Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Billionaire Behind the Hate

That would be the brothers Koch (pron. Kock?), Charles and David. The bros have come into prominence since the rise of the Tea Party, which they direct and supply most of the money for. Staunch Libertarians, which party they also pretty much underwrite, their aim has long been to tear the government “out at the root.” As Jane Mayer in her brilliant article about these dogs in a recent New Yorker article (“Covert Operations,” Aug. 30, 2010) notes, the Libertarian Party platform in 1980, with David Koch on the ticket, advocated abolishing the SEC and the Department of Energy, as well as Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control and all income taxes (especially corporate income taxes). What’s alarming is not only the scope of this “anarcho-totalitarianism” (William Buckley’s term), but the fact that so much of it is beginning to come true. And Koch brothers’ money is part of the reason. That’s because they have oodles of it (ca $35 billion), originally coming from the oil-refining business started by their father, Fred Koch (he joined the John Birch Society in the 50s as one of the loonies who called Pres. Eisenhower a communist). It’s laughable, really. These guys give off the aura of that quintessential American culture hero, the self-made man. But what Mayer points out is that they didn’t exactly start on the level playing field they’re so fond of advocating. No. David Koch was left, upon his father’s death, the neat little sum of $300 million dollars! His other brothers no doubt inherited similar sums. Then David and his brother Charles (the CEO of Koch Industries) bought out their younger brother, and now own the family business lock, stock and barrel. That means no nosy stockholders. They are now nearly as rich as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and a whole lot of that money goes to their political foundations. Between 1998 and 2008, according to Mayer, these are the donation figures—Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation: $48 million; Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation (controlled by Charlie): $28 million; David H. Koch Charitable Foundation: $120 million; plus $50 million in lobbying, and $8 million to political campaigns through KochPAC (more than 80% to Republicans). In 2010, Koch Industries led all other energy companies (including Exxon) in contributions to political campaigns. And just in case that weren’t enough clout, it was Koch money that in 1977 launched the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank (they have been prominent in attacking Global warming), and a bit later gave millions to another think tank, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University—“ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.”

The activities of these “think” tanks would be laughable if they weren’t so perversely effective. Mayer cites a court case in 1997 when the EPA tried to reduce surface ozone pollution, much of it coming from oil refineries (the original Koch business, which has been sued constantly for polluting everything from air to ground water). One Susan Dudley, of the Mercatus Center, argued that the EPA had neglected to consider that “smog-free skies would result in more cases of skin cancer.” The Circuit Court actually believed this crap about smog being good, and ruled that, indeed, the EPA had “explicitly disregarded” the “possible health benefits of ozone.” The fact that the judges in the majority had attended “legal junkets” arranged by another group of Koch foundations, allegedly did not affect the ruling.

You get the picture. Big money buys big results, and the Koch brothers have big money they are quite willing and eager to spend. Another of their spin-off groups (this one designed to inspire and direct the grass roots activism the Tea Party is famous for) is named Americans for Prosperity (all of these names are a lesson in Orwellian language.) Minutely managed by the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity has been a key player in attacking the Obama presidency. That great conservative strategist, Grover Norquist, admitted to Mayer that the rowdy rallies by activists in the summer of 2010 were key to “undermining Obama’s agenda.” The people in the streets gave Republican lawmakers the cover they needed to refuse any cooperation with Obama, and changed the thinking of corporate donors. Prior to the demonstrations, even the Chamber of Commerce had been willing to work with the president; after the loonies took to the streets and “terrorized” Congress, this attitude changed.

There is much more to find out about these latter-day bagmen (their bought-out brother recently called their operation an “organized crime” operation because of their history of stealing oil from under Native American reservations—see Reader Supported News, March 20, 2011: “Koch and Native-American Reservation Oil Theft”), and I would recommend Mayer’s article as indispensable. It’s not just that David Koch is the guy who financed Governor Scott Walker’s election, and no doubt had a say in his recent anti-union legislation in Wisconsin; the Kochs also have bought numerous companies to supplement and diversify their oil-refining business, so the stink of their corruption is everywhere. Here’s a partial list of mostly paper products that they now control, sent to me by Eleanor Walden:

Paper products from Georgia-Pacific, including: Angel Soft toilet paper; Brawny paper towels; Dixie plates, bowls, napkins and cups; Mardi Gras napkins and towels; Quilted Northern toilet paper; Soft 'n Gentle toilet paper; Sparkle napkins; Vanity fair napkins; and Zee napkins. There’s a national campaign to boycott all of these products. I would urge everyone to do so, because if there’s one place these guys can be hurt, it’s in their deep, dirty pockets. (Related addendum: a March 14 article in Yahoo news noted that U.S. millionaires in a survey complained that even $7 million was not quite enough to feel rich. The poor guys compare themselves to their fellow princelings, and also worry a lot about outliving their meager assets. Doesn’t your heart just bleed for them?)

Lawrence DiStasi

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