Hightower: Two Right-Wing Billionaire Brothers Are Remaking America for Their Own Benefit
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Despite a constant racket from the forces of the far-out right (Fox television's yackety-yackers, just-say-no GOP know-nothings, tea-bag howlers, Sarah Palinistas, et al.), the great majority of Americans support a bold progressive agenda for our country, ranging from Medicare for all to the decentralization and re-regulation of Wall Street. Indeed, in the elections of 2006 and 2008, people voted for a fundamental break from Washington's 30-year push to enthrone a corporate kleptocracy.
Yet the economic and political thievery continues, as the White House, Congress, both parties, the courts, the media, much of academia, and other national institutions that shape our public policies reflexively shy away from any structural change. Instead, the first instinct of these entities is to soothe the fevered brow of corporate power by insisting that corporate primacy be the starting point of any "reform." Thus, when Washington began its widely ballyhooed effort last year to reform our health-care system, step number one was to announce publicly that the monopolistic, bureaucratic insurance behemoths that cost us so much and deliver so little would retain their controlling position in the structure. Likewise, Wall Street barons who crashed America's financial system were allowed to oversee the system's remake--and (Big Surprise!) the same top-heavy structure and shaky practices that caused the crash are being kept in place.
In other words, the foxes who ate the chickens keep being put in charge of designing the new hen house--so nothing really changes.
This is more than frustrating, it's infuriating --and it's debilitating for our democracy. As a fellow said to me about the lack of real changes in national policy during the Clinton presidency, "I don't mind losing when we lose, but I hate losing when we win."
Why does this keep happening to us, and who's doing it? It's not merely a matter of too many fickle and pusillanimous politicians--they're the on-stage actors in this drama, but not the producers, not the ones behind the scenes plotting to thwart the people's democratic will. Who, specifically, are these plotters, and how do they impose their narrow agenda of self-interest over the public interest?
These crucial questions for our democratic republic are the focus of this Lowdown, and they'll be a recurring topic in future issues. After all, to achieve genuine grassroots power, we have to know the full dimensions of the plutocratic powers we're up against. Most Americans are totally unaware of these interests, which have attained a dangerous reach by quietly embedding themselves (and their self-centered worldview) much more deeply in our society's governing institutions than they want us to realize. So let's take a peek at them, beginning with a look at the intricate web of power woven by a huge corporation you've probably never heard of, even though your consumer dollars are financing its right-wing political agenda.
It's none of my business, but maybe you have Northern tissue on your toilet roll. You might also buy Brawny paper towels, Dixie paper cups, and Vanity Fair napkins. Maybe you have clothing that owes its clingy and comfy stretchiness to Lycra, and perhaps you have a Stainmaster carpet or a Solarmax couch in your home.
All of these well-known brands are owned and produced by a global conglomerate that deliberately tries to stay little known: Koch Industries (pronounced "coke"). Based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch is also a major producer of oil, gas, timber, coal, and cattle. It's a petroleum refiner, too, as well as a manufacturer of asphalt, chemicals, polyethylene plastic, nitrogen fertilizers, cement, and lumber products. It owns or controls some 4,000 miles of pipelines, including a piece of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. And, in a poetic bow to its desire for anonymity, Koch also owns Teflon.