Danny Lyon at SBMA


Every once in a while, I go to a museum to see a particular exhibit, usually because I am already familiar with the artist or the genre and know I will enjoy it, but then i stumble across something I knew nothing about, which ends up taking over the day.  Once, decades ago, I went intending to see an exhibit of Utrillo at the Hayward Gallery in London, and got sidetracked by the paintings of someone I had never heard of before, but now have never forgotten.  The Utrillos were lovely to look at; the work of Michael Andrews, though, moved me to write what I think of as my first piece of amateur art criticism, on “Melanie and Me Swimming” in a letter to my cousin.

Today I went to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art because I thought it might be my only opportunity to see some beautiful landscapes, by California plein-air painters (the show is up into June, though); and indeed, they were certainly worth going to see, and lovely to behold.  If that was all that I had done, I would have left happy.  But before I got to them, they had already been overshadowed by some interesting conversation with two young staff members, and by the exhibit “This World is Not My Home”, several rooms of the work of photojournalist Danny Lyon.

According to the info provided, Lyon is most celebrated for his photographs of motorcyclists, particularly in a book, Bikeriders (1967);  these are at the entrance end of the exhibit.  As you walk through, though, there are also groups of photos of various other subjects, mainly of people who are marginalized for some reason or another, always demonstrating to us, the viewers, their individuality and humanity, a humanity we so often can miss.  There are, for example, people who are displaced or otherwise affected as buildings below Canal Street in New York are demolished to make way for the World Trade Center.  There are abandoned children in Columbia, the subject of his 1975 film, Los Ninos Abandonados. 

Two other groups I found particularly moving.  The first group was the photos from a project working inside the Texan penal system in l968.  One placard quotes Lyon on his aim: “to make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality”. He shows shakedowns and he shows field gangs all wearing white prison suits against their black skins.  He shows, in one shot from overhead, two men sitting in a bare, drab space at a table, with two empty very plain seats on the other two sides, and untidy dominoes spread out in front of them;  one man is leaning his head on his hand.  We can’t see their faces; we can see the waste and sense of desolation.

But the most striking images of all for me were those at the far end of the exhibit, taken during demonstrations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement in the early 60’s.  Lyon was involved in demonstrations, and so was on hand to document what was going on.  There are shots of George Forman, the Executive Secretary of SNCC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, which Lyon had joined; of Bob Dylan strumming his guitar outside a meeting place; of Martin Luther King, before speaking at the funeral for the four little girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and of people standing along the route to that funeral, mourning.    Another arresting image shows one woman amidst two groups of men – those she has joined, the demonstrators, and those she is arguing back against, those who are harassing them.  The angle of the shot helps further focus our attention on her, her passion, her open mouth; her bravery is palpable.  There are shots of sit-ins, of lines at “white only” swimming pools, of police, of violent arrests of demonstrators, of teenage girls locked up for over a month with no charges against them. 

And in one shot I can’t imagine I will never forget, there are no people at all, no leaders, no marchers, no police — only two water fountains in a county court building.  That doesn’t sound like a promising picture, perhaps, but as you look at it, you realize in a visceral way what it must have meant to have, as you may only have read about, different water fountains for the different races.  One has a sign, “White,” above it: it is a real water cooler, one of those upright rectangular grey metal things, plugged into the wall so the water will be cold, surely a welcome thing on a hot summer day in the South; you merely push a button on the top, or push down with your foot, and that nice cold water is yours; the cooler is tall, so you hardly have to bend over to have the pleasure and relief of it.  Next to it is the one with the sign, “Colored”: it is a small porcelain fountain, on the adjacent wall.  We can see the round metal handle to turn the water on (on the left as a person would face it to get a drink: convenient for the few who are left-handed, not so easy for the rest).  It is mounted quite low on the wall, so the thirsty one will have to really bend over to get anything to drink, and the water will not be cooled as the White people’s water will be in that other one right there beside her.  The people of that county, then, could find it in their budget to have a modern water cooler, but could not find it in their hearts or minds to let the “colored” people drink from it.

Go and see this exhibit, up through June 2nd, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art!  If you read this in time, you might like to go meet the photographer at a book-signing/conversation event on Thursday April 4th.  (I only wish I could go! It would be such a honor to meet this man. If you go, write and tell me about it!)  There is also a film series connected with the exhibit.  The website, http://www.sbma.net has samples of the audio clips that accompany some of the photos in the civil rights group, clips of speeches by King and others, songs, comments by others involved, etc.  It also has info on all the current exhibits, events, directions, etc. The museum is open Tues. – Sunday, 11-5, students and seniors can get in for a mere $6, and anyone for free after 5 on Thursday evenings.  

And if you go to this exhibit, and see these pictures, you may be tempted to shake your head but then remind yourself that things are better now.  Don’t kid yourself. 

Because no, there are no longer separate drinking fountains in the South for “Whites” and “Colored”.  But remember those black men in the Texan pictures and look up Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.   (for one interview, see: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/12/part_ii_michelle_alexander_on_the)

And ask yourself, since many prisons in our country are now being privatized, those who make money on them will likely vote, let’s see..for less harsh sentencing laws? Here in the US we lead the world in numbers of people in prisons already. 

Remember the teenage girls held for over a month with no charges in the civil rights pictures.  Think also of the men, over half of those in Guantanamo, who have been cleared for release but are still being held; ask why, as of two weeks ago, 100 inmates were on hunger strike.  (http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2013/3/13/starving_for_justice_at_guantanamo)

Remember those you see in the pictures from New Mexico, now going through its worst drought on record, and reflect on this: “Incomes for the bottom 90 percent of Americans only grew by $59 on averagebetween 1966 and 2011 (when you adjust those incomes for inflation)… During the same period, the average income for the top 10 percent of Americans rose by $116,071.” (http://www.salon.com/2013/03/25/incomes_of_bottom_90_percent_grew_59_in_40_years.  If that seems unimportant, look up this book: The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better[1]by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

Remember the pictures of those abandoned children in Columbia.  And think of any child, well-loved and well-fed or not, and wonder about their future: the arctic ice is melting much faster than the scientists who spend their lives studying it ever imagine.  If that seems unreal, go and see Chasing Ice (Tues. Apr 2nd at the Ventura Film Society) for the time-lapse photographs of James Balog, documenting what the blurb refers to as the biggest story in our history.  

We need more like Danny Lyon, now more than ever.

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Frontline’s background on Putin vs. US – pt. 1

Frontline has produced a two-part feature called “Putin’s Revenge” which I found very helpful in understanding some of the background of Putin’s wish to see the current occupant of Our White House beat out Hillary Clinton. It was being repeated here by our local PBS station last week and I took some notes.  If you missed it, you can watch it online; but in case you don’t, here are a few highlights from Part I, just in case you are interested.
This is hardly holiday reading, sorry.
I do realize many of you may already be a lot better informed than I am…and I don’t claim that this is an complete summary or review of the program. Not having followed much of Russian news before last summer, i just found this program helpful and thought i’d share my “research”.
Here in Wisconsin, PBS will be broadcasting Part II tonight, Wednesday night at 10 p.m. and I plan to watch that and take notes again. (It will repeat Sunday night at 9,  but that is Christmas Eve.)
And by the way, an article in Vox today describes the current congress as engaging in “wholesale looting” of America, reminding me of a long paper i wrote at the time of the invasion of Iraq; and that, I believe, is what happened in Russia under Putin and why he is so rich.
Remember as you watch, that Putin is the one world leader that Trump has repeatedly praised.
Part I:  the period beginning at the end of 1999, when Yeltsin resigned as President and handed over his  position to Putin.
**Yeltsin was a promoter of more progressive values for Russian society, breaking down the totalitarianism and wanting to maximize freedom, and thus called “the father of Russian democracy”.  He allowed a lot of freedom of the press and strove to make things better for the Russian people.  When he left, he told Putin, “Take care of Russia”, and apparently believed that Putin shared his outlook.  He came to regret his choice of a successor when he saw how Putin governed.
**Putin’s background was as a counter-intelligence person in the KGB – where he learned: that the US was the big enemy, to focus on conspiracies within his own country, and to be a world-class liar.
**As soon as he took power, he focused immediately on “image” – watching news clips over and over, and believing in his power to manipulate information.  He reacted to terrorist acts there by declaring that he was the only one who could deal with it; when his use of heavy violence vs. Chechnyan rebels resulted in a debacle and criticism of him, he blamed the US and used the crisis to consolidate his own power.
**He could not stand media outlets that criticized or mocked him, and had them shut down.  Journalists who were not his fans were jailed, their media taken over, and so he basically created a state-run media.  Then journalists who persisted in publishing their own views started being found dead. [Note: the program doesn’t really get across how bad this was; the title of a documentary about one who was killed, 211: Anna, gets its title from her being “the 211th journalist to be silenced by the allegedly democratic government…”]
This was just one aspect of his moves to consolidate power in himself and reduce democracy.  One commentator refers to Putin’s “project” was to “make Russia great again” – convinced that his country had been humiliated by the US and seeing the fall of the Berlin Wall as a disaster.
**In Ken Burns’ documentary, we heard that during the VietNam War, LBJ dismissed the anti-war protests that so many of my generation participated in, actually believing they were set up by “Communists”.  Putin’s response to widespread protests, e.g., of the blatant election-rigging in Russia in his favor (in 2011) was also that they were instigated and supported by the U.S. and not legitimate.
**Putin viewed the falling of the Berlin wall as a major disaster; he was also very disturbed by the US military’s work to topple figures like Saddam Hussein (remember how he did not encourage the invasion of Iraq? I remember being favorably impressed by that, unaware of what might motivate him). He has always feared that he may be next – as he clearly identifies with dictators who he sees as “strong” like himself.   He also feared and resented any efforts by the US  to promote democracy (one reason the Russians prefer Republicans – they will not “lecture” them on human rights…).  He was very upset by the fall of Kadafi, watching video of his ignominious end over and over.  Since Hillary Clinton was so deeply involved in that, he specifically and deeply resents and fears her.
**The program also shows how various former U.S. Presidents — Clinton, Bush JR, and Obama — related to Putin.
They present the US  proclamations about “bringing democracy” to Iraq, etc. with no irony — but that was not the issue from Putin’s pov anyway, so it’s kind of beside the point of the program.


**By the way, speaking of freedom of the press — which means freedom to read and find out as well as freedom to speak and write: Reporters Without Borders (https//rsf.org/en/ranking) releases an annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. In 2002 the U.S. was rated #17; in 2006 it was #53; in 2016, #41, in 2017, #43.   With the attacks on net neutrality and the surge in more right-wing “news” sources, it will be interesting to see where we will be next year.                                  Canada is currently #22, Australia #19, Norway #1.

Russia in 2016 and 2017 ranked #148.   These figures are out of 180 countries.


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Watching Ken Burns on the VietNam War

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I’ve been watching the Ken Burns series on the VietNam war every night, most often breaking up my viewing by watching roughly the first half as it’s aired the first time, taking a break, and then watching the rest when it’s aired again later in the evening. I’ve had to do this because it is overwhelming,  I have to turn away at times, not able to bear seeing any more violence or feeling any more sadness, but i also don’t want to miss anything.  By last night, we are getting into the era when i started to pay more attention to what was going on; it covered the period from June 1968 – May 1969; in my life that meant from the time of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the summer of ’68 through the time of my college graduation in the spring of ’69.

I was not one of those young people being attacked by the police in Chicago. I had just come back to Appleton from my junior year of college, one of the best of my young life, at St. Andrews in Scotland and then traveling with friends or alone in parts of Europe.  One night, though, I went over to my friend Kathy Downs’ house to watch the convention. I remember seeing footage of the conflict, and I remember Kathy exclaiming to me, “Did you see that?? Did you see that cop beating that kid??” I only this morning have learned that our classmate, Kristen, had been there, was hit by a police car and suffered permanent damage to her leg.

I was for McCarthy,  but rather vaguely. Of course I was against the war. I didn’t like wars, period, and I didn’t want my boyfriend to get drafted. I didn’t see why we were in danger from a little country so far away, and had even back in high school felt it was weird and wrong that we got only negative news about anything in Russia, ever. I had stood with a group keeping vigil on my college campus…but I didn’t really get what it was all about, not really. At our graduation the following spring, many of us wore black armbands to protest the war; I was not among them. I wasn’t critical of them or anything. I sensed that they were way ahead of me in their understanding of what was going on, but somehow, nothing in my experience had made me really sit up and take notice. I remember my mother once remarking in my presence to my father, that we children didn’t seem to have much “social conscience”. She didn’t say it with rejection or judgment, tho maybe a touch of wistfulness was there, i think, looking back. I did not feel criticized, but ( maybe “and”), I remembered it. It was only watching the Watergate hearings, day after day, in a summer still a few years in the future, that the illusion that the people in power probably knew what they were doing, and would be doing the right thing, was stripped away.

The series is full of interviews with a broad range of people involved, and their honesty and courage bring tears to my eyes every night. Last night, one of the men speaking of his experience was Tim O’Brien, who later wrote about the war in his stories, like “The Things They Carried,” which I used to assign in my introduction to literature classes. He spoke about why he went – not out of the conviction a lot of young men had, that they wanted to go, that they wanted to fight “their country’s enemies”, or anything like that. He tells us that basically, he went because he would have been shamed if he did not go. Like that of many who tell their stories in this series, his voice cracks with emotion and regret, and he turns his face away, and the screen goes black for an instant. He is moved by his guilt, by admitting that he lacked “nerve” and so participated in this madness. I am moved by his honesty, by his courage, now, in speaking of that, and at his visible grief for all that he regrets and all the ruin that he is remembering. I am moved that he is exposing the role that the fear of social shaming played, and resisting the shame that might come now when he reveals its role.

The power of the fear of being ridiculed and shamed when going against some social norm or  expectation has of course been spoken of by others, but O’Brien speaking of it in this context really struck me because of its terrible consequences, and because i knew of him; and if I remember correctly, he brings this reality out in one of the characters in his book. I have been thinking a lot about shame and its role in our lives, thanks to my friend Sue, who brought me a copy of Brene Brown’s recent book, Daring Greatly. Tim O’Brien did not have the benefit of the profound and important work she has done and is still doing.  She does not stop at analyzing the problem; she speaks of how to cultivate “shame resistance” when your deeper, better, more thoughtful and compassionate self is at risk of being squashed. I’ve been ruminating on how shame has affected my own life, (most recently in one particular, troubled relationship), and feel Brene Brown has unlocked a key to something extremely important.

A few years ago, I heard Phillip Zimbardo (of the infamous experiment with students role-playing prisoners and guards) speak at Stanford. He talked of his work with a project about what he calls the “Heroic Imagination”: instead of studying those who gave in, like most people do, let’s try and understand what gives some people the courage to say no, to intervene. One example he gave was of a student, who having merely learned about the phenomenon of the “bystander effect,” then noticed it happening one day, and found the “nerve” to (risk social censure for interfering) and stick up for a disabled person being mistreated by a bus driver. Maybe, just maybe, we can educate people in these ways, and help more of them help make a better world.

The importance of such research was brought home by another interview last night. The episode was called, “The Veneer of Civilization” and one man spoke of the terrible savagery of war, and how men got caught up in it – he spoke of it being as if “a switch” in his brain got turned off. I don’t know if anyone is doing research on that. I hope they are, and I hope they will.

There are three more episodes to go, and I hope that I’ll have a chance to discuss more of this with other friends. I know that there are flaws in the series, but I look on Ken Burns as a national treasure, and feel that PBS is doing a great public service in airing this, and plan to double my contribution to my local station in gratitude. It is educating us not only in the facts but in the moral dilemmas that underlie such tragedies.  And as H.G. Wells once said, “Human history is more and more a race between education and disaster.”  Let’s all do what we can to make the disasters that are happening now and those that surely, sadly, await us even just a little less terrible. To save one life, in whatever aspect, is to save a whole world.

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Still thinking about those water fountains.

What was it like, day after day, to be confronted with this, one smallish symbol of the great injustice and inequality of your society? If you were Black, thirsty, right handed, and a bit stiff, how did it feel, on a hot summer’s day in the South, to see that a White person could get a nice cool drink, but you could not? If you were White, did you pay any attention to that other water fountain right next to yours? If you noticed it, did you think, with self-deluding smugness, of your obvious superiority? Did it ever make you uncomfortable to see that you had this simple pleasure, but others did not — though it was clearly feasible? If you were aware enough to feel uncomfortable, did you explain it away to yourself, so that you wouldn’t have to think about it, and maybe get yourself in trouble with those friends and neighbours who thought the whole system was all in“God’s plan”?

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New policy on coverage for contraception and “religious freedom”


How is this decision remotely a “war on religion” as some are claiming?  The rules are only slightly changed from the existing ones that were established under G. W. Bush (did anyone accuse him of waging war on religion?  No, I didn’t think so. )

Since employer-paid health insurance is part of an overall package of remuneration, the employers were basically saying that they wanted to cut part of an employee’s remuneration solely because they imagined that it would allow an employee to engage in certain behavior outside the workplace, in this case sexual behavior, a most private aspect of our lives, that they, the employers don’t approve of.   This would be an incredible intrusion into an employee’s private life by an employer.

The solution reached – acceptable to many, including the Catholic Health Association   — is to “reimburse” the employee, in effect, by having the insurance company provide what the employer would not, for those who wish or need it.

Some comments online that still object suggest that if a health issue involves contraception, it no longer qualifies as a health issue.  This is absurd, (I don’t know if the same people would veto Viagra being covered by health insurance).  Some women apparently sail through pregnancy; but many others do not, and for some it is a real danger.  Furthermore, many women are prescribed “birth control” pills for other conditions, such as endometriosis, which I know from personal experience to be very painful.

Just as freedom of speech includes the freedom to read and listen, freedom of religion includes the right to be free from representatives of some other denomination dictating how we should live our lives.  My own religious convictions and those of many others do not coincide with those of the Catholic bishops on these issues, but hold that contraception is certainly acceptable– indeed further, that it is often a positive moral choice.

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Why should we support Josh Fox?

Josh Fox is the maker of the documentary film Gasland, which exposes the practices and effects of “fracking” to extract natural gas; he is now making a sequel for HBO.  I have seen the first film and recommend it highly.  It opened my eyes to the harm already being done – not just “potentially” — to our groundwater, to people’s health and livelihood, from this barely-regulated, highly dangerous procedure.   The movie site: http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/

You may have heard that Josh Fox was recently arrested for attempting to film a Congressional hearing on fracking.  The story might have sounded as if it was only about some routine matter of getting a permit, and that this filmmaker kind of brought the arrest upon himself, that it was justified.

But really, there is a lot more to it than that.  I hope you will read the three points below (quotes are from two stories on Democracy Now, Feb. 2) , and that you will join me in supporting him, and in defending the public’s right to know. (I include a link to one petition in support of him at the end of this.)

  1. First of all, Fox was denied access because he had made a film on this subject, and was known for this work, contrary to the interests of the companies involved in fracking:

“…[o]ne of the members of the House committee, Maurice Hinchey [who was in the room]…said, “It is beyond unacceptable that acclaimed documentary director Josh Fox was arrested for trying to film a public hearing on groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, Wyoming.” Congressman Hinchey goes on to say, “This was a public hearing, there was plenty of room for cameras, and a credentialed camera crew was told they would be denied access because they were working for a documentary filmmaker. This is blatant censorship and a shameful stain on [this] Congress. I stand by Josh’s right to record this hearing. His arrest was a huge mistake.”

 http://www.democracynow.org/2012/2/2/obamas_support_for_natural_gas_drilling[italics mine] 

  1. Second, in support of the first: the rule invoked is apparently not a blanket rule prohibiting anyone from being there to film without a permit, but one whose purpose is more like “crowd control”:    [And by the way, if any of us should catch ourselves having thought it would be OK for Congress to keep anyone out they wish, I hope we will rededicate ourselves to transparency in government].

One of the other committee members, Rep. Brad Miller, spoke to the Chairman, at the time of the arrest:   “…he’s, I understand, filming an HBO documentary—an ABC crew showed up earlier, and they were turned away on the stated reason that they had not requested to film in advance. I think all those rules are to control access where there’s limited access. It is very clear that we have space in this room for either of them to testify—or to film this hearing. If you claim that that rule does not provide—does not allow them to film or, more accurately, allows you the discretion, the majority, the power to turn them away, I move that the rules be suspended to the end that the HBO—the fellow who wanted to film for HBO be allowed to film this hearing and that ABC News be allowed to film this hearing, and all God’s children be allowed to fill this hearing, until the room is too full to conduct our business.

http://www.democracynow.org/2012/2/2/gasland_director_josh_fox_arrested_at  [again, italics & bolding mine]

  1. Finally, the dangers of fracking (already happening in 34 states) are of national interest; contamination of groundwater is very serious, profoundly affecting our health and wellbeing; the dangers of shutting us out of government are always there. This particular case involves the shutting out of scientific evidence.

Here is Josh Fox’s own statement as to why he felt it was so important to film this hearing:    “Well,   basically, I was there to report on a story that I’ve been following very closely for three-and-a-half years. John and his fellow people from Pavillion, I’ve been documenting their cases of water contamination for three years, and it’s featured in the first film, Gasland. We continue to feature that in Gasland 2. So, this was a crucial hearing for us to tape, because what was going on there was a clear and brazen attack on the EPA and on the meticulous three-and-a-half-year investigation that took place in the small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, to expose a link between fracking and groundwater contamination. And this is the first case in which EPA has come out and said, at least in this last 10 years, that the likely cause of groundwater contamination was frackin.g

And what was apparent to us was that this was going to be an attack on science from within the science and technology committee, that they had a panel that was stuffed with gas industry lobbyists, that there was—this was actually a way of trying to dismantle this EPA report. We wanted to be there to show that that was what the agenda was. We wanted to report on what happened. I was not interested in disrupting that hearing. It was not a protest action. I was simply trying to do my job as a journalist and go in there and show to the American people what was transpiring in that hearing…

 http://www.democracynow.org/2012/2/2/gasland_director_josh_fox_arrested_at  [italics mine]

 The DN website includes complete transcripts of these interviews; you can read the whole story by scrolling down the page after the section that includes the headlines, the beginning of the story, and links to related stories. 

If you would like to join me in signing a petition to support Josh, go to: http://action.workingfamiliesparty.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5377

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Heard about those Koch Brothers?


A rather random, very incomplete,  somewhat annotated bibliography of recent articles re: the Koch Brothers

All available on line; many only on line –

Some concentrate on their influence on Wisconsin  & Walker in particular; others more general.

If you already know all you want to know, just skip to the end for a piece of the Koch’s idea of freedom,  in the tradition of great satirists protesting unfairness and inhumane policies

First, just out: a video, on YouTube: What do Walmart, FOX News, and Koch Brothers have in common?

“This important eight part video series exposes the Koch Brothers’ control over your job, your life, and your well-being.”     Due to computer probs, I have not seen this, but I highly recommend it anyway, as it is made a top-notch documentary film maker, Robert Greenwald.  He made Outfoxed, Iraq for Sale, Rethinking Afghanistan.   Try this link:  http://kochbrothersexposed.com/

Second, in case you missed this part: it was David Koch that the “prank” caller identified himself as being in the infamous 20-minute call with Scott Walker a couple of weeks ago by now.  If you have not heard the whole call, you can listen to it on line; there is also a transcript of it.  It is very revealing of SW’s attitudes on a number of issues, including the people that he considers – and doesn’t – in his actions, his vision of himself as the reincarnation of Reagan, and his plan to use layoffs as a political manipulation.  It is the one that was deeply troubling to both the mayor and chief of police in Madison,  in that he admits considering planting trouble-makers in the crowds of peaceful protestors, but refrained out of fear that it would backfire. 

You can listen to it, if you missed it, on YouTube, at  http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/02/scott-walker-koch-brother-crank-call-wisconsin?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Motherjones%2Fmojoblog+%28MotherJones.com+%7C+MoJoBlog%29

Or if you “do” Facebook, go to the page Call to End Media Blackout of Wisconsin Protests; on the left hand side are a list, it’s under videos.  (You may have to “like” the page by clicking on that to see, I’m new to this so not sure.) 

BEST:   A great article that goes over what was said and why it is so problematic is from the Center for Media and Democracy,


Third,  you can look up all the companies owned by the Koch bros. at www.kochind.com & take that with you on your next shopping trip. Carry a list of what to buy & what NOT to.

Now onto reading material:

  1. Best overall article:  “Covert Operations” by Jane Mayer.  The New Yorker, August 30, 2010.   Pp. 44-55.  Highly recommended.  I have the actual magazine and would Xerox and mail a copy if you don’t want to read it on line; will try to include link here.

 A few key points, don’t take the place of the article:

  • Koch Industries annual revenue:  c. $100,000 Billion; 2nd-largest private co. in the US, after Cargill.   Together the brothers are worth 35 billion, 3rd only to Bill Gates & Warren Buffett.
  • Opposed to environmental regulations of any kind. Far right, radical libertarian economics, with low taxes, very few govt services or regulation; funds “non-profits” to promote these ideas, which in turn tend to policies that will increase their own profits.
  • One former friend said of Charles:  “Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom.”
  • Chas. Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, re their influence in US politics:  “There’s no one else who has spent this much money… They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation.  I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it.  They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
  • Founded the Americans for Prosperity group in 2004 – works with “tea party” groups, “educating” them.
  • Article traces history of their extreme right-wing  “libertarian” ideas, characterized back in 1980 by William F. Buckley as “Anarcho-totalitarianism”.
  • View politicians as “actors playing out a script” according to one book; they want to write the scripts…
  • David Koch gave (at least) a million dollars in 2010 to Republican Governors Association.
  • DK has said:  “if we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent.” 
  • Are so out of touch with scientists re: climate change, DK quoted in New York magazine as thinking it will be beneficial.  [tell that to the people in areas of Africa, now drying up, to the polar bears…] 
  • Justice Dept suit in the 90s charged Koch Ind. as responsible for over 300 oil spills, releasing about 3 million gallons of oil into lakes and rivers.


By the way, the cover of this edition of the NYrkr shows a man in a swimsuit, sitting on a deck chair on a beach by himself.  He is holding up a giant remote-control unit, aimed at the ocean.  We all need to keep this image in mind – of some totally out of touch guy, with grandiose schemes…that can’t work.                                                                                                                                                                             

We are the ocean, Wisconsin.  They may have money, and think they can control us that way…but they will be proved wrong.


  1. If you care about the environment, about pollution: be aware that Koch Bros. are among worst  polluters in the country- — one of top 10 air polluters in the US.


This has explanation of Koch bros as top polluters & list of products



Efforts by the Kochs have been key in the climate science “denial” effort, which has resulted in the 20 point decline about global warming here in the US over the past few years while the actual problem has become increasingly alarming to scientists…

  1. Still think the corporate media bring you truly helpful info?  http://motherjones.com/environment/2011/02/koch-brothers-media-beck-greenpeace

The Koch Brothers’ Vast Right-Wing Media Conspiracy

Photo courtesy Greenpeace

Watched any conservative programs lately? Chances are, you’ve seen an oil-funded pundit.

— By Kate Sheppard

Or go to ANY of the alternative news sources cited in my list, and you’ll find info you will not see discussed on corporate tv, or in a lot of the print media either.  Or, look up FAIR, or prwatch.org.

  1.   Know anyone with cancer?  Lost someone you care about to cancer?

“The conservative billionaire protests federal research cuts—but he’s funding the GOP lawmakers who want to gut the National Institutes of Health.”


This two-sidedness also referred to in Jane Mayer’s article:  that while DK publically fights vs. cancer, Koch Ind. Lobbies to prevent formaldehyde, which it produces, as being classified as a “known carcinogen”.

  1.  How they operate, their great influence over the GOP now, nationally:


How Koch Industries Makes Billions Corrupting Government

By Leo Fang for Think Progress—

Selections from this article:

As ThinkProgress has carefully documented over the last three years, Koch groups have spent tens of millions to influence government policy — from financing the Tea Parties, to funding junk academic studies, to undisclosed attack ads against Democrats, to groups promoting climate change denial, to a large network of state-based and national think tanks.

The history of their family fortune:  Fred Koch, the founder of the company and father of David and Charles, helped construct fifteen oil refineries for Joseph Stalin before expanding the business in the United States.

As Yasha Levine has reported, Koch exploits a number of government programs for profit. For instance, Georgia Pacific, a timber company subsidiary of Koch Industries, uses taxpayer money provided by the U.S. Forestry Service to provide their loggers with taxpayer-funded roads and access to virgin growth forests. “Logging companies such as Georgia-Pacific strip lands bare, destroy vast acreages and pay only a small fee to the federal government in proportion to what they take from the public,” according to the Institute for Public Accuracy.

[is this what we want in Wisconsin forests?…for them to be sold off to the top polluters in the country at fire-sale prices, when there isn’t even a fire?  one commenter on some blog I read sometime in the past few weeks referred to a lot of other natural resources especially in the NW area of the state that the Koch bros likely would like to get their hands on].

Koch bros…won massive government contracts using their close relationship with the Bush administration.

Koch’s financing of front groups and political organizations all have one thing in common: every single Koch group attacks workers’ rijghts, promotes deregulation, and argues for radical supply side economics.

Not only do the Kochs’ front groups pad Koch Industries’ bottom line, they supply the Koch brother’s talking points. In fact, for his opinion piece, Charles heavily relied on front groups he finances for statistics. The “freedom index” cited by Charles is a creation of the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation, and the erroneous “unfunded liabilities” claim was supplied by the Koch-funded National Center for Policy Analysis.

Here’s the link:



  1.  Some specific short articles – from way back in February…about the Koch bros and their plans for Wisconsin –  not yours or mine, I would wager

a.      Re: the energy giveaway;  Koch Denies Interest in No-Bid Deals; Opens New Lobby Shop


  1. from Feb. 21, truthout.org
    The Oily Money Behind Scott Walker’s Assault on Unions | News & Politics

 “Walker will pay his first dividend on the Koch-subsidized investment in his campaign with a death knell for unions and for the right of workers to organize”   

Good on the way Koch-funded groups gets air time and the spin they use.

“The question is whether an actual majority of Wisconsin citizens want two of the richest men in the world, who do not live here — and who, as Lee Fang has pointed out, have eliminated jobs in this state — to be playing such an influential role in the rights of working people here.”


  1. Vital Signs: Media homes in on Koch brothers and Walker’s proposal to sell state energy plants

From the Cap Times  ==   http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_f3c998a8-3ebd-11e0-9ce0-001cc4c002e0.html

I am including a lot of this article because it has embedded links to a number of other pieces by various writers:.  

…   Now a third piece of the 144-page bill is making headlines — a power grab some critics believe could be political payback to the conservative Koch brothers.

The bill allows the Walker administration, without approval of the Public Service Commission and without a competitive bidding process, to sell off or lease the state’s several dozen energy plants to private companies.

The state can sell the energy plants “with or without the solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state,” according to the rather circular wording of this clause, which then concludes that “any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest.”   [I referred to this in an email]

This is not new news — shortly after the release of the bill, the Wisconsin State Journal published an article about the measure, and so did the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other state media.

What’s different is that now, thanks in part to the delay caused by Democratic state senators fleeing the state to stall the measure, people are starting to connect some dots.

Two of Walker’s biggest backers are the secretive conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries, the largest privately owned company in the U.S. with 70,000 employees and annual sales of $100 billion in the fiscal year 2008. Among their holdings in Wisconsin are significant lumber and coal interests, a network of gasoline supply terminals, and a toilet paper factory.

The Koch brothers’ political action committee gave Walker $43,000, his campaign’s second highest donation, and helped to fund a multi-million dollar attack ad campaign against his opponent, according to pieces in Mother Jones and other publications. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett lost by five points.

And then this bill comes out and opens the door to the privatization of the state’s power plants.

Adding to this interesting political snarl is the fact that the guy Walker put in charge of the office that will oversee these potential power plant sales — though some people worry they will be more of giveaways than sales — is Jeff Plale. Remember him? He is one of the two Democratic senators who at the very last minute defected from the Democratic ranks to vote against state employee contracts last fall.

Around a month later, Walker handed the former South Milwaukee Democratic legislator the $90,000 post as the administrator of the Department of Administration’s Division of Facilities. And now he is busy defending the administration’s move to sell off the state’s power plants as no big deal.

Sound fishy? A lot of people think so.

“Here you have a situation where extremely wealthy interests help propel Walker into office, and one of the first things he does is to privatize electricity in this state and to do so with the removal of public oversights and checks and no bidding,” says Lisa Graves with the Center for Media and Democracy. “There should be red flags going up all over the place.”

At RortyBomb, Mike Konczal writes that “the attempt to break labor is part of the same continuous motion as saying that the crony, corporatist selling of state utilities to the Koch brothers and other energy interests is the new ‘public interest.'”

And yet another liberal blogger, Joan McCarter at Daily Kos, claims in a Monday post she calls, “The other part of the Scott Walker plan: Firesale of Wisconsin state assets,” that Walker’s budget and intention goes “well beyond” rolling back union rights. “He’s selling the state to the highest bidder (or more like it, the largest campaign contributor, since bids won’t be required for the acquisition of state assets). The new slogan: What’s good for the Koch brothers is good for Wisconsin.” 

[pargraph on a Koch guy denying they are interested…]

So then why did they beef up their lobbying operation and move into stylish headquarters just off the Capitol Square, as reported by Judith Davidoff here at The Capital Times?

The Koch brothers may be interested in a very different kind of power than that provided by coal plants.

Tim Phillips, the president of the Koch-funded conservative tea party group, Americans for Prosperity, says he was encouraging Walker to provoke a labor showdown even before the governor took office, according to Eric Lipton’s Monday story in the New York Times, “Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute.”

The Koch brothers’ agenda might be more straightforward than most people suspect, writes Andrew Leonard in Salon in “The Koch brothers as Wisconsin puppet masters.” “I think we should be careful in making the claim that the Walker bill is paving the way for Koch industries to buy Wisconsin state assets, because it is not at all clear that the Kochs are in the market for those specific assets,” he says. “Koch industries owns a subsidiary in Wisconsin that delivers coal to power plants. Maybe a privatized power industry will steer more power to the Kochs. But I don’t think we have to work so hard to connect the dots between the Koch brothers and Walker. The Kochs have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into election campaigns all over the country in support of a comprehensive political agenda pushing privatization and deregulation and opposing action on climate change. Their support of Walker fits that agenda to a a tee…(party.)”                        c. 2011

  1. Also re: the national level:

Koch brothers now at heart of GOP power

The billionaire brothers’ influence is most visible in the makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where members have vowed to undo restrictions on greenhouse gases.

February 06, 2011|By Tom Hamburger, Kathleen Hennessey and Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times

Link: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/06/nation/la-na-koch-brothers-20110206

Here are excerpts:

Reporting from Washington — The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch no longer sit outside Washington’s political establishment, isolated by their uncompromising conservatism. Instead, they are now at the center of Republican power, a change most evident in the new makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wichita-based Koch Industries and its employees formed the largest single oil and gas donor to members of the panel, ahead of giants like Exxon Mobil, contributing $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans, and $32,000 to five Democrats.

Nine of the 12 new Republicans on the panel signed a pledge distributed by a Koch-founded advocacy group — Americans for Prosperity — to oppose the Obama administration’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases. Of the six GOP freshman lawmakers on the panel, five benefited from the group’s separate advertising and grass-roots activity during the 2010 campaign.

Claiming an electoral mandate, Republicans on the committee have launched an agenda of the sort long backed by the Koch brothers. A top early goal: restricting the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Kochs’ core energy businesses.

…Americans for Prosperity is the political arm of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which David Koch co-founded in the 1980s ……Americans for Prosperity kept a strong emphasis on promoting its views on climate change and energy regulation. In 2008, it began circulating a pledge asking politicians to denounce a Democratic-led effort to compel oil refineries and utilities to clean up emissions of greenhouse gases through a so-called cap-and-trade system. The organization said it amounted to a hidden tax increase.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA had the power to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Pompeo, Griffith and others want to strip the EPA of that authority.…

The change on the committee is “like night and day,” said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, a nonpartisan organization that lobbied the committee to stem greenhouse gas emissions.

In the past the committee majority viewed the Clean Air Act as an effective way to protect the public,” Symons said. “Now the committee treats the Clean Air Act and the EPA as if they are the enemy. Voters didn’t ask for this pro-polluter agenda, but the Koch brothers spent their money well and their presence can be felt.

 Summing Up

In last Aug 30 New Yorker article on the Kochs, it seemed clear that the Kochs’ idea of freedom was limited to the freedom to make money for themselves; that any freedoms guaranteed for the rest of us by the Bill of Rights were not on their minds.  Here is a great blog, running with that idea.


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