Rallying against Koch’s pollutocrat agenda, Van Jones warns of ‘excessive concentrations of economic power’

This is a ThinkProgress cross-post.

This weekend, David and Charles Koch, the co-owners of the $100 billion Koch Industries pollution conglomerate, hosted their annual meeting in Palm Springs to coordinate strategy and raise funds for the conservative movement.  Brad Johnson has the story.

For decades, the Kochs have quietly led a political agenda to concentrate America’s wealth and power among the richest few in the name of “liberty,” at the expense of the health and opportunity of the middle class.

At an event organized by Common Cause to “Uncloak the Kochs,” Center for American Progress senior fellow Van Jones described the threat that concentration of economic power poses to American liberty, democracy, and justice:

I hear a lot of talk now about liberty. There is a movement in our country that has grown up, the Tea Party movement, that has raised the question of liberty, and I say, “Thank goodness.” I’m glad that someone’s raised the question of liberty. There’s nothing more precious to an African American than liberty and justice for all. I’m glad to hear that somebody’s concerned about liberty.

But I think that what we have to be clear about is liberty always has two threats, there’s always two threats to liberty. One is the excessive concentration of political power “” excessive concentration of political authority “” the totalitarian threat to liberty. And that is a threat to watch out for. But there is another threat. And it is in our country a graver threat. And it is the threat that comes from excessive concentrations of economic power. Excessive concentrations of economic power in our country pose as big a threat, and frankly a greater threat than any concentration of political power. What we have to remember is that our republic is founded not just on the question of liberty, but also on democracy and justice.

And it is when the predatory, monopolistic dimension of the economic system starts to gain momentum, then the question of justice and democracy has to come forward too. Not just liberty and property rights, but justice and human rights, and democracy, and the people’s rights to be free from economic tyranny and economic domination. We will not live on a national plantation run by the Koch brothers. We’re not going to do that. We refuse to do that.

Watch it:

Sharing Jones’ concern, former Sen. Russ Feingold said recently that “this entire society is being dominated by corporate power in a way that may exceed what happened in the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century. The incredible power these institutions now have over the average person is just overwhelming.”

According to UC Santa Cruz professor G. William Domhoff, “the average income of the top 400″³ richest Americans “” many of whom are attending the Koch’s secret event “” “tripled during the Clinton Administration and doubled during the first seven years of the Bush Administration.” The richest 0.01 percent of the United States “” now receive 6 percent of all U.S. income.

Top on the Koch agenda is the elimination of the estate tax for billionaires, the end to an open Internet, and the prevention of limits on their toxic pollution. Spending millions of dollars a year “” a tiny percent of their pollution-based wealth “” the Koch brothers and their ideological allies intend to manipulate American democracy to protect their private economic interests. Their selfish pursuit puts everyone else’s liberties at terrible risk, threatening the “four essential human freedoms” articulated by President Frank Delano Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, from want, and freedom from fear.

— Brad Johnson, in a TP cross-post.

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13 Responses to Rallying against Koch’s pollutocrat agenda, Van Jones warns of ‘excessive concentrations of economic power’

  1. Richard Brenne says:

    We’re having this same discussion including this comment of mine waiting in moderation to be comment #38 six postings below under “Report: Egyptian and Tunisian riots were driven in part by the spike in global food prices.” With Stephen Leahy, Sailesh Rao, Barry and others making extremely thoughtful comments, it dovetails with Van Jones’ concerns:

    Sailesh Rao (#36) – It’s funny that when I’m writing a response to one extremely thoughtful response, another appears. Great first paragraph, really masterful, and making the point about consumption that Barry makes, with additional very helpful statistics. I still stand by my comment above (#37) that both Overpopulation and Overconsumption are a problem.

    While I appreciate Weitzmann’s work, I think Hansen’s concern that we could be creating a runaway greenhouse effect creating a dead planet is based on an infinitely greater understanding of atmospheric science past, present and future. (Not all of Hansen’s colleagues agree with him, of course, because I’ve asked many of them. But Hansen seems to be a couple of decades ahead of the scientific consensus, and right an impressive if troubling percentage of the time.)

    Really at the core of the problem is that the richest billion of us are living beyond the lifestyles of any pre-20th Century King or Emperor in terms of our ability to travel, access (electronic) knowledge and entertainment, and to eat food grown from about as far away as we want.

    In addition to wealth, this richest billion (1/7 of Anthro-Earth’s population, around Barry’s 15%) controls the vast majority of the planet’s political power. Do we really think they’re going to give up that power or their lifestyles? Why do we think they’re going to suddenly care for the poor when for all intents and purposes they never have before, even with people dying of famine or floods like Katrina around them?

    Most U.S. states are facing bankruptcy, but my guess is that even a small fraction of the wealth instead diverted to yachts, multi-engine private planes, golfing, cosmetics, jewelry, pets, SUVs, expensive furniture or clothes could allow states to upgrade infrastructure and provide education and even health care.

    But as Stephen Leahy points out in his excellent articles he links to in comment #20, the point of farming isn’t feeding people, but profit, just as the point of health care in this country isn’t health, but profit.

    So while Stephen makes more excellent points in those two articles than any articles I’ve read about agriculture, in his comment and Jack’s at #25 they both say “We have enough food to feed everyone on Earth.”

    Yes, if the rich suddenly decided to share their wealth. This might be a realistic discussion, but unfortunately only on some other planet.

  2. Peter M says:

    The Koch plutocratic agenda sells- at least for the moment. However as in the past events can make the pendulum swing wildly to the opposite direction. Its likely that time is coming soon. Climate changes hastening effects will be one of the catalysts.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I must disagree a little with Richard Brenne #1, with his observation that ‘..this richest billion….controls the vast majority of the planet’s political power’. I believe that the vast majority of this one billion is, in fact, as powerless as the other six billion. Political, economic, propaganda and military power reside with that very 0.01% represented by the Kochtopus and the other members of the global plutocratic elites. ‘Democracy’ in the leading market capitalist economies is an absolute sham. There is no longer any real choice between parties, all of which adhere to the neo-feudal project of market absolutism. Politicians are universally bought and sold by their rich patrons, mass parties are dying, to be replaced by carefully concocted ‘Astroturf’ rabbles like the Tea Party, the mass media is uniformly Right and dominated by hysterical fear and hatemongering, and the central questions of human survival, realities even more hideously real and urgent than those of thermonuclear destruction during the Cold War, remain not just unaddressed, but daily exacerbated by the likes of the Kochtopus.
    It’s good to see Mr Jones leading some sort of resistance. The Fox News pathocrats may, I hope, come to regret destroying his political career in the Obama Administration with one of their trademark character assassinations. He is, of course, better off outside the tattered tent of Obamaism, than trapped inside it, making excuses for as rotten a regime in every way as its predecessor.

  4. Richard Brenne says:

    Mulga Mumblebrain (#3) – You’re right of course about the .001 per cent controlling most of the political power as oligarchs. I should’ve been more precise in elaborating that within that 1 billion resides the political power in the much smaller percentage you say. The additional problem we have is that while John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and the other oligarchs centered around 1900 were fairly transparent personalities that focused opposition, the Progressive movement and Teddy Roosevelt against them, now our oligarchs are hidden behind layers of complex corporations, businesses, “think” tanks and other front groups.

    I only disagree with you less than .001 per cent of the time, but I don’t think that Obama’s administration is “as rotten a regime in every way as its predecessor.”

    Bush was appointed by Supreme Court justices, including those his own father had appointed. Votes in Florida were not counted with every dirty trick and blocking tactic used, including by his brother Jeb the governor. Blacks were intimidated into not voting in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, where there was also likely electronic voting fraud.

    Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, and then helped start a completely optional war in Iraq largely to enrich Halliburton with no-bid contracts totaling many, many, many billions. Karl Rove also made sure we were at war because incumbent presidents are usually re-elected during wartime. Bush himself wanted to avenge the assassination attempt Saddam Hussein made on his father. This is the script from The Godfather, except somehow Fredo became our president.

    The Bush administration promoted the use of torture at every turn and lessened civil liberties more than any president not facing wars that killed millions or threatened the very existence of the U.S.

    They were the most secretive, least transparent and most needlessly combative administration in our nation’s history.

    The trend is for one administration to continue our nation’s excesses and evils. Certainly Obama and his administration has fallen far short in many areas including especially climate and energy, but to compare the administration of two lifelong public servants to that of two unrepentant and hideously corrupt oil men is a false equivalency.

    Just needed to get that in, because the next .001 per cent of your excellent comments I disagree with might take a decade or so. . .

  5. Wit's End says:

    While most of the focus at the rally was corporate control of the political process, Climate Zombies were there to take pictures, now online!

  6. Theodore says:

    The best liberty is freedom from involuntary employment. Money can buy it.

    The best democracy is income equalization.

    The most certain justice is purchased from a good lawyer.

    The difference between slavery and employment is one of word play, paperwork and perception.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    Hard to top Richard and Mulga today. Keep it up, I’m in an audience mood.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Ah, Richard, I accept your very slight criticism with ‘umble gratitude. Now that the false modesty is over, I can’t really argue with your position. Bush was, indeed, the complete palooka, and, the truth be known, I let my enthusiasm get the better of me. I see Obama’s administration as ‘nearly as rotten’ as Bush, but for slightly different reasons. I won’t go into them in detail, but I feel that they echo the intense disappointment and sense of betrayal elicited by the Blair and Rudd regimes, that promised much, but delivered less than zero. Of course Obama may yet do something really vital and good to help get us on the path to salvation, but, you see, I am a practising cynic, and my cynicism has rarely let me down. Not much of a boast I fear, but there you go. PS-In regard to the post concerning vermiculture, I’ve just become a devotee of comfrey tea, to which I add a cocktail of humic acid and friendly bacteria, and let it all ferment. It’s nearly good enough to drink, although it smells worse than durian. The plants seem to love it.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Richard, can I change ‘very slight criticism’ with ‘gentle admonition’. It’s a nice turn of phrase, don’t you think.

  10. Bob Doublin says:

    Mulga, I always love your commentary.Have you ever mulled over the idea that the factory system was the aristocracies’ revenge for the abolishing of serfdom?Puts an interesting twist on history even if the chronology doesn’t pan out.

  11. Adrian says:

    Good discussion.

    Meanwhile, in other environmental news, last week the USDA deregulated Roundup Ready GMO alfalfa (an exercise in unnecessary gene manipulation if ever there was one). Alfalfa is not a plant that keeps its genes to itself. Ok, none do, but alfalfa is especially generous in this regard.

    Another symptom of creeping corprocacy.

    Comfrey tea, eh. Hmm.

  12. Richard Brenne says:

    I Doublin Bob’s comment (#10), Mulga, your phrases always take a turn for the best.

    As with our fellow soul-mates including Sailesh Rao (who I sometimes suspect you of being), if you care to share anything about your background, what you’re working on or how you came by your name, I’m all Prince Charles, meaning ears. My e-mail is

  13. Steve says:

    Check out today’s LA Times editorial in defence of the Koch Bros.Its called Rich Guys have rights too. Tis is really beyong words. As news papers have dived into irrelevancy they’re embracing special interests that put them at odds with the role of the fifth estate. Newspapers in the past were always considered part of the solution but now have becomepart of the problem. Where does that leave society?…adrift in a cesspool of myths and lies.,0,6858366.story