Michigan

ALEC’s Christmas Gift to All…

ALEC’s Christmas Gift to All…

by Bob Sloan

Below are links to many articles related to ALEC’s pursuit of oppressing votes, grabbing up all the public education dollars they can and in general advancing the conservative agenda through continuing meme…also included are letters and article opposing this agenda.  Many are letters to editors, opinion pieces by citizens now alerted to the presence and pursuits of ALEC and the SPN cabal…

Just let the sun shine on in

Now the Koch brothers are coming after my solar panels.

I had solar panels installed on the roof of our Washington, D.C. home this year. My household took advantage of a generous tax incentive from the District government and a creative leasing deal offered by the solar panel seller.

Our electric bills fell by at least a third. When people make this choice, the regional electric company grows less pressured to spend money to expand generating capacity and the installation business creates good local jobs. Customers who use solar energy also reduce carbon emissions.

What’s not to love?

According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative network better known as ALEC, our solar panels make us “free riders.” What?

ALEC Members won’t support democracy

It is fair to assume that America is host to an incredibly ignorant population who know very little about their government and how it affects their daily lives. That sad fact was exposed in a brilliant 2008 book revealing that only 20% of the population can name the three branches of government and 49% think a president has the authority to suspend the Constitution. However, the population’s ignorance of their government aside, it is highly probable that every American supports democracy; unless they are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). To Americans aware of ALEC and its intent to create a corporate oligarchy and privatized government, it is not surprising that if ALEC members were asked to sign a pledge to support democracy, they would refuse, and that is precisely what happened in a little-reported story last week.

Last Thursday while ALEC was holding its annual meeting in Washington D.C., a group of working family activists, AFSCME, the Postal Workers union (APWU), AFT, and Jobs with Justice appeared at the meeting and asked ALEC members to sign a pledge “upholding the will of the people and support democracy, or leave their states.” The people at ALEC’s meeting did not sign the pledge and corporate-controlled media did not report the event because a revelation that an organization dedicated to serving corporate interests represented by the Republican Party refusing to support democracy would not play well with the public. In fact, for about 30 years ALEC has quietly been dismantling America’s democracy while hiding in the shadows, and it is just recently that a very tiny minority of the population even know ALEC exists.

(In the following article ALEC acolyte, Sterling Beard accuses Michigan’s AFL-CIO President, Karla Swift of plagiarizing material in an anti-ALEC op-ed.  As most know “Tool kits” are a standard ALEC tool used to put out information to their supporters and encouraging those individuals and organizations to use the material to advance the agenda on specific issues.  Now that the same tactic is being used by their adversaries, ALEC and the RW crowd want to cry foul and accuse folks of plagiarism.  

Here is one current example of ALEC’s use of a “Tool Kit”… “State Budget Reform Toolkit“which has been used and promoted by the Reason Foundation, Heartland Institute, promoted by various SPN or conservative sites such as “State Budget Solutions” and circulated in conservative media outlets such as Louisiana’s “Pelican Post“.  The PP article was written by Fergus Hodgson who is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. which is a state think tank member of SPN, which is a private sector member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Pelican Institute also has ties to ALEC through its annual Policy Orientation for the Louisiana Legislature of which ALEC is a sponsor.[2] ALEC members have also sat on policy panels at the event.[3]

Though this “State Budget Reform Toolkit” was written by and for ALEC, I’ve yet to see any claims that the Pelican Institute, Heartland or Reason have been accused of plagiarizing ALEC’s materials.  This allegation is simply the “Pot calling the Kettle”…)

Michigan AFL-CIO President Plagiarizes Anti-ALEC Op-Ed from Left-Wing Group’s Materials

Michigan AFL-CIO president Karla Swift heavily plagiarized her recent op-ed against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), lifting entire paragraphs from a “toolkit” created and distributed by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal nonprofit group that runs a website entirely devoted to trashing the group…

…Swift’s editorial lifts content from multiple sections of the anti-ALEC toolkit, copying several paragraphs verbatim. We have posted a copy of the toolkit here, with the plagiarized sections highlighted. In all, seven of the editorial’s twelve paragraphs are found in the toolkit. The editorial is part of the Detroit News’s “Labor Voices” feature, which has published pieces by Swift and three other labor leaders, including Teamsters president James Hoffa. The toolkit, dated December 2013, runs for 16 pages and encourages readers to “expose” the groups. 

Campaign finance: Support disclosure so we can follow the money

Yes, Montana Supreme Court Justice Mike McGrath, we need public disclosure of personal financial interest and those of their families.

Montana Supreme Court Justice James A. Rice, while a member of the Montana House of Representatives, was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a corporate bill mill; it is not just a lobby or a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wish list to benefit their bottom line.

A new study by the Center for Public Integrity shows that outside spending groups, including nonprofits that do not disclose their donors and state-level super PACs, are funneling more and more money into state Supreme Court races. Out-of-state influence likely helped decide recent races in North Carolina, Iowa and Mississippi.

Our View: Things go worse with Koch

Isaiah J. Poole, the author of an op-ed in Thursday’s Standard-Times, brought attention to a well-financed movement that aims to remove economic incentives to put solar panels on a homeowner’s roof. (“National View: Let the solar shine in.”)

It makes reference to a report from a British newspaper, The Guardian, which was covering a Washington, D.C., policy summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, in early December.

ALEC — which cleverly gets around lobbying rules by including right-wing members of Congress in its membership — “specializes in getting the right-wing agenda written into state laws,” according to Poole.

And according to The Guardian: “The group sponsored at least 77 energy bills in 34 states last year. The measures were aimed at opposing renewable energy standards, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project and barring oversight on fracking.”

Is Carbon Pricing a Diversion From the Real Story?

“One of the more solid tenets of Big Oil dogma has always been that carbon pricing, whether a straightforward tax or a market-based cap-and-trade system, is terrible and conservatives must stand in unison against it. Daily Caller reporter Michael Bastach, a former Koch Institute Intern, confirmed this recently: ‘This vote against a carbon tax in the (American Legislative Exchange Council) ALEC meeting in Chicago… comes after Republicans in both the House and the Senate voted unanimously against a carbon tax earlier this year’.”

Why Are the Franklin Center’s “Wisconsin Reporter” and “Watchdog.org” Attacking the John Doe?

The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity (through its Wisconsin Reporter and Watchdog.org websites) has aggressively attacked the “John Doe” probe into possible campaign finance violations during Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Its outlets have also published new information about the apparent targets of the investigation, but they have omitted an important detail: Franklin Center has close ties to individuals and groups that may be caught up in the John Doe.

Franklin Center in Your StateThe only name associated with the investigation, Eric O’Keefe, helped launch the Franklin Center’s operations in 2009, and his Sam Adams Alliance group provided the majority of its startup budget; O’Keefe has spoken publicly about being subpoenaed in his capacity as director of Wisconsin Club for Growth. Franklin Center’sDirector of Special Projects John Connors, and the Executive Assistant to the President Claire Milbrandt, also have close ties to a group reportedly involved in the John Doe probe. Its former Director of Operations and General Counsel, James Skyles, worked with another group active in the Wisconsin recalls…

…Wisconsin Reporter launched its “Wisconsin’s Secret War” series in October, citing unnamed sources to reveal that Wisconsin Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and Republican Governors Association had received subpoenas, and describing details about “after-hours visits to homes and offices” and prosecutors’ “demands for phone, email and other records.” Thanks to those unnamed sources, Wisconsin Reporter had a new platform, and used it to recast the John Doe investigation as “an abuse of prosecutorial powers” with “the apparent goal of bringing down Gov. Scott Walker.” The Walker campaign and 28 other groups also reportedly received subpoenas. 

Paid via Card, Workers Feel Sting of Fees

A growing number of American workers are confronting a frustrating predicament on payday: to get their wages, they must first pay a fee.

For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employers. Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, at an A.T.M. to withdraw their pay…

…But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.

These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators.

This comes full circle to ALEC and it’s member, VISA.  As documents acquired and published by Common Cause show, ALEC “untabled” their model legislation titled “Electronic Pay Choice Act” in 2010 at the request of VISA representative, Paul Russinoff.  This legislation allows banks and credit card companies to realize huge profits off of fees generated by workers using these payroll debit cards….thus the reason VISA rushed to untable this potential model legislation at ALEC’s December 2010 meeting.  As the Times’ article demonstrates, the legislation is making its way across the country through the efforts of ALEC and their SPN partners in crime.

Once adopted by ALEC the bill passed the private sector unanimously, and passed the public sector with two dissenting votes. Visa also paid to sponsor a workshop at that meeting.  Similar legislation has become law in around a dozen states, according to some estimates.

ALEC’s payroll card legislation, Big banks attack low income workers

A growing number of American workers are no longer given paper paychecks, instead are receiving prepaid cards issued by their employers. Employees can use these cards at an A.T.M. or merchant to withdraw pay.  This may sound convenient but the workers must pay fees to access their pay, and those fees can add up and be very hard on people who earn minimum wage or just above.  Here is an example of such a payroll card in this case a “Citi Payroll card” offered byHome Depot, (https://corporate.homedepot.com/Associates/Pay/Documents/CitiPayrollCard.pdf)…

Burton (IN-ALEC) – Conflict of interest, Nah!

STATEHOUSE (Indianapolis) — The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has appointed State Representative Woody Burton (R-Whiteland) as co-chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee. This subcommittee is an advisory body to the larger Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force.
ALEC works at the state level to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism. This is done through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.
“I feel honored to have been appointed to this position and I look forward to working with Paul Russinoff of Visa, who serves as the private sector co-chair,” said Rep. Burton. “This subcommittee is open to all members of the larger task force but typically, the members who are most interested and knowledgeable will attend.”
The Financial Services Subcommittee deals with matters related to the financial industry and insurance with the intent to design national legislation.Some of the issues they have covered in the past include the Dodd-Frank Act, homeowners’ insurance and mortgage licensing reciprocity. 
Rep. Burton is Chairman of the Financial Institutions Committee in the Indiana House of Representatives. He also serves on the Insurance Committee.  He introduces and sponsors the model legislation and another ALEC member moves to propose a resolution in support of “Payroll Cards:”
“Resolution in Support of Payroll Cards” – by Ms. Kate Viar, VISA
Motion to adopt the model resolution as amended; passed the public sector unanimously; passed the private sector unanimously; Resolution Passed.
and the model bill is adopted by the full ALEC membership and sent out to state after state…
Shortly after ALEC’s adoption of the Electronic Pay Choice Act we had it in Indiana.  One of the more insidious uses of this legislation in Indiana is that it has been applied to citizens receiving unemployment and similar state benefits.  Already receiving less than 70% of their former salaries, those on unemployment receive their benefits via VISA cards, with accounts set up through PNC bank.  Those without checking accounts must take their benefits via these cards – and pay the additional ATM and withdrawal fees to the bank and in many cases to the state for “transaction fees”.

After a political setback in NC, ALEC retools assault on renewable energy

After turning back a political assault on its groundbreaking renewable energy law, North Carolina could soon be a proving ground for a new strategy in the corporate-led war on clean energy — this one targeting the fast-growing number of homeowners installing solar panels.

Like the last attack on the state’s renewables program, this one is led by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential group that brings together corporations and mostly Republican state lawmakers to advocate for business-friendly legislation — activity that has drawn charges of illegal lobbyingby the nonprofit. ALEC, whose corporate members include major coal and electric companies, has long fought environmental regulations and initiatives that encourage a shift to cleaner energy sources.

Nowhere has its efforts been more concerted in recent years than in North Carolina, which in 2007 became the first state in the coal-dependent Southeast to require investor-owned electric utilities to purchase or generate an increasing amount of energy from renewable sources…

PSC Again Hikes Georgia Power Rates, Declines on Solar Tax

ATLANTA — The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously Tuesday, December 17, 2013, to approve a compromise agreement between Georgia Power and the PSC staff.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Georgia Power’s original request was for a rate increase of 1.46 billion dollars.  The original request also included a newly proposed “solar tax,” a special tax on customers who have solar panels; as well as an increase in the guaranteed profit to Georgia Power.

The PSC agreement cut the amount of the increase by 573 million dollars.  Now, Georgia’s 2.4 million residential and business ratepayers will pay an increase of 873 million dollars over the next three years.

Enchanted Ad Outpaces FedEx’s Adoption of Eco-Friendly Vehicles (NOTE: Fed Ex, UPS and Verizon are longtime members of ALEC…)

The shipping giant’s “Enchanted Forest” ad came out at the end of 2011, a playful episode about its aspirational seamlessness with nature. How close are those cartoon images to the real world? Judging by the actual adoption of alternative fuel transportation, less than idyllic.

FedEx drew widespread praise a decade ago when it unveiled a hybrid electric delivery truck and said it could replace its 30,000 diesel-burning vehicles in 10 years. In its most recent annual report, the delivery giant said its fleet includes 360 hybrid-electric and 165 full-electric trucks, or less than 1 percent of the now-54,100 ground vehicles in its FedEx Express division.

Other major fleet operators, from UPS to Verizon, have slowed their hybrid-vehicle deployments as well. Total sales of medium- and heavy-duty trucks in North America powered by hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric technologies are projected to grow modestly from 1,800 vehicles in 2013 to nearly 13,000 in 2020, according to a report due out next month from Navigant Research…

League of Women voters to present program on ALEC, policy-making

The League of Women Voters of Central Yavapai County will present an educational opportunity on the American Legislative Exchange Council and Common Cause and their approaches to public policy making from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, at Las Fuentes Resort Village, 1035 Scott Drive in Prescott…

Southern Republicans Drag the Rest of the Nation Down by Doing the Kochs’ Bidding

Even though conservatives and right-wing extremists tout America as an exceptional nation, it is fairly common knowledge there is nothing about this country that is exceptional except it has more guns and gun deaths, highest incarceration rate, food insecurity on par with Indonesia, highest first day infant mortality rate, infrastructure behind every developed country in the world, 33rd in life expectancy, highest percentage of adult-onset diabetes, 2nd highest child poverty rate, and the highest proportion of low-wage workers in the developed world. It is true America is the richest nation on Earth, but by every other measure America is a third-world nation…

…This is the nation Republicans built with money from the Koch brothers’ and Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Club for Growth, and Wall Street that have spent the better part of two decades achieving the Koch brothers’ “vision of a transformed America.” The result of their transformation is increasing millions of Americans either wallowing in poverty or stuck in a downward spiral with no expectation of ever achieving anything more than “working poor” status with no more hope than not dying homeless. Sadly, a segment of the population, those most likely drowning in poverty and living in the Southern United States expedited the conservative’s plan by voting for Republicans because they promise to fight for religious freedom, guns, and preserving their European ancestors’ dream of a Christian wonderland…

Quest to restrict union fees targets three additional states

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Buoyed by recent successes in the Midwest, conservatives and business groups are targeting at least three additional states for new efforts that could weaken labor unions by ending their ability to collect mandatory bargaining fees.

The latest efforts are focused on Missouri, Ohio and Oregon and — in a new twist — could put the issue before voters in 2014 instead of relying on potentially reluctant governors to enact laws passed by state legislators…

…Supporters of such laws contend employees shouldn’t be forced to pay fees to a union to get or keep a job. But unions contend the fees are fair because federal law requires them to represent all employees in a bargaining unit regardless of whether they join the union.

Most state right-to-work laws were enacted in the 1940s and 1950s. But businesses and conservative lawmakers, working through groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, have mounted a new push as union membership has dwindled and the competition for jobs has intensified among states.

Indiana in 2012 became the first state in more than a decade to enact a right-to-work law. The movement’s biggest victory came later that year, when Republicans in the traditional union stronghold of Michigan followed suit even though thousands of union protesters thronged the Capitol…

The State Policy Network’s Cozy Relationship With Big Tobacco

The State Policy Network (SPN), a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country, has close ties with the tobacco industry. When tobacco companies like Reynolds American or Altria/Philip Morris want to avoid tobacco taxes and health regulations, reports by SPN groups in many states can help inspire local resistance.

SPN, its member affiliates, and SPN-related entities such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute,  continued to receive funding from the tobacco industry that has continued through at least 2012, according to Altria/Phillip Morris documentsThe Nation journalist Lee Fang previously reported that SPN relied on funding from the tobacco industry throughout the 1990s, and in return assisted the tobacco industry “in packaging its resistance to tobacco taxes and health regulations as part of a ‘freedom agenda’ for conservatives.”

During SPN President Tracie Sharp’s tenure at the Cascade Policy Institute (CPI, anSPN affiliate) from 1991 to 1999, Philip Morris state lobbyists worked hand-in-handwith CPI to oppose tobacco taxes…

New EPI Report Documents A Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012

New EPI Report Documents A Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012

A new report from The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), By Gordon Lafer | was published October 31, 2013.  It fully connects all the dots between the players involved in attacking the wages and labor standards of America’s workers – union and non-union.  It identifies the laws written, the authors of those laws and those who profit from such initiatives.

Couched as a response to difficult fiscal conditions, Republican governors and Republican-led state legislatures – many of them in battleground states — have been working hard at eviscerating the rights of public employees. Public workers, however, aren’t the only target of wealthy right-wing funders, major corporate lobbies, and corporate-funded lobbying organizations; non-union and private sector workers are also seen as fair game.

As expected, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is playing a prominent role in an anti-labor coalition whose agenda is moving along at breakneck speed.

The assault on workers’ rights have multiplied in the past few years. In addition to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union assault, “collective bargaining rights were eliminated for Tennessee schoolteachers, Oklahoma municipal employees, graduate student research assistants in Michigan, and farm workers and child care providers in Maine,” according to this Economic Policy Institute report written by Gordon Lafer.

The intro to this report begins:

“Over the past two years, state legislators across the country have launched an unprecedented series of initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections for both union and non-union workers. This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage.

“This report provides a broad overview of the attack on wages, labor standards, and workplace protections as it has been advanced in state legislatures across the country. Specifically, the report seeks to illuminate the agenda to undermine wages and labor standards being advanced for non-union Americans in order to understand how this fits with the far better-publicized assaults on the rights of unionized employees. By documenting the similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states, the report establishes the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country…”

When reading this in-depth and well documented expose, it doesn’t take long  before the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is brought into the discussion:

“This push to erode labor standards, undercut wages, and undermine unions has been advanced by policymakers pursuing a misguided economic agenda working in tandem with the major corporate lobbies. The report highlights legislation authored or supported by major corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and National Association of Manufacturers—and by corporate-funded lobbying organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Tax Reform, and Americans for Prosperity—in order to draw the clearest possible picture of the legislative and economic policy agenda of the country’s most powerful economic actors. To make the most clear-eyed decisions in charting future policy directions, it is critical to understand how the various parts of these organizations’ agenda fit together, and where they ultimately lead.

“This report begins by examining the recent offensive aimed at public-sector unions in order to point out the tactics commonly employed by corporate lobbies such as ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce; it establishes that their agenda is driven by political strategies rather than fiscal necessities. The paper then examines the details of this agenda with respect to unionized public employees, non-unionized public employees, and unionized private-sector workers. Finally, the bulk of the report details the corporate-backed agenda for non-union, private-sector workers as concerns the minimum wage, wage theft, child labor, overtime, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, sick leave, workplace safety standards, meal breaks, employment discrimination, and unemployment insurance.”

How successful has this cabal been?:

“Michigan and Pennsylvania both created ’emergency financial managers’ authorized to void union contracts. New Jersey and Minnesota’s legislatures both voted to limit public employees’ ability to bargain over health care. Ohio legislators adopted a law — later overturned by citizen referendum — largely imitating Wisconsin’s, prohibiting employees from bargaining over anything but wages, outlawing strikes, and doing away with the practice of binding arbitration. … Indiana, which had already eliminated most collective bargaining rights for state employees in 2006, adopted new legislation that prohibits even voluntary agreements with state employee unions.”

All of the Koch network members including; Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Independent Businesses, the Koch brothers–backed American’s For Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Association of Manufacturers and of course ALEC are identified as “major corporate lobbies” (players) supporting these attacks upon workers and wages.  

When researchers look to similar attacks upon public education, advocating charter schools, vouchers and private academies…to the efforts of suppressing voters through voter ID and similar legislation…efforts of establishing state sovereignty to seek taking back federally owned land by states…and election gerrymandering – at the core of each  sits the same actors, funded by the likes of the Koch brothers and using ALEC to write model bills advancing each of these agendas.  

All of this is fueled by the same corporations, lobbyists and foundations.  The “foundations” (Mackinac Center, Heritage Foundation, Heartland Institute, Pacific Research Institute and dozens more) receive Koch funding and are controlled by the cabal.  They dutifully issue position papers in support of these pursuits advanced by a conservative minority.  Corporate owned and controlled media outlets are then used to trumpet these ALEC initiatives to the public and – more importantly – voters as necessary and supported by a majority of “Americans.”

Legislation is how all of these efforts are advanced state-by-state and it is only through ALEC that a coordinated and swiftly moving legislative agenda can be disseminated and accomplished.  Without ALEC the corporations, businesses, owners and their “associations,” “federations” and “foundations” could not succeed.

What one learns from the EPI report is that though much of ALEC’s concentration appears to be “aimed directly at the heart of organized labor (unions), ALL American workers are under steady attack.  The report establishes similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states and the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country and targets all labor.”

The report also establishes that “Virtually all of the initiatives described in this report — including forced privatization, ‘right to work,’ and abolishing minimum-wage and prevailing-wage laws — reflect model statutes developed by ALEC and promoted through its network. This dimension of ALEC’s work is not aimed at immediately enhancing specific donors’ revenues, but at reshaping the fundamental balance of power between workers and employers.”

Please take the time read the full, enlightening and ultra-important EPI report completely -> HERE <-

 

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

By Amy Kerr Hardin at Democracy Tree

Democracy Tree reported late last week that the effects of anti-union laws directed at Michigan teachers, including the ban on payroll deduction of dues and right-to-work, had a miniscule impact on the voluntary payment of dues among Michigan Education Association members.

MEA president Steve Cook said a mere 1 percent didn’t pay. The GOP scheme was a flop.

While that number by itself speaks of the utter failure of bullying tactics employed by the Michigan legislature, it says even more when put in a larger context. Here are some more numbers that make that 1 percent non-payment truly astounding.

Let’s start with the soft numbers.

Although it’s difficult to pin down, somewhere between 41 and 51 percent of MEA and NEA members are Democrats. The results vary by study and by year (and possibly who’s reporting them). Similarly, about 25 percent, more or less, identify as Republicans and the rest as Independents. Without citing or clinging to any particular study or survey here, if those numbers are even remotely close to accurate, they say plenty about how teachers place the importance of their union membership over political affiliation.  And, even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate, it is safe to say that the Democrat to Republican ratio among Michigan teachers is certainly not 99 to 1.

Now, here are some hard numbers to gnaw on.

  • MEA union dues are currently set at 1.5 percent of the previous year’s salary, with an annual cap of $635 — a figure 99 percent are willingly to pay for representation they value– even under the GOP assault.
  • Average beginning pay for Michigan K-12 teachers is $34,100. Average overall salary for Michigan teachers is $55,541.
  • Lawmakers in Michigan earn $71,685, which is among the highest nationwide. Their expense account offers another $10,800 a year, with additional generous allowances for transportation costs and staff.
  • Nearly all public school teachers spend heavily out-of-pocket to supply their classroom — a National School Supply and Equipment Association Survey found that 99.5 percent spent on average $485 a year for classroom materials. That dollar number reflects 1.4 percent of an entry-level teacher’s salary in Michigan.

There are additional hard numbers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the siege on Michigan’s educators.

Some very disturbing trends were uncovered in a recent analysis conducted by the Citizens Research Council. Their report titled Michigan’s Single-State Recession and its Effects on Public Employment, spurred them to conduct a comparative state-by-state analysis of public sector employment trends since the 2007 “Great Recession”, with Michigan public education numbers in focus. They drew from data found in another report from The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. They found the following trends (emphasis mine):

Over the nearly four and one-half year period examined by the Rockefeller Institute, Michigan had the third largest slide in public sector employment (7.4 percent), behind Nevada (10.1 percent) and Rhode Island (8.3 percent).  In percentage terms, Michigan’s decline was nearly three times as large as the total U.S. public sector employment decline over this period (2.7 percent).  As documented in the CRC report, and confirmed by the Rockefeller Institute, job losses in the local government sector (11.4 percent – second largest decline behind Nevada) fueled the overall public sector decline in Michigan, as was the case for the nation as a whole (3.2 percent).

The job losses they cite in the “local government sector” are primarily from one subset — K-12 education.

Michigan’s job losses in this sector have been much more severe (more than a factor of four) compared to the U.S. total during the Great Recession…the losses have been fueled by the consistent plunge in education jobs (primarily K-12 education).  Education employment for the U.S. declined more than non-education, but the difference between the two sub-sectors was not as significant as the decline in Michigan.  For the U.S., education lost about 3.5 percent of the jobs in existence in December 2007, compared to a loss of about 2.0 percent of the non-education jobs.  Michigan, in stark contrast, shed over 17.8 percent of the jobs in education compared to the December 2007 level.  Non-education local government employment, which is dominated by public safety, is 6.8 percent below the December 2007.  This job loss is nearly three times as large as the loss in the U.S. for this sector.

The CRC drives the point home with the following observation:

What is striking from analyzing the data is the fact that Michigan’s employment contraction in [the public] sector has well exceeded the contraction experienced in the U.S. overall.   The job losses have been most acute in the local government sector, especially education.

Numbers don’t lie — Michigan public education is in great peril.

Amy Kerr Hardin

GOP Appointed Officials Black Out Detroit During Heatwave To “Send Them A Strong Message” (VIDEO)

GOP Appointed Officials Black Out Detroit During Heatwave To “Send Them A Strong Message” (VIDEO)

From Addicting Info by Randa Morris

If you ever had any doubt that Michigan has been taken over by a group of dangerous, radical extremists, what happened in Detroit on September 11th, 2013 should be enough to wake you up. There were several things significant about September 11th, 2013. Not only was it the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center, but the state of Michigan was also experiencing an unseasonal heat wave. In the city of Detroit, power outages left people stranded in elevators, trapped four hours in the blistering heat. Hundreds were evacuated from buildings in the downtown area, traffic lights did not function, public transportation was disabled and 1,400 sites across the city were without power. Wayne State University and other key buildings still remained closed, the following day. All of this after the city’s power supply supposedly failed.

The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, a twelve story building that conducts the city’s criminal proceedings was shut down and the building was evacuated. Earlier in the week, a prisoner had stabbed a Wayne County Deputy, before fleeing from the building. A manhunt followed, with authorities searching for the escaped prisoner for several long hours, before finally apprehending him as he was trying to flee the city. In light of this, the power outage on September 11th created a tense and dangerous situation for officers, justice workers and visitors to the building. Witness the building evacuation for yourself here.

The problem is that the city’s power supply never failed.

On September 12th, 2013, Bill Nowling casually stated that the city’s power outages were intentional. Officials and citizens working in the city were given no warning before the electricity was cut off. Law enforcement officials working in the Hall of Justice had no time to prepare. Senior citizens and disabled citizens using elevators in the city’s downtown district had no way to know what was coming. The entire criminal justice system was shut down without notice. Wayne State University Campus was just one of many sites evacuated under emergency conditions. Traffic lights across the city stopped working. 1,400 public and private locations were left without power. And the entire thing was intentional, to “send a message” to the people of Detroit. Bill Nowling works in the office of Kevin Orr, Detroit’s Emergency Manager.

Read the entire article and watch the video interview of Brown -> HERE <-

Michigan Public Education in Shambles

It’s no surprise that money troubles and transparency issues are the result stripping public education of the accountability found in democratically elected school boards. Detroit Public Schools and the Education Achievement Authority both operate under state appointed individuals that shift millions in loans back and forth without disclosure of the transactions.

Democratic Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton paid $2642.05 to file a Freedom of Information Act request for documents that revealed the movement of funds between the two bodies.

The Detroit Free Press reports that cash-strapped DPS have twice loaned the EAA $6 million dollars this school year. EAA Chancellor, John Covington, has been openly begging for money above and beyond the per pupil foundation grants it’s taken from DPS when the EAA was formed out of the 15 lowest performing schools in the district.

Covington is desperate for the Senate to pass legislation to match that passed by the House last month to codify the EAA as an official school district. In his end-of-the-year newsletter he told staff the following:

“…I am fully aware that there is much concern relative to whether there is sufficient support for the Education Achievement Authority and the work we are doing. We were all disappointed that the EAA was not codified as a statewide system of schools during the lame-duck session of the Michigan State Legislature, and the we did not make the final list of awardees for the Race to the Top funding by the United States Department of Education.”

The EAA is troubled by more than funding problems. Lawmakers are concerned about an increase in violence in those schools since they left DPS and are calling for more training of security officers. Sen. Coleman Young II (D) told The Detroit News that “officers have told him they lack basic training in CPR, experience high turnover and get little support from Prudential Protective Service, the company hired to provide security officers at the 15 EAA schools.”

The district produced abominable scores on their MEAPS last Fall, and Sen. Bert Johnson(D) reports that the EAA teachers are ill-trained, student abuse is occuring, and special needs students are being handled improperly:

• Rather than putting experienced teachers in these “under-performing schools,” roughly two-thirds are Teach for America students — who get five weeks of “teacher training” the summer before they are assigned, with no other certification required.

• At Pershing High School, a dozen TFA students walked off the job, and I have received reports of several who have broken down in staff meetings, unable to handle the rigors of teaching. In some cases, athletic department staff are teaching students.

• Reports of student abuse, including a child whose mouth was taped shut for being too talkative.

• Abuse of special needs students, including unilateral changes to Individualized Education Plans without input from parents, therapists and counselors. This is illegal.”

DPS fares little better in meeting special needs requirements.  After all the budget-cutting, school closings, charter conversions, and EAA stripping of funds — the most vulnerable students are being left in dire straights. Special needs students in DPS are becoming a larger and larger portion of the school population. The statewide average is 12 percent, but DPS is struggling to serve 18 percent — that’s 9,000 students – all while under the cruel austerity measures of emergency management. Their class sizes have doubled, yet among the expanded charter schools, only 10 percent serve special needs kids.

Michigan’s kids deserve better than this. Much better.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Daily Report on Activities, Legislation and Initiatives of the ALEC/Koch Cabal

Daily Report on Activities, Legislation and Initiatives of the ALEC/Koch Cabal

alec for dummies (2)

by Bob Sloan

Today there are numerous articles on ALEC and many of their legislative pursuits in states like South Dakota, Michigan, North Carolina. and elsewhere.  In order to keep readers with an interest in ALEC up to date on stories related to ALEC, we’re posting this page with brief descriptions of ALEC activities and links to the articles or material(s).

Included in this update are links to measures or articles published by ALEC itself, showing their take on issues.

South Dakota approves paying legislators’ ALEC dues

“The Republican-dominated board decided the state treasury should pay for the $100, two-year memberships for all 105 South Dakota lawmakers and for unlimited out-of-state trips to ALEC meetings by legislators who are members of ALEC committees.”

Lisa Graves Updates Us on ALEC

“Lisa Graves: ALEC is urging its members to no longer use the acronym. In a note to ALEC legislators and private sector members, ALEC’s spokesman said: “You may have noticed we are limiting the use of the acronym ‘ALEC.’ Over the past year, the word ‘ALEC’ has been used to conjure up images of a distant, mysterious, Washington alphabet organization of unknown intentions,” which he says could not be further from the truth, adding that “the organization has refocused on the words ‘Exchange’ and ‘Council’ to emphasize our goal of a broad exchange of ideas to make government work better and more efficiently.” This re-branding is a classic PR technique. Big Tobacco used it to try to distance some of its brands with negative consumer users.”

House panel turns out light on effort to end renewable energy subsidies

RALEIGH, N.C. — A western North Carolina lawmaker received a stinging defeat Wednesday as his own committee voted down his proposal to freeze and repeal the state’s renewable energy standards.”

Rep. Hager is a known ALEC member and ending renewable energy subsidies is a pet model bill of ALEC.

 

BREAKING: North Carolina legislators reject ALEC’s fossil fuel funded attack on clean energy

 

“ALEC has zero model bills to repeal incentives for coal, oil or gas companies, and rolling back state renewable energy incentives is one of ALEC’s national priorities for the next couple years. ALEC’s energy company members like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy, and Peabody coal are hungry for a anti-renewable trophy after suffering a defeat in Kansas and now North Carolina.

“While ALEC’s anti-RPS bill was voted down in North Carolina today, ALEC legislators in Ohio are working to introduce a similar bill, comparing the renewable incentives to Joseph Stalin’s five year plan.

Progress Missouri to release updated ALEC Exposed report Thursday (link unavailable at this time)

JEFFERSON CITY – Progress Missouri will release a detailed research report
Thursday exposing the influence of the American Legislative Exchange
Council (ALEC) in the Missouri Capitol. Through ALEC, corporations hand
Missouri legislators wish lists in the form of “model” legislation that
often directly benefit their bottom line at the expense of Missouri
families. Behind closed doors, numerous ALEC model bills are crafted by
corporations, for corporations. Elected officials who are members of ALEC
then bring their model legislation back to Missouri, where they claim them
as their own ideas and important public policy innovations without
disclosing that corporations crafted and pre-voted on the bills at
closed-door meetings with legislators who are part of ALEC.

The report will be made available formally at 1:00 pm on today, April
25th in House Hearing Room 7. Sean Soendker Nicholson of Progress
Missouri will moderate a short panel discussion featuring Representative
Kevin McManus; Trish Medina, worker & UFCW member; Carol
Weatherford, retired teacher; and Mike Diel of the Sierra Club. The panel discussion will
begin after the screening of the documentary “United States of ALEC,”
narrated by Bill Moyers.

HOME RULE HYPOCRITES – new group website from Florida

“ALEC and its legislative members have been responsible for some of Florida’s most anti-middle class legislation, and have been linked to HB 655 and SB 726. Even though they have ties to this legislation that completely blocks home rule and local control regarding employee benefits and protections, ALEC has been making the following statements via social media: “One size does not fit all. We should keep things local.” Rep. Precourt is the Chair of the ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force in Florida and Sen. Simmons has either attended at least one ALEC conference since 2010 and/or paid membership dues at least once from 2010-12 (ALEC in Florida Report).*

Creatures of the Dark: Wisconsin GOP Caught Deleting Records, Again

“As the federal court ruled on Wisconsin’s maps in February of 2012, the Center for Media and Democracy (publishers of PRwatch.org) revealed that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had invitedlegislators to redistricting conference calls, based on emails obtained through earlier open records requests to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

“The emails CMD obtained were not released to the lawyers challenging the maps. But they should have been. This failure to release all redistricting-related documents opened a new round of legal wrangling, with the court questioning what other documents Republican legislators and their lawyers had kept secret. Additional documents that should have been produced were found when Democrats took control of the state senate after the July 2012 recall elections and obtained access to the Republican redistricting file.”

Editorial: Keep backroom dealings out of the classroom

 

“It’s worth noting that the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch-brothers-related group that creates “model legislation” promoting a radical, anti-regulatory and anti-tax agenda, is a fan of the voucher system.

“The group, which allows corporate interests to weigh in on model legislation before it’s approved by public officials, has several voucher bills available on its website.

 

“We’ll be interested to see whether any legislation that emerges from the skunk group mirrors ALEC’s work.”

 

Tribune Company Scribes: Koch Brothers Purchase Could Turn Papers Into “Conservative Mouthpiece”

“New reports that the politically conservative Koch brothers are interested in buying the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers — which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune — are sparking concerns from newspaper staff members that attempts to influence the editorial process in favor of their far-right political views may follow.”

The Koch Brothers and their company, Koch Industries are long time supporters of ALEC.  Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC holds a seat upon ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council (formerly ALEC’s “Private Enterprise Board of Directors).

Related – 

Ruppert Murdoch, Ayn Rand and A Sociopathic Economy

“To succeed you must “produce.” For Murdoch, distributive justice is the natural outcome of these purely commercial transactions.  He quotes Arthur Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute who defines fairness as, “… the universal opportunity to enjoy earned success”. The key words here being “earned success.” Accordingly, producers are entitled to all they earn because if their product wasn’t successful, consumers are free to not buy their product. This would be a cruel argument to make in the presence of an elderly person having to choose between buying food or medicine.  Nevertheless, in this view every sale in a free market system automatically results in a fair distribution of wealth. No other social factors should apply.  In fact, to take from producers what they’ve earned to support the lives of less successful or non-producing human beings is immoral, in Murdoch’s view.

On Earth Day, ALEC Bemoans “Somber” Environmentalists

 

 

“The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is centrally involved with pushing environmentally destructive legislation on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, today complained that “Earth Day has been a largely somber event” when it should be “a celebration of the wonderful achievements humankind has made in cleaning and greening the planet,” wrote Todd Wynn, ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Director.

 

“So why so sad all you greens? Don’t you appreciate how far we have come with ALEC’s help?”

– ALEC PUBLISHED ARTICLES –

Disinformation abounds in these articles published by ALEC at their “American Legislator” blog…

 

Myth of the Day: Income Distribution is Increasingly Inequitable

 

“One of the most prevalent claims, voiced particularly loudly by progressive groups, is that the United States has become a nation of have’s and have-not’s.  Progressives rely heavily on graphs like the one below to show that the top earners in America have enjoyed greater and greater wealth, while the lower and middle classes have been left behind.  In Tax Myths Debunked, Drs. Fruits and Pozdena take on this misconception directly.”

Don’t Just Tax the Internet, Reform Taxes

 

 

“Later today, the Senate is expected to begin consideration of a proposal that would give states long-sought authority to require out-of-state retailers to collect taxes on online purchases. Although proponents have pitched this proposal as an important reform to promote tax fairness and economic growth, we have been struck by how little actual tax reform the proposal would accomplish.”

 

 

 

Earth Day: You have got to admit it is getting better. A little better all the time!

“Although there will always be areas for improvement, environmental quality in this country has improved significantly. Technological improvements, increases in wealth that have enabled greater consumer demand for cleaner products and services, and sensible regulations that protect property rights have helped lead the United States to have some of the cleanest air and water in the world.” 

Comments of support for the Keystone XL Pipeline needed by Monday, April 22, 2013

 

“The Task Force on International Relations has concluded that ultimate approval for the pipeline is in the national interest, for the following reasons:

 

  • The Keystone XL Pipeline is environmentally sound.  According to the Environmental Impact Statement released by the U.S. Department of State in 2011, “the Keystone XL Pipeline will have a degree of safety over any other typically constructed pipeline under current code and a degree of safety along the entire length of the pipeline system similar to that which is required in High Consequence Areas;”

  • construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline would add less than 1 percent of additional pipeline to America’s current 180,000 miles of pipeline;

  • transporting Canadian oil via pipeline is significantly less risky than other modes of transport, such as rail;

  • Canada will continue to develop Alberta’s oil sands with or without the Keystone XL, but construction of the Keystone XL will result in thousands of American jobs;

  • the Province of Alberta has proven itself a responsible steward of the environment, restoring Boreal forests to their original condition once oil sands mining operations in an area are completed; and

  • the Keystone XL pipeline will also transport oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, facilitating the already strong economic growth there.”

 

Michigan Lawmakers Push Ineffective NRA Gun Safety Program

Joined by twenty-eight of his colleagues, Michigan House Rep. Bruce Rendon (R-103) thinks he has the solution to preventing gun violence among children. This morning he introduced a resolution (HR – 104 of 2013) that encourages public schools to adopt a video training program developed by the National Rifle Association called the Eddie Eagle Gun Safe Program. Rendon proposes the training start at the Pre-K level, but says it should start no later than Third Grade. View the video here.

The program has been around for a couple of decades, and has yet to prove to be effective in any way. Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, cites a 2004 study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics which found that, although children could memorize the video, they did not put to use the skills in real life tests. 

Helmke goes on to say the following about Eddie Eagle:

Another study published in the late 1990s by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) noted that Eddie Eagle was like “Joe Camel with feathers,” pointing out that: “The primary goal of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth… The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.”

Michigan’s Republican lawmakers have proven they have little regard for science or facts when it comes to legislating, but when their NRA report cards are on the line, even the occasional Democrat can have an attack of willful ignorance.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Michigan Lawmakers Can’t Touch DNR Trust Funds

Attorney General Bill Schuette put the brakes on Sen. Casperson’s plan to rob the Department of natural Resources Trust Fund for the purpose of paving logging roads and dredging commercial harbors. In AG Opinion #7270, Schuette ruled that the fund is constitutionally protected from uses other than which it is designated.

Senator Thomas Casperson, along with Senators Patrick Colbeck and David Robertson, had introduced SB 214 of 2013, a bill that would amend Public Act 451 of 1994 to allow diversion of these funds to develop logging and mining roads and dredge lakes to support commercial traffic. (Democracy Tree previously reported the large campaign contributions Casperson has taken from logging and mining interests.) The amended language specified that the funds may be used for the “development and maintenance of trails and roads on state land…[to build] infrastructure directly related to natural-resource-based industries, including timber harvesting and mining…infrastructure on waterways including breakwaters and dredging”.

The non-partisan organization Michigan League of Conservation Voters reported the victory yesterday:

Attorney General Opinion 7270 concludes that NRTF dollars “cannot be used for the maintenance of existing public recreation facilities, such as maintenance dredging of existing harbors” (p.1). The opinion comes after Governor Rick Snyder signed into law legislation that found alternate funding for emergency dredging projects to address low water levels in the Great Lakes, rather than tapping the NRTF. Michigan LCV vocally supported the Governor’s action.

We saw leadership from Governor Snyder and the DEQ very early on this issue. Attorney General Bill Schuette has now ended this debate by sending a strong message that Michigan’s Natural Resources Trust Fund is a unique, constitutionally-guaranteed promise to all Michiganders. It is not a political plaything.

Now all we have to do is stop Caperson’s bills to allow wolf hunting and to block the science of bio-diversity in Michigan public policy.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Jeb Bush: “ALEC’s Report Card on American Education is a helpful guide…”  Look Out MI.!

Jeb Bush: “ALEC’s Report Card on American Education is a helpful guide…” Look Out MI.!

By Bob Sloan

As many have begun to write, ALEC is pursuing privatization of everything “public” in America.  Perhaps a better description for their actions is “profitizing”, a term VLTP has used for nearly two years to describe efforts by the conservative Koch-funded cabal of think tanks and corporations to turn tax dollars into profits through policy and legislative changes.

Many of these policies are designed to redirect state taxpayer dollars from public schools to private or for-profit education corporations. It is perhaps unsurprising that corporate beneficiaries of these policies have also been the corporate benefactors of the non-profit groups promoting them, including FEE and ALEC.

Today there are numerous stories about the cabal’s education initiatives.  Literally dozens of ALEC “model bills” related to privatizing public education exist.  Written by corporations, their attorneys or lobbyists, the models are found within the ALEC arsenal.  Drawing upon these templates, state lawmakers holding membership in ALEC take these boilerplate model bills from ALEC’s extensive “library” and introduce them across our country, state by state.  Corporate members funnel huge amounts of money into buying “support” and sponsorship for these legislative monstrosities.  Together ALEC’s membership of lawmakers and corporate interests then pressure non-ALEC state lawmakers to sign on to sponsor ALEC written and introduced bills.

A major effort of this cabal involves key states where Republicans hold majorities in legislature and a Republican Governor occupies the people’s “house”.  Right now one state stands out as being at the core of a huge struggle over control of that state’s education system.  This battle involves a tug-o-war between corporate profits and the future of tens of thousands of Michigan students.  It pits voter and citizen guarantees of an adequate and proper education against corporate profits sought by ALEC affiliated “educational” companies and their investors.  Pawns in this epic war are; teachers, students and taxpayers aligned against corporate interests represented by bought and controlled state lawmakers.

A similar battle now rages across the U.S. involving gun control.  As that issue has become nationalized we’ve all been able to factually assess the power of the NRA and the “Cabal” as corporate campaign funding and lobbying has been used to defeat the will of nearly 90% of Americans polling in favor of background checks.  Millions of corporate dollars spent on lobbying and campaign contributions have bought (there really is no other word for it) Congressional votes against the will and safety of the people.

Privatizing education is simply another initiative advanced by the same cabal as gun control, denying climate change, voter ID and Right to Work (for less) legislation now being pursued in Michigan.  The methodology, tools, tactics and “players” on the conservative cabal’s side are identical.  Develop a plan to profit off some form of government service, bring in the think tanks to write studies, reports and compile “data” that supports privatization, supply ALEC with the wording of desired legislation to legalize or authorize the wishes of the profiteers then adopt the finished and polished legislative crafting as model legislation.

Next, bring in the corporate owned media outlets and give them a script of why privatizing [insert need here] is necessary and will save taxpayers tons of money and finally give your 2,000 state legislative members marching orders along with a copy of the proposed legislation and send them “home” to their districts to introduce what the media has begun calling “critical and necessary” legislation to cure a failing government program, department of service.

Each topic is advanced using the same fill in the “[Title of Bill”] here, “[Your state] here”, “[cite as statute number __________ here]” template.  It really is that simple – and effective.  In this manner the public has become “informed” on the issue through media disinformation and are easily convinced the government is failing and the only way to save [insert program name here] is to turn it over to corporate control. This strategy worked for tort reform, privatizing prisons and creating prison industries, Right To Work, Stand Your Ground, privatizing school transportation, state toll roads, state lotteries and to end collective bargaining in many states.

In the battle over Michigan’s education system, the formula and playbook have been utilized once again.  Vouchers, charter schools, long distance learning and standardized testing bills to turn state education funds over to corporations,  have all followed a successful campaign to privatize school transportation.  The Koch-funded Mackinac Center and a new conservative think tank, the Oxford Foundation have joined with the likes of the DeVos family foundations to fund the concerted effort of privatizing the state’s public education system.  Lately they have been joined by another conservative “heavy hitter” in the education game; Jeb Bush and his “Foundation for Excellence in Education” (FEE).

In November of last year, PRWatch published an article on FEE and their connectivity to ALEC’s educational pursuits.  Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy wrote:

“Aptly named FEE, Bush’s group is backed by many of the same for-profit school corporations that have funded ALEC and vote as equals with its legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools. FEE is also bankrolled by many of the same hard-right foundations … that have funded ALEC. And, they have pushed many of the same changes to the law, which benefit their corporate benefactors and satisfy the free market fundamentalism of the billionaires whose tax-deductible charities underwrite the agenda of these two groups.

“FEE and ALEC also have had some of the same “experts” as members or staff, part of the revolving door between right-wing groups. They have also collaborated on the annual ALEC education “report card” that grades states’ allegiance to their policy agenda higher than actual student performance. That distorted report card also rewards states that push ALEC’s beloved union-busting measures while giving low grades to states with students who actually perform best on standardized knowledge tests.

“The ALEC/FEE scoring is based in part of whether states have embraced changes to the law to advance charter schools or virtual schools (which FEE touts as “digital education”) or other corporate-backed reforms. Yet, studies of the actual performance of such schools raise serious questions of the costs versus benefits of market-driven primary and secondary education.

“These shortcomings have not stopped FEE’s founder, Jeb Bush, from putting his name on the preface to the 16th Edition of the ALEC’s Report Card on Education, asserting: ‘ALEC’s Report Card on American Education is a helpful guide for anyone who wants to achieve a quality education for all students.’

A close affiliate of both FEE and ALEC is an organization known as Chiefs for Change (CfC). Another conservative outfit lending support to Jeb Bush and ALEC in the pursuit of privatizing education, CfC is instrumental in securing corporate funding for privatization efforts.  CfC’s Chair for 2012 was Dr. Tony Bennett.

Bennett was the former head of Indiana’s school system until his defeat in the 2012 election.  In that capacity, Bennett toured the country on behalf of ALEC, touting their legislation and pursuits of virtual education, long distance learning, school vouchers and Charter schools.  Under Bennett’s sponsorship, Indiana passed legislation to allow charter schools and implemented other education programs beneficial to corporate interests.

Recently Schools Matter blog reported on FOIA’s secured by In The Public Interest that found:

“Emails between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded and chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and state education officials show that the foundation is writing state education laws and regulations in ways that could benefit its corporate funders. The emails, obtained through public records requests, reveal that the organization, sometimes working through its Chiefs For Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders, often in ways that improved profit opportunities for the organization’s financial backers.

Many of ALEC’s model bills were found to be used by CfC and FEE in Maine and elsewhere:

K-12 is a for-profit corporation that pushes “virtual” schooling. It is traded on the New York Stock Exchange as LRN. While most American families have struggled financially in the four years since Wall Street crashed the economy at the end of the Bush Administration, K-12’s revenues have increased by over 300%, from over $226 million in 2008 to over $708 million this year. Member of ALEC’s Education Task Force.

Connections Academy, which previously co-chaired ALEC’s Education Task Force for a number of years and funded ALEC, is also a funder of FEE. Connections Academy is a division of Connections Education LLC, an entity based in Baltimore, Maryland, that contracts with charter schools, school districts, or governmental entities to provide “online” lessons to students…

State Farm Insurance. State Farm, the largest seller of auto insurance in the US, was listed on FEE’s “Meet the Donors!” page. State Farm has a seat on ALEC’s corporate board. Its CEO, Ed Rust, is also the co-chair of the Business Roundtable, which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he previously chaired the Financial Services Roundtable, which advances the interests of Wall Street bank and investment firms. In 2010, State Farm had revenue of $1.8 billion and paid Rust $10.2 million in compensation…

Intel. This computer chip maker has been a financial supporter of both ALEC and FEE.

Microsoft. Bill Gates’ company has previously paid for a seat on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force, where its corporate representative has voted as equals with legislators on bills to change state laws on telecomm issues.

Other corporations that are not donors to ALEC but have given to FEE include, Apple, Inc.TargetMcGraw Hill, and Electronic Arts, and acronymed corporations such as ETSSMART, and SAS, The Walton Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.

All of the foregoing are funders, contributors and/or members of ALEC, FEE or CfC – or of all three. Not surprisingly most of these same corporate players – along with the named foundations and FEE, CfC – all participated in the 2011 Philanthropy Roundtable where Education was on the menu as the “main entree” served up to conservative philanthropists and prospective investors as a new potential for profits.  Here is a list of the speakers at the 2012 Philanthropy Roundtable and most of the names mirror those of attendees the previous year.

Here is a graphic showing how the cabal influenced recent events involving education in Maine (from the Portland Press Herald). This represents precisely what is being done today in Michigan and other states across America.

virtualschoolssmall

It’s time for voters and parents of school age children in Michigan and elsewhere across this vast country to wake up and realize while they’ve been sleeping, corporate interests have been working hard to sacrifice quality public education for corporate profits. They want your tax dollars to go toward enriching them as a reward for lessening the quality of teaching your children will receive through “their” publicly funded programs.

Public education took us to the moon and back, sent exploratory missions to Mars and beyond and in essence helped build America and develop the middle class. Corporate interests would have us disregard all that and turn our entire education system and all it’s programs over to them to use as tools to attract investors and increase profits.

My question is what happens if/when these vulture capitalists get tired of playing school…or education doesn’t provide the projected and expected returns?  If the likes of Bain Capital decides to “speculate” and take a controlling interest in corporate education, looking to amass a huge windfall by selling off assets and eliminating jobs…where will America be then?  Education, like criminal justice, court systems, policing and fire protection are all services that should always remain government controlled.  None exist or provide services expecting to make profits.  No, they are necessary programs that require only the funding needed to operate fully and efficiently.  The concept of turning such duties over to a bunch of corporations looking to profit off them is ludicrous and leads to drops in quality, protections and timely service as dollars MUST go to provide dividends to investors, not to rebuilding infrastructures or improving quality.

Everyone should remember what it meant 40 years ago to own something “made in America.” Manufacturers took pride in their products, provided lengthy warranties on their products and valued consumer loyalties.  Console TV’s made in the U.S. had long and dependable usage lasting 20 or 30 years before needing replacement.  Today those same products barely last 1 year.  Craftsmanship and quality of materials of products sold by American manufacturers have dropped as those products are now made by foreign workers, using lesser quality raw materials.  Expensive extended warranties are now needed if you want to use a product longer than 1 year without costly replacement.

Let us not allow our public education system to go the way of our manufacturing at the hands of corporate raiders and venture capitalism.  This cabal has been pursuing access to taking over public education for a quarter of a century now.  Every year their legislative members have worked to defund education programs, cut back on subsidies to higher education, research and sciences. Charles and David Koch along with many corporate funding sources such as BB&T bank have stepped forward, taking advantage of the dire financial straits created by these cuts.  They offer money in exchange for policy changes that allow “their” brand of economics to be taught in colleges and universities…their brand of science that denies global warming exists or about the age of Earth or life itself.  Charter school legislation comes with fine print that drops the requirement that their “teachers” be certified or state accredited.  While claiming they can “fix” public education, they insist they can do it profitably while providing education to larger classes, thousands of students being taught by one teacher from thousands of miles away.  No need to pay standard wages to teachers when one can do the work of dozens through virtual software, so they’ve introduced legislation to mandate students in public school must complete one or more virtual classes to graduate.  They’ve set teacher salary caps and to implement salaries based upon testing and graduation rates.

All of those radical concepts are finding their way into our schools – K-12 and higher education.  Once these exploiters get their hands on the “Full Monty” these polices and practices will become standard.  Not only the future of students will be adversely impacted…all of us will ultimately pay the price for not rejecting all attempts to profitize our education systems.

Earth Day Message to Michigan’s Worst State Senator

On Earth Day most writers choose to cover hopeful topics about greening the planet, but Democracy Tree feels this is the right time to talk about the dark side of Michigan’s environmental future.

Specifically Sen. Tom Casperson (R-38).

Casperson hails from Escanaba, the third largest city in the Upper Peninsula. His family owns Casperson and Son Trucking, a log transportation business. He began his political career in 2002 when elected to the 108th seat of the Michigan House, where he served on the Transportation, Agriculture and Resource Management, and Land Use and Environment committees.

The Senator has been in the news recently for making “birther” remarks about President Obama’s birthplace, claiming it’s suspicious that the media hasn’t explored this important story. Stupid? Yes…but it’s his environmental record that is the most disturbing.

Why not start with Casperson’s birthplace — Escanaba. Located in one of the most forested states in the nation, it is not among the 126 Michigan cities and communities that earned a national “Tree City” designation this year. They were beaten-out by multiple urban communities, including Detroit, Flint, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Novi, Port Huron, Royal Oak, Saginaw, and Southfield. The Escanaba Downtown Development Authority prominently features a photograph of a five-lane road on their website, promoting their “two miles of modern retail stores”. Indeed, Escanaba is a bit of a Northern Michigan anomaly in its urban appearance.

Although Casperson’s campaign finance reports go back a few years, his most recently filed statement tells the tale. Of the over $50,000 raised last year, much of it came from PACs, among them:

Cleveland Cliff Iron Co., MI Petroleum Jobbers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association, DTE Energy, CMS Energy Employees, Michigan Association of Timbermen, MI Propane Gas Association, Michigan Petroleum, Michigan Energy (oddly, a Wisconsin company), AT&T of Michigan, Michigan Manufacturers Association, Michigan Truck-PAC, and Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Additionally, he accepted money from MSHA PAC — a Lansing-based lobby firm, Environmental Quality PAC — a hazardous waste disposal company, Save Our Shoreline-PAC — a group fighting for beach grooming “rights”,  Dean and Jewel Oswald — owners of Oswald Bear Ranch, and significant contributions from 19 individuals employed in the petroleum industry.

His legislative record directly reflects his money trail, and grows more shocking by the month.

Casperson launched his Senate career with a doozie — he introduced a Resolution (SR 10 of 2011) asking the United States Congress to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases and to strip the department of its funding. Although the measure is not legally binding, it did pass the Senate.

One month later he introduced SB 248, a bill that became law (Public Act 240 of 2012) which limits the Department of Natural Resources ability to acquire land.

Although Casperson objects to environmental regulation of most any kind, he apparently likes a well-regulated pussy. In June of 2011, he introduced a bill to restrict the availability of the “Morning After Pill”. SB 420 would have prohibited pharmacies from selling RU-486, with only doctors allowed to administer it under the same restrictions found in abortion laws. This foray into reproductive law died in committee.

Then there was SB 470, a bill to preempt local zoning from prohibiting gravel pits. Like the above bill, it did not come to a vote.

Casperson introduced three bills that did become law. One to allow beachgrooming, another permitting the use of raw sewage for landscaping purposes, and a law to remove restrictions on bear cub petting, specifically meant to aid his contributor, the Oswald family.

In the last few weeks, the Senator has upped his game by introducing three bills that have outraged voters across the state. He started his legislative salvo with SB 78 — a bill to prevent the DNR from using science in forest management and from pursuing principles of bio-diversity. The law would require the DNR to promote economic uses of state land such as logging and mining. Next came a related bill, SB 214 which would tap the DNR Trust Fund for the purpose of building logging roads and dredging commercial harbors.

Ahh, but the piece de resistance is SB 288. The bill to allow wolf hunting in Michigan — introduced in the face of a successful statewide petition drive to put the controversial topic to a popular vote. Dealing from the bottom of the deck, Casperson added a bullshit $1 million dollar appropriation to the measure to render it referendum-proof.

What a dick.

So, the “green” message Democracy Tree makes on this Earth Day is: Upper Peninsula voters, please do the planet a favor and don’t re-elect this guy!

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree