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The Koch Brothers' Agenda and the Real War at Home

Two of the richest men in the entire world are plotting to dominate our elections this fall, from congressional races to school board seats.
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Two of the richest men in the entire world are plotting to dominate our elections this fall, from congressional races to school board seats.

Their scheming to shove America further to the far right should be a serious wake-up call for anyone who cares about our nation's soul.

As Charles and David Koch promised their billionaire buddies, they've assessed how the quarter billion dollars they helped raise and spread across the country failed spectacularly in the 2012 elections. And, they've made adjustments to their battle plans to win more this time.

Their groups make appeals to "restore the American dream," but when you peek beneath the patriotic rhetoric what you see is a growing army of operatives preaching against Social Security, guaranteed pensions, and universal public education. These core policies are viewed as socialist or collectivist evils to be privatized. Charles even calls his critics "collectivists."

Look closely and you'll see that the "American dream" their political agenda would "restore" is a pre-New Deal fantasy for the richest few:

* With fewer protections against their oil refineries, paper mills, and chemical factories polluting the water we drink and the air we breathe or obstructing efforts to do anything about the devastating climate changes underway;

* With no laws requiring CEOs to pay minimum wages or sick leave to fathers and mothers who work or to insure that their kids or parents can receive life-saving health care if they need it; and

* With huge tax cuts for corporations and CEOs, of course.

It's a path to a "third world" future for most of us but a gilded one for them.

The truth is there's a war going on at home, and it's about much more than money.

That's why the effort by some to vilify the Democracy Alliance or George Soros as some sort of tit-for-tat with the Kochs naively plays right into the hands of the far right.

I don't believe only the super-rich can save us, to borrow a phrase from Ralph Nader's book about what ails America.

But, I do know we are going to need some millionaires along with millions and millions of Americans to fight back against what the Koch Brothers want to do to our country. It would be more than foolish to take the weapon of money off the table in the fight against their devastating brand of free market fundamentalism.

I've fought for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Five corporatist judges have unleashed the Kochs' treasury like never before. We need that amendment, but we also need people from every band of income to unite against the Kochs' faux-freedom agenda for America.

If a billionaire like Warren Buffett wants to help fight for corporations and CEOs to pay their fair share, I say yes. He should be applauded for calling out his greedy peers in the billionaire boy's club whose self-serving anti-tax agenda is crushing our schools and our future.

If George Soros wants to defend civil society in the U.S. and abroad, I say hallelujah. I'm glad he's in the fight, because the Koch agenda would lay waste to the core institutions and policies that helped make the American dream a reality for millions of Americans.

If unions and their leaders want to stand up to the Koch machine - which has sought to gut union power for decades - I say right on. Nurses, teachers, and factory workers ought to have a chance to negotiate with power for better wages and working conditions than each could negotiate with their powerful employer alone.

Thank goodness they've all stood up to the Kochs' neo-Bircher worldview, in their own ways.

Thank goodness they understand that civil society -- indeed, our very democracy -- is what's at stake.

I stand against the cult of greed peddled by the Kochs.

I'm utterly opposed to the Koch-y brand of Ayn Rand's dystopian propaganda and the updated version of this kind of every-man-for-himself economic Darwinism peddled by Rand Paul in blue jeans. I don't want America's great dream for our people to be shrunk into a members' only club, letting the richest few rule with the less lucky stuck as servants struggling to survive.

A civil society - a true democracy - recognizes that investing in our shared future makes our nation stronger.

A healthy democracy fully funds our public institutions that serve all of the American people and helps those living on the brink, as part of our social contract in recognition of our common humanity and the fact that we all face illness and aging out of work.

It's the difference between the truth that a rising tide raises all boats and the lie that tax cuts for the rich trickle down in any predictable way that makes ordinary people's lives markedly better.

It's just common sense that workers with better wages spend their money in their communities rather than socking it away in off-shore tax havens like Belize or the Cayman Islands, like so many of the wealthiest elites.

It's about the reality that the market doesn't know best or even give a damn about what's best for our future.

Just look at the terrible international trade agreements that make corporations more powerful than countries or the gambling of the greed-is-good-gang on Wall Street who crashed our economy in 2008.

Our economy is still off kilter because, as Elizabeth Warren has said, a greedy few have rigged the game, and it needs to be un-rigged.

It's about having truly public schools that provide our children with empowered teachers trained in the art and science of teaching rather than inexperienced and un-certified stand-ins trying to do it on the cheap so a corporation can pay better dividends to stock speculators.

The right-wing alternative to truly public schools that the Koch deregulation machine has helped spawn is "charter" schools paid for by our tax dollars.

We've seen too many charters run by fly-by-night operators feeding kids homemade religious gruel or designed by corporations to enrich Wall Street through cutting what's spent on kids, teachers, and classrooms while funding a fat budget for slick ads blanketing the airwaves underwritten by taxpayers.

Charles and David Koch have spent decades trying to get rid of "government" schools, as touted in David's run for the White House in 1980. That's why it's now practically a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates to list the Department of Education among the government agencies they are in a race to eliminate.

We need all hands on deck to stop them.

That's one of the reasons why attacks on the DA or union leaders like Randi Weingarten as a false equivalent to the Koch cabal are so misplaced. They are not equivalent because the goals of the Kochs matter and investing in an alternative to the Kochs' agenda matters, a lot.

The Kochs are determined to repeal progressive policies that helped our country prosper. The DA's goal is the opposite: to foster a more progressive America.

That's also why the effort to vilify Weingarten and others for being part of the DA is so absurd, if you care about public education.

However, if you want to help kill it -- like the self-described "aerial hunting operation" against progressives deployed by Free Beacon does -- then such attacks are a useful tactic.

Without a doubt, the bacon funding the Beacon has been set on us to try to discredit critics of ALEC and the Koch Brothers' agenda in any way they can get folks to buy.

But, as the person who launched ALECexposed with my team in Madison, I can tell you that Weingarten has been totally stalwart in standing up to ALEC and its anti-public education agenda, which is fueled by the Koch family fortune and other rich families -- along with corporations that profit from privatizing public schools, of course.

The American Federation of Teachers has been rock solid in the fight against ALEC, consistently devoting staff time week in and week out for three years to expose ALEC, due to her personal commitment. The ongoing public campaign on ALEC would not have had the success it has had without AFT's work and her leadership, and without the work of many devoted colleagues across the country, including the National Education Association and other organizations, bloggers, and concerned citizens nationwide.

Attacking groups for their electoral endorsements is outside my bailiwick. What I do know is that after the untold millions the Kochs have spent to move politicians and policies to the right on so many fronts and with so many front groups, some election contests seem like least-harm quizzes, even as there are growing numbers of progressives in this country.

I know we need a more progressive America.

And progressives need to get better at using their power to persuade each other and to win better policies.

But attacking genuine progressives for banding together to take on the Kochs or for not being pure enough is foolish sport. And the right loves it when progressives fight. It makes their effort to tear down the left so much easier.

So, let's get real.

Because there's a real-world war going on to kill our public schools, outsource our public institutions to private companies not accountable to us, and destroy key government constraints on corporate power.

If we don't recognize it and if we don't understand the difference between real enemies and the trumped up ones the right wants to equate with the billionaire brothers whose voices they're throwing, then progressives are going to lose.

Big time.

And not just one election cycle.

It's a long ground war the Kochs are playing. It's about both our present and our future, long after those old men are gone.

Lisa Graves previously served as the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which received a grant from the Open Society Institute in 2010 for a research project on national security and civil liberties as part of a set of OSI grants in this area that included funding for the Cato Institute. CMD is on the list of progressive organizations identified by the Democracy Alliance, but it has not received a grant from the DA. CMD has now merged with The Progressive Inc., where Graves is President and Publisher.

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