Category Archives: ALEC – American Legislative Exchange Council

Ironies Abound, or SCOTUS Knows Best

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Here’s an irony: a set of five, unelected, deeply conservative Supreme Court Justices known principally for railing against judicial activism voted to overturn an overwhelming renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act today based on the grounds that… “We know best.”

Or at least better… Apparently, five Republican appointed U.S. Supreme Court justices know better than the 390 U.S. House Members and 98 U.S. Senators who voted in favor of renewing the Act in 2006. And, yes, they also know better than the deeply Conservative President George W. Bush who signed it into law.

In their 5-4 decision the gang of five struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 —Section 4–which defines the map that determines which states must get federal permission before they change their voting laws. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it. Frankly, given the deeply conservative nature of our Congress, it’s doubtful this will get enacted any time soon, if at all.

Why the decision? Ostensibly, because an unrepentant county in Alabama complained about the curse of federal oversight even as they continued to enact racially discriminatory voting laws. That particular county was Shelby, Alabama, which, in another irony, was the state where the Civil Rights movement was essentially born and withstood its trial by fire in Birmingham.

In 2006, the City of Calera, which lies within Shelby County, enacted a discriminatory redistricting plan without complying with Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, leading to the loss of the city’s sole African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery. After a Federal review, and in compliance with Section 5, Calera was required to draw a non-discriminatory redistricting plan and conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery regained his seat.

“Shelby County was and is the very kind of place for which the Voting Rights Act was written.” said an election official there, “So, it’s pretty unbelievable that this case has come from this community.”

Of course, Shelby County is not alone. If it were, maybe this wouldn’t be such a problem. But it’s not. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act has been invoked more than 700 times between 1982 and 2006.

So how did our gang of five manage to miss the pervasiveness of voter discrimination issues? Voter suppression is not exactly a rarefied concept, nor is it an accident. It is a tactic. And despite the contrary opinions held by the gang of five on our highest bench, voting suppression is as real as the six-hour long lines in minority voting districts in Florida last November. Those mile long lines and the incredible wait were the result of Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature reducing the number of early voting days from 14 to 8. While they were at it, they also eliminated voting on the Sunday preceding Election Day. Viola! Making it that much harder for working class voters. In Ohio, Republican officials cut early-voting hours leading up to the November election. The week before that, in neighboring Pennsylvania, the Republican House Majority leader was caught on tape confessing that the new restrictive voting law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” In Virginia, new Voter ID restrictions were put into place as well. Overwhelmingly, these laws are an effort to reduce minority participation in their electoral franchise.

All over the country, in dozens of states, Republican lawmakers, fueled by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), enacted legislation aimed at suppressing the vote under the guise of eliminating that mind forged bugaboo of the right, ‘voter fraud’; without, of course, having any verifiable cases of voter fraud to point to, outside the ones of their own making. (For those who want to keep track, a great example of this was in Florida, again, where Republican’s hired Strategic Allied Consulting who are now facing third degree felony charges after admitting that they submitted dozens of forged voter registration applications last fall ahead of the 2012 election.)

Then of course, there are the redistricting efforts here in Virginia and all across the South. Some successful, others less so. Virginia’s own ignominious efforts– in which Virginia Republicans took advantage of long time civil rights leader Henry Marsh’s absence to push a redistricting plan through the state Senate–were ultimately scuttled.

Why?

Funny you should ask.

Out of fear of the Federal oversight provided for in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Ultimately, the House Speaker determined that risk was too great and simply ruled the redistricting effort, “Not Germane.

That’s why this Supreme Court decision is such an intellectual wreck. Because the Voting Rights Act is not just monumental and historic, it is effective. It is the reason we have increased minority voter participation across the South–the key rationale Robert’s used in the majority decision to abandon it.

Here’s an additional kick in the teeth. All of the voting suppression mentioned above is happening with the Voting Rights Act still intact. What will happen when our Conservative Congress fails to effectively remodel Section 4?

As U.S. District Judge John Bates remarked last year in a voter suppression case out of South Carolina, the deterrent effect of Section 4 alone is enormous. Its mere presence has stopped lawmakers from pitching hundreds more dubious laws (like the kind floated in Virginia this past session).

According to a Brennan Center for Justice Analysis:

In the past 15 years, The Department of Justice (DOJ) has blocked 86 state and local submissions of election changes.

Forty-three of those objections occurred in the last decade. Thirty-one occurred since the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5.

In 2012, for example, a court blocked Texas’s statewide redistricting maps, finding the state enacted certain maps with the intent to racially discriminate against African-American and Latino voters. In the same year, Section 5 prevented implementation of two changes to the method of electing trustees of the Beaumont Independent School District in Beaumont, Texas. The first change replaced two single-member districts of the school district with at-large districts, from which it was highly unlikely that African-Americans could successfully elect their candidates of choice.

Just a few months later, Section 5 prevented other election changes that would have shortened, without notice, the terms of the three incumbent minority candidates, and treated the candidate qualification period as closed such that the incumbents would not have been able to run for re-election in their own districts.

This list goes on and on. None of these instances, and hundreds more, would have been prevented without an effective Voting Rights Act.
“In its ideologically motivated and divisive 5-4 ruling today in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court has drawn the teeth of one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history, the Voting Rights Act.” said Scott Price, President of the Alliance for Progressive Values, “At a time when voter suppression is spreading once again across parts of the country with long histories of discrimination, this ruling sends a clear signal that the courts will look the other way while the franchise of minorities is infringed. By booting this issue back to a dysfunctional and moribund Congress that has nevertheless regularly reapproved the VRA, the Court has guaranteed that American citizens will find it harder to vote in upcoming elections. This is a shameful moment.”

Now, acts of minority voter suppression will have to be challenged after the fact, if they are challenged at all.

Yet,  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his decision that “Things have changed in the South. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare.”

In yet another irony, if they are rare, it is precisely because the Voting Rights Act prevented them.

“The Court,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in dissent, “makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story.” And then she proceeded to outline the countless ways in which racial discrimination in voting practices is alive and well in Alabama and other jurisdictions covered by the law–citing actual evidence.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective.” Justice Ruth Bader Gingsburg read her minority opinion out loud from the bench in a stinging rebuke to the majority:

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and continues to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing out your umbrella in the rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Unfortunately, it is the minority voters across the nation who will suffer the deluge.

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The Trust Factor


This Tuesday may be the most important election of the new century. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with the backing of extraction billionaires David and Charles Koch is matched against Tom Barrett who has been raising funds locally and whom the DNC has refused to financially support. In some ways it’s an obvious David and Goliath struggle. The DNC should be funding this to at least approach parity with what the Republicans and surrogates are spending on Walker. But they are not. They are not spending a dime even though Wisconsin was the home of the progressive movement in the 19th Century. In fact, without Wisconsin, our nation’s 20th century would have looked radically different-probably closer to China’s, with no viable unions, no decent labor laws or protections and consequently no worker rights. I don’t think I’m overstating the matter by saying a victory by Scott Walker in Wisconsin will put that all in play once again. Why isn’t the DNC leading on this? Where is Barrack Obama? Can money obviate everything for the Democrats, even the very heart of their own base? This is not a trivial question.

In Tom Barrett’s last debate performance he called Walker a liar (he is one) and said point-blank that the man is about dismantling labor unions as viable entities across the state (which he is doing). He argued that Walker was treating the state as “an experimental dish for the far right.” All true. More importantly, whether the luminaries in the DNC realize it or not, Wisconsin is a bell weather for the rest of the nation, as Charles Pierce has pointed out it in Esquire Magazine: “In 2010, in addition to handing the House of Representatives over to a pack of nihilistic vandals, the Koch Brothers and the rest of the sugar daddies of the Right poured millions into various state campaigns. This produced a crop of governors and state legislators wholly owned and operated by those corporate interests and utterly unmoored from the constituencies they were elected to serve [Note: Virginia is no stranger to this process—witness ALEC and the ignominious machinations of Governor McDonnell on contraceptive rights]. In turn, these folks enacted various policies, and produced various laws, guaranteed to do nothing except reinforce the power of the people who put them in office. This is the first real test of democracy against the money power. Its true national import is that it is the first loud and noisy attempt to roll back the amok time that Republican governors and their pet legislatures have unleashed in the states at the behest of the corporate interests who finance their careers. It is the first serious pushback not only against Scott Walker, but against Dick Snyder’s assault on democracy in Michigan, and Mitch Daniels’s assault on unions in Indiana, and Rick Scott’s assault on voting rights in Florida. None of this was in any way coincidental. It was a national strategy played out in a series of statewide episodes, aimed at establishing the habits of oligarchy on a local basis.”

This is not toast and tea. We’re talking about real lives and real stakes. When Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein makes it perfectly clear that sophisticated investors don’t or at least shouldn’t rely on his word, it’s a cautionary note that we should apply to politicians as well—especially when they take money from those who would destroy the middle class. It’s painful to note that Blankfein was probably more honest in that brief moment than all the speeches by Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama combined. Don’t believe me, he said, and if you do, you’re a sucker. As Joseph Stiglitz writes, Blankfein makes plain that “those who bought the products his bank sold were consenting adults who should have known better. They should have known that Goldman Sachs had the means, and the incentive, to design products that would fail; that they had the means and the incentive to create asymmetries of information—where they knew more about the products than the buyers did—and the means and the incentive to take advantage of those asymmetries.”

Lesson learned. Politicians have the means and the incentives to create “asymmetries of information.” When politicians are purchased on such a large national scale…well, we get what we pay for, don’t we? When a chameleon candidate like Mitt Romney– who even most Republicans don’t like — can achieve a primary victory based almost entirely on access to cash, the system is out of whack. As Wisconsin shows some of the wealthiest individuals and organizations in this country have used their capital to buy liars and sycophants in public places. They are not disinterested in what their money is buying, either. Far from it. Scott Walker, frankly, was probably a bad buy: a little too showy, a little too much the front man. These folks like to remain a bit more discreet. What they really want to purchase is congressional gridlock on reform and regulation. And subsidies and tax cuts, of course. Everyday companies like Exxon seed doubt about global warming swamping the discourse with paid off pseudo scientists and front groups. At the state level, ALEC produces legislation that knee caps environmental regulation and offers a perverse polluter protection ‘model’ legislation that requires the results of environmental audits to be kept secret. While ALEC and Exxon, infuse massive amounts of money into the legislative process, creating “asymmetries of information.” FOX happily ignores or attacks anyone who would suggest there are real public concerns that need to be addressed. FOX News is the propaganda product of billionaire Rupert Murdoch. ALEC has over 5.7 million dollars in ‘corporate sponsorship’. The Koch brothers have more money than the entire state of Wisconsin. Exxon is the largest and most profitable corporation on Earth. It’s not class warfare to suggest money is tilting the scales in a way that makes it impossible for us to honestly govern ourselves. It’s the truth. And, Democrats — take note– only when we tell the truth as Tom Barrett has done in Wisconsin — can we begin to build a country that we can trust.

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APV thanks Jack Johnson once again for a great post. We also extend our whole-hearted support and best wishes to gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett in Wisconsin’s recall election this Tuesday.
DCKennedy

National Teacher Appreciation Week – Last Call

Today is the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week for 2012, but it shouldn’t end. Our teachers earn appreciation from the American people every day. Collectively, they shape our nation and the world, preparing us for every crisis on earth. Individually, they do everything from wiping runny noses and spending their own money on school supplies, to forfeiting more gainful careers for a life of helping the rest of us improve ourselves. I think there is no calling more noble or worthy of our constant praise than that which falls to the devoted teachers who enrich our lives – all year, every year – in every imaginable way.

In recent years, with the help of  ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, our school system has been under attack like never before in our country. So much blame has been placed on our hard-working, dedicated educators it is ridiculous. It comes from misinformation and faulty logic, and it’s just as wrong as saying all parents are to blame for failures in the school system, so we need to demonize parenting.

To honor our teachers this year, take a close look at what’s really happening with education.

Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?

So the carving up of Philadelphia public schools IS a national story. It’s just one that corporate media won’t tell. Not in Philly, not in LA, not in Kansas City or anywhere, for fear that ordinary people might try to write themselves into a leading role. Polls show that the American people don’t want their schools privatized, and don’t believe education should be run by business people like a business. People want to take the money we spend on wars and bailouts and use it on education. Telling the story might give people the notion that the ultimate power is in their hands, not of mayors and chambers of commerce or the so-called “CEOs” of school system. It’s time that story was told, and more of us heard it.

Changing the way we educate America’s students is a priority for three groups – parents, educators and corporatist-neoliberals. And the legislation to change our system is being pushed through by the wrong group – the ones who want to implement their corporate control fantasies. Every benefit of a school system that actually educates the people flies in the face of their profit-driven goals.

They’ve done their best to ruin our schools through neglect, defunding, the demonization of good teachers and by eliminating the protections that allow them to keep teaching. So much disinformation has been spread about it that many good-hearted American parents can only see their children as the “trees”, and are helping to burn down the forest for every American student to come.

Privatization, vouchers, choice, corporate scholarships, internet education – it’s all about neoliberals deconstructing the public good. They want it; they want to control it; they want to sell it; and eventually, they will decide who is entitled to it. What they’re doing is typical: 1) break it 2) get paid to privatize and rebuild it 3) and then funnel the money up to the top. It’s always the same pattern for these people. You can see it in everything they do.

What Matt Taibbi so aptly said about Goldman Sachs applies to neoliberalism in general: It’s “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

We’re turning the education of America’s children over to the same group – the likes of Goldman Sachs – who destroyed our economy with impunity. They’ve already come so far with higher education that extreme personal indebtedness now stunts the beginning of independent life for most students who graduate from college. And typically, they pushed through legislation to remove all the reasonable American protections against bankruptcy and credit abusers for these same students.

Will a Young Generation’s Dreams Be Rescued – Or Bundled and Sold On Wall Street?
Jobless or overextended college graduates aren’t even allowed to declare bankruptcy – a privilege that’s extended to every reckless investor and mismanaged corporation in the nation. Once they finally find work, college graduates face years of garnished wages to repay the loans that funded their often-overpriced educations. If they haven’t repaid that debt by the time they grow old – a very real possibility at the cost of a college education today – they’ll even be forced to surrender part of their Social Security benefits.

That’s indentured servitude.

Meanwhile banks have been slicing and dicing student loans into derivative financial instruments called “SLABS” – student-loan asset backed securities. We’ve seen this movie before – the one where big banks mass-market loans to a population with stagnated wages and dwindling economic prospects, then bundle them and sell them to investors who haven’t reviewed the way they were underwritten and sold.

SLABS for Wall Street investors are a big red flag waving in our faces. And when they jack up the interest and cut the grants while increasing the salaries of college presidents, it’s neoliberalism and it’s not going to end well for the American people.

As neoliberals find it reasonable to cut food money from hungry people – which is what they are doing now, how long will it be before they refuse tuition loans to anyone who might be a financial risk? This brand of corporate interference is what has happened to healthcare, the Post Office, the prison system – and everything else their blood funnels have jammed into … and it’s a long list. It always starts with “breaking” something they want to take from the public good to be controlled by corporate players for maximum profit.

While America still has the finest educators in the world, why aren’t we listening to their advice about the needed changes for our education system? This opinion by Chris Hedges from last year is the best answer I’ve found to that question. Please read it. Our teachers have earned and deserve America’s wholehearted protection in the fight for better education, last week, next week, every week … they simply are not the culprits.

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

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Off topic, here, but to drive the point home, consider another recent and shocking example of planned privatization. Last year, the Chief Economist at Citigroup, Willem Buiter, announced a similar neoliberal vision for our drinking water!

“I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments—puts, calls, swaps—both exchange-traded and OTC will follow. There will be different grades and types of fresh water, just the way we have light sweet and heavy sour crude oil today. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”

Chris Saladino: “This only has the worst possible outcomes. The attempts at water privatization have so far created far more problems than solutions and in most cases have actually failed. To make it worse, this kind of corporate intervention in yet another essential component of human survival has been just as unfairly dominated as food, health care, and energy.

The Cochabamba riots in Bolivia are a telling and frightening case study. The police actually arrested people for illegally collecting rain water. It’s just a bit too much like the fear of Jack T. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove…”
Water Privatization Case Study:
Cochabamba, Bolivia (pdf)

We thank our new APV member, Chris Saladino, Professor of International Studies at VCU, for commenting on the privatization of fresh water and look forward to more of his contributions in the future!
DCKennedy

The Wolf in South Carolina ~ ALEC

South Carolina has a new and improved Lobbying Law. SECTION 2-17-5, transfers the duties and powers from the Secretary of State to the State Ethics Commission – among other things.

If you read it, you’ll notice it includes wording like this throughout: “Except as otherwise provided by Section 2-17-90”, “Notwithstanding the limitations of Section 2-17-90”, “pursuant to Section 2-17-90”.

So what does Section 2-17-90 have to say? It’s an exemption for ALEC – by name:

SECTION 2-17-90. Acts prohibited of lobbyists’ principals; acts prohibited of public officials and employees; exceptions; disclosure requirements. (…) except for:
… (a) national and regional conventions and conferences of organizations for which the General Assembly pays annual dues as a membership requirement and (b) American Legislative Exchange Council conventions and conferences;

SC Makes A Special Exception To State’s Lobbying Law for ALEC:

State Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield) discovered the exemption in the lobbying law on Wednesday.

“I am disgusted that this group has been specifically exempted from ethics laws in the state of South Carolina,” said Brown in a statement. “I am appalled but not surprised that an extremist group such as ALEC wields such influence in the South Carolina General Assembly.”

This new S.C. law comes conveniently in the wake of a recent Common Cause submission “to the Internal Revenue Service under the Tax Whistleblower Act, 26 U.S.c. § 7623(b) regarding underreporting of lobbying and operation in furtherance of private corporate interests in contravention of 26 U.S.c. § 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable status.”

They’re covering the bases. Here’s a good report on the action being taken – the one they’re heading off at the pass:

Shame on South Carolina legislators!
DCKennedy

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Castle Doctrine/Stand Your Ground

The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away. ~William Golding, Lord of the Flies


PRwatch has chosen A Police Officer Speaks on ALEC and “Stand Your Ground”, by Brian Austin, as one of their highlighted opinions this week. Interestingly, Austin has been a state prosecutor and is now a police detective in Wisconsin. He was “a police officer for 15 years, and a SWAT officer for 12 of those”. Aligning his experience with his insight was a curious task for me, but I was delighted with his ability to step way back and apply a patchwork of current events to one of our nation’s most profound and troubling choices – which is where he leaves us at the end.

Insinuating Golding’s Lord of the Flies was also a little curious. Afterward, I thought about it … so will you.

Here’s a taste:

The Castle Doctrine is just one part of the “shiny object” campaign that the corporate right has waged for decades to prevent this awakening from occurring. (…)

I believe that in order for the corporate elite to continue to further an agenda that favors a select few, they have to turn the masses against each other. That need becomes even more urgent as more and more people wake up to the realities of America in 2012, and uprisings like the Wisconsin protests and the Occupy movement spread. If the corporate elite failed to keep us at each other’s throats, and we actually developed a sense of community and compassion and empathy, we would see with total clarity the insanity that grips our nation. At that moment, their gig would be up. We would no longer tolerate what is occurring in America, and the corporate elite and their legislative water boys would be driven from power post-haste.

DCKennedy