Friday, September 10, 2010

Rally for Astroturf?

This morning and afternoon a Rally For Jobs is being held at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction. The event will feature national and local speakers, as well as food and music.

According to reporting in the Daily Sentinel, the rally "will bring together Americans for Prosperity, energy-industry groups and two unions." As part of its pre-event publicity, the rally organizers exhort interested citizens to "stop new taxes and regulations that kill jobs in Colorado".

The website for Rally for Jobs clearly states that a co-sponsor of these events around the country is the American Petroleum Institute. Sentinel reporter Gary Harmon twice mentioned Americans for Prosperity in the first few paragraphs of the local story, but didn't elaborate more on it. A Google search told me a lot:
  • According to the group's website, "Americans for Prosperity™ (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. AFP is an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels."
Up until recently, I only knew of David Koch through his philanthropy, which is considerable. Part of this is providing major funding to some PBS programs, including Nova and the Ken Burns documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright.

A recent story in The New Yorker paints a more complex and comprehensive picture of Mr. Koch and his efforts, and last night Rachel Maddow focused some of this scrutiny specifically on the Relay For Jobs initiative. Ms. Maddow has a gift for making what would otherwise be a somewhat mundane and tedious investigative report (never mind that I like those) into something interesting and accessible, and for us in Grand Junction, rather timely:

When I read about these efforts that try to assert continued economic gloom if the energy industry isn't relieved of its regulatory and tax burdens, I'm increasingly drawn toward what's going on in the Marcellus Shale region (New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia), or in this case what isn't going on.

There are currently no Rally For Jobs events scheduled in any of the above states, even though drilling is ramping up there in the states where it can (New York has a moratorium in place), the regulatory and enforcement infrastructure is significant, and the Governor of Pennsylvania is (finally) advocating severance taxes on the natural gas that is extracted there. A columnist for the Post-Gazette put it nicely when he wrote:
"We're supposed to believe that companies are going to walk away from the Marcellus Shale bonanza if even the tiniest tax is imposed? Not on your autographed picture of T. Boone Pickens."
This week's Newsweek had a graphic that showed how little energy companies pay in fines in comparison to their gross revenue - something like 1 percent. Regulatory actions and taxes are just the cost of doing business to them. They will invariably be drawn to Western Colorado's bounty of gas and other energy sources as the cost of moving these resources to where they are needed is reduced through things like increased pipeline capacity. We need the jobs, but we also need to be able to safely enjoy where we live.

The lessons learned from incidents like Deepwater Horizon, the Massey mine disaster in West Virginia, and every rural resident's well that is contaminated by chemicals cannot be lost in the name of political expediency - especially when it's fomented by oil and chemical billionaires.

These astroturf groups that try to whip up political support behind issues like the Rally For Jobs are not truly focused on obtaining relief from regulation and taxation, although that would be a nice companion to their true goal - building support behind conservative political ideologies, including those that approach Libertarian viewpoints, which Mr. Koch has espoused publicly.

New York magazine also did a report about Mr. Koch recently, and followed the money and activities of Americans for Prosperity all the way to the Tea Party movement. While the Tea Party is an actual political movement of debatable significance, it's somehow not surprising that it would have some connection to an astroturf group.

Maybe they want to make it look more like grassroots, but still be fake. Perhaps they should call it FieldTurf, which is similar to what they have installed over at Stocker Stadium.

Last weekend the temperature of that turf was measured at 173.2 degrees before a high school football game. I'd hate to see some of my fellow citizens try to play on that field and get burned - in more ways than one.

Have a good weekend.

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