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)





A KICK IN THE BALLS

13 09 2008

On June 16, 2001, in the palmy days before 9/11, George Bush famously said of Vladimir Putin,

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialog. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

On August 8, 2008, the man George Bush said he trusted gave George Bush, and the entire US government, a straightforward and much-deserved kick in the balls, as he sent his army rolling into Georgia, on the pretext of “protecting the rights” of the inhabitants of the tiny country of South Ossetia, most of whom would rather be Russian than Georgian.  Oh, and this move also placed Russian troops close to two of the three pipelines that cross Georgia.  That’s what the kick in the balls was about.

Well, Bush got it right about Putin’s commitment to the best interests of Russia, anyway.  Russia under Putin has repeatedly flexed its muscles and moved to return to a place on the world stage similar to the role played by the Soviet Union–a counterbalance to US hegemony.  One of the techniques they have used has been to manipulate other countries with Russian oil and gas, which largely supply Western Europe.  To work around this, the US and a number of other countries and oil companies (some oil companies are about the size of a country, y’know?) have built three oil pipelines across Azerbaijan and Georgia, to move fuel from central Asia to the west without passing through Russian territory.  Putin, by his moves into Georgia, gave notice that they were not far enough from Russia to make any difference.

In discussions prior to the conflict, Putin told Georgian prime minister Saakashvili that he could take NATO’s promises of support and stick them up his ass.  His assessment was correct; when push came to shove, the US and the EU were impotent to stop the Russians. Georgia’s entrance into NATO, which the US has been urging on the reluctant Europeans, is on hold for now, because NATO is a mutual defense pact, among other things, and NATO members were treated to the sobering realization that bringing Georgia into the fold could result in going to war with Russia, something nobody except maybe Dick Cheney is willing to countenance.

Now, obviously, I don’t think the Russians are the good guys in this high-stakes poker game.  There are no good guys in this game.  Based on the kind of saber-rattling he’s been doing, and the fact that Zbigniew Brezinski is one of  his chief foreign policy advisers, Obama’s election will not introduce a good guy into the game, nor will John McCain.  Both are pandering to the worst instincts of the US public by trying to out tough-guy each other.

Obama is being just as disingenuous as Bush and McCain, talking about the need to support the Georgians without mentioning supporting the people of South Ossetia or Abkazia, without mentioning that the Georgians were the aggressors–and certainly not mentioning oil pipelines or Kazakhstan, the source of the oil and gas that the west wants to siphon out without involving Russia.  Kazakhstan is a brutal one-party state.  The last opposition candidate for prime minister was murdered, and nobody has gone to trial for it.  But, because of the country’s vast petroleum and uranium reserves, and because of our societal addiction to these substances, western leaders from Bill Clinton to Angela Merkel to both Bushes have gritted their teeth and praised Kazakhstan’s “democracy,” honoring its president with awards and audiences, when in fact he is every bit as brutal a tyrant as Saddam Hussein. If Saddam deserved the treatment he got, then Nursultan Nazarbayev should have been hanging right beside him…but Nazarbyev, unlike Saddam and small-time players like Panama’s Noriega, has not yet committed the capital sin of opposing US hegemony.  (Just in case you forgot, Saddam was about to start asking for Euros instead of dollars when he sold oil, and Noriega was hooking up with Fidel.)  Nazarbayev is, however,  playing up the possibility of deals with his neighbor Russia in order to gain bargaining leverage with western governments and oil companies–but, again, nobody in their right mind wants to go to war with Russia over Kazakhstan–or anything else, for that matter. We can threaten smaller countries like Iran and Libya and North Korea, but we gonna be very diplomatic with the Russians, yes, sir.

Not that we won’t try and screw the Russians, in our very diplomatic way.  The big oil companies have been wary of Russia since they nationalized their oil industry, and the US government has shaped its mideast and central Asian policies to help these private corporations.   The invasion of Iraq (and consequent cancellation of Saddam’s oil contracts with Russia), our chummy relationship with the despotic governments of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, construction of the pipelines that circumvent Russia, and arming and training the Georgian military, all have been done for the benefit of big oil.

But Putin’s kick in the balls showed the world what an illusion US power really is.  Our country accounts for over half of the world’s military spending, and it gets us–zilch.  It takes us six years to begin to pin down one little country like Iraq, meanwhile chewing up a major portion of our troops and military hardware, and when Putin kicks us in the balls, we blink and sputter and do nothing, because there’s nothing we can do.  What, are we going to go to war with Russia?  Hey, if Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires,” Russia is their black hole.  Napoleon, Hitler…you get the picture.  Only Dick Cheney–or maybe John McCain–is crazy enough to issue those kind of orders, but it was crazy to undertake a strategy based on brinksmanship in the first place.

What would a saner policy look like?

A saner policy would recognize the ultimate impotence of military power, and the ultimate futility of trying to secure oil supplies in faraway countries.  It would dismantle the US military, and redirect all that misused energy into building real global security by helping everyone get involved with their neighbors in regional mutual support networks of farms, local manufacturing, and energy production, promoting sustainability and interdependence, and recognizing the validity of small, local cultures such as Abkahzia, Ossetia, Georgia, and, yes Mr. Putin, Chechnya, too.  That’s the real route to global security.  Along with greater security, we need to spread education about birth control and population reduction, because, while it is barely possible to graciously support the number of people currently alive on the planet, it will become impossible if the number grows, and easier if the number of humans actually starts to shrink.

Meanwhile, the US has sent a naval squadron to Georgia, and the Russians have responded by conducting joint military exercises with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean.  Both of these moves are inexcusable wastes of fuel, material, and manpower.  We have only a limited amount of time left in which we will be able to maneuver, and every move needs to defuse tension and increase sustainability.  Neither Russian nor American policy in the Caucasus reflects this awareness, and if this ignorance continues, everybody will lose.

music:  James McMurtry, “God Bless America”





SHAFTED IN THE SHADOWS

13 09 2005

Something is rotten in the state of Georgia. The state legislature recently passed a highly restrictive voter registration act, in an atmosphere so polarized that the legislative black caucus walked out in protest. Since Georgia is still on probation, in a manner of speaking, for its discriminatory policies in the past, an appeal was made to the federal government, which has the authority under the voting rights act to strike down laws deemed too restrictive. Alberto Gonzalez and his so-called Justice Department declined to do so, although during the Clinton years, the Justice Department had struck down less restrictive laws in other states.

What this law does, is mandate that voters have one of five forms of photo ID in order to vote. While one of these forms is a driver’s license, many poor people, as we just discovered in New Orleans, don’t own cars, and so have to get a special ID issued at one of only 56 centers in the state. There is no such center, for example, in the City of Atlanta proper, only in the wealthy, mostly white suburbs around it.

Defenders of the Georgia rule have pointed out that Mexico, a third world country, requires a photo ID to vote, but they are ignoring the fact that Mexico makes it much easier to get a photo ID. They are also ignoring how well known it is that photo IDs have not made Mexican elections any more honest—although the bill’s proponents were forced to admit that there was no reason to believe that Georgia elections are NOT honest because they don’t have stringent ID requirements.

On the other hand, any bunch of voters dumb enough to believe a chicken hawk who impugns Max Cleland’s patriotism probably don’t give a hoot about the details. They just want to keep the nigras from voting and taking over.

A case in point is Brunswick, Georgia, where former Black Panther Chairwoman Elaine Brown is running for mayor on the Green Party ticket. A lot is at stake. The city is a seaport, with a lot of money coming in, or at least going through, especially now that the Port of New Orleans is shut down for the immediate future, and, like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Ms. Brown would like to see more of that money go to help people who need help, rather than accrue in the bank accounts of the already wealthy, as it tends to do in this country.

Furthermore, the white folks who run Brunswick (Ms. Brown’s opponent is a member of the Sons of the Confederacy—I didn’t know such foolishness still existed), have concocted an Urban Removal, excuse me, Renewal project that will gentrify the poor, predominantly black part of town, using the kind of power of eminent domain the Supreme Court recently approved, in the name of improving the business climate—and disrupting the possibility of a black political power base in the town.

The County Commission in Glynn County, where Brunswick is located, is predominantly white and what we call conservative in this country, though they are not interested in conserving the things I think need to be conserved—but I digress. They have decided to have a special election to try and pass new taxes on the same day as the mayoral election, but guess what—county election polling places are not in the same locations as city election polling places, so people will have to go to two different places to vote. Divide and conquer, eh?

Ms. Brown has called for freedom rides and other forms of massive public protest over the way her candidacy is being jacked around by the power structure. I’m unable to break loose from what I’m doing to go help out, and I’m not sure how much concrete response her request has generated, but I know a shaft when I see one, and she and all the poor, black people in Georgia are getting it.

Comments

Today is the day after the election and the PEOPLE of Brunswick, GA have spoken. After months of words, campaigning, legal actions, court room drama, death threats, marches in the streets, heated exchanges, 5 day 24 hour candle prayer vigil and yes even violence; the citizens of the City Of Brunswick finally got the chance to voice their opinion and their feelings toward Elaine Brown by exercising their right to vote and loudly saying NO to Elaine Brown as Mayor of Brunswick. After the polls closed and the votes were counted, Bryan Thompson won the Mayoral seat with 63.84%. Otis Herrington, the only other black Mayoral Candidate besides Elaine Brown received 17.15% of the votes. Out of the over 16,000 residents that live in the City Of Brunswick, Elaine Brown received almost 1.5%. What that tells me is 98.5% of the residents said NO to Elaine Brown as their Mayor. Elaine Brown has already told the press that she will contest the election. To me, when Elaine Brown continues to claim she is the People’s Mayor, maybe one day she will realize that 98.5% of the people spoke, NO SHOUTED, that they do not want her as their Mayor. But Elaine Brown does have a right to continue filing complaint after complaint in court and by the looks of things this legal battle may go on for months if not years.
Posted by Brunswick Voter on 11/09/2005 09:27:18 PM

Response:  Somehow, this note slipped past my attention back when I made the post, but let’s look at the numbers and what they mean.  Sure, Confederate Party candidate Brian Thompson received 64% of the 1900 votes that were cast,  which means he is governing the town with the overt approval of more or less 1200 citizens of Brunswick.

However, there are over 15,000 people living in Brunswick, an estimated 70% of them old enough to vote.  That’s a voter pool of around 10,000 people, so Thompson’s 1200 votes hardly mean that “98.5% of the residents said NO to Elaine Brown.”  This vote means that about 12% of the (potential) voters said no to Elaine Brown.

Now, in a city that’s 60% black, howcome so many people of colour didn’t vote when not one, but two of their own were running?  Elaine Brown’s name had been removed from the ballot and the story is that poll officials were not being helpful about write in votes.

Notice that the larger part of this story is Georgia’s efforts to restrict minority voting, approval of which has since been proven to be political chicanery on the part of the Justice Department.  That’s what the US Attorney firing scandal was about.  Moreover, “Plan Brunswick” appears to be similar to the unannounced “plan New Orleans” which has cut down on the black majority in that city.

So, “Brunswick Voter” has cherry-picked the facts to make his case.  Hey, the town’s gonna be under water in the blink of a geological eye, anyway.  Let the honkies stay there and get soaked.

On the other hand, Elaine Brown has recently quit the Green Party amidst a cloud of charges and countercharges that I can’t judge.  Like Cynthia McKinney, a person Ms. Brown does not like, she is accused of being excessively combative and thin skinned.  She says her detractors are racist and sexist, although how that  fits in with their support for Ms. McKinney is a bit fuzzy to me.  I expect it will all be clearer in a few years….








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