Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A new milestone in disingenuity: Charles Koch in the Wall Street Journal ... by gimleteye

The Koch Brothers -- Charles and David -- have had enough of being bashed. The American oligarchs have come under attack for their massive contributions to elections, candidates and issues.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal report, though, is neither honest nor rigorous.
“Someone should remind Charles Koch that you get what you pay for,” said Regan Page, a spokeswoman for American Bridge, which has devoted a website to the alleged misdeeds of the Kochs and their businesses. “The Kochs complain about dysfunction in Washington, forgetting that their network spent hundreds of millions to bankroll the campaigns of far-right, out-of-touch Republicans.”
Well. One can't blame the Journal for a statement by American Bridge that misses its target by a mile.

The point against the Koch's is that they invest in political dysfunction. If they were honest, they would admit the outcome they seek is not a reduced role of government but government that cannot work to protect the rights of people.

Thanks to their relentless efforts to marginalize government, electing officials who expressly believe "government is the problem and not the solution", Koch money has delivered to the American voter government failure by design.

Just look around in Miami. How did the absence of public space, parks, lousy infrastructure, overwhelming traffic occur? It happened because rules, regulations and laws intended to protect the public interest were either undermined slowly, bit by bit, or hacked to pieces at an opportunistic time. Elected officials in Miami became so certain they would not be held accountable -- either because of gerrymandered districts or because of monopolized campaign fundraising -- that baselines shifted on all sorts of metrics for the public good until what needed to be protected disappeared.

That's the story of Brickell Avenue, of US 1 and Interstate 95 and the failure of public transportation. The Kochs didn't have to touch Miami -- who knows if they ever invested in a political campaign here? -- but they are smarter than that: they laid the groundwork, supported the infrastructure and funded the right wing foundations, so their spawn could freely float from sea to shining sea.

Multiply "government failure by design" -- what happened in Miami -- to other American cities driven by reckless growth that fails to account for costs in order to fatten the bottom line of corporations that profit from "streamlined government".

The Koch billions have been directed, Charles says, to the idea of "limited government". It is misdirection, pure and simple. Why not invest in "effective" government?  Because corporate profit models in the United States -- in many industries -- depend on regulatory failure. One of the clearest examples is the regulation of a carcinogen that is a core business line of the Kochs' empire: formaldehyde.

But let's not bog down on detail. American Bridge's comments did no favor to the argument against the Kochs.

Yes, the Kochs invest enormous sums of money in the campaigns of extremist Republicans. Those Republicans have made mincemeat of basic principles of conservation and common sense. Instead of investing in improving the performance of government, the candidates they propelled to elected office politicized agencies from the federal, to the state and local level and with a single purpose: so that they should not be successful.

In Florida, take the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Under Gov. Rick Scott -- a Koch-style Republican if there ever was one -- enforcement actions against polluters have plummeted from already low levels of earlier Republican administrations in Tallahassee. Hobbling law enforcement breeds a familiar phenomenon: corruption prevails. Around the country, thanks to extremism prevailing in state capitols, lobbyists have unparalleled influence, digging moats to protect against the public, raising walls too high for any but insiders to peer inside.

Charles Koch claims he has little political influence. What is undeniable is that the Kochs have rallied around them an enormous apparatus of message machinery, candidates for office, lobbyists and drill sergeants who can enforce the order with a raised eyebrow. These have imposed an homogeneity on the Republican party, creating an echo chamber that brooks no diversity.

It is no wonder that so many people are angry at them and the GOP. The Kochs argue they are on the side of what is good for people. That is just plain wrong.

The United States has technologies, ingenuity, and drive to make America great again: so why does so much of the United States look like a third world country?

The GOP hard drive is broken. Its files are corrupted and don't read. The Kochs can "spout off" all they want, but they can't change the outcome: for all their billions, the United States is a poorer nation.

A Frustrated Koch Brother Decides It’s Time to ‘Spout Off’

Oct. 26, 2015 7:50 p.m. ET

WICHITA, Kan.—Charles Koch sounds a lot like an ordinary voter when he bemoans what he said is a lack of substance and civility in the 2016 White House race.

“It’s mainly about personalities, and ‘your mother sucked rotten eggs,’ ” he said during an interview in his office here.

Except, of course, Mr. Koch is no ordinary voter: The 79-year-old businessman and his brother preside over a network of conservative donors who plan to spend roughly $750 million influencing 2016 races.

Mr. Koch is chief executive of Koch Industries, one of the nation’s largest privately owned companies, and his calls for reduced taxes and regulations have long found a fruitful home among Republican politicians. But so far in this primary race he said he is frustrated by the dearth of discussion about other issues he cares about, from ending subsidies and tax breaks for corporations to overhauling the criminal-justice system and making it easier for low-income Americans to start businesses.

He plans to wait until year-end to determine how much he will spend on 2016 elections, including the White House contest. “How much I give to the political side will depend on to what extent the candidates out there are going to make a difference on the things I care about,” he said.

Mr. Koch and his brother David haven’t endorsed a presidential candidate, and unlike other wealthy donors, Mr. Koch said they aren’t necessarily shopping for a candidate to support. He bristles at news reports that suggested they have a favored contender. Instead, their alliance is focused on groups that advance free-market, small-government ideals, he said. Some are more educational than political.

But many of these organizations have a political aim. Americans for Prosperity, for example, which started with money from the Kochs, has built an army of grass roots volunteers to push issues and candidates at the local, state and federal level. Republican candidates and officeholders regularly turn out to these events because the groups can attract big crowds of voters and activists.

Asked whether he thinks the rise, and media coverage, of Donald Trump in the GOP field has distracted from serious policy discussions, he said, “Well, yeah. I mean, critical for a free society is tolerance,” an apparent reference to Mr. Trump’s comments about immigrants and women that some have called insensitive.

Detractors have called the Koch brothers modern-day robber barons whose energy business pollutes the environment and whose political spending represents all that is wrong with money in politics. But the media-shy Charles Koch is working to tell his own story, explaining in a new book, “Good Profit,” how he helped build Koch Industries into a sprawling conglomerate that makes everything from oil pipelines to toilet paper.

“I always followed the mama whale’s advice to the baby whale: Son, the time you get harpooned is when you come up to spout off,” Mr. Koch said. “But I was too thick to realize I was being harpooned already and spouting off would maybe lessen the harpoons, or at least it wouldn’t make ’em any worse.”

The book—a blend of biography, social theory and management advice—also sheds light on the system of beliefs that guide Mr. Koch, both in business and in politics. His overarching view is that society benefits when people are free to pursue work they love, making them more productive.

In “Good Profit,” Mr. Koch holds up his company as the living example of those ideals, from its emphasis on an employee’s values over his résumé to a relentless drive to question everything Koch Industries does and to strive for new ways to be more efficient. He cites the company’s growth—it has added 85,000 employees since just 2004—as evidence that these methods work.

A voracious reader—books line the walls of his office and are stacked to the ceiling of his office bathroom—Mr. Koch traces the roots of his belief system to reading “Why Wages Rise,” an obscure book by a former Cornell University professor who argued pay is determined by productivity.

Reading that book led Mr. Koch to briefly support the Libertarian Party before eventually prompting him to bankroll entities that advocated free-market policies. In 2003, Mr. Koch convened about a dozen like-minded conservatives in Chicago with the goal of becoming more overtly political.

Those efforts took hold early in Barack Obama’s presidency amid voter unease with the bank bailout signed by President George W. Bush and with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Groups financed by the Kochs and their alliance spent more than $400 million in 2012, according to tax returns, although much of that money went to ventures not overtly political. In that year’s presidential election, Americans for Prosperity and two other Koch-financed groups spent a total of more than $50 million on television ads, according to Kantar Media.

There are now more than 450 donors financing these organizations, with operations in all 50 states. In the 2014 election cycle, three groups backed by the Kochs spent $200 million, including some money not spent directly on politics. An adviser to the Kochs’ umbrella organization said the groups plan to spend $100 million on political ads alone this cycle, a fourfold increase from 2014.

Mr. Koch said that, of his $111 million in charitable contributions last year, just $5 million went toward explicitly political purposes. So far this year, he said just $2,700 of the $48 million he has donated was political spending; his staff said that money went to Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, up for re-election next year.

Liberal groups are keeping up their attacks on the Kochs and their network.

“Someone should remind Charles Koch that you get what you pay for,” said Regan Page, a spokeswoman for American Bridge, which has devoted a website to the alleged misdeeds of the Kochs and their businesses. “The Kochs complain about dysfunction in Washington, forgetting that their network spent hundreds of millions to bankroll the campaigns of far-right, out-of-touch Republicans.”

In the interview, Mr. Koch said he holds no sway over the Republican Party or GOP members of Congress, citing their recent failure to block legislation extending a series of tax breaks for a wide swath of businesses. “They say we have all this influence,” he said. “Well, where?”

Mr. Koch said he is looking for issues on which he can work with both parties, citing their recent efforts to work with the White House to ease sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and enact other changes to the criminal justice system. He also mentioned work to reduce red tape for low-income Americans looking to start a small business, another White House priority. Asked about money he has spent against Mr. Obama and his party, Mr. Koch said, “It’s not against him; it’s for these ideas…I would love to be able to support Democrats.”

While Mr. Koch shares many voters’ dissatisfaction with the country’s elected leaders, he expressed alarm at the rise of Mr. Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.

“Typically, what happens when voters are frustrated is they give the government even more power,” he said. “I have no idea how this will turn out…There’s tremendous dissatisfaction out there, and so it’s scary.”

Koch Industries is in the middle of an advertising and PR campaign to rebrand the company around the products it makes, rather than its owners’ political activity.

Koch employs 60,000 people in the U.S. and operates 126 manufacturing facilities. Its subsidiaries produce Dixie cups and Brawny paper towels, as well as Lycra and component parts for smartphones. Koch companies are the largest tissue maker in the U.S., a top-10 producer of ethanol and support more than 12,000 head of cattle.

On the cusp of 80, Mr. Koch sometimes sounds more like someone just starting out in business than an established figure whose estimated net worth exceeds $40 billion.

“The more we’ve improved, the more I see potential,” he said. “It’s kind of a receding horizon.”

—Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this article.

Write to Patrick O’Connor at

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