Wisconsin: a Battlefield of Class Warfare Supported by Narrow Special Interests (like Coch Industries)
Wisconsin has become ground zero in the class war. That's the real story about Wisconsin. Against all odds, the real story about Wisconsin even began to emerge last week in the traditional media. It wasn't named for what it is, but some of the facts began to be reported, and those facts speak for themselves. On Monday, Eric Lipton of the New York Times wrote:
Among the thousands of demonstrators who jammed the Wisconsin State Capitol grounds this weekend was a well-financed advocate from Washington who was there to voice praise for cutting state spending by slashing union benefits and bargaining rights. The visitor, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told a large group of counterprotesters who had gathered Saturday at one edge of what otherwise was a mostly union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits.The word "large" being a relative term, given the hundreds of thousands protesting what Phillips supports. But the real point is that Wisconsin is not only about Wisconsin.
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.On Wednesday, the largest newspaper in Wisconsin took notice of the large lobbying effort being made in Wisconsin by wealthy plutocrats from outside of Wisconsin:
The billionaire brothers whose political action committee gave Gov. Scott Walker $43,000 and helped fund a multi-million dollar attack ad campaign against his opponent during the 2010 gubernatorial election have quietly opened a lobbying office in Madison just off the Capitol Square. Charles and David Koch, who co-own Koch Industries Inc. and whose combined worth is estimated at $43 billion, have been recently tied with Walker's push to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers. The two have long backed conservative causes and groups including Americans for Prosperity, which organized the Tea Party rally Saturday in support of Walker's plan to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights and recently launched the Stand with Scott Walker website.Suffice to say that $43,000 of direct help and multi-millions of assistance in attack ads can be very encouraging. Which isn't to say that Walker is wholly a tool of the Koch brothers. He appears to be that all on his own. Walker's political psychology has been revealed in his use of police state tactics, his attempts to suppress free speech, and his unintentionally open admission that he considered unleashing thugs to disrupt the protests— an idea he rejected only because he was worried about the political consequences to himself. But tool he also is. A very, very well-financed tool, with multi-millions of that financing coming from outside Wisconsin.
Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, acknowledged in a New York Times story Tuesday that he had encouraged Walker even before the election to mount a showdown with labor groups.
As Greg Sargent made explicit:
That said, the fact that Americans for Prosperity is now going up on the air in Wisconsin makes it clear that this is about something far larger than getting the state's finances under control, and underscores the degree to which this has become, for the right, a national ideological war.An ideological war. Oil industry billionaires against union workers. Their ideological ally and well-financed tool of a governor intent on destroying unions. A class war. It needs to be called what it is. The traditional media's attempts to ignore or distract from what it is needs to be countered and revealed. It's a class war and everyone needs to call it that. Always.
What's happening in Wisconsin is no accident. There is a pattern. It begins with the undermining of democracy itself. Class war depends upon the suppression of democracy. The Koch brothers depend upon the corruption of the Supreme Court. The extreme right-wing judicial activism that was the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision became the vehicle. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in an unusually scathing dissent:
The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.And:
Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.And:
At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.And then came Wisconsin, where Koch-backed groups helped kill a law designed to prevent a voter suppression plot that was hatched by Koch-backed groups. Republicans engaged in a vote-caging plot. And with Koch money financing or enabling a corrupt Supreme Court that decided corporations can buy elections, with Koch money financing or enabling voter suppression in Wisconsin, and with Koch money financing or enabling the defeat of a Democratic Senator who championed campaign finance reform, and with Koch money financing or enabling the election of an ideological ally and tool as governor, we arrived where we are today.
Last September, I referred to this article by Jane Mayer:
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.And this article by Frank Rich:
When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed.I also noted:
The Koch machine also is a leading financier of climate denialism, which must make sense to oil industry billionaires who clearly don't care about the science of climate change. Of course, ending regulation, taxes, and campaign finance laws would make the brothers effective royalty, with no possible means for those interested in the public good to check their dangerous and rapacious greed. And as Mayer points out, the 1980 Libertarian platform on which David Koch ran for vice president called for the abolition of Social Security and the minimum wage. After all, who cares about the tens of millions of people that rely on one or both when you're a billionaire who doesn't have such a need and apparently doesn't care about the needs of others? Koch Industries has essentially declared war on the Obama administration.
Update (3/1/11): From ThinkProgress, How Koch [pronounced, "Koke"] industries huge campaign donations and funding of anti-government/right wing groups has altered our politics and public policy for the worse. Is it a liberal view that big business changes the laws and regulations in its favor? We've been saying this for a long time, our democracy is turning into a plutocracy with the complicity of a great number of Americans who are impressed by slogans than by substance.
Here's an excerpt, (and the whole article here):
– In 1997, the EPA proposed strengthening rules governing air pollution, regulating particles from coal plants and industrial plants which cause tens of thousands of premature deaths a year. Again, because Koch’s factories were impacted by the regulations, Koch-funded front groups sprung into action. Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy front group ran ads claiming (Koch Industries created) particle pollution isn’t harmful. One ad featured a ”pediatrician” who says increased rates of asthma are not caused by the toxic particles, but rather by “dust mites, stuff like that.” Another ad from CSE claimed the EPA regulations would ban fireworks and backyard grills. ”Imagine that,” the ad stated, ”a new government regulation that takes away our freedom to, huh, celebrate our freedom.”
– Koch funneled large amounts of donations into electing George Bush in 2000 (even sending Koch-linked lobbyists to help disrupt the Florida recount). At the time, Koch Industries faced a 97-count federal indictment charging it with concealing illegal releases of 91 metric tons of benzene, known to cause leukemia, from its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. When Bush took office, his Justice Department dropped 88 of the charges and settled the case for a small amount of money.