Nel's New Day

March 27, 2014

Who Are the Koch Brothers?

As the United States approaches the “oligarch” status of Russia and other quasi-dictatorships, people in the U.S. are learning our own billionaires who control the selection and decisions of the nation’s lawmakers. Fortunately, the Walton family that owns Walmart seems to stay out of politics as long as they don’t have to raise the wages. On the other hand, the Koch brothers (pronounced “Coke”) have gone full-bore into running the country. Only about half the likely voters know who they are, but half of these have an “unfavorable” view of Charles and David.

Charles, 78, lives near Koch HQ in Wichita (KS); David, 74, lives in New York. Together they run their inherited Koch Industries, the country’s second-largest private company with oil pipelines, refineries, building materials, paper towels, etc. Together they are worth over $80 billion, and David made $6 billion just last year. Buying these products will make the Koch brothers richer: Dixie cups, Brawny and Sparkle paper towels, Quilted Northern and Angel Soft toilet paper (all part of Georgia-Pacific); Lycra fiber, Stainmaster carpet.

The brothers learned their lessons early. Dad Fred was an early adviser to the founder of the anti- communist John Birch Society, which fought against the civil rights movement and the United Nations. Ten years ago, Charles and David funded the Tea Party with Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity (AF), extremist right-wing organizations able to provide “dark money” to campaigns around the country starting in 2010, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United. 

Koch’s AFP spent at least $120 million in the 2012 election cycle, and the brothers spend millions and millions in other campaigns. Exactly how much is not known because of Citizens United, but they pledged at least $60 million to defeat President Obama. Even the town of Iron (WI), population 6,000, doesn’t escape their notice. During a recent election, the brothers decided to get their personal county supervisors elected because they could influence a potential iron mine. Koch fliers told residents about “wealthy, environmental groups from outside of Wisconsin” and then listed the names that David and Charles, wealthy individuals from outside Wisconsin, call “anti-mining radicals.” Last year the brothers tried to buy a coal terminal in Whatcom (WA) by swinging a county election. They lost. Iron’s election is April 1.

Sen. Harry Reid said the Koch brothers were “actually trying to buy the country.” A Koch spokesman called Reid’s comments “disrespectful.” Tracking their expenditures has now become easier because of www.stinkstanks.org that follows how David and Charles use ALEC, the State Policy Network, and other supposedly think tanks that disseminates misinformation throughout the country and writes bills for every state. Everytime you hear a myth, think Koch. (Another website designed to “follow the money” is http://www.bridgeproject.com/.)

An example of the lies that the brothers and ALEC disseminated was a rosy view of jobs in Wisconsin to support their governor. This is the reality about the disaster of Walker’s policies that David and Charles won’t share.

walker job loss

Not happy with owning the country, David wants to purchase public radio and television. He has donated $18.6 million to WGBH in Boston and is a member of its Board of Trustees. A circulating petition requests that he be dismissed from the board to “ensure that public broadcasting remains independent from the influence of radical climate change denial.” History shows the danger is real.

Last spring, David got upset about a documentary on PBS showing him in a bad light and made sure than another one, the documentary  “Citizen Koch” about money in politics focused on the Wisconsin uprising against Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP lawmakers, wouldn’t be shown.  Afraid of losing private funding, PBS pulled the program showing how the Supreme Court decision allowed wealthy conservatives to contribute to Walker’s election.

When David was also a trustee of New York’s PBS station WNET, he was offended by “Park Avenue,” a documentary that showed income inequality by comparing the lives of people in a luxury apartment building in Manhattan and those living in the Bronx at the other end of Park Avenue. WNET’s president called David before the documentary’s airing and then included David’s disclaimer that the film was “disappointing and divisive.” The station also pulled the film’s introduction narrated by Stanley Tucci with one that called the film “controversial” and “provocative.” The documentary “Park Avenue” was shown with these caveats.

WNET threatened Independent Television Service (ITVS), an arm of PBS that funds and distributes independent films, with dropping all its films if it funded “Citizen Koch.” The documentary did get a showing at Sundance a year ago, but ITVS bowed out of any funding. As the filmmakers said, “It’s the very thing our film is about—public servants bowing to pressures, direct or indirect, from high-dollar donors.”

Only 5 percent of funding for “public” radio and television come from taxes. When conservatives fill in the 95-percent gap, they control the “public” network’s content.  I became a constant public radio fan after moving to the Oregon coast over 20 years ago and have watched the coverage becoming more and more conservative as only that side is represented.

David has resigned from WNET’s board and tried to buy eight major daily newspapers across the country owned by the Tribune Companies. Enough people knew about David and Charles to sign petitions in opposition to selling them major news media.

One of David’s goals is to convince the people of the United States “that the abundant evidence linking industrial carbon pollution to changes in the earth’s climate is somehow fictional, made-up, unverified,” according to Huffington Post blogger D.R. Tucker. In the past 15 years, David and Charles have been convicted five times for their rejection of environmental regulations and fined over $400.  A Texas verdict of $296 million, the largest damages judgment against a corporation for wrongful death, came from negligence leading to an explosion from a butane pipeline rupture that killed two teenagers.

Fifteen years ago, a civil jury found that they had illegally taken oil from federal land, and the brothers have sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, identified as a sponsor of global terrorism. With their new financial interest in Canadian’s tar sands oil fields, they stand to make $100 billion if the Keystone XL pipeline crosses the board to send oil to Asia.

David ran for vice president for the Libertarian party in 1980, pledging to abolish Social Security, the Federal Reserve System, welfare, minimum wage laws, and federal agencies–including the Department of Energy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. They’ve added health care for the poor to the list of things that they want to eliminate, using actors claiming to have their insurance cancelled in Koch anti-Obamacare television ads.

The brothers employ the Koch Method, a system of cheating, lying, and fraud that they have also taught their employees. For years after the conception of the Tea Party a decade ago, the brothers denied any connection to the movement and denied that their wealth funded front groups such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP). David said that he’d never been to a tea-party event, but film footage showed him at a gala, listening to the political strategy. Koch Industries denied funding and leadership links to the Tea Party at that time, but Jane Mayer verified the connections in The New Yorker.

David is much more visible than Charles, but the older brother said in a recent interview that he is trying to save the country. He’s worried about “this rampant cronyism where all these large companies are into smash and grab.” Worth over $40 billion, he claims he’s looking out for the little guy and worried about “welfare for the rich.” He added, “People should only profit to the extent they make other people’s lives better.” This is the man who makes enough money in one second to feed a person for an entire year.

Here’s a handy-dandy overview of David and Charles from David Halperin.

koch-bros-climate

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