SHOCK DOCTRINE COMES TO THE CUMBERLAND?

13 03 2011

Last month, I attended a meeting called by the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, at which we “brainstormed,” as they say, on how to pursue a progressive agenda in Tennessee, given the state’s sharp tilt to the right over the last several elections.  I have to say, the results were not encouraging.  The old traditional tactic, “lobbying the legislature,” no longer works, and our current state government brushes off such mass demonstrations as we can muster as implacably as Qadhafi’s counterattack on the Libyan rebellion.

One call for a “mass demonstration” produced about 400 local union members and justice advocates–basically the usual suspects, from what I observed when I was there. A “statewide” gathering a couple of weeks later pulled in, I’m told, 3-4,000 people, the largest gathering of non-Chicanos to hit the state capital in quite some time, but hardly critical mass, especially since everybody went home promptly when the demo was over.

As far as the state’s Republican legislative majority is concerned, they probably could have just stayed home in the first place.  The party has an agenda to pass, and they don’t intend to be swayed from it.  As long-time activist Bernie Ellis has commented,

If you spend any time on the hill these days (as a few of us are), you will know that our legislature has indeed been taken over by flying monkeys. Opposing freedom of religion, dictating to local governments what protections they can extend to their citizenry (or not), creating our own Tennessee state currency — the list of anti-American lunacy goes on and on. Democratic legislators say that the Republicans are not even speaking with them anymore about any bills and (one) said to me yesterday that, in committees, Democrats are being gaveled as “out-of-order” as soon as they open their mouths. This is lawlessness of the highest order, and there is no solution available to us anymore that involves logic, rationality or politeness. The solution is in our Tennessee history books, which we should reread before this particular stain of Republicans burns them all.

(When I hear from liberals trying to work with our legislature) I am reminded of the TV commercial of the single Homo sapiens in an office full of chimpanzees. If I wanted to be around dung-slinging animals, I would go to the zoo. If I wanted to honor and observe the power and wonder of the consent of the governed, I would go to a lawfully and democratically elected legislature anywhere on this planet. These days, since the TN legislature was (s)elected by other means, it is not the place to admire democracy — it is a place to pack peanuts and wear a raincoat.

….All votes… will be strictly along party lines and anyone who doesn’t realize that by now needs to get off the kool-aid. We lost our democracy in 2008 when we allowed the Republicans to conduct “just one more” election on the DREs. If anyone wants to go to the U.S. Department of Justice (or the barricades), get in touch. If not, then have a nice life.

Thanks, Bernie, for laying it out so passionately.  I’m going to spend the next few minutes elaborating on his compact commentary, which mentions a great many more issues than it explains.

Last things first–the Tennessee legislature, which happily passed a bill mandating a return to recountable ballots in 2008, continues to backpedal on that promise.  Republicans are committed to the idea that switching from computer voting to paper voting will cost more money, and are using their “commitment to cut expenditures” as a reason to retain our current, unverifiable, expensive, computerized voting system.  It is Bernie’s strong belief that Republicans took advantage of computerized voting to fix the last election and seize power in the state.  I think this may well be the case, and Republican insistence on retaining the computer voting machines is certainly highly suspicious, given their general rejection in the US and around the world, but I also can see that the state’s rightward slide may be attributable to a reactionary trend among rural white Tennesseans and the general lameness of the state’s Democratic Party.

A Department of Justice investigation would be helpful, but, given that the Democratic Party’s lame response to the Republican Party’s pro-business offensive goes right on up the line to the DOJ and the White House, I don’t think we’ll get any clarification on this any time soon, and the question in Tennessee will continue to be “Who did your voting machine vote for?”

“The solution in the Tennessee history books” to which Bernie refers is an incident commonly known as “the battle of Athens,” in which an organized group of returning WWII vets successfully took up arms to overthrow a corrupt county government in Athens, Tennessee, shortly after the war.  It’s a wonderfully romantic image, but I don’t really see it as a practical option at this point.  This time around, alas, they’ve got the guns AND the numbers.  We are in the same position as the Good Government in Gomorrah party, but, unlike Lot, we can’t just leave, because nearly the whole country, and most of the world, is in no better shape than we are here.  We’re gonna have to ride it out where we are.

As for general lunacy and dung-slinging, here’s a short list:  the “anti-Sharia” law, revocation of collective bargaining for Tennessee teachers, unilateral abrogation of the national health care bill, a proposal to limit cities’ ability to enact local anti-discrimination, fair wage, and zoning laws, a state constitutional amendment forbidding an income tax, a proposal that the state issue its own currency…this is getting to be a long “short list.”

Let’s take, as an example, the “anti-Shari’a law.”  This bill defines Shari’a as follows:

“Sharia(h), as defined and understood by traditional and authoritative sharia scholars and leaders, is a legal-political-military doctrinal system combined with certain religious beliefs; further, sharia is based historically and traditionally on a full corpus of law and jurisprudence termed fiqu and usul al-fiqh, respectively, dealing with all aspects of a sharia(h)-adherent’s personal and social life and political society.”The bill also states that Shariah “requires all its adherents to actively and passively support the replacement of America’s constitutional republic, including the representative government of this state with a political system based upon sharia(h).”

The bill would give Tennessee’s attorney general the power to designate an organization as “a Shari’a organization,” and forbid individuals from giving support to such an organization.  Since our state government has already been the source of a complaint calling Bernie Ellis a terrorist, this does not bode well for any of us whose politics are in any way left of center. The legislation seems to conflate “shari’a” and “terrorism,” which is simply incorrect.  Shari’a is the Islamic version of Judaism’s Talmud, a long and constantly evolving discussion of how professing a certain religious faith applies to one’s daily life.

In the same vein, many Christians look to the Bible for guidance, and if you’re looking for something scary, the idea of Biblical religious law is at least as scary as anything in shari’a.  Everybody knows about the famous “what’s a good price for my daughter/why can’t I own a Canadian?” letter, but that only scratches the surface.   If Christians are serious about “following the word of the Bible,” then they (and we) are going to have to take this passage seriously:

If any man take a wife, and  … and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: ….if this thing be true…. Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die. Deuteronomy 22:13-21

That’s Christian shari’a., and it isn’t purely theoretical.   There are “Christian dominionists” who want to institute this kind of “Biblical law” here in America.  They constitute a major component of the “Tea Party,” and they are much more numerous and active than “Islamic terrorists,” most of whom have to be recruited by the FBI. And Bill Ketron is worried about Muslims?

This is some of why our Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….”  It’s a minefield.  Directing a law at shari’a without banning Talmudic studies or Christian Dominionism is plainly religious discrimination, but, as Bernie commented, our state legislators are not interested in logic–when it comes to religion, finances, or any other issue, they want it their way.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

While much of the state Republican Party’s agenda seems like sheer lunacy, other aspects of it are in line with the party’s national agenda, which, as Naomi Klein has commented, is an attempt to use the country’s weak financial condition as an excuse for instituting American fascism–the takeover of the government by big business interests.  She calls it “The Shock Doctrine.”  Of course, this has been going on for years, but it is gaining momentum, playing on people’s fears and directing their anger at phony targets–“Obamacare,” “Socialism,” “entitlement programs,” just to name a few–so that the wealthy can pick our pockets and bend the law to favor their own interests rather than the common good.

After having cast doubt on the legitimacy of state elections and the rationality of state legislators, it may seem pointless to talk about the Green Party of Tennessee and our attempts to get our party name on state ballots, but part of being the Good Government Party of Gomorrah is to act like you expect to be taken seriously, and let the chips fall where they may.  To that end, I would like to let you know that we will be having our annual meeting at the Ecovillage on the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, on the weekend of April 9-10.  We will be posting details on our websites soon.  Anyone who shares the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values” is welcome to attend.

The other bit of Green Party news is that a bill has been introduced into the state legislature in an attempt to respond to our court victory over the state on the ballot access question.  Here’s what our lawyer, Richard Winger, has to say about it:

SB 935 would still leave Tennessee with a requirement that a minor party submit 40,042 (signatures on a petition) for the 2012 election, no later than four months before the Tennessee primary.  SB 935 would still leave Tennessee with an unconstitutionally difficult law, especially given that no minor party has petitioned successfully in Tennessee since 1968.

The solution is to provide that Tennessee let newly-qualifying parties nominate by convention, something that 43 states permit.  The National Civic League published “A Model Direct Primary Law” in 1951 (back then it was called the National Municipal League) and recommended that small qualified parties nominate by convention, not by primary.  This saves taxpayer dollars.  Tennessee permitted small qualified parties to nominate by convention until 1961, and the old pre-1961 system worked well.  Letting a newly-qualifying party nominate by convention would make it possible to have a deadline that passes constitutional muster…..

Early petition deadlines, if in place in 1854, would have prevented the Republican Party from getting on the ballot.  The Republican Party was founded on July 6, 1854, and it went on to win a plurality in the US House of Representatives in the autumn 1854 election.  Back then there were no government-printed ballots, and therefore no ballot access laws.  But if there had been ballot access laws, a petition deadline earlier than summer would have stopped the birth of a very important new political party.  I hope you amend SB 935 so that it is more like SB 617, a bill by Senator Campfield that lets newly-qualifying parties nominate by convention, so that the petition deadline is later in the year.  Thank you.

How cool to find a way to pitch it to Republicans, Richard!

So there it is…and bizarrely enough, it’s Stacey Campfield, whom I have berated in these pages before, who is working to do the right thing.  Goes to show, you don’t ever know, eh?

Well, if it’s all rigged, maybe having the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution parties on the ballot will just give the puppet masters more columns into which to shunt would-be Democrat votes.  Or maybe it will be a genuine step toward broadening the political discussion in this state.  My choice is to act in good faith and presume that everybody else is, too–but watch each card and play it slow.

music:  Grateful Dead, “Deal





TENNESSEE FOLLIES

10 07 2009

Our “Truth In Strange Places Award” this month goes to the framers of the Tennessee Constitution, who included in that august document the following words:

“That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”

That comes from Article 1, Section 2 of the “Tennessee Declaration of Rights,” and can be found on page 54 of the Tennessee Blue Book.  And why has it become relevant?

Karl Marx said that everything that happens in history happens twice; the first time as tragedy, and the second time as farce.  That’s certainly proved true for my friend Bernie Ellis.

The first time the law came to his home, it was a tragedy:  Bernie was arrested for growing medical marijuana, did time, nearly lost his farm, and lost his main source of income, which was consulting for state governments on….drug, alcohol, and treatment issues, including the implementation of medical marijuana programs.

The second time he encountered the power of the state, the worm turned, and the joke was on the state.  The story has been well told in many places, but let me recap it for you:

Bernie started an outfit called “Gathering To Save Our Democracy,” which is a bipartisan group (yes, it includes some registered Republicans) working to restore verifiable election results in Tennessee.   The group thought they had won a big victory last year when the legislature passed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which mandated a return to paper ballots instead of the state’s currently near-universal reliance on touch-screen voting machines, which are notorious for “malfunctions” that flip votes from one candidate to another, usually to the Repuglycan one, and leave no record of the voter’s original intent.  And, by the way, the head of the company that makes these magical devices is on public record as saying he wants to help elect Republicans.

So, we were supposed to dump the touch-screen machines. However, when the legislature reconvened this year with a Republican majority, many Republicans, who had voted for the bill originally, had a change of heart, and, at the behest of the new Republican Secretary of State, Tre Hargett, tried to pass a bill delaying implementation until 2012, on the grounds that the switch could not be made in the amount of time remaining before the 2010 election.  Fortunately, this bill failed by one vote–Tim Burchett, a Republican from Knoxville, had the courage to oppose it, along with the Senate’s Democratic minority.

He could oppose it because it wasn’t really a partisan issue.  Simply stated, the reasons for not switching voting machines by 2010 were a pack of lies.    Hey, the precedent had been set.  It was amply proved by the Gathering to Save Our Democracy crew that there was time and enough money to implement the bill before the 2008 elections, but the state election commission, possibly under the influence of touch-screen machine manufacturers, did not want to move that fast, and legislators deferred to them.  Now they have declared that the much longer interval before the next election is still not enough time, and there aren’t voting machines available that meet the standards, it would cost too much ….well, you can see where they’re going with this.  If  the deadline had been extended to 2012, the election commission doubtless would have dragged its feet and then appealed to the legislature to extend the deadline again.

Meanwhile, optical-scan  machines are in use in 40 states,  providing a verifiable source for recounts, and Al Franken owes his Senate seat to their existence.  Maybe that’s what’s bothering the Repuglycans?  And how did Bernie’s history of interviews with law enforcement officers return as farce?

I’m getting to that.

It’s characteristic for sociopaths to allege threats from others in order to justify their own actions, and that seems to be what happened next. State Election Co-ordinator Marc Goins, a former Republican legislator who is working closely with Tre Hargett to stonewall the mandated changes, accosted election activist Mary Mancini while she was eating lunch at the Capitol, and, according to Mancini, this is what he said:

“I’m a friend of paper ballots … But when you push your friends too far, sometimes they bite back.”

And, he added, “I’m this close to biting back.”

Hannibal Lecter lives!

And, next thing you know, the State Police are back at Bernie’s door, checking out an allegation that he had made “terrorist threats” in emails he sent to the Secretary of State’s office.  Well, Bernie had not sent any emails to Tre Hargett, but the “terrorist threats”?  That may have come from Bernie’s written references to “The Battle of Athens” he had sent to his friends and supporters–but not the Secretary of State.

OK, you’re asking–what was “the Battle of Athens?”

This refers to the successful effort of a group of WWII vets to end a long string of stolen elections in Athens, Tennessee, in 1946.  It was pretty dramatic.  There was a local political machine that was shaking people down, fixing elections, jailing election monitors who complained about their tactics, and, in one particularly egergious case, shooting a black citizen in the back after turning him away from the polls on racial grounds.  The veterans, who found all this more like what they had been fighting to overthrow than what they had been fighting to protect, took up arms, took hostages, raided the local National Guard Armory, and ultimately threw dynamite at the county jail, where the political boss and his cronies had sequestered themselves with the ballot boxes.  The vets succeeded in unseating the corrupt machine and none of them were prosecuted for their efforts.  I’m surprised John Sayles hasn’t made a movie about it. Couldn’t be censorship, now, could it?  Would such a movie give people “dangerous ideas”?  Naw….

The vets beat the system in part because they were resisting that “arbitrary power and oppression” mentioned in the state’s constitution.  Maybe Tre Hargett’s muzzled conscience has something to do with why he feels threatened by the story of “The Battle of Athens.”  It’s certainly not a reference that would be feared by an honest politician, if I may be so bold as to posit such a thing…but I digress…the troopers are talking to Bernie again.

Bernie was friendly but blunt with them.  In his words:

I also asked the two TBI agents to deliver a message from me to whoever had caused them to have to drive to my farm today. Before they left, the lead agent repeated my message verbatim to make sure he had it right:

*”Mr. Ellis would like whoever issued the complaint against him to grow a pair of balls, ‘man up’ (the agent’s words) and call him at any time to discuss any concerns they may have with him or with anything Mr. Ellis has ever said.” *

The agent looked to me like he is going to be happy to deliver that message personally.

Since then, Democrats in the state, smelling blood, have picked up on the issue and are calling for Hargett’s resignation.  To their great discredit, most media in the state have cast this as a partisan fight and lent credence to Hargett’s arguments against implementing the law, all of which were thoroughly refuted when the bill was first passed in 2008.  Ah, ain’t media amnesia wonderful!?

Well, speaking of media amnesia, here’s something a lot of people don’t realize:  this isn’t the only illegal stonewalling going on at the Secretary of State’s office.  We in the Tennessee Green Party instituted a lawsuit to overturn the state’s unconstitutionally difficult requirements for granting a ballot line to political parties other than the Demopublicans.  We are sure we can prevail in this case, because the courts have already overturned Ohio’s similar strictures.  That was last year.  After the state demanded a voluminous amount of “discovery” from us in an almost impossibly brief time period, our lawsuit has vanished without a trace in the labyrinthine murk of the Secretary of State’s Office.    “Justice delayed is justice denied,” is a principle that dates back to the Magna Carta, and we Greens are about ready to haul King Hargett before a court and allege obstruction of justice. The fact that he is also clearly blocking implementation of voting reform is just gonna make it easier for us.  Thanks, Tre, you’ve brought the rope and you’re tying your own noose (figuratively, speaking, of course–I don’t believe hanging ever improved anybody’s character!).  Oh, oh, am I threatening our revered Secretary of State?  Guess I’m a terrorist, too.  Come and get me!

music:  Leonard Cohen, “Democracy








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