Help Stop the Koch Brothers

glenn beckFriends and Colleagues,

For several years, Glenn Beck has been spewing hateful lies about Frances Fox Piven, the distinguished political scientist and sociologist, on his TV and radio shows. He views Piven (along with her late husband, sociologist Richard Cloward) as the architects of a socialist conspiracy to destroy America, and claims that President Obama is a follower of Piven and Cloward’s strategy. Although Beck’s views are lunacy, his followers believe him.

In recent months, Beck has escalated the rhetoric against Piven, which has led to a growing chorus of death threats against her, as I explain in my article  this week. It is time to challenge the right-wing forces like Fox News and the Tea Party, the Darrell Issa wing of the Republican Party, and the billionaires like the Koch brothers who are funding them.

In the wake of the Tucson massacre, Beck’s rants must be taken seriously. On Thursday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a public interest law firm, issued a written appeal to Beck’s boss — Fox News chairman Roger Ailes — to put a stop to the increasing threats against Piven incited by Beck tirades. The letter, asked Ailes to distinguish between First Amendment rights, of which they are “vigorous defenders” and an “intentional repetition of provocative, incendiary, emotional misinformation and falsehoods [that place Piven] in actual physical danger of a violent response.”

Beck’s influence is frightening, not because he has a large audience, but because he is able to incite his relatively small niche audience to action. Beck’s influence may eventually implode, similar to what happened to his fictional predecessor, Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic con man in the amazing 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd,” whose hubris led to his downfall. This may already have started happening with Beck.

 Two years ago, a group called Color of Change organized a campaign to pressure advertisers to drop their sponsorship of Beck’s show. It had some success but not enough to force Fox News to take Beck off the air. Earlier this month, however, WOR (710 AM), one of New York City’s two biggest talk radio stations, dropped Beck’s syndicated show. But as of now, Beck remains the most influential cheerleader of America’s right-wing movement, having replaced Rush Limbaugh for the top spot.

Fox News is part of a network of conservative bloggers, publications, columnists, think tanks, and activists like the Tea Party that have gained enormous influence within the Republican Party. Knowing this, big business lobby groups have forged an unholy alliance with these right-wing forces. Corporate lobby groups may not share the same views as Beck and the Tea Party, but they recognize the strategic importance of these right-wingers. Business provides campaign contributions to conservative candidates and the Tea Party and its ilk provide the ground troops to help them get elected.

These conservative forces have taken over the leadership of the Republican Party. And they and their business allies have a very clear agenda. It is to dismantle government policies that require corporations and banks to be socially responsible, including protections for consumers, workers, families, and the environment. They also want to slash the social safety net, including Social Security, Medicare, financial aid for college students, and aid to the poor. They want to reduce taxes on the rich (but retain subsidies for corporations, particularly military contractors). They want to destroy unions, environmental groups, and other components of the progressive movement.

And they have a plan. It is now obvious that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Republican allies in Congress are using the accusation “job killer” the way Sen. Joseph McCarthy used the word “Communist” to stigmatize any organization and policy they disagree with. For example, the Republicans titled their effort to overturn the law the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”.

As my Cry Wolf Project colleague Donald Cohen and I documented in an article in Huffington Post two weeks ago, the “job killer” claim is hardly new. Business groups have been using it for over a century – whether the issue was food safety, seat belts, the minimum wage, the Clean Air Act, workplace safety laws, or any other liberal/progressive initiatives. As we reported, newly emboldened as chair of the House’s key investigative committee, Congressman Darrell Issa, a right-wing California Republican, recently sent letters to more than 150 business lobby groups, asking them to identify government rules that they want eliminated. And as Ryan Lizza reveals in an article in the current issue of the New Yorker, Issa’s goal – like that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Fox News, and others – is to destroy Obama’s presidency and, with it, the agenda and self-confidence of liberals and progressives.

In a brilliant column in the Washington Post two weeks ago, Steven Pearlstein exposed the corporate “job killer” mantra for the lie that it is. Donald Cohen’s new Huffington Post column, “Another Job Killer Lie Exposed,” also shows how business “cried wolf” about impending economic disaster during the 2002 debate over California’s landmark Paid Family Leave Law.  In a newly-released study, authors Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at City University of New York, and Eileen Applebaum, an economist at the Center on Economic Policy Research, found that the California law has not turned out to be the costly “job killer” that big business warned about. To the contrary, the Paid Family Leave law has actually helped employers and produced significant economic, social and health benefits for both male and female workers.

So long as they think they can get away with it, corporate lobby groups and their Republican friends will continue to demonize any government policy they dislike as a “job killer.” The political climate is so rancid that even President Obama felt compelled to join the “job killer” chorus. In a column in the Wall Street Journal last week, Obama announced plans to “remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. …”

There is more than a semantic resemblance between the death threats targeted to Frances Fox Piven by Glenn Beck’s followers and the “job killer” mantra espoused by big business, the Republican leaders, the Tea Partiers, and the right-wing echo chamber led by Beck. They want to destroy liberal and progressive ideas and undermine the credibility and reputations (and in some cases, the livelihoods) of the people who espouse them.

I have no doubt that the CEOs of most major Fortune 500 corporations disagree with most of what Glenn Beck and the Tea Party believe. But they are convenient allies, or what some call “strange bedfellows.” That said, some of the wealthiest Americans share the views of the right-wing lunatic fringe. The most prominent of this group are the Koch brothers, oil industry billionaires who are the largest funders of the Tea Party, the right-wing Cato Institute, and other key parts of the extremist movement. Last August, Jane Mayer wrote a brilliant expose of the Koch brothers in The New Yorker magazine.

On January 30, the Koch brothers have invited a group of billionaires and millionaires who support the Tea Party and right-wing Republicans to a behind-closed-doors meeting at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage (close to Palm Springs) to plot their strategy for the 2012 elections. Here’s is Think Progress’ background research on the political influence of this shadowing group of billionaires. The New York Times ran a story in October about this meeting under the headline: “Secretive Republican Donors Are Planning Ahead.” Here’s the story’s opening paragraph:

A secretive network of Republican donors is heading to the Palm Springs area for a long weekend in January, but it will not be to relax after a hard-fought election — it will be to plan for the next one. Koch Industries, an energy and manufacturing conglomerate run by the billionaire brothers Charles, left, and David Koch operates a foundation that finances political advocacy groups, but is protected from having to disclose much about what they do. Koch Industries, the longtime underwriter of libertarian causes from the Cato Institute in Washington to the ballot initiative that would suspend California’s landmark law capping greenhouse gases, is planning a confidential meeting at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa to, as an invitation says, “develop strategies to counter the most severe threats facing our free society and outline a vision of how we can foster a renewal of American free enterprise and prosperity.”

Fran Piven and many other activists believe that liberals and progressives should be in the streets protesting the right-wing Tea Party and the rest of the extremist conservative movement. So here is one opportunity to do this. A coalition of progressive/liberal groups – led by the Courage Campaign, Common Cause, HCAN (Health Care for America Now, the labor/consumer/liberal coalition that led the fight for health care reform), unions, community organizing groups, and others – is planning a protest action at the Koch brothers meeting. It will take place from 1-4 pm on Sunday, January 30. Buses will be leaving from all over Southern California. Click Uncloak the Kochs for more information about the event and the many bus locations. 

Uncloaking the Kochs: Rally in Rancho Mirage

Sunday, January 30, 2011

1:00 – 4:00pm

41-000 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270

Before the rally, starting at 11 am, you can attend a panel discussion “Uncloaking the Kochs: The Billionaire Causus and Its Threat to Our Democracy” at the Hilton Garden Inn (71-700 Highway 11, Rancho Mirage, CA). Speakers will include:

 peter dreierIf you live in southern California, this is a great opportunity to challenge the influence of the right-wing forces that are trying to undermine what liberals and progressives have fought for.

Peter Dreier

Published by the LA Progressive on January 23, 2011
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About Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. This article draws on the last chapter (called "The 21st Century So Far") of his book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, published by Nation Books in July: http://100greatestamericans.org/