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The Koch Brothers and Me: It’s Personal

By Jesse Lava, Campaign Director

When I was 17, my mother died of colon cancer. Lots of other members of my family have died of cancer too—and it’s partly as a result of this history that I have gone into a career of social justice advocacy, believing that we all need to care for one another instead of leaving people to fend for themselves.

Today, the organization where I work, Brave New Foundation, is hosting the world premiere of its new film Koch Brothers Exposed. This film shows how these two billionaire brothers have managed to maintain their wealth by exploiting others and corrupting the political process. One part of the film that especially resonates with me deals with cancer.

The Koch brothers have a chemical plant in Crossett, Arkansas, that releases large amounts of formaldehyde, which is known to contribute to cancer. The plant also emits hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly. In the film, residents of that town talk powerfully about how many people in their community are dying of cancer, and they link it to the nearby Koch plant. Respected scientists agree: Anthony Samsel, a former consultant to groups including the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, says that in his opinion, “these chemicals cause great harm to Crossett’s residents” and represent a “disregard for public safety.”

To date, the Kochs have done no investigation that we know of to determine what’s causing cancer in Crossett. They say what they’re doing is legal, though that’s sort of a footnote: when you’ve got lawmakers in your pocket, is it any great victory to say that the laws permit you to emit high levels of cancer-causing pollutants? In fact, the Kochs are one of the top 10 polluters in the United States and worked (unsuccessfully) to keep formaldehyde from being labeled a carcinogen. And so I am proud to be working on exposing what the Kochs are up to and seeking justice for those they’ve stepped on to stay at the top.

Today, the Kochs posted audio of me leaving a message for them months ago asking them to respond to our cancer investigation and laying out why the issue is personal for me. The Kochs accompany the audio with text saying I’m “harassing” them and “exploit[ing] [my] own family to push [my] agenda.” From the Koch brothers’ vantage point as billionaires with mansions all over the country, politics may be an abstraction or a game. But to the 99%, it’s no game. It’s personal. And while smearing me and diminishing the importance of my family may be preferable to them to actually looking into the problems in Crossett, that is not what will help make our country a stronger, healthier place. Shame on them.

So as we prepare for tonight’s premiere in New York, I’m eager. I’m excited. I’m hoping that bringing a little more sunlight on these guys will make it a little less likely that they’ll be able to keep doing what they’re doing to those who lack their wealth and power. Yeah, social justice is personal, and cancer is more than a negligible cost of doing business. For some of us, anyway.

Lobbyist Poses as Mechanic in Anti-Union Super Bowl Ad [VIDEO]

America just got rickrolled.

There we were last week, innocently partaking in the annual testosterone-fest that is the Super Bowl, when we were treated to an ad featuring a group of supposed auto mechanics lamenting that they never voted for the union they’re in. But look closely. One of these “mechanics” is sporting a gold watch, manicured hands, and a brand new shirt. That’s because he’s not a mechanic, or even an actor.

He’s Washington lobbyist Rick Berman.

Berman is a gun-for-hire — nicknamed Dr. Evil — who specializes in creating nonprofit front groups to push corporate interests. His clients have included the likes of Phillip Morris, Coca Cola, and Tyson’s Foods. But you wouldn’t know it hearing the names of the organizations he starts. The Employment Policies Institute? They fight minimum wage increases. The American Beverage Institute? They go after Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And the gem of an organization linked to the Super Bowl ad is the Center for Union Facts.

Like other Berman fronts, the Center for Union Facts lists no staff on its website. But it does offer up a lot of false information about labor unions, using distorted statistics to paint their staffers as a bunch of corrupt thugs out to steal workers’ hard-earned money. No mention is made of the better wages and benefits union members receive relative to their non-union counterparts, nor of the far more pervasive acts of corporate corruption and coercion that go on in American workplaces. Without a union, workers are left to fend for themselves against employers with unchecked power.

So Rick Berman is not quite the salt-of-the-earth mechanic that Super Bowl fans were supposed to find relatable while being fed anti-union propaganda. Indeed, he appears to be a master of the bait and switch: He creates fake nonprofits to lure Americans to corporate propaganda, and occasionally he shows up posing as an ordinary American in those groups’ ads.

Americans who want the real facts on unions — fakery-free — will have to go somewhere other than the Center for Union Facts to find them.

Hauling the Koch brothers into Congress

Imagine Charles and David Koch testifying, under oath, in Congress.

Even though the billionaire oil industry brothers continue trying to dodge accountability, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) invited the Koch brothers to testify and answer a few simple questions about how the Kochs are positioned to gain financially by the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a 1,700-mile long boondoggle that would make the Koch brothers even richer.

There’s ample evidence linking the Kochs’ business to the Canadian tar sands, which is the dirtiest energy in North America. Indeed, the Koch brothers’ stand to be among the pipeline’s biggest beneficiaries. Even the Koch brothers’ website confesses to being a party to tar sands oil.

The Koch brothers are doing whatever they can to avoid testifying in Congress, despite the fact that the Kochs informed the Canadian government of their “direct and substantial” interest in the pipeline. Waxman has been trying to get answers from the Koch brothers since last spring, but the Kochs have not cooperated.

At the same time, the Kochs’ allies in Congress are doing their best to stonewall oversight. This outcome doesn’t surprise me one bit given the Koch brothers’ near-monopoly on the influential and powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. According to the Los Angeles Times, Koch Industries and its employees are the single largest oil and gas donors to the committee. They’ve contributed $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans and $32,000 to five Democrats. Talk about the best democracy money can buy!

In the 2010 elections that gave the Republicans the majority in the house, many of these committee members were ones who owed their electoral fortunes to the Kochs or groups affiliated with the Kochs. One representative hired a Koch Industries lawyer after election day. Another needed a lift from the Koch brothers’ Tea Party group, Americans for Prosperity, to unseat an incumbent. No matter how you slice it, the Koch brothers have their fingerprints, not only the oversight of the Keystone XL pipeline, but on the pipeline’s profits.

Since last year, the Koch brothers have attacked those in and out of Congress who’re merely trying to find the truth. And sorry Charles and David, your word alone is no substitute for the truth.

So what are the Koch brothers hiding? It’s time to stop whispering and start shouting. Insist the Koch brothers testify before Congress.

The Keystone XL pipeline is but another example of the Koch brothers use their wealth to advance policy that makes them richer. Their wealth enables them to write the script for politicians and others to follow.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If you’re like me and are demanding truth, I invite you to help us shine a light on the Koch brothers position on the Keystone XL oil pipeline but signing our petition to leading members of Congress.

Are the Koch brothers teaching you?

What’s happening to academia in Florida demands national attention. Billionaires Charles and David Koch are infringing on intellectual freedom and independence in colleges and universities. It’s an old fashioned quid pro quo where the Koch brothers get allied professors who’ll preach Ayn Rand, supply side economic policies and the values of the 19th century Guilded Age to students and the college gets some funding.

Every year, thousands of individuals move through the Koch-supported classes, lectures and fields of study, which in their totality amount to an ideological assembly line bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. There are Koch-funded agreements at more than 150 American colleges and universities.

“The Koch brothers have paid tens of millions of dollars to get their point of view instilled in classrooms, amongst faculty members and in students,” said Cary Nelson, President of the American Association of University Professors. “Programs they start tend to be one point of view only.”

Help us expose the Kochs by tweeting and asking our friend Ed Schultz to expose the Koch brothers’ psycho talk!

The Koch brothers’ business has annual revenue that are about 200 times the size ($100 billion) in one year than the entirety of Florida State University’s endowment ($423 million). At a time when governors like Florida Gov. Rick Scott are slashing spending on education, colleges and universities are virtually forced into restrictive and ideological funding agreements with questionable sources to meet students’ demands. Instead, they’re meeting the Koch brothers needs and the students are paying the intellectual price.

Enter the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which has given more than $14.39 million in grants to universities like Florida State, Auburn, Clemson, West Virginia and Utah State. All five campuses are in financial agreements with Koch-supported groups requiring the university to hire candidates who adhere to defined ideological guidelines. In some cases, the Koch-supported groups recommend candidates to the faculty or have sway over the college’s hiring committee.

Conflicts of interest of this magnitude cannot be ignored, and Florida State students and professors didn’t swallow the Koch agreement willingly. There was an uproar on campus when the Koch brothers began infringing on academic freedom.

A campaign to organize the campus against the Koch brothers and wealthy so-called “philanthropists” who seek to use their wealth to influence academia is under way. Student leaders are fanning out across Tallahassee to organize against the Koch brothers and their ilk who would infringe on academic independence if given the chance. If the students are successful, they’ll have earned enough support to take action against the Koch brothers’ influence.

Their work deserves national exposed. We can do our part if we all tweet @ Ed Schultz and ask expose the Koch brothers’ psycho talk.

I invite you to join the conversation at our Koch Brothers Exposed page on Facebook.

Who are the anti-Obama billionaires supporting the pipeline?

Billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch were stopped today. The Keystone XL oil pipeline will meet its end today in a Washington DC press conference. The pipeline would’ve been one of the largest oil developments in American history. The pipeline would’ve destroyed American homes, farmlands and sensitive ecosystems along the nearly 2,000-mile path from Northwest Canada and through six U.S. states to the Gulf of Mexico.

But it also represented a win for brothers Koch, who’ve used their net worth to influence politicians and the media to support policies that would make them richer.

The Koch brothers helped fund and start the Tea Party group, Americans for Prosperity. It’s Nebraska chapter has actively promoted and organized around the Keystone pipeline despite numerous concerns voiced by the Republican governor of Nebraska and thousands of Cornhusker residents. Many activists in our Koch Brothers Exposed network have said they’ve seen Americans for Prosperity commercials in their communities supporting the pipeline.

The Koch brothers have a profit and greed motive behind the pipeline too. The Kochs’ subsidiary company admits on its website that it is among Canada’s largest crude oil purchasers, shippers and exporters. Throughout the public hearings and process behind the Keystone pipeline’s formation, the Koch brothers have smeared journalists writing about their Keystone agenda. The Kochs and their Congressional allies stonewalled lawmakers when they began asking too many questions.

What are the Kochs hiding? They won’t even answer questions from Joel Francis, a college student and military veteran who’s passionate about protecting the environment.

There have been many cases of legal misconduct behind the Keystone XL pipeline like cost miscalculations and conflicts of interests. For years, the state department had one person handling the entire $7 billion project who virtually outsourced oversight to an unaccountable consultant company.

Peer review and independent analysis of the pipeline’s claims have exposed deception and legally corrupt tactics used to justify the project. The Canadian company building it is inflating the project’s value. Gas prices in the Midwest will be higher, and the pipeline won’t create jobs as advertised. Media Matters has documented the full spin campaign.

The Koch brothers’ echo chamber has also had devastating effects on popular programs like Social Security. We’ve been producing videos and activism that illustrate how the Koch brothers use their wealth to write script and set the goals for politicians, activists and influentials to follow. The Kochs use their wealth to launch think tanks, family foundations and nonprofit organizations to foment policies that make the Koch brothers richer.

This case has a different ending and one that puts people over profit. Organized people beat organized money and that’s reason to have hope as we confront the Kochs in 2012.

I invite you to join the conversation at our Koch Brothers Exposed page on Facebook.

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