Women’s Rights

ALEC’s 40th Birthday Bash Crashed in Chicago

ALEC’s 40th Birthday Bash Crashed in Chicago

by Bob Sloan

As members of the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meet for their Annual Meeting in Chicago (August 7-9), the organization planned a “two-for” to also celebrate their fortieth corporate birthday.  In addition to a meeting to determine upcoming pro-corporate (anti-consumer) model legislation for the coming year, ALEC hoped to celebrate forty years of secretive activities that has brought American’s new state laws in reference to; “Stand Your Ground”, Privatized Prisons, Prison Industries, Tort “Reforms”, voter ID, voter suppression, fracking and anti-labor.

Why is ALEC so dangerous to our democracy – and how have they been able to chart a conservative course for America for the past forty years?  These questions were answered by the CMD General Counsel, Brendan Fischer in a recent interview on “Real News Network“:

“But with respect to how is this different from traditional lobbying, with traditional lobbying you at least have some level of transparency. If a lobbyist is going to meet with a legislator in a state, they’ll maybe get there ear for 15 minutes. With ALEC, legislators fly to ALEC meetings, usually on the corporate dime. Meetings are held in places like Amelia Island, Florida, or New Orleans, or this year in Chicago, usually at the nicest hotel in town. The corporate members that benefit from ALEC model legislation are footing the bill for legislators’ travel expenses.

While at these meetings, lobbyists get legislators’ ear for three days of meetings and workshops and other events where legislators are sold on these corporate-friendly ideas and urged to pass these bills that are going to benefit the corporations that are footing the bill for the travel, for the meetings, for the nights out. By the time legislators get back to the state, they are the ones who are already convinced that a particular bill or policy idea is right for the state. By the time the public gets a chance to weigh in, the legislator is oftentimes already convinced. So in some ways the legislators are the ones who are becoming the lobbyists for the corporate special-interest agenda advanced by ALEC.”

With all the media attention, things have not been going as planned for the ultra-conservative think tank as hundreds of protesters, activists, clergy, organized labor members and an angry public have turned out to protest ALEC’s existence, their anti-consumer legislative activities and efforts to prioritize corporate rights over human ones.

The protests in Chicago this week are the latest in a long line of similar actions undertaken over the past three years.  In April 2011 hundreds turned out in Cincinnati in the first ever Anti-ALEC protest/rally.  At that event a whistleblower turned over hundreds of ALEC’s secret “model legislation” earmarked for presentation in state legislatures to fatten the bottom lines of ALEC’s corporate membership.  CMD published all of the material at a PRWatch website: www.alecexposed.org to warn the public of then current and upcoming “initiatives” of ALEC that would be detrimental to the general public.

Since that initial protest, VLTP along with organizations such as People For the American Way (PFAW), Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Common Cause, Color of Change and a half dozen others have pursued ALEC continuously.  We have crisscrossed America following ALEC from state to state, city by city to set-up and protest all of their activities and to offer information to locals about ALEC’s legislative record and ongoing agenda.  Common Cause and VLTP were joined by Clergy Voice in Ohio in filing whistleblower complaints/claims with the IRS, asserting that ALEC’s IRS (c)(3) exempt status is being used to openly lobby at the state and federal levels for legislation they themselves wrote on behalf of corporate interests.  Such activities are prohibited for “charities” holding the 501 (c)(3) exemption.

ALEC protesters have turned to social media of late in an effort of informing more Americans about ALEC.  A special Facebook Group page was established to allow activists to communicate, plan and announce events planned for Chicago this week.  Activists have attracted unions by exposing ALEC’s anti-worker, anti-union legislative efforts.  In Oklahoma city earlier this year at ALEC’s spring summit, AFLCIO members joined with the Teamsters and local unions to organize a huge anti-ALEC protest, rally and march.

In Chicago AFSCME has weighed in along with the Chicago Teacher’s Union

The ALEC protesting started on Monday (Moral Monday) of this week as protesters staged a sit-in at the fashionable Chicago resort/hotel, the Palmer House where several protesters were arrested:

Six people were arrested Monday when protesters descended upon the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago to push back against the impending visit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose conservative agenda, activists say, promotes policies and legislation that protects corporate interests and disenfranchises workers and voters.

Chanting “No to ALEC,” Goodman, along with fellow members of the Chicago Moral Monday Coalition, such as Natalie Wahlberg, were arrested for linking arms on the steps of the hotel’s lobby, at 17 E. Monroe St. According to the Chicago Police Department, six protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing for causing a disturbance and refusing to leave the lobby. (see video of the event here.

The arrests demonstrate how ALEC coordinates with Hotel security, local police and some say Homeland Security to provide protection to the hundreds of corporate representatives that attend ALEC events to wine and dine thousands of state legislators in an attempt to woo them into sponsoring proposed legislation beneficial to corporate interests.  In Phoenix in November 2011 dozens of demonstrators were pepper sprayed by local police – most wearing their name badges backwards to hide their identity – before arrests were made at a protest in front of the Westin resort in Scottsdale.

Obviously with their vast influence, money and connections (nearly 2,000 state legislative members), ALEC is able to deter local authorities from the primary task of “serving the public” to “licking the boots of the corporate elite” at each event.  Instead of protecting the public and their rights to protest and demonstrate, local authorities are quick to arrest on behalf of ALEC.

Yesterday, PRWatch published information about ALEC’s efforts in Chicago, exposing the think tank’s upcoming agenda:

CHICAGO — This week, the corporate and legislator members of the American Legislative Exchange Council are meeting at the swank Palmer House hotel in Chicago to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary, be educated in corporate sponsored workshops and adopt legislative priorities for the coming year. Here is what is on the agenda for ALEC’s 40th — notably, some of the workshops carry a $40,000 pricetag for corporate sponsors.

Fracking, Virtual Schools, and Privatization

  • New ways to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or county governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds. Members of the Agriculture Subcommittee — which is chaired by Jeff Case of CropLife America — will consider a bill to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or local governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds, which happens to benefit many members of CropLife’s trade association and other big ag companies. Contrary to Jeffersonian principles of local democracy, for years ALEC has promoted bills to preempt local efforts to establish everything from paid sick days to municipal broadband.
  • ALEC's Energy, Environment & Agriculture (EEA) task forcePresentations on how fracking America can lead to increased profits through exporting America’s natural gas. American Petroleum Institute representatives Jon Shore and Rebecca Heimlich will give a presentation on “Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing: Coming Soon to Your District.” Jason French of energy company Cheniere Energy will present to the Energy Subcommittee about “LNG [Liquid Natural Gas] exports: A Story of American Innovation and Economic Opportunity.”
  • Discussions of the wonders of nuclear energy and offshore drilling. Other energy-related agenda items include a presentation on “Nuclear Energy’s Continuing Role in Providing Baseload Electricity,” and another on “Developing America’s Offshore Energy Potential: Good Sense and Good Cents.” ALEC will also consider a “Resolution in Opposition to a Carbon Tax.”
  • More climate change denial? Members of the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force will be part of a breakfast plenary session called “A Thoughtful Approach to Climate Science.” The title is less inflammatory than some of its past panels — at the 2011 ALEC meeting, legislators attended a workshop titled “Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2” — but given ALEC funders like the Koch brothers and members like the Heartland Institute, it seems unlikely that the organization has woken up to the dangers of climate change.
  • Expanding virtual “schools,” which enriches ALEC’s online school corporate funders, such as K12 Inc.The Illinois Policy Institute — the State Policy Network affiliate in the state — will present on “digital education.” IPI employees had pushed a Virtual Charter School plan in Illinois, apparently in collaboration with ALEC member K12 Inc., the nation’s largest provider of online charter schools (which has become notorious for poor educational outcomes and high profit margins). Additionally, at least two “workshops” — which carry a $40,000 pricetag — will deal with online education: “Modeling State Funding Formulas, K-12 Online Course Providers” and “Statewide Full-Time Virtual Schools: The Case for Parent Choice vs. Local Control.”

(Read the full agenda at the link provided above).

These topics are why so many Americans are now putting their safety and freedom on the line to step forward and actively protest ALEC.  The future of our society and indeed our nation are at peril from this organization and their powerful members.  Now that organized labor has joined the fray in earnest, I’m hopeful ALEC’s days are numbered and the countdown to the end is accelerating.

Finally, a great article by The Nation encapsulates the complete ALEC story and forewarns all of us of what the future holds if ALEC is allowed to continue operations unabated.

Street protests against ALEC like those planned in Chicago directly led to the organization’s exposure two years ago. After University of Wisconsin–Madison history professor William Cronon wrote a blog post examining the organization’s role in providing model legislation similar to the “Budget Repair Bill” pushed by Governor Scott Walker (a former ALEC member as a state legislator) that led to the famous Madison capitol occupation, Midwestern activists organized a protest outside the annual ALEC convention and a series of informational teach-ins in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two hours later, a whistleblower telephoned protest organizer Aliya Rahman, offering access to 800 of ALEC’s model bills.

Since that leak two years ago, and the subsequent investigation by The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy’s, “ALEC Exposed,” as well as the CMD’s ongoing coverage through ALECexposed.org, the organization has faced intense national scrutiny, drawing protest from a wide variety of progressive groups in cities around the country for their role in writing and promoting a battery of right-wing legislation.

 

ALEC Cabal News, Articles and Material for the week of July 22 – 29th

ALEC Cabal News, Articles and Material for the week of July 22 – 29th

by Bob Sloan

Much ALEC news this week as activists and organizations gear up to take on ALEC in Chicago – the city of ALEC’s “Birth” in 1973…Click on a headline to read the full article.

Dick Durbin to Hold Senate Hearings on ALEC, the NRA, and “Stand Your Ground”

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced Friday that he will hold hearings this fall on the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the NRA in spreading “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, which the Center for Media and Democracy uncovered last year, after launching ALECexposed.org.

Sen. Durbin’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hear testimony on the NRA-backed legislation, which has become law in over two dozen states since being adopted as a “model” by ALEC in 2005.

The announcement comes six days after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was initially cited to protect Zimmerman from arrest, and the jury was instructed to consider Stand Your Ground when deciding his fate, even though the defense did not request a ruling under the law’s criminal immunity provisions. The one juror who has spoken publicly said that the state’s Stand Your Ground law influenced their decision to acquit. As CMD’s Executive Director Lisa Graveshas documented, the NRA played a key role in approving those jury instructions, in addition to helping initially draft the Stand Your Ground law and taking it to ALEC to become a “model” for the nation.

Koch-Funded Climate Contrarians Make Mischief on Capitol Hill

With Congress about to head out of town for its summer recess, a Washington-based think tank is ramping up a campaign to foil any attempts to institute a tax on carbon emissions,The Hill, a Washington political trade publication, reported this week.

“We’re hoping to put the final nail in the coffin of the carbon tax,” said Benjamin Cole, the communications director for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA). “The proposal should be dead on arrival by the time lawmakers come back from August recess.”

Over the last decade or so, IER and AEA have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil; the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and gas industry’s trade association; the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a secretive nonprofit group linked to Charles Koch and his brother David, the billionaire owners of the coal, oil and gas behemoth Koch Industries; and the Charles Koch-controlled Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, one of a handful of Koch family funds.

Top IER-AEA officials also are well-entrenched members of the Koch brothers’ climate change contrarian network. IER and AEA President Thomas Pyle, for example, is a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. IER and AEA Director of Regulatory and State Affairs Daniel Simmons, meanwhile, worked for the API-, ExxonMobil- and Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a stealthy lobby group that has been trying to repeal state standards requiring electric utilities to use more renewable energy. Before his stint as director of ALEC’s Natural Resources Task Force, Simmons was a research fellow at the Koch-founded and funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Not to be outdone, IER founder and CEO Robert L. Bradley, Jr. — a former public policy analysis director at the now-defunct Enron Corp. — is an adjunct scholar at the Koch-founded and funded Cato Institute and the API- and Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. He also has been a featured speaker at the API- and Koch-funded Heartland Institute’s annual climate science-bashing conference, and is a member of the academic review committee at the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason. The Institute for Humane Studies’ chairman, I should add, is Charles Koch.

New Normal Growth, Or A New Social Contract

…For starters, this includes opposing the attacks on collective bargaining rights, particularly in the 27 right-to-work-states mainly in the Midwest and South that also oppose unions that support collective bargaining. Austerians should also oppose wealth-limiting legislation put out by ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, such as privatizing public education, limiting voter rights, as well as legislation that severely reduces corporate regulation and taxation, which has given Big Business even more leverage over their employees welfare and standard of living.

So there is a lesson to be learned here. Any social contract requires a quid pro quo to survive. If corporations and Big Business wish to limit government reach and spending, they will have to tolerate higher wages and living standards for their workers. Otherwise, we know from past history–even current history–what happens when a social contract is broken.

The Gunshine State

When it comes to lax gun laws and frequent gun violence, Florida is an epidemic in itself. Editorialists, op?ed writers and journalists in the state’s own newspapers regularly mock it as the “Gunshine State.” The sarcastic phrase is a verbal play on Florida’s official nickname, “The Sunshine State,” adopted by the state legislature in 1970. The mockery is well earned. The state’s compliant legislature has been used for several decades as a Petri dish by the gun-mad scientists of the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA).

Some have shrugged and concluded that Florida’s inert citizenry gets the kind of weak gun laws it deserves. But these virulent ideas — from Florida’s pioneering “shall issue” concealed-carry- permit law to the misshapen monster twins of its “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws — have been injected into the veins of scores of other state legislatures all over the country. The NRA, packaging its poison in the back rooms of a slick and well-funded network of right-wing legislators known as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has already pushed two great waves of ill-advised and poorly considered legislation into American life. The first was a nationwide weakening of state concealed-carry laws; the second, a combination of the “shoot first” castle doctrine and the “shoot anywhere” stand-your-ground laws. 

Dark clouds of yesteryear return to threaten right to vote

Only the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, capped off by the broad federally enforced protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally brought justice. “The arc of the moral universe,” Martin Luther King Jr. could assert, “is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Yet today that justice — the right of free and full access to the ballot box for Americans, regardless of race, class, wealth or status — is again in doubt.

Almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s recent decision gutting major portions of the Voting Rights Act, six states of the old Confederacy — Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Virginia — moved quickly to impose voter photo ID and other restrictive voting requirements to which the Justice Department had taken exception.

The argument for voter IDs is that states must guard against impersonation and other flagrant voter fraud. But repeated studies show those offenses are so minuscule that they border on the nonexistent. The real reason for the new voter ID laws is no mystery. It’s a deliberate effort to reduce voting by minorities, students and low-income citizens — constituencies deemed likely to vote for liberal candidates.

Today’s voter suppression effort originated with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), an organization backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and major corporate interests. And now it’s being pushed by a Republican Party that seems turned 180 degrees from its 19th-century birth as the agent of liberty and the franchise for African-Americans.

Alarmingly, I see the historic march to a liberated, rights-for-all voting order in America that inspired so many of us in the civil rights era being deliberately sabotaged for partisan, economic and ideological motives.

Exposing Arizona’s Political Corruption

The Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation has added several more dates and locations for this presentation. http://www.azadvocacy.org/forums-a-events/upcoming-event-details

ALEC

WHAT: Join Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation to expose how lobbyists and Big Money buy favor with officials at the our expense. We begin with a special showing of Bill Moyers’ United States of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), exposing how Big Money uses campaign cash and freebies to buy access to OUR tax dollars for greater profit at the expense of jobs and voter priorities. We then highlight important bills being voted on by the legislature and Congress on Clean Elections, other political anti-corruption/conflict of interests bills, voting rights and election administration. Learn more about our March 18, 2013 U.S. Supreme Court hearing to defend every eligible citizen’s right to register to vote without the barriers Arizona politicians keep in place.

ALEC Determined to Spread For-Profit Education Nationwide

Schools nation-wide are considering bills promoting for-profit education, designed by corporate bill mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), at least 139 ALEC-designed bills have been introduced across 43 states just within the last 6 months. Of those, 31 have become law.

The CMD report, “Cashing in on Kids,” states that programs designed to divert taxpayer money from public schools to private and religious schools have been spreading across the country for over two decades. Milwaukee became the first U.S. city to implement a school voucher program in 1990, under then-governor Tommy Thompson, who was closely involved with ALEC.

“For-profit schools in Wisconsin now receive up to $6,442 per voucher student, and by the end of the next school year taxpayers in the state will have transferred an estimated $1.8 billion to for-profit, religious, and online schools,” the report states.

This Land is your Land, this Land is Gas Land

The Obama Administration has proposed new regulations for hydraulic fracturing on 756 million acres of public and tribal lands. The rules were written by the drilling industry and will be streamlined into effect by a new intergovernmental taskforce established by the president, to promote fracking — a practice that has been linked to water poisoning, air pollution, methane emissions and, most recently, earthquakes.

White House visitor logs show the president’s top adviser on energy and climate, Heather Zichal, met with the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and other industry groups 20 times last year in the run up to the rules proposal. They were further honed to industry specifications in a series of meetings between the oil and gas lobby and the White House Office of Budget Management, and are based on a piece of model legislation authored by Exxon for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Under the rules, drillers will report chemicals used in fracking to an industry run site, FracFocus.org, already used in Pennsylvania and other states. The disclosures won’t need to be made until after a well is fracked. Nor will they be vetted for accuracy. Certain chemicals won’t even be disclosed at all, since they constitute alleged trade secrets. Furthermore, the rules would sanction drilling in close proximity to homes and schools, as well as allow wastewater — the toxic byproduct the of fracking — to be stored in open, outdoor pits. 

The impacts of privatizing the turnpike

“We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another,” veteran journalist Ted Koppel said recently on NPR. “We’ve privatized a lot of what our military is doing. We’ve privatized a lot of what our intelligence agencies are doing. We’ve privatized our very prison system in many parts of the country. We’re privatizing the health system within those prisons. And it’s not working well.”

The privateers have an army of contractors, consultants, think tanks (with the Reason Foundation in the lead) and lobbyists. In particular, they see the country’s huge aging transportation infrastructure as a great money-making opportunity. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, and traffic congestion is widespread. The federal highway trust fund is running out of money.

This is a “public-private partnership,” or P3, which is a concept pushed by an infrastructure-industrial complex composed of global construction corporations, investment banks, private-equity firms and elite law firms organized as vertically integrated consortiums. The influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has pushed “model legislation” for P3s in statehouses across the nation. 

Voter ID: How did we get here? Part I

…We’re just going to assume Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (D-Butler) was thinking of the founders when he introduced his Voter ID legislation in 2011, using that specific aerial section of the Constitution as justification.

“Currently in Pennsylvania, it’s impossible to board a commercial airplane, cash a paycheck, operate a motor vehicle or even purchase season passes to a neighborhood swimming pool…without displaying a valid photo ID,” he wrote on his website upon introducing House Bill 934, the Pennsylvania Voter Identification and Protection Act, in 2011.

His bill would require all commonwealth citizens to show a state-issued ID at their respective polling places come election day.

The Pennsylvania legislation, modeled on an Indiana law passed in 2005 and pushed forward by the American Legislative Exchange Council, had a high price tag. And not just because it was a waste of everyone’s time as Pennsylvania’s full-time Legislature earned their hefty full-time paychecks.

 Gerald Meier: It’s government by and for the few in Wisconsin

Dear Editor: Our forefathers established a democracy so we would have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. What we have now is a government of the few, by the few and for the few, and this is not only true in Washington, but unfortunately, especially true here in Wisconsin. We do not have a state Legislature but a Midwestern branch of the Koch brothers-influenced American Legislative Exchange Council. If you read their wish list, it sounds much like Wisconsin’s budget. It must be great for them that what they spent in Wisconsin is working out so well.

We should respect the Kochs, as they made their billions the good old-fashioned way; they inherited it from their oil baron father. Who can blame them for wanting to keep as much of it as possible? Fortunately for us, they have chosen to dole out some of their vast fortune to our governor and his chosen legislators. These are great times for the “few brothers.”

George Zimmerman, off the hook

http://vimeo.com/fiorecartoons/george-zimmerman-off-the-hook to watch a video on stand your ground and ALEC…

The George Zimmerman trial was about much more than race.  In fact, while everyone was talking about racial issues surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, the jury was guided by metastasizing Stand-Your-Ground laws.  You need look no further than the jury instructions to find the power of the NRA and ALEC.

The defense in the Zimmerman trial was able to put the burden of proof on the victim, Trayvon Martin.  The question became, what had this unarmed teenager done to scare an armed man who was following him, not, why did the armed man follow and kill the unarmed teen?  The guy with the gun had more legal protections than the unarmed kid.  What would happen if we expanded these gun rights even further?  That’s where Shoot-em-up Charlie comes in.

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find there are cases that are even more awful than the Zimmerman case.  While Shoot-em-up Charlie takes the lead on this cartoon, stick around at the end to listen to a truly disturbing 911 call from a man about to put these new laws into action.

Be sure to comment, like, share and do all that good social media stuff so more people can see this cartoon and we’ll continue to have a discussion about these ridiculous laws.

‘Stand Your Ground’ group pushes privatization of public education

The group behind “Stand Your Ground” laws in a number of states has been mighty busy working to get laws passed in the area of school reform — and the aim has been the privatization of public education.

That group is the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, which likes to call itself a “nonpartisan public-private partnership” but is actually a corporate-backed enterprise that writes “model legislation” that its membership of nearly 2,000 conservative legislators use in states to pass laws that promote privatization in every part of American life: education, health care, the environment, the economy, etc.

Bill Moyers, in a program called “United States of ALEC,”  “the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of,” one with a “vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.”

SCOTUS v. the Right to Vote: Three Strikes, but We’re Not Out

“Supreme Court Shreds Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act” was a typical news headline June 26, this one from the National Journal. According to Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, the court’s decision in the case known as Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al. “effectively struck down the core” of the law. [1] “Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years,” Leahy explained, “yet the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices.” Rep. John Lewis said the court’s decision “put a dagger in the heart” of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The 5-4 decision has been widely condemned, but undoing the damage anytime soon will be difficult.

Even so, an earlier and less well-known Supreme Court decision competes with these two for the damage it has done to electoral democracy. The Court’s 2008 ruling in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board upheld a restrictive Indiana voter ID law. This cleared the way for a flood of state laws making it harder for many low-income and minority citizens to vote. Widely promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing think tank that produces “model” legislation for state legislatures, ID requirements and other restrictive voting laws plagued the 2012 elections in more than 30 states.

Point Austin: United Defense of the Fetus

Early in last Friday’s Senate debate over the anti-abortion bill (HB 2), the bill’s sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar (author of the Senate companion), was asked if anyone or “any organization” had asked him to file his bill. Hegar said no, that he had authored the bill on his own, and that he doesn’t look to anyone “outside the Senate” when drafting legislation. It was a predictable question and an equally predictable answer. The question raises the specter of undue outside influence, and unless it’s their direct constituents, legislators do not want to be seen as taking direction from lobbyists or special interest organizations.

Yet it doesn’t take great insight to connect the dots from Hegar’s bill and its House counterpart, carried by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, to the national organizations that have been promoting – indeed, drafting – this kind of legislation for legislatures across the country. Similar bills have been filed or passed in Indiana, North Dakota, North Carolina, Wisconsin, etc. According to Bloomberg Businessweek (July 11), “In the first six months of 2013, 17 states passed a total of 45 new restrictions on abortion.”

The most notorious national “bill mill” is the corporate-driven American Legislative Exchange Council, which specializes in conservative economic legislation – Lauben­berg, in no coincidence, is the Texas ALEC chair. In the past, ALEC occasionally promoted anti-abortion legislation, but now largely leaves that task to AUL. AUL annually issues a massive manual, Defending Life, filled with tendentious “scholarship” purporting to document such dubious notions as “fetal pain” before viability (the presumed justification for the 20-week abortion limit) and the repeatedly discredited connection between abortions and breast cancer that remains part of the Texas “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that must be provided by clinics to women seeking abortion. AUL also ranks states according to their success in restricting abortion; before last week’s ramrodding of HB 2, Texas was 14th, so we can presume Gov. Perry can wave a higher ranking in his next failed presidential primary campaign.

 

 

Michigan Lawmakers Attack Women’s Healthcare Rights

Michigan Lawmakers Attack Women’s Healthcare Rights

Anyone remember two years ago when some Michigan Republican Senators attempted to pass a bill, SB-612, that would have prevented women from receiving insurance coverage for an elective abortion if they didn’t purchase a special rider policy? Well, House Republicans are at it again — but with a fresh new twist!

Representatives Price, Victory, Lauwers, Rendon, and Potvin this afternoon introduced a bill, HB-4597, that would make it illegal for healthcare providers to be reimbursed for elective abortions under general insurance policies — the law would require a special rider policy from the patient. The proposed law reads:

“A licensee or registrant shall not seek or accept reimbursement from a qualified health plan; an expense incurred hospital, medical, or surgical policy or certificate; a health maintenance organization group or individual contract; or a healthcare corporation group or nongroup certitifcate for any services provided that are directly related to the performance of an elective abortion unless the reimbursement sought or accepted is from an addition rider…”

Basically, what this says is: while women are not technically being required to carry additional abortion coverage, healthcare providers cannot be reimbursed without a special rider. The bill is tie-barred to HB-4065 and HB-4066, both designed to prohibit abortion coverage under The Affordable Care Act  — “Obamacare”. A tie-bar is a legislative device that makes the passage of connected bills a necessary condition for their enactment — if one fails, they all go down.

Michigan, the misogyny state.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

What Happens in Vegas… Could Get You 10 Years to Life

Unpacking the proposed Nevada sex trafficking legislation (Part 1)

Why is a 39-page bill that criminalizes a whole lot of normal people being sold as a way to save the child sex slaves?

Well, saving the (white female) child sex slaves has proven to be a powerful narrative. After all, who is actually for sex trafficking of a minor, right? Only the most depraved among us. So, we must support this tough on crimes legislation. It’s a no-brainer to pass, no? NO. And herein lays the problem.

Is history repeating itself?

The historical link to the “white slavery” panic of the early 1900’s is hard to ignore. Prostitution in the U.S. was largely legal until changing women’s sexual norms led to a “white slavery” panic that resulted in the closing of brothels with the White-Slave Traffic Act, better known as the Mann Act in 1910. According to historian Mark Thomas Connelly, “a group of books and pamphlets appeared announcing a startling claim: a pervasive and depraved conspiracy was at large in the land, brutally trapping and seducing American girls into lives of enforced prostitution, or ‘white slavery.’” The reality was numerous young women were drawn into prostitution for “mundane” economic reasons. The ambiguous language of the Mann Act allowed selective prosecutions and was used to criminalize forms of consensual sexual behavior for many years.

Although human trafficking can be defined as being put in a situation of economic exploitation that you can’t get out of; rather than focusing on forced labor, servitude and slavery-like conditions, the trafficking framework has been used in selective ways. The general conception in the U.S. is that all human trafficking is sex trafficking. This conception developed because a crusade against prostitution attempted to conflate sex work with human trafficking, a claim for which there is no evidence, even according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

An executive summary of human trafficking put forth by the non-profit Center for Health and Gender Equity concludes that “conflating human trafficking with prostitution results in ineffective anti-trafficking efforts and human rights violations because domestic policing efforts focus on shutting down brothels and arresting sex workers, rather than targeting the more elusive traffickers.”

Misconceptions about the problem are fueled by sensationalized stories that’s simplicity in the child sex slave narrative makes them potent, haunting, and easy to mobilize around. Enforcement resources and investigations in the U.S. are going into a group of human trafficking task forces focusing almost entirely on commercial sex. It is a structure built on vice squads rather than labor investigators.

Some testimony to the legislature on sex trafficking bill AB67 (& related AB113) from the first hearing on Wednesday, February 20th provides an enlightening perspective.

Issue #1:  Vague and overly broad definitions—is our goal to put more people in prison?

From the Clark County Public Defender’s Office:

“The substantially increased penalties in Section 42 of AB67, including life sentences in some cases, are particularly concerning given the vagueness of the law. While nobody disagrees that a violent child sex trafficker deserves a lengthy prison term, the concern is that individuals will receive substantial prison terms that are not merited by their conduct … making it more serious than an attempt(ed) murder charge.”

“AB67 likely runs afoul of the vagueness doctrine, which holds that ‘[a] conviction fails to comport with due process if the statute under which it is obtained fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what is prohibited, or is so standardless that it authorizes or encourages serious discriminatory enforcement.’ U.S. v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 304 (2008). For example, the addition of the phrase ‘or other thing of value’ to the definition of prostitution in Section 8 could criminalize innocent conduct between persons in a committed relationship.”

“Furthermore, because there is no carve out for the legal prostitution that exists in Nevada, Nevadans are left to wonder whether they would be prosecuted under this statute for engaging in otherwise legal conduct, such as driving a legal sex worker to her place of employment. In addition, discriminatory enforcement by law enforcement is a strong possibility, especially because the vast majority of the prosecutions in Clark County arise out of law enforcement undercover sting operations that seem to disproportionately target African-American males. Simply stated, it is insufficient to leave it up to prosecutors and/or judges to determine what the law means and how it is to be applied.”

FACT: United Nations member states have recently mandated a study on the use of the “trafficking” framework. The concern is that due to opportunities lent by vagueness of definitions; the issue of trafficking has been sidetracked and used to further particular political agendas that often have little to do with protecting people from exploitation and abuse.

Issue #2: Where is the data and evidence of this huge scary problem?

At the February 2nd “From Prosecution to Empowerment” human trafficking conference at USC, Attorney Martina Vandenberg, founder of the pro bono organization Civil Justice: The Human Trafficking Legal Resource Center expressed: “In the field of human trafficking, I detest data because most of it is made up and bogus. It is really an appalling area.”

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto testified at the hearing and stated in the media that the Polaris Project, a national human trafficking organization out of Washington, DC that sent their policy director here to help write our state legislation, has identified a huge sex trafficking ring between Nevada and California that presumably runs from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Reno to Sacramento. Yet, when asked if there was evidence to back this claim Polaris Project’s Policy Program Director, Mary Ellison submitted this:

“In 2012, the NHTRC (National Human Trafficking Resource Center) Hotline received 174 calls from Nevada. Out of these calls, twenty-one (21) of them were classified as crisis calls, and forty-eight (48) of them were classified as tips from community members reporting suspected trafficking. The NHTRC had fourteen (14) cases from Nevada in 2012 that involved minors and had a total of forty-one (41) cases that had ‘high’ or ‘moderate’ indicia of human trafficking situations.”

Where is the evidence of the mass human trafficking ring? What happened to these cases and how many people were rescued or arrested?

The reality is there is no systematic state or local data on human trafficking. Furthermore, the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) community project that began to collect data on youth engaging in the sex trades in Las Vegas a couple years ago has been suspended for the past year. Previous studies completed in NYC and Atlantic City painted a portrait of youth who were rarely forced into the sex trades by a pimp trafficker, but rather homeless due to lack of a social safety net and participating in an informal economy of sex exchange for financial reasons. Street youth commonly report being abused more by the police than by pimps.

Issue #3: Who stands to benefit? Or follow the money (and motives)…

There is a lot of federal money available for anti-trafficking efforts in a time of austerity and sequestration when many budgets are being slashed. A little known fact is that the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) that just passed had the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) added to it as an amendment reauthorizing funding though 2017 after expiring at the end of 2011. The U.S. State Department’s definition of trafficking includes any person under 18 found to perform commercial sex and any commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion.

Law enforcement and non-profit rescue industry service providers work together in a closed loop network of funding. Where is the oversight and accountability for waste, fraud, or abuse to prevent corruption? According to a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General Michon Martin, oversight and accountability for the monetary beneficiaries of this legislation are “beyond the scope of this bill.” Hmmm….

Kids Caught in the Culture Wars: Is This Really about Protecting Youth?

Law Enforcement: Is this about Arrest Numbers?

Judge William Voy of Clark County District Court Family Division testified he would keep youth who were arrested for engaging in sex trades in a “controlled therapeutic setting where the children could not run from” or they would forcibly be returned by staff. It was unclear how long they would remain in the “safe house,” but he did indicate until prosecution and vice work with the child as a witness to develop testimony against their “perpetrators.” Does he realize the newly reauthorized TVPA “provides assurance that a minor victim of sex trafficking shall not be required to collaborate with law enforcement to have access to residential care or services provided with a grant under this section?”

The inclusion of all juvenile prostitutes as trafficked has presented obvious problems. U.S. research points out that only a minority fit the “forced by a third party” trafficking profile. There is a clear difference between juveniles who are forced into the sex industry by the sex slavery black market and juveniles who are homeless or living in abject poverty with no other recourse but to sell sexual services. Tying assistance to the identification of a pimp is often counterproductive and fails to help the victims who need it most.

Evangelical Non-Profits: Is this a Moral Crusade?

Lisa Thompson, liaison for the abolition of sexual trafficking for the Salvation Army, during a recent presentation at The Justice Conference stated: “Sex trafficking is a battle of ideas.” The Church in America too often does not do enough to address the ideology upon which sex trafficking is based – “an ideology that disassociates sex from love, responsibility and children.” Thompson explained: “One of the reasons sex trafficking is flourishing is that we, as a Church, do not do enough to address the ideology that disassociates sex from love.” She continued: “Sex is not work. God did not create any woman for the purpose, excuse me, that she be a cum receptacle.”

In her testimony to the Nevada legislature, Melissa Holland said that her organization in Reno, Awaken INC (“In the Name of Christ”) was in the process of getting both a safe house and transitional housing in place for the victims of sex trafficking. If religious education and activities are a compulsory aspect of the services provided to clients, I hope she realizes that could be a human rights violation. It would also go against separation of church and state, disqualifying them from receipt of federal funds for trafficking services. I have to agree, “I don’t think prayer is among the recognized best practices for fighting human trafficking.”

Where are the Real Solutions? Prevention Over Prison

Three simple steps to ending sex (and other labor) trafficking, exploitation, and abuse:

1) Stable sustainable wage income

2) Affordable long-term housing

3) Equitable education opportunities

The major driver of human rights abuses, including trafficking is vast economic inequality. Only rights can stop the wrongs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cross posted from The Nevada View.

Written by Jennifer J. Reed, MA
PhD Student, Department of Sociology
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Michigan Governor Appoints Right-to-Life Supreme Court Justice

images[6]Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder has thumbed his nose at the suggestion he develop a nonpartisan process in screening potential appointees to the Michigan Supreme Court.

In the wake of the scandalous resignation of Justice Diane Hathaway, the national court- watchdog group, Justice at Stake, urged the governor to set-up a nonpartisan screening commission to aid in the selection of a replacement Justice. JAS Executive Director, Bert Brandenburg put it this way:

“Gov. Rick Snyder could help bolster confidence in fair and impartial courts by taking a page from the report of a bipartisan Michigan judicial selection task force.

“The task force asked Gov. Snyder to set up a nonpartisan advisory commission when a vacancy occurs on the Michigan Supreme Court. The commission would screen candidates and recommend three to five highly qualified applicants, and the governor would appoint one. More than 30 other states have a similar process for filling interim high court vacancies.

“The task force wanted to avoid the perception that raw politics would predominate when a governor makes a vacancy appointment. It said a nonpartisan advisory commission ‘would restore the public’s confidence in the Governor’s vacancy appointments to the supreme court.’ It was a good idea when the task force report came out last April and it’s a good idea now.”

Governor Snyder announced today that he has appointed David Viviano, formerly of the 16th Circuit Court to Michigan’s high court….and conservative Chief Justice Robert Young quickly endorsed the choice as a fine one indeed. Young said this of Viviano:

“Justice Viviano is uncommonly bright and learned in the law. But it is not his legal ability alone that makes him an outstanding jurist. He also knows that the role of judges is to interpret the laws, not to make them. He understands the deference due to the legislature as the body that expresses the will of the people through legislation. He is committed to following the rule of law wherever it leads him.”

Why should this concern Michigan residents, women in particular?

Justice Viviano is a Right-to-Life juror. His campaign finance report from his most recent bid for the circuit court shows a contribution of $2,246.89 from Right-to-Life on November 4, 2006 — his sixth largest contributor in that report. A contribution that came in late and was reported after the general election — a typical ploy of candidates that wish to hide their contributors.

Given the state of the Michigan legislature as one of the most anti-women and anti-reproductive rights in the nation, this is of grave concern.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Michigan’s Gov. Snyder — The One Term Nerd

images[1]Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder, master of the political bait-n-switch, previously claimed he didn’t intend to run for a second term, much like right-to-work wasn’t on his agenda, but now the truth is out about his 2014 ambitions. Dennis Muchmore, his chief of staff, inadvertently(?) slipped that Snyder is itching for another go-round.  Speaking at the Legislative and Public Policy Conference  for the Michigan Society of Association Executives, The Detroit Free Press reports Muchmore saying:

“Leo Fender didn’t know how to play the guitar. He invented it before he knew how to play it, Dr. Seuss invented the word ‘nerd.’ We take a certain amount of pride in that word in our office. It worked for one election. It’ll probably work for another. I’m all about getting re-elected here folks. You may not be but I am.”

One must wonder if, when he visited Detroit this week, Snyder’s motorcade carefully avoided a billboard the Michigan Democratic Party erected on I-96 near Okemos, saying “Make Snyder a One Term Nerd”. He has a history of dodging. Shortly after he signed the recently repealed Emergency Manager law in 2011, Snyder visited Cadillac for an annual breakfast event. Protesters ringed the building on three sides, but never caught sight of the governor — as he snuck in and out via the service entrance.

He certainly is scrambling to mitigate some of the electoral damage RTW did to his numbers. In an effort to regain support among women, Snyder is moderating some of his 19th century reproductive rights policies. Last December he told House members their Blue Cross Blue Shield overhaul legislation was a no-go because it contained a provision that required women seeking an abortion to obtain supplemental insurance. Yesterday, the House was given the gubernatorial thumbs-up on legislation that removed that requirement. A couple of weeks ago, Democracy Tree broke the story about House members attempted to sneak through a cleverly-worded bill that would have required transvaginal ultrasounds, and again Snyder told Jase Bolger where he could stick that idea — making it clear he would not sign it into law.

It is doubtful that newspapers will be prepared to give Snyder those glowing endorsements a second time around. The Detroit Free Press slammed the governor after RTW, claiming he had misrepresented his agenda in his “One Tough Nerd” campaign. Editorial boards are an unforgiving lot with long memories — and they don’t like being made fools of.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Transvaginal Probes are Back

Michigan lawmakers are at it again. They just today introduced another vaginal probe bill in the House — HB 4187 of 2013.

At about this time last year, Democracy Tree reported that lawmakers introduced another mandatory ultrasound bill (HB 4433 of 2012) which never emerged from committee –it required clinics to use:

 [The]most technologically advanced ultrasound equipment available at that location….capable of providing the most visibly clear image of the gross anatomical development of the fetus and the most audible fetal heartbeat.”

The new bill uses this same language verbatim. Sure, it does not specifically say “vaginal probe” (too crass), but OB-Gyn Dr. Charlene Abernethy reviewed the language last year and found it to effectively require a transvaginal probe. She explained that it’s a given that any facility providing pregnancy terminations will have the necessary equipment to perform a transvaginal ultrasound. The bill removes the decision from the physician as to whether to perform a transvaginal versus a transabdominal (non-invasive) ultrasound, it demands they choose the one that provides the best image — and that’s a vaginal probe. Because this legislation additionally denies the patient the choice, it’s rape. By any other name, it’s still state-sanctioned rape. By law and by definition.
transvaginal probe

As if the past two years of continual assaults on women’s reproductive rights hasn’t been enough…it’s now damn near impossible to find an abortion provider in Michigan at all — and now this?

Time to do a little probing with these stone age lawmakers as to their qualifications to legislate.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree
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The State of a Well Regulated Pussy

The State of a Well Regulated Pussy

Laaaadies…If you’re lucky enough to live in Michigan, you can be proud to know you’re moving up in the world. Yup, true to their congenital lowness of brow, the cavemen lawmakers of the 96th Legislature (2011-12) have advanced the state from 28th place to 20th.

269379_596078157088308_1312069293_n[1]Pretty exciting, right? Well, only if you don’t like reproductive rights. Michigan is now in the top twenty of states ranked as hostile to abortion availability. Michigan can’t seem to regulate its militia, but it sure can regulate its pussy!

The neanderthal lawmakers have been swinging their clubs at abortion rights left and right. In just the past 12 months they enacted six new regulations intended to restrict access to the procedure — impediments that are not considered medically necessary.

The good folks at Remapping Debate have compiled abortion law data, mostly from the Guttmacher Institute, to create an insightful interactive graphic database. In which we find…

Michigan legislators are by no means alone in their attack on women’s rights. The last two years have seen more new regulations nationwide than any other year since Roe v. Wade — a decision that met its fortieth anniversary last week. There were 92 new restrictions in 2011, and 43 last year. Since the year 2000, the number of states that are openly hostile to a woman’s right to an abortion has increased from one-third to one-half.

In a new turn of events, 15 states have enacted a near-total abortion ban, which would only become enforceable if the Roe decision were overturned. Michigan has not yet done this.

However, Michigan has numerous regulations impacting waiting periods, mandatory counseling, physician regulations, hospital restrictions, ultrasound requirements, late term regulations, restrictions on abortion providers, parental requirements, limits on financial assistance — all creating a state in which abortion providers are scarce as hen’s teeth. Michigan is additionally seeing attacks on women’s reproductive healthcare at the county level — one local government found a creative way to block an important grant to a Planned Parenthood facility that does not even perform abortions.

I am Michigan, hear me……meow?

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Michigan County Blocks Planned Parenthood Funding

imagesCAB5QT1QMississippi step aside — Michigan’s got this one.

The mitten has managed to nose-out all other states through its retrograde policies and a burgeoning 1950’s style barefoot-n-pregnant legislative initiative. Lawmakers in Lansing have been cooking-up this assault on women’s reproductive rights through a two-year barrage of increasingly misogynistic bills, culminating in what is touted as the most anti-reproductive rights piece of legislation in the nation. (Mind you, this is the state where male lawmakers sanctioned a female colleague for using the word “vagina” on the House floor. Just what word would they prefer?)

Michigan conservatives have at least one aspect of “trickle down” theory right –Lansing has now inspired similar attacks on women’s healthcare at the local level. More →

Cyberbullying and Stalking Now Easier

imagesCAG77FM5When the 122th United States Congress adjourned last week without reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which expired on January 2nd, it went largely unreported in the media fiscal cliff mania. Congressional inaction will have a broader effect than anticipated, but don’t expect to find any of that in the MSM, as they waste time reporting on the Princess Kate portrait.

It was this act that amended among other federal laws, the Communications Decency Act — in particular, the VAWA updated the CDA to include cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and cyberharassment.  (The term”Bullying” applies to minors, and “Harassment” to adults, although anyone who engages in it has a maturity issue.) The amendment provided gender-neutral protections from anonymous attacks via computers and all electronic communication devices. Here’s a brief explanation:

TITLE 47 UNITED STATES CODE > CHAPTER 5 > SUBCHAPTER II > Part I > § 223

Signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 5, 2006, section 113 of VAWA prohibits anyone from using a telephone or telecommunications device “w/o disclosing his identity and w/ the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person.” Under VAWA a telecommunications device is defined as “any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the INTERNET.” Penalties for violating the act include 2 years in prison and fines. (citation: Topix)

While most states have passed somewhat similar laws, they are frequently found to be too broad or too narrow. For example, Michigan law requires the attacker to show a pattern of behavior of two or more unauthorized contacts — apparently one threat or attempted intimidation isn’t enough.

Even with solid protections at both the state and federal level, few law enforcement agencies fully grasp or enforce existing statute, leaving targets of cyber-abuse to fend for themselves. 

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree