WASHINGTON — Over the past two years, Charles and David Koch have commanded a great deal of attention and been held up as an example of how corporate forces have corrupted the democratic process in America. Now a provocative new film, “Koch Brothers Exposed,” seeks to uncover how the Koch brothers have manipulated the political narrative for personal and ideological gain, particularly in the post-Citizens United era.
The film, directed by Robert Greenwald, who notably uncovered unethical labor practices at Wal-Mart in his documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Wages,” is set to premiere in New York City on March 29.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Greenwald said that the Kochs’ money and power have had an “unparalleled” impact.
“The Kochs are using their money, their power and the inequalities of our system for personal gain,” he said, “and the size and scale that they’re doing it at is fairly impressive.”
The political media company Greenwald founded, Brave New Films, conducted financial research and interviewed people around the country, asking them questions about how the Kochs have impacted their lives. Notable subjects include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), environmental advocate Van Jones and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel.
The filmmakers’ requests to interview the Koch brothers themselves, however, were denied. “They hide,” said Greenwald, “and [they're] not just hiding from us.”
See the trailer and a full list of the film’s findings, via a press release, below.
Brave New Films, the documentary film company behind a series of damaging anti-McCain viral videos in the 2008 presidential campaign, has put its sights on Carly Fiorina, the Republican candidate for Senate in California.
In the latest of three videos attacking Ms. Fiorina that the company has released since July, several former Hewlett-Packard employees who say they were laid off during Ms. Fiorina’s tenure as chief executive of the company describe her as ruthless and extravagant.
A trio of progressive groups is releasing an interactive video that mocks Glenn Beck for, well, mocking progressives.
MoveOn.org, in conjunction with SEIU and Brave New Films has put out a fake newscast (on the fake network CNNBC) in which the Fox News host goes through his usual moments of pique and emotional duress. Only this time, the subject of his conspiracy theories is the person signed in to watch the made-up video.
Here, for example, is the mock newscast for one Sam Stein:
An official with MoveOn says there is no fundraising pitch behind the effort. Generally, the groups are fed up with him demonizing progressives and want to start organizing a bit of pushback.
To customize the Beck outrage for you or a friend click here.
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to realize an ambition to portray John F. Kennedy, the first US President I was old enough to vote for. Made for PBS, the project was JFK, A One-Man Show, produced by David Susskind, written by David and Sidney Carroll and directed by Frank Perry.
This extraordinary team, understanding its responsibility to history, carefully researched every word that went into the show. As actors portraying historic figures, we can do no less.
To learn, as we near the 50th anniversary of JFK’s presidency, that a project now in the works is not only grossly inaccurate but clearly intended to assassinate the character of a man who gave his life for this country fills me with contempt for the tone and depth of the political rancor that rages about us today.
For the History Channel, of all venues, to present a screed that is not only historically inaccurate but meant as a knife in the back of a beloved president, is disgraceful.
At a time when our country is so wrenched with turmoil and confusion, I believe members of our profession, people who have the capacity to speak to the hearts and minds of America through entertainment, have a responsibility to portray history both fairly and honestly. If writers and producers fail to do so, actors, asked to provide faces and voices to their efforts, must draw the line.
A television series on the Kennedys that is nearly a year away from official release has already spurred heated debate and aggressive pushback over its treatment of the iconic American family.
On Tuesday progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald released a short video preemptively calling into question the accuracy of “The Kennedys,” an eight-hour miniseries which will air on the History Channel and is being produced by Joel Surnow, the creator of the series “24″ and a well-known Hollywood conservative.
In on-camera interviews, a set of renowned Kennedy historians, including Ted Sorensen — a one-time aide to John F. Kennedy — trash the script, which was obtained in advance by Greenwald. Charging that it is littered with easily documented falsehoods, they insist that the production team drafted a “cartoon” and “caricature” of the former president — downplaying weighty historical episodes in favor of tawdry and salacious material.
Greenwald told the Huffington Post he counted more than a dozen sex scenes written into the biopic with only scant acknowledgment of the Cuban Missile crisis. Sorenson, in the film, says that the conversations he is depicted to have had with the President “never happened.”
“[T]his one-sided right wing script suffers from a vindictive, malicious approach,” he says. “Even the right-wingers at whom this script is aimed are going to be disappointed when they look for new and interesting accusations.”
The team behind the History Channel series, set to air in January 2011, insists that the early criticism is misplaced.
Steve Kronish, the primary writer for “The Kennedys” and a co-executive producer of “24,” told the Huffington Post that the script Greenwald obtained is in its “evolutionary” stages. Criticism of specific language or assertions, he said, are premature at best and politically motivated at worst.
“My feeling is, if you want to take the position that we are doing a hatchet job on the Kennedy’s why don’t you wait until we show it,” Kronish said. “Then you can decide if we have been salacious or unfair… that is the time to make the criticism. Not when we are in the very beginning stages of this project.”
Insisting that it would be counter-intuitive for him, as “a self-confessed liberal,” to produce a hit piece on the Kennedys, Kronish nevertheless acknowledged that some elements were played up for effect.
“Recognize also that this is not a documentary it is a dramatization,” he said. The majority of the gripes, he argued, were simply a byproduct of the Kennedy story being naturally unsavory.
“I admire Ted Sorenson tremendously,” he said when informed of Sorensen’s critique. “But if anything, I assume he had the same essential problem with all these other guys who wrote their histories and exposed areas of the Kennedy lives that are not flattering… If it turns out that that’s the case we will take it out.”
Revered by Democrats for personifying liberal poise and reviled by conservatives as ethically deprived opportunists, the Kennedy family has already been the subject of countless documentaries.
But when word leaked out in mid-December that the latest film was being placed in Surnow’s hands, defenders of the political dynasty were particularly apprehensive. In addition to close relationships with prominent Republicans, including Rush Limbaugh, Surnow is known for the conservative lens he brings to projects.
“It was around December that one or two people said you have to read this script. The script was around because they were casting it,” Greenwald explained, when asked what drew him to the project. “The question became what to do. So we drew up a list of about 20 reputable historians and we decided to go to them first to see what their take was… We didn’t give them any bias or anything and the results were beyond our expectation.”
In addition to Sorensen, Greenwald tapes four other Kennedy historians whose takes on the script are withering. David Nasaw, a professor of American History at the City University of New York, took umbrage with a scene in which the family patriarch, Joe Kennedy, takes a crucifix off the wall and smashes it over his knee.
“That didn’t happen and it wouldn’t have happened,” Nasaw said. “This film is not only extraordinarily anti-Catholic but it is anti-Irish in a way that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.”
Thurston Clarke, a well-respected journalist and author of two Kennedy related books, said that one scene drafted by Kronish in which Jacqueline Kennedy threatened to flee with the kids to the Cape while JFK stayed in the White House couldn’t possibly have happened because Mrs. Kennedy was already at the Cape. Then there are the gratuitous references to the well-established libido of the family’s males.
“It seems almost likes it’s just a kind of license for them then to switch back to the private lives of the Kennedy’s, which is admittedly fascinating,” says Nigel Hamilton, the award-winning writer author of the book “JFK: Reckless Youth,” and a self-professed Kennedy critic. “But why not put that out on another entertainment channel then and call it the ‘Sex Lives of the Kennedys?’”
For Kronish these criticisms fall somewhere between pointless and moot. The script, he argued, is still a work in progress and will be annotated and vetted by lawyers before it’s finalized. He says that the research he did for preparation was comprehensive, incorporating between 20 and 25 volumes of Kennedy history written by a host of different journalists and biographers. As for instances in which the script clearly gets it wrong — such as an assertion that John F. Kennedy was responsible for proposing the construction of the Berlin Wall — changes will be made or already have been.
The drama around the series, he says, is a politically-motivated response to Surnow’s position on the production team. “A lot of this stuff would not have occurred had he not have been identified as belonging to the conservative political spectrum,” he said. “Joel does belong to the conservative political spectrum. I don’t.”
The History Channel, too, is standing by the production, with a spokesperson calling Greenwald’s concerns “ridiculous” and “based on nothing.” The series has yet to be cast. But in some ways, Kronish welcomes the early attention.
“It is always nice to have a buzz created around what you are doing,” he said. “But I think in this case it would be somewhat similar, I get the feeling, if somebody criticized a piece that you had written before you had written it based on the fact that they got a hold of your notes.”
California’s largest for-profit health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, is expected to raise premiums by 30 to 39 percent on an unknown number of its 800,000 members. The announcement isn’t sitting well with a wide range of people — from government officials to Anthem members.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius demanded that the insurer reveal how much they stand to profit from the rate hike in a to the company earlier this week.
An inquiry is also being launched by California Insurance Commissioner Steven Poizner. While the increase doesn’t require state approval, he wants to ensure that it abides by state regulation and 70 percent of income from premiums will be directed to medical costs.
A video released today by Sick For Profit includes an interview with an dissatisfied Anthem member and a look at how the some of the company’s money is being spent on compensation and on lobbyists in Washington, D.C.
“Blackwater Worldwide’s legal woes haven’t dimmed the company’s prospects in Afghanistan, where it’s a contender to be a key part of President Barack Obama’s strategy for stabilizing the country,” the AP reported recently.
Now called Xe Services, the company is in the running for a Pentagon contract potentially worth $1 billion to train Afghanistan’s troubled national police force. Xe has been shifting to training, aviation and logistics work after its security guards were accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.
Yet even with a new name and focus, the expanded role would seem an unlikely one for Xe because Democrats have held such a negative opinion of the company following the Iraqi deaths, which are still reverberating in Baghdad and Washington.
During the presidential campaign, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, now Obama’s secretary of state, backed legislation to ban Blackwater and other private security contractors from Iraq.
Xe eventually lost its license to operate as guardian of U.S. diplomats in Iraq and the State Department, with Clinton at the helm, elected not to rehire the company when the contract expired in 2009. Delays in getting a new company in place led to a temporary extension of the State contract.
Many people are skeptical of President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, sending an additional 30,000 troops there in an effort to boost US counterinsurgency efforts. One of the most prominent skeptics is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.
In November he contributed two reports to the Obama administration’s policy debate regarding the escalation, both of which argued against General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy and questioned whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai could be counted a reliable partner:
“Sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable,” he wrote Nov. 6. “An increased U.S. and foreign role in security and governance will increase Afghan dependence, at least in the short-term.” [...]
“Yet Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further,” Mr. Eikenberry wrote. “They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.”
Eikenberry feared that sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan would only serve to make America “more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves, short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos.”
He has since said that his concerns have been alleviated, but it is unclear how. (Read more about the reports HERE.)
David Bromwich wrote of Eikenberry’s diplomatic cables:
It is as if we had been offered a long look at several pages of the most disturbing prognosis in the Pentagon Papers; as if we could see the president reading them with us, and then deciding in spite of everything to go ahead with the war.
For more on the significance of the Eikenberry cables, watch the Rethink Afghanistan video below.
Singer and activist Billy Bragg was interviewed recently by ‘Brave New Conversations’ about why he is threatening to not pay his taxes in protest of the big bank bonuses to the Royal Bank of Scottland. Bragg explains that he has written to the Chancellor to inform him that he is “no longer prepared to fund the excessive bonuses of RBS investment bankers. Unless he acts to limit [bonuses] to £25,000, I shall be withholding my tax payment on 31st January.”
Read Reuters’ write up of Bragg’s protest movement here and check out Bragg’s protest Facebook page here.