Pharos-Tribune

Columns

March 31, 2014

LYONS: A look behind the American oligarchy

Let’s put it this way: If the Koch Brothers were Russians, we’d call them oligarchs: grasping barbarians exercising crude political power.

But this is America, where tycoons can buy respectability by throwing money at their wives’ favorite ballet companies and museums. Also by funding “think tanks” staffed by “resident scholars” keen to enhance the boss’s fondest delusion: that great wealth invariably conveys great wisdom.

Hence “Americans for Prosperity,” the group funded by billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch that’s spending untold millions in 2014 on TV commercials attacking the Affordable Care Act as a government boondoggle that “just doesn’t work.”

The deeper strategy, AFP president Tim Phillips told the New York Times, is to present the law as “a broader cautionary tale” crafted “to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.”

Or as the sloganeering sheep in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” might have put it, “Big government bad, big business good!”

Elsewhere, however, big business hasn’t been looking entirely benign of late. Consider three episodes currently in the news: General Motors, the Toyota Motor Corp., and Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electrical utility.

As so often happens with corporate malfeasance, the details can be hard to believe. Documents turned over to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by General Motors show that company engineers knew about problems with an ignition switch in Chevy Cobalts as long ago as 2001.

That it could be a fatal flaw wasn’t immediately recognized.

The problem appears to have been a defective part manufactured by a GM supplier. Sometimes triggered by a too-heavy keychain swinging from the ignition, it caused the engine to shut off while driving — resulting in immediate loss of power steering, power brakes, and the failure of the vehicle’s air bags to deploy.

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