2007 memo to colleagues, Benson acknowledged the school’s relationship with the foundation would invite blowback.
“I guess I am trying to say that this is not an effort to transform the whole department or our curriculum,” Benson wrote. “It is an effort to add to the department in order to offer some students some options that they may not feel they have now, and to create (or more accurately, expand) a cluster of faculty with overlapping interests.”
Benson also predicted entering into an agreement with the foundation carried some risk.
“There clearly is a danger in this, of course. For instance, we might be tempted to lower our standards in order to hire people they like,” Benson wrote, in advocating that the university not do so. “We cannot expect them to be willing to give us free reign to hire anyone we might want, however, so the question becomes, can we find faculty who meet our own standards but who are also acceptable to the funding sources?”
The Koch brothers are best known not for their educational efforts but for controlling a constellation of conservative, politically active nonprofit corporations.
For example, in this election cycle alone, six nonprofits connected to the Kochs have combined to air about 44,000 television ads in U.S. Senate races through late August, with the ads typically promoting Republicans or criticizing Democrats.
12. NPR & Brnding
The new CEO of NPR, Jarl Mohn, comes mostly from the world of commercial media. He made his name at VH1 and MTV, and then went on run the E! channel (Current, 6/24/14). That's not his only experience; he's been involved with public radio too, as a board member at Southern California station KPCC.
But it's not hard to see that he still speaks the language of a corporate executive. Here's a part of his interview with On the Media's Bob Garfield (9/5/14):
GARFIELD: You've said you can generate a lot more underwriting revenue than NPR has been getting, that we've essentially been undervaluing our ad inventory, considering the size and affluence of our audience. Which makes perfect sense, but it also infuriates and terrifies some listeners who fear for NPR's independence, and for its very soul. What can you say to talk them down?
MOHN: They're not going to, as a listener, notice anything different. We're not talking about adding more units to each hour. The only thing that I think they might perceive differently is that we're going to be talking about brands that matter a little bit more to them, ones they're interested in. And we're going to ask for larger commitments from these underwriters…. The audience is growing. It's not just affluent, it's a smart audience and it's very engaged. What more could a brand want than this type of audience?
Anyone who listens to NPR has heard plenty of corporate sponsorship announcements, and some listeners have raised substantive questions about whether those financial ties compromise NPR's journalism (Extra!, 3/14). According to the new boss, nothing's going to change–you're just going to hear more about "brands that matter" because you'll be "interested" in them. That is, as long as you're part of the "not just affluent" audience that the supposedly noncommercial network is so proud of–for the "larger commitments" from sponsors they can command.
13. INTERNET SLOWDOWN - GETS THEIR ATTENTION
The slowdown was so big it was impossible to ignore. Several members of Congress tweeted about how their phones were ringing off the hook, and we dominated the mainstream news headlines. More than 40,000 websites took part, including many of the most popular sites in the world, and at the peak of the day, there were more than 1,000 phone calls to congress every minute!
This changes everything. Victory is more tangible now than ever before. But we still need to bring it home. Now that we’ve shown our strength, the giant Cable companies that are lobbying tooth and nail to destroy net neutrality will redouble their efforts, and work every connection they have to keep the public’s voice from being heard in Washington, DC.
There’s only one solution: we have to fight even harder, and grow our movement even larger, and we have to be ready to battle for the net for the long haul.
Organizing the Internet Slowdown day and hosting the website used up a huge amount of our resources. Will you chip in $5 (or more!) today to make sure we can keep the pressure on while we have so much momentum?
14. NO FEDERAL FRACKING RULES
It’s outrageous: there are no federal rules requiring fracking companies to reveal the litany of hazardous chemicals being pumped into the ground -- and communities across the country have been left defenseless against the fracking frenzy.
The EPA has been dragging its feet on closing this disclosure loophole, allowing our health and safety to take a backseat to the interests of corporate polluters.
But the agency is now inviting the public to comment on this critical issue before September 18.
Tell the EPA to move swiftly to require companies to report all the chemicals used during fracking.
The fracking onslaught is wreaking havoc on communities around the country:
A recent Colorado investigation found that the state has been suffering two oil and gas spills per day this year, including toxic chemicals like cancer-causing benzene -- usually without residents even being notified. Several spills contaminated groundwater, and one flowed into a river.
And in places as far flung as Dimock, PA, Pavillion, WY, and Parker County, TX, the EPA has apparently caved to industry pressure and dropped its investigations of fracking pollution, leaving residents to fend for themselves and suffer the consequences.