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writing for godot

How Did We Get Here Part IV: The Problem With Plutocrats

Written by Carl Peterson   
Friday, 14 July 2017 04:29

How Did We Get Here?  Part IV, The Problem With Plutocrats


Rousseau provides an answer to why Plutocrats seem to suffer from antisocial personality disorder:

If one sees a handful of powerful and rich men at the height of glory and fortune while the crowd grovels in obscurity and misery, it is because the former value the things they enjoy only to the extent that the latter are deprived of them, and that, without any change in their status, they would cease to be happy if the people ceased to be miserable. (Rousseau, from the Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality Among Men,1754)

This is also an answer to how Plutocrats are driven by their wealth to a particular manifestation of the antisocial personality disorder:  They can no longer magnify their joyous sense of superiority by becoming rapidly more wealthy--that is, where at an earlier time they could become two, three, ten times as wealthy in a year or two, and so feel themselves rising above the ants like superman--now, with tens of billions, they will never again see their wealth rapidly increase at those orders of magnitude.  To re-achieve this grandiosity effect, where their fellow human beings seem to become ever smaller and more insignificant, they must work the other end of the problem:  The ants must be brought lower by orders of magnitude, not just pecuniarily but in every way important to human life.  That is the task the Plutocracy has set for itself.

Perhaps Rousseau has also provided an explanation for why the Koch brothers have criticized the Republican plan to destroy healthcare for millions of Americans.  No, they have not criticized it for being callous to the massive human suffering that would be caused by depriving millions of Americans of healthcare.  The Kochs criticize the Republican plan for not going far enough-- and they don't use these words, but they are true--in planning to destroy healthcare for millions of Americans.  The Koch position makes sense--if Rousseau is right--because what better way to ensure that the people have not ceased to be miserable than to make them insecure about their physical and financial health?

The Koch brothers have made it known publicly that they will reward with campaign contributions those who help to sink the current Republican plan for healthcare reform, and punish those who seek to pass it.  In March, a Koch brothers spokesman said, "We have a history of following up and holding politicians accountable, but we will also be there to support and thank the champions who stand strong and keep their promise..." (Business Insider, Billionaire Koch brothers are promising millions to Republicans that help sink 'Trumpcare' March 23, 2017)  Then, in a gratuitous, cruel, sarcastic and sadistic lie, the spokesman continued, "and work toward a solution that reduces costs and provides Americans with the relief they need and deserve."  Is he saying that millions more Americans deserve to be deprived of healthcare?  Because that would surely be the result of the kind of healthcare reform that the Koch brothers are for.  They believe that the macabre House and Senate plans just "tinker at the edges," of healthcare reform and do not sufficiently remove government involvement with healthcare.   They believe that a free-market for health insurance is the best way to provide healthcare in the United States, although they have little evidence to back this up, beyond Libertarian claims about liberty to purchase the healthcare you want at the price you want.  They seem not to have noticed that not everyone is a multi-billionaire, and that indeed--expense is an object--for nearly all Americans.

Koch Industries' Behavior As Indicator of What America Would Be Like Under Koch Ideology (We're Already Halfway There)

For 20 years, from 1974 to 1994, Donald Carlson was an employee at the Koch Refining Company in Rosemount, Minnesota (Mayer, 2016).  For 20 years he scraped down the insides of huge gas tanks by hand; his daily work-life entailed physical contact with benzene, a natural part of crude oil and gasoline and a known human carcinogen (Mayer, 2016).  Since the late 1970s, OSHA [would be eliminated under Koch ideology] had required "companies whose workers were exposed to benzene to offer annual blood tests, and to retest, and notify workers if any abnormalities were found.  Companies were also required to refer employees with abnormal results to medical specialists" (Mayer, 2016).  Koch Refining Company offered the required tests, and Donald Carlson took the tests annually, but, at least in Donald Carlson's case, the Koch Refining Company did not comply with that part of the OSHA regulation that required them to refer employees with abnormal test results to a medical specialist.  For several years Donald Carlson's test results showed increasingly abnormal blood cell counts, (Mayer, 2016), but for four years the Koch Refining Company did not mention these results to Donald Carlson.  After the company finally informed him, Carlson continued to work for a year until he became too sick to go on.  The Koch Refining Company then fired him with no severance, according to his wife, other than pay for the six months of sick leave he had accumulated in 20 years at the refinery (Mayer, 2016).  Carlson filed for workmen's compensation, claiming that his illness was job-related, but the Koch Refining Company "denied this claim, refusing to pay him workers’ compensation, which would have covered his medical bills and continued dependency benefits for his wife and their teenage daughter." (Mayer, 2016)  Carlson's widow (Carlson died of leukemia in 1997, age 53) pressed her legal claim against the refinery, and at the last minute the Koch refinery settled ("little crumbs" said Carlson's widow).  Koch Refining Company refused to make any written agreement, or admit to any responsibility. (Mayer, 2016)

The cited cases of negligent, unethical, and illegal behavior on the part of the Koch brothers' businesses are many in Jane Mayer's book, but in the interests of time, space and concision we shall from here follow a certain format in speaking of these cases, and we will not discuss them all.

What:  Koch Industries hit with ninety-seven-count indictment on September 28, 2000, charging it with covering up the discharge of ninety-one metric tons of benzene (Mayer, 2016).  Result: Koch Industries felony conviction on guilty plea to one count of "concealment of information" about its benzene emissions (Mayer, 2016).  The head of the environmental crimes section of the US Justice Department at the time said that Koch Industries pleaded guilty to “an orchestrated scheme to conceal benzene emissions—a known carcinogen”—from regulators and the community (Mayer, 2016).  Koch Industries paid $20 million in fines and community restitution (Mayer, 2016).  Note:  If as is often argued, corporations are persons, then Koch Industries is a convicted felon.

What: Koch employees claiming to have been harassed for environmental whistle-blowing or preemptively fired for possible future environmental whistle-blowing (Mayer, 2016).  Result:  Koch Industries, if guilty, get away with it, or, in one cited case, settle a related harassment claim out of court (Mayer, 2016).

What: In 1995 the US Justice Department sued Koch Industries for lying about leaking millions of gallons of oil from its pipelines and storage facilities in six different states (Mayer, 2016).  Result: On January 13, 2000, Koch Industries agreed to pay $30 million fine, the biggest in history at that time for violations of the Clean Water Act.  The lead prosecutor in the case said of Koch Industries: “They lie about everything, and they get away with it because they’re a private company.  They obstructed every step of discovery. It was always, ‘I didn’t do it,’ ‘It’s not our oil,’ ‘It’s not our pipes.’ You can’t believe anything they say. They definitely don’t play the game the way other companies do." (Mayer, 2016)

What: On August 24, 1996, about 50 miles from Dallas, Texas, two teenagers were burned to death inside their truck when the truck's ignition "lit an invisible cloud of butane...setting off a monstrous blast." (Mayer, 2016)  The butane had leaked from a nearby underground Koch pipeline.  An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board "found that Koch Pipeline Company, the unit in charge, knew that the pipeline was corroded and had neither made all of the necessary repairs nor told the forty or so families living near the explosion site how to handle an emergency." (Mayer, 2016)  In the subsequent wrongful death lawsuit filed by the father of one of the teenagers, a certified oil industry safety expert testified that the explosion resulted from “a total failure of a company to follow the regulations, keep their pipeline safe and operate it as the regulations require.”  Other evidence presented at trial showed that the Koch Pipeline Company decision to use the corroded pipeline was strictly an economic one based on an analysis showing that it could make an additional $7 million annually by using that pipeline. (Mayer, 2016) Result: On October 21, 1999, the jury found "Koch Industries guilty not just of negligence but of malice, too, because it had known about the extreme hazard its decaying pipeline had posed." (Mayer, 2016)  The jury imposed a penalty of $296 million in damages against Koch Industries, nearly three times the amount asked by Daniel Smalley, the father of one of the teenagers.

What: In 1989 a US Senate committee released the results of its yearlong investigation into allegations that Koch Industries had stolen "millions of dollars worth of oil from wells on Native American tribal lands." (Mayer, 2016)  In a deposition to the investigators, Charles Koch admitted that his company "had improperly taken $31 million worth of crude oil over a three-year period from Indian lands but argued that it had been accidental," and that "oil measurement is 'a very uncertain art.'" (Mayer, 2016)  However, the investigating committee had obtained evidence that none of the other oil companies buying oil from the Indians at that time had significant problems with oil measurement (Mayer, 2016).  The case was referred to the US attorney in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for possible prosecution, but after 18 months an Oklahoma City grand jury decided not to bring charges against the Koch brothers' company.  (Mayer, 2016)  However, some, including an FBI agent who had worked the case, believe that the Koch brothers used money to gain political influence sufficient to shut down the case.  According to the now former FBI agent, “[Senator] Nickles [of Oklahoma] put the kibosh on the prosecution there.  He got involved in the appointment of the U.S. attorney. He was getting a tremendous amount of support from Koch.  He was their man.  He was the best senator money could buy.”

The above discussion of Koch Industries' encounters with the law and environmental regulations is far from comprehensive, and is here mainly to provide at least a small sense of what the Koch brothers really believe, what America would be like under Koch ideology, where Charles Koch would like to take America, and what the Plutocracy has been up to, is up to, and will be up to.

Libertarians put high value on property, which according to them, includes one's own life, and, for that reason human life is one of the few things that the State has a responsibility to protect.  However, even then, according to the 2016 Libertarian platform, criminal laws are to apply only when property (including human life) is threatened by "force or fraud or ...deliberate (italics added for emphasis) actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm."

Clearly, for Libertarians human life is not the highest value, because if it were, the State's role in protecting it through criminal law would not be so sharply delimited by the words "force, fraud...deliberate actions."  Spending any time with the Libertarian ideology shows that just as the name suggests, Liberty is the highest Libertarian value.  All else, including democracy and the sanctity of human life, must be measured for its consequences for Liberty.  What is unspoken by the Libertarians, perhaps because many of their non-wealthy rank and file don't know it, is that if Libertarianism were actualized, the value of this sanctified "Liberty" would be nugatory for the non-wealthy in a land dominated by fantastically wealthy, fantastically powerful Plutocrats lumbering about like dinosaurs, squishing humans underfoot.  The squishing is not force or fraud, or deliberate!  It is merely incidental to the Plutocrat's exercise of Liberty!  He is taking a stroll, which he has the Liberty to do!

Non-wealthy Libertarians, what good will your Liberty do you when you have been poisoned by a Plutocrat's environmental assaults?  What good will your Liberty do you when you cannot get healthcare because you cannot afford it?  What good will your Liberty do you--when in a Libertarian land that turns out not to be a democracy--because libertarianism and democracy are likely to be contradictory in practice--you find your Liberty drained of all meaning?  You may say as Patrick Henry did, "Give me Liberty or give me Death!"  Libertarian Plutocrats will respond, "You have your Liberty, You may die if you wish."

Now, referring to the possible Koch theft of Native American oil, if Koch Industries did steal this oil, as some believe, then the company violated the Libertarian's claimed deeply held disapproval of taking another's property by fraud.  Libertarians see the taking of another's property by fraud as so heinous that it merits conferring power upon a government to police this misbehavior.  For Libertarians, who believe that there should be no government beyond what is necessary to protect Liberty and property, this is a big concession.  But if the Koch brothers' company did steal Native American oil by deliberately mis-measuring how much they were taking, then perhaps the Koch brothers claimed libertarianism is not sincere, but a cover for what they are truly after.  Perhaps Plutocrats who claim to be guided by sincerely held ideals are not, when it comes down to it, really philosophers after all.  So far, these ideals do not seem to have led the Koch brothers to forbid themselves violations of the Libertarian code.  Maybe they don't really believe in Libertarian precepts except when it's convenient?  What do they believe in?

What about the two teenagers who were burned to death because of an improperly maintained Koch Industries butane gas pipeline?  Perhaps in the Libertarian state envisioned by the Koch brothers there would be nothing wrong with what Koch Industries did with the pipeline.  True, two people were killed as a result of Koch Industries actions, but the deaths were not caused by force, or fraud, nor did Koch Industries deliberately take the property (lives) of the two young people.  Perhaps in the Libertarian land envisioned by the Kochs, the actions that killed the teenagers would be regrettable but nevertheless not against the law, not prohibited by the State, therefore much more common.  The 2016 Libertarian platform seems to speak equivocally about this issue, saying in one place (paragraph 1.7 Crime and Justice)  that criminal laws should only apply when individuals harms others through "force, fraud, or...deliberate actions."  But later in the same paragraph states,  "We support restitution to the victim to the fullest degree possible at the expense of the criminal or the negligent (italics added for emphasis) wrongdoer."  Note that there is no mention of prison time for those who have criminally or negligently harmed another.  Do the drafters of the 2016 Libertarian platform already see the Plutocracy fully in place, susceptible to no punishment beyond financial restitution?  Remember that Koch Industries has vigorously, and, according to some observers' opinions, dishonestly sought to avoid paying even fair restitution for the harm they have done to the environment and to their fellow human beings.  Would you take it on faith that they and their fellow Plutocrats would, under a Libertarian government, suddenly change their ways and comply with government findings of their culpability?  That is, would Plutocrats surrender the "Liberty" they already enjoy because of their fantastic wealth?

What about Koch Industries violations of environmental protection laws?  The 2016 Libertarian platform reads in part:

2.2 Environment

Competitive free markets and property rights stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems. Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Governments are unaccountable for damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection. Protecting the environment requires a clear definition and enforcement of individual rights and responsibilities regarding resources like land, water, air, and wildlife. Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.

It is difficult to pinpoint any true statement in the above paragraph.  The first sentence seems to imply that competitive free markets and property rights are sufficient to protect the environment.  Parsed, it only says that free markets and property rights are a means to "stimulate technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment."  Taken in context of the balance of its containing paragraph, however, the sentence's implication is as it first appeared to be: Libertarian values are sufficient to protect the environment. However, the facts of history show that government intervention has improved environmental protections in the United States.  The second sentence implies that private landowners and conservation groups are sufficient to maintain natural resources.  However, the facts of history show that these have often not been sufficient to maintain natural resources.  The sentence does not mention environmental depredations on public lands or the libertarian solution to that problem.  Perhaps the libertarian solution is to privatize all public lands so that they can be saved by private landowners and conservation groups.  The third sentence has been patently false at least since the establishment of the EPA, although under the current head of the EPA it will gain some truth.  Compared to the abysmal results of the libertarian-like attitude toward the environment that prevailed in the United States prior to the 1970s, government involvement in environmental protection has been a success story.  Sentences four and five when taken together express Libertarian priorities when it comes to the environment.  Note that sentence four says that the environment can only be protected when individual rights and responsibilities are clearly defined and enforced.  However, this is clearly not true as a factual claim, but only as a Libertarian normative claim.  Remember that for Libertarians property rights are sacred and inviolable, and individuals can dispose of their property as they see fit, provided only that "their choices do not harm or infringe on the rights of others."  However, as we have seen with the Koch brothers, who are certainly not the only Plutocrats to have run-ins with legal and regulatory authorities, self-proclaimed Libertarians who also happen to be Plutocrats will fight vigorously, even perhaps beyond the bounds of the law, to avoid paying the appropriate Libertarian price for harming or infringing on the rights of others. (Mayer, 2016) If Plutocrats will fight even against their own claimed ideology, what trammeling would they ever accept?  What should we expect from the Plutocrats when their ideology becomes the ruling ideology of America?  Does it seem likely that having installed Libertarianism, Plutocrats will then restrain themselves in ways they have never done before?  Is it likely that Libertarian authorities will be able to rein in Koch-like behavior better than the existing authorities have done?  That is improbable, given the high value Libertarian ideology places on individual liberty, the deep skepticism it professes about government power, and the enfeeblement of government that would be a necessary concomitant to any Libertarian regime.

So, to recapitulate, one of our theses is that the Koch brothers David and Charles were damaged by the circumstances of their birth and upbringing and that they are not entirely responsible for what they have become.  They did not create their own anti-social personality disorders.  They, as multi-billionaires, were merely, perhaps, more susceptible to that malady.  Indeed, the particular variant of anti-social personality disorder that they appear to suffer from seems to be nearly exclusive to certain persons of enormous wealth who experience their psychological grievances as the result of unjust government restraint on their Liberty.  What is really eating at them, let us say, is their unsated desire for intimacy with the human species, to touch other human beings deeply, and to be touched by them.  But, again, tragically, because of the circumstances of their birth and upbringing, healthy intimacy with their own species is not available to the Koch brothers.  Still, they seek that intimacy, even if it is, sadly, only the one-way intimacy of dominance.  Would it not be, somehow, for such beings, an act of intimacy, however pathetic, to deprive millions of fellow humans --strangers--of healthcare, the lifeline to life?

The Koch brothers are not, and have not been alone among the super-wealthy in their sense of aggrievement:  "Richard Mellon Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking and Gulf Oil fortunes; Harry and Lynde Bradley, midwesterners enriched by defense contracts; John M. Olin, a chemical and munitions company titan; the Coors brewing family of Colorado; and the DeVos family of Michigan, founders of the Amway marketing empire," (Mayer, 2016) have together spent billions in various political efforts to remake the United States according to their personal preferences.  And there are many more of the super-wealthy now organized by the Koch brothers to bring change to America-- anti-democratically, by means of the power inherent in great wealth.

Yes, the Plutocracy has been gathering strength over at least the past half century, learning from its mistakes despite a lack of intellectual aptitude for sound political theory.  They have become simple mechanics of the dismantling of American democracy.  As presidents have been elected, rejected, elected, re-elected amid the crashing, foaming, surface phenomena of American politics, the mechanics beneath the earth have labored on, late into the night, every night, taking things apart, not to fix them, never to put them back together again, but to take it all apart so that it will never have the power to aggrieve them again.  That it will never again infringe upon their sanctified Liberty.

End Part IV

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Major Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Two "Discourses" and the "Social Contract"

Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right



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