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Archive for January, 2013

“…portions of your request seek information; not documents that may be public records. Such requests do not fall within the Public Records Act of Louisiana…” http://www.tulane.edu/~telc/html/prr.htm

—Louisiana Department of education legal counsel Troy Anthony Humphrey, in response to requests for information and public records by LouisianaVoice. (he copied his response to an individual in the department’s “Public Information Office,” whose existence, in retrospect, seems a bit superfluous.

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Just how far will a state agency go to deny legitimate requests for access to public records or information?

Well, if it is the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) there apparently are no restrictions on the artful dodge—even if it comes down to a literal, as opposed to liberal, interpretation of the state’s Public Records Act (R.S. 44:1 et seq.).

Skewing statistics has become a perfected art of State Superintendent John White’s Education Department (that’s right, he does seem to consider it his department), so why should parsing the dictates of a pesky little state law addressing public records be a problem?

But first, a little background on developments that led up to the latest standoff between the public’s right to know and Herr White’s reluctance to share information that isn’t pre-cooked by his part-time, $12,000 per month PR hack, er, “communications manager,” who still resides somewhere in Florida.

A posting by Class Size Matters http://www.classsizematters.org/about-us/, a non-profit organization that advocates for class size reduction of New York City’s public schools, released information that Louisiana is one of four states planning to share confidential student and teacher data with the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), a project of the Gates Foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds a number of education initiatives and Gates’s company, Microsoft, has contributed $16,000 to several Louisiana political campaigns, including $2,500 to Gov. Bobby Jindal during his unsuccessful 2003 campaign for governor.

The Class Size Matters communiqué http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2013/01/parents-beware-ny-and-eight-other.html, was an alert for New York parents and said that New York “is one of five states that have agreed to share confidential NYC student and teacher data in Phase I with the Shared Learning Collaborative.”

The other states and districts in Phase I include districts in North Carolina, Colorado, Illinois and Massachusetts.

“Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana are in Phase II, according to the Gates Foundation, (and) intend to start piloting the system in 2013,” it said.

The claim by Class Size Matters was confirmed by the Gates Foundation’s SLC web page http://slcedu.org/states-districts/pilot-districts/about-pilot-districts.

“The data to be shared will include the names of students, their grades, test scores, disciplinary and attendance records—and likely race, ethnicity, free lunch and special education status as well,” the Class Size Matters document says.

“These records are to be stored in a massive electronic data bank, being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of News Corp.,” it said. News Corp. is owned by Rupert Murdoch and was recently found to have illegally violated the privacy of individuals in Great Britain and in the U.S.”

Both Microsoft and News Corp. are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which drafts model legislation to be introduced in states across the U.S. by member lawmakers. Both Microsoft and News Corp. serve on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force and News Corp. is a member of ALEC’s Education Task Force http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Corporations.

“Over the next few months, the Gates Foundation plans to turn over all this personal data to another, as yet unnamed corporation, headed by Iwan Streichenberger, former marketing director of a(n) (Atlanta) company called Promethean that sells whiteboards,” Class Size Matters said.

A foundation established by Jindal’s wife, the Supriya Jindal Foundation, has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporations, many of them ALEC members, for the purpose of providing whiteboards to Louisiana classrooms.

There are serious questions as to whether this plan complies with FERPA (Family education Rights and Privacy Act), the document says.

Class Size Matters also released a copy of the 68-page contract between SLC and the New York State Educational Department http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/NYSED-SLC-Agreement-10-2012.pdf which said, in part, that there would be no guarantee that data would not be susceptible to intrusion or hacking, though “reasonable and appropriate measures” would be taken to protect information.

The contract also provides that the agreement may be reassigned to other service providers with prior written consent.

Similar language was included in the state’s contract with F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) over the firm’s takeover of the Office of Risk Management ORM at an eventual cost of $75 million to the state. That contract, however, was reassigned not once, but twice within a year after FARA became the ORM third party administrator. Neither reassignment of the ORM contract received prior written approval from the state.

The Gates contract also allows for the unrestricted subcontracting of duties and obligations covered under the agreement.

All of which brings us to the ongoing standoff between LouisianaVoice and LDOE.

On Jan. 22, we submitted a request for public records and information pursuant to R.S. 44:1 et seq. specifically requesting the following information:

Any communications in any form or contracts relative to the Shared Learning Collaborative;

Information regarding Louisiana’s participation in Phase II of the SLC;

Any communication with or information relevant to Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of News Corp.;

• Any communication with or information relevant to Louisiana’s association or business conduct with any corporation or entity owned, led by or associated with Iwan Streichenberger;

• Any communication or discussion relevant to the sharing of confidential student information for the purpose of developing and marketing “learning products” or for any other purpose;

• All communication and/or contracts relevant to current or future association with Gates Foundation or its subsidiaries.

The request was addressed to White but of course, a departmental legal counsel was given the task of responding.

A Jan. 23 letter from attorney Troy Anthony Humphrey said:

“It is noted that portions of your request seek information; not documents that may be public records.”

Funny, that. Humphrey copied Willa LeBlanc with his response to us. Ms. LeBlanc was identified as being in the “LDOE Public Information Office.” Thusly, if portions of our request sought “information,” then why was Ms. LeBlanc not allowed to provide us with the “information” we requested?

“Such requests do not fall within the Public Records Act of Louisiana, which, except as otherwise provided by law, allows ‘any person of the age of majority’ only to ‘inspect, copy, or reproduce any public record,” Humphrey went on to explain in his best legalese.

“With regards to the above-mentioned request as written, and within the ambit of La. R.S. 44:1 et seq. the Department will identify and locate any public records in its possession that appear responsive to those requests which seek public records, by searching for the following items:

• “Written communications and contracts containing the phrase ‘shared Learning Collaborative’ or ‘SLC.’

• “Written communications containing the phrase ‘Wireless Generation.’

• “Written communications containing the phrase ‘Iwan Streichenberger.’

• “Written communications and contracts containing the phrase ‘Gates Foundation.’

“After any responsive items have been identified, the Department will segregate and set aside those public records that are available for your inspection. You will be contacted in order to make arrangements for this process.”

That, as we said, was on Jan. 23. The LDOE is now well beyond its three-day maximum for production of the documents as provided by law.

Last year, the agency attempted to withhold public records requested by the Monroe News-Star and only when the newspaper filed suit did LDOE surrender the requested documents.

So much for accountability and transparency.

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“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S.”

—Fox Network magnate Rupert Murdoch, commenting in 2010 on the enormous business opportunity in public education awaiting corporate America. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/blog/jeb-bushs-education-nonprofit-really-about-corporate-profits?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+itpi-blog+%28ITPI+Commentary+Feed%29
“Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business.” said “For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and promote policies that enrich the companies.”

—Donald Cohen, chairperson for In the Public Interest, commenting on coordinated efforts by corporations, the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and ALEC to pass legislation favorable to corporate investors in public education. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/node/2747

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Any lingering doubts about the connection between public education, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and for-profit education providers may have been erased once and for all with the release of thousands of emails that demonstrate that an educational foundation begun by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is “distorting democracy” by molding state education policies to benefit the foundation’s private corporate donors.

Stories about the emails were published in Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-bush-foundation-criticism-20130130,0,7386113.story but no Louisiana newspapers had picked up the story.

Donald Cohen, chairperson of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/blog/jeb-bushs-education-nonprofit-really-about-corporate-profits?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+itpi-blog+%28ITPI+Commentary+Feed%29 released the emails, which included correspondence between Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a second group Bush founded called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education leaders who support Bush’s education reform agenda.

He said the emails “conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy. Correspondence in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Louisiana paint a graphic picture of corporate money distorting democracy.”

That agenda includes school choice, online education, school accountability systems based on standardized tests, evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores and giving schools grades of A-F on the basis of those test scores.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John White is a member of Chiefs for Change.

Some of the emails released by Cohen included correspondence between FEE and White and White’s predecessor, Paul Pastorek.

The emails provide conclusive evidence that FEE staff promoted their corporate funders’ interests in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Louisiana. Those interests coincide with the agenda promoted by ALEC’s pay-for-play operation. Corporate donors work closely with state legislators and state education policy makers at ALEC conferences, seminars and annual meetings, according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy.

The emails between FEE and state education officials show that FEE, at times working through its Chiefs for Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders in such a way as to enhance profit opportunities for FEE’s corporate funders.

Bush’s organization is supported by many of the same for-profit school corporations that also provide funding for ALEC. Those corporations vote as equals with ALEC legislators on templates to change laws governing America’s public schools.

FEE also receives financial backing from many of the same conservative foundations striving to privatize public schools that also bankroll ALEC. FEE and ALEC lobby for many of the same changes to state laws, changes which benefit their corporate benefactors.

FEE and ALEC also have many of the same “experts” who serve as members or staff employees and the two organizations also collaborate on the annual ALEC education “report card” which grades states’ allegiance to their policies.

FEE acted as a conduit for ALEC model legislation for Maine Gov. Paul LePage which removed barriers to creating online K-12 schools and in some cases, required online classes.

LePage’s agenda was eerily familiar in its call for eliminating class size caps, student-teacher ratios, eliminating the ability of local school districts to limit access to virtual schools and allowing public dollars to flow to online schools and classes.

The emerging importance of education as a corporate cash cow was underscored in 2010 when Rupert Murdoch, who has his own education division called Amplify, said, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S.”

Amplify is one of FEE’s corporate donors, as are K12, the Pearson Foundation and McGraw-Hill.
Last February, FEE CEO Patricia Levesque urged state education officials to introduce StubHub, a communications tool, into their states’ schools. Jeb Bush is an investor in StubHub.

An April 26, 2011, email indicated that FEE, through Chiefs for Change project, had engaged John Bailey, a director of Dutko Grayling. Levesque wrote to Pastorek only two weeks before his resignation as state superintendent:

“John Bailey, whom you met over the phone, will be on the call to provide an update on reauthorization discussions on the Hill. He is going to be on contract with the Foundation to assist with the Chiefs’ DC activities in light of Angie’s departure.

Dutko has been accused of working with industry front groups in the past,” Levesque wrote. “For example, Dutko worked with AIDS Responsibility Project (ARP), an industry-supported effort described by an HIV/AIDS policy activist as a ‘drug industry-funded front group.’”

Cohen’s organization also uncovered FEE documents indicating the foundation reimbursed Pastorek and White, the two men who have led the state’s education department under Gov. Bobby Jindal, for their travel to Orlando and Washington, D.C., for events sponsored by FEE and the Chiefs for Change.

Dutko Grayling a K Street lobbying firm in Washington which has been struggling to maintain its position as one of the top firms in the nation’s capital.

“These emails show a troubling link between Jeb Bush’s effort to lobby for ‘reforms’ through his statewide Foundation for Florida’s Future, his national Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the powerful corporations who want access to billions of our tax dollars by re-shaping public education policies just to create markets for themselves—none of which are in the best interest of our children,” Public Interest quoted a Florida parent as saying.

“Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business, said Cohen. “For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and (to) promote policies that enrich the companies.”

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It’s interesting to note that the very existence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes “model legislation” for lawmakers to introduce back in their respective state capitals rests on one ginormous paradox.

For example, consider this mission statement from ALEC’s 4th edition of its state economic competitiveness index entitled Rich States, Poor Stateshttp://www.alec.org/docs/RSPS_4th_Edition.pdf: “ALEC’s mission is to discuss, develop and disseminate public policies which expand free markets, promote economic growth, limit the size of government (emphasis ours), and preserve individual liberty within its nine task forces.”

Yet, for all its breast beating about making government smaller and more accountable, it’s curious and somewhat contrary to that theme that of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, fully one-half are—or were—corporate members of ALEC http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2012/full_list/.

In fact, 31 of the 50 largest corporations in America helped pay the bills to wine and dine state legislators at seminars, conferences, planning sessions and annual meetings of ALEC delegates, including the 2011 annual meeting held in New Orleans at which Gov. Bobby Jindal was the keynote speaker.

Fallout over the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, last February coupled with ALEC’s endorsement of the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in that state which was linked to his shooting has resulted in the decision by some two dozen corporations to drop their ALEC memberships.

Among those who have bailed out are Wal-Mart, General Motors, General Electric, Bank of America, Entergy, PepsiCo, Walgreen, Dow Chemical, Marathon Petroleum, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola.

Some of those retaining their memberships, however, include Hunt-Guillot of Ruston, ExxonMobil (the largest corporation in the U.S.), Chevron, AT&T, Verizon, UnitedHealth Group, Archer Daniels Midland, Wells Fargo, Pfizer, Boeing, Microsoft, and FedEx.

ALEC’s “small is better” philosophy for government takes a sharp 180 when its corporate membership is placed under the microscope. While 50 of the 100 largest members of the Fortune 500 are ALEC members, that number drops precipitously in the ensuing blocks of 100.

For example, of the corporations ranked in size from 101 to 200, only 29 are ALEC members and for 201 to 300, the number is 17. For 301 to 400, the membership is 13 and for the final group, 401-500, you will find only seven who are ALEC members.

So while the lobbying group maintains that small is better, it appears that it goes after the larger corporate sponsors first and is increasingly disdainful of the smaller companies.

The 116 Fortune 500 companies who are members of ALEC combined for $4.5 trillion in revenues in 2011 and altogether realized net profits of $484.2 billion. Remember, that does not include the other 384 Fortune 500 companies—just the 116 ALEC members.

Just for the record, here are 50 ALEC members from the Fortune 100 with 2011 rankings, revenue and profits in parentheses http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2012/full_list/:

• ExxonMobil—(1; $452.9 billion; $41.1 billion);

• Wal-Mart—(2; $446.9 billion; $15.7 billion—terminated membership);

• Chevron—(3; $245.6 billion; $26.9 billion);

• ConocoPhillips—(4; $237.3 billion; $12.4 billion);

• GM—(5; $150.3 billion; $9.2 billion—terminated membership);

• GE—(6; $147.6 billion; $14.2 billion—terminated membership);

• Ford—(9; $136.3 billion; $20.2 billion);

• AT&T—(11; $126.7 billion; $3.9 billion);

• Bank of America—(13; $115.1 billion; $1.4 billion);

• Verizon—(15; $110.9 billion; $2.4 billion);

• CVS—(18; $107.8 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• IBM—(19; $106.9 billion; $15.9 billion);

• UnitedHealth Group—(22; (101.9 billion; $5.1 billion);

• Wells Fargo—(26; $87.6 billion; $15.9 billion—terminated membership);

• Procter & Gamble—(27; $82.6 billion; $11.8 billion—terminated membership);

• Archer Daniels Midland—(28; $80.7 billion; $2 billion);

• Marathon Petroleum—(31; $73.6 billion; $2.4 billion);

• Walgreen—(32; $72.2 billion; $2.7 billion—terminated membership);

• Medco Health Solutions—(36; $70.1 billion; $17.8 billion—terminated membership);

• Microsoft—(37; $69.9 billion; $23.2 billion);

• Boeing—(39); $68.7 billion; $4 billion);

• Pfizer—(40; $67.9 billion; $10 billion);

• PepsiCo—(41; $66.5 billion; $6.4 billion—terminated membership);

• Johnson & Johnson—(42; $65 billion; $9.7 billion—terminated membership);

• State Farm Insurance—(43; $64.3 billion; $845 million);

• Dell—(44; $62.1 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• WellPoint—(45; $60.7 billion; $2.6 billion);

• Caterpillar—(46; $60.1 billion; $4.9 billion);

• Dow Chemical—(47; $60 billion; $2.7 billion);

• Comcast—(49; $55.8 billion; $4.2 billion);

• Kraft Foods—(50; $54.4 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• Intel—(51; $54 billion; $12.9 billion);

• UPS—(52; $53.1 billion; $3.8 billion);

• Best Buy—(53; $50.3 billion; $1.3 billion—terminated membership);

• Prudential—(55; $49 billion; $3.7 billion;

• Amazon.com—(56; $48.1 billion; $631 million—terminated membership);

• Merck—(57; $48 billion; $6.3 billion—terminated membership);

• Coca-Cola—(59; $46.5 billion; $8.6 billion—terminated membership);

• Express Scripts Holding—(60; $46.1 billion; $8.6 billion);

• FedEx—(70; $39.3 billion; $1.5 billion);

• DuPont—(72; $38.7 billion; $3.5 billion—terminated membership);

• Honeywell International—(77; $37.1 billion; $2.1 billion);

• Humana—(79; $36.8 billion; $1.4 billion);

• Liberty Mutual Insurance Group—(84; $34.7 billion; $365 million);

• Sprint Nextel—(90; $33.7 billion; –$2.9 billion);

• News Corp.—(91; $33.4 billion; $2.7 billion);

• American Express—(95; $32.3 billion; $4.9 billion);

• John Deere—(97; $32 billion; $2.8 billion—terminated membership);

• Philip Morris—(99; $31.1 billion; $8.6 billion);

• Nationwide Insurance—(100; $30.7 billion; -$793 million).

Of course, ALEC also pushes its agenda of lower taxes very strongly (who do you think helped write Gov. Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state individual and corporate income taxes in favor of increase sales taxes? Surely, one would not believe he came up with that all by himself).

It’s no coincidence that Louisiana is pushing to ditch the state income tax at the same time as several other states, including Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and North Carolina. Each state has read the ALEC playbook.

“Money is spent more efficiently by the private sector than by governments, so it is reasonable to expect that states with lower overall taxes have better economic environments than states with high taxes and more government spending,” the Rich States, Poor States report says.

Apparently the authors of that statement did not bother to review the histories of the subprime mortgage crisis, junk bonds, Enron, Bernard Madoff, Stanford Financial Group, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), Tyco, WorldCom, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and the bursting of the dotcom bubble.

Be that as it may, let us go back to ALEC’s mantra of lower taxes and see how that might apply to its corporate membership.

General Electric is the poster child for tax dodges. With $19.6 billion in net profits for the years 2008-2011, GE managed not only to pay no taxes, but got $3.7 billion in tax refunds.

Other ALEC members, their net profits and taxes/refunds for years 2008-2011 include: http://www.ctj.org/pdf/notax2012.pdf

• PG&E—($6 billion; $1 billion refund);

• CenterPoint Energy—($3.1 billion; $347 million refund);

• Duke Energy—($5.5 billion; $216 million refund);

• Con-way—($422 million; $23 million refund);

• Ryder System—($843 million; $46 million refund);

• DuPont—($3 billion; $325 million paid in taxes—10.8 percent, less than one-third the standard 35 percent tax rate);

• Consolidated Edison—($5.9 billion; $74 million refund);

• Verizon—($19.8 billion; $758 million refund);

• Boeing—($14.8 billion; $812 million refund);

• Wells Fargo—($69.2 billion; $2.6 billion paid in taxes—3.8 percent, barely 10 percent of the 35 percent standard rate);

• Honeywell International—($5.2 billion; $102 million—2 percent).

Some of the CEOs for ALEC member corporations received more in compensation in 2010 than their companies paid in taxes. Here are a few with salaries first, followed by taxes paid: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/08/31/ceo-pay-vs-corporate-taxes/

• International Paper: $249 million refund; CEO John Faraci received $12.3 million;

• Prudential: $722 million refund; CEO John Strangfeld received $16.2 million;

• Verizon: $705 million refund; CEO Ivan Seidenberg paid $18.1 million;

• Chesapeake Energy: paid no taxes; CEO Aubrey McClendon paid $21 million;

• eBay: $131 million refund; CEO John Donahoe paid $12.4 million;

• Coca-Cola: paid $8 million taxes; CEO John Brock paid $19.1 million;

• Dow Chemical: $576 million refund; CEO Andrew Liveris paid $17.8 million;

• Ford: $69 million refund: CEO Alan Mulally paid $26.5 million.

If you still believe that ALEC favors smaller government over, say, being able to exercise control over government taxation and spending, then consider the General Services Administration’s list of $69 billion in federal contracts held by these ALEC members in fiscal year 2011: https://www.fpds.gov/fpdsng/index.php/reports

• Boeing: $21.6 billion;

• Northrop Grumman: $15 billion;

• Raytheon Co.: $14.8 billion;

• Humana: $3.4 billion;

• General Electric: $2.8 billion;

• Honeywell International: $2.2 billion;

• Dell: $1.4 billion;

• IBM: $1.7 billion;

• FedEx: $1.6 billion;

• Merck: $1.3 billion;

• Shell: $913 million;

• Pfizer: $1.2 billion;

• UPS: $701 million;

• AT&T: $743 million;

It’s easy to preach small government and lower taxes but to achieve this, a lot of ALEC members would stand to lose a chunk of business with Uncle Sam.

And that doesn’t even include state and local contracts like the $18.3 million in state contracts currently held by ALEC member Hunt, Guillot & Associates of Ruston and the $11.4 million state contract awarded to Northrop Grumman.

Smaller, more streamlined and accountable government sound great, most would agree. But the implementation of changes across the board may well affect one’s bottom line and that, as they say, is when the cheese gets binding. It is then that we simply must follow the money.

Charter schools and vouchers, for example, would benefit investors who see a fortune to be made in private education—especially when most of that money would be paid by the state.

The continued growth in the number of private prisons (along with more laws that send more people to prison) would be quite a windfall for those operators who contract with state and local governments to incarcerate lawbreakers.

Elimination of personal and corporate income taxes in favor of sales tax increases would further lighten the financial burden of business and industry—and shift that burden onto the backs of low- and middle-income citizens.

The rejection of a federal grant to build a broadband internet system for rural Louisiana certainly benefitted commercial cable companies like AT&T which contributed $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation.

Likewise, relaxed environmental regulations endorsed by ALEC certainly aided member Dow Chemical which coincidentally kicked in $100,000 for the Supriya Jindal Foundation. Soon after that donation, proposed fines of subsidiary Union Carbide for allowing the release of a toxic pollutant and failing to notify authorities of the leak were dropped.

Or Marathon Oil, whose $250,000 donation to the foundation may have greased the skids for the awarding of $5.2 million in state funds to a Marathon subsidiary.

Instead of listening to the rhetoric of ALEC’s membership, one would do well to watch how certain specific proposals might affect that membership.

In other words, don’t listen to what they say; watch instead for what they do.

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