Koch Brothers’ very bad week

Adele M. Stan writes: Were there a way for a few billion clams to wipe a week off the calendar, one imagines that Charles and David Koch, the multibillionaire principals of Koch Industries, would like to see the final week of March 2012 vaporized, at least in the public mind. For the Kochs, it was a week of bad news: a new documentary about their political activity and corporate negligence was making a splash — on the same day a story broke announcing an FBI investigation of two Wisconsin groups tied to Americans for Prosperity, the political ground organization they founded and fund. (Full disclosure: AlterNet is a supporter of the documentary, Koch Brothers Exposed, and I appear in the film.)

Things got even worse the next day, Friday, March 30, when the billionaire brothers learned that a federal court handed down a decision that may ultimately require certain non-profit groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, to reveal their full donor list, and the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who wrote a devastating profile of the brothers last year, reported on the Kochs’ involvement in a barrage of anti-Obama ads sponsored by a tax-exempt non-profit called the American Energy Alliance, which may also now be required to reveal its donor list.

On the very same day, another federal court struck down portions of Wisconsin’s controversial law that stripped collective bargaining rights from most of the state’s public employees — a law championed by Americans for Prosperity, and rammed through the state legislature a year ago by the AFP-supported Gov. Scott Walker. Here, we take a closer look at the Kochs’ very bad week. [Continue reading...]

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Video: The Koch Brothers

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The Tea Party’s ‘utopian market populism’

Jefferson Morley writes: In his new book, “Pity the Billionaire,” Tom Frank turns his mordant eye on the unlikeliest political development of the Obama presidency: how the crash of 2008 served to strengthen the political right. The deregulation of Wall Street, championed for 30 years by right-wing leaders, had led to an economic catastrophe so frightening that the country elected a liberal Democrat to the presidency. Yet two years later, the most conservative faction of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, had taken effective control of the House of Representatives, the regulation of Wall Street had stalled, and the champions of economic deregulation in Washington had emerged stronger than ever.

Frank, author of the bestselling book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” provides a pithy and nuanced explanation of what he calls the “hard-times swindle.” He spoke with Salon from his father’s home in Kansas City, Mo.

Early in the book, you describe the moment in the spring of 2009 when free-market economics had been so thoroughly discredited that Newsweek could run a cover story proclaiming, “We’re all socialists now.” What happened? Why did that moment dissipate?

I saw that cover so many times [at Tea Party events]. For these people, that rang the alarm bell. I think the AIG moment [when the bailed-out insurance behemoth used taxpayer relief to dole out huge bonuses to its executives] was in some ways the high point of the crisis, when [the politics] could have gone either way. There was this amazing public outrage, and that for me was the turning point. Newsweek had another cover, “Thinking Man’s Guide to Populism,” and I remember this feeling around the country, that people were just furious. Somehow the right captured the sense of anger. They completely captured it. You could say they had no right to it, but they did. And one of the reasons they were able to do it was because the liberals were not interested in that anger.

I’m speaking here of the liberal culture in Washington, D.C. There was no Occupy Wall Street movement [at that time] and there was only people like me on the fringes talking about it. The liberals had their leader in Barack Obama … they had their various people in Congress. But these people are completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it. I like Barack Obama, but at the end of the day he’s a very professorial kind of guy. The liberals totally missed the opportunity, and the right was able to grab it.

Looking back on it, I feel like people like myself were part of the problem. We sort of assumed with the Democrats in power, the system would correct itself.

One of the problems with liberalism in this country is that it’s headquartered in Washington and its leaders are a very comfortable class of people. Washington is one of the richest cities in the country, maybe the richest. It’s not a place that feels the crisis, that feels the economic downturn. By and large, the real estate market stayed OK. The city continued to boom. The contracts continued to flow. What we’re talking about here is the failure of modern liberalism. At one time it was a movement of working-class people. The idea that liberals wouldn’t feel economic pain was ridiculous. That’s who liberals were. No more. [Continue reading...]

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People & Power – The Koch Brothers

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Robert Gates sees American political scene as dysfunctional and dangerous

The Washington Post reports:

Add former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to the list of retired top officials who see the current American political scene as dysfunctional and dangerous.

“As a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government, much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country,” Gates said last week at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia where he received that group’s Liberty Medal.

He cited two causes worth considering.

The first was redistricting of congressional seats which, he said, created safe Republican and Democratic seats but led to party primaries “where candidates must cater to the most hard-core ideological elements of their base.” He wondered how this could be changed to “ensure that more candidates for Congress are forced to appeal to independents, centrists, and at least some members of the other political party to win election, just as presidential candidates must do?”

He also cited the role of an evolving news media. He looked longingly to decades past when three television networks and a handful of major newspapers dominated national coverage and “to a considerable degree, filtered extreme or vitriolic points of view.”

Today, he said, “hundreds of cable channels, blogs and other electronic media” have given wide dissemination to “every point of view, including the most extreme.” The result, according to Gates, though more democratic, “has fueled the coarsening and, I believe, the dumbing down of the national political dialogue.”

He described these two trends, along with some other factors, as polarizing the country at a time when the need is for “more bipartisanship, and more compromise to deal with our most serious problems.”

Citing his time working for eight presidents of both parties over more than 40 years, Gates said, none “had a monopoly on revealed truth.”

And without naming any of today’s leaders or presidential candidates, he warned: “Those who think that they alone have the right answers, those who demonize those who think differently, and those who refuse to listen and take other points of view into account—these leaders, in my view, are a danger to the American people and to the future of our republic.”

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The 2012 contest to show who loves Israel the most

Daniel Levy writes:

[I]t is in the realm of background noise, more than votes or dollars, that Israel really features as a campaign issue. John Heilemann, in an excellent New York Magazine piece, puts it like this: “the outsize attention they command and the ear-splitting volume of the collective megaphone they (Jews) wield.” Having to deal with relentless calls, op-eds, congressional resolutions and meeting requests (a monumental waste of administration and campaign time) is probably what seals the deal for kicking the Israel issue into the long grass by kissing the ring (or maybe the tuchus, in this case).

While the way in which Israel plays out as an issue with American Jews will not move the dial on next year’s elections, it will have other effects – not least on US policy and interests vis à vis Israel, the region and beyond. On the Republican side, Israel will be the center piece of a narrative that seeks to portray the president’s foreign policy as being too forgiving towards adversaries (with Iran topping the list) and too harsh with allies (see Israel). This is clearly not lined up to be a foreign policy election, and a Bin Laden-slaying incumbent is less easily portrayed as being soft on terror. But to divide the world beyond America’s shores between Judeo-Christian forces of light and Muslim forces of darkness nicely dovetails with a growing (and ugly) theme in domestic politics – sharia law care-mongering. It also still acts as a dog-whistle for the “Obama is a secret Muslim” crew.

Of greater significance for America’s future is how the Israel issue, especially if spun as electorally useful, can help bind neoconservatism to Tea Party-oriented Republicanism. A small-government, no-tax and debt-obsessed Tea Party agenda is an unnatural match for the war-mongering and global domination fantasies of neoconservatives. These trends have clashed already – for instance, with regard to America’s continued role in Afghanistan or its involvement in Libya. If Israel is to be kept far away from this equation and the neoconservatives are to maintain their iron grip on Republican foreign policy, then it is terribly convenient to spread the idea that Israel not only plays well in the bible belt, but that it can also help win the borscht belt. The almost total disappearance of realist or internationalist Rockefeller Republicanism from the party’s foreign policy arena (think GHW Bush, Scowcroft, Baker, and later, Hagel, Powell, and Chaffee) has made Republican and Likud policies indistinguishable.

That is a problem not only for Democrats, but also for America. It used to be claimed that Israel was a cause above partisan politics. Any such notion is utter nonsense today. If one assumes that: (a) Democrat-leaning Jews do largely care about Israel but not from a fundamentalist or hawkish perspective; and (b) that leading Democratic politicians tend to be in the same boat (both reasonable hypotheses); then Democrats have two possible options in responding to this new political reality. They can either make the argument for a different kind of pro-Israel policy or be playing permanent catch-up with the Republican/Likud right. Leading Jewish public intellectuals have been making the case for the former approach, a new movement (J Street) generated momentum for that option, and in a seminal essay, Peter Beinart provided a strong theoretical underpinning for the idea that this made for both good policy and good politics, given Jewish generational attitude shifts. President Obama and some leading figures in his administration initially seemed to concur – that being serious and responsible towards Israeli and American interests meant pushing for a two-state solution immediately, and standing against obstacles to that outcome such as settlements.

But through a combination of insufficient attention to detail, insufficient courage when the going got tough and insufficient coherence inside the administration, the latter approach eventually won out. Administration policy has increasingly become “we’re as pro-Israel as the Republicans and they can define pro-Israel as whatever they like.”

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Pastor Beck preaches in Jerusalem

The Guardian reports:

The temperature may have dropped a little in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, but it was more than compensated for by the heat produced by Glenn Beck as he brought his “Restoring Courage” rally to the Old City.

The former Fox News presenter and devout Mormon stood at a podium beneath the gunmetal grey of the dome of the al-Aqsa mosque to direct a tirade of invective at governments, human rights organisations, the United Nations, Europe and Arab states – and sometimes just “them”, whoever they are.

Despite a strangely subdued start, the rightwing polemicist finally roused his audience to whoops and cheers after a strangely subdued initial response with his trademark preacher’s inflection. But all the while, the distant noise of anti-Beck protests provided a backdrop to a 90-minute programme of declamation, music and presentations.

Dressed as though attending a funeral, Beck stood in sharp contrast to the casual attire of his overwhelmingly white American Christian audience, many of whose baseball caps and T-shirts denoted their state of origin, their church or their adherence to the US Tea Party movement.

But the surprising number of empty seats belied the organisers’ claims that demand for tickets had outstripped availability at the 2,000-capacity Davidson Centre.

Ami Kaufman writes:

After months of preparations, hours of television and radio talk all geared up for the big day, tons of merchandise manufactured, Glenn Beck could just about muster over a thousand people at his “Restoring Courage” last night in Jerusalem.

I can’t help but think that this flop might be a lethal blow for this guy. After getting kicked out of FOX and then his decision to veer even farther to the right by partnering up with the likes of Pastor John Hagee, Beck seems to have lost any chance whatsoever to get back into mainstream America like he was just months ago.

Even the event a few days earlier in Caesarea had more umph in it than this one. In fact, he barely even cried in this one. I think he might have been shedding the real tears back stage.

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The disturbing copy-and-paste habits of Arizona’s far-right state Senate president

Jeff Biggers reports:

As President Obama and congressional leaders wrangled over the debt ceiling last Saturday evening, Russell Pearce, Arizona’s controversial state Senate president, turned to Facebook to express his own personal outrage.

“Folks,” he wrote, “if there was ever an argument for NO to raising the debt limit and YES to stop the reckless socialist spending in this Gangster Government in DC. Watch this video.”

The video showed an “Elaborate Welfare Housing Project” built for “illegal immigrants” and funded through alleged “refugee pay.”

Just one problem: The five-month-old viral video — which was created by a far-right gadfly from Tacoma, Wash. — had already been thoroughly debunked by the Tacoma News Tribune. By Sunday morning, Pearce had deleted the post from his Facebook site.

But this was hardly the first time that Pearce, whose ultraconservative immigration views have won him national attention and who will face a historic recall election in his Arizona district on Nov. 8, associates himself with the work of a fringe character.

For several years, media outlets in Arizona and at the national level have explored links between Pearce and extremist groups, and in 2006 he was caught circulating a Holocaust-denying article from a West Virginia-based white supremacist group. In issuing an apology, Pearce claimed to not have known about the National Alliance’s views.

But a new examination of Pearce’s website and public statements reveals that the self-proclaimed architect of Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law has regularly borrowed significant portions of text from the writings of hard-line white nationalists, fringe anti-immigrant activists, and others whose views far fall outside the mainstream and presented them as his own.

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Koch brother buys professors at public university to spread free market propaganda — is public education the Kochs’ next front?

Sarah Seltzer writes:

Usually, when billionaires or millionaires give a large sum of money to a university, even a private one, they can specify where that gift will go — which department or function, facilities, new hires, dorms, or what have you. And it’s no secret that some of those big donations may lead to a little bit of wink-and-nudge affirmative action when it comes time for the little billionaires Jr. to apply to college.

But what these monied donors cannot do, what remains taboo in the academic world, is leverage that kind of gift to influence who gets hired and fired by the faculty and what they teach–until now, thanks to Charles G. Koch.

A recent op-ed in a Florida newspaper brought to light a shady deal by billionaire Koch, one of the Koch brothers, who donated a hefty million-dollar plus pledge to Florida State University, with some very big and ethically compromised strings attached.

According to the St. Petersburg Times‘ Kris Hundley’s thorough report:

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”

Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.

Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.

Again, to be clear, such conditional donations have been rejected by universities in the past, even when they were not political in nature.

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Wall Street tames Washington

Jim Hightower writes:

They came, they saw, they conquered. This line pretty well sums up a little-reported but important story about the new tea partiers in the U.S. House of Representatives.

No sooner had they arrived than the corporate lobbying corps came to visit, saw what these supposed rebels were made of and quickly conquered them without a fight. The forces of big business needed only to lay out some campaign cash — and quicker than you can say, “Business as usual,” the budding lawmakers snatched up the money and immediately began carrying the lobbyists’ corporate agenda.

Check out the financial services subcommittee, which handles legislation affecting Wall Street bankers. Five tea partiers got coveted slots on this panel, and all five were suddenly showered with big donations from such financial lobbying interests as Goldman Sachs. Now, all five are sponsoring bills to undo parts of the recent reforms to reign in Wall Street excesses.

Steve Stivers of Ohio, for example, hauled in nearly $100,000 in just his first two months in office — 85 percent of it from the special interests his committee oversees. He insists that the cash he took from Goldman Sachs and others has nothing to do with his subsequent support of bills that Goldman is lobbying so strongly for. Stivers claims that his sole legislative focus is on jobs for Ohio’s 15th district.

Really? Among the deform-the-reform bills that Steve is carrying is one to let Wall Street giants avoid disclosing the difference in what the CEO is paid and what average employees make. Another would exempt billionaire private equity hucksters from regulation. I can see that these bills are great job extenders for the barons of Wall Street, but how do either of them create a single job in his district?

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Big brothers: thought control at Koch

In The Nation, Mark Ames and Mike Elk report:

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.”

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You thought the Koch brothers were bad? Turns out they’re even worse than you thought

Adele M. Stan writes:

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.

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Republicans who excused extremism in the name of victory have unleashed a monster

Christopher Hitchens writes:

It is often in the excuses and in the apologies that one finds the real offense. Looking back on the domestic political “surge” which the populist right has been celebrating since last month, I found myself most dispirited by the manner in which the more sophisticated conservatives attempted to conjure the nasty bits away.

Here, for example, was Ross Douthat, the voice of moderate conservatism on the New York Times op-ed page. He was replying to a number of critics who had pointed out that Glenn Beck, in his rallies and broadcasts, had been channeling the forgotten voice of the John Birch Society, megaphone of Strangelovian paranoia from the 1950s and 1960s. His soothing message:

These parallels are real. But there’s a crucial difference. The Birchers only had a crackpot message; they never had a mainstream one. The Tea Party marries fringe concerns (repeal the 17th Amendment!) to a timely, responsible-seeming message about spending and deficits.

The more one looks at this, the more wrong it becomes (as does that giveaway phrase “responsible-seeming”). The John Birch Society possessed such a mainstream message — the existence of a Communist world system with tentacles in the United States — that it had a potent influence over whole sections of the Republican Party. It managed this even after its leader and founder, Robert Welch, had denounced President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “dedicated, conscious agent” of that same Communist apparatus. Right up to the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, and despite the efforts of such conservatives as William F. Buckley Jr. to dislodge them, the Birchers were a feature of conservative politics well beyond the crackpot fringe.

Now, here is the difference. Glenn Beck has not even been encouraging his audiences to reread Robert Welch. No, he has been inciting them to read the work of W. Cleon Skousen, a man more insane and nasty than Welch and a figure so extreme that ultimately even the Birch-supporting leadership of the Mormon Church had to distance itself from him. It’s from Skousen’s demented screed The Five Thousand Year Leap (to a new edition of which Beck wrote a foreword, and which he shoved to the position of No. 1 on Amazon) that he takes all his fantasies about a divinely written Constitution, a conspiratorial secret government, and a future apocalypse. To give you a further idea of the man: Skousen’s posthumously published book on the “end times” and the coming day of rapture was charmingly called The Cleansing of America. A book of his with a less repulsive title, The Making of America, turned out to justify slavery and to refer to slave children as “pickaninnies.” And, writing at a time when the Mormon Church was under attack for denying full membership to black people, Skousen defended it from what he described as this “Communist” assault.

So, Beck’s “9/12 Project” is canalizing old racist and clerical toxic-waste material that a healthy society had mostly flushed out of its system more than a generation ago, and injecting it right back in again. Things that had hidden under stones are being dug up and re-released. And why? So as to teach us anew about the dangers of “spending and deficits”? It’s enough to make a cat laugh. No, a whole new audience has been created, including many impressionable young people, for ideas that are viciously anti-democratic and ahistorical. The full effect of this will be felt farther down the road, where we will need it even less.

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The Tea Party is tapping into legitimate grievances

Noam Chomsky writes:

The U.S. midterm elections register a level of anger, fear and disillusionment in the country like nothing I can recall in my lifetime. Since the Democrats are in power, they bear the brunt of the revulsion over our current socioeconomic and political situation.

More than half the “mainstream Americans” in a Rasmussen poll last month said they view the Tea Party movement favorably—a reflection of the spirit of disenchantment.

The grievances are legitimate. For more than 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the population have stagnated or declined while work hours and insecurity have increased, along with debt. Wealth has accumulated, but in very few pockets, leading to unprecedented inequality.

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Tea Party going to Israel

Ynet reports:

First they took Washington, now they’ll take Jerusalem? With victory in the congressional elections less than a day old, Florida Senator Marco Rubio (Rep.) who considers himself a ‘Tea Party’ member, is set to arrive in Israel on Sunday. Rubio’s visit so soon after the election win is a move that strengthens assessments that the congress in its current form will continue where it left off – at least where Israel is concerned.

The pro-Israeli AIPAC lobby applauded the election results, congratulated the winners and said: “It is abundantly clear that the 112th Congress will continue America’s long tradition of staunch support for a strong, safe and secure Israel and an abiding friendship between the United States and our most reliable ally in the Middle East.”

AIPAC expressed satisfaction over the fact that most pro-Israel senators were reelected and sent messages of congratulations to senators and congress members from both parties.

In a speech delivered to the Republican Jewish Coalition in June, soon after the Mavi Marmara flotilla massacre, Rubio said:

If Israel’s right to self-defense is undermined by efforts to lift its legal and necessary blockade of Gaza, which serves to stop Hamas from arming itself with deadly weapons, there will be lasting consequences, not just for Israel but also for the United States and ultimately for the world.

Israel’s enemies are — or will soon be — America’s enemies as well. They are emboldened any time they sense any sort of daylight between the United States and Israel. And now more than any other time, it is important that America has a firm and clear relationship with Israel.

In late August, Rubio said on Fox News (as he has said repeatedly) that Israel is America’s “best friend in the world.”

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