Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tornadoes and Koch Industries: An Elegant Solution

by Nomad
(originally posted in April 2011 at Nomadic View blog)

A Declaration of Emergency
On April 28th, 2011, tornadoes swept through the south of the United States, killing 128 people in Alabama and 32 others in Mississippi and leaving long trails of destruction. Homes and businesses were left as piles of rubble. Towns were plowed down the middle and many residents, having lost all they owned, felt
lucky just to be alive. My sympathies went out to the survivors and my condolences to the families that have lost loved ones.

This all came after a week in which storms torn through a half a dozen states in what meteorologists have called the deadliest season in nearly four decades. Republican Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama declared a state of emergency and said he was deploying 2,000 National Guardsman.

Similarly, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency for 39 counties. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost loved ones or property in these devastating spring storms,” Gov. Barbour said. “A large section of our state has been impacted, and our emergency responders are doing an excellent job in helping communities. This State of Emergency declaration will allow the state to offer aid to begin recovery efforts.”

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency coordinates with the Federal emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA in administering disaster recovery. Federal sources contributes at least 75% of damage repair costs while while state and local entities share the remaining 25 percent or less of repair costs.

Nobody can blame the governor for requesting money when it is urgently needed. However, there's a ugly, hypocritical side to Barbour's requests. Like numerous Republican politicians of late, Gov. Haley Barbour last March chastised Obama for "limitless government" and out of control spending. His stand against Big Government has made him something of a "politician of note" in the Republican party.

Mind you this is the same governor who easily took $15 billion in aid following Hurricane Katrina, which critics of Barbour have charged, was mishandled. Timothy J. Burger, writing for Bloomberg notes, the use of those funds has raised many questions.
No evidence has surfaced that Barbour violated the law; at the same time, the pattern that emerges from public records and interviews raises ``many red flags,'' said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group in Falls Church, Virginia, that investigates the investments of government officials. ``At the minimum, the public is entitled to a full explanation of the facts,'' he said.
Exactly what Boehm is referring to is illustrated in an article from the website, The National Corruption Index :
The wife of Barbour’s nephew, Rosemary Barbour, was one of the biggest Mississippi-based winners of Katrina contracts. Her company, Alacatec LLC, picked up nearly $300 million in contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the General Services Administration, the bulk of it for trailer maintenance. The FBI began an investigation in 2007.
Of course, there's' nothing particularly remarkable about a politician being hypocritical. Of course, in Babour's case, in terms of hypocrisy, it is a little above the usual standard.

Should We Talk About The Weather?
But first of all, let's take a small step back and examine what on earth is going on with the weather. Most meteorologists have already declared this year to be something special in terms of storm activity and indeed, records seem to show an overall increase in the number of tornadoes from decade to decade. A 2011 preliminary count from all National Weather Service reports for the month of April is an eye-opening 654 tornadoes, compared to 2010 count of 139 and 2009 count of 226.

So what is the cause? NOAA 's answer is somewhat guarded.
Does "global warming" cause tornadoes? No. Thunderstorms do. The harder question may be, "Will climate change influence tornado occurrence?" The best answer is: We don't know. According to the National Science and Technology Council's Scientific Assessment on Climate Change, "Trends in other extreme weather events that occur at small spatial scales--such as tornadoes, hail, lightning, and dust storms--cannot be determined at the present time due to insufficient evidence."
Many researchers feel the evidence suggests a more direct influence.
Research Meteorologists found that the temperature changes brought on by global warming are significant enough to cause an increase in the occurrence of severe storms.
"What we found is that increases in human-induced greenhouse gases will lead to more frequent severe storms in the United States," Jeff Trapp, Ph.D., a meteorologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., said.
Based on the models, the researchers believe the number of days that favor the formation of severe storms could more than double in places like Atlanta and New York. These added storms will likely hit areas during already heavy storm seasons and extend wet weather seasons.
"This obviously impacts people in terms of potential hazards to their life and property," Dr. Trapp said.
Purdue University scientists are not alone in that assessment. NASA scientists have developed a new climate model that indicates that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common as Earth's climate warms.
"..[T]he model suggests that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common with warming.'
Clouding the Issue
This kind of research isn't universally accepted, especially by climate change deniers. According to a Greenpeace report, one of the largest private corporations in the country has spent a veritable fortune in undermining climate change research by funding organizations that spread inaccurate and misleading information about climate science and clean energy policies.

This report documents roughly 40 climate denial and opposition organizations receiving Koch foundation grants in recent years, including:
• More than $5 million to Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP) for its nationwide “Hot Air Tour” campaign to spread misinformation about climate science and opposing clean energy and climate legislation
• More than $1 million to the Heritage Foundation, a mainstay of misinformation on climate and environmental policy issues.
• Over $1 million to the Cato Institute, which disputes the scientific evidence behind global warming, questions the rationale for taking climate action, and has been heavily involved in spinning the recent ClimateGate story.
• $800,000 to the Manhattan Institute, which has hosted Bjorn Lomborg twice in the last two years. Lomborg is a prominent media spokesperson who challenges and attacks policy measures to address climate change.
• $365,000 to Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) which advocates against taking action on cliimate change because warming is “inevitable” and expensive to address.
Additionally the report cites the tremendous political power that the Koch brothers have used to defeat carbon-limiting regulatory legislation, through direct federal lobbying and campaign contributions.
• Spent $37.9 million from 2006 to 2009 for direct lobbying on oil and energy issues, outspent only by ExxonMobil ($87.8 million) and Chevron Corporation ($50 million).
• Spent $5.74 million in PAC money for candidates, committees, and campaign expenditures since the 2006 election cycle.
• Contributed at least $270,800 to federal political party committees since the 2006 election cycle.
Flexing Muscles
It shouldn't surprise anybody that Koch Industries should be willing to invest a fortune to derail any legislation that might negatively affect its ability to do business, much of which involves the petro-chemical sector.

Koch Industries would certainly have a lot to lose if carbon emission industries were more carefully regulated.

According to SourceWatch, for example, Koch Carbon trades and transports petroleum coke, coal, cement, pulp and paper, sulfur and other commodities, the Koch Exploration Company acquires, develops and trades petroleum and natural gas properties in the United States, Canada and Brazil. Flint Hills Resources operate crude oil refineries in Alaska, Minnesota, and Texas and petrochemical plants in Illinois, Michigan and Texas. The Koch Pipeline Company owns and operates approximately 4,000 miles of pipelines used to transport crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas liquids and chemicals while the Koch Alaska Pipeline Company owns an approximate 3 percent interest in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. Koch Industries also owns a 28% interest in the Colonial Pipeline Company which it describes as the "owner and operator of the world’s largest-volume refined products pipeline.

That's capitalism in action and with an estimated of $100 billion (2008 figures) Koch Industries can afford to flex its muscles.

And another way that the Koch brothers have flex their political muscle is through the funding of political organizations like Americans for Prosperity (mentioned above) which has been, among other duties, useful in campaigns against any legislation involving cap and trade or carbon emissions.

Purporting to be a grassroots group, AFP, founded and chaired by David Koch, is the "third largest recipient of funding from the Koch Family Foundations, behind the Cato Institute and the George Mason University Foundation,according to DeSmogBlog.
AFP is a non-profit organization who does not to disclose its donors. However, the Media Transparency project shows from 2003-2006, Americans for Prosperity received $1,181,000 from conservative foundations. $1 million of that funding was given by the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation--one of the Koch Family Foundations.
In the past years, the AFP has organized various Tea Party events throughout the nation. Koch was reported to have said at a Americans for Prosperity Conference in 2009 that in creating AFP:
"'we envisioned a mass movement, a state-based one, but national in scope, of hundreds of thousands of American citizens from all walks of life standing up and fighting for the economic freedoms that made our nation the most prosperous society in history.'"
In other words, the birth of the Tea Party.

A Fair Solution
Last year there was a string of weather related disasters, such as flooding in Nashville, tornadoes in the Midwest, extensive blizzards throughout the nation and powerful hurricanes in the southern states. The problem is simple: If Tea Party members wish to limit the role of big government and also wish to reduce taxes, who then is going to pay for clean-up and rebuilding? Not to mention preparedness training and search and rescue. Who is going to build the levies and the dikes that keep the waters back? Who is going to keep the snow off the streets if nobody is paying taxes?

Fear not, I come with what I consider a brilliant and fair solution to this problem. Why shouldn't Koch Industries pay for the clean up and rebuilding? The Koch Brothers do not seem at all hesitant about spending their fortunes on lobbying against climate change and cap and trade; they don't seem to worry about the vast sums of money for setting up fake grass roots organizations, or sponsoring phony science. After all, they are the ones that are making enormous sums of money by dumping more and more carbon into the environment which seems to be causing more and more dangerous weather.

Let's just drop the middle men. The government officials, the regulatory busy-bodies, and the corrupt politicians asking for their piece of the action.

With that problem solved, let's take a moment and return to Mississippi Governor Barbour. By decrying the sins of Big Government while happily taking federal emergency funds again and again, Barbour seems to want his cake and eat it too. but that's not all of it.

During the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill Barbour said he was not sure it was a good idea for the federal government to make BP put $20 billion into escrow to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Barbour said that BP needed to use its money to drill oil wells and produce revenue.
So, making the government pay for cleaning up tornadoes and hurricanes is okay, even while you are condemning Big Government spending.. but making oil companies clean up after their own spill is a question?

Barbour raised significant amounts in campaign contributions from the industry, and from 1999 to 2003, was a lobbyist for various energy interests. Even as oil was touching Mississippi shores in the summer of 2010, Barbour downplayed the effects of the catastrophic spill. A ThinkProgress review of IRS documents revealed that with Barbour at the helm, the RGA received over $5 million in contributions from the oil and gas industry – including four of the Big Five oil companies – in just one year:

• $1,000,000 from David Koch, $25,000 from Koch Industries
• $625,000 from Exxon Mobil
• Over $150,000 from Chevron
• $50,000 from Shell
• $25,000 from ConocoPhillips
So, Koch Brothers, let's get those angry Tea Party members out there, let them burn off some of that anti-government fury. I imagine many of the people who have lost everything already belong to the Tea Party.

Just like Michele Bachmann, that popular Americans for Prosperity event speaker, said, “Do you see what we can do when we all work together?”

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