Inside the Koch Brothers' Toxic Empire
February 16, 2015 2:20 PM   Subscribe

On the day before Danielle Smalley was to leave for college, she and her friend Jason Stone were hanging out in her family's mobile home. Seventeen years old, with long chestnut hair, Danielle began to feel nauseated. "Dad," she said, "we smell gas." It was 3:45 in the afternoon on August 24th, 1996, near Lively, Texas, some 50 miles southeast of Dallas. The Smalleys were too poor to own a telephone. So the teens jumped into her dad's 1964 Chevy pickup to alert the authorities. As they drove away, the truck stalled where the driveway crossed a dry creek bed. Danielle cranked the ignition, and a fireball engulfed the truck. "You see two children burned to death in front of you – you never forget that," Danielle's father, Danny, would later tell reporters.

Unknown to the Smalleys, a decrepit Koch pipeline carrying liquid butane – literally, lighter fluid – ran through their subdivision. It had ruptured, filling the creek bed with vapor, and the spark from the pickup's ignition had set off a bomb. Federal investigators documented both "severe corrosion" and "mechanical damage" in the pipeline. A National Transportation Safety Board report would cite the "failure of Koch Pipeline Company LP to adequately protect its pipeline from corrosion."



The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they've cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today's GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year's midterms. So far in this cycle, Koch-backed entities have bought 44,000 political ads to boost Republican efforts to take back the Senate.


Also, Koch Industries Responds to Rolling Stone – And We Answer Back
posted by standardasparagus (84 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
They also literally poisoned the North Pole (, Alaska).
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:31 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


NoxAeternum, I'd recommend you RT(F)A, it's in there.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, if they were auditioning for the role of cartoon villains, they couldn't do much better. This is like a caricature of thuggery and corruption and heavy-handed influence peddling.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:36 PM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Dad came back from the USSR and decided to become the Stalin of capitalism.
posted by benzenedream at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yes, I know it was in there. It's just that "poisoning the North Pole" struck me as something that is just on the level of cartoon villainy, usually done while petting a Persian with one's right hand.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:43 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Then when they do get fined they get to write off fines and punitive damages as a cost of doing business. So either way you're getting fucked.
posted by Talez at 2:49 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't decide which phrase I like best, "Market­Based Management" (in CamelCase, even), "volume enhancement" (aka petty fraud), or "the Kochtopus", bringing back to mind Matt Taibbi's immortal description of Goldman Sachs...
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2015


There are a lot of phrases to describe someone that raise my hackles. Some of these include "hardcore libertarian," "John Birch Society," "fiercely private," "anti-regulatory," "anarchic capitalism" and "cow molester."

As far as I know, the Kochs check all boxes but one. You can decide which one.
posted by delfin at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that we could find bovine victims.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:53 PM on February 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


In one of the great ironies of the Obama years, the president's financial-regulatory reform seems to benefit Koch Industries.
How is this an irony? Obama is a corporatist. This should come as a surprise to no one.

And this: "The role of business is to produce products and services in a way that makes people's lives better," [Charles Koch] said recently. "It cannot do so if it is injuring people and harming the environment in the process."
is just disgusting. It will never cease to amaze me how much people who have money will lie to make sure they can keep that money. No matter how many people they hurt, maim, or kill along the way - hey, business is business, right?

The fact that preventive pipeline maintenance is required by law didn't always seem to register.... "It was a question of money. It would take away from our profit margin".... Ultimately, state and federal agencies forced Koch to pay a $30 million civil penalty – then the largest in the history of U.S. environmental law – for 312 spills across six states
$30 mil is chump change for people like this. Why not play fast and loose with safety if all you have to do is pay out a few bucks? That's only 3% of their net worth (yes, their current net worth; I couldn't easily find what they were worth in the 1990s). That's really nothing. That's the average annual rate of an individual's salary raise in the US. Think about that: they spilled "more than 90,000 gallons of crude spewed into Gum Hollow Creek, fouling surrounding marshlands and both Nueces and Corpus Christi bays with a 12-mile oil slick," and in exchange, they paid out a few percentage points of their worth. And then kept on growing and kept on earning and kept on literally killing young teenagers because why the fuck not? Why not? If it means they get to keep sleeping on piles of money and controlling the fate of the most powerful country in the world, what's a few million bucks?

To say that this is appalling doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.
posted by sockermom at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2015 [33 favorites]


From my perspective as a reporter, Koch Industries is the most hostile and paranoid organization I've ever engaged with — and I've reported on Fox News.

Ouch.
posted by localroger at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


This back-and-forth is kind of pathetic, but I'm sure it's fun for the journalist.
posted by resurrexit at 3:13 PM on February 16, 2015


In a thread earlier today I responded to Vlad Putin's "We are not like you" by pointing out that several past and future American Presidential candidates are JUST like him personally. Let me change that. Putin is an Eastern Hemisphere copycat of the Koch Brothers.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eager to see the libel and slander claims from either party. You know, because truth is actually a valid libel defense.

Oh wait, there won't be any formal claims because they're both lying.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


As long as the penalty for white-collar crime is monetary, the crime will continue. It must be that we, the people, simply enjoy being punched in the nose.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:20 PM on February 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


My current bumpersticker idea for the 2016 Republican ticket is:

KOCH/KOCH 2016
IF THEY WANT TO OWN THE COUNTRY, LET'S MAKE THEM DO THE WORK
posted by uosuaq at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2015 [45 favorites]


These are the kinds of capitalists that make think about studying Marxism.
posted by lhauser at 3:27 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


As long as the penalty for white-collar crime is monetary, the crime will continue. It must be that we, the people, simply enjoy being punched in the nose.

No, it's more that it's hard to understand why someone who steals with a pen is vastly more dangerous than someone who steals with a gun. Part of it is the visceral nature of the latter, and part of it is the complexity of the former.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:28 PM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


I can't tell if the author doesn't know that "enormity" means "heinousness", not "enormousness", or does and was being deliberate.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


I have to say that this isn't the first story like this to get a response out of them, and for people who aspire to the kind of power they are spending so much of their money to acquire the Kochs have remarkably thin skins.

A baby PR person would have undoubtably told them that something like this RS article was going to be the inevitable result of stonewalling the reporter, and that their response is the corporate equivalent of the Author's Big Mistake (e.g. writing such a reply to a critic). I have the feeling that Koch Industries is exactly the kind of company where anybody who tells the Kochs something they do not want to hear, whether it's true or useful or not, doesn't work there for long.
posted by localroger at 3:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


$30 mil is chump change for people like this. Why not play fast and loose with safety if all you have to do is pay out a few bucks? That's only 3% of their net worth

I take your point, but it's worth pointing out that 3% is a vast overstatement. If each Koch has a net worth in excess of $40 billion, then $30 million is just 0.075% of each man's net worth.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:37 PM on February 16, 2015 [32 favorites]


I hope it's permissible to revile the Koch brothers and also, in some much smaller way, revile the kind of writing which suggests that Danielle's "long chestnut hair" is in any way relevant to the story.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:42 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


resurrexit: This back-and-forth is kind of pathetic, but I'm sure it's fun for the journalist.

It's pathetic for Koch and somebody in their organization should have the power and know better to discourage them from responding and inviting more valid criticism of their obfuscations, but I wouldn't impugn the journalist for doing their job and responding to an attempt to call them out as a liar for doing their job.

Cool Papa Bell: Eager to see the libel and slander claims from either party. You know, because truth is actually a valid libel defense.

Oh wait, there won't be any formal claims because they're both lying.


Oh thank goodness. The fair and balanced "both parties are wrong" equanimous thing
posted by aydeejones at 3:44 PM on February 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


Not every detail in a story is relevant to the story. Meh. Good thing we're fairly and balanced-ly reviling stuff.
posted by aydeejones at 3:44 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh wait, there won't be any formal claims because they're both lying.

What makes you think the reporter is lying?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:47 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not every detail in a story is relevant to the story. Meh. Good thing we're fairly and balanced-ly reviling stuff.

Not to mention that little details like that help to make more real and human the young woman who was roasted alive for the profits of Koch Industries.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:50 PM on February 16, 2015 [35 favorites]


How is this an irony?

Because you're supposed to be all, "Democrats hate business everyone knows lol".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:53 PM on February 16, 2015


But hey, let's build more bigger pipelines, across the country (because BUSINESS) - what could possibly go wrong?
posted by Dashy at 3:58 PM on February 16, 2015


I have to say that this isn't the first story like this to get a response out of them, and for people who aspire to the kind of power they are spending so much of their money to acquire the Kochs have remarkably thin skins.

Why did Michael Jackson live in seclusion, alter his body many times, buy a chimp, marry Elvis's daughter, have sleepovers with young boys and acquire the drugs that killed him? Because, among other reasons, he was rich enough to systematically dispose of anyone around him who could or would say "No, Michael, that's a really bad idea" or "No, Michael, there are reasons why you shouldn't do that." Every rich celebrity who spirals into disarray has a similar tale to tell.

Now imagine two brothers who each have about 50 times more money than Michael ever made, and who have spent their entire lives working to remove everyone and everything PERIOD - politicians, laws, regulations, whistle-blowers, taxes, reporters, stories, you name it - that might try to prevent them from doing whatever they want and whatever makes them the highest profits.

You don't need thick skin when you can buy and remove anything that might bruise it.
posted by delfin at 4:03 PM on February 16, 2015 [52 favorites]


KOCH/KOCH 2016

Can we call that a bucket rather than a ticket? That way if America chooses them we can say they got the bucket of Kochs they deserve.
posted by srboisvert at 4:12 PM on February 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


> $30 mil is chump change for people like this. Why not play fast and loose with safety if all you have to do is pay out a few bucks?

What makes you think they pay cash out of pocket like you or I would for a parking ticket?

The money comes from the offending company. If, by some misfortune, the company they own isn't profitable enough due to the fine, they will see fit to sell it, merge it, or dissolve it, putting myriad employees out of business. But the Kochs themselves will not be affected in the slightest.
posted by at by at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


You don't need thick skin when you can buy and remove anything that might bruise it.

I guess they fired the guy who tried to tell them The Pelican Brief wasn't a how-to guide.
posted by localroger at 4:16 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


As long as the penalty for white-collar crime is monetary, the crime will continue. It must be that we, the people, simply enjoy being punched in the nose.

As long as the monetary penalty is less than the profits they estimate they could earn but doing whatever evil thing they're doing, it will continue. Businesses don't seem to have much trouble figuring out the cost/benefit analysis on these things. Whatever governmental organization is levying the fines should do the same. Literally the only thing most businesses will respond to voluntarily is something that will be a real hit to their bottom line. Not a fake, slap-on-the wrist fine, but real fines that will actually lose them more money than they stand to gain.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]




@Pope Guilty: "Enormity" also means "great in size."
posted by samizdat at 4:23 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Koch's mendacity and megalomania are well documented, but I can't resist pointing out one particular example that crystallizes just how they roll. From their "response" to the RS article, they state baldly:
and EPA's own conclusion that "petroleum coke itself has a low level of toxicity and that there is no evidence of carcinogenicity."
I guess they figured no one would click on that link and actually read a boring government report. It turns out that the "EPA" report is just a summary of the data on toxicity of its waste products that Koch supplied to it under a voluntary program. Although the statement above is true in the usual sense for green petroleum coke, for calcined petroleum coke, when they say there is no evidence of carcinogenicity, they mean that only literally; no data regarding carcinogenicity were provided by them to the EPA. So of course the EPA says there is no evidence, because Koch didn't supply any one way or the other.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:03 PM on February 16, 2015 [29 favorites]


Business Business Business...NUMBERS...

(is this working...?)
posted by Windopaene at 5:13 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


There really ought to be a law against Kochtopuses. We could call it "racketeering" or something really broad like that and just define it as running organized fraudulent rackets of various kinds on a large scale.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:14 PM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


These are the kinds of capitalists that make think about studying Marxism.

They are very much Capitalists as described by Marx. Say what you like about his proposed solutions, his analysis of the problem was spot on.
posted by Artw at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


So I think cstross' Laundry files are basically right. It's just that the thing that comes through is Capital. And then we get Accelerando.

Capital is the grey goo that we worry about with nanotechnology. If there is a surplus to be extracted, it will be by someone. So the Kochs are evil, no doubt. But they're just vessels for Capital. The regulatory arbitrage was just sitting there, waiting to be picked up. Sooner than later, Capital would have found someone to pick it up.

Capital has no morals. It is a ruthless, impersonal, self replicating process, much like fire. It will consume everything it has access to. It is a distributed computing device; if the statutory cost of something is less than the profits, Capital will figure that out. And then do it.

Capital is hostile AI that already has control of our government.
posted by PMdixon at 6:16 PM on February 16, 2015 [36 favorites]


“Koch companies have a strong record of compliance,” Holden, Koch's top lawyer, tells Rolling Stone. “In the distant past, when we failed to meet these standards, we took steps to ensure that we were building a culture of 10,000 percent compliance, with 100 percent of our employees complying 100 percent.”
Ugh, that is not how records, compliance, distance, steps, culture, or percentages work, you pustulent hemorrhoid of a human being.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:17 PM on February 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


The fact that preventive pipeline maintenance is required by law didn't always seem to register.... "It was a question of money. It would take away from our profit margin".... Ultimately, state and federal agencies forced Koch to pay a $30 million civil penalty – then the largest in the history of U.S. environmental law – for 312 spills across six states $30 mil is chump change for people like this. Why not play fast and loose with safety if all you have to do is pay out a few bucks? That's only 3% of their net worth (yes, their current net worth; I couldn't easily find what they were worth in the 1990s).

$30 million is not 3% of $100 BILLION, it's 0.03%. Fining Charles and David Koch a few million, or a few hundred million, means less to them than a parking ticket does to a normal person, it's like they dropped a ten on the sidewalk.

The money comes from the offending company. If, by some misfortune, the company they own isn't profitable enough due to the fine, they will see fit to sell it, merge it, or dissolve it, putting myriad employees out of business. But the Kochs themselves will not be affected in the slightest.

And they personally don't even pay, it comes out of one of the various Koch related company accounts, worth another $100bil, minimum.

There's literally nothing that the few parts of US government not directly under their control can do to them to even make them consider changing their behavior.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:19 PM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yes, I know it was in there. It's just that "poisoning the North Pole" struck me as something that is just on the level of cartoon villainy, usually done while petting a Persian with one's right hand.

Honestly, not snarking, isn't that literally the plot of a captain planet episode?

Like, i'm thinking of hoggish greedly and stuff here.
posted by emptythought at 6:19 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


These people, the Koch brothers, own Georgia-Pacific, which runs probably the largest industry in my hometown of Brunswick, GA. I shiver to think what damage they've done to the environment around these parts.
posted by JHarris at 6:26 PM on February 16, 2015


Ugh, that is not how records, compliance, distance, steps, culture, or percentages work, you pustulent hemorrhoid of a human being.

Excuse me...did you just refer to a Koch lawyer as a human being? Explain yourself!
posted by uosuaq at 6:36 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why do you suppose old white men worth $40 bn are not chillin out somewhere with a bong and a couple/three beauties?

Instead of raping the earth
posted by notreally at 6:41 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'd quit after the second or third billion myself.
posted by uosuaq at 6:47 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


On the Nightly Show, one of the "keeping it 100" questions was "Would you have an Eyes-Wide-Shut-style orgy with the Koch brothers if it meant it would stop them from buying elections forever?"

My answer is "Yes, absolutely, in a blue minute." I can think of no better way to sacrifice 13 minutes of my life for my country.
posted by KathrynT at 6:49 PM on February 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


There's something fundamentally wrong with someone with Koch-sized money who can't just say, " I'm done. Game won."
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:52 PM on February 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


just two bad apples...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:55 PM on February 16, 2015


So then they are Mammon's own acolytes. And I don't know what I was expecting - having invested such a balance of time in reading that ridiculous back-and-forth with the reporter.

They are libertarians. They worship capital and ownership as an end, a value, a holy thing. They have a liturgy. And this is America and so there is absolutely nothing wrong with exactly that. I find it repugnant but I will defend to the death their right to worship whichever god they choose.

However their ideology is distressing to me because I believe that at the end of their life they will close their fists around a sort of monumental emptiness. They will take ownership of the vacuous despair that they have unleashed on God's own world. And that is the saddest, most pitiful ending I can imagine. It sounds to me as though their grandfather was a fool, a know-nothing blowhard and a thief, and that the past two generations of men in their family have sought to justify and extricate themselves from his pettiness.

I hope their endeavors come to nothing and that they receive the fullness of their mortal reward. Because they worship a small god.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:11 PM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Why do you suppose old white men worth $40 bn are not chillin out somewhere with a bong and a couple/three beauties?

Seriously. I'm actually vaguely concerned about when the current crop of ultrabillionaires starts dying off--that much sudden wealth transfer has got to make waves, no?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:01 PM on February 16, 2015


Don't worry, fffm -- they've ensured it won't generate any tax revenue, at least.
posted by uosuaq at 8:04 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eh wot? The federal estate tax is currently like 40% over the exclusion limit, which is negligible when considering an estate the size of the Koch's.
posted by Justinian at 8:22 PM on February 16, 2015


Why do you suppose old white men worth $40 bn are not chillin out somewhere with a bong and a couple/three beauties?

Poor man wanna be rich. Rich man wanna be king. And a king ain't satisfied 'Til he rules everything
posted by any major dude at 8:25 PM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


There are about a million ways around the estate tax. Which they're probably working to get repealed by the time they die anyway.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:43 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: “There really ought to be a law against Kochtopuses.”
We have several. We just don't bother to enforce them anymore.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:07 PM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


There's something fundamentally wrong with someone with Koch-sized money who can't just say, " I'm done. Game won."
The rich are different to you and I, as are cow molesters.
posted by fullerine at 9:41 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the positive side, most of us will outlive them. On the negative side, so too will the evil they've done.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:01 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The brookings institute has published a thoughtful piece; a guide to your betters.
posted by vicx at 10:44 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


These are the kinds of capitalists that make think about studying Marxism.

These are the kinds of capitalists that make you think, when you study Marxism, that even if his solution is wrong, his critique of capital was and remains essentially correct. It's interesting how "socialism" and even "liberal" is now a dirty word in American politics, so completely are any of Marx's ideas verboten in the discourse.

Save one -- until recently (and thank you, Occupy, for moving the Overton window a bit) if one mentioned wealth inequality conservatives would scream "class warfare!" as a means of shutting down the discourse.
posted by Gelatin at 4:03 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the positive side, most of us will outlive them.

People keep thinking that about Dick Cheney too, but $100 billion can buy a lot of artificial hearts, organ transplants, experimental anti-aging therapies, mind-body transplants. They could live to be 160 take advantage of the cutting edge of near-future medicine unavailable to anyone else.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:17 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Koch companies have a strong record of compliance,” Holden, Koch's top lawyer, tells Rolling Stone.

I'm sure they do. But 'compliance' is about record keeping and box ticking rather than actual safety.
posted by atrazine at 7:22 AM on February 17, 2015


The more I find out about the Koch brothers, the more I realize that they are, in fact, super villains.
They have immense wealth and power, and they use it to gain more wealth and power, not caring who they hurt or what laws they violate in the process, because paying people off and paying fines and buying new laws is cheaper than not hurting people and following laws.
posted by Jefffurry at 9:28 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


So is it too late to stop them and change the course they've set us on? I worry that we can't find decent politicians who will stand up for the people anymore.
posted by arcticseal at 10:20 AM on February 17, 2015


Say, 50 years down the line, will the punchline to the standard time traveler joke transition away from "Hitler" and be replaced by "Kochs?"
posted by porpoise at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2015


So is it too late to stop them and change the course they've set us on?

I think a tipping point for the USA will be when one of those billionaires capitalizes on the groundwork that these assbags have laid, and outright buys the Presidency. With enough purchased governors and state legislatures, constitutional amendments will be easy, and poof: feudalism is back.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:14 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately it seems we live in a world with super villains but no super heroes. No one with power stands up to people like this anymore (or ever?) unless they start killing people with weapons, rather than with economic schemes.
posted by cell divide at 12:00 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am always hilariously amused when a reporter gets upset that someone else dared to publish their email correspondence without their permission. You're a reporter! Your job is to ferret out people's secrets and publish them! Stop writing emails that you're worried about being exposed!
posted by corb at 1:32 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I'd like to buy the world."
- a Koch
posted by Chitownfats at 1:47 PM on February 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'd be curious to know if the 'robber barons' of about 100 years ago had their tendrils into government in the same way that the Kochs do. It's deeply troubling that two people can have such incredible influence on the country.
posted by Phreesh at 1:49 PM on February 17, 2015


I'd be curious to know if the 'robber barons' of about 100 years ago had their tendrils into government in the same way that the Kochs do.

That's kind of exactly where the "robber" part of the term came from.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:07 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the robber barons had major influence on the political process. In many ways what we're seeing now is a return to the historical norm rather than an oligarchical anomaly. It was the resurgent middle class of the post-war era that was the anomaly, it's just that it was the only thing most of us who grew up in the USA had ever known until recently.
posted by Justinian at 2:12 PM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


People have completely lost any sense for the spirit of the American revolution and its explicit populist project of rejecting European feudalism. If we're reverting to the historical mean now, that just means the American project has failed. Because ours was the revolution that inspired the French Revolution and so many of the other peasant uprisings around the world. Ours was the first system to attempt to establish a nation free of the exploitative labor arrangements that had always defined all the others right down to their core, but the unwillingness of some of our early elites (like my own slave-owning, civil war agitating ancestors) to let go of the social and economic benefits of those older exploitative systems (conveniently preserved for them in a slightly altered form within the institution of slavery) led to a powerful counterrevolutionary movement (the Confederacy) that has completely undermined the popular revolutionary goals and Enlightenment values America once meant to embody. It's sad, but at this point, I'd say the dream is dead unless we collectively decide we want it again. But we're too fractious and suspicious of one another now to accomplish anything collectively.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:39 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


ol·i·gar·chy

ˈäləˌɡärkē/

We haz it.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:10 PM on February 17, 2015


And it came in on quiet little pussy feet, like fog, while we watched TV and grumbled about our low wages and how much things cost and those obnoxious politicians and watched some more TV.

And lo and behold - we are owned - bought and paid for - and we've no money and no ideas about how to change that fact at this late date.

Next chapter: How the USA changes its way of life. Our children and grandchildren will grow up under an entirely different system, but we can take heart from the fact that children have been growing up and moving on under similar governments and circumstances since the beginning of time. The Koch Bros know this - they don't worry much.
posted by aryma at 9:08 PM on February 17, 2015


And it came in on quiet little pussy feet, like fog, while we watched TV and grumbled about our low wages and how much things cost and those obnoxious politicians and watched some more TV.


And wore teabags on our tricorner hats while protesting the government's meddling in our government benefits.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:43 AM on February 18, 2015


saulgoodman, I don't think "the first" is a fair claim. I would point at the English Civil War as relevant, as well as the Roman Conflict of the Orders and really a lot of later Roman Republic's history as a struggle between elite and populist forces. And probably many other examples that I don't know. You might be interested or amused to consider Julius Caesar as an explicitly populist figure who grew up in a poor family in the wrong part of town.
posted by solitary dancer at 12:59 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd be curious to know if the 'robber barons' of about 100 years ago had their tendrils into government in the same way that the Kochs do.

From their lips to your ears. (The commentary is a bit preaching-to-the-goddamn-choir, though.)

I would say that the Kochs are in particular reminiscent of Jay Gould, one of the most famous "robber barons". It would not surprise me if there is some level of conscious emulation going on there. Gould is the ur-capitalist, at least in the tradition of high finance. He came to power via cunning financial manipulation, and maintained it through the same plus a heavy seasoning of bribery. Sort of a late-19th-century Gordon Gecko, but absolutely real.

And the Kochs at their most villainous have quite a bit of room before they can reach the lofty reaches of corruption as practiced in the post-Civil War era. We may at some point, thanks to the deregulation of political contributions, work our way back to open bidding wars for Senators, but it's myopic to think that we're there yet.

Oh: and as far as anyone can tell, Gould died very rich, and very unapologetic. However, it turns out that creating a dynasty is harder than it seems. Despite cranking out a prodigious number of offspring, most of them did little more than marry their way into European aristocratic families and disperse the family fortune. Such seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:24 PM on February 19, 2015


further on the "robber barons" of the past - I may have to dig out the work I did for a research project ten years back, but I found a CRAP-TON of cases of corporate meddling in the late 1800's.

In fact, there was so much of it that that's what inspired the play I was doing the research for - the premise was that there were a bunch of old-guard Republican congressmen who'd been bought out by the business tycoons in their districts, and managed to redirect the national rail roads and other industries to favor those businessmen.but then there was this upstart progressive congressman who was going to put through a bill about strengthening regulations on the railroads. So the other congressmen were going to try to blackmail him by threatening to expose a sex scandal about him (not knowing that the woman involved in the scandal was now the wife of one of their own number).

The bulk of my research was about government sex scandals in the specific (honestly, anything Clinton did had NOTHING on Warren G. Harding, I tell you what), but I did also find that the exact reason the railroad routes in this country sometimes are so haphazard, and why they sometimes stop in such small places, is because of exactly this - some congressman in 1870-whatever got paid off by some businessman to make sure that the railroad had a stop in their town.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:52 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


To be fair, I think the ones that married into European aristocratic families considered that a net win.
posted by corb at 8:26 AM on February 20, 2015


Despite cranking out a prodigious number of offspring, ...

This actually works against dynasty since the laws of primogeniture were repealed.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:03 AM on February 23, 2015


Can't you voluntarily create primogeniture by leaving your other offspring a dollar or whatever?
posted by corb at 11:17 AM on February 23, 2015


Can't you voluntarily create primogeniture by leaving your other offspring a dollar or whatever?

Sure, but the statement I was responding to implied that having many offspring was conducive to establishing a dynasty. I wasn't saying that it prevented it, merely that it didn't promote it. You can stiff as many of your spawn as you care to, if that's your goal.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:13 PM on February 23, 2015


« Older Science meets professional subjects   |   Lesley Gore (1946-2015) Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments