Archive | US

Rich v poor, the power of a 1971 memo, the role of legislation syndicator ALEC

Published 16 April 2012

Rich against poor, the 99% against the 1%, laws favouring big business, laws based on a private organisation’s template spreading through US states….. An article on the Atlantic website yesterday unveils links, untangles some of the spider’s web.

It also explains the role of a memo written way back in 1971 but not uncovered until much later, written by a corporate lawyer & director, Lewis Powell, who was soon to be elevated to the US Supreme Court on the nomination of President Richard Nixon.

Mr Powell sent his memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor Jr, who was director of the US Chamber of Commerce. You can find references to that memo on a number of websites, but one I’ve read the memo on is Reclaim Democracy, an organisation whose aim is “to restore citizen authority over corporations”.

The memo was about Mr Powell’s concern at attacks on the American free enterprise system. Mr Powell cited consumer crusader Ralph Nader as “perhaps the single most effective antagonist”, saying many corporate executives belonged in jail for “defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives and wilfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer”.

According to Reclaim Democracy, the Powell memo “influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe and other powerful organisations”.

Mr Powell argued that corporations needed to take specific public relations action to defend the system, but there would be understandable reluctance for any to get “too far out in front and to make itself too visible a target”. He said the national chamber of commerce therefore had a vital role. Mr Powell said defence of the system needed to be taken into university campuses, secondary schools, into the media & the political arena and, “especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court (which he was to join months later), the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic & political change”.

According to the Atlantic article by Nancy Scola, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), formed in the mid-1970s, was dedicated to advancing free-market & limited-government principles through a unique public-private partnership between state legislators & the corporate sector. To its critics, though, “it’s a shadowy backroom arrangement where corporations pay good money to get friendly legislators to introduce pre-packaged bills in state houses”.

The billionaire Koch brothers have long been funders of ALEC, and have also long been funders of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. The Koch family fortune is derived from control of Koch Industries, which began when Fred Koch developed a new cracking method to refine heavy oil. It’s become an international conglomerate operating in 59 countries, still with a heavy emphasis on oil & chemical businesses.

Koch brothers Charles (76, chairman & chief executive) & David (71, executive vice-president) own 42% each of a group ranked by Forbes magazine as the second biggest privately held US company, which earns an estimated $US100 billion/year. They’ve recently antagonised members of the Cato Institute by filing a suit to gain majority control of the institute. Cato president Edward Crane charged that Charles Koch wanted to turn the “independent, non-partisan research organisation” into “a political entity that might better suit his partisan agenda”.

Mr Koch’s rebuttal was that the institute shares which went to the widow of the institute’s recently deceased chairman should have been spread among other shareholders, and he wanted the institute to stay “true to its fundamental principles of individual liberty, free markets and peace into the future”.

Back to ALEC. One of the state laws it circulated was the “Stand your ground” law, which was the basis for allowing George Zimmerman to go home after shooting black teenager Trayvon Martin dead in February. In January, Republican Florida state house of representatives member Rachel Burgin had submitted a bill calling for the federal government to cut corporate tax rates. She’d forgotten to strip the ALEC boilerplate off the top of her document. Opponents began putting the dots together.

Links: The Atlantic The Atlantic, Exposing ALEC: How conservative-backed state laws are all connected Reclaim Democracy Reclaim Democracy, Powell memo Koch v Cato website Business Insider, Koch brothers’ suit over Cato Cato Institute ALEC exposed

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Attribution: Multiple sources above, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.

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Daily Kos blog demonstrates rising power of internet on politics

Published 17 April 2006

Will George W Bush survive to be US President for a third term? Well, no, not allowed. Will his brother Jeb take over? Is there another young Bush readying for the job? Whether there’s a fresh Bush or not, will the Republicans continue to hold power?

And what does it matter down here? No matter whether it’s Republicans or Democrats in the White House, they’ll still hate us for having a No Nukes policy.

It does matter. They have different approaches to policies – and their political systems have lessons for New Zealanders.

Xtra’s Max Newmann this week points to a US blogsite, Daily Kos, created by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who supported Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential election Democratic primary. Dean lost, but that wasn’t the end of Zúniga, whose Daily Kos has become a huge blog success, and was also not the end of web influence on politics. As the New York Review of Books points out, the web campaigners have helped push the Democratic Party towards a 50-state strategy, encouraging campaigns in previous no-hope elections, supporting a shift to a broader populist economic platform, away from being a coalition of single-issue campaigners and away from the big-money campaigns which encourage corruption.

Assuming success on those scores, the Democrats might change dramatically into a new force akin to a more streamlined Labour-led coalition under MMP in New Zealand. That, in turn, is bound to influence change in the Republican Party, which reviewer Bill McKibben refers to as “prospering by ignoring ideological consistency.”

Mr McKibben wrote: “In its account of the political possibilities of the Internet, Crashing the gate seems to me the most ambitious, interesting & hopeful venture in progressive politics in decades.”

Contributors to the Daily Kos – starting with one writer who then organised dozens of others – came up with an energy policy, which was reshaped online and which Mr McKibben found “far more comprehensive & thoughtful than anything the think tanks have produced.”

Websites: Daily Kos

New York Review of Books, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, grassroots & the rise of people-powered politics


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Attribution: Max Newmann at Xtra, New York Review of Books, Daily Kos, various other US blogs, story written by Bob Dey for this website.

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