Tag Archives: Koch brothers

Why Nobody Trusts Anything They Read Anymore…

Newsweek recently ran an article arguing that wind power really costs more than people think. The story’s italicized tagline identified the author thusly: “Randy Simmons is professor of political economy at Utah State University.”

A respectable (and presumably reliable) credential. As the Daily Kos reported, however,

The Erik Wemple Blog yesterday asked Simmons whether his Newsweek blast at wind power should have contained more information about his ties to some key players in the U.S. energy sector. For instance, between 2008 and 2013, Simmons served as the Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy from 2008 to 2013, in what he terms a “fixed-term professorship.” And Simmons currently supervises a program known at Utah State University as the “Koch Scholars” program, which runs on an annual grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. It’s a “reading group” that meets on Tuesday evenings. “The Koch Foundation grant buys the books, and food and provides a scholarship for each of the 15 students chosen that semester,” writes Simmons in an e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog.

Surely the Koch’s major fossil fuel holdings and generous underwriting had no effect upon Simmons’ research conclusions. (If you believe that, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.)

When special interests can “buy” (or at least influence) presumably objective research results, is it any wonder that all research is viewed with skepticism?

In an environment where everything is suspect, it becomes so easy to engage in “confirmation bias”–to believe those sources that confirm our preferred worldview, and to dismiss contrary evidence.

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Distrust, American Style, arguing that constant revelations about corrupt practices in so many major institutions of American life–not just government, but also major league sports, the Catholic Church’s molestation scandals, big business (Enron, Worldcon, et al)–had eaten away the fabric of trust needed in order for society to function. That was before the ubiquity of cell phone cameras had given us evidence of pervasive police misconduct, before stories emerged about phony FBI forensic testimony, before the “banksters” and the Great Recession they triggered…the list goes on.

Democratic governments require a robust civil society in order to function properly. Civil society requires social capital. Social capital–our connection to one another–requires trust and reciprocity.

That trust is hard to come by these days.

 

In the Land of the Blind…..

Yesterday’s New York Times had a story about efforts to register voters in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the tragic shooting of Michael Brown. This paragraph absolutely floored me:

“A lot of people just didn’t realize that the people who impact their lives every day are directly elected.” Said Shiron Hagens, 41, of St. Louis, who is not part of any formal group but has spent several days registering voters in Ferbuson with her mother and has pledged to come back here each Saturday. “The prosecutor—he’s elected. People didn’t know that. The City Council—they’re elected. These are the sorts of people who make decisions about hiring police chiefs. People didn’t know.”

The story also repeated the statistics we’ve seen before about Ferguson: a town that is two-thirds African-American with a virtually all-white power structure and a twelve percent voter turnout in the last municipal election. (And that was overall—black turnout was even lower.)

A few pages on, the Times had a report about the growing influence of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ vast organization. Taken together, these articles are a dramatic picture of what is wrong with our political system.

I know I sound like a broken record on the issue of civic knowledge. I quote the studies (only 36% of Americans can name the three branches of government! People who are civically ignorant rarely vote!). I insist that our civic deficit is far more worrisome than our fiscal one.

These articles explain why it matters. Vividly.

We The People need to understand something about the disproportionate influence of money in politics: it requires civic ignorance. Whether it is intentionally misleading political messages or well-meaning but wrongheaded appeals to voters, these tactics are effective only when the people on the receiving end of the message don’t know any better.

The most basic civil right we Americans enjoy is the franchise. It would be great if we could reverse Citizens United and the other cases that have enabled the wealthy to buy our political system, but we actually have the power to neuter these people now.

The antidote to money in politics, ultimately, is an informed electorate.

In this day and age, it is absolutely unforgivable that American citizens don’t know who they elect—not that they don’t know the names of officeholders, but that they don’t know what offices they can vote to fill. This phenomenon is not limited to impoverished residents of Ferguson, Missouri; I regularly encounter middle-class college students who cannot define government, have no idea what a Constitution is or how it differs from a statute, and have only the haziest notion of what “rights” are.

Money is a huge advantage, and I am not minimizing its power. But the people who are all-too-often exercising undue influence in America are those who’ve figured out how to benefit from widespread civic ignorance.

What’s the old saying? In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Spelling Out the Koch Agenda

Reasonable people who don’t follow politics closely can be forgiven for dismissing Democrats’ focus on the Koch brothers as just a political tactic– not unlike the Republicans’ attacks on George Soros.  They’re all rich and politically active. So what?

Senator Bernie Sanders begs to differ–and so should we.  Sanders points out that the brothers are worth 80 billion dollars (including an increase of 12 billion in the last year alone), and he points to the extent of their involvement in the political process–and the degree to which they have used their enormous resources to misinform and confuse, most recently funding political spots that flat-out lie about the Affordable Care Act, which–along with Medicare and Medicaid– they are intent upon repealing. (I guess when poor people get health care, it offends their peculiar version of justice.)

David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980. And Sanders suggests we take a look at the platform on which he ran:

  • “We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”
  • “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
  • “We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”
  • “We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”
  • “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”
  • “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence.  Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.”
  • “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”
  • “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”
  • “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”
  • “We support repeal of all laws which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”
  • “We advocate the complete separation of education and State.  Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
  • “We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”
  • “We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”
  • “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
  • “We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”
  • “We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”
  • “We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”
  • “We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”
  • “We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
  • “We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”
  • “We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”
  • “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”
  • “We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”
  • “We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
  • “We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
  • “We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”

The Koch brothers want to repeal every major piece of legislation that levels the playing field or protects the middle class, the elderly, children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country, and thanks to Citizens United  and McCutcheon, they can spend unlimited amounts of money to buy the American government they want.

They’ve realized that the Libertarian party can’t deliver their particular version of “liberty”–but properly funded, they hope the GOP can.

They may be right.

 

Talk is Cheap

When I was growing up, one of my father’s favorite axioms was “If you are going to talk the talk, you’d better walk the walk.”

Which brings me to some recent reports about the extent to which the Koch brothers–who define liberty as the absence of “dependency” on government–benefit from government’s largesse.

It isn’t only the infamous Kochs, of course, and it is a feature of our current political discourse that drives me up the wall.

Wealthy businesspeople and corporate pooh-bahs are entitled to their political ideologies, but they are not entitled to the embarrassing lack of self-awareness that allows them to lecture poor people about the evils of dependency while they themselves are feeding greedily at the public trough.

Charles Koch is an excellent example, although certainly not the only one. He was recently quoted as saying that “prosperity grows where economic freedom is greatest, where government intervention in business affairs is kept to a minimum.” Yet the Kochs “dependency” on government is extensive:about $85 million in federal government contracts mostly from the Department of Defense, not to mention that Koch Industries benefits directly from billions in taxpayer subsidies for oil companies and ethanol production. Koch industries lobbied extensively against the Affordable Care Act, and is even now running an inaccurate ad campaign against it, that hasn’t kept them from applying for business subsidies that the Act provides.

The list goes on. And on. 

The truth is that most –not all, but most–of the privileged and self-satisfied “job creators” who preach self-reliance are perfectly willing to benefit at the public’s expense. I guess its only “welfare” when it goes to the other guy.