Nel's New Day

November 19, 2015

Koch Brothers Worse Than We Thought

The Koch brothers, long vilified for their strong support of extremist right-wing positions, want to be liked. Upset about being seen as billionaires who purchase GOP politicians to make money and destroy the environment, Charles and David consented to a joint interview on MSNBC’s conservative Morning Joe show. They may have also appeared on the program to tout older brother 80-year-old Charles’ new book, Good Profit. James Davis, spokesman for the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners, said that the men “benefit all Americans.”  The good part—they want to lighten prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. On the other side, they want to slash taxes (certainly for the wealthy), cut government spending, and reduce regulations for businesses (like their own extensive gas and oil companies).

While the brothers claim they aren’t involved in “politics,” they donate millions to the NRA, Americans for Prosperity, Chamber of Commerce, Generation Opportunity (for young voters), Americans for Tax Reform, Heritage Foundation, American Energy Alliance, and others. They also pay for “business schools” at respected universities to promote their far-right policies that have led to the massive income inequality in the U.S. Thanks to two Supreme Court decisions, the Koch network of non-profit groups and for-profit companies can accept unlimited cash without disclosing donors and faces few spending restrictions.

Charles Koch did admit in the interview that billionaires expect a return for their donations to political campaigns. This isn’t a problem, according to Koch, as long as those generous donors have the right intentions. Considering the Joe Scarborough’s fawning approach, he might have received something from the Koch brothers. Scarborough and his co-host did go to a private donor conference earlier this year and praise the Kochs as “awesome” and a “godsend.” Nobody is saying who paid the expenses.

During the interview, the brothers complained about the government’s picking winners and losers in politics. Massive donations allow the brothers to take over that role. This infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars make them a third party: they spent  more than the RNC is the last go-round and plan to spend much more this time. Their position is that political spending is basically “free speech” instead of an intention to “slant [the political system] your way.” The “free speech” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court passed with five justices in favor; two of them, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, had attended Koch billionaire meetings.

Agreeing with the Koch brothers, Marco Rubio has just acquired his third billionaire, Frank Vandersloot, founder of Melaleuca nutritional supplements and worth over $1.2 billion. (Mother Jones wrote about how Vandersloot sued after one of their articles described how Vandersloot, virulently anti-LGBT, “bashed” and “publicly out[ed] a reporter.”) According to Rubio, those big donors don’t want anything in return for their millions.

Maybe it’s not a “slant” of the political system, but Charles Koch said, “I expect something in return. … I want the government to require that companies only profit by making other people’s lives better.” The definition of “better” was left up in the air. Even if he is anywhere near right, policy priorities of elected officials track those of the bankrollers rather than the general public. When Paul Ryan says that he doesn’t want “the people” to pay for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage, he means “the wealthy people.” The general public wants a higher minimum wage, but Charles wants to eliminate it entirely.

Charles claims that their only goal is to end corporate welfare. Koch Industries has received at least $195 million in state and local subsidies, plus $6.3 million more in federal loan guarantees.

Profits from the Kochs’ multi-billion-dollar energy empire are threatened by renewable energy, so they pour millions of dollars to stop the development of clean energy. Organizations financially backed by the Koch brothers and electrical utilities and led by the mis-named Consumers for Smart Solar are promoting an anti-home-solar amendment in Florida. Homeowners’ ability to contract for the no-upfront-cost installation of solar on their homes led to an 80-percent increase in these installations last year. The Koch brothers consider consumers with solar as “free riders on the system.”

A general belief that climate change is caused by humans threatens Koch Industries profits so they pay tens of millions to groups and politicians to continue denying the science related to climate change. Their spending has led GOP leaders to block actions to save the planet.

Despite the Koch brothers’ attempts to look “liberal” and accepting, they have given millions of dollars to be fed through other groups donating to anti-LGBT and anti-abortion organizations.

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 69 percent of voters agree with the statement that they “feel angry because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington, rather than working to help everyday people get ahead.” Republicans and Democrats in 16 states and almost 700 communities across the country have enacted referenda opposing Citizens United and big money in politics. The day after the Kochs spoke on Morning Joe, voters in Maine and Seattle approved initiatives to limit the influence of big money in elections and empower average citizens.

As people fight against the Koch brothers policies, Charles and David are watching them. They claim that all their political activities are open and aboveboard, but Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel found a high-tech surveillance and intelligence-gathering business, Koch Intelligence Agency, that tracks liberal and Democratic groups for the two men who promise to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 elections. The 25 employees, including one who worked as an analyst for the CIA, harvest geodata from social-media posts of the Koch opponents. Managed by a limited-liability partnership called American Strategies Group, LLC, the company describes itself as a “business league” in order to legally hide the identities of its members.

Tracking labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups is probably nothing new for the Kochs. Their past surveillance included watching brother Bill when they fought for control of the family business and fortune. Those who have challenged the Kochs—federal officers, members of the press, and private citizens—have suspected that the brothers are watching them. Angela O’Connell, lead federal prosecutor in an environmental-pollution case against Koch Industries in 1995, said that she “operated as if everything she said and did was being monitored.” A lawyer in another case against Koch Industries found his office bugged. During a senate investigation into Koch Industries, its operatives delved into personal lives of the committee’s staffers.

Most people think of elections in terms of candidates and ballot measures. The Kochs aim to realign U.S. government, politics and society that will benefit wealthy people and corporations. To do this, they must neuter progressive super PACS, unions, and people who they consider to be academics and elites. In that way they can destroy all regulations giving them the opportunity to greatly add to their $60+ billion assets and continue to add to their oligarchic ambitions. You can better that they aren’t really interested in making our lives “better.”

August 31, 2012

GOP Convention 2012 – Day Three, Mind-boggling

Day Three of the GOP Convention 2012 was intended to be warm and fuzzy, to show how likable Mitt Romney really is. That’s why the organizers brought in the people from his Mormon church, the Staples founder Thomas Sternberg, etc. The message was to trust Romney in his attempt to return to the country of a century ago in a speech that tried to highlight optimistic nostalgia even if no one really knows what he plans to do.

Owned by Bain Capital, Staples is supposed to show Romney’s business acumen. Although it’s difficult to know how little Staples employees actually make, Glassdoor.com, a website based on worker feedback, shows that the vast majority of these employees make $8-$9 an hour. The website calls Staples “one of the largest employers of workers earning under $10 per hour in the country.” Their CEO got $8.9 million last year, probably before bonuses. Domino’s Pizza, another Bain company, also pays under $10 an hour. Some of the thousands of Domino’s drivers who make deliveries in their own cars have sued the company because its reimbursement system for mileage violates wage and hour laws.

Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner explained that Romney’s “focus was never on strengthening companies or creating jobs, it was about getting a high return on his investment, no matter the cost to workers, companies or communities.” I agree with Kanner when he said that “these are the values he promises to bring as President by giving more budget-busting tax cuts to the wealthy on the middle class’ dime and letting Wall Street write its own rules–the same scheme that benefited a few, but devastated the middle class and crashed our economy.”

In his speech, Jeb Bush told President Obama to stop blaming his wonderful brother while blaming President Obama. He was the only Bush at the convention because looking at George W. Bush would remind people that tax cuts for the rich don’t create jobs.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the day was overwhelmed by a strange performance by 82-year-old Clint Eastwood who carried on a sometimes rambling conversation with a chair that he pretended was occupied by President Obama and insinuated that the president was swearing back at him. Even Romney’s aides looked visibly upset and tried to blame anyone else for his presence and performance.

The next editions of dictionaries may contain the term “Eastwooding,” meaning “taking out frustration on inanimate objects.” One Republican pundit reported that no one would remember the speech for long. I think that he’s wrong. Photos of empty chairs are all over the Internet from people claiming to have had conversations with the Invisible President, and the president’s twitter account posted his photo with the tag line “This seat’s taken.”

 

 

 

 

Even odder about Eastwood’s speech is that it led into the introduction of Romney by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Scheduled to speak for about three minutes, Eastwood kept the stage for almost 15 minutes, throwing off the convention schedule. Romney has been called a stickler against tardiness.  Michael Moore summarized it best: “Clint Eastwood was able to drive home to tens of millions of viewers the central message of this year’s Republican National Convention: We Are Delusional and Detached from Reality. Vote for Us!”

Back to being serious, Rubio said that both Romney and Obama are both good people but that people should vote for Romney because he is a good person. There was a lot of that during the convention: with no specifics about Romney’s policies, people gave Romney’s “good person” description the primary reason for supporting him.

When Rubio finished, Romney tried to look presidential as he sauntered through the crowd toward the stage in the style of State of the Union speeches. When he talked about his love for his parents, he again moved into the position of privileged wealth through his story about how his father gave his mother a rose every day of their 64 years of married life. Trying to woo the women, he said that he had women in his Massachusetts administration and that women worked for him at Bain. He’s right there; 8 percent of the managing directors and executives are women.

Then he moved into the “fact-challenged” part of the speech.

Romney said that the president plans to raise taxes on small businesses: in fact, President Obama lowered taxes on small businesses 18 times.

Romney talked about the president’s assault on coal and oil; in fact, President Obama increased jobs in the coal industry, and oil production and drilling has increased during his presidency.

Romney repeated the lie about President Obama cutting Medicare.

Romney said that the president has weakened security and eliminated jobs through his cuts to the military; in fact, Romney’s own party caused these cuts when they finally made a budget deal to raise the debt ceiling to stop defaulting on the national debt after holding the country hostage.

Romney said that gas prices had doubled under this president: in fact, gas prices four years ago were $3.67, very close to the current price of $3.75.

Romney said, “[Obama] abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election.” In fact, the moment to which Romney referred was between the president and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. The missile shield has never worked despite trillions of dollars wasted in its development since President Truman’s administration. Romney was pushing to defend ourselves from our ally, Russia, instead of from China and North Korea. This was a speech that might have worked during the Cold War, but we are decades past that.

The Washington Post did a bit of fact checking on Romney’s few specific goals:

Romney said he has a plan to create 12 million new jobs: only two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, created more than 12 million jobs. And they both raised taxes. Romney’s pledge would be an average of 250,000 jobs a month; recently, the economy, as slow as it currently is because of Republican obstructionism, has averaged 150,000 jobs a month. If no budget deal is reached, the CBO figures that 9.6 million jobs would be created in the same period of time, and Moody’s Analytics predicted 12 million jobs created by 2016, no matter who gets elected president.

Romney said that the current economy has failed to find jobs for half the students who graduated from college; the 53.6 percent of college students that he cites also included the “underemployed” who actually have jobs.

Romney said he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class; in fact, the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has supported, will raise taxes on the middle class while decreasing taxes for the wealthy.

Romney’s biggest lie came at the end of the speech when he described his idea of his ideal America: “That united America will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need.” There was no applause for this statement. Romney’s plans do not benefit anyone except the wealthy.

Despite a lengthy speech, Romney said “Americans” so many times that he omitted several subjects: financial reforms, climate change, immigration, Romneycare, Afghanistan or Syria, Social Security, and veterans. His purpose was to persuade voters not in his base who believe in reforming the country’s financial problems, trying to stop climate change, helping immigrants, getting health care, supporting the elderly, etc. These are not safe subjects for anyone except the far-right conservatives.

Even Republicans weren’t excited about the speech. Steve Schmidt, campaign adviser for John McCain’s 2008 run for president, said that it was the best speech that Romney has ever given but it wasn’t the best speech of the convention. Will Wilkinson (The Economist) said, “I don’t think he has it in him to do much better.” At The Washington Post, Johnathan Bernstein reported, “A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate.”

Asides: At a fundraiser on the morning of Day three, Karl Rove said, “If [Todd Akin is] found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!” (Rove’s apology to Akin included the statement that he would never have made that comment if he had known there was a reporter in the room.)

Romney thinks that the United States is actually a company. In a speech on the morning of Day Three he said, “Paul Ryan and I understand how the economy works, we understand how Washington works, we will reach across the aisle and find good people who like us, want to make sure this company deals with its challenges. We’ll get America on track again. As Annie-Rose Strasser wrote, “The goal of a company is to make money, whereas the goal of a government is to provide services that are not achievable in the private sector. Romney’s belief that the government is similar to a company explains his dedication to cutting programs that he perceives are “inefficient” because they cost money, even if they effectively help American citizens.”

Most jarring, however is this headline from politico.com: David Koch breaks from GOP on gay marriage, taxes, defense cuts. He said, “I believe in gay marriage.” Koch said he thinks the U.S. military should withdraw from the Middle East and the government should consider defense spending cuts, as well as possible tax increases to get its fiscal house in order.

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