The Cor­po­rate Con­spir­acy That’s Re­ally Run­ning the United States

Trillions - - In This Issue - Photo by Swiss Truth, CC

Even while the U.S. Fed­eral Govern­ment stum­bles to get much of any­thing ac­com­plished, there are other na­tion­wide en­ti­ties that are turn­ing out to be re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful in craft­ing and pass­ing leg­is­la­tion. These en­ti­ties are non-elected and are not work­ing in sup­port of the cit­i­zens of the United States.

And these en­ti­ties – cor­po­rate lob­by­ing groups of a sort – may not al­ways be that easy to iden­tify. Their ac­tions are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, though.

The trick that al­lows these en­ti­ties to be so ef­fec­tive is that they op­er­ate by work­ing at the state rather than the fed­eral govern­ment level. They pro­vide model leg­is­la­tion that is copied from state to state, with mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions, and then im­ple­mented at the state level. They are also of­ten funded by large cor­po­rate lob­by­ing groups, and thanks to Supreme Court de­ci­sions like the Cit­i­zens United case, cor­po­ra­tions can spend un­lim­ited amounts of money high­jack­ing our govern­ment. Fur­ther, the leg­is­la­tion those lob­by­ing groups spon­sor is eas­ily em­bed­ded into state-by-state agen­das, whereas it is nearly im­pos­si­ble for in­di­vid­ual Amer­i­can to get vi­tal new leg­is­la­tion con­sid­ered.

The way one can spot what they are do­ing is in two parts: They op­er­ate most suc­cess­fully at the state level rather than the fed­eral govern­ment level, and their work shows up in a flurry of nearly iden­ti­cal and/ or highly re­lated leg­is­la­tion be­ing passed across the coun­try in a short time.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion that is the big­gest thug in all of this is the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Council (ALEC). On its web­site (alec.org), it de­scribes it­self and its role some­what boldly:

“The Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Council is Amer­ica’s largest non­par­ti­san, vol­un­tary mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion of state leg­is­la­tors ded­i­cated to the prin­ci­ples of lim­ited govern­ment, free mar­kets and fed­er­al­ism. Com­prised of nearly one-quar­ter of the coun­try’s state leg­is­la­tors and stake­hold­ers from across the pol­icy spec­trum, ALEC mem­bers rep­re­sent more than 60 mil­lion Amer­i­cans and pro­vide jobs to more than 30 mil­lion people in the United States.”

Care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the state­ment re­veals some truths and some in­ten­tion­ally self-serv­ing lies that are im­por­tant to high­light.

“Amer­ica’s largest”: This is a large or­ga­ni­za­tion – no lie in that. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Me­dia and Democ­racy’s ALEC Ex­posed web­site, it “boasts 2,000 leg­isla­tive mem­bers and 300 or more cor­po­rate mem­bers.”“

Non­par­ti­san”: Far from it. Again ac­cord­ing to the ALEC Ex­posed site, it cur­rently has only one Demo­crat out of 104 leg­is­la­tors in lead­er­ship po­si­tions within its or­ga­ni­za­tion. And with long-term back­ing by many crim­i­nal cor­po­ra­tions and rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the rightwing Koch In­dus­tries on its gov­ern­ing board, ALEC is highly weighted to­wards cor­po­rate crim­i­nal causes and di­rec­tions.

“Vol­un­tary”: In a sense it is, in that no one is forced to be a mem­ber of it. Yet the 300 or more cor­po­rate mem­bers and cor­po­rate fun­ders who kick in the money for it feel it is some­thing they need to be a part of to make leg­is­la­tion stick.

“Ded­i­cated to the prin­ci­ples of lim­ited govern­ment, free mar­kets, and fed­er­al­ism”: True – but with a big “but.” This is a group run by cor­po­rate in­ter­ests who have very spe­cific agenda items they want to pass. Much of those “lim­ited govern­ment” items in­cluded in its agenda in­clude leg­is­la­tion rec­om­men­da­tions that ALEC’S mem­bers de­velop to limit the power of govern­ment to pro­tect cit­i­zens in a wide num­ber of ways, from the abu­sive power of agribusi­ness to the stran­gle­hold of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ants over the con­cept of “net neu­tral­ity.” Free mar­kets are en­cour­aged – but again at the ex­pense of the av­er­age cit­i­zen.

As noted by Dr. Gor­don Lafer, of the Univer­sity of Ore­gon’s La­bor Ed­u­ca­tion & Re­search Cen­ter and au­thor of the 2017 book The One Per­cent So­lu­tion: How Cor­po­ra­tions Are Re­mak­ing Amer­ica One State at a Time, dur­ing Trillions’ in­ter­view with him from the May 2017 is­sue:

“What ALEC does, in brief, they meet sev­eral times a year in re­sorts, where they sit in com­mit­tees where they’re com­posed half of state leg­is­la­tors and half of cor­po­rate lob­by­ists. They write model bills, which have to be ap­proved by an all-cor­po­rate board [and] which are then in­tro­duced in cookie-cut­ter fash­ion in state after state across the coun­try. Which is how you see the same laws pop­ping up in very dif­fer­ent places.

“And then the com­pa­nies which help to write the laws fund those same can­di­dates’ cam­paigns, fund in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture cam­paigns on is­sue ads or can­di­date ads and fund state-level think tanks that pro­duce white pa­pers and ex­perts to be on TV for those is­sues. So it’s a very well-co­or­di­nated, well-funded, smart, very am­bi­tious 50-state cam­paign to try to re­make a lot of the laws gov­ern­ing eco­nom­ics, gov­ern­ing pub­lic ser­vices, gov­ern­ing tax­a­tion and gov­ern­ing em­ploy­ment.”

Well-co­or­di­nated, in­deed. The ALEC Ex­posed web­site ex­pands on this: “More than 98% of ALEC’S rev­enues come from sources other than leg­isla­tive dues, such as cor­po­ra­tions, cor­po­rate trade groups, and cor­po­rate foun­da­tions. Each cor­po­rate mem­ber pays an an­nual fee of be­tween $7,000 and $25,000 a year, and if a cor­po­ra­tion par­tic­i­pates in any of the nine task forces, ad­di­tional fees ap­ply, from $2,500 to $10,000 each year. ALEC also re­ceives di­rect grants from cor­po­ra­tions, such as $1.4 mil­lion from ExxonMo­bil from 1998-2009. It has also re­ceived grants from some of the big­gest foun­da­tions funded by cor­po­rate CEOS in the coun­try, such as: the Koch fam­ily Charles G. Koch Foun­da­tion, the Koch-man­aged Claude R. Lambe Foun­da­tion, the Scaife fam­ily Al­legheny Foun­da­tion, the Coors fam­ily Cas­tle Rock Foun­da­tion, to name a few.”

In point of fact, less than 2% of the money that al­lows ALEC to op­er­ate comes from the $50 per year “mem­ber­ship dues” that state leg­is­la­tors pay to be a part of this.

This is govern­ment “by the cor­po­ra­tions” and “for the cor­po­ra­tions” – un­like the way the found­ing fa­thers phrased things in the be­gin­ning but like much of ev­ery­thing else that hap­pens in the United States these days, un­for­tu­nately.

Oper­a­tionally, how they do this is by plac­ing the cor­po­rate mem­bers (in many cases cor­po­rate lob­by­ists them­selves by pro­fes­sion) to­gether with the elected mem­ber rep­re­sen­ta­tives to sit on nine separate task forces.

These task forces in­clude the Amer­i­can City County Ex­change, a group fo­cus­ing on items such as trans­porta­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, all at the state level but with a sin­gle-minded na­tional ap­proach to putting the same poli­cies in across the coun­try – poli­cies in­clud­ing:

• civil jus­tice

• com­merce, in­sur­ance and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

• com­mu­ni­ca­tions and tech­nol­ogy

• crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form

• ed­u­ca­tion and work­force de­vel­op­ment

• en­ergy, en­vi­ron­ment and agri­cul­ture

• fed­er­al­ism and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions

• health and hu­man ser­vices

• tax and fis­cal pol­icy

One of the amaz­ing things about ALEC’S work is that it ac­com­plishes all of this as a 501(c)(3) non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. That al­lows it to stay tax-ex­empt and yet re­ceive grants from cor­po­ra­tions, foun­da­tions and in­di­vid­u­als with­out con­cern. It fur­ther does this by ar­gu­ing that it is not a lob­by­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion be­cause it op­er­ates on its own turf and does not di­rectly so­licit the leg­is­la­tors to do the cor­po­rate world’s bid­ding. That con­tin­ues to be chal­lenged by many, in­clud­ing a July 14, 2011, civil com­plaint filed with the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice by Com­mon Cause ar­gu­ing that ALEC is ac­tu­ally en­gaged in lob­by­ing even when it force­fully ar­gues that it is not.

There are other eth­i­cal ques­tions of many kinds that af­fect how ALEC op­er­ates. Be­sides the quasi-lob­by­ing ap­proach that leg­is­la­tors vol­un­tar­ily sub­ject them­selves to, there are the fol­low­ing con­cerns:

• An es­ti­mated $3 mil­lion a year in pub­lic funds is used to send leg­is­la­tors to at­tend ALEC meet­ings, ac­cord­ing to one re­cent analysis on a site called Alecwatch.org.

• A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of leg­is­la­tors have travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion ex­penses at the meet­ings cov­ered by ALEC and yet these are not dis­closed as gifts.

• Cer­tain costs at and re­lated to the meet­ings are openly heav­ily dis­counted, such as group travel ser­vices and child day­care.

• Where le­gal, some leg­is­la­tors used their cam­paign funds to help send them to the events.

What those leg­is­la­tors get in re­turn for their at­ten­dance to ALEC meet­ings does ad­mit­tedly in­clude dis­cus­sion of many is­sues that mat­ter to some of their con­stituents. Those con­stituents are pretty much mostly cor­po­ra­tions, which is not ex­actly what most of us think of as rep­re­sen­ta­tive govern­ment. What the leg­is­la­tors who at­tend also get for go­ing of­ten in­clude the fol­low­ing:

• A won­der­ful stay in a lux­ury set­ting of­ten fully paid for but at least at heav­ily dis­counted rates.

• Ac­cess to pri­vately spon­sored par­ties and en­ter­tain­ment ac­tiv­i­ties that are never doc­u­mented and stay com­pletely off the books.

• Ac­cess to model leg­is­la­tion they can read­ily mod­ify to sub­mit to their own state leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees. With others do­ing the ad­vance work for them, they look good at home af­ter­wards by clearly hav­ing worked hard while toil- ing away far from home.

• Ac­cess to cor­po­ra­tions and lob­by­ists who will likely help sup­port the cam­paigns of these leg­is­la­tors, es­pe­cially when they see them carry their pro­posed ini­tia­tives back home to their in­di­vid­ual states – and then get them passed at the lo­cal level.

Is ALEC suc­cess­ful at do­ing this? By the sheer num­ber of bills pro­posed and passed in the United States ev­ery year, def­i­nitely so. In ALEC’S own words:

“To date, ALEC’S Task Forces have con­sid­ered, writ­ten and ap­proved hun­dreds of model bills on a wide range of is­sues, model leg­is­la­tion that will frame the de­bate to­day and far into the fu­ture. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Leg­is­la­tion, are in­tro­duced into the states. Of these, an av­er­age of 20 per­cent be­come law.”

That “av­er­age of 20 per­cent” of the bills is a to­tal of 200 laws passed each year based on ALEC’S di­rect in­volve­ment. By com­par­i­son, from 2001-2016, a pe­riod cov­er­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tions of Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and Demo­cratic Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the U.S. Con­gress only suc­cess­fully en­acted 195 laws each year on av­er­age. Those U.S. govern­ment bills were also a mix of both im­por­tant and rel­a­tively in­con­se­quen­tial leg­is­la­tion from the per­spec­tive of Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions – un­like their care­fully crafted Alec-spon­sored state-law coun­ter­parts.

Be­yond the num­bers, ALEC’S cor­po­rate spon­sors and par­tic­i­pants have been served well by their work. Con­sider these “re­sults” – again from the ALEC Ex­posed web­site:

• Al­tria/philip Mor­ris USA ben­e­fits from ALEC’S new­est to­bacco leg­is­la­tion – an ex­tremely nar­row tax break for moist to­bacco that would make fruit-fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts cheaper and more at­trac­tive to young­sters.

• Health in­sur­ance com­pa­nies such as Hu­mana and Golden Rule In­sur­ance (Unit­ed­health­care) ben­e­fit di­rectly from ALEC’S model bills, such as the Health Sav­ings Ac­count bill that just passed in Wis­con­sin.

• To­bacco firms such as Reynolds and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firms such as Bayer ben­e­fit di­rectly from ALEC tort re­form mea­sures that make it harder for Amer­i­cans to sue when in­jured by dan­ger­ous prod­ucts.

• The Cor­rec­tions Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica (CCA)

ben­e­fits di­rectly from the anti-im­mi­grant leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced in Ari­zona and other states that re­quires ex­panded in­car­cer­a­tion and hous­ing of im­mi­grants, along with other bills from ALEC’S crime task force. (While the CCA has stated that it left ALEC in late 2010 after years of mem­ber­ship on the crim­i­nal jus­tice task force and even co-chair­ing it, its prison pri­va­ti­za­tion bills re­main ALEC “mod­els.”)

• The Con­nec­tions Academy, a large on­line ed­u­ca­tion cor­po­ra­tion and co-chair of the ed­u­ca­tion task force, ben­e­fits from ALEC mea­sures to pri­va­tize pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and pro­mote pri­vate on­line schools.

There is more to con­sider from where laws like these came from. The fol­low­ing items are cur­rently among the var­i­ous im­por­tant is­sues ALEC says (on its own web­site) it is work­ing on:

• In agri­cul­ture, ma­jor agribusi­ness con­cerns such as Cargill, Bayer (one of the top GMO food com­pa­nies in the world and now Mon­santo’s new cor­po­rate par­ent, in ad­di­tion to its more-widely-known phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal con­cerns), J.R. Sim­plot and more help ALEC guide the way for leg­is­la­tors:

o Res­o­lu­tion on Coun­try of Ori­gin La­bel­ing (a.k.a. COOL): Us­ing the mantra of “free mar­kets,” ALEC is rec­om­mend­ing for “the United States Con­gress to de­velop and pass a leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion that will build mar­kets for U.S. prod­ucts at home and over­seas rather than im­ple­ment ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tions and re­quire­ments for our meat pro­duc­ers and pro­ces­sors,” such as the Coun­try of Ori­gin La­bel­ing re­quire­ment. The logic is that COOL is bad for busi­ness, and this is clearly stated in ALEC’S ma­te­ri­als. There is no con­sid­er­a­tion at all given to the im­por­tance to con­sumers of know­ing such things.

o Pre-emp­tion of Lo­cal Agri­cul­ture Laws Act: This law would pro­hibit “en­act­ment or en­force­ment of lo­cal mea­sures to reg­u­late agri­cul­tural seed, flower seed and veg­etable seed or prod­ucts of agri­cul­tural seed, flower seed and veg­etable seed.” It de­clares that reg­u­la­tions of any of this must be at the state level. The GMO com­pa­nies will ben­e­fit from this one, in the case that in­di­vid­ual cities or coun­ties may want to block their use.

o Right to Farm Act: One of the ways states and lo­cal laws have at­tempted to deal with un­wanted ex­pan­sion of GMO crops and re­lated farm prod­ucts such as Mon­santo’s glyphosate-based her­bi­cides is by iden­ti­fy­ing them as “nui­sances” and then reg­u­lat­ing them. This pro­posed law, which again uses the con­cept of free mar­kets to jus­tify it­self, at­tempts to block those kinds of reg­u­la­tions. Ex­am­ples of the clauses em­bed­ded in this act that sup­port this are as fol­lows:

 Sec­tion B of the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion: “A farm or farm op­er­a­tion shall not be found to be a pub­lic or pri­vate nui­sance if the farm or farm op­er­a­tion ex­isted be­fore a change in the land use or oc­cu­pancy of land within one mile of the bound­aries of the farm or farm op­er­a­tion and if be­fore that change in land use or oc­cu­pancy of land the farm or farm op­er­a­tion would not have been con­sid­ered a nui­sance.”

 From Sec­tion C of the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion: “A farm or farm op­er­a­tion … shall not be found to be a pub­lic or pri­vate nui­sance as a re­sult of … adop­tion of new tech­nol­ogy.”in both cases these block laws from be­ing passed to reg­u­late farms that might change to GMO us­age, for ex­am­ple, be­cause what they did be­fore was okay. The law ef­fec­tively blocks the abil­ity to reg­u­late ma­jor is­sues re­gard­ing how farms op­er­ate or are be­ing used.

o State Pes­ti­cide Pre­ven­tion Act: Ac­cord­ing to ALEC’S sum­mary of this leg­is­la­tion, it is “de­signed to en­sure the safety of Amer­ica’s food sup­ply through the pre-emp­tion of city, town, county, etc., pes­ti­cide or­di­nances.” It once again uses words few could ar­gue with (“the safety of Amer­ica’s food sup­ply”) to jus­tify block­ing the abil­ity of any govern­ment agen­cies other than those at the state level to reg­u­late pes­ti­cide use. At the state level, pre­sum­ably, ALEC would have more power to con­trol those reg­u­la­tions than in fight­ing against all the in­di­vid­ual or­di­nances that might come up.

Pro­posed “model leg­is­la­tion” in other ar­eas in­cludes the fol­low­ing:

• Mu­nic­i­pal Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Pri­vate In­dus­try Safe­guards Act: Among other things,

this “lim­its the au­thor­ity of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to own and op­er­ate telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and ad­vanced telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and ca­ble tele­vi­sion ser­vices to a mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s in­hab­i­tants.” Some of ALEC’S good cor­po­rate friends ad­vis­ing on this in­clude AT&T, Com­cast, Ver­i­zon and Cox Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

o State With­drawal from Re­gional Cli­mate Ini­tia­tives: Us­ing the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that “forc­ing busi­ness, in­dus­try and food pro­duc­ers to re­duce car­bon emis­sions through govern­ment man­dates and cap-and-trade poli­cies un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for the re­gional cli­mate ini­tia­tive will in­crease the cost of do­ing busi­ness, push com­pa­nies to do busi­ness with other states or na­tions and in­crease con­sumer costs for elec­tric­ity, fuel and food” and that “sim­ply re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions in the State of ____ will not have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on in­ter­na­tional car­bon re­duc­tion,” the law states “be it re­solved, that the leg­is­la­ture of the State of ___ urges the Gover­nor to with­draw [state] from the re­gional cli­mate ini­tia­tives.” Doubt­less, ALEC’S cor­po­rate pals Exxonmo­bil, Chevron, Cono­cophillips and Shell Oil helped make this re­ally easy for leg­is­la­tors to take home with them.

o An Act Re­lat­ing to On­line Lodg­ing Mar­ket­places: Com­pa­nies such as Airbnb are “en­abling more Amer­i­cans to earn ex­tra in­come from their homes and in­vest­ment prop­er­ties through short­term and va­ca­tion ren­tals,” and “Amer­i­can trav­el­ers and fam­ily va­ca­tion­ers are sav­ing money by rent­ing fully-fur­nished homes in­stead of ho­tel rooms,” ac­cord­ing to ALEC’S pro­posed leg­is­la­tion sum­mary. And yet “this new mar­ket is en­coun­ter­ing re­sis­tance from lo­cal gov­ern­ments, in the form of zon­ing re­stric­tions and pro­hi­bi­tions that pre­vent home­own­ers from us­ing their res­i­dences for short-term ren­tals.” Us­ing the same ar­gu­ments about free mar­kets, the pro­posed law would block lo­cal gov­ern­ments from reg­u­lat­ing short­term ren­tals in any way. This might seem like a good thing to some, but the in­abil­ity to pass such lo­cal reg­u­la­tions has re­sulted in dras­tic changes in city hous­ing costs, a far lower mix of lo­cal res­i­dents who have a long-term per­sonal in­vest­ment in the ar­eas they live in and the driv­ing out of long-term smaller restau­rants, gro­cery stores and other busi­nesses that can no longer work there. It is not clear if Airbnb is a di­rect spon­sor of ALEC, but one can as­sume some com­pany like that is be­hind this leg­is­la­tion.

The is­sues re­flected here are far from the end of ALEC and re­lated or­ga­ni­za­tions’ in­volve­ment in set­ting the stage for a com­mon set of leg­is­la­tions de­signed to pro­mote the spe­cific goals Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions, their lob­by­ing friends such as the Koch broth­ers and politi­cians of a par­tic­u­lar lean­ing may want to pro­tect.

One of those that emerged since Don­ald Trump was named the win­ner in the 2016 U.S. Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was a strangely well-co­or­di­nated ap­proach to block­ing protests against him and his poli­cies.

Un­der­stand­ably, the place­ment of some­one such as Trump in the po­si­tion of Pres­i­dent, with no gov­ern­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, ev­i­dence of high cor­rup­tion even as a busi­ness per­son, a lack of un­der­stand­ing or re­spect for the Con­sti­tu­tion and ques­tion­able men­tal sta­bil­ity, would bring a few people to­gether to chal­lenge even early on what now is be­com­ing clearer than ever – that the United States has made a ter­ri­ble mis­take. Those people re­spond with jour­nal­ism of var­i­ous kinds, law­suits and, for many, or­ga­nized protests.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion in the First Amend­ment – the same one also block­ing the “mak­ing of any law … abridg­ing the free­dom of speech” – Amer­i­can cit­i­zens are also al­lowed “the right to peace­ably as­sem­ble.” those threat­ened by that ex­er­cise of free­dom of speech and peace­able assem­bly moved in quickly to deal with the mat­ter. Since Novem­ber 2016, over 26 bills have been in­tro­duced to do some­thing to re­strict protest­ing, of­ten – as with the Alec-driven bills noted above – with very sim­i­lar lan­guage be­tween them.

In Wash­ing­ton State, for ex­am­ple, Se­na­tor Doug Erick­sen moved quickly to quash protests by call­ing demon­stra­tors “eco­nomic ter­ror­ists,” cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the emo­tion­ally charged last word in the phrase. North Dakota took a few months to copy this but passed a bill in March 2017 that turns “eco­nomic ter­ror­ism” into a new class of crime in the state.

North Dakota also suc­cess­fully passed a bill that makes it a crime for demon­stra­tors to cover their face. This one most likely was trig­gered by the large and

long-last­ing protests in the Stand­ing Rock re­gion re­gard­ing the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line. Prob­a­bly not coin­ci­den­tally, Mis­souri, Wash­ing­ton, Ne­braska, Ge­or­gia and Mon­tana are look­ing at sim­i­lar laws.

Three states in­tro­duced bills that would al­low mo­torists who might “ac­ci­den­tally” hit demon­stra­tors on the road­way to be ex­empt from charges. These were in­tro­duced in Florida and North Dakota on the same day, a par­tic­u­larly strange co­in­ci­dence. Ten­nessee fol­lowed later with some­thing quite sim­i­lar.

Be­yond those, seven states have in­tro­duced so-called “anti-ob­struc­tion” bills that in­crease penal­ties for those who ob­struct traf­fic while protest­ing. In Ore­gon, a once-quite-lib­eral-lean­ing state where anti-protest laws might have been en­acted, there is now a pend­ing law that would make it manda­tory for com­mu­nity col­leges or pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties to ex­pel any stu­dent con­victed of ri­ot­ing – even if it was not on the grounds of the in­sti­tu­tion and/or had noth­ing to do with the in­sti­tu­tion, re­gard­less of the sta­tus of the stu­dent in ques­tion.

As for de­tails on what is cur­rently pend­ing or has been passed of this kind, the fol­low­ing is a par­tial list­ing:

• Ari­zona: In SB 1142, the State Sen­ate voted to add “ri­ot­ing” to the crime statute and ex­pand state rack­e­teer­ing laws to al­low po­lice to seize the as­sets of pro­test­ers. Mer­ci­fully, this law failed to pass in the en­tire leg­is­la­ture.

• Colorado: SB 17-035 makes ob­struct­ing or tam­per­ing with oil and gas equip­ment pun­ish­able with up to 18 months in prison and/or $100,000 in fines. Pend­ing.

• Ge­or­gia: SB-160 el­e­vates the block­ing of any high­way, street, side­walk or other pub­lic pas­sage a “high and ag­gra­vated mis­de­meanor.” Passed.

• In­di­ana: SB 285 au­tho­rizes po­lice to re­move pro­tes­tors, ap­par­ently even if do­ing so in a Con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected peace­able assem­bly. Pend­ing.

• Iowa: SF 111 up­grades the crime of protest­ing on a high­way to a felony with up to five years in prison. Pend­ing.

• Min­nesota: HF322 al­lows the govern­ment to force pro­tes­tors to pay the costs of the polic­ing of un­law­ful demon­stra­tions. HF55 raises ob­struc­tion of high­ways to the level of “gross mis­de­meanor.” Pend­ing.

• North Dakota: HB 1426 cre­ates dif­fer­ent class- es of penal­ties for ri­ot­ing. HB1304 pro­hibits the use of masks, hoods or face cov­er­ings for con­ceal­ment dur­ing “the com­mis­sion of a crim­i­nal of­fense.” HB 1293, likely in­flu­enced by the Stand­ing Rock protests, makes it a crime to tres­pass a crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture fa­cil­ity, with a fine of $1,000 or six months in prison; it also al­lows for any­one who van­dal­izes in­fra­struc­ture to be charged with a felony pun­ish­able by a $100,000 fine or 10 years in prison. All three have been passed.

• North Carolina: HB 249 al­lows charg­ing any per­son who will­fully “im­pedes or dis­rupts the reg­u­lar course of busi­ness” with the felony crime of “eco­nomic ter­ror­ism.” Pend­ing. An­other bill, also pend­ing, would make it a crime to heckle law­mak­ers.

• Ore­gon: SB 540 re­quires com­mu­nity col­leges or pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties to ex­pel any stu­dent con­victed of ri­ot­ing. Pend­ing.

• South Dakota: SB 176 au­tho­rizes the com­mis­sioner of school and pub­lic lands to pro­hibit groups of 20+ people from “con­gre­gat­ing” on pub­lic lands. Makes ob­struct­ing high­ways a Class 2 mis­de­meanor. Passed.

• Ten­nessee: SB 944 ex­empts driv­ers from li­a­bil­ity in the event they hit a pro­tes­tor who is ob­struct­ing traf­fic. Pend­ing.

• Wash­ing­ton: SB 5009 cre­ates a new clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “eco­nomic dis­rup­tion” for ob­struct­ing pas­sage­ways of trains and other in­fra­struc­ture. The orig­i­nal des­ig­na­tion of “eco­nomic ter­ror­ism” for the same newly des­ig­nated crime was mer­ci­fully changed. Pend­ing.

• Wis­con­sin: Assem­bly Bill 299 pro­vides for “dis­ci­plinary sanc­tions for any­one un­der an in­sti­tu­tion’s ju­ris­dic­tion who en­gages in vi­o­lent, abu­sive, in­de­cent, pro­fane, bois­ter­ous, ob­scene, un­rea­son­ably loud, or other dis­or­derly con­duct that in­ter­feres with the free ex­pres­sion of others.” Among other things, this cov­ers us­ing the idea that free speech of others must be pro­tected by sti­fling the free speech of pro­tes­tors.

Sev­eral other bills that have al­ready failed in pas­sage, such as Florida’s SB 1096, which would ex­empt mo­torists from any li­a­bil­ity if they hit a pro­tes­tor ob­struct­ing traf­fic, are not in­cluded above but are of course very much part of the same trend.

Of a list of 26 anti-protest bills submitted within 18

states since the Novem­ber elec­tion, seven have passed, eight have failed and 11 are still pend­ing. Others are pop­ping up ev­ery day.

The moves to crush dis­sent and protests have hap­pened so fast, cov­ered so many is­sues and ap­peared in so many states all at once that two in­de­pen­dent ex­perts at the United Na­tions, Maina Kiai and David Kaye, with back­grounds in the free­doms of peace­able assem­bly and ex­pres­sion, re­spec­tively, called for U.S. law­mak­ers to do some­thing about what they called the “alarm­ing” trend of “un­demo­cratic” bills de­signed to crim­i­nal­ize what na­tions world­wide have backed as both le­gal and a part of ba­sic hu­man rights. In a state­ment they re­leased to­gether ear­lier this year, they said:

“From the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment to the en­vi­ron­men­tal and Na­tive Amer­i­can move­ments in op­po­si­tion to the Dakota Ac­cess oil pipe­line and the Women’s Marches, in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions across so­ci­ety have mo­bi­lized in peace­ful protests, as it is their right un­der in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights law and U.S. law.”

Be­sides these bills, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have re­cently in­tro­duced new rules that make it harder for re­porters to in­ter­view Se­na­tors within the Capi­tol build­ing.

Fif­teen of the bills were spon­sored by at least one known ALEC as­so­ciate. Does this mean ALEC may be be­hind these bills? It is pos­si­ble, even if it is not listed on the ALEC web­site and there has been no con­fir­ma­tion that ALEC has had a di­rect hand in any of them. After all, when such co­in­ci­dences show up, the adage “Just be­cause you are para­noid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” is wor­thy ad­vice to take.

All of the above raises the ques­tion as to what can be done to fight this kind of or­ga­nized ap­proach to tak­ing over the govern­ment of the United States “one state at a time,” as au­thor and Univer­sity of Ore­gon pro­fes­sor Gor­don Lafer de­scribed the process. One so­lu­tion is to fight against the groups’ tax-ex­empt sta­tus at a na­tional level and have them la­beled ap­pro­pri­ately as the cor­po­rate lob­by­ists they are. A se­cond is to shine a bright light on their ac­tions so more people be­come aware of what they are do­ing. An­other in­volves block­ing the abil­ity of state leg­is­la­tors to accept any form of com­pen­sa­tion from ALEC, even in the form of dis­counted fees.

A fi­nal one – and per­haps one of the most im­por­tant – is to be­come both knowl­edge­able about and ac­tive in your own state govern­ment’s af­fairs and then to block or­ga­ni­za­tions like ALEC from tak­ing over while the pub­lic sleeps com­fort­ably on the side­lines, falsely as­sum­ing their state gov­ern­ments are gen­uinely look­ing after the cit­i­zens’ best in­ter­ests be­fore those of cor­po­ra­tions.

If we don't stop the crim­i­nal cor­po­ra­tions from tak­ing over our govern­ment, it will be our own fault. Tak­ing democ­racy for granted means los­ing it.

Im­age by Ja­son OX4, CC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.