Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A rush of blood to Hans’ head

Hans Kullin at Media Culpa goes into a head spin:

“Recently, six individuals, out of at least four are involved in Muf, the youth organization of Swedish moderate party, started a campaign against Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11. They have started a network called Pro Veritas and its accompanying website Finn59fel cites 59 possible deceits in the film. They operate under a grassroots image and the notion that they have the truth, Moore is simply a liar. Well, are they just truth seekers or do they have a hidden agenda? Is it an astroturf campaign or is it legit? Maybe they have just been spun themselves by forces that they are unaware of. The 59 deceits are entirely a translation from an essay by Dave Kopel, a political analyst at the Cato Institute."


"Clearly the Cato Institue is supported by pro-Bush forces and by supplying arguments why Michael Moore is a potential liar and the anti-Bush movie is full of deceits, Republican-friendly interests can help Bush get re-elected.”

This is ridiculous. First of all, Kopel isn’t affiliated only with the Cato Institute. For instance, Kopel is the Research Director of the Independence Institute. But for some reason, it is Cato and their beneficiaries that have paid for the “59 deceits”-article. It is also strange because Kopel last appeared at a Cato event almost two years ago, at a panel forum in October 2002. His last written piece at Cato was a daily commentary published three years ago where he criticizes the congress for passing bills that infringes on peoples rights too quickly:

“Congress recently passed massive "terrorism" bills that had never received committee hearings. Indeed, the House bill was only introduced on the morning that it passed -- providing House members with no realistic opportunity to study the bill's tremendous implications. Both the House and the Senate bills grant vast powers to law enforcement that have nothing to do with counter-terrorism.

Because the House and Senate bills differ, a conference committee is being appointed, which will start meeting soon.

The House Judiciary Committee had unanimously passed an anti-terrorism bill, which awaited House floor action. But instead of bringing forward the bill that had received committee scrutiny, the House leadership (buckling to pressure from the administration) had a brand-new bill written and brought to the floor of the full House. The leadership moved so hastily that members were deprived of the opportunity even to read the bill before voting on it.

The House bill does include some sensible provisions to help the government fight terrorism, such as expediting the hiring of language translators for counter-terrorism work.

But there are also provisions that seriously infringe privacy, while offering little in the way of counter-terrorism. For example, the bill allows the government, without a warrant, to monitor every e-mail that a person sends and receives. Content access would, however, require a search warrant -- although in practice the government would be on the honor system not to read content. Any state, local, or federal law enforcement officer could use the e-mail surveillance. And there is no requirement that this surveillance be connected to a terrorism investigation.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that more or less Moore’s opinion as well when it comes to the Patriot Act? Anyway, the point here is that if you want to claim that a person holds a certain view because of his or hers affiliations then you ought to show that any particular affiliation you want to blame is substantial.

Secondly, the fact that some major corporations benefits Cato doesn’t mean that the institute and their analysts share the same views as the contributors. For instance, Cato opposes government smoking legislation while Altria, owners of Philip Morris, grants such legislation:

"Altria Group and our domestic tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, support the introduction and advocate the passage of bipartisan legislation in Congress that would grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) meaningful and effective authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products.

In May 2004, a legislative proposal that would grant the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products was presented to Congress by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) and Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). The proposed FDA legislation, known as The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (S. 2461/H.R. 4433), quickly gained the backing and support of a broad political and public policy coalition, including public health groups such as the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids."

One of the reasons why a libertarian opposes such legislation is that it is an indirect form of corporate welfare to the major corporations. I want to emphasize that libertarianism, contrary to some leftist views of the ideology, is not about giving benefits in one way or the other to the corporations. Because such benefits it’s something entirely different from capitalism and the free market that a libertarian endorse.

The connection between legislation and corporate welfare is perhaps not apparent. But more legislation means more costs imposed on the corporations. The major corporations can deal with such costs while the minor will have a harder time to comply with the regulation. The result in the end is that the legislation can potentially drive the smaller corporations out of the market and act as an entry barrier. At the same time, the major corporations might increase their market share.*

As a matter of fact, in a column at the National Review Online in 2000, Dave Kopel wrote that he will vote for (in the election that year) Ralph Nader. Not Bush or Gore (Kopel is /was a registered Democrat) One of the reasons he gives is that Nader rejects corporate welfare:

“But there are two important issues in which the Greens are starkly different in principle — not just in degree — from the Republocrats. The first of these is corporate welfare, which the Greens adamantly oppose — and which the supposedly "radical" Republicans in Congress and the supposedly "populist" Clinton/Gore administration have boosted to record levels.

The best way to increase the size of government is to increase the number of people who are directly dependent on it. Political genius Franklin Roosevelt knew this when he created Social Security. Clinton and Gore likewise know that when they call for "a hundred thousand new [fill in the type of government employees]" they are calling for a hundred thousand more families directly dependent on the federal government.

The most important reason why most American big businesses have been missing in action from the fight for smaller government is because many big corporations make more money from corporate welfare than they could save from smaller government. When we take big business off the dole, we remove the most powerful political force that supports a complex federal tax code with taxes that are too high for most people, but which can be jerry-rigged with "tax credits" and the like for businesses with good lobbyists. Get rid of corporate welfare, and you'll find a lot more corporations willing to stand up for liberty.”

As noted above, Kullin writes:

“Clearly the Cato Institue is supported by pro-Bush forces and by supplying arguments why Michael Moore is a potential liar and the anti-Bush movie is full of deceits, Republican-friendly interests can help Bush get re-elected.”

As you see, Kullin claims that it is the Cato Institute who supplies the arguments and not Dave Kopel himself. Strange enough, the word “Cato” is never mentioned in the article. What you will find though (right at the top, impossible to miss) is a big banner belonging to the Independence Institute. But perhaps "Colorado's Free-Market Think Tank" doesn't have the same ring to it as "one of the most influential think tanks in Washington D.C."

If we, boldly, assume that it is Cato who supplies the arguments, then we have to note another strange circumstance. In the same paragraph in the Nationmaster article on Cato where Kullin find out that Rupert Murdoch has close ties with the institute, he also finds out that the Cato Institute “frequently differs with Republican Party positions”:

"Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has served on the board of directors of Cato, which has numerous ties to the Republican Party. However, Cato frequently differs with Republican Party positions on specific issues, such as the 2003 decision by U.S. President George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq, the war on drugs, the support of "faith-based organizations" with government funds, and the decision of President George H. W. Bush to fight the first Gulf War. Cato has also criticized the 1998 settlement that many U.S. states signed with the tobacco industry.”

One can also ad the Patriot Act, the “No Child Left Behind” and the increased government spending under the Bush administration.

Perhaps someone can explain this to me. The Cato Institute pays, on behalf of “Republican-friendly interests”, Dave Kopel, who is a libertarian, to criticize an anti-Bush film that can stop Bush from get re-elected at the same time as the institute opposes substantial parts of Bush’s politics. In the article where Kopel criticizes Moore, he links to two books that criticize Bush and Kopel also mentions some issues where the Bush administration has lied. Among them:

“The one significant Bush administration lie exposed in the film involves the so-called USA PATRIOT Act; as Fahrenheit accurately claims, at least some of the material in the USA PATRIOT Act had nothing to do with 9/11, and instead involved long-sought items on the FBI agenda which had previously been unable to pass Congress, but which were enacted by Congress under Bush administration assurances that they were essential to fighting terrorism.”

Yes, what a tangled web we weave. The simple solution that the oil industry, the “pro-Bush forces” and the Cato Institute have got nothing to do with the article and that Dave Kopel holds his views independently of others is probably too simple to be true.

Kullin writes on his blog that “[t]he views in this blog does not represent those of my employer or its clients.” Funny, maybe he should apply the same standard to other people’s views as well.

I have changed my mind; Kullin’s post is not ridiculous. It’s a piece of crap.

Have I been critical enough Hans?

* Please note that this doesn’t mean that Altria approves of the above mentioned legislation because of this reason. I have no intention to make such a statement and I couldn’t prove it if I did.

Full disclosure: I have no ties to the Cato Institute more than that I receive their newsletters and once linked to a Cato Policy Analysis in an article (in Swedish) I wrote for Smedjan (Smedjan is a subdivision of the Swedish think-tank Timbro) One of the persons behind the translation of Kopel’s article into Swedish is affiliated with Timbro, I don’t know him or any of the other Pro Veritas people personally and I don’t know Dave Kopel either. I also opposed the war in Iraq, I have not seen Fahrenheit 911 and I have no opinion on the matters reported by Kopel.