Charles and David Koch are probably, justifiably, the richest conservative bogeymen in the U.S. Collectively, they’re referred to as the Koch brothers—though that excludes their less notorious brothers Frederick and Bill. Charles and David are worth an estimated $50 billion each, thanks to Koch Industries, the sprawling business empire that covers petroleum, chemical manufacturing, timber, ranching, finance, the list goes on. They’re hardcore libertarians and influential behind-the-scenes political activists, providing money for so many right-wing think tanks, political organizations, and PR campaigns that investigative reporter Jane Mayer wrote a 500-page book, Dark Money, about their shockingly successful efforts to reshape American politics. Their funding helped to drive the faux-grassroots Tea Party movement and established the libertarian Cato Institute, the think tank that crusades against progressive causes like health-care reform and environmental regulation. And now, the Kochs are turning their attention to the Democratic Party.
In a memo obtained by CNBC, Emily Seidel, CEO of the Koch-affiliated political-action committee Americans for Prosperity, announced that the organization would be backing incumbent Democrats against progressive primary challenges in the upcoming congressional primaries. The memo laid out AFP’s new objectives, including:
Support the primary election of lawmakers, regardless of political party, who stick their necks out to lead diverse policy coalitions. The threat of being primaried prevents policymakers from leading on difficult issues and driving principled policy reforms. AFP or AFP Action will be ready to engage contested U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and state-level primary races, including Republican, Democrat, Independent or otherwise, to support sitting legislators who lead by uniting with others to pass principled policy and get good things done.
Those “good things” include, for example, the Republican tax cuts from 2017, which slashed the taxes for Koch Industries by as much as $1.4 billion a year. Considering that the Kochs contributed $20 million to getting the bill passed, the return on investment is pretty good.
The twisted part of the claim that primaries keep politicians from “leading on difficult issues” is that the Koch network, as Mayer documented in her book, regularly funded primary challenges against incumbent Republicans who didn’t stick closely enough to Koch-endorsed policies. And since they’re known for cynically calculating decisions, it should raise all sorts of alarms that they now want to get involved in Democratic primaries. By bankrolling incumbents, they can potentially shut out future progressive upstarts like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, both of whom beat long-sitting congressmen in 2018. The most ominous part of this plan is how much it dovetails with the objectives of the Democratic establishment, like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ostensibly dedicated to electing Democrats to the House of Representatives. The DCCC, which is consistently to the right of the party’s voters, recently announced that it would blacklist any consultants or vendors that worked with candidates running against Democratic incumbents.
The Kochs and other libertarian billionaires have probably realized by now that centrist Democrats—self-described liberals who support tax cuts, deregulating industries, and privatizing public services—are more reliable allies than ambitious and popular progressives with a concrete political agenda. Ocasio-Cortez, for example, has only been in office for six months but has helped make Medicare for All and the Green New Deal—which would be a particular headache for Koch Industries—national issues during a presidential primary. The Joe Bidens of the party are much more sympathetic to the plight of the super-rich than the Elizabeth Warrens, after all. And since today’s Republicans can’t go farther right than they already have, it makes good business sense to now start pulling Democrats in that direction.
book review and critique by Don Eichelberger, Bohemian Grove Action Network
When we began studying the annual gathering at Bohemian Grove forty years ago, it was amazing to us that everywhere we looked there were Bohemians lurking. The Reagan administration contained thirteen Bohemians, including Reagan, his Chief of Staff and several members of his cabinet.
So, reading Giants: The Global Power Elite by Sonoma State University Sociology Professor, Dr. Peter Phillips, helped answer a question for me; where have all the Bohos gone? They don’t seem to have their fingers in all the pies as they once did. W. Bush administration had only two, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. Obama had none, and Donald? The Bohemian jury is still out on him, we’ve heard, although there are friends in the administration from the Koch clan of right-wing front groups, including VP Pence. It seems Bohemia’s influence has been diminished, less by our protests making membership less desirable than apparently by the tidal wave of investments in world economics many of these men helped unleash.
Phillips’ book shows the result of the Neoliberal capture of the world economy over these last thirty years by elites who worked to establish the new world order of globalization; the logical extension of the warnings about a homogeneous Ruling Elite by C. Wright Mills and Noam Chomsky. But Mills and Chomsky wrote in a time before these conglomerates grew beyond the ability of sovereign nations to control them and try to hold allegiance to the people. Globalization has washed that all away.
The Elite’s goal is threefold: to protect capital growth (the whole paradigm rests on constant economic growth of at least 3% annually), to insure debt collection, and to remove barriers to free flow of capital in the world. At the apex of this order are the seventeen international asset management corporations; the Global Giants that control a trillion dollars or more each. They are mostly American– JP Morgan-Chase, Goldman Sachs, et al– with a smattering from Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, France and other places. They are interlinked by investments in each other and through corporate boards and memberships in policy planning groups and social clubs.
Phillips gives a short bio of each of the managers, facilitators, protectors and ideologists who collectively direct $41 trillion of investments, about half the world’s economy. Some may be familiar to us, like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. Most are lesser known. An example would be one of the few women listed, Judith (Jami) Miscik of Morgan-Stanley and in-Q-Tel (a CIA technology management foundation, according to Phillips). Prior employment was at Lehman Brothers and Barclay’s Bank pcl. She was also CEO of Kissinger Associates and Deputy Director of the CIA. She is on the National Security Council, United Nations Association and is a Director on the Council on Foreign Relations. Her BA is from Pepperdine and MA from University of Denver, her stock holdings a bit over $800,000.
This is a fairly routine resume of this group; the biographies reflect how alike these power brokers are. Most were educated at elite universities, most have post graduate degrees, a good number have a net worth in to the millions, if not billions, they’re jet setters with a lot of mobility so they are able to personally interact and come to consensus on ways to protect and move capital through their heavy membership in policy panning and implementation groups. Major bodies include the G7, G20, G30, World Bank, International Monetary Conference, World Affairs Council, World Economic Forum (Davos), Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, World Trade Organization (WTO), Bank of International Settlements, Financial Stability Board, Atlantic Council, Center for Strategic and International Studies, National Security Council, Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Club and others. Most of these managers belong to several of these groups, and many are heads of state, national bank chairmen, and other high ranking officials.
Giants contains a lot of lists like the one above, as well as short histories, assets lists, investor lists, director lists and short bios of the main movers in the organizations. It names names. It also names the names of the organizations that support the Giants manager class. The Facilitators, people like former Fed chairmen, Paul Volcker, Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers, work through such groups as G30, Bilderberg Group, World Economic Forum, Trilateral Commission and Council on Foreign Relations to craft actionable proposals.
To give them muscle, they have their military Protectors, both public (NATO) and private (Blackwater), and vast security and intelligence gathering networks. And they have their Ideologists — the “PRP”, Pubic Relations Propaganda machine; an ever decreasing number of corporations (all listed and discussed) who own the media and entertainment outlets that carry the ideological water for the TCC.
Nine entertainment and media conglomerates control most of the content internationally of news programs, TV and movie entertainment, radio, newspapers and magazines. They also devise ways, with the help of their PR arm, to help build the markets for goods and services through advertising, which they also use to keep the drums of war beating and the cats all running after the “American Dream” laser beam. Growth at all cost.
The result of all this organizing by these 199 managers and their helpers (389 altogether) over the past thirty years has been the unprecedented concentration of wealth in to the coffers of, well, mostly them. As Phillips points out, in 2016, according to Oxfam, sixty-two people held over half the world’s wealth, and a year later, that number was down to just eight.
While wealth accumulates at the top, the bottom half of humanity faces the ravages of continuous war, pollution, climate change, falling wages, a plummeting middle class, homelessness, forced migrations, starvation; a generally deteriorating living standard. Worse, the mania to maintain this wealth and not lose it to inflation requires investments to be made whose only purpose is a big bottom line, world conditions be damned. War turns out to be the “safe harbor” for their cash because it is a consistent money maker, as long as there is a war going on. But other investments in oil, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and all manner of earth killing technologies and practices are also embraced.
To make sure wars keep going on, the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC) has at its disposal the use of NATO forces and private militaries, as well as executive power over national armies to enforce their goals. The specter raises of corporate wars fought with private armies with no national declarations at all. They have the power to blow a country to smithereens to save it from “terrorists”, and then send in their assets like Bechtel Corporation and the oil and energy companies to rebuild. Coming and going
We have understood for a long time that the basis of unity (the most important ingredient for consensus decision making) among the ruling elite is a strong attraction to money and the power that flows from its accumulation. There are some who seem to have a social conscience and would like to end war and poverty, pollution and climate change. But their frame of reference holds that a rising world economy will raise all boats, and few look seriously at the “external costs” of maintaining a 3-10%+ growth rate, so their consensus remains strong at all the meetings that decide how half the money in the world will be invested.
Phillips points to some who turn to philanthropy and find solace. But this only allows them to choose the beneficiaries most in line with their agenda of not jeopardizing the financial markets, keeping money out of the clutches of government, who would redistribute their wealth, and keep it safe from the majority of humanity, alienated and wanting their fair share.
Phillips calls out the names of a very small company of actors controlling half the world’s assets making decisions, mostly in secret at lavish locations like Davos and various high end resorts, on how to make more money and where it gets invested. Some of these are staffed organizations, like the G30 and Atlantic Council, who publish recommendations and shepherd proposals for action by the various world governments. Often, once adopted, they have their Fed chairmen and chancellors in place to carry out the directive most efficiently. Other gatherings, like Davos, are consensus building, educational gatherings that discuss issues but do not publish specific recommendations.
Phillips explains the problem well of the concentration of most of the world’s power and wealth in to the hands of fewer than 400 people. It is concise and well documented and gives a picture of these elite movers that fits a discrete frame that you can get your head around.
But he is less clear on how to break their hold.
He looks to a movement that embraces the principles laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by the United Nations, and promotes their adoption by the Giant Elites. The document is printed in its entirety and is a worthy read. It lays out parameters for establishing a just and happy society, guaranteeing freedom of expression and from oppression, maximum practical personal freedom, and the right of access to legal protections, governmental processes and the social benefits of prosperity.
It is at that last part that I begin to see the drawbacks. The Declaration starts out by affirming the equality of all humans no matter their circumstances. Right there you challenge an elite who, by definition, do see themselves at a station above common humanity having to admit even derelicts have rights.
But it is Article 23, I think, that would be most problematic. It affirms everyone’s right to work and “protection against unemployment”, a buzz word for socialism in this community. It also calls for a “right to equal pay for equal work”, which has never been a priority. But the next section will be a real uphill struggle. It calls for “remuneration . . . worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.” Social Protection!? That’s code talk for taxation and wealth redistribution. A living wage AND socialism! It ends by affirming everyone’s right to join a labor union; that’s out and out communism in some circles of the “jobs creator” class.
The book ends with an open letter to the Global Power Elite, the 389 people profiled in this book as having a seat at this table. It is signed by a number of activists, academics and community leaders, asking this elite group to realize the power they have to affect change and to undo the negative practices that bring about wars, poverty, pollution and social unrest. It does not offer any specific prescription, but urges them to use the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to help guide their actions, and to take a longer term view that looks to the well-being of their grandchildren.
I’m a pretty idealistic person, but this is really idealistic. I worry that the social value these people hold in themselves is so invested around their ability to predict, or create, the future and so create wealth that to voluntarily limit that ability goes against what they have been taught capitalism is all about. Indeed, this group is being asked to invest in a model different from anything the Chicago School would ever consider. It would cut off the invisible hand of the marketplace and do away with or reduce whole industries; war, fossil fuels, unhealthy sugary foods, advertising, private healthcare, the surveillance state . . . .
True, these people have control of a huge amount of investment dollars, yen, euros, pesos, but the imperative demands investing for maximal return. Purposefully going for lower return on investments will be a gut wrenching experience for a generation of investors, if they choose to take that voluntary step. They will see themselves as “losers”, or even Commies, until they can internalize the need to consider the public good in their investment decisions.
If I had been asked to help draft this letter I would have wanted to include at least one specific ask. The thinking of this elite is moved by numbers, so I would ask them to look at the numbers differently. The metrics of how to judge the health of economies uses the skewed values reflected in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to make decisions. GDP considers all investment a good thing, whether in a new textile mill or war armaments factory. It measures all consumerism as a good thing, and doesn’t factor in savings and debt, or the “free labor” of home care, child rearing, parental care, etc. It measures gross spending by the government, so if war spending goes up, it is considered a good thing. How, I wonder, could we get a discussion of this at Davos?
A preferred option to reforming the apex for many of us would be to expect this entire house of cards to fall sooner or later, if only because there are not enough resources in the world to sustain their growth model for much longer. It would be wise to work in our local communities to build institutions that focus on sustainability and helping meet local needs for food and housing and protecting people and the environment against the day we find the investor class jumping out of high-rise windows.
While Dr. Phillips’ prescription may be wanting, the explanation of the problem is much more detailed than what I have been able to summarize here and valuable to anyone interested in understanding wealth inequality and the gears and cogs of the world’s economic infrastructure.
By Don Eichelberger, Bohemian Grove Action Network,
Donald Trump’s election was unique to history on many fronts, not the least of which that he is the first Republican to win the presidency who didn’t have big support from Bohemian Club’s elite since William Howard Taft became their man in 1908. Just ask Mitt Romney and John McCain, who also failed to win over the Bohemian contingent.
During the primaries, Trump was shunned by Koch money– a likely funnel of major dollars from fellow Bohemians. We don’t know for sure because donations to Koch and other PACs were made secret by the Koch shepherded Citizens United. Money and other campaign resources, like voter data were given to Bush, Cruz, Rubio and other candidates not so set on breaking up the ruling elite’s hold on politics as usual (Trump’s Tweet on their trip to California to ask for Koch help: “I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?”). Trump won the primaries, anyway, but in the general election, almost a billion dollars of Koch money went to support down-ticket candidates and initiatives. Trump had to get elected on his own dime, and made independence from Koch/elite money part of his campaign.
Trump is said to have a cordial relationship with David Koch–they have neighboring mansions in Palm Beach, Florida—but he owes him nothing. And Trump’s inelegance is said to be a turn off to the genteel tycoon, as is the threat of more “tax and spend” policies like Trump’s promise of major infrastructure spending.
However, the Trump transition team and other insiders, from Vice-President Pence on down, include almost two dozen who have been operators or beneficiaries of the Koch political machinery. Frayda Levin, a donor to the Koch network who chairs the board of its main voter mobilization group, Americans for Prosperity told Politico, “. . . (W)e’re happy that he’s picking people who have that free market background, particularly because on many issues, he is a blank slate, so anybody with expertise is in an amazing position to shape his agenda.”
A reported wrench in the Koch machine, however, is that some of these Republican political operatives took shelter under Koch’s employ when the GOP was out of power. Now that they are back in power, it seems they are not so gung-ho on the pure Koch Libertarian agenda. A divided right is not a bad thing, no?
On the foreign relations front, we saw the mountain go to Mohammad this May when Henry Kissinger, the Grand Wizard of Bohemia, paid a visit to the Trump White House. Almost exactly a year earlier, candidate Trump had paid a visit to Kissinger at his home after visiting another Bohemian Secretary of State, James Baker. Trump came away from that meeting stared down by a Kissinger rebuke of his proposed immigration ban, Kissinger himself an immigrant made good.
This meeting, he and Kissinger reportedly talked about peace in Syria. That and perceived similarities between the Nixon and Trump administrations ate up most of mainstream media’s reports on the meeting. But, given his role as one of the major sculptors of the post-WWII international power arrangement, both overt and covert, particularly in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and China, plus Kissinger and Associates’ financial ties with China since he helped open up its markets, there were likely cautionary words about maintaining a delicate balance with the markets and China, recognizing delicacy is not a Trump strong suit. And that is the main rub. Under the rule of the power elites, a delicate china shop (pun intended) has been built upon treaties, markets, side agreements, secret agreements, proper protocol and recognition of one’s social station.
Enter the bull.
Trump is almost universally recognized as being “unfit for the job”, except for that 30-odd percent of people who still believe he represents their vision: a welcome departure from rule by Harvard trained lawyers, financiers, politicians and the liberal media, trying to simplify processes of power made opaque by the elites’ urge for secrecy. Secrecy means nothing to Trump, as evidenced by his Twitter account and ongoing feuds with his intelligence agencies. That could be a good thing; secrecy is the life blood of the elites, the right information no one else has can lead to millions! Secret back room deals are far from new in DC or business.
Dropping the cloak of secrecy around American politics and foreign policy could help dislodge nests of filth that have been allowed to gather in its hidden corners of arms deals, psy ops, black ops and promises that would likely make most Americans shudder to know were being made on their behalf. I could see advantages to encouraging Trump on openness if it weren’t for his dismissive attitude to truth. With help from Breitbart News and our own bombastologist, Alex Jones’s war on the Bohemians, accusations of “fake news” and promotion of alt-right disinformation have undermined truthful dialogue. With different stories dribbling out from press conference to press conference and a press secretary hiding in the bushes, Trump’s Tweets might be the best thing about his presidency. You want transparency? Don’t let it intimidate you.
The current angst over Russian meddling in elections also echoes long standing hysteria over the Russian Threat among Bohemians dating back at least to the Depression. Bohemians J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon, among others, ran the offensive against Communism starting soon after the Second World War. Bohemian Grove encampments must be about as anti-Communist as you would expect from any group of 2000 of the drunkest and wealthiest Capitalists in the world. Trump seems entirely clueless on the subject, maybe a good thing.
So should Bohemian Grove Action Network see Trump as an ally? Or is he just replacing one type of elite with another, more plutocratic, less oligarchic? Alex Jones taught us with his buffoonery that not every enemy of my enemy is my friend. And Trump’s proposed goal is to put a load more money in to the pockets of these men, so it’s a win-win for them because he is such an easy scapegoat if things go wrong.
There will likely be many unintended consequences; may they all be good ones.