Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nazis -> Koch brothers -> Arthur C. Brooks

Arthur C. Brooks likes to soft-pedal conservatism so much he writes op-eds that don't even directly touch on conservative policies as in the recent NYTimes piece To Be Happier Start Thinking More About Your Death:
...Even if contemplating a corpse is a bit too much, you can still practice some of the Buddha’s wisdom resolving to live as if 2016 were your last year. Then remorselessly root out activities, small and large, that don’t pass the “last-year test.”
There are many creative ways to practice this test. For example, if you plan a summer vacation, consider what would you do for a week or two if this were your last opportunity. With whom would you reconnect and spend some time? Would you settle your soul on a silent retreat, or instead spend the time drunk in CancĂșn, Mexico?
If this year were your last, would you spend the next hour mindlessly checking your social media, or would you read something that uplifts you instead? Would you compose a snarky comment on this article, or use the time to call a friend to see how she is doing? Hey, I’m not judging here.

I gather Brooks considers himself some kind of gentleman philosopher-king. But he's wrong on many counts - I think about death all the fucking time - it doesn't make me happier. Also, composing this snarky blog post about Brooks gives me great satisfaction and I don't consider it a waste of time. Not at all.

But mostly Brooks is on the wrong side of the political divide no matter how much he wants to promote the notion that conservatives have hearts - or even apparently bigger hearts than liberals.

The NYTimes gave the job of reviewing Brooks' latest book The Conservative Heart to right-wing economist Greg Mankiw who writes:

Those on the left may be tempted to see this strategy as a cynical attempt to hide the true motives of the right. But Brooks argues that conservatives are, by nature, as generous and caring about their fellow man as liberals, if not more so. 
For evidence, he points to findings from his 2006 book “Who Really Cares”: Households headed by conservatives give, on average, 30 percent more dollars to charity than households headed by liberals, even though their incomes on average are 6 percent lower. They are also more likely to be blood donors. George W. Bush’s appeal to “compassionate conservatism” was redundant at best. 
So why do so many people view liberals as more compassionate than conservatives? The problem, in Brooks’s view, is that conservative policy arguments, while cogent if fully explained and digested, are too extended to be useful in a political dynamic dominated by first impressions based on 30-second sound bites.
This claim that conservatives are more compassionate than liberals because conservatives give more to charity is analyzed by MIT researchers, reported by the LATimes:
What the MIT researchers did find, however, was that conservatives give more to religious organizations, such as their own churches, and liberals more to secular recipients. Conservatives may give more overall, MIT says, but that's because they tend to be richer, so they have more money to give and get a larger tax benefit from giving it. (One of the things that makes social scientists skeptical of the benchmark survey Brooks used, in fact, is that it somehow concluded that liberals are richer than conservatives.)
Why do conservatives give money to their own churches? Because they are bribing God. The main point of religion is the creation and maintenance of a system into which believers put prayers and donations in exchange for health, wealth and even eternal life in paradise. It's a pretty good deal - not just something for nothing - more like everything for almost nothing. No wonder conservatives go for it.

And although Mankiw, of course, dismisses the notion that Brooks is cynical he most certainly is - either that or utterly lacking in self-awareness. As Krugman noted about Brooks and his simple-minded view of class resentment:
But even the saner-sounding (conservative) voices evidently have a hard time wrapping their minds around the notion that anyone might find 21st-century finance capitalism a bit, well, unfair.
A case in point: this article by Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute. Brooks is deeply worried about changing popular attitudes toward wealth:
According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. As recently as 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. In just a few years, we have gone from seeing our economy as a real meritocracy to viewing it as something closer to a coin flip.
And how does he see this sea-change in attitudes? Why, it must be about growing envy of the rich, which is a terrible thing. 
But the polling data don’t say anything about envy: when people say that they have lost their belief that hard work will be rewarded, they aren’t saying that they are envious of the rich; they’re saying that they have lost their belief that hard work will be rewarded. To the extent that people have negative feelings about the one percent, the emotion involved isn’t envy — it’s anger, which isn’t at all the same thing. Envy is when you have negative feelings about rich because of what they have; anger is when you have negative feelings about the rich because of what they do.
And of course Brooks can be relied upon to oppose cleaner air when it is in his economic self-interest:
Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in America, was a player in major congressional election efforts last year — but you won’t find records of their corporate donations on the Federal Election Commission website or in any public record. 
You will, however, find signs of the Virginia-based coal giant’s secret political activities buried in a creditor document filed last Thursday. The recent downturn in coal prices and high debts forced the company to seek bankruptcy protection earlier this month.
The filing lists organizations with which Alpha Natural Resources had any kind of financial transaction, including recipients of grants, creditors and contractors. The filing does not list amounts given or owed by Alpha Natural Resources. A spokesperson for the firm did not respond to a request for comment.
Alpha Natural Resources gave money to an array of nonprofit entities that are not required to report donor information. These groups were pivotal in helping Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives and in electing the new GOP majority in the Senate. 
The corporation helped fund the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a secretive nonprofit group that refused to disclose any donor information during the election last year. The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition was the largest outside campaign entity in the Kentucky senate race, spending over $14 million on television and radio commercials to successfully reelect Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in his campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. 
Alpha Natural Resources also helped finance campaign entities associated with the Koch brothers campaign network, including Americans for Prosperity, Themis Trust (a campaign data company), and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a clearinghouse used to fund a range of organizations supporting Republican election efforts. The Institute for Energy Research, an advocacy group founded by Charles Koch that lobbies in support of fossil fuel subsidies and against renewable energy policies, had a financial relationship with Alpha Natural Resources. 
The company, with operations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming, had once been viewed as a coal industry powerhouse. In 2011, Alpha Natural Resources borrowed $7.1 billion to purchase Massey Energy after 29 employees were killed in Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine. 
The creditor filing reveals a number of other revelations about Alpha Natural Resource’s undisclosed political operation. For instance, the company gave money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a trade association that spent over $35 million during the election last year, largely to benefit GOP candidates. It also donated to Americans Allied for Jobs and Security, a group that spent a small amount supporting Republican candidates during the midterm elections. 
The company donated to a number of political groups that favor environmental deregulation on the coal industry, including the Ripon Society, a foundation to support moderate Republicans; the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Virginia; and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit that works with lobbyists to develop business-friendly template legislation used by state lawmakers. ALEC recently produced template legislation to block states from submitting compliance plans with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, new regulations designed to combat carbon emissions. 
The bankruptcy filing lists “Arthur C Brooks C/O AEI 1150 17th St. NW Washington DC,” which appears to be Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has campaigned against the EPA’s new rules governing carbon emissions from coal power plants.
The American Enterprise Institute is of course funded by the Koch brothers - Arthur C. Brooks, as president of the AEI is an employee of the Koch brothers.

And just when you thought the Koch brothers couldn't be any more evil...
The father of the billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch helped construct a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany that was personally approved by Adolf Hitler, according to a new history of the Kochs and other wealthy families. 
The book, “Dark Money,” by Jane Mayer, traces the rise of the modern conservative movement through the activism and money of a handful of rich donors: among them Richard Mellon Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking fortune, and Harry and Lynde Bradley, brothers who became wealthy in part from military contracts but poured millions into anti-government philanthropy.
Yeah, Arthur C. Brooks wants to give you lots of reasons to think about death, whether it's your own from lung cancer or the Holocaust.