THE DEMOCRATS ARE THE NEW REPUBLICANS…CAN THE GREENS BECOME “THE NEW DEMOCRATS”?

11 09 2016

Today’s date, September 11th, is, to borrow President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words, “a day that will live in infamy.” On this date in 1973, Salvador Allende, the Bernie Sanders of Chile, salvadorallende_251who, unlike Bernie, had succeeded in become his country’s President, was killed in a military coup that had the full backing of the United States and especially our then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. The Chilean military, with the assistance of the United States, didn’t just take out Allende. They jailed, tortured, and murdered thousands of Chileans, and forced tens of thousands more into exile. The US then used Chile as a base for “Operation Condor,” which orchestrated the murder of thousands of mostly non-violent left-wing activists all over South America, most notoriously in Argentina, where “the dirty war” killed at least thirty thousand people. That’s a US government program, directly approved by Henry Kissinger, that targeted people like me and, probably, people like you. So, when I think about Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly declared her admiration for Henry Kissinger, being President, when I notice the approbation with which her followers greet any mention of her faults or approval of the Green Party, when I read that a Clinton-supporting PAC has budgeted a million dollars to pay Clinton supporters to harass Sanders supporters and Greens on the internet, I start feeling a little nervous, and since today is the anniversary of the Chilean Bernie Sanders being murdered by Hillary Clinton’s inspiration, this becomes a more emotionally charged anniversary than it would be if a protegée of Henry Kissinger were not so likely to be our next President. Donald Trump is dangerous because he doesn’t really seem to have a plan.

readyforoligarchy

Do not think about a Green Party!

Ms. Clinton, on the other hand, is dangerous because she does seem to have a plan–and it’s not one she’s sharing with the general public. With a horde of pundits and bloggers ready and willing to bend the truth to discredit any criticism of her, not to mention discrediting the critics themselves, I start wondering if we have a “Ministry of Truth” in our future.

 

Oh yeah, it’s also the fifteenth anniversary of the day a bunch of Saudis apparently hijacked several US airliners and flew them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, killing a mere three thousand people. OK, it was three thousand all at once, not one by one, but…. Anyway, because the Saudis did that, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. If that makes sense to you, then you can accept the World Trade Center story exactly as the mainstream media portray it. It doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t accept the story, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. The Allende-Kissinger story is much more apropos. Read the rest of this entry »





A DEEP GREEN PERSPECTIVE ON BERNIE SANDERS

11 07 2015
sanderswoodcut
Not since the halcyon days when Rev. Martin Luther King broadened his perspective from civil rights for African-Americans to human rights for everybody, and called for an end to poverty, oppression, and warfare, has there been such thunder on the left.  Bernie Sanders has come out swinging, not just as a populist, but as a socialist, and he has tapped into a vein of enthusiasm that just might propel him into the Democratic Party nomination for President, and from there into the White House.
Bernie Sanders’ career has, over the years, built a solid foundation for such an attempt.  As a college student he worked with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi, and he spent time on a kibbutz in Israel before moving to Vermont and getting into politics with the Liberty Union Party. He was a frequent losing candidate throughout the 70’s, and ultimately left the LUP.  Then, in 1981, friends urged him to run for mayor of Burlington, his home and the largest city in Vermont. Sanders ran as an independent and a socialist, won by ten votes, and went on to serve four terms, beating Republicans, Democrats, and Republican-Democratic fusion candidates.  Sanders’ tenure as mayor, according to Peter Dreier and Pierre Clavel, writing in The Nation, produced the following results:
… the city’s largest housing development is now resident-owned, its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative, one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Its publicly owned utility, the Burlington Electric Department, recently announced that Burlington is the first American city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.
 
The city has largely continued in the direction Sanders set it in, with protégés of his winning election most of the time since his retirement as mayor in 1989.  The changes that Sanders made in Burlington have remained because they are so popular with so many people, independents, Democrats, Republicans, and socialists alike.  In 1990, again running as an independent, he won Vermont’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  One of his first acts as a Congressman was to establish the “Progressive Caucus.” However, his role since arriving on the national scene has more as a conscience than as a get-it-done legislator.  He has introduced what would be landmark legislation if it went anywhere, but, between hostile Republicans and indifferent Democrats, only one bill, and some floor amendments, have Sanders’ name on them. The bill was a largely procedural one allowing Vermont and New Hampshire to co-operate on taking care of the Connecticut River.

Read the rest of this entry »





IT’S THE OIL, STUPID!

16 04 2011

Once upon a time, I thought Moammar Qadhafi was cool, a twentieth century Barbary pirate who gleefully steered an independent course, used his country’s oil money to benefit the Libyan people, and thumbed his nose at Moscow and Washington alike.  I soured on him a long time ago, though, as it became apparent that he was pocketing most of the oil money himself, and his regime was blowing up airliners and assassinating exiled Libyan dissidents.  His visit to Rome in February was little short of bizarre, as he suggested that Europeans should convert en masse to Islam, abolish all political parties, and that the etymology of the word “democracy” had to do with people sitting on chairs, not to mention quotes like these:

I am not a dictator to close facebook… But I will be arresting anyone who enters it!

Demonstrate all you want, but do not go to the streets and squares!!

So, I was thrilled when a revolt broke out in Libya that seemed to have the strength to kick his crazy ass out of the country.  I mean, the guy reminds me of Michael Jackson–way cool in the eighties, nuts in the twenty-first century.  But Qadhafi, while he may be as crazy as Michael Jackson, is a lot less musically talented and a lot more dangerous.  It became obvious that he was going to use every means at his disposal to destroy the rebellion, and he definitely had the resources to do it:  modern weaponry, 6.5 billion dollars worth of gold to buy supplies, and a porous southern border with sub-Saharan Africa, a region where money talks and anything goes.  It looked like ol’ Qadhafi Duck was gonna crush the rebellion and give any rebels who survived reason to envy the dead.  But then, but then–instead of hanging these rebels out to dry, as the West has almost invariably done, NATO came to their aid.  Wow!   The empire was doing the right thing for a change!

So why, I wondered, were Cindy Sheehan and the Green Party and a lot of my usual cohorts going ape about this?  Did they actually support Qadhafi?  Did they know something I didn’t?

It didn’t take long for the truth to come out.  First came the disclosure that there had been a quid pro quo to gain Arab support for the intervention:   the U.S. agreed not to squawk about suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain in exchange for co-operation.  It was fine with the Saudis–Qadhafi Duck has long been a loose cannon in the Middle East, and they would be happy to see him replaced with someone more tractable.  Second, I found out that Qadhafi had recently decided to start selling Libya’s oil to India and China, rather than the West.  As Saddam Hussein found out when he tried to ask for Euros instead of dollars for his oil, defections will not be tolerated.

Think of all the oppressive situations the Empire has ignored.  Repression in Iran, Syria, Turkish actions against the Kurds, the civil wars in Sudan and the Congo, the genocide in Rwanda, brutal regimes in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, the concentration camps known as North Korea and Burma, China’s crushing of Tibet and Tiananmen Square, “dirty wars” in Chile and Argentina–the list goes on and on.  The US has tsk-tsked, turned a blind eye to, or actively assisted in the crushing of one popular revolt after another–but Libya–Libya we can, and will, do something about–and why?  It’s small enough to beat and rich enough to be worth taking.  This is not about freedom and democracy, it’s about greed and hypocrisy, about getting our people in there and taking over from the amateurs who started the revolt. I would like to see those amateurs succeed, but it’s not about freedom any more, it’s about their blood for our oil–again.

My bad, Ms. Sheehan.  You called it right.

The Clash:  “Rock the Casbah





AS IF THERE WILL BE NO DELUGE…

10 05 2009

A number of bits of local news and commentary have come to my attention lately:  Mayor Dean’s “State of the City” address, the report of the Green Ribbon Committee for a Sustainable Nashville, news that the “reform” of Tennessee’s waste management policies is not only a shambles but a sham, and the renewed push for construction of Maytown Center, along with the howls of misguided (or intentionally misleading) protest that accompanied my characterization of its neo-feudal potential last month.

Hizzoner the Mayor used his moment in the spotlight to push for a new Nashville Convention Center, a sort of “build it and they will come,” Hail Mary pass proposal that has been so thoroughly excoriated by the Nashville Scene that I hardly need to go into detail here, except to answer their “what are they smoking?” question with, “must be crack, ’cause any self-respecting pot smoker would see through this welfare-for-developers proposal in a minute.”  I would also add that anybody who thinks any kind of tourism is going to make a comeback is inhaling the wrong kind of smoke.  The only big influx that I see in Nashville’s, or America’s, future, is Chinese and various Middle Easterners coming to repossess whatever they can in consideration of America’s unrepayable debt to them.  The “T” in “T-bills” is gonna stand for “toilet paper,” boys and girls.  Can you say “Confederate money”?

And, speaking of smoking crack, I have to repeat and re-emphasize that anyone who thinks Maytown Center is going to be good for Nashville is still living in the delusionary world of the Bush era.  Growth is over.  If it is built, Maytown will either rapidly turn into a ghost town or suck the air out of the rest of the city and become a gated version of downtown, so the upper crust doesn’t have to cross paths with the homeless.

We would be much better off using the energy that the city’s movers and shakers are putting into these mirages to fast-track and expand some of the proposals in the Green Ribbon Committee’s report, which is at least well-intentioned, if woefully under-ambitious.  I feel bad about having to say that.  I know some of the people on the Committee, and I trust their good will. I went to one of their public meetings, and I think the document they have produced is radical and edgy–for 1975.  At this point, it is too little, too late.    Can we create a sustainable local economy that will support our current population?  Can we produce enough hoes and digging forks for everybody to turn up the ground it will take to keep ourselves in potatoes, let alone manufacture  our own shoes and clothing? Ain’t none of that happening here in Nashvegas any more, — how many weavers and cobblers are there in this town?  We sold our industrial capacity to the Chinese for a mess of profit, and we are about to find out that money is nothing but funny-looking paper once everybody agrees it’s worthless.

The landfill proposals that so outrage my friends at BURNT (Bring Urban Recycling to Nashville Today) are another head-shaker, another high-stakes poker game, played with a marked deck, in the tilting first-class lounge of the Titanic.  Of course, as James Howard Kunstler points out in World Made By Hand, all the recyclables we stick in landfills now are a kind of savings account that we will be able to mine in coming decades, when we will be out of natural resources and the ability to acquire them through commerce, and will have nothing better to do than dig up old city dumps, straighten bent nails, melt down and recast plastic and metal, and treasure the one or two chemists in our city who figure out how to make matches from local materials–because all those disposable lighters we take for granted are gonna be a thing of the past in the future, folks.  Do I have to remind you that you are going to have to cook with a wood fire, unless you’re lucky enough to have a solar cooker and a sunny day? And where will you be gathering your firewood?

Oh, and speaking of rigged poker games on the Titanic, our newly-Republican legislature is attempting to make sure that we don’t switch to optical-scan voting machines in time for the next election, presumably so they can rig it more easily, since they are doing such a patently bad job of running the state that they know they won’t be able to win an honest election…not that the Dims would be much better, it’s just a question of who controls what’s left of the state’s treasury.   Well, OK…the Dims would be doing nothing instead of forbidding local living wage laws, allowing people to carry guns everywhere and restricting abortion rights. “Respect for human life”? HELLO?

As all the various antics listed above indicate, either both parties are clueless about the scope of what we’re in for in this country, or they are figuring the best way to survive is to cut as many people out of the loop as possible.  If national politics are any guide, I would say the Repuglyicans are trying to cut as many of us out of the loop as they can (leaving more goodies for themselves), and the Dim-ocrats are simply clueless.  In this state, most seem to think the best strategy is to try and be as conservative as the Repugs, but since they lack the intense commitment to self-aggrandizement that characterizes so many Repugs, they end up coming across as clueless namby-pambys, which is one reason (besides ignorance and its bastard child, racism) they have been fluffing so many elections lately–like, it wasn’t just that Harold Ford is black, it’s that he’s barely to the left of Bob Corker. Not only is Harold no Jesse Jackson, he’s not even a Barack Obama.

Let me make something clear here–I  am as threatened as anyone by the future I foresee.  Western civilization as we know it needs to end for the planetary ecosystem (including humans) to continue, and I, an aging man with health problems, may not survive the change.  With that in mind, I want to make that transition as smooth as I can, so I am living as simply as I can, and supporting organizations that I believe will help cushion our descent, like our local bioregional council and the Tennessee Green Party.  As long as we have a functioning statewide political system (and I am not going to hazard a guess on how long that may be), we need to take advantage of it and use the framework of the Green Party to raise real issues:  local sustainability, resource conservation, universal access to health care, economic justice, and grass-roots democracy, to name the first few broad headings that come to mind.  There is SO much to do, and we’re  running the Green Party of Tennessee with a skeleton crew–so come on aboard, there’s plenty of room.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable





SARAH PALIN–BAD COP! JOE BIDEN–GOOD COP?

11 10 2008

I am getting really tired of hearing scary Sarah Palin stories.  I mean, of course she’s the wicked Christian witch of the north, of course she’s ignorant and simplistic and has a very limited worldview, and yes I think that makes her a very poor choice for a leadership position in this country, or even the state of Alaska or the town of Wasilla, where it took only 600 people out of the total population of 5,000 to make her mayor.

And, just as an aside, I’m not impressed by her ability to shoot a moose.  I have been around moose in Vermont, and, while you can’t walk up to them and pet them, they are not particularly shy of humans.  A friend of mine up there commented, long before Ms. Palin became a national figure,  that shooting a moose takes about as much hunting skill as shooting a parked car.   As for dressing a moose, I think that, if you’re going to eat meat, it’s only honest to know how to take it from live animal to what’s for dinner.  My wife can do that, with deer, anyway–we have no moose here in Tennessee–and she’d make a much better VPUS than Ms. Palin.  It is, as the New Agers say, a very grounding skill.  Maybe it should be one of the Vice Presidential prerequisites?   What if we got a vegetarian candidate? But, I digress….

There are two points I’d like to make from my “Deep Green Perspective.”  The first is that Joe Biden is just as scary, in his own way, as Ms. Palin, and the second is that what many see as Ms. Palin’s weaknesses look like strengths to her core supporters, so that when she is attacked for these qualities, it only rallies her base and makes her stronger. Many people don’t understand that we have three colliding worldviews interacting in this election.  When you see it that way, a lot of things start to make sense that seem quite baffling otherwise.  But first, let’s take a critical look at Joe Biden.

A lot of my “left Democrat” friends believe that Obama is playing the Roosevelt strategy, running a conservative campaign that will mutate into a much more radical approach to restructuring the country once he has gotten himself elected by acting more mainstream than he really is.  When I see that he has cold warrior Zbigniew Brezinski advising him on foreign policy and Wall Street insiders like Robert Rubin and his acolyte Jason Furman giving him pointers on financial policy, I have my doubts that foxes like these three will really create a safe henhouse, y’know?  And then we have Joe Biden, “the Senator from MBNA,” a heartbeat away from the Presidency–and sure, Obama’s a lot healthier than McCain, but we’ve got people at Palin rallies screaming “kill him!” when Obama’s name gets mentioned.  Bullets do not respect your healthy lifestyle, folks, and, as I’m going to discuss later, there’s every reason to take those threats seriously.

“The Senator from MBNA” is an epithet Joe has earned by his earnest support of Delaware’s largest corporation, or what was Delaware’s largest corporation until it got bought out by Bank of America, which, with that purchase and its recent acquisition of Merrill, Lynch, is well on its way to fulfilling its name.  Monopoly capitalism….Karl Marx would feel vindicated.  Joe was one of the first Democrats to support the Republican-originated bankruptcy reform bill, which has made it much harder for middle-class Americans to declare bankruptcy.  He voted for it four times over the seven years it took to get the bill passed; Obama, to his credit, voted against the bill, one of only 24 Democrats with enough spine and compassion to do so. Here’s Arianna Huffington on the consequences of this bill:

So what does the bill do? It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset-protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses that frequently turn manageable debt into unmanageable crises. Even in failure, ordinary Americans do not get a level playing field.

All because the credit-card sharks wanted to be sure of getting their pound of flesh.  And Joe Biden is supposed to be a “friend of the working man”?

And then there’s his support for the Patriot Act.  He introduced a similar bill in the nineties, because of the Oklahoma City bombings, and boasted after 9-11 that the Patriot Act was “my bill.”  He has also been a strong supporter of US military intervention.  And there’s his offhand racism–but there’s one key issue of his that impacts me personally.  That issue is the War on Some Drugs.  Biden initiated the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which one wag recently characterized as “the only federal agency with a mandate to lie to the public,” as well as being a prime mover of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug “offenses.”  He introduced and secured passage of the so-called “RAVE Act,” which turned bottled water and glow sticks into drug paraphernalia.  Joe is personally responsible not only for the Patriot Act, but for the “War on Drugs” as we know it.

Now, I’m not going to admit to any so-called criminal activity myself, but I will say that I have a lot of friends who use “illegal drugs,” and the vast majority of them are responsible, hard-working people; but in the eyes of Joe Biden and the US government, they are all unfit to hold a job, drive, or raise children, and should be stripped of their voting rights and all their assets and jailed or re-educated until they see the error of their ways.  We are supposed to vote for  Biden and Obama because they are not as frightening as McSame and imPlalin?  Can you say “Kafkaesque,” boys and girls?  Very good.  How about “Orwellian”?  When you vote for the lesser of two evils, you are still  voting for evil.  And what does that make you?

musical interlude:  Tom Neilson, “Democrats

Well, enough about the particulars…now for the deeper perspective.  Here’s how it looks to me:

For most of the time since humans became humans, we have lived in small bands of closely-related individuals whose primary commitment was to support each other, whether repelling large carnivores, hunting big game, or fending off raiders from the next valley who thought we were impinging on their hunting territory.  That, in my opinion, is where Sarah Palin, and the millions who support her, are coming from.  They are kind, considerate, and compassionate–with their own people.  The rest of us don’t count, and if we attack any one of them, we have attacked them all.  Loyalty to their pack and obedience to its leader are their supreme virtues.  Questioning consensus reality is treason; active dissent from it is even worse, because we have to hang together to survive in a hostile world.  If you want to know more about these folks read Bob Altenmeyer’s The Authoritarians.  It’s available for free, online.

I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but about three-quarters of the people in the world are still in the grip of this us-versus-them mindset, even though the saber-tooth tigers and the great herds are all long gone, and People Who Are Not Like Us live in the next apartment, not a day’s walk away through the woods.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama, I believe, have evolved beyond this primitive, anachronistic world view–but that does not constitute an endorsement!  They see that the whole human race is in it together on this planet and have a somewhat egalitarian approach, believing that debate among equals is no sin, unlike the Palin-McSame crowd.  However, the Biden-Obama worldview is so firmly committed to materialistic rationality that it incurs the hostility of those committed to the primitive religion of McCain-Palin consciousness, while it in turn is hostile to higher mysticism–hence the support for the war on some drugs and the commitment to the neoliberal, corporatist, ant hill/consumerist/growth agenda, which is as dangerous to the soul and ecology of the planet as the neoconservative, corporatist, ant hill/consumerist/growth agenda; the two differ mainly in how much they trust the ants–excuse me, I mean common people–who will populate the worlds they envision.  Palin-McSamers think humans are basically evil and will do the wrong thing unless watched constantly; the Biden-Obama crowd has seen far enough to postulate the perfectability of human nature, but will constantly be confounded by both  the prerational and postrational impulses that arise from deep within, because the possibility of post-rationality is not comprehensible to them; they, with Freud, think that religion is necessarily primitive, and they have little tolerance for it in either case.

Well, some small percentage of the population, myself included, (at least that’s what I like to think) has gone beyond the polarization games of American politics, and we are neither afraid of the bad cops (McSame/Palin) nor drawn to co-operate with the good cops (Obama/Biden).  We could get along just fine in a world without cops, thank you, and we have a feeling that our numbers are growing exponentially.  If the struggle between the good cops and the bad cops doesn’t destroy the planet’s ability to sustain human life, we will likely take over when they have cancelled each other out.  It’s just a question of time.

Meanwhile, I’m not going to be scared into voting for the good cop.  I’m going to vote for the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney, as well as local Green candidates John Miglietta and Chris Lugo.  And if all the “left Democrats” got fed up with being left by their party’s consistent selection of center-right, neo-liberal, pro-growth, ecologically ignorant candidates and did the same, we would have quite a little movement on our hands, and maybe we could get this country moving again.  It’s just a question of time; but time, my friends, is running out.

music:  Bruce Cockburn, “Gospel of Bondage





GREEN VALUES, BUDDHIST VALUES

29 08 2008

“If there’s a Green Party, I want to join,” the Dalai Lama has said.  Certainly, not all Greens are Buddhists, but this does lead to the question of how much overlap there is between Buddhist values and Green values.  I recently read David Loy’s Money, Sex, War, Karma–Notes for a Buddhist Revolution, which, without mentioning the Green Party, provides some answers.

Loy examines money, sex and war in  order to understand why they never deliver the satisfaction they promise, and points to what it is we are really looking for when we put our faith in these pillars of modern society.  Why, it’s happiness, isn’t it?  Fulfillment!  And how can anything outside ourselves–a lover, a million dollars, or a warm gun–fill an emptiness that is ultimately, nowhere but within ourselves?  This continual, frustrating search has warped human culture to the breaking point.  Could Buddhism alter society enough to prevent our cultural suicide?

Maybe…but we need to understand its limitations.  First of all, Buddhism is ultimately a personal practice, not a social prescription.  Christianity and Islam, on the other hand, have become strongly identified with politics and ways of ordering society.

In Islam we see institutions such as Sharia, which dictate minute details of personal conduct, and the Caliphate, a religious state ruled over by the spiritual heirs of the Prophet, which continues to haunt the dreams of Mullahs and Islamic politicians alike.

Christianity, by accepting the imprimatur of Constantine and becoming the state religion of the late Roman Empire, likewise identified itself politically with what we now call “the divine right of kings,” a form of political absolutism that allowed for no debate, no democracy, and no non-conformism.  It is small wonder that today, even many “Protestants” whose religions began in rebellion against the overarching hegemony of the Catholic Church demand a state that conforms to their religion by banning or penalizing “sins” such as abortion, homosexuality, non-marital sex, and various forms of consciousness alteration, from alcohol to marihuana and the stronger psychedelics.  That these essentially religious taboos are the regular subject of political debate, or in some cases unquestioningly enforced by the authority of the state, testifies to how deeply our culture is held in the grip of religious fundamentalism, in spite of its secular appearance.

Buddhism’s political track record is not flawless, either, of course, but compared to the major Western religions, its sins have been slight.  Tibetan Buddhism before the Chinese invasion had ossified, presiding over a society that was technically devoted to enlightenment, but whose lamas were all too frequently far more secular than spiritual in their orientation.  Still, Tibet was a small part of the Buddhist world, which, before being cut apart by the sweeping swords of first Islam and then Communism, spread a society based on  meditation and reason from the steppes of central Asia east to Japan, and from Mongolia south through the Indonesian archipelago.  While there were militaries in all these lands, there were also monasteries, and the potent call of a religion that not only claimed that material success is just an illusion, but that offered people tools and techniques to discover this for themselves.  By contrast, Christianity and Islam made sheep of people, offering them only submission to the authority of the church as a way out of the misery of daily life.

This, I think, is where Buddhism and the Green Party begin to intersect.  They share a commitment to personal empowerment, to individual liberation as the foundation stone of a liberated society.  What individual liberation means, as David Loy points out, is freedom from what Buddhism terms “the three poisons:” greed/selfishness, anger/separation, and ignorance–which happen to be the building blocks of consumer society.

These poisons are institutionalized in our economy, our nationalism and military, and our so-called news media, and it is only when we free ourselves from the various spells they cast that we are capable of creating a saner way of life.  Loy takes pains to point out that Buddhism does not describe that way of life, but rather trusts liberated individuals to create a society that is appropriate for them:

We should hesitate before deriving any particular economic or political system from the various teachings of Buddhism…..Buddhism is really about awakening and liberating our awareness, rather than prescribing new institutional structures for that awareness.  We cannot pre-determine what awakened awareness should or  will decide when applied to the problem of social dukkha (suffering).  There is no magic formula to be invoked.  That no one else has such a formula either, so far as I can see, means that solutions to our collective dukkha cannot be derived from any ideology.  They must be worked out together. (p. 141)

This, of course, is completely in line with the first two of the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values,” which are grassroots democracy and social justice.  Loy sees Buddhism not as a separate movement, but more as a spice for existing movements that can flavor them with the integrity that comes from personal spiritual practice, commitment to nonviolence, a sense that we are all in this together, and awareness of impermanence and emptiness, which are not as esoteric as they may sound–they amount to the wisdom that everything will change, sooner or later, because nothing has any permanent existence.

Impermanence means that no problem is intractable since it is part of larger processes that are constantly evolving, whether or not we notice.  My generation grew up during a Cold War that would never end, until suddenly it did.  Apartheid in South Africa seemed inflexible and implacable, but below the surface tectonic plates were gradually shifting and one day that political system collapsed.  These characteristics are not always encouraging:  things can slowly worsen too, and solutions as well as problems are impermanent.  It depends on us to understand how things are changing and how to respond to those changes.

That highlights two other principles connected with impermanence and nonsubstantiality:  non-dogmatism and upaya, “skillful means.”  Shakyamuni Buddha’s own flexibility and Buddhism’s lack of dependence upon any fixed ideology implies the pragmatism of praxis.  We build whatever raft will work to ferry us to the other shore, and once there we don’t carry it around on our backs.  Nonattachment allows for the openness and receptivity which awaken upaya:  imaginative solutions that leap outside the ruts our minds usually circle in.(pps. 145-6)

At the bottom of the web page describing the Green Party’s ten key values is a disclaimer:

There is no authoritative version of the Ten Key Values of the Greens.  The Ten Key Values are guiding principles that are adapted and defined to fit each state and local chapter.

Non-dogmatism, then, lies at the heart of both Buddhism and the Green Party, but I think there is an important difference between the two:  it is possible to be an intellectual Green who participates in the party but does not actually live the values, but in order to be a Buddhist one must actually practice what Buddhism offers.  However, just as it is possible to practice Hatha Yoga without being a formal, observant Hindu, so the mental disciplines (which are often referred to as “yogas”) of meditation and attention that are at the core of Buddhism can be practiced without formally becoming a Buddhist.  Of course, these yogas will be more effective in a more formal context, but there is plenty of benefit to be derived from “generic” meditation, just as spending fifteen minutes a day doing hatha yoga asanas is valuable whether or not one dedicates them to Shiva or Krishna.

The Green Party has been searching for the key that will take it from its current marginal status into the realm of being a serious contender in the American political arena.  I would humbly submit that if every Green were to take his or her personal transformation as seriously as the social and political transformation whose necessity we all see, our power would be magnified and unimaginable possibilities would open up.

I could be wrong; perhaps nothing can pull America back over the brink; and I certainly have no way to make anybody else change their life.  But I do strongly suggest that anyone who cares deeply about the fate of America will benefit from reading David Loy’s little bookMoney Sex War Karma, and following his simple advice.  I don’t know of any better idea.

music:  Bruce Cockburn, “The Gift





HEALTHCARE FLIMFLAM

9 12 2007

The Democratic front runners have prostituted the language again. “Univeral health care,” according to all three of them, now means subsidizing the insurance companies rather than actually providing health care for everyone. They’ve dropped the phrase “single-payer” from their vocabulary, largely at the behest of the insurance companies that support them. Hillary Clinton, for example, had taken over a million dollars in camaign contributions from the insurance industry back last summer, before the campaign had even heated up.

Ironically, this approach—mandating that people buy private insurance and subsidizing the purchase with government money—is the same program Republican candidate Mitt Romney pushed through in Massachusetts. This has not prevented Romney from attacking these copy-cat Democratic proposals as “European-style socialized medicine.”

We should be so lucky. None of the plans that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are proposing will do anything to curb the profit-driven excesses of America’s unique, Byzantine private insurance/medical complex. They don’t even talk about doing that. They want to feed the vampire, not drive a stake through his heart. They ‘re not going to limit what insurers can charge their government-mandated captive audience. They’re not going to regulate the insurance companies’ ability to restrict choice of doctors, hospitals, and treatments, or rein in their profit-driven tendency to deny claims. The limited expansion of Medicare that some of them propose will become an expensive catch-all for seriously ill people that the private insurance companies don’t want to risk their profits on, and the fat subsidies to private insurance companies that would be generated under the Democrats’ plans would only feed their high overhead and do nothing to bring down the cost of medical care.

These plans are not European socialism. They are corporate welfare, another example of what happens when government is run for the benefit of big business, aka “fascism.” And it’s the Democrats that are proposing it. Magic! Presto chango! They will invoke the warm feeling of “healthcare for all” and thereby funnel billions into their corporate sponsors’ pockets! More of your blood goes to the vampires! Wow! What a trick!

Of course, the Republicans aren’t even that faux-compassionate. Their proposed solution is limited to tax breaks to help people buy health insurance, and if you don’t pay enough taxes for that to make a difference to you, tough beans, you don’t deserve to live. If that makes you want to vote for a Democrat, ”’cause they’re a little better, anyway,” please be informed: you have been hypnotized!

Let’s look at what these proposals really mean. The typical cost of full health insurance for a family of four in the US is $12,000 a year, which is about the gross take-home pay of somebody who makes minimum wage. Median family income in the US is about $43,000 a year, which is not really that much more than minimum wage, because if, as is usually the case, both partners work, that means the average is about $21,000 per person, which works out to about ten bucks an hour—like I said, not that much more than minimum wage, and clearly not enough to afford 12k a year for health coverage.

Under the typical Democratic candidate plan, how much would a median-income family be expected to pay for health insurance? We have two models to work from. One is Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts program, which, he boasts, brought the per person cost of health insurance down from $350 a month to $180 a month. So, for a family of four, that would be an insurance bill cut from $1400 a month—above the national average I just quoted—to $720 a month, about 20% of their pre-tax income. Still not very affordable.

Or we can go from the claim that the average Democratic proposal will pay $2400 per year per person, which is estimated to be half the typical cost of insurance by some reckonings. It’s also about what countries such as France, Canada, and England pay for health care per person per year. (That’s a 2001 link…I had a more recent reference, but lost it…sorry!) Here, it’s less than half what people pay. Well, we all know how poverty-stricken and uncivilized they are in Canada and Europe. Backwaters of medical technology, y’know? But, I digress….So, if the subsidy pays a family about ten thousand dollars a year, does that leave them two, four, or ten thousand dollars to make up out of their own pockets for government-mandated private insurance? You must pay the corporations money or be penalized!? Yow, I’m still digressing….on the lower end, an additional payment of $160-$320 dollars a month might be affordable, except that the reality of most families’ budgets is that they are already going into debt just to survive, and don’t have room for another $160 dollar a month payment.

And, speaking of going into debt, these dim Dems are living in la-la land to think that the government is going to have money to give the insurance companies. When Cheney and Bush started the Iraq war, and the Democrats bought it, they started a fire that was guaranteed to burn up any possibility of increased spending on social needs in this country. I think the Junta did that on purpose, but I’m sorry, Hillary, there ain’t no $110 billion to spend on that. We’ve about maxxed out our Chinese and Saudi credit cards on that war you voted for, dontcha know?

Well, if we can’t afford to spend any more money on healthcare, then how in the world can we afford universal single-payer healthcare?

We can afford universal single-payer healthcare because we’re already paying too much for healthcare. If we cut out the corpulent corporate middlemen, there’s plenty of money already in the system to take care of everybody. According to Physicians for a National Health Program, ”private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.” Health insurance would be covered by prorated taxes instead of flat-rate insurance premiums, and everyone except the extremely wealthy would end up paying less for health coverage.

Single-payer health coverage is part of the Green Party platform, but the only Democratic candidate who endorses it is Dennis Kucinich—and the party bosses are trying to figure out how to take his seat away from him. Most Americans support single payer healthcare, but our current major political parties are too in thrall to their corporate masters to listen to the people they claim to represent. Time to ring some changes.

music: Rumors of the Big Wave, Echo of a Scream





REVISITING TURTLE ISLAND

10 11 2007

I recently reread Turtle IslandGary Snyder’s 1975 Pulitzer-prize winning  book of poems and essays. Many of the poems are simple, short (but reflective) nature snap-shots, like this one, entitled, ”Pine Tree Tops”

 

in the blue night

frost haze, the sky glows

with the moon

pine tree tops

bend snow-blue, fade

into sky, frost, starlight,

the creak of boots.

rabbit tracks, deer tracks,

what do we know.

But Snyder also turns his Zen-trained eye to the wider world situation, as in this poem,”The Call of the Wild:”

The heavy old man in his bed at night

Hears the Coyote singing

in the back meadow.

All the years he ranched and mined and logged.

A Catholic,

A native Californian.

and the Coyotes howl in his

Eightieth year.

He will call the Government

Trapper

Who uses iron leg-traps on Coyotes,

Tomorrow.

My sons will lose this

Music they have just started

To love.

***

The ex acid-heads from the cities

Converted to Guru or Swami,

Do penance with shiny

Dopey eyes, and quit eating meat.

In the forests of North America,

The land of Coyote and Eagle,

They dream of India, of

forever blissful sexless highs.

And sleep in oil-heated

Geodesic domes, that

Were stuck like warts

in the woods.

And the Coyote singing

is shut away

for they fear

the call

of the wild.

And they sold their virgin cedar trees,

the tallest trees in miles,

To a logger

Who told them

”Trees are full of bugs.”

 

The Government finally decided

To wage the war all-out. Defeat

is Un-American.

And they took to the air,

Their women beside them

in bouffant hairdos

putting nail polish on the

gunship cannon-buttons.

And they never came down,

for they found,

the ground

is pro-Communist. And dirty.

And the insects side with the Viet Cong.

So they bomb and they bomb

Day after day, across the planet

blinding sparrows

breaking the ear-drums of owls

splintering trunks of cherries

twining and looping

deer intestines

in the shaken, dusty, rocks.

All these Americans up in special cities in the sky

Dumping poisons and explosives

Across Asia first,

And next North America,

A war against earth.

When it’s done there’ll be

no place

A Coyote could hide

envoy

I would like to say

Coyote is forever

Inside you.

But it’s not true.

Snyder wrote these poems in the early seventies, when I was in my early twenties and he was in his early forties. It was a heady time. We in the counterculture were all elated with the optimism of youth; we equated starting our revolution with winning it. Snyder, at what now seems like a tender age, was one of our elders and mentors. With his twelve years in a Zen monastery, his love of wilderness and high country, and his prescient sense of the importance of deeply inhabiting a place, he pointed me and many of my co-conspirators to important practices and doctrines, to the importance of the long haul. One of his most prophetic poems in Turtle Island is the title poem from the section called, ”For the Children:”

The rising hills, the slopes,

of statistics

lie before us.

the steep climb

of everything, going up,

up, as we all

go down.

In the next century

or the one beyond that,

they say,

are valleys, pastures,

we can meet there in peace

if we make it.

To climb these coming crests

one word to you, to

you and your children:

stay together

learn the flowers

go light

I cry every time I read that. It brings together so much, and takes such a long perspective. It’s just the kind of grounding we need as the madness of a world gone wrong rises to a fever pitch all around us. ”We can meet there in peace/if we make it.”

But for me, the most impressive, most prophetic part of Turtle Island is a twelve-page prose section at the back of the book, written in 1969 and entitled ”Four Changes.” Like Martin Luther’s theses nailed to a church door, this slim manifesto is the foundation of a vast spectrum of political, social, and spiritual action that has come into being since. Very little of what Snyder proposes and predicts misses the mark, although he himself calls it “far from perfect and in some parts already outdated” in his 1974 introduction to it. His warning about the danger of ”a plutonium economy” is truer than ever now, as the Bush junta seeks to slip billions of dollars of subsidies for new nuclear power plants into alternate energy legislation.

The four changes he calls for are in the realms of population, pollution, consumption, and transformation, and each is divided into sections addressing large-scale political action, local community action, and ”our own heads,” which addresses the ways in which we as individuals help create obstacles to the better world we can envision in our clearest moments.

”Population” states that, although humanity is only a part of the web of life, we are now an inordinately large part of it—and this was in 1969, when the world population was nearly half of what it is now. Due to the intransigence of many governments and religious institutions, and despite the Chinese government’s strenuous efforts to limit the Chinese birth rate (one of the few qualifiedly good things it has done, in my opinion), there has effectively been no progress on this issue. I think this is in large part because the only option third world people have to insure that they will be cared for in their old age is to have as many children as they can, in hopes that at least one of them will be in a position to help them when the time comes. Governments, by and large, have shown no interest in ameliorating this situation, because it would involve taking money away from those who have it and giving it to those who don’t, and that is, as the Democrats are quick to say, a political impossibility. So, at this point, it’s starting to look like the human population of the planet will be limited by war, starvation, and pandemic, which will do little to slow what many biologists are now calling a planetary extinction event on the order of the disappearance of the dinosaurs. Will we humans ultimately be consumed by the wave of extinction we have unleashed? To the extent that they are capable of considering the question, I think the other species with which we share this rare spot in the universe wouldn’t mind if we did. We have ignored Snyder’s prescription at our own peril. We are going to have to work hard to re-establish ourselves as worthwhile neighbors on this small blue planet.

Much of Snyder’s section on pollution deals with DDT, use of which has largely been eliminated, although plenty of other chemicals have taken its place in the rush to foul our only nest. What Snyder says in the subheading ”our own heads” is worth repeating, because it looks at the attitude behind widespread pesticide use, not one specific chemical: ”there is something in Western culture that wants to totally wipe out creepy-crawlies, and feels repugnance for toadstools and snakes. This is fear of one’s own deepest natural inner-self wilderness areas, and the answer is: relax. Relax around bugs, snakes, and your own hairy dreams….” Truly, there can be no revolution in the world without a revolution in our own minds and hearts.

In the consumption section, he keys in on our overdependence on oil and overuse of water, decades before peak oil and drying continents became large-scale causes of concern. ”(M)ankind has become a locust-like blight on the planet,” he says, ”that will leave a bare cupboard for its own children—all the while in a kind of Addict’s Dream of affluence, comfort, eternal progress—using the great achievements of science to produce software and swill.” (Wow—I hadn’t even heard of ”software” in 1969!)

To combat this, he proposes, at the macro-level, that economics needs to be seen as a minor branch of ecology, that the criminal waste of war must be shown for what it is and ended. At the community level, he calls for sharing and creating, whether it’s skills or garden produce or clothing, for breaking the habit of unnecessary possessions, which leads to the internal work: ”To live lightly on the earth, to be aware and alive, to be free of egotism, to be in contact with plants and animals, starts with simple concrete acts. The inner principle is the insight that we are inter-dependent energy fields of great wisdom and compassion—expressed in each person as a superb mind, a handsome and complex body, and the almost magical capacity of language. To these potentials and capacities, ‘owning things’ can add nothing of authenticity. ‘Clad in the sky, with the earth for a pillow.”’

The fourth change is ”transformation,” regarding which Snyder says, ”We have it within our deepest powers not only to change our ‘selves’ but to change our culture. If man is to remain on earth he must transform the five-millenia-long urbanizing civilization tradition into a new ecologically-sensitive harmony-oriented wild-minded scientific-spiritual culture….What we envision is….a basic cultural outlook and social organization that inhibits power and property seeking while encouraging exploration and challenge in things like music, meditation, mathematics, mountaineering, magic, and all other authentic ways of being-in-the-world. Women totally free and equal. A new kind of family—responsible, but more festive and relaxed—is implicit.”

In the midst of this soaring vision, he inserted a 1974 footnote: ”More concretely, no transformation without our feet on the ground. Stewardship means, for most of us, find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there—the tiresome but tangible work of school boards, county supervisors, local foresters—local politics. Even while holding in mind the largest scale of potential change. Get a sense of workable territory, learn about it, and start acting point by point. On all levels from national to local the need to move toward steady state economy—equilibrium, dynamic balance, inner-growth stressed—must be taught. Maturity/diversity/climax/creativity.”

There it is, Green Party politics in a nutshell. It’s not just about light bulbs, folks!! It’s amazing to reread a book I loved in my youth and realize that I have been living its directives ever since, along with many others, albeit, alas, not quite enough eco-lovers to actually change the direction of the country, yet. Hey, we have been saying this stuff for forty years now, constantly getting blown off and derided by the corporatists, while they dig all of us, including themselves, deeper into a mass grave. Can you hear me now?

Snyder finishes by addressing the possibility that the human experiment will come to naught with some classic Zen: ”Our own heads is where it starts. Knowing that we are the first human beings in history to have so much of man’s culture and previous experience available to our study, and being free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity; the first members of a civilized society since the Neolithic to wish to look clearly into the eyes of the wild and see our own self-hood, our family, there. We have these advantages to set off the obvious disadvantages of being as screwed up as we are—which gives us a fair chance to penetrate some of the riddles of ourselves and the universe, and to go beyond the idea of ‘man’s survival’ or ‘survival of the biosphere’ and to draw our strength from the realization that at the heart of things is some kind of serene and ecstatic process which is beyond qualities and beyond birth and death. ‘No need to survive!’ ‘In the fires that destroy the universe at the end of the kalpa, what survives?’–‘The iron tree blooms in the void!’

”Knowing that nothing need be done, is where we begin to move from.”

It’s all here in these twelve pages, fractally unfoldable into whole worlds of endeavor, garnished with the reminder that ”nothing needs to be done.” So, from that place of detachment, friends, let us draw inspiration from our elegant elder Gary Snyder and do all that we can, in a spirit of love, joy, and compassion. It’s the Green way.

music: Indigo Girls, “Wood Song





SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE TO YOUNG PEOPLE

10 11 2007

Our truth in strange places award this month goes to Senator Christopher Dodd, of Connecticut, one of the long-shot contenders for the 2008 Democratic nomination, who said in the course of the Oct. 30 debate, in defense of his call for decriminalization of marijuana,

We’re locking up too many people in our system here today. We’ve got mandatory minimum sentences, they are filling our jails with people that don’t belong there.

“My idea is to decriminalize this, reduce that problem here. We’ve gone from 800,000 to 2 million people in our penal institutions in this country. We’ve got to get a lot smarter about this issue than we are. And as president, I’d try and achieve that. “

The only other candidate who agreed with him was Dennis Kucinich. Hey, these two guys are so far behind they have nothing to lose. Former Senator John Edwards spoke for the front-runners when he said he opposed decriminalization because “I think it sends the wrong signal to young people.” The conversation quickly turned to what Sen. Obama was going to wear for a Halloween costume. Over eight hundred thousand arrests a year, over five hundred thousand in prison and countless others hung up in the probation/parole system, swept under the rug just like that. Somehow, one of America’s biggest legal disasters has become just part of the cost of doing business. What a message to send to young people. What a comment on the vibrancy of our democracy.

So remember this, all you pot smokers who are preparing to vote for Hillary, or Barak, or John—you are voting for someone who wants to put you in jail, take your children away, and confiscate your property. Kafka couldn’t have invented anything better. And if you aren’t a marijuana user, but some of your friends are, you’re voting for somebody who wants to suck your friends into the American gulag. You may think you don’t know anybody who smokes pot, but you can just about bet you do. With schoolkids encouraged to tell on their parents, it’s more and more peoples’ secret practice. Hey, a friend of mine, a ranting, raving, pot-growing, totally out-of-the closet hippie, has had to quit smoking in his house because his daughter is going through a teenage rebellion phase and knows she’s got a major hammer over his head with the issue.

And the issue is not “addiction,” the issue is control—the ability of the government to control peoples’ inner lives and personal decisions. Public acceptance of “the war on drugs” is what allows the further erosions of our freedom that are occurring as “the war on terror.” The corporatocracy has put across the Big Lie that marijuana is bad for you. That’s baloney. Using marijuana is of no more consequence than drinking beer, wine or coffee—actually, coffee is much more addictive than grass. Smokers do without just fine, but we all know what happens when people don’t get their morning cup of java!

In the same way, the abortion issue is about control over women, not the sanctity of babies’ lives. While Democrats are willing to support womens’ right to abortion, at least so far, that is about the only sop they are throwing us. Iraq? “No way out,” the big three all say. Bomb Iran? “Why not?” they all say. Get rid of treaties like NAFTA and the WTO that have destroyed America’s middle class and sent waves of Central Americans here, fleeing their own ”free trade”-savaged economies? Not a sound about that. Take down the insurance and pharmaceutical vampires that are sucking Americans dry in the name of health care? “They’re too big. We can’t do that.” C’mon, guys, they’re smaller than Iran—or at least weaker militarily. Financially, they might be bigger than Iran, come to think of it….talk about “sending the wrong message to young people”–the message here seems to be to kowtow to power and big money, no matter how morally repugnant…and that is definitely the wrong message to send to young people, but it’s the one the Democratic front runners are parroting. Hey, it’s what their corporatist masters want to hear.

”C’mon,” you may argue—all the major Democratic candidates have come out for medical marijuana—that’s progress!” That’s knowing which way the wind is blowing, nothing more. If their support survives the election campaign, you can bet they will devise a system in which the state has a monopoly on growing and distribution, and there’s mandatory testing for the families of marijuana patients to insure that the “medicine” is only going to the “proper” person. None of this sloppy, do-it-yourself stuff like what we’re seeing in California and Oregon these days. It’s all about control. Marijuana use encourages people to think for themselves, and we can’t have a lot of strong individuals in the anthill corporatist society that is the ultimate vision of both Democrats and Republicans.

Which is not to say that you have to be a toker to be a Green—certainly not—but you have to understand the significance of the issue. You have to understand how it is a “wedge issue” that opens the door to all kinds of other government intrusion into peoples’ private lives. It is a fundamental precept of the Green Party that people are basically trustworthy, just as it is a fundamental, unspoken precept of the corporatist parties that people are not trustworthy. And, from their point of view, the corporatists are justified in not trusting the people, because nobody in their right mind would go along with the corporatist agenda. That’s why they work to keep so many people hypnotized with television and other mind-control drugs, such as alcohol, Ritalin and Prozac. It’s only a war on some drugs. What kind of reality do you want to live in?

music: Richard and Linda Thompson, “Justice in the Streets





AN IMPORTANT BUT KINDA DULL STORY

11 05 2007

When you start loading Nashville mayoral candidate David Briley’s website, the first thing that pops up at you (even if you’ve got a popup blocker) is a green-and-white page proclaiming that David Briley is “The Green Mayor,” and an accompanying sustainability program that, really, isn’t bad at all from a Green standpoint.  Now, the Nashville mayoral race is supposed to be nonpartisan–but “Green” is, after all, the name of a certain political party that is active in this state, although Mr. Briley did not ask for our endorsement or even permission.  He has hijacked our brand name!  Should we sue?  What’s a poor third party to do? And I do mean poor! But then, there are “green building codes” and “greenways” and “green power switches”  and a memorable REM album that don’t have anything to do with us, either, but they’re not political offices.  How should we resolve this confusion?  I’m open to suggestions.

But I’m not going to comment on Mr. Briley’s sustainability proposalsright now.  I already have.  I would like to comment on Governor Bredesen’s proposals for changing the way education is funded in the state, which Mr. Briley brought to my attention via his endorsement of them. Here’s the deal:  Tennessee spending on schools averages around $5500 per student and is among the lowest in the nation, in part because we don’t have an income tax (an issue which neither Briley nor Bredesen will touch), and in part because, besides not having an income tax, our tax rates and revenues are among the lowest in the country.  The source of revenue that Governor Bredesen has found is…a higher tax on cigarettes!  Because Tennessee’s cigarette tax is the third lowest in the country!  Bredesen wants to triple the tax rate, to sixty cents a pack, which still leaves Tennessee in the low third on tobacco tax rates.

Basing increased funding for education on cigarette taxes does present a bit of a conflict , though—it gives the state an interest in promoting tobacco usage, doesn’t it? “Smoke a cigarette, pay a teacher!” And really, shouldn’t higher cigarette taxes go for anti-smoking campaigns and medical care for the cigarette smokers, who are going to need it sooner or later?  But, I digress.  About that funding proposal….

Now, when I start talking about education, I kind of have to split myself into an absolute Green mode and a relative Green mode.  From the absolute, Deep, Deep, Deep Green Perspective, public schools are a way to indoctrinate young people into hierarchical, bureaucratic society, and should be abolished, along with many other elements of Life As We Know It.  From that Deep, Deep, Deep Green Perspective, we need a complete reorganization of society—but, much as my soul yearns for that, I don’t think it’s gonna happen tomorrow or next year or even in the next decade…the next twenty years, maybe.  So, in the short term, we need to find a way to apply our ideals to what is in order to prepare the way for what needs to happen, and that is the “relative Green” spirit in which I am approaching Governor Bredesen’s proposals.

The first proposal simplifies the way in which a county’s ability to contribute to its school costs is calculated, by returning to a formula of  adding property tax and sales tax revenues, which makes it much easier to understand.  It is currently figured out by “a complex statistical regression equation.”  When I tried to find out what THAT means, my eyes started to glaze over as I ran into terms I hadn’t grappled with since I nearly failed Algebra II back in high school and decided not to even attempt calculus.  I think of myself as an educated person, but I’m educated in the social sciences, not math.  If we can take care of government business without resorting to “complex statistical regression equations,” I’m all for it. ( Sounds like something Dave Barry  would say, doesn’t it?)  Anyway, I’d go along with this on the grounds that it’s important for decision making processes to be transparent.  Phil says the more complex way wasn’t working that well anyhow, and I’ll take his CEO word for that.

The second proposal eliminates the “cost differential factor” which helped increase school salaries in communities with high wages.  There are only seventeen of these in Tennessee, which should come as no surprise, and Nashville is one of them, but according to David Briley, even with that factored in, Nashville, which has ten percent of the state’s schoolchildren, has only been getting five percent of the state’s school funds, due to a sales tax distribution formula that predates the ascendancy of Williamson County as an area-wide shopping destination.

Bredesen wants to eliminate this in part because only seventeen school systems in the state benefit from it, and in part to free up more money for teachers’ salaries all over the state.  I think he’s on shaky ground here—sure, all teachers deserve better pay (disclosure:  my mother was a teacher!), but it does cost more to live in Nashville than it does in, say, Hohenwald, and since the state provides the bulk of the money for teacher salaries, it only seems fair to me for the state to help reflect this.

And the next proposal is to return the state’s share of school salary funding to 75%–it was cut to 65% a few years ago and that has been a hardship on many school districts and their employees.  Bredesen also wants to increase basic teacher salaries to forty thousand dollars a year from their current level of thirty-seven five.   This is mostly what is getting paid for by that extra forty cents from every pack of cigarettes sold.  Buy ’em up, folks!  Along with this is an injunction that counties must maintain their current school funding levels—no slackin’ off because the state’s chipping in more!

Bredesen also wants to give more funds to help educate students who are learning English as a second language, and more to help educate “at risk students,” that is, students who are at risk of dropping out of high school.  The education of “at risk students” should be of special interest to all of us who are committed to alternative education, because it’s usually the “at risk” kids who get innovative, more free-form programs that are more like what school ought to be for everybody, as long as we’re going to have public schools.  “At risk” kids are also frequently kids who have understood the failings of contemporary society and are open to a more radical education.

And that’s it.  Hardly “a dramatic overhaul of education funding in Tennessee,” as Bredesen claims on the state website. Aside from funding the “at risk” kids, there’s nothing about content, which is left to school boards and the tender mercies of the No Child Left Behind Act.  In many ways, it’s a very unsexy issue, but it’s the kind of nuts-and-bolts thing that we need to learn about if we are going to become an effective third party in this state and in this country.

In closing, I have to add that I find it totally shocking that Governor Bredesen has spent so much of his attention on a minor tweak of state education funding while letting Phillip Workman, an innocent man,  go to his death, and leaving Paul House, who has actually had his sentence overturned, to languish in jail, suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.  Phil, this is the kind of behavior that gives Christianity a bad name.  How can you sleep?  Listeners, call the governor’s office at  (615) 741-2001 or email

phil.bredesen@state.tn.us

and say: “Philip Workman did not shoot Ronald Oliver. How could you let a man be executed based on a lie—and why is Paul House still in jail?”

music:

B52’sTell It Like It Is








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