Monday, February 27, 2017

Citizen Koch

3/4

Not Rated (probably PG-13 for Brief Language)

Anyone wondering why Congress is seemingly caught in an impenetrable deadlock and why last year's presidential election resembled Jerry Springer need only look at the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision.  In essence, it rolled back nearly a century of campaign finance law, and allowed both corporations and unions to donated unlimited amounts of money to politicians, albeit indirectly.  Now, the Koch Brothers, for example, can spend $900 million dollars on elections, and can hide the fact that they're doing it.

If that doesn't chill you to the bone, well, watch this documentary to see the devastation it caused.  Unions are crippled, people's benefits are vanishing, and the idea of a corporatocracy is becoming a reality.

"Citizen Koch," a clever, if unsubtle, word play on "Citizen Kane" and the Koch Brothers, seeks to do two things: show how corporate money has hijacked our government and how trying to fight big business is an almost futile endeavor.  It's too long and relies too much on emotion rather than facts and documented connections between people like the Koch Brothers and the politicians, but the arguments are still made and are just as disturbing.

To make their points, directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin show a trio of self-confessed Republicans who watch in horror as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker guts the power of unions by taking away their right to collective bargaining.  He also thins the competition by instituting worthless voter ID laws.  Their stories are compelling, if thin, because they personalize what corporate money has done.  Their rights are vanishing, their pensions, everything.  Also interviewed is Buddy Roemer, a Republican presidential hopeful who wasn't even allowed to join the 2012 Presidential debate when he refused corporate money.  It's not a pretty sight and impossible not to feel their horror.

The film is not flawless.  For one thing, the connections the filmmakers make between people like the Koch Brothers (who aren't their only target, but are the most attacked) and Scott Walker (ditto) and their influence on the elections aren't as strong as they obviously could be.  A few ads from the Americans for Prosperity (which they own) doesn't cut it.  Their fingers obviously run much deeper, but Deal and Lessin don't dig deep enough.  They have only framed their argument as the Tea Party being all about the debt and patriotism.  It's far more complicated than that.

"Citizen Koch" is also so partisan that even a devoted Democrat like myself was shaking his head.  They have their thesis and they do a good job of making the Koch Brothers seem like Machiavelli's worst nightmare and Scott Walker the poster boy for political corruption (he all but hangs himself on the phone).  But to deny the obvious, that Democrats are just as guilty of this, hurts their attempts to sway undecided voters.  A line or two about Obama and the flash of the Facebook logo in a montage of greedy corporations doesn't cut it.

This is a disturbing documentary and should be seen.  A better filmmaker like Alex Gibney could have attacked the subject with more hard data and verve, but Deal and Lessin have done their job.

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