Tyranny’s A-Okay If You’re – Cuccinelli!


    When government officials overreach and abuse their powers, they are wicked, tyrannical, communist and anti-American.  Except when they’re Republican.  Then, they’re heroes!

    That seems to be the conclusion of a recent Op-Ed in the Washington Examiner, a right wing rag so worthless that it has to be given away for free.  In this commentary, state Delegate Bob Marshall and two conservative nobodies defend Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s assault on climate scientist Michael Mann and the University of Virginia, and proclaim that they’re backing up Cooch’s Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs) to U.VA. with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of their own.

    They join the attack on Thomas Jefferson’s university by – conservatives’ favorite strategy – blaming the victim.  Their argument being that a university that defies the efforts of a powerful government official to accuse a former professor of criminal fraud for supporting climate change – based on zero evidence, as one judge has already found – must be “hiding something.”  

    All this from the same conservatives who compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler for, um, requiring people to buy health insurance?  How can people survive with such cognitive dissonance without their heads exploding?

    In order to help justify such hypocrisy, the authors employ a combination of half-truths and untruths.  Hence they claim “In court in August, U.Va. opted against robustly defending, as a legal argument, its academic-freedom rationale for refusing to produce the records.”   Really?  Well, let’s see – in U.Va.’s response to the original CIDs, the third of their three main arguments was titled “Enforcement of the CIDs Would Infringe Academic Freedom and Chill Scientific Debate”.  Sounds like a robust defense to me – read it yourself and decide.

    The Examiner piece also claims “Importantly, also under FOIA in late 2009, the pressure group Greenpeace sought, and was promised, e-mails and other materials of Patrick Michaels, who also formerly worked in the same university department.”  Actually, according to news reports last year, like this informative one from WSLS in Roanoke, Greenpeace filed the FOIA in December 2009 and still hadn’t heard anything back from U.VA. as of last summer.  

    More to the point, Greenpeace’s request was much more narrowly focused than Cuccinelli’s – partly because FOIAs by nature are more restricted than CIDs (as explained below) and partly because, well, Cooch, is a freakin’ lunatic.  

    Cooch’s last CID requested the following from the University:

    the original and any copies of any written, printed, typed, electronic, or graphic matter of any kind or nature, however,  produced or reproduced, any book, pamphlet, brochure, periodical, newspaper, letter, correspondence, memoranda, notice, facsimile, e-mail, manual, press release, telegram, report, study, handwritten note, working paper, chart, paper, graph, index, tape, data sheet, data processing card, or any other written, recorded, transcribed, punched, taped, filmed or graphic matter now in your possession, custody or control.

    Pretty restrained, huh?  And he limits the subpoena to only the files of fourteen different academic departments at U-VA, from “Computer Engineering” to “Public Policy Program”, plus “[a]ny person who assisted Dr. Mann regarding any of the Grants…”  

    So in theory, there may actually be a scrap of paper or byte of data at U.VA. that would not legally be considered to fall under the scope of this request.  As we know from watching the good old days of Ken Starr, once these fishing expeditions get going, they can burn millions of dollars and generate anything – an investigation of a twenty-year-old real estate deal, say, can suddenly turn into a case about having a little too much fun with the intern.  

    The real lesson of the so-called “Climategate” so-called “scandal” is that if you get enough of your enemies’ records in your possession, you’re bound to find one or two that, if skillfully quoted out of context and repeated endlessly by conservative talk show hosts, may prove politically useful.

    The Greenpeace request, by comparison, was limited to finding out what grants climate deniers Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer received, their conflict of interest statements and disclosure forms on outside income, and their correspondence with fossil fuel companies and conservative advocacy organizations, plus additional climate change-related correspondence.

    According to WSLS’s story on the topic last June,

    Exemptions under the state Freedom of Information Act protect certain documents that are being sought by the CIDs, said U.Va. spokeswoman Carol Wood.

    FOI requests also cover only records and do not allow for the fact-finding “interrogatories” sought under the CIDs, she said.

    A CID is not subject to the limitations of the FOI law, though there are limitations on the use of the acquired information, said Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein.

    So the comparison between Cooch’s completely out of control fishing expedition, aimed at proving wacko conspiracy theories, and Greenpeace’s limited FOIA, targeted at finding out where two climate deniers are getting their money, is a pretty lame one.

    And so, the same conservatives getting their supporters fuming mad over government tyranny cannot recognize an actual, dangerous act of government overreach – a state attorney general attempting to criminalize academic research that he politically opposes.

    Does the whole Republican message then, just boil down to: “Our tyrants are better than your tyrants, nyah, nyah, nyah”?

    If so, then I think I’ll stick with my freedom-hating, socialist leaders, thanks.


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