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Senator John McCain (R-AZ) lambasts the campaign finance system being used by presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA). McCain has been quite visible in supporting Romney, but he is not a supporter of Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future. McCain points out that one of Romney’s most prominent and generous supporters, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson (see June 13, 2012 and Mid-June, 2012), makes much of his money from a casino in Macau, and thusly may be using foreign money to help Romney. McCain says to PBS reporter Judy Woodruff: “Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign (see January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and May 2, 2012) and much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits, that go to him, come from this casino in Macau. [That says] obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign, political campaigns.… [T]hat is a great deal of money. And, again, we need a level playing field and we need to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit on the flow of money and that corporations are not people (see August 23, 1902 and December 5, 1905). That’s why we have different laws that govern corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations are people (see August 11, 2011), again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court decisions that we have made—that have been made in the past.” Josh Israel of the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes, “Though it is illegal for non-citizens to spend any money to influence US elections directly, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) left the door wide open for the American employees of American subsidiaries of foreign owned corporations—and even sovereign wealth funds—to spend millions or billions from their corporate treasuries on ‘independent’ expenditures.” [Think Progress, 6/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Josh Israel, John McCain, Sheldon Adelson, Willard Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, Judy Woodruff

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Politico reporters Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti report on the difficulty of getting solid information about the donors being organized by the billionaire Koch brothers. Oil magnates Charles and David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011) intend to raise at least $400 million to defeat President Obama in the 2012 election (see Late May 2012), and to ensure victory for Republicans in state and local races around the nation (see February 21, 2012). Vogel and Parti call the Koch political operation “its own political party,” almost, even going so far as to hold its own semi-annual conventions, including one scheduled for late June in San Diego. That convention will bring together dozens of millionaire and billionaire conservatives, who will write big checks for the Koch efforts. Additionally, the Kochs will unveil their new voter database, Themis (see April 2010 and After), which they expect will help in targeting potential Republican voters around the country. Themis played a big part in a recent successful effort to stop Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) from being recalled, as did huge amounts of Koch-organized donations on behalf of Walker. Three of the prime figures in the Koch efforts are convention “emcee” Kevin Gentry and political operatives Marc Short and Tim Phillips (see May 29, 2009); the operation is orchestrated primarily by Koch advisor and operative Richard Fink. Additionally, the Koch brothers intend to take over the Cato Institute think tank (see February 29, 2012) and make it more politically active. Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard, a longtime Koch supporter, says: “They ask for support—and they get it because we all love our country and we have a different vision than do the liberals. I’ve gotten friends to be involved, and I think others have, too, so I would guess, yes, that’s expanding.” Vogel and Parti expand on how secretive the Koch network (which they call “Koch World”) actually is. They are unable to find out where the San Diego convention is to be held, though they did determine that it is scheduled to take place over the weekend of June 23. A Republican who has worked with Koch-backed groups says: “The Koch groups are very complex in the way they do things. They’re difficult to penetrate from the outside, which is smart. You often need a Sherpa.” The conventions are heavily patrolled by hired security guards, who at one recent convention threw out a Politico reporter under threat of arrest. Participants are required not to discuss the convention with outsiders, including making posts on Facebook or Web blogs. (The winter 2011 convention in Rancho Mirage, California, leaked to the press, sparking what Politico calls “raucous protests” outside the exclusive resort hosting the conference.) According to Vogel and Parti, Phillips runs the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004 and November 2009). Short oversees the spending of Koch network monies by other approved groups, some of which air television ads attacking Democrats. Gentry raises money for the Koch network. Gentry often uses urgent and even apocalyptic rhetoric in his fundraising appeals, warning potential donors of “dangerous and imminent threats” to American society and comparing the Koch conventions to the Continental Congress of 1776. One recent email lauded efforts by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to help the Koch brothers’ fundraising. Gentry also spearheads the fundraising efforts for an informal network of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, AFP, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Some conservatives are uncomfortable with the Koch brothers’ attempts to gain dominance in conservative party politics. “Koch has been angling for the last three or four years to consolidate more of the conservative movement within their network,” says one conservative operative. “That’s why they do these seminars—to try to consolidate more big donors’ money and direct it into their projects.” The operative admits that the Koch fundraising efforts are very effective, saying, “Some of the donors believe giving to one source makes it easier for them instead of having to give to a dozen different places, and others just want to come out to hang with the billionaire brothers and be part of a very elite universe.” Koch conventions regularly feature prominent conservatives like Thomas and fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Texas Governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Virginia Governor Bob McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. While federal documents track some $120 million in donations from recent Koch summit donors, most of the money raised and spent goes untracked, instead being hidden away by “nonprofit” groups that purport to be non-political social advocacy groups. Gentry has assured donors, “There is anonymity that we can protect.” [Politico, 6/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Cato Institute, Stanley Hubbard, Scott Kevin Walker, Tarini Parti, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Themis, Tim Phillips, Rush Limbaugh, Americans for Prosperity, Antonin Scalia, Bob McConnell, Richard Fink, Marc Short, Clarence Thomas, Christopher J. (“Chris”) Christie, Charles Koch, Politico, Eric Cantor, David Koch, Heritage Foundation, Barack Obama, Kenneth Vogel, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Kevin Gentry, Glenn Beck

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, one of the world’s 15 richest people, is on course to contribute at least $71 million to efforts to unseat President Obama in the November presidential elections and elect Republicans to national and state office (see February 21, 2012). Adelson’s contributions are cloaked in secrecy, as much of his contributions go to “nonprofit” political organizations that under the law do not have to disclose their donors. Adelson and his wife Miriam have already contributed $10 million to a “super PAC” backing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (see June 13, 2012), and have either given or pledged to give up to $35 million to other organizations, including Crossroads GPS, a “nonprofit” organization led by former George W. Bush advisor and longtime Adelson friend Karl Rove, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), and another organization linked to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Adelson is a strong supporter of Israel’s far-right government and a staunch opponent of US labor unions. Adelson has told friends that he may give up to $100 million in efforts to unseat Obama and elect Republicans in state races; indications are that he may give much, much more. Some of Adelson’s donations may go to another Koch-funded organization, the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, which in 2010 was used to funnel tens of millions of dollars to other conservative organizations (see October 12, 2010). The Young Guns Network is a nonprofit group set up by Cantor, and has received $5 million from Adelson (see June 10, 2012). So has the “super PAC” the Congressional Leadership Fund, a group linked to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Adelson’s Las Vegas casino The Sands is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Justice Department for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which exists to prevent bribery of foreign business officials. The Sands denies any wrongdoing. Adelson previously backed Romney’s opponent Newt Gingrich (R-GA), but as Gingrich’s hopes for the presidential nomination faded, Adelson indicated that he would shift his support to Romney. Adelson has told GOP colleagues he intends to make most of his contributions to nonprofits like Crossroads GPS, which are not required to make the names of their donors, or the amounts of their donations, public. Although the law bars candidates like Romney from soliciting donations exceeding $5,000, Republican fundraisers say that candidates and their representatives have flocked to Adelson in recent months, as have representatives from organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce, which intends to spend $50 million in efforts to elect Republicans to Congress. The nonprofit Republican Jewish Coalition has received millions from Adelson in the past, and says it intends to spend some $5 million this year on behalf of candidates such as Josh Mandel (R-OH), running to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Adelson also donated $250,000 to help turn back efforts to recall Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) and $250,000 to a political committee backing Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), who is battling the Justice Department to be allowed to purge hundreds of thousands of minority voters from the voting rolls. [Huffington Post, 6/16/2012] In March 2012, 80 billionaires such as Adelson gave two-thirds of the monies raised by super PACs, creating an outsized influence on the presidential and “downticket” election campaigns (see March 26, 2012).

Entity Tags: Congressional Leadership Fund, US Chamber of Commerce, US Department of Justice, US Securities and Exchange Commission, Willard Mitt Romney, Young Guns Network, Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, American Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity, Sherrod Brown, The Sands, Barack Obama, Josh Mandel, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Sheldon Adelson, Scott Kevin Walker, Miriam Adelson, Rick Scott, Republican Jewish Coalition, Newt Gingrich, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Black Rock Group logo.Black Rock Group logo. [Source: Black Rock Group]The 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) requires third-party groups working on behalf of candidates or parties not to coordinate their efforts with those candidates or parties—to remain “independent.” Many political observers have suspected that some of these groups are coordinating their efforts with the campaigns and/or with one another. Two of the groups under suspicion are American Crossroads, a super PAC, and Crossroads GPS. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, the two have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads (see April 13-20, 2012). In early June, Crossroads GPS spent $70,000 in advertisements attacking Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), half of its $140,000 spent on that race. Shortly before that run of advertisements began, Heitkamp’s Republican challenger, Rick Berg (R-ND), paid the Black Rock Group, a Republican consulting firm in Virginia, thousands of dollars for “communications consulting.” Black Rock is also contracted to perform “advocacy and communications consulting” for American Crossroads. Black Rock’s founding partner, Carl Forti, is American Crossroads’s political director and formerly served as Crossroads GPS’s advocacy director. (Forti also helped start Restore Our Future, presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s super PAC—see June 23, 2011). Black Rock partner Michael Dubke is the founder of Crossroads Media, which buys ads for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Crossroads Media and Black Rock share offices. It would be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult or coordinate with Crossroads GPS on advertisement strategies. It would not be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult with Black Rock, and then for Black Rock to consult with Crossroads GPS. “The real scandal is what’s legal,” says Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center. The Citizens United ruling said that groups would disclose their donors and activists, and groups would not coordinate with one another. Yet both provisions are either being ignored or dodged. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 says: “The statu[t]e and the Supreme Court have been very strong on preventing coordination. But the FEC regulations have basically gutted the laws and given us very weak laws to prevent coordination between outside spenders and candidates… despite the fact that the Court’s entire decision in Citizens United is based on the notion that the expenditures are going to be entirely independent from the campaign.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation says, “[T]he FEC [Federal Election Commission] has a very narrow definition of what coordination actually is.” As long as a campaign and an outside group do not directly communicate, their use of a “common vendor” such as Black Rock is perfectly legal as long as several specific criteria are avoided. “It kind of boggles the mind, but that’s what the FEC has defined and there’s nothing illegal about it.” Ryan says: “It makes the coordination rules pretty meaningless. We have all of this special interest money that we feared might be in the system, and none of the meaningful restraints on coordination, and very limited disclosure.” Allison gives a hypothetical example: “If they’re using the same people to buy ads, and the campaign is telling the ad buyer, ‘We want you to buy ads in such and such and such,’ and the ad buyer does that, the super PAC can then say, ‘Well, run ads where they’re not running ads, or double their ads,’ or whatever. These guys are professionals and they know how to do this. That’s still not coordination.” There is no evidence that Black Rock is ferrying communications between Crossroads GPS and the Berg campaign; according to Black Rock spokesperson Chelsea Wilson, “Black Rock has had firewalls in place since last year which allows the firm to legally engage in federal campaign and independent expenditure or issue advocacy campaigns.” Crossroads GPS is not legally bound to disclose much of its information to the FEC, and it is impossible to know precisely what Crossroads GPS is paying Black Rock to do for it. The Berg campaign denies any coordination, saying in a statement: “While we do work with Black Rock, there is no coordination between our campaign and outside groups and we have no knowledge of what their plans are. We cannot control what outside groups will do.” Allison says that even if Berg’s campaign is being truthful, there are many ways campaigns and outside groups can legally coordinate, using a common advisor such as Black Rock or even individual consultants. “There can be coordination at the level of consultants, even if they’re not at same company,” he says, noting that many consultants know one another socially or have worked together in previous campaigns. It is also possible, and legal, for super PACs to find out where campaigns they are supporting are buying ads by contacting the campaigns of the opposing candidates, which keep track of such information. Forti, the CEO of Black Rock, is in a unique position to facilitate what reporter Alex Seitz-Wald calls “GOP non-coordination coordination,” as he “sits in the middle of a powerful nexus of outside spending groups and GOP political firms all run out of the same office suite in Alexandria, Virginia.” Charles Spies, the treasure of Romney’s Restore Our Future, says of Forti, “I don’t know of anybody who’s got as important of a role with the major outside organizations, both in 2010 and in 2012.” [Salon, 6/19/2012]

Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Bill Allison, American Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, Alex Seitz-Wald, Carl Forti, Rick Berg, Steven Law, Paul S. Ryan, Chelsea Wilson, Crossroads Media, Fred Wertheimer, Black Rock Group, Michael Dubke, Restore Our Future, Heidi Heitkamp

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Analysis from the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that 85 percent of the spending by the top 501(c)4 groups involved in the 2012 presidential campaign has been on ads found to be “deceptive” by fact-checking organizations. Spending from third-party groups, including “nonprofit” 501(c)4 groups, is up by 1,100 percent since the 2008 presidential campaign (see May 2, 2012). All of the ads are by Republican or conservative groups; Democratic 501(c)4 groups have not yet spent any money on the race. The ads, which aired between December 1, 2011 and June 1, 2012, have either targeted Republican presidential primary candidates or President Obama. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, part of the Post’s “Fact Checker” team, recently criticized the wave of untruthful advertising, writing that “watching these ads is a depressing duty for The Fact Checker.… The erroneous assertions emerge… without any shame, labeled as ‘the truth’ or ‘fact.’” Kessler was criticizing ad campaigns by Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009) and the American Future Fund (see October 12, 2010), which spent $8 million to attack Obama’s approval of the expense of “stimulus” money for “wasteful” programs that the ads falsely claimed sent American jobs to foreign countries. According to the Annenberg analysis, the four top groups spending money on deceptive ads are:
bullet The American Energy Alliance, a trade organization that advocates “free market energy policies,” with expenditures of $3,269,000;
bullet Americans for Prosperity, advocating lower taxes and less government spending, with expenditures of $5,018,000;
bullet The American Future Fund, with expenditures of $6,365,930; and
bullet Crossroads GPS, a conservative public policy advocacy group founded by former Bush administration political chief Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee director Ed Gillespie, with expenditures of $10,263,760.
Like the ads Kessler cited, many of the ads bought by the above-listed expenditures went to attack Obama over government financing of green energy companies such as the bankrupt solar company Solyndra. According to Bloomberg News, 81 percent of the attack ads against Obama in the first quarter of 2012 were about energy. [Washington Post, 4/30/2012; Annenberg Public Policy Center, 6/20/2012; Think Progress, 6/27/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads GPS, Barack Obama, American Energy Alliance, Annenberg Public Policy Center, American Future Fund, Americans for Prosperity, Karl C. Rove, Bloomberg News, Ed Gillespie, Glenn Kessler, Solyndra Corporation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson gives $10 million to the billionaire Koch brothers, joining them in their efforts to defeat President Obama in the November presidential elections. Charles and David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, February 14, 2011, February 29, 2012, Late March 2012, and June 15, 2012) are planning to spend some $400 million to elect Republican candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) and defeat Obama. The information about Adelson’s donation comes from a Republican Party source in Nevada. Adelson makes his pledge at a Koch donor convention in San Diego, the first time he has attended a Koch-sponsored political event. He has already given $10 million to a Romney “super PAC” (see June 13, 2012), $10 million to a “super PAC” operated by former Bush White House advisor Karl Rove, and $10 million to two groups backing Republican House candidates (see Mid-June, 2012). The Kochs are the driving force behind the “astroturf” organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), which has spent millions of dollars on advertisements attacking Obama and other Democrats. The Kochs are also funding Themis, a voter information database (see April 2010 and After). Koch funding extends well into state and even local elections. [Huffington Post, 6/16/2012; Washington Post, 6/29/2012]

Entity Tags: Sheldon Adelson, Barack Obama, Charles Koch, Willard Mitt Romney, David Koch, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Mike Turzai.Mike Turzai. [Source: Wikipedia / Flickr]Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), the majority leader of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, says in a speech to Pennsylvania’s Republican committee that newly passed voter identification laws would help Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney win the state (see August 30, 2011 and June 12, 2012). “We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years,” he says, and begins ticking off a list of what he considers accomplishments: “Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation—abortion facility regulations—in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Critics immediately take Turzai’s remarks as evidence that voter ID laws such as those passed by Pennsylvania are intended to disenfranchise minority voters who are more likely to vote Democratic. Turzai and Republicans who support voter ID laws insist that such laws are intended to stop voter fraud. Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman Mark Nicastre says: “Instead of working to create jobs and get our economy back on track, Mike Turzai and the Republicans in Harrisburg have been laser focused on a partisan agenda that simply helps their donors and political allies.… Mike Turzai’s admission that Voter ID only serves the partisan interests of his party should be shocking, but unfortunately it isn’t. Democrats are focused on protecting Pennsylvanians’ rights to vote, and we are working hard to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote this fall.” Turzai spokesman Stephen Miskin says that voter fraud is a nationwide problem, though no evidence of such a claim has ever been advanced, and anyone who believes Turzai was saying anything untoward “has their own agenda.” Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montco) disagrees, saying: “This is making clear to everyone what Voter ID was all about. This is about one thing: disenfranchising Democratic voters and rigging elections for Republicans. When they get behind closed doors, they admit it. And that’s exactly what Turzai did.” Pennsylvania has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1988. Political blogger and reporter Kelly Cernetich writes that in 2004, President Bush lost Pennsylvania by 144,248 votes: “That’s at least 144,000 higher than the number of voter fraud convictions in PA since 1988.” [The Grio, 6/25/2012; PoliticsPA, 6/26/2012] Political blogger and reporter Mychal Denzel Smith writes: “The Republican strategy for winning the youth vote, black vote, and low-income vote has been to ensure that no one belonging to any of those three groups is able to vote. The GOP has aggressively pursued some of the most stringent voter ID laws, and since 2010, 16 states have enacted the most restrictive barriers to voting since poll taxes and literacy tests. With the exception of one state, all of these laws have been voted on party lines, with Republican officials voting in favor. Up until now, the party line has been they are ‘protecting the integrity of the vote’ by protecting the American public from the nonexistent issue of voter fraud. In reality, all they have done is made it harder for those constituencies (youth, blacks, low-income) who do not traditionally lean Republican to get into the voting booth.… Turzai just committed a gaffe that will likely garner little public attention but reveals the true motives of the GOP efforts to curb voter fraud.” He notes that a Brennan Center study found that voter fraud occurs in 0.0004 percent of the votes cast throughout the nation (see June 12, 2012). [The Grio, 6/27/2012]

Entity Tags: Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Kelly Cernetich, Daylin Leach, Mark Nicastre, Mychal Denzel Smith, Willard Mitt Romney, Mike Turzai, Stephen Miskin

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The US Supreme Court, without hearing arguments, strikes down a century-old Montana ban on corporate spending in elections (see December 30, 2011 and After), effectively reaffirming its Citizens United decision to allow unlimited, untraceable corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). Some observers expected the Court to temper its original finding in the Citizens United decision, but such is not the outcome. The case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, originates in Montana’s 19th-century ban on corporate spending in elections. In December 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law (see December 30, 2011 and After), finding that the Citizens United ruling allowed for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government could demonstrate that the restrictions were as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Today, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Montana Supreme Court’s argument is invalid, saying there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling supersedes Montana state law. Two dissenting Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, argued for the case to be presented to the Court, viewing the case as “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.” However, the Court’s conservative majority strikes down the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and invalidates the CPA. Breyer writes in his dissent, “Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.” The next recourse for Montana citizens is Ballot Initiative I-166, which would establish that corporations are not people in Montana and would call on Montana’s Congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. [American Tradition Partnership, Inc., FKA Western Tradition Partnership, Inc., et al v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Of Montana, et al, 6/25/2012 pdf file; SCOTUSBlog, 6/25/2012; Reuters, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 7/10/2012] Democratic campaign lawyer Marc Elias says of the decision: “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone. To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the Court is “[f]or apparently political reasons… further tipping the balance of power in America in favor of deep-pocketed, outside interests.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calls the decision an “important victory for freedom of speech.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Mitch McConnell, Marc Elias, Charles Schumer, Montana Supreme Court, US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that the US Supreme Court’s recent summary reversal of a Montana Supreme Court decision to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate political spending (see June 25, 2012) proves that the US Supreme Court is actively working to dismantle representative democracy. Referring to the 2010 Citizens United case that formed the basis for the Court’s recent decision (see January 21, 2010), Feingold says: “This court had one fig leaf left after this one awful decision two years ago.” The justices could claim “they were politically naive or didn’t know what would happen when they overturned 100 years of law on corporate contributions.” But after the American Tradition Partnership decision that reversed the Montana high court, he says, “They have shown themselves wantonly willing to undo our democracy.” Feingold continues: “This is one of the great turning points, not only in campaign finance but also in our country’s history. I believe we’re in a constitutional crisis.” Feingold heads an anti-Citizens United group called Progressives United, which works to raise awareness about the effects of the decisions and to persuade Congress to overturn the decision via legislation. He says the Supreme Court has “clearly become… a partisan arm of corporate America. This is a real serious problem for our democracy. It’s essentially a court that rules in one direction.… [T]his court is no longer perceived as the independent arbiter of the law that the people expect them to be.” A recent study by the Constitutional Accountability Center shows that during the tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts, the US Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most powerful business lobbying organization (see January 21-22, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, July 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, October 2010, and February 10, 2011), which filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule against the Montana high court (see April 30, 2012), has seen victory in 68 percent of the cases in which it has filed briefs, a much higher success record than in earlier years. Feingold wrote an article for the Stanford Law Review claiming that the 2006-2008 rise in small donor contributions spurred corporations and the Supreme Court to create the Citizens United decision (see June 14, 2012). Feingold says: “The corporate interest in America saw the face of democracy, and so what they did was engineer this decision. They used it as an excuse to stop citizen democracy in this country.” Nevertheless, Feingold is confident that grassroots organizations such as Progressives United and efforts in other venues, including Congress and the Obama administration, will eventually see Citizens United overturned. For now, he quotes his campaign finance reform partner, Senator John McCain, who recently said, “I promise you there will be huge scandals” (see March 27, 2012). Feingold says, “There already is a scandal.” [Huffington Post, 6/27/2012]

Entity Tags: Russell D. Feingold, Constitutional Accountability Center, John G. Roberts, Jr, Progressives United, John McCain, Obama administration, US Chamber of Commerce, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Accused Aurora gunman James Holmes looks on during a recent court hearing regarding his alleged crimes. At some point, Holmes dyed his hair, allegedly to more closely resemble ‘The Joker,’ a villain in the Batman movies.Accused Aurora gunman James Holmes looks on during a recent court hearing regarding his alleged crimes. At some point, Holmes dyed his hair, allegedly to more closely resemble ‘The Joker,’ a villain in the Batman movies. [Source: Reason (.com)]The New American, the official publication of the right-wing John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961, November 1963, April 13, 2009, December 11, 2009, April 26, 2010, and December 2011), promotes a theory from an Internet publication that the recent massacre by a lone gunman in a Colorado movie theater was orchestrated by the Obama administration or its surrogates as a way to impose gun control laws. Writer Bob Adelmann admits the conspiracy theory is merely “conjecture.” The theory comes from the Natural News Network (NNN), which describes itself as a “non-profit collection of public education Web sites.” NNN is incorporated by Truth Publishing International, a Taiwan corporation. The article is titled “Colorado Batman shooting shows obvious signs of being staged,” referencing the film being shown in the theater, The Dark Knight Rises, the third in the “Batman trilogy” by Christopher Nolan. Adelmann introduces the NNN conspiracy theory by reporting that a Forbes magazine article says the US may ratify a United Nations arms treaty that would regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. Adelmann says the UN treaty poses “a formidable threat” to gun ownership in the US. He then introduces the NNN theory as posited by NNN writer Mike Adams. [Forbes, 6/7/2011; New American, 7/23/2012; Samuel Warde, 7/30/2012]
Brainwashed Obama Operative? - The shooter, James Eagan Holmes, fired multiple bursts of gunfire in the Aurora, Colorado, theater, but then surrendered to the police without offering any resistance. Adams says his peaceful surrender was inconsistent with Holmes’s apparent desire to “kill everyone.” Adams also finds it curious that Holmes told police his apartment was booby-trapped with explosives. Someone truly wishing to kill many people would not have told police about the bombs. “It doesn’t add up,” Adams says. Holmes’s character as reported by neighbors and friends—quiet, shy, obsessed with video games—does not correlate with the picture of a maddened gunman, he continues. Moreover, Holmes must have had help from somewhere—he was living on unemployment insurance, Adams contends, yet owned thousands of dollars’ worth of weaponry, ammunition, explosives, and SWAT gear. “Where did that come from?” Adams’s answer: Obama administration operatives or someone else doing the administration’s bidding by launching a “false flag” attack. In fact, Adams writes: “There is already conjecture that James Holmes may have been involved in mind-altering neuroscience research and ended up becoming involved at a depth he never anticipated. His actions clearly show a strange detachment from reality, indicating he was not in his right mind. That can only typically be accomplished through drugs, hypnosis, or trauma (and sometimes all three).” Adams continues: “Someone else taught this guy these skills and funded the acquisition of the equipment.… This is somebody who was selected for a mission, given equipment to carry it out, then somehow brainwashed into getting it done. This is not your run-of-the-mill crime of passion. It was a carefully planned, heavily funded, and technically advanced attack.” Adams concludes that Holmes completed his “mission” and then surrendered, “admitting everything” to police. “The mission, as we are now learning, was to cause as much terror and mayhem as possible, then to have that multiplied by the national media at exactly the right time leading up the UN vote next week on a global small arms treaty that could result in gun confiscation across America.” The FBI has carried out “numerous” missions such as this one, Adams contends, though its history until now is to stop the attacks before they reach the point of violence. Adams also compares the Holmes massacre to the “Fast and Furious” operation conducted by Arizona police officers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), which has become a popular topic of discussion on the right as another Obama conspiracy theory. Adams concludes: “In other words, this has all the signs of Fast & Furious, Episode II. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover someone in Washington was behind it all. After all, there’s no quicker way to disarm a nation and take total control over the population than to stage violence, blame it on firearms, then call for leaders to ‘do something!’ Such calls inevitably end up resulting in gun confiscation, and it’s never too long after that before government genocide really kicks in like we saw with Hitler (see March 13, 2008 and November 11, 2008), Stalin (see October 13, 2009), Pol Pot (see December 17, 2009 and April 27, 2011), Mao (see January 2009), and other tyrants.” [Natural News Network, 7/20/2012]
JBS: Attack's Timing with UN Treaty Signing More than Coincidental - Adelmann admits the theory is “strictly conjectural at this point,” but observes that “the timing of the shootings coinciding with the final details of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) being polished up in New York by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” The timing must be more than coincidental, Adelmann writes. According to Adelmann, if the US signs the arms treaty, it would have to abide by strict licensing requirements; confiscate untold numbers of citizen-owned weaponry; ban the trade, sale, and private ownership of all weapons; create an international gun registry (which would, Adelmann warns, open the door “for full-scale gun confiscation”); and finally, “[o]verride our national sovereignty, and in the process, provide license for the federal government to assert preemptive powers over state regulatory powers guaranteed by the Ten Amendments in addition to our Second Amendment rights.” The UN treaty would not apply to US citizens, experts note, but Adelmann and others do not believe that assertion. John Bolton, the former UN ambassador and chief political advisor to the Romney presidential campaign, is one of those: he says that while the UN “is trying to act as though this is just a treaty about international arms trade among nation states, but there is no doubt that the real agenda here is domestic firearms control.” Adelmann says the UN treaty is the next step in the Obama administration’s creation of an “authoritarian dictatorship” and ultimate plans for domestic genocide, or what he calls “democide.” He concludes: “That is the nightmare that faces American citizens if in their haste to rid the world of shooters such as Holmes they allow the United Nations to do the job for them. The end result will be immeasurably, horrifyingly, worse.” [Forbes, 6/7/2011; New American, 7/23/2012]
More Coverage - Other right-wing outlets also pick up Adams’s conspiracy theory, including Gun Owners of America (GOA), whose president Larry Pratt issues a press release promoting the theory and offering himself for interviews about the theory and about the Obama administration’s purported intent to ban gun ownership in America. [Special Guests, 7/2012; Samuel Warde, 7/30/2012]
Treaty Not Passed - The media later reports that the US is refusing to go along with the treaty as it is currently written. [CBS News, 7/30/2012]

Entity Tags: Bob Adelmann, John R. Bolton, Gun Owners of America, John Birch Society, Hillary Clinton, James Eagan Holmes, United Nations, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Larry Pratt, Mike Adams, Natural News Network, Obama administration, Truth Publishing International

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) criticizes President Obama’s foreign-policy stance while preparing for a trip to Great Britain, and an unnamed Romney advisor tells a British reporter that Obama does not understand the US’s and the United Kingdom’s shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” Critics accuse the advisor of making a racially insensitive remark. Romney accuses Obama of “appeasing” the enemies of the US, and his advisors tell reporters that if elected, Romney will abandon what they call Obama’s “left-wing” coolness towards the UK. One advisor says: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.… The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” In a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) assemblage in Nevada, Romney says: “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.” Romney says he will preside over a new “American century” in which the US acts as the world’s policeman and will not hesitate to “wield our strength.” He adds, “I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world.” Two Romney advisors augment his remarks to a collection of British reporters. “In contrast to President Obama, whose first instinct is to reach out to America’s adversaries, the governor’s first impulse is to consult and co-ordinate and to move closer to our friends and allies overseas so they can rely on American constancy and strength,” one says. The other says: “Obama is a left-winger. He doesn’t value the NATO alliance as much, he’s very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliances don’t mean as much to him. He wouldn’t like singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’” The two advisors reference the criticism from some on the right about Obama’s removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office (see June 29, 2009), saying Romney would seek to restore the bust. One says Romney sees the replacement of the bust as “symbolically important,” and the other adds that the restoration would be “just for starters.… He is naturally more Atlanticist.” Some in Great Britain’s government view the Obama administration as less receptive to British concerns than the previous Bush administration. However, when reporters press Romney’s advisors as to what specific changes to US policy Romney would make as president, they are unable to respond. One says, “I’m not sure what our policy response is.” They cite Romney’s opposition to Islamist terrorism and Iran’s supposed intention to build nuclear weapons as examples of Romney’s focus as president. Romney’s advisors speak on the condition of anonymity because Romney campaign officials have asked that they not criticize Obama to representatives of the foreign media. When a Romney advisor attacked Obama in an interview by the German press last month, Obama reminded the Romney campaign that “America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/24/2012]
Romney Campaign Denies Making Remarks - The day after the remarks are made public, the Romney campaign attempts to distance the candidate from the remarks, including issuing denials that the remarks were not actually made. Romney’s press secretary Andrea Paul disputes that the comments were made as reported, and says such remarks do not reflect Romney’s beliefs: “It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.” CBS News reports, “Saul did not comment on what specifically was not true.” (The Washington Post and the National Journal cite Romney spokesperson Amanda Hennenberg, and not Saul, as issuing the denial. CBS and The Guardian report that it is Saul who issues the denial.) Romney attacks Vice President Joseph Biden for being critical of the remarks (see July 25, 2012), saying that Biden should not have given credence to the remarks and accusing him of trying to “divert voters’ attention with specious shiny objects.” Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams says in a statement: “Today, the race for the highest office in our land was diminished to a sad level when the vice president of the United States used an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign. The president’s own press secretary has repeatedly discredited anonymous sources, yet his political advisors saw fit to advance a falsehood. We have more faith in American voters, and know they will see this latest desperate ploy for what it is.” After the remarks were reported, Daily Telegraph reporter Jon Swaine posted on Twitter identifying the comments as coming from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.” The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner says the Telegraph has a “looser” policy on anonymous quotes than most American press outlets, and often prints “rumors and blind quotes.” However, the Telegraph stands by its reporting. Al-Monitor reporter Laura Rozen notes that conservative British commentator Nile Gardiner is the co-chair of Romney’s Europe Working Group, has close connections to the Telegraph, and frequently uses the term “Anglo-Saxon.” Gardiner denies being the source of the comment, and says when Telegraph reporters contacted him for an interview, he referred them to Romney’s communications team. [CBS News, 7/25/2012; Washington Post, 7/25/2012; Guardian, 7/25/2012; National Journal, 7/25/2012] The liberal news Web site Talking Points Memo reports that according to the Telegraph, no one from the Romney campaign has asked the newspaper to retract its reporting. And the Romney campaign refuses to answer questions about what specifically it believes to be false, i.e. whether the quote itself was fabricated or the sentiment expressed by the advisor was inaccurate. [Talking Points Memo, 7/25/2012; National Journal, 7/25/2012] The Atlantic Wire’s Connor Simpson writes that he believes the Romney campaign will soon fire the advisor who made the remark. [Atlantic Wire, 7/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Amanda Hennenberg, Andrea Paul, Laura Rozen, Barack Obama, Jon Swaine, Connor Simpson, CBS News, Joseph Biden, Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, National Journal, Nile Gardiner, Willard Mitt Romney, Obama administration, Talking Points Memo, Rachel Weiner, The Guardian, Ryan Williams

Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections

Critics accuse an unnamed advisor to the Romney campaign of making a racially insensitive remark to British reporters when the advisor accused President Obama of not understanding the shared “Anglo-Saxon” heritage of the US and the United Kingdom (see July 24-25, 2012). Obama’s father was Kenyan, and many of Obama’s critics have accused Obama of not being sufficiently American (see October 1, 2007, January 16, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, Around November 26, 2008, February 10, 2009, March 9, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 25, 2009, March 27, 2009, March 30-31, 2009, March 31, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 6, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 9, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 5, 2009, June 25, 2009, June 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, August 1-4, 2009, August 6, 2009, September 17, 2009, October 2, 2009, October 13, 2009, November 17, 2009, December 3, 2009, December 17, 2009, May 7, 2010, June 11, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, August 4, 2010, August 19, 2010, September 12, 2010, September 12, 2010 and After, September 16, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 23, 2010, October 22-23, 2010, March 28, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, May 23-24, 2011, June 10, 2011, January 13-20, 2012, and June 20, 2012) and of not working hard enough to bolster relations between the US and the United Kingdom. Critics also accuse Mitt Romney of trying to create a division between the US and the United Kingdom where none exists. Romney’s campaign is denying the remarks were ever made. [Daily Telegraph, 7/25/2012]
Vice President, Obama Campaign Advisor Respond - Vice President Joseph Biden is quick to lambast the Romney campaign for the comment. “Despite his promises that politics stops at the water’s edge, Governor Romney’s wheels hadn’t even touched down in London before his advisors were reportedly playing politics with international diplomacy,” he says in a statement, “attempting to create daylight between the United States and the United Kingdom where none exists. Our special relationship with the British is stronger than ever and we are proud to work hand-in-hand with Prime Minister Cameron to confront every major national security challenge we face today. On every major issue—from Afghanistan to missile defense, from the fight against international terrorism to our success in isolating countries like Iran whose nuclear programs threaten peace and stability—we’ve never been more in sync. The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Governor Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage. Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign.” Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod calls the comments “stunningly offensive” in a Twitter post, which states, “Mitt’s trip off to flying start, even before he lands, with stunningly offensive quotes from his team in British press.” [CBS News, 7/25/2012; Business Insider, 7/25/2012; Guardian, 7/25/2012]
British Historian Questions Perception of 'Divisions' between Two Nations - British historian Tim Stanley says the perception of “divisions” between the US and the UK is overblown, and that many British citizens “love [Obama] because they see him as an antidote to the misdirected machismo of the Bush years. Few of us are keen to revive an alliance that led to the bloody mess of Iraq and Afghanistan.” More directly, the advisor’s “Anglo-Saxon” reference is obsolete and easily interpreted as racist. “Both countries are more multicultural than ever before, and both have forged alliances with countries that are decidedly un-Anglo-Saxon: the US is part of a trading bloc with Mexico and the UK is trapped in the engine room of the [European Union] Titanic,” Stanley writes. “Many will therefore interpret the choice of words as a clumsy attempt to play the race card, exploiting the impression that Obama is anti-British because he is of African descent.” Stanley writes that the advisors seemed more interested in painting Obama as a “left-winger” who lacks an understanding of the relations between the two nations than trying to make a racially insensitive remark, but he predicts the media will fasten onto the remark and label the Romney campaign, and perhaps Romney himself, as being racist to some degree. [Daily Telegraph, 7/25/2012]
British Columnist: Romney Should Not 'Cast Us All Back into the Dark Ages' - Ian Vince, a columnist with The Guardian, asks what exactly the Romney campaign might mean by stating a desire to restore “Anglo-Saxon” relations between the two nations. Vince notes the thousand years of culture and heritage contributed by the Normans, the Romans, the Danish Jutes, and the Vikings, among others, and the huge number of non-“Anglo-Saxons” who consider themselves proud British citizens. He concludes by observing, “Mitt Romney would be wise not to cast us all back into the Dark Ages.” [Guardian, 7/25/2012]
Liberal News Site: Comments Part of Larger Attack on Obama's Heritage, Patriotism - Judd Legum of the liberal news Web site Think Progress says the comments are part of a much broader series of attacks on Obama’s heritage and patriotism by the Romney campaign. Legum calls the comments “the latest attack by the Romney campaign on Obama’s multi-cultural heritage.” Last week, Legum reminds readers, Romney campaign co-chair John Sununu told reporters Obama has no understanding of the “American system” because he “spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia,” and said Obama needs to “learn how to be an American.” Later that day, Romney himself called Obama’s policies “extraordinarily foreign.” [Think Progress, 7/25/2012]
Neoconservative Magazine: Story Not Believable, Romney's Denial Should Settle Question - However, Alana Goodman of the neoconservative Commentary magazine says she did not believe the story from the moment it was reported. She says the story hinges entirely on a single unnamed source (the Romney advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity), and accuses the Obama campaign of “scrambling to pump air into” the controversy surrounding the comments. She concludes, “Unless a reporter is able to verify who said this and what his role is in the campaign, Romney’s denial should put this story to rest.” [Commentary, 7/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Willard Mitt Romney, Joseph Biden, Judd Legum, John Sununu, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Ian Vince, David Axelrod, Alana Goodman, Barack Obama, Tim Stanley

Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections

A portion of the cover of the DVD ‘Dreams From My Real Father.’ The subtitle is ‘A Story of Reds and Deception.’A portion of the cover of the DVD ‘Dreams From My Real Father.’ The subtitle is ‘A Story of Reds and Deception.’ [Source: Opposing Views (.com)]Bill Armistead, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, publicly claims President Obama is the illegitimate son of Frank Marshall Davis, an American labor activist and organizer for the Communist Party USA. Armistead makes his claim to a meeting of the Eastern Shore Republican Women in Fairhope, Alabama, where he recommends a movie entitled Dreams From My Real Father, a play on Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. The film was directed by Joel Gilbert, who has described it thusly: “Admittedly, at age 18, Obama arrived at Occidental College a committed revolutionary Marxist. Dreams from My Real Father presents the case that Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist Party USA organizer and propagandist, was Obama’s real father, both biological and ideological, and indoctrinated Obama with a political foundation in Marxism and an anti-white world view.” Armistead tells the audience: “We have to win this election. This is about our country. Our country will not be the same. I’m convinced, if Obama wins, our children and grandchildren will not live under the same conditions that we’ve lived in these wonderful years. Obama has a different ideology than we do.” He then answers a question from the audience about another movie critical of Obama, 2016: Obama’s America, by conservative pundit and author Dinesh D’Souza (see September 12, 2010 and September 16, 2010). Armistead replies: “If you haven’t seen it, you should. But I’m going to tell you about another movie. The name of it is Dreams From My Real Father. That is absolutely frightening. I’ve seen it. I verified that it is factual, all of it. People can determine.” Armistead does not explain how he has “verified” the accuracy of the movie’s claims. The story of Armistead’s comments is quickly picked up by local and national press outlets, including Salon and TPM Muckraker, which say that Armistead has gone “birther.” The reference is to discredited conspiracy theories claiming that Obama is not a naturally-born American citizen. Miranda Blue, a spokesperson for the liberal People for the American Way (PFAW), says the film is a “fringe birther movie” and adds, “This is the first we’ve heard of a political leader embracing… Gilbert’s conspiracy theory.” [Mobile Press-Register, 9/20/2012] According to Blue, “A trailer for the film cuts to various right-wing bogeymen including Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, and ACORN in between misleadingly edited snippets of speeches by the president and Michelle Obama.” She writes, “Gilbert’s film has divided the birther movement, since its assertion that Davis is Obama’s real father would seem to be incompatible with the theory that the president was born in Kenya.” Jerome Corsi, a writer for the conservative WorldNetDaily and a veteran “birther” (see August 1, 2008 and After, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010), supports the film, but California lawyer and “birther” Orly Taitz (see August 1-4, 2009, October 29, 2009, and April 27, 2011) says Corsi is “trying to kill the case by making up an American citizen father for Obama.” The film has reached a wide audience, with conservative media outlets such as the New York Post promoting it and Gilbert sending a million copies of the film on DVD to voters in Ohio. Gilbert plans to send another million copies to voters in other swing states. Gilbert says the mainstream media is ignoring the film “because they support national health care.” Gilbert told a recent National Press Club audience that Obama and his political advisor David Axelrod are both “red diaper babies,” children born of Communist parents and brought up to advance the cause. Obama, he said, is pursuing what he says was Davis’s dream of imposing a Stalinist-Marxist dictatorship on America, and that Obama worked with the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to cause the housing crisis as part of a plan to, he said, “use minorities and the poor to collapse capitalism.” [Right Wing Watch, 9/20/2012; Salon, 9/20/2012] The film is narrated by an Obama impersonator. It contains a disclaimer noting that many of the scenes are “re-creations of probable events, using reasoned logic, speculation, and approximated conversations.” [TPM Muckraker, 9/21/2012] The tale of Obama being fathered by Davis was promulgated most recently by conservative agitator Andy Martin (see Before October 27, 2008) and other far-right sources.

Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Barack Obama, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Anthony Robert Martin-Trigona, Alabama Republican Party, Bill Armistead, Frank Marshall Davis, Orly Taitz, Joel Gilbert, David Axelrod, Miranda Blue

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Conservative columnist Charles Lane, writing for the Washington Post, pens a column deriding the renewable energy industry and says that powerful Democratic politicians are using that industry to make themselves rich. He cites the example of former Vice President Al Gore, who has made somewhere around $100 million “partly through investing in alternative energy firms subsidized by the Obama administration.” Lane juxtaposes this information with a note that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney earned the cheers of “thousands” when, at a rally in Ohio, he proclaimed his support for the coal industry. Lane writes that liberals and Democrats are profiting handsomely by forcing the government to subsidize what he characterizes as an industry doomed to failure: “As the Democrats become more committed to, and defined by, a green agenda, and as they become dependent on money from high-tech venture capitalists and their lobbyists, it becomes harder to describe them as a party for the little guy—or liberalism as a philosophy of distributive justice.” Lane claims that Gore has an inherent conflict of interest in speaking out about alternative energy and climate change while at the same time investing in alternative energy research and development. He then lambasts the entire renewable energy industry as “not cost-competitive with traditional energy,” and claims that it “won’t be for years. So it can’t work without either taxpayer subsidies, much of which accrue to ‘entrepreneurs’ such as Gore, or higher prices for fossil energy—the brunt of which is borne by people of modest means.” Lane writes that “expensive electricity is bad for industry, as Germany is discovering. Fact is, subsidies for green energy do not so much create jobs as shift them around.” So-called “smart grids,” advanced technology that makes conventional electricity’s transmission more efficient and reliable, is bad, he writes, because it puts “human meter readers” out of work, “just as solar panels put coal miners out of work.” If any new energy technology is worth pursuing, he writes, it is “fracking,” the industry practice that promises to extract millions of tons of natural gas from the ground. Solar and other renewable energy industries would not exist if it were not for government subsidies, he claims, and will never be sustainable without government payouts. [Washington Post, 10/15/2012] Lane’s claim about Germany’s failure to create jobs in its renewable energy industry is contradicted by a German study showing that the industry creates hundreds of thousands of jobs each year (see July 31, 2013). Similarly, his claim that wealthy solar energy producers are sustained by higher rates paid by poor consumers will be strongly challenged (see April 5, 2013).

Entity Tags: Charles Lane, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

A report by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) finds that within a decade or so, solar energy and other renewable distributed energy resources (DER) could lay waste to the utility business model and to American power utilities. The utility business model, which has remained relatively unchanged since the early 20th century, is not capable of coping with the “disruptive challenges” posed to it by solar and other renewable energy power generation. David Roberts, a staff writer for the environmental news publication Grist, will write of the EEI report in April 2013: “It is one of the most prescient and brutally frank things I’ve ever read about the power sector. It is a rare thing to hear an industry tell the tale of its own incipient obsolescence.” Standard power utilities are “regulated monopolies,” which means they are the sole providers of power in their service areas. The business model relies on the utilities selling power as “overseen” by public utility commissions (PUCs), which control what utilities can charge for their power. Inexpensive solar (photovoltaic, or PV) power “eats away at [that business model] like acid,” Roberts writes. Solar power is not regulated for the benefit of the utility companies. In simplistic terms, a kilowatt-hour (kwh) of solar energy generated by, say, a rooftop solar array is a kilowatt-hour of reduced demand for the utility. Solar power peaks each day at noon, usually the time of most intense sunlight, which is one of the power utilities’ “peak load” times. Power utilities make much of their profits from peak load electricity, as they charge more per kwh for peak load electricity. Roberts writes, “[W]hen solar panels provide peak power, they aren’t just reducing demand, they’re reducing demand for the utilities’ most valuable product.” The EEI report also challenges the myth that power consumers must rely on grid power and not solar power because solar power is not available when the sun is not shining. Battery storage, micro turbine, and other developing technologies are making it possible for many consumers to go entirely “grid free,” to opt out of grid-generated electricity entirely. Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers says, “If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using [the grid] for backup.” If a large number of consumers begin generating their own power and using the grid for backup alone, the EEI report says, the utilities face “irreparable damage to [their] revenues and growth prospects.” Utilities generally anticipate revenues that allow them to invest heavily in fossil fuel plants that will not recoup costs for 30 years. Those investments could be more difficult to recoup if consumers begin generating their own power via solar and other DER power sources, leading the utility companies to contemplate raising the rates of those consumers who do not opt out of grid-based power. The EEI report states: “The financial implications of these threats are fairly evident. Start with the increased cost of supporting a network capable of managing and integrating distributed generation sources. Next, under most rate structures, add the decline in revenues attributed to revenues lost from sales foregone. These forces lead to increased revenues required from remaining customers… and sought through rate increases. The result of higher electricity prices and competitive threats will encourage a higher rate of DER additions, or will promote greater use of efficiency or demand-side solutions. Increased uncertainty and risk will not be welcomed by investors, who will seek a higher return on investment and force defensive-minded investors to reduce exposure to the sector. These competitive and financial risks would likely erode credit quality. The decline in credit quality will lead to a higher cost of capital, putting further pressure on customer rates. Ultimately, capital availability will be reduced, and this will affect future investment plans. The cycle of decline has been previously witnessed in technology-disrupted sectors (such as telecommunications) and other deregulated industries (airlines).” In other words, as consumers begin to opt out of grid-based power consumption, and utilities raise their rates to compensate for the loss of revenue, more and more consumers will opt out, further shrinking the number of consumers paying the utilities to generate their electricity. Even small numbers of consumers using rooftop solar strikes at the utilities’ main profit centers (one reason why German utilities are already feeling the pinch). Currently, less than 1 percent of US electricity is generated by solar arrays. But a projection by Bloomberg Energy Finance forecasts that in some areas of the nation, up to 10 percent of power load will be generated by solar arrays. The EEI report speculates that utility consumers in those areas will see massive increases in their rates as the utilities compensate for the lost revenues. [Kind, 1/2013 pdf file; Grist Magazine, 4/10/2013]

Entity Tags: Edison Electric Institute, Bloomberg Energy Finance, Grist, David Roberts, Jim Rogers

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

On Fox News’s morning show Fox and Friends, “expert” commentator Shibani Joshi of Fox Business tells viewers that the reason Germany has had so much success with its solar power industry is that it gets a great deal more sunlight than America does. In reality, Germany gets comparatively little sunlight, comparative to Alaska, the US state that gets the least amount of annual direct solar energy. Neither Joshi nor any of the hosts on the show mention Germany’s long governmental support of solar energy development and its backing of green technology research and development. Host Gretchen Carlson and her fellow hosts deride the Obama administration’s “failed” solar subsidies, with Carlson saying: “The United States simply hasn’t figured out how to do solar cheaply and effectively. You look at the country of Germany, it’s working out great for them.” The future of America’s solar industry, Carlson asserts, “is dim.” She then asks Joshi: “What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?” Joshi replies: “They’re a smaller country and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do.… The problem is it’s a cloudy day and it’s raining, you’re not gonna have it.” A few American states like California get a relatively plentiful amount of sunshine, Joshi says, and experience some success with generating energy from sunlight, “but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work.” Slate reporter Will Oremus will later write: “Gosh, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before? Wouldn’t you think that some scientist, somewhere, would have noticed that the East Coast is far less sunny than Central Europe and therefore incapable of producing solar power on the same scale? You would—if it were true.” According to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL—see 1977), almost the entire continental US gets more sunlight than the sunniest region of Germany. NREL scientist Sarah Kurtz tells Oremus, “Germany’s solar resource is akin to Alaska’s.” According to an NREL map, the American Southwest is one of the best places in the world to generate solar power, and all of the continental US with the possible exception of the Puget Sound region in Washington state gets far more sunlight than anywhere in Germany. [Slate, 2/7/2013; Media Matters, 2/7/2013] Four days later, Joshi will admit she is wrong. In a post on Fox News’s blog, she will write: “I incorrectly stated that the chief difference between the US and Germany’s success with solar installations had to do with climate differences on a Fox and Friends appearance on Feb. 7. In fact, the difference come down more to subsidies and political priorities and has nothing to with sunshine.” She will then continue to deride solar energy as a minor element in a “divers[ified] energy portfolio,” and will claim that natural gas obtained via “fracking” is a better and more reliable source of energy for the next century. [Fox News, 2/11/2013]

Entity Tags: Shibani Joshi, Gretchen Carlson, Fox News, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sarah Kurtz, Will Oremus, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

San Antonio electric utility CPS Energy says it intends to cut the amount it pays for solar power generated from residential customers by about half, claiming that some of the city’s power users are not paying their fair share for the utility’s transmission infrastructure. Clean energy activists and system installers say the cuts are intended to cripple the region’s solar industry. Lanny Sinkin of Solar San Antonio says: “There was zero consultation with the solar industry in the development of this proposal. They’re going to kill the solar industry.” CPS, a municipally owned utility that in theory is owned by the ratepayers, wants to end the current system of “net metering,” which allows residential customers with solar panels to use each kilowatt-hour of energy they generate to cancel each kilowatt-hour they draw from the utility’s electric grid—in essence, the residence owners cancel a kilowatt-hour they pay for to CPS (at retail rates) by generating a kilowatt-hour of solar energy. Instead, CPS proposes a system it calls “SunCredit,” which would assign a fixed value to the price of the solar power produced and credit that amount against their accounts. The SunCredit program would give only a little over half of what a kilowatt-hour of solar power is worth under net metering, by crediting residential consumers with solar-produced kilowatt-hours at CPS’s wholesale rate. CPS spokesperson Lisa Lewis says of the existing practice: “I think that it’s not unimportant to recognize that solar customers use poles and wires and the grid. If we move to a situation where more and more customers have solar systems, they leave that infrastructure cost… stranded, and the people who can least afford to pay it are the ones paying for it” (see January 2013). Existing solar power producers would be granted the existing rates until 2023, while new solar producers would begin receiving the new, lower rate immediately.
Decision Already Made? - Although Lewis says the utility is still soliciting feedback on the program and will consider making changes, Sinkin says the utility has already made its decision. Recently, the utility informed the public of its decision during a contentious meeting, when solar installers said the new program would make it impossible for them to sell systems to the public. CPS Energy instituted cuts in its solar subsidies in 2012 when it reduced the size of the rebate it offers to help customers cover the cost of installing their solar power systems at their homes.
Expert Explains Issue - Solar expert David Roberts of Grist explains the issue, writing: “Under net metering, if a rooftop solar customer generates as much electricity as she consumes, she pays nothing. If she generates more than she consumes, the utility pays her. In either case, her portion of the utility’s fixed costs is transferred onto other, non-solar ratepayers. As more and more people opt for solar, fixed costs are paid by a smaller and smaller group of customers, which drives rates up, which drives more and more of them to solar, in a vicious cycle. The utility’s fixed assets are ‘stranded’—it is unable to recover those investment costs because of the shrinking pool of customers. (It’s also worth noting that the first customers to go solar tend to be well-off, which leaves the less well-off paying more, so there’s an economic-justice angle here too.)” Roberts notes that CPS is being ingenuous in its contentions that solar consumers are costing the utility money, as rooftop solar arrays save the utility money in terms of avoided transmission and equipment costs. Moreover, solar power benefits the region in reduced air pollution and carbon emissions. He also notes that CPS did not hesitate to offer its employees $16.4 million in bonuses in 2012 (most of which went to the firm’s top executives), the same year it cut its solar subsidies. Roberts concludes: “The dilemma… is how to align CPS’s incentives so that it can drive rapid solar adoption and reliably recover costs from its fixed assets and protect its lower-income ratepayers from being unfairly burdened. If we can’t figure out a solution to that dilemma, more and more utilities will do what CPS is doing and the spread of rooftop solar in the US, which has barely gotten underway, will slow to a crawl. That isn’t what we want, is it?” [San Antonio Express-News, 6/21/2012; San Antonio Express-News, 4/9/2013; Grist Magazine, 4/12/2013]
Idea that Solar Power Consumers Pay Unfairly Low Share Challenged - Many solar advocates have successfully challenged the idea that solar power consumers cost their area’s utilities revenue (see April 5, 2013).
Utility Agrees to Postpone Implementation - Following the announcement, CPS will agree to postpone implementation of the new policy for a year and to work with solar advocates to craft changes to the policy. [CPS Energy, 5/9/2013; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]

Entity Tags: Lisa Lewis, CPS Energy, David Roberts, Lanny Sinkin

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Several of the nation’s largest solar installers, including SolarCity, Sungevity, SunRun, and Verengo, form a lobbying organization, the Alliance for Solar Choice (ASC), to fight back against conventional utilities’ efforts to curtail or cancel programs that support renewable energy in 43 states. The ASC will begin by working to preserve “net metering” policies that require utilities to purchase surplus electricity at retail rates from customers with rooftop solar systems. ASC president Bryan Miller, a SunRun executive, says the group is responding to “the coordinated utility attack on net metering throughout the country.” Many utilities “have opposed net energy metering since its inception.” Utilities argue that as more people install solar arrays and generate power for themselves, non-solar customers are forced to pay higher rates to subsidize utility costs for grid maintenance and the like. (That argument has been strongly challenged—see April 5, 2013.) [Bloomberg, 5/10/2013]

Entity Tags: Sungevity, SolarCity, Verengo, SunRun, Bryan Miller, Alliance for Solar Choice

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Grist columnist and distributed energy expert David Roberts attempts to explain the viewpoints of the solar and the conventional utility industries over utility regulations as they pertain to solar power generation. He calls the issue “unavoidably wonky” but “a pivotal issue” that is “long overdue” for public understanding. The problem between the two has two components: short-term and long-term. The short-term argument between the two camps involves how electricity rates are structured and how utilities compensate, or do not compensate, customers who generate some of their own power with rooftop solar PV panels. The long-term issue revolves around the creation of “an entirely new business model for utilities, one that aligns their financial interests with the spread of distributed energy.” Battling over the short-term issues delays resolution of the long-term issue, Roberts writes.
Utilities' Perspective - About 70 percent of Americans are served by investor-owned utilities (IOUs), the traditional, for-profit, regulated-monopoly utilities that have what Roberts calls “a captive customer base and profits guaranteed by law.” IOUs are leading the pushback against distributed solar energy. IOUs make their profits by:
bullet estimating how much power their customers will need;
bullet estimating the investments they will need to make in power plants, fuel, transmission lines, and so forth in order to meet that demand;
bullet estimating how much they need to charge customers to cover their investments and offer a reasonable rate of return to their investors;
bullet convincing their state’s public utility commission (PUC) that their rates are warranted and fair; and
bullet charging that rate until they can convince the PUC to let them raise their rates.
Residential customers pay the PUC-approved “retail rate” for their electricity. [Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Net Metering - NC State’s Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) defines net metering as “a popular and administratively simple policy option [that] allows electric customers who generate their own electricity using solar or other forms of renewable energy to bank excess electricity on the grid, usually in the form of kilowatt-hour (kWh) credits.… In effect, the customer uses excess generation credits to offset electricity that the customer otherwise would have to purchase at the utility’s retail rate. Traditionally, net metering has been accomplished through the use of a single, conventional, bi-directional meter.” In its most simple terms, customers who participate in net metering programs get rebates or subsidies from their IOUs based on how much solar energy they generate for themselves: if they generate 10 hours of solar power a week, they receive 10 kilowatt-hours (at the retail rate) of credit on their electric bills. The policies are in force in some 40 states, though the details of their implementation vary widely from state to state. The utilities say that net metering is inherently unfair, since a consumer who lowers or even zeroes out their utility bill through solar power generation does not pay enough for fixed costs such as power plant construction, transmission line installation and maintenance, etc., even though these consumers still make use of these services. The utilities argue that the complexity of managing these distributed energy producing consumers increases their costs; net metering, they say, makes customers who cannot afford solar arrays subsidize those who can. (This argument has been strongly challenged—see April 5, 2013.) Utilities in many states are trying to end or dramatically cut back on net metering rebates (see April 9-12, 2013). As noted in a January 2013 report that predicted utilities will be forced into near-bankruptcy by increasing use of solar-generated power (see January 2013), many IOUs are attempting to add “customer service charges” to subsidize their fixed costs, and to lower the subsidies paid to rooftop solar producers. David Rubin of Pacific Gas and Electric has said, “We need to set the stage for continued growth in solar in what we believe will be a sustainable way which is to not have solar customers that are being subsidized by the rest of our customers and producing unsustainable rates for those customers.” [DSIRE Solar, 2013; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Solar Perspective - The solar community is not convinced, Roberts writes, and is actively, and sometimes angrily, pushing back against the utilities’ stance. Recently, some of the nation’s largest solar installers formed an organization called the Alliance for Solar Choice (see Shortly Before May 10, 2013). Their argument boils down to the contention that utilities raise their rates regardless of who produces solar or wind power for themselves. In fact, they charge, utilities raise their rates far more than is warranted to cover what they argue are higher costs due to solar generation. Because of their monopolistic structure, they are able to make extraordinarily high profits even while bemoaning their costs. PUCs guarantee them hefty profit margins (rates of return on their investments) regardless of whether the investments were necessary. They essentially have a captive customer base, Roberts writes, and are used to charging heavily padded retail rates on the power they sell their customers. Utilities have no interest in innovation or competition, he writes, and as a result their customers “are getting shafted all over the country. Utilities overestimate demand, underestimate efficiency, and contract for gigantic central-generation power plants that customers pay for whether or not they need the power.” Roberts cites the examples of Southern California Edison customers, who are paying $68 million a month to subsidize a nuclear plant in San Onofre that has not produced a watt of energy in over a year. Mississippi customers are paying huge amounts to subsidize a coal-fired plant in Kemper County. We Energies in Wisconsin is trying to force its customers to pay for its Oak Creek coal plant, a hugely expensive facility that has been plagued with outages and breakdowns. Roberts says that utilities are not worried about increasing customers’ rates, but do not like the loss in revenue due to solar consumption. “It’s competition they don’t like,” he writes, “the potential loss of their captive customers.” Homes that are essentially “unplugged” from the grid do not impose costs on the utility, and actually save the utility money on transmission and distribution costs and in other areas. Utilities rely on consumers to pay exorbitant rates for their poorly envisioned and constructed power plants, transmission facilities, and the like, Roberts argues, instead of absorbing the losses themselves. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/27/2012; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Conclusion - While the solar advocates have a stronger case, Roberts says, some of them have become a bit extreme in their view that all utilities are automatically the enemy. “Some utilities, at least, seem to be grappling with this issue in good faith,” he says. But even these utilities, he says, “are struggling with the question of how to appropriately compensate for distributed solar. The fact is, as long as utilities operate under their current business model, rooftop solar really does hurt them.” Roberts says the best solution is to revamp the business model, particularly the IOU. [Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013] The regulatory contract that most IOUs operate under—existing as corporations legally protected from competition, charging rates as approved by state governments, and receiving guaranteed returns—is almost completely the opposite of the free market concept. “It is the most Soviet of economic sectors,” Roberts writes. Moreover, utilities make most of their profits not from selling electricity, but from making investments and receiving returns on them. The more power lines and plants they build, the more money they earn. In the ideal free market, companies profit by competing, cutting costs, and innovating. None of this applies to the typical American utility. As long as they can make their local PUC happy, utilities are free to generate revenue merely by building more facilities, whether those facilities are needed or even useful. Now, though, the paradigm is not as profitable. Utilities’ profits have peaked, and in coming years they will continue to drop, in large part because of the increase in the usage of renewable energy in place of utility-generated energy. Meanwhile, utilities are locked into paying for facilities and improvements for the next 20 years or so, and want to charge customers as much as possible to help them pay off the debts they have incurred and keep their profit margins in place. Roberts says that while society as a whole needs distributed, renewable energy platforms, the utilities do not want them: “As a society, we need energy efficiency and demand response. We need distributed renewable energy. We need to cancel out future power plants and transmission lines. All those things are to the good, economically and ecologically. Yet utilities have every incentive to oppose them, as they are direct threats to their familiar, comfortable business model, which has survived nearly a century unchanged.… We need a ground-up rethink of how utilities work, how they are structured, and how they can be reformed in a way that enables and accelerates long-overdue innovation in the electricity space.” [Grist Magazine, 5/21/2013]

Entity Tags: Southern California Edison, David Rubin, David Roberts, Alliance for Solar Choice, Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Arizona’s largest public utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), is proposing to charge its customers who install rooftop solar panels $50 to $100 a month, or more, to cover what it says is the cost of maintaining its power grid. The increase would primarily impact new solar consumers, and not those who already have solar arrays installed. Solar energy advocates say the utility’s move will cost thousands of jobs in the solar industry, but APS says the surcharge is justified. Gregory Bernosky, an APS official in charge of the company’s renewable energy policy, says: “Right now the model isn’t sustainable. We love customers to go solar; the energy is a great resource as part of our energy portfolio. But this is about cost shifting and fairness to non-solar customers.” Bernosky says that solar-producing customers are not paying their fair share for the conventional electricity they use, in part because under a policy known as net metering, they can sell the excess energy they generate back to APS for what Bernosky says is too much credit. “We’re not collecting all the costs we need to maintain infrastructure from solar customers, and as time goes on and we have more of them, they put a greater burden on non-solar customers,” he says. This claim has been strongly challenged (see April 5, 2013 and July 31, 2013). Tim Hanna, a Solar City employee who has a rooftop array, says he pays little more than $20 or $30 for electricity even in the summer, because he generates so much solar energy for his own use. He would not be affected by the rate increase, but says many others would, stating, “I think it will put a big damper on things because whenever you talk to people, you tell them they can save a good chunk of money, and now they might not be able to save like they used to.” Arizona’s solar industry employs over 10,000 people now, a number that is expected to rise. But many solar advocates say that APS’s new policy could halt job growth and cost current jobs. Meghan Nutting of Solar City says: “Louisiana and Idaho fought similar proposals. No other state with net metering, which is 43 states, has enacted a tax hike like this. It’s crazy that Arizona, the sunniest state in the nation, might actually consider doing this.” [AZFamily.com, 7/16/2013]

Entity Tags: Gregory Bernosky, Meghan Nutting, Arizona Public Service, Tim Hanna

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Amory B. Lovins, the chief scientist for the Rocky Mountain Institute and a well-known expert on sustainable and renewable energy, writes in a blog post for the Institute that the US solar industry is being attacked by an onslaught of disinformation and lies by the mainstream media, much of it designed to promote the interests of the conventional electric utilities. He begins by citing the infamous “flub” by Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, who in January 2013 lied to viewers when she said Germany has a more successful solar industry than the US because it has “got a lot more sun than we do” (see February 7, 2013). Lovins notes, “She recanted the next day while adding new errors.” He cites a pattern of what he calls “misinformed or, worse, systematically and falsely negative stories about renewable energy.” Some are simply erroneous, he admits, “due to careless reporting, sloppy fact checking, and perpetuation of old myths. But other coverage walks, or crosses, the dangerous line of a disinformation campaign—a persistent pattern of coverage meant to undermine renewables’ strong market reality. This has become common enough in mainstream media that some researchers have focused their attention on this balance of accurate and positive coverage vs. inaccurate and negative coverage.” The coverage issue has become one of note, he says. Tim Holmes of the UK’s Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) says that media reporting has an outsized influence on the thinking of lawmakers. In Britain, Holmes says, left-leaning newspapers tend to write positively about renewable energy, while more conservative, Tory-favoring news outlets give far more negative coverage. Overall, negative coverage of renewable energy more than doubles the amount of positive coverage in the British press. In Britain, the “lopsided” coverage is largely driven by nuclear power advocates who fear competition from wind power.
Myth: Renewable Energy Industries Cause Job Losses - Lovins cites the October 2012 claim by a Washington Post opinion columnist that subsidies for green energy do not create jobs, where the columnist cited Germany as an example of his assertion (see October 15, 2012). He cites data from a German study debunking the Post claim, showing that Germany’s renewable energy sector created over 380,000 jobs in 2011 alone and was continuing to create more jobs each year. Lovins writes, “More jobs have been created than lost in Germany’s energy sector—plus any jobs gained as heavy industry moves to Germany for its competitive electricity.” He writes that “a myth persists that countries lose more jobs then they gain when they transition to renewables.” He calls this claim an “upside-down fantasy” promulgated by a faulty study released by King Juan Carlos University in Spain in 2009 and written by an economist with reported ties to ExxonMobil, the conservative Heartland Institute, and the far-right Koch brothers (see August 30, 2010). The study claimed that for every job created in Spain’s renewable energy industry, 2.2 jobs were lost in the general job market. The story is still reported as fact today. But the study was debunked by experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL—see 1977) and the Spanish government. A 2012 study by the International Labour Organization shows that Spain is leading Europe in “green” job creation. Similar claims have been made about the American job market, with right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute (also funded by the Koch brothers—see 1977-Present and February 29, 2012) asserting that if people think renewable energy industries will create jobs, “we’re in a lot of trouble.” In reality, the American renewable energy industries created over 110,000 new jobs in 2012; in 2010, the US had more jobs in the “clean economy” than in the fossil-fuel industries.
Disinformation Campaign - Lovins writes that the attacks on the renewable energy industry are too systematic and coordinated to be accidental. Only one out of every 10 articles written about renewable energy had a quote from a spokesperson with the renewable energy industry, according to a recent survey. Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, head of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), says that enemies of the renewable energy industries “are dominating the conversation through misrepresentation, exaggeration, distraction, and millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising.” Lovins concludes: “This misleading coverage fuels policy uncertainty and doubt, reducing investment security and industry development. Disinformation hurts the industry and retards its—and our nation’s—progress. As Germany has shown, investing in renewables can grow economies and create jobs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions even in a climate as ‘sunny’ as Seattle. We just have to get the facts right, and insist that our reporters and media tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” [Rocky Mountain Institute, 7/31/2013]

Entity Tags: Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory B. Lovins, Cato Institute, International Labour Organization, Shibani Joshi, Tim Holmes, Dennis McGinn, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Keally DeWitt, an executive with solar provider SunRun, writes an opinion column lambasting a proposal by the Arizona Public Service (APS) utility company that would drastically overhaul Arizona’s net metering policy, favoring the utilities and damaging the ability of solar installers like SunRun to function in Arizona. DeWitt says the proposal, if approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), would doom the solar industry in that state. APS has proposed two options to replace the current policy. One is to charge solar homeowners $50 to $100 a month for accessing the electrical grid, no matter how little they may actually use electricity generated by the utilities (see July 16, 2013). The second option is to change the net metering practice from paying solar power consumers a credit for solar consumption at the retail rate to the much lower wholesale rate. APS has stated, “The plan is built around two options, either of which would ensure that APS customers who choose rooftop solar in the future will be compensated fairly for the electricity they generate and pay a fair price for their use of the electricity grid.” DeWitt writes that APS is “ignoring the fact that clean, local energy is worth more than fossil fuel-generated energy being transported hundreds of miles.… Both options would eliminate any financial benefits for homeowners, especially those in the working or middle classes, who want to control costs with rooftop solar.” DeWitt says that APS has created “astroturf,” or fake grassroots, groups such as 60 Plus and Prosper HQ, and used those groups to air advertisements attacking solar users. One ad compares Arizona’s solar industry to the bankrupt, much-reviled solar corporation Solyndra, and claims, “California billionaires are getting rich off of your tax dollars.” DeWitt writes, “Using outdated scare tactics and financial figures that have been publicly denounced, the groups appear to be blatantly lying to the public (and driving people crazy through overplaying their ads on YouTube).” Bryan Miller, an executive for SunRun and the head of the Alliance for Solar Choice (see Shortly Before May 10, 2013), called the ad a “disgusting attack against their own Arizona solar customers,” and said APS is responsible for the video. APS spokesperson Jenna Shaver retorted, “APS had nothing to do with the making of or the content of the video, but we were aware 60 Plus was going to engage in the discussion and we welcome their support.” Shaver said the ad merely counters attack ads aired by the Arizona solar industry. A solar advocacy group, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), headed by Republican Barry Goldwater Jr., has countered with its own ad featuring rooftop solar customers and a rooftop solar worker, all APS ratepayers, who are against the changes. TUSK’s Jason Rose recently said: “The proposal allows the ACC to create a backdoor tax on solar owners that will either severely curtail or kill solar in Arizona.… Solar is a disruptive technology and APS can’t compete. They are trying to maintain their profits and protect their shareholders’ stock price. We have spent a lot of time talking with them and they fear for their future.” One homeowner told DeWitt: “I had a solar system installed over a year ago and it has been a great benefit to me. APS, even more, benefits from the electricity that I produce. It does not cost them anything to produce the electricity; I even pay for the repairs that are needed. Why should I be penalized from going solar? This will only deter people from purchasing solar and eliminate jobs in the growing solar market in Arizona.” Rose recently told a reporter, “After conservative states like Idaho and Louisiana rejected proposals to change net metering, it would be a travesty for Arizona, the sunniest state in the union, to do it.” Miller said flatly, “The fight for net metering in Arizona is the most significant fight for solar in the country.” [Greentech Media, 7/3/2013; Greentech Media, 7/12/2013; Renewable Energy World, 8/14/2013]

Entity Tags: Jenna Shaver, Arizona Public Service, Arizona Corporation Commission, 60 Plus, Barry Goldwater Jr., Jason Rose, Prosper HQ, SunRun, Keally DeWitt, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, Bryan Miller

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Reporter Grace Wyler of the online technology magazine Motherboard writes that solar power generation “poses a mortal threat to the mainline power utilities that have dominated energy distribution in the US since the late 19th century.” Wyler echoes the findings of a January 2013 report by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI—see January 2013). The price of solar energy is dropping, she writes, and a new solar unit is being installed somewhere in the country every four minutes. The nation’s solar capacity has doubled since 2008 and costs are down 40 percent. Within 10 years, perhaps sooner, analysts predict, the price of solar generated energy will reach parity with other power sources. Naturally, conventional energy utility companies “are waging an escalating war against independent power distributors, and particularly against a new crop of solar technology companies that threaten to disrupt their century-old business model,” she writes.
Net Metering Among Largest Issues - One of the biggest issues is “net metering,” a policy which allows renewable energy consumers to sell their excess power back to the grid at retail prices. Net metering is taking the place of state subsidies for solar energy producers, allowing solar consumers to lower their energy bills. However, utilities fear what Wyler calls “a so-called ‘utility death spiral,’ in which more and more customers generate their own power, forcing utilities to charge higher rates to maintain infrastructure that was intended for a much larger pool of energy consumers, which will in turn encourage more people to turn to distributed energy options—which in most cases means solar panels.” Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers told a Bloomberg reporter: “It is obviously a potential threat to us over the long term. If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down, and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using [the grid] for backup.” The EEI wrote that if the utility industry does not take immediate action, renewable energy could soon cause “irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects” of utilities. These firms are battling net metering, claiming that conventional energy consumers are paying higher rates because of solar energy usage, a claim that has been challenged (see April 5, 2013). Utilities are fighting net metering policies in at least 11 states, asking regulators to impose new rate structures that would lower the amount utilities pay to buy back excess power from renewables consumers, and in some cases impose new grid-use fees on solar customers. Solar energy and technology producers such as Sungevity, SunRun, and SolarCity are fighting back against the utilities’ push.
Odd Political Bedfellows Joining to Fight Utility Restrictions - The solar companies are fighting the policy restrictions, not just on financial grounds, but, Wyler writes, because they believe government-sanctioned utilities monopolies are outdated and interfere with progress, calling it “the techno-libertarian view that regulation is an impediment to innovation and technological progress.” SolarCity spokesperson William Craven says: “Having more choice and more competition in the sector benefits pretty much everyone except the monopoly that has enjoyed having a monopoly for the past 100 years. It’s not clear that that system benefits anyone else. Generally, greater choice and greater competition drives innovation and drives reduced costs.” Many libertarian conservatives are joining the push for deregulation, broadening the base of solar consumers and advocates by aligning themselves with the more left-leaning solar advocates whose push for renewable energy is largely driven by environmental concerns. Even some far-right tea party groups are joining the push for deregulation. “From a conservative, or libertarian, perspective, it raises the question of why are we giving these guys a monopoly when they don’t need it anymore?” says John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which pushes for distributed generation. “We can generate electricity in lots of different ways. We don’t need a big centralized corporate entity to generate electricity. We can do it ourselves.” Wyler says this “strange grassroots coalition” is successfully fighting back against the utilities’ attempts to weaken net metering, citing victories in California, Georgia, Idaho, and Louisiana. Rosalind Jackson of Vote Solar says: “Utilities have a simple argument that sounds compelling, but time and again, we’ve seen such strong public outcry against the idea of utilities trying to take away the right to generate power that the decisions have actually come down on the side of solar customers.… This is a regulated industry that has not had to innovate for a century. But they are faced with a real disruptive technology. There are new entrants for customers who have never had an option before. So that’s a very real threat.” [Motherboard, 9/23/2013]

Entity Tags: Sungevity, SunRun, William Craven, Rosalind Jackson, Edison Electric Institute, Grace Wyler, Jim Rogers, SolarCity, John Farrell

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Arizona Public Service (APS), Arizona’s largest utility, admits that it paid a national conservative organization, the 60 Plus Association, to run advertisements attacking Arizona’s solar energy industry. APS has previously denied funding the ad campaign (see August 14, 2013). APS is trying to persuade the state’s public utility commission to change a state policy allowing homes and businesses that generate their own solar power to sell the excess energy they generate back to the grid (see July 16, 2013), a practice known as “net metering.” Solar advocates say the policy has helped create an increasing demand for rooftop solar energy equipment. APS has argued that solar energy producers pay less than their fair share for conventionally generated electricity, a popular argument among conservative opponents of solar power (see October 15, 2012) that has been challenged as false and misleading (see April 5, 2013 and July 31, 2013). A recent report showed that the utility companies fear massive loss of revenues in the future as solar power begins to eat into their monopoly on electricity provision in Arizona and other states (see January 2013), in part because most utility companies find it difficult and expensive to modernize their industry (see February 7, 2013). Solar advocates say that the elimination of net metering would essentially “kill rooftop solar in Arizona” (see August 14, 2013). Republican state icon Barry Goldwater Jr. leads a pro-solar organization, TUSK, that many in the conventional utility industry seem to fear. In July 2013, APS spokesman Jim McDonald flatly denied that APS was paying 60 Plus to run the ads, telling a reporter, “No, we are not” funding the ad campaign. But reporting by the Arizona Republic has revealed that APS did pay 60 Plus to run ads attacking the solar industry, as well as paying other groups such as Prosper and perhaps others to engage in similar advertising. McDonald now admits, “It goes through our consultant, but APS money does ultimately fund 60 Plus and Prosper.” McDonald now says he was not lying in July, because “[t]hat was my understanding at the time.” He denies knowing how much APS has paid 60 Plus, Prosper, and perhaps other groups, but says whatever money was spent came from shareholders’ funds and not ratepayer money. He then pivots, saying that the issue is “a phony controversy fueled by opponents who are eager to distract attention from the real substance from the issue.” He adds: “We’re in the middle of a bitter political fight. This is not a battle that we want to fight, but we cannot back down.… [W]e are not going to lie down and get our heads kicked in. We are just not. We are obligated to fight. It is irresponsible to our customers not to fight back.” APS vice president John Hatfield tells another reporter that APS “is contributing money to the nonprofits [60 Plus and Prosper], and potentially other groups through political consultant Sean Noble and his firm, DC London.” McDonald denies that APS is anti-solar, but the ads by 60 Plus are openly hostile to solar energy. Prosper has aired ads attacking both solar energy and Medicaid expansion. Bryan Miller of the Alliance for Solar Choice says: “APS knows how popular solar is. Rather than owning up to their attacks, they set up shady organizations and worked behind them, and lied to the public and regulators for months and months. They owe the public an explanation.” Solar industry officials say that most consumers would not choose to use solar if they did not get credit for the excess energy they give back to APS. Lyndon Rive, the founder and CEO of Solar City, says that most new solar customers are installing the panels with leases, and with their new lower power bill and lease payment, they save from $5 to $10 a month. Any additional cost to solar customers greater than a few dollars would prevent most people from using solar, he says, a claim that other industry experts echo. Goldwater recently told a reporter, “Innovation is happening all around APS, and they are sitting there like an elephant in a mud puddle.” He added: “All of the [utility] commissioners are Republicans and conservatives who believe in [market] choice. They will come down on the side of competition and against APS. They better, or they are in trouble. That’s why we have elections. If we don’t like the job they are doing, we will replace them. The people in the bleachers know a lot more about what’s going on down on the field than we give them credit for.” McDonald says TUSK and other pro-solar groups are merely masquerading as conservatives, and in truth are linked to Democrats and the Obama administration.
60 Plus Funded by Koch Brothers; Ads Link Arizona Solar Industries to Solyndra - 60 Plus, an organization that calls itself a more conservative alternative to the more mainstream AARP, is a lobbying organization funded by oil magnates Charles and David Koch (see 1981-2010). In recent years, 60 Plus has produced ads attacking health care reform using false and misleading claims (see Shortly Before August 10, 2009 and August 11, 2009), and was part of a 2009 push to create “astroturf” (fake grassroots) organizations to attack health care legislation (see August 14, 2009). 60 Plus has led the conservative pushback against TUSK and other pro-solar lobbying and advocacy groups, calling net metering “corporate welfare.” The ads attempt to link Arizona solar energy companies SolarCity and SunRun with Solyndra, the solar manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011. The two firms have no known connections to Solyndra. One ad shows images of secretive businessmen doing deals outside a corporate jet while the voiceover tells listeners, “California billionaires are getting rich off of your tax dollars.” The Prosper ad made an unsubstantiated claim that every rooftop array “adds $20,000 in costs to customers,” a claim that APS CEO Don Brandt has made since the spring of 2013. 60 Plus is led by Noble, a conservative operator who has been called “the wizard behind the screen” in the Koch’s donor network.
Prosper Founded by Republican Politicians and Staffers - Prosper is led by former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, a Republican, and former staffers for ex-Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Adams denies that Prosper was formed to work on APS’s behalf, and that it is also working to block Arizona’s planned expansion of Medicaid. [Arizona Republic, 10/21/2013; Mother Jones, 10/21/2013; GreenTech, 10/22/2013; Huffington Post, 10/25/2013]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Barry Goldwater Jr., Arizona Republic, Arizona Public Service, 60 Plus Association, Charles Koch, SunRun, Sean Noble, SolarCity, Lyndon Rive, Kirk Adams, John Hatfield, Bryan Miller, Jim McDonald, Prosper, Solyndra Corporation

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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