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“Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King … Charles Koch?”: Why the Koch Brothers Are Heroes In Their Own Minds

When Charles E. Wilson appeared before a Senate committee in January 1953 as President Eisenhower’s nominee to become Secretary of Defense, he was asked whether his large holdings of stock in General Motors, where he had been president and chief executive, might cause some conflict of interest. “I cannot conceive of one,” he replied, “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country.” While Wilson is often misquoted as saying that what’s good for GM is good for America, a quote often used as a symbol of corporate arrogance, his intent seemed at least somewhat more benign. But however you interpret it, Wilson was almost certainly sincere in believing that when you get right down to it, the country and its largest corporation, as GM was then, rise and fall together.

Koch Industries is not quite as big as General Motors was then, at least not relative to the rest of the economy. But the two men who control it, Charles and David Koch, seem just as sure that what’s good for them is good for America. They probably wouldn’t put it that way, and maybe they don’t even think about it that way. All they know is that the things they believe are right and true, which in at least one way makes them no different from you or me.

This weekend, the Kochs, who plan to spend nearly a billion dollars of their money and their friends’ money to elect a Republican president in 2016, held a confab where they could gather to discuss their plans to move America in a direction they find more amenable. When Charles addressed the plutocrats, he told them to give themselves a hearty pat on the back:

Charles Koch on Sunday compared the efforts of his political network to the fight for civil rights and other ‘freedom movements,’ urging his fellow conservative donors to follow the lead of figures such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr.

‘History demonstrates that when the American people get motivated by an issue of justice that they believe is just, extraordinary things can be accomplished,’ Koch told 450 wealthy conservatives assembled in the ballroom of a lavish oceanfront resort [in Dana Point, California].

‘Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement,’ he said. “All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”

Other reports note that Charles talked a good bit about the disadvantaged and downtrodden, and how they will be the true beneficiaries of the expansion of liberty that is the Kochs’ fondest dream.

You can call that ridiculous, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But while Democrats see the Kochs as cartoon villains, twirling their moustaches as they contemplate a future with low top-end marginal tax rates, I assure you that they believe themselves to have only the purest motives for their political action.

Ask any liberal activist why it’s a threat to democracy when the Kochs spend millions to elect their favored candidates, but less so when liberal billionaires do the same thing, and you’ll get two answers. The first is that “We can’t unilaterally disarm,” which is also what you hear from candidates who support campaign finance reforms but would like to get money from super PACs. It’s reasonable enough, if not particularly high-minded. The second answer, and perhaps the more common one, is that when the Kochs advocate for things like low taxes for the wealthy and loose regulation on corporations, they’re being self-interested, while a liberal billionaire who takes the opposite position is acting altruistically.

It’s an answer that is simultaneously true, at least to a degree, and unsatisfying. First of all, there are times when the Kochs advocate on issues that don’t have anything to do with their bottom line. And if they succeed in helping a Republican get elected president, only a portion of what that president does will affect them directly, even if they wind up being pleased with almost all of it.

Secondly, it runs the risk of devolving into a caricature that doesn’t help us understand the Kochs. Right now, Charles is probably asking himself why anyone would make a fuss about his speech. After all, he believes that the liberty embodied in unfettered capitalism is a source of prosperity and human flourishing. How could anyone think otherwise?

Of course, there’s a difference between telling yourself, “We’re advocating for the right things,” and telling yourself, “This thing we’re doing is as noble as anything anyone in our nation’s history has done.” But perhaps grandiosity isn’t surprising in a man whose fortune is estimated to be over $40 billion.

We all justify our actions and rationalize our decisions, and no one thinks they’re the villain of their own story. We all believe we’re good people, that we have a strong moral sense, and that the world would be a better place if it were ordered in the way we’d like. If would be shocking if the Kochs thought differently about themselves.

My point isn’t that we should automatically forgive people for their outrageous claims of moral rightness, any more than we ought to excuse outlandish claims of suffering and oppression (see War on Christmas, The). But it’s useful to appreciate that when someone like Charles Koch looks in the mirror and says, “You know, I really am a lot like Martin Luther King,” he may be utterly wrong in a hundred ways, but it isn’t a surprise that he feels that way. It’s human nature.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, August 2, 2015

August 4, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Koch Brothers, Women's Suffrage Movement | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Clinton Cash”: Yet Another Charles And David Koch Production

The more closely we look at Peter Schweizer — right-wing author of Clinton Cash and new best friend of the New York Times and Washington Post — the more he appears to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers. Schweizer’s forthcoming book on Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation was supported by a “think tank” called the Government Accountability Institute, which has reportedly received millions from Koch-connected donor funds over the past two years.

Crooks and Liars points toward Donors Trust, the huge Koch-funded “dark-money ATM of the right,” as a key source of funding that made Schweizer’s book possible. He is, after all, the president of the Government Accountability Institute, where tax-exempt money was used to finance a couple of nasty, inaccurate political hits on President Obama during the last election cycle, almost as soon as the “non-partisan think tank” sprang up.

If that isn’t suggestive enough, here is video of Schweizer himself, delivering a February 2014 speech at the Charles Koch Institute, an “educational organization” based in Arlington, VA. Its tax-exempt activities are subsidized by the CEO of Koch Industries, Inc. — yes, that Charles Koch.

Maybe the Times and Post editors should have taken a closer look before they leaped into a deal to promote this Kochtopus production. Or did they look and not care?

Update: Not surprisingly, Media Matters for America provides further detail on Schweizer’s financing by the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, and the right-wing billionaire political nexus.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, April 23, 2015

 

April 24, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, Koch Brothers | , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Are Koch”: We Make Your Planet Warmer And Water More Flammable

Koch Industries, considered Public Enemy Number One by many environmentalists, is blanketing the airwaves with an ad campaign touting its contributions to society.

Charles and David Koch, billionaire moguls of a fossil fuel empire, sign off their company’s self-aggrandizing ads with the triumphant exclamation “we are Koch!”

The main ad in their series of spot commercials features a kaleidoscope of bucolic farms as well as bustling factory workers and lab technicians. A narrator informs us that the company has a 60,000 strong workforce dedicated to providing a broad range of products to” help people improve their lives.” [“We Are Koch.”]

There is no mention of this second largest privately held company in the nation being slapped with numerous fines for pollution offenses. There is nary a word about the Koch brothers using their immense wealth to finance the debunking of climate change. No reference is made to the company’s lobbying efforts to thwart clean, renewable energy expansion and weaken anti-pollution regulations.

One of the ads features Claire Johnson, an environmental engineer lauding the work of her employer, Flint Hill Resources, a Koch chemical refining multi-site operation.

“If a pollution incident does occur,” Johnson declares as she stares into the camera, “we are great at self-regulation…” [We Are Koch.]

Koch’s perception of its self-regulatory skills is not shared by government authorities responsible for safeguarding our air, water and land. You can understand why when you learn that the very same Flint Hill Resources was recently fined $350,000 for allowing a Texas chemical plant to leak a lethal amount of hazardous emissions.

To counter the Koch’s pervasive propaganda, an advertising rebuttal is needed. Television satirist Jon Stewart took a one-time stab with a video parody displaying oil fields and polar bears. The video was accompanied by a supposed Koch narrator rhapsodizing that “with our devotion to fossil fuels, we [Koch] make your planet warmer and water more flammable while lubricating your birds and displacing your polar bears.”

Unfortunately, Stewart doesn’t have the resources to saturate the electronic mass media with his visual message. It is a shame there is no major ad campaign offering such responses as something like the following. Picture a Koch Industries chemical plant discharging suspicious-looking affluent into a waterway with a narrator boasting “here is a Koch plant operating at full tilt.” A sonorous voice then intones “They Are Koch.”

How about a video in which a melting iceberg collapses into the sea as a Koch narrative drones “global warming is a natural phenomenon. There is no human-induced climate change. They Are Koch.”

The camera zooms in on a bulldozer unloading toxic coal residue into a hazardous waste landfill with a voice-over proclaiming “renewable energy at this stage is unaffordable. That leaves the plentiful coal and other fossil fuels we supply as the only practical alternatives for the foreseeable future. They Are Koch.”

Koch Industries employs a lot of people, but it jeopardizes a lot as well.

 

By: Edward Flattau, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 25, 2015

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Environment, Global Warming, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, Really, You Didn’t Build That”: How The Rich Became Dependent On Government Subsidies

Remember when President Obama was lambasted for saying “you didn’t build that”? Turns out he was right, at least when it comes to lots of stuff built by the world’s wealthiest corporations. That’s the takeaway from this week’s new study of 25,000 major taxpayer subsidy deals over the last two decades.

Titled “Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent,” the report from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First shows that the world’s largest companies aren’t models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism. To the contrary, they’re propped up by billions of dollars in welfare payments from state and local governments.

Such subsidies might be a bit more defensible if they were being doled out in a way that promoted upstart entrepreneurialism. But as the study also shows, a full “three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations” — not to the small businesses and start-ups that politicians so often pretend to care about.

In dollar figures, that’s a whopping $110 billion going to big companies. Fortune 500 firms alone receive more than 16,000 subsidies at a total cost of $63 billion.

These kinds of handouts, of course, are the definition of government intervention in the market. Nonetheless, those who receive the subsidies are still portrayed as free-market paragons.

Consider Charles and David Koch. Their company, Koch Industries, has relied on $88 million worth of government handouts. Yet, as the major financiers of the anti-government right, the Kochs are still billed as libertarian free-market activists.

Similarly, behold the big tech firms. They are often portrayed as self-made success stories. Yet, as Good Jobs First shows, they are among the biggest recipients of the subsidies.

Intel leads the tech pack with 58 subsidies worth $3.8 billion. Next up is IBM, which has received more than $1 billion in subsidies. Most of that is from New York – a state proudly promoting its corporate handouts in a new ad campaign.

Then there’s Google’s $632 million and Yahoo’s $260 million — both sets of subsidies primarily from data center deals. And not to be forgotten is 38 Studios, the now bankrupt software firm that received $75 million in Rhode Island taxpayer cash. The company received the handout at the very moment Rhode Island was pleading “poverty” to justify cuts to public workers’ retirement benefits.

Along with propping up companies that are supposedly free-market icons, the subsidies are also flowing to financial firms that have become synonymous with never-ending bailouts. Indeed, companies like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup – each of which was given massive taxpayer subsidies during the financial crisis —are the recipients of tens of millions of dollars in additional subsidies.

All of these handouts, of course, would be derided if they were going to poor people. But because they are going to extremely wealthy politically connected conglomerates, they are typically promoted with cheery euphemisms like “incentives” or “economic development.” Those euphemisms persist even though many subsidies do not end up actually creating jobs.

In light of that, the Good Jobs First report is a reality check on all the political rhetoric about dependency. Most of that rhetoric is punitively aimed at the poor. That’s because, unlike the huge corporations receiving all those subsidies, the poor don’t have armies of lobbyists and truckloads of campaign contributions that make sure programs like food stamps are shrouded in the anodyne argot of “incentives” and “development.”

But as the report proves, if we are going to have an honest conversation about dependency and free markets, then the billions of dollars flowing to politically connected companies need to be part of the discussion.

 

By: David Sirota, Salon, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | Corporate Welfare, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“U.S. Chamber Carrying The Tea Party Label”: The Tea Party and Wall Street Are Even Closer Than We Thought

Ever since the Tea Party Republicans arrived on the scene in Washington, I’ve cast a wary eye at the notion of them as grass-roots insurgents disconnected from the party’s big business and Wall Street base. Heck, when I went looking for one Tea Party tribune, Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, the night of the August 2011 vote to resolve that summer’s debt-ceiling showdown, I found him at a fundraiser in AT&T’s box at National Stadium.

But even I, with my lack of illusions on this score, was startled to see just how tight the business lobby-Tea Party bond has been, as revealed in today’s Washington Post by Tom Hamburger and Jia Lynn Yang, with help from the Center for Responsive Politics. They report:

The American Bankers Association gave more money over the past two election cycles to GOP lawmakers who in effect voted to allow the United States to default on its debt than those who voted against that scenario. The ABA contributed $2.2 million to lawmakers who ultimately ignored the group’s warnings, second only to the Club for Growth and just ahead of Koch Industries, both of which are leading sources of funds for conservative candidates…

At financial services firms, including hedge funds and major banks, contributions totaled more than $26 million over the past two election cycles to the Republican lawmakers who voted against a deal to reopen the government and avoid a first-ever debt default. Employees and the political action committee of Goldman Sachs, which didn’t comment for this article, gave $1.06 million from 2009 to 2012 to the group of GOP lawmakers who voted against the deal. At Bank of America, which also declined to comment, contributions totaled $1.03 million. Hedge funds gave $1.7 million….

Employees and political action committees at Honeywell, the manufacturing conglomerate [whose CEO David Cote was among the Fortune 500 types warning against the shutdown] contributed nearly $2.1 million to last week’s naysayers while providing slightly less to yes-voting Republicans. At AT&T, contributions reached $1.9 million for no-voting members and $2.1 million for those voting “yes.”

Even the proud leader of the defund-Obamacare government-shutdown movement got the business lucre:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose 21-hour floor speech helped spark the crisis and who voted against the debt-ceiling deal, received $786,157 from financial services companies — more than the $705,657 he received from the Club for Growth. Cruz’s wife works at Goldman Sachs, whose PAC gave $5,000 to her husband in 2012.

The question now, of course, is whether big business and Wall Street keep shoveling money toward those in the congressional suicide caucus. There are already signs of a rethinking underway, with talk of non-lunatic business-backed challengers in Michigan and Utah, and with some donors holding off on writing the usual checks to the GOP. Still, the Post’s report reminds us that we should not be surprised if this shift is marginal at best. The fact is, Ted Cruz and his ilk were making no bones at all about what they planned to do in Washington, and got plenty of backing from supposedly sober business types nonetheless. Why? Because their interests overlap more than the new talk of a rift acknowledges, on everything from taxes to organized labor to government regulations. What was the final demand that many in the shutdown caucus were making? The elimination of a tax on some of the highest-margin companies in the country—not exactly a typical pitchfork-wielding cause. Make no mistake: The great Shutdown Debacle of 2013 may have carried the Tea Party label, but it was made in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the C-suite.

Addendum, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday: It’s worth noting that Ted Cruz is not just getting big financial support from Wall Street. He’s also on its health plan.

 

By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, October 23, 2013

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Big Business, Tea Party, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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