It is an old axiom that it is socially inappropriate to speak ill of a person in the immediate aftermath of their death.
But what if that person has been an evil villain their entire life? It seems entirely appropriate to acknowledge their life of villainy, and yes, to even proclaim “good riddance” on their passing.
Especially when the harm that person has caused to humanity will continue long after their passing and continue to result in the deaths of perhaps millions of people, and even the mass extinction of life on Earth.
Billionaire industrialist and right-wing villain David Koch died on Friday. Eoin Higgins writes at Common Dreams, After Life of Incalculable Harm, Billionaire Climate Denialist and Right-Wing Villain David Koch Dead at 79:
Billionaire industrialist David Koch, who spent vast sums of his billions in personal fortune promoting climate denialism and other right wing causes over the last four decades, died Friday at 79.
His legacy in modern American politics was summed up by The New York Times:
Three decades after David Koch’s public steps into politics, analysts say, the Koch brothers’ money-fueled brand of libertarianism helped give rise to the Tea Party movement and strengthened the far-right wing of a resurgent Republican Party.
Koch was a controversial figure. His vast fortune—made in large part through fossil fuel extraction and manufacturing, though the company has interests in nearly everything—made him and his brother Charles two of the richest people in the world. The brothers spent at least $100 million since the 1970s promoting right-wing causes, and David ran for vice president as a member of the Libertarian Party in 1980.
One of the causes Koch dumped his fortune into promoting was climate crisis denialism.
By making vast sums of money from destroying the planet and then fighting against efforts to stem the flow of the crisis, tweeted Native American activist Tara Houska, Koch was a double damage denialist.
“Let’s not forget the massive network of oil pipelines, refineries, and fossil fuel expansion projects that David Koch was directly responsible for,” said Houska. “He funded climate deniers while he contributed to climate change, in the range of a 300 million ton carbon footprint annually.”
On Twitter, HuffPost environmental reporter Alexander Kaufman noted the irony of Koch dying as the effects of the climate crisis the billionaire activist had a large hand in perpetuating are being increasingly felt around the globe.
“He deployed his stupendous fortune funding climate denial in the years when the science was clear and there was still time to avert catastrophic warming,” said Kaufman. “He died as fires raged from the Amazon to the Arctic.”
In a piece for Earther, Brian Kahn wrote that Koch and his brother’s funding of the movement to obfuscate the costs of the climate crisis made them even more than the “arch-villains” they were from funding other right-wing causes. And, said Kahn, David Koch now gets to avoid the consequences of his actions.
“Climate change is a form of violence that will largely affect people with little power to address it or relatively little role in creating it,” wrote Kahn. “Death is an escape hatch for David Koch while the rest of us are left scrambling for the emergency brake before we go over the cliff.” David Koch Escaped the Climate Hell He Helped Create.
Koch’s libertarianism led him to take some positions—such as his support of gay marriage and opposition to the war on drugs—that might make his legacy seem mixed. But, as media critic Adam Johnson pointed out, that’s “trivial” in the context of Koch’s full record.
“People will try to be nice and note David Koch opposed the war on drugs/militarism,” Johnson tweeted, “but the money he gave opposing these twin evils was trivial compared to the funds he gave supporting candidates that backed the war on drugs/militarism and the related ideology of starving poor people.”
The Koch borthers’ reported antipathy to President Donald Trump, Jack Mirkinson wrote at Splinter, was hardly enough to offset the damage they did by promoting the Republican Party.
“The Kochs were not happy with everything Donald Trump did, but that is a low standard for anyone walking the planet—and anyway, they loved his tax plan,” wrote Mirkinson.
The Intercept‘s Mehdi Hasan said on Twitter that Koch will be remembered in the short term for his wealth, philanthropy, and work to advance right-wing causes. But, Hasan said, that pales in comparison to his role as a “climate denier.”
“That’ll be his long-term legacy,” said Hasan, “funding the effort to downplay an existential threat to all of us.”
Controversial comedian Bill Maher minced no words on the passing of David Koch on his Real Time HBO program on Friday night. Bill Maher Says He’s “Glad” David Koch Is Dead: “I Hope the End Was Painful”:
The host of Real Time said he was “glad” the man who built a conservative political empire alongside his brother Charles had died. “Yesterday, David Koch, of the zillionaire Koch brothers, died of prostate cancer. I guess I’m going to have to reevaluate my low opinion of prostate cancer,” Maher said. “He was 79, but his family says they wish he could live longer, but at least he lived long enough to see the Amazon catch fire.” Condolences “poured in from all the politicians he owned,” Maher said, adding that instead of sending flowers, mourners have been asked “to just leave their car engine running.”
Maher said that he was well aware “these seem like harsh words and harsh jokes” and he’ll surely “be condemned for them on Fox News.” Maher went on to say that David and Charles Koch “have done more than anybody to fund climate science deniers” so there would be little sympathy. “So, fuck him, the Amazon is burning up,” Maher said. “I’m glad he’s dead, and I hope the end was painful.”
Maher was correct, Fox News and right-wing pundits condemned his remarks. So what? They celebrated the passing of a liberal icon like Ted Kennedy, and even a Republican nominee for president, John McCain, so who are these right-wing assholes to judge?
The political organizations that the Koch brothers built will continue long after their passing, doing political violence to our democracy as much as their rape of the environment is doing violence to life on our planet. Jen Hayden adds at Daily Kos:
The brothers have an estimated combined worth of $110 billion, money they have used to shape the political landscape and the lives of average Americans by flooding the coffers of mostly conservative politicians and pushing their conservative agenda through every state legislature in this country through the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC. The organization crafts the laws they want, with input from corporate lobbyists, and then the politicians they fund at the state level push the laws through each state house, one-by-one.
Along with his brother, David Koch also founded the Americans for Prosperity organization, whose goal is to “lower taxes, less government regulation and economic prosperity for all.” That organization backed the astroturf movement known as the Tea Party, which took aim at Democrats and even moderate Republicans. In short, they most certainly funded the partisan divide we have today. The Americans for Prosperity group not only funds projects and laws they want, they focus heavily on stopping any state investment in things like infrastructure. From The New York Times:
As part of their longstanding crusade for lower taxes and smaller government, the Koch brothers in recent years opposed dozens of transit-related initiatives in cities and counties across the country, a review by The New York Times found. Campaigns coordinated and financed by Americas for Prosperity fought state legislation to fund transportation projects, mounted ad campaigns and public forums to defeat transit plans, and organized phone banks to convince citizens that public transit was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
The NYT also notes reporter Jane Mayer, from the New Yorker magazine, wrote a book about how the Koch’s became some of the wealthiest people in the world:
Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer and a critic of the Koch brothers, said in her book “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” (2016), that the libertarian policies they embraced benefited Koch chemical and fossil fuel businesses, which were among the nation’s worst polluters, and paid millions in fines and court judgments for hazardous-waste violations.
Mayer said she was harassed and smeared after the book’s release.
In interviews after the book’s publication, Ms. Mayer said that investigators who she believed were hired by the Koch brothers had tried to intimidate her by digging up false information, including accusations of plagiarism, to smear her reputation.
Much like Trump, the Koch brothers got their financial start by inheriting millions from their father, Fred Koch, who also promoted radical right-wing ideas through the John Birch Society.
Fred Koch made millions in the 1920s and ’30s by inventing a process to extract more gasoline from crude oil and by building refineries in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East. Fiercely anti-Communist, he co-founded the right-wing John Birch Society and created the Wichita company that became Koch Industries.
The Koch family did not release the cause of death, but they had previously said he’d been treated for prostate cancer.
Charles Koch remains in charge of the Koch conglomerates and is still heavily involved in funding the radical right-wing agenda.
Justin Miller reported at the Texas Observer on the recent ALEC convention. Republicans Come to Texas to Prepare for the 2021 Redistricting Battle:
Last week, more than 200 conservative state lawmakers from around the country packed into a hotel conference room in Austin for a panel session entitled “How to Survive Redistricting.” The verdict? As the panel of battle-hardened Republicans advised, it’s a political bloodsport. Be cautious, yet ruthless.
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“If Republicans lose seats in the redistricting process, ALEC loses power,” said Jay Riestenberg, deputy communications director at the national government reform group Common Cause. “At the end of the day, the legislators are what ALEC offers to their corporate funders.”
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As Democrats and redistricting reformers are trying to prevent Republicans from locking in another decade of politically skewed maps, the GOP is beginning to organize their strategy for the next round of redistricting—and ALEC is poised to play a central role.
ALEC became a dominant force in state-level politics in the wake of the Republican takeover of state legislatures in 2010. The group is on the policy vanguard of the right, drafting model legislation for legislative members on everything from “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and anti-Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions measures to industry-backed laws that make it a felony to physically protest oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure. In many ways, Texas is the epicenter of ALEC-style politics. Many of the state’s leading corporations, industry associations, and conservative organizations have funded ALEC. While membership rolls are kept private, nearly 60 Texas state lawmakers—roughly a third of the legislative body—have known ties to ALEC, according to a report by Common Cause. Texas House Redistricting Chair Phil King is one of the group’s most influential members.
Now ALEC appears to be positioning itself as a key player in the scramble to maximize Republican power for another decade. The call for independent state redistricting commissions, a top priority for reformers, has been gaining traction in recent years. But most Republicans vehemently oppose the idea, arguing that it takes power away from democratically elected officials. Last year, the group introduced a model resolution “reaffirming the right of state legislatures to determine electoral districts.”
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But partisan gerrymandering can only get you so far in the face of unfavorable political, geographic, and demographic headwinds.
The GOP has embarked on a highly controversial and legally dubious crusade—led by Trump—to change how districts are drawn in a way that requires a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution’s “one person, one vote” principle. Electoral districts must have roughly the same number of people. Right now, states draw those districts based on total population counts, but for years, party operatives have quietly plotted to draw state legislative districts based solely on the voter-eligible citizen population—a move that would increase the power of predominantly white areas and diminish the power of heavily Hispanic areas where more people are likely to be legal residents or undocumented.
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[Trump] issued an executive order demanding that federal government agencies hand over all the information they have on immigration and citizenship status to the Census Bureau. The administration hopes that the data will be used by state legislatures that want to prohibit noncitizens from being considered in redistricting.
Legislators at the ALEC redistricting panel appeared eager to do just that. After an informational presentation by an U.S. Census Bureau official in the first part of the session, state legislators pushed her for details on how and when they could get their hands on the information. “For states that want to use citizenship, you will have the data,” the official, Census Bureau stakeholder relations chief, Kathleen Styles, assured them.
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Conservatives are counting on the new right-wing Supreme Court majority to facilitate the process. In 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Evenwel v. Abbott—a case from Texas—that states are not required to use voter-eligible population to draw districts. However, they left open the question of whether states are entitled to do so if they wish. The court is expected to take up the matter in the near future.
It’s not just Texas that is the epicenter of ALEC-style politics. Arizona has long been home to ALEC-style politics. E.J. Montini writes at The Arizona Republic, Republican lawmakers cook up ALEC’s recipes for disaster:
About 30 of Arizona’s Republican state lawmakers, along with Gov. Doug Ducey, attended the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Austin, Texas, this month.
For the politicians, membership in ALEC is like joining one of those meal kit delivery services, only in this case lawmakers are presented with ready-made, easy to introduce legislation guaranteed to satisfy the special interests who came up with the political recipes, and to give regular citizens indigestion.
Earlier this year an investigation by USA Today, the Arizona Republic, and the Center for Public Integrity found that from 2010 to 2018, bills based on ALEC legislation were introduced nearly 2,900 times across all 50 states.
Arizona ranked second among states for the highest number of ALEC bills introduced and passed during those years, with more than 200 bills introduced and 57 enacted. Only Mississippi had more.
‘Chefs’ are lobbyists and executives
ALEC is the HelloFresh of politics, except what they cook up isn’t good for you. Instead the group produces ready-to-introduce legislation for politicians more interested in serving special interests and promoting their own careers than in serving their constituency.
The “chefs” in the ALEC kitchen include lobbyists and corporate executives often working under the direction of ultra-right billionaires. The plan is to spoon feed half-baked ideas to politicians looking for a meal ticket with the understanding that elected officials hoping to curry favor will bring home the bacon. (Five food clichés in one sentence. Boom.)
There is both irony and hypocrisy in Arizona Republicans attending an ALEC conference. Earlier this summer the Legislature passed a law, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, designed to make it more difficult for ordinary citizens to put initiatives on the ballot – something guaranteed by the Arizona Constitution.
The bill passed on party-line votes, with the Republicans who control the House and the Senate dutifully doing the bidding of the business interests and big-money benefactors who want to keep average citizens – whom they cannot control – from passing laws.
The influence of wealth
Ironically, and hypocritically, the politicians who voted for this legislation contend that it is meant to prevent wealthy individuals from influencing Arizona politics.
As Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe put, “I fully support any measure that makes it harder for wealthy people from out of state .. to make Arizona their sandbox.”
Really? Because some of the same politicians responsible for that law attended the ALEC convention, where billionaires and corporations give elected officials from places like Arizona half-baked cookie-cutter legislation meant to benefit billionaires and corporations. And the politicians, hoping for support from those business interests, force feed it to you.
Proving, sadly, one well-worn food cliché:
There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
So the evil villain David Koch is dead. It’s too bad that the right-wing political organizations that his family’s wealth funds did not also die with him. These destructive organizations will survive until the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, for which they, in large part, will be to blame.