With an unflinching investigative look at the Koch brothers’ money and power, Brave New Films has once again created a film full of rollicking and rigorous facts that informs and challenges corporate media with the truth. The latest in a series of tough and sharp social justice films—check out Rethink Afghanistan,WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price and Sick for Profit—Koch Brothers Exposed should be a wake-up call for people across the political spectrum to take action to halt the selling off of our democracy.
As radio and television host Ed Schultz says of the film, “Every person in this country who cares about democracy should care about this work.”
I was interviewed for the film—seemed a valuable project because it raises perhaps the central question of our time: are we a democracy or are we now a plutocracy? And what kind of country, what kind of society, what kind of economy do we want to live in?
Throughout American history—though there have been major challenges and pitfalls—there has been a degree of balance between government and market. But we are now living in a moment when the extremist right wants to shatter that balance and is using its resources to throw the country back to Gilded Age inequality.
No one is pursuing that course more aggressively than Charles and David Koch.
This film exposes tactics used by the Koch brothers to sway political power in their favor, while illustrating the dangers of unchecked influence concentrated in the hands of the few. This includes their efforts to suppress voter rights, re-segregate public schools, weaken EPA regulation, and privatize Social Security.
The strategy pursued by the Koch Brothers has a potent history. As Bill Moyers describes in his Nationcover story “How Wall Street Occupied America,” the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s confidential memorandum in 1971 to his friends in the US Chamber of Commerce was “a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.” It was a blueprint for what is now coming to fruition with the phenomenon of the Koch brothers, Citizens United, and a right-wing activist Supreme Court ready to roll back decades of New Deal jurisprudence.
If the Koch brothers didn’t exist, the left would have to invent them. They’re the plutocrats from central casting – oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.
But no need to invent – Charles and David Koch are the real deal. Over the past 30-some years, they’ve poured more than 100 million dollars into asprawling networkof foundations, think tanks, front groups, advocacy organizations, lobbyists and GOP lawmakers, all to the glory of their hard-core libertarian agenda. They don’t oppose big government so much asgovernment– taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy thatroad-to-serfdomstuff about the the holiness of free markets. Still, you can’t help but notice how neatly their philosophy lines up with their business interests.) They like to think of elected politicians as merely “actors playing out a script,” and themselves as supplying“the themes and words for the scripts.“Imagine Karl Rove’s strategic cunning, crossed with Ron Paul’s screw-the-poor ideology, and hooked up to Warren Buffett’s checking account, and you’re halfway there.
For years, the brothers shunned the spotlight. David Koch used to joke that the family business, the Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries – with annual profits estimated at $100 billion, it’s the second-biggest private firm in America – was “the largest company you’ve never heard of.” But when Barack Obama became president, the Kochs, like a lot of right-wingers,flipped out.They threw their weight behind a stealth campaign to turn back the president’s “socialist” agenda: They were early backers, some say puppet masters, of the Tea Party movement, and when the tea-infused GOP retook the House in the famous midterm “shellacking” of 2010, it was with a big assist from Koch money. (They later blessed the brief, ill-fated presidential run ofTea Party-favorite Herman Cain.That’show crazy – or cynical – these guys are.) Progressive activists and the news media started paying attention – most notablyThinkProgressandJane MayerofThe New Yorker– and pretty soon the Kochs had become the poster boys of “the 1 percent” and a surefire fundraising tool for the Democratic Party; at the mere mention of the Koch name, liberal wallets fall open.
Now the Kochs are the subject of a blistering (but to all appearances factual) documentary by the activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald.Koch Brothers Exposedaims to show how the brothers’ machinations affect the lives of “living, breathing human beings,” as Greenwald put it to me at the film’s New York premiere in late March. “When I learned about the damage the Kochs were doing to our democracy, I wanted to make sure more Americans understood what they’re up to.”
On the evidence ofKoch Brothers Exposed,the more relevant question is: Whataren’tthey up to? The film – scrappy and low-budget, but effective all the same – weaves together a string of shorter videos produced over the past year by Greenwald’s nonprofitBrave New Films, each looking at a separate tentacle of the“Kochtopus,”as lefty wags have dubbed the Kochs’ network. It recounts how the brothers have:
BuzzFlash at Truthout first got to know Robert Greenwald when he and Earl Katz, who is now chair of Public Interest Pictures, were trying to get a film about the theft of the 2000 presidential election, “Unprecedented,” off the ground. That was over a decade ago.
Mark Karlin: First, congratulations. Another extraordinary film showing the importance of documenting public issues of vital importance. Indeed, how far your use of film for the public good has come. I remember talking with you a decade ago, when your first steps were still uncertain, but now you have built a thriving and vital progressive studio for the Internet age. How have you felt making the transition from a Sunset Boulevard Hollywood director and producer to a creator of advocacy and documentary films and Internet clips?
Robert Greenwald: All change and transitions are challenging and filled with tensions and excitement. The opportunity to work each day on the most profound issues that affect each and every one of us is a constant source of great tension. How to tell the story in the way that will have the most impact; how to structure the film so that it can reach the most people emotionally, and then, intellectually; how to take a complicated issue and make it compelling, as well as activating – these are things that keep me awake at night and have me jumping out of bed at dawn.
Mark Karlin: Now to “Koch Brothers Exposed.” The father of David and Charles Koch, Fred, was – as mentioned in the DVD – one of the founders of the John Birch Society. It appears to me that when you connect the dots of the nefarious Koch brothers’ activity – what ties their political initiatives together – they are pretty much following the John Birch Society ideology (although they claim they are libertarians). Is that something that you would agree with?
Robert Greenwald: I think one of the most important roles we play at Brave New Foundation is connecting the dots on war, on economic inequity, etcetera. It is never, never the rotten apple theory; it is systemic. And we need to find ways to tell the story of how the system works and doesn’t work. I think the important thing with the Kochs is to understand parental influence and the fact that they are representative of the 1 percent. They are not the only ones, but it is important to see and understand what they do and how they are doing it.
Mark Karlin: The size of the wealth of the Koch brothers is mind-boggling. How much are they worth, and why do you think they aren’t just content being among the richest people in the world?
Robert Greenwald: The billions they have is beyond our comprehension. Why aren’t they content is a question better suited to psychologists (my father, mother, brother and sister-in-law, by the way). However, there is a book my brother gave me years ago about wealth addition, and I think that would be an accurate description. There is never enough money; they keep using millions to make billions, to buy up democracy.
In his final interview in a three part series with Current TV’s “The Young Turks,” Robert Greenwald explains how the Koch Brothers have ignored the cries from a small town in Arkansas. The residents living (and dying of cancer) on Penn Road in Crossett suspect that air and water pollution from the town’s only manufacturer — Koch subsidiary Georgia Pacific — is making them ill. Get your copy at kochbrothersexposed.com!
In part two of three on Current’s “The Young Turks,” Robert Greenwald talks with host Cenk Uygur about how the Koch brothers backed a group that worked to bring back segregation in North Carolina and how they are backing groups working to destroy public education. Get your DVD today at kochbrothersexposed.com!
Robert Greenwald speaks with “The Young Turks” host Cenk Uygur on how the Koch Brothers are trying to destroy social security. Get your copy of “Koch Brothers Exposed” today at kochbrothersexposed.com!
Robert Greenwald discusses the personal attacks waged against him by the Koch brothers. Greenwald also talks about how the Kochs’ are the worst of the 1%. Go to kochbrothersexposed.com to get your DVD today!
Increasingly, feature-length political documentaries are using new technology to get their films seen. You may recall that the Sarah Palin biopic The Undefeated was made available last September on video-on-demand and pay-per-view to approximately 75 million homes through major cable and satellite companies such as DirecTV, Dish Network, and Time Warner Cable. Now in time for the election cycle, liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald is employing the same methods with his take on Koch Brothers Exposed which starts streaming on May 8th.
The director of docs on Wal-Mart, Rupert Murdoch, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan takes on billionaires Charles and David Koch and their huge funding of conservative causes as well as their political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.
The film is a project of Brave New Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, and premiered in NYC on March 29th (in partnership with AlterNet). It continued to Washington DC on Monday (in partnership with Democracy for America, Campaign for America’s Future, Greenpeace, and the Advancement Project); came to Boston on Tuesday; and debuts in Los Angeles April 10th.