The June 10 issue of the Star Tribune presented two important articles that highlight the differences within our nation. One, “Kochs’ funding shapes the state,” described the effort of two wealthy brothers to not only shape the politics of our state, but of our nation, to reflect their personal political goals, which, as the articles states: “is unrivaled by any single organization on the opposite end of the political spectrum.” Meanwhile, in Opinion Exchange, two writers from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Andy Dawkins and Stephen B. Young, pleaded in their commentary “Blame it on ’68, revisited: Toward a new democracy” that what our nation needs is a “nonpartisan, universal, always evolving Movement Toward a Renewed Democracy.” The question these two articles raise, and the one all Americans must ask for themselves, which will it be?
Marilyn J. Chiat, Minnetonka
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I’m glad that Dawkins and Young recognize the destructive nature of corporate money in our politics, but their proposals are misguided. Corporate control of policy creation has been built up in a deliberate way over the past few decades and cannot be willed away through the cultivation of personal values. The glaring problem with broad calls to action such as the ones put forward by the co-authors is one of accountability: To whom can we look when businesses inevitably do not engage in an effort to “modernize our accounting conventions” and put a focus on societal and environmental sustainability? There are many structural incentives working against such an effort, and if we count on “America’s business community … to take some leadership in preserving America’s democracy,” we all but guarantee the perpetuation of our current problems.
As a representative democracy, we must acknowledge the fact that any future progress must be made through our elected officials. I strongly challenge the idea that desirable political change cannot start with the left, as today’s resurgent social democratic left is producing exactly the types of policy proposals that can begin to address our immediate problems of inequality and climate change in very tangible ways.
Andrew Mathena, Minneapolis
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I agree with much of what Young and Dawkins concluded, although their touting of their newfound humility grates a bit. Campaign-finance reform, better business metrics and improved social capital are all good things. And who can argue with “the importance of truth in a democracy?” The Bible tells us so: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
My personal dilemma has been the slow realization that our “democracy” has been serially untruthful, lying to me for my entire seven-decade existence. It has lied about race, about the national debt, about taxes, about markets, about our environment, about health care, about the United Nations, about the murders of John, Martin and Bobby, about our economy and the real sources of our national wealth. Our “shining city on a hill” and refuge for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” have been exposed as fairy tales. And, oopsies, with the election of President Donald Trump, we’ve accidentally revealed the real, lying USA to the world.
Worst of all are the lies about our wars, our illegal military interventions in dozens of sovereign nations, our meddling in their elections, our subversion by guns and money of their elected governments. With our multiple wars-of-choice against Muslim nations of the Middle East, we’re on pace to kill enough civilians to make the Nazis look like pikers.
Until we figure out how to fix that, none of the rest matters.
William Beyer, St. Louis Park
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The excellent article by Dawkins and Young had much welcome agreement. I was disappointed in what I felt was agreement to declare the “social media” to be, on balance, a net negative. I disagree for two reasons.
Creating and supporting social media was, and is, strong support for the First Amendment to the Constitution on which we want to base our reform of democracy. It provides a legal and safe place to express freedom of speech and thought. How people use that freedom really goes back to the changes in individual human nature that the article calls for.
I have been involved in social media since it was born on the infant internet, and I have a much more positive attitude toward it. I have more than 500 Facebook friends, and more than 350 of them are relatives. Since the end of World War II, with the aid of President Dwight Eisenhower’s highway systems, most families have spread out to the four corners of the country and even to other nations. Social media and the internet have made it simple to instantly share the events in our lives and news about relatives and growing families. It is fairly easy to avoid faceless trolls looking for fights by means of the delete key, but that illustrates the dark side of freedom of speech that we don’t want to hinder by any reforms.
Paul J. Lareau, Little Canada
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An unsuspecting reader of the article on the Koch brothers’ influence would judge that influence fairly benign. That the author did nothing to challenge Stanley Hubbard’s quote in the article that the Koch brothers’ motives are out of love for America and that they’re “not pushing issues to help their business” was astonishing. Whatever their underlying motives, de facto, the Koch brothers spent $20 million promoting the recent Republican tax bill to reap between $1 billion and $1.4 billion in tax relief annually, a tidy return on investment (see tinyurl.com/kochs-taxes).
An expression of just how much the Koch brothers and their ilk are weakening our democracy was evident when in December members of Congress openly shared that they “had to pass” that tax reduction for the wealthy or risk losing contributions from major donors, despite concerns by a significant plurality of the American voters (see tinyurl.com/fortune-donors). The Kochs and those major donors are reshaping America in a more alarming way than the author reports. As a result of the substantially decreased revenue due to that tax bill, Congress is now looking at greatly diminishing the social safety net of Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, housing and a host of other programs that offer a base of financial hope for the bottom 20 percent because we “can’t afford them.” It was a transfer of wealth from the poorest (and middle class) to the wealthiest, plain and simple, leading to further erosion of the middle class and an exacerbation of inequality in America.
Michael Haasl, Brooklyn Park
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As if on cue, as we ramp up for election season, the Star Tribune publishes a story regarding the (evil) Koch Brothers and their influence on Minnesota politics. In a graphic accompanying this hard-hitting piece, it is revealed that Koch money has (over the last 28 years from 1990 to 2018) supported Republican candidates over Democratic candidates by a factor of 3.5 times. That’s roughly $380,000 to $108,000. To put that in perspective, according to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board, Education Minnesota, the teachers union, in the last seven years (for which data are available) donated $10.8 million to its related entity, Education Minnesota PAC, which sprinkled upward of $4 million onto the DFL Party and another $2.3 million onto various campaigns and causes, the vast majority of which were DFL.
Whether you agree with free-market conservatism (à la Koch) or not, why is their involvement even newsworthy? Why do we assume that some money in politics is virtuous and other money is not? Why is Education Minnesota never called out as the single largest political influencer in the state? I don’t expect balance from the Star Tribune, but how about a little intellectual integrity?
Dennis Williams, Minneapolis
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The article on the Koch brothers was very informative. I believe, however, that the description of their philosophy as a type of free-market conservatism was a misnomer. They are truly radical libertarians whose philosophy denies any validity to the conception of the common good. Nancy MacLean’s book “Democracy in Chains” clearly delineates the history and development of extreme libertarian philosophy. Collective action, whether it is by unions or voluntary citizen alliances, is to be vigorously combated. There is no room for “we” in their philosophy, only “I.”
Chuck Justice, Woodbury