Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and stalwart champion of education for all Americans, made clear the need for a knowledgeable electorate. He warned us, that “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.” He explained that there is “no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves,” and clearly stated the requisite condition for that depository, “Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to raise any argument against what Jefferson said on the matter. People simply cannot expect to make informed decisions if they are not well informed. Taken in this light, the stated mission of Americans for Prosperity, “educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process,” is in perfect alignment with, not only one of our nation’s most revered patriots, but also with the common sense of every American.
In performance of their mission, Americans for Prosperity, commonly referred to as AFP, launched their latest educational effort this past Thursday. Their campaign to “educate” Americans on “wasteful spending” is centered on a one minute video that will air in eight states, from Florida to Michigan toNew Mexico. According to AFP, the ad will “scrutinize wasteful use of taxpayer dollars,” and “hold President Obama accountable” — objectives sure to make Thomas Jefferson proud.
The AFP ad gets right down to business, opening with “Washington promised to create American jobs, if we passed their stimulus, but that’s not what happened.” It then presents the “FACT” to backup their claim — a quantum leap to “Billions spent on green energy,” that went to “jobs in foreign countries.” But wait a minute . . . their argument is that the stimulus was $831 billion that didn’t create American jobs, and then they attempt to substantiate the claim with a Washington Times article about green energy?
Why the non sequitur? Can use of a formal fallacy to support an assertion really be viewed as an effective means of “educating citizens?” Obviously not; which means there’s likely a hidden agenda, but let’s not jump to conclusions.
What about the claim that the stimulus didn’t help with American jobs? According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the stimulus added as much as 4.5% to the GDP and increased domestic employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs. Mark Zandi, former economic advisor to John McCain, took issue with Republican claims on the matter and stated that, “Without the stimulus spending, instead of a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, we’d have an 11.5 percent unemployment rate.”
Okay, so the ad gets off to a bad start, making false claims about the stimulus, but what about those “billions” creating jobs overseas?
According to AFP, citing the same Washington Times article, “The Obama administration admitted the truth, that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas.” The graphic says, “$2.3 billion to jobs in foreign countries.” And the Times article states:
“The Department of Energy estimated that 82,000 jobs have been created and has acknowledged that as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms that employed workers primarily in countries including China, South Korea and Spain, rather than in the United States.”
More clear “educational” content? Uh huh.
The $2.3 billion cited by both the Times and AFP, according to Russ Choma, the investigative journalist upon whose work the Times article was based, came from a 48C credit program that was launched specifically to create US manufacturing capacity for renewable energy technology. The money helped to fund domestic projects, and the credits were given out based on the number of domestic jobs to be created.
That said, there were stimulus funds spent through an entirely different program that did send significant funds to foreign companies. Mr. Choma’s original piece, in the Investigative Reporting Workshop, addressed issues regarding stimulus Section 1603 grants of up to 30% of the investment for renewable energy production capacity brought online by the end of 2010.
Choma’s investigative work concluded that a whopping $2.38 billion of the grant money went to foreign developers. Of course, the nature of the grant did ensure that $2.33 of private money was invested in domestic infrastructure for every $1 of federal funding. The real issue was lack of American manufacturing capacity, which was being simultaneously addressed through the 48C program, but not quickly enough. Due to lack of domestic capacity, only 46% of the $4.4 billion spent on wind farms went to domestic companies.
The interesting point, with respect to the AFP ad, is that through all of Choma’s work, he stated that just exactly where jobs were created was a bit murky. There are around 8,000 parts in the average windmill, and the supply chains are complex. Some foreign companies have domestic facilities and vice versa. Choma stated that “We simply don’t know where all of the parts were made,” and he was forced to conclude, “I can’t say how many of the turbines built by American manufacturers were overseas, and how many of the turbines built by foreign manufacturers were built here.”
So, why would an ad ostensibly created to “educate,” be so convoluted and misleading? Perhaps because the form of “education” intended isn’t the kind Thomas Jefferson had in mind. Maybe the goal isn’t a knowledgeable electorate at all, but perhaps a manipulated one.
After briefly associating the “green” foreign expenditures with “13 Million unemployed back home,” the video moves to $1.2 billion given to a “solar company that’s building a plant . . . in Mexico.” It is true that the money went to a solar company, one that’s based in Silicon Valley, CA. It’s even true that SunPower had plans to build a plant in Mexicali, but the $1.2 billion DOE loan guarantee was to build a plant in San Luis Obispo County.
Clever wording? Absolutely! A person viewing the AFP ad will naturally put 2 and 2 together and wind up with $1.2 . . . billion going to Mexico. But education? Maybe as a euphemism for pure propaganda.
From Mexico, the AFP ad travels quickly to where “Half a billion” went to an electric car company that “created hundreds of jobs” — in Finland. The company in question is Fisker Automotive, a California-based carmaker, and they did get $529 million in loan guarantees. The money was spent on engineering and design work in the US, but again because of lack of domestic capacity, the original manufacturing of the Fisker Karma will happen in Finland. According to the ABC News piece cited in the AFP ad, the company has plans to build “tens of thousands” of their Fisker Nina sedans at the old GM plant they purchased in Delaware. But it appears that company “plans” can only be used to smear a solar investment, not to defend a loan for electric cars.
AFP’s world tour of “wasteful spending” turns to Asia next, with claims of “Tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights . . . in China.” The sums of money continuing to decline with each successive story line, AFP piques the viewer’s interest by invoking the spectre of the Red mennace. This particular claim is linked to $6.3 billion in stimulus funds given to cities and states to increase energy efficiency. The number cited, “tens of millions,” is necessarily vague, because nobody knows how much money went to China. What is known is that AFP’s wording isn’t as clever as that used with the Mexicali solar plant, since the signals were actually “built” in the US. Yet money for parts did go overseas, with some going to China, but once again the issue was the lack of domestic capacity — a lack that will never be addressed unless investment is made here — the very investment being spurred by the stimulus.
What’s telling is that all of the facts regarding the Fisker car loan and the traffic light issue were included in the articles AFP cited in their ad. If they had read the Pittsburgh Tribune piece, and had the desire to actually “educate,” they could have created a video that informed the public and left people to draw their own conclusions. But that was and is far from the goal of Americans for Prosperity.
The AFP ad closes with the accusation that President Obama “wasted $34 billion on risky investments . . . the result — failure.” The ad doesn’t state where that number comes from, although it matches the $34.7 billion total for the Section 1705 stimulus program to invest in renewables, power transmission and biofuels. The problem is that the reference doesn’t fit the narrative, as most all of the money was kept in the US, and with regard to “failure,” the DOE credits the program with creating 60,000 jobs. Of course, AFP does cite a supporting article, a piece in Investors Business Daily. It’s too bad all the report offers, besides yet another rip at the Solyndra deal, is an opinionated critique focused on how electric cars sales are lower then expected.
So, unless “education” is accomplished by feeding people jumbled up garbage intended to manipulate their understanding of a given situation, the AFP ad has nothing to do with the organization’s stated mission and everything to do with forwarding the political agenda that they’re forbidden to have as a tax-exempt non-profit.
The truth is that this should be no surprise for anyone familiar with AFP. They are clearly a front organization for Koch Industries, and their mission is to increase Koch profits in any way they can. The Koch fortune owing largely to the oil business, they’re dead set against anything “green.”
AFP, like Koch, is relentless in their efforts to bring down President Obama, keep America on the oil teat, destroy labor unions, and muddy every issue from climate change to tobacco and healthcare. They don’t care how deceptive their tactics or dishonest their statements. They do have a mission though — and if their latest ad is any indication — it’s not to “educate” but rather to keep citizens as ignorant as possible about economic policy.
Thomas Jefferson must be rolling in his grave.