Author Archives: Gene Healy

“Anytime anyone says anything libertarian, spit on them”

Check this out: with a few simple searches, I can demonstrate that the Nation magazine, that grizzled old dame of the American Left, is, contrary to popular belief, pro-war, pro-Second Amendment, and soft on George W. Bush. What’s more,  she gives aid and comfort to global warming “denialists.” The “reflexive squawk of the Greenhouse fearmongers”? Really, Katrina vanden Heuvel?

Cherrypicking links is fun. For my next trick, I’ll use the pundilectable stylings of Norm Ornstein to prove that the American Enterprise Institute loves Al Franken and Barney Frank, backs Common-Cause-style campaign finance restrictions and has gone all wobbly on the Iraq War—and never once will my fingers leave my iPad.

Through the magic of Google, you too can earn a yellow belt in halfassed hackery. Mark Ames shows how it’s done in his recent Nation article, “Independent and Principled? Behind the Cato Myth.”

Stop me before I spit again!

I first became aware of Ames when he coauthored a 2010 Nation article based on the innovative premise that any American who protested getting pornoscanned and groped by the government just had to be part of a Koch-funded astroturf conspiracy. (Reason magazine had a field day with that one, helping to force a semi-apology from the Nation‘s editor.)

Ames sure hates the Kochs, but, as he announced in this spittle-flecked October 2010 rant, his true enemy is libertarianism itself:

Anytime anyone says anything libertarian, spit on them. Libertarians are by definition enemies of the state: they are against promoting American citizens’ general welfare and against policies that create a perfect union. Like Communists before them, they are actively subverting the Constitution and the American Dream, and replacing it with a Kleptocratic Nightmare.

So when Ames argues that any talk about Cato’s “principled opposition to the Bush administration’s imperial presidency” amounts to spinning “fairytales,” let’s stipulate that he approaches his analysis of Cato’s work with a somewhat distinct perspective.

Still, his motives don’t matter if his case holds up. Let’s look at that case.

In the course of his argument, Ames squeezes out a grudging rabbit pellet of a concession, admitting that “it’s true that compared to other pro-Republican think-tanks, Cato did have periods when it was critical of Bush’s wars and attacks on civil liberties.”

That’s nice of him; and it’s true enough. For example:

  • In 2004, Cato was the first major DC think tank to offer an extended argument for Exiting Iraq, in Christopher Preble’s book of that name.
  • That same year, during the height of Bush administration fear-mongering about Al Qaeda, Cato advanced the argument that terrorism was anything but an existential threat.
  • And in 2006, Cato released the white paper “Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush,” coauthored by Tim Lynch and myself, warning that “far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power,” and has insisted that he “cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror.”

The Nation gave the latter study a little love:

…the Cato report is so compelling because it hews so closely to the basic critique made by Representative John Conyers…. In words that might spill from the mouth of Cindy Sheehan or Scott Ritter, Cato concludes that we now have “a president who can launch wars at will, and who cannot be restrained from ordering the commission of war crimes.”

Thanks! (I think).

Still, Ames complains that Cato wussed out sometime in 2005, when the Institute “suddenly called a halt to its growing criticisms of Bush’s War on Terror.”

Looking through Cato’s 2005 archives month-by-month, I’m having a little trouble figuring out just when that was. Maybe it was March—it seems we were a little weak in March.

What else does Ames have to back up his claim that “the Cato Institute’s actual record during the Bush Administration years was anything but principled”? Stuff like this:

  • “John Yoo, author of the notorious “torture memo,” served on the Cato Editorial Board for Cato Supreme Court Review during the Bush presidency,” while crafting “the adminstration’s legal justifications for waterboarding, Guantanamo, warrantless wiretapping and more.”

This is silly. Cato’s constitutional studies department put Yoo on the original editorial board of the Cato Supreme Court Review for the inaugural 2001-2002 issue, several years before the torture memo leaked.

I don’t think I knew that “Dr. Yes” was on the CSCR board when I started attacking his handiwork. I do know we later took Yoo off the board because his views are (to put it mildly) incompatible with ours.

A fair assessment of Cato work that mentions Professor Yoo will reveal that there’s little love lost between us. Take it away, senior fellow Nat Hentoff:

There’s more:

  • “Another Cato executive, Ted Galen Carpenter, former VP for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, enthusiastically supported Bush’s war on terror and called on Bush to invade Pakistan.”

I don’t read the 2002 column Ames links to as a demand that the US “invade Pakistan,” as opposed to mounting airstrikes and cross-border raids against Al Qaeda cells.  Regardless, the implication that Ted Carpenter’s an “enthusiastic” hawk is hardly a fair-minded summary of Carpenter’s career, which is marked by steady advocacy of diplomacy, realism, and, as the title of his 2002 book puts it, Peace and Freedom: Foreign Policy for a Constitutional Republic.

Still, Ames soldiers on:

Ah, yes: it’s the old Norm Ornstein trick I mentioned above. Radley Balko addressed this one on Reason’s blog, shortly after Pilon’s WSJ oped was published:

Ed Crane and board member Bob Levy have co-written an op-ed entitled, “No, a President Can’t Do as He Pleases,” which sounds quite a bit like a scolding of fellow Catoite Roger Pilon for his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Much as I disagree with Pilon’s op-ed (disclosure, I’m a former Cato employee), it seems to me that this is the proper response. Cato is of course a libertarian think tank. But my experience there was that within that framework, there is quite a bit of intellectual freedom. A common refrain there has always been that “there is no official Cato position, only positions held by Cato scholars.” Crane didn’t fire or publicly discipline Pilon for apostasy. Rather, he took up a pen himself, and wrote a piece that, along with Tim Lee’s rebuttal and Gene Healy’s forthcoming book, makes it pretty clear that Pilon’s position on executive power isn’t one held by many others at Cato.

MORE:  Lee and Healy also have a piece in today’s Orange County Register on FISA.

It’s not the easiest thing to make the case for civil liberties and restrained foreign policy in an atmosphere of war fever, with even most of the liberals jumping ship. But if you ride it out, you may find that people eventually acknowledge that you were right.

As Radley suggests, there was and is no “official Cato position” on any given military action or constitutional claim associated with the War on Terror. But there was and is a dominant position. Here are a couple of links cataloging our civil liberties and foreign policy work over the years. Take a look and judge for yourself.

I think the evidence shows that we’ve been a far more consistent opponent of Washington’s crackbrained foreign interventions–and the civil liberties abuses that accompany them–than any other major think tank in town.  Who’s done better: the Brookings Institution? The Center for American Progress?

Cato’s not perfect. But in this fallen world, in this sinful company town, I’d say we’ve done alright.

Alas, if we lose, I wouldn’t bet on the “new Cato” holding the line.

Another Salvo Launched in Cato’s Merciless “Scorched-Earth Campaign”

Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at Cato, went on NPR yesterday to answer the question “Could the Billionaire Koch Brothers Ruin Cato?”

CANNON: ….And this is a very difficult issue and it’s a very difficult thing for folks at Cato, because we wouldn’t have our jobs without Charles and David Koch. They are billionaires who have funded the libertarian movement. Not just the Cato Institute, but other groups that have – where I’ve worked and others at Cato have worked. We owe a lot to them, and I’m not sure…

MARTIN: So you’ve been biting the hand that’s fed you?

CANNON: I don’t think so. I think we’re trying to protect an asset that they and we have tried to – have worked very hard to try to establish.

And I can’t – I don’t understand why it is that they’re doing this and so the open letter is part of an effort to try to begin that dialog and try to get some more understanding on both sides.

MARTIN: What’s the next step?

CANNON: I don’t really know. You mentioned the Kochs have filed two lawsuits against the Cato Institute. Those are going to work their way through the courts and, hopefully, there can be enough dialog from these two sides of the family that we can work toward some sort of compromise that preserves Cato’s credibility, preserves that asset that everyone involved has been working to build for 35 years.

Earth, scorched.

In other Koch v. Cato news, Freedomworks Chairman Dick Armey, co-chairman C. Boyden Gray, and president Matt Kibbe issued a strong statement last week opposing the Kochs’ takeover attempt.

As for who’s to blame for this very public dispute, Kibbe comments:

the Kochs have sparked a civil war at an inopportune time, and they have created the problem, not Cato. He argues that “the story was created on the day that they filed the lawsuit. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle. If Cato is to be saved, I think that independence needs to be reestablished.” Thus, he suggests, “the Cato board had to do whatever it could to defend itself. The caricature of the Kochs, that they’re this controlling, shadowy corporation is only fed by this shadowy lawsuit.”

Koch v. [REDACTED]

The National Review‘s Patrick Brennan has been following the Koch brothers’ battle with Cato since its inception.  And I keep getting the sense that he thinks there’s something vaguely disreputable about Cato offering our side of the story while we’re getting sued. “While one cannot exactly blame Cato partisans for taking the side they have,” Brennan wrote recently, “one should note that it has been obvious for a while that they are merely reinforcing the Left’s narrative about the Kochs, as sinister corporationists.”

Yesterday, reporting on the second lawsuit that the Kochs have filed against Cato in five weeks, Brennan wrote:

Koch supporters note that the Cato faction appears perfectly happy to wage this legal battle as publicly and loudly as possible, while they actually attempted to file this most recent suit under seal, but the court prevented them from doing so.

I don’t know who these unnamed “Koch supporters” were, but they’ve steered Brennan wrong here.

Take a look at the “Petition to File Portions of the Petition [etc.] Under Seal.”

In it, the Kochs note that “Kansas law imposes a duty of confidentiality on members of corporate boards.” They insist no such duty applies here, but assert they “wish to avoid any controversy” over whether, by providing “detailed descriptions of discussions among board members” at the March 22 board meeting they’ve breached any such duty:

The Kochs wanted “portions” of the filings under seal, not the suit itself. Specifically, they asked for leave to file “redacted versions,” obscuring only the board discussions, and “placing all other portions of the Petition and related filings in the public record.”

So if the judge had bought the Kochs’ argument, (unsurprisingly, he didn’t) we’d have had a bunch of publicly available filings, large swathes of which would have been mysteriously blacked out like an OLC torture memo.

You really have to bend over backwards to interpret that move as one designed to tamp down public curiosity about the dispute.

Sued Again!

In further non-hostile, not-partisan, non-takeover-related program activities, Charles and David Koch just filed a second lawsuit against Cato and four members of Cato’s Board: William A. Dunn, John C. Malone, Lewis E. Randall and Donald G. Smith.

The Washington Post’s Allen MacDuffee has the story here.  As MacDuffee notes, the Kochs’ filing  complains of an “‘improper election’ held recently by Cato’s board–an action the Kochs refer to as a ‘Board-packing scheme.’”

To recap, at the March 1 shareholders’ meeting, the day after the Kochs filed their initial lawsuit, they pushed out Dunn, Malone, Randall, and Smith–four longstanding Cato board members actively involved in the Institute’s governance. Three weeks later, by majority vote, Cato’s board reinstated them.  That’s your “board-packing scheme.”

As I’ve pointed out before (“Cato Plans ‘Takeover’ of Cato”), this is interesting logic: “So, you see, it’s not a ‘takeover’ to pack the board with Koch functionaries; it’s a ‘takeover’ when you restore the independent board members the Kochs kicked off.”

The Kochs never make clear what substantive objection they have to these four longtime Cato board members and dedicated libertarians (Bill Dunn , for example, was until recently, chairman of Reason’s board, and the Donald and Paula Smith Family Foundation gives generously to libertarian projects like the Students for Liberty and Reason.tv).  They merely call them part of the “Crane/Levy faction.”

It’s true that neither Dunn, Malone, Randall, or Smith were selected by the “Koch/Koch faction,” and, unlike the Koch nominees, none of them are financially dependent on or entangled with Koch Industries. But it’s insulting to suggest that these independent entrepreneurs and investors are “in thrall” to Cato management because they tend to agree with Crane and Levy about the shareholder structure and the direction of the Cato Institute. And it’s just bizarre to claim, as the Kochs’ new complaint does, that by reinstating these longstanding and valuable directors, “the Board members who voted in favor of seating four new members did so without any compelling justification or legitimate corporate purpose.”

In the first chapter of his book The Science of Success, Charles Koch notes that his father “advise[d] me ‘never sue; the lawyers get a third, the government gets a third and you get your business destroyed.’  I’ve tried to follow his advice and have filed very few lawsuits.”

We’re still not sure why he’s made an exception in Cato’s case, but one thing is clear: if anything is destroyed by the perverse and fruitless lawsuits the Kochs have filed over the last five weeks, it won’t be Koch Industries.

About That So-Called “Smear Campaign”

Last week, at CNN.com, Koch lieutenant and recently installed Cato board member Kevin Gentry complained that, in its quest to maintain control over the Cato Institute, Cato’s management has launched a “scorched earth public relations fight.”

In that, he picked up on a talking point introduced by David Koch in his March 22 statement about the dispute. David Koch accuses Cato chairman Bob Levy and others of scheming to “elicit support” from leftist groups “that have been attacking Koch Industries, Charles, and me.” Koch accuses Levy of “helping organize a public smear campaign” against him and his brother.

But as Bob Levy pointed out in a rejoinder issued the same day, “it’s an unusual ‘smear campaign,’ accompanied as it is by regular expressions of praise and gratitude for the Kochs from Cato directors, management and employees.”

Here’s a quick review of what Cato policy staffers have said about the Kochs since they sued the Cato Institute on February 28:

David Boaz:

Let me note that we at Cato are immensely grateful for the support we received from Charles and David Koch up until a couple of years ago (about 4 percent of our budget in the past decade), and we admire their donations to many other libertarian causes as well. This dispute isn’t personal, we’re not trying to demonize the Kochs.

Michael Tanner:

I certainly have no personal animosity toward the Kochs. One cannot overstate their efforts over the years to make this country a better and freer place. And for those efforts, they have been horribly and unfairly maligned by much of the media.

Trevor Burrus:

I immensely respect the Kochs and what they have done for liberty. I have defended their political activity many times, and I will continue to do so in the future. They are true libertarians who have devoted incredible resources to the ideas they believe in. And those resources have made a difference, especially for me.

Jim Harper:

I believe the Kochs want what’s best for liberty. The Kochs’ work to advance liberty over many decades is very strong evidence that they want to see its advance continue. The statements put out in their names are creditable evidence of the same.

Jerry O’Driscoll:

Charles Koch supported Austrian and libertarian activities and even attended some of them. He was approachable and happy to discuss ideas and strategy. There is now a bureaucracy surrounding his philanthropy, so I’ve had no contact with him in decades. I have only gratitude for the support provided me in the past.

Michael Cannon:

… the Brothers Koch are magnificent people, about to make a very big mistake…

…and me:

I don’t just admire the Cato Institute—I’ve made my career there. And I’m not just grateful to Charles G. Koch—I owe that career to him…. I owe Charles Koch “an enormous debt of gratitude. And—whether he gets credit for it or not—the country owes him its thanks as well.”

Oh, the humanity!

Now sure, in the many blogposts and articles Catoites have written opposing the takeover, you can find the occasional harsh criticism, not least from Cato president Ed Crane himself. I won’t defend every single thing Catoites have said about the Kochs since they sued Cato, but the fact is, people tend to get their Irish up when they believe that an institution they know and love is under assault.

Still, “scorched earth”? “Public smear campaign”? I’d thought that Charles and David Koch had been through a lot worse. Can the Kochs, who’ve been involved in politics for three decades now, really be that sensitive to criticism?

Perhaps so. In his March 22 statement, David Koch makes clear that one of the gravest offenses committed by Cato’s management occurred when Ed Crane talked to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer in 2010. Crane was “the individual quoted as the ‘top Cato official,” David complains:

When confronted about this, Ed initially claimed he only spoke briefly and favorably about us. He later acknowledged that he had made the statement as quoted, but it was only for background. Subsequently, he claimed that he was misquoted. As Ed has shown, he will partner with anyone – including those that oppose Cato and what it stands for – to further his personal agenda at the expense of others working to advance a free society.

Here’s the little quote that helped launch this great war:

… Crane had been insufficiently respectful of Charles’s management philosophy, which he distilled into a book called “The Science of Success,” and trademarked under the name Market-Based Management, or M.B.M. In the book, Charles recommends instilling a company’s corporate culture with the competitiveness of the marketplace. Koch describes M.B.M. as a “holistic system” containing “five dimensions: vision, virtue and talents, knowledge processes, decision rights and incentives.” A top Cato Institute official told me that Charles “thinks he’s a genius. He’s the emperor, and he’s convinced he’s wearing clothes.”

It’s a little shocking for those of us at Cato to learn that our careers and the Institute itself are at risk in large part because Ed Crane cracked wise about Market-Based Management in the pages of the New Yorker, but I suppose it’s useful information to have.

Kevin Gentry and the Independence of Cato’s Board

Over at CNN.com, Koch Foundation VP Kevin Gentry (archived bio here) has written a response to Cato chairman Bob Levy’s recent column, “Cato must not turn into a tool for Koch.”  Gentry’s response–like David Koch’s March 22 statement, emphasizes the issue of board independence.  As I’ve suggested before, they’d really do better to talk about something else.  It’s hard to characterize what they’re doing as an effort to promote board independence.

I left a comment to Gentry’s article at CNN.com:

Kevin Gentry charges that Cato’s president and chairman want “a board that is responsive to and dependent upon them.”

But if board independence is so important to the Kochs, why is it that virtually everyone Charles and David Koch have nominated to our board in the two years since they reactivated the shareholder arrangement is financially entangled with and/or dependent on Charles and David Koch? Koch-backed appointees to Cato’s board now include the three largest shareholders of Koch Industries, a vice president at the Charles Koch Foundation, an authorized spokesperson for Koch Industries, and a distinguished Republican lawyer who represents Koch Industries. The Kochs also nominated the executive vice president of Koch Industries, a staff lawyer for Koch Industries, a staff lawyer for the Charles Koch Foundation, the president of a Koch-created nonprofit and former vice president of the Charles Koch Foundation; and a former Director of Federal Affairs for Koch Industries.

Also, in his byline above, “Gentry is a board member of the Cato Institute,” he neglects to mention that, as a VP at the Koch Foundation, he too works for Charles Koch.

Gene Healy
Vice President
Cato Institute

Welcome to KochvCato.com

As we explain in the “About Us” section, soon after Charles and David Koch filed suit in Kansas, seeking control of the Cato Institute, those of us who opposed their hostile takeover took to any forum we could find to make our case for an independent Institute. Catoites’ responses—look here, here, here, here, and here for early examples— were unplanned, spontaneous, widespread, and, as far as I’m concerned, inspiring. (Not everyone agrees, however.)

Before long, we concluded that we could use a blog of our own, to provide rapid responses to new developments and serve as a central source for the case for an independent Institute.

In the coming months, we’ll use this space to provide our take on those developments, and to give Catoites and Cato supporters a forum to explain why we oppose this takeover attempt.

We can’t pretend to be neutral, but we’ll strive to give fair treatment to opposing arguments. And, to borrow a line from David Koch, we are “confident that when all the facts are known, those who are objective and open-minded will understand the reasons for our action[s].”