Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Dukkha of the Political Class in the United States

Most of the posts on this blog, especially recently, have had Buddhist themes.  If one is serious about alleviating the suffering of people in the United States, one should be very concerned about the situation in Washington.  While not dire in any sense of the word compared to some of the more pressing issues in the world, the fact that we are governed by proxies for a plutocracy should be of grave concern to all.

Over at the New Yorker, there is a must-read for those who are following the political and economic situation in the United States on the Koch family, who are famous for funding right-wing causes.

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.
In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times....

...After the 1980 election, Charles and David Koch receded from the public arena. But they poured more than a hundred million dollars into dozens of seemingly independent organizations. Tax records indicate that in 2008 the three main Koch family foundations gave money to thirty-four political and policy organizations, three of which they founded, and several of which they direct. The Kochs and their company have given additional millions to political campaigns, advocacy groups, and lobbyists. The family’s subterranean financial role has fuelled suspicion on the left; Lee Fang, of the liberal blog ThinkProgress, has called the Kochs “the billionaires behind the hate.”
Only the Kochs know precisely how much they have spent on politics. Public tax records show that between 1998 and 2008 the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than forty-eight million dollars. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by Charles Koch and his wife, along with two company employees and an accountant, spent more than twenty-eight million. The David H. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than a hundred and twenty million. Meanwhile, since 1998 Koch Industries has spent more than fifty million dollars on lobbying. Separately, the company’s political-action committee, KochPAC, has donated some eight million dollars to political campaigns, more than eighty per cent of it to Republicans. So far in 2010, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political contributions, as it has since 2006. In addition, during the past dozen years the Kochs and other family members have personally spent more than two million dollars on political contributions. In the second quarter of 2010, David Koch was the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Governors Association, with a million-dollar donation. Other gifts by the Kochs may be untraceable; federal tax law permits anonymous personal donations to politically active nonprofit groups.
In recent decades, members of several industrial dynasties have spent parts of their fortunes on a conservative agenda. In the nineteen-eighties, the Olin family, which owns a chemicals-and-manufacturing conglomerate, became known for funding right-leaning thinking in academia, particularly in law schools. And during the nineties Richard Mellon Scaife, a descendant of Andrew Mellon, spent millions attempting to discredit President Bill Clinton. Ari Rabin-Havt, a vice-president at the Democratic-leaning Web site Media Matters, said that the Kochs’ effort is unusual, in its marshalling of corporate and personal funds: “Their role, in terms of financial commitments, is staggering.”
Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros’s giving is transparent, and that “none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interests.” The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Gus diZerega, the former friend, suggested that the Kochs’ youthful idealism about libertarianism had largely devolved into a rationale for corporate self-interest. He said of Charles, “Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom.”
It's actually even worse than this article suggests, and for those who may be wondering about how come things are so polarized and paralyzed in the politics in the US  there is a simple answer: this corrupt money, meant to increase the profit margins of the very, very few, is flowing into both major parties. And the Koch family is doing this too.

But, here's a key piece of information: the Kochs haven't just given to right-wingers. Back in April of 2001, The American Prospect's Bob Dreyfuss reported that the Kochs also funded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC):
And for $25,000, 28 giant companies found their way onto the DLC's executive council, including Aetna, AT&T, American Airlines, AIG, BellSouth, Chevron, DuPont, Enron, IBM, Merck and Company, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Texaco, and Verizon Communications. Few, if any, of these corporations would be seen as leaning Democratic, of course, but here and there are some real surprises. One member of the DLC's executive council is none other than Koch Industries, the privately held, Kansas-based oil company whose namesake family members are avatars of the far right, having helped to found archconservative institutions like the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy. Not only that, but two Koch executives, Richard Fink and Robert P. Hall III, are listed as members of the board of trustees and the event committee, respectively--meaning that they gave significantly more than $25,000.

The DLC board of trustees is an elite body whose membership is reserved for major donors, and many of the trustees are financial wheeler-dealers who run investment companies and capital management firms--though senior executives from a handful of corporations, such as Koch, Aetna, and Coca-Cola, are included.
I added the emphasis.

Fitting, isn't it? The entity that tries to undermine the progressive agenda from within the Democratic Party was getting funding from the guys who are trying to destroy the Democratic Party from the outside.
There has been a concerted effort in the past 40 years to take right wing money and use it to distort the legal system (Federalist Society), the political system (the various groups funded by the Koch brothers), and even organized religion (The Institute on Religion and Public Life and The Institute on Religion and Democracy).  At the time this has happened these groups have had a disparate effect on influencing public policy, and now we have the highest unemployment of any developed nation, and we spend more per capita on the military than any other comparable nation.  Our roads are crumbling, our schools are underfunded.  Hunger is a real issue in many American communities.

A class war has been waged against the American people by these people who have bought the government for their own ends.  There simply isn't a nicer, gentler way to put it.

This situation can only be reversed by people pushing back against this in a way that helps all.  Even the right-wingers, since ultimately, if their policies were to come to fruition, it will eventually destabilize our political system entirely.  But at the very least the American people should realize that a class war is being waged against them.


Nathan said...

yeah, and of course, the term "class warfare" is exactly what the same folks use for anyone seriously questioning the way things are economically. i've been saying that both parties are a crock for years.

Mumon said...


My choice of the words was deliberate: if some folks say "Ooh, that's class warfare!" The best response should be "So what?"

It's called "freedom" when some folks do it, and it's called "class warfare" when the other side insists on its economic freedom.

Just words. But the effects are real.