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Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 02:34 am

Billionaire brothers are remaking America for their own benefit

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David H. Koch one of two brothers who own Koch Industries, Inc.
There’s a difference between being paranoid and being suspicious. Paranoia is mental disturbance; suspicion is a rational deduction. 

For example, if you suspect that America’s economy, politics, government, media, judiciary and practically every other system has been wired to favor corporate interests over every other interest in our country, you’re deducing, not hallucinating. From the infamous Wall Street bailout to the Supreme Court’s shameful decree that corporations have more political rights than humans, we see again and again that corporate might overwhelms what’s right. 

This is not by accident, but by the deliberate, relentless efforts of corporatists to bend our nation’s institutions to their will. Take one huge corporation you’ve probably never heard of, even though your consumer dollars are financing its right-wing agenda.

Do you buy Northern tissue, Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups or Vanity Fair napkins? These well-known brands are owned and produced by Koch Industries (pronounced “coke”) in Wichita, Kan. Koch is also a major producer of oil, gas, timber, coal, cattle, refined petroleum, asphalt, polyethylene plastic ... and much, much more.  

Charles and David Koch, who control this family-owned empire, have a net worth of $14 billion each, ranking both in a tie for the 19th richest person on the planet. They boast of being “self-made” billionaires, though they had a little help from Daddy. Fred Koch started this namesake business, and his sons got a leg up on their climb to billionairedom by inheriting Fred’s company. They also inherited something else: a burning ideological commitment to right-wing politics (Daddy Fred helped found the John Birch Society).

Charles and David have used the wealth they draw from Koch Industries to fuel a network of three Koch Family Foundations, which have set up and financed a secretive army of political operatives dedicated to achieving the brothers’ antigovernment, corporate-controlled vision for America. 

This force includes national and state-level think tanks, Astroturf front groups, academic shills, university centers, political-training programs, fundraising clearinghouses, publications, lobbyists and various other units useful to their ideological cause. They spend freely on dozens of ideologically grounded right-wing groups to influence schoolteachers and high-school curricula, state and federal judges, lawyers and legal scholars, conservative policy thinkers and media producers, city-council candidates and local party activists. 

Their aim is to shove the country’s national debate to the hard right, discombobulate the public’s progressive wishes, and alter government policies to advance corporate interests generally and the Kochs’ own interests specifically.

Americans for Prosperity, the third-largest recipient of Koch foundation largesse, is the brothers’ overtly political unit. Essentially, it is a front group for mass-producing front groups. Much like McDonald’s churns out Big Mac franchises, AFP can pop out a grass-rootsy-looking, cookie-cutter political operation on demand. Its menu includes such garnishes as hoked-up studies, alarmist talking points, deceptive attack ads, divisive hate messages, celebrity and religious endorsers, and a menagerie of media stunts.

Consider the “tea bag” rebellion. No one professes more hatred for the two-party, business-as-usual political system in Washington than those angry Americans who’re caught up in the tea-bag rallies. Yet unbeknownst to most of the mad-as-hellers who have showed up, it was AFP’s Republican-tied lobbyists and political functionaries who cynically financed, organized and orchestrated the very first tea-bag protest. AFP has steadily co-opted the tea-bag faction to make it a front for the corporate agenda, and many of the tea-bag groups have devolved into subsidiaries of the Republican Party. 

Indeed, AFP has become the Astroturf-to-Go Store, fabricating and spreading fake grass-roots organizations all across the country, including Patients United Now (anti-health care reform), Hot Air Tour (anti-global warming), Free Our Energy (pro-offshore drilling), No Stimulus (tried to kill Obama’s economic recovery plan) and Save My Ballot Tour (tries to keep workers from joining unions). 

It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you — and they are! While such corporate elites as the Kochs are a tiny minority of Americans, they are able to hide their own selfish agenda behind front groups, surreptitiously skewing our public debate, agenda and policies to serve themselves. Ultimately, what they are out to get is nothing less than America’s essential uniting ethic of the common good, replacing our democracy with their corporate kleptocracy. 

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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