|Goons in Gucci's|
So where does this sudden, multi-state offensive against the hard-won rights, protections, and democratic power of America's wage earners come from? From the top--from a relative handful of arrogantly rich, right-wing families and corporate chieftains who have long been dedicated to disarming labor, repealing the New Deal, and returning America to the glory days when robber barons ruled. These particular moneyed elites have not idly dreamed of going back to the future, they've been investing hundreds of millions of dollars during the past four decades to assemble a shadowy network of hired political thugs to get them there.
[HISTORICAL FLASHBACK: In the fierce labor wars of the last century, industrial barons employed Pinkertons and other goons to bloody the heads of laborers or simply gun down those struggling for a share of economic and political power. It was brutal, but organized workers persevered and eventually gained a share of economic and political power. From their sweat and blood, America's middle class flowered.]
Today, the bands of nouveau corporate royalists (with coats of arms bearing such names as Coors, DeVos, Koch, Scaife, and Walton) are determined to take back those middle-class gains of yesteryear. They are working to achieve this through a coordinated, long-term campaign to (1) crush the ability of working people to unionize, (2) bust America's middle-class wage structure, (3) eliminate job security, and (4) emasculate government as a force capable of controlling corporate avarice and arrogance.
These latter-day royalists are employing a more sophisticated thuggery than brute force (though don't think they wouldn't resort to it). Instead, their goons are more likely to be in Gucci's than brogans, using dollars and computers rather than clubs and guns. They have been recruiting, financing, training, deploying, and coordinating thousands of political operatives to work through hundreds of front groups, law firms, think tanks, PACs, lobbying offices, media and PR consortiums, faux academic centers, astroturf campaigns, and--of course--compliant politicians.
Among the compliant is our covey of hyperactive governors, all carrying basically the same anti-worker, anti-democratic policy ideas. Their unified agenda wasn't produced by telepathy or freakish happenstance, but by AFC, ALEC, IFL, SPN,* and other obscure organizational acronyms unknown to 99 percent of Americans. But Daniels of Indiana, Walker of Wisconsin, Kasich of Ohio, Scott of Florida, and the rest of the covey have these organizations on speed dial. Behind the non-descript acronyms are aggressive and insidious right-wing wonk shops that have been set up and richly financed by the corporatists to prepare and hand-deliver pro-corporate programs to compliant governors and key legislators. Once delivered, the organizations work (usually clandestinely) to get the programs enacted. Let's peek inside a couple of these acronyms.
2. AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL.
"With nearly 2,000 members" explains a brochure of this secretive organization, "ALEC is the nation's largest nonpartisan, individual membership association of state legislators." Maybe your very own local lawmaker is one of them--but you won't get that information from ALEC, which hides its list of legislators from public view.
Nonpartisan? Its website lists 22 legislators from around the country who serve as board members and officers of this tax-exempt legislative service organization. All are Republican. In fact, only token numbers of Democrats are allowed in the club, and all inductees are individually vetted to make sure they will adhere to ALEC's corporate dogma.
Which brings us to the organization's pose as an association of legislators. The "exchange" in ALEC's name is not between lawmakers, but between lawmakers and such behind-the-scenes powers as Altria, AT&T, Bayer, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft Foods, Peabody Energy, Pfizer, Reynolds American, State Farm Insurance, UPS, and Walmart. These giants form ALEC's "private enterprise board," and they are among the self-interested corporations that put up its money and shape its agenda.
State reps pay only a token $50 a year to be members of ALEC, while at least 82 percent of the $6 million yearly budget comes from corporations (ALEC demurely refuses to name its donors, much less report how much each gives, nor will it disclose how it spends the money).
What do corporations get for their tax-deductible donations? A greased skid for sliding their wish list into the laws of multiple states. ALEC is something of a speed dating service. It holds three national conferences a year, plus convening issue-specific policy sessions in 20 to 30 state capitols annually. These are cozy sessions that conveniently gather groups of legislators to meet in private with corporate executives. The two groups schmooze together and develop bills to help extend corporate power over workers, consumers, environmentalists, and others--then the lawmakers go back home to pass the corporations' bills.
ALEC is the ultimate back room for corporate-legislative collusion. Its promotional brochure describes it as a dynamic partnership "that will define the American political landscape of the 21st century."
That's no empty threat. ALEC's tête-à-têtes result in about 1,000 bills being introduced across America every legislative session, and an ALEC official proudly adds, "We usually pass about 200 bills a year." And what pieces of work they are! For example:
Even before Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took office this January, ALEC agents were handing him model bills for clubbing teachers and other public employees. Pushing ALEC's attack from inside the legislature were Wisconsin state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the rancorous, union-busting majority leader who was ALEC's state chairman last year, and state Rep. Robin Vos, the house budget slasher who heads ALEC's state organization this year. Likewise, governors in Indiana, Maine, Michigan, and Ohio have backed anti-union legislation this year that closely resembles ALEC's 'model' bills.
In 2009, ALEC drew up the Voter ID Act to ban university students from using their college-issued ID's as proof of residency for voting. Seven states have adopted this model law, which is intended to bar eligible students from the voting booth. These kids must be disenfranchised, New Hampshire's house speaker bluntly said in February, because they're "voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience." This model bill has been introduced in 18 other states this year in a rather obvious ploy to hold down the student vote in the 2012 presidential election.
Arizona's infamous anti-Latino immigration law was crafted at an ALEC conference. The state senate leader who sponsored the bill was in the meeting, as was an eager executive from Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison operation that stands to get a nice business boost from Arizona's law.
Numerous state bills have been filed to kill, dilute, or withdraw from Obama's universal healthcare reform. Many bear remarkably similar wording, perhaps because they were drawn from a special report churned out by the 'nonpartisan' ALEC, entitled "The State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare."
One of ALEC's specialties is developing state laws to stop citizens from interfering with corporate whim. For example, when various communities began outlawing the use of genetically altered seeds in their area, ALEC rushed out a model bill to remove local control of seeds--11 states have passed it. Also with such climate-change deniers as Koch and Exxon funding ALEC and sitting on its board, you can guess why this corporate policy front has produced more than 800 draft measures against regulating global warming emissions--and, at least six states are considering bills nearly identical to ALEC's draft resolution for "state withdrawal from regional climate initiatives."
The big lie
Something unconscionable is at work here, something that is shameful, unworthy of our people, and directly contradictory to our country's founding ideals. The richest, most powerful, most privileged people in our land--in cahoots with a horde of the least principled, most venal political opportunists in civic life-- are intentionally savaging the well-being of America's majority and aggressively suppressing the democratic rights that make America America. And for what? Solely for themselves, for the aggrandizement of their own wealth and power.
To pull off this grand political larceny, the narcissistic right has manufactured a huge lie that has largely been accepted as truth not only by the GOP and tea partiers, but also by the mass media, nearly all of the mainline pundit class, and too many fraidy-cat Democratic leaders, including the one in the oval office. The lie is that extreme budgetary measures (they call them "coura- geous") simply must be imposed now, this instant, in order to slay the looming deficit monster that is gorging itself on government spending at all levels.
"In the name of your grandbabies," they cry, "teachers must be fired, rights smothered, pensions abrogated, Medicare tossed aside, little kids cut off from Head Start, and the bright promise of America's shared prosperity dimmed. We have no choice but to slash and burn."
No choice? One hedge fund hustler pocketed $2.4 million last year. Not for the year--$2.4 million AN HOUR. Yet he and his ilk pay a much lower tax rate than you and I do. In recent years, huge corporations like GE, ExxonMobil, and Bank of America have pocketed billions of dollars in profit, yet paid not a dime in federal income taxes. Indeed, far from paying taxes, these three have even been handed millions of dollars in "refunds" from our public treasury in some of their profitable years. Sliding through loopholes created by their lobbyists, two-thirds of corporations in the US pay no income taxes to help cover the priceless benefits they get from our national government.
America does not face a deficit crisis--we face a multi-billion dollar annual tax dodge by the most elite of moneyed elites. The money our society needs is right there--in the coffers of flagrantly rich Fortune 500 corporations and Wall Street banks, in the personal accounts of absurdly wealthy CEOs and fast-buck speculators. America is hardly a poor country. It's the richest in the history of the world, and it ought to have the very best public education program in the world, the most advanced infrastructure network, and the finest system of health care for all.
Yet our 'leaders' only talk of what they can't do, of what must be cut, of how the middle class and the poor must sacrifice, of how Americans must adapt to the new normal of diminished expectations and shriveled democratic power. The ugly truth is that these despicable governors and lawmakers are willingly trashing teachers and butchering our public budgets simply to spare the privileged and plutocratic few from paying what they owe to sustain a just, democratic, and truly prosperous society. This is ridiculous. Let's tax the super-rich! We the People must join together, stand up, push back, and shift the focus in this fight from hardworking teachers to these disgusting deadbeats and their political puppets. - Jim Hightower