Monday, April 25, 2011

You Thought The Koch Brothers Were Bad.....They're Worse Than You Thought

by ADELE STAN (AlterNet)

You knew they were big. You knew they were evil. From the union-busting actions of their minions in Wisconsin and Ohio to their war on health-care reform, to their assault on the environment and their attacks on the science of climatology, Charles and David Koch have earned their place as the focus of progressives’ scrutiny in the age of the Tea Party — the destructive and regressive movement they bankroll. But a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund shows that, as bad as you thought the Kochs were, they’re actually worse. And their reach into virtually every aspect of political, economic and physical life on the planet is probably greater than you thought possible.

In The Koch Brothers: What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right, author Tony Carrk, policy director of the CAP Action War Room, lays out a case that is breathtaking in its scope, showing how the Koch brothers are using their billions with the aim of reshaping the global economic system in such a way as to enrich themselves and their heirs at the expense of most other inhabitants of the planet.

While much of the report will have a familiar ring (especially to readers of AlterNet, and CAP Action’s own ThinkProgress), The Koch Brothers also addresses elements of the Koch agenda far beyond the well-trodden turf of Americans for Prosperity’s organizing against health-care reform or the pollution rap against Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States, which the billionaire brothers command.

The Kochs and the Global Economy

Consider, for instance, the Kochs’ role in the financial business. You thought Koch Industries was just a high-polluting oil-and-gas-based conglomerate? Add in the part played on Wall Street by Koch Supply & Trading, and the depth of the Koch imprint on the economy is revealed. From Carrk’s report:

First, the Koch brothers fought efforts to give the Commodity Futures Trading Commission more oversight over speculative trading, whereby companies can artificially inflate prices on things such as oil, during the Wall Street reform debate. One of the Koch companies—Koch Supply & Trading—takes part in oil and derivatives trading. We should point out that oil speculation has reached an all-time high at the same time gas prices continue to skyrocket.

Then look at a recent position pushed by Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-allied astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch (and whose sibling organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, he chairs):

Similarly, Americans for Prosperity supports the House continuing resolution that cuts spending by $61 billion. Those cuts would reduce the budget for the CFTC by one-third. Make no mistake: Gutting the CFTC or limiting its authority would be a boon to Wall Street businesses that use complex financial instruments. But while the result is more profits for oil companies, it means everyone else pays more at the pump.

Okay, now have a look at the Kochs’ recent direct contributions to political candidates:

The Kochs donated directly to 62 of the 87 members of the House GOP freshman class…and to 12 of the new members of the U.S. Senate.

No wonder, then, how that continuing resolution — the means for funding the government when a budget has not been passed into law — managed to get through the House. (It was subsequently rejected by the Senate, setting the stage for a possible shutdown of the government at the end of this week.) Those 62 Koch-backed freshmen are essentially driving the agenda of the House Republicans, because together they form a large enough bloc to prevent House Speaker John Boehner from amassing a majority on any piece of legislation, should they choose to, despite the 2010 Republican victories that handed control of the House to the GOP.

It should be noted that such “complex financial instruments” as those mentioned above had much to do with the 2008 Bush crash of Wall Street. The report reminds us that “from September 2007 to May 2009, American 401(k) and individual retirement accounts lost a total of $2.7 trillion.” But if the Kochs had their way, Social Security would no longer be financed by the federal government, and would instead be invested on Wall Street — a boon for financiers such as they. Too bad if your account takes a hit that lands you on the curb.

And while we think of Wall Street as an American institution, when Wall Street sneezes, the world gets a cold. The Bush crash set in motion a global recession. Less oversight of the financial shenanigans known as derivatives (or “complex financial instruments”) all but guarantees further crashes.

The Brothers Koch and the Body Politic

If you read the whole of the CAP Action report, you’ll see how the Koch influence on the nation’s politics is compounded and leveraged through a combination of the brothers’ direct contributions to candidates, their investment in astroturf groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks (which do political organizing), and their funding of right-wing think tanks, which send policy position papers daily to the in-boxes of senators, representatives and their aides. Carrk identified some 85 right-leaning think tanks that received a collective $85 million from the Kochs over the course of the last 15 years. These include the Cato Institute, of which David Koch was a founder, and other well-known outfits, such as the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

But that’s not all:

Charles and David Koch and their company, Koch Industries, do not limit their political donations to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups. They also donate millions directly to candidates. Since 1990, the Koch network has donated $11 million to federal candidates, $9.8 million, or 89 percent, of which went to Republicans.

In Congress, the donations are well-targeted. Take, for example, the House Commerce and Energy Committee, whose imprint on legislation has a direct effect on Koch Industries’ core businesses. (Koch’s Flint Hill Resources, LLC, according to the report, “has a combined crude oil processing capacity of more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day.”) From the report:

The Kochs have contributed significantly to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In fact, they are the single-largest oil and gas donor to members of the committee, contributing $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans and $32,000 to five Democrats. Tim Phillips, the head of Americans for Prosperity, even co-authored an op-ed with chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), detailing how Congress could stop the EPA from ensuring a cleaner environment.

At the state level, the Koch influence is every bit as corrosive as it is at the national level, Carrk tells us.

The Koch network donated $1.2 million to help elect conservative Republican governors last year, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, both of whom are trying to take away collective bargaining rights. During the fight in Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity ran an ad and orchestrated protests to support Gov. Walker’s union busting and orchestrated pro-Walker demonstrations. Americans for Prosperity also started a Web site urging people to “Stand with Governor Kasich.”

And that’s not even counting the money the brothers donate to candidates for state legislatures, or to support ballot measures designed to enrich them and their heirs. Carrk reports:

Data from the National Institute for Money in State Politics show that from 2003 to 2010, the Koch brothers, as well as their companies, employees, and affiliates, have donated $5.2 million to state candidates and ballot measures in 34 states. $3.4 million of those donations, or 65 percent, went to Republican candidates. Another $1 million, or 20 percent, went to one ballot initiative: the effort to overturn California’s clean energy law, AB 32.

Heck, as AlterNet reported, Americans for Prosperity was celebrating Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin, back when he was a mere county commissioner. In 2008, Walker served as the emcee for a ceremony by the Wisconsin chapter of the AFP Foundation — at which the organization’s “Defender of the American Dream” award was conferred upon Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who now chairs the House Budget Committee. Ryan this week proposed a budget plan for 2012 that would privatize Medicare and slash Medicaid.

Much, Much More

In addition to a narrative on the duo’s activities in the political sphere, The Koch Brothers: What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right serves up a bevy of lists and graphics that offer a range of facts and figures in an easy-to-grok form. There’s a list of all the freshman congressional representatives who have received Koch campaign dollars, and the dollar amounts they received. Those 85 Koch-funded think tanks are listed, with total-donations-per-tank noted next to their names. A map of the U.S. shows the states in which Koch Industries has facilities (nearly all 50). Another highlights the 32 states in which Americans for Prosperity has a state chapter.

There’s also a comprehensive listing of all the Koch Industries subsidiaries and what they make or sell, as well as a detailed section on the pollution and environmental infractions for which the conglomerate is responsible.

If you’re one of those people who like to be scared out of your wits, you’ll find the CAP Action report better than Wes Craven’s latest offering. Just consider this:

The significant victories the billionaire Koch brothers chalked up for their ideological and business interests in the 2010 elections is only a precursor of what is to come. The Koch brothers have already pledged to raise $88 million through their considerable network for policy and political projects for the 2012 election cycle.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How the GOP Is Committing Political Suicide With Ryan's Extremist Budget Plan

How the GOP Is Committing Political Suicide With Ryan's Extremist Budget Plan
Believing their own spin, the GOP appears to have over-reached since the last election, alienating swing voters as it pursues a profoundly reactionary agenda.
April 18, 2011 | LIKE THIS ARTICLE ?
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At first blush, it's difficult to grasp why all but four Republicans in the House would go on record endorsing a budget plan that would cost the economy millions of jobs, effectively end Medicare and result in deep cuts to Social Security, roll back new regulations on Wall Street and raise taxes on the middle class while slashing the rates paid by big business and the wealthy. It's especially tough to understand given that we're entering the 2012 campaign season, and their budget has no chance of becoming law.


But that's what happened last week when the GOP-controlled House passed a budget outline based on the radical plan hatched by Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.


A poll conducted last week found that, “when voters learn almost anything about [the Ryan plan], they turn sharply and intensely against it.” And why wouldn't they? According to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the Republicans' “roadmap” would “end most of government other than Social Security, health care, and defense by 2050,” while providing the “largest tax cuts in history” for the wealthy.


Not wealthy yourself? Well that's too bad, because the plan would also “place a new consumption tax on most goods and services, a measure that would increase taxes on most low- and middle-income families.” According to the Tax Policy Center, about three-quarters of Americans — people who earn between $20,000 and $200,000 per year — would face tax increases if the GOP's scheme became law.


The New York Times called the budget, “the most regressive social legislation in many decades.”


In addition to making “entitlement” a dirty word, the Ryan bulldozer would go much further in knocking down government programs to achieve its goals. It would cut food stamps by $127 billion, or 20 percent, over the next 10 years, almost certainly increasing hunger among the poor. It would cut Pell grants for all 9.4 million student recipients next year, removing as many as one million of them from the program altogether. It would remove more than 100,000 low-income children from Head Start, and slash job-training programs for the unemployed desperate to learn new skills.


Conservatives are spinning this monstrosity as a “serious” attempt to address growing budget deficits, but the new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans would result in rising deficits as far as the eye can see. According to CBPP's analysis, “the debt would continue to grow in relation to the size of the economy for at least 40 more years — reaching over 175 percent of GDP by 2050. Even by 2080, the debt would still equal about 100 percent of GDP.” (That's about where it stands today.) Ryan (who thinks Ayn Rand “makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism) admits his proposal is less a budget than it is an ideological “cause.”


It would be a painful cause to advance. Economist Ethan Pollack estimates that the Medicaid provision alone – just one small part of this radical restructuring of the social contract – would cost the American economy 2.1 million jobs over the next five years, the vast majority of which would be shed by the private sector.


Last fall, the Democrats attempted to tie Ryan's proposal to the GOP caucus, but Republicans distanced themselves from Ryan's “roadmap.” “It's his,” then minority-leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters during the campaign. “I know the Democrats are trying to say that it's the Republican leadership ['s plan], but they know that's not the case.”


But they certainly own Ryan's “roadmap to poverty” now, prompting head-scratching from political observers. Ezra Klein, noting that in the last election, “seniors turned out in big numbers, and Republicans carried voters over 65 by an astounding 21 points,” wondered whether the GOP can “take on Medicare and survive”? (The CBO says that by 2030, seniors would end up paying 70 percent of their health costs out of pocket under Ryan's plan, but that assumes insurers will cover them, which is anything but a given.) And Reuters' James Pethokoukis suggested that Ryan's plan may prove to be “a 73-page suicide note” for the party.