Book Review: Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Have you wondered about what has happened to our country during the past forty years or so? Have you wondered how it is that nearly all of the wealth created has come to be in the hands of a very few extraordinarily wealthy people? Have you wondered why the American middle class has gone into profound and precipitous decline? Have you wondered why our government is in a state of gridlock and critical problems such as the sorry state of our infrastructure and the catastrophic threat of global warning are not addressed? Have you wondered why, in many states, scientific gerrymandering has become the norm? Have you wondered why the United States falls so far behind other first world countries in providing our citizens with amenities that countries like Canada, France, the Netherlands and Australia take for granted: amenities like universal healthcare, paid maternity leave, affordable higher education, and subsidized child care? Have you wondered why our minimum wage is half what it is in other first world countries? Have you wondered why you, as a middle class wage earner pay a higher percentage of your income in taxes than Mitt Romney or Warren Buffet do?
Wonder no more! In her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer describes the process of the corruption of the American political and economic systems by a tsunami of donations by billionaires in excruciating detail.
“During the 1970s, a handful of the nation’s wealthiest corporate captains felt overtaxed and over-regulated and decided to fight back. Disenchanted with the direction of modern America, they launched an ambitious, privately funded war of ideas to radically change the country. They didn’t want to merely win elections; they wanted to change how Americans thought. Their ambitions were grandiose—to “save” America as they saw it, at every level, by turning the clock back to the Gilded Age before the advent of the progressive era.”
“The weapon of choice of these wealthy activists was philanthropy. Their aim was to invest in ideology like venture capitalists, leveraging their fortunes for maximum strategic impact. Because of the anonymity that charitable organizations provided, the full scope of these efforts was largely invisible to the public.”
The most abundant source of both money and organizing in this effort over the years has been the billionaires Charles and David Koch. They have avidly recruited other billionaire to their cause in order to maximize their impact, but the genius behind all of these efforts is theirs. They have created a plethora of innocuous sounding organizations through which to channel their funds. Center for Patient’s Rights (attacking Obamacare), Americans for Job Security, Americans for Prosperity, Real Jobs NC, Public Notice, The 60 Plus Association, the Independent Woman’s Forum, American Commitment and many more.
One of the main targets of the Kochs’ wrath is environmental regulation. It’s scarcely any wonder because, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory Database, Koch industries was the number one producer of toxic waste in the U.S.-950 million pounds of hazardous waste in 2012 alone.
Another target of the Kochs is academia. They have made a concerted effort create beachheads in our nation’s universities, and institute courses that promulgated their ideas. “Private academic centers within colleges and universities were ideal devices by which rich conservatives could replace the faculty’s views with their own. ‘Money talks loudly on college campuses’” As one student put it “We learned that Keynes was bad, the free-market was better, that sweatshop labor wasn’t so bad, that the hands-off regulations in China were better than those in the U.S.” Their economic text book was co-written by Russell Sobel, the former recipient of Koch funding at West Virginia University who had taught that safely regulations hurt coal miners.
Billionaire funded organizations such as True the Vote are also behind the efforts to make voting more difficult for poor and minority voters. True the Vote was supported by the Bradley Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity.
The Koch machine has so many tentacles that is has been called the Kochtopus. It has affected American political and economic life at every level, voting, academia, taxation, the environment, social welfare, and the work place, always in the direction of benefiting the extremely wealthy at the expense of the middle class and poor.
If you have even the slightest trace of social consciousness, what you read in this book will infuriate you. If you read no other book this year, you should read this one.

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