Economy & Business

The Kochtopus Crushes Nashville Transit

Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” in New York, May 5, 2014. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
The dots connect themselves!

The half-awake citizen may be unaware just how dexterously the arms of the Kochtopus have reached into every precinct of American life. Not one mile from my home stands a particularly egregious example: the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, home to the New York City Ballet. Koch put up $100 million toward renovating the theater, but consider his ulterior motives. Theaters like this one use a lot of floor wax. At intermission they serve drinks in plastic cups. Their seats are covered with upholstery. These are all byproducts of petroleum. Get the picture?

Look deeper. Just a couple of miles east of the Koch Theater there’s an actual Koch hospital: the New York–Presbyterian David H. Koch Center, a 740,000-square-foot ambulatory-care center that opened its doors this year with the aid of another $100 million Koch gift. Charity? No. Bonanza! The Kochs sell all kinds of items used in hospitals — medical devices, electronic components, and even hands-free paper-towel dispensers and stuffing for pillows. In 2014, David and Charles Koch gave $25 million to the United Negro College Fund. Don’t see the connection? Educated black people read more. The Kochs own Flint Group, one of the world’s largest suppliers of printing ink.

Wake up sheeple! I have all of these connections diagrammed out on the 80-foot-wide blackboard I keep in the bomb shelter. You go unprepared for the Kochpocalypse if you choose. I won’t.

The latest dastardly Koch scheme was exposed on Monday, and for this we must thank Hiroko Tabuchi, a climate-change reporter for the New York Times. In classic 80-foot-blackboard fashion, Tabuchi laid out the devious conspiracy for us.

Using a front group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which deployed a sneaky election-rigging tactic known as “talking to people,” the Kochs destroyed a proposal for a light-rail system in Nashville, thus keeping commuters in their gas-guzzling cars and hastening the end of the world via global warming to protect the Kochs’ interests in the barbaric, malevolent seatbelt industry. Actual sentence from the piece: “One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts.”

The dots connect themselves! Never mind that the Kochs are in so many industries, including ethanol (of which they are now the nation’s fifth-largest producer), that working out exactly how a given project might affect their bottom line is pretty complicated. Never mind that hardly anybody would have used light rail in low-density Nashville: Even in Portland, Ore., where light rail is considered a raging success, the system accounts for only 0.9 percent of passenger miles traveled. That doesn’t actually sound like much of a threat to the gasoline or asphalt industries, much less to seatbelt manufacturing.

So how much of their eleven-figure net worth did the Kochs’ AFP pump into Nashville in their fell scheme to protect their precious seatbelt industry? Less than $10,000. Apparently that largely went for a mailer sent out a week before the election. For context, the proponents of the rail plan spent $2.9 million. All opponents combined spent $1.2 million. (Of that $1.2 million, most came from a group called Smarter Nashville, Inc., which by law does not have to disclose its donors.) The Kochs say they don’t control AFP activities in individual states in the first place. Anyway, they could find $2.9 million in the change cup of one of their Kochmobiles. For a couple of guys who were determined to destroy mass transit in Nashville, they didn’t seem to be trying very hard.

Ah, you say, but AFP made almost 42,000 phone calls and knocked on more than 6,000 doors before the measure lost by 35,000 votes. Meanwhile proponents of the measure were . . . doing the exact same thing. Those backers boasted that they made 4,000 phone calls a night for three months in advance of the vote.

The Koch brothers’ longstanding opposition to gigantic tax-and-spend projects of dubious worth was more consonant with the mood of the voters than was the Times’ philosophy of urging voters to gamble any amount of money on anything that could conceivably have the slightest beneficial impact on global warming.

Just to poison the well in one more way, the Times ran a picture of a lonely-looking elderly black woman on a bus — a Rosa Parks of climate change, if you will  — who supported the streetcar plan. Not until the 54th paragraph of a 55-paragraph story did there arrive a hint that black voters didn’t like the plan. And how. “African-American voters proved key in helping defeat the transit plan,” reported the Tennessean, adding that “the Cathedral of Praise precinct, one of the largest African-American voting districts, voted against the referendum 75 percent to 25 percent.” Every black candidate for mayor came out against it, according to the Associated Press, a fact that the Times simply left out of its story.

Here’s a non-fact for which the Times did find room, albeit using enough weasel words to avoid an outright lie: “Supporters of transit investments point to research that shows that they reduce traffic.” Yes, well, supporters of idiocy point to research that shows vaccinating kids is a bad idea, but they’re still wrong. There is very little reason to suppose that light-rail systems reduce traffic congestion at all, much less reduce it enough to be worth what would have been $9 billion in tax hikes. The only proven method for cutting back on traffic is congestion pricing, according to WonkBlog. It’s not even obvious that light rail much reduces greenhouse-gas emissions in low-density cities such as Nashville, especially to a degree that justifies spending $9 billion.

Given that Nashville voters defeated the light-rail proposal by 64 to 36 percent, it appears that the Koch brothers’ longstanding opposition to gigantic tax-and-spend projects of dubious worth was more consonant with the mood of the voters than was the Times’ philosophy of urging voters to gamble any amount of money on anything that could conceivably have the slightest beneficial impact on global warming. Alas, such exceedingly easy civic calculations sometimes have the unfortunate side effect of creating windfall profits for the Koch brothers via their ruthless sales of seatbelts.

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