By Larry J. Schweiger
For the Pittsurgh Current
Nearly everyone would like to get our lives back to “normal,” but overwhelming most Americans understand that our health and safety must override economic issues until the virus can be contained. Yet most states, including Pennsylvania, are re-opening their economies and easing restrictions on businesses and social activity despite public health expert warnings that this increased activity is likely to cause a second surge of new infections. None of the states re-opening have met the CDC’s core benchmark for at least a two-week decline in reported cases. In a new poll conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News, Americans, by a 30-point margin, believe the risk to human life of opening the country outweighs the economic toll of remaining under restrictions.
Only about one-third believe that an immediate re-opening is beneficial to minimize the negative impact on the economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 80,000 American lives. They want to re-open even if the elderly and vulnerable die.
Protests to Re-open
With only a third of the public supporting premature re-opening, “AstroTurf” protests in state capitols, city, and county buildings are creating the illusion that Americans want to ignore the evidence and re-open. Some protests have been complete with masked terrorists dressed in full camouflage toting military-style rifles, displaying swastikas, and rebel flags. Anti-government rebels, gun advocates, white nationalists, and the ill-informed have responded to a well-funded effort by dark money groups to spawn rally at state capitols. They gathered in tight crowds ignoring safe distancing, face masks, and stay-at-home orders. Many protesters claimed to be pro-life while they point out that most deaths are among the old and infirm. They suggest that some are expendable “collateral damage” to opening the economy.
Republican lawmakers and angry protests organized by an active AstroTurf campaign funded by corporations have pressured Governor Wolf to abandon his prudent approach that was consistent with CDC guidelines and re-open much of Pennsylvania, including most Southwest counties. How can anyone take actions that will force a societal retreat in the middle of a pandemic and possibly kill thousands of lives for the sake of recklessly re-opening the economy?
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, who also claims to be pro-life, tweeted a graphic suggesting that the sick, disabled, and elderly people do not matter when it comes to re-opening of our economy. He also cited health data that indicate that 79 is the average age for coronavirus-related deaths in the state and that nearly 68% of those deaths occurred in assisted-living facilities. To be clear, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have suffered the most with estimates of more than 16,000 deaths Nationwide attributed to COVID-19.
Republican lawmakers, following House Speaker Turzai, ignore the best health scientists and depreciate the lives of the weak and elderly, passed legislation to pressure re-opening of Pennsylvania. Early on during the COVID-19 health crisis shutdown, Turzai advanced House Bill 2400 to restart public and private construction activities. This bill would force construction workers back to crowded worksites like the Beaver County cracker plant where workers have complained about the risks involved. Turzai claimed the construction sites would follow CDC guidelines when, in fact, they would not be consistent because of premature opening. The effort to force workers to return to work prematurely is rejected by nearly two thirds (65 percent) of the respondents to a NPR poll who said they do not want to go back to work without more thorough testing. Eighty percent of respondents do not want schools, restaurants, or large sporting events until there is more testing.
Who is behind the curtain with the many re-opening campaigns?
The Center for Media and Democracy obtained documents that reveal a powerful corporate lobby and quasi-legislative front group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played a lead role in creating in the movement promoting premature re-opening of the economy. ALEC has been working closely with the Trump administration to advance Trump’s strategy to force opening the economy while the projected doubling of deaths be damned.
Emails obtained through records requests by the Center for Media and Democracy reveal the troubling connections to ALEC. ALEC is a corporate pay-to-play legislative scam where legislators and corporate lobbyists vote behind closed doors to adopt “model legislation” on a broad range of environmental and public policy issues. These bills are later introduced and enacted in various state legislatures. Secret ALEC sessions allow corporate lobbyists to have an equal vote with elected lawmakers. Corporate lawyers are producing draft bills that are increasingly shaping final legislation passed in Harrisburg and other state capitols. At a time when state budgets are at the breaking point, and the medical community is struggling with the lack of federal leadership, ALEC is calling to “bring the economy back to life through a free-market approach that gets big government out of the way.”
Who is funding ALEC’s AstroTurf campaigns, and why?
ALEC is deeply tied to the Koch Industries political network. Charles Koch gave ALEC $334,000 in 2018, and Koch’s toxic “Americans for Prosperity” was a major sponsor of the 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting that saw sixty-nine Koch lobbyists in attendance, according to an attendee list.
Koch is one of many wealthy libertarians who happen to be the chief beneficiaries of an extreme laissez-faire government that funds the advocacy to block any state closures. While often recruiting conservative Christians, these ideologues have long ago rejected sound science, and morality, and has purged ethical considerations from their libertarian worldview.
The ALEC’s libertarian network forcing premature opening is interconnected to other groups that value restarting the economy over the lives of others. For example, ALEC’s CEO serves on the national leadership council of the recently launched “Save Our Country Coalition.” SOCC is led by economist Art Laffer creator of the discredited Laffer Curve that proposed flattening tax rates to boost economic growth and revenues.
- Immediately re-open the economy, while (voluntarily) implementing the best workplace practices to protect the health of our citizens;
- Restore the essential principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility by stopping the trillions of dollars of federal spending that is imperiling America’s economic future and dangerously escalating our national debt;
- Incentivize the rapid rebuilding of our economy through proven formulas: tax cuts, deregulation, and lawsuit reform;
- Preserve federalism within the rule of law and respect the rights of the states in dealing with crises such as the coronavirus pandemic;
- Protect the individual liberties of our citizens from unconstitutional power grabs by the federal, state, and local governments.
The hypocritical American Legislative Exchange Council is in favor of protests when they advance corporate interests but vehemently opposed to protests that challenge corporations. After tribal protests at Standing Rock, ALEC tried to shut down future demonstrations by drafting a model anti-protest law that was enacted in Louisiana in conjunction with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, including Energy Transfer Partners, TransCanada, Enbridge, and Philips 66. This perverse law makes trespassing on “critical infrastructure” facilities, including oil pipelines that pass over private property a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of $1,000, or both. This ALEC anti-protest legislation has been introduced and enacted in several pipeline states.
Americans overwhelmingly believe the risk to human life outweighs the economic toll. Yet, here we are driven by radical special interests to an outcome that neither benefits the economy or our lives.