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Meet The American Oligarchy: The Koch Brothers

Memo Pad Politics

Meet The American Oligarchy: The Koch Brothers

Americans for Prosperity, Duke Energy, GM, Koch brothers, Pat McCrory, Toyota

Let’s put it this way: If the Koch Brothers were Russians, we’d call them oligarchs: grasping barbarians exercising crude political power.

But this is America, where tycoons can buy respectability by throwing money at their wives’ favorite ballet companies and museums. Also by funding “think tanks” staffed by “resident scholars” keen to enhance the boss’s fondest delusion: that great wealth invariably conveys great wisdom.

Hence “Americans for Prosperity,” the group funded by billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch that’s spending untold millions in 2014 on TV commercials attacking the Affordable Care Act as a government boondoggle that “just doesn’t work.”

The deeper strategy, AFP president Tim Philips told the New York Times, is to present the law as “a broader cautionary tale” crafted “to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.”

Or as the sloganeering sheep in Orwell’s Animal Farm might have put it, “Big government bad, big business good!”

Elsewhere, however, big business hasn’t been looking entirely benign of late. Consider three episodes currently in the news: General Motors, the Toyota Motor Corporation, and Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electrical utility.

As so often happens with corporate malfeasance, the details can be hard to believe. Documents turned over to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by General Motors show that company engineers knew about problems with an ignition switch in Chevy Cobalts as long ago as 2001.

That it could be a fatal flaw wasn’t immediately recognized.

The problem appears to have been a defective part manufactured by a GM supplier. Sometimes triggered by a too-heavy keychain swinging from the ignition, it caused the engine to shut off while driving — resulting in immediate loss of power steering, power brakes, and the failure of the vehicle’s air bags to deploy.

By 2009, however engineers concluded that the faulty switch played a causal role in several fatal accidents — although some drivers had been drinking, texting or otherwise distracted — and that while Cobalts were going out of production, hundreds of thousands were still rolling.

Nevertheless, GM did nothing, while company lawyers fought off or stonewalled lawsuits alleging product liability.

Twenty-three fatal accidents and 26 deaths later, GM finally issued a recall notice for 1.6 million vehicles last month. The company’s recently-appointed CEO Mary Barra has been doing public penance and vowing to do everything possible to restore consumer confidence in the GM brand, which will definitely take some doing.

Published accounts of how separate divisions of GM’s giant bureaucracy communicate badly or not at all read like episodes of Catch-22. Customer complaints and warranty claims aren’t shared with safety engineers, who in turn have no communication with company lawyers. Meanwhile, nobody was talking to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that belatedly promises a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, the auto industry press contrasts GM’s “unusually proactive and candid approach” to Toyota’s, which last week admitted criminal guilt and paid a $1.2 billion fine—the largest against an automaker in U.S. history.

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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  1. Theodora30 March 26, 2014

    McCrory also has Art Pope, NC’s version of the Kochs, pulling his strings.

  2. disqus_ivSI3ByGmh March 26, 2014

    If the Koch brothers had their way, here is what we would see:
    1. An end to minimum wage laws, allowing the “marketplace” to decide how much to pay.
    2. An end to child-labor laws that have those pesky restrictions like kids under 18 not being allowed to operate some equipment.
    3. An end to mandatory education laws that do not allow a student to drop out at a given age (to go along with option 2).
    4. An end to “overtime” regulations. If an employee WANTS to work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, that should be his prerogative. His employer shouldn’t have to pay him more than he normally would.
    5. An end to all environmental regulations regarding clean water and clean air. If drinking polluted water and breathing polluted air was good enough for YOUR grandparents, it should be good enough for YOU. Of course, families like the Kochs will spare no expense to ensure they have clean air to breathe and clean water to make ice cubes for their glasses of Scotch.
    6. An end to mandatory vaccinations. So what if some kids die young. That means there are fewer mouths to feed.
    7. An end to employer provided health care. If someone gets sick, that is their problem, not their employer’s. There is always someone willing to take that job.
    8. An end to unemployment insurance. Why should an employer be burdened with having to provide a portion of income just because he didn’t like somebody and fired them.
    9. An end to “Welfare”. Let the Churches take up this burden again.
    10. The ability to sue the media for libel and slander, even if what they publish is the truth and can be confirmed by independent sources.
    11. Allowing censorship boards that can ban books from public distribution in libraries.
    I could go on, but I am sure others on this blog can add to this list.

    1. LasloPratt March 26, 2014

      Shorter version – “rolling back the 20th century.” In fact, if you google that phrase, you’ll find an admirable piece with that title from William Greider from 2003. It includes a candid assessment from Grover Norquist that that is indeed what our “conservative” friends are about.

      1. latebloomingrandma March 26, 2014

        Maybe someone could put Grover in a time machine and send him back to 1750.

        1. Barbara Morgan March 29, 2014

          Send him back to dinosaur era since some many of his party think that man and dinosaurs were here at the same time.

    2. Independent1 March 26, 2014

      Great list!! Super post! Only add on I can think of is sparing no expense to put an end to Unions – ensuring that all states pass right-to-work laws.

    3. Independent1 March 26, 2014

      After reading your list again, I think I came up with a couple more possible Koch atrocities to be inflicted on America if they get their way:
      .An end of Obamacare in order to do away with the individual mandate, ensure maximum insurance company profits and to prevent the government from being involved in any way with Americans’ healthcare
      .An end of our Democracy as we know it by bankrolling the election of more Republicans in what are now Blue States so they can gerrymander districts to ensure their continued re-election while also enacting more voter suppression laws to further ensure the re-election of GOP candidates

      1. merr7242 April 5, 2014

        I do like the idea of preventing the government from being involved with Americans’ healthcare. Then they couldn’t tell women what to do with their bodies. This issue has always made me wonder why teapublican’ts and right wing nutjobs always say they want smaller government but want to determine what to know what women are doing in their bedrooms.

        1. idamag April 16, 2014

          Yes, when it comes to sex, the smaller government advocates want more government.

          1. plc97477 April 17, 2014

            Sex and money. That’s where small government is lost to them.

    4. Joe Gawel March 27, 2014

      You’re spot on for most of what you say, but I argue with numbers 6 and 7. One thing business wants is continual sales and profit growth. They need consumers to get that–and if people are dying young, they don’t get to be consumers. Same with employer-provided health insurance. Employees who are sick and absent from the job are costly in terms of lost productivity (and those who come to work and make others sick are too); so in their own self-interest it would make sense for employers to continue to provide health insurance.

      1. Allan Richardson March 28, 2014

        If the largest employers were actually insightful enough to SEE the facts you have pointed out, they would not have ruined the economy of the working person over the last 40 years. The fact is that in the largest corporations, decisions are being made either by those who are so incredibly rich that they do not CARE if they lose future business as long as they can be on the TOP OF THE HEAP NOW, or by highly paid executives in the “mutual director’s club” who move from one company that they have ruined in order to boost its short term profits and stock price to the next, and never have to answer for what they did to a prior company years ago.

      2. idamag April 16, 2014

        employees who are sick on the job are costly. If they don’t have health insurance they come to work sick and infect the rest of the workers and the customers.

  3. ps0rjl March 26, 2014

    Someday the Koch brothers will stand before a superior judge and he will not be as forgiving. Their money wont buy them squat. Why can’t they follow the example of Bill and Melinda Gates or Warren Buffet? These billionaires are at least trying to help people here on earth, not buying politicians.

    1. Lola Johnson March 26, 2014

      We can’t afford to wait for someday. We must get out and vote and get everyone else to vote in 2014. As long as radical right-wingers are allowed to run roughshod over us, and as long as they get elected they will continue to worship at the altar of gold.

      1. manesandtails1 March 26, 2014

        I could not agree with you more. These people are dangerous to people, animals, and the overall Environment.

        1. idamag April 16, 2014

          Animals are not that greedy.

    2. FredAppell March 26, 2014

      As much as I dislike the Bill Gates, there’s a big difference between Buffet and Gates vs. the Kochs. Buffet and Gates weren’t born wealthy, both are self made Billionaire’s who give away vast sums of their fortunes to charity, not Super PACs and we never here about either of them buying politicians and trying to create policy. The Kochs are the opposite of everything I mentioned. They were born entitled and their only motivation is in keeping as much of their fortune as possible.

    3. plc97477 April 17, 2014

      I have a secret dream of being behind them at the pearly gates. I would love to see the look on their face when they are turned away.

  4. latebloomingrandma March 26, 2014

    Americans for Prosperity—an oxymoron, to be sure.
    Conservatives love to talk about the Founding Fathers, but they would be appalled at what’s going on. They were adamant about NOT having an American aristocracy, as the country has just rid ourselves of rule by monarchy and rich people.

    1. idamag March 26, 2014

      If they bothered to read the founding fathers’ biographies, they would find the founding fathers completely opposite of what they are.Thomas Jefferson warned, “Don’t let money take over your democracy.”

    2. plc97477 April 17, 2014

      Well they are americans and they do like their prosperity.

  5. Budjob March 26, 2014

    Fascism is on the march in this “ONCE GREAT” democratic country folks.It would appear that what is missing,is a reasonable facsimile of the infamous Benito Mussolini.Or,could it be the Koch brothers waiting to make their grand entrance?

  6. Buford2k11 March 26, 2014

    We can reject these un-American guys…they are just one of the many Oligarchs who are trying to take down our nation…and the gop/baggers are the front groups…the truth will be known…

    1. idamag March 26, 2014

      I just finished a book (true story) about the nazies taking over Holland. She said, “The lower people’s mentality, the more they believed the nazies. She also said the lower mentality people were the most vicious. In all the occupied and conquered countries, there were those who resisted the nazies and usually gave their lives for resisting. There were those who would hide people from the nazies. There were the cautious go-with-the-flow people and there were many, many who corroborated with the nazies, turning their neighbors in. The T-party is the group who doesn’t see what is happening and is likely to defend the up coming oligarchy.

  7. Lisztman March 26, 2014

    Americans for Prosperity — of the chosen few.

    1. idamag March 26, 2014

      There is a hidden word in there. It should read, “Americans for the rich’s prosperity.

  8. howa4x March 26, 2014

    Oligarchs usually go too far, and we are seeing that in this country. The Duke spill will end fishing in that river and anger many. I will be harder for the tea party to talk about ending environmental regulations after this. Same with GM. it will be harder for the aristocracy to talk about ending product safety regulations. Usually when people have that kind of money they are used to getting their own way. This is why we had the economic meltdown in 08, because republican pushed an anti regulation agenda. the middle class and their children never fare will when regulation are put in place to protect their kids and are done away with for profit. Koch bros will one day start to see people wake up to climate change no matter how much money they throw against it. After that the power of all the billionaires will be worthless.

    1. plc97477 April 17, 2014

      I hope that day comes soon.

  9. sambolina March 26, 2014

    AGAIN, A CAUTIONARY TALE, THOUGH “WE THE PEOPLE” APPEAR TO BE SO VERY DAMN DUMB THAT WE CONTINUE TO IGNORE THE WARNING SIGNS AND ELECT THE MOST CORRUPT, DELUSIONAL A%^*LES AVAILABLE FOR PUBLIC OFFICE. HEED THE WARNING FROM MR. JEFFERSON — AND NEVER FORGET IT: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
    Thomas Jefferson

  10. Kurt CPI March 26, 2014

    Industry looks after its interests. That’s exactly what it is supposed to do -in fact corporations are required to seek profits for their shareholders. The Koch Brothers have huge investments in a broad base of industry, have acquired lots of wealth in their endeavors, and are spending their money in ways that enhance their positions. That is unfortunate for the rest of us. What’s really unfortunate though is that this is all legal under that great farce, “Citizens United”. Corporations have the same rights as people in executing their “freedom of speech” rights, and likely will soon be able to use corporate “religion” to get out of providing contraceptive health benefits to women. This is ludicrous. Corporations are legal documents. They have no religion, no soul, no moral compass, no compassion. Their “single-minded” purpose is to profit at any cost (of course they have no minds either). Citizens United must be taken back to court and reconsidered. Nothing in history has done more to remove the Constitutional power from the people and shift it to the powerful. We continually speak of income inequality and voter suppression. Those don’t hold a candle to the damage done by the political-voice inequality perpetrated by Citizens United.

    1. latebloomingrandma March 26, 2014

      And unfortunately, several of the most conservative justices are young and Scalia is obstinate enough to last for a long time yet. Kennedy, the tie breaker, may also be around for a while. We absolutely have to have another Democrat in office for the next 2 terms.

      1. plc97477 April 17, 2014

        I don’t think we have to worry about it. Have you seen what they have to run against us?

    2. rkief March 27, 2014

      Let’s face it, Kurt. The Supremely Injudicious Court has made corporations not into people, but into gods – immortal, untouchable and above reproach.

      1. Duckbudder March 28, 2014

        I’ll believe corporations are people when one dies of cancer!

      2. Barbara Morgan March 29, 2014

        The Koch brothers and Citizens Untied are the best reasons in the world for there to be term limits for Supreme Court Justices. There would have to be a Constitutional amendment to it but is is needed now. When you have members of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and sometimes Clarence Thomas, meeting with the likes of the Koch brothers at their ranches to plan Republican strategies for the future that should mean impeachment and removable from the Supreme Court bench, If a Supreme Court justice wants to plan a political party strategies he or she should be removed from the bench because he or she is no an impartial justice.

  11. Joseph Kelsall March 26, 2014

    Money CANNOT buy you respectability; ask Sheldon Adelson

    1. Jane Snape March 26, 2014

      Though he and his Chinese Mob pals keep trying…

  12. ExRadioGuy15 March 26, 2014

    The Koch brothers are the faces of American Fascism and Vampire Capitalism. And, the Kochs are the leaders of the Fascist Corporate Plutarchy….a plutarchy is a plutocratic oligarchy…it’s members are Plutarchs. They’re also Fascist Christian Theocrats who wrongly believe that the US Constitution allows for a Theocracy, a religious-based government.

    1. idamag March 26, 2014

      That is exactly how I see them.

      1. ExRadioGuy15 March 26, 2014

        Now, if 30 million or more GOP Progressives and Moderates see things the way you do, Idamag, we’d be in a lot better shape

  13. Jambi March 26, 2014

    We’re only Pawns in their game…

  14. charleo1 March 26, 2014

    What were the 5 bloated, and job killing Federal bureaucracies, President
    Rick Perry was going to close down his first day on the job? So many he
    couldn’t recall all of them, But he, like all the other Right Wingers vying for
    the distinct honor of becoming the Country’s top corporate shill, were absolutely sure of a couple of things. One, the corporate tax rates, at an 80 year low, were still too darn high. And the EPA, the Federal agency with the power to ride herd on the other 50 State environmental regulating agencies, had to go. Since all this scraping and bowing, was being shamelessly carried out in full view of an American electorate that had only a few months ago watched horrified, as a BP operation spewed a half a billion barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. We can be pretty sure it was not this audience they were trying to impress. Especially after a subsequent investigation revealed the cause to be sub-contractors cutting corners to increase profits. While a small group of compliant, and defanged Government inspectors, allowed it to happen. A problem of immediate concern, certainly. But not the overbearing power of a Federal Bureaucracy, or a Federal Government run amuck, as these corn fed weasels, were describing. Still think the Government is crushing the life out of American enterprise? Great. Then do I have an automobile deal you’re gonna love! I have, thru special permission been authorized to sell you this brand new, Chevy, right off the assembly line in Juarez Mexico. And since this car hasn’t had one government inspection, I can sell it to you today for 1,500 dollars off MSRP. And, just to show you how worthless and expensive a government inspection is. We here at Liberty Motors will provide the proud owner with a $5,000 Accidental Death policy, free for one month after the second, 5000 miles!

  15. charles king March 26, 2014

    Monies has met their Water-loo as long as the People use their voting power wisely. The VOTE and (Critical Thinking) is still Supreme in the land of Democracy. (Greedy Capitalistic Pigs, Plutocracts, Republicans and Democracts Representives Who? do nothing in Congress and etc.) trying to ride on the back of your Democracy that is HOW? powerful your Democracy is. Use your Vote wisely and do some critical thinking and You will do the right thing for the country. How? do you think Obama got re-elected cause of Critical thinking and the VOTE it make your Democracy the best thing for this World’s government. thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

    1. idamag April 16, 2014

      They’re working on that. Everyone needs to protect everyone else’ right to vote.

      1. plc97477 April 17, 2014

        And exercise it every time.

  16. Cainer March 27, 2014

    I wish Darrell Issa had the same drive to investigate all of the wrong doings of these two brothers and everything they have their meddling hands in.
    Yeah, that will happen. tic

  17. J.r. Ticles March 28, 2014

    disqus_ivSI3ByBmh – WELL SAID – you’ve got the tip of the iceberg. How often have you heard the PUBS & TeaParty & John Bircher’s scream to return to those days when the Constitution 1790 & Bill of Rights 1791 was ratified as it was then strictly interpreted and applied AT THAT TIME? Isn’t their argument to have a return in the sense of their interpretations as well as in factually in actuality at that time? BOILED DOWN YOU GET: Vote for the business & property owners only; approved Slavery, Child Labor, wage at subsistence levels = take it or leave it; AND then read NONE for the following: education (except for the wealthy and landed gentry – 1%’ers?), environmental protection, voting for poor white trash, blacks or anyone of color, Health Care, Women’s Rights (remember they were personal property), TAXES except in the South for the Poll Tax, social security / medicare etc., work place protection either safety or tenure or unemployment etc., standing army / defense, environmental protection / remediation (in 1790 it was rape and pillage without regard for nature, human health, national heritage or other that we too often take for granted), “free market” to be totally free without limitations or restrictions, and etc. ad nauseam.
    Read your history for this period and expand as you will for your proof of the conceptual agenda of the PUBS/TeaParty/JBS ideologues with emphasis on the Koch Brothers.
    I keep looking for my vaseline but the building Russian / Plutocracy / Oligarchy developed by the Elite Corporate & 1%’ers haven’t even offered supply it and it ain’t anywhere seen in the far reaching future. Do the terms Mendacity, Profiteering, Peculation, Ideologies, Neo-Fascism, Oligarchy, Plutocracy, and the screams of those who’ve suffered historically under those that demonize anyone and any thing, all ways – always throughout our history and the history of the world? Does the fact that those that would rule under the power, affluence and influence of “The American Dream” ring in your ears and churn your mind?

    1. idamag April 16, 2014

      f they had studied their American History they would know the Constitution was made to be amended. It was the only way they could get one ratified.

      1. plc97477 April 17, 2014

        They don’t mind the amendments they just want to have complete control over what amendments are introduced.

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