I’m a pretty cautious type. My friends and family will tell you that I am a “wait and see” person, that I endeavor to see an issue as broadly as I can and to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Well, my doubt is thoroughly removed. In Wisconsin, we have elected a new governor who is deep in the pocket of corporate interests.
This is a governor who declared upon his election night win that “Wisconsin is now open for business.”
We are in a new global era, no denying that. Economic growth and modernization, coupled with the increasing, hesitant and sometimes messy steps toward democracy in distant corners of the globe, have transformed international relations and radically altered the economic landscape. Countries fight for jobs and investment. Companies relocate production facilities overnight, seeking economic advantage. Often that edge comes in the form of cheaper labor, more easily accessed raw materials or less stringent regulations that can lower production costs.
It has been a period of tremors and aftershocks for businesses and for workers. Many people have seen their jobs filled by workers in other countries, where governments are less stringent, where the rules are less prohibitive and where ethics matter less.
The response to this upheaval by corporations has been visceral and brutal, but understandable. Corporations have no soul. The primary self interest of your average corporation is survival and survival is measured by profit. Make it easier to make money and life is good.
So bankers and Wall Street brokers sought – and were given - less stringent policing, a loosening of the regulations governing their industries. Sure, it resulted in economic chaos and the foreclosure madness (1 in 4 homes on the market in the Milwaukee area last year were the result of foreclosure), but the corporations weren’t apologetic. Why? Business was still good. On Wall Street, bonuses continued. In the boardroom, extraordinary pay rates for CEOs continued unabated. In 2009, the typical Fortune 500 CEO made 263 times the pay of the average worker at a Fortune 500 company. Two hundred and sixty three TIMES!
That reaction to the new world order has been as visceral and brutal in other business sectors. That’s understandable. Corporations have no soul.
Which made a US Supreme Court decision last year so very disturbing. In Citizens United vs, Federal Election Commission, the US Supreme Court essentially extended some of the rights associated with the individual to corporate entities and specifically paved the way for greater corporate spending in elections.
In hindsight, perhaps that’s what Walker was alluding to when he declared “Open for Business.”
Why does that matter? Because corporations, by and large, have access to much greater amounts of money than you or I. And money talks.
The Koch Brothers are rich. Billionaires. Worth some $42 billion together. They are avowed Libertarians and Tea Party backers seeking minimal governmental control and unlimited personal freedoms. In a recent two year period, their fortune increased by $11 billion. Their corporation, Koch Industries, accomplished that growth by being brutal, by shedding some 8,000 jobs. It accomplished that growth by exploiting government contracts, polluting the environment (it’s one of the top 10 air polluters in the country; Koch lobbyists also have successfully prevented the EPA from classifying formaldehyde – manufactured by Koch Industries - as a known carcinogen) and buying access to local, state and federal governments. It is now the second largest privately-held company in the US.
For a corporation like this, many laws and regulations simply get in the way of profit. The Koch brothers have thus worked for decades to overturn the laws and regulations that get in the way of their businesses doing business. The Kochs have spent more even than ExxonMobil to fund the deniers of climate change. The founder of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington DC says of the Koch brothers, “They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation and obfuscation.” They have bankrolled the Tea Party. And they have pumped millions of dollars into elections.
Millions. The exact amount is unknown. They fund Americans for Prosperity, a right wing Political Action Committee. They contribute directly. Their corporation contributes, too, freed by the Supreme Court decision. They were Walker’s second largest contributor. And American for Prosperity spent additional thousands in the state leading up to the election.
Dangerous times. Fearful days. No wonder people are frightened.
And some people, sensing that their own power has diminished greatly and rightly suspicious of big government and corporate power, have flocked to groups such as the Tea Party to fight back, unaware of the soul-crushing irony that the movement has been hijacked by corporate interests intent on lining up populist support to overturn restrictive regulations and in dividing and conquering the opposition. By pitching private and public sector working men and women against each other, for example. By making teachers and nurses and prison guards and police officers and firefighters the enemy.
And fair enough, if you want to believe them, that’s your prerogative, you can choose your own fate.
Trouble is, we’re all in this fix, we’re all passengers cramped into the steerage hold on a sinking boat bound for the third world - and the rich have already sold off all the lifeboats.
Open for business. And soon to be quite competitive with those third world countries and their lax environmental laws and cheap labor.
Open for business. Free and available for calls anytime, if you have $42 billion in your pocket.
Find out more about the people who worked to put Scott Walker in the governor’s mansion - and I don’t mean the well-intentioned voters who opted for the conservative in the race, I mean the out-of-state financiers who have so much much at stake in this issue. And ask yourself why they are so invested and whether their corporate interests are really in your best interest.
Read these links for more on the Koch Brothers.
For more on the Supreme Court decision click here