“Not only do I pray for it on the score of human dignity, but I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union, by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.” Attributed to George Washington
“O Lord, I am Your servant, yes, I am Your servant, born into Your household; You have freed me from my chains.” Psalm 116:16 NLT
Although George Washington may have been able to “clearly foresee” the inevitable rooting out of slavery in this nation, we all know that no steps were taken to eliminate it until almost one hundred years later.
Even then, the first step was taken with such trepidation that it amounted to no real step at all and was, in fact, more an act of political maneuvering than an act of moral righteousness.
Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation” which was issued on September 22, 1862 to take effect in January 1, 1863 , actually only went so far as to free those slaves who were located in states that had seceded from the union.
In fact, in August of that year – prior to deciding to issue that proclamation – Lincoln stated his policy in regards to slavery thusly: “If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could do it by freeing all of the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would do that.”
Ultimately, with the issuance of the “Emancipation Proclamation”, it was shown that his fear of losing the goodwill of the slave owners in the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky took precedence over securing freedom for all of those enslaved at that time.
It wasn’t until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and then ratified by the states that all slavery was abolished.
Of course, climbing out of the holds of the slave ships and breaking the chains of slavery would prove to be more complicated than just passing legislation.
The flames of hatred, prejudice, and ignorance – all fanned by the winds of fear – have kept the issue of race burning since the ratification of the 13th Amendment, through the tumultuous – and often deadly – civil rights movements of the 1960’s, all the way to this very day, proving that, while it may be possible to control some human action through legislation, it is impossible to legislate the human heart – or the human mind – and as long as the winds of fear blow in this country, there will always be hatred, prejudice, and ignorance.
Consider an item I ran across in “USA Today” several weeks ago. It seems that so much “progress” has been made in Louisiana’s Caldwell Parish that the school districts there no longer require federal supervision. A federal judge has ruled that the schools are “officially desegregated.”
The same court has decided, however, that a closer look is needed at Richmond Parish schools.
And, in a case dating back to the 1960’s, and also reported in USA Today, Alabama’s Pickens County public schools and the justice department have arrived at a settlement in their desegregation case.
The fact that the disease of segregation still infects this country is disturbing in itself. The fact that the news that it still festers is deserving of no more space in the paper than might be used to announce a garage sale, is even more so.
Of course, desegregation is not the hot topic that it was when many people were dying and Mississippi was, in fact, burning. Those very real flames were being fanned by the winds of fear of what desegregation represented.
Those same winds of fear often prevent the leaders of this country from doing the right thing. More importantly, when those winds are manipulated and directed towards the public, those in policy-making positions are often empowered to do the wrong thing.
While the winds that flow out of Africa develop into hurricanes as they cross the Atlantic Ocean, the winds of fear are man-made and often driven by the forces of politics and profit rather than the forces of nature.
In the 1950’s federal mandatory prison sentences were used to combat narcotics (much as they would be again 30 years later), but common sense prevailed and all mandatory minimums were repealed in the 1970’s. Then-Congressman George H. W. Bush, doing the right thing, voted for the bill eliminating them stating: “contrary to what one might imagine, this bill will result in better justice and more appropriate sentences. …Federal judges are almost unanimously opposed to mandatory minimums because they remove a great deal of the court’s discretion… …as a result, we will probably have more equitable action by the courts, with actually more convictions where they are called for, and fewer disproportionate sentences.”
Eighteen years later, Bush would reverse that position while running against George Dukakis for president. Continuing a “tough-on-crime” mantra begun by Reagan (with encouragement from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which we will look at momentarily), Bush would embrace newer, longer, more wide-reaching mandatory minimums than those he voted to repeal.
Reagan manipulated the winds that fanned the flames until they were hot enough to forge the public’s fear of crime into chains that wrapped around this country and have squeezed more and more freedom from the American people since that time while making people believe that those chains were, in fact, a protective blanket.
As those chains of fear have squeezed more freedom from the American people, they also have squeezed out profits for companies and individuals who have formed an unholy alliance that has grown in its size, scope, and power since its inception in the early 1970’s.
That unholy alliance is, of course, the “American Legislative Exchange Council” – ‘ALEC’ – and the influence and power it wields today is enormous and the profits reaped by the incestuous relationships that abound within – and around – it are staggering.
The ‘ blacksmiths’ who forged those chains of fear that are strangling this country first opened shop almost 40 years ago at a small meeting in Chicago in September of 1973. Those “blacksmiths” included then Illinois State Representative Harry Hyde, conservative activist Paul Weyrich, and Lou Barnett a veteran of Ronald Reagan’s 1968 presidential campaign.
The American Legislative Exchange Council was born and – waving a banner for “limited government, free markets, and individual liberty” – has grown to include some 2,000 legislative members representing all 50 states. (I’m sorry, isn’t that what the United States Congress is for?). Each individual member pays an annual membership fee of $50.00 and gets to meet with other members at 3 conferences per year held at various locations throughout the country. (Who wants to bet that it is expensed as ‘state business’?)
In addition to meeting with other legislators, some 300 corporate foundations and private sector members pay from $3,000 to $10,000 each to attend – and participate in – these conferences and, as members, assist in the primary function of ALEC which is to write model legislation to be brought back to each of the 50 states.
‘ALEC’ has escaped public scrutiny, for some reason, for all of these years until recently. Lately, its practices – and, in some cases, its legitimate need to exist at all – have come into question. Some of the more recent questions and public criticisms have come from sources such as National Public Radio, Bloomberg News, John Nichols of “The Nation”, William Cronon from the University of Wisconsin, and the Center for Media and Democracy.
Examples of these concerns and criticisms include: the danger of using ‘ALEC’ to avoid state laws to disclose meetings with, and gifts from, public and private corporations; neither the model legislation that ‘ALEC’ pushes nor the list of elected officials who are members is made publicly available; their nonprofit status has been challenged on the grounds that ‘ALEC’ spends most of its resources lobbying, in violation of the rules governing nonprofit organizations; and the whole organization seems to strive towards a goal that is the advancement of an agenda that seems to be dictated at almost every turn by multi-national corporations.
These are just some of the ever increasing criticisms and concerns that are coming to the fore, and – quite frankly – I am surprised that a group which is violating at least the spirit of some laws – if not the letter – has operated so openly, for so long, and grown so large and powerful without these – and other – concerns being raised long ago.
As I showed earlier, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was formed in 1983 and quickly became an active participant in ALEC’s policy making and legislation modeling. CCA has grown – and profited hugely – as a direct result of legislation passed that was drawn up initially behind ALEC’s closed doors before being introduced – and in many cases passed – in the individual members’ states.
Thanks to The Center for Media and Democracy, there is a website you should all visit to truly appreciate the scope of ALEC’s intrusion into public affairs that have been conducted in private, with no public oversight, and no public participation, and no public notification.
The site is www.alecexposed.org – from that website, one member of my massive research staff – God Bless You, Diane – obtained and forwarded to me examples of the ‘model legislation’ ALEC’s ‘ task forces’ and members drew up to be brought back and introduced in each of the 50 states.
Of the more than 2 dozen examples that I requested (out of the more than 800 listed), many of them directly benefit private companies such as CCA and GEO (which claims to be no longer connected to ALEC). Both companies were avid participants when much of the legislation that directly benefits them was written, and CCA still is a major participant and financial contributor. CCA also, at one point co-chaired the Criminal Justice Task Force which created the pieces of legislation I am going to discuss.
Among the examples of legislation I requested for review are the following, with a brief description of how CCA, GEO, and similar Slave Traders of the 21st Century profit from that legislation:
- GPS TRACKING OF OFFENDERS ACT – This Act enables state and local authorities to utilize GPS electronic monitoring as a means of tracking offenders and pre-trial defendants within a community. Adopted by the Criminal Justice Task Force at the annual meeting, August 2007 and approved by ALEC Board of Directors, September 2007. Remember GEO’s purchase of Behavioral Interventions, Inc.? That purchase was $415 million dollars, so this is big business, and monitoring is what they do.
- MINIMUM MANDATORY SENTENCING ACT – This Act establishes mandatory sentencing for drug offenses on the state level (many of which are being repealed, have been recently repealed, or are under consideration for being repealed).
Private prison companies have benefited by creating massive overcrowding in the nation’s prison system, whereupon the private prison industry has stepped in to offer “solutions”, resulting in major increases in revenue and profits to CCA, GEO, and similar companies.
- HOUSING OUT-OF-STATE PRISONERS IN A PRIVATE PRISON ACT – This Act would enable a private prison contractor to provide housing, care, and control of inmates of any state. Obviously, this law would benefit the operators of private prisons such as CCA and GEO.
Other pieces of “model” legislation written by ALEC’s “task force” of legislators and the very private prison companies that they will financially benefit are:
- Temporary Juvenile Detention Act
- Private Correctional Facilities Act
- Prison Industries Act
- Electronic Home Detention Act
- Resolution to enforce our immigration laws (which spawned the model legislation that has passed in Arizona, Utah, Alabama and Georgia).
All of these, and thousands of additional pieces of legislation were written by the very people whose pockets will be lined by their enactment. From ALEC’s website is the following statement: “Each year, close to 1,000 bills based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law.”
Pardon me for my ignorance, but ALEC’s own Mission Statement calls for limited government. 1,000 pieces of legislation – 3 per day – is not limited at all, but any fisherman will tell you that the more hooks you have in the water, the better your chances of catching fish.
It’s not just in the criminal arena that ALEC wraps its chains around this country either. There are currently eight “task forces” made up of legislators and private industry:
- Civil Justice
- Commerce, Insurance & Economic Development
- Energy, Environment and Agriculture
- Health and Human Services
- International Relations
- Public Safety & Elections
- Task & Fiscal Policy
- Telecommunications & Information Technology.
This sounds like a list of cabinet offices in the U.S. Government, but is just a very private “back room” full of good old boys and cigar smoke – and it’s the American public’s eyes that are being blinded by the smoke.
But at least we are wrapped in our protective blanket, right?
The simple fact is this: ALEC has flooded the states with legislation designed to benefit select businesses, or areas of business, while burdening the American people with the costs for implementation of these pieces of legislation, and it is all done in a way that is absolutely opposite of the principles on which this country was founded and the way it is supposed to function.
The tentacles of ALEC reach far and have grown in number and strength through the years.
Among ALEC ‘alumni’ are 14 past, or sitting, governors and 85 members of Congress. It would be a stretch of any imagination to think that these ‘graduates’ of ALEC are without connections to, or influence over, what transpires behind ALEC’s closed doors even now that they have “moved on” and are no longer official members. (Remember, this is an organization for state legislators.)
It would be an even bigger stretch to think that the relationships those ‘alumni’ have struck with ALEC’s corporate members ended upon their “graduation”. Much of the ‘cross-pollination’ I have referred to repeatedly throughout this series can be directly traced back to relationships formed through ALEC, and I never even put a tiny scratch in the surface of the numbers of relationships that exist today.
Bob Kasten and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan, Terry Branstad of Iowa and John Kasich of Ohio were involved with ALEC during its formative years. All have “graduated” gone onto become Republican Governors or Members of Congress.
John Kasich is now Governor of Ohio. If you recall, in my first of this series, I pointed out that he appointed Gary Mohr as the head of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
To further refresh your memory, Mohr is a former Consultant and Managing Director for CCA, and you may further remember that, conversely, CCA hired Kasish’s former congressional chief of staff, Donald Thibault, as a lobbyist last January.
To complete this little refresher course, Mohr had proposed selling 5 of Ohio’s prisons to private prison companies through a bidding process and the proposal moves forward with CCA as a participant. Mohr put out a memorandum that he would not be involved in the process. (wink, wink)
Now for the update: The Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Northeastern Ohio has become the first state prison in the nation to be sold to a private company. Of the 5 put up for sale, only this one will be sold, according to the state. The winning bid was $72.7 million dollars which is more than the $50 million needed from privatization efforts to balance the state’s prison budget.
CCA won the bid, but that should come as no surprise because of the relationships between Kasich, Mohr, and CCA. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the presumption that that relationship had nothing to do with CCA being successful in its bid, nor should anyone else of reasonable intelligence. They take over December 31st pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the move.
While the trading of human flesh for profit is the primary focus of this series, ALEC itself cannot be discussed properly without pointing out that other industries, businesses, and individuals use their ALEC access to develop legislation favorable to their particular field.
I came across this excerpt from a “Bloomberg News” article reporting on ALEC:
“Koch Industries, Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corporation (XOM) are among companies that would benefit from almost identical energy legislation introduced in state capitols from Oregon to New Mexico to New Hampshire and that’s by design.
The energy companies helped write the legislation at a meeting organized by a group they finance: ‘The American Legislative Exchange Council’, a Washington-based policy institute known as ALEC.
The corporations, both ALEC members, took a seat at the legislative drafting table beside elected officials and policy analysts by paying between $3,000 and $10,000 yearly, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News.”
According to ALECexposed.org, in addition to CCA, GEO, KOCH Industries and Exxon Mobil, the list of past and present corporate members of ALEC includes: AT&T, Verizon, UPS, Bayer Corp., Glaxo Smith Kline, Coca Cola, Kraft Foods, Pfizer, State Farm Insurance, Wal-mart, and the American Bail Coalition.
Comparing this list with the list of ALEC task forces, it is easy to see where each would fit – some in multiple categories – and have a vested interest in having a hand in developing legislation that would be favorable to their industry, in general, or their company, in particular.
None of this would be possible were it not for the arrogant manner in which the American people have been manipulated and wrapped up in those chains of fear masquerading as a protective blanket.
And nowhere is the arrogance of our elected officials and the alienation of the American people more obvious than in the action of ALEC and the comments of its current Chairman, Louisiana Representative Noble Ellington.
In an interview with Terry Gross on a radio show produced by National Public Radio (NPR), Ellington got a little testy when Ms. Gross asked him why corporations got a seat at the table with ALEC but unions, teachers, and the general public don’t.
His response: “I work for the taxpaying public, so don’t assume that they’re not (at the table) because they are. And we represent the public and we are the ones who decide. So the taxpaying public is there at the table because I am there.”
The taxpaying public did not elect Mr. Ellington or any other member of any legislative body – federal or state – in this country to meet in private with multi-national corporations and draft legislation that directly benefits those same companies, their shareholders, their executives, or their friends.
But they draft it anyway.
The taxpaying public did not elect Mr. Ellington or any other member of any legislative body – federal or state – in this country to meet in private with those same companies and build personal relationships to further their own long-term interests and those of their close associates by ‘cross-pollinating’ and creating a revolving door through which passes the members of an exclusive club or collaborative cronies more concerned with feathering their own nests than furthering the causes of those who elected them in the first place.
But they do it anyway.
The taxpaying public also did not elect Mr. Ellington or any other member of any legislative body – federal or state – in this country to vote in their own self-interest in matters concerning term limits, line item vetoes, compensation packages, pensions, campaign reform, lobbying matters, ethics, super pacs, and other areas, as opposed to what is best for the taxpaying public they all took an oath to serve.
But they vote against the best interests of the taxpaying public anyway. Over and over and over.
“Those who do not move do not notice their chains.”
The time has come for the American people to move in order that they might finally realize that their elected officials have wrapped them in chains and those chains are getting tighter and tighter, slowly squeezing the life – and the liberty – out of every American, not just those on the literal “wrong side of the fence.”
The flames of fear used to forge those chains were fueled by individuals with a vision: a vision of America so consumed with a fear of crime – and criminals – that her citizens would be willing to pay any price to be protected.
And the price that has been – and continues to be – paid is one of staggering proportions: The cost to the millions of members of the families of non-violent offenders incarcerated needlessly in this country; the cost to society to feed, clothe, house, and care for the world’s largest population of non-violent offenders; the cost to society when those same people are returned to society after 5, 10, 20 or more years languishing behind bars and are ostracized from the very opportunities they will require to become productive members of society; the cost to all Americans through the ever-increasing loss of personal freedoms; and – perhaps the highest cost of all – the loss of the ability of a nation of free people to have faith that the government that was established by, of, and for the people actually represents the majority’s true, best interests and not just those of the privileged groups, companies, and individuals who are rich enough, connected enough, contribute enough, or can promise a profitable enough future to those who were elected in good faith, with the hope of positive change, but are, like Eddie Murphy in the movie, “The Distinguished Gentleman”, quickly seduced by the privilege, power, prestige, and profit available to those who sell out to the highest bidder while pointing fingers, placing blame, and doing what they do because “I represent the people and I know what is best for them.”
Are there violent people roaming the streets of our cities using guns, knives and other weapons to commit crimes?
Is the business of illegal drugs a problem in this country?
Is illegal immigration a problem in this country?
Is child pornography finding its way into far too many homes in America?
Are Ponzi schemes and other financial crimes a problem?
Is Medicare and Medicaid fraud a problem?
Are there individuals using computers to prey on our children?
The answer to each and every one of these questions, of course, is an unequivocal and resounding “YES!”
But now let me ask this: Is the passing of laws that financially benefit the very same companies, elected officials, and select individuals who participate in private meetings to craft these laws while creating the illusion that they are addressing these problems with your best interests in mind the wisest, safest, most cost effective and productive course of action with which to address these, and other, national issues?
That answer, my friends, is an equally unequivocal and resounding “NO!”
The selling of freedom that is crippling our criminal justice system is crippling other areas of American life as well.
As ALEC develops legislation that affects the businesses of insurance, energy, finance, education, housing, and virtually every other facet of the taxpaying public’s daily existence, the rich and the privileged grow richer and more privileged.
It is surely a problem of mammoth proportions, this unholy and unethical alliance of business and elected officials, but it is not a problem unique to this country.
In Egypt, recently, a senior insider in the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak was convicted of corruption. Ahmed Ezz had apparently become a symbol of the intertwining of business and politics that many Egyptians despise as corrupt.
If the American Legislative Exchange Council does not epitomize the intertwining of business and politics I simply cannot fathom what would.
ALEC – and other similar, yes smaller groups (and yes, others do exist) – should not be tolerated by the taxpaying American public. ALEC, and any like it, should be illegal and any input that business wants to inject into proposed law, policies, and politics in general should be done in open hearings in state houses and congressional chambers in full view of the public and not at weekend retreats paid for by the public where the only people not in attendance are the very people whose lives will be affected by what is discussed.
America should demand that her public servants remember that they are just that, and they should spend much more of their time meeting with, and acting on behalf of, the very people who elected them to serve in the first place.
For starters, ALEC’s success at profiteering in the area of prison privatization needs to be reversed.
The temptations associated with privatization are great and therefore I state again that the United States of America should follow the example of Israel and declare that private prisons are unconstitutional.
Given the fact that the Supreme Court has given private individuals and corporations the power to openly indemnify elected officials to them, their pet projects, or core businesses by allowing them to contribute unlimited amounts to “super pacs” tells me that is not likely to happen.
So I would propose the following: Under no circumstances should any individual who works in a prison or who writes, enforces, prosecutes, or adjudicates our nations laws profit from the incarceration of this nation’s citizens by owning all, or part of any company, or the stock belonging to any company that conducts business, for profit, with penal institution, detention center, or any other type of institution whose primary function is the housing, care, and control of any human being under the jurisdiction of any federal, state or local authority.
Furthermore, it should be against the law for any union or any other group representing workers in those same institutions to lobby for longer sentences, mandatory minimums, or engage in any efforts to obtain job security by encouraging public officials to incarcerate more people for longer periods of time or for more reasons.
It should also be illegal for any pension fund managed on behalf of any group that writes, enforces, prosecutes, or adjudicates this nations laws, or monitors those incarcerated to own stock in any company that profits from any part of the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration process.
It is true that the citizens of this country should be afraid, but they should be afraid of ALEC and the arrogance and impunity with which our elected officials operate and cater to the whims of those wealthy enough to buy a few minutes of their time.
In the case of Egypt, social media has been credited with being the impetus of change, so I suggest that Americans follow suit and use the resources at their fingertips and do the following:
Demand from every governor, United States Congressman, state legislator, and current candidate for office a public answer to the following question:
“Are you now, have you ever been, or do you have future plans on being a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council?”
Then make sure that they know that if they answered ‘YES’, you will not vote for them.
At the same time, Americans need to understand the unconscionable blow to the American electoral process with its finding in favor of “Super Pacs”. The taking of this incomprehensible step put the welfare of this country even more firmly in the hands of big business and the well-to-do, so while you are saying ‘no’ to ALEC, let the same people know that you will not vote for any candidate who has any relationship with a “Super Pac”, and when they say that they have no control over who spends money on their behalf, let them know with a loud “NO!” that you are not buying it anymore.
The American people have the power. They just need to stop listening to the same rhetoric and “empty calorie” campaign speeches that influential dollars have paid someone to write and who specializes in bamboozling the American public.
Due to the unbridled arrogance and misplaced loyalties of many of our elected officials, we are, right now, far removed from the Lord’s promise when He said:
“You will be secure under a government that is just and fair.”
Isaiah 54:14 NLT
However, the Lord also stated that:
“Human pride will be brought down and human arrogance will be humbled.”
Isaiah 2:11a NLT
However, before the arrogant can be humbled, and before anyone, anywhere in this country can feel secure under a government that is just and fair, we must heed the words of God when He says:
“Remove the chains of slavery from your neck.”
Isaiah 52:2b NLT
Americans must break the chains that are wrapped around their necks and have made them slaves to fear and insist on a new direction – a new way of conducting the business of the people of this, the greatest nation on earth – a new direction in dealing with the way laws are made and in dealing with those who break them.
Those who are elected to conduct the business of the people should know that Americans are looking for individuals to serve the people and we must tell them that, in a servant we expect someone who is:
Until next time, thank you for putting up with me, and may God bless each and every one of you.