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Brookes writes: "If the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting - oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits."

Screen grab of the Koch Brothers from Robert Greenwald's 'Koch Brothers Exposed.' (image: Robert Greenwald/Brave New Films)
Screen grab of the Koch Brothers from Robert Greenwald's 'Koch Brothers Exposed.' (image: Robert Greenwald/Brave New Films)

Fear of a Koch Planet

By Julian Brookes, Rolling Stone

24 April 12


f the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting - oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.

But no need to invent - Charles and David Koch are the real deal. Over the past 30-some years, they've poured more than 100 million dollars into a sprawling network of foundations, think tanks, front groups, advocacy organizations, lobbyists and GOP lawmakers, all to the glory of their hard-core libertarian agenda. They don't oppose big government so much as government - taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the the holiness of free markets. Still, you can't help but notice how neatly their philosophy lines up with their business interests.) They like to think of elected politicians as merely "actors playing out a script," and themselves as supplying "the themes and words for the scripts." Imagine Karl Rove’s strategic cunning, crossed with Ron Paul’s screw-the-poor ideology, and hooked up to Warren Buffett's checking account, and you’re halfway there.

For years, the brothers shunned the spotlight. David Koch used to joke that the family business, the Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries - with annual revenues* estimated at $100 billion, it's the second-biggest private firm in America - was "the largest company you’ve never heard of." But when Barack Obama became president, the Kochs, like a lot of right-wingers, flipped out. They threw their weight behind a stealth campaign to turn back the president’s "socialist" agenda: They were early backers, some say puppet masters, of the Tea Party movement, and when the tea-infused GOP retook the House in the famous midterm "shellacking" of 2010, it was with a big assist from Koch money. (They later blessed the brief, ill-fated presidential run of Tea Party-favorite Herman Cain. That's how crazy - or cynical - these guys are.) Progressive activists and the news media started paying attention - most notably ThinkProgress and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker - and pretty soon the Kochs had become the poster boys of "the 1 percent" and a surefire fundraising tool for the Democratic Party; at the mere mention of the Koch name, liberal wallets fall open.

Now the Kochs are the subject of a blistering (but to all appearances factual) documentary by the activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald. Koch Brothers Exposed aims to show how the brothers' machinations affect the lives of "living, breathing human beings," as Greenwald put it to me at the film’s New York premiere in late March. "When I learned about the damage the Kochs were doing to our democracy, I wanted to make sure more Americans understood what they're up to."

On the evidence of Koch Brothers Exposed, the more relevant question is: What aren't they up to? The film - scrappy and low-budget, but effective all the same - weaves together a string of shorter videos produced over the past year by Greenwald’s nonprofit Brave New Films, each looking at a separate tentacle of the "Kochtopus," as lefty wags have dubbed the Kochs' network. It recounts how the brothers have:

helped fund efforts to undo a model diversity policy in the Wake County school system in North Carolina, effectively resegregating the district - part of a larger campaign, the film alleges, to weaken the public school system and prepare the way for widespread privatization;

pushed voter ID laws - purportedly aimed at combating ballot fraud but really designed to keep Democrats from voting - through their financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an increasingly radioactive business group specializing in the drafting of corporate-friendly pick-up-and-pass legislation for state lawmakers. (ALEC is also behind the insane "Stand Your Ground" gun laws at issue in the Trayvon Martin shooting case);

pumped millions of dollars into more than 150 colleges and university in exchange for control over hiring and curriculum decisions, to ensure students will be exposed to the free-market fundamentalism of Ayn Rand, Freidrich von Hayek and like minds;

bankrolled a coordinated campaign to swing public opinion in favor of privatizing Social Security, deploying Koch-funded think tanks, experts, and pundits to spread the myth that the program is on the brink of bankruptcy.

(Greenwald might equally well have documented Koch-funded efforts to repeal Obama's health care law, deny climate change, undermine collective-bargaining rights, or block Wall Street reform, but there's only so much a single film can cover.)

All diabolical stuff, from the liberal point of view. Of course, you might want to argue that even if the scale of the Kochs' doings puts them in a league of their own, they're just exercising their constitutional right to play politics at the platinum level, like plenty of other high rollers on the right (and on the left, for that matter). Which of course gets at the basic problem - the gigantic power of money in American politics makes a joke of our democracy. And, for sure, without ever touching the subject directly Greenwald's film makes a powerful case for campaign finance reform, by showing the malign sway a couple of rich guys with radical views can have over millions of lives. But Greenwald isn't just saying the system is rotten, or that the Kochs are wrong (though he is saying both); he wants to persuade us - viscerally - that these guys are bad.

He makes a strong circumstantial case. The film brings us to Penn Road in Crossett, Arkansas, a low-income black community where, by all appearances, the residents who haven't already died from cancer are stuck at home, tethered to oxygen tanks. Could all this death and illness have anything to do with the stream of stinking toxic waste water out back oozing downstream from the Koch-owned Georgia-Pacific plant? The residents sure think so. A woman named Dolores Wimberley sobs at the grave of her non-smoking, non-drinking 43-year-old daughter, who died of lung cancer, and says, "I feel that Georgia Pacific and Koch is responsible for my daughter’s death."

Koch Industries vehemently denies any responsibility for the cancer deaths in Crossett and touts its environmental record as "exemplary." As ThinkProgress and others have documented, it is not: Koch Industries has been named one of the top ten worst polluters in the country and found criminally liable in more than one pollution-related case, including one involving the discharge of (carcinogenic) benzene. And, wouldn't you know, the company has lobbied hard to prevent the E.P.A. from classifying formaldehyde, produced in huge quantities by none other than Georgia-Pacific, as a "known carcinogen" in humans.

Greenwald lays it on a bit thick here and there, but that's kind of the point. "A lot of progressives really believe that if we can turn out one more white paper with bullet points about how to fix Problem X, we can fix it," Greenwald says. "But that's not primarily the way you reach people or move them. You reach the heart first. What I always try to do is make the political personal."

But you have to ask: Who’s going to watch, or even hear about, Koch Brothers Exposed? The film isn't being released to theaters, since Greenwald reckoned few moviegoers would be willing to pony up $10 or more to see a no-frills documentary about a couple of oldster ideologues, however powerful or well researched. So to get the word out Brave New Films has teamed up with 40-plus progressive membership organizations and labor unions to form a far-flung anti-Koch coalition. The idea is that groups and individuals will hold screenings everywhere from their homes to bowling alleys, church basements, college campuses, and union halls. "The ultimate goal," Greenwald told Alternet, another partner, is "organize, organize — and then, organize." (Lefty activists are notoriously single-issue, but the all-enveloping reach of the Kochtopus makes opposing the brothers something all liberals can get behind: education, environment, labor rights, campaign finance, corporate malfeasance - everyone’s cause is on the line.) Available via streaming outlets and cable video-on-demand starting May 8, the film has the potential at least to reach beyond the choir into millions of American homes.

Have the Kochs caught Greenwald's flick? It has certainly crossed their radar. Google "Koch Brothers Exposed" and the first thing you see is a paid text ad that reads, "YouTube propagandist-for-hire dishonestly attacks Koch for cash." It links to, the company’s all-purpose damage-limitation website. A lawyer for Koch industries recently fired off a statement to Deadline Hollywood saying, "Mr. Greenwald's statements are maliciously false and misleading, and we urge the news media not to republish them," conveniently forgetting that the news media (from The New Yorker to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times) is a major source of Greenwald's information. The film maker is pushing back with his Top Ten Koch Facts and a busy media schedule.

Whether or not Greenwald’s film reaches its hoped-for audience, we can expect to hear plenty about the Koch brothers this campaign season. Obama and the Democrats are going to make the election a referendum on a Republican Party hijacked by ideological zealots, 1 percenters, and religious nuts - we’re a long way from hope and change here - and the Kochs make a handy proxy for two out of the three. Team Obama regularly beats the Koch drum in their fundraising emails, leading to an angry public back-and-forth recently between a Koch lieutenant and the president's campaign manager. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has been discreetly courting the Kochs, who backed him for president in 2008 and are said to have pledged to raise $100 million to defeat Obama. As Greenwald put it in a recent interview, Charles and David Koch "are going to do everything their money will allow them to do to influence this election negatively." your social media marketing partner


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+43 # pernsey 2012-04-24 16:44
The Koch brothers... are two rich scumbags in a pod!
+59 # NanFan 2012-04-24 22:39
Quoting pernsey:
The Koch brothers... are two rich scumbags in a pod!

...who have more power than we can even imagine and will continue to get away with the most egregious acts because they have the almighty dollar against a weakened populace...thei r plan all along.

I feel like I'm going to throw up...but I'm not...I'm going to try to see and share Greenwald's film with as many people as I can.

And, oh, by the way, I have a lot of "people"; I'm a college professor who teaches at least 1,000 students per year, and they WILL learn about the Koch's this year, and they will research them, critically analyze their findings, and they WILL share the details!

My mandate is to teach that the way to live well in this world is to know how to act to benefit ALL. This is the antithesis of the Kochs' mandate to benefit only themselves, their hateful and hurtful ideology, and to perpetrate ONLY that harmful-to-the planet way to live in the world.

Stay tuned.

+16 # X Dane 2012-04-24 23:52
NanFan reading your comment gives me hope. I am glad that you can reach a lot of people. Please don't get into trouble. These ogres have tentacles that can reach everywhere. I will also try to reach as many people as possible. Good luck to all of us
+15 # X Dane 2012-04-25 00:00
It is scary what 2 evil old guys with a lot of money can achieve. I wonder if we will be able to counter them. I sure hope so, for the sake of regular people.
We need to remind all our friends TO VOTE.
+10 # lcarrier 2012-04-25 04:48
If each one of us spreads the message of compassion against greed, we cannot fail. I'm glad you're doing your part, as am I.
+7 # dyannne 2012-04-25 11:28
Thank you, Professor! I bought a DVD and will invite my few peeps to see it. I plan to give my video to the library, where I hope it will be accepted and seen by many more. I agree with lcarrier, if we each spread the message, we will make a big inroad on the Koch propaganda.
+26 # dyannne 2012-04-24 22:21
......and they like Romney!
+12 # Bill Clements 2012-04-24 23:29
Lets not fail to mention that he likes them!
+7 # lcarrier 2012-04-25 00:23
Although progressives have not counted on religious groups to support their crusade against the pernicious policies
of the Kochs, there is ample opportunity to do so. All religions urge compassion toward the poor and those less fortunate; whereas, Koch initiatives fly in the face of compassionate action. Therefore, religious people should rise up against them, boycott their products on the ground that the producers do the devil's work.
+2 # AMLLLLL 2012-04-26 09:02
When your dad is one of the founders of the John Birch Society, you probably grow up with a superiority complex and a sense of entitlement. Their one 'good' brother spoke up recently and said he was ashamed of his brothers, but they sent him to the woodshed.
+10 # RichyD 2012-04-25 03:12
Check out the recording of a call last year to one of the Koch brothers regarding their complicity in Wisconsin Cov. Walker's subversion of freedom of the citizens of my former home state-that includes attempting to inhibit voter rigts!

If we didn't have a corrupt bunch of 'supremes' and legislators, riding herd on uncertain moderates and liberals, these guys and their minions would be in jail for life-their money employed for the betterment of our fellow citizens-not just the ignoble '1%ers'!
+13 # Ralph Averill 2012-04-25 03:53
Free market?! In a pig's eye! The last thing the Koch bros. et al want is a free market, on anything. Most detested of all is a free market of ideas. Any time a 1%er talks about a "free market", they mean a market controlled by and benefiting the 1%.
+11 # tuandon 2012-04-25 06:14
These two are a living billboard for class warfare. The sooner the country and world are rid of them, and their ilk, their cheerleaders and prostitute legislators, the better off we will all be.
+7 # RandyGab 2012-04-25 06:49
It is easy to point fingers. I work tirelessly against the Koch agenda. But unfortunately, many of us bare some responsibility for all this. Too often, Americans have chosen to use resources that the Koch's want to sell us, elected leaders that the Koch's have, and pursue policies that they support. Although we as individual consumers cannot defy the Koch brothers at structural levels, we need to recognize how we support them by our use of resources. And we need to organize to educate others as well.
+15 # Rita Walpole Ague 2012-04-25 06:53
Bushwhacked and Kochsucked - Villainaires, Go To Hell!!!

(and that's merely tellin the Kochs and their 1% cronies and puppets to go home, for that's where evil resides).

And, Kochsucked we were here in Colorado Springs recently, as well over $800,000 was pumped into our mayoral race by and through the Koch's political buyout org., Prosperity for America, which should be more truthfully called Prosperity for the 1%. And with their boy Bach now in office (vs. the Independent Skorman, a former vice mayor who displayed genuine support and compassion for the 99% and our environment, etc.), the Koch's truly evil agenda is revealed.

Kochsucker Bach lies as he enslaves us, stating the cops here have done nothing wrong to the local Occupy Wall Streeters. This was just after I had informed city council, with Bach presiding, how a young woman (17 yrs. old) OWSer had been handcuffed face down on her motel room bed, extremely short range Tasered, leaving dreadful burns on her mid-section and breast. No charges were made (she'd done nothing wrong), no citations, no advisement of rights. She'd ended up in the emergency room, where her parents joined her in her grief, fright, and total loss of hope for liberty and justice for any and all of us.

Thank the greed and power addicted Kochs and their minions for the coup, long in the making, that is now nearly complete.

+9 # suzyskier 2012-04-25 08:38
Thanks NanFan! We need thousands more like you! We cannot allow our election to be bought by these corporate thugs.
+10 # photojack53 2012-04-25 08:46
I have been commenting on the most widely read forums I can think of, Yahoo, the N.Y Times, the Washington Post and others, to inform American citizens of the menace and threats the Republican party pose to us all. This article with its included video exposes the truly horrific peril to our country from the Kochs. I posted THIS after an article about Boehner's "prediction" of the odds of Republicans keeping their slim majority in the House:
"This is encouraging beyond belief to me... to see these overwhelming negative responses to Boehner and what the Republican party has become. The Tea Party kooks have driven it further to the conservative side, a losing ideology if there ever was one. In their immoral and unconscionable efforts to make Obama a "one-term" president, they lengthened the foreclosure crisis and prolonged high unemployment, thereby hurting tens of thousands of American citizens right where it hurts the most, in their pocketbook. Those EVIL Republicans didn't vote for even their own constituents best interests, let alone those of all Americans. A vote for Republicans is a vote against your own best interests... unless you're in the top 1% or 2%.
+13 # photojack53 2012-04-25 08:48
I'm so glad that NanFan has reached out through his college professorship to educate and inform the public about the dangers and threats the Kochs pose to our nation. Democrats need to communicate these vile threats as widely as possible to inform the public of the consequences of a Republican takeover. PLEASE reach out in any and all ways to save our democracy from the corporate takeover orchestrated from the 1% or 2% wealthiest plutocrats!
+3 # X Dane 2012-04-25 15:00
photojack53, not that it maters, just out of curiosity. How do you deduct that NanFan is a MALE professor? I read NanFan's comment, and can't tell. I am just thrilled, that the professor reaches a LOT of people, and lots of young people.

It is so important that the young understand how essential it is, that they vote. I hear that many young don't get HOW important it is.

A great many people are being excluded from voting, by underhanded methods. We are talking about MILLIONS.
+2 # NanFan 2012-04-27 15:51
Quoting X Dane:
How do you deduct that NanFan is a MALE professor? I read NanFan's comment, and can't tell.

You know, at first I was thinking, "It doesn't matter...male.. .female." But then I read Dr. Reich's article on the GOP and all the craziness the male leaders are doing, and I thought, matters.

I'm a proud-to-be woman, strong minded, but I believe I am a good-hearted and thoughtful person, who even if I were to be male, would be just the same.

But I am a woman professor.


+7 # Texas Aggie 2012-04-25 09:39
Don't just focus on these guys. Read Frank Rich's commentary on the rest of the Sugar Daddies

(New York Magazine <> )

who are doing the same things in cahoots with these two SOB's. Koch Industries may now have been forced into the daylight, but there are still a lot more similar beasts hidden in the shadows.
+6 # Skeeziks 2012-04-25 09:50
Should read-If the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting - oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion(up our backends) and pump up their profits.

Same ol' same ol'.:
Do as we say not as we do, because we are the very top of your society. Bow down to us, you United Serfs of America.
We earned the "Right" to keep you down and in line.
+8 # charsjcca 2012-04-25 10:01
Koch Industries relies on customers to maintain their existence. If Americans cease to buy their products they will shut their doors. Boycotting an industry is an easy solution to this perceived problem.
Do not invent am emergency.
+10 # Pancho 2012-04-25 10:18
Rolling Stone wrote: "Obama and the Democrats are going to make the election a referendum on a Republican Party hijacked by ideological zealots, 1 percenters, and religious nuts. The Kochs make a handy proxy for two out of three."


The Kochs are three for three.

While touting their "libertarian" credentials, a quick look at their Kansas home base shows they have heavily, consistently and almost exclusively supported theocrats, from anti-evolutioni st Governor Sam Brownback to disgraced ex-Attorney General Phill Kline, both who have led a war on secularism and science. They contributed to the toxic atmosphere that led to the attempts on the life of the assassinated obstetrician, Dr. George Tiller. The Kochs' stooges installed their own personal hack, the wholly unqualified Bob Corkins, as state Commissioner of Education. In his state senate election Steve Abrams, chairing the Board that installed that embarrassment, received the most Koch money of any Kansas legislative candidate they backed. Abrams had opposed the teaching of evolution, sex education and even world history, as a "young earth creationist."

There's no evidence that the brothers believe any of this claptrap, but such elected surrogates have faithfully served the Kochs' ultimate, tax-lowering agenda by demolishing the social safety net, K-12 education through vouchers and charter schools, health care, unions and infrastructure not necessary for their business.
+1 # Tom Camfield 2012-04-25 10:31
Egos running wild. Think of the good these vultures could afford to do, al a Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.
+6 # seeuingoa 2012-04-25 10:49
Look at the photo of these two predators:

grinning with their white artificially
implanted teeth ready for swallowing up
another billion from their fellow americans. How disgusting, and what an
appalling lack of compassion for other people.
+1 # AMLLLLL 2012-04-26 09:36
Democracy is really not in their interest. What they want is a fiefdom ruled by themselves and other oligarcs. Remember the "new world order" that Poppy Bush used to rant? Well, these guys are in that camp.
+6 # Fraenkel.1 2012-04-25 11:04
If we had high marginal income tax rates there wouldn't be any people wealthy enough to buy themselves politicians. The extra tax revenues would go for infrastructure, education and research and all the public services that stabilize the economy and allow it to develop. That would be good for business and for all of us.
+5 # dyannne 2012-04-25 11:35
Absolutely right, Fraenkel.1! It's such an easy fix. Tax these ba$tards like we did in the 1950s. Their playground would shrink to a more fair level. The thinking then was that this country makes it possible for them to make their millions (now billions) and they should pay back something for that. It's got way out of hand now. They've become tyrants to the nth degree.
+3 # Buddha 2012-04-25 16:10
Thanks SCOTUS for allowing scumbag Plutarchs like this to effectively buy our government and destroy our nation.
+2 # GF4A 2012-04-26 03:42
In order for CHANGE to come, the PEOPLE of this country MUST GET INVOLVED!

We must move from our complacent, self-centered lives and SPEAK UP, ACT UP and get off our lazy asses and do something!

The Koch boys, and others like them, are only getting away with this because nobody knows or cares.

Their actions are affecting all of us.

They should be put in jail for knowingly poisoning people, illegal political influence and whatever else we can throw at them.

Until WE THE PEOPLE speak up, they will continue to have their way!

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