Greed and libertarianism

Charles and David Koch are two of the wealthiest men in the world. They’ve funded a vast number of projects, especially in New York, and it would be hard to say boo to a lot of what they’ve done: they’ve restored theaters, supported museums, and even funded cancer centers. This has all been at whopping costs, ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But this is just the stuff that’s going to be mentioned in their eulogies.

The Koch brothers have also channeled millions and millions of dollars into efforts to deny reality. They’ve fought many Democratic policies tooth and nail, giving sly support (i.e., funding) to the Tea Party movement, and it’s all been done in the guise of libertarianism. The reality is much different.

In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

They have even gone so far as to fund an exhibit on evolution (good) in an effort to deny the significance of global warming (bad).

Underlying the libertarian ideology of the Koch brothers is greed. Given the massive revenues of Koch Industries ($100 billion annually), it ought to be surprising, but it really isn’t. Libertarianism has its root in the positive ideals of liberty and freedom, but it almost always is taken too far, taken to a point where it causes obvious harm. In this case, the Koch brothers are using their ideology to motivate a sizable portion of the country to do their biding, including: reducing government help for the needy, polluting the planet, and harming our infrastructure. No one wants these things. No one wants people to be needy, no one wants pollution, no one wants bad roads and bridges. The pragmatic (i.e., reasonable) position is to find a middle ground which allows us to afford all these good things while making sure we aren’t harming jobs and other necessities. Given the $100 billion in annual revenue, I would say Koch Industries doesn’t particularly need any more “liberty”; it has been thriving just fine within our current system. (And I suspect it would continue to thrive even if it didn’t skirt laws and undermine reality.) Pragmatism, in this case, tells us there is no need to further enrich the Koch brothers; if anything, they ought to be taxed more.

Of course, this all is somewhat a misrepresentation of libertarianism. The reality is that very few people actually adhere to such an abhorrent ideology because, like with all ideologies, it quickly reaches a point of ridiculousness and harm. Who can name an actual libertarian politician in America, after all? Rand Paul is the closest, but when he maintained his ideology and said people ought to be able to deny black people service, there was an uproar – even among Teabaggers. Unfortunately for all the so-called libertarians, Paul was perfectly in line with the ideology. It wasn’t that he said black people ought to be denied service. In fact, it’s unfathomable that he believes that. What he said was that people ought to have the right to deny others service. That is libertarianism. Sorry if facts rub you the wrong way, Teabaggers.

Besides that, most so-called libertarian Teabaggers are really just far right-wing conservatives who only favor economic libertarianism. Don’t believe me? Go to the nearest rally on April 15th and start asking how many Teabaggers think gay marriage ought to be legal. Or go far enough south and see how many still favor anti-sodomy laws. I doubt the spirit of libertarianism will be so buoyant at that point. And the reason is simple: libertarianism is a convenient excuse for greed. That is why it is so selectively applied to economic issues. People aren’t adhering to a bad ideology because they think it’s good. They’re adhering to a bad ideology because they think it’s good for their wallets.

There isn’t anything inherently bad about wanting personal wealth and success. You want it? You can get it? Go nuts. But if it’s done at the expense of the poor, of the middle class, even of other wealthy people (that last one is a stretch), then tough. Too bad. Back off. There is something inherently bad about wanting personal wealth and success when it makes the poor poorer, when it increases the income gap, when it makes workers weaker, when it harms the overall economy, when it’s done in an unfair way. We all want to see poor people rise up, we all want to see the middle class increase, we all want to see workers have control over their well being, we all want to see a strong economy, we all want to see a fundamental fairness in our system. Following a sloppy, or even worse, a stringent, libertarian ideology gets us further and further away from all that.

Michele Bachmann hates history

I thought it was pretty terrible when I heard about this historical rewriting.

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that Thomas Lowry, a long-time Lincoln researcher from Woodbridge, VA, confessed on January 12, 2011, to altering an Abraham Lincoln Presidential pardon that is part of the permanent records of the U.S. National Archives. The pardon was for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion.

Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Having changed the year from 1864 to 1865, Lowry was then able to claim that this pardon was of significant historical relevance because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

This is unfortunate. All that makes this any less lamentable is the fact that at least we know the true history of the document and it can no longer have an effect on us.

Too bad that isn’t the case with Michele Bachmann. (Embedding is disabled and WordPress hates embedding CNN videos directly.) She apparently thinks the founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.

The Tea Party fave said that “the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States….Men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”

First, John Quincy Adams was not a founding father. Second, no founding father worked tirelessly to end slavery. The one who did the most was Jefferson when he ended the slave trade, but he certainly did not work without tire in order to end the practice all together. Third, virtually all the founding fathers owned black people. Fourth, in case Bachmann or a Bachmann supporter is reading this, let me spell it out: those black people? They were slaves.

Bachmann is said to be looking at a presidential run. As awful as it would be to have such a goof as president, I can’t deny I have a little morbid curiosity. Throw in Sarah Palin and, well, wouldn’t it at least be interesting?