Tuesday, August 20, 2013

David Koch and ALEC: Dancing With the Devil and the 40-Foot Dump

David Koch has donated generously and without fanfare to [us] for many years.”--Julie Stewart, President and Founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Everyone knows, or should know, that deals with the devil never work out the way you think they will. The same is true for deals made with ultra-rich, ultra-immoral benefactors like David Koch.

David Koch is one of the wealthiest men in the world. His investment interests are mainly in “outlaw industries”--industries that many people believe are harmful in some way: oil, lumber, and commodities trading. His political contributions show that he solidly endorses the one-percent solution, in which the richest one percent continue to hold vast fortunes and fight against paying their fair share of taxes while they force working Americans to pay higher taxes for basic government services.

Koch is well known for giving financial support to Republican politicians and climate deniers. He has recently become more prominent in the media, due partly to attacks by Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) and ThinkProgress.org. In the past, he has been a shadowy figure who contributed without fanfare to conservative organizations like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), Cato Foundation (a libertarian think tank), Republican Governors Association, and Heritage Foundation (formerly a think tank, now a propaganda mill headed by Republican ex-Senator Jim DeMint).

Union supporters know Koch as the man who bankrolled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's recall election, when Unions and progressives tried to throw Walker from office. Thanks to Koch (who admits making a $700,000 contribution), Walker is still able to pass anti-labor legislation while his subordinates continue to rob veteran organizations and raise campaign funds while drawing state paychecks.

Koch Carbon, one of Koch's privately owned companies, recently dropped a 40-foot pile of petroleum coke (petcoke) on Detroit's waterfront. The company did not ask for a permit or bother to protect the fine powder from the wind. The petcoke accumulated in the homes of nearby residents. One day a storm came up and blew a great cloud of it over to Windsor, Ontario. Koch Carbon promised to move the pile to Ohio after Canadians protested.

Petcoke is a byproduct of the tar sands mined in Alberta. It contains 60% of the carbon from bitumen, the oil source. The Kochs regularly sell the stuff to China as fuel, despite the enormous amount of greenhouse gases it puts into the earth's atmosphere when burned.  

David Koch has said that humans are not the cause of global warming but that global warming will be good for the planet because growing seasons will be longer and the earth will be able to support more people. No climate study agrees with Koch. Most climate scientists believe that large populations will be displaced as currently populous areas become uninhabitable due to extreme heat and drought. When Obama gave a major speech on global warming in 2008, the Koch-funded Cato Institute took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to attack him.

Koch's primary political-advocacy group these days is Americans for Prosperity Foundation. AFPF is the engine that drives the Tea Party, according to memos from the Romney campaign. AFPF lobbied fiercely against health care and financial regulation. In 2012, AFPF spent $3 million on TV ads attacking Obama and another $9 million on ads attacking Obama's health care law.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums(FAMM)

Julie Stewart, President of FAMM, recently wrote an article praising ALEC and its long-time benefactor, David Koch. She said that ALEC and Koch had embraced bold sentencing reform. I don't see how anyone could call the Justice Safety Valve Act (S.B. 619) “bold”. The bill would leave the entire mandatory sentencing law completely untouched, along with its extraordinarily high sentencing guidelines for drug-related crimes. All S.B. 619 would do is give judges some flexibility in sentencing some defendants—but only if the defendants met conditions already written into the law. Furthermore, it would affect only federal laws, not state laws, where 80% of drug cases are tried.

The mandatory sentencing laws are a travesty of justice, as Stewart well knows. They have filled our prisons with non-violent petty criminals while failing to reach the drug kingpins and money-laundering banks that make the really big money and commit the really big crimes. ALEC wrote these laws specifically to benefit private prison corporations, for whom having more prisoners means more profits.  

Recently, Attorney General Holder gutted the federal version of those laws by instructing his agents not to list the amounts of drugs recovered in their reports. By this single act, Holder returned all the sentencing power to judges. Holder is trying to correct injustice; Koch is trying to preserve it.

While David Koch has been funding FAMM, he has also been funding ALEC, the right-wing organization that wrote state and federal mandatory sentencing laws in the first place. Those laws have failed utterly to win the war on drugs, but ALEC would like to keep them in place with just a few cosmetic changes. This approach is nonsense. The laws should be repealed and those inmates who were sentenced under them should have their sentences reviewed and reduced, or possibly revoked.

ALEC strongly supports the right of vigilante gunmen to carry arms and murder innocent people--ALEC wrote the “stand your ground” laws. Yet ALEC is also responsible for adding five years or more to the sentence of any non-violent drug offender if there is a gun found in their home. To ALEC and its supporters, gun ownership is an inviolable constitutional right—unless the gun owner has a small amount of marijuana in his pocket.

The racist stench of these laws is nauseating. Two laws, one for the white population, another for the brown population; whites can carry guns, African-Americans can't carry a matchbox of marijuana. ALEC and its oh-so-genial backer, David Koch, approve this division of society into unequal parts. Stewart should not be supporting this bill. She should be advocating repeal of this odious law. But she can't, because she's funded by David Koch, and he tells her what to do now.

David Koch is a likeable man. The devil is always likeable, otherwise he couldn't do his job. But when you shake hands with David Koch, you've shaken hands with the devil.

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