This multi-million dollar glass and steel beauty in the heart of Washington’s prime real estate used to be my office building. But you wonder how a greedy, opportunistic dirt bag like me could hit it big? It’s a long story (maybe 5 years with good behavior) and began when my newest get-rich-quick scheme failed after Ted Cruz admitted that, way down deep, he’s shallow. His presidential campaign collapsed and I was left with an empty victory banquet hall, an unpaid band and gallons of liquor I called Cruz Booze. My next endeavor was to sell franchises to the Roger Ailes Feminine Empowerment School. That bombed, but it left me with 1,000 copies of “Fox News for Dummies.” I was told that’s redundant. My student loan program didn’t work out after I discovered students didn’t have any money to loan me.
That’s when I sought out my financial adviser. It was a Sunday afternoon, so visiting hours were in play. “I’ve lost everything,” I sobbed. “Even my Dippity-Doo dippity didn’t.” He picked up the phone and tapped on the glass. “I’ve got a bunch of 3-D glasses you can have.” I shook my head. “You’re right. 4-D is the hottest thing. You could sell flood insurance in Baton Rouge, or is it too late? OK, I’ve got it. Pollsters say they have never seen anything like this: Voters don’t like, don’t trust and may not even vote for either Hillary or Trump. You could make a fortune by betting on George H.W. Bush. Everybody loves Poppy. No, wait. He tried being president once. It didn’t pan out. Here’s my best shot. Think tanks. Every trade group, lobbyist and anyone who wants to get their snout in the U.S. Treasury has a think tank in Washington to put academic authenticity on bribes. Give your group some meaningless but patriotic title like Americans for a Better America or Prosperity for All. Who can oppose God & Goodness Associates?”
I moved to Washington and quickly discovered competition was going to be tough. There are dozens, no scores or hundreds of think tanks, and they must be doing well, regardless of their predispositions. The left-leaning Brookings Institution’s annual budget has doubled in the last decade to $100 million. (One of its “scholars” received $353,145 in wages and other compensation in 2014.) The right-leaning American Enterprise Institute is spending at least $80 million on a new headquarters here, not far from where the Center for Strategic and International Studies built a $100 million office tower. While everyone knows there is a huge amount of cash flowing around Washington these days for lobbyists (mostly defeated Congressmen), there is also big money for think tanks which are Ivy Towered sleaze. Much of this cash comes indirectly from the American taxpayers. It goes like this: I daily get emails from what I call the Old Boy Network, made up of retired military. The site simply passes on articles, speeches, etc., and lately many of them have warned darkly of China’s growing sea power. The U.S. is falling behind, and what we need is another aircraft carrier. It is never pointed out that we already have 10 of them, and no other country has any, except for France, which has one.
Now we find that a company with a military-industrial complex, let’s call it Huntington Ingalls Industries, hired a think tank, we’ll call it the Hudson Institute, which launched a major offensive with learned reports by experts, testimony before Congress and op/ed pieces written by “Admiral J.J. Flotsam, (ret.) member of the Group of Experts,” with little if any way to trace the money back to Huntington. Nor is it noted that nuclear-powered aircraft carriers cost about $11 billion each, and – you’ll never believe this — the one and only builder of aircraft carriers is Huntington.
My next move was clear: I got a well-heeled client, Pioneer Transportation, created America’s Traditional Defense Associates and started hiring obscure professors to write learned papers filled with military jargon (USPAC, sub-automatic counter-puffs and Magnetic Tipped Thermoquads). The reports, op/ed articles and released testimony before the House Subcommittee on Spending Taxpayers’ Money, noted at the bottom of the page that the professor was a tenured member of the U.S. Council of Intellectual People and past-president of the JJGP. Unfortunately, Congress was not interested in allocating funds for pack mules. I had no better luck peddling government subsidies for AstroTurf fertilizer or for a submarine base in Salt Lake City.
Then things turned around. There was no shortage of experts who would turn out either supporting or oppositional studies, research papers or charts for anything. For testimony before Congress, I found a bevy of “outside consultants” — honor graduates from Trump University. I called their testimony “pay-for-say.” Depending on the client, my think tanks were called Lawyers for Perjury, Consultants for UNFESCO (no one asked), Friends of Smog and Anarchists United. Incidentally, it is not only Congress that receives a deluge of one-sided information from ersatz scholars. Regulatory agencies like the FCC, CDC and FDA are targets, too. Press reports show that currently millions and millions of dollars are being spent in Washington by cable companies (net neutral) and Big Pharma (obscene drug prices). Their hired guns are registered lobbyists and their hidden evil twins, think thanks. How pervasive are they? We know that when Congress was debating drug prices a few years ago there were six lobbyists on Capitol Hill for each member, each lobbyist armed with think tank studies.
You, as a thoughtful citizen, are wondering how you can peel back these deliberate layers of obfuscation, meaningless titles and mysterious motivations. It’s easy. The next story you read on a newspaper’s op/ed page (that’s opposite the opinion or editorial page), written by an unknown expert pushing something, treat it as an advertisement, because that opinion was bought and paid for. You are also wondering what obfuscation means. Finally, you’ve been wondering about my ankle monitoring bracelet.
Ashby thinks at email@example.com