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Chat with Koch Bros Biographer, the Koch-Kansas Crisis & the IRS’ Duty

1:59 pm in Uncategorized by Connor Gibson

In case you missed yesterday’s chat with Daniel Schulman, author of Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty, check out the question and answer archive from two hours of engaging with FireDogLake Book Salon users.

Some concluding thoughts on my part, as someone who has closely followed the Kochtopus for the last four years and often ends out tangling with some of its primary tentacles. As I wrote in the intro to yesterday’s Book Salon, Schulman’s tone in promoting his book has surprised many for its middle-of-the-road feel:

Schulman’s tomb of ‘Kochology‘ has been received with surprise for its non-condemning tone. [...] On the surface Schulman’s descriptions are unexpectedly favorable to Koch in the eyes of, say, this Greenpeace researcher.

A bit more on this. One thing I learned yesterday is that Schulman recently placed four questions he’d like to ask Charles and David Koch into the Columbia Journalism Review. Those four questions are the type of critical inquiry that I expected to hear from someone who just devoted a chunk of their life to studying the Koch family in extreme detail (without being part of their circle). Schulman looks for answers on some key contradictions in KochWorld relating to their denial of climate change science, their selective emphasis on “liberty” (liberty for whom?), and Charles Koch’s preference for an almost non-existent government, keeping in mind his company has repeatedly violated the law (and his nonprofit personnel, like Sean Noble of American Encore).

I’ll admit that after watching Mr. Schulman on The Daily Show, Reason TV, Huffington Post live and other forums where he seemed to dismiss the notion that the Kochs often act in their own self interest, the questions on CJR are the type of journalism I’d prefer to see as a major critic and skeptic of the Koch brothers and their motives (Note that what Schulman really says is the Kochs are “true believers” whose ideology comes first, sometimes overlapping with Koch Industries profits to be sure…but this nuance seems to get lost in the noise).

But I think unlike many hardcore Koch-critics, perhaps because of my own ideology rooted in Greenpeace’s core foundation in nonviolence, I didn’t feel particularly confused or conflicted over the real empathy one feels when reading about the various personal tragedies of the Kochs, keeping in mind their secure root in a privileged upbringing, harsh as that upbringing sounds.

If you have yet to read Sons of Wichita, Schulman’s extensive research conveys a surprising feel: a chronic, underlying heartache felt by Koch brothers Charles, David and Bill alike amid decades of sibling lawsuit warfare over the fortune of the company their father built. Money aside, anyone capable of empathy and compassion feels a familiar inner tug when reading these passages of how clearly hurt each of the three brothers were as they traded blows.

But the Kochs’ own compassion has widely corroborated limits. Their business-funded political activities seem to consistently crush society from the middle class down and violate their self-stated ideologies. This indicates that Charles Koch’s rhetoric of “liberty” and “prosperity” is either dishonest, or indicative of the type of ignorance that only the out of touch, hyper wealthy could hold. Lest we forget that while Koch Industries now employs more people globally, Koch’s US employment just fell by 20,000 while the two brothers made an estimated $48 billion.

If Schulman’s research of the Koch brothers’ upbringing explains some of their psychology, it doesn’t excuse the decisions they have made as grown men that adversely impact their fellow country-people. Making a billion while funding groups that demonize those on the financial margins as lazy and unproductive members of society is dishonest and malicious.

The Kochs’ home state of Kansas is a perfect contemporary case study, where numerous tentacles of the “Kochtopus” succeeded in pushing an income tax cut that has tanked the state’s revenue, increased poverty rates and led to a Moody’s downgrade of Kansas’ debt. Governor Sam Brownback is directly supported by Koch Industries and its billionaire owners, and backed by Koch-funded groups coordinated through the State Policy Network (SPN), a network of national and state-level organizations operating across all 50 states. SPN includes groups like the Kansas Policy Institute–a supporter of Brownback’s tax cut disaster, and national affiliate groups controlled or financed by the Kochs, like Americans For Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Through ALEC its affiliates in the State Policy Network, Art Laffer pushed what New York Times contributing economist Paul Krugman called an “embarrassingly bad” plan ratcheting down corporate income taxes used by Gov Sam Brownback, who is now facing mass backlash from his own party.
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WATCH: Confrontation of Climate Deniers at Heartland Institute fake-fest!

11:14 am in Uncategorized by Connor Gibson

Crossposted from PolluterWatch.

Yesterday, the Heritage Foundation hosted The Heartland Institute’s CEO Joseph Bast, along with two of Heartland’s contracted climate denial scientists (Willie Soon and Bob Carter), to present their new report that denies the seriousness of global warming. Greenpeace was there to ask Heartland about the report’s funders, including billionaire Barre Seid, and to challenge Heartland’s assertion that their work has any scientific validity (it doesn’t). See the video for yourself.

Heartland Institute CEO Joseph Bast, as illustrated in Greenpeace’s report on climate change denial, “Dealing In Doubt.” Click to read.

Heartland’s “Climate Change Reconsidered,” written by the usual climate denier suspects under the guise of the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” (NIPCC) is intended to undermine new scientific findings from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Despite what Joe Bast and Heartland communications director Jim Lakely claim, their false report is not peer-reviewed, a formal process conducted by editors at actual scientific journals have other qualified scientists rigorously review and critique submitted work if it is to be approved for publication.

You’ll notice that Heartland’s climate denial report isn’t being published in any scientific journals, but rather from Heartland itself. This is because the document is a public relations tool intended to keep politicians and the public doubting that global warming is worth addressing.

While Heartland continues politicizing science, demonizing credible scientists and using tobacco industry tactics to forge doubt over global warming, Americans are feeling the real toll climate change is already taking on society, by increasing the severity of storms like hurricane Sandy or pushing droughts, wildfires and heatwaves to new extremes.

Heartland doesn’t care, or even recognize, that global warming is already costing the global economy $1.2 trillion dollars and contributing to 400,000 deaths each year. They don’t care that billion-dollar weathers disasters, intensified by climate change, are on the rise and impacting the U.S. economy and our infrastructure. Nor do they accept repeated research indicating the overwhelming consensus among credential climate scientists that human fossil fuel use is the primary driver of unnatural global warming–in fact Heartland’s staff have repeatedly lied to cast doubt upon that research.

State Policy Network, an umbrella coordinating ALEC, Heritage, Heartland and others

11:54 am in Uncategorized by Connor Gibson

Fresh today from the Center for Media and Democracy: A Reporters’ Guide to the State Policy Network.

Close up of George Washington on money

The State Policy Network is yet another tool for Koch-based corporate influence on American state politics.

What is the State Policy Network, aka SPN? According to CMD’s report on PR Watch:

SPN officially launched in 1992 with 12 members and money from South Carolina billionaire Thomas Roe to franchise, fund, and foster a growing number of in-state “mini Heritage Foundations” (with the influence of the DC-based Heritage Foundation that Roe helped underwrite). Today, SPN has 59 member think-tank groups, and a presence in every state capitol in the nation. Some of these — like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Arizona’s Goldwater Institute — have growing notoriety, but many others, despite their influence, are barely known by those other than state capitol insiders.

Its purpose? To produce reports, create statistics, draft talking points and “expert” testimony in support of bills, and disseminate videos along with a raft of other materials to advance a right-wing legislative agenda in the states, under the guise of being a nonpartisan, nonprofit charitable organization full of neutral scholars and academics.

But these are not academics in an ivory tower. These think tanks actually write legislation; they write materials to support their legislation; and they work closely with legislators and sometimes throw their voice through legislative talking points. They also often take to the airwaves and the Internet to give purportedly objective analysis. Their legislative agenda, often ratified via ALEC, is frequently adopted as law by states controlled by ALEC majorities — often with little or no disclosure of their role in the process.

CMD, which brings us PR Watch, SourceWatch and ALECExposed among other online transparency and advocacy tools, spent three months digging into the State Policy Network and its state-level member think tanks and national allies alike. These SPN members and affiliates range from the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) down to Chicago Illinois’ Heartland Institute and North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation.

Through State Policy Network, these seemingly disparate entities coordinate their current attacks on unions, clean energy policies, and numerous other issues that are ultimately funded by a small group of American billionaires, millionaires and multinational corporations.

Aside from the dirty legacies of visionaries like Thomas Roe, Paul Weyrich and Joseph Coors, who founded the Heritage Foundation, SPN and other crucial cogs in the Conservative Hate Machine, we’re talking about the Koch brothers, Art Pope, Phil Anschutz, the Bradleys, the Scaifes, and the other usual suspects who have far too much money invested in manipulating our democracy to serve their narrow financial ambitions.

That’s how it seems anyway, when you’re not a multi-millionaire and don’t have the excess cash to force state politics that work for you. And that’s precisely why the State Policy Network’s mission is bad for the majority of Americans.

I recommend popping over to Lee Fang’s article on SPN in the Nation, and PR Watch‘s actual report, now the best resource on the shadowy State Policy Network.

For more on this fascinating but disturbing history, check out the Lewis Powell Memo, Lewis Lapham’s “Tentacles of Rage” article in Harpers, and the history of SPN on SourceWatch, apparently dating back to a suggestion from President Ronald Reagan.

Connor Gibson does research for Greenpeace USA. Personal opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.

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