Kochs invade KY, bringing inequality

In attesa di entrare nel vivo delle primarie democratiche e repubblicane con i nostri focus, pubblichiamo questo interessante articolo di Ronald Formisano, docente emerito di Storia americana presso la University of Kentucky e autore nel 2015 di Plutocracy in America: How  Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor (Johns Hopkins) e nel 2012 di The Tea Party: A Brief History (Johns Hopkins). L’articolo — apparso la scorsa settimana sulle pagine de The Courier Journal, il principale giornale della più grande città del Kentucky, Louisville — analizza criticamente l’attività politica e di lobbying della Koch Industries, la seconda più grande compagnia privata statunitense nel settore chimico e petrolifero, che attraverso l’action-group Americans for Prosperity intende ostacolare qualunque dibattito che ponga la questione delle diseguaglianze nel paese, definendoli dei tentativi di class war che porterebbero a diminuire le libertà sia delle aziende, che degli individui. 1

 

Since the 1980s inequality of income has grown and social mobility has declined more rapidly in the United States than in most economically advanced countries. Wealth in the U.S is more concentrated than in any peer country: the top 10 percent own more than 75 percent of all wealth.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their network of “think tanks,” lobbyists, and phony grass-roots “citizens” groups — “astroturf” in today’s political lexicon — have expended hundreds of millions in campaigns that have worsened inequality and damaged the quality of life for millions.

Greenpeace airship protests Koch brothers meeting, 2011.

Greenpeace airship protests Koch brothers meeting, 2011.

And that’s not counting Koch Industries ranking among the top three polluters of the nation’s air, water, and climate with its plants generating 24 million tons of greenhouse gases a year; it has paid out more millions in civil and criminal environmental penalties than any other company.

The Koch-funded lobbying and political action group Americans for Prosperity is in Kentucky working to sustain inequality and drag down our workers to Third World levels. AFP has already denounced any discussion of inequality in the presidential race. AFP president Tim Phillips says that calling attention to economic inequality is “class warfare” and trying to alleviate it “diminishes freedom.”

Regrettably, the Kochs have taken a strong interest in Kentucky, with AFP first running ads in the Republican primary, then launching an expensive ad against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway. More important than the political meddling of outside billionaires in a state they do not live in, is carrying their crusade for low wages and inequality into Kentucky.

Kentucky AFP’s political director Julia Bright Crigler as a panelist  in July on KET’s Kentucky Tonight opposed raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25, although nearly three-fourths of the public favors raising it and 20 states, including four Red states, have voted to increase their own minimums. (Crigler has worked as a Republican operative in several campaigns and is married to a field director for Sen. Mitch McConnell.) The Kochs do not simply oppose a hike, they want to abolish minimum wages everywhere.

More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance since enactment of the Affordable Care Act. The Kochs’ relentless campaign distorting it is well known. Less publicized are the millions the Kochs spent in states across the country trying to prevent the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to poor people with income up to 138% of the federal poverty level (e.g. $32,193 for a family of four). As 30 states opted in and 20 states, mostly with Republican governors, rejected expansion, the Kochs waged fierce campaigns to prevent millions of low-income Americans from getting health insurance. In Tennessee the Kochs launched a radio blitz resulting in 250,000 low-income men, women, and children not receiving health insurance. But in Red Alaska, independent Gov. Bill Walker bucked the Koch ad-machine to add 30,000 newly insured.

AFP Kentucky activists for "right to work" law.

AFP Kentucky activists for “right to work” law.

The Kentucky AFP has “committed significant resources” to getting the legislature to pass a “right to work” law, unsuccessfully so far. These misnamed laws actually restrict workers’ rights by allowing workplaces to exist where union members pay dues but those who do not (“free riders”) still get union benefits and representation if they have grievances or are fired. These laws interfere with the free market in order to weaken unions and lower wages. In states with right to work laws, overall wages are $1,558 lower than in states without RTW.

While AFP lobbies Frankfort, another Koch-corporate-funded astroturf group, the American City Council Exchange has bypassed the Kentucky legislature and stole up on 10 counties to get local RTW ordinances passed. Unions filed a lawsuit challenging these county ordinances that are now tied up in the courts. The Kochs and AFP also oppose paid sick leave for workers and have sponsored laws preventing states and localities from granting it.

Many minimum and low-wage workers increasingly turn to tax preparers to get cash advances — 21.6 million in 2014. About half receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, with 84 percent of that group low-income. But fly-by-night tax preparers and scam artists in what is a $10 billion business routinely defraud low-income workers. The Obama administration sought to protect the victims by requiring preparers to prove competency and undergo criminal background checks, but the Libertarian Institute, another Koch-funded front group, challenged the regulations in court and won.

Finally, the billionaire brothers hate “Obamacare,” except when they can benefit from it. Koch Industries uses Obamacare’s Early Retirement Reinsurance program for its employees and saves money. The Kochs’ petroleum and timber companies also enjoy government subsidies. Their hypocritical brand of “freedom” means profits and government benefits for them and our freedom to lose.

Note:

  1. Ronald Formisano, “Kochs invade KY, bringing inequality”, Courier-Journal, 8 ottobre 2015. URL: http://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2015/10/08/comment-kochs-invade-ky-bringing-inequality/73383286/

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