Study Finds Controlled Washington, D.C. Wildfires Crucial For Restoring Healthy Political Environment

Says The Onion.

And its right, even if the original is damaged (I've not done it, of course)). But that's not quite what I wanted to write about...

I wanted to talk about The war against Exxon Mobil (WaPo) and the contrast between reactions to that and In re Smith v Karl (and several reprints).

mt's article is easy for all right-thinking people to agree with. So much so that mt even found one wrong-thinking person who also agreed with it (that's a joke; don't get all huffy).

But what about the obvious obverse, which is the witch hunt against Exxon? I asked mt about that and that, oooh, it turned out to be a tricky question for mt (though not for TF, obviously, who easily maintains the same stance as he managed to apply to irSvK). Definitely no condemnation forthcoming; the closest was "I don't understand anyone claiming that what Exxon was doing, flirting with the edge of fraud on their communication on climate, wasn't transparently obvious all along". And some assertions that its all pretty well similar to the fag companies, and everyone hates them, don't they? Well, everyone right thinking of course. And the people collecting taxes from the products they sell, of course.

[Update: mt has a long piece agonising about this; I don't agree with his conclusions but his words are worth reading. His shorter version has a title "Investigate Exxon, but Blame Yourself" that is good enough to agree with. Though I could wish he'd expanded on the second half in his piece; I've made that point, I'll argue, though I can't now find where -W]

The "investigation" of Exxon looks very much politically motivated to me. We don't know what you've done wrong but we'd like to see an enormous pile of internal emails please. Remind you of anything? Of course: in re Smith vs Karl. But if you've got nothing to hide, surely you'd be happy to turn over your emails? Well, no, that's not true, as we can all immeadiately see when applied to anything on "our side". But you must turn over your emails, because we think if we look though them all we might find something wrong. Well no, see irSvK. But Exxon were being naughty and funding disinformation. Yes and anyone who cared knew about that ages ago when they were actually doing it. And people pointed out, in public, that they were doing it. It was not a secret.

Refs

* Exxon speaks
* A Range of Opinions on Climate Change at Exxon Mobil (NYT)
* Why The Investigation Of ExxonMobil Matters - UCS
* The House Committee on Science and Intimidation - Raymond S. Bradley in HuffPo

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The cases are clearly different, in that Exxon's being examined on the basis of evidence of specific legal infringements, Karl's emails have been demanded with no evidence of anything but proper scientific work. As in Cuccinelli's UVa email demands.

However, there's a connection – the same Congressman (Lamar) has used the same committee powers to launch a "congressional probe" into the dealings of Shukla, the George Mason professor who organized a letter calling for RICO investigations into Exxon's allegedly misleading the public and investors by supporting the denial machine.
http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/investigate-climate-change-den…

Same news report, Horner of the CEI demanded [using FOIA?] emails of emeritus profs who signed the letter. Sounds familiar?

Okay, do I want to comment on this? Oh what the hell, let's go.

I think there are interesting similarities and differences. Broadly speaking, one could simply say they're both politically motivated and should both simply be condemned. As a broad brush response that is probably okay.

However, there are some interesting and - I would argue - relevant differences. The Exxon one - as I understand it - comes from an Attorney General. This, I think, means that he has to follow due process and has to show probably cause. Exxon can also defend themselves in a court of law. The Congressional one, I've come to understand, has no such requirements. They can simply ask and you're meant to simply hand it over. So, I think one is formally a proper legal process, the other is not.

[I can partly agree with that, but this is a US AG not a UK one, and I think they are far more political than ours are (Brian would know better). For example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Schneiderman says:

Eric T. Schneiderman (born December 31, 1954) is an American attorney and politician. He serves as the 65th and current New York Attorney General. He is a member of the Democratic Party. Prior to becoming Attorney General, Schneiderman served in the New York State Senate.

That's not a neutral prosecutor, or at least it doesn't look like one to me -W]

There's also the difference in who is targeted. Smith's one seems to be largely targeted at an individual, rather than at an organisation as a whole (they want to correspondence about a particular piece of research by a specific scientist). There's also the fundamental issue of politicians harassing scientists. I suspect we all agree that scientists (government employee or not) should not have to worry about being harassed by politicians if they publish some piece of research that might be seen as inconvenient.

Exxon's a big company and can certainly defend itself. It may suffer, though, so maybe there is some similarity there if one argues that it's a politican doing something that may damage a company's reputation.

My own personal take on this is that they're both largely wrong. This isn't because I think Exxon's behaviour isn't morally questionable, but because it should have been irrelevant. We've had 5 major reports, written by hundreds/thousands of experts, starting more than 20 years ago. If we (society/politicians/...) chose to ignore this and instead listen to those who may have been funded by companies who would rather we didn't reduce our use of their product, that really is our own fault, not theirs.

I do have a suspicion that we'll see more of this as people try to shift the blame, but it's hard to see why the blame isn't really collective.

By ...and Then Th… (not verified) on 10 Nov 2015 #permalink

[That’s not a neutral prosecutor, or at least it doesn’t look like one to me]

Yes, that's a fair point. However, I think he is still bound by some kind of process. As I understand it, the Congressional Committees are largely not. They don't - I think - have to justify their request - there is no judicial oversight, from what I've heard.

[Perhaps not. But NCAR can - and has - just refuse their request. At which point Congress either sends in the goons, unlikely, or it turns into a legal process -W]

By ...and Then Th… (not verified) on 10 Nov 2015 #permalink

State Attorney Generals often aspire to become Attorney Generals of us all.

Joe Romm's employer, John Podesta may have some say in the Democratic calculus of choosing the next.one.

1:

Chandon's more than OK cuvee Napa-- which, alas, climate change may cook into just another Cava by 2100 .

To decide whether the New York State Attorney General office is political, it's worth noting that the the last two gents in that post (Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer) went straight from that office to be Governor. Cuomo would have had a shot at that office due to his father's name recognition in New York, but Spitzer's political ascent was entirely due to him as AG dropping the hammer on Wall Street types.

Exxon's PR guy was interviewed as part of a National Public Radio story yesterday. He said Exxon has over the past few decades had something like 150 scientific papers written about climate change and CO2, fifty of which had been through scientific peer review and published.

I suppose the other hundred or so will be interesting.

He had some trouble explaining the audio clips of Exxon's public statements.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 11 Nov 2015 #permalink

Advocating for a crime is usually a crime. Deception to facilitate a crime is usually a crime as well. This is all politics, of course, as politics is where laws come from. Without politics, we have life in the state of nature.

[Without a sovereign, we're in a state of nature. But that's a very different thing -W]

Murder, for example. Trying to convince a person or people to kill others is often a crime, sometimes but not always excluding politically organized events called "wars".

Theft, for example. Telling falsehoods to help someone steal someone else's savings is a crime as well as the actual theft.

When does CO2 release causing climate change become a crime? It's hard to say now, as most if not all of the readers of this comment are likely contributing some to climate change. I am, even if less of a contribution than my neighbors. The harm isn't right in our face, it is mostly far away in both distance and time. Does that make it somehow not real?

[But as you've implied above, the actual committing-of-the-act is more serious than the egging-on. So we should all be prosecuted ahead of Exxon. At the very least, we should all be in the dock. But that won't happen, of course. So all the fine theories are irrelevant, and we're back to this been naked polticking -W]

Can speaking falsehoods to facility climate change be a crime if climate change itself isn't?

[No -W]

Waving hands and sighing "politics" doesn't answer the question, as politics is the reason why murder and theft are often but not always crimes.

Of course, Real Libertarians would argue that the future generations harmed by the current generation's climate change should sue people that are long dead as Governments should never take part of any regulation of the economy...Wait a second, how does that work again?

The somewhat less Libertarian might argue for a carbon tax. Is telling of blatant falsehoods to prevent or avoid the political imposition of a carbon tax a crime? Or is all fair in politics? (See life in the state of nature, "brutishness and misery")

[Exxon's position is in favour of a carbon tax. By your logic, all those who have argued in favour of the waste-of-time Kyoto, and therefore delayed the carbon tax, are also guilty -W]

After asking these questions, we might consider the possible case of Exxon vs The State of New York. The State of New York has laws requiring that companies disclose "material" information about their business and about risks to that business. It seems to me likely that climate change poses risks to investors in fossil fuel extraction, such as investors in Exxon, as there might be a carbon tax imposed (or other measures taken).

[But the key is "disclose". Did Exxon have anything to disclose that wasn't already public knowledge? No -W]

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 12 Nov 2015 #permalink

> [But as you’ve implied above, the actual committing-of-the-act is more serious than the egging-on.]

Is it always? It would seem to me that sometimes the egging-on might be the more serious offense.

> [Exxon’s position is in favour of a carbon tax.]

Currently, and weakly, yes. This as not always been the case, yes?

> [But the key is “disclose”. Did Exxon have anything to disclose that wasn’t already public knowledge? No -W]

As far as I know, legally required formal disclosures for sales of securities include things that are public knowledge. For example, consider this from the Vanguard S&P 500 mutual fund
https://personal.vanguard.com/pub/Pdf/p040.pdf?2210105069

"The Fund is subject to the following
risks, which could affect the Fund’s performance:
• Stock market risk, which is the chance that stock prices overall will decline."

I suspect that this is a legally required statement. Do you have a reason to think otherwise?

> [By your logic, all those who have argued in favour of the waste-of-time Kyoto, and therefore delayed the carbon tax, are also guilty -W]

Intent matters. So no.

[The need that some companies feel to declare the bleedin' obvious (such as your quoted "the chance that stock prices overall will decline") means, I think, that what you're talking about becomes a legal matter, subject to the-law-is-an-ass, rather than anything to be discussed in terms of morality or common sense.

But I point out that what I started talking about - the offer to condemn that I made to mt - wasn't about legality. It was about the witch hunt against Exxon -W]

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 12 Nov 2015 #permalink

> Did Exxon have anything to disclose that wasn’t
> already public knowledge? No -W]

You know this how? What about the majority of their scientists' work (referred to by their spokesman in that NPR interview a few days ago) -- that did not go to peer review. So how do you know those have they all been made available to shareholders?

[I think you've misinterpreted that; you're referring to the 150/50 thing? I'd guess they wrote some internal reports, that's all. And yes, I *know* it, because we actually know the state of climate science; we know its impossible for Exxon to have sekrit knowledge of the True Value of climate sensitivity, or anything of that nature. We also know that whatever Exxon was doing internally, it was only a tiny fraction of the worldwide public effort -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 12 Nov 2015 #permalink

The funding of shill bloggers, shill PR firms, and such what, isn't the issue. Annoying, but not illegal. Less than moral, perhaps, but not a crime in either the moral or the legal sense of the term.

New York State is picky about fraud and disclosure for securities. I think that is a good thing. Perhaps part of the reason why New York is the financial capital of the USA.

I agree with MT, "The lines among legitimate advocacy, sleazy shilling, and deliberate fraud are not always easy to draw."

To which I would like to add, much depends on context and what is at stake. In the public square of politics, the rules must be different than in the sales of securities. In the public square, dishonesty can be exposed at little cost. And often is. To a large extent, dishonesty must expected, and is punished by being exposed. No other punishment is needed, or is desirable. This allows for a wider range of views, which is valuable to maintain a healthy society.

Other circumstances, such as in scientific publications, have other rules. And for those applications, the local rules make sense. The rules may not make sense outside those special conditions.

In the sales of securities, dishonesty and failure to disclose relevant facts, widely know or not, should not be tolerated. This is of benefit to both the buyers and honest sellers of securities. The buyers should know exactly what they are buying. By expecting and usually getting such disclosure, the seller should pay the full and fair value for the security that is being sold. That this is disclosure by the original seller, and not by later sellers.

Exxon lied to the public. So what? Annoying, perhaps harmful, but so what?

Exxon lied while selling bonds. That might be a crime, depending on details.

[I see your view; its just that I disagree. Both on the theory and the practice. For the practice, see Peabody. For the theory, I think... well, I've said it already. Also, I very much doubt they lied. Can you provide a cast-iron example of a lie in their SEC filings? -W]

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 13 Nov 2015 #permalink