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

Continuing Education and Privatization Disclosures in MI. Reveal “Skunks” at Work – Including ALEC

Continuing Education and Privatization Disclosures in MI. Reveal “Skunks” at Work – Including ALEC

An analysis of two recent articles from Michigan and why they are ALEC-related.

Analysis by Bob Sloan

Logo     ALEC’s attention to America’s education “reform” is focused and advancing state by state as they promote privatization of public school systems.  Vouchers, “parent trigger”, long distance learning, “vitrual schools” and a “Public-Private Fair Competition Act” are all ALEC model legislative bills.

    What all these “bills” have in common of late is that all of them are submitted, sponsored and supported by conservative Republican lawmakers from coast to coast…another commonality of late is that most of them can be found swirling ominously through the Michigan statehouse.

    Now Michiganders have discovered a secret group of individuals working to advance these ALEC-styled legislative franken-bills behind closed doors with members of Governor Snyder’s staff.  Members of this secretive cabal have dubbed their group the “Skunk Works”, referring to defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s secret program under the same name that developed fighter planes during and after World War II.  An article published Friday by the Detroit News reported on this strange development.

Lansing — A secret work group that includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.

“The education reform advisory team has dubbed itself a “skunk works” project working outside of the government bureaucracy and education establishment with a goal of creating a “value school” that costs $5,000 per child annually to operate, according to meeting minutes and reports obtained by The Detroit News.

What are some of pursuits of these group?

…explore using fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing. Each “value school” student would receive a “Michigan Education Card” to pay for their “tuition” — similar to the electronic benefits transfer used to distribute food stamps and cash assistance for the poor.

Students could use leftover money on the “EduCard” for high school Advanced Placement courses, music lessons, sport team fees, remedial education or cyber courses, according to an outline of the advisory team’s agenda…

“…ideology and political agenda of the creation of a for-profit and parallel enterprise market for schools. Part of its goal is to take down the education establishment: superintendents, school boards and teachers unions.

It appears this panel of Skunks were formed in December in response to failed GOP legislation related to charter schools:

“The panel’s quiet proceedings began in mid-December after GOP lawmakers abandoned controversial legislation in the lame-duck session that would have allowed corporations, municipalities and cultural institutions to run charter schools.

Who are some of the members of this education cabal? Besides Governor Snyder’s chief information officer, David Behen, who leads the group most are from the information technology field:

“The group consists of nearly 20 individuals, mostly from the information technology field, including Behen and the state’s chief technology officer, Rod Davenport. The group includes employees from the software and tech companies Vectorform in Royal Oak, InfoReady in Ann Arbor and Billhighway in Troy. Also involved is Tim Cook of the Huizenga Group, a Grand Rapids firm that owns and operates West Michigan manufacturing companies.”

Another member is well known Lansing attorney, Richard McLellan who has so far unsuccessfully pursued installing a school voucher system in Michigan to allow parents to use choose between private and public schools — with state tax dollars – something prohibited by the Michigan Constitution.  McLellan helped draft such legislation and proposed sweeping changes in November to the way Michigan schools are funded. McLellan is a director at the Oxford Foundation, which developed that plan at Snyder’s request.  He is also a co-founding member of the Koch funded Mackinac Center, another conservative think tank that has been pursuing similar efforts of privatizing Michigan’s public education.

Interesting note to the “plan” memo linked to immediately above…McLellan insisted that the Project “be conducted with maximum transparency.”  He apparently decided that such transparency would not be so “maximum” or sought at all with regard to the project involving the skunk works.  This group is so secretive, they were instructed to use alternative email accounts when corresponding.  “In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use “alternative” email accounts. Records show Behen, Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond.”

‘McLellan said the other participants are justified in using private emails. “Well, they should,” he said. “It’s not a government project.  Isn’t a skunk works by definition unorganized, backroom?” he asked rhetorically.’

“Why are we using private email addresses? Because it’s just easier,” Behen said. “There’s nothing secret or anything about this.”

 

This panel originally included one educator, Paul Galbenski, Michigan’s 2011 Educator of the Year.  Galbenski left the group when he discovered the cabal “discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system,” and began questioning his own involvement with such a group.

Galbenski was the only educator even briefly chosen to be on the panel.  A memo of the group stated that they wanted to avoid working with education consultants who are “wedded to the education establishment.

Behen said he “purposely didn’t put a bunch of teachers on (the panel)” to generate a different approach to delivering K-12 education through rapidly changing technology.

Michigan officials and authorities representing Governor Snyder and a private “foundation” and think tank such as Mackinac, have been found working secretly to completely alter the state’s education system – without any input from educators or educational consultants.  What could possibly go wrong?

So, here’s how this trick is supposed to work, for those of you in other states who would like to attempt something similar… You defund education to the point of collapse, and, then, pointing to the inevitable failure, you make the case that the only option left available is to essentially hand the whole thing over to corporate America. And you bring in an anti-public education operative with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers, hiding behind the facade of a pro-education foundation with “Oxford” in its name, so that it sounds super smart, to support and adopt the whole enchilada.

In a related article from Progress Michigan, ALEC member MI. Rep. Greg MacMaster introduced a bill copied and pasted from the “Public-Private Fair Competition Act,” adopted by ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and approved by ALEC’s Board of Directors in January 1995.

“The bill would prohibit public entities from competing against the private sector, and its definitions are so restrictive that it would allow corporations to take the state to court and force it to stop providing valuable public services. ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force includes the Tax Foundation (funded by the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil), The Mackinac Center’s Richard Vedder, and other State Policy Network-funded groups including the Freedom Foundation, Goldwater Institute, and the Illinois Policy Institute.

If this legislation were to pass – along with the education initiatives proposed by ALEC, Mackinac Center, Oxford Foundation, etc. – Michigan’s education system would be privatized and fall under this provision.  The private “educators” would be able to sue any remaining state operated schools to force them into privatization.  Not only take the school system out of the hands of the state but force taxpayers to foot the bill for any litigation costs associated with “providing public services”…such as education.

ALEC is the legislative arm of this huge conservative, Koch-funded cabal.  Perhaps Michigan today presents us with the best and clearest example of both the agenda and mechanisms utilized by this network to wrench control, oversight and operations involving public services out of the hands of state government. The goal is to get their greedy hands on tax dollars being spent for education and other necessary services and divert much of that money to profits realized by ALEC’s corporate partners.

Just as Nevada is now ground zero for the war against prison labor displacing workers under ALEC’s Prison Industries Act, Michigan is now at the center regarding attempts to privatize education, utilizing another of ALEC’s models.

Teamsters Planning To Present Toxic “Welcome” For ALEC in OK. City Next Month

Teamsters Planning To Present Toxic “Welcome” For ALEC in OK. City Next Month

Announcement from Teamsters Local 886: http://teamsternation.blogspot.com/2013/04/expose-alec-take-pledge-today.html

“Our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma are spreading the word about the nefarious ALEC as the group heads toward Oklahoma City for an annual confab. Teamsters Local 886 is working hard to shine a bright light on ALEC’s misdeeds during its stay in Oklahoma City on May 2-3. ALEC “delegates” will be treated to a boisterous march for the middle class (we’re getting visuals of Teamsters trucks here) and a rally at a yet-to-be-disclosed location.

“If you’re new to ALEC, it’s the corporate dating service for lobbyists and state lawmakers. Funded by the Benedict Arnold Koch brothers, it’s a major tentacle in the vast right-wing conspiracy. ALEC is responsible for many state laws that are helping to make your lives miserable. No Rights At Work legislation is straight out of ALEC. So are most bills that punish workers and empower billionaires.”

Union and non-union workers, educators, grassroots activists, environmentalists, healthcare workers and organized protesters should all take note and try and attend or support this effort next month.  ALEC is holding their Annual Spring Task Force Summit in Oklahoma City, Ok. May 2-3 this year.  Last year they held this event in Charlotte and the year before in Cincinnati.  Many of us, including VLTP, MoveOn.org, Center for Media and Democracy, AFSCME and other Union members attended and held demonstrations and teach-ins to inform the community about ALEC and their toxic agenda and anti-American activities.

Since the first ever protest against ALEC in April 2011 in Cincinnati each successive ALEC event has drawn large protests, demonstrations and public awareness events.  Help all of us work to weaken ALEC’s grip upon our legislators and government services and departments by taking part in this event.  If you can’t attend in person, help by supporting the efforts of those who can.  Contact Teamsters Local 886 in Oklahoma for more information.

In the meantime, please TAKE THE PLEDGE to help expose ALEC here.

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

The GOP’s free-market reforms are aimed at public education … More ALEC!

The GOP’s free-market reforms are aimed at public education … More ALEC!

by Will Huntsberry, published by NC’s Indy Week

VLTP and our editors and authors have attempted to inform the public that education is the next big initiative of ALEC.  Not to educate, but rather to privatize public schools and turn teaching over to private corporations.  These corporate “teachers” are not required to be state certified instructors and charters basically are less regulated than public schools.

This article by Huntsberry describes ALEC’s efforts of privatizing education and why…

“At least seven bills are moving through the Legislature that would divert money from public schools to private hands, eliminate teacher tenure, instill performance pay and potentially increase class sizes in public schools. As for charters, they would have less accountability to local school boards; in effect, they would be deregulated.

“Introducing all the reform bills at once is a national strategy, not a state one. A conservative think tank the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) developed the plan, and over the past two years, it has been deployed in Republican-controlled states.

ALEC’s goal is to promote “limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty,” according to its website. The organization writes conservative legislation, which state lawmakers can use in their home states. Many major corporations sponsor ALEC: Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Bayer, AT&T, Cracker Barrel and Koch Industries are just a few of the organization’s current members, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.”

Ramming through the education reforms is like a game of whack-a-mole. “If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person [i.e. progressive education advocates] with the mallet can get them all,” reads an ALEC strategy guide on education policy.

“Instead of being forthright and aggregating all of the reforms into one education bill, they are making it difficult to see,” says Patty Williams of Public Schools First NC, an organization that advocates for progressive education policy. “It’s just a way of not being transparent to the public. We should be proposing laws in a way that’s easy to understand.”

A school voucher bill, HB 994, introduced Tuesday and originated in the office of Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, is the centerpiece of conservative education bills. Not only does the bill come straight from the ALEC playbook, Stam, like many other North Carolina lawmakers, is a member of ALEC.

Please take the time to read and share this highly important and informative article by Will Huntsberry -> HERE <-

Question from the UK: Why is the American right closing prisons?

Question from the UK: Why is the American right closing prisons?

In response to an article by RICK MUIR PUBLISHED 18 APRIL 2013 11:58 in the “New Statesman”

As conservative parties in nations across the pond attempt to emulate America’s Right Wing policies and initiatives, Rick Muir questions if replicating the “NEW” U.S. stance on imprisonment and criminal justice is warranted.

Mr. Muir accurately depicts many of the changes U.S. states are making to reduce the number of Americans imprisoned.  He reports on efforts of diverting drug offenders from prison through community rehab and court programs, stopping new construction of prisons and understanding that locking up non-violent offenders is costly and does nothing more than create a revolving door for first offenders to return time and again throughout their lives.

However in reporting that it is the GOP or Right Wing pursuing proposals that have long been advocated by liberals and progressives, he failed to fully connect the dots on where and how this mass incarceration began – and who stands to profit from these proposed changes to America’s criminal justice system.

It began with the ultra right think tank, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the late 1970’s. They got together with corporate interests and wrote legislation that began a trend that turned 1970’s 338,000 incarcerated into today’s 2.3 million. They crafted minimum mandatory sentencing laws, truth in sentencing, three strike and habitual offender laws.  They helped abolish parole and wrote more legislation to require convicted offenders serve 85% of imposed sentences.

Once the laws were written by ALEC and wholeheartedly backed by President Reagan in pursuing his “war on drugs”, ALEC wrote more legislation to allow private companies to begin to profit off imprisonment.  They wrote the Private Correctional Facilities ActPrison Industries Act and the Uniform Bail Act.  

The first was to authorize states to allow ALEC’s corporate members, Corrections Corporation of America, and Wackenhut (now Geo Group) to begin operating private prisons to house the huge numbers of new prisoners that arose due to the harsh laws written to imprison.  

The second written to create a low wage workforce accessible by private companies for manufacturing – and to allow these companies to lease publicly owned prison industrial facilities for as little as a dollar a year.

The third was written to require all bonding of those charged with criminal acts to be accomplished by commercial bonding companies at substantial fees.  This was to enrich ALEC’s long time member, the American Bail Coalition.

What all this did was to industrialize imprisonment and create a large conglomerate of companies realizing huge profits off imprisoning, working, feeding, providing healthcare, canteens and phone services to America’s incarcerated.  This defines and represents ALEC’s form of “Free-market”, “federalism” and “limited government” principles.  By turning humans into commodities with pre-determined shelf lives, ALEC was able to create a criminal justice industrial complex where private companies could capitalize and reap billions in profits off incarcerating the most individuals possible.

This new prison industrial revolution begun by ALEC and the ultra right drove up the costs of criminal justice from mere millions in 1970 to nearly $75 billion in 2011 (Geo and CCA raked in $2.9 billion of this in corporate income).  These billions in dollars are taken directly out of taxes paid by Americans.  Over the years state by state had to begin cutting education, healthcare programs, social welfare and similar programs to continue to increase spending on imprisonment.  In 2000 many states finding nothing left to cut to continue paying for housing and caring for more and more prisoners, began to look for ways to reduce the costs of incarceration itself.  They turned away from rehabilitation and began cutting education programs for prisoners.  Then vocational training went, then counseling and drug and alcohol programs and finally, recreation.  None of these reductions sufficed, prison continued to overflow and for every dollar saved through cutting important programs, that dollar and one more were needed to pay for more privatization.

Finally in 2010 many state authorities – even those considered solidly and forever conservative Republican – realized changes in criminal justice systems had to be made.  States verged on bankruptcy due to the continued increase in prison population and the costs associated with imprisonment.  Only then did the Right Wing fully understand that their “tough on crime” agenda advanced over the past 30 years was responsible for the dire financial position of state governments.  ALEC members and alumni such as Newt Gingrich formed a new “Right On Crime” organization (a joint project with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and prison fellowship). now stating that they had been wrong for years and that it is time to “right the ship” and begin thinking smart about crime.  Of course the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Prison Fellowship are ALEC members or supporters.

The first thought went to creating a new “product line.”  They turned to immigrants as a means of continuing to capitalize off prison beds that were beginning to sit vacant.  Americans out – “illegal immigrants” in…and at a higher per diem cost per inmate.  Because the federal government paid higher daily per diems for holding immigrants than paid for incarcerating prisoners the profits would increase.  So ALEC with the help of CCA crafted SB 1070 and introduced it in Arizona.  Once it became law, it has been redirected to dozens of other U.S. states and CCA and Geo Group (though no longer members of ALEC) secured more and more contracts to house immigrants and increase their profits exponentially.

In essence those who created mass imprisonment to enrich investors and company owners through corporatism were now going to step forward and provide a “solution” to the problems they created.  This has always been the ALEC and ultra-right meme; create a faux problem and then provide the perfect solution.  Once again ALEC member companies would profit off the new “Right on Crime” initiative…ALEC member, Prison Fellowship Ministry would reap huge grants and donations to offer reentry programs for offenders released from prison…the American Bail Coalition who had profited for years off bonding of criminals would also begin to see increased profits through a new ALEC initiative: the Conditional Early Release Bond   This legislation would allow prisoners to seek parole through posting a bond to the state to ensure they would not reoffend.  Of course this bond is provided to the state by a surety company represented by the ABC and for a commercial fee.

So in essence the new “Right on Crime” project represents another ALEC initiative. Being right on crime does not mean being “Smart on Crime.”  We need to get ALEC and their members completely out of our criminal justice system.  They have incarcerated enough and profited way too much off incarceration.  Today the UK is where America was in the 1990’s, pushing for longer sentences, more incarceration and to use inmate labor for manufacturing and labor for private companies.  America has already begun to realize those concepts are taking American worker’s jobs and the cost of incarcerating someone for 5 years for possessing a joint of marijuana is completely insane and too costly.

Hopefully those non-conservatives in the UK can convince politicians over there that following in America’s path is not always the best course to chart.

Read Rick Muir’s article <- HERE ->

Important New Petition Drive in Michigan

A petition drive has been launched by Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum, aka Voters for FUBR (pronounced foo’-bar). Bill Lucas, of Ferndale Michigan, founded the organization in late 2012. Its purpose is to prevent the legislative abuse of attaching appropriations to new laws to render them referendum-proof.

Voters for FUBR are circulating a petition with a proposal to amend the portion of Michigan’s Constitution regarding appropriations to laws, and to additionally provide for the power of referendum to amend/repeal a portion of a law.

The group hopes to gather 323,000 valid signatures to earn a spot on the 2014 ballot. The Associated Press reports that Voters for FUBR has approached larger organizations, but have yet to gain their support.

This is familiar ground for me personally, as I was one of the founding members of the coalition that successfully petitioned to repeal the Emergency Manager law. The process was difficult and it consumed a year and a half of the lives of many dedicated volunteers and activists. The coalition was key to our success. Without the support of AFSCME, Michigan Forward, Reject Emergency Managers, Rainbow PUSH, NAACP, and a number of other faith-based groups, unions and individuals across the state, we would never have earned a spot on the ballot.

As most are aware, the Michigan legislature enacted a new Emergency Manger law in their shameful lame-duck session, and attached an appropriation to it, as they did to the Right-to-Work law.  The RTW appropriation was straight-up abuse of the democratic process. Re-enacting the EM law was just plain criminal, however its appropriation was legally required because the law would have been an unfunded mandate — BUT, they could have written that into a separate tie-barred bill.

Another point lost on many was the fact that even if there had not been appropriations in either bill, they could not have been put to a referendum. They were both passed at the tail end of the legislative session, and petitioners would have had only 90 days into the next session to complete a process that takes well over a year. There are many hoops to jump through for a ballot proposal:

  1. File a Ballot Question Committee with the Secretary of State.
  2. Develop and have petition language approved by the state.
  3. Coalition build.
  4. Fundraise for legal costs and printing of the petition (a lot of money!).
  5. Recruit and train volunteer petitioners.
  6. Gather signatures.
  7. Compile and verify petitions.
  8.  Submit petitions.
  9. Campaign for the proposal itself.

In the case of the Emergency Manager law we repealed, it had been enacted at the open of the legislative session of 2011, therefore we had till 90 days after the close of the 2012  session to complete the process, about 13 months — and that was still a tight timeline!

Voters for FUBR will face other familiar challenges. Their initiative is similarly “un-sexy”, and will require more public education than a straight-up recall. People will erroneously think that the leaders of the drive are a well-funded sophisticated organization with banks of computers and trained staff — the public will get angry with the slightest little burp in the process. The mainstream media will be wishy-washy in their coverage, at times with a derisive under-current to their reporting. Right-wing organizations will put a lot of money into challenging the validity of the petitions and the ballot proposal itself.

This new ballot proposal is very important. It won’t be an easy task for Voters for FUBR to achieve, in fact, it will be monumental — but it’s worth the effort and I support them, and hope the voting public does too.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Paid Sick Days Defeat in Philadelphia Followed Familiar Script

Paid Sick Days Defeat in Philadelphia Followed Familiar Script

By Brendan Fischer at PRWatch

This article precisely describes how the ALEC cabal’s corporate members fund the initiatives they have brought to ALEC and sent out to all states through the ALEC legislative members.  After the bills or initiatives are proposed these corporations then pursue getting the legislation passed.  In this case in Philadelphia, they pursued defeating a bill passed by the city council allowing paid sick days – which then was vetoed by Democratic Mayor, Michael Nutter…not once but twice.

Anything to oppose worker’s rights or wages is pursued by ALEC and their corporate (employer) membership.

“Major opponents of Philadelphia’s paid sick days effort included the National Restaurant Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which presents itself as “the voice of small business” but lobbies primarily for big corporate interests. Each group is tied to ALEC and has consistently opposed similar legislation in other cities and states.

“Nationally, an estimated 40 million workers, or forty percent of the workforce, cannot take sick days without losing wages or possibly their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Seventy-nine percent of food industry workers — who are especially likely to spread illness if they go to work sick — don’t get paid sick days, according to a Food Chain Workers Alliance study.”

Read the full PRWatch article <- HERE ->