Friday, August 30, 2013

Trans-Pacific Partnership: The new, not so improved, NAFTA

Letting corporations write their own laws without federal oversight is a very dangerous practice. Many corporations are established to make profits without any concern for the consequences to society at large. They see making laws as just another opportunity to make profits for themselves and their owners.

This practice has created ALEC, a secretive organization that enables corporations to write bills and send them to state legislatures. ALEC makes a number of virtuous-sounding claims on its public web site but has secret agendas that only become apparent after bills have been turned into laws. Officially, ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but its staff members have no problem calling it conservative when they are speaking to a friendly audience, as Michael Hough did when he was interviewed on NRA TV.

ALEC is not the only forum where corporations are permitted to make their own laws, however. The Obama administration is currently participating in a series of “stake-holder forums” to create a new international trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Foreign countries and international corporations are involved in the negotiations, now in their 19th round. The people of the US are missing from the table, although we will all benefit or suffer from the consequences of these negotiations.

Particularly offensive is the attempt of the Obama administration to get approval for the “Fast Track” authority that has been enjoyed by every president since Nixon. The administration has changed its name to “Trans-Pacific Authority”, but it's still the same fast track authority that enabled previous presidents to adopt World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with little opportunity for discussion. It was a bad idea then and it's a bad idea now.

WTO(1995) and NAFTA(1993) have decimated the middle class in America. President Clinton signed NAFTA in 1993 promising that the treaty would mean better jobs and higher wages for the US. After surging for a few years, wages have been stagnant since 2000. More and more production jobs have been off shored but new, high-skill jobs have not materialized to take their place. Instead, low-paying service jobs have proliferated, along with higher unemployment and more underemployment. The corporate elite who pushed these laws have prospered.

Well-connected business interests like agriculture and energy were able to preserve their subsidies under free trade. Agricultural interests, with a negligible labor force, were able to keep high subsidies owing to the undemocratic design of the US Senate. Oil lobbyists kept Congress from levying a windfall profits tax or a cap and trade tax as the price of oil skyrocketed and their profits with it. Wall street brokers and banks raked in huge profits by rigging the housing market and then packaging their bad debts into derivatives and selling those to their hapless clients. It turned out the banks were playing with house money, since the US bailed them out to stave off another Great Depression

Now the same corporate elites want more “free trade”. They want more favorable regulations and see TPP as a way to get them. The companies holding copyrights, having failed to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) through the Congress are trying to get the same laws, this time in an international treaty. Wall Street Banks are trying to use TPP as an end run around restrictions passed by the US Congress.

There are more than 600 people with access to documents revealing the proposals in TPP. There should be 300 million more: the American people. We deserve to know everything about a treaty that will affect our lives and well-being for the foreseeable future. We are not disenfranchised members of some backwater dictatorship. We are voters in the greatest democratic republic in the world.

We elected Barack Obama as President partly because he promised us transparency in government. His Trade Representative, who is negotiating the treaty for the American people, refuses to provide us with information that is crucial to our well-being. He evidently fears that, if we find out what is in the treaty, we won't like it. He's probably right, but that is all the more reason we should know all about it.

Corporations know the details. Other countries know the details. Many unelected organizations know the details. But our government refuses to give us a seat at the negotiating table.

Transparency means we, the People, have a right to know all about what the government is doing on our behalf. It's getting dark here. President Obama, we could all use a little more light.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 committed a major blunder committed a major blunder when it rated as false a rumor that Koch Industries (Koch) was paying the defense attorney's fees in the Trayvon Martin murder trial., a website owned by Koch Industries, still publishes Snopes's judgment on the front page of its web site, although the article was published back in April 2012. implies that Snopes backs up its other claim, that MSNBC falsely accused Koch of supporting the Florida stand-your-ground statute that let Martin's killer go free. This judgment puts Snopes squarely on the side of an organization, Koch Industries, that routinely spreads disinformation about climate change, its own activities, and the reputations of others.

Snopes did not investigate the issue thoroughly enough and was too willing to take the word of company spokespersons. They also wrote that Mark O'Mara, the defense lawyer, said something he didn't say. Snopes went to the Koch web site,, where it found that Koch denies having anything to do with "stand-your-ground” laws. This is a completely false assertion. Koch-financed groups gave $75,000 to ALEC between 2005 and 2008, a period when ALEC and  the NRA were promoting stand-your-ground laws to state legislatures. ALEC resident fellow Michael Hough explained in a 2008 interview that NRA and ALEC were working together to push stand-your-ground laws to state legislatures.

Koch had two representatives from its Koch Companies Public Sector on the Public Interest and Criminal Law study group at American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Cincinnati in 2011. Michael K. Morgan of Koch Industries has been on the board of ALEC since 1999.

Snopes also took Koch's word that Koch had “nothing whatsoever” to do with the defendant in the Trayvon Martin case. As verification, Snopes posts an interview with the defense attorney, Mark O'Mara. The interviewer asks O'Mara who financed the defense.

Interviewer: Who gave? Who were the people who gave?
O'Mara: It's funny, because we got a lot of $5 contributions, a lot of $100 contributions...

Snopes should have noticed that O'Mara did not answer this question fully. O'Mara has recently asked the court to pay $300,000 for expenses in the case, so O'Mara did not get the entire amount he was seeking in small contributions. Anyone trying to answer the question of whether Koch helped fund the defense cannot give a definitive answer on the basis of this interview, because the interviewer did not ask about Koch Industries, nor did O'Mara volunteer anything about it.

Snopes was faced with this dilemma. There is no concrete evidence the rumor is true, but there is equally as little evidence that it is false. Snopes decided to believe Koch. There is plenty of evidence on and elsewhere, however, that Koch is entirely unreliable. The site is a compendium of scurrilous charges and half-truths which must be familiar to Snopes from every other web site in the right-wing echo chamber.

Kochfacts states that “Democratic operative” Karen Finney wrongly accused Koch of a “connection” with Trayvon Martin's death. This is a false statement, in two ways. Finney did not mention Koch as the cause of Martin's death. She excoriated several Republicans for heightening the atmosphere of racial tension through their thoughtless remarks and personal attacks. Finney made no statement about whether Koch had anything to do with Florida's "stand your ground" law, for she was referring to events after Martin's death, not before it. The remark has been repeated out of context on numerous web sites, but mere repetition does not convert falsehood into truth. Furthermore, Finney is now a commentator on MSNBC, not a Democratic operative. calling her an operative is simply another falsehood intended to undermine the reputation of MSNBC.

Koch has underwritten numerous false and misleading statements. Greenpeace documents Koch's funding of a polar bear study, a report that claims that polar bears are not endangered by global warming. This subject is important for oil companies, like Koch, who intend to profit from oil in the arctic. The study discloses that it received funding from Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and Exxon-Mobil Corporation. The study was a fraud, however, because it pretended to be a research paper and it was not. Its authors, one of whom was an astrophysicist, had no professional knowledge of polar bears and did no original research for the article. Subsequently, two actual experts on polar bears published a response that the Koch-funded study did not adequately support its radical claim that non-climate factors were causing the polar bear population decline.1

Other examples of Koch front groups publishing misinformation are too numerous to mention here.

Snopes had a problem. It wanted to make a decision about whether this rumor, about Koch paying O'Mara's fee, was true or false, but it had insufficient data. Koch said it didn't pay, but Koch is a notably unreliable witness, having told half-truths or outright lies on numerous occasions. O'Mara said he received small donations, but he didn't deny receiving larger ones, or promises of future donations.

Snopes should have given up at this point and said that the truth of the rumor is unknowable. Instead, it made an unwarranted assumption, that the rumor “appeared to be tied” to a coincidence of other popular beliefs. Saying a rumor “appears” to be something proves nothing at all. It is an opinion based on an assumption, not a conclusion based on facts.

Rumors arise from an excess of secrecy and a shortage of facts. The rumors about Koch Industries arise from the fact that Koch has tried for years to hide its political activities behind numerous front groups and conservative organizations. The habit of secrecy is deeply ingrained.

ALEC also has a history of secrecy. It disbanded the Public Safety and Elections study group--which pushed NRA-backed laws--in response to pressure from civil rights groups and its corporate sponsors. ALEC did not stop its activities in these areas, however. It just transferred the assets into other study groups. The NRA continued to be a partner for ALEC.

The net effect of Snopes's rash assumption is that now features on its front page, implying that Snopes has verified all the lies and half-truths that follow. Snopes should repair its reputation by removing its flawed opinion from the website and do some more serious fact checking of  

1Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine 25, Greenpeace USA, 2010.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Russian Olympics: Anti-gay propaganda law embarrasses Putin

All the pieces of despotic rule are being set in motion in Russia right now. The ruler of Russia, Vladimir Putin, already has power to do whatever he wants. He has silenced his opposition by arresting or removing them from office. And he has subverted the Constitution by retaining power after the Constitution dictated that he relinquish it—he found a stooge to keep his chair warm for four years, and arranged to have the Constitution changed, so that he could be re-elected for a six-year term.

Another component of despotism is a fiercely loyal power base. Stalin had the Communist Party. Putin has the Orthodox Church. The Church is a good base of support for a totalitarian despot because believers are not supposed to question authority. The Catholic Church provided support for fascism in Spain and Italy. Islam has provided support for the Ayatollahs in Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Putin has also organized a youth movement to act as the spearhead of his regime. Young people act impulsively and energetically. They follow leaders without question. Hitler used the Hitler Youth. Mao used the Red Guard. For over a decade, Putin has used a youth group called Nashi. The movement is primarily an ultra-nationalist group that wears white t-shirts emblazoned with a stylized red cross. Nashi's webpage leads with a picture of Putin and its own leader. Nashi apparently specializes in dirty tricks against Putin's rivals, like Ksenia Sobchak, a young socialite woman. Sobchak makes fun of Putin and his prudish supporters. She is more an annoyance than a threat.

Another group that identifies itself with Putin's goals—though not with Putin himself—is the National Socialist party. This party declares itself to be Christian, violent, Aryan, and nationalist. Its similarities to the German Nazi party are obvious. The National Socialist Party has little support in Russia. Its newspaper has not been posted online since 2001. The National Socialist Party attacks ethnic minorities, who have migrated to the big cities in recent years. It is reputed to have made a video showing two murders in 2007.

A key component of any despotism is an enemy. The enemy unifies the leader's followers in attacking a common opponent and serves as a scapegoat--the leader can blame all the nation's troubles on the enemy. Putin's obvious choice would have been to attack the Jews or another ethnic minority, but the Jews have many supporters in the world right now. European countries, whom Putin needs to buy Russian gas and oil, would be likely to object strongly.  

Instead, Putin chose to attack gays. He apparently believed this would not be a problem with foreign countries, and he knew the orthodox Christians would support him, particularly in view of the church leadership's position on gays. The Russian Orthodox Prelate, head of the Russian church, has declared that foreign countries that recognize same-sex marriage are a sign of the apocalypse. The Prelate supports the ban on “homosexual propaganda” recently signed into law by Putin.

Numerous groups in Russia have been formed to attack and harass gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians. The largest of these, Occupy Pedophilia, claims 75,000 followers on VK, the Russian Facebook. Occupy posts videos of its members taunting and assaulting suspected LGBT youth. The Russian authorities do not seem much interested in investigating these videos.

The anti-gay-propaganda law declares open season on LGBT Russians. Being gay is technically still legal, but the anti-gay-propaganda law forbids anyone to spread homosexual “propaganda” to Russian youth. This crime is so vague that it could cover almost anything a LGBT person might say about his/her sexuality or social opinions.

Putin has had the misfortune to sign this law just as Russia is preparing to host the Winter Olympics, and has received much criticism. Western celebrities have been slamming the law for weeks. The attacks will likely continue until after the Olympics.

The internal Russian LGBT movement itself has welcomed the new anti-gay-propaganda law because the law has finally succeeded in attracting the West's attention:  gays have been living with the regional versions of this law for years and this is the first time the outside world has noticed. The first anti-gay-propaganda law was passed in Ryazan province in 2006. Subsequently, in October 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled the Ryazan law discriminatory  and called on Russian authorities to repeal it.  The Russian gay community is still waiting. 

A spokesman in Russia, Nikolay Alekseyev, ridicules activists outside Russia who urge a boycott of the Olympics; he claims such boycotts are always ineffectual, and only harm the athletes. Alekseyev has sponsored numerous Gay Pride parades inside Russia, but these events had to be kept secret so they would not be disrupted by anti-gay skinheads. He and several LGBT activists have appealed their convictions under Russian law to the International Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, France. Their convictions were reversed and should be recognized by Russian authorities, eventually. 

Olympic authorities have announced that they will tolerate no political demonstrations from participants. The Russian government has explained that the anti-gay-propaganda law is not discriminatory, since everyone is forbidden to spread gay propaganda. Essentially, this means a heterosexual can talk about his/her sexuality, but a gay person cannot. This situation is hardly non-discriminatory, and conflicts with the Olympic charter. It also conflicts with the ruling of the UN Human Rights Committee.

Putin moves to consolidate power

Putin received a shock after demonstrations greeted his last, rigged election in 2012. Thousands of demonstrators went into the streets to protest documented reports of carousel voting—fraudulent voters going from one polling place to another, voting at each one—and large dumps of absentee ballots. Observers also reported voters being paid a dollar each to vote for Putin.

These demonstrations alerted Putin to his precarious position. The previous government had been destabilized and overthrown by street protests. Putin started consolidating his power with a swing to the right. His supporters proposed and he signed the anti-gay-propaganda law attacking rights of expression. Putin also stepped up attacks on the internet by passing the Russian anti-piracy law, which permits courts to shut down websites that violate copyright laws.

Putin's allies in this push for internet purity are the League of Safe Internet, which attacks informational sites (like Wikipedia's article on cannabis) as well as those with sexual content. Russian authorities have also used an anti-extremism law to crack down on bloggers, including nationalist radicals and opposition pundits. Authorities brought 103 cases against bloggers and internet commentators in 2012, a 3-fold increase over 2011. The true importance of these legal cases is not their number but the menace they signal for others. One Russian internet industry spokesman believes the bloggers brought the repression on themselves, because they had used the internet to attack the government too freely, believing they would never be caught. This is nonsense, of course. The bloggers were exercising their rights of free expression, guaranteed by Article 29 of the Russian Constitution. There appears to be some conflict in Russia about exactly which rights the Constitution guarantees and which ones should only be exercised sparingly.

Putin has only a short while to consolidate his power. The 2012 election controversy hurt his popularity. If Putin wants to try a coup against the Russian government, he must move quickly. If he fails, his window of opportunity may be lost, and the Russian Federation will continue without him.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

David Koch and ALEC: Dancing With the Devil and the 40-Foot Dump

David Koch has donated generously and without fanfare to [us] for many years.”--Julie Stewart, President and Founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Everyone knows, or should know, that deals with the devil never work out the way you think they will. The same is true for deals made with ultra-rich, ultra-immoral benefactors like David Koch.

David Koch is one of the wealthiest men in the world. His investment interests are mainly in “outlaw industries”--industries that many people believe are harmful in some way: oil, lumber, and commodities trading. His political contributions show that he solidly endorses the one-percent solution, in which the richest one percent continue to hold vast fortunes and fight against paying their fair share of taxes while they force working Americans to pay higher taxes for basic government services.

Koch is well known for giving financial support to Republican politicians and climate deniers. He has recently become more prominent in the media, due partly to attacks by Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) and In the past, he has been a shadowy figure who contributed without fanfare to conservative organizations like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), Cato Foundation (a libertarian think tank), Republican Governors Association, and Heritage Foundation (formerly a think tank, now a propaganda mill headed by Republican ex-Senator Jim DeMint).

Union supporters know Koch as the man who bankrolled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's recall election, when Unions and progressives tried to throw Walker from office. Thanks to Koch (who admits making a $700,000 contribution), Walker is still able to pass anti-labor legislation while his subordinates continue to rob veteran organizations and raise campaign funds while drawing state paychecks.

Koch Carbon, one of Koch's privately owned companies, recently dropped a 40-foot pile of petroleum coke (petcoke) on Detroit's waterfront. The company did not ask for a permit or bother to protect the fine powder from the wind. The petcoke accumulated in the homes of nearby residents. One day a storm came up and blew a great cloud of it over to Windsor, Ontario. Koch Carbon promised to move the pile to Ohio after Canadians protested.

Petcoke is a byproduct of the tar sands mined in Alberta. It contains 60% of the carbon from bitumen, the oil source. The Kochs regularly sell the stuff to China as fuel, despite the enormous amount of greenhouse gases it puts into the earth's atmosphere when burned.  

David Koch has said that humans are not the cause of global warming but that global warming will be good for the planet because growing seasons will be longer and the earth will be able to support more people. No climate study agrees with Koch. Most climate scientists believe that large populations will be displaced as currently populous areas become uninhabitable due to extreme heat and drought. When Obama gave a major speech on global warming in 2008, the Koch-funded Cato Institute took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to attack him.

Koch's primary political-advocacy group these days is Americans for Prosperity Foundation. AFPF is the engine that drives the Tea Party, according to memos from the Romney campaign. AFPF lobbied fiercely against health care and financial regulation. In 2012, AFPF spent $3 million on TV ads attacking Obama and another $9 million on ads attacking Obama's health care law.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums(FAMM)

Julie Stewart, President of FAMM, recently wrote an article praising ALEC and its long-time benefactor, David Koch. She said that ALEC and Koch had embraced bold sentencing reform. I don't see how anyone could call the Justice Safety Valve Act (S.B. 619) “bold”. The bill would leave the entire mandatory sentencing law completely untouched, along with its extraordinarily high sentencing guidelines for drug-related crimes. All S.B. 619 would do is give judges some flexibility in sentencing some defendants—but only if the defendants met conditions already written into the law. Furthermore, it would affect only federal laws, not state laws, where 80% of drug cases are tried.

The mandatory sentencing laws are a travesty of justice, as Stewart well knows. They have filled our prisons with non-violent petty criminals while failing to reach the drug kingpins and money-laundering banks that make the really big money and commit the really big crimes. ALEC wrote these laws specifically to benefit private prison corporations, for whom having more prisoners means more profits.  

Recently, Attorney General Holder gutted the federal version of those laws by instructing his agents not to list the amounts of drugs recovered in their reports. By this single act, Holder returned all the sentencing power to judges. Holder is trying to correct injustice; Koch is trying to preserve it.

While David Koch has been funding FAMM, he has also been funding ALEC, the right-wing organization that wrote state and federal mandatory sentencing laws in the first place. Those laws have failed utterly to win the war on drugs, but ALEC would like to keep them in place with just a few cosmetic changes. This approach is nonsense. The laws should be repealed and those inmates who were sentenced under them should have their sentences reviewed and reduced, or possibly revoked.

ALEC strongly supports the right of vigilante gunmen to carry arms and murder innocent people--ALEC wrote the “stand your ground” laws. Yet ALEC is also responsible for adding five years or more to the sentence of any non-violent drug offender if there is a gun found in their home. To ALEC and its supporters, gun ownership is an inviolable constitutional right—unless the gun owner has a small amount of marijuana in his pocket.

The racist stench of these laws is nauseating. Two laws, one for the white population, another for the brown population; whites can carry guns, African-Americans can't carry a matchbox of marijuana. ALEC and its oh-so-genial backer, David Koch, approve this division of society into unequal parts. Stewart should not be supporting this bill. She should be advocating repeal of this odious law. But she can't, because she's funded by David Koch, and he tells her what to do now.

David Koch is a likeable man. The devil is always likeable, otherwise he couldn't do his job. But when you shake hands with David Koch, you've shaken hands with the devil.

Monday, August 19, 2013

ALEC: Profiteers in the War on Drugs

The American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) has been convincing state legislators to adopt laws with mandatory, determinate sentencing guidelines for a long time now. ALEC started this project back in the 1970s, when people were panicked about the high crime rate.

Liberals were concerned about inconsistent sentences being handed out by different judges for the same crime. Politicians in both parties contended that the laws gave too much leeway for judges. Senator Edward Kennedy was an early advocate for determinate sentencing. Conservatives gave speeches about bleeding heart liberals and judges who were soft on crime.

States began replacing indeterminate sentencing laws with determinate sentences. Republican legislators vied with each other to see who could be toughest on crime. To many voters, being tough on crime meant getting tough with African Americans, whom many white people, north and south, believed to be a criminal class.  Such beliefs resulted in a disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of African-Americans: in 2000, according to records in seven states, 80-90% of drug offenders sent to prison were African-Americans.1

ALEC has been pushing harsh sentencing laws since 1975. They were responsible for enacting “three strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws in 27 states. Three strikes laws sentenced a person who was convicted of a third crime, no matter how minor, to life in prison without possibility of parole. Truth in sentencing laws replaced the discretion of judges with definite lower and upper limits for sentences. Prisoners could not be released before the lower limit, nor could they be released before serving 85% of the upper limit.

Truth in sentencing laws mandated higher sentences for drug offenders, and pushed the average time served for drug offenses in federal prison from 17 months to 47 months. The result of these "three strikes" and "truth in sentencing" laws was that drug offenders were more likely to spend time in prison than those arrested for murder, assault, burglary, or rape.2

ALEC is also responsible for the Minimum-Mandatory Sentencing Act that established sentencing guidelines for drug offenses, and which is now in effect in many states. This model law erased the distinction between mere possession of a drug and possession for sale, so that a marijuana user faces the same penalty as a marijuana seller working for a cartel. The law also increases penalties for higher-ups, but the higher-ups are seldom arrested and can escape prison sentences through clever lawyers and legal technicalities.  

For example, the executives of HSBC Bank, the largest bank in Europe, failed to monitor $690 billion in wire transfers and $9.4 billion in money order sales from Mexico. HSBC's failure to monitor these sales, as required by law, permitted Mexican and Colombian drug cartels to launder more than $881 million in profits from their illegal enterprises. Not only did these executives escape prison, their failure to monitor these transactions also means that cartel kingpins will never stand trial because the proof of their crimes—the record of money received for drugs—was erased by the bank.

The judge in the case fined the bank $1.9 billion but imprisoned no one. A company can't be imprisoned, he wrote.3 Contrast this with the fate of Weldon Angelos, a first offender and father of two, who was sentenced to 55 years in jail for selling $350 worth of marijuana to undercover police officers.

Packing the prisons for the private prison industry

The net effect of these changes was an increase in the prison population in states where they were passed. Another effect was an increase in the demand for private prisons. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut) were the first corporations to build prisons and manage them for state governments. By 2010 the two companies were netting $2.9 billion in annual profits from contracts with state and federal governments.

In a meeting in Washington, DC, in 2010, CCA representatives and ALEC member Russell Pearce conceived and drafted Arizona S.B. 1070, aka the "Papers Please" bill .  S.B. 1070 gave Arizona police the right to stop people and ask them for their citizenship papers. CCA promised the City Manager of Benson that the law would bring prosperity to his small town.  It also brought prosperity to CCA: in 2011, CCA reported that immigrant detention was a significant portion of corporate revenue. CCA successfully convinced Arizona to strengthen its anti-immigrant laws in order to increase its own profits from prison management. After S.B. 1070 passed, 30 of its 38 legislative co-sponsors received campaign donations from CCA and Geo.

ALEC has also helped corporations profit from the increase in prison populations by pushing the Prison Industries Act (PIA) model legislation. PIA permits prisons to "rent out" inmates to corporations at sub-minimum wage rates. In Florida, the prisons then deduct 40% of the prisoner's already sub-minimum wages for “room and board”. Many of these prisons are “for-profit” private corporations which thus benefit directly from their state and federal lobbying efforts, as one filthy "hand" washes the other.

1National Lawyers Guild, High Crimes: Strategies to Further Marijuana Legalization Initiatives 11, NLG 2013,
2Human Rights Watch, United States: Punishment and Prejudice, Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs (2000),

3U.S. v. HSBC Bank USA NA, 12-cr-00763 20, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn),

Friday, August 16, 2013

Three straws in the wind

Barack Obama swept into the Presidency with the promise of hope and change.

Change was certainly long overdue. George Bush and his supporters preached intolerance of anyone whose views were out of step with their own. Corporate America moved millions of jobs overseas. Bush sent a man who despised international law to the United Nations as his ambassador. Bush started two new wars to satisfy the militarists and the war profiteers. Bush deregulated the financial industry and precipitated the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Sometimes, however, a flame burns brightest just before it burns out. Perhaps the suffering of our fellow Americans under the corporate boot is about to end.

The American cultural revolution occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. Large numbers of people began to question the received culture of the 1950s. They questioned the U.S. military role in the world. They questioned whether the heterosexual marriage should be the only accepted form of intimacy. They questioned whether marijuana, a relatively harmless drug, should be outlawed while more harmful drugs, such as alcohol, were tolerated by society. They questioned why radio stations played Sinatra and Peggy Lee instead of Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Worst of all, from the standpoint of traditional society, they questioned why anyone should go hungry in a country where farmers were paid not to grow food.

The counterculture, as it came to be called, took hold of the imagination of the young. People stopped looking to New York fashion designers for clothes and instead decorated their own clothes with beads and brightly colored thread. The counterculture had its own heroes, like Elvis and John Lennon, Dylan and Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Those of us who welcomed the counterculture believed that the country had turned the corner. We believed the elite would stop discriminating against African Americans and women, since discrimination was now against the law, or at least against the Constitution.

The counterculture forced the U.S. to end the Vietnam War. Under their influence, the government passed Civil Rights and Voting Rights. The counterculture believed that the establishment would just step aside and let the rest of us start living a better life based in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.

Then something completely predictable happened. Traditional society fought back. Ronald Reagan, who had been a pitch man for General Electric in the 1950s, led them. George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama to stop integration in 1963. Reagan called out the national guard to stop protesters in Berkeley in 1969. George Wallace was stopped by President Kennedy, who took over command of the National Guard, and integration proceeded peacefully, for the moment. Reagan called out the Sheriff's deputies of Alameda County and told them to use whatever means necessary to stop a peaceful protest of college students and Berkeley residents. This time President Richard Nixon failed to take over the National Guard and violence ensued.

Reagan became extremely popular with those who hated college students, integrationists, and peace lovers. He was elected President in 1980 and started up the American war machine again. He appointed Supreme Court Judges who believed that African Americans were a privileged special interest group that needed to be suppressed. The world grew bloodier as the U.S. ignored U.N. agreements and sent troops to Grenada, aided insurgents in Afghanistan and Honduras, and bombed Libya.

Reagan became the first president since World War II to start a war to raise his political popularity. Republican President G. W. Bush used the same tactic. Such wars violate customary international law.

Compounding the social and foreign policy problems with G. W. Bush's term, the economy collapsed in 2007.

Progressives were disappointed with Obama's performance during his first term, although they had to admit his failures were not entirely his own fault. Now, however, a new wind is blowing through Washington and the rest of the country. Obama has contributed by ordering his ICE agents to stop deporting “dreamers”, immigrants whose parents brought them here illegally. 

Obama apparently is no longer concerned about what Republicans think of his policies, though he could have gone further and extended the same privileges to all immigrants. He could also transfer some of the funds for “securing our borders” to other areas, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Consumer Protection Agency. But any sign of movement is better than none.

Attorney General Stephen Holder has also been a disappointment to progressives, primarily for failing to prosecute Wall Street for abuses that sent the economy into a tail spin. But Holder, too, showed signs of progressivism when he ordered federal officers not to list the amounts of drugs on indictments against drug offenders. These amounts trigger automatic sentencing guidelines that have turned the American prison system into a Gulag of Soviet proportions. Holder has always known that drug laws are aimed squarely at African American young men, because those are the people who get sent to prison.

Holder's action, if continued by his successors, could end the War on Drugs altogether. For decades, a prison industry has grown up relying on the War on Drugs to fill its cells. Prison Guards have joined together in powerful unions with but one goal, to keep the prisons full and preserve their well-paying jobs. Police departments have spent time and money chasing drug offenders because they could seize the assets of drug offenders. The departments have grown wealthy, with ever fancier helicopters and planes and drug detecting equipment. The people who profit from prisons and drug busts spend millions influencing elections.

This one action of Holder's may break the cycle of corruption. Without prisoners, there will be no need for prisons. Prison Guards will have to find other work. Policemen can go back investigating political corruption and corporate crime. The War on Drugs will end.

Finally, from New York comes the astonishing tale of a judge who said "no!". Judge Schira Scheindlin ruled that NYC's stop-and-frisk rules are unconstitutional because they use racial profiling to target African Americans and Latinos. NYC Mayor Bloomberg howled out loud about this ruling, claiming the Judge “knows nothing” about law enforcement. Scheindlin issued a 192-page opinion in Floyd v. City of New York that proves she knows a great deal about racial profiling and police harassment.

Scheindlin's conclusions come as no surprise to the black and brown residents of NYC, who have complained loudly about being stopped for no reason. This constant harassment made some of them afraid to leave their houses to go to the store or to work. The fear they felt is the fear inspired by a police state, where justice has become comatose by command of the government. This is the same fear that Trayvon Martin felt when he was chased by a neighborhood watchman who assumed, mistakenly and with bloody consequences, that Martin was up to no good. What is amazing to the black and brown residents subjected to Bloomberg's reign of terror is that an honest federal judge agrees with them.

So here they are, three straws in the wind. These actions are not subject to review by our completely broken Congress, nor can these three courageous people, Obama, Holder, and Scheindlin, be subjected to ridicule by a barrage of defamatory campaign ads, because none of them needs to run for office. What remains to be seen is whether these straws can predict which way the wind blows. We should all hope that they do.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vladimir Putin: World's most dangerous person

"Dickhead Putin" by H. Masri

[The picture I had posted here of Vladimir Putin was taken down from the web. It may be that it happened because this post has had over 1,000 views, or more likely because Putin found the picture, which showed him with an automatic rifle, too close to the truth. Recently, many
people in Turkey and Ukraine have been reading MasriZone. I hope I have played a small part in revealing to the world what a dangerous man he is.] 

Vladimir Putin is the most dangerous man in the world. North Korea has been considered the most dangerous country in the world because their autocratic rulers, the Kim family, had both great power and nuclear weapons technology. The truth is, however, that a couple of nuclear devices are hardly a danger comparable to the oil reserves of Russia. Russia is now the largest producer of oil in the world.  More on this later.

Vladimir Putin is the ruler of Russia. Russia has a long history of authoritarian rule, and Putin has moved to follow that model. He has carefully built a cult of personality, similar to those created by the North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung and China's ruler, Mao Tse-Tung. But Putin's model is most likely Joseph Stalin.

Joseph Stalin, another Russian strong man, also built a cult of personality. Nearly all the portraits of Stalin showed him in an army uniform looking heroically into the distance. He is generally shown holding a pistol, with clenched fist, or with hands folded across his stomach. Most of the pictures show him from a low camera angle, nearly always alone. This made him appear taller than his actual height of 5 feet, four inches. Stalin had a penchant for erecting statues of himself. Hundreds of them stood in prominent locations in Russia and her empire. Many statues were colossal, standing on high pedestals.

Stalin's efforts to create a cult of personality worked. Russians believed him heroic, strong, capable of protecting them in a violent world. They also feared him, knowing he was capable of murdering his adversaries or anyone he believed was an enemy. Stalin was a violent man, and a narcissist, as revealed by the vast array of statues, photos, and posters bearing his image; he was a killer without conscience. Modern estimates place the number of his victims at more than 3 million people.  

Putin is building his own cult of personality. His photos in various poses strike Americans as odd, even amusing. Like a super model or movie star, he poses in all sorts of roles, all intended to make him appear powerful, vital, capable. He poses with symbols of power, guns, motorcycles, airplanes, even a bathyscaphe. He likes to show off his bare, clean-shaven chest. He shows no weakness in public, ever, refusing even to smile, or to pose with a woman.

Putin divorced his wife of 30 years and has been rumored to be involved with a 30-year-old rhythmic gymnast. He makes no comment about this and is careful not to be seen in compromising positions with the younger woman. There is no freedom of the press when it comes to covering Putin's private life. Putin may reinforce his masculine image by having a much younger mistress, but he obviously doesn't want to share the spotlight with a woman.

Putin has undermined democracy in Russia. After serving two terms as president, he picked Medvedev as his stand-in while Putin continued to make the decisions. Putin has now been re-elected president for a six-year term. He has bought a great deal of popularity by distributing the oil revenues of Russia to its citizens. He has further increased his popularity by passing laws that persecute dissenters and gays, actions that appeal to the conservative adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian authorities arrested a punk rock group called Pussy Riot for disrupting a church service by singing a song mocking Putin. A court sentenced three young female members of the rock band to two-year sentences in prison for hooliganism, a crime similar to disorderly conduct, except that in America we don't put people in prison for two years for disorderly conduct, or for singing mocking songs about our politicians.

Stalin had the backing of the Communist Party, which is now defunct. In its place, Putin uses the revived Orthodox Church as his power base. He has to reinforce his appeal to this base just as Republican politicians must satisfy the Tea Party. Putin's chief ally in this endeavor is Yelena Mizulina, a middle aged female legislator who proposes laws to enforce morality. One of her laws puts a tax on divorce; this is a stroke of irony, not just because Putin recently divorced his own wife, but also because Russia has the highest divorce rate in the world. Other laws under consideration would ban abortions and morning after pills.  Mizulina, a devout Christian, believes she can redeem Russian society (and increase the declining population) by passing laws that support "traditional family values".

Mizulina, with Putin's support, proposed a bill to prohibit gays from spreading pro-gay “propaganda”. She claimed that the phrase “gay men are people too” needed to be investigated as subversive by the Russian bureau of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare. Anyone who disagrees with her views is likely to be accused of being part of a “pedophile lobby” that she claims exists in the political party opposed to hers. She defends her laws by saying they are only intended to keep information about homosexuality away from children.

The penalty for spreading gay propaganda is relatively small, about $150, but the law legitimizes anti-gay activities. The laws are so vague that they can be used to persecute almost any non-traditional speech or actions. Russian police have attacked and arrested demonstrators at gay pride events, while anti-gay groups have attacked and tortured gays and gay sympathizers. The anti-gay attackers have posted videos of their activities on YouTube, where you can see young men assaulted, placed in hammerlocks, held down, stepped on, and threatened.  

Putin signed the anti-gay legislation into law. Putin's support of this and other legislation of morality reinforces his own support of traditional masculine values. It makes him look like a tough guy. Neither he nor Mizulina have shown any sympathy for young gays who are attacked by Christian thugs. Putin asks that both sides refrain from violence, but he equates a non-violent demonstration with an assault. The Pussy Riot demonstration in a church is the closest that anti-government protestors have come to violence; they were only making music.  Yet there are many graphic photos of the violence done to anti-government demonstrators by police and Christian thugs.

Putin has shown his indifference to human suffering on a large scale by supporting the Syrian government as it massacres its own people. His support has resulted in thousands of innocent deaths. Putin seems to act only to prove his own toughness and his willingness to stand up to the Americans. This demonstration of his own bravado also seems to be his only reason for offering asylum to the American fugitive, Edward Snowden; Putin has used Snowden’s high-profile case to figuratively tweak the noses of the Americans.  

Russian Oil and Global Warming

Putin is cementing his hold on power by outlawing protests, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech. What makes him most dangerous, though, is not how he oppresses the Russian people, but how this affects the rest of the world and its future. Putin's popularity is due to his handling of the Russian economy. Putin must continue increasing production of oil to meet the rising expectations of the Russian people.

The world's governments must work together to avert global warming, and they must do it soon. However, so long as Putin controls Russia, there will be no cooperation, since his continuation in power requires more oil production and Russia has no other profitable industries.  

Scientists have estimated that burning the 1.8 billion barrels of tar sands oil in Alberta (if fully developed) will raise global temperatures by 0.42 degrees Centigrade. By comparison, burning the 75 billion barrels of Russian tar sands oil could theoretically raise worldwide temperatures fifty times as much,  an increase of up to 21 degrees.  This estimate does not take into account the quality of the Russian deposits, which is as yet unknown.

Putin has no incentive to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases. There is no possibility of using force against Russia because it would cost too many lives and resources the world can ill afford to lose. Therefore, we must develop strategies that do not depend on Russia's cooperation. Some possibilities are: 

  1. Make renewable, non-carbon polluting energy sources cheaper than oil. This is not impossible, although oil prices are determined by a cartel, not the free market.
  1. Create abundant, affordable consumer devices (everything from cars and trains to barbecues) that do not use carbon-based fuel. Part of this solution would be to replace all fossil fuel electrical generators with generators that cannot use fossil fuel.
  1. Put a tax on devices that generate greenhouse gases (including electricity generators) so that their energy costs more than comparable "green" sources.
     4.  Cooperate with the family of nations to convince Russia to abandon its irresponsible ways.

Whatever strategy we use, we must realize that Vladimir Putin will not help us. But more than that, unless we work together to prevent it, he has more power to destroy the future of our planet than any single man in history. That is why he is now the most dangerous person in the world.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Keystone Pipeline XL: Costs rise, questions proliferate

The Keystone Pipeline XL is not dead yet, but it's on life support. Last year, the State Department released an environmental impact statement prepared by Energy Resource Management (ERM) that was criticized by environmentalists. Mother Jones Magazine published information that the State Department had removed from the report that revealed possible conflicts of interest within ERM. But the project appears to have grave flaws that go beyond the discovered discrepancies in ERM's Environmental Report, which are only procedural mistakes (whether intentional or not) and hence do not affect the basic value of the project.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter, dated April 22, 2013, to State Department. EPA agreed with the report that oil produced from tar sands is dirtier than comparable oil from the US. State thanked ERM for some of the findings published in their report, including the attempt to quantify the amount of green house gases that would be produced by the Keystone Pipeline XL project. But Neither State nor ERM explained what these figures mean.

In the letter, State quotes the report as estimating that the oil from tar sands well-to-tank contributes 81% more to global warming than oil from other sources. This means that oil from tar sands has 81% more capability of producing green-house gases when it arrives in the refinery tanks, prior to being refined into gasoline. But the letter goes on to say that the oil from well-to-wheels has only 17% more green-house gases than conventional oil. This means that when your car burns the gas, it produces only 64% less green-house gases than it had before it was refined. Neither ERM nor State explains what happened to 64% of the green-house gases between the tank and the wheels. This is a critical question because President Obama made it clear that he would not approve the project if it contributed “significantly” to global warming. While 81% is significant, 17% may not be.

The difference between the two figures is due to one of the peculiarities of oil from tar sands. The chemical process (“cracking”) of turning tar oil into usable oil results in a byproduct, called petroleum coke. This coke contains most of the 64% of green-house gases lost before the refining in complete. Oil companies argue, and State tacitly agrees, that this coke will never be used for energy production.

This argument is not believable. Oil companies are in the business of selling hydrocarbons for money. That is their business model. It is unlikely that oil companies will let such a large amount of salable merchandise go to waste. In fact the Koch brothers' company, Koch Carbon, collects this coke and sells it overseas as a lower quality, dirtier form of coal. This fact became public knowledge recently when a huge cloud of coke dust, illegally stored by Koch Carbon in Detroit, blew over the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada.

Job loss from Keystone XL

President Obama recently noted that as few as 50 permanent jobs may be produced by the pipeline. The Washington Post Fact Checker awarded him two pinocchios for lowballing the jobs figure. The Post criticized Obama was using a jobs figure from an organization that opposed the pipeline instead of his own State Department.

The State Department is ill-equipped to prepare a report about oil pipelines. They found it necessary to hire outside consultants because they have no one on staff who is qualified to do the job. State could not find a consultant with no ties to the oil industry because any outside consultant qualified to evaluate an oil pipeline must necessarily have ties to the oil industry.

The accusation that Obama is “lowballing” the number of jobs to be created by Keystone XL is false. As usual, Obama is using a moderate estimate. The Cornell report the Post refers to in its criticism of Obama makes some persuasive arguments that Keystone will actually raise unemployment, not lower it:

  1. TransCanada, the oil company responsible for Keystone XL, predicted that completion of the pipeline will end the glut of oil in the Midwest and raise the price of gasoline 10-20 cents a gallon for several years.1 This will have a ripple effect throughout the entire economy and result in the loss of thousands of jobs. The profits will go to the oil companies, which will ship the oil to China.
  2. Keystone XL will likely leak, causing oil spills, although it is hard to predict how often and how severe these leaks will be. Since the publication of the Cornell report, TransCanada has rerouted the pipeline away from sensitive watersheds in eastern Nebraska, so the Cornell report is out of date. A major leak, such as the one in Kalamazoo, costs millions to clean up. This will cut into the company's profit and decrease the number of permanent jobs it creates.
  3. Keystone XL will contribute to global warming, which is responsible for ecocatastrophes costing billions of dollars. One study places the global warming potential of the Keystone tar sands oil deposits at 0.42 degrees centigrade. We can't predict how many jobs this will cost. We will only know that after global warming has occurred, but we can predict that the cost will be huge.
  4. Operation of Keystone XL will impede progress in creating a green-jobs economy. Green companies that are just starting up will have trouble finding sources of capital if the financial interests believe they can make more money investing in new energy extraction projects.

President Obama has proposed an “all of the above” strategy that includes both increased fossil fuel production and subsidies for green industries. Politicians who support the oil companies have adopted this phrase, saying they support an all-of-the-above strategy when in reality they only support more fossil fuel production. There is no all-of-the-above strategy. Oil interests and green interests are competing for the same market, a market in which the well-entrenched and extremely profitable oil industry has an immense advantage.

Keystone XL is looking more dubious all the time.

1Cornell university Global Labor Institute, Pipe dreams: Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL, 27, Note that this prediction comes from TransCanada itself, not a source opposed to the pipeline, as claimed in the Post.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

ALEC and NRA: How Trayvon Martin's killer got away with murder


A group of conservatives founded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 1973. They intended ALEC to be a study group for advancing conservative ideas on the state level. The original founders included Henry Hyde, Paul Weyrich, and Lou Barnett. Henry Hyde was a practical politician who was elected to the House in 1968. Weyrich became a leader of the religious right and founded the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. Weyrich gained the backing of Joseph Coors for the organizations he founded, including the Free Congress Association. Barnett had participated in the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. He later started the Conservative Political Action Committee.

The founders shared an anti-federalist philosophy that was in line with then-president Nixon, who had decided on a southern strategy to bring southern Democrats into the Republican party. One key tenet of the southerners was a strong commitment to states' rights. Jesse Helms, who had just been elected to the Senate from North Carolina as a Republican, was an early member of the group. Helms was an overt racist and former Democrat. The composition of ALEC mirrored what would later become the Republican coalition. ALEC was at first nonpartisan but became solidly Republican as the white southern Democrats deserted their party.

In 1980 President Reagan formed a National Task Force on Federalism to seek ways to return power to the states. ALEC members took lead roles in the Task Force, and ALEC soon created task forces of its own to study issues and propose legislative solutions. In 1983 ALEC responded to Reagan's report on education by making recommendations to “improve” the educational system. Later statistical analysis (the Sandia report) showed that the educational system wasn't declining at all, but improving. The Sandia report was ignored by conservatives, who didn't want facts to get in the way of their theories—neither the first nor the last time this happened.

In 1986 ALEC started internal task forces of its own. By 1987 the Civil Justice Task Force was formed in response to the nation's “frivolous” litigation explosion. This explosion was an invention of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) and other front groups for the asbestos and tobacco industries. The litigation against these companies, far from being frivolous, was a result of decades of deceit and arrogance on the part of the executives of these companies, who concealed from their customers the deadly nature of the products they were selling. This “frivolous” litigation explosion is an example of an invented problem (litigation crisis) whose solution (lower awards, more hurdles and extended delays) coincided exactly with what the corporations needed to solve their own crisis, one which they had caused: an enormous number of product liability cases waiting to be filed.

In 1988, ALEC made the fateful step of inviting direct participation of the corporate sponsors who had until then remained in the background. The wording of positions and model legislation was thenceforward decided, not by the state legislatures who formed the membership, but by the corporations who provided the money for lobbying activities. It can be argued that ALEC was “captured” at that time, that is, it was secretly taken over by the very companies its model legislation was supposed to regulate.


The National Rifle Association (NRA) is much older than ALEC, having been formed after the civil war by former Union soldiers. The original purpose of the NRA was to promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis. In keeping with its purpose, NRA spent over 100 years without becoming actively involved in politics.

In their 1975 elections, NRA was taken over by a group of conservatives who envisioned a much more active role for the organization. NRA and ALEC soon began collaborating on legislative ideas. ALEC formed a study group that eventually became the Public Safety and Elections Task Force. ALEC stated that this group was dedicated to producing model bills to reduce crime and violence in our cities and neighborhoods. NRA had a permanent seat on this task force.

Among the model bills developed jointly by NRA and ALEC are those that change the definition of self defense, so-called “stand your ground” laws. These laws came into sharp focus when jurors at the Trayvon Martin murder trial acquitted the killer because they had no other alternative under the new definition of self-defense written into Florida law at the suggestion of ALEC.

NRA may support such laws because their corporate sponsors want to sell more guns. This motive is indefensible morally because it makes profits more important than human lives. This is actually what defines an “outlaw corporation”. People have a low opinion of tobacco companies, not because the business of selling tobacco is despised, but because tobacco kills its users. Tobacco companies were not held liable in court for the deaths of smokers until it was proven that the executives knew their product was deadly and ignored that fact. The same is true of asbestos mining companies.

Gun manufacturers are similarly “outlaws” because their products kill. The public will always look down on people who make a profit from killing.

Stand-your-ground laws are an example of laws that solve a problem that didn't exist. Self-defense laws have been well-accepted for centuries, dating back to English law. Stand-your-ground, or castle doctrine laws, elevate the personal prerogative above the societal one. Under castle doctrine, the most important element is personal honor, so a person has a right to use deadly force if he believes an attacker intends to kill him. Using this premise, it would be dishonorable to retreat before such an attacker.

This conception of personal rights is part of libertarian theory. The Libertarian Party platform asserts:

We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and oppose the prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense.”1

This assertion shows that libertarian thought is just not practical in our society. Civil society cannot exist if you are allowed to kill someone because you don't like his face. Stand-your-ground laws make violence justifiable if the perpetrator believed his life was in danger. If the perpetrator claims that he believed his life was in danger, it is extremely difficult to prove otherwise in court because only he knows the contents of his mind.

The traditional definition of self-defense deals only with actions. It considers what the defendant did, not what he thought. It requires him to avoid violence whenever possible. A person's actions are easier to prove than his thoughts and make a preferable basis on which to draw a reasonable conclusion. If a person tries to avoid violence, he should not be blamed if he is forced by circumstance to use it.
Under traditional laws governing self-defense Trayvon Martin was murdered, because he was not the aggressor. His assailant did not try to avoid violence, he sought it out. Trayvon, on the other hand, did try to escape from his pursuer. We don't need the services of a mind-reader to prove those facts.

1Libertarian Party Platform §1.,

Saturday, August 3, 2013

ALEC (part two): How Tobacco Companies gamed the legal system for 50 years

The American legal system relies heavily on adversarial representation. There are two sides to every court case, the plaintiff and the defendant. These two are theoretically balanced. Each side has a lawyer and the lawyers argue in open court, trying to persuade the judge or jury to rule in their favor.

This system has its flaws. Not all lawyers are equally skilled, or equally experienced. Both skill and experience affect the outcome of a case. Rich clients can afford better lawyers than poor clients. The legal system ignores this flaw in its logic.

Product liability law is completely different, especially as it is practiced in the U.S. today. One side, the manufacturer of the product, has infinitely more resources than users of the product. An inexperienced plaintiff's attorney will be hard pressed to prevail over a company that keeps lawyers on retainer for years while they learn the complexity of the law.

Victor E. Schwarz, counsel for the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) and ALEC has a long history of supporting the interests of what he calls “outlaw defendants”--tobacco and asbestos companies. Schwartz was associated with ATRA at least as long ago as 1999, when he wrote a statement as Counsel of ATRA in support of the Litigation Fairness Act.

The first companies threatened by product liability suits were the asbestos mining and manufacturing companies and the tobacco companies. From 1950 until 1980, tobacco companies overwhelmed victims who had contracted cancer by using their products with expert witnesses and skillful attorneys.1

Until then, cigarette companies boasted that they had never lost a liability suit. But plaintiffs began winning judgments as the evidence piled up that cigarette smoking was addictive and did cause cancer. In 1983, Rose Cipollone filed suit claiming that her lung cancer had been caused by smoking cigarettes and that she had been deceived by the claims of cigarette companies that smoking was not addictive and did not cause cancer. Cipollone's husband won a judgment of $400,000 in1984 after his wife had The first case to award a judgment to a plaintiff was Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. (1992). The case was later reversed by the Supreme Court, but by that time thousands of documents had been leaked to the public detailing how, in the 1960s, tobacco company executives had knowledge that cigarettes were addictive and caused cancer. The executives concealed this information and continued to run advertisements claiming that cigarettes were harmless.

Schwartz made numerous public statements supporting the tobacco companies against their victims. He must have known about ATRA's campaigns of disinformation on the dangers of tobacco and asbestos. Schwartz had connections with the American Tobacco Institute(ATI) as well. The ATI was the industry's public relations group that carried out corporate plans to deceive and confuse the American people. Judge Gladys Kessler, in United States v. Philip Morris (2006), ruled that the tobacco companies had engaged in racketeering for decades. She singled out lawyers in her judgment:

Finally, a word must be said about the role of lawyers in this fifty-year history of deceiving smokers, potential smokers, and the American public about the hazards of smoking and second hand smoke, and the addictiveness of nicotine. At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes. They devised and coordinated both national and international strategy; they directed scientists as to what research they should and should not undertake; they vetted scientific research papers and reports as well as public relations materials to ensure that the interests of the Enterprise would be protected; they identified “friendly” scientific witnesses, subsidized them with grants from the Center for Tobacco Research and the Center for Indoor Air Research, paid them enormous fees, and often hid the relationship between those witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.”2
Schwartz has been a product liability attorney with Shook, Hardy, and Bacon, a Washington, D.C., law firm that was singled out for its actions over 100 times in Judge Kessler's final judgment. Schwartz also lobbied for laws that protected corporations from law suits. His experience in this field was well-suited to ALEC's purpose, which is to pass laws that assist its corporate clients.
1UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Memorandum to the Tobacco Institute 2, 1985,

2Amended Final Opinion 4, US v. Phillip Morris(2006), US District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 99-2496 (GK).