As suggested by Jane Mayer in Dark Money, never have two members of one American family spent so much time and money to control our democracy, and in their effort, foster economic damage for most Americans. The guilty parties: Charles and David Koch. It is also likely that self-delusion and insularity from the less-fortunate have rendered both impervious to any recognition that their course is detrimental to the well-being of a great majority of Americans.
Ironically, “well-being” seems to be an overblown term Charles has used to describe his goal for the good of all Americans, claiming that free-market ideology naturally brings well-being to the many through Adam Smith’slaissez-faire economy. But the Koch alibi for selfishness and self-interest totally ignores Adam Smith’s distrust of greed and monopoly and the pronouncements of an early defender of democracy, John Locke, who cited a moral imperative for the common good.
A war cry in the summer of 1971 was the Powell Manifesto. It was Lewis Powell’s guidelines, a total antithesis of the Communist Manifesto, all for a radical right-wing shutdown of a rising tide of liberalism. He urged America’s capitalists to wage “guerilla warfare” against a growing progressive movement. Specifics of his manifesto called for huge financial backing for extreme cultural changes from the bottom up: planting conservative ideas in books, television, newspapers, education, religion, the arts, sciences and politicians – penetrating all avenues of communication, relentlessly repeated.
To add insult to injury, much of this is still done with taxpayer subsidies. Among the very rich, private, tax-exempt foundations have been fleecing taxpayers for ages. The law requires them to donate to charities in exchange for tax deductions. The only problem is that the rich control the foundations and determine the charity, often a disguised cause that actually filters into schemes that help the rich. Today many are called 501(c)’s (“social welfare”) groups, actually used only for only the welfare of the very rich.
His message to corporate leaders was received enthusiastically in a world of new EPA standards, anti-poverty programs, civil rights legislation, assault against tobacco, and friendliness to progressive causes.
Aided by both go-along Democrats and embedded Republicans, the assault against anything liberal has been a total success, so much so that a totally pro-corporate Republican majority rules both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court and many lower courts, as well as some 30 states. Add to that, fully-funded right wing causes on radio, television, government, science, and education. Most of the damage has been done by the GOP, hand puppets of the rich. Unified Republicans out-planned and out-dueled Democrats. We were and are the victims.
The 30 Republican-controlled states have passed legislation that has taken away the vote for many minorities, lowered taxes for the rich, gutted unions, and cut education funding. Ruling after ruling by the courts has favored corporations, stripped away voting rights and enabling elections to be purchased by the rich. Even the mainstream media has been converted, a for-profit media which revels in a narcissistic demagogue, who has become the Republican nominee for president.
How has this sorry state of affairs come about?
Consider that billions of dollars have been spent since the first major declaration of war by corporate lawyer, Lewis Powell. At the forefront of the propaganda campaign was demonization of government, which they identified as the enemy of the rich, providing egalitarian treatment of average Americans, while protecting Americans from the harm of corporate excesses, including exploitation and toxic pollution of air and water.
For example, the Olin Corporation was singled out, facing charges of egregious pollution practices in several states, one where DDT was released into a national wildlife preserve in Alabama. The newly formed EPA banned DDT in 1972. Under new leadership, the Olin Corporation determined that a long-term goal of changing American thinking was necessary, first at the most prestigious universities.
One of the first forays in academia was a grant of $525,000 to Princeton’s Madison Program, whose program name was carefully chosen for its founding father reference. Conservative voices were installed in the group to guide it in the right direction.
The Olin Foundation spent millions of dollars for fellows at Harvard, over half of them later teaching conservative ideas at prestige universities like MIT, Cornell and Yale, thus carrying on the propaganda of the radical right.
One of recent protégés was John Yoo, the legal scholar who wrote the Bush administration’s “torture memo.” There was also John R. Lott Jr. who wrote what became a manual for a literal NRA call to arms, More Guns, Less Crime. In 1982, fifty million dollars were left in a trust so that John M. Olin’s widow could continue his legacy of paying to inculcate corporate free-market values in the hearts and minds of the right young academics, those who would go on to important posts in government, industry and the court system.
Meanwhile the Kochs were busy making tons of money off the backs of employees, lax applications of environmental protection laws, and millions of dollars applied to the fight against government regulation with lower taxes for the rich. The Koch focus on profits over safety soon ravaged air, water and lives in several states.
Over twenty years, Donald Carlson had worked at Koch Industry’s Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount, Minnesota. In 1995, he became too sick to work and discovered that OSHA, since the 1970s, had strict rules about working with benzene. Rules about exposure to benzene were not enforced, and for years, the lab’s abnormal results for his blood tests were hidden from him. Later in 1995, he died of leukemia.
Suggesting that the flouting of human and environmental protections was ingrained in Koch Industries practices, the Koch Corpus Christi refinery was hit with a ninety-seven-count indictment on September 28, 2000. It was accused of discharging ninety-one metric tons of benzene into the atmosphere. A refinery that made $176 million in profits in 1995, faced up to $352 million in fines and the indictment of four Koch employees. The government settled for $20 million and no indictments.
Their offenses were proven more widespread when federal prosecutors sued Koch Industries for violating the Clean Water Act in six different states, and lying about it. By 1995, Koch Industries had leaked millions of gallons of oil from its pipelines and storage facilities. The EPA had documented over three hundred oil spills over the previous five years, including a twelve-mile-long slick in the bay off Corpus Christi. At the same time, the company’s Pine Bend refinery paid an $8 million fine for dumping a million gallons of ammonia-contaminated wastewater onto the ground and spilling some 600,000 gallons of fuel into a protected natural wetland.
Stark personal tragedy caught up with Koch violations of law and personal safety. Two teenagers, one heading for college, were burned alive when their stalled truck ignited a leaking underground pipeline belonging to Koch Industries. This occurred in Lively, Texas on August 24, 1996. Suits were filed by the families of the teenagers.
In 1999, through the discovery efforts of estranged brother, Bill Koch, Phil Dubose, a former Koch employee laid off in 1994, testified at a trial in Tulsa, Oklahoma, about the “Koch Method.” The method involved “never playing by the rules. They didn’t abide by the EPA or anything else,” said Phil Dubose. Koch Industries was found guilty of making 24,587 false claims to the government. A suit with the potential of a $200 million fine was settled for $25 million. Bill Koch triumphantly declared to the media, “This shows they are the biggest crooks in the oil industry.”
The offenses of Koch Industries are fewer now but not non-existent. Their strategy now is manipulation of the political and judicial system, mostly through innumerable patriotic-sounding, non-profit organizations which can hide the funders and avoid taxes. Included are Americans for Prosperitywhich still supports the Tea Party, Center to Protect Patient Rights, relentlessly against “Obamacare,” The American Future Fund, and Americans for Job Security. The names go on ad nauseam.
To buoy up and organize their advantage on the economic and political front are semiannual meetings of rich players in the “takeover” effort. After helping to engineer Republican sweeps in some 30 states, which helped usher in friendly legislation for them, their attention will turn to capturing the presidency in 2016. The Kochs are confidently planning to spend nearly a billion dollars for the 2016 elections.
Yet another “apple-pie-type” non-profit organization called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, prompted the Topeka school system to sign an agreement in 2014 with the organization, which taught subject students that FDR didn’t alleviate the Depression, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt the poor, lower pay for women was not discriminatory, and the government rather than business, caused the 2008 recession.
Charles Koch is quoted in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money that youth are important in altering society: “This is the only group that is open to a radically different social philosophy,” Charles Koch said. Did school officials know they are helping to promote Koch propaganda among children they are charged with?
In another bit of Koch fantasy, the Charles Koch Institute recently hosted what was called its Inaugural Well-Being Forum. In his essay on well-being, Charles Koch presented his own version of history which promoted a laissez-faire capitalism in his vision of America as our salvation.
Unfortunately, the Koch success – in promoting his ideas and controlling/restricting government — probably depends more on stricken voters staying away from the polls than a majority voting for a misanthropic candidate like Donald Trump or obstructionist Republicans overall. Ever-present efforts to disenfranchise minorities in some 25 states and promotion of polarizing elements like the Tea Party and radical right-wing media like Fox News helps in that effort, not to speak of a corporate media that likes daily reporting division and estrangement.