When I was a kid, and we used to take Sunday rides down Route 35 to the Jersey Shore, we’d always pass a giant Dixie Cup, which rose majestically, some 25 feet high, in front of the company’s manufacturing plant in Holmdel. It’s gone, now, one of those marvelous “roadside America” artifacts lost to history and nostalgia.
I loved that cup, it was a symbol of my childhood, it summons memories of my long-gone parents, and the sweet, balmy summer days we’d spend at the beach and boardwalks of Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant. So it pains me now to ask all liberals, moderates and pretty much everyone to the left of Torquemada to walk into the bathroom, toss your Dixie cups into that little wastepaper basket by the sink, and go out to buy some other brand.
And while you’re at it, once you’ve finished that last roll of Brawny, Sparkle or Mardi Gras paper towels, or Angel Soft, Quilted Northern and Soft & Gentle toilet tissue—switch to some other brand or the generic store variety.
I ask this of you, because all these paper products are part of Georgia Pacific, one of the companies owned by Charles and David Koch—the Koch Brothers—plutocrats, inherited billionaires, and far-right wingnuts who want to turn this country into an ultralibertarian, Darwinian nightmare. By now, it is no secret that the Kochs help bankroll and manipulate America’s far right—for one thing, they funneled millions into the Astroturf Tea Party assaults on Health Care Reform last year. Their goals: avoiding taxes, eliminating regulation—especially environmental, as they’re one of the nation’s chief polluters—and maximizing profits.
All on the backs of workers—the Kochs despise social welfare programs. And they really despise unions and collective bargaining. It’s not enough that over the past 30 years, since the Reagan Revolution, middle and working class incomes have remained flat, at best, while the gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else is greater than ever before in our history. The Kochs and their ilk want to squeeze the life out of workers and the poor—while their own gazillions go untaxed—placing the weight of state and national debt and deficits on their shoulders, slashing their wages and benefits and eviscerating their rights.
To that end, Chuck and Dave are deeply involved in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker‘s attempts to break public employee unions in his state. If there was any doubt that Walker is the Koch’s political rent boy, Buffalobeast.com blogger Ian Murphy’s sensational prank phone call, during which he pretended to be David Koch and kept an obsequious, preening Walker on the phone for 20 minutes, was one of the sublime “gotchas” in recent memory. Here’s an abridged transcript, via Daily Kos:
Walker: Hi; this is Scott Walker.
Koch: Scott! David Koch. How are you?
Walker: Hey, David! I’m good. And yourself?
Koch: I’m very well. I’m a little disheartened by the situation there, but, uh, what’s the latest?
Walker: Well, we’re actually hanging pretty tough. I mean—you know, amazingly there’s a much smaller group of protesters—almost all of whom are in from other states today. The State Assembly is taking the bill up—getting it all the way to the last point it can be at where it’s unamendable. But they’re waiting to pass it until the Senate’s—the Senate Democrats, excuse me, the assembly Democrats have about a hundred amendments they’re going through. The state Senate still has the 14 members missing but what they’re doing today is bringing up all sorts of other non-fiscal items, many of which are things members in the Democratic side care about. And each day we’re going to ratchet it up a little bit…. The Senate majority leader had a great plan he told about this morning—he told the Senate Democrats about and he’s going to announce it later today, and that is: The Senate organization committee is going to meet and pass a rule that says if you don’t show up for two consecutive days on a session day—in the state Senate, the Senate chief clerk—it’s a little procedural thing here, but—can actually have your payroll stopped from being automatically deducted—
Walker: —into your checking account and instead—you still get a check, but the check has to be personally picked up and he’s instructing them—which we just loved—to lock them in their desk on the floor of the state Senate.
Koch: Now you’re not talking to any of these Democrat bastards, are you?
Walker: Ah, I—there’s one guy that’s actually voted with me on a bunch of things I called on Saturday for about 45 minutes, mainly to tell him that while I appreciate his friendship and he’s worked with us on other things, to tell him I wasn’t going to budge.
Koch: Goddamn right!
Walker: …his name is Tim Cullen—
Koch: All right, I’ll have to give that man a call.
Walker: Well, actually, in his case I wouldn’t call him and I’ll tell you why: he’s pretty reasonable but he’s not one of us…
Koch: Now who can we get to budge on this collective bargaining?
Walker: …I think the paycheck will have an impact…secondly, one of the things we’re looking at next…we’re still waiting on an opinion to see if the unions have been paying to put these guys up out of state. We think there’s at minimum an ethics violation if not an outright felony.
Koch: Well, they’re probably putting hobos in suits.
Koch: That’s what we do. Sometimes.
Walker: I mean paying for the senators to be put up. I know they’re paying for these guy—I mean, people can pay for protesters to come in and that’s not an ethics code, but, I mean, literally if the unions are paying the 14 senators—their food, their lodging, anything like that…[* Important regarding his later acceptance of a Koch offer to “show him a good time.” *]
[I was stunned. I am stunned. In the interest of expediting the release of this story, here are the juiciest bits:]
Walker: …I’ve got layoff notices ready…
Koch: Beautiful; beautiful. Gotta crush that union.
Walker: [bragging about how he doesn't budge]…I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders—talk, not negotiate and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn—but I’ll only do it if all 14 of them will come back and sit down in the state assembly…legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have quorum…so we’re double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that’s the only reason why. We’d only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them…
Koch: Bring a baseball bat. That’s what I’d do.
Walker: I have one in my office; you’d be happy with that. I have a slugger with my name on it.
Walker: So this is ground zero, there’s no doubt about it. [Talks about a “great” NYT piece of “objective journalism.” Talks about how most private blue-collar workers have turned against public, unionized workers.]…So I went through and called a handful, a dozen or so lawmakers I worry about each day and said, “Everyone, we should get that story printed out and send it to anyone giving you grief.”
Koch: Goddamn right! We, uh, we sent, uh, Andrew Breitbart down there.
Walker: Good stuff.
Koch: He’s our man, you know.
Walker: [blah about his press conferences, attacking Obama, and all the great press he's getting.] Brian [Sadoval], the new Governor of Nevada, called me the last night he said—he was out in the Lincoln Day Circuit in the last two weekends and he was kidding me, he said, “Scott, don’t come to Nevada because I’d be afraid you beat me running for governor.” That’s all they want to talk about is what are you doing to help the governor of Wisconsin. I talk to Kasich every day—John’s gotta stand firm in Ohio. I think we could do the same thing with Vic Scott in Florida. I think, uh, Snyder—if he got a little more support—probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.
Koch: You’re the first domino.
Walker: Yep. This is our moment.
Koch: Now what else could we do for you down there?
Walker: Well the biggest thing would be—and your guy on the ground [Americans For Prosperity president Tim Phillips] is probably seeing this [stuff about all the people protesting, and some of them flip him off].
[Abrupt end of first recording, and start of second.]
Walker: [Bullshit about doing the right thing and getting flipped off by “union bulls,” and the decreasing number of protesters. Or some such.]
Koch: We’ll back you any way we can. What we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.
Walker: You know, well, the only problem with that —because we thought about that. The problem—the, my only gut reaction to that is right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them, the public is not really fond of this…[explains that planting troublemakers may not work.] My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that maybe the governor has to settle to solve all these problems…[something about '60s liberals.]…Let ‘em protest all they want…Sooner or later the media stops finding it interesting.
Koch: Well, not the liberal bastards on MSNBC.
Walker: Oh yeah, but who watches that? I went on “Morning Joe” this morning. I like it because I just like being combative with those guys, but, uh. You know they’re off the deep end.
Koch: Joe—Joe’s a good guy. He’s one of us.
Walker: Yeah, he’s all right. He was fair to me…[bashes NY Senator Chuck Schumer, who was also on the program.]
Koch: Beautiful; beautiful. You gotta love that Mika Brzezinski; she’s a real piece of ass.
Walker: Oh yeah. [story about when he hung out with human pig Jim Sensenbrenner at some D.C. function and he was sitting next to Brzezinski and her father, and their guest was David Axelrod. He introduced himself.]
Koch: That son of a bitch!
Walker: Yeah no kidding huh?…
Koch: Well, good; good. Good catching up with ya’.
Walker: This is an exciting time [blah, blah, blah, Super Bowl reference followed by an odd story of pulling out a picture of Ronald Reagan and explaining to his staff the plan to crush the union the same way Reagan fired the air traffic controllers]…that was the first crack in the Berlin Wall because the Communists then knew Reagan wasn’t a pushover. [Blah, blah, blah. He's exactly like Reagan. Won't shut up about how awesome he is.]
Koch: [Laughs] Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.
Walker: All right, that would be outstanding. [* Ethical violation much? *] Thanks for all the support…it’s all about getting our freedoms back…
Koch: Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. [Laughs]
Walker: [Blah] Thanks a million!
The Kochs bussed in participants to a pro-Walker “counter-protest” in Madison—and sent around a “Stand With Walker” bus tour. They’ve even hauled out Joe the Faux Plumber to speak against the pro-Union “socialists.” And, not least, the boys were huge contributors to Walker’s campaign and the attack ads that helped him defeat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. This piece by Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll gives a nice summary:
According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch’s PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly.
The Kochs had remained shadowy figures, remaining stealthily under the radar for years—until New Yorker writer Jane Mayer outed them in August 2010:
“With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.”
A few weeks ago, the Kochs held their annual billionaire’s summit in Rancho Mirage, Calif., outside Palm Springs. It’s a shindig that typically includes righty pundits (like Glenn Beck, a past attendee and the virulent Andrew Breitbart, who showed up this year–and again in Madison.), jurists (Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have dropped by) and pols–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made it this year. Others on the 2011 guest list included Home Depot lead investor Ken Langone, former Attorney General Ed Meese, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips, and former Jack Abramoff associate and Bush appointee Patrick Pizzella.
These folks all get together, essentially, to launch their attack on government regulation, entitlements and the New Deal. This time around, they focused on the 2012 presidential race, and ejecting the Kenyan, Muslim socialist from 16oo Pennsy.
This was he first time the meeting drew protesters, some 800-1000 mobilized by the likes of Common Cause, the California Courage Campaign, CREDO, MoveOn.org, 350.org, the California Nurses Association, and the United Domestic Workers of America.
That protest, Mayer’s piece, a blizzard of coverage over their role in the battle of Wisconsin—and now Murphy’s genius punking— have cast the harsh light of media exposure on the Kochs. But it’s not enough. Given last year’s Citizens’ United ruling by SCOTUS, the Kochs have unprecedented power and influence.
So hit them where hurts—the pocket book. Boycott Koch’s paper products. It may not even make the brothers flinch. But it’s a way to do your part.
And at the very least, they won’t be wiping our butts.