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Exposing ALEC’s Corporate Sausage Factory in Dallas

6:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

A cowboy hands out bottled water to protesters.

Protesting in the Texas summer is thirsty work.

DALLAS — We’d gathered at Eddie Deen’s Ranch to interrupt the American Legislative Exchange Council at dinner. I was wearing a pink cowboy hat, temporarily inducted into the CODEPINK Posse, an effort organized by the local branch of the well-known national rabble rousers for peace. About 30 of us stood along the sidewalk outside the Ranch, watched by a half-dozen police officers looking bored, a chatty police detective and a pair of startled horses held by two men dressed as cowboys. Overhead, an airplane circled, towing a warning about corporate corruption.

Powerful people in suits laughed at us and snapped smartphone photos as they disembarked from the chartered buses they rode to the Western-themed restaurant. It was July 31 and ALEC was in town for its 41st meeting. After the first of several days of corporate backroom deals at the Hilton Anatole, ALEC’s members wanted to pretend they were cowboys while they ate.

The buses kept coming and out poured some of the world’s most powerful: corporate executives, rich investors, state legislators and their families. Though they’d normally disdain public transportation — when they aren’t orchestrating cuts against it in the name of austerity — I imagined the atmosphere on the bus was jovial, as if the “1%” was on a field trip.

CODEPINK are no strangers to using humor to fight evil. Duded up in pink Western-wear, with faux handcuffs and a “RUN ALEC OUT OF TEXAS” banner, they were aiming for laughter. As the suits’ humor peaked, CODEPINK Dallas — mostly older women — began chanting, “WE MAY BE FUNNY, BUT YOU ARE CORRUPT!”

Speaking out is thirsty, thankless work in the Texas heat. After two hours, a Ranch worker dressed as a cowboy brought us all bottled water.

ALEC: Where the corporate sausage is made

For over 40 years, ALEC has had a corrupting influence on state politics. Its corporate sponsors and rich private investors write legislation, then their hand-picked, loyal legislators introduce those bills into law. The mainstream media rarely connects the dots, even when covering ALEC-related laws. And while many have heard of Stand Your Ground and its contribution to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, few are aware of ALEC’s sponsorship of that law in multiple states.

In the summer of 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy unveiled ALECexposed.org, bringing ALEC widespread negative attention for the first time in its four-decade-long history. The site features over 800 model bills and dozens of corporate sponsors. The agenda revealed was startling in its breadth: to name just a few of its policies, ALEC seeks privatization of education and policing, aides the Koch brothers in undermining laws that support renewable energy, and attacks the rights of unions and the retired.

 

On July 30, Jim Hightower, a former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and publisher of the popular newsletter The Hightower Lowdown, was on hand at the Community Brewery after a noon rally at the Hilton Anatole was attended by hundreds of activists, retirees and union members in honor of ALEC’s 41st national conference. After a rousing speech to encourage the crowd, he told this reporter, “The only way we’re going to take power back for ordinary working people to become a self-governing people again is to confront the corporate interests and to expose them.”

As much as protesters wanted to reach ALEC with their objections, another purpose of the week’s events was to expose the Dallas public to ALEC’s existence among them.

“Most people never heard of ALEC,” he continued. “This big rally we had at the Anatole hotel today, that showed to a lot of people maybe just driving by that there’s something out there called ALEC. [...] If people see it, they will be disgusted by what’s happened. This is the most visible, the most ostentatious merger of corporate power with right-wing legislative power and they meet in secret. [...] If you want to see where the sausage is made, we were at that factory today.”

I spoke with Connor Gibson, a Greenpeace researcher who studies ALEC and similar groups, about how a newcomer to the movement can begin to unravel this complex network of corporate corruption. “The most important thing to do is learn about ALEC [. ...] It’s actually a really complicated organization. It’s state politicians, it’s corporate lawyers and lobbyists and it’s ALEC’s staff. They convene and have a weird governance and the more people understand that, the more people know what to look out for.”

He continued:

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Free Speech, Capitalist Dynasties

7:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Did you hear? Some rich filth on TV said he believes God hates fags.

V for Vendetta-style caped Guy Fawkes & a police photographer

The beginning of a new movement or the last gasp of unmediated free speech?

Now, TV personalities can spend even more days analyzing other TV personalities. Do they hate gays, black people, you? What color is Santa? All the usual, powerful swine are out for the right of other swine to say whatever they want on a profitable television program.

Conservatives like to believe that “freedom of speech” means “freedom from consequences” for intolerance. Meanwhile, actual violations of freedom of speech — like climate change activists being charged with a “terrorism hoax” – go unanswered by either the right or the left.

While this spectacle involves the right-wing puppets, both parties — the whole political spectrum, as far as Mainstream America is concerned — are intimately invested in this redefinition of free speech.

Free speech isn’t what happens in the streets, it’s corporate money at elections and pretty pictures on commercial television.

When Occupy drew thousands nationwide, it was Democratic mayors — and Obama’s Feds — that came down hardest on the movement. When thousands gathered at the Texas Capitol this past summer but before Wendy Davis’ much-lauded filibuster, Democratic party officials put the loudest, most influential grassroots organizers on a list of dangerous agitators that they passed around to rally organizers from multiple groups. One of them told me I shouldn’t lead crowds in chanting or disruptive behavior because it would “look crazy.” Not to worry, she told me, we’d vote them out in 2014.

Street posters of Snowden (labelled Patriot) & Rick Perry (labelled Dog Shit)

Speech without permits is terrorism.

On the night of the final vote while a hundred Texas State Troopers beat and dragged us for sitting in front of the Senate doors, the Texas Democrats led a march away from the Capitol so they could have a fund raiser in a park before their permit ran out. Whatever happens next November, the legislature won’t even meet till 2015 and at least 20,000 women won’t have access to safe abortion next year.

Free speech isn’t what happens on the Internet. We jail our whistle blowers and hacktivist heroes while the NSA stalks and catalogs us.

Free speech is freedom to create commercially profitable spectacle. The media disappearing yet again up its own asshole.

Homeless people — perhaps as many as half of whom are queer — are freezing to death in the richest part of the country. LGBTQ folk are being jailed and tortured in Greece and Russia but we applaud a few gay athletes.

Free speech is voting for a turkey while prisoners languish in solitary, poor people starve and our atmosphere burns.

But don’t look away for a minute. You might miss a heartfelt apology, before we all comb our folksy beards and shoot a few more ducks through the magic of mirror neurons.

The Mexicans and the Million Mask March had the right of it by surrounding the mainstream media bullshit factories and demanding to be heard by so-called journalists. They just didn’t go far enough.

Give it time. The disenfranchisement is there, we’re just waiting on enough anger.

People of America, put on your masks. Lift up your voices. And pick up your paintbrush, your smart phone, your chalk and your wheat paste and use them to smash the state.

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Travis County District Attorney Released From Jail This Morning

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Portrait of Rosemary Lehmberg

Rosemary Lehmberg was released from jail this morning.

Travis County is home to Austin, Texas and well over a million residents. The county’s district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg was released from jail about 1am this morning after serving half of a 45-day sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol.

From the Austin American Statesman: 

Lehmberg, who was sentenced April 19, served half of her jail term under a law that gives two days credit for every day served for good behavior. Travis county jail records no longer showed Lehmberg booked by 3 a.m. Thursday.

Predictably, in this Republican-led state there have been calls for her resignation from the right, even satirical bumper stickers that lampoon her behavior on the night of her arrest. Looking deeper, the situation is far more complex.

First, while the office of Travis County District Attorney is elected, if Lehmberg resigns than Republican Governor Rick Perry will appoint her interim replacement. But more so, many reports suggest that Lehmberg is suffering from an illness — alcoholism — which may benefit from treatment rather than further punishment.

Sources write that Lehmberg had a known drinking problem, and a Point Austin editorial in the Austin Chronicle argued for compassion and treatment over judgment:

Ours is a culture (including a cop culture) rampant with binge drinking – and it too often has deadly consequences – but if everyone who received a first-offense DWI also lost his job, the drinking wouldn’t stop, and the unemployment rolls would be staggering as well.

[O]ne can only wonder what might have happened to Bob Bullock or Ann Richards (or a host of other officials) had the Internet been available to chronicle and repost their every bibulous indiscretion. Anonymous trolls would be demanding their immediate ejections from office, and editorial writers (hardly squeaky clean themselves) would be anonymously chiming in. Yet we have long known that alcoholism is a treatable disease, and that reflexively treating alcoholics as criminals only fills our prisons without addressing the underlying problems.

Though the kind of reckless behavior Lehmberg engaged in is never acceptable, KVUE suggests that grief exacerbated her behavior:

Sources confirmed Lehmberg was distraught the night before her arrest on April 12th after attending the funeral of a dear friend and employee.

Investigator Lorraine Kerlick died in a motorcycle accident April 7th. Friends say Lehmberg appeared extremely emotional and depressed at the funeral.

As of now, Lehmberg intends to complete her term as well as seek treatment:

Lehmberg, who was released before 3 a.m. Thursday, also thanked the Travis County jail staff for their ‘professionalism and dedication’ in a statement issued shortly after 5 a.m.

‘In the coming days, Rosemary will be making arrangements to seek professional treatment and better understand her behavior,’ the statement said. ‘She will also meet with members of her staff with whom she been communicating throughout the last 3 weeks.’

Jason Stanford, in a sharply worded Statesman opinion argues the situation is representative of overall corruption in the Texas legal system:

But just because she’s a drunken mess of political entitlement doesn’t mean Lehmberg doesn’t have a role to play when she gets out of jail. The Travis County district attorney heads the Public Integrity Unit, which by law has jurisdiction over corruption in state government. Unless the Obama-appointed U.S. attorney decides to make a federal case out of something, the only one who can prosecute any of these Banana Republicans in elected state office is Lehmberg.

And if she resigns, Rick Perry gets to appoint her successor, explaining why local Democrats want her to stay on the job.

But should she? Making corruption charges stick is hard enough with one’s credibility intact. Ronnie Earle found this out when he tried to prosecute Kay Bailey Hutchison. It’s hard to imagine Lehmberg withstanding the political backlash that comes with trying to hold powerful public officials accountable. It says a lot about Texas ethics when the only check on political corruption is currently sitting in jail after pleading guilty to drunken driving.

Ken Anderson, District Attorney before Lehmberg and now a state district judge is facing charges of corruption. Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune argues that state officials are no longer untouchable:

Texas DA’s used to be indestructible. The political potshots at long-serving former prosecutors like Dallas County’s Henry Wade, Harris County’s Johnny B. Holmes Jr. and Travis County’s Ronnie Earle were part of their jobs. But each left on his own.

Times have changed. In the 1980s, crime was the major issue in many local and state elections. In the early 1990s, the people who won those elections went on an epic prison- and jail-building spree.

Voters are worried about other things now. Wrongful convictions and prosecutions have shaken public faith in the criminal justice system.

And, it turns out, in the people at the top.

Update: The Austin-area coordinator of the Texas Department of Public Safety resigned today after a DUI arrest.

Austin’s Feminist Vigilante Gang vs. Texas Rally for Life

5:50 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Anonymous Medic and Feminist Vigilante Gang member

An Anonymous Medic and a Feminist Vigilante Gang member stand with the patriarchy piñata at the Texas State Capitol during Saturday's Rally for Life.

Thousands For Hate, A Handful For Peace

Saturday at the Texas Capitol, thousands (by mainstream media estimates) gathered to celebrate the war on women’s rights. Many had been bused in from around the state to reinforce the numbers in the notoriously liberal capitol city. Standing against them were a tiny group, Austin’s newly formed “Feminist Vigilante Gang.”

Knights of Columbus at the Rally for Life

The Knights of Columbus gather at the head of the parade at the Rally for Life.

From the Houston Chronicle coverage of the rally:

Gov. Rick Perry, finding biblical significance in the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, assured thousands of activists at Saturday’s Rally for Life at the Texas Capitol that this legislative session will build on past efforts to restrict abortion.

‘The ideal world is one without abortion. Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure abortions are as rare as possible,’ Perry told a crowd.

Joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott and anti-abortion groups, Perry said he was with ‘men and women who understand those Biblical stories.’

What no mainstream media outlet mentions is the open hatred of the group. Led by the Attorney General, thousands cheered as Greg Abbott laid out their accomplishments: the crowd responded raucously over not just the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the growing restriction on women’s reproductive freedoms, but the state’s ban on gay marriage as well. All this was touted as making Texas the most “pro-family state in the Union.”

Make no mistake, this was a family affair — parents and children stood alongside entire Boy Scout troops, priests and nuns gathered in groups. This was a family affair like a Ku Klux Klan picnic at the beginning of the 20th century: huge, upbeat, and guaranteed to generate shame when the grandkids bring it up decades from now.

How do you protest a group of thousands when you only have a handful? One answer is to be as aggressively eye-catching as possible. Enter Austin’s new Feminist Vigilante Gang. The Feminist Vigilante Gangs are a decentralized movement which believes in responding aggressively to rape, violence, harassment and attacks on women’s rights. One female participant who asked to remain anonymous took to Facebook to explain:

There is also one major issue I notice people are vocalizing and that is the assertive nature of the counter-protest. This was more than anger-based. This tactic is particularly important in feminist actions, where in the past I, for example, have been called ‘rude’ for stating an opposing view, as if I need to have people over for tea, don my white gloves, and explain the day-to-day emotions that come with battling oppression.

I believe in nonviolent direct action, and I believe that people who are from traditionally oppressed groups are free as birds to express their righteous anger. Since we all know power is rarely given up by choice, it seems appropriate for marginalized groups to aggressively oppose their oppression.

Was it effective?

Counterprotesters with a Banner "Smash Patriarchy"

Austin's Feminist Vigilante Gang confronts an anti-abortion activist at the Texas Rally for Life.

Taking On the Persecuted Majority

The religious right-wing of America, urged on by the likes of Fox News, is in love with feeling persecuted. Even at a rally of thousands, attended by the governor of one of the largest and most powerful states in the United States, there were speeches about the brave ongoing Christian struggle against oppression. Since they believe they are at war, the Feminist Vigilante Gang responded in kind with aggressive dress and banners. An Anonymous Medic was present in full riot armor, carrying all his gear. Of course, there was the patriarchy pig piñata too, hanging from a wire coat hanger. Though it was full of candy, activists chose not to smash it because of the extreme reaction its mere presence drew from pro-lifers and police.

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