Posts Tagged ‘koch brothers’

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.


*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.

 

Immigrants for Sale

Directed by Axel Caballero (2012)

Film Review

Immigrants For Sale is a documentary about the $5 billion a year private detention industry. Corrections Corporation of America, The Geo Group, and the Management and Training Corporation run over 200 facilities across the US, a total of 150,000 bed spaces. Because these facilities are paid by the number of beds they fill, they have absolutely no incentive to speed up the legal process that might lead to detainees’ release. As one facility auctioneer puts it, thanks to harsh immigration laws and skyrocketing refugee numbers, there’s an “endless supply of product.”

The film closely examines the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right wing corporate lobby group founded by the Koch brothers, in writing anti-immigrant legislation adopted by various states and championing the construction of new private detention facilities. In most cases, state legislators with cozy relationships with ALEC and industry lobbyists impose these monstrosities on local communities against their wishes.

The filmmakers interview detainees’ families, immigrant rights groups and even former correctional officers who describe scandalous human rights violations by CCA et al, as well as their failure to provide nutritional food or adequate medical care or toilet facilities.

As a psychiatrist I was most appalled by the negligent and abusive treatment of mentally ill detainees. Because these facilities earn $197 a night to house detainees, they have no motivation to identify detainees with mental illness and transfer them to more appropriate treatment facilities. Detainees have no legal right to legal representation and often their families have no idea where they are. Both make their situation even more precarious. One mentally ill detainee featured in the film was beaten (one beating required hospitalization) and humiliated by corrections officers for three years before his mother secured his release.

Fortunately there is growing grassroots resistance to the private detention industry. One community successfully blocked – through sustained protest activity – the construction of a new detention facility. Another, Littlewood Texas, has been bankrupted by their decision to help bankroll a private detention facility. It remains vacant and unsold to this day.

In this presentation Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seal talks about the joint role he and Huey Newton played in forming the organization in 1966.

Seal’s genius as a grassroots organizer is what comes across most clearly in this talk. His initial vision in starting the Panthers was to use the 1965 Voting Rights Act to achieve “power” for African Americans by electing more black representatives to local, state and federal government. He maintains that monitoring police brutality and other tactics (like the children’s breakfast program) were merely a strategy towards this end.

Seal, who was employed in an Oakland jobs program for African American youth, recruited Huey (who had just started law school) because of his knowledge of the law. As brilliantly portrayed in Marvin Peeples 1995 film Panther, Huey became notorious for quoting large sections of the US Constitution and California law to Oakland police.

Seal is somewhat critical of Peeple’s docudrama, largely because it omits important historical details. An example is the crowd reaction – of supreme importance to Seal as an organizer – to the first confrontation between the Panthers and the cops. Another is the Nixon tape (which Seal, impersonating Nixon’s voice, describes in detail) in which the former president orders FBI director J Edgar Hoover to destroy the Panthers.

Seal also has some fascinating comments at the end about the Koch brothers and catastrophic climate change.

The film has an extremely long introduction and Seal’s talk begins at 21:00.

pity the billionaire

Pity the Billionaire: the Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

By Thomas Frank

Havill Secker (2012)

Book Review

Pity the Poor Billionaire describes how the right wing corporate elite used the 2008 economic crash to build a pseudo-populist movement (aka the Tea Party) to build blue collar support for harsh free market austerity policies that benefited Wall Street at the expense of working people.

According to Frank,  the Tea Party was the fourth conservative uprising in the last half century. The first was the backlash against the anti-Vietnam war movement that resulted in Nixon’s election in 1968 and 1972. The second was the Reagan revolution in 1980; the third the Contract with America revolution that won Republican control of Congress (in 1994) during Clinton’s first term.

The Demise of Unions and the Left

With each of these movements, US political and economic life became increasingly conservative, with all public institutions – churches, hospitals, universities, museums, the US Post Office and even the Army and CIA – succumbing to pressure to operate according to free market principles.

The same period saw the virtual demise of both labor unions and any organized US left. Nevertheless, according to Frank, right wing strategists managed to flood the media with rhetoric ramping up popular fear the left was “on the march.” It mainly  focused on a fictitious behind-the-scenes conspiracy to provoke a crisis – through overspending that would collapse the US economy.

Swaying Popular Anger from Wall Street to the Government

This messaging, crafted by right wing think tanks funded by right wing billionaires like the Koch brothers and delivered by Glenn Beck, Russ Limbaugh and similar right wing celebrities, was spectacularly effective in convincing a majority of Americans that the neoliberal corporatist Obama is really a socialist.

Oil billionaire Charles Koch warned back in 2008 that the global economic downturn could lead to the same “loss of liberty and prosperity” (for billionaires) as the Great Depression did. He and his brother David went on to deliberately manufacture an “astroturf”* movement (ie the Tea Party) to thwart Obama from enacting the same type of public spending projects Roosevelt used to reverse the 1929 depression.**

They did this by using Tea Party protests and right wing media to sway public anger away from Wall Street and onto the government. Via sophisticated psychological propaganda, working people were systematically conned into believing their interests coincide with those of Wall Street corporations.


*Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from grassroots participants.

**Frank challenges (with data) the common Tea Party assertion that Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms failed to halt the 1929 depression (ie that it took the World War II mobilization to lift the US out of depression). Between 1929 and 1933 (when Roosevelt took office), the US GDP dropped by more than 50 percent. Following the enactment of the New Deal, it increased by 11% in 1934, 9% in 1935, 14% in 1936 and 13% in 1937. Overall GDP growth 1933-37 was the highest the US has seen outside of war time.

Two nights ago, the New Plymouth Green Party and Climate Justice Taranaki sponsored the showing of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. We used the Tugg theatrical-on-demand platform, which allows individuals and groups to show one night film screenings at their local theater. Our cinema was packed (with 90 people) in contrast to the 12-15 watching Hollywood films in the other auditoriums.

The documentary, based on Naomi Klein’s best selling book of the same name, is about the global climate justice movement. Both the book and film take their title from Klein’s premise that the problem of climate change can’t be solved under our current capitalist economic system.

The documentary mainly showcases the mass global protests against the environmental destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry. Klein, who narrates the film, notes a major shift in the environmental movement, with growing numbers of poor and indigenous peoples fighting a fossil fuel industry whose slash and burn mentality threatens their ability to provide food, water and other basic necessities for their families.

The main premise of the film (and the book) is the carbon pollution, like other large scale environmental damage is the result of a dysfunctional story we’ve been telling ourselves over the last 400 years – namely that nature is a kind of machine that must be mastered and dominated at all costs. According to Klein and the numerous activists she interviews, this needs to be replaced by the much older story about humanity living in harmony with nature.

One highlight of the film is her visit to an ultra right free market think tank called the Hartland Foundation. Funded by billionaire fossil fuel barons like the Koch brothers, Hartland is the primary sponsor of the US climate denial movement.

This Changes Everything can be rented from Vudu for $3.99

Groups interested in bringing This Changes Everything and other anti-capitalist documentaries to their local theater can contact Tugg at their website.

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Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice

Edited by Inimai Chettiar and Michael Waldman

Book Review

Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow has helped spark a national debate on the mass incarceration of Africans. Solutions, a collection of essays, is intended as a response. As many are written by presidential hopefuls, the range of solutions is cautious. None of the authors support the most obvious (and popular) criminal justice reform, namely legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use.*

Likewise there are no essays by anti-Wall Street senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Both were viewed as prospective presidential candidates when Solutions was being readied for publication.

That being said, I was intrigued to see so many Republican politicians, both of the neoconservative Christian and the libertarian stripe, abandon their tough-on-crime rhetoric to argue for reducing prison populations. The forward, by Bill Clinton, argues that despite extreme political polarization on other issues, ending the incarceration of Americans for minor and victimless crimes is one area ripe for genuine bipartisan cooperation.

In his essay, Marc Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, suggests that conservatives, applying their core principles of personal responsibility, accountability and limited government, have become “the most vocal champions of prison reform.” In this regard, he and other key conservatives have clearly parted company with the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which continues to lobby for tough-on-crime legislation and increasing prison privatization.

Levin and editor Inimai Chettiar hold up Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Pennsylvania as model states, due to their shift from prison building to community based alternatives. As Levin readily admits, Texas reforms were driven by a need to control ballooning prison costs in an era of severe budgetary shortfalls. He brags how Texas has saved taxpayers billions of dollars by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences (allowing judges more discretion in sentencing), by offering drug and mental health treatment as an alternative to incarceration, by increasing formal rehabilitation and through various measures aimed at increasing the employability of ex-offenders (including a provision for law abiding ex-offenders to seal their criminal record).

A few of the essays read like stump speeches, full of vague ideological platitudes without meaningful detail on how prison reform can be accomplished. Others are surprisingly detailed.

Here are some examples:

Vice-President Joe Biden (D): reads like a stump speech and quotes extensively from Martin Luther King. He calls for restoring police staffing cuts and more genuine community policing. Doesn’t explain where the funding will come from, given the massive debt this administration has racked up for bank bailouts and the wars in the Middle East.

Hillary Clinton (D): reads like a stump speech, with frequent references to what Robert Kennedy would do and “my friend” Nelson Mandela. Calls for respect for the law, ending inequality, reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, ending racial profiling by the police, increasing use of drug diversion (ie mandatory treatment as an alternative to incarceration), restoring police staffing cuts, increasing community policing and restoring voting rights to ex-offenders. She also makes no mention of how all this would be funded.

Ted Cruz (US Senator Texas – R): calls for more jury trials and an end to mandatory minimum sentencing. Proposes a federal law requiring prosecutors to disclose all exculpatory** evidence before an accused can enter into a plea bargain. Also supports the Military Justice Improvement Law. This would increase military convictions for rape by transferring responsibility for prosecution from unit commanders to independent federal prosecutors.

Mike Huckabee (former Arkansas governor – R): would eliminate waste by treating drug addicts, rather than incarcerating them. He would also work to build character in American young people by strengthening families.

David Keene (former president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Conservative Union: would reduce the number of crimes punishable by prison, end three strikes laws (which require mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony), amend grounds for probation revocation so they’re only used to protect communities from violent criminals and end arbitrary police violence against African Americans for nonviolent crimes.

Martin O’Malley (former Maryland governor – D): would abolish the death penalty because it’s expensive, ineffective, wasteful and unjustly applied (poor minorities are far more likely to receive the death penalty because they can’t afford adequate legal representation). He states that only six other (mainly authoritarian) countries have the death penalty: Iran, Iraq, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. (For some reason he omits Egypt.)

Rand Paul (US Senator Kentucky – R): would end mandatory minimum sentencing, police militarization, disproportionate sentencing of minorities for drug crimes and civil asset forfeiture laws.** He would also allow juvenile/nonviolent offenders to have their criminal records sealed.

Rick Parry (former Texas governor – R): calls for increasing use of drug courts, expanded rehabilitation and mandatory drug and mental health treatment in lieu of incarceration.

Marco Rubio (US Senator Florida – R): would require federal government and regulatory agencies to publish all federal laws and regulations in one place, would end civil forfeiture laws and would rein in “out of control” regulatory agencies. (Me, too. I think they should start putting corporate white collar criminals in jail, but I doubt this is what he means).

Scott Walker (Wisconsin governor – R): advocates for more workplace drug testing and more programs to reduce heroin addiction.

James Webb (former US Senator Virginia – D): would appoint a federal commission on mass incarceration to study the problem some more (you can’t make this stuff up).


*At present marijuana has been legalized for recreational purposes in four states (Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado) and for medical purposes in 11 other states. Marijuana possession has been decriminalized or reduced to a misdemeanor in many other states. Cannabis possession for any purpose remains a felony in only six states (Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama).
*Exculpatory evidence is evidence that tends to exonerate a defendant of guilt.
**Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize, (without due process) property they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. The burden remains on the defendant to initiate separate legal action to recover their property, even if they’re acquitted or charges are dropped.

Solutions is published under a Creative Commons license and can be downloaded free at Solutions

The Koch Brothers Exposed

Robert Greenwald (2014)

Film Review

The Koch Brothers Exposed examines the myriad of ways America’s favorite billionaires are using their inherited wealth to make themselves the dominant players in the US political system.

Their father Fred Koch made his fortune in the 1920s by helping Stalin establish the Soviet oil industry. On his death, Charles and David Koch used their inheritance to found Koch industries, the second largest privately* held corporation in the US. It has holdings in oil and gas, coal, paper products, plastic and consumer goods.

Koch Industries is notorious for breaking environmental laws (and other crimes, such as stealing 2 million barrels of oil from Indian reservations**). They have paid millions in fines in seven states for criminal pollution. Thanks to their generous campaign donation, George W Bush reduced the 97 counts in one federal indictment to one count – lowering their fine from $370 to $20 million.

Their Georgia Pacific plant in Crossett Louisiana, which discharges toxic chemicals to natural streams (illegal under the Clean Water Act), is responsible for more than a dozen cancer deaths. Yet instead of stopping the toxic discharges and cleaning up the streams, the Koch brothers bribe Republican politicians (through campaign donations and other perks) to weaken and discredit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the entity responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act.

Determined to roll back the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the minimum wage, labor rights, electoral financing reform, environmental protection laws and federal and state workplace safety laws, the brothers have spent more than $80 million creating and funding conservative and libertarian think tanks and Astroturf organizations – such as Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party. They are also the primary funders, along with Exxon, of the climate denial movement.

They provided the financial backing in the Citizens United case***, in addition to sponsoring the attendance of two Supreme Court justices at an Americans for Prosperity conference. The prior involvement of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in this Koch brothers group posed a clear conflict of interest. Both had an ethical and legal obligation to recuse themselves. Obviously they didn’t.

The Koch brothers are also major funders and backers of Canada’s tar sands industry and the Keystone pipeline, as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The latter writes model legislation for state legislators to use in creating vote suppression, labor rights and workplace safety legislation, as well as laws promoting anti-immigrant campaigns and prison privatization.

Meanwhile the Koch Foundation uses educational grants to over 150 cash-strapped colleges and universities to influence their educational policies. The grants are always conditional, ie dependent on hiring professors who share the Koch brothers conservative philosophy.


*A privately owned corporation is one in which partners provide the capital and share the profits, as opposed to publicly owned corporations in which shareholders provide the capital and share in the profits.
**Charles and David’s younger brother Bill blew the whistle on this operation in 1999.
***Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a constitutional law case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations and labor unions. According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, a major agenda behind the decision was to retroactively decriminalize extensive past donations the Koch brothers had already made to Republican campaigns – in other words to keep them out of jail.