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)





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





MEMPHIS BLUES AGAIN

12 09 2010

To hear them tell it, West Tennessee Republicans pulled off an electoral miracle in Memphis in August.  In a combined primary and general election, even though voters in the Democratic primary outnumbered voters in the Republican primary, Republicans swept every county-wide general election race, taking control of the state’s largest, predominantly black, heretofore predominantly Democratic city.  Was this a foreshadowing of the power of the predicted Republican comeback in 2010?

But gosh, then all kinds of pesky questions started to crop up.  Many voters had been turned away from the polls because computer records showed they had already voted, even though they hadn’t.  In spite of that, the official tally counted over 6,000 more votes than the recorded number of voters.   Numbered rolls of printed tape from the machines, the “print record” of computerized votes cast on them, disappeared and were not counted.  Poll watchers could tell they were missing because the votes are numbered sequentially, and numbers were missing from the sequence.  Furthermore, polling places had not opened on time, and had closed temporarily during the day due to “malfunctions” of the computerized voting equipment.  Ah, Diebold!  Gotta love ’em!

Somewhere, Boss Crump is smiling.  He was a Democrat, but he appreciated good work.

The next act of this drama involved investigators finding some of the missing ballot rolls in trash bags, in the election commission’s  trash.  There were also disclosures that some of the vote-recording computers involved had not been sealed prior to the election and had been quietly sent home for the personal use of election commission employees after the election, that there had been a “ghost race,” a kind of cybernetic “fifth column” in the voting machines that would have made it much easier for a hacker to switch votes around–and there were many reports of gross vote-switching, when people pressed the touch screen for one candidate, only to have the opponent’s name light up.  And, to top it off, the Election Commission refused to allow independent auditors to check their computers on the grounds that the Diebold software in the computers was proprietary.  Like I said, ya gotta love them Diebold folks!

And how did the Shelby County Election Commission respond to this?  Well, they ‘fessed up that they had  “mistakenly” loaded the computerized voting equipment with a program from the previous election, which was why folks were turned away on the grounds that they had already voted.  Sorry ’bout that…no big deal, right?  Uh-huh.  The commission, dominated by Republicans, went ahead and certified the election, with the two Democrat members making nice and going along.  This is a foretaste of the November election, all right–rigged by Republicans, with the complicity of clueless Democrats–which may point to another reason why Shelby County’s elections turned out so strangely.  If the party’s candidates (think Mike “me-too” McWherter) don’t speak to the real needs of real people, they might not get a lot of voters enthused.

As I’ve written elsewhere, you don’t have to switch a lot of votes in a blatant way to throw an election.  A combination of restricting access to the polls and jiggering the voting machines ever so slightly is an excellent recipe for staying under law enforcement’s radar.  It worked for the Republicans in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004.   2008?  Let the country go to hell and blame it on the ni-I mean, socialist Obama.  But, I digress….

Back in Memphis,the losing candidates have filed a lawsuit–but, in a state increasingly dominated by Republicans, there’s a good chance that will get nowhere.  Hey, last winter we Greens filed for a summary judgment to get Tennessee to list our party’s name on the ballot, in accordance with recent court decisions, and we’re still waiting for an answer.  “Justice delayed is justice denied,” as Rev. Martin Luther King used to say, and we are not getting justice in this lawsuit.  Of course, if they thought the election might be close, the Republicans would probably move heaven and earth to get us on the ballot and, in their minds, divert votes from the Democrats.

Democracy or dirty tricks?  Judging by their conduct elsewhere, computerized hi-jinks aren’t the only kind being employed by the Grand Old Party to insure their victory in November.  In Arizona, Republicans are taking advantage of a loophole in the state’s election laws to “nominate” Green Party candidates without the approval of the state’s Green Party.  In South Carolina, with the possible help of crossover Republican voting and/or those notorious computerized voting machines, an unemployed US army reject (nothing necessarily wrong with that, actually) somehow came up with the $10K filing fee and won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat held by Republican Jim DeMint.  Some people want to how he paid that ten thousand dollar filing fee.  I want to know why, in a supposed “democracy,” it costs ten grand up front just to get your name on the ballot.

For that matter, why in this supposed “democracy” are Howard Switzer and John Miglietta, the Green Party of Tennessee’s candidates this year, appearing on the ballot as “independents,” in spite of court decisions that make it obvious that the Green Party has every legal right to be listed by name?

The Green Party does have its name on the ballot in South Carolina, and the good news is that many Democrats are realizing that the Green Party’s nominee, Tom Clements, is a far more viable candidate than Greene, who is currently under indictment for felony sexual harassment.  OK, McWherter isn’t that much of a putz.

But, as Republicans strive for control by any means necessary, the whole ossified system is coming apart.  Reality will prevail, and those of us who know how to live in reality will be the survivors, while those who believe they can bluff and bluster their way through life, who believe that their fast food, credit cards, SUVs, and air-conditioned McMansions are “not negotiable,” will find themselves SOL, to put it in a radio-friendly way.  We will prevail.

music:  Bob Dylan, “Memphis Blues Again”








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