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ALEC: Hawking "Freedom" in Salt Lake City

Brian Moench

As I write this, the infamous ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is meeting across the street from me in Salt Lake City's luxurious  Grand America Hotel.   I'm surrounded by two dozen protestors plotting a strategy to disrupt ALEC's smooth sailing in Salt Lake City.  With this country so riddled with infirmity--think of it on life support in the ICU--it's inexplicable that there aren’t two million protesters.

ALEC is essentially a legislative militia funded by the super rich whose troops are the lackeys and wannabes of the super rich.   It epitomizes the incestuous relationship between government and corporations.  In the secret meetings going on across the street,  ALEC is helping sell this country, its assets, its future, its moral compass and its people to soulless corporate profiteering using warm,  fuzzy and unassailable terminology like "freedom, liberty, free market, free enterprise, federalism, the constitution, limited government, low taxes, job creators...freedom, freedom, and did I mention freedom?” 

All this “freedom” has helped raise poverty in this country to its highest level in 50 years.  We have witnessed  the greatest concentration of the nation's income and wealth at the very top since the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century, with the richest 400 Americans owning as much as the bottom 150 million put together.   Of all the world’s advanced industrial countries, America has the highest level of income inequality and the lowest level of “equality of opportunity” or class mobility.   For much of the country “freedom” to live the American Dream will only happen if they win the lottery.  (You’re 50 times more likely to be struck by lightning than win the lottery).  

We have a tax structure designed for and manipulated by the rich.   The obscenely rich have somewhere between 20 and 30 trillion dollars in tax haven/off shore accounts.  By exploiting gaps in global tax rules, the global financial elite are hiding from taxation as much as the American and Japanese GDPs put together, leaving the world's poor with the “freedom” to shoulder the burden of global debt through harsh austerity measures.

Our banks are too big to fail and getting bigger every day.  Among those who brought the world to its economic knees in 2008, there is no remorse, no conscience, no change in behavior.  The worldwide financial empire is a cesspool of corruption top to bottom that rightly has no fear of being held accountable.   Thank God for "free enterprise."

The Republican Party’s presidential nominee is selling as his primary accomplishment, that he has skillfully milked the abyss of our entire financial system to his own extreme advantage.   Even now, he is still basking in the “free market” of wealth off-shoring,  i.e. he is doing everything he can to avoid putting his own money to work in the very country he so desperately wants to lead, and that style of patriotism suits the members of ALEC just fine.

Louis Brandeis, the famous Supreme Court Justice said: "We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."  These multimillionaires and billionaires are now unabashedly buying the 2012 election, and strangling American democracy.  We have an audacious and unapologetic coup going on in state houses throughout the country through voter ID laws--demanding a toxic cure for which there is no known disease--whose soul purpose is to grant the poor, the young and minorities the “liberty” of not being able to vote.   We know it, they know it, everyone knows it, but they may yet steal another election because of  five unspeakably corrupt Supreme Court justices.  Love that constitution though.

Large corporations and rich entrepreneurs own most of the mainstream media, and thereby control the flow of information to most of the world's population.   Dependence on advertising and profit produces ‘infotainment’, with scandal, gossip and petty dramas eclipsing ‘slow’ news about policy, scientific knowledge, and all issues of depth, complexity and substance. 

We have a justice system where wealth is the primary determinant of punishment for crimes committed, not culpability.  For trying to avert climate disaster Tim deChristopher is granted the “freedom” to join the largest prison population in the world, which has become a cash cow for, you guessed it, ALEC affiliated, “prison for profit” corporations. 

Meanwhile the Koch Brothers, who brazenly, heartlessly and criminally hasten that climate disaster, not only don't go to jail, but buy up more and more politicians on the “free market.”  One of our two major political parties is lobbying for a return to a value system that guarantees only rich people will have good health care and the poor virtually none.  They are comfortable with 40,000 people dying every year because they don't have health insurance.   We are actually bringing back from the era of Charles Dickens, the hideous practice of sending people to prison because they can't pay their debts.

Every year 30,000 people enjoy the “freedom” to die in America from gun violence.  We tolerate this atrocity because the profit and political clout of gun manufacturers, delivered by their hand maiden the NRA, shall not be infringed upon.  Another success of “limited government.”

What was once the finest public education system in the world has been sabotaged by tax cutting, free market zealots.  This education system is the foundation of a successful, egalitarian society and it is being literally blown up by corporate and plutocratic greed.  We have an entire generation now either unable to go to college or facing life long, prohibitive debt to do so.   But hey, “low taxes.”

Hate mongers (Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly, Bachmann, Savage, etc) are handed society’s loudest megaphones to enrich themselves while they beguile, inflame and spray contagious purulence into the public discourse.  They drive the Republican/Tea Party to celebrate, indeed demand a brutal, dog eat dog, every man for himself dystopia where empathy, and those who lose the economic competition, are thrown under the “free market” bus.  

The national debate on morality has become overly simplified and overwhelmed by a narrow subset of morality--sexual fidelity.  There is no acknowledgement or serious discussion of the immorality of a nation that justifies perpetual, unprovoked war, the immorality and hypocrisy of a supposedly "Chrisitan" nation that does so little to care for or protect its least fortunate.  We glorify a dead President, Ronal Reagan, who exposed  his own hollow core when he famously said, "What I want to see above all, is that America remains a country where someone can always get rich."   Of all the things that Reagan could have inspired us to be, he chose greedy and money obsessed.  And we dutifully followed his lead.  

We have allowed the political term "liberal" to be permanently stained and condemned as a pathetic philosophy of government based community cooperation and shared sacrifice.  Empathy and compassion have been stripped of any value in our current moral construct.    Our institutions of higher learning have become so morally bankrupt that they are willing to protect and coddle those who commit unspeakable crimes against children to avoid tarnishing their exhalted football programs.  But granting our children the “freedom” to suffer in poverty, and even die of starvation is every bit as immoral as what went on at Penn State,  and yet the conservative half of this country embraces that outcome as needed austerity to balance our books.

Our universities are now so starved of funding that pocket change donations from corporations easily steer research projects toward conclusions favorable to those corporations.  God help the faculty member that dares to defy right wing legislatures that control state university funding, or challenge a corporation that buys silence through gift giving to academia.

Our economic system only values consumption, not preservation of irreplaceable and dwindling natural resources, like top soil, water and fossil fuels.  As John Muir said while laying the groundwork for our National Parks, "Nothing dollarable is safe."  Not our beautiful vistas, our air, water, and not even our survivability.   

We have a planet being destroyed by rich people because doing so makes them even richer.   Americans are finally enjoying the “freedom” to suffer the consequences of the climate crisis.  We are in the worst drought since the 1930s dust bowl.  The MidWest is still the world's breadbasket and much of this year's crop has burned up in the fields.   Sticker shock at the grocery store is inevitable this fall.  The essence of the climate crisis is not polar bears, it's not even Florida drowning from rising sea levels, it's nothing less than the collapse of civilization and the world's population, including Americans, starving to death.  Seriously.  But of course the rich, including the rich that are perpetuating and profiting from the disconnect we have with our dilemma,  will be the last to starve to death, so it means little to them. 

The average baby in America now enjoys the “freedom” to be born pre-polluted with over 200 chemicals and heavy metals in  their blood causing subtle, and sometimes not so subtle damage to virtually every organ and altering their chromosomes leading to a broad range of chronic, debilitating and even fatal diseases later in life.  Those chromosomal changes can be passed on to subsequent generations diminishing their health as well.    Attempts to reign in pollution, our exposure to pesticides, plasticizers, endocrine disruptors and the 83,000 industrial chemicals that now contaminate every corner of the earth and every living in it, are fought tooth and nail by many of the corporations meeting with legislators across the street.

From voter suppression, to gun violence, to  environmental degradation to denial of the climate crisis ALEC has its fingerprints on virtually every legislative facet of America's decline.    The two dozen protestors around me are fighting some of the world's deepest, most powerful pockets, an intimidating police presence, and an ignorant public.   This is David vs an entire army of Goliaths, and its not looking good for David.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Brian Moench

Dr. Brian Moench is President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a practicing anesthesiologist in Salt Lake City. He is a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Utah.

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