CORPORATISM WITH THE GLOVES OFF

15 01 2017

Last month, I went on so long on the question of “how did we get here?” that I didn’t have time to address my next two questions,“What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and  “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?” I’m going to address that second question–the nature of our new environment–this month. I’m also going to examine just how much choice we really had about this change.

Trigger warning: I’m going to talk about “the big O” a lot in this post–no, not the anime series, not Oscar Robertson, not that “big O.” I’m going to talk about oligarchy.

Trump has made it abundantly clear that his show of sensitivity to the needs of disgruntled, formerly or still barely middle class white Americans, was a huckster’s trick to draw in the marks. His promise to “drain the swamp” was nothing more than campaign rhetoric, like Ms. Clinton’s claim to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership she had spent so much time promoting as Secretary of State, or her alleged concern for the welfare of that same sorta-middle class that Mr. Trump was wooing. More on that later. Trump not only isn’t draining the swamp, he’s bringing in bigger, hungrier alligators. His initial cabinet selections, if they are confirmed, constitute the wealthiest Presidential cabinet ever assembled, most have clearly made their fortunes by squeezing the common people, and none show any signs of remorse for their ruthlessness.

For example, Wilbur Ross, who may be our next Secretary of Commerce, made a good bit of his 2.5 billion dollar fortune through corporate raiding–buying companies that were in trouble and putting them through bankruptcy, which involves shedding workers, lowering wages, and reneging on pension plans. He iced his money cake by making millions in the mortgage bubble that prefaced the financial crash of 2008, and was further enriched by the policies Wall Street’s friend, Barack Obama, put into practice, which bailed out the banks and left homeowners hung out to dry. In The Nation magazine, David Dayan comments on this Read the rest of this entry »





BARITT ROMBAMA IS A SHOO-IN; GREENS WILL CONTEST ELECTION ANYWAY

12 05 2012

Maybe, just maybe, the shift is hitting the fan for the one percent.  One of this last month’s big stories has been that several of America’s megacorporations have been embarrassed enough by public exposure to stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, which in turn has been embarrassed enough by the flood of negative publicity it has received to at least officially abandon its efforts to enact legislation that limits voting rights.  On the other hand, they can afford to–so much damage has been done to ballot access by now so that, coupled with the background level of media hypnosis, Mitt Romney might actually have a fighting chance to unseat Barack Obama, and end the shame of Amurrica’s perceived leader being the spawn of a white woman who got careless with one of the darkies…..excuse me, I know that’s horribly politically incorrect, I’m just trying to express what it seems to me that a lot of people are thinking, but are simply too polite to ever say–although one Evangelical Christian friend of mine was willing to go so far as to tell me, before the 2008 election, “It’s not right for a person of Muslim descent to be President of the United States.”  That remark has been enough to give me some satisfaction in knowing that Barack Obama’s sold-out butt is the one sitting in the Oval Office, just because of the cognitive dissonance it creates for so many Right-thinking Americans, but Barack Obama is much closer to Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, or, for that matter, Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan, than he is to Rev. King or even Jesse Jackson, let alone Malcolm X, despite the pervasive right-wing rhetoric about Obama being a “socialist.”  Hey, they call him a “socialist” because they couldn’t get away with calling him a n–and neither could I, so I’m not gonna say THAT word.  I have my limits!

Indeed, the similarities between Obama and Romney are remarkable enough that I, among many others, apparently, am tempted to refer to them as “Barritt Rombama”  and “Mitrack Obomney,” or belittle them as Tweedledim and Tweedledimmer.  Both are the best candidates money can buy, and their images are carefully crafted to appeal to their target demographics, one wing or the other of the tragically vast majority of Americans who are still asleep and dreaming the American Dream.  Obama’s image is meant to appeal to those who believe they are more open-minded, generous, and tolerant, while Romney’s message is intended to galvanize those who feel more sure of themselves, sure about what’s right and wrong and who are inclined to believe that people should be allowed to sink or swim on their own abilities.

If that were what is really going on, it would be wonderful, but that’s not what’s really going on.  What’s really going on is that the forces behind both the Democrats and the Republicans are thieves who are ripping off the world, and the big difference between them is that the Democrats want to distract the guard dog by throwing it a bone, while the Republicans would rather just shoot the dog.  Both, however, are equally intent on taking everything they can get their hands on while the getting is good.  Just where they will go with their ill-gotten gains is certainly a good question, but, apparently, being clever–and stupid– enough to be the expert thieves they are does not mean that they have the wisdom and foresight to be thinking of the long-term consequences of their actions.  Somehow

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will some people realize that they cannot eat money.”

has failed to register in the consciousness of the people who think they own America.    If you stay in the sphere of mainstream politics, it’s all about how to get consumption growing again, without even a moment’s reflection on, for example, the fact that “consumption” is an archaic name for tuberculosis, or, in the words of that other environmental core statement,

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

Thanks to Edward Abbey for that one.  Authorship of the “last tree” quote is a little harder to track down, but it seems to originate with the native people of this continent, who, to their credit, have seen this coming and have been trying to warn us clueless white folks about it for several hundred years.  Oh, well, I guess the Green Party is not the first batch of Cassandras to appear in America!

And I guess this is the point at which to mention that the Cassandra Society of Tennessee, aka the Green Party of Tennessee, will be meeting for a nominating convention next Saturday, May 19th, at the Scaritt-Bennett Center in Nashville.  You can get the details on our Facebook page or website, but the essence is that we will be designating our official candidates for various state and national  offices, and deciding whether to endorse Roseanne Barr or Jill Stein as the party’s Presidential candidate.  The comedian or the doctor?  The country could use a good dose of both.  Anyway, there are a great many more offices open than we can contest from among our usual ranks, so we are hoping that dozens, or hundreds, or at least a handful of Green-minded citizens will come out of the political woodwork and stand for office under the Green Party banner this year.

Let’s take a music break

Richard and Mimi Farina, “House Un American Blues Activity Dream”  (the first link goes to the recorded version of the song, the second to a live, acoustic version with a more interesting video)





NAACP vs. THE ZOMBIES

12 05 2012

We just listened to Richard and Mimi Farina’s”House Un-American Activity Blues Dream,” an electrified and electrifying musical offering that preceded Bob Dylan’s more famous “Bringing It All Back Home”  by several months, and marks the initial cross-fertilization between rock and folk music.  Although it’s  almost fifty years old, it continues to resonate–one recent commentator on Rombama/Obomney even went so far as to note that

Both Obama and Romney stay fit, dress sharply and look vaguely out of sync when wearing blue jeans.

certainly an odd echo of Farina’s line about “Presidential candidates in new Levi jeans.”

And Farina’s solution to his feelings of alienation in the USA–a trip to Cuba–continues to raise American hackles, as Ozzie  Guillen discovered to his dismay.  Talk about getting “banged hard on the head”!

But most of us are not going to pick up and go elsewhere.  “America, love it or leave it,” the reactionaries used to say in the sixties, and a lot of us lefties, from old SDS types like me to the youngest Occupiers, have picked up that gauntlet and said, “yeah, I love America and I ain’t leaving.  What are you gonna do about it?”

The answer has been, “do everything we can to disfranchise as many left-wingers as possible, so we can continue to hold the reins in this country.”  Some people have been directly disfranchised, like the five million or more Americans who cannot vote because they have been convicted of felonies.  The US is one of the only countries in which felony conviction results in permanent loss of voting rights, at the same time as it has, both by percentage and in raw numbers, more of its population in jail or under control of the penal system through probation and parole than any other country in the world, largely for “victimless” crimes such as drugs–mostly marijuana–pornography, prostitution, and traffic violations.  The allegedly felonious percentage of our population picked up markedly when Reagan declared the “war on drugs,” which, as I commented last month, turned the “war on poverty” into a war on the poor.

this is your prison population on a “war on drugs”!

Even if they have never suffered legal consequences from the herb’s contraband status, marijuana users who wish to remain free will tend to keep a lower political profile due to their vulnerability, an effective form of “passive-aggressive” repression that, I believe, is one of the deliberate consequences of the government’s unrelenting efforts to keep marijuana illegal.

But there are subtler ways to disfranchise people than by outright busting them.  The NAACP has written an excellent report on this subject, and I’m going to summarize it for you. It’s called “Defending Democracy:  Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights In America.”

The NAACP starts by pointing out that the non-white population of the US is increasing faster than the white population.  I was surprised to learn that heavily white Republican-ruled Texas is now a “majority-minority” state–one in which non-whites outnumber whites.  This is also the status of California, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.  I was also surprised to learn that five other states–Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, and Nevada–are likely to join that category by the next census.  in this context, the extraordinary efforts of mostly white Republicans to limit ballot access and civil rights that have been so prominent  in Arizona, Florida, and Georgia make sense–the old order is indeed crumbling, and those who have reaped its benefits are determined not to surrender them without a fight.  In those states and others, the NAACP lists several common tactics:

1 )Tighter restrictions on voter registration drives, such as the extreme penalties imposed in some states for getting registration details wrong or failing to return  petitions in a very narrow window of time.

2 ) Greater limitations on where and when citizens can register to vote.  State legislatures have moved to shut down “same day registration,” which allows citizens to register and cast a ballot at the same time.  Other states have simply never complied with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which required state public assistance agencies to provide voter registration services.  “Public assistance agencies” doesn’t just mean “welfare agencies”–it includes motor vehicle and drivers’ license bureaus.

3) Stricter laws about proof of eligibility, such as demanding “proof of citizenship.”  Many older African-Americans were born at home and never had a birth certificate, thus cannot “prove” they are citizens.  Another way in which white Republicans are limiting the right to vote is by instituting longer residency requirements.  This has a heavier impact on non-whites, who, since they are less likely to own their own homes, move more frequently than whites.

4 )Some states are reversing more liberal policies about re-enfranchising ex-felons, which has, according to the NAACP, removed “hundreds of thousands” of–primarily non-white–voters from the rolls. This has been most egregious in Florida, whichis one of the states teetering on the brink of being “majority-minority,” while Iowa has some of the strictest anti-drug laws in the country.

5) States are purging voters from the voter rolls on the allegation that they are dead, have moved out of the district, or are felons, when in fact they may merely have the same name as such a person. Frequently, those purged are not notified and only find out they have been erroneously disqualified when they show up to vote. According to the NAACP  “in Florida, a flawed purge program erroneously flagged and purged 12,000 voters (mostly due to typos and other obvious clerical errors). Over 70% of those flagged voters were African-American or Latino.”

6) Many states have substantially reduced the days and hours when early voting is allowed.  Since people of color are more likely than whites to be working jobs that will not allow them to take time off to go to the polls for a Tuesday election, this has a disproportionate impact on non-white, low-income voters, who are likely to favor candidates espousing more liberal social policies–i.e., candidates who are not Republicans.

7) Many states have passed laws requiring voters to present a photo ID.  According to the NAACP’s report, “Eleven percent of U.S. citizens nationwide—approximately 22.9 million people—do not have government-issued photo IDs. Twenty-five percent of African-American voting-age citizens (over six million people) and 16% of Latino voting-age citizens (nearly three million people) do not possess valid government-issued photo ID. ”  Note that the average is one in ten, but among African-Americans, it’s one in four.  When you factor in the one out of every eight African-American men who can’t vote because of a felony conviction (and granted there’s some overlap), the trend gets kind of obvious, doesn’t it?

And why is this happening?  Proponents of tighter restrictions on voter eligibility blow a lot of hot air about “voter fraud,” but even their best efforts have turned up only an insignificant number of unqualified people attempting to vote, certainly not enough in any district to actually influence an election, and most cases are due to clerical error or misunderstanding.  On the other hand, advocates of stricter voter ID laws in South Carolina were honest, or foolish, enough to come out and say, according to the NAACP’s well-footnoted document, “that suppression of the African-American vote was ‘why we ‘need [voter ID laws in South Carolina].”

And that wasn’t just an isolated, fringe opinion.  The NAACP also quotes American Legislative Exchange Council founder Paul Weyrich, who said

“our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

This sounds like a job for the U.S. Department of Justice, which has the 1965 Voting Rights Act to use against such blatant racism.  But there’s good news and bad news there.  The good news is, Section 5 of the Act requires the DOJ to  “preclear”  any changes in the voting laws in 15 target states that have reputations for discriminating against minorities. That is, the Department of Justice has to OK changes, including redistricting plans, before they can be implemented.  The bad news is, that only applies to 15 states, while the American Legislative Exchange Council’s henchmen and henchwomen have pushed through restrictive legislation in 31 states.  The further bad news is that the DOJ’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act has grown increasingly anemic through the years, and came to a virtual standstill  during the Cheney administration.  Despite rhetoric to the contrary, under the Obama administration the DOJ has not focused on this area, seemingly preferring the easier pickings of going after medical marijuana providers, while the restricted-voting cabal pushes several cases on the Constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act through the Courts, probably figuring that, if they can persist long enough to get it all the way to the Supremes, that fascist body will grant their petition. The court’s stance has pretty uniformly been “more rights for rich corporations, fewer for the average Joe, or, as George Orwell put it in Animal Farm,  “Some animals are more equal than others.”

And, even if the Supreme Court, Inc. doesn’t take the case or decides in favor of the Voting Rights Act, the corporatists will keep on coming, just as they have kept on coming about abortion, climate change denial, and every other issue that might imperil their control or their profits.  If you’ve been thinking,” if this is an Apocalypse, where are the zombies?” you need look no further.  They Who Cannot Die are in the Republican Party, propelled by the profit motive and dysfunctional belief systems.  If it wasn’t so serious, it would be pathetically humorous to watch the Democrats attempting to reason with them.   The NAACP’s report concludes with a call to return to the tactics that initially advanced the Civil Rights movement, which, considering the many differences between America 50 years ago and America now, may or may not be effective, especially since corporatism has largely displaced populism in the halls of power.  They–no, we–had better gird up our loins.  It’s going to be quite a struggle.

music:  Ani DiFranco, “Which Side Are You On?” (1st link is the recorded version, 2nd is a wonderfully spirited live one)





TRAYVON MARTIN AND THE CULTURE OF FEAR

7 04 2012

OK, today is Easter, and it’s time for the latest crucifixion news.  I just wish I had some resurrections  to report on along with them, but, alas, I don’t.  By now, it is hardly news that Trayvon Martin, unarmed and in fear for his life, was murdered in cold blood by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer who, as of this writing, has not been charged with any crime, apparently on the grounds that he acted in fear for his own  life, which, according to the “stand your ground” law promulgated in Florida and many other states, including Tennessee, by the American Legislative Exchange Council, excuses murder if you’re afraid of the person you kill. How’s that for a ‘get out of jail free” card?

When we drop back from the immediate facts of this case, it becomes another link in a long chain of black men who have been killed by whites, generally with impunity.  This chain stretches back through the many murders visited on the Civil Rights movement, to the notorious case of Emmett Till in the early 1960’s, to pogroms that destroyed entire African-American towns and neighborhoods in the twenties, to the brutal repression of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South, to slave owners’ desire to break the will of any person of color who was perceived as “uppity,” or likely to fight back against oppression, back to the Nat Turner revolt and the forced origin of African-American immigration to the Western Hemisphere–virtually every African-American’s ancestors were kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Oh, but that was centuries ago.  No way our conscience could still be bothering us, right?  Yeah, right.  What in the world do they want “reparations” for?

the late Eric Perez

Let’s put Trayvon Martin’s murder in perspective, by examining some similar incidents.  Let’s start with the death of Eric Perez.  One of the ironies of life in America is that this young man with a Hispanic name looks African-American, while George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, bears a German name but looks Hispanic, not African, but still would almost certainly be discriminated against by any white racist who had the opportunity.  Poop, as they say, rolls down hill, and here’s the story of how it hit the fan for the unfortunate Eric Perez.  On July 9th of last year, 17-year old Eric was riding his bicycle after dark, and the bicycle didn’t have a light on it, so the police stopped him, frisked him, and found a small amount of marijuana.  Because Eric was still on probation for crimes committed when he was 13 (and who isn’t crazy when they’re 13?), his probation was immediately revoked, and he was taken to the West Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center.  That night, under the guise of making sure he wasn’t taking any food back to his cell, guards at the jail roughed him up, banging his head on the concrete floor.  When the dazed young man obeyed their orders to stand up, he fell and hit his head on a table.  Within a few hours, he was nauseous and hallucinating, but the guards didn’t call 911, because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of filing an incident report, and the nurse who was ostensibly responsible for after-hours medical care at the jail didn’t return the guards’ phone call.  Next morning, Eric Perez was dead, executed by neglect for the terrible crimes of riding a bicycle without a light and having a small amount of marijuana on his person–and it’s worth noting that defenders of George Zimmerman have attempted to slander Trayvon Martin by pointing out that he had been suspended from school for having a baggie with traces of marijuana in his pocket.  People, America is not Singapore.  Yet.

And what happened to the killers of Eric Perez?  Well, they lost their jobs, after five months of paid ‘administrative leave,” but they were not prosecuted, because, the Grand Jury determined, “no existing statute applies to the facts of the matter.”  Apparently, Eric’s death somehow does not fit any definition of murder, homicide, or manslaughter.  However, in an official statement,the Grand Jury did urge  “… the Florida Legislature to enact a statute that criminalizes the neglect of anyone in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.”  Just the thing Rick Scott and his Tea Party buddies in the Florida legislature will jump right up and do…not.  In a further insult to Eric’s family, the state offered $5,000 to help with burial expenses, then stopped the check, before reissuing it.  Talk about “jerking people around.”

So that’s the murder of Eric Perez–killed by prison guards because he didn’t have a light on his bike and he did have a baggie in his pocket, and might be taking food to his room.  Next, let’s look at the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, who actually did have all his ducks in a row–and was shot dead in his own home by police at point-blank range anyway.

the late Kenneth Chamberlain

At five o’clock in the morning last November, the African-American former Marine and prison guard, who was under treatment for a heart condition, rolled over in his sleep and accidentally set off a “life-aid pendant” used by many older Americans so that, wherever they are, they can alert 911 in the event of a medical emergency, and so 911 operators dispatched an ambulance and police car to see what the matter was.  Perhaps because Mr. Chamberlain lived in a public housing project, where common prejudice has it that crime is more prevalent than elsewhere,  the police were not satisfied when Mr. Chamberlain told them he was fine and declined to get out of bed and let them into his one-room home at such an early hour.  “I know my rights,” he told them, and asked them to leave.  The police, apparently, did not know theirs, and cursed at the accidental object of their unwanted attention, demanding that he let them in.   They called for reinforcements, until there were eleven officers in the hall outside the apartment, and then they broke in and tasered the unfortunate but completely innocent occupant, who was clad only in his underwear and making no attempt to resist their unlawful entry.  When tasering didn’t knock him down, one of the officers ordered the minicam on the taser shut off, and shot him twice.  The second shot killed him.  He had done no wrong. There was no contraband of any kind in his possession.  And he was dead, just like Trayvon Martin, Eric Perez, and so many before them, and,  as has all too often been the case, no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Another irony emerges in this story.  Many people, including me, have expressed concerns about the increasing intrusion of security cameras into our lives.  In this case, the entire incident was caught on tape by security cameras, not just on the taser, but in the hall of the apartment, and by an audio recorder on Chamberlain’s 911 device, which did not get turned off, giving the lie to the police story that the 5’6″ heart patient had threatened them, and for that reason they had used deadly force.  Like Trayvon Martin, Chamberlain had been on the phone as he felt his doom approach.  Chamberlain was talking to the 911 operator, pleading with authorities to call off their attack dogs–er, police officers, and letting the 911 operator know he was in fear for his life.

When I took a break from writing this story, I discovered that Chamberlain’s murderer has been identified, thanks to Democracy Now! reporter Juan Gonzalez, as Anthony Corelli, who, in spite of being indicted and about to go to trial on Federal civil rights violations in another case, was still on duty.  And I also learned that the white New Orleans police who shot peaceful, unarmed African-Americans trying to escape the city after Hurricane Katrina have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms….seven years after the fact.  I wish I could take some satisfaction in that, but I can’t.  What we are dealing with here is widespread and systemic, and punishing individuals for acting on the basis of conditioning that was instilled in them when they were too young to think, and that they were never encouraged to question, is not an answer.  Jail time is unlikely to change anybody’s mind, and more likely to simply breed deeper fear and resentment.  We need a more creative solution, a way to transform people.  Except in rare cases, putting people in jail doesn’t transform them, it deforms them even further.

I could spend the rest of this radio show, and many more, detailing the European-American-generated tragedies that have unravelled the lives of people who just happened to be born African-American.  And much has been written already about the deep cause–the seemingly insatiable European drive to conquer, exploit, convert, and control every person and acre of ground on this little blue ball we call home.  The question is not so much “what’s the problem?” as it is, “what can we do to heal this ongoing, world-wide wound?”  As a human being of pretty nearly unadulterated European descent, this is an extremely personal question for me, one that I have grappled with ever since, in my early teens, I began to become aware of just how much privilege I took for granted.

I didn’t quite realize where this story was going when I started writing it.  My head was full of the switcheroo in the early 80’s, when big corporations responded to the expansion of ecological and social justice consciousness in this country by moving their operations beyond the reach of American law, thus beginning the destruction of the middle class, leaving people less time for reflection and activism, and the linked switch from the War on Poverty to the War on Drugs.  The War on Poverty was offensive to the corporatocracy because it empowered people and led them to question the status quo.  The War on Drugs changed the government’s primary focus from empowering the poor to imprisoning–and disenfranchising–them.  The U.S. prison population is now seven times what it was in 1980, despite a dropping crime rate–thank you, Ronald Reagan!  Thank you Bill Clinton!  But I digress…that story will have to wait for another time.  We’re going deeper than that.

Becoming a hippie solved some of my conflicts about being born into such a privileged situation.  The exploitation and destruction of the natural world is driven largely by clean-cut white guys in business suits, and so from an early age I did my best not to be one of those.  I can’t do anything about the color of my skin or the y chromosome in every cell of my body, but being clean-cut and wearing a necktie are two things that a white guy can abandon, and, in the process, get at least a little taste of what it’s like to be a member of the powerless, dark-skinned underclass.  And hey, all it takes is a shave, a haircut, and a suit, and you are once again indistinguishable from the oppressor class!

But being powerless has its own difficulties, especially when coupled with a desire to make the world a better place for everyone.  In the early 70’s, my fellow counterculturalists and I hoped to prevail by sheer force of numbers and the fact that we were having more fun than our square, bought-in counterparts, but time, fear, and financial fetters conspired to erode those attractions for far too many of my unindicted co-conspirators, many of whom (including, some would say, me) have taken the easy way out and accepted the privilege of our heritage.  Since the 70’s, the crisis we perceived then has only snowballed in severity, and there is no sign of any let-up.  Were we wrong to bail on the lives we could have led, to attempt the creation of a counterculture in which black men, and everyone else, young and old, need not fear for their lives, rather than to fully enter the mainstream and attempt that same work in the belly of the beast?  Was Margaret Thatcher right?  Is no alternative possible?

No.  Margaret Thatcher was wrong.  Not only is an alternative possible, it is imperative.  The only way to change a society as steeped in fear and domination as ours is to do all we can to create a real, living, breathing, wake-up-to-it-in-the-morning alternative, to the very best of our admittedly limited ability.  Patience, tolerance, and flexibility are core values for this new society, and one way to practice them is to apply them to the limitations we all have due to our deep conditioning to, and inescapable links with, the impatient, intolerant,inflexible culture that confines us.  It’s not an easy job, but it’s the only game in town, besides the one that is so afraid of its own shadow and the evil it has visited on others that it excuses the murders of innocent people whose skin happens to be the wrong color, or who happen to maybe smoke the wrong kind of cigarettes, or who happen to live in places where fossil fuels or other deadly drugs could be produced.   Our success is not certain–but if we don’t try, our failure is inevitable.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”





DOUBLE STANDARD

10 09 2011

Not content with having a lock on the state legislature, not content with having a lock on future elections by mandating Tennessee’s continued use of unrecountable, easily hackable computerized voting machines, the state’s Republicans are now trying to dictate who can and cannot be a Democratic legislator.  When State Representative Gary Moore became President of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, Tennessee Republican Party Chair Chris Devaney sent Moore a strongly worded letter suggesting that this put Moore in a conflict of interest position and that he needed to choose between being in the legislature and heading the state’s council of unions.

Moore defended himself, saying that his position no more disqualified him than the full-time job of anybody else in our state’s legislature. Since the legislature does not meet year ’round, it does not pay what is considered a “full time job” salary–although, when you throw in a thou a month for “office expenses,” and a healthy per diem expense allowance, it’s more money than I’ve ever made working full time.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about what Rep. Moore could have said.  Maybe he considered it and thought “Naah, it’s true but saying it will just make it harder to work in the same legislature as these bozos,” but here’s what I would have said:

Republicans have some nerve alleging that ties with the AFL-CIO amount to putting a labor lobbyist in the legislature.  The AFL-CIO is an organization that represents the working people of this state–well, 5.7% of them, anyway–real live human being-type citizens of the State of Tennessee, people with families and, in many cases, deep roots in this state.  There is nothing untoward about the head of such a genuine, grass-roots citizens’ group being a member of the state legislature.

Many of our state’s Republican legislators, in contrast, are the pawns of a covert, nationwide lobby relentlessly pursuing an agenda that elevates corporate profits above human well-being,  This lobby, “The American Legislative Exchange Council,” which disingenuously–and possibly illegally-claims to be an “educational foundation,” allows corporations and their lawyers to write legislation that favors the corporations, and then pass it on to willing state legislators who introduce these poison bills all over the country as if they were their own creations.  There is no transparency; ALEC’s archive of model bills is open only to its members, and thus it is difficult for citizens to know whether their legislators are introducing a bill that truly reflects local conditions and concerns, or a generic, one-size-fits all piece of legislation that was essentially created to line corporate pockets, and the public be damned.

Fortunately, ALEC’s veil of secrecy has been pierced, and its archives exposed.  What this exposure has revealed is that much of the substantive legislation introduced by Tennessee Republicans this year was crafted in corporate boardrooms and law offices.   Those who have claimed concern about me, Gary Moore, being a “puppet of outside interests” are, themselves, puppets of an insidious outside interest. Here are some of the ALEC bills we have had to contend with here in Tennessee:

Our legislature passed a law making it necessary for voters to present a photo ID.  A driver’s license or gun license is allowable; a college ID is not, a provision that makes no sense unless you are trying to disenfranchise college students, who, unlike gun owners, for the most part do not vote Republican.  Those without a photo ID can get a “free” one from state drivers’ license offices, which will require a substantial investment of time for those who live far from such an office.  There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud due to phony ID.  This is, purely and simply, an attempt to limit the number of people who vote….but then, conservatives often speak of wanting to return to our original Constitutional principles.  For roughly the first fifty years of our republic, the franchise was limited to white male property owners.  Perhaps this is what modern conservatives aspire to do?

On a lighter note, State Sen. Mae Beavers introduced a copycat bill mandating that all presidential candidates present a “long-form birth certificate” in order to get on the ballot.  In an interview, Beavers had to admit that she doesn’t even know what a “long-form birth certificate” is.  Beavers also introduced “The Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act,” a bill introduced or passed in 35 other states, which proclaims

if a firearm and/or ammunition is made totally within the state of Tennessee, and stamped ‘Made in Tennessee,’ then the federal government has no jurisdiction over that item in any fashion so long as it remains in state and outside of interstate commerce.

It strikes me as a bizarre manifestation of conservative doublethink that this bill is being pushed by those who applauded when the Supreme Court ruled against a similar case that involved marijuana that was grown and consumed in California.  OK, the “Firearms Freedom Act” may or may not have had ALEC’s backing–but the general loosening of gun laws in the state definitely comes from ALEC.

There is the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act,” passed under the conservative rallying cry, “Tort Reform!” This bill makes it much more difficult for citizens to obtain reasonable damages from businesses that have ripped them off.  Even though passed after the enormous investment scandal that has decimated our economy, this bill specifically exempts the sale of securities–stocks and bonds, etc.–from civil lawsuits.

The “Tennessee Healthcare Freedom Act” is another bill that came directly from ALEC, written by private insurers who do not want their profits and prerogatives regulated in the slightest.

On the labor front, the legislature abolished collective bargaining for teachers, and considered a bill that would have effectively criminalized union organizing of any kind.

It didn’t even take a full Republican majority to pass a bill similar to Arizona’s anti-immigration measures.  This bill came directly from ALEC, and it is no secret that Corrections Corporation of America helped write the law–which generates a lot of business for the private, for-profit prison corporation.

While Tennessee’s ludicrous “anti-Sharia law” may not have originated with ALEC, it is a product of the same dull-witted xenophobia that has resulted in a rash of ALEC-written anti-immigrant bills that were introduced in the legislature this year.  Immigrants, legal or otherwise, Mexican or Muslim,  are not the reason our economy has gone bad.  Our economy has gone bad because of the selfish actions of the corporations that are writing these anti-immigrant bills.

Here’s the facts:  there are an estimated 60,000 Muslims in the state, less than one percent of our total population.  There are an estimated quarter million Hispanics in Tennessee, around four percent of the state’s population.  There are 115,000 union members in the state, less than two percent of our population. We are in no short-term or long-term danger of having unions, Sharia law, or the Spanish language forced on us.  Got that?

On the other hand, there are over a million voting Republicans in Tennessee, and nearly 2/3 of them support the Tea Party and its program, which is driven by the same secretive cabal of corporations that directs ALEC.  The citizens of Tennessee are being misinformed into voting against their own best interests, filling the legislature with covert operatives for a corporate agenda that is rapidly turning Tennessee and the rest of America into a two-tier society that leaves 99% of us disempowered and impoverished in the bottom tier, while the wealthy live a lifestyle that makes Louis XIV of France look modest.

As one commentator put it, the Tea Party’s organizers “conflate crony capitalism with free enterprise, and free enterprise with personal liberty. Between them they have constructed the philosophy that informs the Tea Party movement: its members mobilize for ‘freedom’, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt.”

So yes, there is a dangerous conflict of interest corrupting the Tennessee legislature.  But it is those who are pointing their fingers and making loud accusations who are in fact the danger, not the state’s teachers, firefighters, other union members, Muslims or Hispanics.  Those of us in this state who truly value personal liberty over corporate license need to band together and expose this sham, not bow our heads and knuckle under to it.  No, Mr.  Devaney, I am NOT resigning.

And that’s what I’d say if I were Gary Moore.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem








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