Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hundreds protesting Kochs' rumored newspaper takeover, including Ry Cooder

Legendary session man Ry Cooder joined protests this week against the  Benedict Arnold Koch brothers' rumored purchase of the Los Angeles Times newspaper chain.

Cooder, a six-time Grammy winner, sang before hundreds of Angelenos objecting to the sale of eight newspapers to the brothers. The song, a rewrite of  "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister," included the lyrics,
Don’t sell out to the Koch brothers / Don’t let the brothers in the door/ We don’t want them taking over / That is what we’re marching for.
Protests have erupted in cities where the chain owns newspapers, including Chicago and Orlando. The chain includes the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant,  the South Florida Sun-SentinelBaltimore SunDaily Press and The Morning Call.

Unions are supporting the protests because (a) the media outlets would become potent anti-union propaganda tools under the Kochs, and (b) union retirement plans are heavily invested in the current ownership of the Tribune, making a sale to the Kochs an enormous conflict of interest.

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi explains:
The Koch brothers have always taken powerful and unequivocal stances against public sector unions and their retirement plans. They were primary financial backers of Scott Walker's anti-union movement in Wisconsin, where the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity group engaged in massive ad buys and signature-collecting campaigns to back Walker's play to crush collective bargaining rights for public workers. Through direct donations and support of groups like the conservative state policy group ALEC, the Kochs have taken aim at public unions, public union lobbying and public pensions in multiple states across the country, among other things spending $4 million in California to support Prop 32, a state ballot measure restricting union political activity. 
The potential conflict comes from the fact that two of the major stakeholders at Tribune Co. are investment management firms that manage billions of dollars of public pension funds. One is called Oaktree Capital, a Los Angeles-based group that owns 23.5 percent of Tribune Co. Another is called Angelo Gordon & Co., which is based here in New York and owns 9.4 percent of Tribune. J.P. Morgan Chase, another major Tribune stakeholder, also manages public-sector funds. 
This sale really can't happen, obviously, without the assent of these companies. Yet these companies are financially dependent upon public pension funds. 
Oaktree's client list includes the two monster California funds, CalPERS (the California Public Employees' Retirement System) and CalSTRS (California State Teachers' Retirement System), as well as the City of Philadelphia Board of Pensions, the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, the Illinois State Retirement Systems, the Los Angeles City Employees' Retirement System, the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association and the Los Angeles Fire & Police Pensions, plus public funds in Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey. 
Angelo Gordon's clients, meanwhile, include those same CalSTRS and Los Angeles Fire & Police funds, the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the New York State Teachers' Retirement System, Ohio State University, the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio and the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois, among others.
The Huffington Post reports that the California protesters have influential politicians behind them:
And, LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl introduced a motion last week to pull city pension money from the investment firms that own the Los Angeles Times if Tribune Co. sells to buyers who do not support "professional and objective journalism." 
About one-quarter of the assets held by Oaktree Capital Management come from public pension funds. In a letter last week to Karsh, 10 public employee unions warned that a sale to the Koch brothers “would be adverse to the retirement security of public employees whose pension funds you are responsible for managing and investing.”
 And about those protests....
Union workers, environmentalists and others chanted "Say no to Koch" and "No Koch hate in LA" outside the office of Bruce Karsh, chairman of the Tribune Co. and president of Oaktree Capital Management, the largest Tribune shareholder. 
"These are the folks who underwrite the Tea Party ... who think that the gap between the rich and the poor is a good thing … who deny climate change," Roxana Tynan, executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, told the crowd. 
You can sign a petition against a Koch brother purchase of the newspapers here.< br />