Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Koch Brothers - The Most Powerful People You've Never Heard Of

Frank Rich’s column from August 29, The Billionaires Banking the Tea Party was in my opinion, one of his most significant columns in recent memory. But his column was inspired by an equally significant one by investigative reporter Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, Covert Operations - The billionaire Koch brothers war against Obama which chronicles in detail, not only the extensive money spent but also the building of an entire infrastructure in the form of think tanks and foundations created to promote their libertarian views along with defeating those of progressives.

As Rich writes:
Another weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who.

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.
And here are excerpts from the Mayer article:
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests.  
In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.  
Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement.
The article in The New Yorker is a lengthy one that goes into considerable detail about the Koch’s behind the scenes manipulation of the US political process. It is hoped that the above excerpts will encourage the reader to check out this interesting article in its entirety.

So what’s the big deal about the Koch brothers’ participation in the political process? After all, it’s a free country and people should be able to support whom they wish to.

The problem is not whom or what they support. It is an issue of transparency. There is a world of difference between those who support a position simply because they believe in it and others who do it because they are on someone's payroll. For example, if a scientist promotes views that question climate change, much of his credibility would depend on whether or not he was being paid by somebody who has a financial stake in denying climate change. To not be given this information amounts to deception.

Adding to the deception, money can be funneled into non-profit foundations with benign names such as Americans for Prosperity which appears to be a grassroots organization but unknown to most people was established by the Kochs to promote their political agenda. And because organizations like these are non-profits, they are not required to disclose their financial backers.

With this background in mind, I will conclude with
my comment to Frank Rich’s article.
I am reminded of when Mickey Mantle made appearances on talk shows touting the benefits of Voltaren, an anti-arthritis drug. But then later it was revealed that he was a paid spokesperson for the drug without disclosing this to the viewers. [link to story] Today, ads that have endorsers, especially celebrities are required to disclose that they are compensated. To do otherwise is considered to be deceptive advertising.

Today, many of the political protests are little more than deceptive advertising in that they are often organized and paid for by commercial interests whose identities are not disclosed.

Regular viewers of the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC know that she has regularly taken on organizations such as Americans for Prosperity [
link to video] for promoting the viewpoints of its financial contributors who are largely undisclosed. While it is good that MSNBC (and the NYT) are doing this, do we see the same thing being done at NBC or ABC or CBS whose news shows attract a much wider audience? It appears that they are afraid to take on these organizations for fear of being labeled as “too liberal”. But this is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is about transparency and as long as the mainstream broadcast networks continue to look the other way, this deception of our citizens will continue.

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