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“America’s Greediest”: The Koch Brothers, The ‘Libertarians’ Who Hate The Free Market

Among the most venerable Yuletide traditions is the annual appeal on behalf of the “neediest cases,” which has spread nationwide since it first appeared in the New York Times so long ago.

More than a century later we still have the poor with us, of course, and the rich, not to mention the unspeakably super-duper-rich – many of whom comport themselves in ways that likewise provoke public concern, especially in an era of growing inequality and impoverishment.

National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason believes the time has come to revive a somewhat less charitable tradition that he and his late colleague, the great progressive journalist Jack Newfield, established at The Village Voice during an earlier era of avarice:  “The Greediest Cases.”

This holiday season we will feature a series of profiles of America’s Greediest Cases, and we encourage readers to nominate deserving public figures in the worlds of business, government, media, entertainment, and sports who exemplify the grasping materialism and rank hypocrisy of our time.

Imagine this.

You and your brother are tied as the fourth richest person in America with $36 billion in assets each, the fruits of owning the second largest privately owned corporation in the world. How would you spend your spare time and money?

Perhaps you’d donate millions to medical research, public television and the arts. Or maybe you’d dabble in politics and try to expose the “Science of Liberty” and economic freedom to help “the most vulnerable.”

That’s what the Koch Brothers do. And how are they helping the most vulnerable?

By attempting to rid the public of programs like Social Security, which has kept more Americans out of poverty than anything the government has ever done.

While the Kochs insist that their goal is freedom, their agenda seems entirely based on policies that increase economic inequality and make it easy for carbon polluters like Koch Industries to continue their unfettered domination of energy markets.

Perhaps the best example of the Kochs’ hypocrisy comes in their war on solar power.

While the Kochs spent millions to try to put politicians in office who have vowed to never raise taxes on the rich or anyone, the billionaires are aiding efforts to “tax the sun” in an effort to squash the nascent solar industry.

One of the main benefits of powering your home or business via solar cells, especially in a state like Arizona, is a process known as “net metering,” which allows you to sell excess wattage back to the utility. While the virtue of using a renewable resource that is essentially carbon-neutral is a decent selling point, it’s the economic value of net metering that has fueled Arizona’s solar boom and made it the top solar state per capita.

This boom hasn’t pleased Arizona Public Service (APS), which stands to lose as much as $2 billion over the next 20 years if solar adoption continues at the current pace. That’s why the state’s largest electricity provider has been fighting for new regulations that would raise the cost of solar by $50-$100 a month, effectively killing the benefits of net metering. And APS has been waging this battle with some very powerful allies.

Why would the Koch brothers be interested in a small regulatory battle in Arizona?

Because it isn’t just about Arizonans reaping the unique benefit of living in a desert. It’s about freedom! The freedom of carbon polluters everywhere to make massive profits at the expense of the environment.

As the decision of the Arizona Corporation Commission neared, the state was hit with a series of ads ironically decrying the solar industry’s dependence on “corporate welfare” and comparing the solar businesses in the state to Solyndra, which is conservative for “something that makes me mad for some reason.”

An APS spokesman denied that they were funding the ads because they were funding them indirectly, through a consultant. The Kochs could also deny that they were funding the effort to tax the sun, because they weren’t funding the effort directly. Instead, the dirty work was being done by The 60 Plus Association, which models itself as the conservative alternative to AARP.

The brothers help fund The 60 Plus Association through another shadowy organization known as Freedom Partners, which gave $15.7 million to the group last year. And that wasn’t the only way they were involved in the fight in Arizona.

“APS appears to be leading the first assault of a national campaign by the utility industry trade association, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and fossil fuel interests like APS, to weaken net metering policies,” notes the Energy & Policy Institute’s Gabe Elsner. The EEI is trying to push “model legislation” that saps the benefits of solar in several states through the American Legislative Exchange Council, another Koch-supported group. The State Policy Network, another Koch-supported “nonprofit,” is trying to roll back renewable energy credits in several states.

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer helped popularize the term “Kochtopus” to define the Kochs’ ideological network. It’s so vast and cloaked in vagaries of election law that we truly have no idea how vast their influence is.

But we do know that again and again, these titans of industry are trying to crush renewable energy, even when it has Tea Party support, and it’s rare if they have to get a Koch Industries lobbyist directly involved. Often they’re trying to roll back breaks for non-carbon-based energy companies, while taking no such stand against the billions in government help the oil industry benefits from, but they’re even willing to pursue new regulations if it suits their needs, which led The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur to say, “…the Koch brothers hate the free market.”

The good news is that in Arizona they lost, mostly. Regulators voted to impose a $5 monthly fee on net metering, a fraction of what APS and The 60 Plus Association wanted.

The solar industry in Arizona survived this time, despite the Kochs’ best efforts.

 

By: Jason Sattler, the National Memo, December 27, 2013

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Koch Brothers | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Standing Our Ground”: Stand Your Ground Laws Are Not Making Us Safer, They’re Making Us More Barbaric

This is not the time for evanescent anger, which is America’s wont.

This is not the time for a few marches that soon dissipate as we drift back into the fog of faineance — watching fake reality television as our actual realities become ever more grim, gawking at the sexting life of Carlos Danger as our own lives become more dangerous, fawning over royal British babies as our own children are gunned down.

This is yet another moment when America should take stock of where the power structures are leading us, how they play on our fears — fan our fears — to feed their fortunes.

On no subject is this more clear than on the subject of guns.

While it is proper and necessary to analyze the case in which George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin for what it says about profiling and police practices, it is possibly more important to analyze what it says about our increasingly vigilante-oriented gun culture.

The industry and its lobby have successfully pushed two fallacies: that the Second Amendment is under siege and so are law-abiding citizens.

They endlessly preach that more guns make us safer and any attempt at regulation is an injury to freedom. And while the rest of us have arguments about Constitutional intent and gun-use statistics, the streets run red with the blood of the slain, and the gun industry laughs all the way to the bank.

Gun sales have surged. And our laws are quickly being adjusted to allow people to carry those guns everywhere they go and to give legal cover to use lethal force when nonlethal options are available.

This is our America in a most frightful time.

When Illinois — which has experienced extraordinary carnage in its largest city — enacted legislation this month allowing the concealed carrying of firearms, it lost its place as the lone holdout. Now “concealed carry” is the law in all 50 states.

And as The Wall Street Journal reported this month, “concealed carry” permit applications are also surging while restrictions are being loosened. Do we really need to have our guns with us in church, or at the bar? More states are answering that question in the affirmative.

And now that more people are walking around with weapons dangling from their bodies, states have moved to make the use of those guns more justifiable.

Florida passed the first Stand Your Ground law (or “shoot first” law, as some have called it) in 2005. It allows a person to use deadly force if he or she is afraid of being killed or seriously injured. In Florida, that right to kill even extends to an initial aggressor.

After Florida’s law, other states quickly followed with the help and support of the N.R.A. and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Ironically, the N.R.A. and other advocates pushed the laws in part as protection for women, those who were victims of domestic violence and those who might be victimized away from home.

The N.R.A.’s former president, Marion Hammer, argued in support of the bill in 2005 when she was an N.R.A. lobbyist: “You can’t expect a victim to wait and ask, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Criminal, are you going to rape me and kill me, or are you just going to beat me up and steal my television?’ ”

But, of course, the law is rarely used by women in those circumstances. The Tampa Bay Times looked at 235 cases in Florida, spanning 2005 to 2013, in which Stand Your Ground was invoked and found that only 33 of them were domestic disputes or arguments, and that in most of those cases men invoked the law, not women.

In fact, nearly as many people claimed Stand Your Ground in the “fight at bar/party” category as in domestic disputes.

And not only is the law rarely being invoked by battered women, it’s often invoked by hardened criminals. According to an article published last year by The Tampa Bay Times:

“All told, 119 people are known to have killed someone and invoked stand your ground. Those people have been arrested 327 times in incidents involving violence, property crimes, drugs, weapons or probation violations.”

And, as the paper pointed out, “more than a third of the defendants had previously been in trouble for threatening someone with a gun or illegally carrying a weapon.”

In fact, after Marissa Alexander, a battered Jacksonville wife, fired a warning shot at her abusive husband (to make him get out of the house, she said), her Stand Your Ground motion was denied. She is now facing a 20-year sentence.

Something is wrong here. We are not being made more secure, we are being made more barbaric. These laws are an abomination and an affront to morality and common sense. We can’t allow ourselves to be pawns in the gun industry’s profiteering. We are real people, and people have power.

Attorney General Eric Holder told the N.A.A.C.P. last week: “It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. These laws try to fix something that was never broken.”

We must all stress this point, and fight and not get weary. We must stop thinking of politics as sport and spectacle and remember that it bends in response to pressure. These laws must be reviewed and adjusted. On this issue we, as Americans of good conscience, must stand our ground.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 24, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Revenge Of The Kochs”: Michigan Finds A Way To Crush Those “Pesky Labor Unions”

Let’s say you and your brother are a pair of billionaires who reap your profits from the poisoning of the earth and whose daddy co-founded the John Birch Society — and you poured millions into the 2012 elections, only to see your candidates felled by a party led by a black guy who’s big on green energy, and who bailed out the U.S. auto industry in a way that voters seemed to like.

Wow. You must be feeling pretty powerless, especially after all of that press about how you’re the mighty and nefarious force behind the Tea Party, whose brew has suddenly gone a bit tepid. So whattaya gonna do?

Why, find a way to crush those pesky labor unions in a place that will hurt them badly. Say, the auto capital of the world, where an entire industry (and consequently, its unions) was saved through government intervention by that integrationist tree-hugger: Michigan. You’ll show those “urban” voters who liked that stinkin’ bailout!

So, in a lame-duck legislative session last week, the Republican majority rammed through a destructively anti-union bill, which the governor — in contradiction of his previous policy — has pledged to sign. (Brother Kilgore has the deets here.) And the Koch-founded group, Americans For Prosperity, gave the governor a big high-five.

Local analysts chalk it all up to payback by Michigan legislators for the unions’ attempt to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution via a referendum known as Proposal 2, which failed at the ballot box on November 6, and for the repeal of Snyder’s “emergency manager” law, which succeeded. But from where I sit, in the nation’s capital city, I see something bigger, something national in character.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has always tried to present himself as a breed apart from Kochbot governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, even as he grabbed for power with an “emergency manager” law that allowed him to appoint operatives to run failing cities and break labor agreements with public employees in those towns. But other anti-union measures, such as those forced through in Wisconsin, were deemed to be off the table by Snyder, as was the onerous proposition that workers in closed union shops should be allowed to opt out of paying dues. (Proponents call this sort of thing “right to work”; unions call it “right to work for less”.)

But last week, as David Koch presumably sat stewing in the pot of wholesale defeats, Snyder had a sudden change of heart, promising to sign a bill that was rammed through both houses of a lame-duck legislature last week, a bill that would do just that, conveniently drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and organization funded by Koch and his brother, Charles.

Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded by the Kochs, led the charge, as state police maced union protesters and locked them out of the state capitol building.

It was so ugly that even the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press, which once cheer-led for Snyder, basically called him, in not so many words, a duplicitous, overstepping liar.

 

By: Adele Stan, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 9, 2012

December 10, 2012 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where Industry Writes State Law: How Business Lobbies Bought All The Laboratories Of Democracy

It sure is funny that, at basically the same time, state legislatures across the country began passing a slew of similar measures attacking collective bargaining, undocumented immigration and abortion, right? Just a weird coincidence, I’m sure, this sudden nationwide war on public employee unions and immigrants and women.

Hah, I am just kidding. We all know it’s because of lobbyists and the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is sort of a Match.com for state lawmakers and the nation’s worst industry lobbies. The Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed project has a handy list of the hundreds of bills ALEC pushes in every state in the union, on subjects ranging from school vouchers to gutting environmental regulations to opposition to the National Popular Vote Compact. (Yeah, that one I don’t even get.)

Here’s how the ALEC process works: GOP state legislators go to fancy conferences where they sit down with lobbyists and right-wing activists and draft right-wing legislation together. They return home and introduce it without mentioning the source. The lobbies then throw some cash at the legislators working to advance their agenda. Then, these days, the bill passes, and everyone else gets around to getting outraged about it, long after their outrage would do much good. Repeat.

This is how incredibly similar anti-immigration bills end up passing, independently, in Arizona and Tennessee. This is how bills against public employee collective bargaining end up passing in Wisconsin and Indiana. This is the process behind state resolutions banning the establishment of “Obamacare.” Our biggest national wars are being fought, and largely won, in the statehouses, with liberal activists not even joining the fight until after they’ve lost it.

Liberals aren’t this good at local politics. Unions and low-income organizations like ACORN used to take care of lobbying and politicking at the state and community level, but, oh, look what’s happened to them. Defunded!

It took a while for Democrats to figure out that they should have their own Heritage Foundation, and so far, they seem to be taking just as long to decide to create their own ALEC. (Of course the Democratic ALEC will probably also push “school reform” and pro-telecom bills and whatever else rich Democratic donors want.)

As a result of that late adoption, the famous laboratories of democracy are now often the places where massive, monied interests — along with their odd allies in the religious right — can implement their political agendas piece by piece, instead of trying to get their dream bills through the U.S. Congress, where all the cameras and journalists are. The sudden death of the small- and midmarket newspaper certainly helps. Your average local TV news doesn’t really do sophisticated policy analysis.

The closest thing liberals even have to a state to experiment with is … California, with its property-tax cap and public rejections of gay marriage and marijuana legalization. (Right-wingers know better than to trust legislating to the popular ballot, even though they’re quite good at organizing and spending huge sums of money to win ballot measures.)

Oh, the record number of bills restricting access to abortion services nationwide? That one might just be the natural Republican enthusiasm for controlling women’s bodies. I mean, the right-to-life groups obviously jumped into action when the GOP came into power and lobbied for all of the 162 new restrictions on reproductive rights enacted since the start of the year, but I’m not sure any specific business lobby benefits from it.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 14, 2011

July 15, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Anti-Choice, Businesses, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Equal Rights, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Immigration, Lawmakers, Media, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Republican Threat To Voting

Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans — groups that typically vote Democratic — to cast a ballot.

Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”

Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn’t easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day’s wages.

A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of citizens, 21 million people, do not have a current photo ID. That fraction increases to 15 percent of low-income voting-age citizens, 18 percent of young eligible voters and 25 percent of black eligible voters. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans are imposing requirements that they know many will be unable to meet.

Kansas’ new law was drafted by its secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who also wrote Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. Before they can register, Kansans will have to produce a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

Tough luck if you don’t happen to have one in your pocket when you’re at the county fair and you pass the voter registration booth. Or when the League of Women Voters brings its High School Registration Project to your school cafeteria. Or when you show up at your dorm at the University of Kansas without your birth certificate. Sorry, you won’t be voting in Lawrence, and probably not at all.

That’s fine with Gov. Sam Brownback, who said he signed the bill because it’s necessary to “ensure the sanctity of the vote.” Actually, Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote.

Eight states already had photo ID laws. Now more than 30 other states are joining the bandwagon of disenfranchisement, as Republicans outdo each other to propose bills with new voting barriers. The Wisconsin bill refuses to recognize college photo ID cards, even if they are issued by a state university, thus cutting off many students at the University of Wisconsin and other campuses. The Texas bill, so vital that Gov. Rick Perry declared it emergency legislation, would also reject student IDs, but would allow anyone with a handgun license to vote.

A Florida bill would curtail early voting periods, which have proved popular and brought in new voters, and would limit address changes at the polls. “I’m going to call this bill for what it is, good-old-fashioned voter suppression,” Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters told The Florida Times-Union.

Many of these bills were inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has already upheld Indiana’s voter ID requirement, in a 2008 decision that helped unleash the stampede of new bills. Most of the bills have yet to pass, and many may not meet the various balancing tests required by the Supreme Court. There is still time for voters who care about democracy in their states to speak out against lawmakers who do not.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, April 26, 2011

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Elections, Governors, Politics, State Legislatures, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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