Posts Tagged ‘Libertarian’

The Kochs Mess With Texas, Our Minds and Our Future

April 16, 2011

Sometimes when you turn over a rock all sorts of creepy things crawl out. Think Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, has produced a report on the political dealings of the brothers Charles and David Koch, and the Center for Public Integrity has reported on the Koch lobbyists in Washington.  What crawled out when they turned over these stones is truly disturbing. These reports can be found at:

For decades, these legacy-billionaire brothers have moved their radical right, libertarian agenda to make them and their partners more loot.  The agenda is anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-environment, anti-education, anti-science, anti-human and essentially anti-American. The only thing it’s “pro” is corporate domination.  From their libertarian roots, Koch organizations took over, funded and molded the tea party.  And, though in years passed the Republican Party rejected this ideology as too extreme, now the GOP has embraced it.

A few things about this agenda must be said.

First, if any suffer under the misperception that this corporatist agenda aims to help people or make this a better world, just “fuggedaboudit.”  Most of us matter only as paying customers, not beneficiaries, of this agenda.  And there are no plans for a time when we’ve been bled dry and can’t pay anymore.  There are no plans regarding which planet earthlings can escape to when our resources are exhausted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  There are a number of very large corporations who make dandy profits while helping people and protecting the planet.  They act on the basis of enlightened self-interest that has long been a fundamental American value.  The economist Joseph Stiglitz explains, “It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being …. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact:  looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.”  The enlightened understand that we’re all in this together; not so the Koch brothers and their band of corporatistas.

Second, the public policies in the Koch agenda don’t even work, never have, never will anywhere on the earth.  They don’t result in better government and healthier societies made up of happier people.  They don’t even, in the long run, lead to prosperous businesses.  They lead to societies divided into “them up there” and the rest of us pecking it out down here.  They lead to economic bubbles that inevitably burst and slime everyone, like our recent housing and financial collapses.  And they lead to ruin of the environment upon which the future depends.  Theirs is the path of disaster crony capitalism.

And third, the reason the Koch/corporatist agenda doesn’t work is that it is “a house built on sand.” The underlying information upon which it rests is a collection of fantasies, distortions, lies and unscientific notions.  Small wonder that part of the agenda is anti-public education and that it created “think tanks” to give the appearance of a credible information base.  Heaven forbid that the truth be told!

It is on the misinformation campaign where the Koch brothers started their work that continues today.  Their father Fred was a founding member of the ultra-right John Birch Society in the 1950s.  In 1977, Charles Koch co-founded the libertarian Cato Institute and in 1980 David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate.  In 1984 David Koch created Citizens for a Sound Economy which in 2004 split into FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity Foundation.  (There’s no doubt whose prosperity they are for, their own.)

The reports say they have given at least $85.9 million (that we know of) to 85 right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups over the last decade and a half. Some organizations that receive Koch support are: Heritage Foundation, Reason Foundation, Federalist Society, American Enterprise Institute & Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

They’d like you to think these nice-sounding organizations are about genuine public policy.  For example, they’d like you to believe economic measures are analyzed objectively to derive economic policy recommendations.  Actually, just the reverse is true.  Like the lead-in to the Iraq war, “the intelligence is being fixed around the policy.” For example, though these organizations call for “free market solutions” they can’t point to a single instance of genuinely free markets even existing much less working well.  And, they favor corporate tax breaks and subsidies that benefit the oil, chemical and agriculture industries. So much for “free market.”

Here’s another:  They claim regulation of polluting industries kills jobs when actually the opposite is true.  Still another:  They attack the science of global climate change when we can clearly see the ongoing change all around us.  And another: They claim public sector employees earn 69% more than private sector employees, but they are comparing well-educated government scientists to private sector burger-flippers, not employees in comparable jobs.

Notice the American Legislative Exchange Council listed above.  ALEC is an organization for elected Republican officials.  It cranks out legislative wording for adoption by primarily state governments.  This is why in “red” state after state (Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Kansas, Maine, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina), we are seeing the exact same legislation put forth. The organization stands for limited federal government, greater power to the states and, there you go again, “free markets.”  A list of companies on the Enterprise Board of ALEC reveals the corporations that have signed on to the Koch agenda.  These include Energy Futures Holdings, Johnson & Johnson, PhRMA, American Bail Coalition, Kraft Foods, GlaxoSmithKline, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Pfizer, Peabody Energy, Intuit, Inc., ExxonMobil, Bayer, Reynolds American, WalMart, State Farm Insurance and UPS.

These corporations want a weakened federal government because the federal government is the only entity that can stand up to them, if it will.  It’s the only entity that can regulate them to protect workers, consumers and the environment.  Want to know why gas prices are so high right now? It’s not supply disruption; it’s commodity futures trading in oil by a branch of Koch Industries and other speculators.  They want to continue doing that to us without restraint.

Whew!  I’ve run out of space, but there’s more to this tale yet to tell.

No Atheists in Foxholes, No Libertarians in Crises

June 8, 2010

“Free market capitalism!”  Sounds sorta good, kind of liberating, all about freedom and all.  That’s where the libertarians got their name, apparently, as that’s what they advocate.  But wait, what exactly IS a free market?  Do they really exist, and if they do, are they a good thing or not so good?

Let’s concede there may be free markets in small isolated settings.  Think of a farmer’s market where the producer supplies directly to the consumer.  They agree over the price of the goods, full disclosure about the quality of the goods and each is free to walk away from the deal if they choose.  The price may be paid in money or barter.  And both parties to the transaction are known and accountable to the other.

But in modern America there are virtually no real free markets.  In our transactions today, one party or the other has the upper hand.  Markets must be defined, enabled and regulated to some extent by governments federal, state and local, for good reasons.  Some regulations are intended to protect consumers, i.e., human beings, and some protect the environment in which all living things reside.  And some regulation is intended to help businesses operate, to give good business owners guidance as to how to proceed with their chosen occupation.

In my working career, I managed a metropolitan food safety and inspection program.  The prime purpose of the regulations we enforced was to protect consumers from food- and water- borne illness.  What I learned from restaurateurs and food suppliers was that the good ones, the ones who sought to provide a safe and tasty product, didn’t resent our being there, looking over their shoulders, pointing out this or that to improve upon.  On the contrary, they knew that good sanitation brought customers in their door.  And they saw how quickly something like a food-borne illness outbreak could put them out of business. (This really happened to some fancy, up-scale restaurants.)

The “good guy” food purveyors asked of us at the health department these three things:  That the regulations be based on the science of food safety not on hunches or opinions; that we first educate them before enforcement; and that the regulations be applied equally to them as to their competitors.  We tried to live up to those standards and, for the most part, they held up their end of the bargain.  Those who fought regulation were the ones who wanted to be free to make money whether or not people suffered.

Notice how calls for free market capitalism are always couched in terms of personal, individual, human-being freedom.  That’s not what they’re talking about, however; it’s not about the freedom of individual persons to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s not even so much about the economic freedom of individuals to purchase as they can and want.  The call for free market capitalism is a call to liberate businesses from control, to leave them free to make money at the expense of human beings.

In the libertarian topsy-turvy world, businesses have priority over people, over living, breathing human beings.  Does that match your reality?  Not mine.  Businesses are created by humans to help us go about our day, meet our needs, live our lives.  It’s “we, the people” who should be in control and are given priority under the US Constitution through which we empower our government to regulate businesses.  Despite the recent opinion of the capitalist-friendly US Supreme Court, businesses are not people.

Free market capitalism brought us the “great depression” of the early 20th Century. The stock market and capitalists took advantage to the detriment of our economy.  Perhaps someone didn’t remember, or it had just been too long ago, but in the 1980s deregulation and free market capitalism re infected public policy.  “Government was the problem, not the solution,” we were told and “Greed is good.”  We looked to the stock market to tell us how “the economy” was doing, instead of focusing on the real economy of creating and distributing goods and services.

In the quarter century since then, infection has turned virulent, and it seems all wounds are festering at once these days.  The lack of control over the health insurance industry resulted in millions excluded from coverage; thousands have died.  The stock market was left free to trade fake assets. The mortgage industry was allowed to rope people into debts they could not pay.  Banks were allowed to gamble with our invested dollars and credit card companies were free to inflate rates and add fees.  Corporations were free to outsource jobs to other countries.  Trade agreements gave advantage to capital over labor.  Unions were busted.  Heavy industries, especially energy, were allowed to cut corners on things like mine safety and oil drillers could write their own regulations.  And it’s a “mell of a hess” we’re in now, folks.  Thank a libertarian next time you see one.

Libertarian economic policy just does not work, and the reason it does not is because it ignores this simple principle any businessman knows:  The first purpose of a business is to make money.  I’m not putting that down as a bad thing; it’s entirely natural.  Furthermore, businesses also have other goals, such as helping people and making our communities better.  It’s just that, unless they meet their first purpose, they can’t serve any other purposes.

Furthermore, the larger the business, the more divorced from the secondary missions the first purpose becomes.  It becomes more and more about money because more and more money is at stake.  Capitalists will fight harder against regulation than will local small businesses.  They’ll buy media outlets to influence public opinion and skew the information we get. They’ll spend millions every day, day after day, manipulating elections and elected officials.  And they will demonize anyone who would, through regulation, restrain their primary purpose by calling them socialists and communists and accusing them of taking over health care, being un-American, etc.  Sound familiar?

But notice that, come a crisis, libertarians will be quick to demand that the old evil government step in to make things right.  And this they do without even the grace to admit they caused the problem in the first place.  No wonder several economists have recently said words to the effect that “there are no atheists in foxholes and no libertarians in crises.”  Free market capitalism will certainly drive us into a ditch, as it has done once again, but it can’t get us out of it.

Does the ultra-right carry water for the ultra-rich?

May 7, 2010

To paraphrase the Wicked Witch of the West in the “Wizard of Oz,” “How ‘bout a little truth, scare mongers?”

In my last article, I debunked the myth that our tax dollars are taken against our will and given to lazy people who refuse to work. Nevertheless, up popped a letter repeating that we’re “immorally taxed against our will” which apparently has origins in libertarian doctrine.  A corollary myth is that the only true purpose for the government is to “protect our freedoms” presumably meaning the military and police.  These are a poor reading of American history and a distortion of the Constitution and the government it established.  Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion here, but we’re not entitled to invent facts.

For American revolutionaries, taxation was an issue, but it was not, as implied by current “tea partiers,” an issue of high taxes.  For the colonists, the issue was taxation without representation – paying taxes when they could not elect voting representatives.  Other economic issues, which led directly to the Boston Tea Party, were favorable treatment for the British East India Company and restriction on colonial trade with countries other than Britain.

The East India Company was perhaps an early capitalistic, multinational corporation.  It was granted monopoly status by Britain and given preferences to supply the only tea colonists were allowed.  So colonists smuggled in tea from other sources and refused to buy British tea (even though it was cheaper).  In 1773, they attempted to send tea back to Britain and, when that failed, dumped it in Boston harbor.  There was reaction from Britain, counter-reaction from the colonists, eventually the Declaration of Independence and war.

After throwing off one government, the Americans turned around and formed what?  Another government more to their liking. The Preamble to the US Constitution gives the overall mission statement, the purposes, for the government.  I’ve covered this in a previous article, but repeat that the mission to “promote the general welfare” includes a large number of activities that are appropriate, constitutional governmental roles.  Saving an economy in free-fall and aiding the least of us in our society – the sick, the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, the children – are entirely appropriate roles for government, as are financial, and environmental and safety regulation.  Over the years, we have demanded that these roles be fulfilled.  We love this most about our country: Here we care about each other.

American revolutionaries believed in government and accepted taxes set by elected representatives.  And that’s just what we have today.  Whether born here or becoming citizens or legal residents by choice, we enjoy the blessings of this society and we have obligations to follow the laws and pay taxes.  How is this coercion or taxing us against our will when we are free to live elsewhere? Without our government we would effectively have no income and our assets would have no legal standing or even a record.  Without government we may think we have individual rights, but there is nothing to assure them, no one to truly “protect our freedoms.”

With funding and misinformation from capitalistic, multi-national corporations, today’s tea partiers (about 80% are Republican), libertarians and ultra-conservatives, wrap themselves in the “patriot” flag.  However, ideologically they bear a stronger resemblance to the secessionist southerners than to American revolutionaries.  They even talk of states’ rights and secession. For the policies they advocate, they would be on the side of the British and the East India Company were we back in revolutionary days.  They support the anti-tax, anti-government policies that serve the mega-rich. They protest high taxes when they, themselves, just received a huge tax cut enacted as a stimulus to the economy. Income taxes in 2009 were at an historic low.

They claim, but have no evidence, that the government is intruding on their individual rights.  On the contrary, it is these extremists who pose the greatest risk to individual rights.  Where they have been able to gain power themselves, instead of solving real problems they have enacted laws that certainly do intrude on the constitutional rights of millions (e.g., Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, Oklahoma’s invasion of the doctor/patient relationship regarding abortion, and some state denials of equal protection under the law to all).

They complain that the deficit is too large yet said nothing when most of the deficit grew by tax cuts for the wealthy and two unfunded wars.  The portion of the deficit caused by recent spending was essential to turn around this deep recession caused by, you guessed it, the mega-rich. They don’t see that we can more quickly pay down the deficit if we rebuild middle America and return to fair taxes for the wealthy than if we destroy the safety nets just to keep top tax rates low. Despite ample evidence that the stimulus did work to prevent economic free fall, they call it a failure.

They want to “take back” a country that they haven’t even lost. Many are proud of their faith, some even proclaiming this is a Christian nation.  How is it, then, immoral for us to be taxed but perfectly moral to eliminate our social programs that fulfill the “Golden Rule?”

Middle and low income Americans have every reason to be angry these days.  They have been dealt a raw deal – an unprecedented reduction in their economic wellbeing.  But some are directing their ire in the wrong direction.  It’s not the government, workers, immigrants, or minority group members who have harmed us.  It’s the banksters, the Wall Street stalkers and “free-market” capitalists.  Yet those same capitalists use their billions now to feed back to the uninformed all the talking points of the ultra right.  Their purpose is have us detest the government because that is the only force that can stand up to their unbridled greed.  They want us to repudiate the mission of the government to care for the least among us just so they can avoid their fair share in taxes.  And their vision for America’s future is…. what?  Future?  What’s that?  If it’s beyond their next quarterly earnings, it doesn’t matter.