Oldspeak:“If work in the U.S. you should know who the Koch Brothers are. Koch Brothers Public Face: Benevolent Billionaires, Patrons of the Arts, Captains Of Industry, Libertarian defenders of “Freedom”. Koch Brothers Private Face: Doing everything in their power to bust unions, intimidate voters, destroy worker rights and protections, enable wanton destruction of the environment, “free market” fundamentalist financiers of over 80 right wing “think tanks” tasked with propagating propaganda for doing away with any government regulation and oversight of anything leaving it the hands of private corporations. All for the express purpose of manipulating politicians and the global economic system ‘in such a way as to enrich themselves and their heirs at the expense of most other inhabitants of the planet.’-Adele M. Stan These men are indeed the true face of Vampire. 21st century Oligarchs who care little for anyone not in their tax bracket, seeing them more as revenue streams than human beings. And they’re pulling many levers of U.S. Government. The only way to stop them is to organize. ‘”We don’t have any power, except the power of solidarity and the power to strike and organize in unions. Street protests are great, online petitions are great, but only when you can threaten to shut down the factories of the boss, only when you can have that type of leverage are americans ever gonna be able to change the situation. I don’t see the situation changing unless there’s more organizing. I think we’re gonna see more corporate oligarchs taking on workers unless workers organize and take away the power their power to work.” -Mike Elk
By Mark Ames & Mike Elk @ The Nation:
On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.
The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State —which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.
Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.
“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”
The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.
“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”
The election packet starts with a letter from Robertson dated October 4, 2010. It read: “As Koch company employees, we have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. Each of us is likely to be affected by the outcome on Nov. 2. That is why, for the first time ever, we are mailing our newest edition of Discovery and several other helpful items to the home address of every U.S. employee” [emphasis added].
For most Koch employees, the “helpful items” included a list of Koch-approved candidates, which was presented on a separate page labeled “Elect to Prosper.” A brief introduction to the list reads: “The following candidates in your state are supported by Koch companies and KOCHPAC, the political action committee for Koch companies. We believe these candidates will best advance policies supporting economic freedom.”
What the Kochs mean by “economic freedom” is explained on the next page. As the mailer makes clear, Koch Industries tailored its election propaganda to the state level, rather than focusing on national elections. Of the nineteen candidates that Koch Industries recommended in its Washington State list, sixteen were Republicans. The three Democratic candidates approved by the Kochs included two members of the “Roadkill Caucus,” Washington’s version of the conservative Blue Dogs.
Only two of the nineteen races on the list were for national office, and in both cases Koch Industries backed Tea Party–friendly Republicans: Dino Rossi, an antilabor candidate, who lost to incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray; and Jaime Herrera-Beutler, who ran in the Republican primary as a moderate, but who came out recently as a Tea Party radical, much to her constituency’s surprise.
After guiding employees on how they should vote, the mailer devoted the rest of the material to the sort of indoctrination one would expect from an old John Birch Society pamphlet (the Koch Brothers’ father, Fred Koch, was a founding member of the JBS). It offers an apocalyptic vision of the company’s free-market struggle for liberty against the totalitarian forces of European Union bureaucrats and deficit-spending statists.
The newsletter begins with an unsigned editorial preaching familiar Tea Party themes, repackaged as Koch Industry corporate philosophy:
For more than 40 years, Koch Industries has openly and consistently supported the principles of economic freedom and market-based policies. Unfortunately, these values and principled point of view are now being strongly opposed by many politicians (and their media allies) who favor ever-increasing government…. Even worse, recent government actions are threatening to bankrupt the country…. And the facts are that the overwhelming majority of the American people will be much worse off if government overspending is allowed to bankrupt the country.
Further into the company newsletter is an article headlined “What’s a Business to Do?” It portrays corporate titans like the Kochs as freedom-fighting underdogs, modern-day Sakharovs and Mandelas targeted for repression by Big Government statists: “Citizens who are openly critical of the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels or the out-of-control government of the United States are being shouted down by politicians, government officials and their media and other allies.”
In this scenario, Big Government wants to muzzle the Kochs before they can spread their message to the people. That message comes down to preaching the benefits of lower wages:
If the government insists that someone should be paid $50 per hour in wages and benefits, but that person only creates $30 worth of value, no one will prosper for long…. Anything that undermines the mobility of labor, such as policies that make it more expensive and difficult to change where people are employed, also increases unemployment…. Similar policies that distort the labor market—such as minimum wage laws and mandated benefits—contribute to unemployment.
Easily the strangest and most disturbing article of all comes from the head of Koch Industries himself, Charles Koch, who offers an election-season history lesson to his employees. Koch’s essay sets out to rank the best and worst US presidents in terms of their economic policies. Charles—who with his brother David is worth $44 billion, putting them fifth on the 2010 Forbes 400 list—warns his readers that his history lesson may surprise them. And to his credit, Koch doesn’t disappoint.
Koch glorifies Warren G. Harding and his successor Calvin Coolidge for producing “one of the most prosperous [eras] in U.S. history.” Koch explains that what made Harding great was his insistence on “cutting taxes, reducing the national debt and cutting the federal budget,” all policies that Congressional Republicans are proposing in today’s budget negotiations. What made Harding so great, in other words, is what made radical Republican candidates so great in November 2010.
Koch’s pick for worst president is Herbert Hoover, whom he accuses of undermining “economic freedom” and thus precipitating the Great Depression. “Under Hoover,” he writes, “federal spending roughly doubled and personal income tax rates jumped from 25 percent to 63 percent. He raised corporate taxes, too, and doubled the estate tax. Hoover also pressured business leaders to keep wages artificially high, contributing to massive unemployment.”
According to most historians, the Harding and Coolidge administrations’ free-market romp was one of the key factors that led to the Great Depression. Their time in office was marked by obscene corruption, racial violence, unionbusting, feudal wealth inequalities and, shortly thereafter, the total collapse of the American economy.
* * *
Legal experts say that this kind of corporate-sponsored propagandizing has been almost unheard-of in America since the passage of New Deal–era laws like the National Labor Relations Act, which codified restrictions on political activism and pressure in the workplace. NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher, director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law, told The Nation in an e-mail interview that such overt politicking to employees is still rare. “I am not aware of it happening with many employers,” he wrote.
According to UCLA’s Stone, although Citizens United frees Koch Industries and other corporations to propagandize their employees with their political preferences, the same doesn’t hold true for unions—at least not in the workplace. “If a union wanted to hand out political materials in the workplace not directly relevant to the workers’ interests—such as providing a list of candidates to support in the elections—the employer has the right to ban that material,” says Stone. “They could even prohibit its distribution on lunch breaks or after shifts, because by law it’s the company’s private property.”
Stone points to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1915, Coppage v. Kansas, which protected employers’ right to draw up contracts forbidding employees from joining unions. Justice William Day’s dissent in that case pointed out that if the state was ready to enforce the employers’ contractual bans on union activity, then it was opening the way for the state to enforce employers’ legal right to control their employees’ political and ideological activities:
Would it be beyond a legitimate exercise of the police power to provide that an employee should not be required to agree, as a condition of employment, to forgo affiliation with a particular political party, or the support of a particular candidate for office? It seems to me that these questions answer themselves.
With Citizens United, it seems, the country is heading back to the days of court-enforced corporatocracy. Already, workers at a Koch subsidiary in Portland, Oregon, are complaining about being subjected to political and ideological propaganda. Employees at Georgia-Pacific warehouses in Portland say the company encourages them to read Charles Koch’s The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company and to attend ideological seminars in which Koch management preaches their bosses’ “market-based management” philosophy.
Travis McKinney, an employee at a Portland Georgia-Pacific distribution center, says, “They drill into your head things like ‘The 10 Guiding Principles of Koch Industries.’ They even stamp the ten principles on your time card.”
McKinney, a fourth-generation employee of Georgia-Pacific, says relations have sharply deteriorated since Koch Industries bought the company in late 2005. He and fellow employees at three Georgia-Pacific distribution centers are locked in a yearlong contract battle with the new Koch Industries management. Workers there, members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (an affiliate of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) recently voted unanimously to reject management’s contract and voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if management continues to try to impose cuts in benefits and job security in the new contracts.
Political propagandizing is a heated issue in Oregon, which passed SB-519 in the summer of 2009, a bill placing restrictions on corporations’ ability to coerce employees to attend political meetings and vote the way the corporation tells them to vote. In late December 2009—just before SB-519 was to go into effect—the US Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit with Associated Oregon Industries to block the bill from becoming law. A similar bill in Wisconsin was struck down in November in a federal court. However, the Chamber’s lawsuit in Oregon was thrown out in May 2010 by US District Court Judge Michael Mosman on procedural grounds, leaving open the possibility that it could still be struck down.
In the meantime, workers across the country should start preparing for a future workplace environment in which political proselytizing is the new normal.
You Thought the Koch Brothers Were Bad? Turns Out They’re Even Worse Than You Thought
By Adele M. Stan @ Alter Net:
Charles and David Koch’s reach into virtually every aspect of political, economic and physical life on the planet is probably greater than you thought possible.
You knew they were big. You knew they were evil. From the union-busting actions of their minions in Wisconsin and Ohio to their war on health-care reform, to their assault on the environment and their attacks on the science of climatology, Charles and David Koch have earned their place as the focus of progressives’ scrutiny in the age of the Tea Party — the destructive and regressive movement they bankroll. But a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund shows that, as bad as you thought the Kochs were, they’re actually worse. And their reach into virtually every aspect of political, economic and physical life on the planet is probably greater than you thought possible.
In The Koch Brothers: What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right, author Tony Carrk, policy director of the CAP Action War Room, lays out a case that is breathtaking in its scope, showing how the Koch brothers are using their billions with the aim of reshaping the global economic system in such a way as to enrich themselves and their heirs at the expense of most other inhabitants of the planet.
While much of the report will have a familiar ring (especially to readers of AlterNet, and CAP Action’s own ThinkProgress), The Koch Brothers also addresses elements of the Koch agenda far beyond the well-trodden turf of Americans for Prosperity’sorganizing against health-care reform or the pollution rap against Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States, which the billionaire brothers command.
The Kochs and the Global Economy
Consider, for instance, the Kochs’ role in the financial business. You thought Koch Industries was just a high-polluting oil-and-gas-based conglomerate? Add in the part played on Wall Street by Koch Supply & Trading, and the depth of the Koch imprint on the economy is revealed. From Carrk’s report:
First, the Koch brothers fought efforts to give the Commodity Futures Trading Commission more oversight over speculative trading, whereby companies can artificially inflate prices on things such as oil, during the Wall Street reform debate. One of the Koch companies—Koch Supply & Trading—takes part in oil and derivatives trading. We should point out that oil speculation has reached an all-time high at the same time gas prices continue to skyrocket.
Then look at a recent position pushed by Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-allied astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch (and whose sibling organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, he chairs):
Similarly, Americans for Prosperity supports the House continuing resolution that cuts spending by $61 billion. Those cuts would reduce the budget for the CFTC by one-third. Make no mistake: Gutting the CFTC or limiting its authority would be a boon to Wall Street businesses that use complex financial instruments. But while the result is more profits for oil companies, it means everyone else pays more at the pump.
Okay, now have a look at the Kochs’ recent direct contributions to political candidates:
The Kochs donated directly to 62 of the 87 members of the House GOP freshman class…and to 12 of the new members of the U.S. Senate.
No wonder, then, how that continuing resolution — the means for funding the government when a budget has not been passed into law — managed to get through the House. (It was subsequently rejected by the Senate, setting the stage for a possible shutdown of the government at the end of this week.) Those 62 Koch-backed freshmen are essentially driving the agenda of the House Republicans, because together they form a large enough bloc to prevent House Speaker John Boehner from amassing a majority on any piece of legislation, should they choose to, despite the 2010 Republican victories that handed control of the House to the GOP.
It should be noted that such “complex financial instruments” as those mentioned above had much to do with the 2008 Bush crash of Wall Street. The report reminds us that “from September 2007 to May 2009, American 401(k) and individual retirement accounts lost a total of $2.7 trillion.” But if the Kochs had their way, Social Security would no longer be financed by the federal government, and would instead be invested on Wall Street — a boon for financiers such as they. Too bad if your account takes a hit that lands you on the curb.
And while we think of Wall Street as an American institution, when Wall Street sneezes, the world gets a cold. The Bush crash set in motion a global recession. Less oversight of the financial shenanigans known as derivatives (or “complex financial instruments”) all but guarantees further crashes.
The Brothers Koch and the Body Politic
If you read the whole of the CAP Action report, you’ll see how the Koch influence on the nation’s politics is compounded and leveraged through a combination of the brothers’ direct contributions to candidates, their investment in astroturf groups such asAmericans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks (which do political organizing), and their funding of right-wing think tanks, which send policy position papers daily to the in-boxes of senators, representatives and their aides. Carrk identified some 85 right-leaning think tanks that received a collective $85 million from the Kochs over the course of the last 15 years. These include the Cato Institute, of which David Koch was a founder, and other well-known outfits, such as the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.
But that’s not all:
Charles and David Koch and their company, Koch Industries, do not limit their political donations to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups. They also donate millions directly to candidates. Since 1990, the Koch network has donated $11 million to federal candidates, $9.8 million, or 89 percent, of which went to Republicans.
In Congress, the donations are well-targeted. Take, for example, the House Commerce and Energy Committee, whose imprint on legislation has a direct effect on Koch Industries’ core businesses. (Koch’s Flint Hill Resources, LLC, according to the report, “has a combined crude oil processing capacity of more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day.”) From the report:
The Kochs have contributed significantly to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In fact, they are the single-largest oil and gas donor to members of the committee, contributing $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans and $32,000 to five Democrats. Tim Phillips, the head of Americans for Prosperity, even co-authored an op-ed with chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), detailing how Congress could stop the EPA from ensuring a cleaner environment.
At the state level, the Koch influence is every bit as corrosive as it is at the national level, Carrk tells us.
The Koch network donated $1.2 million to help elect conservative Republican governors last year, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, both of whom are trying to take away collective bargaining rights. During the fight in Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity ran an ad and orchestrated protests to support Gov. Walker’s union busting and orchestrated pro-Walker demonstrations. Americans for Prosperity also started a Web site urging people to “Stand with Governor Kasich.”
And that’s not even counting the money the brothers donate to candidates for state legislatures, or to support ballot measures designed to enrich them and their heirs. Carrk reports:
Data from the National Institute for Money in State Politics show that from 2003 to 2010, the Koch brothers, as well as their companies, employees, and affiliates, have donated $5.2 million to state candidates and ballot measures in 34 states. $3.4 million of those donations, or 65 percent, went to Republican candidates. Another $1 million, or 20 percent, went to one ballot initiative: the effort to overturn California’s clean energy law, AB 32.
Heck, as AlterNet reported, Americans for Prosperity was celebrating Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin, back when he was a mere county commissioner. In 2008, Walker served as the emcee for a ceremony by the Wisconsin chapter of the AFP Foundation — at which the organization’s “Defender of the American Dream” award was conferred upon Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who now chairs the House Budget Committee. Ryan this week proposed a budget plan for 2012 that would privatize Medicare and slash Medicaid.
Much, Much More
In addition to a narrative on the duo’s activities in the political sphere, The Koch Brothers: What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right serves up a bevy of lists and graphics that offer a range of facts and figures in an easy-to-grok form. There’s a list of all the freshman congressional representatives who have received Koch campaign dollars, and the dollar amounts they received. Those 85 Koch-funded think tanks are listed, with total-donations-per-tank noted next to their names. A map of the U.S. shows the states in which Koch Industries has facilities (nearly all 50). Another highlights the 32 states in which Americans for Prosperity has a state chapter.
There’s also a comprehensive listing of all the Koch Industries subsidiaries and what they make or sell, as well as a detailed section on the pollution and environmental infractions for which the conglomerate is responsible.
If you’re one of those people who like to be scared out of your wits, you’ll find the CAP Action report better than Wes Craven’s latest offering. Just consider this:
The significant victories the billionaire Koch brothers chalked up for their ideological and business interests in the 2010 elections is only a precursor of what is to come. The Koch brothers have already pledged to raise $88 million through their considerable network for policy and political projects for the 2012 election cycle.
The report can be downloaded here (PDF), for free.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s Washington bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter: © 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.