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Ignore the Koch Brothers, talk about Weiner!

I know. This whole “the media ignores important substantive issues and focuses only on trivial nonsense”-theme is old and tired, but sometimes the contrast between what ought to be getting attention and what’s getting all the attention is so overwhelmingly stark that it begs to be commented on.


Elected officials have been doing terrible, despicable things throughout history. Even if we focus on just the last ten years, we can point to politicians who have done things as awful as secretly torturing prisoners, stripping citizens of their rights and civil liberties, collaborating with health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to kill legislation that would save lives, taking food off the table of poor families in order to give tax-cuts to corporations, deliberately obstructing an economic recovery just to hurt a president’s chances of re-election, encouraging foreign leaders to enact violently anti-gay policies, starting unnecessary wars to make private contractors richer, and on and on. Every single day, hundreds if not thousands of politicians at various levels of government across the country do horrible, downright evil things.

But one guy sends some dirty pictures to women who aren’t his wife, and that is unacceptable. Torture whoever you like, start as many wars based on phony justifications as you want, take as much money from corporations in exchange for hurting the poor as your heart desires, but flirt with girls on Twitter and you are done, sir!

This week, the whole absurd fiasco over Congressman Weiner’s wiener (much of which I admit he brought on himself by handling it so poorly) completely overshadowed a story involving not just a faaaar more egregious crime than being a bit of a pervert, but also something far more important with far more real-life consequences for the American people.


Politico reported that our old friends the Koch brothers (oil-industry billionaires), through their Tea Party front-group Americans for Prosperity, is launching a nation-wide campaign to blame high gas prices on President Obama. It’s his excessive zeal for environmental protection, they say, his draconian over-regulation of the oil industry, that’s responsible for the high prices at the pump. The only solution? Drill for more oil, obviously.

Never mind that Obama’s record on environmental protection is virtually non-existent. He not only did agree to open up more territory for oil drilling, but even after imposing a perfectly sensible moratorium on drilling after the BP disaster, he’s recently begun handing out new drilling permits in spite of the fact that the problems which caused that disaster haven’t been fixed. Obama’s refusal to “drill baby drill”, as any sane observer would be able to tell, is not the reason for high gas prices.

What is the reason? Who are the real culprits? Ironically, the Koch Brothers themselves might bear the most responsibility.

Most people who know anything about the issue know that that it’s speculation in the oil markets rather than actual worldwide supply of oil that drives gas prices. Not only do corporations like Koch Industries drive up the price of oil by betting on derivatives (much like the betting in the housing market that led to the 2008 financial crisis), but they use their own resources to artificially manipulate the price in order to boost their profits. Back in April, Think Progress explained how this game works:

In 2008, Koch called attention to itself for “contango” oil market manipulation. A commodity market is said to be in contango when future prices are expected to rise, that is, when demand is expected to outstrip supply. Big banks and companies like Koch employ a contango strategy by buying up oil and storing it in massive containers both on land and offshore to lock in the oil for sale later at a set price. In December of 2008, Koch leased “four supertankers to hold oil in the U.S. Gulf Coast to take advantage of rising prices in the months ahead.” Writing about Koch’s contango efforts to artificially drive down supply, Fortune magazine writer Jon Birger noted they could be raising “gasoline prices by anywhere from 20 to 40 cents a gallon” at the time.

This week, Think Progress posted a special report detailing exactly how Koch Industries rose to become the most powerful force in the oil market, from inventing oil derivatives in the first place (there was no such thing before 1986) to aggressively lobbying to deregulate the trading of these derivatives and thus allowing them to basically do to the price of oil whatever they please.

For most people, myself included, this is a complex issue and it’s hard to wrap our heads around it. But it certainly sounds as though the Koch brothers are deliberately keeping gas prices high—deliberately making life more difficult for middle class Americans whose livelihoods depend on their ability to drive to and from work—so that they can then turn around and lie to those people and get them to blame the president so that someone more friendly to their industry can take his place in 2013. That’s almost as despicable as taking a picture of yourself in your underwear…

I could be completely wrong about all this. I’m no financial expert and I know almost nothing about the oil industry, and the leftist sources I get this information from could very well be skewing it to fit their ideology.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if we had some kind of institution in this country that investigated these issues, obtained all the facts, and objectively presented them to the American people with clear explanations so that we’d all have a better understanding of how our system works?

Instead we have a bonanza of talking heads chattering about whether we’ll get to see more embarrassing pictures of a congressman’s junk. But at least most of them preface their comments by saying, “I wish we were talking about something else.”

That says it all, doesn’t it? Even the people caught up in this circus can see how woefully pathetic it is. That’s what happens when “news” is no longer treated as a valuable, essential element of democratic society, but as just another form of entertainment from which to earn a profit.

Of the three main focuses of this blog post—the Koch brothers, the media, and Anthony Weiner—the one who has done the least harm to this country by far is Anthony Weiner.

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