Dueling Letters: Koch vs. Obama

I wouldn’t feel obligated to include news about an  altercation between the Obama administration and Koch Inc. if it weren’t for the fact that Koch money  flows into the pockets of so many Wisconsin politicians.   There’s also the matter of that episode when 20 minutes of “David Koch” flowed through the ears of Scott Walker.

This particular duel of letters started with a brief online  fund raising note from Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager. [  “They’re obsessed” by Jim Messina ]

In the letter Jim asks the reader of barackobama.com to donate 3 dollars to counteract the fund raising about to take place in a hotel ballroom where Mitt Romney will join an Americans for Prosperity crowd.

Jim Messina wrote that AFP is funded by the Koch brothers “whose business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump, and who bankrolled Tea Party extremism, and committed $200 million to try to destroy President Obama before Election Day”.

In response, Philip Ellender of Koch’s Government Affairs department fired off his own letter which called Messina’s words “irresponsible” and “misleading”. Ellender added a touch of almost delightful irony to the ball of digital bits by publishing it at a website called “KochFacts.com” [Reply letter to Messina from Koch Industries’ ]

Here is the subsequent reply letter to Ellender from Messina:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Dear Mr. Ellender:

I am writing in response to your letter, in which you portrayed the oil and gas executives you represent as average citizens trying to make their voices heard. Having built a campaign across the country from the ground up, one in which we encourage all Americans to engage in the political process, I believe that is an admirable goal.

But it is a cynical stretch to describe the political activities of your employers as furthering democracy when they are courting huge checks from special interest donors to pay for negative ads, with no public disclosure of the identity of those donors.
You argue that Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization of everyday citizens. But its emphasis on rolling back environmental protections and blocking a clean energy economy appears to be nothing more than an effort to promote the corporate interests of your employers and others who lavishly, and secretly, fund its operations.

Moreover, the negative ads AFP has run have been challenged as false by independent factcheckers.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that in 2010, Koch Industries and its employees marshaled hundreds of thousands of dollars behind the election of their Republican allies on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who have pursued their interests in Congress. In fact, nine of the 12 new Republicans on the committee signed AFP’s pledge to oppose President Obama’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases.

And now it’s been reported that your employers and those close to them intend to spend $200 million in an attempt to defeat the President. You note in your letter that Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members and contributors from all walks of life across the country, suggesting that this is the source of AFP’s funding. There is one way to verify your point: disclose those donors for the public to make that judgment.

What is known about the Kochs’ agenda and business practices would give most Americans pause. According to the Kansas City Star, Koch Industries has enriched itself by keeping oil off the market, storing it in offshore tankers and waiting to cash in when the cost of oil rises. The Koch brothers have also been vocal critics of the administration’s investments in clean energy alternatives. Our energy strategy cannot be set by what’s best for the pocketbooks of politically-connected oil and gas executives. It must be driven by what’s best for the American people, our economy, and our energy security.

In your letter, you expressed the Kochs’ concerns about debt. We share your concern. That is why the President introduced a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion and put us on a path to solvency. The Kochs must be concerned about the tax and budget plans the Republican candidates have proposed. Those plans would add trillions of dollars to the deficit by massively increasing defense spending to an arbitrary level, and extending and expanding unaffordable and unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

There is no campaign in the country that believes more in the active participation of Americans in the electoral process than this one. When you attempt to drown out their voices through unlimited, secret contributions to pursue a special-interest agenda that conflicts with what’s best for our nation, you must expect some scrutiny of your actions.
Jim Messina
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

David Koch: Gentleman Billionaire

I’m surprised the following article on David Koch is not an even lighter piece of fluff, considering it comes from the Palm Beach Post Money section.

The original title for the piece is “David Koch intends to cure cancer in his lifetime and remake American politics”.  The author mentions the attack on public unions and Wisconsin but weaves the reader back to David’s dream of saving us all from The Big C and concludes with “He has been demonized unfairly and unnecessarily..He’s very much a gentleman.”

Are you feeling reassured? I’s as if somebody just told us that the executioner killing worker rights and the fabric of civilized life in the United States has graciously offered to wear white gloves while performing the task.

Got Bolsheviks?

A very subtle comparison is suggested on page 2 as the writer deftly eases between the union bashing of David Koch’s father and David’s corporate puppet mastering of today.  Under “Expanding on dad’s ideas”:

 “Trade unionism and the welfare state represented a creeping, insidious move toward the Bolsheviks, he believed. He became a founding member of the anticommunist John Birch Society in 1958. 

“My dad was a great man. People loved him. I mean they loved him,” David Koch says, a far-off look in his eyes. “He was like John Wayne. Just like John Wayne.”

Through their personal foundations, their corporate political action committee and their checkbooks, the Kochs have broadened and popularized their father’s views.” 

So this article doesn’t just try to restore the character of David Koch, it aims to warm and fuzzy all over his cowboy dad. It doesn’t impress at all if you’re  familiar with working people who really do save lives instead of pretending to in a movie.

I was tooling around the net looking for stories about Madison protests of 1 year ago this morning and ran into the tale of real lifesaver nurse Meg Matzke [My mom was a nurse and I heard the stories. Trust me – nurses are keeping you and I alive in hospitals]. She’s from Minnessota, so like David Koch, she’s also from out of state.  She was interviewed while protesting and was jokingly called a  “scary outside agitator” by  Mary Bottari of PR Watch because Scott Walker said he had “safety concerns” about people like Meg. Meg simply traveled here to hold her sign.

“We have 13 unionized hospitals in Minnesota. This bill is an assault on our workers, as well as workers everywhere,” she said. “Collective bargaining gives us a voice in the work place. I am on a safety committee, I am on a staffing committee, I am on nurse practice committees. Nurses were getting harmed so we were able to negotiate ‘no lifting’ rules and now we use equipment and we have things like staff ratios to keep our patients safe.” Metzke explained that it didn’t take a law to achieve these protections, but it did necessitate a union. 

When you hear the stories of Megs everywhere – – of people who are professionals keeping you and I – -“the public” – – safe, alive, protected and served – – you are hearing the stories of people David Koch slurs for wanting to retain their “union power”.

That’s why I can’t summon a single tear for the gentleman billionaire.

It’s not that Mr. Koch wants to see you or I dead. But it is true that he wants to pull the rug out from under worker protections that keep people like nurse Meg working well. And she’s the kind of worker who will literally keep you and I  – -even David Koch – –  alive.


 David Koch intends to cure cancer in his lifetime and remake American politics
By Stacey Singer

PALM BEACH — David Koch has become the face of conservative America’s obsession with weakening organized labor, and for that, he believes, there have been death threats – 100 credible threats last year alone, he says.

Journalists tend to describe the lanky MIT-trained chemical engineer and his brother Charles with the phrase “secretive oil billionaires.”

They describe a clandestinely built political machine that disdains government regulation and taxes, obfuscates the science on global warming, and now pulls the strings of decision-makers at every level, from Florida Tea Party members to Wisconsin state senators – even U.S. Supreme Court justices.

“They make me sound like a bully,” David Koch says when asked about journalists, looking a little baffled. “Do I look like a bully?”….


We Are Wisconsin – A Discussion at the Wisconsin Book Festival

When I linked to the developing We Are Wisconsin book for the first time on my facebook page, a young activist was enraged. He told me with a mixture of exclamation points and ALL-CAPS that NOBODY can write a book about the Wisconsin protests yet because they are NOT finished and instead of talking about books we should be talking about getting back to the STREETS!

I was also disturbed at the thought of this book coming out, though I didn’t want to admit it to anybody. A book about Wisconsin protests would freeze it in time, contain it, and put it on my shelf to gather dust. This one would even take some of my tweets with it. Maybe I feared I’d have to admit my right thumb is no longer frost-bitten from tweeting outside. Maybe I feared I’d be too sad to look backward and remember that we believed change was possible if only we filled the streets with 180,000 people, give or take a few thousand.

This book is rather good even though I can barely read it. Basically my emotional gears lock up when I step into the protest streets of 8 months ago – though swear to god I do know they’re only on paper.

In those days we got a Wisconsin protest hashtag – #wiunion – to trend on twitter. It’s now replaced by #ows: the hashtag for Occupy Wall Street. It’s a movement which many say caught sparks from our efforts. It fittingly had plenty of air time in this talk.

This is Erica Sagrans, the editor for the book We Are Wisconsin. She explains her background and what drove her to create her book:

Backup link to video
Dan S. Wang, an artist,activist, and writer based in both Madison and Chicago, started comments off with acknowledgement that Wisconsin is in a phase quite different from that of other occupy movement sites. He said he wonders if Wisconsin and especially Madison should consider not mimicking New York City but instead do something else that is more targeted. Perhaps focusing on an issue or person such as the upcoming recall of Walker, the threat of mining in the Penokee hills, or the new push for abstinence-only education in schools.

Dan also added that he and others have some suspicion of established professional activists like Van Jones or MoveOn.org. He’s more attracted to the truly grassroots nature of the occupy movement.

Andrew Kroll of Mother Jones said he’d been looking out for the progressive force that would counter the 2010 advance of the Tea Party- watching to see if there would be a coalescing of forces between unions, the occupy groups, and existing progressives. He’s trying to figure out if the discussions are being had between influential people in Wisconsin and Boston, New York, and so on or if what’s going on is going to stay specific to individual states.

Andrew says he has his eye especially on the working relationship between the grassroots group to recall Scott Walker – United Wisconsin – and the more established Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
“I’m really interested to see how that dynamic is going to play out because I think that will help illustrate how this plays out on the larger scale. And I hate to make Tea Party comparisons but at the end of the day for their little moment in the sun they were damn effective. At its core even with all their Koch brothers money, the FreedomWorks folks, Americans For Prosperity-even with their influence – that thing would’ve been a flash in the pan if there wasn’t genuine anger among people who were never involved with politics before except for casting a ballot… And you have to have that [anger]. I think we’re seeing that now with these occupy protests – the 99% movement – and it’s obviously here in Wisconsin.”

“The Walker Recall will be an interesting test case where we’re going to see – Can United Wisconsin find that grassroots anger and that grassroots energy? Not to just get people to vote but to find 10 other people who agree with them who are going to vote or convince 10 other people who don’t agree with them to agree with them … And then you’re going to have the Democratic Party lending its traditional role but not being the face of it as they kind of were in the summer senate recalls. I think that hurt a little bit. I think people saw one slick political machine with another. And maybe that was the reason there wasn’t enough energy in North Milwaukee or some of these other districts. That’s one thread I’m going to be following starting November 15th and I think it has national implications.”

Kroll noted that the most creative ideas and drive of grassroots actions do not come from “the top” but instead from the conversations he’s had in the rotunda and in Zucotti square.

Alex Hanna was a leader in Wisconsin’s protests with the TAA, he studies social media, and he was in Egypt during the revolution. He said that Tahrir square’s occupation was quite different from Madison’s, but that they were similar in having a carnival atmosphere. He said he was watching an Occupy Wall Street speaker via video link who said that the protests are exciting but that “carnivals come cheap” – I think he referenced that the really hard work comes in the form of organizing beyond the protests. Hanna said that when we look back at what happened in Wisconsin we wonder what’s next and how we can collectively decide where we need to go from here.

Alex noted that more and more people are discussing the general strike as a potential tactic. He reminded us that there are existing organizations like longstanding unions and we need not dismiss them. We can instead push those organizations to the left and have them work for us.

Jenni Dye is an attorney in Madison, she is @legaleagle on twitter, and a leader with Democracy Addicts. Here’s a video of her comments:

Backup link to video

She added later that unions have put resources and leadership behind grassroots ideas and efforts such as when in Madison in June they backed Walkerville in Madison’s Capitol square. She also cited time she spent at Zucotti Park when labor groups joined the grassroots and she saw the different groups listen to each other and work together well even though they didn’t agree on everything.

In the conclusion the speakers discussed the impact social media and media has had on the protests they’ve been observing and taking part in.

Andrew Kroll said he used to hate twitter but realized it delivered not only snippets of text but a full conversation. He also realized while speaking that he knew Jenni Dye as @legaleagle long before he knew her real name, demonstrating that twitter builds community and relationships.

Alex Hanna cited the creativity of social media and it’s fluidity and response to context, such as when @DefendWisconsin was able to tell people where and when to deliver testimony in the Capitol during the occupation and where to find food.

Jenni Dye said she never used twitter to publicly communicate until the occupation of our capitol building. She made a decision to go public with tweets [unprotected tweets] so she could answer people who had questions for her and get the word out since things were happening so quickly that newspapers and media could not keep up.

You can review what people tweeted about this talk under the #wibook hashtag.
My recording of this event is rather poor. I may be able to add audio from WORT FM here later.
A few photos from the event are on my facebook page.

Part 3. 150,000 Welcome the Dem14 Home: I laughed, I cried, I took pictures.

I have video. I have audio. I have photos. They all should be compiled into a multimedia schmorgasbord. But it takes so much time to wrestle with this stuff. Just thinking about it… I need to relax and have a beer. So, for the moment, here are a few photos and comments.

Part 1 and Part 2 say “100,000” Then I heard from Steve Hanson, 150,000. Do you know how many people went to this rally? I do know that I became really uncomfortable at one point as I got smooshed in a big pack that would only inch forward. In broad daylight outside.

I found this odd and frustrating, but then again, once in a while we’d lighten up and pick up in song. Musical packs of humanity. This actually describes normal life here since February 11th.

Darth Walker stood on the corner on the way to Barriques. He wouldn’t talk or change his facial expression, remaining “in character”. Here I laughed.

Judging by posture, profile, and mood, I’d guess these drummers were father and son, or at least relatives. They drummed together solemnly near the head of the Dem 14 parade. At this point, I did cry for a second.

Firefighters, firefighters, firefighters. I will never, ever be tired of firefighters.

Senator Jon Erpenbach getting flirted with, I think.

Senator Kathleen Vinehout. Believe it or not, given the hive effect here, and relative mayhem, this is not a terrible shot.

Can you guess where I was when I took this shot?

Yes. That is a rather large puppet. I was surprised too. I think I said something eloquent like, “Holy crap. Big puppet.” and fumbled for my camera. Continue reading