-By Bill Press, Tribune Media Services
February 2, 2012- "If not now, when?" It's one of the most famous maxims of history, attributed to the great Rabbi Hillel, who's also credited with a down-to-earth version of the Golden Rule: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary."
Now, here's your trivia question for the day: Who in our time revived that call to action with the challenge: "If not us, who? If not now, when?" Michael Moore? Barack Obama? Leaders of Occupy Wall Street?
No, not even close. Hillel's urgent plea "If not now, when?" was appropriated by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch in a letter of invitation summoning CEOs to a fundraising summit in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in January 2011. It was imperative that they join forces, explained Charles Koch, "…to combat what is now the greatest threat to American freedom and prosperity in our lifetimes" — the administration of Barack Obama.
This was not the first such meeting called by the Koch Brothers. They'd been holding semi-annual gatherings of corporate barons since 2003, sprinkled with right-wing journalists, politicians, and Supreme Court justices. Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas sat in. So did Jim DeMint, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Rick Perry. Conservative pundits Charles Krauthammer, Michael Barone and Glenn Beck shed any pretense of objectivity to attend and wow the crowd of executives representing many of America's biggest corporations: the Bechtel Group, the Fluor Corporation, Georgia-Pacific, Home Depot, Wells Fargo, the Blackstone Group, Circuit City, and Laredo Petroleum, among others.
Nor was this, as Charles Koch described it, just an innocent gathering of "some of America's greatest philanthropists and job creators." No, this was a meeting to line up corporate opposition to President Obama's re-election — and a very successful one. Corporations attending the Rancho Mirage summit pledged $49 million for the 2012 anti-Obama campaign. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of what the Koch brothers have raised and pumped into politics over the last 20 years.
As I learned in researching my book, "The Obama Hate Machine," Charles and David Koch, with a combined wealth of $50 billion, are two of the richest men in the country. With more than $100 billion in annual revenues, Koch Industries is a mammoth energy and manufacturing conglomerate. They operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas and Minnesota. They control 4,000 miles of pipelines. They own Georgia-Pacific. They have 70,000 employees in 60 countries.