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The Koch Brothers: The Men Who Sold the World

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The Koch Brothers: The Men Who Sold the World

By Richard Eskow

When he withdrew from the Paris agreement last week, Donald Trump gave a speech so filled with falsehoods that it triggered detailed rebuttals by publications ranging from Politifact to Scientific American. The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column, which hands out "Pinocchios" for false or misleading statements, was forced to note that "we do not award Pinocchios in roundups of speeches." But by then Trump probably had more Pinocchios than the Disneyland gift shop.


But Trump is not the only truth-denier in the Republican Party. In a front-page story by Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton, the New York Times documented the GOP's transformation from a party with leaders like John McCain and Newt Gingrich, who accepted the scientific consensus on the climate, to one whose leader believes it is a hoax perpetrated by China.

When Trump pulled the U.S. from the Paris agreement, "the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise."

And the Times laid this transformation squarely at the feet of the Koch Brothers:

"Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil."

The Koch network of funders spent an estimated $1 billion over the last few election cycles telling the Republican Party what to do. "It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history," wrote Jane Mayer in the New Yorker.

You could call Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell "the men who sold the world," after the David Bowie song of the same name.

Climate Cronies

Trump and his party have been marching in lockstep with the fossil-fuel industry for some time now. Even before Trump took office, the Washington Post reported that "the fossil fuel industry is enjoying a remarkable resurgence as its executives and lobbyists shape President-elect Donald Trump's policy agenda and staff his administration."

That influence can be seen in Trump's appointments, in his deeds and now in his budget.

The head of the EPA is the person responsible for protecting our air, land, and water. Trump chose Scott Pruitt, a longtime ally of the fossil fuel industry, to lead that agency. Pruitt is known for his unusually close ties to the that industry, which are extensive even by Republican Party standards.

As Oklahoma's Attorney General, Pruitt sued the agency he now runs many times. A CMD review of Pruitt's emails showed that he allowed the industry to write the comments that he filed with federal agencies. The Koch Brothers' network of shell "advocacy groups," which CMD has analyzed at length, turned out in force to support Pruitt's nomination.

Other Trump cabinet appointees are also closely allied with the fossil-fuel industry, including Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and of course Rex Tillerson, who led Exxon for years.

The fossil-fuel connection runs deep in the Trump Administration. The Sabin Center analyzed lower-level appointments in agencies responsible for energy, the environment and natural resources. It found that more than half of those appointed "appear(ed) to lack expertise and/or experience" related to their new responsibilities, while more than one-quarter "had close ties to the fossil fuel industry."

Dirty Deeds

In March, Trump signed an executive order and made a number of other moves that helped the fossil fuel industry by cutting the EPA, easing up on regulations, approving the KXL pipeline, and overturning Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan.

Trump's proposed budget, which was released in late May, would cut the EPA by nearly one-third. That budget also includes a number of deep cuts in science spending, including cuts in the kind of research that helps us understand how fossil fuels are harming our health and our planet. Those cuts would end funding for NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), which was established by Congress to track the effects of both natural and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Other carbon research programs would be cut under the Trump budget. Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed that additional cuts to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) would "drastically cut into the agency's climate research, shuttering a host of labs and programs." The Department of Energy's climate research would also be cut significantly under the Trump budget.

Science noted that climate expert David Victor believes that Trump's proposed NASA cuts alone "would be a long-lasting setback to combating climate change."

With Trump's pullout from the Paris agreement, the U.S. becomes one of only three nations that is not part of that agreement. One of the other two, Nicaragua, wants a stronger agreement. The other is Syria, which is in the middle of a catastrophic civil war.

With the help of the Koch Brothers, Trump and the Republican Party have "moved in the opposite direction from virtually the rest of the world," wrote Jane Mayer.

It's time the world began to hold them to account.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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