Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Kochtopus

Jane Mayer has an excellent -- and very disturbing -- article in the New Yorker on the Koch brothers, who have invested vast sums of money in opposing climate change legislation, environmental regulation, health care reform, and pretty much anything President Obama is trying to do. I found it hard to read, but it really shows what we're up against.

They run Koch Industries, an energy firm. They're worth $35 billion. And they're putting lots of money into fighting anything remotely progressive. Plus they micromanage the groups that they give money to, to make sure they spend it "right."

If you, like me, can't believe it when people call Obama a socialist, or wonder what's driving the Tea Party or why the absolute lies told by the right have so much currency, here's part of the explanation.

I find this scarier than Fox News. But I'm glad Jane Mayer is writing about them, because shining a bright light on people like this is about the only way I can think of to fight them.


Josh said...

Amanda Marcotte, if I may mention her, had a couple of fine commentaries on these guys: an analysis of the Kochian world view and the significance of the Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian (I wish I were making that up!).

Nancy Jane Moore said...

She's referencing the Mayer article, too. Sounds like it affected her as much as it affected me. My father gave it to me and told me to read it. It was painful to read. The Smithsonian example is just one of many -- though it is awful that a museum of that caliber would hedge on the most important issue of the day because of where the money came from.

Kristin said...

And yet these are not the only billionaires who are deciding public policy. I'm researching what's happening with "education reform" and wondering if we're going to end up with charter schools all over the country in the next three years, due in part to Gates, Broad, and who knows which other ones. (Koch? Fordham?) I've been reading various policy papers and they are frightening.

X. Trapnel said...

I think Kristin's point is crucial. The current social and political structures are set up in such a way that it's surprising we don't see *more* concerted efforts to fund large-scale social change (as opposed to everyday money-for-influence sorts of correuption). I suspect this is because few billionaires are radicals who truly believe in revolutionary change; the Kochs, by contrast to the Waltons, really do.

Anyway. My gripe about the article is that it focuses too much on the brothers, and too little on why, and to what effect, this sort of strategy works. After all, it's not like publishing this kind of piece can (or ought to, for that matter) lead to some sort of injunction against what they do. Because most of what they do consists of simply paying middle-class salaries to smart, politically-committed radicals, so that they can be full-time activists (whether at think-tanks or as 'grass-roots' organizers) or maintain the institutional & intellectual infrastructure for said activists.

X. Trapnel said...

Those who found the NYorker article interesting may want to check out this post by Julian Sanchez & the comment thread it started. He's a young guy who's unquestionably part of the Libertarian-Punditry-Complex, but who's also very much of the leftist, anti-authoritarian flavor (his recent work has been focused on surveillance abuse, for example). And the commenters are people who have some insider experience with the LPC. So it makes for an interesting discussion.

[I suppose I may as well say in the interests of disclosure that I've also had Koch $ at various points (scholarships, weekend conferences); I was at one point a fairly doctrinaire right-libertarian; I'm now, I dunno, a left-democratic-anarchist? But IHS & Liberty Fund are still, in some sense, 'my people'...]