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Originally posted on PoliticsOlogy

That's called juxtaposition.

To understand how the conservative movement has been so successful in shaping government policy over the past couple of years, it helps to take a look at the organization behind the movement. One such organization is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC first drew attention for its support for Florida's Stand Your Ground law, but that’s not all they're up to: in state after state, ALEC has been pushing conservative plans for education, taxes, and the environment, with The Koch brothers giving an undisclosed amount of money to the organization.

John Nichols at The Nation summarizes ALEC's modus operandi:

ALEC is a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics. Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to "develop alternatives to existing policies [and] keep them alive and available," ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account.

While they make actual content of their bills and legislation only available to dues paying members, the Center for Media Law and Democracy has posted many sample bills on their website.

Those bills look awfully familiar to residents of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Due to Rhode Island's decision to reduce the amount of state cash to small towns, Woonsocket—population 40,000—is facing a $10 million budget shortfall for its schools. The State Senate wanted to modestly increase property taxes to cover the difference.

That's where ALEC stepped in. Seeing an opportunity reshape Woonsocket’s finances, Jon Brien, who is on ALEC's board of directors, refused to sign on to the State Senate’s tax increases. Although Brien denies that he’s influenced by ALEC, he’s applying their exact policy. Joe Nocera writes that, despite their relatively normal pension plans, Brien blamed the city’s shortfall on unions, who "'have been given pensions and benefits the city can no longer afford' but have no incentive to renegotiate."

Brien successfully stopped the tax increase, which left Woonsocket with no way out. In the absence of a way to raise revenue to cover their budget shortfall, the two conservative legislators pushed to take a step that ALEC loves:  the city appointed a "receiver," an unelected hatchet-man, to curtail the city's spending. This receiver has powers, such as renegotiating union contracts and reducing pension plans, that even the state legislators don't. Although "there were perfectly good solutions to Woonsocket's problems that don't involve destroying the town’s pension system," Nocera summarizes what happened in a neighboring town to give a sense as to Woonsocket’s future:

In Central Falls, the receiver took an ax to retiree benefits, cutting them by 55 percent, meaning that many retirees are now getting pensions of under $20,000. The receiver has also laid off city workers, closed the city's library and shuttered a popular community center. This is the future Woonsocket now faces, thanks to its own legislators.

This is how the conservative movement has outsmarted liberals. While taking dramatic and draconian stances on the federal level has allowed Republican legislators in the House of Representatives to exercise control over the federal budget, conservatives have gained greater power at the local level. ALEC may just draft policies, but with funding from the Koch Brothers, the Gates Foundation, and Coca Cola, it was able to convince state legislators to destroy one of the their own their towns without a trace. In Woonsocket's devastated government, the success of ALEC's well-funded and national ideological movement—and the future of small town America—is plain to see. 



UPDATE:
ALEC Director of External Relations Caitlyn Korb responds"by "hijack" do you mean "not burden already hurting families with more prop taxes?" 

This response does two things: it clarifies the issue and it reveals that yes, ALEC is expending resources to support this initiative. Criticism of Nocera's piece from local Rhode Island papers suggest that Brien is conservative enough to be this radical on his own.

Maybe so. But the piece they cite to defend their agenda in Bloomberg actually does the opposite. The author notes that there's a bigger pension obligation than Nocera admits. But that does not answer whether or not solving the town's budget crisis solely through government cuts is good public policy. That's because it isn't. What's going on in Woonsocket is a microcosm of the larger debate around taxes and spending for the federal budget. Yes, Woonsocket, like the United States, has huge debt obligations. That's exactly why we need a balanced solution of both spending cuts and tax increases. That's how you solve a deficit crisis. Draconian cuts will be bad for the local community, even if it's good for ALEC. 

Follow on Ology: Joe Hines |  PoliticOlogy


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Comment Preferences

  •  Disgusting. And all with fingers crossed behind (6+ / 0-)

    his back?

    Although Brier denies that he’s influenced by ALEC, he’s applying their exact policy
    Republicans, like Rick Scott, or Scott Walker, or this Jon Brier guy, are the real Manchurian candidates.  They say one thing but they are actually out to destroy your town, state, economy and democracy.

    Will the people notice?

    People, not corporations. Democracy, not totalitarian capitalism. gottavote.org

    by democracy is coming on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 11:39:03 AM PDT

  •  This is happening all over Michigan (5+ / 0-)

    I live in Pontiac and we have our unelected "emergency manager" to sell off the city for us.

    •  Pay close attention . . . (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CupofJoe, ColoTim, ChemBob

      . . . to who gets to buy it. And for how much. Another illustration of "follow the money".

      The furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. John Adams, 1776.

      by semiAdult on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 01:42:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That ol' emergency manager law (0+ / 0-)

        Thanks Joe for the post, and the later parallel to Michigan, I've been scratching my head wondering what the blazes is happening over there

        And thanks Michiganders for what you're doing so far

        I guess this is for others who maybe are scratching their heads

        Backers of emergency manager law repeal vote win a round in Michigan Appeals Court
        Detroit Free Press
        Sanity
        Right, this is Sterling's sterling approach (see below, The Sterling Corporation)
        block the petition on font size and tie up court's time (geesh)
        I wish that had been called frivolous for what it was, and not even heard, and Bob Labrant (Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility) wants this to go to the MI Supreme Court - but it is too stupid and embarrassing to go forward
        Detroit Free Press
        Michigan Supreme Court will punt on hearing appeal of emergency manager law
        And more sanity (or wishful thinking)
        Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility (CFR), some data
        They seem to be yoked to (wait for it) The Sterling Corporation ... in their own words a
        "premier Republican communications company" with "Relentless Public Affairs" and "Relentless Fundraising"
        (for us old timers CREEP comes to mind) - Sterling's operatives
               Steve Linder
               Jeff Timmer
               Mark Pischea
               Bob Labrant
               Nicole Marble
               and more
               http://www.sterlingcorporation.com/

        And I shuddered to see their events all about 'clean energy' and 'the environment'

             CFR's treasurer's name is missing from this report, huh, but all we can do
             FEC on CFR

        this ones too complicated for me, Showdown in Motown
        Detroit Free Press
        Standoff ends: Judge tosses out challenge to Detroit consent deal
        Guess this is where the money goes then

        Time to go clean the cat box (shake head and leave)

  •  The situation in Rhode Island is (7+ / 0-)

    an excellent example of what the Plutocratic right wing cabal is planning for the elections in November. Karl Rove is playing "Lucy football" with the Democrats in terms of his strategy for the November elections. Rove will be directing an estimated $1.8 billion political war chest which most Democrats think that he will use to defeat Barak Obama. However, Rove the fox that he is, will concentrate most of that money in the House and Senate races around the nation. Meanwhile the Democrats will be concentrating mainly on the presidential race. Rove is basically using Romney as a red herring.

    Most of the Democratic candidates for Congress will face a sudden "out of the blue"tidal wave of negative ads against them running 24/7. Most of these ads will be filled with out and out blatant lies, but Rove doesn't care and any attempt towards rebuttal by the Democratic candidates will prove to be futile at best. Rove's goal is to make sure that if Obama is re-elected that he will face a Republican Congress. In Rove's game plan this will put Obama into a corner and thereby FORCE him agree to cooperate with a strong conservative legislative agenda over the course of his second term.

    IMHO this for Rove would be the best of all worlds. He would keep an unpredictable religious fanatic (Romney) out of the White House, while gaining the services of a smart but malleable cooperative Democratic president. This would result in a 4 year period of Republican dismantling of every shred of the New Deal government programs that all Americans have come to identify as the cornerstone of their basic "Rights". The Republicans would then spin Obama's second term as the period of the GREATEST BIPARTISANSHIP in the history of  American politics.

    P.S.Footnote: I sincerely hope that I am wrong.......

  •  Disaster capitalism (5+ / 0-)

    This seems to have been the same logic of the "emergency manager" in Detroit. Public cuts through attrition, leaving these cities with the false choices on how to recover, and--through circular logic--making privatization appear the only viable solution. It's formulaic and dangerous. This lands into a much larger issue about how this ultimately goes the full circle with regards to how "efficiency" in the private markets is a facade. The cost of the library and community center being shut down are externalities. People who have access to literature or recreational activities don't fix the fiscal crisis, on the surface. But beneath such superficial thinking, eventually, a citizenry that is less educated and less socially engaged are revealed and are inevitably internalized again.

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

    by rovertheoctopus on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 12:05:39 PM PDT

    •  Austerity is a ruse to privatize (6+ / 0-)

      governance, kill wages/workers rights, impoverish the masses, and hand country's over to fascism.

      What will be American's tipping point to end this?

      It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

      by War on Error on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 12:35:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You'll know it's serious . . . (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ColoTim, War on Error

        . . . when the second-amendment crazies figure it out and start marching.

        The furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. John Adams, 1776.

        by semiAdult on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 01:44:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Just wait until... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Citizenpower, rovertheoctopus

          ALEC in collusion with an ultra 2nd Amendment mayor/governor and the NRA lifts gun restrictions and starts handing out guns to the people (re: established whites only).

          Just imagine this actually being said in a future near you:

          "Well, Thomas Jefferson once said that the tree of liberty needs to be refreshed with the blood of patriots from time to time. How can a gun friendly politician give people guns - the very instrument that brings about revolutions - and still be installing fascism? I dare you try me, my knowledge of Jefferson is well versed (after reading Cliff Notes)."  

          //diaries that feature ongoing ALEC activity should be of a much higher priority here.

          •  They ARE a bit confused. (0+ / 0-)

            It would be good if they had a clue of the difference between fascism and a banana split.

            On ALEC diaries... you might want to try this one, the most recent work in a series, which could be about one of the more insidious schemes ALEC is pursuing.

            The furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. John Adams, 1776.

            by semiAdult on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 05:44:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Subvert Democracy, turn citizens into labor stock (5+ / 0-)

    That is the ALEC model - make life so bad that work is the only upside to life. To them, we should be so lucky to work for them and buy their products.  

    I pray to God that this wave of oligarchical fascism doesn't creep into Mass. With that, I thank you Cup of Joe for enlightening me on what's happening just 30 min south of me. I had no idea.

  •  This one is personal (8+ / 0-)

    My brother in law is a teacher in Woonsocket.  They've taken a beating in recent years and a lot of good teachers have left already or are continuing to look to leave once they find something.  

    I peronally want to see every member of ALEC burn in hell.

  •  Don't forget the Waltons (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    translatorpro, chimpy, phonegery, ColoTim

    3 Waltons (WalMart) are the 9th, 10th, and 11th most wealthy Americans.

    Great diary.  Tweeted

    It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

    by War on Error on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 12:33:28 PM PDT

  •  Very important information (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoldlady, phonegery

    that needs to be kept front and center. Tipped + recc'd.

    „Wer kämpft, kann verlieren. Wer nicht kämpft, hat schon verloren.“ - Bertolt Brecht

    by translatorpro on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 12:57:57 PM PDT

  •  It became necessary to destroy Woonsocket (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Citizenpower

    in order to save it.

    Ideas like commonwealth, public good, civic duty and human decency seem foreign to these legislators.  How is it people like this can remain in office after committing such acts?

    #ALEC Brand Legislation now with new whitening agents! Dont like the color of your electorate?Just add #VoterID! Now with more suppression! @FAKEALECPR

    by Bandaloop on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 04:04:43 PM PDT

    •  Because the American people are stupid (0+ / 0-)

      and that putting it mildly. I can't begin to tell you how much time I have spent listening to people bitch about welfare and government pension plans. When I point out to them that they may someday need the safety net they just get a dumb look on their face When it comes to pension I ask them why they don't fight to get there own pension plan instead of taking away other people plan just more dumb looks they are clueless and that why the right is winning !

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