The Precautionary Principle, the Politics of Selfishness and the Influence of Right-Wing Think Tanks

Gary G. Kohls, MD

 The point, ladies and gentleman, is that greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) from the movie Wall Street  

The Precautionary Principle: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to environmental or human health, exploitation by any corporate or personal entity that could damage the environment or the health of humans must be delayed until there is absolute scientific certainty that damage can be totally averted.” 

   Last night in Duluth (10-22-2018) a Minnesota-based, right-wing, Libertarian think tank called the Center of the American Experiment (CAE)came to town to do a one-sided, propagandistic, fact-free promotion supporting the foreign mining company, PolyMetand its plans to dig an experimental, inherently dangerous, highly toxic, open pit copper/nickel sulfide mine near the headwaters of the St Louis River.

   What was likely not discussed at the pro-corporate presentation (to which nobody opposing PolyMet was invited) was the fact that PolyMet’s massive open pit mine has to have an even larger toxic waste tailings lagoon nearby that would eventually hold back, behind 250 foot high  (!) earthen dam (!) walls, billions of gallons (!) of eternally-poisonous, highly acidic (sulfuric acid, that is) mine sludge for generations or centuries (absent, of course a locally heavy rain deluge could easily cause a sudden, unexpected breech in the earthen dam walls, resulting in what could potentially be the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of Minnesota).

   All of this mining activity will be occurring directly upstream from a half dozen St Louis River communities that depend on the environmental health of the river. Also directly downstream is Duluth’s harbor and Lake Superior - which contains 10% of the world’s remaining – and rapidly depleting fresh water.

   PolyMet, the mining corporation that the CAE was promoting last night in Duluth is a Canadian penny stock company that has never earned a penny in its entire short lifetime. Typical for all penny stock mining companies, PolyMet has been acquired by a mature mining company from Switzerland called Glencore, a sociopathic multinational mining corporation that has never operated a non-polluting mining operation in its entire sordid history of world-wide exploitation.

   What is at stake if all the profit-driven corporations involved get their way and cavalierly and criminally ignore the Precautionary Principleand allow the dangerous project? What will be hurt the most will be the drinking and fishing and wild rice-sustaining water downstream from PolyMet’s mine and lagoon, all of which could easily be permanently poisoned in a close to inevitable catastrophic breech. And even without a catastrophic breech, the sub-surface aquifers near the site will inevitably be poisoned. 

   So who are all those mysterious out-of-state entities that are repeatedly – and shamelessly - trying to exploit our once-pristine environment for the economic benefit of unnamed investors and corporations? What is there motivation to try to convince the public, the DNR, the EPA and the Forest Service that the precautionary principle should not be applied? And where is the money coming from that supports these shady groups? And what does the upcoming election have to do with any of it?

   The answers are multiple and examining the case of the secretive Center of the American Experiment, only opens a lot of doors to understanding much of the tumult that is happening in America. Using the fledgling CAE as an example, it is essential to understand that it has been funded by semi-secretive, out-of-state, extremely wealthy, Libertarian groups like the following three right-wing foundations (readers should look them up): the Linde and Harry Bradley Foundation,the John M. Olin Foundationand the J.M. Foundation.  

   The CAE group operates just like many of the following short list of right-wing think tanks that are linked to pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-democracy semi-secretive groups: The Koch brothers; the American Legislative Exchange Council; the Center for Media and Democracy; the Heritage Foundation; American Enterprise Institute; Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; the Federalist Society; FreedomWorks; the Lexington Institute; the Claremont Institute; the Hudson Institute; the Cato Institute; the Hoover Institution; the Project for the New American Century(PNAC, infamous for its involvement in 9/11); the Center for Security Policy; the Foreign Policy Research Institute; the Center for Immigration Studies; the Center for Strategic and International Studies; The Federalist Foundation;The Center for Constitutional Studies; The Center for Liberty and Prosperity; The Center for Free Enterprise and Economics; The Center for Representative Democracyand about 300 others, many of which have the words Freedom, Liberty or Prosperity in their names. 

   Interestingly, the US Chamber of Commerce, which has an active chapter in Duluth, seems to have close relationships with some of the above institutions. The Chamber website states that it opposes the domestic and international adoption of the precautionary principle as a basis for regulatory decision making. It also has as one of its strategies the education of consumers, businesses, and governmental policymakers about the regulatory implications of the precautionary principle. 

   So, for voters who are interested in the future of our children’s future and health, our state’s environment, the survival or our nation’s democracy the survival of our planet, please demand that the leaders of our government honor the Precautionary Principle and take to heart the following assorted quotes, images and lists: 

Donald Trump’s GOP/Pseudo-Libertarian “Greed-is-Good” Politics of Selfishness and the Upcoming Election  

   Donald Trump was once denounced by the Libertarian Koch brothers, but they have benefitted greatly from the president’s economic actions. Witness the following paragraphs from Jonathan Chait’s recent piece in “The Intelligencer” (at: 

“The Kochs (right-wing heirs to a business fortune) and Trump (also the right-wing heir to a business fortune)…have thrown the weight of their massive organization unhesitatingly behind (Trump).Largely satisfied with Trump’s conservative judicial appointments, lax regulation of business, and regressive tax cutting, the Kochs are spending several hundred millions of dollars to protect the Republican majority.  

“You would think libertarians (like the Kochs) might have some deep-seated qualms about leaving untrammeled executive power in the hands of an obviously ruthless and autocratic leader like Trump. The only practical way to restrain Trump’s efforts to carry out massive personal corruption and turn federal law enforcement into a political weapon under his control would be to help Democrats regain one or more chambers of Congress, so they could conduct oversight and act as a check on the executive branch. But the Kochs are committed to doing just the opposite: The highest priority of their political action this year is maintaining Republican control of Congress, which will enable Trump to escape meaningful oversight.”     

Donald Trump and the Koch brothers, three right-wing heirs to large family fortunes 

“When somebody hurts you, go after them as viciously and as violently as you can. Like it says in the Bible, an eye for an eye.” – Donald Trump 

"Altruism is a great evil...while selfishness is a virtue." - Ayn Rand, atheist author of Atlas Shrugged, FountainheadandThe Virtue of Selfishnesswhose books were the inspiration for the American libertarian movement. 

Ayn Randis the hero and guiding light of the American Libertarian Party, not to mention the Tea Party and many “Stealth Libertarian” members of the Republican Party, including the following US Presidential aspirants Barry Goldwater, Bob Barr, Ron Paul, US Senator Rand Paul, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

In addition, many prominent Republican politicians have been fans of Ayn Rand politics and the philosophy and politics of selfishness, including prominent economists Milton Freidman and Alan Greenspan, John Stossel (Fox Business Channel Host). 

How Ayn Rand Came to Own the Republican Party 

Other prominent political actors that were members of the Libertarian Party include:

Martin Anderson, advisor to President Ronald Reagan;

Yaron Brook, president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute;

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team;

Alex Epsteinfounder and president of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank located in San Diego, California;

Malcolm Fraser, 22nd Prime Minister of Australia;

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve;

Pamela Geller, co-founder of the Stop Islamization of America;

David Kelley, founder of the Alas Society;

James Kilts former CEO of the Gillette Companyand recipient of the Gordon Gekko Prize for 2005;

Rupert Murdoch, Owner of NewsCorp, the Wall Street Journal, 21stCentury Fox, Fox News, Sky Television

Charles Murray, prominent member of the American Enterprise Instituteand co-author of the controversial white racist book, Bell Curve; 

“The Federalist Society is an organization of conservative, libertarian law students, lawyers and legal scholar.”Roger Pilon, a vice president at the libertarian Cato Institute 

Libertarian/Conservative/Republican Supreme Court justices who were members of the Federalist Society include Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, John Roberts Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Antonin Scalia, now deceased, was also a member.  

Other prominent (and, in many circles, widely-despised) GOP/Libertarian members of the Federalist Societyincluded John Ashcroft, Ed Meese, Robert Bork, Orrin Hatch, Ken Starr, Grover Norquist, Michael Chertoff, Wisconsin’s US Senator Ron Johnson. Major benefactors to the Federalist Societyinclude the right-wing John M. Olin and Charles G. Koch Foundations and the conservative activist Richard Mellon Scaifeas well as corporations such as Verizon, Microsoft and DaimlerChrysler