OpEd News: Robert Greenwald on his New Film, "Koch Brothers Exposed"

By at OpEd News

My guest today is Robert Greenwald, founder and president of Brave New Films and president of Brave New Foundation . Welcome back to OpEdNews, Robert. After a more traditional career in Hollywood, your agenda changed.  In recent years, you've taken on the war in Iraq, Rupert Murdoch, Wal-Mart, the 2000 presidential election, our health care system and the attack on our civil liberties.  Your latest target is a biggie, too: David and Charles Koch. Why them?

When we began our Koch investigation, the brothers were not widely known. Jane Mayer and Addie Stan had done some excellent reporting but we felt that there was a very important story here about billionaires using money and influence to  attempt to buy democracy. The Kochs also lend themselves to what we do, video narratives. What they do, how they do it, and who they do it to were elements of our research and now are the cornerstone of the Koch Brothers Exposed film.

Or, stated another way, ideology and greed have consequences, we set out to show that to people.

Is it a chicken and egg thing, Robert? What came first? The system that allows wealthy individuals to throw their weight around disproportionately or the individuals that would bend that system to benefit themselves and their cronies? Are the Kochs guilty of nothing more than being opportunists on a grand scale?

The system and the individuals work hand in hand. The individuals with money/power and access are consistently using this for greater power/money/wealth.

The Kochs are willing to use hundreds of millions to attempt to buy democracy on a grand scale. The use of their enormous resources are driving our country towards greater and greater economic and power inequity. It is important we use all the tools at our disposable to investigate and expose. And most important to take action...

You say: "The Kochs are willing to use hundreds of millions to attempt to buy democracy on a grand scale." That's a very broad statement, Robert. Can you give our readers some backup to this claim?

Sure, check out our "Top Ten Koch Facts" blog.  And in particular: 

-         A Huffington Post source who was at a three-day retreat of conservative billionaires said the Koch brothers pledged to donate $60 million to defeat President Obama in 2012 and produce pledges of $40 million more from others at the retreat.

-         From 1998-2008, Koch-controlled foundations gave more than $196 million to organizations that favor polices that would financially enrich the two brothers. In addition, Koch Industries spent $50 million on lobbying and some $8 million in PAC contributions.

-         Koch Industries, which the brothers own, is one of the top ten polluters in the United States -- which perhaps explains why the Kochs have given $60 million to climate denial groups between 1997 and 2010.

The Koch brothers have for years operated undetected while creating an echo chamber that effectively promotes their agenda. In your film, you highlight a many tentacled agenda which includes social security, public education, deregulation and disempowering the EPA, voting rights, the breaking of unions.  What do these disparate areas have in common and why have they been targeted by the Kochs?

The Kochs have a combination financial and ideological agenda. Each serves the other.

They make decisions about where and how to spend hundreds of millions based on the impact the dollars will have in advancing either financial interests or ideological interests, which often serve long term financial

Remember, they look at the long haul. They don't believe there should be a social safety net. They work actively against any social safety net. And they work very very aggressively against any kind of protections for the populus at large that will limit their profits.

The Kochs fight regulations because they are big polluters and regulations would cost them money and slow down their profits. The ramifications of their practices are felt in our health and well-being. Your film spotlights a particular Alabama town near a Georgia Pacific plant where many of its residents work. Others have not been so "lucky". What did you find?

Yes, this a community victimized by the Koch brothers. These Americans, almost all of whom are former employees of the factory, tell us that they're dying because of their proximity to the Koch brothers' plant. The chemical-heavy factory dumps pollution into streams, and the effects are visible to the naked eye. As the waste flows away from the Koch plant, toxins bubble up into an airborne pollution that spreads through the air and wind.

All the while, the Kochs fight protections that would begin to mitigate living conditions in Crossett, Arkansas. Through their donations, the Koch brothers buy the system, and through their connections, they transform democracy into a self-serving apparatus that grows their corporate profits.

Watching your film, I was shocked to see that among Koch projects is resegregating our public schools. What agenda does that serve? What happened in Wake County, North Carolina and how did the locals fight back?

The Kochs have $50 billion to make public policy out of their anti-government ideology, and their assault against public education epitomizes their tactics to remake our nation. This portion of the film is about the big-money, high-stakes school board election in Wake County, North Carolina. We were able to connect the dots and demonstrate how the Koch brothers' wealth benefited the forces of Jim Crow and candidates who employed "forced busing" and "neighborhood schools" --rhetoric made infamous by George Wallace. Through Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, they sought to rewrite the multi-cultural social contract that made the Wake County school system a magnet for teachers and families and the surrounding communities prosper.

The diversity policy came under siege when Americans for Prosperity indirectly supported school board candidates who campaigned on reversing the busing for diversity program. This outside involvement made a NC school board election into one of the most expensive and divisive races since the 1970s. The anti-diversity candidates won the 2009 school board election. However, NAACP was a big player in helping to reverse the "neighborhood schools" mandate by issuing a civil rights complaint. The ongoing upheaval was heard in the election and subsequent run-off last fall, when the anti-diversity candidates lost their seats on the school board.

So activism and community awareness can go a long way to offset the pernicious effects of Koch-directed mandates. Your film is a powerful one, but people won't be able to see it in the theatres. You came up with a different strategy to spread the word. Can you talk about that a bit?

The only way to reach people who don't l00 percent agree with you is by distributing films outside of theatres. Think about it for a minute, who is going to  pay  6-10 dollars to see a documentary  when they disagree with or don't care about the subject matter? It is a great responsibility and critical part of the job when doing films on hot button issues that one work long and hard to reach as large and diverse an audience as possible.

The way to reach such an audience -- those who agree, those who don't agree, and those who don't care -- is everything from house parties to social media, to free screenings throughout the country.

At BNF with all our films, we put more time and resources into distribution than into the film itself. There are wonderful  opportunities today with social media, especially to reach people in ways that are new, exciting and impactful. In addition to social media, with the Koch Brothers Exposed film, we will be available in over 80 million homes via streaming outlets and cable video on demand.

The possibilities for distribution and reaching people are very exciting. It requires approaching it with lots of time and energy and thinking about the new ways people distribute and consume film and ideas.

Before we wrap this up, anything you'd like to add?

Organize, organize, and then organize.

I get your point. Well, there's lots to hate about the Koch agenda - something for just about everybody. I urge readers to look into the subject more. The Koch tentacles have spread far and wide. The better educated we are about this, the more likely we will be to engage in order to stave off their inordinate influence. Thanks so much for talking with me, Robert. Good luck with the distribution of Koch Brothers Exposed.

Koch Brothers Exposed website

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