[Marxism] Capitalist pig department
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 26 07:13:19 MDT 2010
New York Magazine
The Billionaire's Party
David Koch is New York’s second-richest man, a celebrated patron of the
arts, and the tea party’s wallet.
By Andrew Goldman
Billionaire philanthropist David Koch is in his Madison Avenue office
showing me one of his more unusual possessions, a mechanical-looking
doodad on the coffee table next to the couch. “This is a plastic version
of my artificial knees,” he says. “If you spent as many years as I did
begging girls for favors, you’d have bad knees, too.” The 70-year-old
Koch actually wore out his knees playing basketball. Until recently, he
held the record for most points scored in a single game at M.I.T.: 41.
“I played basketball when you could be white and be good,” he says. Koch
has a seemingly limitless storehouse of such Elks club–inflected jokes,
which are often followed by his loud, wheezy honk of a laugh. Koch is
six foot five, with unusually long arms to match. Although the shirt
he’s wearing is custom-made and his tie is Hermès (a gift from his late
friend Winston Churchill Jr.), he could readily be mistaken for a
mid-level executive at a large company in his native Kansas.
With an estimated net worth of $17.5 billion, Koch is the second-richest
man in New York City, behind Michael Bloomberg. Across the room on the
floor of his office sits a scale model of El Sarmiento, the sprawling
yellow Addison Mizner–designed mansion he owns in Palm Beach (the
matching yellow “biography” of the house he commissioned rests nearby).
Sitting on a shelf is a replica of a Paranthropus boisei skull presented
to him by the Smithsonian in recognition of the $15 million he gave in
2009 to build the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the National
Museum of Natural History. “You ever been up to Boston?” he asks. He
asks if I know about “the cancer building at M.I.T.” The building in
question—the one right in front of the Koch Biology Building, and a few
minutes’ walk from the David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering
Practice—is the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research,
funded with an anchor gift of $100 million from its eponymous donor in
2007 and set to open in December. “Isn’t that a marvelous Steuben?” he
asks, beaming. He’s pointing at a glass brontosaurus, depicted with a
little smile. “It has a sense of humor.” The sculpture was a gift from
the American Museum of Natural History, presented to Koch after he
donated $20 million to establish the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing. Koch
remembers taking a trip to the museum with his workaholic father. “I was
gaga about dinosaurs as a kid,” he says. “When we were 14, Father took
my twin, William, and I. We’d come to town from Kansas to look at
boarding schools. I was blown away. It’s my favorite museum in the city.
So when they asked if I wanted to contribute, I said, ‘God! Me? What a
thrill!’ ” His sense of wonder could easily read as a put-on, but people
who know him say his childlike quality is genuine. “He’s almost
guileless,” says his friend Sherry Lansing, the former CEO of Paramount.
“He’s constantly surprised when he gets attention.”
Koch and I first met in 2008, just weeks after he’d pledged $100 million
to renovate Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater, the longtime home
of the New York City Ballet and New York City Opera. Koch (his name is
pronounced like the soft drink) was in a buoyant mood. The Times had run
a glowing portrait of him; an act of the State Legislature had been
undertaken to change the venue’s name to the David H. Koch Theater. That
donation marked the capstone of a $500 million philanthropic spending
spree Koch had been on since 2000, and he seemed to revel in the
attention he was enjoying, especially from the leaders of the city’s
great cultural institutions. “Sometimes I feel like a beautiful girl,
saying, ‘God! Does every guy that goes out with me just want to sleep
with me?’ ” he said. “ ‘Don’t they like me for my personality?’ ” He
brayed with laughter.
But several months ago, when we reconnected, Koch’s outlook had
darkened. Koch has seen his share of misfortune: He and his brother,
William, lived through a protracted falling out; David survived a plane
crash in which 34 people were killed; and he was diagnosed with prostate
cancer in 1992 and is still fighting the disease. But his bleak mood had
other origins. Earlier this year, he found himself attacked for being
the financial engine of the largely white, largely male, very angry
crowds that were gathering in towns across the country—a few waving
overtly racist or menacing anti-Obama signs—to protest the president’s
proposed health-care bill and other issues. Koch denies being directly
involved with the tea party—“I’ve never been to a tea-party event. No
one representing the tea party has ever even approached me”—but he and
his brother Charles were being accused of supporting the group through
an affiliated conservative organization. Rachel Maddow had effectively
called Koch the tea party’s puppet master. “The radical press is coming
after me and Charles,” he said. “They’re using us as whipping boys.”
Burnishing his reputation was no longer his concern; now, it seemed, he
needed to save it.
Fred Koch, a native of North Texas and son of a Dutch immigrant, liked
to say that he didn’t want his sons “to turn into country-club bums.”
Fred graduated from M.I.T. in 1922 with a degree in chemical engineering
and, like David, excelled in sports, in Fred’s case as a boxer. Fred
moved to Wichita, where he became a partner in an engineering company
called Winkler-Koch, made a fortune building oil refineries around the
world, and bought a 160-acre horse farm outside of town, across the
street from the Wichita Country Club.
Early on, Fred’s company was nearly destroyed by litigious competitors.
He and his partners had developed a new method for thermal cracking, a
process that helps convert oil into gasoline; major oil companies tried
to block him in court for years. Koch developed a fierce independent
streak, and advised his sons never to sue: “The lawyers get a third, the
government gets a third, and you get your business destroyed,” he told them.
Between 1929 and 1931, Fred Koch built fifteen oil plants in the Soviet
Union, where he bore witness to the lead-up to Stalin’s Great Purge.
Thirty years later, Koch published a pamphlet called A Business Man
Looks at Communism. His list of “potential methods of communist
take-over in U.S.A. by internal subversion” begins: “Infiltration of
high offices of government and political parties until the President of
the U.S. is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us of course, when as
Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy he could control us. Even the
Vice Presidency would do as it could be easily arranged for the
President to commit suicide.” Koch became a founding member of the John
Birch Society. “Father was paranoid about communism, let’s put it that
way,” says David.
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