Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How crony capitalism is warping criminal justice - The Irish Times - Tue, Mar 27, 2012

How crony capitalism is warping criminal justice - The Irish Times - Tue, Mar 27, 2012

FLORIDA’S NOW-INFAMOUS Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy – and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss the law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos, but by big corporations.

Language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a corporate-backed body that has kept a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of Alec’s activities emerged).

If there is any silver lining to the killing of innocent black teenager Trayvon Martin, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what Alec is doing to our society – and our democracy. What is this organisation? Despite claims it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative body, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, etc.

Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted Bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 Alec-written Bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these Bills often become law.

Alec seems to have a special interest in privatisation – that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons for instance, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatisation, such as online education company K12 and prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organisation.

What this tells us, in turn, is that Alec’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent, the organisation seeks not limited government but privatised government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, Alec isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

The kind of privatisation Alec promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting are a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.

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