A front page article in the New York Times on April 21, 2012 exposes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a stealth business lobbyist that pushes pro-business, anti-public interest legislation in state capitols from coast to coast. ALEC is a little-known, non-profit organization that brings state legislators together with corporations to draft model legislation favoring businesses. The group has a sophisticated system for shaping state-level legislation. Legislators pay a nominal $50 fee annually to join ALEC, but corporations pay dues ranging from $7,000 to $25,000 per year, which affords them guaranteed access to legislators at upscale events like cigar receptions, conferences and pigeon shoots. Businesses use these opportunities to promote new laws to legislators benefiting the companies’ bottom lines. ALEC claims to be bipartisan, but of 104 leadership positions in the organization, Republicans fill all but one, and the policies ALEC promotes are almost exclusively right-wing. ALEC’s role as a driving force behind the wave of “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws sweeping the country has made the group a target of public anger.
The grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off KGVO radio in Missoula, Montana saw major success this week after seven local advertisers pulled their ads off the show. Dave Chrismon, organizer of the effort get Limbaugh off KGVO, started RushOutOfMissoula.com, a website that lists businesses that sponsor Limbaugh’s show. RushOutOfMissoula supporters started contacting the listed businesses and telling the owners how they feel about their support “for this bully.” In response, seven businesses pulled their ads quickly, in under a week. Chrismon updates the list regularly to reflect which businesses have quit advertising on the show. The grassroots success is not coming without difficulty, though. Some Limbaugh sponsors are digging in their heels and adopting a bully approach themselves. Chrismon reports receiving a number of heavy-handed emails from some local business owners. One wrote, “You’re a coward and a liar. You are dangerous to a free society. A gas chamber mentality. You want to silence those you do not agree with. You bad-mouth and bully those who are not even a part of your emotional tantrum of passion (didn’t you accuse rush of those very tactics).” Another advertiser threatened, “ . . . your blackmail approach is going to get you in court starting now. I am inquiring about a class action suit to show you just how wrong you can be. . . If (our business) is not taken off your site and a letter of apology to follow by noon, April 19th, 2012, legal council will be put into place. Blackmail is still illegal as you will find out.” Chrismon also says KGVO is comparing the total number of signatures on the anti-Limbaugh petition citizens delivered earlier this month to the total of pro-Limbaugh emails they are getting through their website’s feedback form, and they say petition supporters are losing. But citizens aren’t giving up. They are redoubling their efforts to call the remaining sponsors and tell them how they feel about Limbaugh, and urge them to drop their support for the show.
The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 122 based out of Beaufort, South Carolina used to be called the “Werewolves,” but they recently adopted a new nickname: they are now called the “Crusaders,” and the symbol painted on their jets is a red, Christian-style cross. The “Crusaders” was a historic nickname used by the squadron from 1958 to 2008, but as they prepared to deploy to Iraq in 2008, the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. William Lieblein, wisely changed the name because “The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn’t float.” The term “Crusader” is derived from the historic European military crusades that took the lives of millions in the middle east in the name of Christianity. Insurgents in the middle east pejoratively call American military personnel “Crusaders.” In March 2012, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to International Security Assistance Force troops stationed in Afghanistan as “Crusader Swine.” But the unit’s new commander, Lt. Colonel Wade Wiegel, doesn’t see any problem with changing the squadron’s name back to the “Crusaders.” Mikey Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), blasted the change. Almost a hundred concerned U.S. Marines contacted Weinstein about the change, mostly moderate Protestants and Christians who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.
Progressive groups rejoiced after the American Legislative Exchange Council announced April 17 that it was dumping the task force through which the group advanced voter ID laws, “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and other controversial legislation, but progressives may have rejoiced too soon. On April 18, the right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) announced it is fighting back against left wing pressure by forming a task force to take over the work of ALEC’s disbanded “Public Safety and Elections Task Force.” NCPPR’s replacement group, the “Voter Identification Task Force,” will continue to push for voter restriction laws across the country, which NCPPR frames as working to advance “ballot integrity.” Amy Ridenour, chair of the NCPPR, said, combatively, “We’re putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we’ll kick it up a notch somewhere else. You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory.” NCPPR is known for sending “fright mail” to senior citizens, junk mail letters on varying letterhead written in a way that seems intended to scare recipients into donating to the group. Amy Ridenour formerly worked with disgraced right-wing lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served on the board of NCPPR until he was convicted of fraud and conspiracy.
Thursday, May 3 is this year’s National Day of Reason, held the same day as the National Day of Prayer — a controversial, Congressionally-mandated and federally-supported event. The purpose of the National Day of Reason is to raise awareness of the threat government poses to religious liberty when it enters the private sphere of worship. The American Humanists Association (AHA), which started the event in 2003, suggests people celebrate the day with events and activities, and activities are planned around the country. The Eastern Connecticut Atheist and Freethinker Fellowship based in Putnam, Connecticut, plans to hold a “Science for Bibles” exchange that day. Anyone who attends the event and brings a Bible will get a free copy of either Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” or Richard Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality.” The Secular Coalition for Arizona will join the Secular Student Alliance in a walk as a group to Flagstaff City Hall, where they will hold a voter registration drive. The Atheist Humanist Society of Connecticut and Rhode Island is sponsoring a blood drive at the Groton, Connecticut Library. The American Humanists Association offers a sample proclamation declaring May 3, 2012 as the National Day of Reason that people can print out and ask their City Councils to sign.
A District Court in Washington, D.C, ruled (pdf) earlier this month that it is illegal for groups to keep secret who funds their political attack ads. At the heart of the case was a regulation promulgated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in December of 2007 that required disclosure of the names and addresses funders who donate $1,000 or more to organizations for electioneering communications. But the FEC, in interpreting the law, deferred to the argument that keeping track of such donations would inordinately burden corporations. In attempting to clarify the law, the FEC created a huge loophole by promulgating a follow-up rule that allowed groups to circumvent disclosure provisions required by campaign finance laws, like the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. The disclosure provisions in Citizens United have largely been overlooked. In Citizens United, justices wrote that “the public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election,” and “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Maryland) challenged FEC’s loophole in a lawsuit brought against the FEC in 2011.
A six-fold increase in the frequency of Richter-scale 3.0 and greater earthquakes occurring in the middle of the country correlates with increase in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” occurring in those locations. In a new paper, scientists present a series of examples in which a significant increase in seismic activity occurred in areas where oil and gas producers increased their disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells. Between 1970 and 2000, the central area of the country averaged 21 earthquakes per year. In 2009, that average jumped to 50, in 2010 it increased to 87, and in 2011, the average rose to 134 quakes per year. While most of the earthquakes are fairly small, the 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma last year and damaged buildings and increased speculation that injection wells in the area might be a cause. It was the largest earthquake ever to strike Oklahoma, an area without a reputation for earthquake activity. The summary of the new earthquake study from the University of Memphis, says, “Based on the previous injection history, proximity of the wells to the earthquakes and the previous seismic activity in the source area, the M5.6 earthquake [in Oklahoma] was possibly triggered by fluid injection at these wells.”
Main source: Colorado Independent, April 16, 2012
The corporate exodus out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today as insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Arizona-based traffic services company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) both announced that they would not renew their membership in ALEC this year. ThinkProgress created an internet-based bulletin board listing the companies that have left ALEC so far. In addition to Blue Cross and ATS, the bulletin board lists Reed-Elsevier, Mars, Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pepsi, Kraft, Intuit and Coca Cola. The bulletin board site has quickly gained hundreds of followers. ALEC is the controversial “Stand Your Ground” group that helps corporations gain direct contact with predominantly conservative Republican legislators for the purpose of spreading pro-corporate legislation around the country.
Main Source: Think Progress, April 17, 2012
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws. ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.
The White House has posted a new online tool people can use to calculate how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than they do. Citizens enter their wages, salary and other income and how much income tax they have paid, click a button and see the estimated number of millionaires who paid a lower effective tax rate than they did in 2009. The calculations demonstrate how under the current U.S. tax system, many millionaires are paying a lower effective income tax rate than most middle class families. In 2009, fully 22,000 American households made over $1 million, but paid the lowest effective tax rate such top earners have paid in 50 years. Of those top-earners, 1,470 paid no federal income tax at all on their million-dollar-plus incomes, according to data supplied by the Internal Revenue Service.