With widespread, entrenched joblessness in Michigan, working families there are mighty hard hit these days. But the state’s new GOP governor, Rick Snyder, has reached out with a helping hand.
Well, not a helping hand for workers. Instead, he handed out a 60 percent tax cut to corporations. To help pay for this giveaway, he snuck into law a provision that takes away six weeks of unemployment benefits for out-of-work Michiganders, plus he intends to tax the pensions of working-class retirees.
Across the country — from Arizona to Wisconsin, Maine to Texas — the jobs, benefits, rights and dignity of the workaday majority are under gubernatorial assault. Where do today’s far-right-wing governors get such far-out, nasty, anti-middle-class ideas? Directly from an extensive network of corporate-backed wonk shops set up in every state. They grind out extremist schemes to eliminate public services for regular people and sever corporations from any responsibility for the common good of our society.
In Michigan, the group is called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Richly funded by such multibillionaire families as the Koch brothers, the Waltons of Walmart and the DeVoses of the Amway fortune, Mackinac vigorously pushes the billionaires’ plutocratic agenda, including relentless efforts to disempower unions and eliminate taxes on corporations and the rich.
In January, just as Snyder was taking office, Mackinac’s dogmatists published four recommendations for turning Michigan into a corporate laissez-fairyland. In the package was an astonishingly tyrannical proposal to let the governor seize control of local governments and install corporate overseers with the power to cancel union contracts, rewrite budgets, sell off public assets and bypass or even dismiss local elected officials. It’s the reincarnation of the Politburo, and it has no place in our democracy — but this monster is now law in Michigan. Indeed, Snyder adopted all four of Mackinac’s proposals.
These secretive front groups are modern-day Trojan horses, allowing a few corporate billionaires to weasel their way into state government and seize control of public policy — perhaps even in your state.
For example, do you know ALEC? You probably do, even though you never heard of it by name.
Yes, “it.” ALEC is not a person, but the acronym for a secretive, corporate-funded, state policy front group: American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC’s “exchange” is very straightforward — it takes about $6 million a year from corporate powers in exchange for linking them directly to hundreds of right-wing state legislators.
Like a speed-dating service, ALEC convenes two dozen to three dozen private confabs each year, putting corporate executives face to face with lawmakers. In these closed-door sessions, the special needs of corporations are matched with eager-to-please legislators, who then go back to their states to pass the corporate wish list.
If your legislature is suddenly trying to take away workers’ bargaining rights, outlaw citizen lawsuits against abusive corporations, privatize public schools and highways, and otherwise advance extremist, special-interest notions that go against the public will and the common good, chances are you have lawmakers who’re carrying bills handed to them in one of ALEC’s backroom tete-a-tetes.
The organization brags that it has 2,000 state legislators on its membership rolls and that members introduce about 1,000 ALEC bills each legislative session, passing about 200 of them a year. ALEC’s insidious agenda is driven by a “private enterprise board” made up of such giants as AT&T, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Pfizer and Walmart.
Meanwhile, don’t bother asking ALEC for a list of the legislators who play in its corporate bawdy house. That’s a secret, it says. But it’s only kept a secret from you. The corporate powers know all of ALEC’s members intimately. Is your own legislator one of them? Ask him or her — and see if they have the integrity to blush.
— Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.