By Nanette Gonzalez and Sarah Fenske
In just two short months, Charles and David Koch's dreams of purchasing the L.A. Times have gone from a well-sourced rumor, first reported on this blog, to the catalyst for outraged essays in newspapers across the country to a protest song by none less than Ry Cooder. Even in this warp-speed age, that's an impressively speedy arc.
Yesterday a labor-organized rally drew a large group of protestors, including Cooder, to the downtown L.A. offices of Oaktree Capital Management. That investment firm owns the largest share of the Tribune Co., which includes the Times and is now for sale. The protestors hope to pressure Oaktree not to sell the paper to the billionaire Kochs -- part of a multi-prong effort by progressives that also includes petitions and threats from local politicians both in Sacramento and L.A..
Protestors wore paper Koch face masks and signs that read, "No Koch Hate In L.A." and "Koch + LA Times = Cancelled Subscription" while music blasted loud enough to be heard blocks away, including such standards of the rally genre as "Respect" by Aretha Franklin and "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Shortly after noon, the music was turned off and Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, rallied the crowd, explaining that Oaktree is not only the largest shareholder in the old Tribune Co., but also manages $22 billion in public employee pension funds. Oaktree, she argued, cannot profit from the retirement funds of public employees and then do business with the Koch brothers.
The brothers, after all, became progressives' Public Enemy No. 1 after funding efforts to strip public employee unions of bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin. The two Kochs are reportedly each worth around $34 billion; in addition to supporting the pro-business wing of the Republican party, they run Koch Industries, which owns everything from oil and gas pipelines to chemical and fertilizer manufacturers.
Roxana Tynan, deputy director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, argued, "They have no place in trying to impose their extreme political views on our city. They have no place in mainstream journalism."
And then came Ry Cooder.
The roots musician and Santa Monica native opened by waving to the building that houses Oaktree. "I just want to say hello to Dave and Charlie," he called. "Here's to your destruction."
The song he sang was an old union song, "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister" complete with Koch-inspired lyrics. He wrote the song earlier this morning, he said, apologizing for having to look at his notes.
In the song, though, he took a little swipe at the Times:
All we want is our newspaper
Give us back the Times again
There are so many fewer pages
Good editors and writers too
It's a shame, but we still read it
That is why
We sing to you.
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It's probably not the kind of ditty preferred by Oaktree executives, but by preaching to the choir, the unions hope to keep the heat on -- and maybe just intimidate the bankers into selling to a less controversial ownership group. Hey, there's always Austin Beutner -- who could protest that?
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