CONTROL ISSUES

15 04 2018

There are a number of seemingly disparate issues affecting the country these days. When I examine their roots, and the way our society is attempting to deal with them, I see that they actually have a lot in common, and that the commonly accepted responses to them are failing to have their hoped-for effects, for a common reason. Likewise, the optimum solutions to all these very real concerns, while individualized according to the particular manifestation they treat, all spring from a common root. I am going to describe these problems, the conventional-wisdom solutions to them, look at the unintended consequences that these solutions engender, and, as best I can, suggest a Green,  radical–literally “to the root”– solution to them.

GUNS AND PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Gun violence has been a hot-button heart breaker for far too long. The natural, and obvious, response is to make it more difficult to obtain firearms, or at least, as comedian Chris Rock has suggested, to make the price of ammunition prohibitive. Five-thousand-dollar bullets would certainly rearrange a lot of people’s priorities. Hey, the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms–it doesn’t say anything about ammunition! I have no problem with making  high-tech rock throwers, or the rocks they throw,which have no other purpose than to harm or kill other beings, a lot more difficult to obtain.

But, in spite of the tremendous hue and cry about this devastating fact of American life, legislatures, especially Republican-dominated ones, remain deaf to the appeals of the growing clamor for gun control. Read the rest of this entry »





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)





ON, WISCONSIN!

13 03 2011

Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya….who could imagine they would freak out in Wisconsin?

Actually, Wisconsin is one of the more likely powder kegs in the US , a state with a traditionally progressive voter base (the birthplace of the Progressive Party, after all!) that woke up after the last election to discover it had been taken over by Tea Partiers.   Sure, there are states with a more radical tinge to them, like California and Vermont, but both of those states rejected the Republican invitation to self-immolation.

Tea Party governor Scott Walker’s budget proposals, likely to pass in the state’s now-Tea Party dominated legislature, represented a giant step backwards for many of the state’s residents.   As Hannah Arendt observed in her classic book On Revolution, revolutions tend to occur not when the poor are oppressed to the breaking point, but when the middle class, which had something, senses that it is losing its privileges.

Walker’s credibility was tarnished when he got “punked,” as they say these days, into believing that he was conversing with David Koch, when he was actually talking to Ian Murphy, a blogger from Buffalo, New York.  The “confidential” twenty-minute conversation revealed that Walker planned to use layoffs of state workers as a tool to push for getting his way, and also captured him agreeing to quid quo pro arrangements with “David Koch.” Both are illegal under Wisconsin ethics laws–but the state Attorney General is a Republican, so don’t hold your breath.

Since conservative pranksters had been responsible for at least two well-publicized media stunts–the “how do we start a whorehouse?” ACORN video and the spurious trashing of Shirley Sherrod, Republicans could hardly complain about it when one of their own got fooled.  Unlike Republican efforts, Murphy didn’t  have to edit their conversation in order for Walker to make a fool of himself. While Walker  claimed that the tape didn’t reveal anything he hadn’t said in public, it did.  Beyond the potential ethics violations, Walker fantasized about “taking a baseball bat” to his political opponents.  A Deputy Attorney General in Indiana who suggested using live ammunition against the protesters in Wisconsin was fired; why should it be any different for a governor who threatens violence against peaceful demonstrators?

This just in: the same so-called “conservative” who trashed ACORN recorded NPR exec Ron Schiller saying that

public opinion is driven by “this very large uneducated part of the population.”

and

“(Tea Partiers). believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting.   I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

All of that’s true enough, but apparently telling the truth is enough to get you in trouble these days.  People don’t want to hear the truth.  It’s too hard on their precious, threatened egos and lifestyles.  Republicans hope to use this to cut NPR and PBS out of the federal budget, which will save each of us $1.43 a year.  Don’t let the prospect of so much additional wealth go to your head!  Defense spending, meanwhile, is costing each of us  $3,000 a year, but that’s sacrosanct. As so often happens, I digress….there are a million stories on the Naked Planet.

The day-to-day drama of this struggle is fascinating, but let’s take a few steps back from the crowd and get a feel for the big picture.

Much has already been made in the media of the connection between organized labor’s support of the Democratic Party and Republican efforts to destroy union power as a way to undercut the Democrats.   Plenty of commentators have also pointed out that unions have shifted over the last several decades from a blue-collar to a more white-collar demographic.  I would like to take this one step further.  The Republican propaganda machine is whipping up public sentiment against teachers and state employees because they still enjoy the lifestyle and perks that many Americans have lost as the country has been  de-industrialized (and de-unionized) over the last several decades.  In other words, the party of “Christian values” is promoting anger, greed, and envy to bring down the last remaining bastion of middle-class America.  Nice work, guys.  I’m sure Jesus would be proud of you.

At the same time, right-wingers have been horrified by any suggestions, such as Michael Moore‘s, that there might be something wrong with the fact that the wealthiest 40 Americans have more resources at their disposal than the bottom fifty percent.  Yeah, that’s forty people (OK, plus their families) put together who are wealthier than a hundred and fifty-five million of us .  From the Tea Party perspective, it’s class warfare to point that out, but somehow it’s not class warfare when conservatives work to destroy public health care for those who can’t otherwise afford it, unions, community organizations like ACORN, or public service organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Can you say “doublethink,” boys and girls?  Ever wonder how a scenario like Orwell’s 1984 could possibly come to pass?  We may be living it, if things don’t fall apart first.

While I would be the first to admit that middle-class American expectations are, considered on a global scale, immoderately luxurious, it is simply not fair for the wealthy to insist that the middle class take a hit so that the upper class can continue its even more immoderately luxurious lifestyle.  All of us here in America need to come down a few pegs. As with climate change, the problem will not go away if the Tea Partiers succeed in muting the nation’s conscience.  It will return to haunt us again and again, more and more forcefully.

“You can have my money and my guns when you rip them from my cold, dead fingers.”  That’s the deal you want?  That’s the deal you’ll get.

And where has Obama been during all this?  If he were really a socialist firebrand, as the right-wing media love to assert, he would have been in Madison, addressing the rally and reclaiming the base that elected him in 2008.  But no, Obama was nowhere near Madison.  His staff instructed the Democratic National Committee to back off efforts to support the Madison demonstrators, wile he offered tepid words of encouragement, similar to his pronouncements on the revolution in Egypt and the ongoing revolt in Libya, similar to the way Bush I encouraged the Iraqis  to revolt against Saddam and then did nothing while Saddam slaughtered them.  No, Obama’s allegiance is not to the people, his allegiance is to them that bought him.

It’s not clear to me where this movement is going, but I see a couple of  possibilities.

If the protesters’ energy ebbs and the anti-populists, the Republican Tea Partiers, prevail, America will slip further into being a two-tier society.  We will be less organized, less flexible, less able to meet the challenges that will shake us harder and harder as time goes on.

If the protesters prevail, then they will, to a certain extent, be in the position of the dog that chased cars and actually caught one.  There will be plenty of difficult decisions to make, and no “other” to blame for poor outcomes and unintended consequences.   Reinstating the business taxes that Governor Walker abolished in order to create his “fiscal crisis” justification for ending collective bargaining, will, in all likelihood, discourage business, if only because Republican business owners will get mad and find ways to avoid paying taxes.  Freedom to keep all the money you make is, after all, at the head of the list of Tea Party freedoms, right up there with the freedom to ignore compassion, facts, and logic in the interests of having things your way.

So, I certainly stand with the Wisconsin protesters to the extent that I don’t want to see the wealthy win this battle in the class war.  But I can’t, in all honesty, join them in “defending the American dream.”  The American dream is built on the backs of millions of people in the third world who cannot have a decent life because we need their poverty to support our wealth.  We need to wake up from the American dream, but we need to all wake up from it.  The majority of Americans should not be made to suffer more so that the wealthiest one percent can keep on dreaming.  It’s time to share the pain.

Music:  James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore








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