Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In a Beltway State of Mind

So apparently the recent revelation about the anonymous Catoite source of the (in)famous Jane Mayer/New Yorker article on the Koch Brothers struck a nerve. Or maybe Boss Crane's regular interview style" is to take on the persona of a raving alcoholic on a public street corner. Either way, Weigel has his response:

Jane knows I'm pissed at her. I told her that off the record. I told her at the top of the interview. First off she says, I'm doing a story on the libertarian impact on the Tea Party movement. I was suspicious of that to begin with. Within five minutes, it's clear that she wants to do a hatchet job on the Kochs. She's a better journalist than that. You don't need to lie to people. I said, look, I'll tell you things about the Kochs. Ninety percent of this was positive. I admire them as businessmen, I agree with their philanthropy. The most critical thing I said -- she asked, I heard they had a fallout over "market-based management." I said, Well, we had some disagreements on that. I think it's a case of "the emperor has no clothes." Everybody tells him how brilliant this book The Science of Success is, and in my mind it's one of the worst books ever written. The fact-checker calls me up, and I say, yes, I said that, but it was off the record. Go back to the tape and check it. He says, She said the tape recorder didn't work. Well, in those circumstances, when you think the tape recorder is working so the reporter is not taking extensive notes, you infer that things are off the record. I was not happy about that.

...which is all a loud, angry, and rambling way of saying "hey, it's not my fault that stupid reporter I leaked a bunch of dirt about the Kochs to didn't do enough to conceal my identity!"

But lest anyone worry about Ed's propensity for spouting off again in a frenzy of slurred boorishness, Cato has assembled crack team of other spokespersons who are - shall we say - more polished in the way they handle these delicate situations. Enter Cato Veep Gene Healy who has taken on the task of cleaning up Boss Crane's verbal messes. A prime exhibit appears in this post where he attempts to reassure all of his other "friends" in "the movement" that they aren't trying to insult other recipients of Koch cash when they insult other recipients of Koch cash by claiming that it taints the "independence" and "credibility" of anything it touches. Or something or another like that.

But the truly exceptional thing about Healy's conciliatory missive is not its awkward word-parsing about the apparently fluid "distinction" between "Koch-funded and Koch-controlled." Instead it's his intended audience.

And who exactly does Healy believe to have misinterpreted Cato's finely honed message-crafting as an insult? Why it's those other Beltwaytarians! As in the alternative Koch-funded organizations that reside in that uber-hip community of urbane cosmopolitan yuppery and power known as the District of Columbia. Residents of the Cato Cube-of-Power need not concern themselves with potentially offending all of us yokels out in the badlands beyond the Federal City's interstate highway perimeter, because all that really matters in the "libertarian" world begins and ends with the Beltway. And perhaps a bit of its northeasterly appendage along Interstate 95 to that other hipster paradise called New York. But primarily the inside the D.C. Beltway.

Refer back to a prediction from the earliest stages of this controversy for elucidation on what just happened:

Think of it as the coolest of the super-cool cool kids (Cato) suddenly deciding that they're too cool for even the regular cool kids, and then the regular cool kids say "Fine! There's more of us anyway! We don't need you! And we're still cool enough to be cooler than those rednecks militias, cranky tax protesters, and Mises Institute screwballs in the unimportant parts of the country."

And Cato, it would seem, belatedly realizes the demand to sit at its "cool kids" lunch table has taken a hit. Too bad they haven't noticed what's going on in the real world well beyond the crappy government cafeteria.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Court Libertarians on Parade

Well, well. David Koch has decided to spill the beans about his increasingly testy lawsuit against the Cato Institute, and it ain't pretty.

It's full of unusual gusto for the typically tight-lipped Koch Empire, and much of it of course is PR. But one of David's more damning charges pins last year's (in)famous New Yorker by Jane Mayer about the Brothers Koch squarely on Ed Crane, the CEO of Cato. Mr. Crane, it would now appear, was the anonymous "top Cato Institute official" who offered up unpleastantries about the Kochs to Mayer on a silver plate.

So why is this revelation important? We'll get to that in a moment, but first let's establish something about Cato's side of the current lawsuit PR war. As may be observed here and here, Boss Crane & Co. have staked their entire defense of Cato on the charge that Koch control = Bad News, because the Kochs allegedly want to make the ideologically white-as-snow "libertarian" Cato Institute into an arm of the Republican Party in order to defeat Obama in November.

There are many obvious faults in Crane's argument. The line about defeating Obama doesn't exactly mesh with the Kochs' now-revealed offer to put off the suit until after the election, which Crane himself rebuffed. Crane also doesn't have a decent answer as to why the "Republican" Koch name taints Cato's "independence" but there's no reason to be worried about all those other anonymous multimillionaire donors (hint: his name begins with George and ends with Soros) who are threatening to "pull the plug" if the Kochs prevail in court. But above all, there's the matter of hypocrisy because Cato's board is stuffed full of hackish Republican Party bigwigs and has been. For decades.

Hell, Ed Crane put Rupert Murdoch on the board of Cato in 1997, and he sat there until at least the early 2000's. I'll repeat that. Ed Crane put Rupert "Mr. Fox News" Murdoch, the official media empire mogul of the Republican Party, on Cato's Board of Directors. So cry me a river, Ed, if you're suddenly worried about Koch-backed GOP infiltration coming from some little known Republican campaign floozie addition to the Cato board. Not to be outdone, Cato's own staff has a long track record of making campaign donations to such "libertarian" luminaries as George W. Bush, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John Warner, William Weld, John Thune, Evan Bayh, Johnny Isakson, and the Republican PAC "Club for Growth." Cato also seems to have a fetish for the king of special interest influence-peddling himself, Big Ben Bernanke. But remember, Cato's an ideologically pure "libertarian" organization, right?

Well not exactly, and therein lies the importance of David Koch's revelation. The Cato Institute is what could justly be called a "Court Libertarian" outfit. Sure, they describe themselves as "libertarians" and may even personally are that philosophical label. But Cato's real game is exercising political influence in the upper levels of the Federal City, all this recent claptrap & crap about their supposed "independence" notwithstanding. They're all about hobnobbing with the Washington D.C. power elite as in the aforementioned Murdochs and Bernankes and Bushes, as well as their counterparts on the left be it the Soros-backed Center for American Progress or left wing hipster "journalists" (or should I say Journo-lists?) like Ezra Klein. Same goes for his pimply neocon foil Jamie Kirchick, or their mutual "libertarian" token and journalistic errand boy David Weigel.

So what does a Court Libertarian do? He ingratiates himself into the halls of power by passing himself off as a "respectable" voice of libertarian philosophy, contrasted with all those other crazy radical anarcho-capitalist libertarian types in the flyover states. He offers up peripheral window dressing policy advice to the filthy, corrupt, and anti-libertarian federal government and pats himself on the back for this purported accomplishment. And he's always ready to provide a soundbyte to the mainstream media differentiating his own "respectable" type of Court Libertarianism from the rest of us out in the hinterlands who support things that might actually change (and therefore threaten) the big government status quo.

This is precisely what Cato types have spent the last two presidential elections doing to Ron Paul - that is to say undermining him and second guess him and even spreading nasty rumors about him at every turn in every media outlet to juxtapose against their own "cosmopolitan" and "respectable" though ultimately empty brand of Court Libertarianism.

Ever notice how Ed Crane, David Boaz, or some other anonymous "high-ranking Cato official" is always on hand to drop a soundbyte dismissing Paul, or chastising him for old newsletters? Well the previously immune Brothers David and Charles Koch just got the "Ron Paul Treatment" from the "respectable" headquarters of Court Libertarianism in downtown D.C. and that, dear friends, is the fountainhead of this lawsuit.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hypocrisy, thy name is Crane!

Ed Crane after the Koch Suit:

"Help!! The evil Koch Brothers are trying to stack Cato's board with hackish non-libertarian Republican operatives!!!" - Ed Crane, 2012

Ed Crane before the Koch Suit:

"Rupert Murdoch is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, a strong advocate of the free market and a committed civil libertarian. We're very proud to have him join the very distinguished men and women who guide the Cato Institute in its ongoing pursuit of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, and a free-market economy." - Ed Crane, 1997

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Palmer, Boaz, and the Republican Party apparatus that is Cato

Tom Palmer is on facebook urging his peons to: Save the Cato Institute "from being turned into a subsidiary of Koch Industries and an arm of the Republican Party."

David Boaz says basically the same thing: "OK, well, here's my view of the right thing to do: Don't take over the Cato Institute, destroy its reputation, and make it part of a Republican political apparatus."

Sorry to burst your bubbles of self-delusion, but Cato already IS part of the Republican political apparatus on its own accord!

See here, here, and here for ample proof that the Cato Institute elites love to make political donations to various "mainstream" Republican Party hacks and GOP causes.

And Boaz and Ed Crane are among the most frequent offenders.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ed Crane's Giant Ugly $50 Million Glass House

As the Cato-Koch Bros. saga continues to play out in court, the Beltwaytarian lines are already forming as anticipated. Permit me to make a few additional observations.

FIRST - The dispute over the ownership the late Bill Niskanen's shares in Cato has already, if inadvertently, reignited the long-festering controversy over another original shareholder of the Cato Institute, the late Murray N. Rothbard. Professor Rothbard, you see, was one of the original shareholders of Cato - a fact admitted to in the "exhibits" of the Koch lawsuit where his name appears as one of the original signatories in 1977. Except the next time the shares were revisited in 1985, Rothbard's name had mysteriously disappeared. Why? The longstanding story has been that something of a falling out happened between Rothbard and Ed Crane at the 1981 shareholder's meeting of the Cato Institute, and that Crane forcibly seized Rothbard's shares. They presumably still exist somewhere. And Rothbard stated many times in his own lifetime that he never relinquished his ownership of them even though Crane had simply taken them. But back when this all went down in 1981 the Kochs sided with Crane making a majority, and Murray was shown the door without any recourse to access his shares.

So what does this all mean? For one, Mr. Crane's complaint that the Kochs are trying to wrestle away the Niskanen shares is, shall we say, a wee bit hypocritical considering that's exactly what he did to Rothbard all those years ago.

It gets more fun from here on out though, because Crane's position in the lawsuit is that Niskanen's shares were inherited by his widow upon his death. If the court finds that true though, the same logic would dictate that Rothbard's shares - which were never legally transferred away from him in 1981 - also legally passed on to his heirs at his death in 1995. And who might the current legal heir to the Rothbard estate be? None other than longtime Cato nemesis Lew Rockwell. More so, Rockwell would also theoretically be the tie-breaking vote between Cato's current 50/50 split over who gets to run the show (2 Kochs on one side, Crane and the widow Niskanen on the other). Told ya this could get fun!

Now if the court sides with the Koch Brothers' position, then both the Rothbard and the Niskanen shares return back to the corporation, i.e. Cato itself, meaning the two Kochs outnumber the one Crane and increase their majority on the Cato board. That also presumably means Ed Crane goes bye-bye in the organization, which has a bunch of snively PC-tarian Cato twits up in arms.

The web is full of legal theories over which side has the stronger case so who knows how it will turn out. This much is certain though: Crane is lobbing rocks from a glass house when he accuses others - even a former ally - of trying to steal Cato shares, considering what he did to Rothbard. Sorry Ed, but you brought this one on yourself.

SECOND - Speaking of that glass house (and it is a giant ugly postmodern eyesore of a glass house in the most literal sense of the term), could it be one of the sources of the current spat?

The official position the Brothers Koch appeared in the Washington Post yesterday: they do not want the Cato Institute to "be subject to the personal preferences of individual officers or directors" (read: that means you, Ed Crane). In other words, the Kochs are probably motivated by a difference of opinion on how all those millions and millions of dollars they have given to Cato over the decades are being spent.

So what is Cato's spending its money on under the helm of Ed Crane? You guessed it. The straight dope from there own website: $50 million bucks to pay for...wait for it...an expansion of their giant ugly glass house in Washington, D.C. in order to make room for more staff and overhead bureaucracy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cracks in the Kochtopus

The Battle for the Glass Cube Begins!

By the looks of things we're about to witness a war within the so-called "Beltway libertarian" crowd as the Koch Brothers have filed suit against the Cato Institute over the dispensation of the late William Niskanen's shares in the organization.

So far the media is spinning this one as some sort of a Koch consolidationof its control over Cato, an institution that already had strong historical and financial connections to the Koch brothers. It may well end up being just that, but watching this one unfold will also require you to be aware of a not-so-well-kept secret in the Beltway world: Cato (and more specifically its president Ed Crane) and the Kochs have been on the outs for at least a couple years now. Maybe more. Sure, the Koch empire has always been one of Cato's biggest financiers but for a while any close observer has been able to detect a growing difference between the Kochs and Crane. You can see some of the hints in this post on the current lawsuit by David "Journo-list" Weigel.

So what does this mean for the coming collision? Fireworks. Live entertainment. A drawing of lines in the sand. Get the popcorn ready.

PREDICTION #1: Expect the self-anointed "cosmopolitan" wing of the Beltway crowd to side with Crane, and side with him aggressively.

You know this type well - the nominally libertarian DuPont Circle dwelling, Adams Morgan coffee shop-strolling, Capitol Hill ass-kissing, art film theatre (sic) -going, hipsters who fill the annual Cato intern pool and, assuming they retain their addiction to the best of Columbia's urbane bohemian yuppiedom beyond the age at which most of us reach adulthood, work/drink/sleep their way up the Cato "analyst" pool into roles beyond their competencies. Or diffuse out into a small network of "erudite" journalistic elites to fill in as the token non-progressive guy on a liberal mainstream media flagship. Or start up an obnoxious self-titled blog to intermingle their political musings with cappuccino machine reviews.

Well guess what. They're prolly gonna rally 'round the only boss man they really know. The Cato in-house elite are the kings of cosmopolitan cool. When Ed Crane screams "the Koch brothers are attempting a hostile takeover" and denounces them for trying to "politicize" Cato's agenda into actual current issues and sidetrack its priorities from spending millions on the all-important task of giving its Michel Foucoult's wet-dream-of-a-headquarters building an even more hip, urbane, and edgy makeover, these are the types who will jump to and believe it.

PREDICTION #2: Expect the aforementioned Cato hipster elite to jettison the Kochs

Yes - I know. In the past they've all benefited in some way from Koch money. But that was when the Kochs' adversaries in the Media Matters for America crowd were also largely their own. To most Cato hipsters, Davey and Charlie are just distant donors from the decidedly non-cosmopolitan flyover land of Topeka, Kansas. If they think the Kochs are coming to clean house at Cato expect the Cato cosmopolitans to start sounding a lot more like the "erudite" Koch conspiracy theorists of the New Yorker leftist intelligensia and the D.C. news media elite. Why? Because culturally, the typical Cato hipster is a lot closer to the New Yorker and the D.C. media elite than a couple of rich old white guys from Kansas.

PREDICTION #3: Expect the news media to side with Crane and portray Cato as the "victim"

See Prediction #2 for the reason why. Or put another way, obnoxious self-annointed cosmopolitan snots tend to stick with their own.

PREDICTION #4: Expect the non-Cato Beltway libertarians to rally around the Koch Brothers

Cato is not the Kochtopus, and the Kochtopus is a lot larger than Cato. It also has a much closer financial stake in all those other non-Cato organizations around DC - the Americans for Prosperities, the Atlases, the Mercatus Centre, and the rest. These types will stick it out with the Kochs because that's where their money comes from, but also because they've been the main beneficiaries of the slow and subtle cracks in the Koch-Cato relationship. As the Kochs have pulled back from Crane they've also turned elsewhere. Furthermore most of those other Beltwaytarian organizations are used to being attacked as Kochtopus entities because Obama & Co. have been using that exact attack on them for a couple years now while Cato strived to remain "above the fray." If they're already used to taking hits from Keith Olbermann they aren't gonna blink when Ed Crane accuses them of trying to take over his playpen - even if that ends up being what they actually want to do. Think of it as the coolest of the super-cool cool kids (Cato) suddenly deciding that they're too cool for even the regular cool kids, and then the regular cool kids say "Fine! There's more of us anyway! We don't need you! And we're still cool enough to be cooler than those rednecks militias, cranky tax protesters, and Mises Institute screwballs in the unimportant parts of the country."

PREDICTION #5: No matter the outcome, the Mises crowd will relish in the dispute.

It's part karma, part schadenfreude, and all irony. Why? Because the Mises Institute crowd's central gripe with the Kochtopus all traces back to an event in the early 1980's when the Kochs and Ed Crane joined together to (allegedly) cheat Murray Rothbard out of his founding stock shares in the brand new Cato Institute. Now that Crane and the Kochs are fighting over who controls Cato with their own shares with those of the deceased Niskanen somebody's bound to get a dose of the old Rothbard treatment. So expect the Mises crowd to maintain a raucous presence on the front row of this one, and perhaps lob a few pretzels and spill a few drinks on the contenders as they duke it out.