Books postsSaturday February 20, 2016
The Kochs: Scapegoating the Other with the Kochs' Own Crimes
The following, another great case of right-wing projection, is from Bill McKibbon's review of Jane Mayer's book, “Dark Money,” which is all about how the Koch Brothers and Scaifes and other right-wing richie riches are undermining democracy:
Sometimes the hypocrisy ran so deep that it almost seemed like an inside joke. In 2009, Americans for Prosperity ran a TV ad attacking environmental laws featuring “a louche-looking young man, plucking away at a plate of canapés.” He identified himself as
Carlton, the wealthy eco-hypocrite. I inherited my money and attended fancy schools. I own three homes and five cars, but always talk with my rich friends about saving the planet. And I want Congress to spend billions on programs in the name of global warming.
As Mayer points out, it was David Koch, founder of AFP, who had inherited hundreds of millions, gone to Deerfield, owned four homes including an eighteen-room Park Avenue duplex, and drove a Ferrari.
Or check out the way a young Scaife graduated college. (Psst: It wasn't through hard work.)
The right keeps doing this: scapegoating the other with the right's own crimes. Cf. the Nazis. Which, yes, is how the Koch brothers fortune was made—via Nazi Germany.
Are you reading Mayer's book yet? Shouldn't you be?
The Permanent Campaign
I've been reading Jane Mayer's “Dark Money” over the past few weeks, but only in short bursts. Otherwise I think my head would explode with anger.
It's truly enraging. Since I was born in 1963, this country has gone through social progress but economic regress. We're all more equal now except for the wealthiest among us, who keep getting wealthier. And the reason for that, I would argue, is in the title of Mayer's book: the money that's been funneled into think tanks and universities and politician's pockets to push an anti-regulation, pro-libertarian agenda. All the bullshit political items that seem to come out of left (read: right) field, like privatizing Social Security? That's these guys.
“Dark Money” already feels like the most important book of the year, and I wish more people were reading it. In the meantime, another excerpt:
When Obama took office, the stock market was down nearly six thousand points, and unemployment was shooting up toward 7 percent. As the former senator Tom Daschle later recalled, “There was a growing sense of calamity.” Obama expected bipartisan support at a moment that seemed like an economic version of the September 11, 2001, crisis. He had proclaimed in his 2004 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America!” Or so he thought. Obama's billionaire opponents wasted no time indulging him in a honeymoon. Forty-eight hours after Obama was sworn in, Americans for Prosperity started attacking his first major piece of legislation, a massive $800 billion Keynesian-inspired boost in public spending and tax cuts meant to stimulate the economy, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. ...
What Obama was up against was a new form of permanent campaign. It was waged not by politicians but by people whose wealth gave them the ability to fund their own private field operations with which they could undermine the outcome of the election.
It's not the political campaign anymore, it's the aftermath. That's when the campaign truly starts—when the rest of us are back at our day jobs.
Why I Stopped Reading Fiction
I’m 53, but I still think of myself as the person I was from about 18 to 35, the one who found an author he liked and kept reading them: Salinger to Irving to Vonnegut to Roth to Doctorow. Baldwin to Updike to Vidal to Mailer to Kundera. The best of Hemingway and Faulkner and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I liked being that person but I think I stopped being that person around 1998. Maybe reviewing crap books for The Seattle Times killed some spark in me. Or maybe working at Microsoft in its games division did.
But I think the biggest factor is that I went online.
Reading, I think, made me feel less lonely. It gave me a connection to somebody—the author—and now online does that. Social media does that. Or tries to do it. But really it does it poorly. It’s salt water for a thirsty man. Even when it works, it’s a simulacrum of a connection. It’s connection in everything but the connecting.
So I should go back to fiction, I should go back to literature, to assuage this feeling; to drink real water after the salt variety. But I don’t. And I think I don’t because reading literature, in some way, actually makes me feel more lonely now. Because I know so few people do it.
But that doesn't explain why I read non-fiction, since, apparently, even fewer people do that. Maybe because non-fiction, on almost any topic, at least connects you to an ongoing conversation on that topic. Read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer and you can talk about the Koch brothers, or the funding of think tanks, or the rightward drift of our country since the mid-1970s. A fictional book simply connects you back to that book. It should, of course, connect you to a larger discussion about aesthetics, but that conversation seems reserved for academics. And it helps if you have a book group, but ... sometimes those make me feel a little lonely too.
Where the Koch Family Fortune Began
From Jane Mayer's book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” Chapter 1:
In late 1938, as World War II approached and Hitler's aims were unmistakable, [Fred Koch] wrote admiringly about fascism in Germany, and elsewhere, drawing an invidious comparison with America under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.
“Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. Koch added, “The laboring people in those countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.” ...
Fred Koch's willingness to work with the Soviets and the Nazis was a major factor in creating the Koch family's early fortune.
Staliln and Hitler. If you'd invented it, you couldn't have come up with two worse sources of wealth. I'm shocked, shocked that this isn't a regular piece of conversation in the “liberal media.”
Fred Koch is, of course, the father of Charles and David Koch, who have been the big money and philosophical attitude behind right-wing intransigence and attacks against the Obama administration from Day One. Expect more excerpts.
The Debate Over 'The Arab of the Future'
Here are a few quotes about the graphic memoir, “The Arab of the Future,” which details the upbringing of cartoonist Riad Sattouf in Syria and Libya in the 1980s, and which is causing a sensation in France. They're all from Adam Shantz's excellent profile on Sattouf, “Drawing Blood,” in The New Yorker:
- “Sattouf is faithful to what he sees, and he doesn't beautify reality.” -- Subhi Hadidi, a leftist member of the Syrian opposition.
- “Sattouf describes things as they are.” -- Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis.
- “[The book's appeal in France] rests on an unconscious, or partly conscious, racism. ... Because he's part Arab, everything he says becomes acceptable, including the most atrociously racist things.” -- Yves Gonzalez-Quijano, a French scholar of the Arab world.
- “The problem isn't Sattouf, who has written a funny and sympathetic book. It's the readers who think they've understood a society as complex as Syria because they've read a single comic book.” -- Elias Sanbar, a Palestinian writer and diplomat, who is now Palestine's ambassador to UNESCO.
The above quotes get at what I don't like about certain forms of political correctness in this country. I like the search for truth. If you find the negative in that search, well, welcome to the party, pal. To pretend otherwise isn't just PC; it's PR.
What is the difference between PC and PR? Is it that PC is for the marginalized, PR for the dominant? Either way, they're both anathema to the artist.
I've already ordered the first volume of Sattouf's book, which just went on sale in the U.S.. and will try to refrain from thinking I've understood a society as complex as Syria. But I imagine I'll at least understand it a little better. Won't be hard.
Being faithful to what you see: harder than it sounds.