Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's in the Tea? Peeking behind the right-wing political curtain.

The question remains: why would hard working Americans, backs against the economic wall, side with billionaires against their own best interests?

Saturday's column.

Peeking behind the right-wing political curtain

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is one thing, but what happens when the wolves show up dressed as shepherds? The wolves start giving the sheep advice, and the sheep listen.

Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin is having its annual “Defending the American Dream by Keeping America Asleep” banquet at a resort in the Dells this weekend. They advertise themselves as just plain folks trying to get their country back, but when you follow the money, the picture changes. and Jim Hightower have been hot on the funding trail and have finally tracked down the Wizards of Oz, the two men behind the curtain, pulling the strings of today’s right wing political chorus.

Americans for Prosperity, and most of the angry media voices that continue to throw kerosene on the national debate, are being bankrolled through a network of interlocking foundations, funded by the biggest corporation you’ve never heard of: Koch Industries.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, are tied for 19th richest men in the world in the latest Forbes list. Koch Industries is America’s second largest privately owned corporation with 70,000 employees. They own Northern, Brawny, Dixie Cups, Lycra, Stainmaster Carpets, and Teflon. They are a major producer, refiner, and transporter of petroleum and petroleum based products.

The money, as they say, rolls in – and then flows out into the Cato Institute, Freedomworks PAC (to which, the NY Times reported, Tea Party members are now being sent for organizing seminars), Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

David Koch started AFP in 1984 as “Citizens for a Sound Economy,” changing the name in 2003. It’s purpose is to encourage citizens to fight those darned government regulations that impede the profits of … you guessed it, the Koch family of industries. They found the perfect office manager, too. AFP President Tim Phillips is a long time Republican campaign director and lobbyist. He’s the dirty trickster who helped George W. Bush smear John McCain in South Carolina’s 2000 primary, using pictures of McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter to suggest McCain had fathered a black child. He also helped defeat Sen. Max Cleland by claiming that this Vietnam War vet, who won Silver and Bronze stars for valor in combat and who lost both legs in the war, “lacked the courage” to fight terrorists.

Despite billing itself as “the nation’s premier grassroots organization” AFP only has 8,000 members and is controlled by corporate dollars.

The tea party movement, focused as it is on government spending that’s left millions of regular Americans flat broke, is being financed and manipulated by the very people who have benefited most from that spending. What many of these folks probably didn’t know was that last month, when CPAC hosted the tea party movement’s coming out-party, CPAC itself was being cosponsored by the ultra-right John Birch Society, a group founded by Charles and David Koch’s father. The John Birch Society, we should all remember, believed that President Eisenhower was a Communist agent.

So, back to West Bend and our upcoming election. Our local rightwing political collective, the Common Sense Citizens of Washington County, is proudly affiliated with Americans for Prosperity. Members of this local group (including the two creationist candidates running for School Board, Ed Duquaine, currently running for the 3rd District alderman seat, and now District 5 County Board candidate Michael Bassill) embrace the same set of anti-tax, anti-government, anti-regulation sentiments. Wrapped in the flag, these views look patriotic, but they’ve been designed specifically to guarantee that billionaires can continue to pillage the US treasury and avoid paying their fair share of the nation’s upkeep. These anti-tax, anti-regulation based political premises serve the interests of people like the Koch family, not the interests of unemployed Americans whose jobs were shipped overseas to improve the Koch’s profit margins. There’s no reason to promote the interests of the corporate elite in West Bend where the unemployment rate is still setting records.

The increasing anger that’s characterized so much of the last few years – some of which we’ve seen in recent letters to the editor – is being manufactured, nourished and sustained by billionaires with a financial stake in preventing any movement for political or economic change.

People from across the political spectrum could do something about this. We could begin by finding common ground to take back control of the government. We could attend to what unites us: our belief that a government of the people needs to work for the people. We can no longer remain immobilized by the propagation of fear designed to distract us from these pickpockets rifling through our wallets.

But I’m pretty cynical. Maybe sheep need their wolves after all. Maybe H.L. Mencken got it right when he said “Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

On the other hand, I hold on to a tiny ray of hope. It’s this: hobgoblins disappear when you turn on the lights – and wake up.

And so it goes.


ps. a big shout out to Joy for putting me on the trail of these guys.


Kraig said...

Prof - of course you don't understand why "hard working Americans side with billionaires..."

On a daily basis you don't have to compete for a job and you are not paid for performance. Your environment, sadly, encourages mediocrity and, in fact, rewards it. For you, increased gov't regulation and new taxes only help encourage a better lifestyle for yourself.

I don't blame you for living within the fog of submissiveness but I encourage you to step out of it and get engaged with your surroundings and try fending for can be very exciting, educational, and rewarding.

Maybe, just maybe, the hard working Americans are not sheep being sucked toward billionaires. Maybe those Americans are making intentional, thoughtful decisions and gravitating toward leaders regardless of their bank accounts. The odd intellectual elitism you continue to announce only offends those you aim to help.

I can see you scratching your head wondering why so many ignorant people keep jumping off your sinking ship...maybe they are not the ignorant ones.

Seems to me these hard working Americans are taking ownership and responsibility for their actions and situations - not sitting around waiting for ther neighbor to save them.

Kevin Scheunemann said...

When does the George Soros, foreign, un-american, billionaire industrialist, trying to influence and usurp U.S. elections article come out?

If you are going to criticize this, you certainly need to draw the same conclusions for leftist organizations he's funding. These organizations seem to want to diminsh our country's power and standing in the world.

If we take your assertions at face value (which I dont) at least Koch industries is pro-U.S.

wbman said...

Why aren't I surprised that Bassill is part of that group? I was appalled by his comments to the newspaper. Because Washington County is one of the largest employers, so the solution is to cut staffing, not work to encourage more businesses into the county. And who should be fired? Deputies? Staff at the Samaritan Home? Highway maintenance workers? County nurses? The people who maintain the county parks? I doubt he even knows the make-up of county government. "Common sense" seems to trump doing your homework.

Patrick Allen said...

"Maybe, just maybe, the hard working Americans are not sheep being sucked toward billionaires."

But then again, maybe, just maybe, they are.

Mpeterson said...


You'd be completely correct -- if I'd never had to fend for myself or work a lousy job. You seem to be under the impression that I've never had to "fend for myself" or "get engaged with my surroundings".

What makes you think that?

wbman said...

Always funny to see people like Kraig accuse others of being condescending elitists, in language that is, itself, condescending and elitist.

Anonymous said...


What's up with the "war on brains" people like you are waging with the constant "intellectual elitism" comments?

I am self employed and only have 3 years of high school. Am I an elitist too?

Do you have a younger brother named Scott? I seem to remember him from Little League or something...

Robert said...

Kraig, the ignorant jumping off the sinking ship,is not the point.

It is that otherwise intelligent people like you have been duped into thinking our supposedly free market is in

(And before you write off my remarks as elitist, I'll have you know that I am a decorated veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.)

The fact is that those people who have power (whether they are on the right or left of the political spectrum) will continue to use whatever tools they have at their disposal to continue to keep that power.

In America, that means that powerful conglomerate businesses will leverage any advantage they have at their disposal to gain more profit and more power...that is the whole point of a free market system.

The problem addressed by Mark's article is when the "use" turns into "abuse."

Unless you are making more than $500,000 a year, if you are voting for the current crop of Republicans (and most Democrats), you are voting against your own interests.

Most are unwilling to even consider this a possibility, however, because they might have to re-evaluate their entire belief system...sadly, you might even consider it is a case of Stockholm Syndrom.

We don't hold it against you. We even respect your commitment to your beliefs. Above all, we don't think you are ignorant, just misguided.

Kraig said...

Thank you for your service to our country.

EllieLight said...

Seems like the brand for the Coffee Party ( is going to be "Chock-Full-Of-Nuts".

Here's Ann Althouse(another UW professor):

2300 for Tea Party; 30 for the Coffee Party.

Kraig said...

In my opinion and individual's IQ, ACT score, or level of education have nothing to do with the definition of an Intellectual Elitist. I really don't care how many years of HS a person does or does not have. If you can both think and take responsibility for yourself I'd be happy to talk.

I would define an Intelllectual Elitist as a person or group of people who belive themselves to be of such superior intellignce that their point of view can not possibly be wrong under any circumstance. Instead of engaging in lively debate, the 'group' dismisses others beliefs as being ingorant or uninformed since the 'group' is too smart to ever be make a bad decision.

Prof - I don't know what you have done in the past. I was only addressing what you do and who you represent now. As for engaging or not - I think Alinsky had a name for what I'm thinking but I can't remember it now. I'll look it up and get back to you.....

ernie1241 said...

Contary to what your article states, David Koch was NOT "a founder" of the Birch Society. His father, Fred Koch, was on the Birch Society National Council for a brief period -- but resigned. Fred did not participate very actively in the JBS -- he just allowed his name to be used.

Anonymous said...

"I would define an Intelllectual Elitist as a person or group of people who belive themselves to be of such superior intellignce that their point of view can not possibly be wrong under any circumstance. "

Ok. Altho if you know anything about Mark you know he will be the first to change his conclusions based on facts. That was facts - not faith. :)

Mpeterson said...

@ernie: thanks for the clarification. You'll note that I did say that it was the father who was a founding member of the John Birch Society. All of the historical references I could find indicate that Fred Koch was on the original and founding board of the Society. If I got that wrong I'll be happy to make the correction.

Patrick Allen said...

"I would define an Intelllectual Elitist as a person or group of people who belive themselves to be of such superior intellignce that their point of view can not possibly be wrong under any circumstance. Instead of engaging in lively debate, the 'group' dismisses others beliefs as being ingorant or uninformed since the 'group' is too smart to ever be make a bad decision."

Hmm. Are you must be talking about tea party people, republican house and senate, Americans for Prosperity, Common Sense Citizens of Washington County, The Eagle Forum, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Fox News, Michael Reagan.........

Robert said...


Lest we forget our history, there are reasons why historical figures come up with terms like "intellectual elitism."

Here's one example:

Now, when you say...

"I would define an Intelllectual (sic.) Elitist as a person or group of people who belive themselves to be of such superior intellignce (sic.) that their point of view can not possibly be wrong under any circumstance. Instead of engaging in lively debate, the 'group' dismisses others beliefs as being ingorant or uninformed since the 'group' is too smart to ever be make a bad decision."

...your point is not to have a lively debate, it is rather to shut down any debate by throwing names around.

If you would like to have a lively debate, we would gladly participate. All I've read so far have been spirited personal attacks, which although lively, hardly qualify as debate.

CSC goup said...




Dear American liberals, leftists, social progressives, socialists, Marxists and Obama supporters, et al:

We have stuck together since the late 1950s, but the whole of this latest election process has made me realize that I want a divorce. I know we tolerated each other for many years for the sake of future generations, but sadly, this relationship has run its course. Our two ideological sides of America cannot and will not ever agree on what is right so let's just end it on friendly terms.. We can smile and chalk it up to irreconcilable differences and go our own way.

The Separation Agreement:

Our two groups can equitably divide up the country by landmass each taking a portion. That will be the difficult part, but I am sure our two sides can come to a friendly agreement. After that, it should be relatively easy! Our respective representatives can effortlessly divide other assets since both sides have such distinct and disparate tastes

We don't like redistributive taxes so you can keep them.

You are welcome to the liberal judges and the ACLU.

Since you hate guns and war, we'll take our firearms, the cops, the NRA and the military. You can keep Oprah, Michael Moore and Rosie O' Donnell (You are, however, responsible for finding a bio-diesel vehicle big enough to move all three of them).

We'll keep the capitalism, greedy corporations, pharmaceutical companies, Wal-Mart and Wall Street. You can have your beloved homeless, homeboys, hippies and illegal aliens. We'll keep the hot Alaskan hockey moms, greedy CEO's and rednecks.

We'll keep the Bibles and give you NBC and Hollywood.

You can make nice with Iran and Palestine and we'll retain the right to invade and hammer places that threaten us. You can have the peaceniks and war protesters. When our allies or our way of life are under assault, we'll help provide them security.

We'll keep our Judeo- Christian values. You are welcome to Islam, Scientology, Humanism and Shirley McClain.

You can also have the U.N. but we will no longer be paying the bill.

We'll keep the SUVs, pickup trucks and oversized luxury cars. You can take every Subaru station wagon you can find.

You can give everyone healthcare if you can find any practicing doctors. We'll continue to believe healthcare is a luxury and not a right.

We'll keep The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the National Anthem. I'm sure you'll be happy to substitute Imagine, I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing, Kum Ba Ya or We Are the World.

We'll practice trickle down economics and you can give trickle up poverty your best shot.

Since it often so offends you, we'll keep our history, our name and our flag.

Would you agree to this? If so, please pass it along to other like minded liberal and conservative patriots and if you do not agree, just hit delete. In the spirit of friendly parting, I'll bet you ANWAR which one of us will need whose help in 15 years.


John J. Wall
Law Student and an American

P.S. Also, please take Barbara Streisand & Jane Fonda with you.

Mpeterson said...

Dear Friends at CSC Group.... sorry to puncture your balloon but the likelihood that this letter reflects the typical law student is close to zero... If you believe it reflects the view of most 20 somethings, I have even worse news: from the latest Pew Center study.

"Politically, Millennials were among Barack Obama's strongest supporters in 2008, backing him for president by more than a two-to-one ratio (66% to 32%) while older adults were giving just 50% of their votes to the Democratic nominee. This was the largest disparity between younger and older voters recorded in four decades of modern election day exit polling. Moreover, after decades of low voter participation by the young, the turnout gap in 2008 between voters under and over the age of 30 was the smallest it had been since 18- to 20-year-olds were given the right to vote in 1972."

And as I've been saying for nearly 2 years now, I have more in common with you on issues of taxation and responsible government spending than you can possibly, or are willing to, imagine. You, like your social conservative brothers in Congress, have given me cause to believe that you're not actually interested in controlling government spending, but knowingly or not, that you're mainly interested in guaranteeing that it continues to flow into the pockets of the current Robber Barons. If you don't believe that, then you'll have to start explaining to me why you'd be in favor of deregulating oversight of financial markets when this is the very process that guarantees Friedman's requirement that any free market be free from fraud and coercion...