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Koch Brothers: We’re Victims

1:22 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

Caricature of David Koch

David Koch (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr)

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s griping that 47% of the country is mooching off rich folks like him, Charles and David Koch are now suggesting that they, too, are victims.

The billionaire Koch brothers and their aptly-named political strategist Rich Fink spoke publicly about the family’s agenda in the The Wichita Eagle this weekend. They insist that they’re the ones under attack in America. Sure, the Kochs have $62 billion and seven homes. And yes, their combined wealth has just about doubled under Obama. And there are now reports of intimidation at Koch Industries for employees who dare speak out against the brothers’ politics.

No matter: the world is lined up against these unfortunate souls. The corruption and machinations detailed in our film Koch Brothers Exposed are, apparently, child’s play compared to the nerve-wracking obstacles these guys face.

What obstacles?

Here’s Charles Koch, lamenting that Obama consultant David Axelrod called out the brothers’ massive investment in policies that promote themselves:

When you have Axelrod, one of [Obama's] top campaign officials, saying we are contract killers—I mean, I don’t know how somebody in the administration can say that about a private citizen. It’s frightening because you don’t know what they’re going to do. They have tremendous power. They can destroy just about anybody, whether you are totally innocent or not.

And here’s David Koch:

[Obama's] criticism can stimulate a lot of anger and dislike toward us. So there’s a huge security concern.

And Fink:

We’re just besieged day and night with attacks and the more visible we are, and the more we’ve done, the more attacks we get.

Not that he expected anything less; he had warned the brothers from the outset that if they became major political players, “You guys will possibly risk the businesses that you have built and your family legacy, and there’s going to be a lot of fallback [sic] from this.”

Yes, the Kochs have so risked their livelihoods that their wealth has ballooned by tens of billions of dollars in the last couple of years.

Indeed, Fink goes so far as to say the the brothers are “just like the…American revolutionaries” in that they believe they need to “stand up and fight to save the country.” “Otherwise,” he says, “we have lost it.”

Not that America should be the Kochs’ to lose. Although they have thrown around truly massive sums to influence this election, the power in a democracy is supposed to reside in organized people, not organized money. The fact that the Kochs are able to wield such outsized influence is itself a reflection of how far this nation has strayed from its founding ideal of equal opportunity. The case we make in Koch Brothers Exposed is that Americans need to organize, organize, and organize some more to bring that ideal back.

Even if it hurts the Koch brothers’ feelings.

Correction: Originally, this post incorrectly attributed the Koch and Fink quotations to the Kansas City Star. The story actually appeared in The Wichita Eagle. This post has been updated accordingly.

Voters Beware: Koch Brothers are Billion-Dollar Hypocrites

2:07 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

The Koch brothers have surprised many of us with a newfound penchant for the public spotlight, yet one can’t help but wonder whether it’s all just a public relations effort to soften the perception of their political machinations. Perhaps in an ongoing effort to appear less…evil?…the Koch brothers have just given us two statements of staggering hypocrisy.

Caricature of David Koch

David Koch (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr)

Charles Koch, a poster boy for crony capitalism, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday entitled “Corporate Cronyism Harms America.” The piece contains the following sentence, among many other doozies: “To end cronyism we must end government’s ability to dole out favors and rig the market.” Um, a Koch brother is saying government needs to stop rigging the rules of the game for powerful corporations? A billionaire industrialist whose network is spending $400 million in this election and who has used his influence to weaken environmental regulations, Social Security, and voting rights? If you don’t already get the absurdity, my film Koch Brothers Exposed has the goods.

David Koch, however, has a hypocrisy that needs some unpacking. For his part, he is the latest to pretend to be for gay marriage. I say “pretend” because even though he has told a reporter that he disagrees with Republicans on the issue, he is, in practice, doing what he’s always done: supporting politicians and groups that have worked to stymie gay rights at every turn.

Take, for instance, the donations that David and Charles have given to anti-gay politicians. In 2006 and 2012, they donated nearly $20,000 to Rick Santorum, the archetypal culture warrior of the Right. Recently they’ve given large amounts to Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, George Allen, Orrin Hatch, Jim DeMint, and even Michelle Bachmann — a who’s who in the pantheon of anti-gay officials. In bankrolling the Right, the Kochs are supporting politicians fighting to prevent gay equality from being reflected in the law.

Such support extends to anti-gay organizations. The Koch brothers gave $4.5 million to the anti-gay Heritage Foundation between 1997 and 2010. This is a group that once backed out of participating in the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in part because LGBT Republicans were co-sponsoring it. Heritage has also opposed minimal legal protections for LGBT individuals from discrimination or violence on the grounds that these are just slippery slopes toward marriage equality. One Distinguished Fellow at Heritage wrote that conservatives who would “appease” gays and lesbians by allowing them the freedom to enter into contracts such as civil unions and domestic partnerships are the “Neville Chamberlains of the cultural wars.”

Why would David Koch support such politicians and organizations if he’s for gay rights? Because what he and his brother really want out of political giving are personal enrichment and power in the long run. In a Politico interview, Koch responded to a question about money in politics by saying, “Well, it’s a free society. And people can invest what they want.”

Yes, to the Kochs, political donations are an investment. They can try to pinkwash their record by claiming to be for gay rights or (wow) all about eliminating crony capitalism. But the reality is that they’re perfectly fine with propping up those who are stepping on the LGBT community and bending politicians to their will. The Kochs just need to know they’ll get a good return on their investment down the road.

Meet the industry that makes the Koch brothers look poor (VIDEO)

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

When will the United States start thinking beyond bars?

This nation is now spending over $200 billion a year on a justice system that locks up more people than any country on earth. We have more prisoners than China. More than Russia. More than anyone. This colossal system is hitting our communities with staggering financial and human costs — gobbling resources that should be going to strengthening communities.

That’s why we’re teaming up with a slew of great organizations and launching a major new campaign at Brave New Foundation. The campaign is called Beyond Bars. It aims to change Americans’ thinking and inspire action through short videos and shareable graphics exposing the U.S. system of mass incarceration.

Our new video shows the prison system as the giant beast that it is. Watch it here:

This video was done in partnership with a host of groups, showing the widespread hunger to create a sense of public urgency around mass incarceration:

• ACLU

• United Methodist Church

• NAACP

• Justice Fellowship

• Drug Policy Alliance

• Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

• Families Against Mandatory Minimums

• Equal Justice Initiative

• Justice Policy Institute

• National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

• All of Us or None

• A New Way of Life

• Partnership for Safety & Justice

What these groups know is that rising incarceration has had devastating consequences. Not only has it left millions of children without fathers and burdened mostly nonviolent Americans with lifelong obstacles to employment and social integration — it has also busted state budgets with increasing costs while doing little to improve public safety. And that’s not even to mention the racial bias inherent in a system that ensnares people of color at a rate that’s vastly disproportionate to the number of crimes committed, with African American males bearing the brunt of the crackdown.

In short, the United States is paying top dollar for an incarceration system that’s unfair and doesn’t work.

Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to public safety. Policies involving crime prevention, rehabilitation, and job opportunity would let the United States save untoldbillions of dollars every year while making communities safer.

Take, for instance, the Fortune Society in New York, which gives people services like drug treatment, housing, and job training as an alternative to incarceration. Or Project HOPE in Hawaii, which gives people days in jail when they might otherwise be sentenced to years — and gets far better results. Or look across the Atlantic Ocean to the Portugal, which has had tremendous success decriminalizing drugs altogether.

No matter what paths are taken, something has to give in a nation that has 5% of the world’s population but about 25% of the world’s prisoners. The stale rhetoric of “tough on crime” rings hollow when study after study confirms that incarceration shouldn’t be the first resort to every problem. And now that budget crunches at the state and federal level are forcing difficult cuts, there’s a real opportunity for reforms that reduce the cost of the justice system.

The Beyond Bars campaign will be looking to seize this opportunity. Check out our content in the coming months and years as we make the case that another way is possible.

Does Romney Think the Pentagon Needs More Marching Bands, NASCAR Sponsorships?

8:59 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by John Amick

Recent commentators have rightly called out Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s obvious hypocrisy on cuts to Pentagon spending. This strikes us as a good time to step back and take a broader look at Pentagon spending, and deconstruct the spin coming from the Washington elites.

Historically, the United States has made cuts to the Pentagon budget once its major wars come to an end. It happened after the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War. And after a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now is the time to seriously consider significant cuts to a bloated, wasteful Pentagon spending machine. Yet those within the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex have been working hard to convince the American public that their perceived right to profit off of Pentagon spending is sacrosanct.

To fight the war profiteers, Brave New Foundation’s War Costs campaign is producing several investigative films that will expose the financial and human costs of an ongoing war mentality in the U.S. Currently, we are pleased to release a series of short videos that examine key players in the lobbying effort to keep Pentagon spending high. Our first two videos include Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The rhetoric about cuts to the Pentagon’s budget — which is five times larger than the next biggest defense spender, China, and about $100 billion more than then next ten nations combined — has been excessive and hardly anything but fearmongering. Panetta, defense industry darling Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and others call it “doomsday,” “catastrophic,” a hollowing of the force, akin to a “brigade without bullets.” Mitt Romney said these level of cuts “is like putting a gun to our head.”

What about fiscal responsibility, Mr. Romney? What about all the waste, like marching bands or NASCAR sponsorships or the $50 billion in cancelled weapons programs – caused by industry business practices – that contractors get to keep? The Romney-Ryan proposed budget adds more money to an already-massive Pentagon reserve. Worries of more recessionary pressure on the American economy are mounting — Pew now reports one in five Americans go without enough food in a time of record food stamp enrollment. Yet, the Romney ticket pledged this week to “retroactively” reverse any sequestration cuts to the Pentagon –- and push for the House budget that slashed funding for social programs, like food stamps -– all in an effort to protect profits for their war-profiteering friends.

And is sequestration a doomsday mechanism, as Panetta has claimed? Hardly.

In reality, sequestration cuts — $55 billion reduction in defense spending in FY 2013 — would return defense spending to 2006 levels, by all measures a healthy time for the Pentagon budget. This reduction in spending would mean the U.S. would still outspend the next ten top defense-spending nations combined by $45 billion.

Now is the time to urge your member of Congress, your friends, family and neighbors to call for substantial cuts to the Pentagon budget. The profiteering and waste must stop. Cuts have widespead support, regardless of party politics. It’s our money, and we have the power to demand accountability in how it’s used. These videos are the first in a series to explore these hysterical statements made by officials that want to keep the status quo. It’s time to expose the unnecessary items the Pentagon acquires that hardly make us safer or go to servicemembers. It’s wasteful, it’s harmful, and we must speak up.

Let us know what you want to see War Costs examine in our effort to stop out-of-control war spending. Go to WarCosts.com or visit us on Facebook for more.

The Koch Brothers Must Have LOVED Monopoly As Kids

2:27 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

The Koch brothers don’t just have a gazillion luxury homes and boats. They’ve been using their wealth to shut out the voices of the 99% — pledging to spend at least $100 million on the 2012 elections. The pro-corporate policies they favor are, of course, antithetical to the public interest. But the TV ads they’re airing so far in this election make it seem like they’re on the side of regular Americans. “Maybe your family is like most, struggling to make it by…The private sector is not doing fine,” says Americans for Prosperity, an organization the Kochs founded and fund. Watch the video:

Let’s forget for a moment that the expression is “get by” or “make ends meet,” not “make it by.” What the Kochs want is to use their vast fortune to influence the political beliefs of people with a millionth their net worth, getting the middle class to buy into the notion that what’s good for the rich is good for everyone. But if the financial crisis and recession have taught us anything, it’s that the interests of the extremely-well-to-do are not the same as those of the general public. Feeding the top doesn’t translate into food for the middle and bottom.

Do we really think the Kochs are chiefly concerned about working families making five figures rather than expanding their own wealth? To ask the question is to answer it.

Charles Koch + Roger Ailes = Ohio University?

1:37 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Why would the esteemed Ohio University host a talk by the likes of Roger Ailes? Maybe we should ask one of the talk’s patrons, Charles Koch.

Protesters with sign 'Things Go Better Without Koch'

Photo by Sue Peacock

Ailes, of Fox News fame, is giving his talk today. The guy who invited him says the point was to get “perhaps the most influential newsman in America” to spark a discussion about “free speech and the media,” particularly given OU’s “first-rate school of journalism.” But Roger Ailes isn’t a newsman and doesn’t do journalism. He does political advocacy that’s (very) thinly disguised as journalism. As Eric Boehlert of Media Matters says, “places of higher learning shouldn’t help perpetuate the Fox myth while turning a blind eye to the lasting damage Ailes’s enterprise is doing to journalism and to our national discourse.”

Might this act of selling out have something to do with the fact that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation serves as an underwriter of the George Washington Forum, which is the OU group hosting the speech? As detailed in my film Koch Brothers Exposed, Charles Koch is a billionaire industrialist and one of the leading financiers of the American Right. He is known to meddle in educational institutions, infamously attaching strings to university donations by insisting he be able to veto a school’s hiring decisions. Students and faculty at schools like Florida State University are fighting this corruption valiantly, but the encroachment on academic integrity and freedom remains a threat.

In the case of Ohio University, the full extent of Koch’s donations to the George Washington Forum isn’t known. But we do know that Koch specifically underwrote a talk the Forum hosted by John Yoo, author of the Bush torture memos (belying Charles and his brother David’s claims that their ideological activism is restricted to economic issues). We also know that through the Forum, the Charles Koch Foundation awards grants to students “interested in studying free market ideas” under an OU professor who researches conservative politics and economics. Students applying for the grant in the past have had to write an essay about a book by libertarian Henry Hazlitt. Is it just me, or does it look like Charles Koch is paying the university to spread his right-wing ideology?

Not that Koch is the only problem. Indeed, Ailes himself is a big donor to (and alum of) Ohio University. If an institution of higher learning is willing to take money from an anti-journalist like Ailes for its communications programs, it will inevitably spread his message to students, one way or another.

Today, as Ailes takes the mic at OU, those who believe in education should redouble our efforts to stop the slow erosion of academic integrity. This erosion is reflected in the influence wielded by wealthy ideologues like Charles Koch and his political bullhorn, Roger Ailes.

Time for Kochs to Resign from ALEC

1:28 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

Wisconsin protesters dressed as the Koch Brothers. Photo by Sue Peacock.

Charles and David Koch appear to be pushing their right-wing ideology to the bitter end. And it’s time for Americans to stop helping them.

The Koch brothers are major backers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that drafts “model legislation” for state legislators. The Kochs have given ALEC at least $1 million—not counting a $500,000 loan—and their company, Koch Industries, has been a select member of the group’s board for nearly two decades. ALEC has recently come under fire for advancing bills modeled on Florida’s now-infamous “Stand Your Ground” law, and it has long been criticized for writing legislation that would undermine public schools, immunize corporations that harm people’s health, and impose onerous voter ID restrictions on the young, the old, the poor, and minorities.

Corporations including Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Kraft, PepsiCo, Mars, and Intuit have all bailed on ALEC over the last two weeks, knowing that continuing to associate with the group would be toxic. This exodus is a testament to the strength of progressive groups like Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, which have been working to expose what ALEC does. But the Kochs are doubling down. Their government affairs chief Philip Ellender says progressives’ complaints about ALEC are intended “not only to intimidate, but to silence supporters of free-market principles.” Of course, ALEC is already largely silent in that it keeps its proceedings and model bills a secret—presumably because the corporations backing them want to have plausible deniability about their involvement.

Either way, the Kochs are staying put. That’s their right, but Americans have a right of their own: to boycott Koch products. Every dollar that we spend on goods made by Koch Industries is another dollar the brothers have at their disposal to support right-wing, corporate fronts like ALEC. The time has come for Americans to vote with their pocketbooks and stop supporting the Koch brothers’ agenda.

Everyone willing to participate in a boycott should sign this pledge form, which says we’ll stop buying what Koch sells until Koch withdraws its membership in ALEC. The more people go public, the more this initiative will snowball. And if enough Americans of conscience avoid the Kochs, it just might put a dent in their bottom line.

What products need to be avoided? Koch Industries makes myriad consumer goods, and there’s no space here to name them all. But the best place to start is their household paper products:

  • Toilet paper: Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, Soft ‘n’ Gentle
  • Towels, napkins, plates, cups: Brawny, Dixie, Sparkle, Mardi Gras, Vanity Fair, Zee

These brands—made largely by Georgia Pacific, a Koch subsidiary—are easily recognizable and avoidable. Anyone can bring this short list to the store and find another company to buy from.

Of course, ALEC is just one vehicle by which the Kochs are damaging American democracy; even if Koch Industries withdraws from it, we’ll still have a lot of work to do. But we have to start somewhere. Boycotting these products will allow Americans to take one important step toward reclaiming our democracy.

The point is that Americans have great power as consumers—a power that today is going largely untapped. If corporations engage in egregious behavior and politicians won’t stop them, we have to take matters into our own hands. There is no one who better symbolizes corporate greed than the Koch brothers, and those of us who envision a fairer, more ethical world can put our money elsewhere if we wish.

Top Ten Koch Facts

3:29 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

Everyone seems to be investigating Charles and David Koch lately, with exposés of their corrupt political behavior popping up in places like the New Yorker, AlterNet, ThinkProgress, and Brave New Foundation’s film Koch Brothers Exposed. Naturally, the billionaire brothers don’t like the attention, so they’re responding to it by smearing the activists and journalists. In their panic, they have now taken out Google ads attacking me and plastered an ominous image of my eyes on their website, like so:

They made me look like Emperor Palpatine. But who’s really representing the Dark Side here? The truth is that the billionaire brothers bankrolling the conservative movement are using their wealth in a way that should be terrifying to anyone who thinks democracy is about more than pulling a lever every two years and letting rich folks take care of the rest.

Accordingly, here are 10 facts that every American should know about who the Kochs are and what they’re doing to our country.

1. Koch Industries, which the brothers own, is one of the top ten polluters in the United States — which perhaps explains why the Kochs have given $60 million to climate denial groups between 1997 and 2010.

2. The Kochs are the oil and gas industry’s biggest donors to the congressional committee with oversight of the hazardous Keystone XL oil pipeline. They and their employees gave more than $300,000 to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010 alone.

3. From 1998-2008, Koch-controlled foundations gave more than $196 million to organizations that favor polices that would financially enrich the two brothers. In addition, Koch Industries spent $50 million on lobbying and some $8 million in PAC contributions.

4. The Koch fortune has its origins in engineering contracts with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.

5. The Kochs are suing to take over the Cato Institute, which has accused the Kochs of attempting to destroy the group’s identity as an independent, libertarian think and align it more closely with a partisan agenda.

6. A Huffington Post source who was at a three-day retreat of conservative billionaires said the Koch brothers pledged to donate $60 million to defeat President Obama in 2012 and produce pledges of $40 million more from others at the retreat.

7. Since 2000, the Kochs have collected almost $100 million in government contracts, mostly from the Department of Defense.

8. Koch Industries has an annual production capacity of 2.2 billion pounds of the carcinogen formaldehyde. The company has worked to keep it from being classified as a carcinogen even though David Koch is a prostate cancer survivor.

9. The Koch brothers’ combined fortune of roughly $50 billion is exceeded only by that of Bill Gates in the United States.

10. The Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs accused Koch Oil of scheming to steal $31 million of crude oil from Native Americans. Although the company claimed it was accidental, a former executive in this operation said Charles Koch had known about it and had responded to the overages by saying, “I want my fair share, and that’s all of it.”

That last quote — “I want my fair share, and that’s all of it” — encapsulates the unbridled greed driving the Kochs’ political activism and business dealings. Democracy cannot thrive with so much power being in the hands of men like this. If we care about democracy, we have to work to take it back.

Don’t Koch Block the Debate

2:13 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

With my new film Koch Brothers Exposed set for release, the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are doing everything they can do hide their behavior. First they got their lawyer to fire off a menacing letter that all but threatened news organizations that dare to cover the film’s content. Now they’re insisting — get this — that there’s nothing to debate anyway.

That’s right. In response to my offer to a debate or public discussion, the Koch brothers, hiding behind their attorney, wrote, “We are confused about what there is to debate.”

Perhaps the Kochs have not seen what my team and journalists such as Lee Fang, Addie Stan, and Jane Mayer have uncovered. What we’ve found is that Charles and David Koch are using their vast fortune to buy the political and legal process. They are corrupting democracy in ways that are harming the 99% while serving their own economic interests.

One area of excessive influence is energy policy. The Kochs, who own Koch Industries, are one of the top 10 polluters in the nation, which means they have a strong interest in eliminating or preventing environmental regulations. The Kochs have given over $500,000 to members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, which proposes environmental regulations and is supposed to hold polluters accountable. Indeed, as our film reveals, the Kochs are the oil and gas industry’s single biggest donor to that committee. Is it any wonder that Congress won’t pass bills to curb climate change or tackle other environmental problems?

In fact, the Kochs frequently have secret summits where they host wealthy right-wing donors as well as federal policymakers to talk strategy and fundraising. Participants have included U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Those two justices recently increased the Kochs’ power by voting in the Citizens United case to allow unlimited corporate money into politics. And just last week, the justices heard a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — a bill that the Koch-founded and -financed group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has been pushing to overturn. Should our system permit such a conflict of interest enabling the Kochs to wield influence that virtually no other citizen can match? Read the rest of this entry →

Kochs, Lies, and Videotape

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

This week as I premiered my new film, Koch Brothers Exposed — the result of a year-long investigation on how two billionaires are using their wealth to corrupt democracy — Koch Industries has launched an attack on the film and me. The Kochs intimidate, they menace; they have a letter from their lawyer borderline threatening the media if it reports what’s in the film — and they always try to change the subject so their behavior can stay in the shadows: not only are they unwilling to accept my offer of a debate or interview, they also refuse to testify about their interest in the Keystone XL pipeline and may have to be dragged kicking and screaming into revealing their secret contributions to groups doing election work. This time, the Kochs are using a technique I point out in the film: attacking to avoid dealing with the facts. They are dodging and distorting the truth to avoid confronting our findings on cancer, voting rights, civil rights, and more.

How? Let me count (some of) the ways:

1) Cancer. People are dying of cancer near the Kochs’ Georgia Pacific plant in Crossett, Arkansas, and the Kochs refuse to answer the relevant question: What are they going to do about it? On Penn Road in Crossett, right near the mill, residents powerfully show how nine out of 11 homes have suffered from cancer. A USA Today study said Crossett’s school district is in the top 1% in the nation for cancer. Meanwhile, the Kochs’ facility releases significant amounts of formaldehyde — a known carcinogen — and there’s no other chemical plant in town. The Kochs are among the country’s top 10 polluters and lobbied hard to keep formaldehyde from being labeled a carcinogen. For a company where one of the owners (David Koch) and the communications director (Melissa Cohlmia) are cancer survivors, this is tragic and infuriating. It reflects a warped sense of humanity where greed trumps all. Read the rest of this entry →