ODDS AND ENDS AT THE END OF AN ODD WINTER

11 03 2012

I had intended to spend some time this month talking about the unreliability of touch-screen voting machines and other perils of the voting process, which seems like an especially relevant topic now that the Green Party has a ballot line in Tennessee, but the herb issue just would not shut up, and I don’t have time left in the radio show to give elections their proper due.  Anyway, I had finished reading a report on the poor dependability of the computerized, touch-screen voting machines our state depends on, when my friend Bernie Ellis sent me a link to his Martin Luther King Day speech on that subject, which he expanded  into the many nefarious methods that Republicans are using to cut down on the ability of people who are likely to vote for Democrats to register and vote at all.  Bernie lead me to a report from the NAACP on that subject which is pretty hot, but I haven’t finished reading it yet.  So next month, the plan is to integrate those, plus explain why the Greens should be concerned about the Repubs ripping off the Dems, if it really is just two competing crime families, as we so often say.  (Short answer:  an injury to one is an injury to all, and we’re all in this together.  If the Dems were siphoning off Republican votes, we’d raise hell, too, but given the abuser-enabler nature of the relationship between Repubs and Dems, that’s unlikely to happen outside of, maybe, Chicago.)  Anyway, that’s for next month–unless, of course, something more exciting and currently unexpected bumps it.  The future is wide open.  You just never know what will happen next.

Speaking of wide open, a big patch of the Arctic Ocean that usually freezes during the winter, and which, a decade or so ago, just stayed frozen–didn’t freeze this winter.  Evaporation from this patch of open water created never-before-seen weather patterns that pushed Siberian air masses, far more loaded with moisture than usual, down over Europe, resulting in one of the coldest, snowiest winters recorded there since the “Little Ice Age” that resulted when large parts of North and South America reforested themselves after the humans who had cleared them died from diseases transmitted by the earliest Europeans to make contact with the native people of this hemisphere.  That was then, but this is now.  In a wintertime echo of the torrential rains that have scoured Pakistan, Columbia, Thailand, parts of the U.S.,  and other locations too numerous to mention, a single storm in central Europe dumped six feet of snow on the ground in just four days.  One begins to get an understanding of what happens when the Earth enters a glacial age, even as the planet inexorably grows warmer.

Meanwhile, even though 2011-12 has been one of the mildest winters in U.S. history, climate denialism by those who are making money from the causes of climate change continues unabated. For just one example, Senator Jim Inhofe, who has long denounced global warming as a hoax, has received someplace between eight hundred thousand and 1.35 million dollars from oil, gas, and other energy industry companies.   Somehow, people continue to take him seriously, and the phrase “political prostitute” is not commonly associated with his name.

Numerous other “big lies” are being forced down the throat of the American public, which is more or less bound and gagged by the corporatocracy, but, due to the effect of the Stockholm Syndrome, enough people still love the rough treatment we are receiving to keep it coming.

There’s the big lie that the Keystone XL pipeline will provide lots of jobs and keep America afloat in gasoline, when the real reason Canada’s oil diggers/carbon releasers/environmental destroyers want to pipe their poison to Houston is so they can put in tankers and send it to the Chinese, who are rapidly approaching the point at which they will be able to outbid the U.S. for petroleum products–but hey, Bill McKibben is not lying when he says that Keystone XL would be “game over” for preventing catastrophic climate change.

There’s the big lie that fracking for natural gas is going to provide us with at least a century of low-carbon fuel.  Fracking for natural gas is looking more and more like a bubble that’s going to pop any year now.  There’s not nearly as much recoverable natural gas as initially promised, it does result in major carbon emissions, it permanently pollutes the water table often enough that it should be called into question, it turns the countryside into an industrial zone,  proven reserves are more like eleven years worth than a hundred, and, hey–what are we going to do when the gas runs out? President Obama proudly proclaiming that natural gas will provide “600,000 jobs” is a campaign lie, er, promise, and his support of fracking is as much a crime against humanity as his sabotage of the Copenhagen climate talks or targeted assassinations.  The truth is, fracking for natural gas is not a solution to our energy overdraw. Reducing our usage is the only possible path forward.

The truth is that reviving the U.S. auto industry was the moral equivalent of giving a junkie another fix.  The private automobile is, like everything else Obama has lent his charisma to, part of the problem and not part of the solution.  Detroit’s underused industrial capacity could have ben retooled to create mass transit and intercity rail service–but then again, automobile culture has decentralized America to the point where few people are actually in a position to make use of mass transit even if it existed, and the continuing economic collapse of our country means that fewer and fewer of us will have a reason, or the financial means, to travel across town, let alone across the country.

I don’t want to close this show on quite that sour note–so let me conclude with this:  we still have the option to get with our friends and neighbors and start building relationships that will enable us to share skills and resources as things spiral down into post-empire America.  It’s never too late for that.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Great Correction

down on the corner of ruin and grace
I’m growin weary of the human race
hold my lamp up in everyone’s face
lookin for an honest man
everyone tied to the turnin wheel
everyone hidin from the things they feel
well the truth’s so hard it just don’t seem real
the shadow across this land
people round here don’t know what it means
to suffer at the hands of our american dreams
they turn their backs on the grisly scenes
traced to the privileged sons
they got their god they got their guns
got their armies and the chosen ones
but we’ll all be burnin in the same big sun
when the great correction comes
down through the ages lovers of the mystery
been sayin people let your love light shine
poets and sages all throughout history
say the light burns brightest in the darkest times
it’s the bitter end we’ve come down to
the eye of the needle that we gotta get through
but the end could be the start of something new
when the great correction comes
down through the ages….
down to the wire runnin out of time
still got hope in this heart of mine
but the future waits on the horizon line
for our daughters and our sons
I don’t know where this train’s bound
whole lotta people tryin to turn it around
gonna shout til the walls come tumblin down
and the great correction comes
don’t let me down
when the great correction comes

–copyright eliza gilksyon





OUR DAY IN COURT

11 02 2012

Monday, January 9th, the Green Party of Tennessee went up against the State of Tennessee in Federal court.  I have had a lot of negative things to say about the cost of our court system and the radical conservative activist judges who increasingly populate it, but, fortunately, we did not find ourselves in the presence of one of those judges, and in our particular case, the price of justice was no problem–because we won our case, and the State of Tennessee was therefore liable for all expenses, including our attorney’s fees.  (And yes, I realize that, as a taxpayer here, I am one of those whose money is going to the state’s ill-conceived effort to fight our court case.)  Anyway, here’s what happened.

The hearing was scheduled for three in the afternoon, possibly in deference to the fact that our lawyer, Alan Woodruff, was coming in from the far eastern part of the state, but, late riser that I am, I was glad for the civilized hour of the hearing.  Also traveling in to attend and glad for the late start was  Richard Winger, editor of the Ballot Access News, who arrived on a red-eye flight from San Francisco and was quite happy to take a couple-hour nap at our house before attending.

I had put out the word to the local GP about the gathering, passing along Alan’s warning that we needed to be fly-on-the-wall spectators and not a three-ring circus, and several members who, like me, don’t work the straight 5-8 were able to attend.  Alan strongly suggested suit-and-tie as attire, but I have owned neither since about 1969, so I wore black pants and a dark sweater, clothes I wouldn’t garden or chop wood in.  We met at a local coffee shop before moving on to the downtown Federal Courthouse, where we had to undergo a security inspection/metal detector walk-through in order to proceed.   (One of our attendees had to declare her underwire bra to pass, but at least they didn’t make her remove it!)  With directions from the courthouse staff, we threaded the labyrinth of the massive building and found our way to the 8th floor, where we sat outside the courtroom and talked quietly until they were ready to let us in.

When our time came, we entered a room nearly the size and height of a basketball court, with ceiling lights that resembled a skylight–though, since they didn’t fade as five o’clock drew near, we knew we were under artificial light.   The thick carpeting, tables for plaintiff and defendant, judge’s dais, and seating sufficient for about a hundred people made it unlikely that a game of basketball will ever be played in that room–but, come the revolution, who knows?  The effect created a feeling of distance, not intimacy.  It was difficult to hear the judge or the lawyers when they spoke off microphone, which they occasionally did, before being asked by whoever the speech was addressed to (judge or lawyer) to please make use of the amplification.  The only spectators in the sea of seats were the four of us from the Green Party, Richard Winger, and a youngish guy who turned out to be a reporter from the Tennessean.

Judge Haynes entered the courtroom, we all did the ceremonial rise, the judge sat, then we all sat down, and the hearing was under way.  Alan Woodruff has bad legs and walks with the help of a cane, so Judge Haynes allowed him to present his case seated at the plaintiff’s table, directly in front of us.  Alan had warned us that the hearing would probably be pretty boring, and, as he presented the facts I was so familiar with, I did indeed struggle not to nod off.  The room was warm, the lighting just slightly dim, and even with amplification, the speakers’ voices were not all that loud…what can I say?  Alan’s’s running for Congress as a Democrat in the 1st District–I trust his stump speeches are more exciting.   They’ll have to be pretty motivating for him to win–the Republicans have taken the 1st district in every election since 1879.

I definitely woke up when I heard him point out that, while Tennessee’s requirement that 2.5% of those voting in the last election need to sign a petition to get a minor party candidate’s party affiliation on the ballot has been established as a legal precedent, there is no proof that it is, in fact, fair, and that, considering the cost of gathering 60-80,000 signatures, it could reasonably be considered unfair.  This had not been, to my understanding, part of the original brief, and I was glad to see it included.  It costs a lot of money to gather tens of thousands of signatures for a petition–anywhere between one and five dollars per valid signature, according to Ballotpedia, which would make the cost for getting a “minor party’s” name on the Tennessee ballot somewhere between $40,000 and $200,000.  That’s not minor.  That’s a chunk out of anybody’s campaign budget.  Bit of a barrier, dontcha think, especially since it’s an expense neither the Repubs nor the Dems have to cover?

Back to our story–Judge Haynes let Alan speak his piece, and then it was time for the Assistant Attorney General, Janet Kleinfelter, to argue the state’s case.

Janet is the attorney who, in the hearings on our original case, had unmercifully badgered the Green Party’s witness with exactingly detailed but ultimately irrelevant questions about the minutiae of how we run the Green Party of Tennessee.  This time, it quickly became her turn in the hot seat, as Judge Haynes repeatedly interrupted her, pointing out that she was raising arguments that had not been raised in the state’s earlier case as well as that she was repeating arguments that had already been struck down by Haynes’ previous ruling,  and that some of her assertions were hard for him to believe.  “You mean you still haven’t yet fully complied with the Americans With Disabilities Act?  That’s twenty years old!” he thundered.  When a judge tells an attorney, “Why did I bother reading your brief?  You’re wasting my time,” that generally means the attorney’s case is in deep, deep, trouble, and that’s exactly what Judge Haynes said to Ms. Kleinfelter.

In referencing the ADA, she was attempting to argue that the state needed more time to comply with Judge Haynes’ earlier ruling.  She also asserted that there was little interest in minor parties so there was no need for the state to accommodate them, and that having too many party names on the ballot–i.e., more than two–would just confuse voters.  Hey, there’s still countries in the world where the government asserts that having more than one party’s name on the ballot will unduly confuse the voters…or having a ballot at all.  Is that where her argument was headed?  As it became increasingly apparent that Judge Haynes wasn’t buying any of it, Ms. Kleinfelter grew increasingly flustered, raising her voice in a most unprofessional manner and, in my opinion, giving off a vibe that she might just start crying.  This does not bode well for her professional future–as Assistant AG, she’s going to be back in Judge Haynes’ courtroom, and getting acrimonious with him is not, as they say, a good precedent.  Considering the lameness of her performance, I was astonished to learn that she has been in the AG’s office for 20 years.  Meanwhile, Election Commissioner Mark Goins sat at the defense table, cradling his head in one hand and looking miserable.

What she was advancing was, basically, the same kind of BS arguments the state’s Republicans have been putting forth in the legislature–only here, they weren’t in the majority, and the judge had the power and ability to point out that they were full of, to be polite, baloney.  We walked out of the courtroom at about 5PM feeling pretty optimistic, although Alan warned us that even though the judge had essentially ripped the state’s argument into little bitty pieces and thrown it in the wastebasket, that didn’t mean he was going to rule in our favor.  After all, he could have ruled from the bench–made a decision on the spot–and he didn’t.  It ain’t over ’till it’s over.

Last week it was over.  We won on all counts.  Judge Haynes’ decision came to 90 pages.I have not yet had time to read it all, but here’s the summary: he threw out the state’s ballot access law and gave us (and the Constitution Party) the “relief,” as it is legally termed, of having our candidates’ party affiliation listed with their names on the 2012 ballot, saying “given the state’s acceptance of 25 signatures for candidates for governor and 275 signatures for candidates for President of the United States, the Court deems (Green Party of Tennessee’s)past electoral support of almost 20,000 votes and (Constitution Party of Tennessee’s) almost 10,000 signatories to constitute a signifcant showing of support to justify their recognition as political parties and to have their parties’ names next to their candidates on the general election ballot.  “Independent” no more! YEAH!

music:  Allen Toussaint, “Yes We Can Can”

Judge Haynes found that the 2.5% requirement was “an undue and impermissible burden.…The state infringes on the rights of supporters of Independent candidates to meaningfully vote and meaningfully associate by providing a  “voting cue” to Democratic and Republican candidates which makes it virtually impossible for Independent candidates to prevail in the general election“….(he put that in bold type, not me!)…..

Judge Haynes agreed that forcing minor parties to hold primaries effectively violates our freedom of association and ability to control our party, since in Tennessee’s open primary system, anybody can vote in any party’s primary simply by asking for that party’s ballot.  If–and only if–challenged by election officials, the only “proof” of party affiliation necessary is signing an affidavit asserting one’s party membership.  That’s probably how South Carolina Republicans nominated a sex offender as the Democrat’s Senatorial candidate in 2010.

Judge Haynes ruled that forbidding “minor parties” from using the words “Independent” and “Nonpartisan” (and the words “Democrat” and “Republican,” as well) in their names was an abridgement of free speech.  (The law banning those words was passed after George Wallace’s “American Independent Party” became the only “minor party” that ever succeeded in jumping through all the hoops of Tennessee’s ballot access process.)  OK, if anybody out there has been yearning to launch a branch of the worldwide “Social Democratic Party” or a Tennessee affiliate of Texas’s Conservative Republican Party, you are now free to do so.

Haynes ruled that forcing minor party candidates to file ballot petitions 119 days before the August primary was “an “undue burden,” and that leaving the details of the petition up to the Commissioner of Elections was “Unconstitutionally vague.”  “Any deadline for filing petitions for recognition as a minor party of more than 60 days before the August primary is unenforceable.”

He ruled that “order of placement of political parties candidates’ names on the ballot shall be determined by a “public random drawing.”

“Defendants must revise the ‘Nomination Petition’ to delete the reference that the signatory is a member of the party.  Included in a citizen’s First Amendment right to vote is the voter’s right to privacy of political affiliation, particularly for ties to a minor political party…..The Constitution protects against the compelled disclosure of political association and belief.  Such disclosures can seriously infringe on privacy of disclosure and belief guaranteed by the First Amendment.”  (again, that’s the Judge’s bold print.)

To sum it up, we won on all counts.  We freakin’ shut them out.  Damn, that feels good!

Could the state appeal this decision?  Given the irrational nature of so-called “conservative politics” here in Tennessee, and the state’s record of stonewalling in this long-running case,  it’s quite possible, although Alan, our lawyer, opined that Judge Haynes’ decision left little grounds for appeal.

What needs to happen next is that the legislature needs to enact a ballot access bill that will pass constitutional muster, unlike the bill they passed in response to our earlier court victory–the bill Judge Haynes just ruled on.  As it happens, such a bill was actually introduced last year, and it’s a real “truth in strange places” moment–Sen. Stacey Campfield, who is notorious in some quarters for his idiosyncrasies, came up with S.B. 617, which required minor parties to gather 2,500 signatures to get their party name on the ballot, and allowed minor parties to nominate by convention rather than by primary.  S.B. 617 was passed over in favor of more restrictive–Unconstitutionally  over-restrictive–legislation.   I would like to think that the fact that the right thing was proposed by a Tennessee Republican, and not by a member of the Socialist Party of Tennessee–excuse me, I mean the Democrats–bodes well for its re-introduction and passage.  It’s too late to submit new bills for the 2012 legislative session, but that gives us plenty of time to start lobbying our state legislators for statutory as well as judicial relief in this matter.  I’ve already started the conversation with my guy, Gary Moore.  Look in the “comments” section of the blog for the letter I wrote him, and feel free to adapt it for your own situation.

Accompanying this, to avoid the “spoiler effect” that multiple parties can have on elections, I also proposed to Rep. Moore that the state institute Instant Runoff Voting in any election that has more than two candidates competing for a single office.  Under Instant Runoff Voting, voters indicate their second choice as well as their first.  If no candidate receives more than half the votes, the second choices of those who voted for the lowest-ranking candidate are factored in, and so on, until somebody ends up with a clear majority.  This is being done in several municipalities in the U.S., and at national levels in India, Ireland, and Australia, so we know it’s practical.  This is not just for the benefit of the Greens, Constitutional Party, and Libertarians (who were not in on this suit but should certainly be affected by it),  this is a way for the Democrats and Republicans to protect their own asses.  I hope they see it that way.

And then, there’s the issue of how our votes are counted–an extremely iffy question on the easily hackable, unverifiable, unrecountable computerized machines that Republican and Democrat election commissioners alike have insisted on using in Tennessee.  Just why did the Republicans ask for a two-year delay in implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, and then start working to repeal it as soon as those machines gave the Republicans their first majority in the state since Reconstruction?  (That’s the late 1860’s—a hundred and fifty years ago).  I will be presenting an in-depth review of the multiple scandals of computerized voting soon, probably next month.   Meanwhile, Bernie Ellis and friends are reviving Gathering to Save Our Democracy, the transpartisan group that almost got Tennessee to adopt verifiable voting in 2008.  In order to ensure that we are not used by hackers as a dumping spot for just enough votes to defeat Democrats, we Greens need to do everything we can to guarantee ballot integrity and accurate vote counts in Tennessee elections.

So, with this victory under our belts, we, The Green Party of Tennessee, will be gathering for our annual meeting in Knoxville on Saturday, March 24th, at Barley‘s Taproom and Pizzeria.   The buffet will open around noon; there’s no charge for the meeting, but the buffet is reasonably priced., and you don’t have to buy a buffet ticket to attend the meeting.  We will be approving candidates to run for local, Tennessee, and federal offices, so if you’d like to run for office with “Green” as your party affiliation, you will want to be there, even if you don’t like pizza.  (I like pizza, but have little use for a taproom.  I’m already about as uninhibited, uncoordinated, unintelligent, and socially inept as most of my friends can handle when I’m dead sober.)

But, I digress.  Please do come to Knoxville on March 24th–and let us know you’re coming–we don’t want to unexpectedly mob Barley’s,  not to be confused with a surprise appearance by Bob Marley–which, short of a miracle, will not take place.  Nothin’s gonna bring him back….but I digress again.   Don’t want to start any wild rumors.   It’s 2012, and it’s up to us to be the rock stars, the people we have been waiting for.  UT Knoxville is known to football fans as “Big Orange. ”  We’re “Big Green, and we just beat State–and this is only the beginning.

music:  Pointer SIsters “Yes We Can Can”





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





HOMEGROWN KAFKA

7 04 2007

If you want to gauge how far out of kilter our country’s legal system has gotten, consider my friend Bernie, who was busted for growing marijuana to give to people with medical needs. The feds tried to put him away for a five year mandatory minimum, but for reasons I will go into shortly Bernie pulled eighteen months in a halfway house (which my informants tell me is actually tougher than jail) and two and a half years of “supervised release,” plus the federal government wants to effectively fine him a million dollars by confiscating the farm where Bernie has lived for the last forty years. And, they have appealed his parole and are asking that he be given even more than five years. Please notice it’s the feds doing this. If Bernie’s case had stayed at the state level, he would have been dealing with two years of probation and an eight thousand dollar fine, and would not be faced with losing his home. Those are the broad outlines. The more I ponder the details, the more I have to mourn what a Kafkaesque mockery “justice” has become in this country.

OK, here’s some homegrown Kafka for you. First, the complaint. The person who turned Bernie’s name over to the drug task force was was allegedly disgruntled because Bernie wouldn’t sell him any marijuana for recreational use. A certain form of popular justice did catch up with this guy, though, as he finally had to leave the area due to the negative force of popular opinion as word of his role in Bernie’s bust got out. I can only hope a similar fate awaits the rest of Bernie’s persecutors, I mean prosecutors, but so far it hasn’t caught up with them.

Irony of ironies: at the time the helicopters, ORV’s, and SUV’s descended on Bernie’s farm, he was in the final stages of preparing a report for the State of New Mexico on how to implement a medical marijuana program—a medical marijuana program that has just been passed, as written by Bernie, and signed into law by presidential contender and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Way to go Bill! I mean, I love Dennis Kucinich’s ideals and his willingness to tilt at windmills but Bill Richardson actually got something done about this crazy kink in America’s consciousness.

And here’s the interesting wrinkle in Bernie and Bill’s excellent plan to provide medical marijuana: it will be grown by the State of New Mexico, not by individuals. Now, I think everybody should have the right to grow their own, BUT—in this confrontational day and age, in which the feds have been busting individual growers and private dispensaries right and left in California, New Mexico is setting up a system where the feds will be up against—not individuals, but the State of New Mexico. What a scenario: the feds trying to bust a New Mexico State grow room while the New Mexico State Police deploy to defend the marijuana growing facility…. but, I digress.

So, the state heat came down and busted Bernie, hauling away his plants and his computer (including his draft of the aforementioned New Mexico Marijuana Law). Always back up your work outside your computer, folks! The next thing that happened was…nothing. For three months, nothing. And then, although it had been a state raid, Bernie found himself facing federal charges, allegedly due to the amount of marijuana involved, even though that amount was grossly exaggerated—like, they counted the dirtballs around the roots, not to mention the stalks, as part of the weight, which even violates their guidelines.

At this point, the plea bargaining began. Do you know about plea bargaining? It’s pretty diabolic. The feds figure out everything they could possibly charge you with, which, in most people’s cases, is quite a lot. You have no idea how complex our web of laws is until you become entangled in it. In most of the cases of which I am aware, friends of mine began by facing decades in jail on open-and-shut cases. (The thing about being a prisoner of conscience is, the law does not recognize your conscience in any kind of positive way. You’re lucky we’ve gotten past burning people at the stake.) The upshot of plea bargaining is, you give them some piece of your soul and they drop most of the charges, and a jury never hears the case.

So, the bargaining began. Bernie’s lawyer was adept, and managed to nail down one controversy by getting the evidence reweighed—and discovering that the actual amount was one-quarter of what Bernie had originally been charged with—and that STILL included the freakin’ rootballs, fer cryin out loud! In fact, the usable amount of herb that Bernie was busted for growing came to seven pounds—about as much as the feds legally provide to each one of the five people who are legally getting medical marijuana from the U.S. government. (The original charges against him claimed that the confiscated plants weighed a total of one hundred and forty pounds.) Things were looking good for our boys—Bernie would only have to deal with probation and he’d get to keep his farm—but, when he and his lawyer showed up to sign the agreement they thought they had made with the feds, they had a big, ugly surprise—the feds had gone back to demanding a five year minimum and confiscation of Bernie’s farm. Problem was, thinking he knew what he was agreeing to, Bernie had already entered a guilty plea, and the court denied his petition to revoke that plea, even though the feds had lied to Bernie about what they were going to ask him to plead guilty to. And—the judge set Bernie’s sentencing hearing only two days after that decision, effectively denying him the chance to appeal. How’s that for Kafka?

Fortunately, Bernie drew a sympathetic judge, who allowed sixty character witnesses and medical marijuana testimony and ultimately reduced Bernie’s sentence below the five year mandatory minimum. But yeah, the feds have court action going to get Bernie behind bars, and they’re angling to confiscate his farm. For marijuana he had been demonstrably giving away for years. The guy was a consultant with a six-figure income. He was most emphatically not in it for the money. And if this had been a state case, as many cases of this size are, Bernie would have drawn two years probation and an eight thousand dollar fine. Kafka enough for you?

I am beginning to suspect that this is not some random case of prosecutorial insanity. As I mull over Bernie’s story, especially in light of the current controversy over politicization of the US attorney system and direction of it from the executive branch for the purpose of punishing political enemies of the administration, I connect certain dots and suspect I am seeing Karl Rove’s pasty finger pushing its way up my poor friend Bernie’s ass. I mean, if these people outed Valerie Plame, America’s number one anti-WMD undercover agent, why wouldn’t they go after a vocal, credentialed proponent of medical marijuana like Bernie? This is not the first time he has come to their attention, after all. On one page in the save Bernie’s farm website, he admits that, when he helped win the first big tobacco case against RJ Reynolds in 1984, “Reynolds thugs torched a car in my driveway to send me a message.”

Consider that some of what the junta stands accused of in the prosecutorial meddling affair is dropping the fine against the tobacco industry (of which R.J. Reynolds is, of course, a major part) from a hundred and thirty billion dollars to ten billion dollars, and that the politically appointed Justice Department official who directed this had for many years been a lawyer in a firm that worked for—R.J. Reynolds, a major contributor to the Bush campaign. Kafka, anyone?

I got pretty excited to learn that the current US attorney for middle Tennessee, Craig Morford, who is pressing the appeal of Bernie’s sentence, is one of those interim, without-Congressional-oversight Bush loyalist appointees that constitute another wing of the current Justice Department scandal, but actually it was his predecessor, Jim Vines, who worked most of the flimflam on my friend Bernie. Jim left the job highly praised by the DEA, and has not gone public about the “real” reasons for his departure, but it is worth noting in his favor that he was responsible for prosecuting bribery scandals in the (Republican) Sundquist administration. On the other hand, he was part of the Tennessee Waltz sting, which was so blatantly aimed at discrediting Democrats that the only Republican snared in it was not charged . So would he have prosecuted Bernie on orders from the Justice Department, R.J. Reynolds, or the White House? We may never know, but…

I have often commented that the marijuana laws are in place largely to curb dissent in this country. I think I have just made my case.

In closing, our Truth in Strange Places Award goes once again to freshman Senator James Webb, who recently gave the following response to a question about whether he would accept the position of Vice President on the Democratic ticket:

“I am still finding my way around the Senate and I’m having a really good time in the Senate. We’ve — this is a chance to put a lot of issues on the table. One of the issues which never comes up in campaigns but it’s an issue that’s tearing this country apart is this whole notion of our criminal justice system, how many people are in our criminal justice system .. — I think we have two million people incarcerated in this country right now and that’s an issue that’s going to take two or three years to try to get to the bottom of and that’s where I want to put my energy.”

Senator Webb, I’d like you to meet my friend Bernie….

music: REM, “Welcome to the Occupation








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