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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Upholding "Tradition" of Hate: The GOP Platform Draft: The Stuff Nightmares are Made Of


Published on

The GOP Platform Draft: The Stuff Nightmares are Made Of

Draft platform includes language that disavows the rights of women, same-sex couples, trans people, Palestinians, immigrants, and more.

Set up has begun for the 2016 Republican National Convention which will be held in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18-21. (Screenshot: Fox News)

Set up has begun for the 2016 Republican National Convention which will be held in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18-21. (Screenshot: Fox News)

While negotiations over the Democratic platform were riddled with controversy over how far the party would go in its support of progressive climate and economic issues, the Republican platform, by contrast, takes a sharp rightward tack, particularly on social issues such as LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights.

Members of the RNC platform committee spent hours debating the draft document in Cleveland on Monday and Tuesday that will be considered by the full body later this week ahead of the GOP convention.

And while some reporting has focused on minor infighting, what emerged is a platform widely seen as discriminatory and hateful.

Upholding "Tradition" of Hate

The 112 delegates voted overwhelmingly against a measure put forth by Washington D.C. delegate Rachel Hoff, the first openly gay member of the RNC platform committee, that would have acknowledged "a diversity of opinion within our party" in regards to same-sex marriage.

An amendment that sought to modify language that called for children to be raised by a married mother and father to alternately read "stable, loving home" was also rejected.

Instead, GOP committee members opted to include language, put forth by Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council, supporting so-called "conversion" or "reparative therapy," which purports to "cure" homosexual inclinations through analysis and, frequently, prayer.

The approved platform language says parents should be allowed "to determine the proper treatment or therapy" for their children. Such a practice, the Southern Poverty Law Centersaid, has not only "proven to be fraudulent," but "it can cause grave harm, up to and including suicidality. And it tears families apart."

The latest draft also calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v Hodges decision, which ended all state bans on same-sex marriage. According to the Guardian, that "represented a notable shift from past years," such as the 2012 platform, which more overtly "called for a constitutional amendment to legally define marriage as 'the union of one man and one woman.'"
The subcommittee also approved a provision opposing the Obama administration’s recentguidance document advising schools how to avoid discrimination against transgender students, describing the advisory as "illegal and dangerous" as well as "alien to America’s history and traditions."

Most Anti-Choice Platform Yet

Also caught in the Republican cross-hairs are women, particularly those who wish to exercise their right to an abortion.

According to reporting by Politico, attendees said that the subcommittee has advanced language "condemning Planned Parenthood and calling for Supreme Court justices who will reverse decisions in favor of abortion rights." The platform calls for Supreme Court vacancies to be filled with "committed judicial conservatives, like the late Justice Antonin Scalia, so that the Court can begin to reverse the long line of liberal decisions — from Roeto Obergefell to the Obamacare cases."

Billy Valentine, director of government affairs at the Susan B. Anthony List, said the platform "very well may be the strongest pro-life platform yet."

Trump-Style Diplomacy

As for foreign policy, the draft document also reportedly contained some "wins" for the presumptive nominee, including an amendment that affirms Donald Trump's controversial plan to build an enormous "wall" along the United States' southern border.

According to CNN, quoting Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latest draft states: "That is why we support building a wall along our southern border and protect if all ports of entry. The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic."

This was an adaptation of earlier language, which read: "That is why we have in the past demanded, at our vulnerable borders, construction of a physical barrier and, at all ports of entry, maximum vigilance."

The platform also adopted some of Trump's rhetoric on trade, calling for "better negotiated trade agreements that put America first."

"Republicans understand that you can succeed in a negotiation only if you are willing to walk away from it," the draft reads, according to CNN. "A Republican president will insist on parity in trade and will stand willing to implement countervailing duties if other countries don't cooperate."

And There's More.

Unsurprisingly, given Trump's stance on environmental issues, the committee unanimously voted to include language that declares coal "an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource"—which, as Grist points out, "just happens to reflect the same talking points favored by the lobby group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE)."

The platform also moves the party further right in regards to its stance on Israel, removinglanguage that called for a two-state solution and changing the draft to now read: "We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier, and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement ('BDS') is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel."

The draft also encourages "state legislators to offer The Bible as a literature curriculum and elective" in high schools at the same time that the committee widely backed a new provision that declares Internet pornography a "public health crisis."

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Republicans really fall for this nonsense: The GOP is the party of stupid, but its voters are the deluded ones


Republicans really fall for this nonsense: The GOP is the party of stupid, but its voters are the deluded ones

GOP voters eagerly consume lies of party that twist data, welcomes ignorant, racist and happily anti-intellectual

One wonders how Republican primary voters can listen to the disruptive, yet vague, stump speeches of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and believe that they have any specific plans to govern. A celebrated essayist, roundly criticizing the partisan divide, has written forcefully of “the Mob of Malcontents” who are quick to believe in “absurdity,” who are “daily nourished … by fiction and delusion.” He goes on to assert that the “political faith of a Malcontent” is altogether founded on imagining wishes will come true, and giving credit to what is said that is pleasing to his ear.

The insightful author of these words is the worldly English opinion writer Joseph Addison, a Latin scholar, playwright, poet and politician writing in 1716 in a journal titled “The Free-Holder.” It was not the Republican Party that troubled his mind; it was the Tory Party. He was complaining about political unreason and the credulity of a majority — even of educated people — precisely 300 years ago.

Let’s be honest. While the Malcontents of our day tend to be those who follow blindly the exaggerated claims of demagogic self-lovers Trump and Cruz, Addison’s plaint should not be adjudged party-specific. A republic cannot function smoothly if voters accept at face value the impassioned promises of candidates whose record of actual accomplishment is more modest than they claim. Or, to single out the GOP, voters should be properly informed when a presidential candidate’s public actions or votes in Congress do not represent real commitment to improving conditions for ordinary people.

What can we do about voter gullibility? When the Republican Party insists that President Obama has been bad for the economy, and that lower taxes on everyone is always the best stimulus (no matter what conditions prevail), it is more than a question of “faith” in the leadership of the GOP. When candidates say they believe the science on climate change is uncertain, are they doing anything other than promoting wishful thinking?

Addison saw the political problem clearly. He wrote in an era when it was easy for people to acknowledge submission to their superiors, when “party” was defined not as a mainstream organization but as an unwholesome faction bent on destabilizing what was good in political society: “Our Children are initiated into Factions, before they know the Right Hand from their Left … They are taught in their infancy to hate one half of the Nation.” In this he could as well have been talking about us. Wait a minute: The United States Constitution was written and enacted at the end of Addison’s century, without any mention of parties but with the purpose of introducing such checks and balances that the resulting spread of liberty would represent a healthy improvement over the British model. A belief in American exceptionalism grew out of the latter assumption. Instead, we have experienced disunion on a grand scale (without even counting the Civil War) and have replicated the worst of former British ills.

Malcontents, by Addison’s definition, need to be “undeceived” in the interest of advancing civil society. Malcontents, he is saying — and he’s right — do not want honesty. Bernie Sanders, bless his Democratic Socialist heart, is trapped in a very unlikely version of the American Dream if he believes that all students at public colleges and universities will pay no tuition. Even if Wall Street speculators kick in the billions he would exact from them, it wouldn’t be nearly enough; it will never happen until Democrats take over all the stingy Republican-led state legislatures. Who is that gullible? Apparently they number in the millions. So it’s not just Republicans, though their deceptions are obviously more cynical.
In assessing the candidates in both parties, Politifact finds that Hillary Clinton edges out Sanders as the least dishonest (let us frame it this way rather than say “most honest”). While she underplays her opposition to Wall Street, her falsehoods are, for the most part, on the order of “We have more jobs in solar than we do in oil.” She favors the phrase “empirical evidence,” which Mr. Addison would no doubt approve. Yet in televised punditry, the most often heard critique of Hillary is that she lacks the fundamental honesty of Sanders.

The real difference in honesty is that which separates the opposing parties. For the two Democratic contenders, Politifact finds that about fifty percent of questioned claims are either true or mostly true; for Trump and Cruz, the percentage is closer to single digits. Cruz singularly blames Barack Obama for the movement of American jobs overseas, redefines “carpet-bombing” at will, and goes nuts over imaginary federal government conspiracies; Trump’s pants are on fire so often that he will have to spend some of his billions on a new wardrobe. (Politifact need not investigate that figurative statement: some hyperbole is not intended to deceive.)

The predominantly white Malcontents who have gravitated to the GOP frontrunners in 2015-2016 eagerly consume the junk food of a party that denies or twists data, encouraging its supporters to believe that social programs don’t help them, but instead support the unwholesome lifestyles of people of color and job-killing illegal immigrants. The GOP welcomes to the fold all who are incapable of dissociating economic anxiety from their inherited racist assumptions, those whose anti-intellectualism is ready to be exploited (or who believe Sarah Palin can actually interpret everyday reality for them).

Proffering fictions, Republican politicians who serve and are served by moneyed interests repackage the facts about poverty in America. They don’t react to empirical evidence, i.e., the majority of our poor are elderly and/or disabled; the married-with-family poverty rate in the U.S. is at least six times that of the Democratic-Socialist nations of northern Europe; and the number of impoverished Americans definitely includes all kinds of white people. Conservative policy is to eradicate the FDR and LBJ reforms that were designed to combat racism and a class-based inequality of access to power and opportunity. Empirically speaking, what years do the GOP cite, when conservatives’ legislative initiatives remedied economic malaise, benefited wages (other than at the top) and improved the overall standard of living? Eisenhower doesn’t count: he kept taxes high, supported labor unions and didn’t try to undo New Deal programs.
Back to our initial focus, then. What is to be done about all the political lies to which we are subject during campaign season? The clear-headed recognize that overturning Citizens United, making all elections publicly funded and redistricting at the congressional level on the basis of non-partisan factors will help reverse the trend toward institutional corruption of our electoral politics. But, as far away as these legislative priorities appear right now, it’s only a start. You can’t accomplish anything without an informed public. By definition, an informed public is resistant to questionable assertions; an informed public looks not for a savior but for a reasonable reformer.
Instead, we are overwhelmed by Malcontents who feed on “fiction and delusion” because critical detachment is hard for human beings to muster. It’s why they love the theater and go to action movies and read romances: real life is pressure-filled, contentious and demanding. When offered positive emotional engagement, we take the bait; we get something off our chest; it feels good. Political campaigns, like rooting for sports franchises, tap the universal desire to exhibit strength and emerge victorious, even if it’s vicarious and it’s not nearly as much about us as we imagine. Like the World Series or the Super Bowl, identifying with a team is a way to experience hope; the media enlarge the personalities involved, and for an extended moment we get to identify with a “huge” idea. Exaggeration is good business. Rarely do we share in a collective response on the order of July 1969, when the cause of humanity, as well as the cause of science, was enlarged as humans first walked on the moon. It didn’t matter who was president. A government program, as it happens, demonstrated the possibility of matching the dream with empirical fact. If only there were more such moments of productive joy.
We all want our candidates to be earnest in their solicitation of our vote but the system seems to require that they “go negative,” thereby awakening the Malcontents whose faces and placards and interruptions in turn delight TV executives. We ask — naïvely, it seems — for statesmen and stateswomen to discuss and debate honestly, to exhibit their judgment on critical issues and not simply calculate their positions on the basis of what sells. That was how our inspired republic was supposed to function.   We are learning, instead, how an authoritarian (or an entertainer) can conceivably come to power.
Joseph Addison, writing in 1716, shows us that we have scarcely improved over the past 300 years. He understood the politics of deception, how easily promises flow in recognition of the credulity of humans. If he saw glorification of kingly virtue as snake oil, we see its modern incarnation in the banal tendency toward idolatry that reality TV competitions aim to draw forth. Addison was celebrated by the founders of the United States for his work as coauthor of the witty, widely read “Spectator” series of essays, which took as its conceit its protagonist’s preference to live in the world as a Spectator, rather than as an active striver. Addison’s Spectator tried to discern the difference between claims to authority and fractured opinion; the American voter is a dumbed-down version of his Spectator, made a disagreeable Malcontent by being led to fear and, in consequence, led to impulsive adulation.
Addison wrote presciently of our commitment to exaggerated images and managed causes when he noted the flaws of those who enjoy power too much. Unlike a more broadly literate, knowledge-seeking person, one who lives and breathes politics and has little time to take up more refined pursuits is in it for the wrong reasons. “A mere Politician is but a dull Companion,” he said. But here we are. Every few years (or perhaps it’s without pause now), servants of the public put on their makeup, hire pollsters and return to the old playbook of quoting disturbing facts while professing to be the voter’s friend and advocate … if not their saving grace. And we fiction-friendly Malcontents keep arising, coming back for more.
Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg are professors of history at Louisiana State University and coauthors of "Madison and Jefferson" (Random House). Follow them on Twitter @andyandnancy.
Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg are professors of history at Louisiana State University and coauthors of "Madison and Jefferson" (Random House). Follow them on Twitter @andyandnancy.

Monday, January 11, 2016

It’s Indisputable – Republicans Hate America’s Democracy And Its Constitution


Monday, January, 11th, 2016, 9:56 am

Burn Constitution

It may be time to remind Republicans serving in public office that when they swear an oath to serve, it is to support the United States Constitution that serves all the people and the idea that America is a representative democracy; an idea Republicans despise with religious fervor. Republicans and their various conservative iterations claim that, although they are woefully ignorant of the nation’s founding document as the law of the land, they love the Constitution more than they love Ronald Reagan. However, there is a mountain of evidence that although they love the 2nd and 10th Amendments more than they love their god, bible, and corporations, they have absolutely no use for the rest of the Constitution.

A few Americans may be aware that Republicans hate the Constitution primarily because it forbids religious and corporate tyranny, but what they really hate is that the Constitution exists in the first place. In fact, since the people elected an African American as President, Republicans have stepped up their calls for a new Republican Constitution contrived by Republicans to serve Republicans and their masters in the religious and corporate world. Now, for the second time in five years, a Republican governor is calling for the United States Constitution, the one conservatives claim to love and cherish, and the conservative Supreme Court, to be nullified according to the whims of Republicans and their religious and corporate masters.

On Friday past, Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided it was his turn to make a stand against the U.S. Constitution, neuter the Supreme Court and the U.S. Congress, and create a Republican paradise where a minority rules America. Abbott, like all Republicans, truly believes the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers were nasty tyrants because they created a secular representative democracy by including Article VI, Section 2 in the founding document; the simple clause that prevents America from fracturing into several separate fiefdoms.

It is true that Abbott did not actually call the Founding Fathers nasty tyrants or bad men for including the “Supremacy Clause” in the U.S. Constitution, but he proposed a few nullification fixes that 155 years ago precipitated America’s deadliest war. Abbott’s proposals parrot the Confederacy’s deep hatred of the Constitution and America that have become the Republican Party’s defining traits today.

Mr. Abbott revealed his nine-point plan to remake the Constitution in the Koch-evangelical image, and along with the typical ‘balanced budget’ nonsense were two or three specific items that would spell the end of America’s representative democracy, and the beginning of Republican minority rule over Congress and the Supreme Court. Most of the nine conservative fixes ban federal legislation that Republicans hate, but two are particularly specific in legalizing Republican-state nullification.

For example, one of the Republican constitutional amendments “allows a two-thirds majority of states to veto any Supreme Court ruling they do not agree with.” Another similar amendment being reintroduced by Abbott allows “a two-thirds majority of states to abolish any federal law or regulation” they or their corporate or religious supporters don’t like.

Now, there is a reason Abbott came up with the two-thirds majority and it is because while Democrats, liberals, and progressives are sniping at each other and sitting home on election day because Barack Obama failed to deliver on promises he never ever made, Republicans have easily taken control of two-thirds of state legislatures and governorships. What is even more telling is that the 32 states Republicans control make up about 100 million Americans out of a population eclipsing 320 million.

For the arithmetic challenged, that means much less than one third of the population would have absolute control of the country and veto power over the President, Congress and the Supreme Court. Worse yet, those 100 million people in 30-something states do not all support Republican policies and would mean that much less than a third of the population would control the direction of the country; it is not what the Founding Fathers intended for America but Republicans could not care any less about the Founders than they do the Constitution or America’s once-renowned representative democracy.

Over the past seven years, especially the last four, Republicans have expressed great interest in eliminating much of the Constitution that prevents them from ruling like dictators. For example, there is little doubt Republicans, particularly religious Republicans, hate the 14th Amendment that prevents religious Republicans from legally discriminating against the non-compliant and non-believers. They also seriously hate the idea of birthright citizenship and want it abolished as much as they want equal rights under the law eliminated for anyone who is not a white Christian conservative male guaranteed to religiously vote for Republicans.

Republicans also detest the 17th Amendment that was arguably the last piece of the Constitution that actually brought America a little closer to being a representative democracy. Since Republicans have demonstrated they oppose democracy out of hand, they want to ban the people from electing representatives to serve in the United States’ Senate; they want Republicans to appoint Republicans to the Senate.

Their idea is not novel, but it is another attempt at tyranny because with Republicans controlling two-thirds of the states, eliminating the 17th Amendment would give a minority of the population a veto-proof Senate majority and complete control of the federal government. And, as a bonus for conservatives, it will wipe out any semblance of a representative democracy; something the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) openly support.

Actually, Republicans know the key to increasing their power over the entire nation is possible if they can just be done with vote-suppression and abolish the 15th Amendment; theamendment they hate with religious passion because it provides African Americans with the right to vote. Since African Americans are not like ignorant white trash conservatives, they do not vote against their self-interests which means they do not vote for Republicans.

With their conservative racists making up a majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans in the mostly Southern states have successfully chipped away at African Americans’ right to vote. It is not a stretch to imagine they are unwilling to wait patiently for the next time the conservative Court finds a means of completely banning people of color from voting, so a much-touted Republican constitutional convention would certainly include abolition of the 15th Amendment and the end of America’s fragile representative democracy.

It is apparent that after seven years with an African American man occupying the Oval Office, Republicans hate the U.S. Constitution as much as they hate the American people. That Texas Governor Greg Abbott is the latest Republican with the audacity to make a stand and call for deconstructing the Constitution is not stunning. Especially if it gives Republican-governed states authority to veto legally-passed federal laws, eliminate several constitutional amendments and clauses, and overrule decisions handed down by the Supreme Court that do not toe the evangelical, oil industry, and gun fanatics’ line.

This is not the first time since Americans chose an African American man as President that Republicans pursued the end of America by eliminating most of the nation’s founding document and law of the land, and it is certain they will never give up until they restructure America to fit their vision of an evangelical theocracy controlled by conservative ideology. The only thing preventing religious conservatives and corporate-owned Republicans from bringing about the end of America as the Founding Fathers intended is the U.S. Constitution; the founding document that Republicans hate as much as they hate America, its people, and particularly its representative democracy.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Inside ALEC's Powerful, Right-Wing Indoctrination Machine


The ultimate return sought by ALEC is nothing less than the rollback of the state and the establishment of unfettered corporate rule.

SALT LAKE CITY -- You won't see signs for the country's sweetest travel-club deal in the window of your local travel store. To join the American Legislative Exchange Council, your fellow citizens must first elect you to statewide office. If you win as a Republican or conservative Democrat, your ALEC state chair will approach with terms of membership you'll find generous, if not impossible to resist. A token $100 buys the opportunity to attend all-inclusive events on ALEC's busy calendar of summits, conferences, and academies, where you and your family can enjoy some of the country's finest resorts and destination hotels. Joints like Utah's Grand America, site of ALEC's just concluded national conference and proud bearer of AAA's "Five Diamond" rating.

It was on the eve of this conference that I first glimpsed the privileges and perks of ALEC membership. I was sitting in the Grand America's Viennese style lobby café, pondering the primrose bush courtyard outside as a young harpist plucked out Fur Elise, when an ALEC staffer appeared and began placing laminated cards on the tables. She was followed by groups of women, the wives and daughters of ALEC state legislators and lobbyists, sitting down to enjoy a British Full Tea of sweets, scones and jams, laid out on an elaborate spread of fine china. I picked up one of the laminated cards and read: "Enjoy your 'ALEC-SNACKS'!" Beneath the text were the logos of Americans for Prosperity and the American Insurance Association, two ALEC sponsors. As ALEC snacks were served, the tables grew atwitter. "This is so nice," said the wide-eyed wife of a Virginia state representative.

Not long after, the china was taken away and the café grew busy with attendees getting down to business. A hundred or so legislators, corporate representatives, and think tank staff greeted each other and ordered cocktails, filling the room with an ambient babble of right-leaning schmooze and networking. I've had to deal with those same damn unions.... We've got a few big tort reform bills in the pipe.... I'd love for you to come visit the plant .... Are you with Goldwater or Heritage now?

Before ALEC grew into an influential national force over the last two decades, few state-level politicians ever knew corporate pampering at swank hotels thousands of miles from their home districts, the scope for which all but disappeared with the introduction of post-Watergate ethics rules. Unlike their federal counterparts, state reps have generally tracked closer to the old republican ideal of the citizen-politician -- middle-class, part-time public servants who keep their day jobs as teachers, accountants, lawyers, farmers. Some of them have always been targeted and feted by special interests, but it was ALEC that innovated a private sector mechanism for corralling state representatives en masse to posh locations like the Grand for long weekends of cozy corporate lobbying and blunt-force ideological indoctrination.

For much of its four decades, the corporations and right wing foundations that provide all but a thin slice of ALEC's current $7 million budget have succeeded in exerting pressure on the direction of the people's business in 50 statehouses. Unlike the National Council of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments, to which it often compares itself, ALEC is driven to an extraordinary degree by its private sector sponsors. It also aggressively hides from the press and the public the proceedings of its closed-door task force meetings, where corporate representatives vote on equal footing with elected legislators on model bills, who rarely identify the origins of ALEC bills when they are later introduced to become law.

Most Americans live under at least one product of these meetings, as the group has been very effective in turning one state's notorious right-wing bills into model legislation that can be pushed across the country. Arizona's infamous "Show Me Your Papers" law (SB 1070) took this path, with similar model legislation subsequently passed by ALEC's criminal justice task force, which the for-profit prison behemoth Corrections Corporation of America once co-chaired and had long been a member. So did the National Rifle Association's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law; ALEC used legislation passed in Florida as a template for a model bill that was eventually passed in two-dozen other states. ALEC's role in pushing reportedly discriminatory voter ID bills has followed a similar pattern.

ALEC's various Task Forces have altogether produced thousands of pieces of model legislation that have little to do with organic movements inside the states and everything to do with top-down nationwide attacks on workers' rights, environmental and other industry regulations, as well as pushes to accelerate the privatization of public education, federal lands, and the criminal justice system. The group has proven to be an ingenious multi-purpose tool for expanding corporate power. Like any lobby shop, it is pay-to-play. Corporate memberships run between $7,000 and $25,000, which buys full voting rights on Task Forces that function as bill mills for national and multinational corporations, industrial trade associations, and right-wing think tanks. Just as $100 is a steal for legislators, $25,000 is a bargain on the private sector side. As early as 1995, an article sent to ALEC's private sector members boasted of the group's growing effectiveness. "With our success rate at more than 20 percent [of bills passed] I would say that ALEC is a good investment," then-executive director Samuel Brunelli told corporate backers. "Nowhere else can you get a return that high."
The ultimate return sought by ALEC is nothing less than the rollback of the state and the establishment of unfettered corporate rule over everything from vast tracts of American wilderness to K through 12 education.

But ALEC's long-term goals are increasingly threatened by growing public awareness of its work.  For years it has increased its influence while flying low enough to the ground to avoid public radar. This began to change last summer, when Lisa Graves, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for legal policy at the Justice Department, launched ALECexposed.org after a whistleblower shared with her hundreds of ALEC bills pre-voted on by corporate lobbyists. "The leaks let us connect all of the dots for the first time," says Graves. Among the most important of these dots was the revelation that ALEC had been a driving force, along with its close ally the NRA, behind 24 states' adoption of the gun industry's "Stand Your Ground" law. The law became the subject of fierce national debate when it was applied to Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, protecting him from arrest and complicating his prosecution.

"We had a growing amount of press coverage when the Trayvon Martin tragedy captured the media's attention," says Graves. "That, combined with ALEC's role in making it harder for Americans to vote in states across the country, led to the breakthrough in public awareness about this secretive group." A coalition of progressive organizations -- led by Color of Change, Common Cause, Credo, People for the American Way, Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy -- resulted in raising the profile on ALEC's work and triggering calls for transparency. Thirty corporations have since broken off from the group, many claiming that they joined because of narrow economic interests and want no part of ALEC's broader agenda touching on guns and voting.

When the corporate exodus began, ALEC responded by dissolving the Public Safety and Elections Task Force that produced "Stand Your Ground" at the NRA's urging. By all appearances, the scrapping of the task force is more cosmetic surgery than organ removal. The NRA bought a large booth in this year's exhibition hall and sponsored a trap shoot on the last day of the conference, as it has for the past several years. Present in Salt Lake City was not only the NRA's state coordinator Chuck Cunningham, but also NRA board member Grover Norquist.

When asked if he still considers ALEC a useful vehicle of influence without the Task Force, Cunningham muttered something about "going where the legislators are" and turned away. It was understandable that Cunningham wasn't eager to speak to press. Days before the start of the Salt Lake conference, a mentally unbalanced Colorado man killed 12 and wounded dozens in a crowded movie theater. The ALEC gun agenda, crafted over the years with NRA participation, features a variety of bills and resolutions aimed at weakening gun restriction, notably support for assault weapons of the kind used in multiple recent gun massacres.

Whether the exit of major companies like GM, Walgreens, and Coca-Cola is threatening ALEC's bottom line is unclear. "Some small consultancy pays the same rate to join as a major corporation, so I don't think it's had much impact," says Dennis Bartlett, a 20-year ALEC veteran and chairman emeritus of the corporate board. (ALEC communications staff did not respond to requests for interviews.) But even if its budget has not taken the hit the departure of so many corporate sponsors would seem to indicate, the negative publicity of the last year has forced ALEC into a defensive posture. During the breakfast and lunch award ceremonies and keynotes, screens flashed with "ALEC in the news" clips taken from the conservative press. Many were reactive; some were desperate in tone.
Not even Utah offered haven from ALEC's new post-Trayvon Martin reality. Governor Gary Herbert personally welcomed the conference to the Beehive State, which is the closest thing to a poster child for ALEC's economic policies. Later two Utah Congressmen addressed the group, which included 34 Utah state reps. The welcome committee outside the hotel's valet-guarded door was a different story. Sign-wielding protestors circled and chanted on the sidewalk outside. Two blocks away, a community theater hosted a shadow conference co-produced by the Alliance for a Better Utah, the Center for Media and Democracy, and others in the national coalition to "Expose ALEC."

The organizers of the well-attended event received a surprising amount of sympathetic local press. The local Fox affiliate ran multiple segments during the conference giving equal time to critical voices. Salt Lake's alternative weekly devoted a cover story to providing an ALEC 101. A crushing comicappeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, which assigned a reporter inside the Grand, one of very few granted a press credential. Local radio stations covered the counter-conference; one sponsored a debate that fizzled at the last minute when the ALEC-affiliated Sutherland Institute backed out. Then there was the guerrilla media. On telephone poles across the city, posters skewered ALEC as "merging capital and state since 1973."

Despite its claims of fidelity to bottom-up Jeffersonian federalism and local control, ALEC works off of a national game plan that involves all levels of government. It knows state legislators often grow up to become powerful United States Congressmen and Senators. The group stays in touch with its legislative members who have moved on to Washington, a roll call that includes John Boehner and Eric Cantor among dozens of House members and Marco Rubio among nine Senators. ALEC's resolutions, meanwhile, are often designed with national policy in mind, to be sent to Congressional delegations and federal departments. "The resolutions create the illusion in Washington of a groundswell of grassroots support for issues where none exists," says Jennifer Seelig, a Utah Democratic state rep and former ALEC member. "A lot of them also end up being nuisances that eat up valuable time in session when we could be dealing with real problems."

This year ALEC's International Relations Task Force passed two such resolutions opposing cuts to the Pentagon budget and urging the relaxation of regulations around the export of "dual-use" technology. The IR Task Force, co-chaired by Rep. Harold Brubaker (R-NC) and Brandie Davis of Philip Morris International (a 2012 ALEC private sector "Member of the Year") also adopted resolutions opposing a "global UN tax" and UN control of the Internet. Among the model bills to emerge from the IR Task Force is a "Sound Money Act" that would eliminate taxation on gold and silver coins and allow their use as legal tender alongside currency issued by the U.S. Treasury.

Defense budgets and illusory UN taxes are tangential to ALEC's main thrust at the moment: the push to privatize public lands and public education.
Big Energy loves ALEC. It always has. Internal documents show the group has counted on financial support from Koch Industries, Peabody Coal, the American Gas Association, the Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and their numerous subsidiaries (a stealth way to increase ALEC voting power). In line with their long-term investment, the industry enjoys a special status at ALEC events. Last year's ALEC conference in New Orleans featured a workshop called "Warming up to climate change," at which a panel of climate change skeptics touted "the many benefits of increased atmospheric CO2."

Mark Pocan, a Democratic Wisconsin state representative who joined ALEC to investigate the source of so much right-wing legislation he saw bubbling up from nowhere in Madison, attended the forum. He remembers the Texas legislator who introduced the event comparing ALEC legislators to a football team. "He said, 'Okay, everybody, listen up. These guys [corporate lobbyists and industry-funded think tanks] are the coaches, and we're the players," says Pocan. "That really is how they see the relationship."

The agenda in Salt Lake City was heavy on energy themes. Keynoting one of the luncheons was Robert Bradley, CEO of the free-market and pro-climate change Institute for Energy Research. Bradley informed the legislators packed into the Grand Ballroom that "the human impact on the climate is a probably a net positive," and boasted of America's growing production of oil, coal and gas. His chirpy manner darkened only when he noted China's growing lead in the production and use of coal. "China beats us on coal," lamented Bradley. "If not for China, we'd be number one." His PowerPoint presentation listed ALEC's core energy principles, such as: "oil, gas, and coal are cleaner than renewable," and "environmental regulation only benefits environmental elites." He praised a "powerful" new Shell ad campaign promoting offshore drilling, and spoke of his fear that massacres would soon begin taking place in doctors' offices as a result of The Affordable Care Act, which ALEC has attacked repeatedly.

In conclusion, Bradley assured his audience, "You have the environmental high ground in supporting dense energy [oil and coal] over [renewable] sources that require so much surface space, is unsightly, is noisy, and all the rest of it."
Like all ALEC speakers, Bradley spiced his lecture with odes to the free-market and the graceful movement of Invisible Energy Hands. But a central aspect of the classical free-market argument is the free exchange of information, and ALEC's model bills concerning energy and the environment make enemies of transparency. ALEC has passed bills opposing the mandatory disclosure of energy sources on utility bills and the chemicals used in fracking. Then there is ALEC's support for the nuclear power industry, which is heavily dependent on state subsidy for everything from construction to waste disposal.

ALEC's energy politics are of a piece with its push to privatize public lands. The afternoon following Bradley's talk, attendees were treated to Rep. Rob Bishop's (R-UT) thoughts on the need for states to assert "local use and control" over millions of acres of protected federal land. He pointed with pride to the passage of Utah's Public Land Transfer Act, an ALEC model bill sponsored by Utah state reps (and ALEC members) Ken Ivory and Wayne Niederhauser. The bill was written in conjunction with energy companies eager to rip up Utah's wild acres and develop "unconventional" carbon fuels like oil from shale rock and tar sands. In arguing for the need to develop Utah's outback, Bishop urged lawmakers to think of the children. "Our kids are hurting because of our land policies," said Bishop. "If we allow states to have a new paradigm, to let federalism be the salvation of this country, we'll have more money for our education budgets."
It was jarring to hear an ALEC speaker discussing public education as a worthwhile social good. This year ALEC's Education Task Force focused on a bill opposing common national standards that would impede state-level privatization, and another pushing for virtual charter schools. For several years until this summer, ALEC's education task force was co-chaired by a virtual school corporation.

That very morning over breakfast, former Democratic U.S. representative Artur Davis addressed the conference on the need for radical "educational reform" and the transfer of vast amounts of public education funds into private hands through voucher programs and for-profit digital education. Davis' ALEC speech doubled as a ceremony marking the completion of the former Alabama Democrat's shift to the right. Davis, who nominated Barack Obama at the party's '08 convention, began his conservative turn after losing his primary race for governor in 2010. Soon he was declaring his support for voter ID laws, which ALEC loves, and contributing to National Review. The audience in Salt Lake welcomed Davis into his new political home, where it sounds like he is preparing to stay busy on the growing education privatization circuit. His education reform talk was extremely polished for a newbie to the cause.

ALEC's efforts to direct important policy shifts on a state level have often received little local news attention, as coverage of state politics has waned due to major budget cutbacks at newspapers around the country. Helping to fill that gap has been the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an ALEC sponsor and close ally that oversees 55 news sites covering state governments in 39 states.

On the last day of the conference, I returned to the café lobby to interview a new ALEC legislative member named Don Shooter. A farmer by profession from Yuma, Arizona, Shooter won his election as a write-in candidate. He says he hates politics but felt the call of duty. After his election he was naturally drawn to ALEC by a philosophical kinship with the group's limited-government principles. When asked about the role of corporations within the organization, he described corporate power as being "the natural order of things."
"The way that you beat too much corporate or governmental power is to be decentralized," he said. "If the multinationals want to do something crooked, they have to make 50 attempts to be crooked, [instead of] just bribing one outfit. I don't think ALEC is mysterious, or subversive to democracy, the way the Bilderburgers are. ALEC is a way for likeminded people to get together and consolidate approaches to all these problems on a limited-government basis. All we want is to keep the deal in the Constitution. The amazing thing about the founders was that they knew history."

Which is more than you can say for ALEC. The group's dominant propaganda theme, pummeled into conference attendees from the moment they walk in the door, is the appropriation of Jeffersonian federalism in the defense of policies that concentrate national wealth rather than distribute it. At daily award ceremonies (ALEC gives out a lot of awards) small busts of Jefferson are presented to public and private sector Members of the Year for "advancing Jeffersonian principles" -- which really means advancing legislation that reinforces exactly the kinds of power skews loathed by the egalitarian-republican Jefferson.

Jefferson's vision was not ALEC's. He spoke for many of his Revolutionary peers when he hoped that "we shall crush... in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." Jefferson always held a dim and anxious view of the development of powerful commercial interests. Gordon S. Wood, our greatest living historian of the Revolution and early America, writes in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, "To his dying day Jefferson believed that the state legislatures should grant [corporate charters] only sparingly and should be able to interfere with them or take them back anytime they wished."
If ALEC has one purpose, it is to make sure their members never dream of doing any such thing.

Alexander Zaitchik is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist and AlterNet contributing writer. His book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, is published by Wiley & Sons.