H. Brandt Ayers: Conscience of a billionaire — Flinching in disgust at corporate power that ignores human needs
Apr 28, 2013 | 4688 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Most of us with a normal conscience, molded by faith and family, would know what to do if our company had an income of more than $100 billion a year; we’d give generous donations to church and dozens of charitable institutions.

It is a personal fantasy shared by many to have such wealth and experience the joy of giving it away to the arts, church, education and health care for the less fortunate. It is a small sin, but we envy people like Bill Gates.

We tend to look with disapproval at people who use their great wealth largely to support their ideological self-interests, pouring millions upon millions into lobbying, think tanks and politicians who agree with their personal agenda.

There really are such people who are dedicated to self-interest.

You may have heard of the Koch brothers, Charles and David; their oil, gas and manufacturing conglomerate has annual revenues of about $115 billion a year. The brothers fund a network of think tanks, publications and cause-oriented institutions with patriotic cover names such as Americans for Prosperity.

Their national webbing of special-interest organizations is vast enough to have been called the “Kochtopus,” a name coined by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer.

Now, as part of an agenda developed by like-minded peers at a series of seminars, they have turned their attention to the media, negotiating to buy the Tribune Company, which would give them a national megaphone for their views.

The company’s eight regional newspapers include The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

The papers, valued at approximately $625 million, would be a cheap way for the “Kochtopus” to extend its tentacles to major American dailies, which raises the question: Who are the Koch brothers and what do they want?

Mayer’s appraisal appeared in the New Yorker in 2010. She wrote: “The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation.

“These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests ... Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a ‘kingpin of climate science denial.’ The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks and political front groups.

“Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama administration policies — from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program — that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the … Kochtopus.”

Though they deny any formal connection with the Tea Party, the brothers are known to have been major financial contributors to making it a force, which has tied Congress in ideological knots by dutifully reciting the Koch line.

The prospect of two men accumulating more power by poisoning major media sources to affect what Americans know and think will send a shudder through much of the body politick, but do not despair.

In the early days of the Republic, there was blatant bias in the press, The Gazette of the United States, representing the views of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams vs. The American Aurora, backed by Thomas Jefferson.

From 1820 to about 1890 newspapers unashamedly and loudly broadcast their political views until the invention of the telegraph and the Associated Press, which had to transmit objective stories because its bosses were in both parties.

Americans with a decent conscience may flinch in disgust at corporate power that ignores human needs in its obsession to accumulate more power, less oversight and more profit, but the brothers are not all powerful.

With a majority of largely objective newspapers, television and the internet, the Republic can get enough untainted information to survive even the Koch brothers.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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