Sunday, June 26, 2011

ALEC, Koch and the Conservative led "War on the Middle Class"...

I've written extensively about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the likes of Charles and David Koch, the Council for National Policy, the Heritage Foundation, Reason Foundation, CATO Institute, Freedom Works...etc, etc., and their involvement in starting, funding and advancing similar agendas targeting legislation beneficial to their corporate interests.

Usually I write about involvement of this core group related to incarceration, prison privatization and prison industries. I know to many this is simply not considered a "Hot Topic" - either in personal, business or political terms. This diary is published to show why it should be a hot topic and how the mechanics employed in this one ALEC led initiative is demonstrative of their agenda regarding pursuit of even more important issues facing us today.

I'll begin by saying that over the past decade we have been involved in a huge class war here in the U.S. It has been mostly ignored by many, because the skirmishes have been small scale when compared to larger issues that dominate our media and thus our minds. However, each of these tiny battles have led us to the situation today where the entire middle class is in a battle for it's very existence. The battle is brought upon us by the corporate elite representing the wealthiest segment of our society.

Criminal justice is but one of those "skirmishes" in this war. It is an important one though, for several reasons. The most important aspect is the huge financial windfall realized by these corporatists from our state and federal budgets for incarceration. The billions spent by the middle class on incarceration, is siphoned off through prison privatization of those incarcerated and by companies profiting off of incarceration in general; privatized health, food services, canteen operations, transportation, banking services, phone contracts and of huge importance - privatized prison industries.

Reports by independent and informed sources, provide statistics that as of 2007, American taxpayers spent $74 billion annually on incarceration, an increase of 72% since 1997 (Tracey Kyckelhahn, Justice Expenditure and Employment Extracts 2007, Table 1(Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010) as reported by the Justice Policy Institute this week. Out of this huge sum of tax dollars, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group (Geo) jointly reported $2.9 billion in revenue for 2010 alone (Corrections Corporation of America, 2010 Annual Report, 2011; The GEO Group, 2010 Annual Report (Boca Raton, FL): The GEO Group, 2011).

In addition to these "earned" profits by CCA and Geo, another $2.4 billion was taken in by companies through the sale of prisoner made goods in 2009. Together the private companies involved in private prison operations and prison industries are realizing more than $5 billion in income per year. This amount does not include peripheral income such as the profits made by Bail bond agents and insurers, medical, food service, banking or sale of products used in prison; chemical sprays, security equipment, construction of new prisons and expansion of existing ones. Altogether an estimated $11 billion dollars changes hands annually from U.S. incarceration and prison industries.

To anyone suffering through the economic situation over the past two or three years, this is a HUGE sum of money - and most of it paid out of state and federal appropriations set aside for correctional services and operations. Conservatives would have us believe that all these incarceration costs are because we as a society demand that we be made safe by locking up every possible individual that commits an offense against us - personally or upon our property. We're told it is because of these demands that so many are imprisoned and the cost of that imprisonment so expensive. These arguments have been used by Republicans since 1980 to increase incarceration by more than 650%, while putting into place legislation that allows their corporate masters and benefactors to realize the most profits possible from locking up everyone and throwing away the key.

Now lets take a close look at how this was done, why and the "mechanics". By doing this I'll demonstrate how these same manipulations and tactics are being used in a similar manner to win the "skirmishes" and ultimately this Class War - that is not even recognized as happening by many Americans...

From 1980 ALEC has been involved in writing model legislation involving criminal justice at the state level (lauding such efforts at their web site). Simultaneously through their huge number of Alumni who have gone on to posts within the federal government, or have been elected to the U.S. Congress, they also have pushed for federal legislation that comports with their state efforts; three strike laws, minimum mandatory drug and gun laws, truth in sentencing laws, replacement of government programs to provide bonding for those charged with, abolishing parole and similar legislation. These efforts have resulted today in more than 2.4 million of us incarcerated.

Also from 1980 on, ALEC developed and pushed their Model Legislation to expand privatization of state and federal prison facilities. Their Model Legislation's such as:
Targeted Contracting for Certain Correctional Facilities and Services Act
Resolution on Prison Expenditures
Inmate Labor Disclosure Act
Housing Out-of-State Prisoners in a Private Prison Act
have all been designed to benefit their long time members, CCA and Geo Group.
From 1993 ALEC has also been actively pursuing involvement in prison industry legislation. Their model legislation titled the "Prison Industries Act" is based upon exploiting the federal Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) to allow private sector corporations, businesses and companies access to and use of prisoner labor as a cheap workforce and a means of increasing profits.

Through their legislative efforts, ALEC helped create our huge prison population of today. They were able to implement their model legislation on privatization of prisons in many states and on the federal level, creating a huge business niche with substantial profits for CCA and Geo. ALEC's efforts of privatization of prison industries - or allowance of the use of prisoners for corporate labor were equally successful, again resulting in huge profits to manufacturers and other member companies.

Now let's look at how they accomplished all of this so easily...

The criminal justice legislation mentioned above created the "workforce" for their prison industry initiatives. What needed to be done next was to expand prison industry operations state by state to create cheap jobs for inmates and high profits for their corporate membership.

Along came Ray Allen. Allen was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1993. As a "freshman" Conservative Republican lawmaker Allen was attracted to ALEC and joined their ranks. In 1993, legislation sponsored by Allen offered tax credits to corporations, encouraging them to engage in prison industries. In1997 he introduced ALEC's Model Prison Industries Act as proposed legislation in Texas and it became law. In 1999 he introduced more legislation on the state prison industry program and subsequent legislation amendments to his original legislation. While Allen was working so diligently on behalf of ALEC and prison industries, he became Chairman of the House Corrections Committee and ALEC's Criminal Justice and Homeland Security Task Force Chairman. In those capacities he assisted prison privatization efforts on behalf of ALEC members CCA and Geo side by side with his prison industry work.

In 1998 Allen participated in a meeting in Washington, D.C. titled: "Policies and Programs In Prison Industries". Key Note speaker was AG Janet Reno and other speakers included Pam Davis, PRIDE CEO and Chairman of the NCIA, FL. U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime (that just months before chaired a hearing on expansion of the federal prison industries). Also present as moderator was Warren Cikins, a representative of the Brookings Institution, another Koch and ALEC affiliate. Allen was also secretly lobbying on behalf of the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA). As you can see from the articles and links, ALEC, the NCIA, Ray Allen and Koch affiliated Brookings Institution all came together at that meeting to promote expanding the PIECP program so that more corporations could take advantage of prison labor.

The U.S.Department of Justice issued the PIECP final guideline within 6 months of this "workshop meeting" attended by all of the above. Once the federal law was in place, prison industry in the U.S. exploded exponentially - along with the access to that labor by private corporations, many of which were members of ALEC or affiliated with Koch, Heritage or similar Conservative organizations and individuals. The results of the coordinated legislative and lobbying efforts of these lawmakers, corporations, individuals and organizations such as ALEC is today's estimated $2.5 billion dollar prison industry operation.

Just last October Attorney General Holder issued a memo applauding the continued growth of the federal prison population, and urged all federal procurement officers to "open their UNICOR" catalogs and buy - buy - buy products from them so they could expand the prison industries and put more inmates to work. With first Janet Reno and now Holder supporting this exploitation of prisoners as a workforce, the corruption has escalated to the highest office of law enforcement in the U.S. Such is the pervasive nature of this beast - fed by ALEC.

From the profits garnered from prison industries, and privatization, corporate members of ALEC contributed huge sums back to ALEC and affiliated right wing PAC's and political organizations. Conservatives have used both of these "Initiatives" to enrich themselves and to help fund other political efforts of ALEC and the likes of Koch through the Heritage and Reason foundations, etc. In plain terms, this money is being used to promote today's Republican initiatives: repealing healthcare, voter disenfranchisement, privatization of more jails, prisons and state operated facilities. Privatization and prison industry of the past is fueling ALEC and Koch's efforts against the middle class today.

Until this past year many of us had no idea there was even a "war" ongoing against the middle class. We perceived the machinations of the Bush administration and Republicans as simply more of the same political rhetoric between the parties that had been continuing for decades, and chose to ignore it and we did it at our own peril. By our ignorance we allowed this cabal to amass a huge - almost insurmountable - financial war chest, which they used in 2010 to push many Democrats and moderate Republicans from office. With a majority in state governors, state assemblies and ALEC Alumni (Boehner, Cantor, Kasich, Walker and others) holding U.S. and state positions of power and influence they believe they are now in a position of minority strength. They're using that influence to push ALEC's agenda over the top.

If you look at what's been happening on the front lines in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio - to name just the top three states - and compare what's happening today to what has transpired in privatization and prison industry efforts in the past, we can easily discern the same pattern. ALEC member, the American Bail Coalition has used ALEC lawmaker members in Wisconsin to slip through a budget amendment to make way for a return of commercial bail bonding in that state. Previous legislative efforts to do that failed, so this time Rep. Robin Vos instead squeezed a last-minute provision into the state budget to enable the ABC to regain commercial bonding in Wisconsin. Of Course, Vos also serves as ALEC's Wisconsin State Chair.

A similar budget manipulation in Florida resulted in more than $100 million being slid to ALEC member GEO Group to build an unnecessary private prison facility in that state in 2008-09. This was accomplished by then ALEC member (and Alumni) Marcos Rubio and FL. House Speaker, Ray Sansom who has already resigned due to corruption and faces indictment for:
Perhaps the most notable individual charged to date is former Rep. Ray Sansom (R-Destin), who while serving as Rubio's budget chief inserted language into the Florida's 2008-2009 budget for what was to become Blackwater CF.
The FBI just issued subpoenas and is fully investigating that entire incident, looking particularly at the campaign contributions and lobbyist payments by Geo Group and to Rubio and Sansom. The fact that Florida has been forced to close up to five state run prisons to accommodate Geo's thirst for more prisoners in their beds, has been ignored by Governor Scott - another corporate hawk looking to fatten his own pocket. In fact Scott just supported legislation to privatize 18 counties in South Florida (home to Geo Group's headquarters) that will put another 15,000 state inmates in Geo's control at the taxpayer expense - a move even some Republicans oppose.

This, I think, clearly demonstrates the vast money being funneled into the pockets of legislators by corporations determined to have their way regarding access to taxpayer money. Today the President is faced with the challenge of repulsing the Republican's demands for no tax increases (actually rescinding the tax breaks given by Bush) while they go after Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other safety nets important to the middle class. President Obama must be made to see that he has to draw the line on cutting important programs for the middle class and stand firm on repealing the tax breaks that he extended just last year. We have to begin to slow the until now uncontrolled flow of money into the corporate coffers and from there into the campaigns and special interest projects of ALEC's alumni serving as U.S. lawmakers or Conservatives. Repealing these corporate tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy will begin to diminish that flow. Repealing the PIECP laws - or even just enforcing the mandatory laws of the program - will turn that tap another full turn and lessen access to the $2.5 billion prison industry by private companies and ALEC's corporate members. Doing both would severely limit the funding of the Conservative efforts in their unstated open war against the middle class.

Make no doubt, we are in fact under attack from all angles by these efforts. The media owned primarily by conglomerates and corporate masters such as Fox, Bloomberg and Gannett won't report on this war or the battles being fought on all these fronts. Instead they fill their shows, papers and radio reports with inane topics and when something surfaces that points to this war, they downplay the incident, and convince their readers, watchers and listeners that the story is simply more left wing rhetoric that should be ignored...

...and it has been ignored and for far too long. The future of our country and society hangs in the balance today. If we continue to wring our hands and do nothing that future is bleak indeed. Instead we should be taking part in the many demonstrations and protests taking place across the country. Since the exploitation began months ago in Wisconsin and spread like a Republican fueled wildfire across the Midwest, thousands have been speaking out, protesting, demonstrating and fighting for worker's rights, defending voter rights, fighting to stop defunding or our education and similar issues.

Collectively we must come together and for once present a united front against these attacks and the war itself. Join us in Protesting ALEC in August in New Orleans. If you can't come, donate to the effort. You can join or donate here: You can also join the Brave New Foundation in their efforts of exposing the Koch influence, opposing prison privatization and incarcerating immigrants for profits by Geo and CCA.

Please take a few seconds and sign my petition that will be sent to your state legislative members and Governor, asking that ALEC legislation be identified and their state members exposed.

I'll be in New Orleans in August and hope to see some of you there joining arms with us in this ongoing war against the middle class. If our President continues to capitulate to the demands of the minority over the needs and demands of the middle class, we must stand up and speak out for ourselves and our neighbors...just sayin'...

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